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Archive for March, 2015

Card Challenge: Day 60

Fair warning, today’s is quite long (~2000 words). But I had the day off, so I decided to spend a little more time and do a bit more character/scene building. I’m curious if anyone has any opinions on the pacing of this, or if it feels like then ending is a bit from left field. I’ve read over it and kind of like it, but I would appreciate anyone who could help me see my blind spots in that regard. Thanks!


Card Day 60: A man sits in a jail cell with a contented smile on his face and a ball-and-chain around his ankle. The walls behind him are covered in a faded, ornate wallpaper with concrete showing through.

Nathan watched the snow fall, relaxing in the cabin with a steaming mug of coffee and a well-loved paperback. The fire crackled in the fireplace, and all around him was silence. He smiled. This was a well-needed vacation, even if only for a day or two. Life had so quickly become a cage of obligations and responsibilities; it had taken his boss reminding him that he would soon lose his days before he remembered to schedule time off for the year. He was, in general, a simple man who was not prone to long, extravagant vacations. He was also a lonely man, unencumbered by family obligations. Still, relaxing in the old high back chair, his feet warmed by the fire, Nathan finally realized how much he had actually needed the break. It was late by the time he stumbled towards the thick feather bed, finally ready to relinquish his first vacation day. A sedated smile spread across his face as he nestled among cedar-scented quilts, sleeping easily.

The overly-cheery trill of his cellphone woke him up, though the room was still shadowed. Nathan shuffled from underneath the sheets, trying to orient himself and find his phone. Finally, he tracked the sound to the pocket of his jeans, lying crumpled in the corner. He punched the accept button at what had to be the last ring.

“Hello?” he asked, his voice coming through gruff with sleep.

“Mr. Wickers? I hope I didn’t wake you,” came the staticy reply from the other end, the man’s voice obviously realizing the inconvenience.

Nathan lied. “Not at all. Who is this, again?”

There was a chuckle, echoing through the poor connection. “Oh, it’s Ralph, the property owner. Sorry ‘bout that. Enjoying the stay?”

“Everything’s great. Is there anything I can help you with?” A trickle of irritation was beginning to form; Nathan had come here to get away from everything, not entertain or hassle with the property owner.

“Oh, no, nothing like that. It’s just—you may have noticed the snowfall.”

Looking out the window, Nathan saw it was still falling down thickly, a good foot or so of snow already covering the ground outside. It had drifted up to cover the tires of his tiny sedan, and his voice fumbled with surprise. “Oh, well, yes, I guess it’s been quite a bit, hasn’t it?”

“Yeah, the ranger is telling us it may be a couple of days until the roads are going to be clear enough to leave. Now, I know you only had it booked for last night and tonight, but having folks run off the mountain is not good for business. Plus, I just couldn’t live with myself. Feel free to stay in the cabin until the road clears up. I have a little snowmobile if you need any supplies?”

Nathan scratched his head, yawning. Well, sounded like he was going to have to take a prolonged vacation. Given how wonderful the first night had been, perhaps it was a blessing in disguise. “I think I’m okay. I always overpack.”

“Well, glad to hear it. You can call me at this number if you do find anything you need. Otherwise, there are candles in the linen closet if the power should go out. Oh, and more wood down in the basement.”

“Thank you.”

“Alright now. Keep warm, and enjoy your stay.”

The line went dead and Nathan tossed the phone onto the fluffy bed. His reticence to take vacation days was finally paying off, leaving him plenty of days to burn, even if he had to spend the rest of the month in the little cabin.

Still, the reality of the snowstorm did mean he needed to make some preparations. A chronic overpacker, he had realized his error when unpacking and left some of his food in the car, figuring the trunk would keep it as cold as the ice box. Now it seemed providential that he had unwittingly overpurchased groceries due to his finicky tastes. Those needed to get inside before his car was but another snow drift, however. Nathan quickly bundled up and rushed towards his car.

There was a childlike eagerness as he bounded through the snow, taking leaping steps almost as if he were walking across the moon. This was the kind of frivolity he had lost recently, an enjoyment of life that was buried under quarterly reports and performance metrics. Suddenly, he felt weight slide from his shoulders, an invisible burden he had not realized was weighing him so heavily down. Nathan laughed, the sound muffled by the still falling snow, but carrying through the woods.

Box of canned goods and chilled meats in hand, Nathan shoved through the snow and back into the cabin. The inside was toasty compared to the great outdoors, and he felt heat flood back into his cheeks. It was certainly a hot chocolate kind of day.

Once he had a mug in hand, Nathan unpacked his art supplies, settling himself back into the plush chair. Drawing was a love that he had clung to even when life became hectic, but one that had taken on a desperate, pressured quality. It always felt like there was not enough time, but the project had to be completed. Surrounded by snow, he felt those pressures lift. He had all the time in the world to create to his heart’s content. And so, pencil in hand, he began to sketch.

Enthralled with his work, Nathan did not notice the shadows stretching across the cabin until he finally realized that it was almost too dark to see. He gathered up some logs from the basket near the fireplace and built up a fire, giving himself a warm and shifting light to finish his work. Before he could sit down, however, his phone snapped him back.

The number was familiar as he picked up the wailing device. Ralph’s voice greeted him.

“Sorry to bo—ster Wickers,” he began, the connection clearly worse given the raging storm.

“No problem. I’m having trouble hearing you, though.”

“Yeah—tting bad out—anted to che—ou needed anything be—ight since it may get wor—“

“You’re breaking up really bad. Do I need anything tonight? No, I’m fine.”

“Sorr—to hear you are good. Have you—mily from cabin 12? I—but no one answered.”

“I haven’t seen anyone all day, Ralph.” Nathan was surprised to find himself yelling into the phone, as if that would make the signal travel farther. He shook his head at the illogical response. Oh well, no one else would know.

“—kay, guess they—fore it got bad. Ha—ice night, Mister—“

Nathan hazarded a goodbye as the line went silent, then hung up. Looking outside, he could see the wind and snow picking up, turning into a right blizzard. As a precaution, Nathan wandered to the linen closet and found the stash of candles, setting them around the cabin in case he should need to light one. He put the thick box of matches into his pocket and considered his preparations complete. Now it was time for dinner.

About halfway through cooking the steak, the lights flickered and failed in the cabin. Nathan shook his head. Looked like he would be roughing it, after all. Fortunately, he had a roaring fire ready to keep him warm and cook food.

With no lights to keep him alter, Nathan found himself growing tired not long after dinner. He continued at his drawing, trying to complete the landscape view as he remembered it from the drive in. But his head lolled forwards, the pencil slipping from his fingers. Eventually, he nodded forward in the chair, once again lulled asleep by the warm, quiet surroundings.

Something crashing against his door snapped him awake quickly and he shot up straight in the chair, sending his sketchbook skittering across the floor. The fire was low, casting long shadows around the room and giving everything a dream-like instability that left him feeling off balance, even as he stood to discover the source of the noise.

He peered out the window, noticing that the snow had taken and brief respite and let the moon come out. Its light seemed magnified by the snow on the ground and the world stretched as a brilliant sea of white. Nathan craned his head towards the door, but could not see what made such noise. Just then, another bang rang through the cabin. Hopefully it was not someone stranded out in the mess. It was not a good night for it, even if there was an eye to the storm. Feeling his concern rise, Nathan made his way to the door.

His hand was on the handle when it shook with another impact, and Nathan recoiled as if burned. That was not a knock, but someone throwing itself at the door. The desperation left him feeling wary, and his resolve solidified as low, angry growls began to emanate from the other side of the door. This was no weary traveler.

He pressed his eyes against the peephole, straining to see what was causing this ruckus. Perhaps a wolf or something lost in the snow? Wasn’t rabies a summer disease? Could there be a rabid wolf pacing around his cabin? But, looking out, he saw nothing.

Just snow as far as he could see, leading up to the tree line. No animal, no person, nothing. But he still heard the growl. Despite no change in his limited view, Nathan felt the door shudder with impact, the force transferring to him and sending him stumbling back a step. He gave a short yelp at the sudden push and stared at the door in bewilderment. There was nothing out there, but something had certainly done that.

At his yelp, the thing went silent, even cutting the growl. After a few moments, he could hear the snow crunching outside away from the door, and he rushed back to his other window, hoping to catch sight of whatever it was. He peered out through the window, and listened as the crunching snow grew nearer, the sound deafening in the silent night. Still, Nathan saw no form to accompany the steps, try as he might.

Was it snow blindness? Or was he hallucinating? Dreaming? He watched in horror as tracks suddenly appeared in the snow from around the corner. They were large tracks with three long digits, one appearing after the other. Whatever it was, it seemed to walk like a person.

A screeching sound cut through the sound of steps in the snow, causing Nathan to wince. He looked back out and saw long gouges appearing down the side of the cabin just below the eaves. The sounds of splintering wood and crunching snow melded into a medley of horrors as he sat and watched, transfixed by terror. What was happening outside his cabin? Nathan fell back from his crouched position by the window, landing on his palms with his legs splayed, but his eyes still locked to the window. It was coming closer, this invisible fiend, and he was trapped.

The steps paused in front of the window, and Nathan saw something’s breath condense on the window pane with a cloudy white smudge. He could see some shadow behind it, a flash of shaggy white fur, but the appearance faded as the breath disappeared from the glass. Nathan held his breath, hoping whatever it was would not see or hear him, would not know how to pierce the feeble sanctuary of the cabin.

Of course, whatever it was had already demonstrated its only way of requesting entry. He heard the steps move back, then surge forward. Nathan watched as the glass shattered, as something from his nightmares tumbled through with gangly appendages and the smell of rot. The snow swallowed up his screams.

The next morning, the new silence was broken by the artificial song of Nathan’s phone ringing over and over, but no one in Cabin 11 was available to answer Ralph’s concerned phone call.


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This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Card Challenge: Day 59

Card Day 59: A man and a woman falling through an orange background.

As it always had, the moon had risen bright and full on the horizon. Now it hung low in the sky, heavy and tinged orange. Nevertheless, it appeared just as content as the two silhouettes resting on the top of the train car. Ilene passed the glass bottle across the roof of the car, leaving it to the safety of Lewis’ waiting hand. They sat in silence, staring up at the expanse of stars rolled out before them. It was a mid-summer night in the middle of the South, so the air still held onto its cloying warmth and humidity. Still, it was better than trying to coax a breeze through the tiny cabin windows. The only sounds were the distant chirping of crickets and the occasional gulp from the bottle or clink of glass against the metal roof.

Lewis was the first to break the silence. “Know which town we’re in tonight?” He passed the bottle back to her, and she took a hearty swig.

“Nah, one of those one-stop deals, I think.” She left the bottle in between them. Giving way to the comfortable silence yet again. Eventually, a thought sprung to mind, and she spoke again. “Do you know when we have to raise the big top?”

Lewis sputtered around his drink, the liquid obviously trickling down the wrong pipe. He shook his head empathically as he tried to clear his airways. “Not for sure,” he coughed, “but you know boss usually says before noon.”

“Should we plan on practicing tomorrow?”

He shrugged his shoulders, relaxing back against the roof on his elbows, an occasional cough breaking through. “We can, but I’ve been tossing you around so long, I’m not sure it will help. Plus we had the show yesterday, and we don’t want to wear ourselves out.” He gave her a wink. “But if you’re worried I’ll drop you—“

She waved away the end of his sentence, chuckling good naturedly. “Drop me and I might finally draw a reasonable check from someone.”

Neither of them laughed at the joke; the truth of the matter stung a bit too much. Ilene drank another swig, sighing. The comfortable silence between them took on a mournful quality, the moon watching over with its solemn gaze.

“Hey, Leney?” asked Lewis, rolling to his side to look at her. She kept her face pointed up at the stars as if she were trying to catalogue each one.

“Hm?”

“When you were a kid, is that that you wanted to do?”

She released a grim bark of a laugh. “What, make poverty wages while being dragged from Podunk to Podunk by a fly-by-night circus? Yeah, what kid doesn’t dream of that?” The bitter edge to her voice cut through the companionable atmosphere, and Lewis rolled back to look at the stars.  He laced his fingers across his stomach, just listening to the sound of crickets. The acridity slowly faded from the air between them, replaced by the companionship that only comes from years lived in a hopeless state.

“I wanted to be a vet,” whispered Lewis, just loud enough to carry to her ears. He knew it was not the conversation she wanted to have, but it was one he needed. He needed her to help set him free.

Ilene shook her head as she took another drink. “Not me. Couldn’t stand the idea of blood and sick animals.”

He rolled his eyes over to study her for a moment. “Then what did you want to be?”

“A florist,” she chuckled, shrugging her shoulders with an air of defeat. “I guess I never dreamed too big.”

Lewis knit his brows together in concern, turning to face her full on. Sensing the intensity of his stare, Ilene even turned to look at him, the jaded smile fading on her lips. “Leney, I think you would make a fine florist. You’d do great.”

He watched her wilt, uncomfortable under his eyes and with his praise. She studied the bottle in her hand, feeling how light it was. Determined to end the moment, she tossed it back, draining the last few drops and repositioning her eyes at the empty sky. “Yeah, but I’d have to get my GED. And I was the kid with the bright idea to run off and join the circus.” She replaced her shell of sarcasm, fixing Lewis with a grin that kept him at bay, always on the outside. He wished he could crack that enigma, but she always seemed to sense whenever he was closing in.

“Well, we both made some foolhardy decisions.”

“It could have been worse,” conceded Ilene, lying down beside him on the roof. He felt her hair, long and untamed, brush against his shoulder, the scent of her shampoo drifting closer.

“True. I mean, I could have never met you.” He grinned widely, and she rolled her eyes at him.

“You really don’t give up, do you?”

“You’re the only woman I’ve found that would stick by me all these years.”

“Lew, I’m contractually obligated to hang around these train cars. Don’t go getting any wild ideas.”

“Yeah, but you’re not contractually obligated to drink on the roof with me.”

“No, but everyone has to maintain their sanity somehow. Speaking of, you’re going to have to start providing more incentives,” she shook the empty bottle, “if you expect to keep luring me up here.”

He gave her the most winning smile he possessed. “As soon as I get that raise they promised me, I will. And it’s got to be coming any day now, because—“

“They’ve been promising me for six years,” finished Ilene with a laugh. “You may also need to get some new material.”

The evening stretched between them, quietly joining their solemn counsel. It was a familiar friend, one that always joined in their ritual without fail. Given the noise and hubbub of the job, both needed the escape. Everyone needed their escape, Lewis thought, mind flipping through the many other characters. Some found it in the pages of dirty magazines, others at the end of a needle. Some discovered revitalization in a new town every night, the endless adventure of the experience. Others found it in fitness, in solitude, in study, and perhaps most popularly in the back corner of small town bars. Lewis, he found it in friendly silence and an occasional drink to unwind. He watched Ilene from the corner of his eyes. She seemed to find it in brooding thoughts enjoyed mutely with his company. The beer probably helped, too.

“Have you ever thought about quitting?”

For a few moments, he thought Ilene would not answer, but would ignore him and hope he got the message. But, finally she spoke, her voice quiet. “Every day. Don’t you?”

“Most days,” he said with a sigh. “More and more now that my body ain’t as young as it used to be.” As if to prove his point, he rolled his neck, listening to a chorus of pops. Suddenly, he propped himself up on his elbow, a glimmer of wild hope in his eyes. “What if we did, Leney? You and I just set off, started our own thing?”

She laughed at his response, and he could hear the desperation in it. No, such thoughts had no place in this world, no matter how much she might hope. “And do what, Lew? You bandage up all the strays while I make them daisy chain collars?”

His eagerness faded, replaced by the omnipresent weariness of their lives. “I guess you’re right. It is a kind of crazy idea.”

She seemed to soften at his disappointment, realizing her remarks had cut deeper than she intended. She rested her hand on his, squeezing it softly. “We are both getting too old for this. Maybe we should start planning to retire. You and me. Find some small town where the circus doesn’t run through and put down some roots.”

“Want to leave tonight?” he asked with a wistful smile.

She shrugged. “Not tonight, but maybe in the next town over.”

Lewis smiled, closing his eyes as he completed the ritual. “Yeah, next town over should be just fine.”

As it always did, the moon set slowly, abandoning the silhouettes to their contemplation.


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This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Card Challenge: Day 58

Card Day 58: A person made entirely of orange, autumn leaves walks with a wooden walking stick towards dark hills beneath an orange sky.

Walter pondered his map beneath the heavy brows of old, stately buildings. His back ached with the weight of his backpack, and his knees groaned and cracked as he stood and tried to unravel the knot of roads. He pinched the bridge of his nose, the map catching and flapping in the breeze once half-loosed. This was supposed to be the trip where he accomplished all his lifelong goals, saw the world, and embodied the idea of “aging well” that he heard preached so furiously. Instead, it seemed to be the trip of getting lost, sore bones, and midafternoon headaches.

The map continued to defy him, reminding him again and again that his eyes were not what they used to be. No, Walter agreed, they certainly were not. Then again, none of him was. Walter, of course, considered himself middle aged, but h was nonetheless old enough that people mistakenly referred to him as an elder. He was also old enough to carry the aches and pains of a life lived long and hard.

He shifted his weight, swinging the backpack to his other side and momentarily relieving the pinch against his back. The map was so small, and the buildings here were not as well marked as he would like. Walter leaned back against the nearby building, granting reprieve to his aching feet as he removed a portion of the weight. This building had stood the test of time, that e could be sure, it could handle his meager weight for a few moments.

Despite the frustrations, he smiled at the memory of many such side streets and new experiences. Yes, this travel had been rough, and his body was tired, but it had also been incredibly rewarding, He had never thought he was the kind to leave his tiny home, take off to Europe, and squander his savings on rich food and exotic accommodations. But Walter had wanted to age well, seize life in both hands as long as he had it.

And maybe that was the more accurate truth, he granted. Walter was looking to die well. Even in the twisted Italian streets, he could not escape that reality, No, fleeing to Europe, abandoning the life he had known, and putting miles and oceans between him and his doctors had done nothing to remove the burden of steadily dying. The memory swelled up, overtaking him even there. He remembered well the sterile office, the soft words, the professionalized sympathy. Words hung frozen in the air, others floated past him unheard. Six months were two words that kept his attention. Walter watched in the office as his golden years shrunk from a couple of decades to “won’t see the end of the major league season.”

There were, of course, so many pitying glances. The receptionist at the front was sorrowful, eyes watery and mild as he stepped forward to settle his bill. Walter let himself chuckle in the shadowy, foreign streets. Yes, he had paid them for the pleasure of receiving his death sentence. He did suppose, however, that with such feedback, it was unwise to wait to collect on bills.

No matter how bad life had gotten, Walter had always held to his sense of humor, grim as it was. Part of his need to leave was that the folks he knew no longer had room for humor in the scenario. He was constantly being smothered by concern from his friends, neighbors, and co-workers. The jokes he wanted t make—morbid, grim, and utterly inappropriate to the situation—were met with slight gasps of shock and tearful eyes. Walter had fled the suffocating atmosphere of propriety to grieve his life his way. And so he toured lonely streets, laughing at his own dark jokes.

A car horn broke through his reverie. Somewhere, a pedestrian had almost lost a leg, he smiled grimly. It had only taken him one or two close calls with pounding heart and rapid breaths to learn that pedestrians did not have the right of way in many cities around the world. Still, he had remarked to more than one bystander, he as a dead man walking either way. Car or cancer, did it really matter at this point?

Still, the city sounds drew him way from the home he had left and back to his current conundrum. The early morning sun was shifting towards noontime, and he had still not found his desired goal. Admittedly, his journey had started a bit later in the day, as he had enjoyed a couple of hours dozing in the soft, luxurious bed and letting his aching muscles unwind. And then he had been forced by his raging stomach to endure a heavy, delicious, and decadent breakfast at a local restaurant.

For years, Walter had watched his diet. He had cut out coffee to prevent any negative cardiovascular effects. Breakfast had been a grapefruit and glass f water, perhaps with a multivitamin on the side. But here, in this world of food and fantasy, he devoured rich and creamy desserts, fatty dinners full of cheese and cream, and drank dark coffee by the gallon. The taste of pastry still hung about his mouth, reminding him of the snack he had squirreled away in his backpack for later. If you have six months he saw no reason to waste it on careful eating and moderation. If ever there were a time for indulgence, it was now.

Walter straightened and smiled as a young woman walked down the side street towards him. Young, he chuckled. She was clearly fit the middle-age category far more accurately than Walter did. A young boy hung on her hand, and he could hear the melodious voice gently chiding him. Having been a mischievous child himself, Waletr had learned that he could recognize a mother’s rebuke in almost any language, at last based on his travels thus far.

“Scusi,” he offered, his tongue trying to figure out the unfamiliar sounds. Yet again, he bristled at the difficulty of switching language. There had been a time he would have leapt between languages flawlessly, back when his mind was sharp and quick. Now, he felt like he was paging through a dictionary carved into stone tablets for as long as it took him to recall the few phrases he had learned on his flight over.

She paused, seemingly surprised by the stranger’s voice. He did his best to smile pleasantly, and she returned the smile before rattling off some string of syllables that, while sounding lovely, meant nothing. Walter continued to smile, then held out the map.

“Dove sono?” he asked in broken tones. As beautifully a the words rolled of her tongue, he felt like he was spitting stones

She wrinkled her brow—trying to decode his broken Italian, he reckoned. Walter held up the map, waving his index finger over it before giving an exaggerated shrug. Her face suddenly brightened as she let out a simple “Ah.”

The woman gave her son a sharp look, then grabbed the map with her free hand. After a brief study, she placed one long, manicured finger on a tiny intersection. “Here.” Her English sounded foreign, exotic, and perfect. Walter felt a deep sadness ell up inside of him that he had never experienced this part of life before now. How long had he wasted on his tiny corner of the world while turning his back on everything else?

“E il museo?” he asked again, his tongue beginning to wake and wrestle with the new sounds.

She smiled at him and then returned her eyes back to the map. Quickly, she pointed to another area, a tiny open square in the tangle of streets. “Here.” She added again, fixing him with a broad smile. Walter added his smile to hers as he folded the map back up and stowed it away.

“Grazie.” She half-spoke something to him as she turned back to collect her son, quickly disappearing down the shadowy street and back into the sunlight.

Walter began to walk, the old cobblestones under his feet as centuries old buildings loomed over him. There was something so right about being in the ancient city as he himself grew old. He walked the ancient city streets, feeling kinship with the worn stones he trod, the comfort of familiarity blanketing him from watching windows in squat buildings.

Walter felt as if he had a lot to learn from the city that had aged so well, well enough to become a treasure in its own right. He smiled and set his goal. He would learn to live well, age well, and die well in whatever few days he had left. With that, he pulled out his breakfast pastry, and let the sun shine down on his aching bones.


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This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Card Challenge: Day 57

Hello, wonderful Reader! I apologize for not posting yesterday. I was running from 7:30-9:45 with class and clients, so I was simply worn out by the time I finally made it home. Just a day of back-to-back-to-back appointments. So, I just had to keep myself sane and healthy. Still, I was frustrated because I really wanted to write this story! But, better late than never. I only have one day left to skip, so hopefully nothing too major gets in the way. Thanks for sticking with me, and I hope you enjoy today’s piece. Happy reading!


Card Day 57: An hourglass. As the sands fall, they cover a youthful young woman below while revealing an old woman above.

The world fell out of balance slowly, so slowly that at first no one noticed. Eventually, however, the changes grew to a swell so extreme that it was impossible not to notice. Religious folks proclaimed the apocalypse, the green champions decried humanity’s misuse of the world, and science curried to find a suitable answer for the unraveling of everything believed to be true. Nevertheless all the time spent pointing guilty fingers do nothing to slow the inevitable. In the end the world fell apart, just like everyone warned it would.

With the collapse of the world as she knew it, Opal found herself the only person—perhaps the only creature—left alive. Her world had gone from one full of joy, vibrancy, and community to one that was best described as a barren waste. Admittedly, this change had begun long before the world started its tumultuous descent into nothingness. She had wrought her own demise long before, and humanity simply imitated her chaotic spiral into oblivion.

The first loss had been her husband, an unmourned passing which ultimately freed her from his tyrannical, at times abusive rule. She had not wept for him, but had leapt into life with seal. From there, she blossomed, caring for her beautiful children, managing her household, and running her little universe in shining perfection. Her methods were, of course, trying to those around her who might have found it difficult to live to her exacting standards. But Opal had standards, and just because that meant others had to work did not mean she was wrong.

After his passing, Opal later was forced to say farewell to her twin brother, who died surprisingly young under curious circumstances. There was, of course, a shadow cast across Opal at the time, but she grieved him so deeply that no one pressed the issue. Still questions hung around the family like old cobwebs, seeking to uncover why he had died so brutally, what the symbols carved into his hands, forehead, and soles of his feet could mean, and why every mirror was shattered in his house. The craze of Satanism was in full swing, and Opal poured all her ire towards that possibly fictitious and certainly exaggerated subculture. Opal had loved her brother dearly, and many said she was never the same after he passed.

She did, in fact, become a bit of a recluse. She dressed darkly, wearing thick sunglasses and veils to cover her face. More surprising in the small town was her departure from the local Lutheran Church, akin to spitting in the face of half the town. Her children—grown by then—tried to convince her to return, but she only withdrew more and more. It became such that she rarely left her house.

Of course, then her eldest daughter died, and most thought the news would simply shatter what remained of the fragile woman. However, she responded to the news with all the grace they remembered from the woman of old, carrying herself with dignity at the graveside as she buried a child. She mourned appropriately, and then placed her home for sale. Hr life moved into times of perceived festivity. She traveled, saw the world, dressed vibrantly, and eschewd all the things a proper lady was expected to do in her old age. Opal had a fondness for Jack Daniels, ordorous cigars, and younger men. Her children, those who remained in their small hometown at least, spoke of her in hushed whispered with blush rising to their faces. Senility, they tried to suggest. But their mother would not offer them that.

No, while Opal appeared to age, she remained quick enough to cause a ruckus any time someone suggested her mind was going. Her wits never suffered, and even though she appeared to grow old, she remained as spry and active as she ever had. Many folks said she was brighter, smarter, and more athletic than the Opal they remembered way back in high school days. But soon, those folks began to die off, leaving Opal the shining example of a generation buried to time.

She buried three more children as time went on, leaving herself beholden to no one. Though the town she had once knew had forgotten her, Opal still breezed in from time to time, a figure cut out of mystery that no one rightly knew what to do with. It seemed as if she enjoyed baffling the locals, winging in with her knowledge, grace, and devil-may-care abandon for anything reputable folk would do.

Her ties to the living world grew thin as Opal buried grandchildren she had hardly known, accompanying weeping great grandchildren she recognized only by their sharp cheekbones. She was the figure in black hovering about the edges of the gravesite, her eyes turned downwards in silent contemplation, But she never stayed long, carried off by the next wayward wind to chase whatever fancy had most recently struck her.

When the world began dying, she hardly noticed. She had no one to mourn as people—young and old—began to simply collapse in the streets. The news was depressing and had no impact on her daily life, so she ignored it. Only when the traffic thinned to a trickle and her favorite shops began to board up did she notice something was wrong. Yes, something was terribly wrong. An epidemic of death wrapped across the globe, claiming victims without disease or injury. One moment, a child was laughing, the next her heart stopped. A mother drove home from work, and then plowed her car into the guardrail, brain-dead before the impact.

The anxiety that seized the planet did nothing to Opal; she knew she could not die. However it did crimp her style, leaving no one to be in awe of her, to accompany her wild adventures, to scam for a few extra dollars. The woman beholden to no one began to feel lonely, to wilt without the eyes of others on her.

And now, she was relatively certain she was the last one left on the planet. Being immortal was not nearly as much fun without an audience.

She sat just outside Chicago, resting on the hood of her most recent vehicle, yet again out of gas. She knew that the gas pumps probably still worked, but it was generally easy to just find a new one and pick up again. Hotwiring was one of the many skills her long life had granted her. Only, now, she paused for a break. She thought she had seen someone in her rearview mirror, so opted to do the polite thing and wait.

Sure enough, the lanky woman came waltzing down the highway, swaying to unknown music and dancing in the destruction. Opal’s face twisted into a bitter scowl as the woman neared. “I don’t find that very funny,” she snapped once the woman was in earshot.

The young woman smiled at her, fixing Opal with a concentrated stare. “Opal, darling!” she greeted. “I hope you don’t take offense, but,” she shrugged, “I assumed you’d be more welcoming to me with a face you can trust.”

Opal resettled herself against the hood of the car, crossing her arms. “That’s not a face I care to see anymore.”

“But, Opal, it’s your face, yes? And my, weren’t you beautiful!” The creature wearing her face smiled at herself in the reflection of a nearby car before finding Opal’s eyes again. “Were being key, I’m afraid.”

“What do you want?” spat the old woman, now beginning to feel the heat of the sun on her wrinkled skin. Her mind was sharp, her body young, but her appearance had definitely degraded over time. She did not need that worthless hellspawn rubbing it in.

“I got the sense you were looking for me.”

Well, that at least was true. Opal had finally decided she had had her fun. It was time to make peace with death and move along. “I’m ready to die,” she said bluntly, not meeting the creature’s taunting gaze.

“I’m sure you do. But that’s not how this works.”

“But I made the decision, I made the deal. Now I want it to be over!” She slid off the hood of the car, standing to her full five and a half foot height. Not an imposing figure, but one that seethed with years of unspent fury.

The young woman did not respond, but ambled along the highway, gazing aimlessly out into the wastes. “Do you even know why all this happened, Opal?”

“I don’t care why it happened, I want—“

“You should care. You caused it.” Opal’s words dried up in her mouth, and the creature smiled, pleased with the response. “You see, Life and death are so delicately balanced, and then you come along. You unhinged it all with your “immortality” schtick. I mean, really, you thought there would be no consequences?”

“But there were!” she said with a start, taking frenzied steps towards the woman. “I sacrificed everything! I gave you Samuel!”

“Ah, the brother. Yes, I suppose that sated Death for a while. But eventually, his books came back out of balance. And he’ll search high and low to find that missing number. Only, my boss and I made sure he could not find you.” Her face broke into a wide, pointed tooth grin. “We made an agreement, after all.”

“Well, then I’m ready to pay for my crimes. Give me all you’ve got, drag me to hell if you must. I’m ready to die.” Opal put on as brave a face as she could muster, trying to cover up the years and decades of weariness etched in every wrinkle.

The demon wearing her face laughed, a throaty sound that echoed across the empty sky. “Opal, dear, you are paying already. Welcome to your Hell. You’ll have long enough to enjoy it, I promise.”


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This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Card Challenge: Day 56

Card Day 56: A boy climbing a ladder and sculpting a bird out of the clouds.

Florence had never been a good sleeper, and tonight certainly was no different. She tossed and turned, fighting against her covers to achieve the perfect balance of hot and cold, feeling at once too tightly covered and too exposed. It was impossible, she decided, to get comfortable in the sweaty tangle of sheets, and the air outside of the shelter of the blankets was too chill. She gave in to the losing battle, lying helpless and frustrated in a knot of sheets, pillows, and irritation.

Self-help books all told her the same thing. Lying there and trying to sleep was not going to do any good, so she should find something soothing and relaxing to do until she felt tired again. With a groan of frustration—the clock already said 2:15 and her alarm was set for 6:00—she set her feet on the comfortably cool wood floor, padding softly towards the kitchen.

Growing up, her mother had always given her a glass of milk and crackers when she could to sleep, and Florence repeated the ritual religiously. A snack acquired, she sat munching at the darkened kitchen table, trying to figure out why her body could be so tired when her eyes remained so alter. The crackers were loud in the silence of her home, the only sounds the occasional hum of a car drifting along outside and the quiet whisper of the air conditioning circulating through the house. It stayed set on a nice, cool temperature at night, just like the doctor ordered. Not that it helped.

The first part of the ritual complete, she moved to the living room, the dog-eared book and tiny reading light at their appointed positions. Computers, television, and cell phones were all forbidden, but books were highly recommended. Sometimes Florence felt she should probably develop a taste for bad books so that they would actually put her to sleep. Still, doctor’s orders.

A few pages in to the dog-eared copy, she did feel her eyes beginning to get slightly heavy, just enough that she dared hope it might be working. There was something about reading that quieted those anxious voices in her head, lulling them into sleep just as surely as smoke stilled the hornets’ nest.

Her chin was sinking onto her chest when there came a slight knock at the door. It was quiet, but rang out obtrusively in the quiet of the house. She snapped to attention, a new wave of fear crashing over her. Who would be out this late at night? Why would they knock on her door? What could they want? Should she call the cops? Was it a ploy?

New anxieties began buzzing about, shattering the forced meditation of her evening ritual. She set the book down from where it lay steepled on her stomach, leaning forward in her chair. There was no other sound, no call for help, no repeated pounding. In fact, the silence refilled the house so quickly, she assumed it had been a half-experienced dream, a car backfiring on the road that her brain twisted into some fitting sound. Still there was a tiny doubt nagging at her, and so she walked over towards the door. Peering through the glass, there was nothing out there but her front porch, wilting flowers that reminded her to add “water the plants” to her checklist.

Turning to walk away, her foot brushed up against something. It was a tiny package wrapped in butcher paper and bound with twine. It was awkwardly oval shaped, and definitely foreign to her house. Had she heard this dropping against her floor?

A thousand new questions began clamoring in her head as Florence carefully undid the string and unwrapped the present. She was half expecting a severed finger or ear to leer out from the wrapping. Instead, much more pleasant fare awaited. Inside was a small, ceramic dove. Its wings were spread mid-flight, and it was crafted finely enough that she imagined she could see the feathers ruffled by the air. It was beautiful, she conceded, if still a creepy package to wind up in her entryway at nearly 3:00 in the morning.

The trespass sent chills up her spine, but she found the object captivating. It was hard to focus on all the anxious thoughts as she stared at it, the limited light from streetlamps outside glinting off the smooth finish. It was perfect, cool to the touch, and oddly reassuring. Still, she as certain the excitement would keep her up the rest of the night. Might as well finish a book, at least.

Returning to her chair, Florence found herself turning the trinket over in her hand, examining all the impossibly tiny details. She was drawn to it, her eyes running back and forth over it, seemingly discovering new details at each pass. Without realizing it, her hand began to loosen and her head dropped forward. Eventually, she fell precipitously to sleep, the figurine resting softly in her lap.

_

In her dream, she was flying. The landscape raced away below her, dappled pastures broken up by stretches of pale white clouds. The sun was warm, the breeze cool, and she felt the exhilaration of freedom rush over her. Ahead, a mountain swelled into view, its peak snowcapped and gleaming in the brilliance of the sun. Guided by a quest she only half understood, Florence swung herself towards the mountain, diving at a microscopic opening hundreds of feet below her.

The landing was smooth and gentle, carrying her gracefully into the mouth of the opening. She rested briefly, and looked up to see an open door. Listening to the draw of some unspoken goal, she walked through the door.

The inside of the mountain was beautiful, swirls of white, pale blue, and purple rock dancing about in naturally flowing veins. The walls glimmered with embedded minerals, giving the whole place a seeming glow. Following the path, she eventually entered into a large room seated at the base of a sweeping caldera. Sunlight streamed into the room, highlighting a tiny man carefully carving an abstract figure. To the best of her knowledge—and for some reason, she felt she should trust her gut here—it as a man and woman dancing.

“Ah, Florence,” he chirped as she entered. He carefully descended from the ladder in a cloud of rock dust. It was hard to tell where the pale white dust ended and he began. He was swallowed by a long white beard and a mop of white hair which danced about him like a fine mist. His cloak had likely once been a nice, bright, cheerful blue, but it had turned pale at the accumulated debris, as had the simple brown pants. There was not a clean inch on him, but that did not prevent him from making a show of dusting his hands on his pants.

He extended a hand once he reached her, and she bent to shake it graciously. The wisdom of her dream had fled, and she was merely confused. “I’m glad you made it. I’ve been trying to get in touch with you.” He fixed her with a stern glare, his eyes a bright stone grey. Normally, she could see them shinning with glee. Now they looked somewhat serious, though still inviting.

“You wanted to see me?”

“Well of course. You don’t think folks just wander their way in here, do you? I’d never get my work done!” he said, gesturing quickly at the statue behind him. Florence nodded knowingly, but her puzzlement spilled out across her face.

“But I suppose that is precisely the problem, now isn’t it?”

“I really don’t know,” said Florence honestly, trying to take in whatever was going on around her. She missed the confidence of her previous flight.

“Of course you do. I’ve been in here working diligently to craft you the best dreams I can. I have worked up all kinds of wonderful things. And what do you do? You let them go to waste, spoil, and rot!”

“I—I’m sorry,” she began her stammering apology, but stopped as he waved his hand.

“Yes, I’m sure you are. But I am a busy man. Do you know how many dreams I have to construct a night? Do you? Billions, Florence. And then so many people do not even appreciate what they are given.’ He sighed, shaking his head. His cheeks were flushed red with the passion of his speech.

“I try to sleep, but—“

He waved off her defense once again. “Now, I took valuable time out of my day to meet with you about this. I simply cannot spend my time on projects that are going to waste.”

“I don’t know how to fix it,” she mumbled, her eyes scanning the ground. He pursed his lips and studied her out of one eye, thoughts obviously racing through his own head.

“Yes, that is a problem, isn’t it?” He stroked his long beard once, twice thoughtfully. “Do you think you could give me some sort of notice? Maybe if you know you aren’t going to sleep, you could just let me know, say around noon?”

“I wish I could, but I just can’t. What about that statue you sent me?” she asked, surprising herself with how easily the pieces fit together.

He shook his head. “No, far too tiring for me. If I did that every night, I wouldn’t get half of my dreams done in a day.” His voice trailed off, and then his head shot up, a smile on his face and twinkle in his eye. “I’ve got it!” He raced off to a workbench near the nearly-completed statue, pulling up a sheet of paper. “You are on Earth, right? Well, I’ve got just the thing. One of my coworkers brought it in just this week. The perfect sleeping potion!”

Florence grabbed the paper from him, her eyes scanning it and devouring it eagerly. Yes, it all made sense. It was so clear. She nodded, a smile swallowing her face. “This is perfect!” she exclaimed. Not only had he solved his problem, but hers as well.

The man nodded knowingly, turning back to his project. “Just don’t forget it. I won’t have myself wasting all this energy for nothing.” With that, the beautiful dream faded into swirls of color, then darkness.

_

Florence woke with a start, the sound of the alarm chirping from her bedroom. She craned her neck, stretching out the sore muscles form the uncomfortable position. This was not recommended, she thought grimly. Still, she felt rested, somehow at peace. It had something to do with a dream, she thought fuzzily, grasping at what remained. She remembered sculptures, rock dust in the air, and flying. But the details remained a hazy suggestion of something more.

Still, as she shifted to get up, she felt the dove sculpture shift in her lap. Somehow, that seemed to remind her of something, something old and half-remembered. She set the figurine on the table beside her, mentally making a grocery list. Some sort of inspiration told her it might be the answer to what she needed.


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This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.