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Posts tagged “monster

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.


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


Card Challenge: Day 42

Halfway there! Very exciting. This project seemed impossible in the beginning, but I am really enjoying how I am learning and growing through it. Also, I’m happy to say that the habit is starting to take hold, which was always my hope.  I really enjoyed writing today’s story, and I hope you enjoy reading it!


Card Day 42: The bars on the window of a snail shell prison have been sawn through, leaving a blanket rope dangling to the ground beside broken chains.

The fall knocked the breath from his lungs, and his first gasping breath was full of the taste of the fresh, free air. The moon and stars stretching above him was a welcome sight as he recovered, his back resting firmly against the fresh spring grass. Everything took on a new light, a delicate and ephemeral beauty that he thought he would never experience again. He drank deeply of the air as if it were the only thing that would sustain him.

Slowly, the reealit6 of the situation settled back on him, encouraging him to stir from his spot on the ground. He was still next to the tall stone building, just below the window he had crashed through moments before. While he had tried to be quiet, he was certain that they would notice his absence soon and mount a search party. He needed to put distance between himself and the god forsaken building before they could fan out.

As he pushed off the ground, he felt a dull ache radiating from his left ankle. Apparently the fall was not completely flawless, but he supposed it could have been far worse. Had he landed wrong and broke a leg, or struck his head and lost consciousness, it would have been a short jaunt back to his cell in the dank castle. At least he had a chance. Limping slightly, he began to push through the woods, following the thin sliver of the moon overhead. If he remembered correctly and things had not changed too much, there was a decent sized city not too far away. He planned to hit the main highway and plead for help to anyone who happened to pass by.

The forest seemed to close in on him, wrapping its branches towards him to slow his progress. Just a figment of his imagination, he assured himself, but it did not dispel the uneasy feeling that the trees themselves were watching and misleading him. If not for the moon, he was certain he would have circled right back to that infernal tower. The night was surprisingly still and calm. There was no hum of insects, no chatter of the nocturnal wildlife. It was as if the whole world was holding its breath, betting for and against him. Onward was his mantra, and his irregular steps led him deep into the heart of the woods.

The wind brushed against his back, and he could hear the words floating towards him, an indecipherable haze of haste and panic. “Find him!” he thought he heard snaking through the trees. Despite the pain and encroaching feeling of hopelessness, he pressed on. He could not go back, would not allow that fate to befall him.

Lo hanging branches tugged at his arms, leaving painful welts and gashes. Their malevolence was clear, and he suspected the woodland would eagerly betray his heading to those foul witches. He could hear the yips and barks of the hellhounds at their employ, already picking up his scent and barreling through the undergrowth toward him. The road and a friendly stranger were his only hope.

Then again, he also needed a stranger with no sense of self-preservation. That is the only reason someone would stop and pick up someone looking as bedraggled and unsavory as himself. He knew it had been four days since he had bathed, and nearly nine months since his last true haircut and shave. The women did their best to keep him presentable, but that still left him with a shaggy mane of tangled hair, now further complemented by early spring leaves and brambles, and a good shadow’s worth of stubble across his face. Add that to the fact his torso was now laced with scars in intricate patterns, a few still seeping blood, and he looked like a terror crashing through the forest. He resigned himself to the fact that he was more likely to give someone a heart attack leaping in front of their car than he was to find someone who would be willing to stop for him. Still, he did his best to feed the fire of hope within him; without it, he was merely a shambling husk of a person, better left to do whatever those she-demons had in mind for him.

The vision of asphalt stretching before him was almost more than he could bear. He felt his knees weaken at the sight, a memory of civilization that he thought would only live as a dusty fragment of nostalgia. The stone was cool under his hands, having already released the meager spring heat into the night, the stones rough. Like a dying man gasping for water, he clung to it. Freedom was in sight.

Lights on the road, and his heart quickened. It was a foolish hope, but the only one he had.

“Here!” he screamed, waving wildly at the approaching vehicle. Taking a risk, he stepped over the crisp lines to stand in the path. Even if it hit him, that meant freedom, he supposed. “Please help!” he called again at the oncoming lights. The car swerved, careening into the opposite lane, and he heard the engine accelerate away from him. He worked quickly to regain his deflating confidence. At least now he had a path, and he could walk along until he found civilization or a lunatic willing to take a chance on him. The city lay to the west, if he remembered, and that meant—

“So that’s where you got off to,” came the saccharine voice from behind him. The sound sent a chill up his spine as his stomach turned with revulsion. “Gave us all quite a scare tonight.”

Her pale face was the only thing of her that was visible of her in the inky black night. Her body was covered by a thick black robe, and soft black gloves ran up to her elbows. She smiled, the sight ghastly in the dim moonlight. He could see other figures stepping from the tree line, surrounding him front and back.

“Now, you may think we are upset, but please don’t. Your spirit, your will to live, your fight is precisely why we chose you. In fact, I think if you never tried such a daring escape, we would have known you were not the one.” She was walking towards him now, her feet crunching softly along the ground. In his mind, everything she touched withered and died after exposure to her toxicity. The very air around her was poisoned and defiled by her exhalation.

“But now,” she purred, her eyes alight with pleasure, “we can be sure.”

He turned to run, darting across the road and toward the second line of trees. It was an impossible hope, but something in him whispered that the opposing forest would be a haven, not yet touched by their black magic. He heard shouts behind him, arcane words that hummed with familiarity. In an instant, he felt the shadows grip his feet, the asphalt liquefying to hold him fast. She approached him, a smile on her blood-tinted lips.

“Sh,” she whispered, as if she could be soothing, “you should be honored. You, of all the human worms we have tested and tried, have a purpose. You shall be the vessel for our Master. He will be most pleased with your offering.” She laid her hand against his forehead, her skin radiating an unnatural warmth. The shadows deepened around him, until that was all he could see. With that, he gave in to the unnatural sleep as they dragged him towards his protested fate.


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


Card Challenge: Day 35

So, I took a day off yesterday. This week has been ridiculously busy, and then I had an 8 hour class today. Saturday. Yuck. So, I just was burned out on all fronts. Fortunately, a day spent in class with my incredible, wonderful, supportive classmates, plus pizza out after, has given me back a bit of energy. So, here is today’s, and sorry for the skip yesterday! Happy reading!


Card Day 35: A small child stands, sword raised high, in front of a giant blue dragon.

Jeanie woke up again from a nightmare, the sweat clinging to her body and the sheets. Her heart pounded, and she felt the flutter in her chest of rapid, gasping breaths. She lay there, her eyes scurrying over the ceiling, trying to calm herself down from the terrifying images and ideas that circled about. In the bright light of morning, she knew these feelings would disappear instantly, but the heavy darkness of 3am fed them. Her heart slammed against her ribs, echoing the sound of footsteps in her brain. It was just her heartbeat, she knew, but the sound rubbed against her raw nerves, keeping her whole body alert and terrified.

You’re too old to be scared of the dark, she thought to herself, rolling over and trying to ignore the paranoia creeping along her now exposed back. Lying this way, while more comfortable, meant she could not see the closet door. It was absurd, truly, to imagine something creeping out of her closet, but with her current state of arousal and the tricky way the mind sneaks toward impossibilities in the wee hours of the morning, she could not shake the image.

The teenager turned over, hoping that would ease the discomfort. Now she stared at the strips of black closet from between the slates of the door. However, she felt the same chill and anxiety creep along her spine again. This way, she could not see the hall door. Who knew who could be sulking along the hallways, slowly inching through the doorway? Defeated and capitulating to her own irrational paranoia, Jeanie turned back onto her back, staring at the bumpy plaster.

She tried to put the nightmare out of her mind, erasing the images of blood and pain. Watching that movie was a stupid idea, she chided herself, but acknowledging the source did nothing to weaken the images. They still spun through her mind, images frozen on the back of her eyelids. Every time she closed her eyes, they grew in vividness until she felt she was once again trapped within the dream. Her eyes flew open, back to the ceiling and the irregular pattern of the streetlight through her blinds.

It was beginning to feel as if sleep was unlikely to return for the night. She watched the clock tick from 3:17 to 4:10 with its steady rhythm. Her eyes were heavy and leaden, sinking closed only to snap open at every creak or grown from the house. Though her heart had slowed and her skin now prickled with cold from the air conditioner, she still could not fully embrace the ease and calm needed to finally fall back asleep.

There was a shuffling in her closet, and her eyes flew open, pupils wide in the dim room. Just the house settling, she reminded herself, letting her heart slow from the sudden jolt. Had she not felt the terror of the moment, she would have laughed at herself for imagining someone sitting and sliding her clothes along the hangers in the floor of her cluttered closet. It was a ridiculous image, but one full of impending devastation in her tired, anxious state. She resettled in the sheets, tugging her pillow to a slightly better angle, and once again squeezed her eyes closed to invite sleep, however fruitless that was.

This time, she swore she heard the familiar creak of her closet door inching open, swinging on the dusty hinges. It was a sound that was so familiar, but so wrong in the moment. Her mind quickly filled in the scenario, filling the closet with a grinning maniac, meat cleaver in hand, licking blood from his lips and eyeing her eagerly through the white wooden slats. In her mind, he mistook every brief moment her eyes closed as an opportunity to inch closer, sneak towards her, and ultimately plant the knife between her eyes. She opened her eyes to dissuade him, sure that he would not risk an attack if she made it clear she was awake.

Staring more intently at her closet than she ever had in her life, she was suddenly aware that the door actually was cracked just a bit. Not much, but a sliver of black showed between the white of the door and the frame. Probably wasn’t just latched, she told herself, easily excusing the creak of the door. Yeah, it had simply caught a gust of air when the vents kicked on, inching open a breath. It had squeaked, she had freaked out. Simple. Besides, the likelihood of a crazed murderer actually hiding in her closet was almost impossible. It was silly to even imagine it. As sleep faded from her mind, she found her ability to reason through and dismiss her fantasies become easier and easier. Perhaps she would actually get some sleep eventually.

Then again, it wouldn’t hurt to test a theory. Jeanie calculatedly closed her eyes, ears straining for the sound of the closet. She imagined she heard a shuffle, her shoes tumbling over one another, but surely that was fantasy. There was no sound of a door easing open, and nothing to alert her. Just a few more minutes of listening, and she could rest assured the coast was clear.

Her heavy eyes grew weightier, making it harder to execute the last step in her master plan. Instead, she found herself slowly extending the time needed to be certain, sleep the only thing creeping towards her.

Until the door creaked again. She was awake with a start, staring at the gaping opening of her closet. The door had creaked only on the last little stretch, now standing wide.  Just the air, she told herself, not believing it for a moment. Her first instinct was to jump out of bed, rush down the hall, and wake her parents. But, she reminded herself, she was far too old to run to her mommy because she got scared of a draft. If her brother heard, he would never let her live it down. Gathering what little resolve she had, Jeanie carefully stepped out of bed, determined to protect the dignity she had.

Nearing the closet, she did not see the shape of a person hiding in the shadows, or notice the sudden movements of a deadly killer springing on his prey. All there was were some shirts, pairs of jeans, a few skirts, and a pile of shoes, most of which no longer fit her after that last growth spurt. Jeanie shook her head, feeling bravery and self-ridicule take the place of her fear. Just a draft and overactive imagination. She grabbed the door and made sure it closed with a click this time before turning back to bed.

However, as she moved toward here bed, something snaked out from under her bed. It had a thin body, ending in small, clawed feet. The end not attached to the floor was covered in multiple, blinking eyes, and a slim smile of a mouth. It reached one of the snake-like appendages from its side towards Jeanie, and she felt a scream clawing its way towards her mouth. The thing placed its hand over her mouth, effectively muffling the scream, its mouth emitting a soft hiss.

“Now, now, Jeanie,” it whispered, “you need your rest.” Its other arms moved towards her, sliding around her waist and arms. Despite the urge to fight back welling in her, her limbs felt heavy and unresponsive, hanging limp at her side as it led her to bed. “Let me take care of that nightmare for you, and you just sleep tight.” As three of the arms pulled the covers over her body, it leaned down to grace her forehead with a motherly kiss. Jeanie’s eyelids fluttered, then calmed, until finally drooping closed. She breathed evenly and calm as sleep settled in.

The monster from under her bed watched for a moment, a look of pride and satisfactions shifting through its multiple eyes. With a sigh, it glided back to the closet, disappearing inside.

This time, it made sure it latched.


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


Card Challenge: Day 33

Guys, I worked today from 9am-8pm. Talk about tired! Therapy, reports, testing, feedback, notes, and random paperwork, bleh! I really want not sure this one was going to get finished, and I think it is probably lacking some pieces just because my brain is on the fritz. But I got it posted! Pushing through the tired and busy! Woohoo! i hope you can at least find something you enjoy about it. Happy reading!


Card Day 33: The sun looking down on a sea of umbrellas.

Janine loved to play with shadows. She remembered the games fondly from her childhood, miniature dramas put on against her bedroom wall by her grandfather. Even with his thick, arthritic hands, he managed to create wonderful images. Then again, she thought as she smiled at the memory, she was very easily impressed as a child. Once, she recalled the long dragon-saga he had presented during the week she was at home with the Chickenpox. He carefully walked her through the story, shaping her hands and letting her dictate the story, even though her feverish and childish commands did little for the strength of the tale. He was always smiling, light sparkling in his eyes from the flashlight in the corner. Those were the memories that helped her sleep soundly at night.

Now, she sat in her own dark apartment, idly splaying figures, animals, and objects across the wall from the flickering light of the television. What was on there did not really interest her, and she let her mind wander through the shadowy world at her fingertips. Janine let the parrot on the wall take flight, bursting out of the cone of light to disappear into the impeding darkness. The screen behind her grew dim with some program, and her light failed. Janine turned her attention to the television with a glower.

“It’s not the television’s fault they had to investigate the basement,” came a voice from the shadowed chair behind her.

“I know. I was just having fun.”

Her companion chuckled warmly, and she turned to smile at him. He was slouched across the chair, limbs sprawling over the arms and over the back. Somehow, despite the seemingly impossible posture, he was comfortable. His features were obscured by the shadows of the living room, but she knew he was smiling back at her.

“Did you order dinner?” he queried, his voice betraying the intended nonchalance of the question. He must be very hungry, she told herself.

“Yeah, like twenty minutes ago. Didn’t you hear me on the phone?”

There was an impatient grunt from the shadows.

“Well, it should be hear in like ten minutes. Think you can last that long?” There was a hint of concern in her voice; he was not the most polite or enjoyable company when he was hungry.

“I guess you better hope I can,” he growled, sinking deeper into the plush chair. Janine rolled her eyes at the display; he could be so dramatic at times, and it was exhausting to always cater to his whims. But, Janine reminded herself, that was what friends were for. They looked out for one another, helped each other grow and develop, and sometimes made inconvenient sacrifices for the other’s happiness. He was her oldest friend, memories of him stretching all the way back to her childhood. Just after her grandfather died, actually. She felt a tingle of discovery at that realization, never having noticed how serendipitous his arrival was for her.

Janine turned her attention to the movie, watching the wide-eyed co-eds drift deeper into the dungeon-like basement. While some might have responded with anxiety, tension, or concern about the characters, Janine smiled to herself, her mind drifting back through memories yet again.

Her basement growing up was gargantuan, filled with boxes, spiders, and darkness. She had been terrified of it since the day they moved in, and it seemed, at the time at least, that her terror was the primary reason her mother forced her to carry her clothes down to the hamper buried in the basement. It was not until her grandfather and the shadow puppets that Janine learned to take the stairs one at a time when leaving the basement.

It was about a week after her grandfather died that she met her now friend while tearfully making sad shadow puppets on the wall. She was not sure where he had come from, given that she was located in the darkness of the basement with just a flashlight for company, but he joined her in playing with the shadows. Whereas her figures moved slowly, lethargically over the wall, his danced with stunning agility. Eventually, their shadow games became the highlight of her day. She rushed home from school, grabbed her flashlight, and then they were off to create sweeping dramas and heartbreaking stories in simple shadows on cold concrete walls.

Janine knew her mother worried during those times, but she was so consumed with her own grief, and Janine was smiling. If she had any concerns about her strange new friend, she certainly was not going to mention them during such a delicate time. And, once the time was right, it seemed impossible to separate the two.

“The darkness is gonna git you,” he whispered, an edge of eagerness in his voice. He was glued to the screen, still watching the shaky footage of the three girls creeping through the darkness.

“You can be seriously creepy, you know?”

She thought she saw him shrug, a slight shift in the weight of shadows that indicated some form of movement. Janine shook her head.

“What did you order, anyways?” he asked with sudden curiosity.

“Chinese, why?”

He groaned. “I don’t think I’ve met that driver.”

“Just what you’d expect—young, wide-eyed, probably a bit high most of the time. He’s good enough.”

“Is he clean?”

“Does it really matter that much?”

She heard him begin to speak before a sudden rap on the door interrupted. She felt his eyes on her, a bit of irritation creeping in beneath the growing hunger. “Behave,” she hissed at him before turning and calling over her shoulder from her spot on the sofa. “The door’s open! Bring it in!”. Though she could not see it, she heard her friendly companion give a delighted purr as his tongue snaked over his lips. Janine heard the door creak open, a column of light spilling into the room and banishing some of the heavy shadows she so happily cultivated.

“Is this Apartment 115?” came the nervous voice of the delivery boy.

“Yep, just bring it in and set it on the table. I’ll grab the tip!” She hopped up from the sofa, walking towards the dark kitchen as the delivery boy took his hesitant steps into the apartment, the door a gaping maw of light behind him.

“You order the number 6?”

“Yep, that’s me. I’ll just be a second.”

She listened to his sneakers shuffle across the hardwood floors toward the living room. From the corner of her eye, she could see her friend coiling himself into the seat of the chair, ready to pounce. As soon as the boy stepped over the threshold and into the shadows, there was a muted yell, a brief scuffle, and then silence. Her shadowy friend sank back into the seat, a smile of satisfaction certainly playing over his obscured face.

Janine loved to play with shadows, even if that meant sacrifices at times.


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


Card Challenge: Day 31

I’m not too happy with today’s. I had a lot of trouble finding an idea I liked, and this is actually the third piece I started. It is paced all wrong, and I’m not super happy with the ending, but it does have its moments. Just a kind of mixed bag of feelings about this one. If you have any thoughts, please leave them in the comments. As always, happy reading!


Card Day 31: A boy walks along a field, throwing seeds. Behind him, Venus fly traps and other carnivorous plants snake towards him.

Steven felt certain he was being followed. There was something about the way the shadows drifted across the walls that made him think of some predator slouching behind him, waiting to pounce once he turned down the wrong dark alley or side street. Yet every time he looked back, nothing was there. Just empty streets and foggy yellow pools of light.

“You’re paranoid, man,” he mumbled under his breath, the words spilling out into the night in a cloud of fog. Determined, he shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket and strode on, trying not to look at the fun house mirror shadows parading alongside him. His fingers ran over the wad of cash in his pocket, feeling the smooth surface on unvalued bills, the harsh edges where they folded in on one another. He let his mind wander over how he would spend it, trying his best to ignore the feeling of unease creeping along his back. Just keep walking, just keep dreaming.

The city rested and he walked beneath the closed lids of so many houses. Occasionally, one light would be on, or a window would spill the pale blue illumination of television into the world, but for the most part, he hopped from one streetlight to the next, his head low. Up ahead, a car suddenly backfired, a sound that pierced through the night and froze Steven in his tracks. For a moment, he was reminded of the sound of a gunshot, someone yelling, spit frothing in his mouth. After the spell lifted, Steven began jogging along the sidewalk, trying to hurry home without drawing undue attention. The feeling of being watched, of being followed, intensified, raising the hair along his neck as his shoulders knotted in upon themselves.

Unable to shake the feeling of eyes on him, Steven turned again, spinning around quickly and hoping to catch the perpetrator ducking behind some trashcan or staircase. But there was nothing on the street, no movement besides a windswept chip bag crossing the road.

Seeing the bag, Steven laughed at himself. He had managed to work himself up over a single piece of litter tumbling down the street. “Almost wet yourself for some trash,” he chided, shaking his head. After pausing on the street long enough to convince himself he was no longer afraid, and that he was being silly for giving in to the paranoia, Steven walked on, a confident measure to his slowed steps. He held his head high, breathing deeply of the night air and blowing heavy clouds into the sky. No stars shone here; the light pollution burned them away years ago.  He had seen the stars before, in person, on a couple of family vacations, but tonight the streetlights were his stars. And he could see his fame written in them.

The feeling returned to him after a moment, but he did his best to ignore it. Ignorance was a skill that Steven had spent much of his life honing, and so the requirements came easy. He had practiced his ability to ignore feelings of sadness, fear, and guilt, and the same tools kept him moving down the empty streets toward home.

It was a long walk to his apartment. He knew that was the point, so that he did not have to worry about running into someone he knew, but his body was beginning to feel the delayed effects of adrenaline rushing out of him, leaving his muscles tired. His feet ached with each step, and his pace slowed to give his wearying body a break. It was only a few more blocks, but he felt suddenly very tired. His arms hung in his pockets like paperweights, dragging all of him toward the dirty pavement. Each step was like lifting a bag of sand, slinging it forward, and dropping it. Steven felt himself lurching along, leaving a trail of fatigue glazing the ground behind him. The exhaustion weakened his defenses, and all his attempts to avoid the eyes crawling up his back began to give way.

A gust of wind and he swore someone breathed down his neck, the wind growling in his ear. The air was warm and sticky, not the winter breeze he expected this time of the year. Despite its heat, chills danced up and down his spine, giving him an involuntary shiver. Somewhere in the distance, a police siren ripped through the still night. Steven felt his blood freeze solid in his veins. It was far away, but something whispered that it was not far enough. His fingers played over the sticky spots on the bills in his pocket, trying hard not to remember what that was.

Steven ripped his hands out of his pockets, brushing the sticky red remnants on the brick of a nearby building, half aghast and unbelieving at the sight of it. With renewed energy from an unknown source, he ran. The sound of his sneakers on the pavement snapped after him, a rapid, tapping echo that pursued him down the empty streets. He no longer cared who saw or thought about his trip home, but he simply wanted to arrive to his waiting apartment, collapse inside with the locks thrown, and hope to outsleep or outdrink his guilty conscience.

Beneath the sound of his pounding steps and thundering heart, Steven imagined he heard another sound. Someone breathing deeply, another set of footsteps mirroring his own. Just the echo between city buildings, he thought, just the breeze whispering through the balconies. From an open window spilled the sound of some couple fighting, voices rising to a fever pitch and fading as Steven rushed past the window. Nevertheless, the yells and anger were enough to snap him back to that moment.

The lights—cheap, dull, buzzing loudly—hurt his eyes as he stepped out of the night and into the store. Steven raised the pistol in his hand, pointing towards the lone cashier. “Just the money.” His voice was loud, demanding, spittle flecking his lips with the force of the command. But the man reacted, moved quickly, yelling something Steven did not have time to comprehend. Steven’s fear jumped, pulling the trigger with sudden decisiveness. The man froze, toppling like a child’s tower, his eyes wide and staring. The smell of gunpowder and blood filled the room as panic began to set in. Trying to salvage the plan, Steven rushed to the cash register and grabbed the cash he could. The cool air outside, the strange peace that was so different than the muted chaos he had just experience, made him feel as if he had entered another world. And so he set off towards home, pretending his life was not in shambles, letting the cold numb his raw nerves.

Now he was certain. There was another set of footsteps. And he could smell the blood again, suffocating him with the sweet, iron scent. Steven stopped, breathing in ragged gasps after his flight through the streets. He turned around, expecting nothing yet again, but instead found himself face to face with a man. He was dressed in shadows, and the light from the streetlamps seemed to recoil from him, leaving a heavy patch of darkness around his feet.

“I think you’ve got something that’s not yours,” said the man, his voice flat but drawling. “It ain’t right to take what isn’t yours.” Steven’s struggle was short, and soon the only evidence left was a roll of bloodied dollar bills and the scent of blood hanging in the air.


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


Card Challenge: Day 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.”


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


Card Challenge: Day 28

Card Day 28: Two snails in an empty stadium are jousting towards one another, their antennae covered by javelins.

The clicking of the keys stampeded through the empty office like a herd of raging bison fleeing certain destruction, tripping over themselves and mounting in haste as they echoed off the empty cubicle walls. Marco sighed, the rapid clicking halting abruptly as he rubbed his tired eyes. He looked at the screen, seeing row after row of accusatory red squiggles identifying every flaw. The report had to be on McGilligan’s desk by open tomorrow, and he still had pages to go. It wasn’t helping that every fifth keystroke was the wrong one.

He pushed back from the desk, leaving the pool of light afforded by the fluorescent light under his cabinet. The floor was surprisingly dark, letting in limited lights from the streets far below, and he felt blinded in the thick darkness.

Coffee was the answer, he was sure of it.

During the hustle and bustle of the day, he never noticed the soft crushing sound of his loaders on the short-trimmed carpet, but now it flowed him along his walk. The tiny break room hummed as he flipped on the overhead lights, bathing the room in a sterile glare that stung at his tired eyes. Shuffling across the linoleum, Marco filled the stained pot with water from the tap, dumped an arbitrary amount of grounds into the basket, and flipped the switch. The smell of coffee quickly filled the air, giving him a reflexive jolt of energy. He waited until the pot dribbled to silence, and then filled the largest mug he could find with the liquid.

Back at his desk, he felt little optimism, even with the caffeine. The cursor still stared and blinked at him, and he let out an unconscious groan which broke through the heavy silence. The silence did not help him think, but only made his isolation all the more present. He sat, feeling the weight of his aloneness and impending failure.

Clicking dispiritedly, he rid his work of the annoying corrections, trying to make it resemble something more than the failed procrastination of a seventh grade history assignment, but ultimately feeling like it was a wasted effort. Then again, it was unlikely anyone would ever even read the report, he cynically admitted. The company had already decided to move forward with the land acquisition, despite protests, and his report was a technical requirement that would get shoved in some folder for the next seven years, then routinely shredded.

It had, at least, been an interesting report to research. He looked into the pros and cons of the acquisition case from a business perspective, talked to residents, protesters, supporters, wildlife experts, geologists, and more specialists than he could imagine. Yes, it was true that the land used to hold some spiritual significance for the area natives. And yes, it was the dwelling place of an endangered slug species. And yes, no one wanted a big corporation setting up shop in their backyard. But, he had not been able to meet with one practitioner of any religious rites in the area, the slugs were not going to be severely disturbed by the building of a complex, and the introduction of the corporation would lead to hundreds of jobs in the community. Ultimately, the report wrote itself, supporting the already decided position.

Still, Marco felt he had to do his due diligence, digging for anything that might later come back as a pitfall of the project. He listed every concern expressed and succinctly dispatched them. Or at least, that had been the intention. Instead, he sat floundering, staring at his screen and trying to remember how he took all of this data and made it say “Great idea, boss!”

Marco jolted in his chair as he thought he heard the distant chime from the elevator. The janitors had already done their sweep of his floor, back before all the lights had gone off and he had been plunged into his solitude. He strained his ears for the sound of someone moving about, walking along the soft carpet, breathing, coughing or clearing their throat. Nothing but silence. Must have imagined it, he answered, wondering if the lack of sleep, isolation, and caffeine were about to trigger some sort of hallucination.

He typed a few lines, summarizing the results of the geological survey that someone had requested. There was nothing found to be all that special, besides some underground caves located relatively far from the build site. His desk was scattered with pages and pages of reports from specialists that some bigwig somewhere had ordered, and he scrambled through them to quote the final evaluation.

There was a thump from somewhere on the floor, the sound of something falling against the walls of a cubicle. Marco froze in his paper shuffling, again straining for any noises. Did offices creak and groan like houses at night? Did cubicles? But he heard nothing else.

“Hello?” he called into the empty space. Nothing responded. Slightly shaken and feeling on edge, Marco realized his coffee cup was already empty. Which meant it was time for a fill up. His walk across the floor was nerve-wracking, especially as he imagined he heard something bumping against the cubicle walls opposite him. But no shadow moved along the alleys, and no one returned his call into the vast space. He focused on making it to the break room.

The light made everything better, and he laughed at his jumpiness. The sounds were probably just the air vents coming on, rattling around the cheap barriers. Only in his sleep-addled state could he get so worked up over so little. He poured another cup of sludge, drinking it as he realized how poor a job he had done making the coffee, and promptly shattered the mug on the floor as he turned around.

Existing—he wanted to say standing, but the thing had no body to speak of—in the doorway was a massive slug, its body stretching back into the shadows. It spotted him and opened its maw of a mouth, displaying hundreds of glistening teeth, dripping with saliva. Slowly, it inched towards him.

Marco realized he was trapped in the tiny break room with no way to leap over the creature and nowhere to run. He grabbed the coffee pot, flinging it and the remaining lukewarm liquid at it, but it barely paused at the collision. Slowly, it crept forward, its jaw opening and closing as if already snacking on his bones

He stumbled back over the chairs, hoping he could at least outrun the thing, when suddenly one of the teeth came flying at him. It sailed through the air like a harpoon, embedding itself deep into his calf. Marco let out of pained yell, stumbling against the wall. His head began to swim, and dizziness took hold. Still pushing himself away, albeit weakly, the slug seemed to be gaining on him. The room was spinning, and the lights were going dim, ultimately fading into shadow.

Marco lay limp and barely conscious as the creature inched closer for the feast. His last thought was that there was no way he was going to get that report finished in time.


Okay, so I’m putting this at the end of everything, but I’m going to be honest, this is the first thing I wrote. This card has me pretty stumped, and I’m trying to take some time to focus on it, come up with some ideas. I figured, while I did this, I could at least go through a bit of my creative process with this. So, I have a card. Some days, the idea just jumps off the page at me, like with Day 26 and the books. Sometimes a word or phrase comes to mind, like “token of affection,” from Day 1. Other days, I look at the card and it just stares back at me. Today is one of those days. My husband is now use to the occasional, “Crap,” from me when I draw my card, meaning whatever is on there has me stumped. As tempting as it is, I do not toss the card back in and try again, but I do have a process.

I start with the background. What is going on? Are there any interesting details that help make it all make sense? (There is stadium seating behind them, but it’s empty). What emotion does it evoke? (Silliness, futility) Any thematic ideas? (Isolation, maybe impending tragedy either perceived or real, effort despite no observers, tedium) Are they actors in the image, and if so, do they inspire anything? (Snails. I am not writing about anthropomorphized snails.) Then I just spend some time rolling these thoughts around, trying to find anything that sticks or seems to coalesce into some idea. Sometimes, I just let go of the details of the image, hold onto the feeling, and try to imagine an opening line (like “Wonder has always been a child’s greatest asset” from Day 6), and then integrate story components from there. And then sometimes I just start writing something, anything, and hope it ultimately makes sense. When I’m feeling a little stuck, I turn to some good instrumental music tracks to help me out, Disparition (the music of Welcome to Night Vale!) is a personal favorite.

Today, I ultimately started with the ideas of tedium, isolation, effort, and perceived doom (and a little Disparition). And then decided I have not done a good horror piece in a while, and I want to. So, there you have it. My creative process, at least for today. I stumbled across this article today, which was fairly interesting. It’s kind of the approach I’ve been taking with these, only I publish them with the caveat that they are first drafts. It’s how I do a lot of my stuff actually, because it does keep me moving and working. Worth a read (and its short)!

Also, and this is kind of important, I learned today that slugs can be predatory, have up to 3000 teeth, and can, in fact, shoot their teeth like a harpoon to deliver neurotoxins to their prey. Slugs just moved up a few notches on my scary creatures list!

Thanks for paying attention to my rambling! Hope you enjoyed it. 🙂


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


Card Challenge: Day 27

Card Day 27: A caterpillar is entering a maze. Along the way waits a bird perched on the walls of the maze, but pairs of wings wait at the two exits.

Growing up is tough. Especially when you are spending most of your time trying to cover up a secret as well, which was a reality Angie knew all too well. SAs if being a teenager was not hard enough, she also had the added benefit of nearing her Full Moon Turn for the first time, which meant hair in new and unusual places, irritability, muscle aches, cramps, and occasional voice cracking or growling. So, Angie generally just kept her head down and trudged through high school as if she were invisible, hoping that enough wishing would make it true.

As usual, Angie shuffled into PE and hung by the sidelines until the teacher appeared to take her “doctor’s note” so she could sit out. It would not do for her to get riled up now, especially as her strength fluctuated so wildly. It would raise eyebrows if she slammed another student into the retaining wall during dodge ball. That, and her eyes had the bad habit of dilating into solid black disks when she started to get competitive. No, it was best for her to sit with her feet dangling from the concrete wall, reading her book and working on her math homework. This was her fifth school in as many years, so friends were not very common. It made those long classes feel even longer, but it was an isolation she was used to.

“What’s your excuse?” sneered a voice from behind her. She turned to see a man in a yellow shirt and black shorts, a metal whistle hanging around his neck to complete the uniform.

“Where’s Ms. Jensen?”

“She’s got a cold. So, what’s your excuse? That time of the month?”

Angie dropped her eyes to the ground and began to mumble her embarrassment, holding out the note. He snatched it from her hand.

“Adrenal issues, huh? Don’t want to mess around with that. Have a seat.” He gestured dismissively to the retaining wall that ran around the edge of the field. The shrill edge of his whistle cut through the air, drawing her peers to attention. Throughout the class, she noticed his eyes drilling into her as if she had personally insulted him. Angie tried to keep her focus on the book, but felt his eyes drawing her away as each moment passed. Finally, when she thought she was going to fly out of her skin, the dismissal tone sounded from the loudspeakers, and she was freed. The substitute walked towards her as she packed her things.

“What’s wrong with your eyes?” he snapped.

Angie froze. She had not realized how nervous he had actually made her. “It’s just my condition,” she whispered quickly, darting back towards the dull brick building.

She tried to remain calm the rest of the day, but the events of the morning had left her shaken. Lunch rolled around, and she ate her turkey sandwich numbly, the bustle of the cafeteria spinning around her. The sound of a tray slamming into the wooden table snapped her back to the present. There was the PE teacher, staring at her again. She did her best to ignore him, pulling out the jello cup at the bottom of her brown paper bag.

“Need a spoon?” he asked quickly.

She stuttered, the words getting caught at the threshold of her lips. He slid one down the table towards her, which she picked up with a hurried, “Thanks.” No sooner did the metal touch her fingertips than she felt a white hot pain radiate up her arm. She pulled away quickly, the spoon rattling loudly against the table.

“What’s the matter? Don’t like silver?” He smiled her way, picking up his tray and disappearing through the crowd. Angie’s heart was in her throat as she rushed out of the cafeteria. Her parents needed to know.

Two texts later, Angie cleaned out what little was in her locker and made a beeline for the exit. She had snuck out of so many schools at this point, it was second nature. She waited until the lunch bell rang again, flooding the halls with students, and then joined a group walking their ways to the fields for afternoon PE. It was then just a quick jaunt to the back of the school, where nothing but a struggling chain-link fence separated her from freedom.

Angie was halfway over the fence when someone grabbed her shoulder, pulling her back to the ground. There was the PE teacher.

“You’re really lucky, you know? I’m here in time to save you, give you a normal life. It’s not going to be fun, but…it’s better than the alternative.”

His hand clamped over her mouth as she gathered the strength to scream. She felt a sharp pinch against her neck, the sting of a needle breaking the skin, and was suddenly asleep.

_____

As she woke, she was distinctly aware of the scent of stale, damp air, as well as the stench of the “teacher” from school. That and rough ropes around her wrists. Angie stirred, testing the ropes but lacking the strength at the moment. She wondered what he had given her, because her mouth had an unpleasant metallic tang, while her head pounded like a drum.

“Good morning, sunshine,” he purred. There was the sound of metal tools being moved about, clanging against the wooden table and one another, then the loud screech of a chair on the concrete floor. The man stepped around in front of her, and Angie felt her hackles rise more literally than she had expected. “Keep it calm, little pup. We’ve got the wolfsbane, nightshade, silver, iron, everything we need. You’ll be right as rain in no time.” He smiled an insincere smile and walked back towards the heard-but-never-seen workbench, his heavy hand resting on the back of the chair.

Angie felt her muscles tensing and coiling beneath her skin. It might not have been the full moon that night, but she also understood the utter unpredictability of her first Change. She had hoped for another week, but nevertheless she felt an unfamiliar stretching in her bones.

“I know this is probably terrifying,” for the first time, she heard sympathy in his voice, “but I promise you’ll thank me later. You’re going to get a normal life.”

“What about my parents?” she asked, the words springing unbidden from her lips, trailing into a low growl at the end.

She heard a harsh hiss from behind her. “Yeah, that is a wrinkle, now isn’t it? I mean, I know they are your parents, but…” The words trailed off, their implication hanging heavy in the air. “I do have a job to do.”

H shuffled around, and Angie felt the ropes snap beneath her arms. She felt her skin rippling with the Change. The sound of snapping bones rang throughout her ears as her eyes shifted, her nose elongated, and her teeth stretched to deadly points.

He yelled, and it was painfully loud to her newly sensitive ears. And the sound of snapping bones continued to echo throughout the basement, filling it with the scent of iron.


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


Card Challenge: Day 4

Card Day 4: A boy investigates a large, open clam shell on the beach. Pearls are scattered along the inside of it, and footprints lead away from the shell.

The beach was hazy with the early morning sun, the evening’s fog still clinging to the hope of a new day. Daryl liked it at this time of day, so serene. The fog muffled even the echoes of the seagulls overhead, transforming the beach into his own private thought chamber. The tides rolled in, impervious to the fog, and brushed at his toes with cool tendrils. He breathed deep of the salty air, enjoying the quiet and the cool touch of sun and fog against his skin.

Ahead of him, footsteps appeared in the sand, seemingly from the midst of the ocean itself. Daryl simply assumed that meant the tide had washed the rest away, or the owner had simply enjoyed a soggier walk thus far. He put it from his mind, instead inspecting the steps that joined him. They were slender and almost impossibly shallow in the moist sand, leading off along the edge of the tide. Glancing behind him, Daryl saw a matching—significantly heavier—set of his own trailing off into the distance. There was something poetic in the image, of two travelers missing each other through the impossibility of time. He shook his head, freeing it from the overly reflective thoughts of his recently woken brain.

The beach only led one way, however, and so Daryl continued his morning walk, careful not to mar his companion’s steps. To him, they provided all the comfort of human contact without the irritation of sharing his morning with another soul.

The beach curved along the path, the tides droning their constant rhythm as they slinked along the low tide markers. Daryl felt his mind wandering, skipping along the waves and meandering along the beach. He made a game of planting his step perfectly in line with the light, steady prints of his mystery companion, leaving an identical path in the sand. Lost in thought and his own silly walking exercise, he found himself surprised by the sudden turn in the steps. Backing away from the beach, they led towards an outcropping of stones. He paused, torn. Did he continue following the steps, seeking whatever adventure might await him, or did he continue his path. There was some part of him that felt sad and anxious with the thought of deserting his fellow traveler, and another part that urged him to see what might lie beyond. Then again, he was also distinctly aware of the possibility that he could appear as a terrifying stranger, stalking someone along the beach, should he continue.

It could not hurt, he finally reasoned, to at least see where the steps led. Perhaps there was a parking lot somewhere nearby, or a kitschy beach restaurant. He pressed ahead.

The steps led to a tangle of rocks, each smoothed carefully by the relentless tides. Beyond the rocks was a small opening in the cave, distinctive footsteps marking the sparse sand at the entry way. He knew he certainly risked appearing as a completely creepy character, but his interest was also piqued. It would be nothing, he thought, to dart in and explore. It was not like his fellow walker owned this stretch of beach. And, they might even welcome some friendly company in their isolation.

The shadows closed around him as he entered the small cave. The tunnel actually seemed to lighten ahead, and Daryl felt disappointment rise. So, just a short break through the cave. He was unlikely to finally meet his companion, he bemoaned. Nevertheless he pressed forward, and felt his jaw drop as he grew closer to the glowing light. Rather than a short jaunt, he found himself tucked into a sheltered cavern. The top opened up to a blue sky that was now streaming sunshine, letting the rays filter down to crystal clear water below. Daryl was in shock, at once enraptured by the beautiful surroundings, and yet equally confused because he was certain no such place could exist without someone finding it before. Yet no tourist umbrellas dotted the scene, nor were there the government mandated wooden posts guarding the opening to the chasm. It was undisturbed.

Undisturbed, he thought, but for the lovely woman seated next to the water, her back to him. Long, black hair fell down to her mid-back, lying softly against pale skin. Her hair glistened with what appeared to be pearls, the minerals wrapped around the strands almost as if they had formed there simply as adornment. Daryl felt sudden embarrassment and discomfort, quickly turning to leave, but not before stumbling over the loose rocks of the floor. She turned to face him, blue eyes swimming in a lovely round face. Her lips, red and full, broke into a smile. She patted the ground beside her.

“Me?” Daryl asked, pointing to himself as if she could have been confused by the surrounding crowd of observers. She smiled wider and nodded. Surprised by his fortune, Daryl made his way to the rocky beach beside her. He settled to the ground, giving her a nervous grin, and then dropped his feet into the water next to her. Or he meant to. Only, when he looked down, her feet were not feet at all, but a single, pale green fin arcing through the water. He rose immediately, stumbling back toward the entrance. But she stood, lithely pursuing him with worry in her eyes. She stood on two legs, ending in dainty feet that matched the steps he had so dutifully followed. Her eyes were sad, brimming with tears, and she gently tugged his arm back towards the water.

The water played a trick on him, he reassured himself, only to watch her legs dip below the surface and transform once again into the single fin. Daryl felt he must be dreaming, must be hallucinating, or had eaten some really bad seafood the night before. She gestured towards her fin, then lifted it from the water to reveal two slender legs. Her face was lit by a vibrant smile as she shared her secret, and Daryl felt his discomfort ease. It was bizarre and utterly unbelievable, but what was life without adventure? He sat, enjoying the sun and the muted sound of the waves beside this lovely and mysterious woman.

Eventually, he noticed the water seeping in the door through which he had entered. The tides must be rising, he thought. He stood, fumbling for his words. “I—I have to go. It’s getting late, and—” her face broke into a deep frown. “I—I really enjoyed it, I just—”

Without warning, the woman struck with savage speed, her arms encircling his legs as her body dove into the crystal water of the cove. Daryl fought against her toward the surface, but her hands cut deep into his chest, holding him down. The beautiful woman of before was replaced by some wretched, water-logged thing, its eyes lifeless and black as a fish’s. Her lips were thin, narrow, revealing narrow, needle-like teeth. She held him below the water as he struggled, as the water ballooned from his chest in ascending bubbles. Daryl saw the sun shimmering above him, and watched it slowly grow dark.


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


Working Title: Laughing Bones WIP

In honor of Halloween, here is a quick little piece. As always, it’s a WIP and could use some work, but just an idea I wanted to play around with. This is literally the first draft of this piece, so I’m sure it has some rough patches that could be improved, but I really like what I have so far. In a couple of days, I’ll probably hate it, so I better post it now while it’s still on my good side! I hope you enjoy, and, as always, feel free to leave any recommendations or critiques in the comments!


Jaime hated Halloween. She had never had the brave disposition necessary to enjoy horror movies, scary stories by the fire, or jump scares in the hallways. In first grade, she had spent most of her classroom’s Halloween party in hysterics after one of her classmates leapt out at her when she was walking to the snack bowl. A few years and Halloweens later and she still had not overcome her deep dread about the month of October.

More specifically, however, Jaime hated the Jinkersons’ house during Halloween. The Jinkersons were a kind, loving couple. Eleven months of the year, Jaime loved living next door to them. They baked cookies and had an arcade in their basements that was free for the neighborhood kids to play in. They also volunteered their ample backyard for neighborhood ballgames during the long summer afternoons. Mrs. Jinkerson was a woman decked in smiles, a teacher by trade and passion. Mr. Jinkerson was old, chubby, and an endless repository of jokes and harmless pranks. But, come October, their smiling faces beamed as they draped their home in skeletons, ghouls, zombies, body parts, and buckets of red-tinted corn syrup, and Jaime began to avoid their home as much as she could.

This year took the cake. The Jinkersons outdid themselves on the overall decoration, piling more corpses and ghosts across their yard. Mr. Jinkerson even built a maze out of black trash bags through the backyard, gleefully leading the neighborhood kids through the various scenes of horror. Jaime, while displeased, could handle the decorations in the yard. She simply did not go in there, and did not walk past their house after dark. She crossed the street, and then walked back to her house. Even the willfully scared screams of her friends as they lost themselves in the maze did not bother her. What did, however, was the cheap plastic skeleton hanging in the tree. It seemed to stare directly into her window, and any slight breeze triggered its creepy laughter.

It was 3:15 in the morning and she had early soccer practice at 7:00am the next morning. The chattering laugh—deep, throaty, and echoing unnaturally—woke her with a start. She heard the plastic frame fluttering in the trees, triggering more and more laughter from the flimsy ghoul. Jaime rolled over, pulling her pillow down over her ears as she pressed her face into her mattress. Even with the sacrifice of near suffocation, the decoration’s brittle laughter still pounded in her ears, sending chills fluttering down her spine. It was just a plastic toy, she chided herself, trying to balance her fear with her frustration, but the logical reassurance did little to calm her in the pitch night.

The laughter quieted just as the sun began to rise along the horizon. Jaime’s tired eyes eased into the quiet moment, letting her doze off for a few precious hours before waking.

“Are you feeling okay, honey?” her dad asked as he stuffed a hastily made sandwich into her lunch box. Jaime stared with glazed eyes at her cereal, now soggy mush after wading in the milk undisturbed. “Jamie?” he questioned, snapping her back to attention.

“I didn’t sleep good,” she mumbled before halfheartedly stirring her cereal and lifting a milk-logged bite.

“Didn’t sleep good? What was the matter?” questioned her mother, stomping into the room on the tips of pointed heels. She stopped sharply in front of her husband, spinning tight on her heel and pointing wordlessly at the gaping zipper in the back. “You weren’t up late reading again, were you?”

“No,” she grumbled with a scowl. “It was the Jinkerson’s skeleton. It kept laughing.”

“Oh, honey, surely you couldn’t hear that thing through your window,” sighed her father after taking care of the offending sipper. The metal snapped sharply into place, and Jaime’s mother dropped into her chair at the table.

“I heard it all night.” Jaime reiterated, punctuating each word with an intentional pause.

“But, sweety, didn’t you have your window closed?” her mother asked.

Jaime stared at her mother grimly before giving her a sharp nod. “It was closed. I heard it.”

“I’ll talk to Mr. Jinkerson today, then,” sighed her father as he dropped her lunchbox on the table. “I’m sure he can switch it off or something.” With that declaration, her older brother swept into the kitchen, his chair squealing as it dragged across the floor. He dug into his breakfast as if he had not eaten in weeks, and the conversation shifted to his after school practice schedule. Jaime slipped out to finish getting ready for her morning practice, dragging tired and leaden limbs down the hallway to her bedroom. The skeleton hung outside her window, toothy grin mocking her as it drifted in the gentle autumn breeze. At least, Jaime mused, he was quiet this time.

The school day was a blur. Morning practice was a nightmare of tangled feet and sluggish limbs that responded seconds to late to every drill–by the end she had earned her teammates two extra laps. She fell asleep in her math class, her eyes tired of searching aimlessly for the missing x in so many different equations. English class was even worse as she left her books in her locker, earning herself a responsibility paper for Mr. Edmunds since she could not participate in the class reading. She spilled milk down her shirt at lunch, dropped the paints in art, and slammed her finger in her locker after final period. The day was a maelstrom of unfortunate events.

By the time she laid down for bed, Jaime’s hatred for the grinning skeleton had grown into monstrous levels of rage. It’s meddling had brought on all the troubles she now faced, and all it could do was grin malevolently at her, as if they were childhood friends conspiring on some cheap prank. She was staring at the shiny plastic eyes of the decoration, irritation smoldering in her gaze, when there was a knock on her door.

“Ready for bed?” her dad asked, leaning against the door frame. Jaime didn’t respond, but burrowed a bit deeper into her comforter. “I talked to Mr. Jinkerson. He said he’d pull the batteries out of the skeleton; didn’t know it even made noise when they put it up. And that he owed you a game session for keeping you up,” he chuckled before crossing over to her bed. He tousled her hair–the only part of her visible to him–and sat on the edge of the bed. “Think you can get some sleep tonight?”

Jaime rolled over, flopping with the over-dramatic air only a teenager can muster. “I’ll try my best, dad.”

He smiled and laughed to himself before standing. “Good, that’s all I ask. I’m sure it would help if we could keep Mr. Bones here from spying on you all night.” With a shirt tug, he pulled the curtains closed, effectively shutting out the newly named Mr. Bones. “No sight, no sound, no problem.” The click of the light switch signified his departure, and Jaime found herself rapidly overcome by the heavy hand of sleep.

3:19 and she was awake, again the sounds of laughter rattling outside her window. This time, frustration won out over fear. The cheap decoration had been nothing but a nuisance, and she was tried of it. She resolutely threw her legs off the bed and stomped over to the window. Flinging back the curtains, she saw the skeleton dancing in the wind, limbs akimbo, as it laughed mouthlessly into the darkness. It mocked her.

Without another thought, Jaime walked to the backdoor. She flung the screen wide, robotically grabbing her brother’s baseball bat from beside the door on her way out. The wind blew furiously, tossing leaves into her face as she made her way across the lawn with single-minded fortitude. Her feet squished into the mud, chilling her to the bone. She was on a mission, one who could not be deterred.

The first swing and the decoration’s flimsy limbs were tangled around the bat. Another swing brought the grinning face to the ground. Again and again she lifted the bat before bringing it down on the grin, the arms, the legs, and any part of the cursed skeleton she could. After a few minutes, the ghoul was reduced to shattered plastic and tangled wires. The wind howled through the trees, eagerly reclaiming its dominance of the nightly noises. It chilled the sweat that had appeared across Jaime’s brow, calming the fury that had only recently raged with her slight form.

With abnormal calm, Jamie scooped up the tattered remains of the skeleton and carried them to the trashcan. She dumped the remains unceremoniously into the bin, leaving it to grin amongst the old newspapers and last night’s leftovers. A deep peace settled over her as she walked in the newly quiet evening, back to the back door. With a smile, she climbed victoriously back into bed.

As her eyes closed, her blood froze in her veins. From the darkness of her bedroom, a sound caught her attention. Laughter rattled through her room, reaching across the space to paralyze her beneath the thick comforter. It was deep, throaty, and echoing too deeply to emanate from the darkened corner. Her eyes snapped open, drawn immediately to the gaping, toothy smile waiting for her.

Jaime screamed. It laughed.


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


Working Title: The Stories We Tell Part 3 of 3 WIP

It is done! I finished part three. To be honest, it became somewhat tiring. I knew where I was going and how to get there, but I admit to being a bit fatigued on this one. It is one of the longest pieces I have written (that wasn’t a chaptered piece), and it simply required a lot of dedication and resolve on my part. It was also really hard to carry a consistent and realistic emotion throughout all of this, mainly because I got tired of thinking like I needed my narrator to think. But I am mostly happy with the conclusion. I feel like there could be some improvements made to the finale, but that is something I will return to in time, once my brain has had a chance to recover from this piece. I’m still a bit too close to it. So, I hope you have enjoyed this so far, and I hope you enjoy the grand finale. If you see anything that could be improved, feel free to drop me a note in the comments. And, because I’m proud of my accomplishment, the whole thing clocks in at roughly 11,000 words and a touch over 24 pages. Thanks for reading!

 


Part One

Part Two


Jocelyn and I took off through the caves, moving as quickly could in the dark. Our flashlights careened wildly, lighting the rocky walls, the dusty floor, and the innumerable potential obstacles in wide-arcing beams as we tried to get to the small opening that Brian and Hayley had entered before. As Hayley’s screams grew more distant even as we approach, we heard Brian’s cries beginning to ring out as he called after her.

After entering the side passage, Jocelyn and I paused to take in our surroundings. There were two paths carved into the stone, diverging to the right and left. Our lights played across the walls for a moment before finding Brian’s pale blue arrow scrawled on the wall. At least he listened.

Into the dark we dove, hearing Brian’s voice growing louder as Hayley’s grew more and more distant. We moved as quickly as we could, bumping along the walls in our haste to reach our friends. Brian seemed very close now, and the arrows along the wall had grown more and more hastily scrawled, now little more than trailing lines of blue dust on the wall. I was amazed that he had the wits about him to continue marking his path; I knew I wouldn’t if Jocelyn were screaming like that.

In one brief moment, the cave went from in front of me to mashed into my face. I glanced behind me, seeing Brian’s pack dropped unceremoniously in the middle of the floor. Jocelyn halted, looking at me in concern as I picked myself from the stone floor.  Perhaps it was a trick of the lights, but she looked impossibly pale, her face drawn in fear even as her eyes showed concern. For the first time, I noticed that she had only had time to pull on her t-shirt before I took off on a mad dash. Her shoes hung loose on her feet, the laces splayed across the floor. I was lucky she hadn’t been the one to fall.

“Are you okay?” Her eyes roved around the tight walls of the tunnel as if the walls themselves would leap up and drag her away.

“I’m fine,” I huffed, pushing myself to my feet. “Just scraped my hands up.” I had not realized how much I had exerted myself getting this far until I had to stop. Now the weight of each breath tugged my body back towards the floor. A sharp stitch pierced my side, and my lungs felt like they would soon burst as I gulped in available air. After all this was over and we had a good laugh about it, Brian and I would start back at the gym, I promised. And Hayley and Jocelyn could come to. Maybe we’d all run a marathon. Or become world class mountain climbers. Once this was a hazy memory in the past.

Jocelyn’s soft, sharp breaths were a counterpoint to my ragged gasps. There was unsettling silence in the caves now. I felt a hint of relief flood through me, certain that whatever danger had appeared was now passed. We could take our time, walk carefully, and meet up with the certain to be embarrassed couple. However a pinprick of anxiety encouraged me forward.

“Let’s go,” I panted.

The silence was suddenly deafening and dangerous. I knew I should feel relieved, but somehow the sudden silence was worrying. I could hear Jocelyn’s steps behind me, the steady ebb and flow of her breathing. My own breaths were still ragged inhales and exhales, but close to resembling something human. And nothing. No laughter, yells, or sounds from ahead of us. Only half-formed blue arrows pointing along our trail.

Our pace stayed steady, but far more cautious. There were areas where we had to climb over small piles of rocks, warning of possible future cave-ins or collapses. Jocelyn gave me a worried look, but pressed on. Eventually the silence gave way to a sound that I have heard in every nightmare since. Sobs.

They were heaving sobs, initially too frail to hear and distinguish from shifting rock. Yet as we continued on our path, they grew louder. They became sobs that reached right into my body and ripped out the last bit of air I had left.

While the sound was bad enough, once my light turned the corner and showed him sitting there on the ground, I felt my own knees begin to give out. I stumble toward him, ignoring the pain as my bloody hands began to clot with dirt. I did not know what happened, but I felt tears behind my own eyes, heard them in the unsteady waver of my voice.

“Brian, what’s wrong? What happened?” The words fell out into the dead air as my eyes took in the little details. They saw Brian’s hands, bloodied, the nail beds jagged and raw, pressed up against the wall. They saw the smudges of dirt along the edge of his short sleeves, noted deep bruises already beginning to bloom. Pieces to a puzzle I could not and cannot understand.

“She—She—There were bats,” his words broke up into sobs as he sat up, his eyes fixated on the immovable stone I front of us.

“Where is Hayley?” I whimpered, my own tears beginning to flow. My mind reeled in the darkness, leaving me bereft with only lips to numbly spill forth questions.

“They flew,” he moved his hands in a swooping motion. “And she just started screaming and running.” He sniffed, his tears streaming down his face in solid lines of immeasurable sorrow. “And she ran—” at this, his words again dissolved under a wave of tears as gestured weakly to the wall in front of him.

“Brian, where did she go?”

“I don’t know!” he screamed, eyes wild in bewilderment. “I saw her running down here, and—and I followed. But then she was gone.”

I felt my heart begin to panic even as my mind began to collect itself. So, Hayley was lost in the caves. This was bad, but not terrible. “Okay, so she got lost. We can retrace our path and check out any other ways she might—”

“No,” Brian interjected sharply. “You don’t understand. I saw her run down here. I saw her run through there!” His finger jutted out towards the cold gray wall, trembling with the force of his statement.

“Brian, that’s a solid wall,” began Jocelyn, calmly and what she intended as soothing. I winced as she continued.  “There’s no way she could have done that. Maybe the dark played tricks on you—”

“Is that your answer for everything?!” He yelled, and I felt a dim sense of retribution I did not even know I wanted. “She disappeared! She ran straight through this!” His fist pounded against the wall.

“Is there a trap door or something,” I offered, trying to make sense of this. Brian simply slumped over and sobbed.

“Even if there is, we may not be able to find it,” responded Jocelyn, meekly. “We should head out and find some park rangers.”

There was silence between us, punctuated by the sounds of Brian’s sobs. He was devastated and probably certain he was losing his mind. He had watched the love of his life sprint in terror through a solid rock wall, and nothing about that made sense. My heart aches for him even thinking about that.

“Brian?” I put a hand on his arm. “We need to get some park rangers.” His sobs paused as he looked up at me.

“Do you think they can find her?”

“I’m sure of it. And they have all the best equipment. I bet they even have special training just for this,” the words felt hollow in my mouth, but they gave light back to his eyes.

“You’re right,” he agreed, clinging desperately to the hope I had fabricated. “I bet they do this all the time. They’ll find her.” He was up and walking back the way we entered before I realized it, suddenly empowered by hope.

Jocelyn caught my shoulder as we followed him. “Mark, you know she couldn’t have—”

I cut her off, feeling a rising tide of dull anger as she stomped on our hopes. “I know. But she could be lost.”

“Of course,” she mumbled, “It’s just—none of this makes sense, does it?”

I did not want to answer, because to admit to the insanity we were living in would make it all the more horrible. “I’ve got to keep an eye on Brian. He’s not really in his right mind.” I jogged the few steps ahead to catch him, leaving Jocelyn a few steps behind. I cared about her deeply, but in that moment, she was an outsider to our drama. I had known Brian and Hayley for years. I knew Brian would not have given up on her easily. But Jocelyn couldn’t understand what this was, couldn’t fully comprehend the way the world was suddenly no longer real to either of us. It wasn’t her fault, but I felt I should punish her for it anyway. “Watch your step, Bri. You dropped your pack up ahead.”

He nodded, grunting in the dark as he dutifully trained his flashlight on the floor in front of him.  We trekked on in silence for a few moments, the only sound the crunch of our feet on the ground and Brian’s occasional sniffle. He was the one to break the silence. “How could she just disappear?” he whispered.

“I—” the words, intended to be healing and jovial, dried up in my mouth. “I don’t know, Brian. She couldn’t have, right?”

“Right,” he mumbled, “she couldn’t have. Exactly.” I felt a knot of tension ease a bit as we planted ourselves firmly in reality again, only to re-emerge as he spoke again. “Then how did she do it?”

I had no answer, and the feeling of dread in my stomach was beginning to gnaw straight through me. “I’m sure the park rangers will be able to help.” The words were useless, and I believed them no more than I could believe Hayley disappeared behind a rock wall. But if we were to be in the habit of believing impossible things, it was at least a comforting one to cling to. Brian pushed on ahead  of me, unwilling to share my hope. We three walked along in silent darkness, individual islands in pools of artificial light, wearily trodding through the belly of the beast.

We never found Brian’s pack. In the moment, that fact dimly registered on my clouded mind, but it is something which has continued to haunt me. There was no way to miss it; the path we were on had not deviated or branched along the way. We followed the arrows in reverse, finding scrawled reminders every step along the way. But the pack in the center of the path was gone, and we exited the side passage without any sign of it. It became one more impossibility in a series of increasingly impossible events.

As we entered the cavern, Jocelyn caught my elbow. There was a softness in her voice that soothed my injured feelings. “Are you okay?” she whispered, careful to keep it below Brian’s hearing.

“Yeah,” I sighed. “Just stressed. And worried.”

“I know. But, it will work out.” As much as she intended that as a reassuring statement, I could hear the question in her voice.

“It will. We just need to get out of here and get some professional help.” I tried to sound optimistic, conjuring every positive bone in me to make it convincing.

“Exactly,” her voice relaxed. “But, I need to grab my pack and pants before we leave. We don’t need another injury trying to get out.”

She was right and I felt sudden tension arise within me. She needed to go back to the other side of the cavern, but Brian was on a tunnel-visioned war path to the exit. Deterring him would be impossible, and leaving her in that half-clothed state would slow us down if not stop us completely with an injury.

“I can run over and catch up with you guys. I’ll be back before you make it up the side,” she offered, reading my mind. The tension dissolved; I could live up to both my responsibilities.

“Yeah, that’s a good plan,” I agreed stupidly. She smiled, kissed my cheek, and took off towards the little pool that had housed such peace only moments before. Brian watched her leave, dulled confusion flashing across his grief-stricken face. “She’s going to pick some stuff up and meet us, Bri. Let’s just keep going.” He dutifully obliged.

If our trip had not been traumatic already, it began to explode into impossibilities with that decision. Believe me when I’ve said I’ve spent weeks and months replaying all these events, as if I could somehow alter what happened by imagining all the different scenarios. We were doomed before we set foot in those caves, and that is the only thing I can be certain of. Brian and I had just reached the wall to climb up when there was a brief scream cut short by the sound of splashing water. We both turned, immediately alarmed.

“Jocelyn?” I called out. My own words echoed back to me, and died away to silence. “Jocelyn!” I called again, panic rising in my voice. The sounds of splashing water and coughs greeted me as I continued to call her name, praying for a response. “We’ve got to go,” I said, turning to Brian. He had turned back to the wall.

“We have to get help,” he growled robotically, repeating my mantra back to me.

“Brian, she could be in trouble. We have to check on her.” I was already turned and moving, certain he would accompany me. Instead I heard the grinding sound of his flashlight on the rocks as he pulled himself up.

“We have to get help.”

I barely heard him, already moving as quickly as possible across the floor of the cavern. The light of my flashlight was increasingly weak, dully lighting a small circle in front of my feet. I did my best to avoid other pools, making my way to the one that glowed dimly, flinging furious shadows on the wall. The sound of splashing and sputtering grew louder as I came closer.

Jocelyn was in the center of the pool, her flashlight clipped to her pack and casting wild shadows as she fought against something unseen. I rushed to the edge, lying flat in a desperate attempt to reach her, but she floated inches from my fingertips.

I saw her eyes, roving and mad as a wounded animal. She groped blindly against the water, struggling to pull herself to the edge. I could not see what kept her, but it was a frozen moment of pure panic. I dove in to the water, feeling it begin to drag me down. But I fought ferociously towards her, even as her head dipped below the surface of the water.

Her hand was in mine. In that final moment, I felt her fingers wrap around mine, and I was certain I had her and could pull her to safety. Her eyes found mine, pleading with me to bring her back to the surface, and I tried to bring her close to me.

But something else pulled at her, dragging her towards the murky bottom. Her fingers gripped mine with vice-like grip, her eyes growing more and more desperate as air escaped her in a flurry of bubbles. She was screaming as she disappeared into the depths. I refused to let her go, but her hand began to feel like pure fire in my hand. It burned, deadening the nerves in my hand until I could not even feel her pull away. She descended, dragged by an impossible spot of light. It was brighter than the light of her flashlight, wavering in and out of our reality as it gently surrounded her, pulling her further and further away. I watched her eyes go from panicked to scared to unfocused as it pulled her away.

I swam to the surface, refilling my lungs with air. There was nothing I could do. I watched that creature drag her downwards, the light of her flashlight illuminating that face, frozen in pleading terror, until it was too small to see. The depths swallowed her alive; that thing carried her into impossible waters where I could not reach.

I sat sobbing in the water, no longer knowing what part of this world still inhabited reality. In the distance, I could see the small light of Brian climbing his way to the surface, dutifully going to get help. Part of me thought about just sinking down right there, discovering whatever inevitable bottom this hungry pool had. I felt certain in that moment that we were no longer a part of reality as we knew it, so what would my death even matter? This cave simply devoured us as soon as we entered, and now it was playing with us. As unhinged as those thoughts sound in the light of day, there is still a part of me that fully believes that. I think, sometimes, that maybe I did just sink away in that pool, and this is all the last gasps of my oxygen deprived brain. Maybe that’s the afterlife. Maybe these memories are my hell, that creature my personal demon.

Someone dragged my body from the water. I assume I did, though I have no memory of it. I cannot remember the walk across the cavern back to the wall. I remember dim awareness of my still numb hand dangling at my side as I followed Brian’s beacon. I remember Brian progressing solidly, dutifully following the arrows marking the safe path. I remember the impossible light moving through the darkness, leading his trail. I remember the way the arrows had changed their direction on our entrance, and saw a new path emblazoned before Brian. There was no time to intervene as my brain slowly put the preposterous pieces together. In a single instant, I heard his brief shout as the step gave way beneath him. I watched his flashlight traced his path to the floor before getting buried under a pile of loosened rock and debris. I felt everything inside of me crumble into dust at the shattered world I lived in.

His face, pinned beneath the rubble, is painted sharply in my mind. His body was twisted unnaturally, like some doll pulled apart and haphazardly stuck back together. Some joints pointed the wrong way, and there was a splatter of red on the rock near his head. Most of him was lost beneath the rocks, but I saw cold eyes looking at me from a head turned sharply away from me. There was no pulse, but I knew before I even checked. That thing had brought us to be devoured.

As if I had not yet paid my debts, my flashlight gave out.

How long I sat there sobbing in the dark, I do not know. Time only has meaning in relation to the life we have left, and as far as I was concerned, I was already dead. I had disappeared in twisting caverns, drowned in an impossible pool, and fallen between crushing rocks.

The light that lived in perfect darkness flitted around me, staying just far enough away to be noticed but barely seen. It waited on its haunches, watching me with those golden eyes as it shifted between real and not real imperceptibly. I was trapped in the dark, no idea where to go, and it waited patiently for me.

Eventually I could not sit there any longer next to the rapidly cooling body of my best friend. I stood, pacing along the wall. I kept a hand on the cool stone, staggering long as if it would suddenly open back into the wide open world. I felt despair as I thought of never seeing the blue sky again, of never seeing anything but this infinite blackness. I turned to walk back and saw the creature floating around Brian. It was a haze covering the area that I instinctively knew was the tomb. I rushed towards it, shouting as if chasing away a scavenger. In an instant, it was simply gone, leaving only the blackness. I sank again to my knees, crying out tears that burned and stung my raw cheeks.

It was hunger that finally drove me to my feet, stumbling again along the wall as if I could find some magic passageway. I carefully walked along the wall, dutifully avoiding turning back and risking stumbling over that grisly scene. If I did that, I am certain I never would have moved again. Or worse, I would have fled screaming into that infinite darkness, another soul swallowed up.

The sound of my shoes scuffling along the dirt floor was suddenly interrupted by a decidedly foreign sound. Something crunched under my feet, the sound echoing over and over in the silence. In my desperation I laughed, recognizing the intruding sound of the chip wrapper in the darkness. I was likely delirious with grief, hunger, and dehydration at this point, but I took it as a sign of salvation, wildly climbing onto the rock surface and feeling out a path. I crawled along that wall, my one good hand and feet constantly reaching out to feel for any stable surface.  I laughed as I rose steadily above the floor, groping through the gravel and dust like a blind man. I avoided any path marked by that awful creature, always moving further and further away from it as I moved higher and higher. Eventually, I found my hands gripping the edge where a wide expanse stretched out before me. Still crawling, I found orange peels and food scraps littering the floor. I laughed and stood, racing towards what I hoped was an exit.

Despite the odds, I finally found myself back in the first opening, back where Brian had seen his bat and mocked my concerns. I reached out to the wall, trying to find the way out. It was in here, I was certain. My fingers trailed along the rock face, puling and gripping it as if I would tear down the mountain just to be free. Surely, the opening was here. I briefly felt chalk under my fingers, pointing in a direction that I could not decipher. It was likely meaningless anyway. Still, no gap appeared in the rock. I continued my search until my fingers felt chalk again, and again. I was going in circles, but could find no opening. It was as if the cave has sealed its lips tight, swallowing me inside. The walls seemed to spin and move around me, putting the exit always a few inches away, I was sure. In the darkness behind me, I felt I could see glimpses of light moving to and fro, blocking any hope of progress.

In despair, I fell to the floor. I was crying cold tears that I could not feel until they landed softly on my hands. My sobs came in silent waves as my mind tried to process my own fate of either starving or freezing to death in this rocky tomb. I wondered if anyone would ever even find my body. It could have been minutes or it could have been days—time only existed as a running count of the overwhelming burden of tragedy on my life—but eventually I saw a light move in the darkness, drawing nearer and nearer to me. It moved gracefully, but impossibly slow in the darkness until it stopped just in front of my face, its eyes meeting my own. Those eyes were huge, encompassing the whole room, the whole cave, possibly the whole world. I could see everything contained within them, and most importantly I could also see myself. My own eyes looked back at me in there. And, suddenly, my own thoughts and memories began to play.

It sighed contentedly, drinking in all these precious moments from my life. First days of school, best friends, true loves, and endless opportunity played before me. The creature reached out, its hand seeming to move through my eyes and into my body, shuffling through my deepest personal thoughts and pulling at something that the rest of me fought to keep back. It continued to pry, however, and I felt my reserves give way. The cave flashed into my mind, playing back before me in the world of that thing’s eyes. Laughter, anger, fear filled me with each relived memory. I saw Brian lying bloody and twisted, heard the sound of Hayley’s shrieks grow dimmer and dimmer. Jocelyn floated away from me, a terrified statue etched in ivory as it drifted through the inky black water. I heard the sound of dogs—

Dogs? The creature recoiled for a moment as I was brought back into the present. Yes, dogs barking nearby. Perhaps a rescue, I dared to dream. No, the entity seemed to whisper back to me, not dogs, just lonely wolves seeking their next meal. My strength was failing as the creature drew more and more of me out, trying to drink away the last vestiges of life I had left, but the sound of dogs gave me strength to fight back. I steeled myself, trying not to remember, not to think about my life before. All I had now was the thought of a life lived in the bright air and sunshine yet again. The creature’s grip on me tightened, and I felt that hope begin to waver as it found moment after moment of adoration with Jocelyn at the center. The smell of her hair, the feel of her skin, the warmth of her lips—all faded to cold, dead memory as her eyes pleaded with me in the dark water. She drifted away from me, her fingers slipping through mine and into oblivion.

But no, I fought. I tried to muster a yell, to let them know I was here, but my throat was so parched that I could barely manage a whisper.  Nonetheless, I could hear the barking louder now, maybe even echoing off the walls around me. Salvation!

The creature screeched as the flashlights of the rescue team came into view. I dimly felt them speaking to me through the golden haze of its eyes. My lips moved, but there was no sound, only the ever increasing fury of whatever thing had me in its grasp. I felt water flowing down my throat, something warm wrapping around my body. In their hands, I began to feel the creature’s grip loosening. I was winning the fight and pulling away. There was a stretcher, and a light pinprick on my arm, and then they moved me out of the creature’s lair, away from its prying eyes. At some point a fresh breeze hit my face, and I felt tears spring up again. At some point, their voices began to fill my head before turning into a nonsensical buzz in my personal delirium. At some point, the golden hued world of the creature’s eyes gave way to impenetrable blackness once again, and I slept.

_______________________________

They found Brian right where I told them, his head still stuck at that unnatural angle. At least they managed to fix it for the funeral. Hayley and Jocelyn were never found; they searched all the pools in that cavern, and assured me that none of those was deep enough to drown in. As for Hayley, well, the caves had a funny way of turning around on you. And they went for miles. Shock, they called it. Trauma. Of course, it didn’t matter to me what they said or found. I know what happened.

Everyone has a story. And there is something out there that needs our stories, that feeds on our stories. It appears to me that it has a taste for the sour flavor of despair, the tang of fear, and the bitterness of tragedy. Or maybe, like my shrinks keep saying, that’s just the story I’ve told myself. 

We all have a story to tell.

 


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


Working Title: The Stories We Tell Part 2 of 3 WIP

Well, this thing has grown a bit longer than I estimated, so I’m extending it to 3 parts. At around 5-7 pages a piece, I think that’s manageable chunks. The last part is not completed; however I do have the ending written, so at least I know where this thing is going! Without further ado, here is part two*

* Rhyme completely unintentional.


Part One


Stepping into the cave from the previously blinding sunshine was akin to plunging from the shore of a warm, tropical beach directly into the arctic depths. My whole body took a moment to adjust to the profound and heavy darkness, even as the shade leached away the warmth in my skin. My sweat began to cool to clammy dampness, comforting me even as that same chill crept steadily along my vertebrae.

The walls were originally very narrow, clinging close to us as we pushed our way inside. The rock face bent and curved around as we walked, forming a tiny switchback before pushing us into a larger opening. The walls flared out as the ceiling rose into a room that was large enough for the four of us to gather comfortably. Our flashlights danced across the ceiling, filling in the tiny hills and crevasses that made up the mottled walls and ceiling. Brian found a bat, but only nudged me silently to share his discovery. Hayley hated bats, and he was not about to have her in hysterics. But he smiled anyway, obviously pleased with himself. I studied the room, feeling a deep appreciation for the natural state of it take hold. There were a few plastic bottle and food wrappers lying in the corners, but if you ignored those, it was pristine. The way the entrance wound into this room, no sunlight crept in from outside. It was almost difficult to even find the narrow passage we used to enter, but Brian dutifully pointed an arrow back at it in crisp blue chalk on the grey wall.

“Don’t go getting in a twist, Gretel,” snapped Brian as he eyed me watching him mark the exit. “We’ll make sure you make it to Grandma’s house.”

“Wrong story, Bri,” quipped Hayley, her head tilted back to a sharp angle to view the rough hewn ceiling. Her light danced over the ceiling, lighting briefly on Brian’s bat before rocketing back to the floor. “Are we just going to stand here all day?” Her discomfort at the winged rodent bled through her friendly smile.

“Just through here,” waved Jocelyn, her flashlight darting down a long stretching tunnel. The cool air and the brilliant joy of her smile revitalizing me, I jogged behind, yelling for her to wait up. I could hear Brian and Hayley exchanging slighted heated whispers behind me, the word “bat” slipping between them in whispered barks. Eventually Hayley pushed her way past me to join Jocelyn in the lead. Brian sidled up beside me, seemingly weighed down by the nearly empty pack on his back.

“It’s a cave. There are bats,” he sighed, exasperation creeping into his voice. There was no further explanation needed, and we continued in friendly silence as Jocelyn led the way through the winding tunnels. Occasionally, Brian would stop and make another mark on the walls, but we soldiered on until the view stopped us in our tracks.

What had been a mere thirty minute walk must have led us even deeper and farther into this cave system than I could have imaged. From where we stood, the emptiness of the cave stretched on for eternity. The rock floor we stood on arced down after about fifteen feet in, a craggy system of stones demonstrating a treacherous path down into what I assumed was the bottom of this cavern, though my flashlight had dimmed to the point that I could not be certain. Somewhere, the sound of water played over the rocks, echoing back and forth in the cavern to harmonize with itself again and again. As the flashlights shifted through the murky darkness, flashes of water on light illuminated a series of small pools and a steady trickle of water tumbling down. The sight and sound were beautiful, yet chilling. The summer warmth was gone now, leaving an empty feeling of cold.

“Are you guys hungry? I think this would be a great place for a bite to eat,” reported Jocelyn, slinging her pack from her shoulders to the dusty floor. I watched her stretch, the long muscles of her back moving smoothly in the shadowy light. Visions of the slender, lithe body under the dusty camping clothes pulled a smile to my face that I hoped she wouldn’t see.

The fruit in my bag—a single apple, banana, and orange—had not fared as well as I had hoped in the trek to the cave. All salvageable, but with a distinct mushiness that was less than appetizing. However, despite the relative brevity of our journey thus far, I was ravenous. The banana disappeared in a flash, and the apple was down to a bare core in similarly swift fashion. I pulled out a mushed peanut butter sandwich and opened the zipper bag. The sound was surprisingly loud in the cave, as if the walls were replaying over and over this foreign sound. It felt wrong, a chill shifting up and down my spine, but the sound of a plastic bag in the darkness seemed even more intruder than the previous loud crunch of the apple. No one else seemed to mind, however, so I tried to shake the growing sense of unease.

Brian ripped open a bag of chips, the same feeling of intrusion creeping along my body again. Maybe we shouldn’t be here. The thought raced through my mind and was dismissed almost too fast to realize. I chided myself for my unease in such a peaceful place.

“This place is amazing, Jocelyn. Did you come here a lot?”

She smiled. “No, only once or twice. It’s not the most riveting place, but I always found it calming, ya’ know?” She stared of wistfully into the darkness, and I could see her shoulders relax even more as her eyes slipped close.

Brian’s loud munching on his chips shattered the quiet moment, but he remained oblivious. “Yeah, you could totally set up a recording in here and make some serious bucks on Cave Sounds to Sleep To. I’d buy it.”

Hayley laughed. “You have more useless get-rich-quick schemes than most cartoon villains.”

“And one day you may be very happy that one pays out,” he reminded her with an emphasized crunch of chips.

Jocelyn sighed, opening her eyes and returning to the conversation. “I have to agree with him, Hayley, I could definitely fall asleep here.” She yawned minutely, and then smiled with contentment. “But there’s a lot more to explore, too.”

“You still awake over there Mark?” called Hayley, exaggeratedly searching the dark recesses of the cave for me. “You haven’t said much.”

I stretched. “Just taking it all in. Besides, you three have all the rings covered in this circus. Wouldn’t want to intrude.” From the dimly lit area where Brian’s flashlight lay, a piece of orange peel flew through the air to land in my hair.

“You’re just oh so clever, huh?” grumbled Brian good naturedly as he lifted his pack again.

“Trash,” stated Hayley blankly, a command she had obviously supplied time and again. Brian complied by toeing the empty chip bag over the edge of the cavern and smiling.

“Now we don’t have to worry about that ending up in some landfill,” he quipped in frail attempt to cover his own laziness. Hayley rolled her eyes. I felt anger rush in.

“What’s wrong with you? This place is pristine and you just go throwing you trash around? Stop acting like a child for once and take some responsibility.” The force of my words surprised me, and even more obviously surprised Brian. His face flashed from startled, to hurt, to angry in a matter of seconds before he turned away.

“Didn’t know we had a park ranger with us. Not much I can do about it now,” he grumbled. Hayley and Jocelyn stood uncertainly between us, caught in the crossfire of my harsh words.

“No, I’m sorry. I don’t—I just—Let’s just be careful, okay?” I said, trying to erase the heavy tension between us. As suddenly as the anger had appeared, it was gone again. I felt momentarily alien in my body, as if someone—something else had been the one propelling those angry words through my lips. With it gone, there was an empty, foreignness in my mind. I felt like a fool.

“Careful is key,” picked up Jocelyn. “We can go down into this cavern area pretty easily, but then we need to be especially careful. It’s big and you can get lost.”

Hayley moved towards Brian, her hand wrapping around his arm to send a gentle but clear message. Let it go. He sighed, and it was as if I could see the irritation roll off his body. He turned around with a fake smile. “No harm, no foul. I’ll be more careful.” As insincere as the message was, it was at least a sincere attempt. Having known him for years, he would wind down for real in a couple of hours. Per our unspoken agreement, this would join other petty arguments that we never spoke of again.

The path down was treacherous, with sliding gravel and an occasional gap in the trail. The stair steps leading down were rugged and irregular, but definitely passable. Years of shifting earth, running water, and solitude had turned them into an obstacle course leading to bottom.

Brian dutifully marked the way, though it was hard to imagine getting lost here. Go up was the primary direction; anything beyond that was merely designed to find the best path. I was bringing up the tail, trying to religiously follow Hayley’s steps in front of my. At one point, I caught movement from the side of my eyes. It was startling, capturing my mind with all kinds of terrible possibilities. My heart suddenly began to race and I felt clammy sweat break out over my body. I turned, trying to find what it was, when suddenly that lightness came into view.

In the dark, it seemed slightly more distinct, but remained utterly incomprehensible. It was a shape of light moving through the darkness, casting no illumination. Two distinct eyes appeared to take up most of its face, and there were two protrusion on either side—ears, I decided—that stretched out into the darkness. There was no discernible body or feet, but it glided through the dark like some swimming ocean creature. The more I studied it, the less it made sense. As I watched, however, it moved toward the wall, reaching out to briefly touch one of the arrows on the wall. In a blur of motion, the chalk seemed to shimmer, then move each particle at a time. After what my heart promised was less than a beat, the arrow reassembled itself, this time pointing the opposite direction.

“Guys! What is that? What is that thing?” I was frozen, staring behind me with my arm pointing into the darkness. There was nothing there. Brian pushed through Hayley to stand by me, all hints of irritation gone and replaced by a warrior’s calm.

“What? Where is it?”

“It was—It was just there. It moved out arrows.”

Jocelyn’s hand on my arm. My eyes broke from the darkness and found her face. “There’s nothing there, Mark. Maybe a bat or something, but chalk arrows don’t move.”

I could hear Hayley shudder at the thought, but she remained silent.

“It wasn’t a bat. It was a—” the words dried up in my mouth. What was it? How could I describe it to them without everyone thinking I was crazy?

“Being in the dark like this can make your eyes play tricks on you. Let’s get to the bottom and take a rest, okay?” Jocelyn’s hand gently guided me down the remaining section of rocks. While I frequently glanced back, the light from Hayley and Brian’s flashlight turned the dark background into an impenetrable cloud. Still, I could have sworn I saw something moving through those shadows.

The sounds of water dripping and pooling was even louder down in the cavern. I could feel myself relaxing in the sound ever so slightly as Jocelyn, her hand still supporting me with its gentle touch on my arm, sat down beside me on a conveniently placed crop of stones.

“Are you okay?” she asked in a soft whisper, leaning in close to me.

“Yeah,” I lied, “like you said, probably just the dark playing tricks on me.”

“Alright, well how about you and I just sit here for a bit,” she smiled as the flashlight threw terrifying sharp shadows across her face.

“I don’t want to ruin it for them,” I replied, nodding towards a brooding Brian and concerned Hayley standing an uncomfortable distance away.

“I’ll tell them that they can go on a bit without us, just to mark everything really well so we can find them later if we need.”

Unless that thing moves it, I wanted to remark, but realized how crazy that sounded. Jocelyn had to be right; just tricks of the darkness on my poor light typical mind. “Okay, sure.”

She stood and walked towards the others. There was a quiet conversation, she motioned towards me, laughed, and waved them on. I watched as Brian snapped his trusty piece of chalk in half and handed one piece to Jocelyn, the eyes of a protector looking at her before drifting to me with a half smile. Jocelyn pointed towards one small opening in the cavern walls, and the two of them drifted off that direction with smiles and laughter.

“I told them we’d catch up in a bit,” she said with a wide smile.

“No need for us to hurry,” I responded with what I thought was a bit of sly suggestion, trying to shake the strange experience from before.

“How are you feeling?” Too subtle, I mentally catalogued.

“Better. I think I was just a bit on edge from the whole trash incident, and then got spooked. These caves are kind of creepy.”

She laughed. “Yeah, you went all Smokey the Bear on him up there. I appreciate a man who cares for the environment,” she responded.

We sat in silence for a few moments, just listening to the water falling somewhere in the distance and basking in the harsh artificial lighting. She was the one to finally break the silence. “Was this all some ploy to get me alone?”

No, I wanted to say. There is something out there and it’s dangerous, even though it hasn’t done anything to us. However, logic won out and the words sounded a bit different when they finally came out. “I thought I was being terribly sneaky.” You’re being crazy, I reminded myself. It was just a trick of the shadows and nothing more. Maybe a bat, but you aren’t Hayley, so chill out.

Her fingers twined through mine as she stood, pulling me up along with her. “Come on, let me show you something really amazing.”

“I can see something amazing from right here.” My eyes ran up and down her once in an exaggerated pattern. She simply rolled hers at me.

“Obviously, I was really lucky to find you in one of the rare times you were single. Come on,” she pulled at me, leading me through the darkness. The sounds of water grew louder and louder as we moved, until finally I could see water reflecting back the flashlight’s beam.  Water dripped from far up above, plinking softly against the surface of the water and creating some of the sounds we had heard before. “There are little pools like this all over the place in here.  They’re not deep, but surprisingly not cold, either. We spent an entire day just swimming and relaxing here once.”

“Is it safe?”

She slapped my arm playfully. “You have got to stop being such a worrywart. It’s just as safe as skinny dipping down at the quarry,” she responded with a knowing eyebrow lift. Touché.

Dropping her pack, Jocelyn quickly pulled off layers until she was standing in nothing but a tank top and underwear. Goosebumps broke out over her exposed skin, but she seemed invulnerable as she radiated a bright smile. “Last one in owes me a kiss,” she chimed before disappearing into the inky water. I am not ashamed to admit I was steps behind her, stripping down to my boxers in a blink as her face bobbed along the surface of the water.

She was right about the water—surprisingly warm. It was welcomed after how cold the inside of this cave had ultimately become. And it was barely deep enough to swim in. If I submerged my head and stretched, my toes touched a rough hewn bottom. I lazily paddled towards her, before snaring her in my arms. She floated there, looking at me with playful eyes. “I think I owe you something.”

Jocelyn and I had kissed dozens if not hundreds of times. I knew the feel of her lips, the taste of her tongue, the pressure of her kisses against my lips. I would, however, be lying if I said any of the hundreds of kisses before in my life came close to that moment. Maybe it was that heightened sense bull people pull, but in the dark, with the soothing sounds of the falling water, surrounded by the warmth of this little pool, there was something beautiful. Her hands and mine wandering beneath the water, clinging to one another while seeking out those soft touches of warm skin. The water droplets beaded on her face, falling against my lips as we embraced. Each droplet, chilled by the outside air, brought a fresh tingle along my spine. Her body pushed against mine, our lips meeting and holding us fast as we floated and drifted. If I had to choose one moment to live in forever, that would be it.

Eventually we parted and I sighed deeply in the dark and peaceful solitude. She laughed, splashing water against my chest as she swam towards the other side of the pool. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were trying to seduce me,” I called after her. She merely laughed again, kicking a wave of water towards me. “I want to assure you, it is not working.”

The tension from before was melting away, softened up by the rhythmic tap and enveloping warmth of the water. From a distance, all I could see of her was an area of pale skin within the encompassing darkness. I saw her arm reach out of the water, reaching for her water bottle on the outside of her pack. There was a hiss of a lid opening, then the silent sounds of the cavern. I leaned into the water until I could float on my back, meandering lazily through the pool. The water fell, tapping lightly against my stomach as I drifted along in the darkness. This must be like those sensory deprivation chambers, I thought. People throwing money away when nature had already perfected it.

There were soft sounds of splashing in the water, something cutting smoothly through and moving towards me. “Jocelyn—” I began before something grabbed me, pulling me under.

I thrashed and flailed, pulling myself back toward the surface as whatever it was released me. Breaking the surface, I gasped for air, eyes darting through the darkness as if I could locate the danger. Then, there was laughter.

“That’s what you get for not listening to me,” she laughed, splashing water at me yet again.

“Jocelyn! You—that—” I continued gulping in the air, more out of fear than any prolonged deprivation. “I’m already a little on edge, okay?”

“I’m sorry. But come on, you have to lighten up a little bit,” she said, moving in a little closer. I felt her hand find mine, drawing me towards her in the darkness of the water. Her face was a pale shadow on the water, her eyes empty spaces that gazed into my own. She was kissing me again, and I was mentally acquiescing to her remark. Yes, I needed to lighten up. Just a joke. Her lips met mine again and again; we were floating through nothingness, bound to reality only by the presence of the other’s body in that vast emptiness. I was lighter than air.

It was I who broke away this time, coming up for air in a far more metaphorical sense than before. “I have to say, your method is a good one.” She laughed, her hands moving away from me to help her better stay above water.

“So, as I was saying, do you think we should try to catch up with Brian and Hayley. I’m guessing we’ve given them plenty of private time by now.”

“How long have we been in here?”

I heard rather than saw her shrug her shoulders. “You zoned out there for a good while. Plus, our other exercises bought us some more time. But it’s not like there’s a clock in here.”

I nodded before realizing how useless that was. “Right. I guess we should start trying to find them. But, if we hear strange noises, promise me we’ll come right back out here.”

“Deal,” she laughed.

I kicked my way towards the edge and fumbled along the ground until I found our packs. I thumbed on my flashlight and began looking for the other, and turning it on. I stumbled around, trying to get my pants to fit back over my damp legs. In my mad dance, I felt my foot gently tap Jocelyn’s flashlight, and then had the pleasure of watching it drift into the water.

“Uh-oh,” I grumbled.

“I’ve got it,” she said. I heard a splash, then saw her making her way down towards the wavering light. I finally overcame my pants, and tugged my shift over my head just as she broke above the water with the flashlight in hand.

“Good heavy duty one. The water didn’t bother it one bit.” As she began to make her way out of the water, something broke the silence. Something unmistakably chilling.

From somewhere in the darkness, far away and muffled by walls of solid rock, Hayley screamed.


Part Three

Thanks for reading! As always, feel free to leave a comment letting me know what you think, what could be better, and what you like!


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


Working Title: The Stories We Tell Part 1 of 3 WIP

So, I blew my goal of a new post very two weeks. Between starting a new job, packing, and going out of the country for a week, I’m barely holding together. Here is something that I was working on prior to the trip, or at least the first half. I’m afraid it’s turning into a much longer story than I usually write, and so it makes sense to post it as a two parter. The second half is 1/3-halfway done, depending on how much I decide to lengthen it out. Thanks, and enjoy!

*After working on part two, this has turned into a three parter! Links to subsequent parts at the end. I also found one or two wrong names sprinkled throughout, so I tried to clean that up. Enjoy! 8/6/14


Every one of us on this chaotically spinning planet has a story, but not all stories are created equal. Some stories are grand, sweeping epics of terror, bravery, and courage. Others are the mundane but essential stories of the 9 to 5 grind, raising a family, and experiencing all the boring miracles life has to offer. There are tragic stories, funny stories, joyous ones, and those filled with heartache. The fact remains: everyone has a story.

My story begins in an upstate national park a bit off the beaten path for some not 100% approved camping—though if I were being honest, my story began in the county hospital in late fall 1987, but I don’t think all that lead up is necessary. What is important is that Jocelyn and I had been dating for about four months, and I thought it would be nice to go on a double dating trip with my college roommate Brian and his girlfriend Hayley. I was actually really nervous because Brian and Hayley had been together forever. We used to tease them in college that they acted like they had been married for 50 years, and nothing had really changed since. I kept pushing Brian to man up and put a ring on it already, but they both claimed to be against the “formalized institution of marriage.” Instead they lived together without the tax benefits and griped at one another daily. True wedded bliss.

I was really worried that Jocelyn might get the wrong idea, feel pressured into the relationship. Maybe she’d think I was moving too fast. But when Brian asked me to go camping, I couldn’t turn down a weekend with my bud, ya’ know? And when he said Hayley was coming, I knew I’d have to invite Jocelyn along to prevent that terrible third wheel syndrome. Nothing lonelier than sharing a sleeping bag with yourself in the great outdoors while people get in touch with their animal sides (not to mention other unmentionables) right nextdoor. Fortunately, Jocelyn agreed to save me from my awkward loneliness, and I spent the next week and a half stressing over all the potential ways this could go terribly wrong. Many of them ended with a long and awkward drive home with Jocelyn as the wreckage of our relationship smoldered to cold ash. When, of course, I was not devising clever ways to defend her against an inevitable bear/mountain lion attack. What stupid things we worry about.

The first night was great. We parked our car in a winding cut-off from the main forest road and hiked in for a few hours to the spot Brian just knew was right over that hill over there. While we never found the mystical clearing he promised, we did find a nice spot that was pretty close to the lake and a couple deer trails. We set up both tents, got a fire roaring, and started roasting some hot dogs over the flames. We hoped that we were far enough from any traditional trails that the fire would not be visible to a passing ranger. Plus, the summer foliage was so thick through there, you were lucky to see much of anything at a distance. Brian had labored to haul a cooler of beer all the way through the woods, so we graciously celebrated his perseverance with more than a few icy beverages.

Jocelyn and Hayley got along great, probably too well as their conversation soon turned to analyzing our shared flaws with the look of untiring patience nearing its limit. Brian and I just got louder, providing them hours of fodder.

That night Jocelyn and I turned in to our little tent. I can still remember the warmth and pressure of her tiny frame pressed up against me in the night. Or how her hair smelled like strawberries and smoke mixed together. She lay against me, my arms wrapped heavily around her as she slept peacefully. I’ve always been a rowdy drunk, but she made me sentimental too. As tired as I was, I just looked at her face in the moonlight, feeling for once that I had not entirely screwed things up. I fell asleep happy, maybe for the last time.

The next morning came way too early. When you’re in a thin tent without the home comforts of black out curtains, morning always comes too early. The campfire had cooled to low embers by the time we got up, and the morning air was unusually cool. It was summer, but beneath the heavy shade of the trees and as close as we were to the lake, the heat didn’t penetrate. I shivered, returning to the tent for a pair of socks and jeans just as Jocelyn shot out of the ten. She looked startled, and I’m sure I did too as her face hurtled towards me without warning.

“Was something out here?” she asked, her voice rising with panic.

I caught my breath, put on my bravest face. “No, nothing. Why? Did you see something?”

Her fear dissipated, confusion shifting across her face in its place, then embarrassment. “No, I guess not. Probably just the wind or a bird or something.”

“We are outside, after all,” I quipped. Judging by the shadow that passed across her face that was not the right response.

“Right.” She snapped back and then joined Hayley picking through the food and snacks still packed from our arrival. They found breakfast as we sat around the embers, listening to the woods around us begin to wake. I tried to avoid the lances of sunlight stabbing through the trees, hoping that doing so would alleviate the pain that every so often bounced through my eyes and head with very little success. Brian looked like he was in much better spirits than me.

“So, I know Brain and Mark used to go camping all the time, but have you ever gone?” I turned to the conversation between Jocelyn and Hayley just as Jocelyn replied.

“I did once or twice with my dad when we were kids. We also camped out in our backyard every summer. But it’s been a while.” I loved watching the way her face lit up as she talked about these happy childhood memories. I was head over heels and I hadn’t even realized it yet. If I could go back, I’d ask her right there to marry me, and then die happy.

“It’s great to find someone else who knows her way around a tent. If it goes well, maybe we’ll make this a regular summer tradition,” smiled Hayley, her eyes sneaking towards me. I saw Jocelyn look at me and smile.

“I could probably handle that.”

All the pain in the world couldn’t keep me from gazing into those sunlit eyes right then. She was beautiful all that time, but something about her tousled hair, faded makeup, and the crisp green forest behind her was irresistible. And she was willing to give a noncommittal agreement to potentially staying with me for another year. Life was good.

As she turned back to talk to Hayley about her previous camping trips, I noticed something moving. Even now, I have trouble remembering exactly how to describe it. It was almost like the sunbeam falling just to the right of Jocelyn was shining, like it had been doused with glitter. The light there bent and warped in unnatural ways, almost like heat waves on hot pavement. But this was brighter and more real. Unlike those mirages, this shape truly had some kind of form to it. Two flecks of light grew more apparent, solidifying into two round spots darting through the light. At one point, they turned towards me and I got the distinct feeling of eyes. As it “looked” at me, I could begin to make out an image. It was a body that was there and wasn’t all at once. Again, like a heat mirage on the road wavers and fades, it struggled into focus, but I don’t think I ever really saw it. It was small, just a few feet off the ground. Thin, with no other discernible feature besides those watching eyes. The eyes danced around us, flitting from sunshine to shade.

I’ve thought a lot about that shape. About the “body” of that thing. It always seems like I can see it in my mind, but when I focus on it, there’s nothing there. Nothing in my memory but the firm recollection that that shadow and sunlight were different than any others. Like it couldn’t—like it can’t really exist in our world. I’m stuck with the endless torture of surety and doubt that I even saw a flicker of the supernatural on that day.

“Seen a ghost?” shouted Brian, dropping heavily next to me on the log. I winced at the noise, but it shook me out of my study of the figure that wasn’t really there.

“No, just admiring the scenery.” I motioned in the direction where I had been staring for far too long. Nothing there but some dust floating through the air. I told myself I had just drunk too much last night, and this was my payback.

Brian took a deep breath f the cool morning air, weighing the view in his own eyes for a moment. “It is pretty great out here, huh?” He smiled, pleased with his good idea and at peace with the moment, but Brian never was one to stay reflective for long. “So Hayley told me about some sort of mountains around here or something—”

Hayley jumped in to provide the much needed content to Brian’s half-formed idea. “They’re caves, Bri. Your ‘genetic selective deafness’ kicks in at the worst times.”

“And caves are in mountains, right?” There was a brief prickle of tension in the air between them as he spun to face her, but it fizzled away as she shook her head with a smile.

“My logician,” she laughed to Hayley, making a sweeping gesture toward Brian. Jocelyn laughed and the two women turned to join Brian and I in the thus far riveting conversation.

“So, like I said, there are some caves in some mountains around here,” he began again, glancing sideways from his eyes to Hayley with his correction and addition, “and I thought—Hayley thought it would be fun to go spe—” Brian’s face became confused momentarily as he tried to find the right word. “Cave exploring,” he substituted, looking at Hayley for confirmation.

“Yes, cave exploring,” she shook her head again and I began to worry that she would sprain her neck at the frequency of such an exercise. “Have you ever been spelunking, Mark?”

Before I could answer, Brian broke in. “Spelunking! That was it. That’s one of those weird German words, right? Like schadenfreude?”

No one answered him, but Brian did not mind as he continued to roll the word around again and again, swearing to remember it for the rest of the day. “I haven’t ever, really. Don’t we need gear for that? Light lights, ropes, harnesses, helmets, shovels—” I began, wondering why I had not considered caving accidents in my fevered anxiety about harm befalling Jocelyn.

Jocelyn, however, cut me off with a laugh and a wave of her hands. “The caves around here are pretty much harmless little things that go a few miles in. We have our flashlights and as long as we don’t dive down any massive black holes, we don’t need that other stuff. We can just wander in, take a lunch, and eat in the ‘belly of the earth.'” She ended with a gravelly voice that reminded me of old voiceovers from those B Sci-fi movies she always insisted we watch.

“But won’t we get lost?” I added, feeling a knot of panic rising in my chest.

“Geez Gretel, we’ll leave a breadcrumb trail for you to get back out, okay? I brought some chalk to mark any hiking we did, anyways,” scoffed Brian.

The panic subsided, but I still felt a raw sense of unease. There was no logical reason, I was sure, but I was nevertheless certain that this would not end well. But Jocelyn looked excited to do so, already swapping caving stories with Hayley, and I did not want to let her down.

We packed day bags with water bottles, chips, peanut butter sandwiches, and a few pieces of fruit a piece. Jocelyn seemed really excited about the cave picnic idea, and I was beginning to warm up to the idea myself. If all went well, I was sure that Brian and Hayley would sneak off on their own for a few minutes, leaving Jocelyn and I alone in the dark, cold cave. In my head, the concept seemed more romantic than when I try to describe it, which might have something to do with my general ineptitude at all things classically romantic. I was never going to be the devilishly suave Harlequin Hunk. That just wasn’t my story.

We began our hike through the woods, following Hayley’s suggestion and moving back towards the main road. About halfway there, she found the marked trail that led to the caves, at least according to the friends she had heard about them from. Jocelyn agreed.

“I didn’t take you for a spelunker,” I smiled as we walked side by side. That same nostalgic glow covered her face again.

“I went once or twice with friends in college, but I’ve wanted to go again. It’s just the right mix of spooky, dangerous, and exciting.”

“So you went to these caves? I mean, you’ll be able to play tour guide for us, right?”

She laughed. “I’ve only been a couple of times. But, I do know a couple of pretty interesting spots to investigate.” The suggestive lilt of her voice confirmed my own romanticized caving ideas, but also led to a hint of jealousy and insecurity. I knew she was a human who had dated other people before, but nevertheless, I felt a little angry that I would have to explore those spots she had already explored with someone else. It was stupid, really, but human nature.

“Oh, so I guess you really enjoyed your little outings, huh?” I tried to remain joking, keeping a smile plastered to my face, but I could hear that slighted edge to my voice. Her smile faded a degree as she looked to me with concern.

“Oh, man, that’s probably pretty weird for you, huh?”

“What? No. I mean, we’re both adults and all—” Her eyes pinned me to the spot, and I sighed, deflated. “Okay, it’s a little weird.”

Jocelyn smiled again, taking my hand in hers as we continued following Brian and Hayley ahead. “Don’t worry; I know you’re not some jealous monster. It’s always weird to think about past partners. God knows I try to forget you ever hooked up with Macy. How about this: you and I can find out own spot to explore together. “

“Only if you swear to tell me afterwards that it’s the best spot you’ve ever explored,” I joked back, easing into the conversation again. She was perfect—understanding and funny in one amazingly gorgeous package.

She laughed and planted a brief kiss on my cheek as we walked. “Deal.”

We walked that way, hand in hand for a while until Hayley got turned around again. Jocelyn skipped to the front of the group and led the way. By that time, the hike had caught up with me. I was beginning to get hungry, and carrying even the relatively light pack was a chore. I did not want to be grumpy on our adventure, but I could feel it sneaking up on me.

Then, Jocelyn stopped and pointed up a short mountain or tall hill to another signpost sitting in front of a shadowed rock overhang. “Entrance is just there. Maybe a water break before we go?”

She was an angel. I collapsed onto a rock, dragging out a water bottle and gulping furiously. The cool morning air had been replaced by heavy, wet heat that sat on my shoulders like an unpleasant child. My stomach rumbled unhappily, but I ignored it. Jocelyn wanted her cave picnic, and I was going to give her a cave picnic.

Our break was short-lived as we quickly repacked the bags and dragged ourselves up the faint outline of a path. The sign marking the entrance was badly faded by the weather. There had once been a great deal of writing on it, but most of that was now just shallow ridges in the wood. The once bright red “WARNING” was still clear, now faded to a pale suggestion of red, but the remainder was illegible. Beside the entrance was a metal plaque, similarly eroded by its time on the mountain. Jocelyn filled in the missing letters. “Kepperman Cavern,” she chirped, indicating the entrance with a broad flourish. Her cheeks were flushed, strands of dark brown hair clinging to her sweaty face as she smiled broadly.

I pushed aside my clinging uneasiness. I was being ridiculous, really. Seeing the joy on Jocelyn’s face, I resolved to enjoy myself. Even if it was a bit out of character for me, today I would be a spelunker. For her.

I was confident as I walked towards the entrance, laughing good naturedly at some joke Brian made. I was confident peering into the dark and deciding to get out a flashlight. I was confident as the first beams of light played along the cold gray walls of the depths. But I was decidedly not confident as I saw two specks of gold floating in the darkness, as I saw a sunbeam dance across a room it could not exist in. In that moment, I was stupid. And I plunged into the darkness.


Part Two

Part Three

Hope you enjoyed it and, as always, feel free to leave any helpful comments or critiques!

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


Working Title: Mr. Sunshine WIP

I’m incredibly on the fence about this one, but finally decided to put it up. I’m not happy with it, but I have an idea that I think will make me a lot more happy with it, detailed below. As a note, this is likely only part of the story, with a secondary piece to follow at some point soon. But, should I decide the second piece does not actually work, it is also a standalone story, so there’s that. Enjoy!


“Have you ever heard sunshine? I did, once. I heard it in his voice. It’s really hard to explain what sunshine sounds like, but I’ve tried really hard. First, imagine the sound of a bell, and then imagine the most delicate bell you’ve ever heard. Everyone always imagines some really high-pitched sound, but that’s not it at all. It’s more of a baritone sound, but the most delicate baritone bell you can possibly imagine. Then, once you’ve got that, I want you to imagine dozens of those bells, all with slightly different tones. And those bells ring all at once, in perfect harmony. That’s what sunshine sounds like. That’s what he sounds like.”

Josie scratched some notes onto the legal pad in front of her, and looked up at Devon with a smile. “That sounds really beautiful. I was wondering if we could get back to what he said to you.”

Devon smiled and nodded. “Oh yes, he said so many things to me. It was all so beautiful, like the sound of sunshine, and I—there were just so many things,” he concluded, dodging the question yet again.

Josie opted to change her tactic. “So, he had a lot of nice things to say to you.”

The smile disappeared immediately from Devon’s face, his expression turning instantly to one of abject sadness. “I guess they were. But he only told me these things when he showed me terrible things. It was always terrible what I saw and felt, but…” His smile returned, dimmer, as if he was trying to convince himself of the emotion. “But he’s wonderful, you know. He tells me wonderful, terrible things.”

Josie nodded and blinked, her eyes remaining close for one beat extra as she tried to gather her thoughts. “So, on the one hand he sounds wonderful, but on the other, he shows you things that scare you.”

“Exactly,” the smile faded to a pale grin as he relaxed in his chair, seeming content with the apparent paradox. Josie waited, but he provided no further information.

“So, what kinds of things did he tell you? Use his words if you can.”

Devon shuffled in his chair, his eyes skipping across the room without finding anywhere safe to alight. “He said—well, he didn’t really say anything. Or he did, but they’re words I can’t really remember. But they were wonderful, comforting words. Instead, he showed me things, and it felt like he was talking to me with those pictures. He showed me Shelly and Marcie dead. They didn’t have any faces left when he showed me, but they were screaming and I knew it. He showed me the whole world burning and black, empty of everything. There was so much blood in the ashes.” His voice had faded away to a breathless whisper, as his eyes widened like those of a frightened animal. His chest hitched with uneven breaths.

“Remember our breathing exercises,” Josie prompted, demonstrating a few slow breaths in and out. Devon began to calm, and she pressed forward, thankful for the break to gather her thoughts. While she wanted to clarify all these apparent inconsistencies, it seemed fruitless. Instead, she opted to delve into the heart of the matter. “So, did he make you do those things to Shelly and Marcie?”

Josie watched the man in front of her wither, tears building in his eyes as he withdrew into the plush chair. He nodded, a slight squeak of assent sliding through his lips as the tears began to roll in heavy tracks down his cheeks. “He told me to. I had to do what he told me.”

“So you killed them?” He nodded rapidly, as if he could assent quickly and push the memories aside before more tears broke free.

“I didn’t want to,” he gasped, the words running together into one unbroken utterance. “But he’s so wonderful. I had to.”

Josie decided it was time to back off. He had been more than forthright with her, and they had made a great breakthrough. This was the first time he had ever actually identified any of his hallucinations, and it was a breakthrough worth reinforcing. However, it was not worth pushing him any farther, as that could very easily prevent any future progress. “I know you didn’t mean to, Devon. In my time getting to know you, I can see that you are a very kind and caring person. But you are sick, and so we’re here to help you with that. I think today was a great step forward, and can really help us make some plans on how to best help you. How are you doing right now?”

Devon sniffed, his eyes meeting hers again. “You know, I’m doing okay. But it’s hard,” he said, drawing the last word out as his eyes pleaded with her.

“I know. And you have been so willing to go into this and explore with me. These are really difficult things to talk about, but you’ve been willing to dig through all of this hard stuff. How are the groups going?”

That made him smile, even if it was a dim reflection of his prior joy. “They’re great. Everyone is so nice and supportive. I really like those.”

“And your medicine? Any side effects?”

Devon shrugged at that question, his eyes darting around the room. “They’re okay. I mean,” he sniffed again, “they make my thoughts feel all fuzzy. Like I can’t really think straight.”

Josie nodded understandingly. “Well, maybe I can pass along to Dr. Leeson, and he can make some adjustments at your next appointment. Have you heard him since taking the medicine?” There was silence from the other side of the desk, and Josie studied him as he stared pointedly at the worn blue carpet. “Devon?”

“No,” snapped the man, sorrow appearing across his face again. “Does the medicine mean I can never hear him again?”

“Well, we can’t really be sure. We’ve talked about some of the risks of command hallucinations like him,” she began, and noted the way the sorrow began a subtle shift towards anger, “but I think we have to make sure you’re happy with what we’re doing. Do you want to talk to him again?”

Light bloomed behind his eyes. “I just miss the sound of sunshine.”

With that, a loud knock sounded on the door as it squeaked open on ancient hinges. A bespectacled face appeared beneath a mop of dirty blond hair, almost as if she had been waiting for that very moment. “Time for our appointment, Dr. Lewis!”

“Gloria, yes, I’ll be right with you,” she smiled as she made the mental note to discuss boundaries yet again, then turned her attention back to Devon while the door settled back closed. “It sounds like you have some concerns about what you might be giving up here. I think that’s something really important for us to discuss. Do you think we can pick this up next time? If we need, I can ask Gloria to wait a few minutes so we can discuss this today.”

Devon was already out of his chair and moving toward the door, no sign of his prior sorrow, anger, or joy. He looked like a deflated person, walking about empty inside. “No, doc. I’m okay. I mean, you’re right; he’s dangerous. It’s just if you had ever heard him—” He shook his head, cutting off the thought, his hand on the door knob. “Some days, I’m not sure I’ll ever really be happy again. Not after what I did—what he made me do. But I think I’m getting happier, and that’s pretty amazing.” Then he was gone, the door squealing in protest as he flung it open.

His chair remained empty for a brief second before Gloria plopped herself down, smiling from ear to ear. Josie closed the door. “Good afternoon, Gloria. What’s on your mind today?”

__________________________

As usual, Josie was exhausted by the time she made it home. The winter months meant that dark shadows loomed from the front of her house as she walked up the steps. It was days like today, when her feet could barely pull herself up the few steps, that she wondered about changing jobs. She could open a nice private practice, set her own hours, and step away from the daily rush that accompanied an inpatient ward. As tempting as the thought was, she also knew she could never actually leave the challenge and reward her work provided. She would just sleep solidly tonight.

Josie washed her face and changed into sweatpants and a baggy t-shirt. She microwaved her dinner before falling into a too deep chair to binge on mindless television for a few hours before bed. There were some days where she felt like her brain had spent so long gathering and holding information that she could not summon the resources to even follow the plot of inane television shows. But that was okay because she was not responsible for these lives. You’re not responsible for anyone’s life but your own, she reminded herself, but the words bounced off her internal psyche. She knew that was true, but it did not always feel that way, true as it was. But your feelings don’t define reality, chimed her internal counselor, squeezing in one last jab before Josie drowned her out with useless reality TV.

It was hours later—and even darker outside—when the phone jolted Josie awake from the comfy confines of her chair. The television had switched over to drone on about some miracle invention, and she drowsily groped in the dark for the phone. She always forgot to put it back on the charger, and tonight was no different. Finally, she found the switch for her lamp, flooding the room with light. The phone screamed from the coffee table as she picked it up.

“Hello?” Her voice cracked with sleep; what time was it anyway?

“Dr. Lewis? This is Cici.”

The night nurse, her sleepy thoughts provided. The microwave in the kitchen stated that it was 3:46am. An ungodly hour of the night for a work call, but not unheard of. “Hi, Cici. What’s going on?”

“Uh—well.” The woman’s voice cut off as silence hung between them. There was the sound of shuffling papers, Cici cleared her throat, began and stopped a few times, then silence.

“Hello?”

“Sorry, Dr. Lewis. I don’t know how to say this. Devon Jackson died. He killed himself.” She spit the words out swiftly, and they poured out of the phone like water.

“What? He did what? Are you sure?”

There was a heavy period of silence. “Yes. We’re sure. Would you like to come in?”

Josie already had her keys in her hand. “I’m on my way.”

Getting to the office was easy on the empty streets, but there was little for her to do once she arrived. Her first instinct had been to rush to his room, but the door was cordoned off with detectives swarming about. Josie caught one glimpse of Devon before she was shuffled away, but for a moment she was certain his eyes were screaming. Rebuffed and uncertain of how to proceed, she gathered her case notes, pouring over them as if she missed some clue to his intentions. But it wasn’t there, no matter how hard she tried to see the signs. How did something like this even happen? He was on suicide watch—had been since he got there two weeks before. Did the overnight staff forget to check on him?

It didn’t take long for the gruesome details to leak out. Night staff had conducted their fifteen minute check, just like they were supposed to. One round he was sleeping soundly, the next he had painted his walls with blood. He had gotten a pen knife from somewhere and used that to carve around every major artery in his arms and legs. He excavated them from the remainder of his body, leaving those pulsing arteries exposed. He had then carefully cut each one. The coroner asserted that there was no way he could have done so much to himself in 15 minutes. They asserted that there was no way he could have stayed alert through all of it period, but the facts were there. The door was locked, the security cameras showed no one else enter or leave the room, and the body was on the floor.

Josie saw the autopsy pictures, heard the coroner’s assert that there was no evidence of antipsychotics in his system—he had been tonguing the pills since he arrived. She poured over her notes, over the reports, over every scrap of information she could find, but there were no answers in there. All she was left with was the image of his face, twisted into a grimace of pain, anger, and terror. And those screaming eyes warning her of blood and ash.

In the weeks that followed, Josie took comfort in the internal voice that sprang up to comfort her. He spoke softly, gently. His voice sounded like soft blankets by a glowing fire, roaring and warm with baritone notes. The voice was wonderful, and she wrapped herself in it as the days went by, though she was never quite sure what things the voice said that comforted her so.

It was a wonderful voice, and Josie felt a brief moment of peace in all the chaos that her life had become. And then the nightmares began.

At first, Josie brushed off the dreams. She was stressed, possibly depressed, and feeling like an absolute failure. Such dreams were not unheard of, she assured herself, even as reality began to steadily intrude into her lies.

In the first one, she stood outside of her quaint little house while flames licked at the frame. It crumpled downward, sparks flying towards her and kissing her skin with fiery lips. As it fell to ashes, she looked out to see everything covered in ash, the finally remnants of civilization smoldering at her feet. There were screams, screams she had at first confused with the groans and screeches of her burning home, but now screams that echoed across an empty wasteland. The wind ripped at her, blowing dust and ash into her eyes until all she could see was death.

In the second, she watched her car drive down her suburban street, speeding along with screaming tires. It struggled around corners, nearly flipping to its side with the force of each turn, but continued driving its familiar route through the little two-level homes. Police sirens blared after her, painting the suburb with fading blues and reds, but none of that could slow her. She watched as her car slammed into an elementary school playground, saw little arms and legs tumbling over her car. Josie woke up in a chill sweat.

In the third one, Josie realized she was not dreaming. She watched as Gloria’s face melted away in session, the face of her skin peeling away to reveal jabbering muscles and tendons. As blood began to fill in the space vacated by skin, her eyes oozed out of her face, dripping onto the desk. The voice told her it was okay, told her wonderful things as it showed her these terrors, as it began to rip Gloria apart from her jaw. Josie gasped as she saw the internal workings of head, throat, chest, and abdomen. The chair and carpet shifted from pale blue to black with the pooling blood. He whispered to her, told her not to respond, promised her wonderful things. His voice was like blankets and fire and comfort, but his visions were Hell.

Devon was right. He was terrible and wonderful. Josie locked the door and picked the scissors from her desk. He was wonderful. She had to.


 So, I think I’m going to bring Crypto into this one. I intended his character to be a one-off, but I’m getting an interesting idea about his role in this particular story that I think could be a lot of fun to write and very interesting. We’ll see how it actually feels on paper, but for now that’s the direction I plan to head with this.

I also wanted to note that I went back and forth with this to make sure I was being truly fair to mental illness. As this note may suggest, I’m not actually attributing any of the events to mental illness in this piece, but that may not be evident. So, if anyone feels that it does not align with my goals as put forward in my discussion on Horror and Mental Illness, please let me know in the comments, because I can always be oblivious to my own mistakes.

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


Working Title: Neighborhood Watch WIP

So, here is something new. I did just narrowly miss my “every two week” window, but it’s been a bit hectic. Getting old things wrapped up and new things started has kept me hopping in the real world, plus a sick day here and there to inhibit the writing process. This is a new piece I rather like, though it is very different in tone for me. Definitely taking a risk with the format of it as well.  However, I find the characters intriguing, and the format fun. I used a few textisms sprinkled in here, but I think it works alright given the email style and the character. I’m not sure on the title, but that’s why it’s a working title. Also, I tried to make the formatting as clean as possible, but if there are any critiques or suggestions regarding that, I’m all ears! Enjoy!


To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Hi Neighbor!                                                            June 4 2014                2:47am

Hello Sophia!

It’s nice to finally talk to you. And no, you did not write this email to yourself. I just needed some way to talk to you that would be inconspicuous. As a note, your tech security could probably use an upgrade; you never know who could be sniffing around for unsecure Wi-fi links. Lucky for you, I was the one to find it! I’ve tightened up the security a bit, and I can send you the deets later, in case you ever need work done on the connection. Consider it a perk of our new friendship. For ease, you can just call me Crypto. Obviously, that’s not my real name—that would be a stupid real name—but if I told you that, well, they’d have to kill me! And is Sophia ok? I’ve always loved the name Sophia. Introductions aside, I hope you don’t mind my little email intrusion. You see, I’ve found that people tend not to have the desired response when they get emails from john.doe@creepyshadoworganization.gov. It tends to get snagged by spam filters or trashed, plus it has the nasty side effect of alerting my bosses.

So, I’m REALLY not supposed to do this, but, Sophia, I just couldn’t let you get ripped limb from limb like the last one. I mean, really, you’re smart, kind, attractive, funny, and caring. You help Ms. Saunders look for her lost dog, send a hefty donation to cancer research centers, and even tip a generous 20% to delivery drivers. We need people like you in this world. So, I’m putting my neck out for you, but it’s for the greater good.

‘So, Crypto,’ I can imagine you saying, ‘is there any point to your ramblings or are you just hitting on me?’ The answer is yes. You’re a clever girl, so I’m sure you catch my drift. There’s a great coffee place you seem to really enjoy, just off Singer and Main. After this is all over, I’ll meet you there. 😉 But, for now, the point is the more important piece. You see, in my job for, well, Creepy Shadow Organization, I am tasked with observing the general living patterns of certain entities. Most of these entities are pretty nasty critters with beady eyes, long claws, sharp teeth, and gobs of fur. Trust me, my poor assistant is tasked with cleaning the enclosures, and those things shed worse than any long-haired house cats that I’ve ever known. And the smell! I’m sure you’ve got that slight whiff of rot, sweat, and feces, so you know what I’m talking about. Some of them are rather smart, however, and in that case I have to make detailed notes about stalking and hunting behaviors. Like a wildlife researcher. One who carries ample ammo, salt, holy water, and diverse religious symbols. It’s really quite a fantastic job. Which brings me here, tapping away on my/your computer behind Dr. Dan’s bushes.

As the scratching and wailing sounds may have alerted you (if the smell didn’t already!), you seem to be the chosen prey of my most recent subject. I call her Stretch McTerror. She’s pretty impressive without any modification, but her exoskeleton is uniquely designed, allowing her to grow incredibly tall at will. Admittedly, this ability also extends to her arms and their dangerous terminus of incredibly sharp claws. Her teeth aren’t so bad, but her breath will totally do you in. I mean, seriously, it’s toxic. We lost about three interns before we figured that out! Totally was missing from our research, but that’s what I love about my job. I’m always learning something new.

Right, so she’s chosen you. And, unfortunately for you, Stretch is also one of our more intelligent subjects. She very much likes to play with her food. I hope this helps clear up the screeching, claw marks on your trees and doors, and mysterious shadow figures in second floor windows. Congratulations, you’re not crazy! You’re just being stalked by a bloodthirsty monster. Who really enjoys skinning and eating prey. She’s a sadistic little critter, but you have to admire her tenacity. No, seriously, she followed her last victim across country when he finally decided his house was haunted. It took me days to clean up his place and make that look like an accident. I had to generate a lot of recent interest in woodworking through his internet history to get someone to buy an accidental table saw/sander death. Plus I had to put the tool purchases on my personal credit card, and the folks in Accounting still haven’t reimbursed me. Maybe I should convince Stretch to visit one of them! LOL!

Anyways, I wouldn’t suggest running. I also wouldn’t call the cops, because we have agreements with them. They’ll just tell you it’s some sort of prank, or maybe raccoons. They may send an officer to check the place out, but they’ll tell you they found nothing. It’s a dead end, I promise. Fortunately, you have someone even better on your side. Me. J

‘Now, Crypto,’ I hear you sigh, ‘what do you expect me to do with this terrifying information, then?’ Well, knowing is half the battle. You should totally know that one, Sophia. As for the other half…I’m working on it. I’ll be in touch once I figure something out, but please remember I’m taking a big risk even alerting you. Noninterference is like Rule 1 of my job. Just, stay safe, okay? And don’t let Stretch’s mind games get to you. Really, the weird things you’re seeing—I’m guessing from my experience blood dripping down the walls, corpses walking around with their skin flayed off, and disembodied eyes in the dark?—are not real. They’re just the first effects of slow exposure to her neurotoxins. Remember the breath thing? The current level is not meant to kill you, just mentally torture you a bit. I’d suggest opening a window, but she’d probably just crawl inside. Instead, just remember they’re not real.

Well, I’ll be in touch. Don’t worry, I know where to find you. Just write back if you have any questions!

Interferingly Yours,
Crypto

PS: Oh, and by the way, you can stop looking for Ms. Saunders’s dog. Seriously, you don’t want to find what’s left of it.

 ______________________________________

To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 4 2014                10:19am

Is this some kind of joke? Is this Mike? If it is, we’re not getting back together. Are you the one who’s been stalking me and harassing me at home? Are you drugging me?!? Well, listen, “Crypto,” it’s not okay. And you know what? I’m calling the police now. I’ll show them your email, and then they’ll track you down. Creep.

  ______________________________________

To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 4 2014                1:56pm

Ok, how did you do that? This email wasn’t here when the police got here, and now it’s back. I’ve even tried forwarding it to them, but it won’t send. Did you download some kind of virus onto my computer? You’re sick, dude. Get some help. By the way, I have a gun, so if you or “Stretch” tries anything, you can leave my place in a body bag.

   ______________________________________

To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 5 2014                4:22am

Sophia,

I told you the cops would not be helpful. I admire your courage and assertiveness, but it seems a bit misplaced. I’m not Mike, and personally, I think you’re better off without that oaf.. I’m just a friend here to help, but I can definitely understand the confusion. I was livid when I met my first entity. Ripped my girlfriend clean in half in the middle of a lovely camping weekend, but after meeting Dragon following my initiation (I didn’t name this one; I’m much more creative), I realized he was just looking for dinner. He’s no more evil than, say, an alligator or bear. Oh, and regarding the gun, if you could please avoid shooting at Stretch, I’d appreciate it. She’s not ready for live fire drills yet (though with her remarkable exoskeleton—shiny, isn’t it?—I think she’s going to pass with flying colors!). That’s why we generally start these in suburbs—fewer carry permits.

Unfortunately, I don’t have much to provide in the way of solution. I’m doing my best research, but no one has ever really figured out how to slow Stretch down. I mean, without killing her, of course, and she’s too valuable to waste. We just need to find some way to throw her off your trail and onto someone else’s. Personally, I’d love to figure out how to send her off to follow Mr. Connelly down the street from you. I mean, there are weird tastes, and then there are criminal ones, if you catch my drift. For now, though, keep doing what you’re doing. Stay alert, keep your doors and windows locked, and try to avoid any demonic or supernatural paraphernalia the best you can. We do know that sage acts as an appetite stimulant for darling Stretch, so you probably should avoid that one specifically. I’ll keep you updated!

Just observin’,
Crypto

   ______________________________________

To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 5 2014                9:05am

Were you in my house last night? I heard someone, and this morning I woke up to find some sort of…knives?…in all my pictures. And the smells gotten worse. And last night, I got up, and there was someone staring at me through my bedroom window. On the second floor! The screeching sound has gotten worse, and I keep seeing a man who walks around my house, covered in blood, while he rips off his own skin. Are you doing this? If so, please stop. I don’t know you, but please stop.

If not, can you help me?

  ______________________________________

To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 5 2014                11:38pm

Sophia!

I’m glad you’re coming around. This will be much easier if we’re on the same page. Of course I haven’t been wandering around your house in the middle of the night. Nor am I in the habit of ripping off my skin. That’s gross. If I were in your home at any point, I would face sharp censure from my superiors for interfering in our little test. Hence my need for secrecy.

Regarding the “knives,” I do have to say, that took even me by surprise. I guess we were not as comprehensive in our pre-observations of Stretch as I had hoped. And again, it really does not appear in the literature. Then again, with a record like Stretch’s—well, her ancestor’s—there aren’t often many people left to detail her secrets. Her ability to shoot spines like there, and her precision! Truly remarkable.

I am happy to say that my research into the spines has provided some insight into a possible mechanism to dissuade Stretch. You see, Stretch and her kind were common in a rural part of Northern Italy long, long ago. It seems that locals would plant rosemary bushes around the property to protect the occupants from the eyes of the “Climbing Witches.” Being such an old text, I’m not sure if we’re talking about the same creature or if it was even effective, but it’s an interesting thought. I mean, rosemary has been associated with repelling witches in the past, so perhaps it will be helpful. It’s also historically associated with love. How long ago did you and Mike break up, if you don’t mind my asking? For research purposes, of course. It may help us identify how Stretch selects her victims.

However, I’m still not certain on the rosemary angle. It can’t hurt to pick some up from the grocery on your next trip out. And make sure to buy it fresh, not dried. It’s better for our entity purposes, as well as cooking, which is a wonderful positive of this experiment. Even if it doesn’t work, the rosemary is great with pork and chicken. I can send you some recipes later. Better yet, how about I’ll cook you up something savory after this is all said and done? To be clear, though, I wouldn’t get too hopeful, as the mortality rate in that town is still suspiciously high. I mean, not high enough to suggest wall-to-wall Stretches, but still higher than I’m comfortable with. The upside of this is that I can likely convince Corporate to send me on an investigative trip to Italy. You are, of course, invited. Assuming we can figure out how to keep Stretch from killing you.

So, start with the rosemary and I’ll keep researching.

Your Bookworm,
Crypto

   ______________________________________

To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 6 2014                12:15pm

I bought the rosemary. Now what? I can see her, Crypto. I saw her last night at like 4am when I finally stopped trying to sleep. She was tall, but all crumpled down behind a tree in my backyard. And you’re right, she shines in the moonlight. You did not warn me about her eyes, though. Those eyes are worse than any I’ve seen in her hallucinations. All dark and knowing. I could see my soul in them, see it ripped apart. Why didn’t you warn me about her eyes?!

I don’t see her now, though. Am I safe during the day? Please let me know what to do!

Sophia

   ______________________________________

To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 7 2014                12:34am

Lovely Sophia,

Regarding your questions, first I think Stretch is mostly nocturnal, but as you’re seen, these sort of things can be…surprising. Second, I did not know about the eyes. Professional wisdom suggests you NEVER make eye contact with one of the entities. A lot of them can be hypnotic—so lucky you! I appreciate your honesty about what you saw. It seems to me as if Stretch uses her eyes as an extension of her psychological torture routine. Quite interesting, really. I may enlist some interns to determine if there is any variability in this behavior (in a controlled environment, of course).

As for the rosemary, I think I have some answers. Now, I’m not sure how avid a chef you are, but you will need some authentic sea salt, a mortar and pestle, and Italian olive oil. Again, don’t settle for any cheap knock off stuff. This needs to be the real deal. I would pick things up for you and drop them off, but, you know, the whole secrecy deal. Sorry I can’t be more helpful. I really don’t want to lose my job, as termination tends to be rather traumatic in my line of work.

Once you have all of these things, toss the rosemary, oil, and salt into the mortar and pestle, grinding it until it’s all a consistent…goopiness? I don’t really think there’s a good term for it, but make it all mixed together real well. Then, smear it along all your window sills and door frames. Even the ones in your attic. Trust me, the real spooky stuff doesn’t live in attics, but rather your backyard. Next, put a little on yourself. Just a bit behind you ears, elbows, wrists, and knees should be enough. The smell should be enough to convince Stretch to move on. Hopefully. I’m pretty sure it’s not a sage scenario. Let me know when you’re done, and I’ll let you know where she is!

With hope and curiosity,
Crypto

   ______________________________________

To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 7 2014                8:27am

I did it, Crypto. I got everything, just like you asked, mixed it, and smeared it everywhere. I smell like a cheap pizza parlor, but I did it. If this is some kind of sick joke, I hope you are enjoying yourself. Is she gone? I know it’s day, but can you see her?

Sophia

   ______________________________________

To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 7 2014                9:31pm

I haven’t heard her again. Normally she’s begun scraping my windows and siding by now, if not growling. But it’s been quiet. And I haven’t seen any weird things all day, well, one or two floating eyes, but those have even gotten better. It still smells, though. I can just smell it over the rosemary and olive oil. Please let me know.

Sophia

   ______________________________________

To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 9 2014                2:08am

My Partner in Crime,

Sorry for the radio silence, but I wanted to be sure before giving you any false hope. It seems Stretch is not a fan of the new air fresheners you’ve deployed. She’s moved on down the road and, with a little help from some strategically placed sage, has found a new favorite house on the block. My only advice would be to avoid Mr. Connelly for the next couple of days, and don’t read the subsequent newspaper story. Trust me, you’re better off not knowing.

So, how about that coffee now?

Your knight in shining armor,
Crypto


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


Working Title: Interest Free for Ten Years WIP

First draft of something new. Another in the vein of “be careful what you wish for.” I keep writing things with young narrator perspectives, and I’m not sure that’s a strong suit for me. Additionally, this one still feels a bit rough around the edges. I definitely think the pacing of the last half is off, but  I’m not sure how to fix it without turning this into something just ridiculously long. It’s definitely a rough draft, but one I hope to get spruced up. I think it needs to sit a bit, and maybe revisiting it after I’ve gotten a bit of distance will do me some good. I’m not quite the fan of this one like I was for Pheromones, but not everything will always be your favorite! Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy, and let me know any thoughts or suggestions!


Lena knew her dad had been different. It hadn’t been a sudden shift, but at the same time it was a drastic change—drastic in those subtle ways that only a child would notice in her father. He still took good care of her, made sure she always had a well-balanced breakfast, healthy lunch, and hot dinner. She had nice clothes, fun toys, and a room all her own. But he was different. His eyes looked tired and angry so much of the time, and his skin felt hot to the touch when she climbed into his lap at night. The laughing man who had swung her around their stuffy living room was now quiet. Attentive, but distracted. And he left now every night, just after he tucked her into bed. His goodnight routine had shifted from a lengthy ceremony with stories, prayers, and tickling games to a perfunctory kiss on the forehead and distracted “Sleep tight.” Then the hallway light would switch off—though he knew it made her scared to have only the dim nightlight in her room—the front door would creak open, close, and then she would hear his keys scratch against the lock.

The little girl assumed it was because she was, as he had portentously informed her on her last—her tenth—birthday, a big girl now. Maybe big girls did not get told fanciful stories or fight wars with the tickle monster. Certainly big girls did not need hallway lights on. But Lena couldn’t help but feel that, even as big as she was, she still needed a daddy at home while she slept.

He was always home when she woke up. Sometimes he looked even more tired. Sometimes he came home with cuts and bruises. She saw it, but it did not make sense in her young eyes. Why was her daddy coming home with a bloodied lip and jagged tear through his shirt? Why did he sometimes stuff his clothes into thick black garbage bags and tuck those into his trunk? Why did he not sing or smile when he made her breakfast anymore? And why oh why did she sometimes wake to hear thumping steps and something sliding down the attic stairs?

It all began about a year ago, a few weeks after her birthday. She had been tucked tightly into bed when suddenly the sound of whispered voices snuck beneath her door. She could hear her daddy talking to someone, whispering furiously to some other person. The other laughed, deep and bellowing. Lena hated the way that laugh sounded, all deep and echoing. There was no happiness in it, but something cruel instead. Her father’s voice grew a little louder, speaking more quickly. From beneath the laughter, she heard a sharp thud as her father’s voice stopped. Lena hid beneath her covers, terrified to hear the sound of footsteps approaching her room. There was some more talking, a voice she did not recognize giving sharp, barking statements. It was all almost too quiet to hear, but enough to keep her ears straining. Eventually, her ten year old eyes could not remain awake, especially as no footsteps inched nearer. In the morning, her father was in the kitchen and buttering two pieces of toast, just like always. And so Lena assumed the last night was nothing but a bad dream.

After a year of a new daddy standing in front of her day after day, tonight was the same as all the others. The sullen man pulled a steaming, if somewhat bland, meatloaf from the oven. He heaved a portion onto her plate, joined it with a pile of mushy steamed broccoli, and filled her glass with milk. Silently, he sat and ate while she shared about her day at school, her upcoming tests, and those mean things that Lucy Neal said during recess today. Her father just smiled distractedly, nodding at the right places. After dinner, Lena settled in to watch some TV until 8:45 sharp. Her father leaned into the living room.

“Get ready for bed,” he intoned, a hint of irritation already in his voice. Lena wanted to argue, to put up a fuss, but the memory of the last time she tried still hung heavy in the evening air. Her dad had yelled so much, his face all red. His eyes, for once, did not look tired. But they looked oh so angry and that left her scared. Yes, her daddy had changed quite a lot over the last year.

Once she was tucked into bed, she saw, for an instant, a flash of her dad in those eyes as his face hovered over her forehead. She felt her dad in his lips as he gently kissed her forehead, but then he was gone and the tired man was back. Yet seeing that glimpse of her dad made her feel nostalgic—made her feel brave.

“Will you tell me a story, dad?” The man in the doorway paused, sighing heavily.

“No. Go to sleep. I have things to do.”

“Please?” There was that bravery, that childish desire to curl up with her father and listen to him regale her with some fanciful tale.

“I said no!” There was the angry man, and Lena felt herself shrinking into her covers as she began to sob.

“I’m sorry, daddy. I just—just,” she hiccupped with her tears.

“Let me guess,” he began, mocking her, “you just wanted a story?”

Lena nodded, trying to wipe away her tears before he got any angrier.

“Well, here’s a story for you, so sit back and listen. Once upon a time, there was a man. Now, this man wanted nothing in this world more than to have a family. Unfortunately, this man was an idiot who was completely incapable of finding a woman willing to put up with him long enough to incubate a little spawn, so he began to look for other options.

“Adoption wouldn’t work, as he was mostly broke and a single man. And his poor finances also meant he probably couldn’t buy a baby. Plus, the coward didn’t have the stomach to just go out and get one on his own, like any good desperate kidnapper would. The poor man eventually found some friends who could give him just what he wanted, for a price.”

Lena did not like this story. She was crying even harder, trying not to look in the angry eyes glaring at her from her father’s face. Try as she might, the covers could not hide her from those burning eyes.

“So, this stupid man agreed to pay the price so that he could get his bouncing bundle of joy. Within a month, a baby girl was waiting on his doorstep, paperwork included. And the man began to forget all about his little deal, chalking his good fortune up to a miracle.” The man moved and sat beside Lena on the bed. He softly grabbed her face, brushing the tears from her cheeks and the hair from her face. “Now, Lena, let me tell you something very important. When I—When we make a deal, we make it good. We aren’t about halfassing our work, or any of that tricky wish deal folks are always on about. Hell, we even give folks ten years, interest free, 0% APR. Better than any crook car salesman or furniture dealer. But, when that ten years is up, we do expect our payment. I mean, between you and me, that only seems fair. But our stupid little man in this story, he just never thought about how he’d handle it when time to pay came up.

“So, his free years flew past, and we came to collect. Now, you may have heard about selling your soul to the devil, Lena. Maybe you’re too young for that, but it’s a good time to learn. When you sell your soul, you see, you have to sign it over in blood. Someone else’s, specifically. Because we can’t just take souls all willy-nilly—that would be crazy!” The man wearing her father’s face laughed, madness in his angry eyes. “We need them damned, and so you have to make good on your promise. But your daddy, oh, he refused. He said he had a little girl to take care of. Of course! We gave you to him! He tried to go back on our deal, as if us holding up our end of the bargain somehow meant he shouldn’t keep his. But you can’t get out of our deals.”

Lena was frightened, because she suddenly understood those hushed voices from long ago. She understood why the happy man had disappeared and left her with this tired and angry one. And with understanding came fear.

“So, we took what we needed from him. If we can’t have his soul, we can at least have his life. Only thing, he was smart in the details he laid out. You had to have a healthy childhood. So, lucky me, I get stuck with babysitter duty for a snotty brat who wants me to braid her hair, play catch, and tell her sappy bedtime stories. As you’ve probably noticed, that’s not really my,” he waved his hands in the air, searching for the right word “thing. Instead, Lena dear, how about we make a deal?”

She sniffled, looking at him from over the covers. “Are you going to kill me?” He laughed again, but this time it was the same deep and echoing laugh she remembered from months ago.

“Of course not! That would be against the terms of our agreement. And we always honor our bargains, even if your daddy dearest was not so reasonable. I’m just suggesting a partnership. I give you everything you need to have a happy and healthy childhood, you let me do what I need. And shut up about the stupid stories and monsters under the bed. I’m the only monster to really be scared of.” He smiled, jagged teeth peering from behind her father’s pearly whites. “Think you can do that for me?”

Lena nodded numbly, unsure of what was happening. The man wearing her father tousled her hair affectionately. “See, I knew we could work it out. So, you have a good night’s sleep. I’ll see you in the morning, sunshine,” he singsonged on his way out the door.

For the next few weeks, there were no thundering steps up into the attic. No dragging later in the night. In the mornings, her daddy was standing there, fresh as ever with two slices of buttered toast and a glass of orange juice.

One morning, he was smiling a startlingly wide smile.”Morning, Lena. Breakfast is ready. Oh, and I have some business this afternoon—like we discussed?—so I won’t be here when the bus gets home. I’ll leave some dinner in the fridge.”

After getting off the bus to an empty house, Lena heated up the chunky mush from the tupperware. She watched TV all alone, much like she did most nights, she reasoned. Finally, Lena put herself to bed, far too young to do so. She locked the front door carefully, turned out the lights, and pulled the covers up to her chin. It was hard to fall asleep in the oh-so-empty house, but eventually her eyes drifted closed, and she dreamt of laughing faces and human masks.

It was late when the front door thundered open. Her clock read 2:46 as she listened to thumping steps move towards the attic. Lena was curious to a fault, and struggling against the fear that her daddy was really some sort of monster. Seeing that there was nothing going on would prove that all of this had been some strange nightmare, some misunderstanding and stretch of confusion. She opened her door just a crack, just enough to see her father dragging something heavy behind him. The attic stairs slid down, and he moved to drag his cargo up the stairs. Lena saw an empty-eyed face looking back at her from the long package. Stifling a scream, she dove back towards her bed.

A few hours later, the same heavy footsteps pounded back down the stairs. Through the still open sliver of her doorway, she could see the creature in her father’s skin carrying down more lumpy bags. He stomped out to his car, then back in for another bag. Lena shook, squeezing her eyes tight as her heart thundered even more than those pounding footsteps.

The next day, there were cops on her front porch. While she had felt shaky and scared on the phone, Lena knew what she had to do. There was a twinge of guilt as she gave her home address and her daddy’s name to the calm woman on the other end of the line, but she steeled her resolve to get rid of the monster living in her home. It did not take them long to find the evidence, especially with their eleven year old guide happily opening the door and pointing out the creaky attic. The bloodstains and remains up there were enough to convict him a thousand times over. Lena felt scared as they led the man away, but sure that she had made the right choice.

Only, as he left, he bent down next to her to speak for just a moment. She trembled slightly, and the police officers moved quickly to pull him back, but he had just enough time. “I suppose this means the deal is off, Lena dear.” And then he smiled. With that crooked smile, Lena saw her daddy’s eyes once again, sorrowful and scared, just as the police car door slammed shut. And she was not so sure she had made the right choice after all.

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


Pheromones

UPDATE: So, I made some edits here. Mostly little things, but I think they are improvements. I also have a more PG version (i.e., no nudity) because I am considering submission to a site later, and I’m not sure it’s 100% required. This is still the unedited version, in that sense at least. If I do decide to submit that one, I may post the edited version here pending acceptance. Thanks for reading!

So, I’ve had this idea rolling around for a while, and finally got a chance to put it on paper (or, you know, Word Doc). It is, as usual, a preliminary draft, but even after reading over it once or twice, I’m pretty happy with it. There are a few rough patches I’m unhappy with, but I’m not really sure any good way to fix them. And, to be honest, they may not be as irritating to other people. Heck, I probably won’t mind them in a day or two. Enjoy!


Martin looked somberly into the murky gold of his lukewarm scotch. He hated these kinds of functions. Not only was he not particularly good at large crowds, dancing, loud music, and general social interaction, but it only became all the more painful when you combined a room full of people with his same weaknesses and demanded that they play the roles. It was a professional conference, he bemoaned, but he was the only person with the seeming self-awareness to feel abject discomfort at the whole evening’s proceedings. He slumped glumly in the stiff reception chair, his body depending on the unsteady table to keep him upright and appearing engaged. The white table, stained with leftover dinner crumbs and a spilt half glass of red wine, had been empty for what felt like an eternity as his dinner companions—strangers in nice suits and dresses who prattled on as if they were 25 again—had given themselves over to the open bar and dance floor.

He glanced at his watch. Surely after two hours of such nonsense his dues were paid well enough to warrant sneaking back to his room for some sleep and relaxation. Others might jest that he was a stick in the mud for retiring so early, but he would not make a fool of himself as his colleagues were so wont to do.

Gathering his tired dinner jacket and room key, Martin froze. From across the room, he spotted a gorgeous woman slicing through the crowd. There was something predatory in the way she walked. An utter lack of self-consciousness as she strode through the flailing bodies in the crowd. There was a look in her eyes, evident from half a room away, which showed she knew she stood on a level above all those around her. She had the look of a sated wolf prowling amongst unguarded sheep, utterly disinterested in their bleating. She was tall, impossibly slender, with ivory skin wrapped under tight carmine satin. Her hair flowed in sheets of shining black as empty as the moonless sky, waving with disdain as she cut her own path through the writhing masses around her. Almost instinctively, the way parted for her, bringing her directly to Martin’s table.

With indelible grace, she swept a glass of red wine from a passing waiter, holding the delicate glass in her soft fingers. She smiled, pearly white teeth flashing between plump red lips. Her eyes were brilliant green, reflecting Martin’s dumbfounded gaze right back at him.

“Annalise,” she breathed. For a moment, Martin was unsure what to do. All he knew were that those syllables were the most heavenly sounds he had ever heard. He would endure pain, torture, war, strife, poverty, illness, and any worldly ill if only those three sounds would replay again and again. To have those lips speak such beauty!

She smiled again and his mouth snapped shut from its gape. “M-Martin,” he stammered as he collected himself. How dirty those letters sounded on his tongue!

She reached out a slender hand to touch his arm. “So nice to finally meet you.” Martin felt his heart begin to thunder. She knew of him? She wanted to meet him? What crazy fever dream had he slipped into? “I won’t keep you, as it seems you are leaving, but I just couldn’t miss the chance—”

“No, no. Not leaving,” he interjected, eagerly grabbing his chair and planting himself into it. “Just was, uh, getting a better view of things, you know.” She laughed and Martin prayed his ears would ring with that delightful sound for the rest of his life. He would go deaf to the world if only to hear her laugh.

“Then may I join you?” she asked, somewhat hesitantly, betraying the assured confidence Martin had seen so clearly moments ago. He could not imagine having such an effect on a woman, especially not one like her. Martin sat up a little straighter in his seat; keeping his dignity tonight might actually pay off for once, he mused. She must like a serious, intellectual man. Well, by God, she had found her man then.

“Where are you from, Annalise?” He was so smooth, he congratulated himself. Those words flowed like butter.

“Please, I didn’t come all the way over here to talk about me, Martin! Tell me about you,” she purred, her hand falling gently on his forearm as she moved closer. As close as he was, he felt himself absolutely adrift in her marvelous scent. She smelled of sweet flowers opened brightly to the summer sun, and Martin was content to collapse into the field.

So talk he did. Martin regaled her with stories of his groundbreaking work as she eyed him with pure wonder. He shared about his glowing academic career, the awards and showcases that had chosen to honor him and his work in his brief career. He spoke in heartfelt about his calling to the field, the passion and the reward he felt from doing such work. She played her role well, smiling at the right parts, laughing at his clumsy jokes and sighing in awe of his humble victories. Martin felt his chest swell with pride as he prattled on about his meager life, finding his own ego reflected and doubled in her searching green eyes.

Martin likely would have bombasted his way until dawn did the DJ not eventually play the final song while convention center staff ushered out his inebriated coworkers. Martin felt himself fumble in his stride as they were urged to leave. In a final rash of bravery and self-assuredness, he scribbled his room number on the back of the little plastic card, thrusting it into her hands.

“For you,” he smiled. So smooth, such poise he applauded.

“Is this an invitation?” She asked, her eyes flashing with hunger. Martin knew he was good, but he had no idea he was this good.

“Of course it is. Wouldn’t let a specimen like you get too far away, now would I?” He toggled his eyebrows and watched as she blushed, giggled, then hid her eyes. Oh yeah, he certainly had it in him.

—————————

Back in his room, Martin suddenly felt exhausted, drained, and worn out. It was almost like the bad hangovers he remembered dimly from his college days. His muscles ached, head felt foggy and bruised, and his face hurt from the ridiculously grand smile he had kept plastered for most of the night.

Light was just seeping through the thin hotel curtains as he collapsed into bed. He needed to be up in a few hours to catch his flight home. He had a wakeup call scheduled since the day he arrived, so surely that would rouse him. But, for now, Martin knew he needed to sleep. So he did, and through his dreams he danced with the beautiful Annalise, first on the dance floor, and then far more passionately in his bed.

As he swam reluctantly towards consciousness, he was initially struck by how dark it had become. A storm must have rolled in, his subconscious suggested, enticing him back towards sleep with slender arms and vivid green eyes. No, he reasoned, it was the wrong kind of dark. And with a start he felt that familiar sinking of waking up well past the alarm. Martin vaulted awake in the bed, snatching at the bedside clock as if he could catch it in time to roll back the hours. No, it was too late, and the numbers dimly stated that it was 6:53pm. Only seven hours too late to catch that plane. Plus he missed checkout, meaning another night’s charge on his already dwindling debit card.

Sighing and tousling his thinning brown hair, Martin stomped towards the bathroom. He never overslept like that. Perhaps he had drunk more than he thought last night. Even now, his recollection of the evening was hazy, and he was beginning to feel quite certain that he had imagined his beautiful woman.

Steam began to fill the cramped bathroom as Martin began a checklist. He needed to call the front desk and apologize, then make sure he was booked for the night. Next, call the airline and see if they could exchange his ticket. He also needed to call David, apologize again for no-showing—

There was a sound from the bedroom. Martin froze, straining his ears to pick up any note beyond the hiss of the showerhead. Yes, there was definitely the sound of someone moving about, subtle yet enough to break the still of the empty room. He reached for the bathrobe hanging on the door and peered out into the entryway. It was dark and shadowed, but he did not immediately see anyone. His hand slipped along the wall, finally catching on the light switch and flooding the room with dingy yellow light. Nothing.

Feeling mostly foolish but still remnants of brave, Martin stepped out of the bathroom and into the main living room, only to have his mouth come unhinged in shock. There, lying across his unmade bed, was Annalise, still wearing that tight red dress. She smiled, holding up the key.

“I was afraid I’d missed you.” The smell of flowers was strong in the room, making Martin feel brave and passionate all over again.

“Not like I’d skip town on a girl like you,” he growled, moving closer to the bed. She smiled at him coyly, sliding off the bed to stand away from him. Slowly, her hand moved to the knot of red at her waist, undoing the ribbon that tied her dress together. Slender fingers pulled apart the thin red strands, then carefully pulled away the dress. Martin was in awe, staring dumbstruck again at the naked ivory body before him.

She was around the bed and kissing him in a heartbeat, so fast Martin felt himself wondering if she had ever been so revealed in the first place. The thought faded swiftly, however, as he swam in the warmth of her limbs around him, the taste of her soft lips, and the scent of her lithe body. In that moment, all he knew was that his lips and hers were dancing together now, their tongues meddling somewhere in between. She pushed him back on the bed, her lips following his steady descent down to the stiff hotel bed. Martin’s heart was a metronome in his chest, trying to keep pace with his flying thoughts. He pulled her close, kissing every inch of that beautifully pearly skin that he could. She laughed and smiled as she playfully pinned his hands down on the bed.

“You know, Martin, there is something delicious about a body excited.” Her tongue snaked its way into his mouth, those brilliant red lips melding with his for a brief moment. “And our bodies tend to act the same for attraction and fear,” she whispered, coming up for breath. Every word she spoke sent waves of excitement across Martin’s body, just to feel the gentle ebb and flow of her breath across his skin.

“Me, personally,” she smiled, leaning to kiss along his neck, “I prefer the taste of attraction.” She ended this with a soft nip at his earlobe. Martin felt a slight stir of discomfort at her choice of phrasing, but brushed it off. Just a turn of phrase, he reminded himself, finding himself again drowning in her green eyes and the soft scent of sunlit flowers.

“And I’m terribly hungry after such a long wait. I hope you don’t mind.” Martin’s face twisted into horror as a new face replaced Annalise in front of him. Where there had been a young, slender, and beautifully pale body that made his heart pound until it threatened to rupture, now there was an old, withered, and gray thing seated atop him.  The skin beneath his fingers was dry and brittle, feeling like rough tissue against his hands. Her rich red lips disappeared into a haggard face, her mouth nothing but an ugly scab stretching into a smile. The smile broke, revealing two sets of impossibly sharp fangs seat amongst shattered teeth. Martin no longer smelled the flowers, only rot and decay. She laughed, a horrible wet sound, and then bent her lips to his neck. Martin screamed.

“You’re going to be delicious.” And with that, she unceremoniously ripped into his throat. Blood blossomed on the cheap white sheets as the scent of copper mingled with her own scent of putrescence.  Her tongue lapped up the thick, dark blood as she tore into his skin, reveling in the sensation of life flooding her malnourished system. It only took a few moments for him to quit fighting, and then she was able to enjoy her dinner in peace, pausing only briefly to shut his eyes once the struggle had ceased. She never liked it when her dinner watched.

After a brief time, the woman stood from the bed, collecting her dress from the floor. She carefully slipped her arms into it, tying it tightly against what was sure to be a briskly cold night. The sated creature paused to glance in the mirror and then lifted a corner of the sheets to brush away a smear of blood on her ivory cheek. Predatory green eyes smiled at her from the mirror as she left the room, the scent of flowers following in her wake.


PS: Totally my answer to “sparkly” vampires instead of scary. Hope you enjoyed!

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

 


Summer Project WIP: 11:59 Revised

So, I have decided on a summer project focused on revitalizing and old “Dusty Tome.” By way of introduction, I want to give you history on this piece. The story was originally titled 11:59 and began mostly as a single image inspired by my frequent sleep difficulties: the import of the minute switch between 11:59 and 12:00 in those sleepless hours. I started with a single chapter in July 2003 (when I was 13) and no clear picture of where it was going, but it developed into my first full-fledged story, with chapters, a beginning, middle, and end. In April 2004, I declared it complete.

When I review it today, I see my own immaturity in it, but it still is a story near and dear to my heart. After reflecting on it, I think I would like to revisit some of the concepts and characters, but provide a richer mythos behind the events, as well as a more mature voice to what happens. Currently, I am considering a similar plot, but with a lot more depth and complications. I actually have a plan for it this time! I will likely mimic the chapter splits from the original, but not precisely as my pacing will likely be slower and more deliberate with some things removed altogether, which would result in ridiculously long sections and incredibly brief ones. For example, my revised first chapter will begin well before the original first, and it will take me a couple of scenes to get to the original Prologue ending. So, instead of including the original text here, as I generally do with Dusty Tome rewrites, I will instead provide a link to the full story on Fictionpress. Just, please don’t judge me for the other stuff on there. I was pretty young. Additionally, as always, this is Draft 1, so do consider it all a work in progress.

11:59


Chapter 1

Cassie learned at a very young age not to tell others about her Mirror Monster. It is surprising how quickly even children realize what is taboo and what will be ignored. She could clearly remember being just past her fourth birthday when she yet again screamed in response to the monster in her room. Her father came in, bleary-eyed and trying to hide his annoyance while she cowered under the covers.

“Cas, what is it? Why’d you scream?” His voice was mumbled, as if his lips and tongue had not yet awoken well enough to speak. It was a fitting complement to the child-speak response.

“The Mirror Monster was here! He was in my room again!”

Like all the nights before, her father walked over and tapped on the glass. He waved his hands around, mocking his reflection. He even did the due diligence of checking behind the frame. Finally, he lifted a white sheet from the floor and covered the mirror. “No one there, sweetie. Just a mirror. Now go to sleep. You’re old enough now to be a big girl and stop all this monster nonsense.” There was no anger in voice, just frustrated resignation. “I’m going back to sleep. No one is here, and no one can come through your mirror. Sleep.” With those final words of comfort, he drifted out of the room, a sleepy specter stumbling down the hall.

Cassie kept the blankets pulled to her chin, just peeking over at the tall mirror standing sentinel in the corner. For a while, there was nothing. It was just an oval of white painted in sharp contrast to the darkness. And then Cassie saw it move, as she knew she would. The sheet drifted to the floor again, pooling there with its protective power abandoned. A pale, clawed hand groped out of the undulating surface. Moments behind the hand was a grotesque face. It was bone pale, with skin that sagged and dropped as if it was melting off the very frame beneath it. The mouth was an ugly scar ripped across the wrinkled face, ringed by row after row of terrifyingly sharp teeth. The thing hissed, stepping fully out of the mirror as if sliding from a pool. Its long legs bent to high as it tried to stand in the room, twisted shoulder slicing along the white ceiling. It smiled, displaying all those many teeth. With its smile, Cassie caught the whiff of rotting food and decay. She covered her nose with her blankets, her large eyes swimming in fear. She somehow felt that it grew more and more fearsome with every visit.

Cassie knew that screaming again would do no good. She had tried before, but eventually all she would get was a yell from down the hallway to go to sleep. While it took her years, she eventually understood that it wasn’t that her parents did not care, but that they did not realize monsters existed. They had forgotten, and saw her cries as a child unwilling to accept reality, even after ample logic and proof had been provided. Continuing to rush to the rescue would only provide attention to fuel the aberrant behavior; they were locked in a pained but resigned contract to ignore her cries. After all, they always stopped after a while.

As she had every night for as long as she could remember, Cassie cowered under the covers, lifting them finally over her head as the creatures inhuman weight pushed down the corner of her bed. She held the sheets tight as ragged claws scraped around her. She hummed to herself, doing all she could to drown out its hissing laugh. She tried to sleep, and finally drifted away as the heavy presence disappeared just as the birds began to chirp outside.

The next day in her preschool class, she learned yet again that no one was allowed to talk about their Monster. She was in the playground, playing in the dirt with an assortment of other children. The night before left her shaken and afraid, wondering how anyone was expected to cope with such a literal monster waiting at the foot of her bed. So, Cassie turned to the only resource she knew, and asked her peers.

“Katie, do you have a monster in your mirror?” The question was innocent, but laced with implicit terror.

Katie’s eyes were wide, reflecting a fear Cassie knew all too well, but was too young to fully recognize. “No,” stated the other emphatically. “My daddy says monsters aren’t real.”

“That’s what mine says, but he’s still there.”

“You’re a liar. I’m going to tell Mrs. Davis,” sung Steven, hopping up from the dirt. AT this age, every infraction was a terrible misstep, and the balance between tattling and concern was blurred by a desperate desire to win the praise from a teacher. When he returned, it was with a stern looking Mrs. Davis in tow. Cassie felt her confidence shrinking under those watchful grey eyes. Maybe everyone was right and there were no monsters; then how could she explain her sleepless night?

“Cassie, can you come with me?”

The tall, skinny woman held out a bony hand, beckoning Cassie forward. Unsure now of the greater feel, Cassie obediently rose and followed her teacher back into the classroom. Mrs. Davis waved to one of the aides, shuffling her outside, and then pulled a chair over to sit across from Cassie at the desk.

“Steven says you were talking about monsters, Cassie?” Cassie nodded, beginning to fear the certain punishment. “Sounds like something must really be scaring you. Do you want to tell me about it?”

Her shock dissipating, Cassie began to hurry through the words, spilling her secret terror. It felt good just to put the words out there, to limit her monster to those words she used to describe it. Her teacher followed along, nodding, a cloud of confusion drifting across her face as she pursed her lips. Mrs. Davis was silent a moment after Cassie finished. Then she gave her an understanding nod.

“That is pretty scary. Just as I thought. Listen, I’ve had lots of students with monster troubles, so I’ve got some advice. I’m going to send a note home with you to your parents, and then I’d like you to draw a picture for your monster. A lot of times, monsters are just friends who aren’t very good at saying hello. So, if you draw a picture, maybe we can get him to play nicer. I can even help you write him a note!”

Mrs. Davis smiled, and collected crayons and paper for the little girl. Kids were always bringing in some new boogeyman, and she had learned years ago that strict denial did nothing but fuel the flames. Instead, she borrowed from her own experience with nightmares and helped them reframe the situations. Even children were capable of writing different endings to their nightmares, and those nasty monster dreams faded away.

Cassie drew a simple picture: two stick figures, one small with brown pigtails and the other larger, hulking, and grey. They stood beside a little house and tree, a bright sun smiling on them with assorted flowers at their feet. She made sure to put smiles on both their faces. Cassie even managed the courage to draw the two of them holding hands. It was terrifying, but suddenly her monster seemed so much smaller. He was just a friend who didn’t know how to say hello.

“Dear Mirror Monster,” she began, Mrs. Davis carefully transcribing her words above the drawing, “You are not being a very good friend. Please stop scaring me. If you stop, we can play with my toys together. Hissing is not nice. We say hello to be nice. Love, Cassie.” The final letters written, Mrs. Davis carefully tucked the note into her backpack, after clipping one of her telltale apple pages to the front with swirly writing for her parents.

Recess ended. Class went on, and Steven kept making mean faces at Cassie during the lesson, but she was beaming. She was going to get rid of her monster and make a new friend.

As soon as school ended, Cassie rushed to her place on the sidewalk and waited for her mom’s big silver car to drive up. She was bursting to give her the note and explain her day. She was barely in the car and buckled in before she was digging through her bag and waving around her drawing with the apple note. While she had always been scared when she brought home a note from the teacher, today she was bursting.

Her mother shushed her, trying to focus on the drive home. After arriving, getting Cassie unloaded and working on a project at the table, her mother glanced over the note. She sighed. This monster thing was incredibly out of hand, something which Mrs. Davis seemed to at least understand. The note also mentioned that such a thing was normal, and the teacher had experience in righting such problems. Jenny sighed, and picked up the phone to her husband. Anything to stop the nightmares. She woke up at least once a month, creaming her head off, and it meant at least one mostly sleepless night for both her and Mark as they tried to calm her down. Despite what parenting books suggested, ignoring it was not working.

That night, as they tucked Cassie into bed, they presented her with a new stuffed toy. It was a simple brown bear (the cheapest he could find, said John), with a toy sword taped to one paw. Jenny had even taken the time to cut out a little chestplate and tie it around the bear’s neck, turning him into a determined little soldier.  If the Mirror Monster would not stop being mean, then Chester, the courageous bear as named by Cassie, would keep her safe. The set the note and the bear beside the mirror, and prayed for a sleep filled night.

For a couple of weeks, everything was silent. Of course, Cassie was not surprised. It was always quite for a short time after his visit. Always just long enough that she thought maybe he was gone. But then, one night when the moon was full and bright outside, spilling silver light into her room, the mirror moved. From the shadows stepped her Mirror Monster, looking even scarier than before. His teeth seemed sharper, his eyes deeper and darker. But, this time, he paused at the little bear and stick figure drawing. He lifted the paper delicately in clawed hands, taking a moment for his large eyes to sweep across Mrs. Davis’ clear script. He picked the bear up, cradling it in his too long arms, and walked toward the bed. The Mirror Monster walked straight towards Cassie, though this time without his hissing laugh. His eyes, almost sad, thought Cassie, looked at her, and studied her. Then, with great effort, his mangled lips opened, spilling out its foul odor and astounding Cassie with an endless picture of teeth. She was terrified, certain that those massive jaws would soon swipe down and crush her, but instead, it placed the bear snuggly beside her pillow and spoke.

“Hello.”


PS: This week has been relatively productive, so I also have a new Zeru portion in progress. And some other ideas rolling around, so hopefully some of those come to completion this next as well. 🙂

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