My deepest apologies for my pathetic failure. Maybe I'll return someday, but if td can't inspire me to write I don't know what will. Good luck, and God speed
I enjoyed a good amount of your writing, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. I hope I'll get to read more of it.
|# ? Feb 6, 2019 04:03|
|# ? May 22, 2022 03:48|
My deepest apologies for my pathetic failure. Maybe I'll return someday, but if td can't inspire me to write I don't know what will. Good luck, and God speed
I'm okay with giving you an extra week if mojo is okay with the extension.
|# ? Feb 6, 2019 12:32|
|# ? Feb 6, 2019 14:03|
In. Obliterati said I should try this out.
|# ? Feb 7, 2019 01:16|
In. Obliterati said I should try this out.
|# ? Feb 7, 2019 03:25|
|# ? Feb 7, 2019 18:02|
|# ? Feb 8, 2019 05:28|
In give me a nut
|# ? Feb 9, 2019 09:09|
In give me a nut
As the final signup, you get the image I somehow didn't give out before now:
Also, signups are now closed. Go forth, do the thing, &c.
|# ? Feb 9, 2019 11:04|
Bystanders of the Blue Room
Word Count: 970
I traced my fingers along the door frame, the old wooden structure now crumbling with neglect and age. The closed barrier stared back at me, waiting.
The house was being foreclosed at the end of October meaning this was my last chance to deal with my problems.
With a sigh, I grabbed hold of the handle and entered.
While the room was now bare, I could still see everything as it had been.
Nothing about my purgatory had changed. My questions remained the same.
Why had they never ventured beyond the door of the blue room? What was it about the four walled enclosure that offered them comfort that it never offered me? Did the walls — or maybe some entity choose to protect them and not I? Was there a secret, some special charm here I never knew about?
“Close your eyes and you'll be safe,” they used to say. “Pretend you're somewhere else. Stay in here and everything will be okay.”
It was a nice notion. Become ignorant to the monster that lived within those two thousand square feet. Build a new world where the monster could not be heard — could not be seen. Where it inflicted no pain or suffering. Coexist quietly and you'll be fine.
Or the other, “There's a reason this is happening, she must have done something.” It's always easier forgiving something horrendous if someone finds it justifiable.
Unfortunately, I was never a creative child, nor would I be complicit.
The monster was very much real. The monster was very much there. It always had been and always would be, no matter how much time elapsed. There was also no excuse for its actions.
The floorboards beneath my feet creaked as I ventured further within. The faded blue wallpaper was beginning to separate from the drywall it so desperately clung to.
We all shared the blue room, my two brothers and I. It hadn't been ideal, but the house was small.
I grimace, staring at where there used to be a twin sized bed. The monster used to read to us, wreathed in the scent of whiskey and oil. It would sit on an oaken chair, perched like a gargoyle peering at us for our reaction to whatever Tom Jones tale it was telling until something — or rather, someone — drew its attention.
“It won’t really hurt her,” they lied so easily. Maybe for their own sake.
Everytime the monster awoke, I sensed it. Felt it in every crevice of my body and being. It was never loud or abrupt. It began slow, and grew violent in increments much like that of a boiling tea kettle.
While they could stay bundled in bed and deaf to her cries, I never could. As much as they wanted it to be for me, the room was never soundproof.
Everytime I broke the seal to their sanctuary they winced; however, my promise to always shut the door remained intact.
I gripped the wall leading out to the hallway; it was dim, long, and just as foreboding as I remembered it being. Blue gave way to a dirty eggshell white. Years later it was still my instinct to tiptoe down the great expanse to where I knew the monster’s lair had been.
The monster was never gentle. When it wanted to, it would destroy everything it saw. Including anything that tried to stop it. But that never prevented me from waving the red flag so that maybe she had a chance to take cover from the never-ending onslaught.
I recall every blow and snap. Always placed keenly as to not leave visible abrasions.
I bent down, inspecting a palm sized dent in the wall where the monster had thrown me years ago. The impact had been jarring but had not hindered my will to play the part of the punching bag. Logically this was all I believed I could contribute to make the situation more bearable.
When the monster had been sated for the night, I would do my best to comfort her, my mother. It rarely worked, but all the same it was my personal mission to never allow someone to feel alone. Especially when for all intents and purposes they weren't.
“Go back to bed, little one. Everything will be fine,” she too had been a good liar. Maybe for her own sake.
I rose and exited. Making my way back to the blue room.
It always disgusted me. No matter what ruckus was caused, they never left the blue room. Never inquired as to what went on. Even as I limped and pulled myself into the bed by grabbing the headboard, leaving a smear of blood on the white paint. Despite being much bigger and more able than I, they never ventured into the monster's lair.
Maybe they had been more intelligent, possessed more flight than fight instincts. It made me question in terms of Darwinism if they were in fact the more fit to survive. If they had evolved to become the better-adapted individuals. Or had they simply been cowards? Perhaps that room really was their magical Wardrobe that whisked them away elsewhere.
Maybe it shouldn't matter anymore. The monster was physically gone, maybe the room — or at least the grudge I held against it and its past occupants should be too. Let bygones be bygones. We all broke parts of ourselves and each other in that blue room, parts that can never be repaired. At the end of the day they believed in fairy tales and silence — I did not.
My forgiveness remains fleeting.
I gave the room one last look over, finding no more than I ever had I turned around, and walked out.
Just this once I did not close the door.
Maybe then they could no longer pretend.
|# ? Feb 9, 2019 16:46|
From a Clear Blue Sky
Word Count: 928
“GAY COUPLE DEAD IN FREAK LIGHTNING STRIKE!” The headline blared in letters three feet high.
Reverend Don Platters, pastor of the South Carolina New Baptist Revivalist Church of Lord Jesus the Redeemer, stood behind an alabaster pulpit beneath the towering headline.
“Behold, the wrath of God!” the Reverend Don Platters sang out in a ringing voice as golden as his hair and twice as smooth. He gestured to the billboard-sized megascreen behind him. “Behold the work of His hand!”
The image on the megascreen changed to show the grisly scene of the dead couple’s destroyed bedroom. A pair of charred bodies curled in embrace on the burned-out husk of a bed. The freak lightning bolt had blasted through the roof, burning away a corner of the building and much of the back wall, but left the rest of the room eerily untouched. It hadn’t even shattered the window less than three feet away. The curtains weren’t even singed.
“Behold! Behold! Behold!” the reverend urged again, thrusting out his hand with each emphatic declaration. He smirked knowingly and shook his head with the sad amusement of someone who’d warned you all along. “God is showing us!” Don Platters exulted, raising his palms to the sky. “God is showing us that he will no longer tolerate the perverts and the sodomites! He is bringing down His wrath to cleanse this earth of their sin!”
The congregation went into paroxysms of joy. A woman up on the second balcony level threw herself onto the guardrail and wept wailing tears of ecstasy onto the crowd below. Parishioners seated on the aisle leapt out of their cushioned pews and threw themselves down on the plush red and gold carpet to prostrate before the miracle.
Reverend Platters let the crowd’s fervor reach a crescendo before raising his hands to call for calm and quiet. Looking extremely pleased with himself, he launched into the rest of his sermon on the depravity of the homosexual lifestyle.
Outside the loud but isolated world of the South Carolina New Baptist Revivalist Church of Lord Jesus the Redeemer, the freak lightning strike received little attention from the general public. The scientific community dismissed the entire incident as just another statistical outlier.
“Lightning is unpredictable,” explained Dr. Edrews Phillipstein, head of the South Carolina institute of meteorology. In an interview for Zizibee dot com, that week’s most reputable journalism website, Dr. Phillipstein said “There are multiple recorded incidents of lightning striking people around corners, through windows, and yes, even indoors in bed. There’s even a whole family of phenomena called ‘ball-lightning’ that’s poorly understood even after centuries of observation and research.”
“Did the fact that it was a homosexual couple increase their likelihood of being struck by lightning?” asked the interviewer for Zizibee.
“What? No, that’s ridiculous,” answered Dr. Phillipstein.
It happened again barely a week later. A lesbian couple in Colorado got struck by lightning while riding a ski lift.
For many, this one didn’t strictly count. The sky was overcast and the weather had predicted the possibility of thunderstorms. It seemed more like a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, though that didn’t stop reverend Platters from making it the central topic of that Sunday’s sermon.
Reverend Platters shouted halleleujah and sang the praises of Jesus Christ and God the almighty. Every single one of the forty thousand seats in the triple-decked megachurch had been sold out and there was still a line of hopefuls stretching clear around the building. The figures on the digital donation counter below the megascreen were a blur as thousands of faithful viewers at home pledged whatever they could to help God pay His electric bill for all the extra lightning He was handing out.
Even Dr. Phillipstein came up short after a gay couple holding hands in a public park in Ontario, Canada got struck by lightning out of a seemingly empty sky. It didn’t matter that the couple survived without so much as first degree burns.
“It was a warning shot from God himself!” cried reverend Platters in triumph. “In His mercy He decided to spare these two sodomites so that they could repent their wicked ways!”
“Amen!” praised the congregation, opening their hearts and wallets wide as the collection plate came around.
The rash of freak lightning strikes had the parishioners of the South Carolina New Baptist Revivalist Church of Lord Jesus the Redeemer thoroughly electrified. By the Sunday following the Ontario couple getting zapped, an estimated sixty thousand people had stuffed themselves into the cavernous interior of the church. There was barely room to move. There was barely room to breathe!
Reverend Platters could not have been more pleased.
“Truly, it is God’s will that has brought all of you faithful here this morning!” he said.
Imagine the good reverend’s shock, then, when the lights overhead started to rattle and the floor began to shake. The walls buckled and the balconies groaned. The audience charged the exits to flee, but the church had been filled beyond safe capacity and the scrum at the doors became an impassable jam.
A great chasm opened up in the ground and the South Carolina New Baptist Revivalist Church of Lord Jesus the Redeemer, reverend Platters and all sixty thousand members of his congregation were swallowed up by the earth.
“Earthquakes are unpredictable,” explained Dr. Marcus Tillitree of the North Carolina Institute for Seismic studies in an interview for NewsGab dot net. “It’s really nobody’s fault. Sometimes these things happen out of a clear blue sky.”
|# ? Feb 9, 2019 18:07|
Word Count: 1142
It was after the forth bottle of craft whatever that it finally occurred to Gertrude just what had been bothering her so much about staying under this roof. Beforehand it had only been a feeling of something untouchable, like an extra walking across the screen, but here it was now – squat and miserable as she was; she was house-sitting for someone who’d never come back. This house, the house her parents bought when they retired, the house they bought from another elderly couple, whose taste for doilies and floral wallpaper and pastel colours had matched their own – yes, this was not the house of anybody any more.
“The grief will come in waves. The important thing is you allow yourself to feel it.” The psychiatrist had said. Gertrude was sitting across from her in a dinky office chair in a sterile room thinking about how the psychiatrist’s big eyes and yappy, high-pitched voice made her seem kind of like a dog. She probably has a dog, Gertrude thought. It probably looks just like her.
Gertrude was lying in bed in the spare room with empty bottle in hand trying to convince herself to convince herself to go outside. It was late afternoon – time to be getting on. But, but, the curtains are heavy enough fabric so that if they were drawn it could really be any time outside. Maybe the buzz she was running would peter out into drowsiness like it never did and she would try again tomorrow or whenever. The television was probably on downstairs, but maybe it wasn’t. Was she dreaming just then?
Gertrude had been idly playing with the idea that the house was haunted. It would go a long way to engender a little less passivity in everything. Unexplained noises in the basement, mysterious blue lights at witching hour – even some rattling chains wouldn’t go amiss. Her dad had told her someone had died in this house – murdered, that is, not like the old couple. It was ages back, in the early 70’s or some-such. Single woman – a musician, according to dad; cellist or whatever. Anyway, the husband’s away – woman-hating home invader creeps in one night, takes a hammer. Etcetera.
“This is the good bit.” Her dad had said, leaning in with that stupid grin on his face. “The police found the victim’s music sheets all torn up and scattered across the floor where he had done the bloody deed! All operatic, you know, tunes and everything. The body wasn’t there, no. He had moved it after.” A finger too bony for a man his age gestured down below, and there was a little glint of mischief in his dark eyes. Gertrude in the spare room thought about how everyone always said she had her dad’s eyes, and then she thought about something else. Maybe from the basement cello woman’s restless spirit will drag a ghostly wand over wailing strings, in the depths of decades. There’s a snooker table stored in the basement, Gertrude remembered.
“It’s usually the husband who’s first to go, you know.” The local council bureaucrat had said. His horn-rimmed glasses picked up the sickly white light blaring from the office ceiling. He looked up from the papers he was surveying and slid them across the desk; “Just statistically, you see. There’s always exceptions.” Gertrude sucked her lips in and made a little noise of acknowledgement. The baggy tracksuit bottoms and jacket with the sleeves that went down to her fingers made her look fairly ridiculous slouched in the chair, like a teenager, but there was something she found comforting about it. As she started robotically signing on various dotted lines, she heard herself say “Someone died in the house, you know. Not my – a serial killer thing. Back in the 70’s.”
“Oh right?” The bureaucrat looked at his monitor.
“You don’t really hear about that stuff anymore, really. Serial killers and that. I wonder why. Where they all went.”
“I guess they just got better at catching them.” The bureaucrat seemed to contemplate it for a moment, or maybe he was just contemplating what to have for lunch, before he went back to running his eyes over yet more forms. He cleared this throat and spoke again.
“If you don’t mind me saying – You don’t really get a lot of people our age named Gertrude.” Someone’s telephone was ringing. Gertrude did not make eye contact and muttered “I guess they just had a sense of humour.” The bureaucrat smiled weakly.
The telephone was ringing again. The psychiatrist had told her to ignore it – “It can wait. This is your time.” Gertrude was leaning against the headboard, one leg dangling off the side of the bed, a corkscrew in her right hand and a newly-opened bottle in the other.
“What is the colour of your anger right now?” The dog psychiatrist had said, her hand on her heart. Gertrude, face flushed, mirrored the action; the corkscrew made a little noise when it hit the carpet. From downstairs, the television asked again. “If you were to describe how you felt with a colour, what would you say?” Like the ocean.
Gertrude and her mom once had a conversation around the kitchen table in this house. It would have been very portentous and significant if this had been their last conversation, but it wasn’t. Gertrude was sitting on the marble counter top, her legs swinging idly. Her mom was at the table, nursing a cup of tea. The sun was behind her. The topic of discussion was an old favourite of hers.
“Didn’t you go to the wedding of one of your friends the other week?”
“Yes. Hannah. From university.” Gertrude’s response was apathetic.
“And she tied the knot with someone nice?”
“Nicer than the last guy.”
“And it was a nice time?”
“Mmhmm. Her son did a little singing. It was cute.”
Something hung around in the room for a moment.
“And,” the elderly woman started again, and Gertrude continued on her own. And, and, why have you not found somebody yet? And why do you insist on dressing like that? You’re not in your twenties anymore. And, and, as the light streamed in and hit the silver band on her mom’s wrist in such a way, a little phrase escaped her breath; “My body is falling apart on me.”
Gertrude was lying on the bed again. Gertrude was floating above herself, looking down on the overgrown girl, her notes all scattered on the floor. She started to imagine a life which had gone the right way. Something gainful. She had taken a wrong turn somewhere, but she couldn’t figure out quite where, and now they can’t help. Useless. Nothing to be done for it. Somewhere there was a snooker table and a television which said “That’s the end of it.” Like the ocean.
|# ? Feb 9, 2019 18:08|
Word count: 1191
She pulled out her phone to confirm the address as the Uber driver sped away from the airport. On the final leg of her journey, she sunk back into the seat. Traveling to this conference was a hassle, but everyone in the industry was there so she was too.
Bored, she flicked through the Airbnb listing again. “Cozy apartment at the heart of the city!” The photos were mostly of the outside of the building, offering no evidence of this claim; her assistant had likely chosen it for the location. It couldn’t be worse than the bedbugs last year.
The driver arrived at the old apartment building, only a block away from the conference, and helped her unnecessarily with her luggage. After retrieving the keys from a lockbox, she looked for an elevator. Finding none, she picked up her bag and headed for the stairs. Halfway up, the lights flickered off. Annoyed, she used her phone’s flashlight to continue on in the dark.
Reaching the apartment, she unlocked the door, which swung shut heavily behind her. From the description she was prepared for the place to be small, but hadn’t expected it to be so old-fashioned. The wooden kitchen furniture looked handmade, the couch in the living room was garishly patterned, and knick-knacks filled the shelves. It had the dusty warm smell of old people with an unpleasant undertone of heavy cleaning chemicals.
Whatever, she’d stayed in worse places. She poured a glass of water, then hung up her outfit for tomorrow. It was too late for dinner and she was exhausted from travelling so she decided to call it a night, making herself as comfortable as possible beneath the itchy quilt on the single bed.
The next morning, she prepared for the long day of networking ahead of her. On her way out the door, she stopped. Something was off. It took her a few seconds to realize what it was: her water glass from last night had been cleaned and was drying on the dish rack. She told herself that maybe she’d done it last night, but wasn’t convinced.
The day passed in a flurry of business card exchanges. She had dinner with a client and enjoyed a boozy, chatty evening in the bars. Much later, she stumbled back up the dark stairs and re-entered the apartment. She fumbled the main light switch so settled for turning on a floor lamp. As the old bulb came to life, she saw a dark figure retreat into a shadowy corner of the living room. She froze, then peered carefully into the corner. Nothing. Maybe the four (five? six?) glasses of wine were making her see things. She went into the bedroom, locked the door just in case, and collapsed onto the quilt.
She awoke to a mean hangover. A cold shower and the reapplication of makeup helped a little; she contented herself with the knowledge that everyone else at the conference was feeling the same way. She trudged through the living room to the kitchen for coffee, but then straightened up in shock. The small wooden table was set with a stack of pancakes, imitation maple syrup, and a glass of orange juice. She didn’t remember seeing juice in the fridge. Numbly she reached out to see if the food was still warm: it wasn’t, as if it had been sitting out for several hours. She didn’t know what to make of this information, so she just gathered her bag and hurried out the door.
Once she reached the fresh air, her brain started to think rationally again. She pulled out her phone and, as she walked to the convention center, looked at the listing again. Maybe the elderly person who owned the apartment thought they needed to provide breakfast … but the picture was of a young trendy couple, Instagram filter and all. She frowned and sent them a quick message asking if the apartment was serviced daily. The reply was quick and unhelpful: “no?”.
She tried to put the situation out of her mind and threw herself back into the bustle of the conference. In the evening, she went out with some colleagues, but they were still recovering from the previous night and left early. Not wanting to go back just yet, she nursed a cocktail at a quiet bar before it got late and she ran out of excuses. Feeling apprehensive, she made her way back up the stairs and slowly entered the apartment.
The breakfast was gone. In its place on the table were two wine glasses filled with a blood-red liquid. For some reason they terrified her; she didn’t dare even look at them. She rushed through the kitchen, into the living room, heading for the bedroom, when the lights flickered off.
“Darling, you came! You came!” A woman’s voice came out of the darkness, as wispy as tissue paper and cobwebs.
Desperately ignoring it, she pulled on the bedroom door handle. It was locked. She whirled around and saw that the kitchen was still illuminated.
“It’s been so long … Have a drink, come sit down.” A cold presence moved past her, giving her the impression of an old woman with a blue apron.
She tried to focus on the impossibility of the situation but her adrenaline was stronger. All she knew for sure was that she needed to leave, now. She retreated back towards the kitchen.
“Ah yes, come sit. You must be hungry, let me make you something.” The pans hanging above the sink rattled as she edged past the table. She touched the doorknob and the light in the kitchen immediately cut out.
“No, leaving so soon? I barely got to see you, stay for longer.” It was pleading with her. “Don’t go, don’t go, don’t go, don’t leave me, don’t leave me here alone, stay, stay, STAY, STAY!”
The voice became enraged as she pulled desperately at the doorknob. The cold presence enveloped her just as she was about to call for help, freezing the scream in her mouth. She saw a vision of loneliness; the years passing slowly, becoming too infirm to travel, phone calls on Christmas and Mother’s Day and then not even that. Friends dying until there was no one left. No one and nothing to live for. The rope, the chair.
She gasped and flung herself backwards, knocking over the wine glasses. The voice shrieked and she felt it move past her, away from the exit. She lunged, grabbing her bag and yanking open the door, then fled down the stairs in the dark. She walked until her nerves quietened, then found a bland chain hotel. Even under the freshly-starched sheets, it took her a long time to fall asleep.
The next morning, she asked the concierge to call her a taxi to the airport, then gave him the room card and, to his confusion, the keys to the apartment. Without baggage, she breezed through security. Settling down at the gate in front of a bright window, she pulled out her phone.
“Hi, Grandma. Yes, it’s me. I’m flying back now but how about dinner next week?”
|# ? Feb 10, 2019 06:01|
The parcel arrived on an overcast day, shoddily wrapped and covered in stamps affixed with sellotape. Sarah opened the letter stuffed inside the lid first.
We found this put aside for you when we were clearing out Poppa’s house. Looks like some junk from when we were kids. I’ll let you know what else you get once the house is sold and everything is settled.
P.S. You owe me £20, airmail is expensive!
Sarah smiled as she read. Typical of her brother, hoping to weasel some money out of her for doing something kind. Their grandfather had passed away nearly seven months ago, and Brian had only now found the time to send her this?
Five quid, she thought, that’s the most he deserves.
She thought about their Poppa as she brought the parcel inside. About his laugh, mostly. A framed photo on her bookshelf would remind her what he looked like, but his laugh was something she could never forget. It had been expansive, filling the room even when it was too late and they were both trying to be quiet. Next to it her giggles were like tiny bubbles popping in the dark.
She’d missed the funeral. She hated that she did, but flights would have pushed her credit cards too far, and with the scant leave she had saved up she would have spent more time in the air than back home. Instead she’d written a eulogy for Brian to read out. It was all she felt she could do.
Her eyes blurring, she felt whatever was inside shift as she placed the parcel on her kitchen bench. A quick glance inside revealed half a dozen objects loosely wrapped in newspaper. A couple of books, judging by the flat surfaces, maybe a stuffed toy, and some other knick-knacks. She left it half-opened on the bench and headed back out the door. She’d have enough time to investigate after work.
* * *
The parcel remained untouched for a week. Sarah shifted it around the house, always meaning to find the time to look through it. It went from her kitchen to the coffee table, and from there to her bedroom where it did laps between her bed and desk, getting passed from one to the other like a baton whenever it was in her way.
It was after a night out that Sarah realised it was just like the phone calls. Every week she had meant to call her Poppa, just to catch up, just for five minutes to let him know she was well, and every week it got postponed as she let her life get in the way. She would prioritise the real people she could spend time with over the man that had become just a voice at the end of thousands of miles of cables. She always called, eventually, but she hated how long it took her to remember. Just like she hated missing his funeral.
She was just like her brother, she had often been told, and only sometimes did she admit that it included the bad comparisons.
That night she made herself sit down and unwrap everything inside the box, carefully placing them on her bed one by one.
There were several books, faded and softened with age, one held together with an old hair tie. Sarah’s fingers traced the embossed titles slowly as she remembered the stories inside.
A toy duck, all the stuffing pushed from its neck from years of hugging it too tightly.
A roll of black fabric covered in pins and badges from all the museums they had visited together.
A wooden tiger her Poppa promised he had carved himself, its stripes and claws gouged from the wood.
And rattling at the bottom some coins, a metal knucklebone, and the tiny figurine of a farmer, the tines of his pitchfork snapped off.
There was no note—she wouldn’t be surprised if there had been one and Brian had lost it—but she didn't need it. She knew why her Poppa had made sure these had been put aside for her. She remembered…
Sarah remembered her Poppa bringing the books to life with a sweep of his arms—wizards sailing across her bedroom, the sharp bite of a dragon’s claws as it crawled across her shoulder, roaring at the armies amassed on her bedsheets. Sarah remembered the duck—Benji, she called it Benji—cuddling close to her, as all her other toys and dolls and figurines put on elaborate shows, each laughing that same, all-encompassing laugh. Sarah remembered countless hot chocolates in dozens of museum cafes, each one the same but each day completely distinct.
Sarah remembered all the other gifts her Poppa had given her just for being her, and for being there with him, and how much she had cried when she broke them, and she remembered each hug she had received, that warm laugh fading to a whisper instead, it’s fine darling, don’t you worry about a thing…
Sarah sat lost in the dim light of her bedroom for what could have been hours. Each memory led into another, marked out like knots on a thread. By the time she reached for a box of tissues the red glare of her alarm clock had ticked over to the next day.
There were only a few hours left until it rang. She should be asleep—she shouldn’t have gone out earlier—but looking at everything laid out on her bed Sarah knew she wouldn’t be sleeping anytime soon. She fired off a message to her boss—ate something dodgy, don’t think I’ll be in tomorrow. She could take the time off. She should take the time off.
She picked up the first book, opened it slowly to the first page, and began to read aloud.
|# ? Feb 10, 2019 07:49|
He considered himself a smart man. So he joined the military after the war was already won. However, wars are won with well-trained and disciplined soldiers. Assuming that the army would allow you to be neither was not that smart. And this is how Charles Esteban was demoted to guard duty in the notorious military prison Purgatory, on the eponymous planet somewhere probably far away.
“Alright, Charley. This is the guy who will be your best and only friend for the next year.”
The screen showed a figure in a white robe hunched over on the floor of a cell. The concrete box was illuminated by two light fixtures embedded in the ceiling, shining their merciless white light into every corner of the room. A metal bed screwed to the floor with a bare mattress on it was the only piece of furniture.
“Who is he?”, Charles asked.
“We are not supposed to know, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that he’s probably royalty. Has been here since we kicked the Kingdom’s rear end over Primrose. We call him the prince.”
Charles whistled. “For over two years, then? Why even keep him alive at this point? Wouldn’t it be safer to just…” He motioned a cut throat.
The head guard who had only introduced himself as “Buddy” looked at Charles like he had just declared that opening a window to let some fresh air in would be a good idea.
“We’re not the Kingdom, we don’t execute people!” Buddy mellowed a little. “But yeah, there’s probably another reason. The Triumvirate still hasn’t come even close to uncovering the Kingdom’s secrets.”
The prince still hadn’t moved an inch, a desiccated husk of a man.
“And we’re gonna make him tell us?”
Buddy shrugged. “We don’t do torture. But if you do your job right, he’ll be completely broken within another few months. He might just talk to the Triumvirate on his own to get out of here.”
“Glory to them!”, Charles intoned automatically. “So what is the job then?”
A cruel grin. “Nothing, really.”
It turned out to be almost true. Charles’ routine was to turn on the lights in the morning, waking the naked prince. He’d open the cell door and toss in a small piece of soap. Then he’d turn on the hose and wash both the prince and the cell, the filthy water running off into the central drain to which grooves in the concrete led. The prince would get tossed a robe to dry off with and wear for the day. A bowl of slop for sustenance, the only meal of the day, no cutlery.
The rest of the day, Charles would simply watch the prince and try not to die of boredom. Purgatory was deliberately kept extremely low-tech; the key card reader of the cell door and its integrated camera were the only pieces of advanced equipment. No communication with the outside, no videogames, just a few books. The guards didn’t talk much, they all knew that they had one thing in common, what had landed them here, and that was “being a gently caress-up”. And who wants to associate with a gently caress-up?
In the evening, Charles would retrieve both bowl and robe. It took him a few weeks to ask why the prince absolutely had to be naked every pitch-black night, as they usually didn’t bother to wash the robe anyway?
“It’s because he got into the habit of ripping out tiny bits of fabric every day”, Buddy divulged over lunch.
“Like, to build a rope or something to hang himself with?”, Charles asked.
Buddy let a rumbling chuckle escape. “Smart, Charley, but no! He was making a hat!”
“A hat? To wear?”
Buddy jabbed his spoon at Charles. “Probably not to eat, man! I don’t know. I took it away from him, and the robe as well. But that’s why I think he’s close to breaking. Mad as a hatter!” Another nasty laugh.
Charles stroked his chin. “If you excuse the dumb question, how is that not torture?”
Again that “might as well suggest letting the toxic fumes in” look. “We’re not laying a finger on him, do we? We’re better than them!”
Charles shrugged. “I guess we are.”
“Glory to the Triumvirate!”, Charles greeted the prince before blasting him with the hose. “Slept well?”
Like every day, there was no response. Charles was getting more and more annoyed; he had assumed that by starting to be a little friendlier, his job might become a little less lovely. But the prince didn’t appreciate the gesture, did not care to smile or at least nod at Charles, maybe give his neglected vocal chords a little workout? Practice until he could muster a “Morning, Charley”? To show his frustration, Charles spilled a bit of the day’s slop.
Later that day, he looked up from his well-read book and saw something curious: the prince was doing something with his hands. Usually, he was completely still. Charles couldn’t quite make it out, because the prince was sitting with his back to the door, blocking the camera. Whatever he did only went on for about five minutes, then it stopped. Curious. And exciting!
After weeks of working on that puzzle, Charles was proud to have it figured out. A hat! The prince was making another hat! He sequestered just a little bit of the soap, kept a bit of the water, and made felt like that. And from what? The robe was untouched. Eventually, months later, Charles figured that out as well.
Lint. Navel lint. The prince was collecting it ever so slowly, adding to a felt patch he hid under the mattress when he had enough, and all of that in total darkness. He would get up before the lights turned on, sit himself down in front of the drain and cradle the growing hat, protecting it from the water.
Finding out about the prince’s little project gave Charles the biggest satisfaction ever since he had arrived on Purgatory. Not only because it proved he was smart, but also because it could mean an early way out. They wanted the prince to completely lose it, right? Well, here was proof, mad as a hatter indeed.
Eventually, the hat was finished. It was time to take it to Buddy.
“Glory to the Kingdom, my prince!” Charles strutted gleefully into the cell. “It is time to give up the crown.”
He walked around the frozen figure of the prince, and there was his prize, sitting over the drain. He bent down to retrieve the gross artefact…
With sudden speed that must have been trained in secret darkness, the prince snatched away the hat, and below it, the drain loomed – an empty hole that should have a cover.
It had been broken in twain, the work of days, weeks, months. The hat had just been a distraction, smart Charles figured out as the sharp edge of the broken metal sliced open his throat.
The last thing Charles saw was the hat on the concrete floor, as his blood filled the grooves and emptied into the drain.
“Glory to the Kingdom. Sleep well!”, a painfully coarse voice whispered, escaping.
|# ? Feb 10, 2019 14:44|
The Lake Cabin
"Get me out of here!" she screams. I lay my hands on her shoulders. Steady and reassuring. Her muscles are iron cords, quivering under my grasp.
"I don't know what you saw," I say.
"He's there. In that loving chair—" she snaps her arm towards the other room.
"Nobody's there," I say. I breathe softly and keep my voice even. "It's just us."
She twists out of my grasp and her eyes are wild, feral. "I know what I saw." Her voice falters. "Please."
"It’s just you and I, Amanda," I say. "Our special weekend together." I reach to her, pleading, arms outstretched.
She shakes her head, looks down at her feet. "I saw it—" her voice is low, whispering now "—in the chair."
"There's nobody there." I take her hand. "Let's go look together."
Amanda doesn't resist as I lead her from the kitchen into the front room of the cabin. The single lamp casts long shadows across the spartan room. Wood paneled walls, stained with age, hung with oil paintings of idyllic lake scenery; a single couch facing the fireplace; a ragged, dust-filled bookshelf; and antique mirror; and, of course, the chair. His chair.
She points to it. "He was there. The man from the picture—" she points the the photograph on the mantle—"only his head was...half gone."
"My geepaw? Sweetie, he's been dead five, six years now." It was five years this exact weekend. "Not here, of course. Downstate. In a nursing home." In this very room.
"I know what I saw," she whispers. "I wish we'd never come here."
That hurts. This was a special weekend. Our special weekend.
"Baby, it's been a long day. A long drive up here. You're tired. Must’ve hallucinated." I attempt a light chuckle. "Why don't we go to bed and get some rest?"
Her eyes dart around the room, but shades of doubt are creeping in.
"We'll have a laugh about it in the morning," I say, and squeeze her hand.
Dawn spreads like a bruise across the sky, and a heavy fog lies across the lake. The aging cookstove has produced some lukewarm oatmeal, which she picks at quietly. "Let's go for a boat ride. Lake's beautiful this time of day."
She looks at me doubtfully. "It looks freezing."
"I'll grab some extra blankets out of the Jeep. C'mon, it'll be nice. It's our special weekend."
Ten minutes later I’m pushing the oars through the black water. As we glide around the lake I tell her stories of my youth: how my geepaw would tie a rope from the dock to this very boat so I couldn't go very far; tall tales of the monsters I battled under the lake with my plastic Graco fishing rod; the fragrant cookies grandma would always have ready for me upon my return. I can see the warmth return to her; she smiles and even giggles at some of my stupid jokes. As we pull back to the dock I can see the drowsiness start to take over her.
"Why don't we take a nap inside," I suggest.
"Sounds good," she says, clumsily climbing onto the dock. "I'll put the blankets away and meet you...inside."
She rounds the side of the house as I push through the screen door, whistling. It has barely slammed shut behind me when she screams. I rush out front and see her at the Jeep, blankets discarded, tugging at the door handle. I run towards her and she shrinks back, eyes wild. Slowing my pace I hold out my hands, imploring. "Baby, what happened?"
"I saw it," she pants, "He was there! In the garden—" she points to the ragged plot at the side of the cabin.
I see nothing but the dissipating mist in the trees. "Look—"
"I don't care what you say! I saw him. It. It spoke to me."
"It said run." She scrabbles at the locked door, sobs. "Let’s go. Please"
"Amanda. You're being silly. Our weekend—"
"I don't give a poo poo..." her voice slurs and her knees start to buckle as the oatmeal digests further. Her eyes close. "I just want to...let me..."
I carry her inside and lay her on the bed.
I stoke the fireplace, lost in my thoughts, while she sleeps away the afternoon. Soon long shadows again paint the walls with memories. I don’t look towards his chair, focusing instead on the small warmth from the fire. I go back in time. This cabin, the only place I’ve ever felt safe: the smell of geepaws cigar, grandma puttering in the kitchen, me by the fire in scratchy wool pajamas. At peace. Together.
I can’t take back what I did. But I can be with them again, on this special weekend.
I hear feet hit the wood floor and shuffle into the kitchen. She's awake. I pocket the knife I've been using to poke at the fire, and stand as she frames the doorway to the front room. Her eyes are red, hair disheveled.
"Why are we here?" she asks.
I stand and move towards her.
"Stop." Her voice rises. Her gaze moves to the chair. "He was in my dreams. And he told me. What you did."
I pull the knife from my pocket and move quickly around the couch..
And I see him in the antique mirror, reflection rising from the chair. Blood covers his face, his head half staved in from where I struck him with the fireplace poker. He reaches towards me and then I'm on the ground, knife chattering across the old wood floor. Amanda whirls, runs through the kitchen and out the front door. Cursing, I stumble to my feet and follow.
We're too far from the road. She'll never make it.
The shed door slams shut—she's not going for the road. Knife in hand I push into the small wood structure. She's leaning against the workbench, gripping a hammer. Memories flood in, geepaw patiently sanding wood to build his chair, the scent of sawdust and oil, and look! He's here—bent over the workbench in his soft flannel shirt, crafting and shaping the wood, ever patient. He turns but it’s not him anymore, it’s Amanda, but she's got his gray eyes, and she raises the hammer and in my confusion I can't act, I'm frozen, and the hammer comes down again and again and again
and it's pitch black and cold, I’m soaking wet, flat on my back in the dirt. Time slips away. Blue and red lights dance across the shivering trees, getting closer. My blood seeps into the dirt. I’ve somehow made it to the garden. My blood percolates down, down, through the granules of cold dirt, through frozen moss and decomposing humus and worm tracks, reaching down to mix with the bones of my geepaw: his old gray bones and the fireplace poker I buried with them. I'm with him again. I’m safe. As the lights approach he reaches up to me, in forgiveness or to pull me down I don't know, but I take his hand.
|# ? Feb 10, 2019 20:06|
A Cold Reception
Read it in the Archive.
Staggy fucked around with this message at 12:25 on Dec 30, 2019
|# ? Feb 11, 2019 00:20|
We All Gonna Die
The only thing I remember ‘bout my bedroom back on the farm is the painting above my bed. My Pa made it hisself, and hung it up hisself too.
“Boy.” He said, as I tugged on his denim, pleading not to hang it like he was doing. “This here painting is goin’ up, ‘cos, young buck, you need to know: you gonna die someday.”
He left me staring up at it. Pa wasn't much with a brush, but it was me. I could tell by the curls in the hair, and the purple teddy in the hand. It was me, and I was dead. X’s on my eyes, and dirt on my body. I tried to take it down. Every time I did, Pa came at me with his belt. “You gonna die; square with it.” He'd say.
I left home ‘bout 20 years ago and tried not to pay him too much mind. Got a family of my own, and a job to keep ‘em propped. I built myself a life y’see. The landscaping business I started don’t have a name of its own, just a fleet of trucks and not much else, but it’s a drat sight more than my old man ever put together. My youngest may even end up in college someday if she keeps up in school the way she does.
But, seein’ as I’m on a bus back to the old home maybe it’s time to, as my wife says ‘unburden myself’. ‘Sides, this may be the grayest ride of my life. Never have seen dust like this. It’s gettin so that I can’t see but a few feet pass the window.
Haven’t spoken much of a word to my old man, since I left. A card on the holidays and birthdays s’all. But this birthday? No card. Two and two together tells me he prolly dead.
But the house? Naw, that house was built by the family. In the family, it stays. The old man was always clear about that. Though we’ll die, our house remains. Never did feel like much of a family code, but it was his anyway. And now? I’m goin there. Hopefully, it’s free of my relations. Empty and quiet is what I’m lookin’ for.
So why go? That drat painting is comin’ down. It ain't so much the message I got a quarrel with. I do find some value in it. It's just, that was my space y'see? I don't feel safe nowhere. When I rested my head after a day of work on the crops, there it was. When I came home cryin’ cos the kids at school called me out my name, there it was. And someday, I’ll die. And there it’ll be. That don’t square with me, y’see?
Ever since it went up, no room has been my own. The place I call home now? It's filled with crap. Kid's crap, old lady's crap, crap from the neighbors, and crap that nobody needs. It's enough already. So I'll go back, take the painting down, and sit in my goddamn room for a minute or so.
House looks the same now as it did back in the day. I thought it would seem smaller, that’s what people say about going home, but naw. Same old house. Shutters green now though. They were black when I was young.
New lock on the front door. I try my key anyway and it seems to fit just like it did. Door clicks open and I’m in the hall. Some would take some time to look around, but I ain’t interested. I got one thing to do, and I’m fixing to do it quicklike and clear out.
The stairs moan under my weight, not sure if that’s the house showing its age or myself. Few steps later and I’m in my room. It ain’t mine until the picture comes down, and there that son of a bitch is. It hasn’t changed. I’ll change it. I grab it by the frame and find that it don’t need yankin’, it slips right off the one nail it rested on all these years. Guess my old man knew that I wouldn’t try nothing smart under his watch after the first couple of beatings.
Garbage can still under the desk, and in the can it goes. It may still sit in the room, but now its where I want it. Bed’s still soft. I sit. There’s a knock on the door and I already know who it is. It opens, there’s my old man.
“Pa.” I greet him.
“Sam,” he responds, tipping his hat down toward me.
“I will say, Pa, I was hoping this’d be easier than having to say much of anything to you.”
“Come on now, boy.” He says to me as he takes my desk chair, and sits in it, facing me. “I told you I’d come back from hell to get you if you took that painting down.”
“Is that where you came from?” I ask him. He doesn’t look quite right. Something bout his skin, can’t quite put it to words, but it ain’t right.
“Don’t matter none. What matters is, we here.”
We sit for a while, neither of us saying much of anything. Looking out the window and all I’m seeing there is grey too. Weird kinda day. But, this is my room now, I say how it’s gonna be.
“Speak your mind then,” I say.
“What, boy, you ain’t got no questions for me?” He asks.
“Hell no, old man. This right here is me, I’m here and I didn’t invite you.”
“Time was, I told you that if that painting ever came down, it would be the end of you.”
“Yeah, and it’s down now, and here I stand.”
“Got it all backward, boy. It shouldn’t come as no big surprise that you’re in the hereafter.”
And it doesn’t. Not because I’m dead, ‘cos I’m pretty sure I ain’t, but it does explain why poo poo’s so odd outside. Come to think, I ain’t see no wildlife out and about this whole ride over and there ain’t nothing on the farm.
So maybe I’m dead, maybe I’m not.
The old man smiles. “You see, that’s why I done what I done, right there. That face, young buck. Stone goddamn cold. Even when you thinkin’ you dead.”
“Or maybe I just think you’re full of poo poo.”
He laughs, “well that works too, if how I raised you taught you to know poo poo from shinola then, well, I’d say I’d done fine by you. That’s the thing about lessons. Parents gotta teach ‘em but the kids will learn what they learn.
“So what then?” I ask. “Is it you or me who’s going to meet Jesus?”
He stands up and straightens his overalls. “I’ll be seeing you boy, and you know why, dontcha?”
“Cos I’m gonna die some day, Pa. Rest easy.”
He leaves the room, but not through the door. He’s just gone. Color comes back to the skies as do some geese flyin’ over the land.
|# ? Feb 11, 2019 01:29|
The Root of Evil
Clouds intermittently danced across the harvest moon as it shone its light on Stonegate. Fingery shadows from the old elm materialized on Emma’s bedroom walls, then disappeared as quickly as she had. It’d been so easy, magical even. As Emma lay contorted on the ground below breathing in dirt as her last breath, Jillian curled in a ball on Emma’s bed beneath the patchwork quilt she’d envied the first time she saw it. Her head was spinning, the aftereffect of showing Emma how to chew the root. It was a small price to pay. Now, all she had to do was wait. Wait and watch the shadows come and go until Emma’s mom appeared to say good night. Then she’d feign sleep and play her part as events unraveled.
Truth be told, she was slightly perturbed. Things had happened quicker than she’d envisioned. How was she to know Emma’s fair body would react so efficiently to mandrake root, or that Emma would drop with barely a sound, save a dull thud, drowned out by the sound of Jeopardy blaring on the TV below?
A light from the neighbor’s porch went on. Off. The light from Emma’s porch went on. Still no one came. A dog barked in the distance as if calling out, “Jillian, I know.” A smile known to no one save the Devil crossed her face. Stopping herself from laughing, she whispered, “You may know, but no one else does.”
Emma had been easy prey. She was the first to welcome Jillian to Stonegate Elementary: bubbly smile, perfect hair, fashionable clothes--everything Jillian wasn’t. Innocent and vulnerable. By the end of the week Jillian was invited to dinner where she was introduced to perfect parents and a magazine worthy bedroom. Jillian watched TV a few years back before the picture tube went; she knew only children longed for a sibling to admire. She was up for the task. Now, she too was an only child; it was just her, mama, and an unborn fetus.
Upon coming to Emma’s room, Jillian plopped onto the bean bag chair by the desk. Emma followed suit dropping onto the one by the window.
“Hey, I have something for us to try,” Jillian said, reaching into her backpack. “Before I met you, I spent time at the library, and old lady Abbott told me about an ancient way to become blood sisters.”
Emma sat up looking intently at the long brownish thing Jillian was holding, “What is it?”
“It’s Mandrake root. I dug it up in the woods. Mrs. Abbott said kids would take turns chewing on it while telling each other their darkest secret.”
Jillian sensed hesitation, “It’s OK, if you don’t wanna--”
“Of course I want to,”
“OK, I’ll go first.” Jillian nibbled the root enough to expose the juicy inside, then handed it to Emma. “It’s not the best thing I’ve ever tasted.”
Emma tenderly put the root into her mouth and chewed, “Yuck.”
“Yeah, like I said. You sure you want to do this?”
“Yeah, I’m sure,”
“I don’t really have a dark secret, so how about I tell you the scariest story I’ve ever been told?”
“I really don’t like scary stories that much, Jill--”
“It’s not that bad. I’ll stop any time you say.”
“There once was a little girl who lived happily in a big house by a lake with her Mama and Papa. Every day her Papa came home from work, picked her up and swung her around telling her she was the prettiest little girl in the world. One day, her Papa came home, walked up the steps into the house, leaving the little girl alone, confused. After dinner, she was told her Papa’d lost his job and had to find a new one. Soon, they’d move to an apartment in a big city with tall buildings, honking, and no yard. Their dog Binky didn’t like that. Neither did the little girl.”
“This. Isn’t. Very. Scary,” Emma said unaware she was slurring her words.
“Oh, just wait.”
“One day, the girl woke up to her mom screaming. She ran into the kitchen to see Binky in a pool of blood. Later the vet would explain that he’d eaten poison from somewhere. The vet asked if there was a disgruntled neighbor, did Binky bark too much? But the girl knew. She knew she had to save Binky from the horrors of city living. She’d found something under the sink with a skull and crossbones on it, and put it in his bowl with his food that night.”
Emma face looked flushed, “But didn’t the girl love the dog?”
“Love? It’s not about love, the girl was doing Binky a favor.”
Jillian continued, “Shortly afterwards, Papa came home distraught again. Another job lost, and Mama was going to have a baby. This time they moved to a mining town, a reflection of hell on earth, wooden shacks and black dust. Months passed, baby came, and kids teased at school. More winter and baby crying, and Papa too tired to kiss the girl good night.”
“This. Is. Sad. Not. Scary,” Emma said, attempting stand.
“Where are you going?”
“To the bathroom.”
“I’m almost done, please wait.”
Emma stood, wobbling as Jillian continued.
“Mining’s a dangerous job. It wasn’t long before there was a collapse, and one day the girl’s Papa didn’t come home. At night mama couldn’t stop crying as she rocked new baby brother. The girl knew what she had to do. That night while her mother was asleep, the girl snuck to her brother’s crib, pillow in hand, placed it over his face and pushed. Legs and arms swirled, but she was steadfast until they stopped. She slept well that night, until waking to her mother screaming.
Months went by. Things grew gray in the house. Mama barely got out of bed. Food was scarce. Until, one morning mama got up and made breakfast, announcing they’d be moving to a town named Stonegate, that she’d gotten a job, that it’d be a new start, that the two of them had to stick together.
So they moved. But things weren’t better because the girl felt different. No one liked her at school except one girl who was perfect and rich. It was only a matter of time. So one night she made her mama tea adding a root that’d cause her to be very sleepy; she wouldn’t feel a thing, and went for a sleepover at her friend’s house.”
“Jillian, is this almost over?” Emma’s eyes were glazed. She could hardly stand.
Serendipitously, the moon’s light cast a fingery shadow. Jillian knew it was a sign. “Emma, look at those fingers on the wall behind you. See? Isn’t it like a hand pointing outside? What’s it pointing at?”
Emma turned, following the shadows to the window.
Jillian thought it couldn’t be much longer. Another bark--how sad it must be to be a dog who can sense evil, but do little about it.
A knock. “Emma. Jillian.”
Jillian pulled the quilt tightly against her, squelching a sense of delight, and closed her eyes. The wait was over.
|# ? Feb 11, 2019 02:15|
Nicolas sits, face to the wall, and waits. He has been waiting for a very long time.
He is cold. The thin air is just below freezing. The stove lies dormant. There is nothing left he can burn in it, nor air rich enough for anything to burn. The stocking hung over it bulges as to burst, but he pays it no mind. When the sun rises it will be unpleasantly hot, with just a few seconds of comfort between. The thin air changes quickly. It dries his throat. It hurts to breathe.
He is thirsty, beyond thirsty. Fresh water is a distant memory. The oceans are a distant memory. When the icecaps melted and his old home sank into the Arctic waters, he rafted south and found this shack, preserved by luck and isolation. The previous owner was well behind objecting. Now his old home must rest on the dry seabed. He wonders what state it is in, but not enough to start a long walk. His muscles ache at the thought, but everything hurts, thought of motion or not.
He is hungry, and this he knows will last forever. There is some food here, hoarded on his long journey south. Nicolas knows how much he would regret trying to eat any of it. His mouth cannot water, and even if he forced dry crumbs of bread down his throat, the flora of his gut have long since starved away. Eating would just exchange some hunger for the sharper pain of passage. Not a bargain he wants to take.
Most of all, he is bored. He had long since given up counting years of being the last man alive. He counts by epochs now, by ice ages and hot times. Since the Earth lost most of its water even that count is difficult. There are no books in his house, not since the early cold times. It does not matter. He has an excellent memory, and has read them all. He can make the words appear in his head, in sequence. It passes the time.
More often, he remembers his past. The tiny fraction of it, before. The heated debates over substance and similarity at the Council of Nicaea, and how good it felt to strike that pompous misbeliever's face, sin though it surely was. The bags of coin thrown in through an open window that started the legend, and all of those years of living it. He has re-lived it all, hour by hour and day by day, more times than he could count.
The end of it he remembers most often. The last Christmas, the last child, the last disappointing gift. Nothing could console him: his parents dead, himself sick and starving, with none left doing any better. Nicolas could not fault that bitterness, but neither could he grant a wish for a speedy death. He tried distraction, and failed, and watched the boy curse his birth and eat poison. Nicolas remembers the smell of sulfur.
He can still sleep, still dream. That mercy remains. Most often, he dreams of snow. He slips, from memory to dream, and then back again.
There is a knock at the door.
He tries to say ‘Come in,’ but his throat is too dry for sound. He stands up and walks across the shack. He knows who it must be. Doors and locks are no impediment to that one, but their politesse will delay their entry for a long time. Better to avoid the wait. Nicolas opens the door, and the Devil comes in, bearing a bottle of brandy and two glasses.
He takes the offered drink and swallows slowly, letting it smooth and fortify, and remembers the first time he met the Devil face to face.
“I could spare him, you know,” said the Devil, already behind Nicolas. “From the whip, during his time below.”
“Forever?” said Nicolas, turning around.
“Nothing is forever save Paradise,” said the Devil. “Not since the Nazarene made my Hell mere Purgatory.”
They dickered. Not for Nicolas’ soul, that was not his to give. In the end the Devil agreed to spare them all, for every soul to be in comfort as their terms passed, all in exchange for him tarrying alone on this dead world.
Nicolas clears his throat. He has question, and the spirits have given him a croaking voice to ask it. “Why?”
“Maybe I wanted a subject, here. I am King of this world, now that it is done. Or maybe I wanted to see what a mere human could endure.”
“Or maybe,” says Nicolas, “You were done with it. Needed some excuse to end the cruelty, at last.” He holds up his empty glass and the Devil pours more brandy into it.
“I have not been kind to you,” says the Devil.
“I could let go at any moment,” says Nicolas. “My discomfort is not on you.”
“No,” says the Devil. “Just you, and the one who set the sentences.” He waits for Nicolas to finish the second glass. “ There are only a hundred souls left, below. The worst of the worst. Tyrants. Genocides. Men and women whose evil lived on to harm Innocents centuries beyond their deaths. Souls that won't move on until millions of years after the planet below you has crumbled and been swallowed by the expanding sun. Nobody would blame you for ending your vigil now.”
Nicolas stands up and walks across the room, to the stove. He reaches into the stocking and pulls out something black and hard. “I will tarry that bit more,” he says. He puts the coal in the Devil's hand. “From the beginning, I have always found even the meanest, the most unruly of His children deserving of the gift of a few hours’ warmth.”
|# ? Feb 11, 2019 02:42|
Lottie lived alone. Had since she was barely twelve. Too used to the cramped cabin she and her parents lived in, Lottie never sought more than what she knew. Various keepsakes of her mother’s: Commemorative spoons, porcelain figurines, hoops of cross-stitched farm animals. Tokens of her father’s literary side: Stacks and stacks of newspapers, every Reader’s Digest anthology from the 1950s, legal pads full of notes.
There was very little in her walls that was Lottie’s. Instead, her life manifested itself in her meanderings through the woods her cabin rested in. Having grown wary of civilization - especially since everyone in town had gotten automobiles - Lottie kept a vegetable garden. She set traps and checked them twice a day. In the summer she fished from the stream a mile into her woods. Outside was Lottie’s. But only during the day.
Night was on Lottie’s mind every hour from dawn until the sky died. Triumphant orange to bruised purple. Night didn’t let Lottie stay out to see the stars. It pressed her inside with a fetid smoke emanating from somewhere in the woods. Ten years ago when it started, Lottie looked for its source during the days. She found nothing.
So, every night Lottie stuffed shreds of her father’s newspapers into the door’s cracks and slept fitfully. Despite the years, Lottie had yet to grow habituated to the stench. By morning it dissipated, as if it had never been there at all.
Lottie merely added it to her list of burdens and moved on best she could.
Something changed on Lottie’s 76th birthday. Instead of checking her traps, Lottie walked into town and enjoyed a root beer float. She bought some nice stationary and a fountain pen and walked about the town, taking in the sights.
The townsfolk who recognized her couldn’t help but stare. Lottie was something of a legend; the inscrutable hermit of the woods. Lottie smiled her shy smile at the ones who met her eyes. The elderly residents traded stories about running into Lottie in the woods, being dared by an older brother to knock on her door. When their tales reached dead ends they moved on to imagined reasons for Lottie’s visit.
Back home, Lottie turned in early. Made a quick supper of a fresh tomato and yesterday’s cornbread. She sat out her stationary and pen. Slowly at first, then in rapid bursts she wrote a note, pausing every now and again to gaze at the late-day sun on her floor. Complete, she folded the note and weighted it down with an empty crystal vase.
Used to her self-inflicted prison, Lottie was quite accustomed to waiting. She watched the sky change from her chair near the window. Her hands itched to block up the door. Her nose burned in anticipation of the smoke. She fought herself, fought the years of passivity. It had turned night. Like reaching old age, it had been gradual, taken for granted, and then suddenly it was night and Lottie was old.
The gray-green smoke began to worm its way into Lottie’s cabin. It didn’t move like smoke; it seemed to have a substantial mass, as if it could be picked up and examined. It soon covered the floor.
Swallowing the desire to gag, Lottie got up, placed her hand on the door knob. It was death, surely. Death had been calling her these past ten years and she had kept it out with her dad’s old newspapers. But Lottie had grown tired of the long nights of fear. She opened the door.
The night was sticky with humidity. Her neck tingling, Lottie walked down into the forest, from which the smoke poured like a river in reverse. As she passed the pines and oaks she noticed a light much like the car headlights she detested, though this light was ran through with a cold blue. Despite the warmth of the night air, Lottie shivered.
Continuing on, Lottie had the sense that she had traveled much farther than possible; the forest was deep but it ran up to her nearest neighbor’s land. She should have reached his fence by now. She kept walking and soon saw a crouching figure silhouetted by the blue brightness. She stared at it awhile, hesitant to disturb it.
“Death?” she asked. The figure whipped its head towards her in surprise. Its face was reminiscent of a deer skull. Of flesh, not bone. Rising from its crouch, Lottie gasped to see the creature in full. It had the muscular torso of a man terminating in insectile legs.
“I’m surprised you finally came,” it said. It spoke in strange halting gasps. The words were phonetically correct but Lottie felt the creature did not know their meaning. “I thought the smell would bring you down. But it had the opposite effect.” It laughed. “You are alone. Like me. Will you stay and talk?”
Lottie stood her ground, did not back away at the creature’s looming form. “Why did you take my parents so young? I could have had more of a life.”
“I am not who you think.”
With no further explanation coming, Lottie asked, “Then who are you?”
“Just a passing shadow. Looking for companionship.” The beast motioned for Lottie to sit. She did, and it followed suit, kneeling on its perilously thin legs.
“Why-” Lottie started, but the thing interrupted her with a raised finger.
“My turn. Why did you stay? In the house?”
“It didn’t feel right. I loved my parents. I wanted to still feel them. And then I guess I got comfortable.”
The thing’s nightmarish head bobbed as if it understood. Lottie looked at it for permission to ask her own question: “Have you lost someone before?”
Slow, fat drops of rain began to fall, displacing the smoke around Lottie and the creature. In response to the question, it muttered a yes and passed its hand back and forth over the emanating light, causing fractional seconds of pitch darkness. For the first time, Lottie could see its eyes. Tiny and far away, glowing yellow in the blackness of its skull.
Time had passed. From seemingly miles away, Lottie heard her neighbor’s cocks begin to crow. Morning. Lottie and her companion stood. The former turned and began to walk home.
It called after her. “Will you come back. Tonight? No smoke.” The creature laughed.
“I think I will.”
Back at home, Lottie read over the note she had left. An account of her life, where she wanted to be buried, what could be done with her things and her house and her land. She shook her head and thought of her new companion. Exhaustion soon caught her up. As the sun rose, Lottie fell into a calm and deep sleep.
|# ? Feb 11, 2019 04:33|
The Vitruvian Beast
Word Count: 1193
The wind blasted through the old house like a demon, slamming all the doors at once before dying almost entirely.
“What was that?” Asked John groggily from his sleep.
“It was just the wind,” said Mary, as she rolled over in bed and sighed.
“Probably, but I’ve never seen the wind do that here. I’m going to go check,” said John. He got up and put on a pair of trousers and his suspenders.
“Blasted war,” he said to himself. Leather rationing meant no more belts.
He lit his bedside lantern and went downstairs. The wind that remained wailed quietly through an unseen opening as if someone was screaming in the distance.
A loud thud came from his front door. He opened it.
“Mary!” He called out. “Bring a blanket!”
It was a man; totally naked, covered in deep cuts, and bleeding.
They dressed the stranger’s cuts in the bathroom. Mary used her good linens for bandages. They put him in the guest room.
They were woken again that night by the sound of wind. This time it sounded more like howling, off in the distance.
That morning Mary telephoned the doctor. He had several other patients to visit, so he could be as long as four weeks.
“Call me if his condition changes before then.”
Two weeks passed, and still, the stranger slept. They had tended to him as godly Christians should, and his wounds had begun to scar but he moaned terribly at night. His cries punctuated by the howls in the distance. Had this poor man been attacked?
John had gone looking around the edges of the property. He found tracks. Lots of them.
They heard a mad crashing that night, spilling from the guest room followed by wordless screaming. The wolves yipped madly in unison, creating a cacophony of chaos. Mary was the first to open the door.
The man was awake, thrashing and wailing on the floor. He had pulled all the hair off of his body and was bleeding from the head and groin.
They tied him to the bed with rope and put a stick in his mouth so he wouldn’t swallow his tongue.
When the stranger was lucid, he told them he was from a few hours north, where his family lived. He remembered hearing howling for weeks and had gone outside one night when it grew so close it had left his ears ringing. The next thing he knew he woke up tied to the bed.
“How’d I get like this?” Asked the stranger, flexing the ropes. They told him that he had been out for weeks, and was seizing on the floor.
“We were worried about you,” said Mary.
“We’re going to go check on your family,” said John. “Hold tight. We’ll loosen you up as soon as we get back and can keep an eye on you. The doctor is coming and we don’t want you to get hurt if you seize up again.”
After they left the room, Mary asked John if he really thought the stranger could have another episode.
“Maybe,” said John. He grabbed his shotgun, their lanterns, and they departed.
The forest was mute as they traveled. Gone were the birds, as was the wind. Only the sound of snapping twigs and the gurgling of a stream.
Dusk approached. It was further than the stranger made it seem.
The homestead loomed before them in the twilight. It was raining faintly but no smoke came from the chimney and no light from the windows. The door was open.
“Keep an eye out,” said Mary as she approached the entrance. John put his lantern up on a stump and leaned against another tree opposite the lantern so that his silhouette would blend in.
“I’ll be over here,” said John.
Mary’s lantern was illuminating the front of the house, but its light was lost in the absolute darkness within the doorway.
She edged her way to the door and looked inside.
Mary clenched her hand over her mouth and ran to John as fast as she could.
“What’s wrong?” He asked. She grabbed his shotgun and shells, ran back to the doorway, and unloaded both barrels.
She fumbled two more shells into the shotgun, vomited, and blasted inside again.
She pulled out two more shells that she dropped before collapsing and crying, her head resting on the barrel of the empty gun.
John cautiously approached, put his hand on Mary, and peered inside.
He saw two dead wolves among the strewn body parts of human beings torn limb from limb.
Flies covered everything.
They told the stranger they found nothing as they untied him.
Mary called the doctor the next day. He said it would be okay for him to move around, but to also get plenty of rest and food as well.
“I’ll be there in a week and I can give him the full check-up,” said the doctor. “I can’t diagnose over the phone I’m afraid.”
John called the police after. They sounded skeptical of John’s claim of the house in the woods but said they’d investigate within the next couple days.
“That’s pretty remote and we’re low on manpower. The war, you know how it is,” said the policeman, “Say, why didn’t you enlist?”
“I did,” said John, hanging up the phone.
The stranger passed his time chopping wood in the back. He insisted he ‘earn his keep’.
Mary was making tea on her gas stove when there was a pause in his rhythm. She felt eyes watching her. When she turned to look, he had lodged his axe blade into another large log, hoisted it on to the chopping block, twisted his axe free, and cleft it in two.
He repeated this for days. Always a single stroke.
The howling continued all this time, growing closer and louder. There were more of them. They were hungry.
The morning the doctor was supposed to show up for the appointment, the stranger left without notice.
Mary tried to call to cancel the appointment, but there was a problem with the phone. The wire outside had been chewed.
By dusk, the doctor had not arrived.
There was no howling that night.
The next night, the full moon shone through their windows and the howling was outside their front door, piercing their ears and tormenting them.
Then a scratching, tearing at the front door, building to a fever pace as it smashed back and forth in place.
John grabbed his shotgun and they went downstairs. When they reached the kitchen, John stopped and gave Mary the gun. The front door was just through the kitchen hall.
“Take this. If anything comes through this door beside me, you blast them,” said John as he disappeared into the dark passage beside the stove.
Mary braced herself against the kitchen table. The scratching stopped and one lonely howl echoed through the night, more man than wolf, more pain than fury. Then there was the sound of crashing wood as if lightning had struck a tree, followed by a deathly yowl.
Mary leveled the shotgun at the door. The darkness moved. Her shotgun screamed.
|# ? Feb 11, 2019 05:29|
A Hole to Hide
Evelyn woke up on the cold wood floor. The room spun in the pink light, the sun filtered through the red curtains. A chair lay in splintered pieces beside her. The icebox was open, and the head inside eyed her fiercely.
“Clean up the mess, Eve.”
The head was stuffed sideways into the shelf for fresh meats, its scar-split mustache mottled with bits of grey. Evelyn avoided its stare as she stood up, slowly, the world tilting. The sounds of the summer forest surrounded the one-room house. The smell of roast beef hung in the air, though it was tainted by a faint trace of excrement. Floorboards were ripped up in the corner of the room, exposing a hole. Dirt had been thrown everywhere.
“Why is this place so filthy, Eve? It smells like death.”
The light intensified; it hurt Evelyn to keep her eyes open, making her head throb. The mess in the room worried her. So did the roast getting cold as it sat in its pan on top of the stove. However, it was the hole in the floor that worried her the most. It would take hours to clean and repair the floor. Yet the darkness of the hole eased her, too. It was a bastion from the piercing light. Dirt slid between Evelyn’s toes as she shuffled to its edge.
Dried earth formed the walls of the hole and a pipe near its lip ran down its length. A blue light revealed a bottom far below. The smell of excrement was stronger here. It disgusted Evelyn, but also made her sad.
The head in the icebox began shouting. “What is this, Eve? Where do you think you’re going?”
The voice hit Evelyn’s head like a train, rattling her brain as it berated her with questions. She kneeled down and grabbed the pipe with both hands. It was cool and and firm and reassuring.
“Eve, what have you done?”
Evelyn went down the pole, which was smooth in her hands.
The darkness made Evelyn feel as if she was plunging slowly into an abyss, the blue light gradually coming up beneath her. Eventually her feet landed lightly on the ground next to the icebox.
It was her house, albeit bathed in blue rather than pink. Snow-reflected moonlight made its way through the windows. The dim light and cool air helped Evelyn’s headache as much as the stench and crying aggravated it.
“Eve! Eve! Eve!”
It did not come from the icebox but from the roast pan sitting on top of the stove. The house was in disarray: crusty pots on tables, piles of soiled cloth littering the floor. The broken chair was fixed, but there was still a hole in the corner, the floorboards stacked in neat piles along with the dirt.
Evelyn opened up the icebox, wary and tense. There was no head inside. She relaxed, but was also upset. Where was it? Why wasn’t it here? Evelyn hated herself for hating that it was gone.
The cries were knives to Evelyn’s ears. Grimacing, she went to the stove. Inside the roast pan was a nest soaked in filth. Blind, hungry, and demanding, baby birds writhed around each other, calling out.
She was mad that she was alone, mad at all that she had to get done, mad at the demands for her to feed, to clean, to give up her own needs.
Evelyn’s stomach turned from the smell of excrement and sick and spoiled milk. The fumes from the pan burned her sinuses, scorched her throat, brought tears to her eyes.
She slid the pan into the oven.
The cries became screams, each racking the insides of her head.
Evelyn slumped to the floor. She crawled to the hole; it was a small depression, not deep. She sunk her hands into the dirt, scooping it out, piling it on the floor over the uprooted boards.
Her hand broke through the dirt, felt empty air. There was another pipe. Evelyn grabbed it, pulled herself over the lip and slid through, the earth falling apart around her as she went down. The screams faded above her.
“Eve! Eve! Eve…”
She landed on the floor harder this time, staggered, caught the icebox for support. Its door was open, pink light coloring its contents.
“What is this, Eve?”
The voice was deep.
There was no head in the icebox. The room smelled of roast beef and excrement. Evelyn worried that the roast beef was getting cold. She went towards the stove and there was the roast beef, sitting out.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
Evelyn avoided looking at the hole in the corner where she knew the floorboards were torn free and dirt was scattered.
The voice raged behind her from that hole.
“Eve, what have you done?”
Suddenly her head hurt more than ever, an explosion of pain causing stars and darkness.
Evelyn opened up her eyes. The room spun as she laid on the cold wood floor, pink light filtering through the red curtains while the sounds of the summer forest leaked into house.
“Clean up the mess, Eve.”
|# ? Feb 11, 2019 05:51|
A Rifle Isn’t a Maybe Kind of Thing Though
flerp fucked around with this message at 21:29 on Apr 12, 2019
|# ? Feb 11, 2019 06:16|
He's No Reid Fleming
Cliff is a milkman, he assumed.
Standing in front of a door the same pristine white as his uniform, he was uncertain if he should knock or already had. He was empty handed and felt he was missing something. He felt anxious and vulnerable that his hands weren’t occupied with a task.
He looked down and saw full milk bottles sitting by the doorstep. The caps were unbroken and had the gentle face of a smiling cartoon cow printed on them. He gently kicked one with a polished black shoe making a pleasing warped ring and watched the milk slosh as though to confirm if he – or anything else – is real.
He ran his palm slowly along the top of the porch’s rail with a light grip to the sides. It was smooth and sleek with a fresh coat of paint it gave Cliff the impression it was built yesterday.
The window by the door had a floral pattern curtain obscuring the inside of the house. It had a pale green field scattered with various sunflowers blooming from twisted and turning slim stalks. He stepped closer and tried to peek through the thin gap between the curtain’s flaps. He leaned forward and brought his right ear close to the window. He was tempted to press his ear against it but was concern he would leave a greasy streak that someone would be annoyed that they would have to clean.
It was dark and quiet; no, Cliff decided, it was empty.
The house before him was a mock up of a house he concluded. A husk meant to replicate a home and tease anyone who would mistake it for the real thing. Cliff felt like a heel; the fooled target of a mean-spirited joke. He wasn’t going to make a scene or demand an answer. Cliff was going to keep his composure and save his dignity and simply leave.
He turned and made measured, paced steps down the steps and off the porch as not to indicate any humiliation he felt. The last thing he wanted to give to the unseen prankster any satisfaction that their joke was clever and worked.
Then Cliff was facing the door again.
It was the same house. The same floral patterned curtain hanging in the window and the untampered milk bottles in the exact position where he last saw them.
Cliff blinked twice and step backwards when he heard a cat’s meow. He spun around saw a tortoise shell cat sitting on the porch’s rail swaying its tail looking at him with patient regard. It jumped down with a muffled thump on the wooden planks of the porch and began to rub against Cliff’s legs. Disoriented, he made an exaggerated step over the cat making sure not to accidentally step on it.
Cliff took in a huge breath from his nostrils and followed it by a exasperated exhale. The joke was stale to begin with, but this was becoming cruel. He’s not sure how the prankster managed to redirect him back toward the house, but he wouldn’t be stopped this time.
He straightened his cap and tie, crane his neck around and square his shoulders and made hard, deliberate steps off this porch. A professional shouldn’t let anything stand in the way of his deliveries and no one is going to discourage him regardless of how smart some people think they are.
No door this time. He continued straight onto a cement walkway that split a neat and trimmed lawn into two even halves. Cliff continued his march away from the house despite noticing how deliberate everything felt. He gained more distance with every step daring not to look back in fear he would find himself back on the porch facing an unanswered door. He was approaching a milk truck parked in the street with the same cow logo as the bottles painted on the side. It didn’t surprise Cliff to see it waiting for him to board back on it.
Cliff still had a nagging sense something was missing as he reached the end of the cement path as it meet the sidewalk. That his hands should be busy or holding something despite feeling the relief of getting back on the road and back to work.
He heaved himself back into the driver’s seat sliding behind the wide steering wheel. The keys were still in the ignition. Cliff pressed down on the clutch and twisted the keys starting the truck. He gently pressed the accelerator.
Before he could feel the truck move, Cliff was face to face with the door again.
Turning from the door, he saw beyond the porch the walkway and his truck waiting at the end. The tortoise shell cat had returned but was content to groom itself this time unconcerned with Cliff.
Cliff held his head low, facing the door again, and made soft headbutts to the it. He made three thuds and uttered “drat” to no one in particular.
The door opened with a swift move away from Cliff. In the threshold stood a woman busy drying her hands with a towel before throwing it over her shoulder. She had a surprised look and smiled when she realized he was the milkman.
“Oh, I didn’t hear you pull up. You must be Cliff!”
Cliff wasn’t about to explain why he was banging his head on the door and was quick to cover himself.
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered, “your always reliable and completely sane milkman Cliff Horne.”
They both laughed. Cliff knew she was laughing out of politeness to entertain someone trying their best at being humorous. He was laughing out of relief.
“Mrs. Glessner, by the way.” She stuck her hand out and Cliff. “I was hoping to meet you since we’re to the neighborhood.”
“Nice to meet, Mrs. Glessner,” Cliff said as he started shaking her hand, “and if you ever need cream and cheese, we deliver those, too.”
“But I’m must be on my way. Have a wonderful morning, ma’am. See you Wednesday!”
Cliff was quick to return to his truck making a inconspicuous march back to his truck. He began to experience that forgetful anxious that plagued him again. It was though something was missing from him.
Frances got home late from the model show. Since retiring she had found a new passion in building dioramas. Her current project was rebuilding her childhood neighborhood street from memory. She only had one house at the moment, the one meant the represent the home she grew up in. She finally had it complete and furnished including a small plastic cat that look so much like her beloved childhood companion Mr. Tubbs. And today she had a piece that had eluded her for so long.
She didn’t realize how hard it would be to find a metal basket for her model milkman to carry. She even found empty bottles small enough to fit inside it.
Soon, she like to imagine, he’s going to have a whole town to serve.
|# ? Feb 11, 2019 06:57|
Diving Expedition - 566 words
The apartment was full to the brim with water. A three-room aquarium, semi-furnished, suspended in liquid. Claire stood there in the hallway, her free hand to her temple. Though she held the door open, no water emerged. The flood within retained its shape.
Henri prodded at the doorway where the surface tension gathered, and recoiled. "It's real," he said. He tested it again. At his feet was the box of Chinese food he'd dropped.
"Charlie," Claire muttered. She tapped her foot.
"My pet. He does this when he feels unhappy."
"He floods the entire apartment?"
'"He's an octopus."
"That..." Henri hesitated. He looked from Claire to the waterlogged apartment. "I don't think-
"I'll take care of it," she said. She flashed a weak smile. Her eyes looked tired. More tired than normal.
Rolling up her sleeves, she took a few breaths - slow and measured - and stepped through the portal, eyes shut tight. The surface tension closed up around her, sealing her form within the room.
The water was cold and clear and cruel. It enveloped her body, her shirt billowing around her. She retained control. She opened her eyes. She was in her living room, completely submerged. The bedroom lay beyond, and farther still the bathroom. She clenched her fist and moved through the water.
The contents of her apartment drifted around her: her books, her mail, her clothes like seaweed. A batch of cut flowers had escaped their vase. They hung in the air as though trapped in blue amber.
Claire cut through to the bathroom, to Charlie's domain.
The bathroom stood in sharp contrast to the rest of the apartment. Even flooded, it was an obnoxiously wholesome pink. There, floating above the sink, Charlie caressed the mirror with his tentacles.
Claire's expression grew stern. She reached for the octopus, only for him to slip away across the tiled wall. Fighting forward through the water, she could feel her breath running low. She leaned down and found the bathtub. The drain had been plugged. She reached down and yanked it out.
There was a pop, and a rush of water greeted Henri at the doorway. The apartment flooded out into the corridor, through the cracks in the doors of the other tenants, washing him away down the stairs.
As the water drained, Claire swam up to the widening ceiling and broke through the surface. She took a great gasping gulp of hair, her hair plastered about her face, and returned below. Charlie had reached the far window. She shot forth and snared him. He squirted her with ink. She winced and held fast and brought Charlie close. The room around her circled the drain.
Claire blinked. The aquarium was no more. Her apartment was normal, if damp and disordered. She held Charlie nestled close to her heart, his tentacles flailing around her arms. She sighed and stood up, and saw herself in the mirror. Her face and collar were stained a deep black.
"Got him," she said aloud. She kicked off her shoes and stepped out of her socks. She walked barefoot into the living room. Henri was gone. "Henri?" She leaned out the doorway, down the hall. Henri didn't respond. He didn't return.
She held Charlie aloft and sighed, a grim acceptance in her expression.
Charlie squirmed ineffectually in her hands.
"I'll see what's in the fridge, then."
|# ? Feb 11, 2019 07:13|
I also to write my outstanding week 338 and 339 stories before this weeks sub deadline.
I fully regret doing this. But what's done is done.
Prompt: Winchester Mystery House
135 words [ok this one i flat out didnt finish, but it's 12pst now so welp]
“My name is Nathan Lethal,” said the recording to the room full of government officials. “I am currently-- I believe I am in what is known as the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. The year is--” the voice cuts off in response to an unheard sound, followed by staticy rustling as the receiver is moved. “Nineteen ninety five. I have lost all communication with Headquarters. I’m afraid to say that, although I may survive this-- or, ha, just imagine the looks on your faces when I--” He coughs. “Anyway, Dr. Malignant has already escaped with the formula.”
The room remained stoic. Some watched the recording device with interest, some listening intently with their eyes shut.
“The Gate was already active when I found him. It’s-- I’m sorry. It’s hopeless. My mission was a failure.”
Prompt: Serial killer - Monster - Buddy cop (ignoring "documentary about fame" cuz the week is over and idk how to incorporate it)
Drag Me To Hell - part 1
Carlos Vasquez’s bedazzled stiletto heels clacked twice on the sidewalk before he leaned to remove them, left then right. Daniel McAdams stumbled out next to him from the nightclub’s back entrance, right arm stuck haphazardly through the wrong part of his bra.
“Take those off before you hurt yourself,” Carlos gestured to Daniel’s identical heels. “And stuff your poo poo back together. Your hip pads are looking like butt pads. And your boobs are diagonal.”
“Did you see what they had me doing to that pole? I’m lucky I didn’t fly out of this thing.” Daniel smirked as he adjusted himself.
“Oh please, this was tame for Sexy Cop Night. You’ll get used to it, newbie,” Carlos winked, which looked difficult to accomplish with the false lashes. “Oh, would you-- here,” Carlos said, moving to adjust Daniel’s wig and the plastic police badge pin on his collar. “Now--”
“Ex, excuse me officers?” came the meekest voice imaginable but spoken at full volume. The two performers turned to face the most flustered-looking man ever, clutching a pad of paper to his chest. “I, um, lost my dog?” he said, rifling through pages and then holding one up. “She looks like this.”
“That doesn’t look like a--”
“Shut up,” Carlos whisper-yelled. Then to the stranger, “Sir, we aren’t exactly... er...”
Daniel chimed in. “Equipped--”
“Equipped for, uh...”
“Please!” the man yelped, his notebook suspended between the palms of his begging hands. “I’ve been chasing her all across the city, but it’d really help loads if I had your, uh..” Glancing back and forth between the plastic gun props clipped to their buxom hips, he managed to get out a fain whimper. “...on my side.”
Carlos and Daniel shared a look that they both interpreted the same way: "gently caress it."
"Aight," they said.
Jelly spurted out the sides of Lilly’s sandwich when she bit into it, staining her fingers and shirt an icky red.
“See, I told you it’d be too much,” her father said, laughing. “Here, let’s not waste any,” he said as he took a napkin and gently lifted a glob from Lilly’s shirt up to her mouth. It was overwhelmingly sweet, but Lilly liked it. She gobbled down the rest of her juicy meal.
“Can I have more, Daddy?” she asked.
“Oh... only for you,” he winked, exiting the room.
Walking into the nursery with purpose, Lilly’s father already knew who he had in mind. Lifting the plumpest sleeping baby from its crib, he headed to the kitchen.
|# ? Feb 11, 2019 08:08|
Submissions are closed. Rituals of judging will begin tonight.
|# ? Feb 11, 2019 12:21|
|# ? Feb 12, 2019 07:48|
Prompt misers! Charlatans!
|# ? Feb 12, 2019 09:53|
there will be no prompt until 2000 words have been collectively written on: duck farts
so let it be mote
|# ? Feb 12, 2019 10:16|
Duck and Cover (640 words)
The saloon doors swung wide and fell off the hinges. The whole room turned to see who it was. There, framed in shadow, stood Ten-Hats McGee, a decidedly plump mallard tucked beneath his arm. His eyes were cold and and calm and calloused. His nose was bandaged. Severely bandaged.
Old Ten-Hats scanned the room, the unwashed masses; scruffy beards and dirty faces, mouths stuffed full of discount liquorice. At last he spied it, his prey. "Dim" Doc Donahue. His expression darkened. He stepped in from the heat.
The duck quacked once. Twice. The pianist began to play in minor key.
Doc swallowed, a finger at his collar. "Ten-Hats," he said, his throat parched, his voice pitched. "How's... how's it been?" He tried to force a painful smile. His teeth were gold and silver.
"Six weeks," said Ten-Hats drawing closer.
"S-six weeks? Already? My how time-
"You left me out there to die, Donahue."
Doc tightened his grip on his glass of water. Below the table, his right leg pumped with a nervous energy.
"N-now you know that were never my intention, Ten-Hats."
"Maybe," said Ten-Hats. He'd reached the table, duck in hand. "But you did."
Doc leaned back in his chair, a furtive glance to his left, then his right. Those around him pushed back their chairs. It was just him and Ten-Hats, the table, and the duck.
"You know the rules," Ten-Hats said. He presented the duck, turning it around.
Doc kicked up the table, cards flying, and scrambled for an exit. Ten-Hats circled around and snatched at his leg. One clean jerk was all it took. Doc slammed to the ground with a shudder. Ten-Hats was on him. He pinned him to the ground and sat on him.
The rest had pressed back against the walls of the establishment. They could only look on in horror.
"Ten-Hats no! Ten-Hats please!"
"You know the rules!" Ten-Hats repeated. He raised the duck aloft, looked it straight in the eyes. It was the fattest, most rotund duck any of the bar patrons had ever seen.
The duck quacked once. Twice. Three times. Ten-Hats began to lower the avian.
Doc struggled and twisted, only to stare face-first into the depths of the duck's feathered anus. Ten-Hats pressed the bird down upon him. He gently massaged its slender neck.
The duck ripped the loudest, longest, largest fart any man, woman, or child had ever heard. Bystanders fell back flat against one another, overpowered by the wave of flatulence. The air was thick and stale and sickly. The stench was simply
Coughing and wheezing, hands and handkerchiefs over mouths and noses, the crowd dispersed in every direction. They bust through doors and jumped out windows. The bartender hopped the counter and sped for the entrance. The piano player stayed just long enough to play one last note on blast before hurling himself out after his boss.
Doc's instinctual fear overrode his common sense. He screamed. He shouldn't have. The duck wasn't finished.
For the next ten minutes that duck produced such a symphony of gaseous expulsion such had never been equaled in all the animal kingdom. By the time it was finished, Doc had long since passed out. The duck itself had grown limp and scrawny, its feathered flesh hanging loose about its skeletal body.
The duck quacked once. Only once, and never again.
Ten-Hats stood up, the duck cradled in his arms like a newborn babe. Turning on his heel, he made for the door, only to stop at the exit and look back at Doc.
"Let this be a lesson, Doc. Don't ever duck with me again."
Bad Seafood fucked around with this message at 15:18 on Feb 13, 2019
|# ? Feb 12, 2019 11:21|
I Smell a Murder Most Foul
“Did you know that ducks can’t fart?”
“Jerry, why do you reckon I’m interested in this fact right now?”
“Because, Herb, if you were a duck, I wouldn’t be gagging right now!”
Herb smiled a half-apologetic, half-proud smile, then stood up from his investigation of the body.
“Throat slit with his own dip pen. Antiquated, but effective, I guess. Did you find anything?”
“A lead, maybe.” Jerry pointed to the bones collected on a plate, sitting in the middle of the mess that was the table.
“Someone picked those clean. And?”
“Multiple someones, my friend. This was an entire bird, our poor victim did not eat his Thanksgiving dinner alone.”
Herb contemplated the portly corpse splayed on a dirty floor in the tiny hovel they had been called to far too late in the evening.
Jerry sighed. “He set the table for at least another person. You can glue together the plate shards if you want, but unless he was hungry enough to eat with three forks…”
“I get it, I get it.” Herb squatted down again accompanied by the sound of creaking leather. He lifted a downy object. “The dead guy was pretty bad at cleaning up. Left a bunch of feathers lying around from plucking.”
“Wait, is that a duck feather?”, Jerry asked. “I knew the bones were too…”
He stopped himself, wrinkled his nose and coughed nastily. “Jesus, Herb!”
His colleague picked himself up and decided to ignore his guilt this time in favor of groaning. “God, I’m still so full from yesterday. So they ate duck for Thanksgiving?”
“Look at this place!” Jerry’s arm swept broadly through the poorly-lit room. “These people are dirt-poor. Of course they can’t afford Turkey!”
“I was dirt-poor as a kid, Jerry. We always had Turkey. Always.”
This gave Jerry pause, and they decided to include an extra question to the neighbors, and sure enough: everyone had eaten Turkey for Thanksgiving. Some had to share one, some just got the dry breasts from another family. But the community was closely-knit, and nobody had to spend Thanksgiving without its signature meal.
Except for the victim…and his mystery guest.
The two cops decided that this was their most promising lead. Everyone had claimed to have eaten Turkey, but they also all swore that no stranger had entered the small village through its only road during yesterday’s celebration. One old woman living close to the “Welco e to ur beaut ful vil ag “ sign (it had seen better days) was particularly adamant about always seeing strangers enter, and there being too many in general, but not during Thanksgiving, thankfully, and would the two nice men like some cookies?
So they rounded up the villagers that didn’t have an alibi on the next day, two after Thanksgiving. There were still some (confirmed?) bachelors and cat ladies around even in this conservative shithole out in the middle of nowhere, where being unmarried over 20 aroused instant suspicion – none of those could claim convincingly that they were with family on the day of the murder.
The interviews were unsuccessful. To nobody’s surprise, lonely outcasts of either gender tend to be a little cagey and/or plain weird. So Herb and Jerry had to come up with a plan.
“One of these fine specimen ate duck instead of turkey yesterday. And therefore was probably around for the murder, making them a prime suspect.”
“I think it’s the quiet guy who’s got the shivers. He’s way too nervous for just being asked a few questions with a bright light shining in his eyes and his wrists cuffed just in case.”
Herb stroked his chin.
“Alright, maybe he is the right amount of nervous and all the others are too calm.”
Jerry sighed. “Listen, this is going nowhere. Have you talked to Forensics yet? Can they, like, test stool samples for duck DNA?”
Herb shook his head. “Haven’t yet, but that would take so long! I’m still constipated as hell from the day before yesterday!”
“Couldn’t tell from the way you smell! I keep thinking you poo poo yourself every time you bend over for something!”
“Can’t help it, man…”, Herb began to apologize, then stopped himself, and his face began to light up.
“I don’t like the looks of this one bit”, Jerry said about as nervously as the shiver guy.
“You know exactly how turkey farts smell by the amount of exposure you got. Don’t you think that duck farts would smell quite differently?”
Jerry splayed his arms outwards in utter disbelief. “You’re a loving lunatic if you think I’m going to go in there and smell everyone’s farts!”
“It’s our hottest trail! Most of them are gonna have turkey farts…” Herb let out a little squeaker. “And one is gonna have duck farts!” He crouched, compressing his stomach, and blasted the office with a “duck” fart.
Unfortunately, after recovering from both the olfactory assault and his subsequent assault on his partner, Jerry had to confess that he had no better idea for keeping the trail hot. And so they interviewed everyone again, watching for the tell-tale lifting of one cheek from their uncomfortable chairs, and kept their noses open.
Miraculously, their smell cells stayed intact, and at the end of the day, they did find their suspect. It was in fact Shivers who smelled like he had eaten water- instead of landfowl.
“Okay, buddy, the jig is up. We know you shared a meal of duck with our victim on Thanksgiving. You lied about having turkey dinner in a can, and you lied about being alone with it at your house. What really happened on Thanksgiving?”
“H…how would you even know that?”, Shivers stammered.
Jerry was not about to divulge their shameful method. “Listen, punk…”
Herb jumped in. “We checked your trash, even though it was Herculean. No trace of a turkey dinner can.”
Shivers broke down instantly. “Alright, alright! I was there when it happened! When he got killed right in front of my eyes!”
“Passive voice is wrong for murder!”, Jerry corrected. But Shivers slammed his cuffed hands onto the interrogation table.
“I didn’t do it! I loved that man…like a brother”, he added too quickly.
“So who killed him then?”
“You won’t believe me anyway.” Shivers broke down in sobs.
Herb played good cop and comforted him a little. “Buddy, this won’t do. There is no harm in at least trying to convince us of your story, right?”
Shivers bolted upright, his eyes filled with madness. “The duck! The duck did it, okay? I know it’s absurd, but it happened! I had just had a few bites, because I was late and he had started without me, then suddenly a flurry of feathers, a stolen dip pen flashing, and blood sprayed everywhere! And a beady eye on the side of an iridescent green head stared at me, and through a beak he said: ‘I came here only to avenge my wife. He murdered her and ate her. You are lucky that you did not participate. Leave here, forget about what you saw, and stick to the bloody turkeys next time!’
And I ran…just ran, as fast as I could. It was too terrible, too surreal, and…I didn’t know if the duck was really satisfied with just one human paying for what happened!”
Herb and Jerry left Shivers to recover from his tale recounted through spitting fits. They almost simultaneously made a “this guy’s off his rocker” gesture and shared the grin of a friendship galvanized through years filled with dead bodies, shoot-outs and hell’s smells.
There was no reason not to, so they drove back to the village to investigate. Also, for the official record, they did of course have to go through Shivers’ trash and not find the turkey dinner can. They rummaged, found nothing as expected, and were about to leave, when Herb froze up.
“Jerry, check this out.”
It was another feather, a perfect quill left on Shivers’ closed toilet lid, where he would be sure to find it.
“A message? A threat?”
“Come on, Herb. That cannot be real.”
“Jerry, I would buy if he got some down stuck on him as he fled the crime scene. But an entire flight feather? And does he really seem like the kind of guy to put the toilet seat down?”
Again, sadly, Herb had a point. A few long-suffering sighs later, Jerry had managed to convince himself of that fact, they found out where exactly the victim got his duck from (there was a single duck pen in the entire village, so it took them barely a minute), and went to check it out.
Sure enough, the pen had been broken into recently, and the owner hadn’t found the hole in the fence yet. They entered, and Jerry hushed Herb as he stepped on a branch.
“If there is really a murderous duck around, then we gotta be careful, man!”
Herb silently nodded, and they snuck towards the tiny house where the ducks spent the night. It was getting dark already, so most of them had turned in; a few female ones were still out, but they knew that they were looking for a mallard.
“Someone has to check”, Jerry whispered. “And that someone is you because you had this absurd idea!”
Herb shrugged, ducked…and farted a cacophony.
Madness erupted as all the ducks woke up. A mass of feathers engulfed Herb from the entrance of the duck house. He staggered backwards…and one of them, a male duck, landed on his chest.
“You couldn’t just leave it alone, eh?”, it quacked. “Just had to come and investigate, Herb!”
“How do you know his name?”, Jerry demanded, his pistol aimed at the fowl murderer.
“I was removing evidence from the crime scene when you two waltzed in. Fortunately, I can hide in small spaces really easily. I heard everything.”
“Get away from me, you freak!”, yelled Herb, but froze when a cloaca was aimed at his face.
“I warn you”, the duck said. “You were very wrong about something. Ducks can fart, and it is deadly. And put away that weapon, Jerry. You’re never gonna hit a target as small as me without injuring your partner.”
Jerry did as instructed. “It seems we’re at an impasse, duck. But you know we can’t just let you go.”
“You will have to, because nobody will believe you, like they won’t believe Shivers. You’re cops! Go frame him, get another arrest on your record, and live a happy life in which you hopefully won’t kill any ducks…or I’ll come after you!”
“We’ve been clean ever since we got our badges, you motherducker!”, spat Jerry. The duck didn’t have to know about that one time with the cocaine bust.
“Nonsense, pig! All cops are bastards!”
“We might be pigs, but you’re still just a duck”, Herb snarled. He reached up and held his breath…
The next day at the station, Herb and Jerry unpacked their lunches, when who walked in but loving Chief O’Dorter.
“Men, how about that murder case? Did you get any dirt on that shivering fella?”
“Yes, chief”, Herb mouthed around gravy and cranberry sauce. “We did find that can of turkey dinner after all. So he actually does have an alibi.”
“poo poo. Well, you better not have the trail go cold!” The chief was about to leave, but stared disapprovingly at their food. “Are those really leftovers? Looks like you got it from one of those disgusting canned turkey dinners yourself!”
“No, chief, we did not open a turkey dinner can just so we could plant it at Shivers’ place and exonerate him. Can we please finish eating in peace? You can check the meat if you want, that’s obviously not been canned.” Jerry was fed up with the chief’s bullshit. O’Dorter looked like he still had questions, then Herb farted, and the chief decided against asking.
“That smells like duck now”, Jerry commented.
“Of course”, Herb said, biting down into a freshly-cooked wing.
|# ? Feb 12, 2019 12:58|
The King-Maker - 721 words
The stuffy and toad-like Elton stalked my periphery. The old man took his duties as a royal announcer seriously; as soon as he caught my gaze leaving the alembic in front of me, he puffed up his checkered chest.
“High-Aromicist,” he bellowed, red-faced. “May I present the Nasussian ambassador, prince Ojombes, balmiest of his name, of Olfactoria, the Redolent of the Nostril Knights, the Sweet-Scented Flower of the—?”
“You may. Now go away. What’s up, Ojombes? How’re the snotty brats? Lil’ Dimples—are his arithmetics any better?”
The regal mien slipped from Ojombes as a big-toothed smile grew atop his nasal bridge. His single great eye had a warm glint. We went way back. He appreciated my keeping tabs on his favorite.
“gently caress off”
“—Ben, my old friend... He’s just cast off his mucous membrane, Dimples has. He’s becoming a strapping young schnozz!”
Ojombes could hardly contain his pride. He pranced around my lab on thin legs stricking out of his huge hip-nostrils. He was spry for his age. “Ah, Ben. Forgive me, but we’ll have to catch up later.” The Prince curtsied, the formidable bulk of his nose-body balancing precariously on twisted feet. An apologetic gesture. “Official business.”
Trade with the Nassusian people was a cornerstone of our economy. They supplied us with precious gems, which they located in the inky depths of their mines by smell alone. They had an instinctual nose for treasure, matched by our instinctual greed for it. But for all their material wealth, the Nassusian culture was a bit bland. They simply weren’t very creative. And on account of not having any hands, they lacked the dexterity required for the furnishment of finer things.
Like perfume. Our main export to the Nassusians. They were crazy for our manufactured scents; the political machinations of their court was largely dictated by fickle trends in aromatic culture.
“Prince Odora is vying for the Silver Sneezer, I know it. Ben, I—I need a secret weapon. I need your help.”
I didn’t care about royal politics. But I cared for Ojombes. The big nose had treated me with respect and kindness when I lived in Olfactoria as a hostage.
“I hear. Now smell.”
Ojombes closed his eye as I held a vial beneath his hip-nostrils.
“Ah. Is that—yes, a base-note of umbra. And styrax, beating valiantly. A dash of rose-water, but a mirage in the burnt desert.” Ojombes shook his great nostorso. “Ben, it’s sublime. But it’s also conservative.”
“Just wanted to test your ol’ olfactories, geezer. Alright, train your sniffer at this one.”
“Oh, but this—”
Ojombes’ eye darted around the room, searching inwards—finding something surprising.
“—this is castoreum! I thought the people of Castor had closed their dam-borders?”
“We found a fringe tribe—ah, I don’t like that look, Ojombes. My lips are sealed, you know that.”
“Well, whatever the case, it’s an excellent mixture. The intermingling of cinnamon and mint is transformative...” Ojombes stood at the leaded window, his nose-hair aglow like bushy halos in the mid-day glow. Doubt crept into his voice. “But no doubt prince Odora will muster all the resources at his disposal, just as I am. Ben, tell me true—will this be enough?”
It wouldn’t. I was already unlocking the wall-safe, my hands trembling as I manipulated the wheels and levers. No-one had smelled the contents but me.
“Ojombes, this—this is just between the two of us, for now. You understand? It’s still in the experimental stage.” The Nassusian’s nose-hairs trembled expectantly as I uncorked the air-tight seal.
Ojombes’ plate-sized eye became a black void as his pupil dilated. Spasms rocked his body, mucous involuntary expelling from his hip-nostrils.
The prince dropped on a stool, his feet slipping in the mess. Tears rolled down the bridge of his nostorso.
“Oh, Ben. Ben. How did you—it’s not possible. This—it’s transcendent. It’s the fragrance of God. Oh, Ben!”
Smiling, I put the vial back into the safe. I was elated to know that the endless hours of experimentation—soaking textiles, ranging from mundane linen to the finest Galordian silk, into different fats and oils until finally striking upon the perfect method of capturing the essence—had paid off. And I was relieved, relieved that my hard and clandestine work with the Duck-Breeder’s Guild hadn’t been for nothing.
“Ojombes, my ol’ beak. I will raise you to king on the flatulence of ducks.”
|# ? Feb 12, 2019 13:12|
These stories stink.
|# ? Feb 12, 2019 16:06|
Don't preface your work, man.
|# ? Feb 12, 2019 16:10|
Don't preface your work, man.
How did you know?
I once went on a hunt for a lark,
Camping on a bench in Central Park.
I shot, giving the duck a good start;
It leapt into the air with a fart.
|# ? Feb 12, 2019 16:34|
The Interprompt Adventures of Mosebjo: 14
“Duck me!” said Mosebjo, gazing in awe at the paradise of goods laid out before him. He and Space Captain James had snuck into the city the night before, shelducking through the checkpoint like silent gas through an avian sphincter.
Tears had feathered Mosebjo’s cheeks, his usual upbeat mood turning Swedish Blue as he'd untacked Caterpillar for the last time. There was nowhere to hide a Steppe pony in the shimmering lake that was Futuretechopopolis. So with a flap of his arms he'd egged Caterpillar on. The pony's thick tail fanned in the wind as he winged it south.
“Can I interest M’llard in some spaceship parts?” quacked a beak-nosed old man to Space Captain James. James rubbed his hands together with Muscovy glee.
Mosebjo was beginning to feel cooped up in the crowded marketplace, so while James was plucking the parts he needed Mosebjo orpingtoned into a nearby watering hole. Perched on a stool he ordered a bottle of brown liquid.
It tasted of duck farts.
|# ? Feb 12, 2019 20:06|
Perhaps it'd be for the best if the results are never posted, as they seemingly won't be. The sheer quality of the art produced during this inter-prompt is staggering.
|# ? Feb 12, 2019 20:30|
|# ? May 22, 2022 03:48|
Artful stories, some of which are quacking me up!
|# ? Feb 12, 2019 21:08|