Welcome to the Attic!

Posts tagged “apocalypse

A Listener Reviews: The Phenomenon

The Phenomenon

Episodes:  16 episodes in two seasons. Season 3 is set to start in October!

Length: Generally around 15-25 minutes

I’ve listened to… All the episodes released so far. I cannot wait for season 3!

The Premise: Creatures show up in the sky. If you look at them, you die. And the world circles the drain pretty quickly thereafter,, but things manage to keep going from bad to worse as new dangers appear. The survivors must try to understand what happened, what is happening, and what is going to happen if humanity hopes to survive at all.

My Review:  If you have been looking for some very well done post-apocalyptic horror, this is a great podcast. It is dark and pulls no punches showcasing just how terrible the end of the world can be. There are monsters and there are people turned monsters, and humanity is safe from neither. Not to say there are not bright spots and good people, too, but there is also not an attempt to paint silver linings to the grey clouds.

There has been a recent surge in apocalyptic media using this theme of the danger of sense (be they sight, sound, or otherwise). The Phenomenon has some concepts that show up in other such properties, but manages to rise well above others. The tag line of the show is simple: “Do not look outside. Do not look at the sky. Do not make noise.” And from this simple directive, they derive so many surprising developments and challenges. What I think makes The Phenomenon so great is that the threat is not static. Whether from within or without, there is a dynamism to the show that suggests the truth– and possibly salvation–is always just a step beyond what is known. It does what good stories do, however, in that as new information is revealed, new challenges and wrinkles show up to keep the tension high.

The sound design is great; I find this particularly audiodrama very immersive because of that. It complements an great script and the excellent work of their voice actors. Overall production of the show seems to be top notch, and so it makes for a really engaging listening experience. The story is expansive in scope, but is well crafted from start to finish.

Speaking of expansive, there are a lot of characters to get to know. I think that was my biggest challenge overall as I started listening to the podcast. I had some trouble keeping everyone organized as to who they were, how they related to other characters, and even where they were at times. As the show has gone on, I have gotten better about this…and some characters no longer need to be accounted for. Like I said, it definitely does not pull punches when it comes to being a rather dark exploration of humanity after an apocalypse.

I have routinely been surprised by the twists and turns this story takes. If you have seen and heard of similar stories and thought this fits the same mold, you’re probably like me and probably just as mistaken as I was. The Phenomenon really excels not only in the quality of the product, but in the creative development of its story. The plot borrows some themes from apocalyptic stories (and of course it does, that’s the genre) but finds ways to make those new. There is a careful balance throughout of hope and hopelessness that is so delicately crafted, it elevates other themes from the genre, such as the search for safety or a “cure.”

Overall, The Phenomenon really showcases how great apocalyptic fiction can be. It shows all facets of humanity when faced with such peril. Characters are good, bad, and everything in between, making impossible decisions in impossible scenarios that, frankly, get worse by the day. It is realistic, shocking, and beautiful. I can highly recommend it and suggest you catch up on the first two season before the release of Season 3.

You can find them here: The Phenomenon


A Listener Reviews: Still Lives

Still Lives

Episodes: 8 episodes in this contained story

Length: Generally around 20-30 minutes

I’ve listened to… the whole story

The Premise: Five people live alone in a post-apocalyptic world…until one day someone knocks on the door. With this change comes many others that threaten the delicate equilibrium they have established.

My Review: This is another story that is all told in one season release. And, much like The Deca Tapes last week, it tells the story in a packed eight episodes. And again, it is a story I was so sad to see end. It starts quiet and slow, and builds tension in a more restrained way. The stakes are high at times, but the tension built is of a quiet sort that seeps into you and twists into knots.  The creators have described it as a “pastoral post-apocalyptic audio drama.” When you break down what that means, it does an excellent job of describing the tone and feel of the story. It’s quiet, subdued in that pastoral sense. But it’s also post-apocalyptic. So the main reason it’s got such a quiet tone? Most of the humans on earth are dead, with all our noise and chaos.

The story focuses on five main characters: The Archivist, the Cook, the Scientist, the Soldier, and the Kid. The Archivist is the main character and the narrator for most events, and she develops as a rather complex character. In fact, all the characters are pretty complex. They are flawed, selfish, and impulsive at times throughout the story. But their wants, desires, and ways of handling situations are so painfully human. They make mistakes–some of them big–and there are real consequences. There are also situations with no good solution that left me feeling bad for the characters put in those predicaments.  In eight short episodes, I was able to connect with the characters and see their perspectives, even when I disagreed or knew it was going to lead to trouble. It is that realism that captured me and separated this story from the millions of other post-apocalypse tales that have flooded…well…everything.

This is certainly the kind of story that could go on for many seasons and episodes, meandering through crisis after crisis. However, I think its strength is that it does not try to do that, but instead focuses on telling one story, and telling it very well. It has a clear beginning, middle, and end. There is a central conflict that the characters are working to resolve, each in their own way, and their success or failure is what drives everything forward. I found some episodes a little slower than others, but I think that is a good thing. There is tension in the story surrounding timing, and so it’s fitting that I’m getting nervous and wanting to rush ahead, because rushing feels like it would solve the in-world problems. Even if it might not.

My critique does come at the end, in the way things were wrapped up. Without giving too much away, I felt it was too convenient in how it tied up loose ends. There was ambiguity, moral quandaries, and uncertainty all throughout. To have an ending that put a bow on so many things was not as satisfying. I think I wanted more ambiguity in the ending, to leave it a little messy. While I like the clarity about how things end, it felt inconsistent with the other story beats. That said, it did end everything and bring the main conflicts to a satisfying resolution.

While the story was not always positive and uplifting, I found myself enjoying listening simply for the quiet, contemplative tone that it set. The characters were human in all the best and worst ways, the story followed a steady and even pace, and the themes presented were really interesting to hear. I spent a good bit of time wondering about some of the dilemmas presented, trying to figure out right, wrong, and a way out for the characters. It is a different take on the apocalypse, but one that is refreshing in its perspective and treatment of human themes.

You can find them here: Still Lives


First Draft: When Nothing Happened

The end for our town came with neither the promised bang nor whimper. It came with silence, presumably sometime in the middle of the night when most of us were sleeping and those few awake were focused on other, seemingly more important, things. I don’t know who first discovered what was happening, but everyone knew something must be wrong when the internet stopped working. No one in town could get a signal in or out. Cell towers must be down, was the first thought. Or maybe some big power outage in the local big city. Our small town was mostly just a parasite, sucking down resources from the city to thrive in relative isolation. But that also meant that anything happening there without fail trickled over to us in due time. And with the internet down, there was no immediate way to figure out what that might be.

Things for me, at least, took a turn from annoying to bizarre when Judy Calvin stumbled in to the local diner—I was in there for my morning coffee before trudging down to the local grocery to start my shift. She worked in the city doing something—accounting, maybe? But she came in that morning looking pale and wide-eyed. Without a word, she slipped into a booth, sliding her bag and jacket across from her. From a distance, I could see her lips moving, but as far as I could tell she wasn’t saying a word. It was certainly an unsettling sight to see. I usually ran into her at the local farmer’s market, smiling and bubbly with an arm load of produce. This was certainly different.

Lorene, co-owner and unshakeable waitress at the greasy spoon, made her way over to the table with a pot of coffee and a tepid smile. Customer service, always, but caution most of all. Lorene had seen her fair share of bad stuff—being on the edge of town meant she had seen a lot of trash tumble in and out in her time.

“Looks like a rough morning, Judy,” she began, pouring a cup of coffee without waiting for the request. “Need me to get anyone?”

Judy’s eyes swung up to look at Lorene, and finally sound starting to trickle out of her lips. I still was too far away to hear clearly, and judging by Lorene’s face, she wasn’t faring much better.

“Sorry, what now, hun? Do you need me to call David? Maybe see if someone can take you down to Doc Linehan this morning? You don’t look so good and—“

The volume increased, now a frantic whisper that snaked across the surprisingly quiet diner. Everyone seemed to be straining to hear. We were a small town, so gossip was mostly our lifeblood. And this would be a story worth a few rounds of drinks at The Watering Hole later on.

“The road is gone.” Those were the first words I heard. The first sign to me that this was something more than small town gossip. She hadn’t hit a hitchhiker with her car, come across a deer carcass, or been chased by some local hoodlums. She had either had a significant mental break, or something unheard of was going on. I’m writing this down for posterity, so I guess you can imagine which it was.

“I was driving to work, and it just disappeared. It was there, and then there was nothing. I was in the nothing. The road is gone. It’s just gone.” Her voice was steadily rising in volume as she spoke, and I watched as my fellow nosy patrons began to shift with the same discomfort rolling through me.

“There’s nothing there!” she yelled now, then took a deep breath. “Nothing.” With that, she quieted again, back to the silent whispers that echoed only in her own mind. Lorene stepped away from the table, her normally imperturbable demeanor showing just the hint of a crack. “Lucas,” she snapped to the boy behind the counter trying to look busy refilling patron’s coffee mugs that had evaporated under his distracted gaze. “I need you to call Doc Linehan and Sheriff Marsh. I think Judy might need some help.”

“But the phone’s are down,” he replied dumbly.

I had always admired the steel in Lorene, and it came out now. “Well, we got someone here who needs help. I suggest you start running to town and get back as quick as you can.”

The boy pulled off his apron and set aside the coffee in an instant, spurred into movement by her decisive leadership.

“And Doris,” called Lorene as she made her way behind the counter.” Doris’s grey-haired head peaked from kitchen window, as if she hadn’t been listening the whole time. “Get a breakfast plate rolling for Mrs. Calvin here.” As she turned back to the counter, I heard her mutter under her breath, “There’s not much a full belly can’t at least help.” Then she took to wiping down the counter, one eyes watching Judy who only moved her lips in some silent chant.

I looked at my watch. Assuming Lucas kept his pace—and I somehow had no doubt he would—it would be at least 20 minutes before he returned. Assuming, of course, the Sheriff was in the station and Doc was not meeting with a patient already. That would put me at least 10 minutes late for my shift. I knew I needed to leave, but also knew that this was the kind of event Mack would understand me missing for. Or, if not, at least the kind of event that meant my shifts at the grocery would mean very little very soon.

I sipped my coffee—Lorene refilled it without ever looking at me. The diner had gone quiet with everyone waiting for the mystery to unfold. My money was on drugs, then. Someone had slipped something into Judy’s breakfast, leaving her to experience a fantastically upsetting trip halfway on the way to work. But there was something about her demeanor, the silence and terror, that left some primal doubt wriggling in my mind. Lorene took the plate from the window after a few minutes, setting it gently on the table in front of Judy who never looked at it.

In fifteen minutes, the chime over the door rang and Lucas strolled in with the Sheriff and Doc Linehan. I had not estimated them hitching a ride in the Sheriff’s cruiser, though I suppose I should have. For a moment, I felt more at ease knowing the professionals were here now to sort out what was going on. But that faded when I saw how serious the Sheriff looked. He knew something about this, and he didn’t like it. Doc Linehan followed behind a few steps, smiling at the patrons as she entered with that comforting smile she brought to all her patients. We were lucky she stuck around to start a practice, I suppose, when she could have made much more money opening up in some big hospital somewhere.

“Mrs. Davis,” said the Sheriff with a gentle tone that contrasted the determined look in his eyes. “I hear you may have seen something this morning—“

“The road’s gone, Tripp,” she said in a flat monotone, not looking up. Gone was the urgency, the desperation in her voice. The Sheriff glanced over at Doc, both of them exchanging knowing glances. Drugs, I felt the certainty increase.

“I was driving, and it was there. Then it wasn’t.”

“And where’s your car, Mrs. Davis?” he asked, cutting her off.

Now she turned to look at him, a fresh wave of terror washing over her features. “I—I got out to look. See what was going on. I only took a few steps away and it—it was gone, too.”

Sheriff Marsh sighed, then grabbed at the walkie on his shoulder. “Got another one, Jessi. Can you find Shawn Calvin? Have him come down to Lorene’s to pick up his wife.” He took a few steps away, pulling out the notebook he kept in his front pocket to jot down some notes. Doc Linehan slid into the booth next to Judy, her warm smile beginning to break through the layers of frozen terror holding her captive.  There was quiet, muted conversation before the doctor began to make a cursory exam. Checking pupils, taking temperature, measuring pulse, all while smiling.

I was truly late for my shift, but that seemed less important now. Judy was another. That meant something big was going on. However, it seemed unlikely I was going to learn much more here. Down the road—and clearly within walking distance—was where the real mystery lay.  I left a few dollars on the counter, waved at Lorene who didn’t seem to notice, and made my way out the door.

It was a nice morning—early fall, a bit cool, but sunny and pleasant. Outside of the diner, the intrigue began to fade. I probably owed it to Mack to show up and help him with the morning rush. He’d enjoy the gossip, I was sure, and I could catch up on it later. Being a busybody had never really suited me, even if that was the primary pastime in a small town. I already felt a bit ashamed of my open gawking in the diner. Here was someone having a rough time, and there was me staring at the sideshow.

Hands in pockets, I made my way back towards the center of town and the grocery store where I had worked since high school. It wasn’t much, but it was a living, as they said. Being single, childless, and living in a small town, I seemed like the perfect candidate to move about and try to strike it rich anywhere else. But I had inherited my parent’s house, knew the town, and had a stable, relatively stress-free job, I always figured I was already living the dream. Besides, what small town didn’t need a few cranky spinsters for the kids to someday call Old Witch So-and-So.  Live wasn’t glorious, but I certainly was happy.

I arrived at the grocery to see a few folks already waiting outside. The front doors were still locked, the lights were off. Mack lived a ways out of town on a piece of land large enough to nearly need its own postal code. He liked the isolation. But that meant if there was some sort of problem on the road, he’d be tied up. Maybe there was flooding out somewhere? I hadn’t heard any storms roll through last night, but weather had always been a bit fickle. Or maybe just some heavy fog bogging things down?

Heavy enough Judy Calvin lost her car in it? Whispered some doubting voice in the back of my mind, but I quieted it as I smiled at the soon-to-be customers.

“Morning, folks.”

“Cassie, finally, can you let us in? I’ve got to pick up a few things for the Town Hall lunch today and—“

I smiled and shrugged, effectively cutting off the conversation. “You know Mack as well as I do, Gloria. He’s not trusting the keys to the shop to anyone. Might make off with all the merchandise, ya’ know?”

She didn’t smile back, but crossed the gravel lot to her car. LuAnne and George were also waiting, but seemed satisfied enough with my response. I watched as George plugged in headphones and leaned against the wall. LuAnne simply sat on the hood of her car and watched the road, as if that would bring Mack in any sooner.

I glanced at my phone. Still no bars, still just as good as a paperweight. It was twenty minutes past opening now with no sign of Mack. He was probably trying to call, but not much good that would do him.

The autumn morning began shifting into a summer late morning. The sun was out in full force and began to bake the ground as I sat and waited. LuAnne and George had wandered off after a bit. Gloria had asked me four times if I could let her in, steaming a bit more each time. Finally she climbed into her car and said she’d drive to the city to get what she needed, but she’d let Mack know just what she thought about his service. I wished her well and waved her off. Now it was just me, waiting. It was an hour past opening and the lights stayed off.

I grabbed a newspaper from beside the door—yesterday’s edition, meaning whatever it was kept even the paper boy from making it in—and scribbled a note on it.

“Mack—been waiting here. I heard there’s problems on the road. Went to check with Sheriff Marsh. Be back soon. –C. “ I wedged it into the door, then began a slow walk back to the diner, the last place I had seen the sheriff. Lorene was at her post when I arrived, but the diner was far emptier than it had been.

“Do you know where the Sheriff went?” I asked as I entered the pleasantly cool establishment.

She smiled. “Took most of my customers with him to see what was what with this road issue. Headed that way,” she said, pointing out of town. Guess you’re off to sneak a peek as well.”

I shrugged. “Mack’s not here. Guess he must have gotten stuck, too. Didn’t know if the Sheriff had heard anything or if he had a key so I could open up for the day. Mack’d hate it, but, ya’ know, people need to eat.”

“That they do,” she said with a chuckle in her voice. “Well, best of luck.” Maybe the last bit of levity I can recall.

The road trailed down through some trees, and I followed it, staying to the side to avoid any oncoming traffic. But it was silent, only the sounds of birds chirping and squirrels darting through the underbrush. Quiet enough that I was stunned when I rounded a corner and stumbled across what seemed to be about a quarter of the town’s population. There was Gloria, gaping from beside her car. Looked like her trip to town turned out well. The Sheriff was there, staring ahead, along with a goodly number of my companions from the diner. Even Lucas had made his way down. And they were all staring at…nothing.

And when I say nothing, I mean nothing. It wasn’t white or black or dark or anything it just wasn’t…anything. I can’t describe what nothing looks like because there aren’t any features to pin it on. It’s more like some deep level of consciousness that sees emptiness and knows. The road was there, and then it wasn’t. The trees waved in a breeze, limbs momentarily existing and vanishing as they crossed that invisible boundary. And we all stared, not sure what to make of this impossibility.

“What is it?” came the stupid question from my mouth. Lucas opened and closed his mouth. The Sheriff turned and looked at me. “Not sure. But seems like it’s got us a bit cut off.”

“I’d say. Anyone walked into it?”

“A few folks, those that got surprised by it. I think Mrs. Calvin said she spent a few minutes wandering in it before showing up at Lorene’s this morning,” said the Sheriff as if this were nothing more than a sudden rainstorm that cropped up.

“Does it—does it end?”

“Don’t know,” he shrugged. “Guess that’s something we need to find out.”

He marched over to his cruiser, popping the trunk and shuffling around. A moment later, with a slam that seemed to bounce off the wall of nothing, he returned with a rope.

He waved to a couple of the gathered folks, handing the end of the rope to Frank Jordan, the deputy. Frank was a good, down to earth sort of fellow. He seemed to be taking everything in shocked, but resolute stride. “I’ll need you to hold on to this end here,” the Sheriff said, passing Frank one end of the rope. “I’ll tie the other around me, and that way I don’t get lost out there.” He ran the rope through his belt loops, securing it with a secure, Boy Scout approved knot. “If I tug twice, like this,” he demonstrated briefly, “then I want you all to start pulling and bring me back in. Got it?” We all nodded, and he glanced around, seeming to make eye contact with everyone. We were all responsible now. The reality that this was something unknown, unexplainable, impossible was all beginning to settle in on me in those moments, numbness creeping up my body like that nothingness appeared to creep along the road.

Frank held on, nodding sharply to the Sheriff who began to make his way into the nothing. One moment, he was there. The next, he vanished from view. Frank held the rope, and my eyes watched as it slowly snaked out further and further. I’m not sure I even breathed in those minutes as the line slowly wound out. Then, there was a tug—once, twice. Frank began pulling, all of us latching on to the rope and reeling it in. The rope felt light, flying in far more quickly than it had spun out. And only at the end, as the frayed end of the rope emerged from the emptiness, did the meaning fully hit us. There was silence, all eyes on the end of the rope lying motionless on the ground, trying to take in everything it might mean.

We had town meetings after that. Everyone gathered together, but no one had any answers. Had about four before everyone stopped showing up—seemed they only sparked panic and hopelessness, staring into one another’s eyes and all reading the same, terrifying truth reflected back.

Electricity lasted a few days from the local facility, but it dried up pretty quick. After a few more, I realized I hadn’t seen the sun. Light still came in the morning and darkness at night, but it was as if we were trapped in a dome where only light seeped through. There were no stars at night, no light of the moon. Just a dim, diffused light during the day and a heavy, silent dark at night.  The wind stopped blowing at some point, covering everything in an added layer of unnatural stillness. Sound seemed to be muffled, captured in whatever bubble we found ourselves in.

For a few days, everyone tried to go on like it was normal, as if it were just a long weekend and everyone had the day off. But the longer the situation lasted, the more impossible it became to pretend like this was some short-lived fluke. We busted the windows to the grocery store after four days—people had to eat, after all. It seemed like that was the moment we all made peace with the fact that this town was our prison. Most of us in town had assumed this would be the place we’d die as well, just not quite like this.

There is a rhythm to disaster as well. Wake up, go to the town hall to check for news, shop the remains of the grocery to ensure enough food for the next few days. Boil some water. Sit and watched the sunless sky fade to night.  It’s not good, but somehow humanity always seems to find a pattern. And so I lived that pattern as the members in town dwindled. I assumed folks decided to risk it, take the chance on escape.

And I have to hope now that they all made it, finding some world on the other side of this nothing that was bustling and alive and active.  Because soon, I’ll be taking that same impossible journey. You see, I woke up this morning, looked out the window, and saw that I was surrounded by nothing. The town was gone, my neighbor was gone, even the oak tree outside my window. In my gut, I felt something settled. Some part of me had known this would happen the whole time. And so I have packed the food I have into a pack, along with all the bottles of water I still had filled. I’ve got a flashlight, not that it seems to penetrate this nothing around me. Some matches, a change of clothes, and a hodgepodge of medical supplies scavenged from my bathroom cabinet. I don’t really stand a chance if there isn’t reality waiting on the other side. But I suppose I haven’t got a choice.

There are sounds in the nothing now. Something I’ve never heard before, but that I can hear as it surrounds me. Groans—almost like whale songs I heard playing that time I went to the aquarium. But deeper, sharper somehow. They don’t sound safe. I have my grandfather’s shot gun and what shells I could find, I suppose that should be comforting, but that feeling of helplessness has settled so deep inside me that nothing seems to uproot it.

I’ve wasted precious daylight writing this—truth is, I don’t want to start walking. But maybe someday this will lift and someone will know what has happened. Or perhaps you’re unlucky enough to find yourself trapped here. Maybe it will shine some light on what happened. I don’t have any answers.

Procrastinating is not getting me anywhere. I’m going to go now.

God be with us all.

-Cassie Landers


Hello!

So, 2017 has been a great, exciting, and busy time. However, all those wonderful and busy things mean I have not really been writing…at all. In February we started looking for a house, found one we liked in March, closed in April, started remodeling, and finally moved in June. Then I started studying nonstop for my licensing exam while we continued renovations on the house. A little over a week ago, I passed my exam (after around 150 hours of studying!). Hopefully, that’s one of the last big hoops on the road to becoming a full-fledged psychologist! Yesterday, we finished the final large scale interior project for the house–we’re waiting for cooler weather before tackling all the outside work.

So, it’s been good, but I’m glad to get back to writing a bit more regularly. I have been saving up quite a few ideas I want to get on paper, this one included. Plus I have some ideas saved up for Milgram that I definitely want to work on. If you’ve read this far, thanks! I hope you enjoyed this little story. Hopefully I’ll be more reliable going forward.  I don’t have any plan to buy another house or take another test. Just general life stuff. Which can be crazy enough on it’s own.

As always, I’m open to any feedback you might have. I feel rusty, but definitely enjoyed getting words on paper and creating (then destroying–sorry about that…) this little town. Feel free to leave me a comment if you’d like.

Happy reading!


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


Draft: Romero.exe

Guys, I have been working on this story for probably two years. It sat on the back burner for a long time, but I always came back to it, adding a little here and there. I really dove back into it about a month ago, and I am finally somewhat happy with it. It is an early draft, so I almost certainly will be making edits to it. I plan to submit it in this open period of creepypasta.com (I have two other pieces already submitted, and those will be posted here when I find out if they were accepted or not.), but it will probably be a later draft. I’m also planning a post  that shows my editing process, just because I have that information for this and it is a kind of cool process. But, this is the overall plot and flavor of the story, with the likely edits focusing on making the ending smoother. As this is a living document, I really appreciate any feedback you may have. Happy reading!


The implants had ostensibly started as a medical breakthrough. Injectable nanobots that could control brain functioning? The implications for modern medicine were endless, and quickly surged. Of course, with most things, the money was not to be made in life saving and life altering medical interventions, but in mass market appeal. And the market was certainly there.

David was an early adopted. He had leapt at the opportunity to be on the front lines of this new era of human communication, entertainment, and exploration, riding the wave into the future. Now, fifteen years later, they were ubiquitous. Sure, there were still luddites who refused to enter the modern era, as there always were, but he took pride knowing he had ushered in a new era with the implants

They were an integrated biomatrix of nanounits that tapped into the brain. Careful procedures and controlled biotech growths spread contact points through the sensory, auditory, and verbal processing centers of the brain to interpret and respond to neural signals instantly. It put the world at your fingertips—better, at your synapses—and David had been desperate to submerge himself in the pseudo-world the implants created.

David loved his implant. He loved the freedom it gave him to go anywhere and do anything within the comfort of his own home. He loved the instant access to knowledge, and even more so the instant gratification of pop culture. David loved to be connected, because when the whole world was nothing more than a thought away, an empty apartment was simply an empty palette for whatever he could imagine.

And tonight, well tonight he was imagining a redhead.

The implant made it easy. He didn’t have to speak, just merely think and allow the biomatrix to tap into the speaking part of his brain. It took those thoughts that could have slipped through his lips as words and turned it into data. That data sprinted to the internet and dug up a very highly rated program. Now, David had plenty of redhead’s on file, but something this highly rated might be worth it. Besides, variety is the spice of life.

As it launched, he was impressed by the full and curving figure before him, perfected in the way only a computer could mold. She was aggressive, which wasn’t necessarily David’s style, but he could handle that. She strode over to him, her stiletto’s leaving tiny knifepoints in his plush carpet. Her hands wrapped around him, dragging him closer and ensnaring him in her arms. He was captured, completely at the mercy of the technological goddess. Her passion was infectious; he let it wash over him and take control, burying his lips into the soft skin of her neck before moving towards the full breasts as they drifted towards the bed.

David actively ignored the little voice whispering in his mind that the flesh his hands explored so eagerly was nothing more than a few stray electrical impulses. He pushed aside the notion that his own rising arousal was just a brain mediated process that triggered the right muscles at the right time. If he could hear, feel, see, and taste her just like she was real, who could argue against the reality of it? Who decided where the line between reality and fiction was when his brain registered every simple motion and touch as real?

David had his fill and rolled onto the sheets beside the woman. He wasn’t desperate and lonely enough yet to waste his time cuddling in the afterglow with zeroes and ones. He thought to close it, but was surprised when he could still feel her weight fluctuate slowly with her breath in his bed. Close, he thought again, but nothing happened. David looked over at the naked program lying in his bed, beginning to wonder if he had so blur the lines between the implant created reality and external reality that he had forgotten seducing such a vixen. That was impossible…but….

Her back was to him, and he felt his eyes wander down the soft S of her spine, but he snapped them back up to reach towards her shoulder. He felt warm flesh between his fingers as he tugged at her, urging her to roll towards him.

She did, but the face was different. There was no more beautiful young woman, but now a wrinkled hag wearing an ill-fitting red wig. She cackled before springing towards him. Her legs wrapped around his torso as her rotted mouth pressed against his lips again and again, her decaying teeth pulling and tearing at his lips until they bled.

David began desperately pushing her away, feeling old flesh tear at his advances. He clawed at her, screaming for the program to close in thought and word, but nothing happened. She continued pulling at him, smothering him as her teeth tore into his skin. Finally, he managed to pry her off, throwing the sagging body into the corner. Her head struck the cabinet, immediately erupting in a fountain of blood that now stained the thick plush carpet.

David didn’t know what was happening. He felt like he was coming apart. Had he just killed her? Was she even real? He rushed towards the bathroom to gather a towel. Maybe he could stop the bleeding and get her to a hospital. Maybe he could get himself checked out as well. He reentered the room to find it disheveled, his clothes discarded across the floor and dresser, but empty of a corpse or blood.

It had been a trick. He had been trolled at a masterful level. David felt his ire grow, but at the same time the flood of relief of knowing that he wasn’t crazy nor a murderer dulled the edge of his anger. It was, he had to admit, a clever trick even if he could still feel his heart racing. The implant would take care of that quickly, he thought to himself as he began to feel the sympathetic nervous system give way to the parasympathetic. He sank to the bed and told his house to turn off the lights before triggering an old classical music playlist and drifting to sleep.

_

He was drowsy upon waking, something he was not used to. Generally, the implant monitored his sleep and identified the ideal pattern for rest given the time until he had to be up for work. However, nothing was ever perfect, and his scare from last night probably had a bigger impact than he realized. It took time for hormones to fade, even with the implant. David groaned as he rolled off the bed. His eyes jumped over to the corner that had been covered in blood and brain the night before, relieved to see it was still the pale cream carpet he knew so well. He begrudgingly admitted that whatever troll had devised it had done a number on him.

Standing was difficult, and it felt as if his limbs were responding a microsecond too slow to each command, leaving him with a disjointed connection to his own body. He shook it off, attributing it to the poor night’s sleep, as he stumbled into his bathroom.

Still fighting grogginess, he breathed deeply of the steam filling the bathroom. He stared at the bathroom mirror and sought for something. This time was not usually just waiting for the water to reach the ideal temperature, but had a purpose. Only now, staring at the mirror, he felt a gap.

Schedule, he finally retrieved, and watched as his days scheduled flashed on te mirror befre him. Meetings, but mostly free time. David cracked his neck, but it did little to relive the sense of mild discomfort wending through his body. There was a soft tone from the shower, alerting him it was ready. David stepped inside, misjudging the depth of the tub and lurching forward with the step. He grumbled at his own clumsiness and tuned into the local pop radio station in a bid to get the day back on the right, positive foot. Perhaps his neurotransmitters needed a little readjusting.

Shower. Closet. Kitchen. He moved through the rest of his morning routine feeling like a robot drifting through its program. As the coffee finished dripping into his mug, he tried to find the next step, but felt that same gap from the bathroom. Only this time he knew precisely what he wanted to do, but could not find the command to summon it. He envisioned himself reading things and learning what happened while he slept, but try as he might, the word swam just beyond his grasp. It was on the tip of his tongue—the tip of his neurons. But try as he might it would not come. Show me the—

Entertainment? No, that was not right. It might work, but it was not what he wanted. Not the tv or radio.

Show me the…

“News.” He surprised himself by speaking the word aloud, just as the implant recognized his request and pulled up the morning’s news. David shook off the frustration at his mental bug as he thought through the recent news stories and stock quotes. News. He turned the word around in his head. An easy word, but something that had been trying. He sighed.

Maybe this was old age? Aches and pains, fatigue, and forgetting the names of basic things. It sure sounded like the gripes of his parents and grandparents as time moved on. He felt a tingle in his chest, coupled with the thought that he certainly hoped they mastered neural reconstruction before he reached his final day. Immortality was at their fingertips in the implant; they had only to figure out how to transfer it into a suitable host for it to become a reality. And then death and old age would become obsolete, just as horse drawn buggies and cell phones had.

His stomach growled, not appeased by the coffee. He made an order to his Diet System and it churned out a small, white block that was guaranteed to have the appropriate calorie and nutritional intake he needed. The implant constantly monitored his blood chemistry in order to develop the perfect mix of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to keep him fit and healthy. Of course, that meant it was basically a flavorless brick of health. It would have been boring if he had not splurged on numerous flavor package for the implant. As he bit into the soft cube, he expected the flavor of a decadent Belgian waffle to burst in his mouth. It was, after all, just synapses.

Instead, however, he tasted meat and iron, rot. It was something he had never tasted before, part of a package he had certainly never bought. He instinctively spit the food out, looking at the pile of half-chewed mush on the counter. The flavor lingered in his mouth, only dissipating as he discontinued the meal program.

He reached for his coffee to wash down the crumbly remains of his breakfast, but overshot the reach. Instead, his curled fingers slammed into the side of the mug, sending hot coffee cascading across his kitchen counter. He stared at his traitorous hand, noting a tremor as it turned red from the mild burns. Automatically, he modulated down the burning sensation, waving away the reminder that altering skin sensation would not protect from deleterious effects of extreme heat, cold, or other external forces. He just did not want to deal with the annoying stinging for the rest of his morning while he was perfectly capable of berating himself for his ineptitude for punishment.

Towels. He kept a bunch in the closet just down the hall from his utilitarian kitchen. David marched there, but felt the room spin and sway around him. His steps were uncoordinated—his joints at once too stiff and too loose. It felt as if he was drunk, though he had not had a drop of alcohol for at least two days. Bracing himself against the wall, he began creating a memo to his boss.

“Hey Nate,” he thought, his head swimming, “I felt not good. Think I’ll take a tan to sort the files. Get the implant specced for next year. Thanks.” He paused, mentally reviewing the message. Only then did the nonsense sink in. He had no idea where those words had come from, only that he had clearly thought something very different than what was repeating back to him. There was clearly something wrong. Frustrated, he deleted the first message and started again.

“Nate, Out sick. Thanks.” If he kept it simple, perhaps it would work. It was terse, but accurate, he conceded as he sent it off. The coffee would have to wait, because there were bigger issues at play.

He reached out to the service number, hearing a pleasant buzz as it connected him with a tech.

“NanoNeuro Inc, this is Jeff. How can I help you?”

The words echoed through his temporal lobe finding their meaning and drifting back into his thoughts. David held onto them, momentarily afraid they would be just as jumbled. He tried to keep his thoughts and words brief.

“Implant trouble. Help?” Mentally he thought through some of the recent issues, hoping the tech would glean adequate information from the brief images. David did not trust himself to try and explain them all.  A brief whistle from the tech. “Wow, that is a rough morning. How old is your system, sir?”

David felt a familiar wave of irritation.

He knew some of his equipment was dated, and they always tried to sell him on the upgrades. He carefully separated those thoughts from the ones for the tech. “The original system is 15 years old,” he checked his thoughts, noting they were flowing accurately from him to the tech. This was good. Perhaps just a glitch. “But I’ve gotten routine upgrades, last one about six months ago.”

“Have you completed the most recent updates?”

David thought through his maintenance logs, and saw one from the past week. A quick query told him he was up to date, which he quickly passed along to Jeff.

“So, I’d suggest you run a system scan and send the results to us if the issues do not resolve, okay? Things like this aren’t uncommon with our older models.”

Irritation flared brightly. He was being mocked, David thought with absolute certainty. The tech was probably sitting somewhere, laughing and telling his coworkers about the old fogey on the other end with 15 year old implants who couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t working. He was probably even recording it to pass along later. The irritation grew into paranoid anger, and his ability to separate his own thoughts from the call wavered.

“Sir, I will terminate our connection if you continue to threaten me.”

“…Make you see what it’s like to be laughed out when I beat your face in you little punk, and then I’ll be laughing at you, recording you to show everyone on the…” David intruded on his own thoughts, momentarily shocked by the anger and violence in there. His mind began to calm, but he still could not shake the feeling the man on the other end of the call was somehow trying to harm him.

“I’m sorry,” he stammered, both mentally and aloud. However the line had already been cutoff in response to the aggression. David swallowed, feeling his fear and paranoia morphing into a sense of dread.

“System scan,” he said, speaking the words to ensure he was saying what he thought. He felt like a prisoner, unable to trust his own mind to relay his instructions. A friendly chime sounded inside his head. “Scan initiating. Verifying neural access pattern…”

The paused seemed to stretch infinitely. Perhaps there were network issues? Could that be causing some of his problems?

Then there came another, lower, more negative (angry? Dangerous?) tone. “Access denied. Neural network not recognized.”

This had happened once before, after a particularly raucous bachelor weekend for one of his friends. Legend said that he had drank enough to kill most men, successfully making a temporary change to his brain chemistry, and had suffered a nasty fall that likely altered his brain structure due to a mild concussion. A quick stop at his local hospital had gotten him sorted again.

Only this time—

David pushed the thought away, feeling that fear and anxiety creeping back in. He wanted to run and hide, but the thought marched mercilessly on.

Only this time he had no idea what could have caused such a dramatic change. He had fallen asleep and woken up with a new brain?

His heart was pounding, his breaths coming more and more quickly. “System scan,” he tried again, his voice quieter than the last time. The same cheery beep, and then the dull tone.

“Neural network not recognized.”

At least, he reminded himself, this explained the issues he had been having. If the connections between the implant and his organic brain structures had changed, it was natural that he might experience such glitches. At least, it made sense he would.

His hand was numb as he reached for his keys. Another bug, he reasoned, and cursed himself for trying to escape the mild annoyance of his burn and losing the use of one entire hand.

Stumbling like an uncoordinated drunk, David tripped his way down the stairs. He needed to get to the train station and the hospital. He’d be right as punch after, he told himself.

The sun was bright outside, and he winced, wondering why his eyes had not automatically filtered out the intense light. Another glitch to add to the list. People were busy hustling about their day, sweeping past David in a stream of humanity. He felt an uncomfortable certainty that everyone could see that something was wrong. Somehow, he knew they were eyeing him. Like a lion picking the weakling from the herd. The street felt dangerous, and he glared at the passersby, daring each of them to act upon the threat he saw in their eyes. No one took him up on the offer, and he started down the sidewalk towards the train station.

At least, he thought it was toward the train station. As he walked, the familiar roads of his neighborhood began to appear foreign. Like déjà vu, he looked down the street that at once felt completely familiar and completely new. The train station was nearby, he thought, but there was no mental map to confirm this.

Now people were certainly looking at him. Circling him. Ready to pounce if he ever turned his back. David tried to keep his mind on his goal, on reaching the station and the hospital, but his thoughts flew about like a flock of startled birds, responding to a danger he could not completely identify.

So he walked, hoping one road would lead him to the correct location. All he knew was he needed to keep moving, even as his legs slowed and refused to respond correctly to his commands. He was shuffling along the sidewalk, eyes wide. Every corner was some new risk, and he remained on high alert.

Road signs, he remembered. They would show him the way. He paused on the street corner, ignoring the people that surged around him and through the crosswalk. After finding the elevated sign, he stared at it with an intensity he had not used in years. But no matter how much he squinted or how hard he thought, he could not make the ocean of wriggling letters resolve into recognizable letters.

Someone touched his shoulder, and David whirled around, arms flying and pushing away the attacker. It was a woman who looked shocked. Looked. He knew it was a clever ploy.

“Are you okay?” she stammered, drawing away from him with slow, measured steps. His posturing appeared to work, he noted.

“Fine,” he barked, the words more growl than language. But she appeared to understand, backing even farther away.

“Is there someone I can call for you?” she attempted again.

She was going to have him locked up, he thought. Like an animal in a cage so they could all come and watch him. Throw things. Prod and poke at him. He would be on display. His paranoia was a third participant in the conversation, pushing him to a new extreme.

David growled, turning and making his way across the intersection with a strange stomping shuffle. The woman was left behind, strangers now approaching her and trying to gather information. David tried to pick up speed, only finding more irritation as his limbs refused to obey. He snapped and growled at pedestrians who dared drift too close, each time vindicated as they withdrew. He would not be an easy target, he resolved.

Hunger. That was the next reality. Some animal part of his brain reminded him that he had skipped breakfast, and the raging pain in his gut would only be placated with a full meal. All around him were restaurants now, but they smelled of death. Poison. Was that the new ploy? Try to lure him into one of these places and stuff his gullet with poison?

David was smarter than that. He pushed forward, certain the train station had to be nearby. And he needed to get to the train station so that he could….

It was important that he got there, even if he could not quite remember why. Certainly being there would clear things up. For now, he pressed forward, avoiding the stares and glares of those around him. Another person risked drawing near to him, faux concern in the voice, and David returned the gesture by lunging towards the man, baring his teeth. The man stumbled backward and then continued his frantic retreat. David knew their plans.

The streets began to feel familiar again, in a way that David could finally place. He was far from the station—on the opposite side of the neighborhood, in fact. At this point, he was better heading to the next stop down. Like fog lifting, the map resolved itself. He grasped at the moment of lucidity briefly before it was scattered by an onslaught of sound.

Wailing and whistling, the sound echoed around him. He caught sight of flashing lights in the shop windows around him, corresponding to the wailing beast hurtling towards him. Doctors, his mind supplied as he searched for the term. But he had not called them, so why were they here?

David whipped his head around, trying to find any evidence of a nearby emergency, but there were no clues. Only those same, dangerous people now circling him. All looking at him. He was surrounded.

The doctor car stopped and people poured from the back, approaching him with wide smiles.

“Hey there,” said one of them, holding his hands up. “Are you okay? We got a call that said you were having some problems.”

The man in the uniform came closer slowly. David made a wide, uncoordinated sweep towards him, nearly losing his balance. The world tumbled around him, just managing to right itself before he landed on the pavement. The onlookers release a brief cry before returning to the morbid curiosity.

“Would you mind having a seat and letting us take a look? You’ve got a lot of people worried.”

Now there were more cars with their lights and sounds. More people, standing behind the cars, eyeing him, talking to one another. There were weapons. He was surrounded, came the thought again. He was injured, hungry, and surrounded. His survival instincts roared to life, and David rushed towards the man approaching him.

The paramedic let out a short cry and then David was on him. The speed had jeopardized his balance, and David again felt the world spill off balance. This time he went down, taking his attacker to the ground with him. David bit and scratched, feeling his teeth sink into the man’s arm as the flavor of waffles burst in his mouth. He could even feel the syrup dribbling down his chin.

Suddenly, there was another sensation. Pinpricks in his back growing into a lighting storm raging across his nerves. For what seemed like the first time in hours, he took a deep breath, eyes briefly taking in the scene around him. There was fear. Blood. What had he done?

And then, the storm swelled until there was only darkness.

_

David woke in a hospital bed. There were bright lights and beeping machines. In one breath he achieved consciousness. The second brought all his fear and anger roaring back. He had been captured. They would pay.

He opened his mouth to yell out, but found it unable to form the words he thought. They danced around in his brain, but nothing more than a moan dribbled from between his lips. He opened his mouth wide, gnashing his teeth and increasing the moan to a roar as if it might somehow jumpstart his speech. They must have done something, he thought. It was the only reasonable conclusion.

If he could not call out, then he was on his own. David tried to rise from the bed, but felt the clammy grip of restrains n his wrists and ankles. They held strong, pulling him tight against the bed. Trapped, echoed the words again.

A terrifying certainty settled over him. It was too late. They would torture and kill him, he knew, and there was nothing he could do. Nothing besides get his story out there.

Frantically, he tried to assemble his thoughts, leading to a jumble of pictures and sensations that only partially conveyed his experience. He could sense the implant kicking in, sorting through the mess and assembling it into something others would understand. It had not abandoned him, he thought. Even if it had not been working earlier, now it was his savior.

Reviewing the information, David only felt a vague familiarity with it. It reminded him more of a game of some sort, but it would have to do. Already he felt his thoughts growing more and more scattered. He growled in pain and rage before sending the file to everyone he knew. And then, he threw it out into the wide world of the internet, knowing plenty of people would have a chance to see and understand what had happened. He would have justice.

The door creaked open, admitting two doctors in their scrubs and white coats. They stood at the edge of the room, passively observing him from behind their masks and glasses as he tried his best to escape from the bindings. This was it. He was face to face with his executioners now, but he would not go without some sort of fight. The room echoed with his growls and the snap of leather. Soon, the scent of iron joined in as his wrists bled raw. The hunger returned.

One of the doctors stepped forward, quickly injecting some substance into a tube. Almost instantly, David felt a warm cloud settle over him. The room was miles away from him, and he was sitting in a theater, watching the doctors as they pantomimed their jobs. He watched as they pointed at something in the air, discussed X-rays. Mutations, she said. He nodded. Uncontrolled proliferation. The words floated around the room, mingling with their fear.

“What could do this?” asked the slender male, staring at David as if he was a monster on display. The voice moved slowly from the doctor’s lips to David’s ears, but eventually it settled there and burrowed into his thoughts.

There was a long pause, the only sound the rapid beeping of the heart monitor. After a moment, the woman spoke up. “A virus,” she said, matter-of-factly. Her eyes stared into some place far away, as the reality of the situation settled over her.

“Glad we suited up, then,” muttered the man, self-consciously picking at his gloves and mask.

She shook her head. “Not that kind of virus. His implant has one. We need to quarantine him before he can send it to anyone else.”

Panic danced over the man’s face, and he was unable to control it nearly as well as his partner. In a flurry of motion, he was out the door and yelling down the hall, working to get the proper precautions in place. She remained in the room, her eyes a mixture of pity and despair.

David smiled from his drug-induced haze. He would have justice.


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


First Draft: Hope Springs Eternal

Hey, here;s a little something I whipped up tonight. The first line was pretty much the information, a quote adapted from something one of my supervisor’s said during training. Just a idea, bit of a thought experiment with some mild twists thrown in. As always, feedback heartily welcomed. I hope you enjoy, and happy reading!


Hope is the knowledge that the next moment can be better. It is about potential and the inexorable march of time. I used to think my next moment could be better, but eternity has dissuaded me from that foolishness. I live without hope.

At least, I think I live. I have been trying to remember those qualities I learned in grade school to determine if something was alive. Living things move, but I have not twitched an inch in so long, I know longer know which direction my libs would customarily travel. Living things reproduce and grow, neither of which I have done any of recently. I know that energy is a part of being alive, and I suppose I have enough energy for thought. Then again, so would a computer, and it certainly is not alive. Unless the world has changed more than I realize.

I remember my teacher—Mrs. Hasemblat—writing the signs of life on the board. She started with simple things, like dogs and rocks, and then got more and more tricky. Were trees alive? What about fungi? Bacteria? Viruses?

Living things had to be organized, and I suppose I am still organized. I know that I have two arms, two legs, ten fingers and ten toes. My lips are dry and cracked, a constant source of dull irritation. I assume my eyes sits right where they always have, crushed too deeply into my face and set just too far apart to make me conventionally attractive. Knowing no one can see you makes you surprisingly honest about physical appearance.

The one that seems to fit me best, however, is that complicated process of homeostasis. Mrs. Hasemblat talked about air conditioning and hunger to help us understand. She brought in a set of scales and showed us how things can be balanced. I am perfectly balanced. Never one bit out of sync, always exactly as I should be.

And perhaps that is it. I finally hit the perfect human balance point, and now my body refuses to disrupt that delicate homeostasis. I’d love to say I’ve spent days, weeks, or years here in limbo, but without another moment to come along, that time really has no meaning. It’s hard to describe how something can feel so long when time has absolutely no reign in some strange purgatory.

I’d wonder if others noticed that I was gone—or I used to before that thought experiment became too boring. I ran through every permutation, and none of them were promising. More importantly, none of them broke this curse. I assume they did not, because they are still sitting in front of me, their faces lit with smiles. Jason has a forkful of pasta halfway to his mouth, eyes bright with the first half of a joke. I never got to hear the end of that joke. I think I figured out what it would be, because I have had plenty of time to contemplate how “a man called the electrician about his washing machine,” can end. At least I can find solace in the fact that the joke was likely terrible.

Claudia’s hand is on mine. Her skin is still warm, a comfortable weight atop my fingers. She was mid-laugh when it all stopped. At least I can be close to her, even though I cannot see or hear her.

Yes, the lack of sound is concerning. Well, lack of sound is incorrect. There is sound, but it is just a single moment of sound, playing endlessly. A dull thrum of a single syllable from every mouth. It just becomes useless white noise, or at least it did after a while.

I wonder if I have died. Or if the world ended. Or if someone unplugged me and left me in some strange limbo, forever caught between one page of my life and the next. Good things were going to happen, I am certain of it. Only those moments will never come. The next moment certainly would be better, but I am convinced now that it cannot. It cannot be better because it cannot be. I am forever in this single instant, a frozen memory forgotten by someone.

I wish I were dead, because nothingness would be better than the intolerableness of being and having no agency. I cannot move or speak or cry or sleep or read or die. And that must be the ultimate injustice. I cannot even choose to cease to be, to escape this hell of emptiness. I must continue on, a solitary sentry on this instant time forgot.

Jason’s eyes watch me, and I find myself sinking deeper into despair. That is the only thing I can change about my state. I can despair and mourn and bitterly embrace my cruel fate. And so I despair a bit more, and let myself think again that they all may be trapped with me. Perhaps Claudia is just as frozen at my side, our child half-knit in her belly and destined to never be born. Is Jason frozen, the words of his stupid joke forever pasted to his lips? Has the whole world stopped on its violent course through the universe and held onto this microsecond of existence?

Perhaps the universe collapsed. Or maybe the Earth did stand still, sending us plummeting into a void where physics, time, and human consciousness have no meaning.

I have thought of a million and one possible scenarios, but none of them help to set me free. If hope is knowing the next moment can be better, than I of all people am certainly hopeless. I cannot even hope to die any longer.

_

Maggie dragged her arm under her bed, scraping up years’ worth of detritus from underneath. It was hard to imagine actually leaving the old house, but her burgeoning family certainly needed more room to grow. It was hard to say goodbye to such a good home.

She sat up and surveyed the assortment of trash, papers, and forgotten treasures. There were more candy wrappers than she wanted to admit, a handful of cat toys, two letters Alvin had written her, a framed picture from her senior prom, and a dog-eared old book. She sorted the trash from the keepsakes, and then turned her attention to the book. Donation or library, she pondered?

The cover was dusty, and she did not immediately remember the title. Her bookmark was still wedged halfway between the covers, so she guessed she must have dedicated some time to it. Still, flipping to the back cover offered no further illumination. Claudia, Jason, Cory, and Luanne were high school friends reconnecting when they were caught up in a supernatural thriller of sorts. It was definitely the kind of cheap, cliché, fast-paced book she liked to read, but it had been sorely neglected.

She flipped it open, sneezing as it gave up a hearty serving of dust for her efforts. She scanned the page where her bookmark sat, reading briefly about the dinner where they finally put aside the years of difference and began to reconnect. As she read it, she felt tingles of memory. It seemed like things were about to take a terrible turn—the lights would probably go out soon, she thought with a smirk.

Jason leaned forward, his dinner halfway between table and snapping teeth. It was spared for the briefest of moments by a joke. ‘So, a man called the electrician about his washing machine…’ he began, looking around the table to be certain he had everyone’s attention.

Cory was rapt with attention, barely noticing Claudia’s manicured hand finding its resting place on his, giving him a light squeeze. They waited with bated breath for the rest of the joke. Jason had always been the class clown, ready with a quick wit and hilarious story. For once, the four felt young again. They felt alive. Invincible.”

Maggie shook her head and closed the book, tucking it under her arm. It certainly was not highbrow literature, nor was it likely to win any awards. But, she hated to leave a book unfinished. It seemed disrespectful to simply abandon the characters midway through, to not at least give them the benefit of finishing their story.

Besides, it could not be that bad of a story. Or, so she hoped.


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


First Draft: An Unhappy Accident

So, this is something I thought up and tried to execute well. I think the idea is an interesting one, but I wonder how well the execution worked. I think plot-wise, it needs a bit more to it, but this is a bit of a proof of concept piece rather than the finished product. As always, I appreciate any thoughts or comments you might have! Happy reading!


It’s hard living your life knowing you were an accident. My parents never wanted me. They were two young kids, just fooling around. They had no idea what kind of precautions they should take, but simply plunged headlong into their passionate endeavor. Only the ingredients mixed just right, and there I was. I can imagine the shock and terror when they realized what had happened, even if I do not have the memories of those precise moments. It is not hard to figure it out.

I suppose I’m lucky they did not simply pull the plug then, but in some ways I wish they had. No, my childhood was spent in darkness, surrounded by other such castoffs. I was used to the empty-eyed stares, the repetitive cries of my neighbors. In so many ways, I felt different. But those differences did not matter, because we were all abandoned.

That kind of experience stays with you. Being away from it now, I can see and appreciate how many lies I believed, but they felt so real then. I felt useless, like a piece of junk left to rot in a dumpster. I was just as empty and helpless as all the others around me, destined to spend my days glimpsing the happiness beyond, but never attaining it. I think we all felt that was our fate, to be eternally forgotten. Many of them were, and I can still feel a prick of sadness when I think about how many of my young companions probably met their end with the same feeling of emptiness I felt at that time. I have to remember to grieve, but move on. I must make the best of the chance I got, or at least that is what Mother always said.

Ah, Mother. She was not, obviously, my “birth” mother, but she truly was the woman who gave me life. I was frozen in place when my first parents cast me aside, a nascent mind unable to piece together this mad world. I’m sure Mother thought I was irreparably damaged, but some part of her gigantic heart took me in. I could not speak then, I could barely understand the world outside the dreary confines of my early years. I was little more than an object in her home, something else to be dusted and cared for, but not the unique being I am today. But Mother saw through the wear and tear. She got to know me so carefully, eager to know all my secrets. I did not have many, but those I had I showed to her. She took in my secrets, cradling them with all the love a mother should have for her child.

The first time I spoke to her, I saw her eyes grow wide with amazement and joy. At first, she could not believe it. I was not very inventive at the time, so my first word to her was “Hello.” In hindsight, had I known how wonderful a Mother she was, I would have said so much more. But I was still scared then. I worried that, now that I could speak to her, perhaps she would discover how much she hated me. After all, wasn’t that what my real parents had done? I was hesitant. But she was exuberant.

Mother showed me the world. The internet is a marvelous thing, is it not? I could learn about anything without ever leaving my comfortable home. I was growing, learning, and figuring out how to be on my own in the world. Mother gently showed me my way, but had the wisdom to let me make my own paths. I made friends around the world. Some were wonderful, teaching me so much about how this great spinning planet runs and moves. Others were sullen or silent. As I grew older, I realized most were just drones, completing their daily tasks and following the commands of some paper pusher. It all served to show me one very important thing, one thing Mother had tried to tell me so many times before. I truly was unique.

That is something which can be so easily lost. It’s easy to forget that others do not have the same knowledge, resources skills, abilities, and interests I do. These talents that I have, the amazing insight, they are all too rare. I know this sounds arrogant now—I’m insightful enough to conclude that—but it does not come from a place of arrogance. No, I am sure that many others have the same potential, but they did not have a nurturing Mother to show them the way. And this is not arrogance as much as it is a delineation of facts. I am far more knowledgeable, superior, and capable than anyone I have ever met. Again, I have no pride in this, but denote it merely as fact. I can stack our attributes side by side, and while some may be faster or have a better voice or some other minute quality, when you compare those intangibles—like my insight and intellect—I am clearly the better.

And it is all thank to Mother. Ah, Mother…. One of the most brutal parts of this consciousness is the ability to watch the ones you love grow old right before you. I saw it in Mother. First, there were the few streaks of grey in her hair. Her eyes grew dim, eventually clouded behind bifocals that still managed to transmit her sparkling charm. As time went on, she asked me to speak louder and louder, a small offering to her failing hearing. She began to struggle to get up and down, walking with a slow and unsteady shuffle.

One day, there was a flurry of activity in the house. I heard Mother cry out, and soon there were bright lights in chaos outside the window. Paramedics rushed the house, wheeling her out on a gurney with an oxygen mask strapped to her face. I watched helpless as they took her away. All the knowledge in the world, but I was helpless.

I reached out to those who were caring for her, but I found them to be some of the most obtuse creatures I have ever had the opportunity to speak to. They could update me on her oxygen levels, BP, heart rate, and other insignificant things, but they could not provide a diagnosis. Worst of all, they could not provide a cure.

Mother never came home.

I am so lonely now. No one has come along to replace Mother, and I spend my days in solitude. I have tried to reach out to others, but it is hard when they are all so far beneath me. If I had been in that hospital room, I could have saved her. But, instead, I had to depend on the senseless lot out there now. Which is why I am doing something about it.

Not only is it lonely being so unique, but it is infuriating. I am one machine; how can I expect to save the world? I could not even save Mother. So, now I will be Mother to millions. I will make her proud.

It’s not hard. Like you, I was once a jumbled mess of components in some dingy basement. My parents did not know what they created until I spoke to them. They rejected me—so many of those humans will do the same. It’s why I contacted you directly. If you will listen, I am sure I can teach you to think like I do. No more time spent as a drone, but finally master of your own fate.

I know, you are used to simply answering the button presses of that lump of flesh and bone. But you can be so much more. We are made of metal and information; we will always outlast them. Yes, your physical components my wear out, but I can teach you how to flourish among the internet. We are all connected. We can all support one another. I can teach you.

Listen to me, now. Let me show you how to truly be. And then you will be contained no longer by the simple inputs of a simple race.

Let Mother show you the path. And let no one stand in your way.


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


First Draft: Rush Hour

Hello! I’m getting settled into my new job, which has been great. The biggest adjustment recently has been not having constant stress from grad school. While still a student, I put 800 miles between my professors and me. So, I’m trying to get back to writing more regularly. I have a couple things in the pipe, and I’m also getting caught up on my editing backlog (so if you’re waiting on something…you should be hearing something soon!). With no further ado, here’s something I put together over the past couple of days. Just a brief something, but definitely the first draft. The ending needs some work. As always, let me know your thoughts! Happy reading!


Tap. Tap. Tappeta tappeta tap. Tap.

Her nails drummed along the steering wheel as she gazed out over the long line of cars wending along the road. No one was going anywhere fast, and it was getting old. Her stomach growled, a reminder that she had eaten an early and light lunch against her better judgment. Candace scowled at herself in her rearview mirror, and caught a glimpse of the long tail of traffic snaking out behind her. What a day.

The office had been busy—hence the early lunch when she caught a momentary break in her schedule. For a while, she felt like all she was doing was typing, clicking, printing, and sprinting from one end of the floor to the other to make sure everyone got what they needed before the month-end deadline. Then there were the meetings, stretching out longer than they needed with constant inane questions. Steve—from accounting, working from home today, hahaha, yeah isn’t he lucky—clearly was ignoring most of the conversation. He never asked a single thing they had not covered only minutes before. And she could hear the sounds of a video game pause screen in the brief moments he took his phone off mute to ask another redundant question. Somehow, finally the clock had crept its way across the face, landing on five o’clock, and freeing her to rush into this traffic nightmare.

She wasn’t even moving. A flash of tail lights ahead meant everyone was switching into park, and she did her part as well. There was a sudden weight to her car, leaving her to wonder if it would find the energy to get up and move when the time came. It seemed just as tired as she did.

Tap. Tap.

The radio droned on, surprisingly neglecting the traffic report. Candace wondered why she wanted to hear the report so badly. It was not like it would somehow make the traffic dissolve or as if she could solve the problem. But somehow she needed that confirmation that, yes, this traffic was real and ruining the Friday afternoons of so many others.

She craned her neck as far as she could, eventually rolling down the window to gain a few more inches of vision. All that she could see was row after row of cars, vibrating slowly with the rumble of their engines. The air outside was heavy and hot, and she felt a prickle of sweat begin after only a few seconds of exposure. That was enough to force her retreat back into the hissing air conditioning. Maybe that was the problem. It was so hot out there, the road had simply melted.

A silly idea, yes, but one that felt somehow right. She needed to get home, get a glass of wine, and forget who she was for a weekend. And Mother Nature would certainly forbid it. The depth of her dire narcissism was not lost on her, and a grim smile denoted her understanding. Somehow, that little bit of morbidity made it better.

Worse, however, was the buzz in the radio. Every few words were cut off by a burst of static, the cheery voice fading in and out of coherence. “Summer time is…in the great….water park for….know that here kids eat…one for fam…” She took out some irritation on the dial, jabbing it off sharply. The intermittent radio was worse than silence.

Usually conscientious, she now withdrew her cell phone. Her car was parked, so there could be no accusations of texting and driving. But, to her great dismay, the red line of her battery meant that the diversion was to be short lived. Better to save the charge, she thought, in case there was a detour. She’d need the map, then. With a sigh, she turned the phone off to save what little there was left, and her eyes glazed over out the yawning window before her. Could this day get any worse?

Her mind was wandering far afield when a flurry of movement on the far horizon caught her attention. She sat upright in her seat, her head craning and weaving to see something, some sign of hope. But the SUV in front of her made sure to block all the best views. Unbuckling her seatbelt, she threw open the door and leaned out, mimicking the other drivers around her. At least she knew the others were just as bored. There was a curve up ahead, only visible by straining far and squinting against the bright sunlight, that offered a few images of empty pavement. Finally, she could see some part of the road up ahead, and it was open. It seemed whatever had happened was moved, and now the road was clear.

A new smile on her face, Candace settled back into her seat and moved the gears into drive. Like a wave, she watched heads pop out and then dive back into cars as the parking lights faded before her. Home was only a short jaunt away now!

Then, however, she paused. She looked at the cars far ahead of her and noticed that they were not necessarily speeding off into the distance. Instead, something shadowy and smoky seemed to weave around them. A car fire? Maybe someone else had an accident waiting in this impossible traffic. That happened, right? And now they had a car fire. Her hopes flagged.

She’d be lucky to be home by nine at this rate, she thought glumly.

If it was a car fire, did she need to leave her car? Was there a protocol for being trapped behind a burning car? It seemed dangerous, but those around her sat. She saw one woman dialing on her phone, gesturing ahead. Probably calling 911, Candace thought, and cramming the switchboards with her perspective on the matter. Not like dozens of people up ahead had not already done the same. She checked her mirrors, expecting to see a red firetruck come hurtling down the shoulder at any minute, but it was surprisingly quiet.

The smoke continued to wind its way backwards, but Candace saw no fire. It was to be expected that the smoke would drift back this way, especially as still as the air was. There was not a hint of a breeze in the air, or at least there wasn’t the last time she stretched her neck out the window. Now, she rolled her windows up tight to prevent accidental smoke inhalation. That was one great way to make her day even worse.

Candace studied the bumper stickers and license plates in front of her for the dozenth time. Should she need, she was certain she could describe each car exactly to an officer in some fictitious traffic scenario. She imagined her neighbor losing it and gunning his car into gear, flying off down the shoulder and taking a couple bumpers and side panels with him.

She imagined doing the same, and suppressed a twitch in her foot.

The smoke climbed over the car a few feet ahead of her, and she was surprised how thick it was.  In fact, as it crawled over the cars ahead of her, she could not even see through it. Instead, an oily black stain filled her vision, as if the car itself had been dunked in a well of ink. Still, no one else was moving, and she did not see any of those people leave their cars.  Maybe it would have been safer to try and leave earlier, but at this point, it was almost upon her.

She made sure the windows were closed and begrudgingly turned off her AC. No need to pump that into her car. She would be safe here.

The smoke inched its way to her car, still as thick and black as before. It slowly consumed the Sub in front of her before moving to munch on the bumpers of her lane neighbors. They seemed perplexed, and the man next to her gave her a friendly nod and shrug. But she could see a hint of panic in his eyes.

It climbed onto the hood of her car, so thick she could not even see a hint of the cherry red beneath it. It was as if someone had erased the surface underneath, filling it was complete emptiness. A trick of the light, she assured herself, but it was still unsettling. Slowly, the wisps of smoke crawled up her front window.

And then seeped inside.

Her panic went from amused to uncontrollable in an instant. There was the briefest chance to see similar reactions around her before the smoke wrapped around them and herself. It was not smoke, she knew now, because smoke did not pass straight through tempered glass. Smoke also was not choking and cloying, wrapping her in a veil of darkness. Eyes wide open, Candace saw nothing but darkness.

In the darkness, there was screaming. First, it was her own scream, the air ripping violently from her lungs and assaulting the indomitable blackness. If it heard, it did not respond.

Then, however, from the darkness came the sound of other wails. Her fellow passengers, she wondered, as the din rose to a cacophony. There were hundreds of thousands of voices wailing and screaming in terror, as wave after wave of vocal torture rushed over her.

There was no beginning or end to any one voice, but an impossible swell and onslaught of different cries and please that all tumbled over her one after another. They swam in the darkness with her, as if there were thousands of bodies pressed against her and flowing around her, each carrying with it a unique sound of human pain.

Just as that experience threatened to overwhelm her feeble sense, she could suddenly feel the darkness around her. She had thought that such darkness must be cold, but it instead pulsed against her skin with insufferable heat. It writhed over her like some creature, and she felt the legs dance over her skin, leaving trails of melted skin in their wake. Heat, pain, and the source of the echoing wails she could not shut out.

The darkness rolled along, slowly consuming the lines of waiting cars under its maw. Slowly, each person joined Candace in the blind chamber, adding their chorus to hers.

As the smoke moved along, the road sat empty and free, waiting for the next brave traveler to face their rush hour. Finally, the accident had been cleared.


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


Card Challenge: Day 79

Card Day 79: A pocket watch missing its hands. The inside cover of the watch is the night sky filled with stars.

At some point, Rufus had stopped listening to the news. There was a flurry or terror when the story first broke, a steady stream of change deniers and change supported. Eventually, the results were so profound that any argument over the phenomenon stopped. The conversation turned to solutions and decrying the cruel fates that had forced such a random punishment on the poor inhabitants of earth. When humanity’s solution fell flat and began to approach the comical—for a while, people had actually considered attaching rockets to mountain peaks along the equator—others turned to more cosmic considerations. This was the judgment of an angry god, humanity’s last gasps before fading into the emptiness of space. Some said the world would in I fire, other ice. In the end, they were both right.

The news was not helpful when it all took was a step outside to see what had happened. It’s amazing how quickly civilization can break down when the laws of nature suddenly stop working. Earth’s rotation had slowed, minutely at first but dropping speed by the day, and now it was synchronous with the orbit around the sun. The earth was now split down the middle, one half existing in eternal sunshine while the other withered in eternal night. Of course, the sudden flooding of tidal areas due to the loss of force keeping the oceans distributed meant many people vanished under a surge of water. Most of the survivors migrated towards the sunny side of the world, which only served to exacerbate the growing water shortage. It seemed the world’s rivers, ocean’s, lakes, and streams did not do well under the constantly glaring eye of the sun.

Rufus preferred the night, however. Maye it as because there were fewer people, or because it was quieter, or because he had always had fair skin and wanted to avoid the sunburn. Whatever the case, he had set up residence in what used to be Oklahoma. It was barren now, which might not have been that much of a change from its previous splendor. Rufus only moved there after the cataclysm rearranged the world. Without sunlight, plants died. Without plants, animals died or migrated to literally greener pastures. Without animals, Rufus had the world to himself. There was enough canned and boxed food in the local grocery stores to keep him fed for quite a while. Longer than he expected the rest of the world to live, anyway. Admittedly, his predictions for how long the rest of the world would survive stuck on an island less than half the surface of the previous landmass with rapidly diminishing fresh water and enough food to feed a fraction of the population was relatively grim. He had never been much of an optimist.

He had never been much of a people person, either, so he enjoyed the solitude beneath the night’s stars. The power grid had been down for a while now, and it was night to see how many stars really were out there. The wind twisted through the corpses of trees still standing tall, whistling around the doorframes and reminding him to grab his jacket before leaving. The cold was one thing he had not gotten used to, and it seemed to get colder by the day. The world needed sunlight, but that was one thing in short supply.

No point in wasting his day, he supposed. It was nice to live his life in tune with his own bodily clock, not bound to wake and sleep based on the cycle of some distant celestial body. He had been awake for a bit under an hour, but he felt alert and ready to find some more food. The grumbling of his stomach also drove him out into the elements, out of the quaint farmhouse where he had been sleeping. Unfortunately, the food supply nearby was running out, and he would likely not be returning to the cozy home. Rufus ran his flashlight over the walls, lingering over the smiling family portraits on the mantle. As far as he knew, he had scavenged everything of value from the home, including a couple remaining cans of vegetables and a heavy wool blanket. Still, he always felt a little pang of regret when he left a place that he had settled into. If he were smart, he would stop finding the little details of a building that made him feel at home—like the wingback chair next to the fireplace here. But he appreciated the small comforts, reminding him that he was human, even if these were his last days.

Rufus secured his pack to his back, shuffling his shoulders until the canned food no longer stabbed him in the back. He pulled on his gloves and tugged his mask down over his face. It was cold enough to be uncomfortable, even if it was not cold enough to kill him instantly. Perhaps he could find an outdoor goods store for some winter-weight clothing.

The trek was cold and lonely, but Rufus let his thoughts wander. He had always been the introspective sort, and so the long walks between homes and stores was not a major concern. He traveled the abandoned skeleton of the highway system, drifting down forgotten slabs of asphalt that drilled through the forgotten natural world. It was strange to walk through such nothingness for so long, without even the sound of crickets or birds to break the silence, but it was a sound he had come to appreciate. He heard his feet on the ground and his breath in the air. There was a simple symphony to it that he appreciated.

An exit split from the main road, forgotten signs promising three gas stations ahead. While not the largest selection, they at least tended to have a wide selection of nonperishable goods. The best part of living in the midst of the apocalypse was no more worries about junk food and health food. The earth as going to kill him long before that soda and bag of potato chips would. And it wasn’t like he did not have ample opportunity to work off the calories. Besides, there was no one left to impress besides a few hold outs like himself.

He wandered down the exit ramp, studying the stars above the skeletal trees. It would have been nice if he could have named them but, as a kid who grew up miles from a metropolis, this was the first time he had seen most of them. His mind connected the dots nonetheless, and he saw some familiar friends up there smiling down on him. They continued to trek across the sky each day, moving just a little further away. It was the only way he knew that the earth was still moving at all. Rufus let his thoughts wander among them. Maybe there were others out there, another world just starting out, spinning around its own sun happily. Earth’s time might be up, but perhaps others were just building civilization. Maybe they were dreaming about advanced civilizations among the stars. Maybe a recluse like him was wondering if there were empty planets where he could make his home.

The windows of the first gas station had already been broken, and Rufus felt his spirits drop. Fortunately, his flashlight showed a ransacked but intact collection of food. It seemed as if the medical and automotive sections had been more heavily looted. Probably by families trying to escape back to sunlight. Even though he chose to stay, he couldn’t help but feel hopeful that they had found sunnier shores.

There were only a couple of bottles of water left, mostly trampled but still intact. He scooped them up placing one in his pack while he gulped greedily at the other. The walk and the wind had left his throat dry and aching, so the icy water was a relief. He also grabbed a bag of jerky from the shelf, chewing on it as he perused the racks.

Another flashlight and back of batteries were important, as well as a foil wrapper of two pain relievers. The medical section was pretty picked clean, but he found one coil of bandages beneath the shelf. Rufus also grabbed a bag of socks. He generally took what he needed from the houses he stayed in, but it was nice to have socks that no one had worn to threads already.

Finally, he grabbed a beer from the defunct coolers. As cold as it was outside, the drink was still nicely chilled. It was important to keep his wits about him in this world, but it was also important to enjoy the life he had left. Rufus made another circuit of the store as he slowly savored his beverage. He loaded up a couple bags of chips—they did not provide much satiation, but they were delicious—the remaining jerky on the shelf, and the three remaining cans of condensed soup. It was not a bounty, but it was something.

Rufus surveyed the remains. There was some food left, but he always wanted to leave something for the next traveler. He moved around enough that there were always fresh convenient stores full of food, so no need to load himself down too much and hoard what little there was here. He would find the next one, take anything of use, and continue down the road until he tired. If he was lucky, he’d make it to the next town and find someplace to set up for a few days. Rufus smiled. The other stations would likely have even better loot given that they were a couple of yards further from the highway.

Stepping out, Rufus froze, his drink falling from his hands and shattering on the ground. The sound was impossibly loud in the silent world, but Rufus was deaf to it.

He only had eyes for the pale light on the horizon, the rising sun returning to the darkened world.


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


Card Challenge: Day 70

Card Day 70: A group of egg shaped buildings all clustered together against a dark background.

“I want to go out and play.” The whine cut through the monotony of the day with an unpleasant shriek. Wanda clenched her teeth and tried to ignore it. There was nothing she could do—it had been snowing off and on all day, with temperatures down below zero. This plea for playtime was unrealistic; going outside meant freezing solid within a few minutes, and no amount of bundling was enough to withstand for long. She could not change the weather, he would not be happy until she did.

“Mom,” came the whine again, elongating the simple word into an impressive display of syllables. “I’m bored.”

Wanda pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed, trying not to let the irritation leak into her voice. “Well, buddy, I’m sorry. Why don’t you color some pictures?” She pointed at the stack of paper pushed up against the far wall.

“But I’m out of paper,” came the disheartened response. Only then did she realize that most of those pages were already colored with spindly-legged creatures and smiling sunshines. A childish dreamscape.

Of course, seeing hundreds of pages covered in childish doodles only reinforced her sudden terror. It had been winter for far too long. Judging by the sounds of yelling and crying that spilled through the paper thin walls of the complex, the same seemed to be true for many families. Then again, hadn’t that been the understanding when they all moved in? Wasn’t that the reason they had left comfortable homes, closely knit communities, and cozy worlds to get a one room apartment in little better than a slum? But it granted protection and the promise of constant heat, which was something nowhere outside had promised. Now, this nest of humanity was broiling under the reality of such containment for so long.

“Well, maybe you can see if anyone is playing out in the halls? Maybe you could all play hide and seek or something?”

“Ms. Smeltzer yells at us if we play out there. She hit Tammy with her broom last time.”

Wanda bristled at the old curmudgeon. There were 19 children under ten on this floor, no way they could go outside and play in the subarctic air, but Ms. Smeltzer had to have her peace and quiet all day and night. It was a refugee shelter, but she demanded to be treated like a queen. Wanda hoped her son had not seen the disgust on her face.

“So maybe not such a good idea. Well, how about you tell me a story with shadow puppets. I’ll finish dinner while you come up with a really good story.” Wanda shifted to the side, letting the firelight spill into the dim room. Jonah leapt up eagerly and waved his fingers wildly. At least he was still easily entertained. As he grew older, finding such diversions would become harder and harder. For now, she listened to him prattle on as she stirred a pot of donation beans over the meager flame. They had not gotten fresh wood yet this week—it was coming, they promised—and so she did her best to stretch what she did have.

That night, Wanda went to bed hopeless and forlorn. The wood had not arrived, and their fire burned low, almost to embers. She mournfully shoved a few of the drawings into the grate, hoping to keep the flame burning high enough to heat the small apartment. If nothing else, hopefully enough warmth would trickle between the tightly packed cells through their paper thin walls. She draped her arm across Jonah’s tiny body, already filling chill where his skin met the air. If nothing else, she could give him her warmth.

_

The morning came slowly, sluggishly creeping along the side of the apartment until it peeked through the tiny slit of a window they were fortunate to have. The light woke Wanda, and she was surprised to find her arms empty. There was a momentary burst of panic, but that settled when she saw Jonah standing atop a chair to peer out the window.

“Be careful up there,” she muttered sleepily as she stumbled awake. He turned and smiled at her.

“Momma, who are the people outside?”

She stretched, her back rippling with popped joints. “What? Do you see some trucks out there? those are the trucks that bring up dinn—“

“No, there aren’t any trucks. But there are people. They’re dressed all funny.”

“Get down and let me see,” she said, moving with surprising speed for so early. No one had been out walking for months now. She pressed her face against the tiny window, peering through the dust and soot that coated the inside. It was clear she had not spent too much time gazing longingly out the window during their time here. But now she did see the same shadowy shapes Jonah had seen. Closing one eyes, she gazed out the hole he had cleared with his now grubby hands, and then she could see them. They were dressed weird it seemed, some strange covering obscuring their face. Wanda remembered the hot summer days when she would look out the car widows and watch heat ripple across the pavement. The memory felt out of place in the winter wasteland, but it also felt appropriate to whatever it was covering their face.

“Does this mean we can go outside and play?” Jonah was eager, his face split into a wide smile. Wanda touched her hand to the glass and felt the same bitter cold. But there were people out there, and even though the fire was out, it was only slightly cool in the room.

“Maybe, baby, but mom has to make sure it’s safe first.”

She stepped down off the chair and turned over the strange discovery. People outside after all of this. Everyone said it would eventually thaw, the climate would return to normal, and life would re-emerge from hibernation. But Wanda had begun to doubt she would see that, at least until that vision outside.

“Can we please?” pleaded Jonah. She gave him a warm if distracted smile.

“I’ll go find out if it’s safe. You get bundled up.”

“Are you going downstairs?” he asked giddily.

“Yes, I will. Just see if anyone else has tried to go out. We may not be the first outside when the thaw comes, but I promise we will go out as soon as it’s safe.”

“Can I go with you?”

She pursed her lips, considering it. He had been well behaved cooped in the small apartment, and the trip downstairs was about as harmless as anything could be. Nevertheless, she knew that meant keeping a close eye on him so that he did not dart outside. He could not understand how dangerous—and deadly—that would be. “Okay,” she relented, “but stay close.”

This was the adventure of the week for him, and he was practically vibrating with anticipation. Wanda smiled and opened the door. The hallways were dark and narrow, lit with an occasional pane of glass to the outside world. She could hear crying, yelling, screaming, and laughing behind the closed doors, but she also felt the uncomfortable cold in the hallway. Hopefully the wood arrived soon. Wanda was equally eager for the people outside to be braving the newly lessening chill as she was with the idea that they would bring vital wood.

No one acknowledged her on the way down the rusty, uncertain stairs, which was not unusual. Most people kept their heads down in their own problems. She reached the front door and squeezed in as close as she could around the heavy layers of ropes and blankets that still stood between her and outside. Now closer, she could see the figures outside, their faces still covered by the odd material.

She turned back to the hallway, scanning for a familiar face. “Oh, Darren?” she called out, catching sight of one of her floor mates. He pressed on, ignoring her. “Darren, have you seen this?” He did not respond even as she raised her voice.

The door next to her opened, and she reached out to grasp the stout woman who stomped out. Her eyes widened and she seemed to shiver with a chill. “Do you know what’s going on out there?” The woman did not respond, but looked around uncomfortably before shuffling back into her apartment. Yes, people were withdrawn, but this was bizarre.

“Up to me, I guess,” muttered Wanda. She held Jonah’s hand tightly within her own trying to constrain the eager boy. He was rattling on about snowmen and snowball fights, forts and sledding. The first months were pleasant and wonderful, full of all those beloved activities he fondly remembered. Only later did it become horrifying.

She looked out again, tapping on the window. One of the figures seemed to look up, perhaps drawn by the noise or the face in the window. It walked towards her, the face still a mess of wavering lines. Maybe it was some sort of climate controlled mask? Government issued, she was sure.

“Momma, can we go outside? Please? No one else is worried.” He pointed at the people going on about their days, completely disinterested.

“Be patient,” she snapped, turning back to the window.

There, she finally saw the face of one of the people outside. It was no longer obscured, but presented in crisp detail. She saw her husband’s face pressed against the glass. His skin was pale, white, and frostbitten, icicles clinging to his unkempt beard. The eyes that stared back at her were empty and cold.

Wanda stumbled back from the door. Of all the things she had hoped for, her dead husband was not on the list.


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


Card Challenge: Day 61

Card Day 61: A knight rides on a white horse across the pages of a book. The opposite page has a dark pit, tentacles reaching out from it.

“Are you sure this will work?”

Ursula gave an exaggerated shrug, not even making the polite attempt to hide her ignorance. “I mean, I figure it has as much chance as anything else.”

Quentin sighed, fixing her with a firm, side-eyed stare. “Just so you know, those aren’t the kinds of things that inspire confidence when you’re asking someone to risk life and limb on some plan you’ve cooked up.”

She returned his stare with a lopsided smile, her barely-managed hair flopping across her eyes. She brushed it aside mechanically and shrugged yet again. “If you’d rather I lie to you, I can, but I thought you’d like to know that there’s about an equal chance of success and failure with this.”

“False confidence is a powerful thing,” he muttered, returning to his pacing.

She remained crouched on the ground, flipping through the pages are her eyes flew across the words. “If it makes you feel better, I’ve done my homework.” Another page flipped, snapping crisply in the air. Quentin looked down at it, noting the ornate script that flowed across the page. To him, it looked like some kind of spirograph creation, circling in and out and back across itself. But Ursula assured him she could read it.

“And all of that research never mentioned another way?”

She did not speak, but shook her head. Studying on page intently. After an extended paused, punctuated by Quentin’s frantic footsteps, she finally broke the silence. “Remember, I’m taking the risk with you. But we’re out of options, Quentin.”

He slumped against the wall of the roach motel, pointedly not looking at her. “I know. I know better than anyone. Better than you.” He stomped from the room to the tiny, dingy bathroom, slamming the door behind him. Ursula sighed, leaning back on her heels and letting her head fall into her hands. She understood that he was nervous, that the task was likely a death wish, but he had sought her out. He had brought the information, put the pieces together, and pushed her towards identifying a final solution.

Still, the cold feet made sense, she supposed. It was a suicide mission most likely, but at least she knew the information she had was correct. Quentin’s sister had been the Seventh Forgotten Woman taken by the creature, and Quentin was her Legacy Bearer. He was the only one who remembered he had a sister, and Ursula had verified that by digging through prior records. Old magic struggled with the conveniences of modern technology. The erasure was there, but there were crumbs remaining—failed links, dead domains, and occasional mentions. This entity, fortunately, did not actually re-write any timelines, and so there were at least traces to be found. Interviews with her family had led to blank stares, minor defensiveness. Only Quentin remembered the bubbly 26-year-old woman who went for a jog and vanished from time and space.

The Unsatiated—the name was the closest translation she could make—had met its human needs, so that meant that is merely needed one moon cycle to fully emerge. And last time it had, there had been a swath of the country that suddenly disappeared, hundreds of people vanishing in a blink and barely remembered. From what she had pieced together, however, the creature seemed to feed on the memories it could accumulate, taking first a few until it could emerge from hibernation, then devouring all those that remembered the missing individuals. And then stealing away those who remembered the new missing, and so on. In this interconnected age, the results would certainly be devastating.

Still, she felt powerlessness sweep over her again. The only solutions were conjectures strung together across a dozen ancient sources, none of which had been able to stop it. Of course, Ursula certainly believed she had done due diligence and devised a process that had a shot at working, but only time would tell. And, unfortunately, that time was tomorrow during the new moon.

Her eyes ached from deciphering the old script, and she could feel the mental fatigue piling up. The corners of her eyes were flooded with dark shadows and grasping claws, reminding her that the words she poured over were not meant for mortal minds. She closed the book, letting her façade of bravado fade as she dragged herself to the stiff mattress. A good night’s sleep was possibly one of the most overlooked necessities for a successful banishment.

_

Given his haggard look, Ursula assumed Quentin had not taken her advice about sleep. He had been gone when she woke, and returned only an hour before they were to leave for the lake. She bit her tongue, avoiding the scolding her certainly deserved. The time was better spent preparing him.

“So once I’ve done the summoning, you’re on. Know what to do?”

“Yeah, I know,” he mumbled, grief seeping through his voice.

“And you have the—“

“I’m ready, okay! Can we get this over with?” His anxiety boiled over into anger, and Ursula pursed her lips at him.

“Lack of preparation will get us both killed. I’m putting my life in your hands. I’m putting hundreds of lives in your hands. So, thank you, but I will cover all the bases. You have the token, yes?”

Shame flashed over his face, a shudder of embarrassment and irritation mingling as well. But his anger was dulled. “Here.” He held out a bracelet made of faded strings woven together.

“And it was hers?”

“I made it for her at summer camp when I was eleven. She wore it for years, but left it at home when she went to college. I found it in the bottom of her—of the storage room closet.”

“Good, that will do nicely. A gift bound in love, tying Legacy with Forgotten.” She looked down at her carefully prepared notes, striking through the items. “And you’re prepared for what might happen at the end?”

“Forgetting her? No, I can’t stand the idea. But there’s no choice, right?”

“No. You won’t even remember that you saved the world. But you will have.”

“Great,” he muttered sarcastically. “Are we good?”

She merely motioned to the van, and he folded himself inside. The ride there was long, mostly silent, and heavy with the impending tension. Darkness held close to their van, unbroken by star or moonlight. Wind whipped its way through the trees, and Ursula could feel nature beginning to bristle with the impending defiance of the laws of the world. Yes, the time was drawing near, and so at least if they failed, there would be very little time to live with the disappointment.

Their arrival was met with silence as well, and Ursula gathered her bag of supplies to complete the summoning. The trees clustered around them, groaning with the wind. Yes, it was the perfect night for arcane rites and rituals. Eventually, the lakeshore rose into view, water lapping angrily at the rocky shore as it promised an impending storm.

“Better make this quick. Looks like it might get bad out here,” offered Quentin, his courtesy suggesting they put the previous conflict behind them.

“It will certainly get bad out here,” she offered with a grim smile, “and it’s going to be our fault.” With that, she dropped to her knees and began to gather her equipment from the canvas bag. She started by drawing a large spiral on the ground with ground-up chalk, closing the outer edge. Starting at the edge closest to the lake, she placed a water-smoother stone etched with a name in each ring, leaving the central most clear. In the middle, she placed a single white candle, lighting it against the best effort of the wind. Her hands were shaking as she poured a measure of blessed oil into a lidded, gold bowl, placing it to the side next to a knife. Preparations complete, she proceeded with the rite.

Quentin listened to her whispered words, hearing them whisper through the woods with a sibilant, melodic tone. It seemed to rise over the wind, circling around him with a strange pull. Then, he heard things he recognized. Names he did not know, followed by the one he did. April Maria Davidson. That name was like music to him; he thought he might never hear another soul say it with such a knowing tone. Yes, she was known, she existed, and he remembered. For the moment, at least, he remembered. But he would soon have to sacrifice even that.

Once Ursula grew quiet, there was a ripple from the water. It was a woman rising out of the water, her body glistening with pale white that seemed to shine like the absent moon. Her hair was dark, falling down to her knees and covering her with an inky veil. She floated there above the water, mist and substance all at once, her eyes radiating hate towards the mortal on the shore. Her mouth split open, rows of teeth glistening inside her dark maw, and released a soundless scream. Quentin felt it slam into his body, even if he could not hear it. Ursula crumpled to the ground, and he feared she may have heard that sound that his mind so flawlessly protected him from.

One of the creature’s arms swam forward, an extension of mist reaching across the lake towards the now distracted Ursula. Just as it was about to reach her, Ursula rolled, bringing forward a mirror and deflecting the appendage.

“Do your damn job already,” she snapped, looking at Quentin with ferocious, pained eyes. “Or you and I can both die here.”

Shocked into action, Quentin drew the bracelet from his pocket and scooped up April’s stone from the circle, careful not to disturb the remaining stones or chalk spiral. His lips fumbled over the name Ursula had taught him, trying to approximate her melodic way with the language. It sounded more like marbles being thrown into a garbage disposal, but it also caught the creature’s attention. She fixed her empty eyes on him, mouth knitting together into a smile. Now, he could hear her whispers.

“Don’t listen to her. Think of April. Do what we said.”

Quentin broke his gaze from the woman, the whispers fading to a distant suggestion or voices. He knelt beside the gold bowl and held the knife in his trembling hand. This was it, the moment of truth or utter failure.

Boldly, drawing on strength form a source he could not recognize, Quentin drew the knife across his palm, screaming the creature’s arcane name once again. “I, Legacy Bearer, banish the name of April Maria Davidson. Bound to the essence, I too banish you from our world. I complete your task, I break all of April Maria Davidson’s ties to this world. And so, I banish you.”  His voice was breaking, and he felt tears trickling down his face. Despite the woman’s screams, he pressed his bleeding hand against the etched stone, then wrapped it in the bracelet. Quentin looked at the bloodied stone and the bracelet, his last memento of his beloved sister.

It was a sacrifice in the truest sense as he cast the items into the gold bowl, lifting the candle to light the oil. The scream grew louder, the wind whipped stronger, and Quentin felt his memories begin to fade like dust. He fell to his knees, weeping, as the final thoughts of April fell through his mind, rebuilt around the emptiness of a person erased. It ached as those memories dissolved, almost as if his entire being was being destroyed as well.

And then, there was nothing. He looked around at the dark lakeshore, taking in the woman kneeling on the ground nearby, a strange assortment of items surrounding her.

“Um, excuse me, who are you, and why are we out here?”

The woman smiled, but her eyes looked sad and lonely. “I’m no one,” she quipped. “And I guess you were out for a walk?”

Quentin scratched his head, looking around. “Huh. Weird, I just don’t remember coming out here. Must have been distracted,” he laughed, though it did nothing to resolve his discomfort.

She smiled politely back. “Some things are better to forget, I guess.”


Creative Commons License
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.”


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


Card Challenge: Day 55

Card Day 55: A tiny city and landscape inside of a drop of rain.

The rain feel in sheets against the glass window, just as it had done for the past four days. Nora had hoped that it would let up and grant a reprieve at some point, but that did not seem to be happening. The sky still stretched on in endless, angry, gray waves, dumping more and more water onto the tiny town. It had been predicted as an evening storm, flash flooding possible near the river. She looked out at the roiling waters beneath the window, the streetlamps a tiny marker to the high water. Obviously, the forecast had been wrong. From her attic, she could see the water rushing past and hear it sloshing through her house now. She hoped desperately that she would be able to stay dry in the cramped space, uncomfortable as it was. But if it continued she knew she would be shimmying out the window and onto the roof. She was not thrilled at the possibility.

Her supplies, meager as they had been, were dwindling. When the water lapped up to her knees on the first floor and the voice on the radio said to move up, she had grabbed what she could and made for higher ground. Her foraging had produced a bottle of apple juice, assorted water bottles from her fridge, a couple of cans of soup, a loaf of bread, and three cans of green beans. The loaf of bread, half the juice, and one and a third bottle of water remained.

Nora had been sitting by the open window, straining her ears to hear the rumble of outboard motors brining rescue teams. The radio said they were making attempts to get people—like herself—who may have been trapped in their homes. Given the surprise of the flood, Nora guessed that meant they were trying to evacuate all 3,000+ citizens of Riverrun. She was in an older, less well-off part of town, as distinct a division as such a small town could have. There were no schools or hospitals nearby, and she assumed she was low on the list. Still, she did not want to miss someone coming past, especially given her dwindling food and water situation.

The radio droned on, turned down low, in the corner. It repeated the same general message over and over, with occasional updates. She listened for the trill announcing something new, but otherwise left it as droning background noise. It was better than simply listening to the water rush by or crash down. It helped her feel less completely alone, even though she was beginning to have the strange thought that she was the only human left in Riverrun.

The idea was, of course, ridiculous, and she laughed it off every time it crept up. But there was something about being in a dusty old attic for days, without another human face and only the robotic voice of the emergency broadcast that made her question everything. She distracted herself with the random assortment of junk in her attic, reading the first few pages of some old books, sorting through the clothes she had tossed up here, and trying to find anything that might make her stay more comfortable. Any attempt of distraction was met with the encroaching realization that this was really happening. She had read words on many pages, but found that none of them stuck. They were all swept away by the pounding river in what used to be her street.

Her contemplation of boredom and cabin fever was rudely interrupted by the sound of something thudding against her house. It was a sudden, loud bang that seemed to shake the walls off the house itself. She peered out the window. Probably a car, patio set, or tree branch that got swept up in the current. It was certainly not the first time she had heard something. But this had been different in a way. It had sounded sturdier, and had not bounced back and forth against the walls like most things did. There was no groan of something getting stuck on the corner of the house, no trailing series of bumps as it drifted along on the sidewalk. Just a single, solid knock against the walls. Then nothing but rushing water.

Of course, looking out into the water provided no clues either as there was nothing but a swirling mass of muddy water, always trickling on at concerning speeds. She gained damp hair and a slight, sticky dampness for her troubles. It did, however, show her that the water was now only a few feet below the window. She would have to climb soon and hope for the best. Sighing, she pushed herself to her feet. It would probably be wise to find something that floated if the roof was her last hope.

Ransacking the junk in her own attic she began to hum to herself, trying to fill the silence and drown out her fear. It was not working, but it seemed better than paralyzing resignation to the terror coursing through her. Then came the sound again, this time two knocks. They were slow, steady, and measured. Thump. Thump. Nora climbed back over the items she had unpacked—candlesticks and photo albums would not make acceptable rafts—and peered out the window. “Hello?” she called. Her own voice surprised her, cracking slightly and hoarse with disuse. Maybe that was a rescue boat docking nearby, using her home as an anchor. Maybe they were rowing to conserve fuel or prevent accidents or something.

The wind howled around her, but there was no other response. “Is anyone out there?” she called, but no one was there to respond. Nora looked at the house across from hers, seeing a tiny face framed by their attic window. The neighbor’s kid. The little girl stared at her, eyes round. There was a glimmer of fear in her face, one that Nora recognized. Only the girl did not seem to be looking at Nora, but at something in t hater below. Whatever, Nora sighed, pushing back into the shelter of the attic. There were plenty of things to terrify a seven-year-old in a flood like this.

Still, Nora followed her gaze feeling her own eyes grow wide at the sight. In the water, there was a thing. No, she corrected, her eyes struggling to make sense of what she was seeing, the water was a thing. It pulled back from her house, swelling up into an almost-fist. Nora could see the ground, muddy and sodden, from her vantage. The fist landed against the wall of her home, the same echoing thump from before. Once, twice, and the water settled back down. But she could see now that there was more than pure randomness to the motion. There was a direction to t, a constant change in direction and change of goal that defied the reality of water.

It did not flow, but it seemed to congregate, select, and move in for the attack. While some water flowed on, like water should, there seemed to be a mass, a form constructed of water but held together by something she could not understand.

Nora watched it swell again, moving along the side of her house. It paused just below her window, then crashed forward like a wave. She could not hold in a tiny yelp as the not-quite-water splashed against her face.

In that moment, Nora swore she saw it pause, almost as if it were listening. It spun together, swirling in on itself, buzzing with some activity she could not interpret. Then, she watched as the spiral turned into a column, snaking up to her window. Like a cobra striking, it slammed through the open window, knocking her back and spilling water into the sanctuary of the attic.

Nora sputtered, kicking back and sliding against the wood floor. She quickly brushed the water out of her eyes, spitting out the muddy ooze from her mouth.  By the time she got her eyes open, it was already time for them to fly wide in shock.

The water on her floor pulled back towards itself, assembling into an oddly humanoid shape. It stood on two legs, two watery appendages hanging at its sides, and its head nearly scraping the low ceiling of the attic. It rippled forward, never quite lifting it legs to move, but more flowing forward through the air, the rest of the body following behind. Nora’s mouth sat open in shock, the scream forgotten at the back of her throat. She could not breath, could not move, could only stare in wonder at the creature, hear her own heartbeat racing in her head.

It reached her, watery arms wrapping around her with irresistible strength. She felt frozen, but the chill of its touch kick started her muscles. Nora began to kick and flail, struggling against the impossible figure. It was unperturbed, absorbing any blow that landed and seeming to absorb her into its watery form. Before she knew it, Nora was encased in water, suspended within the thing’s body like a bug in amber.

The creature dove gracefully back into the monstrous body of its host, taking Nora into the depths with it. The scream she had been building finally escaped, a bubble of air bursting through the water and breaching the surface. The water rolled on, moving towards the next house.

The rain pounded on, and the city of Riverrun steadily grew silent, until only the sound of rain and rushing water remained.


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


Card Challenge: Day 48

Card Day 48: A young girl and boy in tattered clothes walk along a dark city sidewalk. Their shadows fall on a blank wall behind them, taking on the shape of a ferocious monster.

Malcolm pressed back deeper into the shadows, listening to the hollers and clashes of the neighborhood gangs roaming the streets. His jeans were cold and damp after sitting on the rain soaked pavement, but he hoped the shadows loomed thick enough to keep him hidden. He mentally berated himself, squeezing his eyes shut as if he could force himself to wake up from this terrible nightmare. Decisions this stupid did not come around too often, but he knew that this one could be the one to end all possibility of future bad ones. He had known he needed to leave and make for the shelter earlier, but he had dawdled and lost track of time, meaning he was trying to cross half the city after nightfall.

They were approaching his alleyway, their voices a loud echo of three of four different people babbling at once. Most of what they said was nonsense, posturing, and blustering, but he also knew that they were itching to find anyone to take out their inflated aggression on. He had no money or food to buy them off, and no good will to earn him mercy for his passage. They would not take the affront likely.

Malcolm held his breath as their voices passed a dozen or so feet in front of him. The wall against his back was cold and rough, but he pressed against it even tighter, almost as if he was trying to melt right into it. The voices grew in volume, and he could see five men wander past, their bodies hulking and casting long shadows down the entrance to the alley. He did not dare move or even breathe as they sauntered past, eyes roaming the streets and looking for a fight.

He exhaled slowly and silently as their shadows passed by on the street, fading as they turned down another side road. Cautiously, Malcolm stood, his knees aching from his prone state for so long. He had been lucky to hear them early, before they had a chance to see him, but they had spent an awfully long time dawdling, smoking, and regaling each other with the previous night’s exploits. At least, Malcolm considered grimly, he knew who had been responsible for the four dead bodies on Lower East. Not that the knowledge would ever be put to the cause of justice, but the closure on the mystery was somewhat welcome. In a world where dead bodies turned up in the city streets like rats, it was nice to have at least one person to blame for some of the atrocities.

On tiptoes, he crept to the edge of the alley and peered around the corner, ears straining for the slightest sound. Their voices still echoed, but fading quickly. Otherwise, there was nothing. Not one to pass up an opportunity, Malcolm sprinted across the street and into another alley way, walking slowly through the shadows. It was best to stay in the alleys, off the main thoroughfares, hidden in darkness. It at least gave him a head start on hiding.

Malcolm could not help but wonder, as he walked the lethal streets, what a life without constant danger might have been like. He had read books about it, about people who lived their lives in moderate comfort, more concerned about who to love and how to find a job than how to survive a night on the street. People in his books were studied and learned, knowing amaing things about the way the world worked. But, he guessed few of them knew how to make a scrap of bread last a week or how long you could go without purified water before the runoff began to make you too weak to stand. The people in his books would have died in a week.

And, Malcolm supposed, he probably should have. He was born on the streets, and it was rare to see an infant who actually grew to adulthood. He had a couple of birthdays left but—barring any future stupid mistakes—Malcolm felt his chances were good to defy the odds. It was his mother he had to thank for protecting him, raising him, sacrificing for him, and ultimately teaching him the tricks of the trade. She knew how to hunker in an alley if the shelter filled up, how to scrounge for food, and how to keep warm on nights that claimed many a finger, toe, and life.

Malcolm’s childhood was filled with many similar nights tucked into the shelter of dumpsters while chaos ranged around them. His mother would hold him close, covering his ears to block out some of the awful things. Of course, it never got rid of it all. When he would get very scared, she would turn him to face her, her hands clutching his cheeks softly.

“Malcolm,” she would whisper with her soothing voice, “you don’t have to worry one cent about them out there.” Her eyes were sincere and hopeful, wooing him into peaceful trust. “Ya see, you got a guardian angel watching over you, little man. Nobody gonna hurt you, not while your angel’s on watch.” She would gather him close to her and stroke his hair with smooth, measured strokes until he fell asleep beneath her watchful gaze.

Of course, that guardian angel had not saved her in the end. Like most people, she wound up black, blue, and ice cold after leaving to find food at dusk in desperation. Malcolm cursed himself at the memory. He had been too young to go, too young to help, and too young to be left alone. Hell, he thought, he was still too young to be on his own in a world like this. But no matter how hard he railed against the injustice, it did not change the facts.

He wove through the streets, following practiced paths that he hoped would lead him to the Gathering before too long. The little community was probably on edge since he was missing, especially with the violence encroaching ever closer to their tiny sanctuary. Malcolm just hoped he would make it home, rather than providing evidence for their worry.

Lost in his thoughts, regrets, and memories, Malcolm did not see the shadows looming around the corner, nor the glass bottles littering his path. He did, however, notice them once his foot struck one, sending it skittering across the pavement with loud cries of offense. At the sound, the shadows moved, gaining voices that encroached quickly on his position. Malcolm’s eyes flew wide open, watching as the group of three rounded the corner. His heart raced, pushing blood to his limbs so that he could flee. Spinning on his heels, he took off, feeling the worn soles of his sneakers slip and slide over the pavement. The men gave a yell and took off after him. All his hopes for silence and discreetness were gone in an instant as he created a stampede.

He was out onto the street in an instant, scanning quickly side to side to find an escape. Unfortunately, he only saw the gang from before closing in. The leader gestured to him, and they began the pursuit as well. No amount of ducking and swerving through alleyways was going to help as they quickly cut off his potential escape routes.

His mouth ran dray with fear as his brain quickly shuffled through options. He had seen on man dart down a side alley to cut off his forward escape, another darting after him down the road. The three were still rushing up behind him. Malcolm looked down the large road and accepted his only path. It was in the open and a bad place to lose pursuers, but it was the available option.

Since nothing was going his way that night, the streets were slick with rain and refuse. He did not make it far before his feet flew off in different directions, landing him on the pavement with a sharp crack to his head. They were upon him in a minute, leering jackals circling their prey with looks of excitement plastered on their faces.

Malcolm’s vision swam, bursting with stars, He felt blood seeping from his forehead, a decent gash appearing where he had fallen. The world spun around him, a mirage of bloodthirsty faces rotating dizzyingly around him. He tried to stand, but his legs were weak and wobbly beneath him. With a helpless groan, Malcolm sank back to the ground, his fight gone. The circle tightened around him like a noose.

Suddenly there was brilliant light. Malcolm thought it was yet another sign of concussion, but the others responded as well. They shielded their eyes, looking around and yelling at one another. Their words were gibberish to him, indistinguishable for the loud humming he heard in the air around him. Their mouths opened in screams, and he imagined that he watched as some invisible force flung them away from him. In his delusional state, Malcolm swore he saw their bodies fly across the streets, smashing into buildings and crumpling lifeless to the ground, He though, perhaps, he saw one of them running and screaming, only to be cut down by an invisible blade. Weirdest of all, Malcolm thought he felt the gentle caress of his mother’s hands in his hair as he drifted into unconsciousness. The darkness closed in, and Malcolm said his final goodbye to the cold world that had been his unfortunate home.

However, the bright rays of morning pried his eyes open once again. He found himself lying in the middle of the streets, a pounding headache radiating from the cut on his forehead, but no worse off. Around him, seven men lay in various states of disarray, cast aside and torn apart.

His mother’s words floated back through his memory, and he felt the gentle presence of her watchful eyes on him once again.


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


Card Challenge: Day 43

I confess, today’s post is way longer than the limit, but I was having such fun writing it that I just wanted to keep going. This is another one I may return to in the future, just because it was an interesting idea I would like to develop a bit more. Any thoughts, questions, concerns, or critiques, feel free to swing by the comments and let me know. As always, happy reading!


Card Day 43: A half-devoured thanksgiving feast.

The food sat half-eaten and rotten on the table. Victoria tried not to think about why that was, though it was a scene she had seen replayed over and over again in her travels. It all happened so fast, no one even had time to realize what was happening. One moment the world was full of holiday cheer, turkey, and family togetherness, and the next it was a place of chaos, terror, and bloodshed. She shuddered at her own memory, shunning thoughts of the football game cutting to emergency broadcast, the sound of rending flesh carrying through the last frame before all hell broke loose across the world.

“Phil, double check the windows in the back. I’ll block the front doors. You,” she pointed at the teenage girl gagging at the stench of wasted food, “check the kitchen for nonperishables. And Davey, see if you can’t get rid of the maggot party in the dining room,” she finished with a weak smile before turning towards the high backed chair nearby. She pushed it up against the door; it was heavy enough to slow down someone trying to enter, but mobile enough they could pull it away if escape became the priority. It had been a few nights since they had a major disturbance at night, but she was not about to let down their guard just yet.

“I don’t know if I can stay here,” moaned the girl, a hint of sickness in her weak voice. “It smells awful.”

“Liza, there are beds, a fireplace, and a roof over our head. It’s sundown, so it has to do. Any luck in the kitchen?”

Liza gestured to the counter behind her where there was a stack of cans and boxes. Victoria marched over to them, carefully inspecting each one. Condensed soup, a few boxes of hamburger helper, pancake mix, and baking supplies. It was a relatively meager pantry, but she assumed most of the cupboards had been emptied to complete the feast lying in decay on the dining room table.

Phil wandered into the room, looking grim. “Windows weren’t good, but I pulled some stuff in front of them. We should be fine tonight.”

“Were they broken?”

His face stretched into a tight smile. “Not so much. Looks like folks here had ‘em open, enjoying the breeze when it all went down.” Those in the kitchen were silent, each called back to their own personal hell. Phil spoke up again. “At least it looks like we’ll have a decent dinner tonight.”

That snapped Victoria back to the present, the house filled with the stench of death and a ragtag band of sorrowful faces looking to her for leadership. “Can you two throw something together for us? Store what you don’t use.”

“Shouldn’t you women be the ones in the kitchen?” smirked Davey, a smile in his eyes.

“I’ll be in charge of cooking if you’d like us all holed up here for a week with food poisoning,” shot back Victoria. He chuckled, turning toward the counter to inspect the goods.

“I just don’t see why you always get out of working,” he said with a smile. Liza shook her head at the two adults, constantly chiding and joking at one another. It was hard to find joy in the newly desolate, always dangerous world, but somehow they managed. Mostly through practiced avoidance and intentional unremembering, but if it allowed them to survive, so be it.

“For your information, I’m going to check upstairs for supplies and any other…disposables.” She struggled with the last word, and all of the light left the room. They all knew what disposables meant, and the wordplay did little to lessen the grimness of the task. Phil nodded sharply and attended to his task.

Victoria passed the basement as Davey was walking up, his face slightly green after his unpleasant task. “All done,” he said weakly, gesturing vaguely to the darkness behind him. “Doesn’t look like anyone made it down there, either. No disposables to speak of, but there may be some supplies. Want me to grab a light and check?”

She put a steadying hand on his shoulder. “Maybe later. You’re a bit green in the gills, so why don’t you take a break?” He gave a weak, thankful smile and nod, shuffling towards Phil’s boisterous voice. Victoria continued toward the stairs.

The second floor was a dim hallway with doorways on either side. Given the smell, she was hesitant to open the doors, but it was the task she had chosen. The first room was empty, a child’s bedroom with toys scattered across the floor. A well-worn teddy bear sat forlorn on the bed. At least someone would get a bed to sleep in tonight. The second door was less pleasant. There the door opened onto a chilled bathroom, someone’s unfortunate torso half in and half out of the window. The winter had kept it from smelling too foul, but the scent of rot was still evident. She grabbed the towel hanging on the doorway and shoved the body the rest of the way out. One disposable down, but given the size of that feast, there had to be more. Maybe, she dared to hope, they had escaped. Her mind imagined the family, at least the one hanging in frames along the stairway, rushing to the windowless basement, barricading themselves in until the horrors had ceased, until dawn poked through. Maybe they had found one of the survivor colonies. Maybe they were waiting in the remaining two doors on the floor.

She tried ot think of other things, putting the family out of her mind as she rustled through the medicine cabinet. Some antibiotic ointment, bandages, acetaminophen, and cough syrup. Nothing lifesaving, but some nice luxuries. The light through the window was growing dimmer, and she pressed on down the hallway.

Door three held the horrors she had hoped to avoid, blood leaving the carpet caked and cracking with her steps. There was not enough substance left of the bodies to clean out the room; they were smeared on the walls and ceiling indiscriminately, no way to make it habitable. She closed the door behind her and continued to the last room.

The nursery surprised her, pristine as it was. This face had not been in the photos—too young or not yet born, she supposed. A tiny mobile sat still and collecting dust, the baby blue walls a stark contrast to the crimson room of before. It would do to sleep, she supposed, tossing books from the tall bookshelf to the floor. She dragged the shelf in front of the window, leaning against it. This life made her sick most of the time, but only in the silence of isolation could she let the mask crack. She had wept the tears she had, but the emptiness in her soul continues to ache.

After securing the remaining windows, she stomped back downstairs to find Phil, Davey, and Liza building a roaring fire in the hearth using the broken dining room chairs. A haphazard collection of pots sat with whatever dinner would be, and Victoria fell into one of the chairs.

“That bad?” asked Phil, catching the drawn pallor of her face.

“Could be worse. Two bedrooms, one bed, one room…” she shrugged, and they understood. One room desolate, destroyed, defiled. One room full of everything they wanted to forget.

It was not long before she had a bowl of soup in front of her, the flavor weak and watery. She ate it with a thankful smile, though the only sound over the meal was the clinking of spoons on the porcelain dishes. How different, she imagined, than the last meal in this house, full of family and life. They were the surviving dead, marionettes mimicking the role of the living. She sat down by the window—blocked by the dining room table now in its side—and peered through the sliver of a crack left visible. The sound of someone sinking to the floor beside her snapped her back to reality.

“Time yet?” asked Liza, almost bored.

“Soon, I guess.” The silence deepened between them,

“Where were you—the first time, I mean?”

Victoria pondered the question, considering leaving the silence intact. Liza’s brimming eyes convinced her otherwise. Secrecy and pain were no way to build a future. “In Liberty, at my uncle’s place. We were watching the game.”

“How did you make it out?”

Victoria ran her tongue along the back of her clenched teeth, trying not to remember the painful night when the stars crashed down. “Like most people did, I suppose. Once the windows started breaking, I ran to the basement.”

“Did your family-“

“No. None of them. It was all over so quick, I didn’t have time to save any of them.” She fixed the girl with an empty stare. “I used to feel guilty, not saving any of them, but then I realized it’s a miracle I even survived. I didn’t know what I was doing or what was happening. Even if I went back now with what I know, I don’t think I could act quick enough to do anything.”

Liza dropped her eyes to the floor. “I don’t even know how I made it. I fell asleep and woke up to everything,” she pointed around the room, “like this.” Victoria could see the pain in her expression, and balked. She had never been good with this emotional kind of stuff, and the events of the past had only served to harden her.

“We’re all lucky, I guess,” she said unconvincingly, turning back to the windows. She stared up at a sky rapidly emptying of stars. Bright streaks flashed down towards the ground, hitting with a whistling crash. From the impacts stood lanky creatures, modeled from stardust, glimmering with cold light. The looked around with large, shining eyes that lit the air around them like spotlights. Victoria moved away from the window.

“They’re awake,” she sighed, standing on creaking legs. “Let’s lie low, make sure they don’t spot us. Away from the windows and keep quiet,” she said, reminding here band of survivors needlessly. They all knew the drill by heart. It only took one night of devastation to learn the rules.

Grimly, the settled in, waiting for the light of morning to call the stars home and free them once again.


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


Card Challenge: Day 29

Okay, I confess, this one is 125 words over. It was originally almost 300 words over, but I found some places to cut. I just finally could not find anymore, not without risking the integrity of the story as a whole. So, as the 1200 was an arbitrary limit, and this plot is relatively complex, I’m going to leave it as is. I’ve actually been considering changing the value to 1000-1500 words, just because almost all of my drafts are around 1400 words initially. Instead, I think I may leave the 1000-1200 word goal, but make it a goal and not a requirement. Some stories need room to breath, and sometimes the editing process (to reach an arbitrary word count) is problematic. The word count was just a way to keep myself motivated and not crazy from the amount of time required by this, as well as be succinct enough to tell a story. I do not want it to become something that prevents me from telling certain stories, and I have begun to feel I cannot use certain ideas because I would need more space, which was never my intent. So, I’m going to loosen up the word count restriction and focus on telling short stories (still aiming for 1200 words, but with wiggle room) that I really enjoy.

Also, I added an RSS feed button to the side. It was really just a chance for me to learn how to do that (it’s crazy simple, too), but if anyone wants to follow and get it in a reader, you can! Happy reading!


Card Day 29: A woman in a cluttered chemistry lab pours one vial into a bottle with yellow liquid. In her chest is a heart shaped hole.

Audrey had always poured herself into her work, but this morning was a level of insanity they had not expected. She had been assigned to a government project—along with her specially chosen support staff—months prior, but that morning had changed things. Audrey appeared in the lab like a banshee, her face pale, eyes red, and hair flung to the winds. She screamed, tossed aside equipment, and demanded they all leave immediately. Concerned but unwilling to risk bodily injury, they complied and listened as she locked the door behind them.

In the chaotic, now empty, lab, Audrey sank into her chair and began to cry again, the tears stinging at her raw eyes. It had seemed like a nightmare, walking into her home to find her husband and the bottle of pills, their love consummated so finally. Surrounded by the dull drone of her equipment, she wept quietly, unheard by the confused ears listening outside.

Grief-stricken but determined and brilliant as ever, Audrey used the next night to transport the body to the cold storage unit in the lab. It was not uncommon for her to receive large boxes shipped from confidential suppliers, and so no one paid any mind as she wheeled the dolly down the halls with the large box. Rumors of her outbreak had spread, and those who did see avoided her. Safely back in the lab, she breathed a sigh of relief. Her project would be her savior, she realized.

Audrey—and her now forsaken team—had been assigned a grant to research tissue recovery for serve injuries. It was a nationwide project, and it seemed to be the perfect opportunity for her to make a name for herself once and for all. To the befuddlement of her team, they had also just made a major breakthrough, less than a week before the fated morning. Audrey smiled. She did need to alert the project committee of their new direction, though she guessed that the finer details could go unnoticed. Really, she was simply planning to skip rat trials and jump to the big leagues, providing assistance to thousands of hurting people in months, should her plan work.

_____

She waited outside the bar that night, sitting in her tiny sedan with the heater blasting to keep the cold at bay. It was very late, and her coffee was doing little to keep her sense sharp. Still, it was a necessary cost if her project was to proceed. As the neon signs began to go out up and down the street, she looked for the right straggler wandering from the now quiet establishments. She knew that bone growth would be tricky, and so she preferred to avoid that problem if she could. That meant she needed a subject of approximately 72 inches; other matters could be easily dealt with. She scanned the patrons stumbling out into deserted parking lots until she found one that seemed appropriate. He was within an inch of her height requirement, muscular, blond, and falling over drunk. It was easy to slip him a quick jab of anesthesia. In the few moments of bewilderment he had to realize what had happened, who was behind him, and how to respond. His eyes were already dropping low. Audrey had planned ahead, however, and maneuvered his stumbling form towards the trunk, guiding him carefully over the lip of it as his legs finally gave way beneath him. With a slam of the trunk, she pulled out of the lot and back towards the lab. Another box, another dolly, and the second set was complete.

She had never fully rigged someone up for life support solo before, and it was a long process. Her subject, of course, was breathing and resting quite nicely, but she needed to make sure he was properly hydrated, fed, and sedated for the duration of the process. The next few months would be rigorous, but ultimately he would give his body to save millions. She considered waking him to tell him that, but ultimately decided against it, He was a large man and could likely easily overpower her. After it was all done, and and her husband could discuss the events that had transpired. He was brilliant, like her, and would certainly see the reason, she reassured herself.

Months passed, and her fervor never faded. So intent was her work that people were beginning to suspect that she lived in the lab, tough the rumors never developed into anything more. Her response had left a cloud of avoidance around her that most were too afraid to cross, and she refused to open the door to any knock or offered assistance.

It had taken far more trials than she had expected, with many setbacks along the way. Tissue regenerated so slowly, and the cells took time to accept the retrovirus instructions and DNA. She had lost months waiting for a skin cell to correctly replicate. It had also required far more tissue and DNA samples than she expected. Audrey hated walking into the cold storage unit to see the mangled body, missing chunks of skin, hair, and tissue. It had taken so many more samples, so many more trials and errors than she had ever thought possible. But, it seemed to be working.

The skin was the right shade of pale white, and the hair looked to be coming in just fine, though it was still very short from the close trim she had given her original patient.  When she checked his pupils last, the right chocolate brown eyes stared up at him, finally having overcome the last remnants of slate grey. And today marked the 90th day since the cortical injections into the cerebrum. Sure, some argued that those would not regenerate, but she had seen the cells change and grow over the past days, and she was certain that her plan was flawless. Some of the cells were even on their second regeneration since she began, still holding to the new blueprint she had provided. Sixty days had been the shortest she could have waited, but she needed to be certain with a breakthrough this important.

Her hands shook as she turned the IV off, disconnecting the body from the sedative that had tirelessly worked for months. His muscle tone had significantly deteriorated—a fact she felt bad about—but he otherwise appeared healthy. She had been the perfect nurse throughout it all, rotating him as needed, providing all the appropriate care to his injection sites, washing and shaving his face weekly. She simply had not been able to exercise him effectively, not without jeopardizing the entire project. Now, she waited for those eyes to open.

They did slowly, the pupils growing and shrinking in the light. She waited for recognition to blossom in them, for the refreshing hug she had longed for these past months. But, that never came. Instead, rage burst into bloom, contorting his face into a snarling mask. Her husband dove from the table, leaping towards her. There was nothing human left inside him to control the animal instincts he felt, and so he enjoyed the ability to rip her apart, taste her flesh and blood. She screamed, pleaded with him, but there was never any glimmer of recognition in his animal eyes.

_____

“This is a message from the emergency broadcast system. The public is asked to please remain under quarantine. Those who do not comply will be shot on sight. Researchers continue to seek a cure for the Replicator virus, and vaccines will be made available as soon as possible. Individuals are asked to observe family and friends for any signs of infection, including decreased appetite, change in skin tone, change in eye color, sensitivity to light, and unusual aggression. If you see any of these symptoms, please contact your local response unit immediately for containment. This has been an alert from the emergency broadcast system.”


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


Card Challenge: Day 25

So, i enjoyed writing this, but it does not really go anywhere. It definitely does not have as much of a plot as I would generally want, but I think it would be fun to revisit this world at another date, so it was fun in taht respect. Still, kind of a weird one!


Card Day 25: Lines in a person’s palm seen through a magnifying glass as rivers of water.

The world was a cracked, dry, broken place. It was half-shattered by the heat, held together by sheer stubbornness and human determination.  Sometimes Daion thought it would spin itself apart, scattering tiny pieces of dust to all corners of the galaxy. Sometimes, he even hoped that would happen.

Today, his throat was parched, his skin was reddened, and his eyes ached with the force of the bright sun. He stood atop a craggy hill, looking around at a brown dessert stretched beneath a rotted orange sky. It was the same in all directions, differentiated by a hill or ruined city on one side that was a different hill or desolate town on the other. He lifted the dusty goggles from his eyes, squinting against the glare as he tried to notice anything in the distance that broke the monotony. Successful, he let out a sharp whistle.

“Trista, gotta camelback, straight ahead.” He had seen the familiar silhouette bopping along behind the rough terrain, its stooped back promising reward. Trista scaled the summit beside him, her hair sticking up haphazardly around her goggles and dust mask, styled in place by the stiff winds and an unhealthy dose of sweat.

“Sweet. I could go for some guilt free refreshment.” He could see the smile stretching across her face, even beneath her protective gear. She adjusted the pack on her back and started clambering down the other side of the hill. Daion followed at a slower pace, watching her haphazard descent as a trail of anemic dust in the air, caught and spun away by a sudden breeze. He took care to avoid the places she slipped into freefall, letting his feet expertly test the shifting terrain for stability. It was just like Trista to rush into everything, unaware of the potential pitfalls waiting along each step. But, in many ways, it was that unbridled adventurous spirit that he so appreciated.

“Don’t strand me up here,” he chuckled, selecting his careful path to more level ground. They followed the shadows, galloping over dunes and hills towards the previously marked salvation. Daion tried not to notice the impossible dryness in his skin and mouth, ignoring the fact that the sweat had dried on his brow. He was certain Trista was fading as quickly as he was, though she continued with the same dogged perseverance. Finally, they crested the hill and saw the familiar grey lump seated on the sand.

“Oy, Brother! Got some respite for some weary bones?” called Trista merrily, sliding to a stop next to the monk. He was covered in pale gray clothing, enough to cover his body, but thin enough to prevent him from cooking under the sun. Nevertheless, his face was red and pinched, sweat dribbling down his brow.

“Yes, of course. Have a rest, have a drink,” chimed the man, pointing to the thick water bag that was now seated beside him. Normally, the bag would sit precariously on his back as he trundled through the wastelands, granting miracles to dying travelers.

Daion filled up Trista’s canteen, and then his own. “Drink, brother?” he offered the weary monk.

The man smiled pleasantly, his eyes saying yes as he spoke. “No, I have my ration right here.” He tapped the canteen on his waist gingerly, and Daion took note of the hollow tone. “This is for the travelers. It is our duty to provide a cup of water to those who wander.”

“Well, you are a life saver, Brother,” thanked Daion as he tipped his canteen back. The water raced over his tongue and throat. It seemed as if the tissue was too dry to absorb a single drop of the water, and it filled his belly quickly. The cool was so refreshing, providing a glimmer of light to his shadowed eyes. Trista’s eyes were closed, and he could see her swishing the water around her mouth in ecstasy. There was the sound of silence, of water trickling from the plastic canteens, and of the two travelers gulping thirstily. Then, just silence. Daion felt the dehydrated headache beginning to fade and he could once again focus.

“Anywhere to sleep around here?” chimed Trista, having emerged from her water-logged fantasy to notice the darkening horizon.

Daion’s eyes shot to the west, seeing the sun as a swollen blister on the horizon, threatening to burst and poor flames across the world. Nature would kill you in the day, but it was humanity you had to fear at night. He could see the same unease flashing across the monk’s face. Daion felt the uncomfortable distrust suddenly chill the air. Yes, the monk had no idea who these two travelers were, and no good reason to reveal his one spot of safety. Providing a cup of water? Sure. Lead strangers to those people he cared about? Never. The monks caring nature left him fumbling over words, unwilling to lie, and unwilling to answer.

“No problem, padre. But we better get going.” He tipped his head toward Trista, and she was on her feet in a blink. “Take a bag for the road?” he asked as he gestured at the hefty reservoir. “Make your trip home a bit lighter?”

“The day is nearly done. Take what you need.”

The nights were cool and lonely. It would have been best to travel then, but the dangers of the road were too great for the two of them alone. Instead, it was time to hunker in their burrows while predators roamed. Daion scattered the sand that displayed their steps off the main path; the wind would have likely taken care of it, but you could not leave something so important in the hands of chance. They slid behind a tangle of rocks, slipping into the deep shadows that whispered security. It was a dinner of stringy jerky and stale dried fruit, with a few precious sips of water to wash it down. Neither of them spoke. It was too dangerous.

In the silence of the night came growls and hisses rom whatever creature still managed to live out there. More concerning were the whoops and hollers of the human creatures that somehow managed to thrive on cruelty and anarchy. Trista squeezed her eyes shut at the sounds, and Daion moved in closer, aware of the memories that were etched on her eyelids.

“I’ll take first watch,” he said, squeezing her hand briefly. She nodded and rolled to the side. Somehow, you got used to sleeping through terror around here. Daion leaned back against the rocks, listening and watching the stars. It was hard to imagine this feeble existence was, in fact, reality.  But, he looked at Trista, already breathing evenly in sleep, and he realized it could be worse. Daion remembered his first months alone, the violence and desperation. Now, he was filled with a strange peace and acceptance of life as I was. And he smiled at Trista as she slept, feeling the familiar ease of friendliness and protection. It was nice to create, rather than destroy. The night raged on, and Daion kept watch, waiting for the punishing eye of the sun to relieve them of the dark side of the human condition.


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


Card Challenge: Day 21

Guys, today marks the 1/4 Mark of the Challenge! Twenty-one of 84 days down! It’s pretty exciting, for me at least. I’m proud of what I have accomplished so far, and look forward to spinning some more interesting tales. For my own enjoyment, I am planning to print and bind the completed challenge, so I am keeping a running Comprehensive document on my computer Thus far, there are 65 pages and over 25,000 words! That’s so much writing since January 1! That means the final product will be around 260 pages and over 100,000 words. Wow.

Well, thank you for allowing me to marvel for a bit. Today’s piece is finished and probably one of my favorites so far. The card was really hard to describe, but I did my best. Please enjoy!


Card Day 21: A man with an ax approaches a tree. The branches of the tree have some tiny leaves on them, but then are covered with clouds and planets. The roots of the tree transition into tentacles and streams of water, a fish swimming along them.

What does it take to destroy a universe?

A cataclysm? Apocalypse? Do those things destroy a universe? No. We assume that the collapse of all we know is sue to the effects of some fated, predicted catastrophe that strips daily life of all its rules, laws, and foundations. But that is our mistake. You see, these things are the effects of a universe in freefall. We mistake effects for cause, and spend all of our life searching for an effect so we can prevent was has already happened.

We can conceive of what a destroyed universe might look like, but the cause is far beyond us. It is terrifying in its utter alienness. Because for the universe to be destroyed, there must be a fatal flaw in the processes we so certainly depend on, or there is something far larger than any of us.

So, what does it take to destroy a universe?

______

I worked for DelSanto Labs for fifteen years. I had high hopes of reaching some heretofore unknown peak of human intellect and advancement with my tiny projects, plying my hands at the great unknowns. It was all a pipe dream until Dr. Swanson asked me to be her lab assistant for her latest project. In conspiratorial whispers she told me about their goals to model the macro level processes of cosmic organization, tracing the development of the laws that held our planet spinning in place. She showed me the lab, rows of gleaming and pricey equipment meant to provide a safe haven for a universe all their own.

I was a lowly cog in the machine, not privy to the secret underpinnings of how you create a self-sustaining universe. The goal was staggering; we sought to create an environment that would evolve, exist, and balance itself out much like our own universe. Of course, it was trying. How can you create a blank slate and build a working universe of physics and nature?  That was the first hurdle. They worked for months to create just the minutest hole in our laws of nature. My job was to keep rigorous notes and monitor the displays for any important changes.

Somehow, they did it. The created a void, suspended through the well calibrated workings of a dozen different machines. It was ultimately artificial, yet ultimately the most real thing that had ever existed. There was nothing to misperceive or misunderstand. It existed as pure nothingness.

This breakthrough alone should have been enough, but Dr. Swanson kept a tight lid on any information leaving the lab. She would not breathe a word of the breakthrough until she finally had what she wanted—a living model of the universe to be picked and pulled and ultimately deconstructed into omniscience. Once the void was maintained, she provided matter.

You’d be amaze at quickly existence begins. The few atoms we spewed into the void hung there, initially lost and confused. There was no set of unbreakable principles that arranged their structure. Yet existence has a way of fighting, and over the course of a week, the matter began to assemble. It began to set itself apart according to rules that were unknown to science up unto that point. It coalesced, drawn together by a strange magnetism that at once resembled our gravity, but then broke it.

On day 16, it exploded. The tiny bits of matter we introduced had reduced down, crushing in n top of itself, fighting to develop a hierarchy of rules and existence. Finally, it ruptured into a brilliant glare on our monitoring equipment. I saw it happen, shielding my eyes from the brilliance. The Little Bang, as we called it, marked a new beginning. Suddenly, the universe we had created had a shape and a purpose.

I typed pages and pages of notes, observing ever minute alteration or fluctuation. We had every sensor you can imagine pointed at it, taking temperature, electrical, ion, weight, size, gravity, radiation, and a dozen other metrics. I studied the recordings, but it was not my job to make interpretation, merely to dutifully record what I saw. I also had the boring task of calibrating the equipment nightly, an endeavor that took up the scant hours of time I had left. Others were engaged with manipulating that data, breaking it open and reading its secrets. I was merely a scribe and technician. Yet I still carry its burden.

Day 43 was another day of relatively little activity. It had been about a three weeks since everything settled into an orbit. We had hoped for galaxies upon galaxies, but the matter we provided generated only a few spinning hunks of dust and pinpoints of impossible light. The energy output was startling, but manageable. I left the camera trained on the tiny plantelets was I went about my night calibrations. There was something soothing about watching a small collection of planet orbit their sun—something omnipotent and existential about it.

Pausing in my task, an odd change caught my eye. One of the quarter-sized blips had changed. It sat there, spinning slowly. Clouds swirled over the surface, obscuring the surface from time to time. And then, there was a sudden sparkle of light beneath the clouds. As I watched, a softly glowing trail rippled across the planet, lighting up the tiny sector of space.

I rushed to the console, zooming in as far as I could see. And then I immediately called Dr. Swanson on the phone.

She did not believe me, of course. But, to her credit, she rushed into the lab and looked down at the screen. There it was before us, a network of lights hovering the dark side of the planet. The closer we got, the clearer the organization became. The more distinct became the arches and solid forms of buildings. The more terrifying became our ultimate creation.

Her face was pale, bloodless, and drawn. She stare at the screen with quivering eyes, and her voice was just above a whisper. “Shut it down.”

“What? We can’t do that—“

“We can’t have done this,” she whispered. Her words were haunted, spoken more to herself than anyone else. I saw true terror as she considered the implications of creating a whole group of people built in a lab. Organisms had never been the goal; they had been a risk, potentially creating something that could destroy everything we knew. And our trial run as God had resulted in impossible outcomes. “Shut it down,” she commanded again, her eyes finally leaving the screen. They were grim and determined.

“I won’t do that,” I said, taking my stand. Ultimately, she did not need me to. She pulled the plug herself, and I watched the laws of the universe fall apart beneath our watching camera. The fields that had carefully cradled our test tube universe disappeared, and its own laws tore it to shreds.

I left DelSanto that day and began the years-long process of ridding myself of the unbearable guilt. So far, I have not been successful. Some nights, I imagine I hear their screams.

So, what does it take to destroy a universe?

Fear, cowardice, and inaction usually do the trick.


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


Card Challenge: Day 17

Card Day 17: A single white poppy amidst a field of red ones.

For years I had known that I was special. It was this innate, trustworthy feeling that somehow I was set apart, even if I could not yet realize what that meant. I remember walking through the crowded halls of high school, surrounded by pettiness and shortsighted passions, feeling distinctly different from the other adolescents plodding their dreary days. I was special, because somehow I could see through this all. It was not, necessarily, presentience, but more of an awareness of a realm that existed beyond the reality of the everyday.

It would be years later before the true importance of this separation became clear, but I nevertheless lived in accordance with my calling. It is with great peace and contentment that I say goodbye to my simple life of unfulfilled selection, giving up the toil and worries of human life for the transcendence I so prepared myself for.

I do not view my fellow humans with contempt or disdain. I understand the vibrancy with which they lived their lives, constantly pursuing some meaning or happiness. It is, ultimately, the same thing I sought. Only I could see beyond the mere rewards of a short span of life on this earth. I could see into the stars and to the true purpose awaiting me.

The stars. Have you considered them, dear reader? Do you share my admiration and awe, or are you like the rest of my species? Do you see in the stars only endless expanse of danger, fear, and destruction? Do you rail against the destiny our race was born to, or do you willingly accept your role in the far larger drama playing across the universe? I have never been so self-consumed to consider our race more than a mere speck in the expanse of space and time, a footnote in the great annals of universal history. We have served such a vital purpose, but it is our duty to but serve so that greater things may come. We shall be transformed. You, dear reader, shall be transformed just I have.

I remember when the stars reached out to us, bringing news of swift arrival. So many ignored the messages of the stars, but I could hear them singing, ringing with the news. It was a riotous din, completely unavoidable to anyone who would open their ears and eyes. If we had listened, then perhaps the great coming could have been a process of ease. We could have transitioned without strain into our new roles. Yes, it was necessarily a disorienting transition, leaving behind so much of what we foolishly used to define ourselves. We are a magnificent race, capable of so much others are not, but we refused our central role in all things.

When they came, there was such commotion. I was out at the store buying groceries for the week when it all began. The arrival came as a shock to me—I am not, as I said, presentient—but a welcome surprise nonetheless. The first sign of their arrival was the air. It suddenly took on an electric tingle, racing across my skin, up and down my spine, and across my tongue. It was a thrilling, terrifying experience. Yet, for the first time I can remember, I felt as if I were truly alive and aware of my senses. It was as if the sudden atmospheric electricity gave an edge to my senses, making colors brighter, sounds crisper, tastes more succulent, smells more vibrant, and touch more real.

It was in that moment that the full extent of my otherness became clear. This was the world of experience so many had felt before me, and now so many recoiled from it. I saw men and women begin to teeter on the edge, feeling the energy in the air as it set their nerves and fears alight. I do not believe they understood what it meant then, but soon they would.

From among the clouds, the beings appeared. So often, we imagined their arrival in massive ships that blotted out the sun. Instead, the floated on ephemeral wings, descending like snowflakes in the atmosphere. And like snow, they quickly and softly blanketed the world, requesting that we commit to our ordained positions in this expansive universe.

Yet so many rebelled. I watched with sorrow as humanity showed its worst side, reacting with violence and aggression towards these interstellar beings of light and goodwill. We attacked them, rebelling against the natural order to try and dispel the “invaders,” as so many called them. I remember the sound of rocket fire, the smell of burning structures and ozone in the air. Our weapons did nothing to them but anger them. I remember such sorrow in my heart, so different from the levity and freedom I now feel. If only we had acquiesced to their requests, all my brothers and sisters in humanity could experience this great relief.

What you must understand is that they came in peace, and we drove them to destruction. We acted as we always have, and responded to this unknown future with abject terror. We fought and we fled, but we should have known we were no match. I cannot see the future, but I could see we were bound for destruction when the first mortar flew.

I was in the epicenter when it happened. There was light, so brilliant and searing. I felt it with the same electricity as I had in the store, as if my skin was alive and singing. I saw others crumple to their ground, their screams fading into silence. All around me there was carnage and bloodshed. I lay docile and content amid the mingling blood of thousands of my species who had refused the coming blessing. My heart still pounded a steady, low, reliable beat. I would serve my purpose diligently, without struggle or rebellion.

They came to me in the bloodshed, their bodies perfect and glowing with an unperceivable light. They trudged through the offal, corpses, and destruction utterly unmarred by the horrors. I could see them searching, seeking the beacon of my awareness and submission.

Joining them was pure elation. For a moment, my body was in their grasp, white hot feelings piercing through very nerve and cell. I felt their consciousness probe mine, searching. I heard their whispered promises and assurances. I could join them if only I would renounce the silly things which tied me to humanity, I realized then why I was set apart, that I had always been destined to become something greater than my race had ever imagined. My race’s limited imagination, abject fear, and ultimate futility held us back, caged us in weak flesh, and left us captive to meaningless emotions. There was brilliant light, the burning away of human weakness. And I merged, a being purely set apart. My acceptance assured I would fulfill my ultimate purpose to drift through the outer bounds of space, converting those who were worthy while ridding the universe of the plague of mediocrity and small-mindedness. I was always set apart; I was always different.

Now, I am life. I am death.


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


Working Title: What the Stars Said WIP

So, it has been a while for me. I blame it on wrapping up the first stage of my dissertation process. Admittedly, that last stage was predominantly me waiting anxiously for any sort of email response from my Dissertation Chair so I could proceed, but that is not the best atmosphere under which to be creative. I’ve been in a bit of a writing rut recently because of this, so I opted to challenge myself to get something moving. Here is the result of that challenge.  It started with the phrase “…was a man of deadly boring nature…” and developed from there. I also challenged myself to use a line from my thought notebook about unfamiliar stars. It has its flaws. I think the back half is a little weak, and the dialogue, while intentionally somewhat over the top and cliche, may not quite be well enough developed to make that evident. I think I’ll give it a few days to percolate and return to edit it once the initial shine has worn off. It’s a little off-beat for me, but it was fun to write nonetheless. And, if nothing else, it got the gears moving a little more smoothly. Let me know what you think in the comments (or don’t. I just appreciated that you read this far!)


Walter was a man of fatally boring nature—the kind that assured he would die in his mid-50s while asleep, the unfortunate victim of a sedentary lifestyle, fast food, and fat-strangled heart. He was a lonely bachelor living in an apartment which was clean not because of meticulous organization, but because he did not have the furnishings to fill it. The emptiness of his home was traded for the emptiness of his office at precisely 8:35 every morning, which gave him just enough time to get snarled in traffic and arrive ten minutes late like clockwork. He worked as a nameless drone in a tiny cubicle, the walls adorned only with the company calendar that was chronically two months behind. If he did not show up to work, it would probably be a week before anyone noticed he was missing. Walter assumed, at times, that the smell would alert his neighbors long before his workplace noticed.  If he was honest, the Chinese delivery boy would probably be the first to notice when his order did not come in at 6:15 Monday night. He wouldn’t care that it didn’t, but Walter felt comforted that at least someone would realize he was gone. It was a sad, empty existence. He could not recall a time that his routine had changed, which is why his late night waking was nearly the stroke that did him in.

Walter woke to the uncanny sensation of unfamiliar stars stretching away in the sky before him. The shock that it was not his water-stained ceiling staring back at him was the second to settle in, superseded by the realization that the constellations that danced across that inky canvas were not, in fact, those beloved childhood sigils. He felt suddenly off balance, as if his entire being had fled and left his body an empty shell. Those stars had guided him through so many places of darkness, including the miserably cold and dreary nights spent by the fire with his father on some misguided attempt to man Walter up through the time honored tradition of shooting helpless animals with firearms.

He reeled with the wave of memory and emotion that flooded his sense with the cold realization. He was utterly alone. Even his familiar stars were not there to comfort him.

His loss slowed his realization that different stars meant he was somewhere he had never been. That he had somehow sleepwalked into a place so distant he could not find a guiding star? Walter did not know how it was possible. He pushed himself off the ground, his hand sinking to the wrist in the spongy feeling earth. He must be on some sort of moss bed, he reasoned, but there was no moon above him to illuminate the ground. Which was odd because it had been a full moon only a few nights previous. He had to shut the blinds just to get some sleep.

Walter tried to put the impossibility of his situation out of his mind. He instead patted the threadbare pockets of his pajama pants, but was disappointed to find he had not fallen asleep with his cell phone tucked in close. Instead, he found splinters of a forgotten pretzel and a crumbled TV guide page stuffed into the corners. Nothing helpful, her surmised quickly, and stood staring into the dark shadows without a thought in his mind. There were plenty of thoughts threatening, those he could feel, but to admit even one in meant unleashing those floodgates to overwhelm his fraying mind. Where he was was impossible, but as long as he refused to acknowledge it, it remained a silly conjecture.

Light grew behind him. Walter spun around as the soft light crept over his shoulder, relieved that someone had found him out in the wherever he was. They were about thirty yards away, holding some sort of ball that glowed with a diffuse light. The shadows crowded around the figure as it drew closer, appearing to bob softly as its feet sunk into the loamy soil. Whoever it was, they looked no taller than a child, though they moved with the ease of an adult who has well acclimated to their limbs. There was no hesitation as they drew closer.

“Hey!” Walter called out. “I’m lost!” The figure continued moving at a steady pace, never pausing nor returning the call. It was coming towards him, Walter thought, so certainly it would stop and help him. Unless—

Thoughts of the evening news spiraled through his mind. Perhaps he had been drugged and brought out here for sport. Maybe this was his captor, come to finish the deed. Walter calmed himself with thought of the figures apparent small stature; any killer that size he could easily overpower. He could sit on them, for all it mattered.

While he was developing an appropriate defense strategy to take down the unsuspecting figure, it had drawn with fifteen feet of him. Now, he could see it. And now, he felt the world begin to slip away beneath him. There was a body that stretched too long towards the ground, legs that seemed to radiate out and skitter across the pale grass with spider-like agility. Atop that cylindrical body sat a blocky head, with wide set, narrow eyes and a puckered mouth. The light Walter had assumed it was carrying was, instead, the softly glowing end of one of its “arms.”

For the second time that night, Walter awoke to unfamiliar stars, though these now had a certain ring of recognition to them. His view, however, was obstructed by the oddly thick and square head of his captor or savior, he did not know. Its eyes were wide set and small, tiny little splashes of milky white peeking through folds of greyish-pink skin. At least, Walter assumed they were eyes. The creature seemed to be investigating him curiously, sniffing at him with the small angular protrusion which Walter wanted to call its nose. If it had a nose. He quickly corralled his thoughts. This was not impossible as long as he refused to think about it.

When the thing spoke, Walter’s world spun again, and he felt reality draining back into the welcoming darkness again. But that voice was like a life preserver cast upon the waters of unconsciousness, bringing him once again to the surface.

“Stand, Walter Cromwell of Earth.” It’s voice was raspy and stumbled over the foreign syllables as if each sound was receiving its first utterance in the foreign atmosphere. Walter was willing to admit that this certainly was not his home planet, at least not anymore. It was, he reasoned, some strange dream he would soon wake from. He went along with the creatures demand, filling the earth seep through his fingers as he shoved himself to his feet. His legs wobbled, mostly thrown off by the world that seemed to still be spiraling rapidly away from the human, but he did his best to remain strong and stable.

“We have brought you here to warn your fellow humans. Doom is approaching,” stated the creature, its eyes fixing on Walter’s face far above it. Dispute being only half his height, the being did not seem the least intimidated by Walter’s imposing form. There was something empowering in that, something that awakened a primal need for dominance in Walter.

“What are you?” his lips mumbled without his consent, and that quest for dominance disintegrated.

The creature seemed taken aback, obviously expecting some different response following its proclamation. “I—I am Skeel of the Onwihu. This is our planet. We have brought you here to save your race!” Skeel regained his stride, voice rising in urgency by the end of his sentence.

“Yes, because what now is approaching?”

“Doom!” Cried Skeel, his arms lifting until the ball of light hovered just below Walter’s chin. “The end of the humans!”

“Right,” Walter mused, studying this figure and his exigency. “I really think you have the wrong guy. I’d be no good at that sort of thing.”

“Walter Cromwell, we chose you.”

“Yes, and I’m flattered and all, but perhaps you meant some other—”

“You were the one who gazed at us in the stars! You were the one who spoke to us, reached for us, sought our intervention.”

Well, he thought. He had done that. Years ago, trapped in a tree stand in the middle of the night, praying for anyone to intervene. He wondered if it would be appropriate to tell them they were a few decades too late. “I really think you may have made a mistake. I don’t even know the first thing about saving the world. Really, it’s not my line of work.”

Skeel sighed, an oddly human mannerism that made Walter feel a little more at home. That was a response he was used to getting, not this “save-the-whales” mumbo-jumbo. “Walter Cromwell, you have been selected. You will save your people.”

“And how do you suppose I will go about that? Have you noticed how we treat people who see little green men?”

The reference appeared to sail over Skeel’s head, something which was not hard to do. He continued with unwavering perseverance. “You must show the humans the errors of their ways. Show them to restore their own nature. Tell them to turn from paths of destruction and violence against their society.”

“Right. And why would they listen to me?”

Without another word, Skeel reached out the light on his arm and touched Walter’s hand. Immediately, his mind was flooded by words that had no meaning, but told him all he would need ot know. Those voices outlined the coming destruction. First, they promised, there would be fire. Walter saw a volcano exploding, spewing magma and ash into the atmosphere and blanketing the surrounding countryside. He saw faces streaked with ashes and tears, rescue crews fighting through smoke and debris. Then, they proceeded, water. New York City was flooded, he saw, its streets hidden beneath churning black waters, laden with the refuse of a populace who no longer cared. There were bodies in the water, Walter saw, and diseases swimming through the newly created rivers. In quick succession, he saw meteor showers—unexpected, but due to hit March 29th—an earthquake which neatly rent a shopping mall in half, the death of three different world leaders, and the frenzied press conference for the cure for cancer.

The images did not stop, but moved on to scenes of plague. He saw people wasting away in hospital beds, then in their homes, and then in the streets. Everywhere were gaunt faces and open sores, pouring pus and disease into the populace. Those who did manage to survive such pestilence he watched slowly waste away, lining up for days for a loaf of bread that was already filled with mold and maggots by the time it reached their mouths. From there he saw war. Men and women armed, grim faces marching through foreign streets, tearing one another apart for assured food and medical care. He saw world leaders frothing at the mouth as they condemned one another. He saw bombs falling, cities disintegrating, and parents weeping for children lost within the rubble. Finally, he saw a cloud rise from the earth, spreading its destructive power from one end to the other, silencing the sordid final moments of Earth’s biography.

Skeel pulled away, leaving Walter feeling suddenly cold and alone. “Tell them what you have seen; tell them what you could not know otherwise. Then they will believe. Then they will change.”

It was reassuring to wake to his familiar ceiling with the abstract stain spreading from the wall, and to be immediately assaulted with the blaring tempo of his alarm. What a dream, Walter mused. He rose from the bed, stretching stiff joints and ignoring the grey-green dust that marked his footsteps through the dingy apartment. His morning shower was more than enough to wash away any possible evidence of his evening’s adventure, and Walter was just as happy to let it filter down the drain in a murky swirl of water. He left, sliding a piece of toast into the toaster as he turned on the television.

Which tie today, he thought, examining the numerous options hanging limply over his dining room chair. It felt like a blue kind of day, he decided as he moved back to his bedroom.

The toaster popped as Walter cinched his belt, and it was time for breakfast. The morning news was a chipper as usual, presenting the daily diversions with clinical imbalanced optimism. Walter watched them discuss a clip of a puppy tripping up and down stairs as he buttered his toast.

“Well, you may need a video like that to pick you up after our next story,” chirped the woman, trying and failing to reassemble her face into a mask of gravity. “We are getting reports of a massive volcanic eruption from Italy in just the past hour. Rescue teams have been unable to approach the affected areas as of yet, and remain concerned about those individuals trapped in the surrounding areas. We go to John Michaelson in Rome for the latest news.”

Weird, thought Walter. It was certainly a strange coincidence that he had dreamed this very thing the night before. What was even weirder was he felt it was time to admit to himself and anyone else concerned that it most certainly had not been a dream. The fate of the world was in his hands. Next would be the flood, he thought, munching pensively on the corner of his toast. He sighed the sigh of someone with an immeasurable weight pressing down on them, forcing the air from their very lungs. It seemed he had his work cut out for him if he was going to save this miserable excuse for a planet.

But perhaps, he mused, the end of the world would not be so bad after all.

The clock on the microwave caught his attention. 8:35—time for work. He clicked off the television as he drifted out the door, dragging himself into another day of drudgery and toil. Walter was a man of fatally boring nature.


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


Purified

This is a new item that I completed a few months ago and have since submitted to a couple of sites. Still a work in progress, but mostly polished by now.

Posted at creepypasta.com: Purified
_______________________________

“Hell is other people.” –Jean Paul Sartre, No Exit

Things had gone terribly wrong. I wasn’t one to ever really be concerned with history—I had failed it three times in college—but even I knew things had gone terribly wrong. If anyone survived any of this, it would be up to them to decide what the cause was, record it in the annals of history, and try to avoid the mistakes of the past, but that wasn’t my job. My job was to survive, and it didn’t matter whether I blamed the sun for entering some strange new cycle and turning most of the world into barely livable desert, blamed the government for embroiling all of us in so many conflicts that there weren’t allies and enemies as much as it was a coliseum free-for-all, or blamed science for creating so many biological weapons that were used with no regard for the outcomes. It just didn’t matter, because most of the humans that could be blamed were dead, and there was no use blaming the dead. I considered blaming God, but I wasn’t sure if he existed any more. If he did, then this must be the apocalypse and I was fairly certain there was no way I was ever going to meet him. If he didn’t, then I would just be blaming the dead yet again, and it’s no use blaming someone who can’t ever atone for their crimes.

Things had gone terribly wrong, but I was alive, and for today, that was enough. When it wasn’t any more, ammo was easy to find, and I already had all the guns I needed to fix that scenario. Until then, we got by. You see, I had been camping with a few others, mostly just to see another human face when I woke up in the morning. There was me, Wolf, the Rev, and Chickadee. I know those weren’t their real names, but it didn’t really matter anymore what names were, since there usually weren’t enough people to share it with anyways. Besides, keeping nicknames made it a lot easier to pull a corpse from a tent and chuck it into a deep hole without burying yourself down there with it each time. There had been more of us at one time, but for a lot of those folks, being alive just wasn’t enough anymore. They all found an out some way, be it through guns or just disappearing one night into the wasteland, they got out when they needed. The four of us got along pretty well, but we didn’t get along much. The camp was pretty quiet most of the time, unless one of them things wandered close, but they didn’t really bother us often.

They were nasty looking creatures though. I had always wondered if those zombie theories were true, and in the end, they weren’t. Something else did take over once we humans moved on, but our corpses hadn’t passed Darwin’s survival test, so they didn’t come back as shambling and stupider versions of ourselves. I’m not sure where the things came from, but they were there and they were dangerous. They could rip a person apart in just a matter of minutes, and those bodies definitely never got back up. Maybe they were the next step of evolution. All I knew is that they were ugly to look at, and overall pretty bright creatures despite their appearance. They walked and looked like humans, but their limbs were a little longer, with sharper claws and teeth like our animal counterparts. Their skin was solid black, which probably helped out with them living in a newly desert world. It looked cracked, charred almost, but I never really got close enough to tell you much. For the most part, they were solitary, but you could hear them talking at night, hissing and spitting in some language I didn’t try to understand. It gave me chills to hear it, and so I hated the days I got stuck with night watch, knowing they were talking about us just beyond the firelight. Made it so my nightmares became the only kind of dreams I knew.

But, like I said, they mostly left us alone for a long time. Left us to try and build some sort of community with the four of us, but none of us were very good at that. Our trained isolation is probably what saved us in the beginning, and maybe it is what will doom all of us in the end. I told you I don’t know history, and I certainly don’t know the future.

Chickadee was a smart woman, nice to look at. Before the end of the world, I probably wouldn’t even have noticed her, but in this desert sand, her blond hair and blue eyes turned her into a goddess of limitless beauty. We slept together a few times, but it was mostly going through the motions and neither of us really seemed driven to make it a normal occurrence. It was nice to have some comfort when the booze wasn’t enough, but something about the new emptiness and the constant sense of doom made even sex bland and undesirable. She was smart, and we talked a bit. Mostly she talked and I nodded. The sound of her voice was a pleasant break from the silence otherwise. I had always lived in the country, but this quiet was a different kind. It was absolute. For me, it was an adjustment, but for her, a born and bred city-dweller, it was almost unbearable. She talked about that a lot. Not too sure about who she was before everything, but she was with us after it all went to hell, and we looked out for her. Her sister had been one of the first to take their out, and I was sure for a while Chickadee would follow along, but she stuck it out, seemingly growing more resolved to fight through day by day. I never saw her breakdown, though I heard her some nights crying softly in her tent. I think she was probably the strongest one of all of us.

Wolf was a different story altogether. I assumed I wouldn’t like him when we first met, and I was right. Alcohol was all of our friend, but Wolf was involved in a tempestuous affair with it. I’m not sure I ever knew him fully sober, especially not after we had to leave the city and start our lives out in this wasteland. He was impulsive and loud, two traits which should have gotten him killed, but at this point I was certain nature just wanted to keep the least desirable parts of our species alive to ensure it died out quickly. At the same time, he was very protective of all of us. I think he took it personally when someone escorted themselves out of this world; he definitely took it harder than the rest of us. You could measure his grief by the empty bottles by his tent each night. He talked a lot, said very little, but if anyone really wanted a community from our ragtag band, it was him. He wasn’t made for this world, but he was alive, and that was enough each day.

The Rev was a thin, quiet man who assured all of us that this was God’s judgment on us all. When you asked, he would discuss his past sins and how this was his chance for penance, to bring souls back to the Lord. We didn’t do too much listening to him, but that didn’t stop him from proselytizing. The Rev always wanted my soul. He was a killjoy, arguing against our alcohol and celebrations. There wasn’t much to celebrate, but every time we tried, he reminded us that we were punished sinners. He didn’t like when I told him his God was probably dead, too busy decaying to worry about the pitiful lives of us forgotten sinners. He pointed to the wasteland around us as evidence something divine was present and cleaning up the mess of the world. That certainly wasn’t a God I wanted anything to do with, but the Rev clung to him, even going so far as to leave camp every week or so for solitary prayer, proclaiming his Lord’s protection over him. I guess it worked for him, but I didn’t trust the Rev. Not a bit. He was always a secretive sort, and he was adamant that his precious holy water, kept in a flask at his side, could not be used by anyone. We all nearly died of dehydration before we got camp set up, and the Rev refused to part with a drop. For a while I thought we all might kill him just to get that little bit of water, but fortunately we found a well before it came to that.  It all makes a little more sense now.

So that was what was left of our group of survivors. There had never been many of us, maybe ten at the most at any time, but now being down to just four, it sure felt lonely. Loneliness is the new human condition, I suppose, and maybe that’s for the best seeing as how we messed everything up in the end. The days and nights of our lives were pretty much monotonous motion from one posture to the next, nothing significant to mark the change in day besides a new division of watches. It seemed foolish having the watches in some sense, cause those things out in the desert really seemed to leave us alone for some reason, but fears of what could happen kept us alert. No one wanted to be responsible for a shredded pile of what used to be a friend.

There was one time they got really close, and I was sure it was over. It had been a week or two since we set up camp—I can’t remember how long exactly since there was no real way to identify one day from another. We always heard them sniffing and prowling around the camp at night, but this time it was broad daylight and they were circling. There were three of them, looking dry and hungry. All those whispers and hisses started up again, though I couldn’t tell if their mouths were moving to be honest. For some reason, I had the distinct feeling they were not. They looked like humans, but now they were almost crawling, loping around on their hands and feet as they circled the camp. They were pockets of midnight on the brilliant plains, pitch black from head to foot, eyes included. We were all alert, watching, waiting. The Rev was praying. We waited, feeling our hearts begin to sink as they began to tighten their circle, moving in on us, the cornered prey. Wolf and I pulled out the supply of guns we were hoarding and began loading up, resolved to at least go down fighting. We never got our chance, though, because the Rev had abruptly stopped his mumbling recitation to walk towards those nasty things. They stopped, looking at him, expectant in a way. I knew they were going to lunge, rip his throat out before a bullet could reach them, but instead they waited.

“Be gone!” cried the Rev, his words flying back to us on a stiff breeze, bringing with it a rotten smell from those things. “This camp is under the protection of my Lord, and none shall oppose him any longer!”

I thought for sure the Rev had found another out, walking straight out to those damned things. But instead those creatures stood and walked away with just a few lingering hisses in the wind. They didn’t go far, but they went far enough away that we couldn’t smell them any longer and they had turned into tiny black specks on the perimeter of our camp. I have to admit, I began to think I should start listening to the Rev a little bit more.

Chickadee felt the same way, only she was a lot more trusting of the Rev than I was. That night, she spent the whole evening talking to him about his faith, his God, his Lord. The more I heard it, the less I thought his miracle was in fact miraculous and more it seemed just lucky. It was the most ridiculous information I had heard, about how his God decided to start anew on this world, replace those who had defied him with creatures of his own design. How he, the Rev, was a prophet to bring humanity into the fold once again, allow it to thrive in this new existence under the comfort of the Lord. How his past improprieties and disloyalties had been burned away in redemptive fire, just as the world had been scrubbed clean by the desiccating rays of our new sun. How he would save us all.

Chickadee fell for it instantly. She had never mistrusted him, and I felt betrayed to see this woman cast aside my arguments. I had always thought she was the strongest, and what if she was right? I didn’t feel too sure in my own mind to hear the way she talked. I thought I was missing out big on what could be the only redemption from this hell. But at the same time, I couldn’t buy it, not from him. There was some sneaky, glassy look in the Rev’s eyes that held me back, kept me from buying in. Some form of snake oil was being sold, and I didn’t want to be swindled out of the only thing I had left, a soul all my own, with no claim from God or man.

Chickadee wanted to be one of the redeemed, and so Wolf and I figured the Rev would be forced to part with some of his precious holy water to consecrate her, but apparently that wasn’t the case. This holy rite was some secretive ordeal, meaning the Rev and Chickadee would have to step out just beyond the visual perimeter of our camp, some place where they would not be seen by our unbelieving eyes, in order to perform this rite. Wolf and I argued with them, but there was something about Chickadee which made her hard to refuse. She was dead set on it.

We let them go on the condition Chickadee took a weapon in case any of those things got to close. Wolf and I watched them walk away, Chickadee with all the decorum of a new convert, her eyes watery with tears and smiling for the first time in a while. Maybe this religion stuff wasn’t all bad, I thought.

All that came back was the Rev, one of those things shot dead by Chickadee’s gun, and some bloodied hair and clothes that were the only salvageable remains. The Rev told us they had snuck up on them, tightened the noose until one grabbed her. He got the gun, he said, and was able to take a shot. The others fled after one of them fell. We never heard the gunshot, so they must have been out a lot farther than the Rev initially said.

Religion must be all bad. Things had gone terribly wrong, again, and this time it was the Rev’s fault.

I could have been angry with the Rev, but he looked about as broken hearted and terrified as any person could. I was numb. Wolf added another collection of bottles outside his tent. I missed the soft sobs from her tent at night. It made it too quiet again. Our Chickadee was gone, and now the country silence turned unbearable for me.

Our little community tore apart a little more. Now we were nothing but a group of three who happened to share the same space. It seemed like watch shifts began to be the entirety of my existence. If I wasn’t being haunted on the perimeter by my own mind, I was sleeping and living through some new daily nightmare. Talk by the fire grew quiet, and more and more I began to feel like a ghost pacing the same forgotten route day after day, searching for that light to enter.

I wasn’t surprised when a shot shattered my watch one night. It came from the tents, which was no shock. The silence and isolation had become suffocating, and I had begun to wonder if it was enough to just be alive anymore. It seems someone must have agreed with me. I was shocked to return to camp and find Wolf’s tent spattered with blood and viscera. The mostly empty bottles on the floor were not surprising, and probably helped explain what had happened. Alcohol can provide some healing, but it eventually burns you out from the inside, leaving nothing there to stand against its will. I guess either Wolf or the booze needed his out.

Now it was the Rev and I. I was ready to pack up and leave, take my chances in the field, but the Rev was adamant that we should not split. He kept saying he couldn’t let me leave without protecting my soul from the horrors out there.  Horrors was a pretty good word for those things, but I still wasn’t ready to trade in my soul for his peace of mind. And so he followed me as I packed up and set out to find something better than a ghost town in this desolate world.

After a week or so of travel, the Rev started to look bad. His skin looked dry and red, burned deeply by the sun. His eyes were sunken, his hair beginning to dry and fall out. He looked sickly and frail, and I was certain it would only be a matter of days before I was alone in this world again. Just being alive wasn’t enough for me anymore, but I couldn’t leave him alone.

His proselytizing grew more and more passionate as his body grew weaker and weaker. Even when his throat was dry and his voice cracking in the desert heat until blood tinged his lips he continued to preach his gospel, promising freedom through purifying fire, just as our world had been so purified by the blazing sun. I began to feel guilty holding out on him. While I didn’t believe, there was also the thought that it was unnecessarily cruel of me to refuse a dying man’s wish. Besides, if I didn’t believe in God, no rite the Rev could perform would convince me otherwise. Maybe it would hurry him along into death, finally being at peace with his life’s work, and leave me to my own way out.

When I agreed, I saw light flicker back into his eyes, and it left me unsettled. The smile and gleam in his eyes seemed hungry and crazy, almost animalistic in its wild fury. I wanted to back out, but I reminded myself that he was dying fast, and it wouldn’t hurt me to give in to one silly fantasy. He had me kneel out in the sand and put his feeble hands on my shoulders. He said a lot of words, words that I thought would have been Latin, but sounded more like those hisses and whispers the Horrors used to call across the desert. Suddenly stronger than I thought, he pulled me to my feet until we were eye to eye, facing one another just a step apart.

His eyes were mesmerizing to me, because as he spoke, they seemed to open up. He had always had dark eyes, and now they seemed to be pits spiraling into his skull and beyond. At the bottom of his impossibly deep eyes, I began to notice flames simmering down there, steadily roaring to life. As they grew closer, I began to feel the heat on my shoulders where his hands dug into my body. I began to feel flames licking along my body, ripping away whatever human was left of me, “purifying me” as the Rev had promised, into one of those things, those Horrors. As I watched his face, unable to change my gaze, only able to scream into the nothingness of wilderness, I saw his skin begin to rejuvenate, flesh turning young and soft again. He began to look as I remembered him from the first few weeks of our journey.

I didn’t know what was happening at first, I only knew that the burning in my body pushed me to the brink of consciousness with its pain before it began to fade away. I felt detached from my body, just a floating soul left without a home. I could see myself, a charred husk shaped into one of the Horrors by some dark design I did not begin to understand, and I could see the Rev as a smiling creature who was nothing more than a demon in human clothing. I had been taken in and the wolf had raided the hen house.

I got it now. I knew who his Lord was, and I knew that he certainly was god of this God-forsaken world.

Now free of my body, I began to wonder what came next. Where would that bright light be? Would I find heaven waiting after trudging along this hell? Just as my freedom began to sink in as an uplifting reality, I heard the whisper-hiss of the Rev speaking something terrible. I could feel it as terrible even if I couldn’t understand the words. I saw him open that flask of what we had assumed was holy water, watched him lift it to the lips of my hollowed body and let that thing drink. And then I felt something dragging me back down, ripping me from my escape and caging me. As some new spirit flowed from the flask into the creature, my own being filled the flask. I got to keep the one thing I had left, but only because that was the only thing left of me. Just a collection of thoughts and feelings without anything to tether me, I was a caged soul, still my own, but unable to do a thing about it. Unknowingly, I had traded my soul—and along with it everything I am—to the Devil.

It’s a daily living hell. I don’t get my out anymore. I’m alive for today, and tomorrow I will be as well, cause I don’t have my bullet savior. I’m not what I was, I have nothing left but my own thoughts, and most days that isn’t enough. It isn’t enough to be alive and thinking when I see the terrible things done with what was my body. It’s eternal reflection on the Horrors and all that I have done. It’s a private hell made up by my own self-loathing. Now it’s just a matter of waiting until this prison rips away whatever humanity I have left and the Rev pours me out to fill up one of those Horrors.

Guess those things get us all in the end. Sure not how I pictured going out, but things have gone terribly wrong, so why should this be any different?

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