Welcome to the Attic!

Posts tagged “new

Card Challenge: Day 53

Card Day 53: A single die with a devilish figure growing legs and emerging from the pips on the surface.

Natalie felt the heft of the die in her hand. It was small, cold, and surprisingly heavy in her hand. Despite being a single small die, it felt like she was holding a crushing weight. Perhaps it was simply the import of the question.

He cleared his throat, obviously annoyed by her prolonged silence. “So, are you the gambling sort?” he asked again, raising his eyebrow provocatively.

She looked down at the die, feeling surprisingly as if the pips were eyes staring eagerly up at her. They were so dark on the dingy white background, and the sensation chilled her. “I’m not,” she whispered, still not meeting his eyes. At her response, he stood up straight, shrugging his shoulders.

“Oh well, I tried.” His hand, long and slender with crisply manicured nails, reached towards hers, moving to pinch the die from her hand.

Reflexively, her fingers closed over it and held tight even as the edges bit into her hand. “No, I’m not the type, but I have to try.” Her yes met his and she was struck by the lack of humanity in them. They were dark blue, the pupils large and endless pits spiraling back into his skull. There was no life or light in those eyes, instead they seemed to suck the brightness of the hospital room into him, leaving everything feeling dim. As if she had forgotten to take her sunglasses off when she came in. It took her several breaths before she realized that his lips were smiling even as his empty eyes drilled into her.

“You’ll take my wager?”

He looked too pleased with this turn of events, and she thought back to every story she had ever heard. These kinds of deals never went the way you wanted, and there was always a hidden catch. But Natalie felt that she had no choice. She was back against the proverbial wall, and she would cling to the only way out she had, even if that meant dancing with the Devil himself. Behind her, she heard the sounds of the respirator churning, the heart monitor keeping a steady tempo. It all seemed to be counting down the seconds remaining in the offer. She could see him beginning to grow weary with the waiting, almost ready to withdraw the offer from a hesitant buyer.

“I’ll take it. We play and, if I win, no one dies tonight or anytime soon.” She had tried to be very clear in her wording, but even now she wondered if she had left too many loopholes. How soon was soon? Who was included in the “no one” discussion? What if no one died, but everyone spent the remainder of “soon” in a coma? She gnawed on her bottom lip apprehensively as she replayed the discussion. It had all seemed to clear before, but now there only seemed to be holes.

He placed his hand on her arm, the skin dry and radiating an unhealthy heat. “I may not be an honest man, but I’ll make sure you get what you deserve. You win, I’ll make sure you and your family live a nice healthy life together. I win, and no one intercedes. This story unfolds like it should, only I get a little piece of you once your time is up.”

“You will save her, right? If I win, I mean.” There was desperation dripping from her words and she clasped his hand. Obvious discomfort stretched across his face at the touch of her hand. Behind her, the machines keeping her daughter alive continued their steady symphony, unobtrusively metering each measure of her too-young life.

He simply nodded, withdrawing his hand from her and taking a couple steps back, as if the distance between them had suddenly become too intimate. “Do you want to know the rules?” he asked condescendingly. She could see he was growing tired of the mortal game, and she began to fear she might lose him. Still, playing without rules would not win her anything.

“Yes.”

He nodded curtly, pulling another ivory-toned die from his pocket. Its pips were just as dark and deep, reminding her suddenly of the pupils of his eyes. Maybe that’s why she thought they were looking up at her. “You’ll go first and roll your die,” he gestured at her still clenched fist, and she suddenly became aware of the sharp pain, releasing it suddenly. “After that, make a bid—higher than your number—that you think will be the total on both our dice after I roll. Then I roll. If our two dice add up to the bid, I win. If I roll lower than your number but go over the bid, you win. If I roll higher than you and go over, it’s a draw and I roll first next time. The game is over when we roll the same number or if we roll lower than the bid six times. Winner of the most rounds wins. Got it?”

She nodded her head slowly, the different rules and permutations floating around her. Natalie was suddenly aware that, cognitively, she was in no shape to make such decisions. It was hard to even follow his words. Somehow she suspected that would not void her agreement.

“Good,” he purred, moving towards the counter in the corner of the room. “You’re up.”

Her hand was shaking so much, she felt she did not even have to put much effort into juggling the single die. It fell from her hand, clattering across the table. Four eyes loomed up at her in the increasingly dim light of the hospital room.

“Tough one,” he sighed, not a hint of compassion or sympathy in his voice. “Bid it.”

“Seven?” she bid questioningly. He smiled a crooked grin and made a grand show of shaking the lone die with both hands. She watched as it tumbled to the table, three tiny beads facing up.

“Beginner’s luck,” he grinned as he scooped his die from the table, obviously pleased with his performance. She shook her head, trying to hold onto all the rules and decide if there were a better way, Should she have bid higher? Lower? Was it really just luck? Was he cheating? Her fingers numbly gathered the die to her, suddenly terrified of releasing it. What if they matched this round? It would all be over.

“Take too long and we’ll have to call it,” he said with a pleased smile, gesturing at the large clock on the wall. The die plummeted from her hand, bouncing a couple of times before settling.

A six. “Seven,” she bid, and he looked irritated.

“I suppose the luck may be turning. Not much chance for me here,” he growled. Hi roll produced an unfortunate three, and she saw disgust ripple over his otherwise calm features. “All tied up now, I suppose.”

The traded rounds, their scores racking up steadily. The game remained close to her partner’s obviously swelling irritation. They swapped the first player position as well, and she quickly realized that she stood little chance of winning against him if he set the bid. His years of experience quickly became obvious when he had the power. There was a hunger as he played, a revelry in the competition. Yet a darker demon took over every time his lead slipped, and she watched rage boiling below the surface. Natalie began to fear that it might just boil over, scalding her as collateral.

Her eyes were tired and the game was long. They sat at nine games to seven in his favor, and his pleasure at the events was clear. Fatigue wearing on her, Natalie tossed the die again. Another four. “Five,” she answered, slightly more confidently. A four gave her a good chance he would be under her number, good enough that she needn’t risk not meeting the bid to prevent another point for him. Still, only a two or three would give her the point. A one went to him, a four ended the game, and five or six gave him the lead, a results she feared she would not come back from. Fortunately, it was a two that landed on the table. Nine to eight.

She rolled again, she bid again, he rolled again, and they were tied. She felt thunder rolling in her chest as the importance of the situation settled on her shoulders. This was an important roll. She could pull ahead, possibly win. With prayers on her lips to figures she had never really considered before that moment, she released the die. One.

He chuckled. “Tough break. At least you’ll have another chance to win it back.”

“Three,” she stated despairingly.

His die tumbled over the faux wood surface rattling and grinding its way to a rest. She watched the numbers flash as it bounced, her heart sagging as she knew none of them held the answer. A single, solitary eye gazed up at her from the table. He appeared miffed.

“Well, that was an anticlimactic end,” he grumbled. “I suppose the deal is off. Best of luck, and you will never see me again.”

Natalie’s heart bounded into her throat as she saw her daughter, tiny and pale, rapped in the hospital sheets. “Please! One last roll. Winner takes all.”

His lips twisted into a smile, and she realized that she had played right into his trap. “If you insist. Of course, since I am agreeing to your wager now, it is only fair that I take the lead roll.” The five landed on the table, and he smirked. “Last roll, right? Winner takes all? Let’s go with a bid of six, then.”

She gulped, her hand shaking. She knew that the most likely outcome was she rolled a two, three, or four and bust the bid while still being a lower number. Five would not help her, only put her in the same predicament. And a six was just as useless in this sudden death round. With a wish and a prayer, she tossed the die onto the table. She could not watch it dance and spin, seeming to take an eternity spinning on its edges before it finally came to rest.

One.


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


Card Challenge: Day 49

Card Day 49: A giant eating a city.

Ryan woke up hungry, just like he had every midnight for the past four days. He stumbled wearily from bed, his feet dragging the cluttered wood floors of the apartment toward the kitchen. He had lived in the place long enough to navigate the treacherous span of hallway, living room, and kitchen with ease, leaving lights off to avoid waking his light sleeping roommate. Once he arrive, Ryan bathed the kitchen in the cold light of the refrigerator, searching desperately among the bare shelves. Behind a jar of pickle juice—someone had neglected to buy more—he found a hidden container of Chinese takeout. Led by his ravenous, primitive hunger, he ate the meal straight from the cardboard container by the light of the fridge.

_

He woke up late in the morning, a brief spark of panic flooding him before he remembered it was Saturday. He had not missed his alarm, it had just never been set. Rolling over in the warmth of his bed, he listened to the sound of his roommate opening and closing cabinets in the kitchen. As if on cue, his stomach growled menacingly, assuring he would have no peace lying lazily in bed to while away the day. Tugging on a pair of shorts of indeterminate age and cleanliness from his bedroom floor, he meandered out.

“Did you eat my food?” snapped Garret in greeting.

Ryan grumbled his apology, “Maybe. I was hungry last night.”

“Really? Geez, dude, you’ve eaten everything in the house.” The obviously irritated man slammed the refrigerator door shut with as much force as possible, rewarded only with the unsatisfying “snick” of the seal catching.

Ryan grabbed a bag of croutons from the pantry, shaking them quickly before turning them up into his mouth. “Not everything,” he said around the mouthful of bread.

“I guess it wasn’t everything, but it sure is now.” Garret gestured at the empty fridge and the bare pantry. “Are you going to start munching on the baking soda next?”

“Sorry, Garret,” responded Ryan, casting his ashamed eyes down on towards the ground. “I just—I think something may be wrong. I’ve been starving the past few days.” He gave a halfhearted shake of the empty bag, hoping to find some crumb.

“What, you gotta tapeworm or something?” asked the unsympathetic Garret as he snatched his keys off the counter. “Well, maybe you should get that checked out. I’m going to Jumbo Burger.” This time, the door resounded with a far more satisfying slam.

Ryan tossed the bag into the garbage can, feeling that same gnawing hunger. Maybe it was a parasite or something. All he knew was that, Since Tuesday, he had not felt full once. He had eaten hamburgers, salads, ice cream, canned vegetables, boxed dinners, frozen dinners, and a hearty helping of chocolate, but that bought him mere moments of satiation. Looking into the depths of the overflowing trash can and gaping emptiness of the cupboards, he felt a sense of shame and dread. He scheduled a doctor’s appointment for that day, and made sure to leave with enough time to pick up a couple burgers and fries on his way.

_

Arriving home after the appointment, he only felt more frustrated. They had taken blood, checked his vitals, and congratulated him on losing twelve pounds since the last visit. As he told the story about his unending hunger, his doctor looked at him with an empty smile and asked if he had felt stressed recently. Ryan was certain that, even after hearing his stomach roaring in the appointment and producing the $35 receipt from his midafternoon lunch purchase, the doctor did not truly believe how dire this situation was.

He set the groceries on the table, unloading two bags worth of chips, popcorn, bread, and as many calorie-dense food as he could gather on his dwindling budget. He hoped that some of the tests would come back and solve this problem before he literally ate himself out of rent. Garret wandered into the kitchen, eyeing the groceries.

“Sorry about your food. Have whatever you want,” mumbled Ryan in a peace offering. Without speaking, Garret ripped open on of the bags of chips before disappearing back into the living room. The loading music of the latest smash hit game blared from the room, and Ryan grabbed the bag of chocolate candies, stuffing them into his mouth as he tried to fill the endless pit.

He remembered hearing that black holes grew larger and more powerful the more matter they consumed. He began to wonder, mostly in an attempt to stay upbeat about the situation, if he did not have a black hole steadily growing in the pit of his stomach. Then again, he had no proper education in astronomy, so there was no telling.

His afternoon was spend scouring the internet for any relevant information, becoming more convinced that he did, in fact, have some kind of parasite, and eating through the copious groceries he had bought. Night settled heavily on the apartment, eventually silencing the sounds of gameplay from the living room. Ryan heard the floor creak as Garret made his way to his room, and finally pulled his acing eyes from the screen. All the research he did provided no cures, or at least none until he received the report back from the doctor. He could feel the pit in his stomach growing once again. Knowing that there was nothing left for him from his afternoon foraging, Ryan took a couple of hefty shots of whiskey from the communal bottle—the only thing that seemed to have absolutely no effect on his overwhelming hunger—and let the alcohol soothe him to sleep over the protests of his stomach.

Only, this time, he awoke already buried in the fridge. His hands were ice cold, and he saw the torn open bags of frozen vegetables lying on the floor. His mouth was gritty with the raw peas and carrots, and something else. In shock, he realized that the steaks they had frozen for a summer barbecue—once it finally got warm enough—were also missing. Their packages lay beneath the vegetable bags, confirming his suspicions.

Ryan rushed to the bathroom just in time to throw up the amazing amount of food he had devoured. Hunger roared back to life, even more painful than before. He felt every muscle in his body was aching with the hunger, and his stomach knotted over itself, end over end. Sitting on the cold tile floor of the bathroom, he shook with terror and weakness, feeling every fiber of strength in his being rallying to bolster his hunger. The growls of his stomach echoed through the tiny room, haunting him with their commands.

Ryan leaned his head against the toilet and wept. He was quick to flush before his body took over and devoured the expulsion in desperation. Eventually, he felt his vision narrowing, growing dim around the edges. This was it, he despaired. Somehow, he was starving to death despite having eaten as much as he could cram into his mouth. The cool porcelain of the toilet pressed against his forehead as the white tiles faded to black.

_

Ryan woke in his bed, feeling surprisingly refreshed. As he looked at the clock and saw it was mid-afternoon, the alertness made more sense. The memories of the night before felt like a nightmare in the bright sunshine of the afternoon, and he dared to hope that was the case. He threw his legs over the side of the bed, delivered from the impossible hunger. Silence filled the apartment, so quiet he could hear the clock ticking softly on his desk. Garret must still be asleep, he thought, and decided to make a gesture of apology. He would refresh the groceries in the house—real food, this time—and perhaps pick up a lock for the fridge.

Stepping into the hallway, he could see the carnage from the night before still in the kitchen. The freezer door stood open, but at least it was empty, Ryan thought grimly. Packaging laid over the floor, a despicable reminder of his curse. At least whatever it was seemed to have finally remitted. Throwing up must have helped. He wandered in there, his feet padding softly on the wood floor, and cleaned up what remained of his mess. Now, shower and then the grocery store.

He was nervous entering the bathroom, the site of his breakdown the night before. But those thoughts vanished as he caught sight of himself in the mirror. Blood on his face, on his chest. Blood caked in his hair, staining his teeth. He felt frozen terror settling in his limbs, forcing him to stand and stare at his horrifying appearance. What had happened?

Feeling certain he was still in a nightmare, Ryan slowly exited the bathroom, still staring into his own eyes as if that monster would leap from the mirror and devour him. Once outside, he slowly turned to look towards the other door in the apartment, hanging slightly ajar. Garret’s room lay on the other side, silent. With a trembling hand, Ryan pushed the door open.

Garret was inside, his eyes wide in fear and pain. There was so much blood, so many chunks of missing flesh with uneven teeth marks running up and down his body. Looking at the mangled body, Ryan felt a disturbing mix of disgust and desire.

He savored the taste of blood on his lips, quashing the revulsion with the sheer pleasure of finally being sated.


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


Card Challenge: Day 46

Card Day 46: A collection of theater masks showing all different emotions.

Put on your mask; don’t let them see you sweat, rehearsed Lily to herself, carefully arranging her face into the mask of friendly interest and moderate warmth. Inside, the battle of anxiety roared on, waves crashing against the roughhewn rocks walls of her defenses, threatening to overwhelm her. But on the outside, she was polished and calm, a delicate smile hovering in the curve of her lips. Her eyes might have been screaming, but in a fast-paced, microwave minute and Facebook isolation world, no one was likely to notice if her disguise was incomplete.

She flexed her hands beneath the table, curling and uncurling her fingers in what was proving a fruitless attempt to generate some blood flow and rid them of their clammy feel. Her face remained carved with attention and friendliness as her date—the fourth one tonight, with three more lining the tables to her right—rattled on about his most recent hobby.

Distracted form the conversation, she almost missed his joke, barely giving her time to swap out masks and put on her “good-humored, chuckling” face. Fortunately, she caught the first sign of a smile on his lips and made the swap, mirroring his own soft smile. This had been such a bad idea.

The bell on the other side of the room dinged, its chime echoing. One more swap into the “pleased to meet you, but no promises” mask and she had a brief moment of respite. Chairs squeaked across the floor, the men walked nervously and awkwardly along the plotted course, and eventually some new face was sitting at her table.

Watching him extend an eager hand in greeting, she felt as if she were a creature on display. She did not see that momentary pause she was sure others saw in her face. No, his expressions skipped fluidly from introduction, to interested, to laughing—she had not thought her response would be quite so funny—and back to serious. Her self-consciousness peaked, but she dutifully kept her head high and her lips in an appropriate half smile, not willing to break the façade.

Didn’t everyone have their repertoire of masks? Lily felt her mind wandering, pulled along the train of thought. Was she really so weird? Did it come so easily to everyone else, and she was merely missing some vital piece that made the masks something more? It was as if he had read the script beforehand, and knew exactly how to play his role. In contrast, Lily realized she always felt like the surprised, underprepared understudy, diligently studying those around her and floundering through her most important roles. Of course, such a life of improvisation had left her practiced at the art, and she knew she could fool most people. Only, here, in this setting, she was surrounded by people flawlessly playing the right social game, completely unaware of the impossible talent they possessed.

Lost in thoughts, Lily realized she had missed some vital cue. The man across the table—Steve, his name tag said—was giving her a slightly bewildered look, obviously waiting for some response. She was supposed to be embarrassed now, and she quickly rearranged her face, bringing up a hand to cover her eyes that would never match. Transition complete, she set her fingers delicately on the table.

“I’m so sorry. I was distracted—“ by how human you are, her mind completed—“by how incredibly well-spoken you are. I was just thinking, I wish I could speak—“live—“like you.”

He chuckled good-naturedly, his eyes looking proud and humble all at once. That was a mix she had never quite pinned down, so she opted for abject humility whenever such complexity was called for. Her cheeks were beginning to ache with the constant smile.

The bell again, her savior. She stole the brief moment she had, letting herself fall inward and just relax. There was no one watching for the briefest of moments, and she could just be, without the social mask the world required. This was such a terrible idea, she reiterated, wondering why she ever let her friend talk her into it.

Another man, but this time something aught her attention. She nearly missed it, slipping into her “pleased to meet you, likewise” mask, but she was so familiar that it could not go undetected. She saw him put on his own mask, “the pleasure is mine,” covering his face as he spoke the words.

As she pulled her interested and aloof face on over her old one, she watched as he slipped into his engaged and passionate one, telling her all about his current business venture. It was not the mask that caught her eye, but that brief pause in between where she could see him.

He asked about her work, and she watched his intensely interested face flicker into life while she swapped to the humorous work cliché look. She watched as she spoke and his mask fell fr an instant, only to reappear with a slightly brighter smile. As she asked a question, she jumped at the opportunity.

“Stop,” she whispered, just as his mask fell but before it could be replaced. Her eyes were dancing, her lips curled in the most authentic smile she had ever felt. “You’re like me.”

He observed her for a moment, his face empty of all the socially dictated expressions for this occasion. This was not, he seemed to recognize, a socially dictated exchange. His eyes lit up as well. “I always wondered if people could tell.”

“I don’t think they can,” with a conspiratorial head nod towards the other tables, “but I know what to look for.”

“So, why’d you end up in a place like this? Torture, right?”

Lily was shocked by the giggle that leapt from her lips, even if her mask did not match. Her face was stuck on intently interested while her mind was dancing through joy and discovery. “Parents, guilt trip, you know.”

“And eventually us kids have to give in, put on a good show.” She nodded sharply once. “Wanna go? I know a great place without all of,” he jerked his head sharply to the side, “them.”

It was completely unacceptable to get up and leave in the middle of speed dating, certainly against some rules somewhere. But being with him, Lily felt herself empowered. She could thrust aside the shackles of modern social convention, be who she wanted, and do what felt right to her. He seemed to have no such concerns, whisking his jacket from the coatrack and leading her out the door.

“So,” she took a too-long pause to look at his nametag, “Evan, where is this place?”

“Hop in my car and I’ll drive us there. It’s got great atmosphere, private, no people to bother us. You can really get to know me.” He made no effort to hide the pride and arrogance in this, no cover of false modesty. Lily studied him and realized she understood everything about him, because he made no attempt to hide it. She knew it was against all the rules to get in the car with a strange man after meeting him for ten minutes, but she also knew that the world’s rules had never made sense to her. She slid into the passenger’s seat, squeaking across the leather seats.

He started the car and began to drive along the city streets, speeding in and out of the round pools of streetlight. They sat in silence, faces blank and empty. There was no room for masks between them; they were merely humans.

He finally stopped just beside a dreary looking tunneled walkway. Someone who was better at independently reading cues would have felt their hair rising, a gut feeling of dread and bad choices settling in. Lily, however, did not. She was thrilled to have found someone just like her, tired of the shackles of acceptable social life, ready to embrace the freedom of truly being human with another human. She stepped out of the car without hesitation.

“See, I told you we would be free,” he said, as if he could read her thoughts. “It’s just through there, one of my favorite spots. I’ll catch up,” he pointed to the trunk and Lily nodded.

“Through the tunnel?” she asked, her voice flat. He smiled, slipping into a reassuring mask—she felt for him, because it certainly was hard to let those habits die. Without another word, she turned on her heal and began an even-paced marched through the tunnel.

The sound of his steps accelerating behind her was somewhat surprising, but less so than the feeling of a thin cord around her throat. Her face burst into an expression of shock and terror, perhaps one of the most authentic expressions she had ever worn. She had no tie to consider the appropriate mask—was there one for such an event?—but merely clawed at his hands.

Her fight was short lived, and she hit the ground with a muffled thud. Evan looked down at her, wiping his hands. It was not quite how he had expected the night to go, but she had been far easier to woo than many of the others. His cold, empty mask finally gave way, revealing a hint of anger, fury, and pleasure all mingled together on his face.

He did not like being truly seen, and Even said a silent thanks that she had been too foolish to dig any deeper. She might not have liked what she saw.


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


Card Challenge: Day 45

Card Day 45: A snake shaped thermometer sits on a barren landscape under a moonlit sky. The red liquid leaks out of the thermometer and onto the ground.

 Vernon was groggy as he woke up, his eyes stinging with sand and his face raw from his unconventional pillow on the hard ground. He pushed himself to his feet, taking a deep swig from the canteen on his side in an attempt to wash the dry, musty taste from his mouth. It was unsuccessful, and he grimaced at the foul taste of his own tongue.

The sun was low on the horizon, already baking the ground with waves of heat. It promised to be another hot one. Vernon grumbled as he bent to grab his hat from the ground, slapping it against his leg a couple of ties to rid it of the windblown sand. His cold, grey eyes sufficiently shielded from the staining light of the sun, he surveyed his little camp. He stomped along the hard ground, sand skittering around his imposing steps, and quickly gathered the last of his meager belongings, tossing them into his knapsack.

By his judgment, he had another day, maybe day and a half before he reached Fortune Falls. It would be a long, exhausting day in the heat, and he was aware that his supplies were beginning to dwindle. But it was nothing he could not handle and, frankly, he had been in far worse situations. As he took his first begrudging steps for the day, he remembered the time back a couple years ago he had been caught up North in the midst of a blizzard with a hunting jacket and a hole in his shoe. The doctor—when he had finally gotten to him—was amazed that he had not lost a few digits to frostbite. But Vernon still had his ten fingers and ten toes, and he curled them quickly in appreciation. Yes, the heat and sun of the desert was unpleasant, but passable.

The “road” into town, if you could even call it that, was little more than a set of wheel tracks in the dust. It wove around a few large rocks and cacti, leaving a meandering shadow of a trail all the way to the horizon. A couple of wagons had passed him the day before, but Vernon waved them off. They did not trust him and he did not trust them; it was better to avoid the unhappy partnership and expectation of payment for the service. He might have been cheap, but that had served him well in his life. Old as he was, Vernon was not interested in changing any time soon.

Four days of travel, but he felt sure his journey was nearing an end. He went to wipe the sweat from his brow, a reflexive response to the searing heat of the sun, but there was nothing left to clean away. He chuckled at his instinctive response, and took pride in his evident adaptation to the incredible heat of the past days.

A slight pain re-emerged in his head, a spike of pain that arced across his skull. Must be the bright light, he surmised, squeezing his eyes shut and moving forward. Hopefully it would go away once he got to the inn at town, taking a chance to relax and get out of the sun. He was not about to let a minor inconvenience annoy him.

Shifting his bag from side to side, he thought of the few provisions left, trying to decide if breakfast was warranted for his walk. As he considered the limited rations and his own current nausea, it seemed unwise. Later in the day, once he had woken up and gotten prepared for the day, he could have some lunch. Save up the extra for a nice dinner should he have one more night of camping in the sticky desert.

The path before him seemed to swim, and Vernon found himself pausing to look at the dancing trail. Up ahead of him as a mirage of shifting sands, the trail wandering and doubling back on itself. His brain felt fuzzy, his mind distant and not able to put all the pieces together. The early morning sun glared down at him, baking his exposed arms. His hands shook as he paused and took a sip from his canteen, hoping to calm his nerves and sight.

Looking up, nothing had improved. Instead, he imagined he saw a bandit waiting, watching him. If he had been clear of mind, he might have recognized instead the waving arms of the cactus, but in the moment he was certain the scoundrel was lining up his shot. Panicking, Vernon dove for cover among the nearby rocks.

His breathing was rapid, his heart was thundering, and his head was pounding in time. Vernon contemplated his next move carefully. While it was risky, the best option was to dessert the desert path, try to circumvent the ne’er-do-well. He crawled carefully along the ground, keeping in mind the meager directions he knew to get to his desired destination. Fortune Valley was in between two mesas, one of which he was pretty sure he could see on the horizon. A river ran behind the town, so he would have gone too far if he hit that.

Crawling along the ground, he watched for the man to move or see him, but he stood stalwart, watching the path. Vernon considered turning back to warn any approaching travelers, but ultimately decided that was their responsibility. He had a mission, and he needed to reach Victory Falls before night.

Once he was certain he had skirted far enough from the shadowy figure waiting, Vernon took to his feet and began his measured walk again. With all the force of concentration he could muster, he placed one foot in front of the other, trying to figure out why they seemed to be dragging and scuffing through the sand. His feet felt heavy, uncoordinated. But he pressed on, pushing himself forward.

“Howdy,” he heard, a word blown on the wind. Vernon spun around, trying to find the stranger, but there was no one nearby. The sun stared down form overhead, proclaiming noon. But, even in the clear, shadowless light of the day, he could see no fellow traveler.

“Hello?” he asked, his voice cracking like the dry ground around him. No one responded.

Stumbling, he turned back towards the direction he was fairly certain he had been heading. The landscape all looked the same, but he was certain he had been heading toward the bush to his right. As he passed it, he realized that there was not, in fact, a bush of any sort. Still, he knew his landmarks.

The desert land swam beneath his uncertain feet, and Vernon began whispering to himself, discussing the world around him as it passed. Every now and then, he heard a voice speaking to him, random words and phrases. But he never found the source.

“Keep going and I’ll put a bullet between your eyes,” he heard, clear as day. Drawing his pistol, Vernon snapped around, his aim roving wildly to find the aggressive stranger. Again, there was no one in the desert to threaten him. He scanned the horizon closely, trying to find any evidence of life. Nothing.

“You stop following me now, you hear? I got a gun to, and I won’t hesitate to shoot you where you stand!” he yelled, circling slowly to find the fleeing enemy. Still, nothing moved besides the sand over the rocky ground.

“I’ve got him in my sights. Whatcha want me to do, boss?” Another voice picked up, and his search took on a more frenzied turn. The sun was heavy and red on the horizon, casting long shadows, but none of them solidified into humans. Except, wait, was that someone? One of the shadow stretched long, seemed to be sighting him. He had a dead shot on Vernon, and Vernon felt his heart leap into his throat.

With the speed of self-preservation, Vernon took flight. His feet stumbled over one another, tangling and dancing wildly as he fled the impending danger. He thought he heard their yells behind him, the sound of approaching footsteps. Vernon pushed on, driving himself deeper and deeper into the desert. He had hoped to reach Fair Valleys tonight, but that was looking less likely, especially with all the dangerous bandits hiding in the desert.

He was panting heavily, his heart thundering, pain arching up and down his legs with the fury of his flight. Finally after what felt like hours of travel, he felt his legs give way beneath him. The ground jumped up to meet him, and he felt his face scrape along the rocky soil. Vernon scrambled to look behind him, but saw no sign of pursuit. Baffled by their sudden disappearance, Vernon let himself collapse against the ground, trying to regain his breath so he could push on. His vision swam, blurry around the edges. As he lay against the ground, he watched a snake slither into view, eyeing him curiously.

With a snap of its tongue, the snake opened its mouth wide. “You don’t look very good, friend.”

Vernon’s head hit the ground, overwhelmed by the impossibility of the endless desert.


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


Card Challenge: Day 40

Card Day 40: A boy stands inside a glass dome, the world inside the dome a sunny scene with a house in the background. Outside the dome is a snowy world. Imagine an inverted snow globe.

Kevin pressed his face up against the glass, seeing the first flakes of snow falling for the season. He sighed, leaning against the cool glass as if he could somehow pass through it and catch the tiny flakes on his tongue. Alas, the window remained an impassable boundary, cutting him off from the wonders of the world outside.

He drifted through the empty house, aimless and tired of the same faded wallpaper, crushed carpet, and creaky wooden steps. What he would not give to get out and feel the cool wind on his cheek, the sun on his back, the tingle of snow against his skin. The breeze from the air conditioner, warmth of the stove, and icy residue of the freezer were no suitable substitute, despite his best efforts. He sighed, begrudgingly bearing his burden. Such was the life of a deceased spirit unable to pass on.

Kevin made his way to the attic. He had always wondered, growing up, why attics tended to be such a magnet for ghosts and ghouls in movies, books, and campfire stories. Having lived the life himself for almost ten years now, he finally understood. Everyone stored their interesting things in the attic or basement. After spending a couple of months following behind the current residents, watching the world move by past his window, Kevin felt his boredom grow. It was not until he found a box of old comics and books in the basement, the unusual medical textbooks in the attic, and a stash of old tapes and a Walkman under the stairs that he found a hobby that did not leave him feeling dejected and alone. Unlike some spirits, he was at least conscientious enough to wear headphones when he listened to his music.

The internet was a remarkable invention even if he could not fully interact with the computer—the screen tended to blink and fade to off whenever he was too close by. The current owners often left the thing running, displaying news, family updates, or short videos. It was something different to pass the time, even if it did little to relieve his boredom for long.

The good thing about living in a haunted house was that people eventually got tired of the weird happenings, flickering lights, occasional bumps and whispers in the night, and sometime oldies blared through speakers that they moved out. A new gaggle of residents would move in, bringing their own bizarre junk for exploration. Kevin imagined that, were he alive, he probably could have earned a couple of degree based on the information he absorbed through boxed up textbooks alone. He had also read numerous dairies, journals, failed novels, children’s books, and salacious wannabe romance novels.

Of course, he always knew what he would do at 7:13pm. No matter where he had been, what he was doing, or what he felt like, he would be magnetically drawn to the second floor landing. He found himself there now, looking out the large bay windows at the accumulating snow. What he wouldn’t give for a sled and an hour outside, he thought wistfully. His legs—or their incorporeal spirit form—began to walk towards the stairs of their own volition. Kevin sighed, awaiting the inevitable.

The sound of a toy car clanking down the stairs echoed in the room, even though there was nothing to create such a racket. Kevin felt himself follow suit, tumbling down the stairs in a disjointed heap of limbs. He stopped against the wall, a lingering dull ache to remind him of the sudden pain and darkness of a broken neck.

His current roommates startled a bit, and he could hear a feminine voice rise at the sudden noise. It was much quieter than the actual event, but still a disruption. For a boy who never really liked to be the center of attention, his unavoidable disturbance was certainly a fate worse than death. The ritual complete, Kevin slowly stood, brushing himself off and stretching out the kinks in his joints from the fall. Recently, his shoulder had been popping out of join in what would have certainly ben a painful situation if he could have felt pain. Instead, it was a inconvenient pop to reset the socket, and then he could return to what he was doing.

Hearing nothing more, his tenants calmed back down, attributing the sound to someone on the street, the heat kicking on somewhere, or the refrigerator cycling. They nestled back down on the couch, him running his hands over her hair as they watched some comedy. He only really knew it was a comedy because of the laugh track. It really did not seem that funny to Kevin, but then again, he had to remember that mortal concerns had little pull over him anymore. Wacky situational comedy had lost its relevance when he took his shortcut from the second floor.

Still, seeing the snow outside awakened a thick feeling of nostalgia. For a long time, actually dying, leaving the mortal coil, had been a distinct fear. He had floated along the halls of his family home, watching his parents grieve and struggle to move on, but ultimately afraid to actually leave the world behind. It was, after all, the only world he knew. Then, he realized that he could still learn and experience some of life, even if it had to be from a distance. More recently, however, he felt a deep fatigue and ennui with the whole situation.

He ached for the feeling of snow, for a scene besides the same inside of the house. Different paint and trappings did little to relieve the sameness of the space.

Feeling adrift in his feelings, Kevin made his way back to the attic. She was, apparently, a veterinarian, and so he was learning a great many things about animal care. It was wonderfully useless knowledge, since he would never have any need to keep an animal alive per se, at least not in his current form. Sometimes he imagined leaping in to save the day, giving some puppy the Heimlich when the owners were out, but generally animals had an instinctive fear of him.

Settling back into the corner he had created, Kevin let the evening slip through his fingers. He found himself gazing sorrowfully out the tiny round window, watching snow pile on the streets, cars, light posts, and tree branches. The moon rose high, nothing but a orb of haze behind a wooly blanket of grey clouds. He lazily turned the pages, studying the diagrams and text. A real lifelong learner, he thought with a sardonic smirk.

His studying was disrupted by the long, pained creak of branches outside the house. The wind had kicked up and paired with the heavy snow and ice, leaving the trees to fight against the constant battering. He could hear the branches groaning beneath the strain.

The wind howled a bit louder, whistling through microscopic cracks he never could find. The branches swayed and kicked, creaking all the more loudly. Try as he might, Kevin was completely unable to focus on his book with the racket.

With a sudden crash, one of the branches finally gave way, crashing down through the roof. It slammed into a pile of boxes, shattering an old mirror that had been in the attic even longer than Kevin. Even though he was in no danger, the sudden noise made him jump.

Then, miracle of miracles, Kevin watched the snow filter in through the gaping hole in the roof. Entranced by the dancing flakes, finally so close, Kevin stumbled towards them. Barely believing, he reached out his hand and felt the tiny flakes land on his skin. They burned with a sharp cold, never quite melting on his hand. The feeling was wondrous, a final touch of the world he had known and left behind. He could hear the wind, feel the snow, see the moon, smell the new fallen snow, and taste fresh winter air.

Content and at peace, Kevin finally left his childhood home, seeking the next step in the grand adventure of death.


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


Card Challenge: Day 37

Card Day 37: Two ants sword fighting on top of a stack of gold coins.

“I can’t do this without you, Matt.”

He sighed, fading beneath the onslaught of her persistent pleading. “Lydia, it’s just crazy. I mean, you can’t actually believe this stuff?”

She smiled and shrugged. “It is crazy. But just imagine if it works. We’d be rich beyond our wildest dreams, free to do what we want. We could finally run off together!”

“I know, it would be great. But, what, we’re going to sell our souls to the devil and then spend our days on our own private island?”

“Nope, no soul selling required. It’s all right here,” she spun the worn leather book towards him, and he saw the spidery nonsense written on the page. He shoved it away.

“You know I don’t read any of that. This is ridiculous, Lyd.”

He looked up to see the whimsy and determination fade from her eyes, shattered by sudden pain. “Don’t you trust me?”

That was the final straw, and Matt finally gave in. “Of course I trust you. I’ll help you do the ritual-thing,” he agreed with a dismissive wave of his hand. “As long as you agree this is crazy stuff.”

Lydia smiled and shrugged, granting him a quick peck on the cheek before darting away to prepare.

_

The little country church, so endearing during the day with its white siding and little bell tower, loomed intimidating and dark under the moonless sky. “Are you sure this is right?” asked Matt, giving the building the side eye.

“Well, you won’t read the manuscript, so you’re just going to have to trust me,” she giggled, tugging at his hand and pulling him into the building. “Now, you have to help me set up.” Suddenly, two stubby white candles were in his arms, their matching counterparts in Lydia’s. “Take those and put them due north and due south. These,” she wiggled the candles in the gloom of the building, “will go on the east and west.”

Matt complied, dutifully carrying the candles to the far north and south of the building. It was unsettling walking down the long rows of empty pews, the eyes of Jesus staring down on him as he trespassed the sacred space. He felt the pressure of dozens of eyes on him, accusing him of his blasphemy and sin. The wrongness of the situation settled on him like a sheet of ice, nearly freezing him in place. Lydia’s whistle brought him back.

“Here,” a white piece of chalk flashed through the air towards him, ultimately landing at his feet with a snap and puff of white. “Use that to draw a line between the two candles, but don’t connect them in the middle,” she warned, bending down to do the same from her candles. Matt picked up the two halves of chalk and carefully followed her instructions.

“We’re making a cross?” he asked, wondering if this witchcraft weren’t possibly more benign than he suspected.

“Not quite. A broken, unfinished cross. So make sure they don’t connect!”

The lines drawn, Lydia met him in the center and pulled a thin metal chain from her bag of supplies. She very carefully laid the chain in a perfect circle, touching each of the four lines from the candles. Next, she set a tall, slender, black candle in the midst of the circle.

“A silver chain, and everything is in place.” She looked back over her work with a giddy smile, clutching her hands together in excitement.  “’When the empty moon hangs twixt heaven and hell, cast your eyes unto the darkness,’” she quoted, almost as if unaware of the words trickling from her lips.

Matt shuffled uncomfortably from side to side, watching her as she spun around the place, wide-eyed with excitement. The sense of unease from before had not relented, but instead grew more intense, as if the shadows were drawing about and suffocating him. Yet she seemed completely unfazed by the heavy danger in the air; if anything, she seemed invigorated by it.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?”

She froze in her place, then turned slowly to face him. Her face smiled widely, but there was an edge of threat to her voice. “I thought you said you would trust me on this, Matt.”

“I do, Lyd, I really do. But doesn’t this just feel…wrong?”

She quickly crossed over to him, warmth radiating from her caring glance. “Oh, I guess it is pretty weir, huh? But, just think, soon we’ll have all the things we ever wanted. We’ll have our dreams.” Carefully, tenderly, she ran her hands along the side of his face, cupping his chin softly. “We’ll have each other.”

Matt sighed heavily and laughed softly. “If it even works. Which it probably won’t. I mean, you did just dig that out of a thrift shop,” he said, nodding his head towards the book lying on the dusty floor next to the northernmost candle.

“Exactly. It’s just a silly little game.” Her smiled widened, and she was beaming with excitement. “Now, you stand in the center while I light the candles. It’s time.”

Matt took up his appointed position in the silver circle, standing just behind the unlit candle. Lydia ran from the western candle around, ending at the northern one where she fell to her knees beside the book. Now, Matt knew from their planning, she would read some words and answer the “questions” that some spirit was supposed to ask. He fully expected her to keep up the charade even when the questions weren’t asked, and then they would giggle and laugh and get some cheap coffee for the drive back home.

However, things did not go as planned. She knelt down, whispering in the silence of the church. And then there was a heavy shadow at her side, red eyes burning out of the darkness. She spoke to it, as if in a trance, eventually slowly raising her arm to point at him. That was too much for him, and he went to run towards her, scoop her into his arms, and bolt from the cursed place, but he looked down to see the silver chain twined about his ankles, suddenly impossibly heavy given its frail appearance. There was cold creeping up his arm, and he saw tendrils of shadow lapping along his wrists.

“Lydia!” he cried, and she turned sorrowful, empty eyes towards him. “What’s happening?”

Her voice was heavy with grief and exaltation, a blend of emotions that left him feeling hollow inside. “I told you I couldn’t do this without you, Matt.”

He screamed as the shadows began tearing away at his skin, every molecule those dark tendrils touching exploding into the immeasurable agony of oblivion. “I thought—I thought we were doing this together!” The silver chains burned at his legs and the shadows licked up his arms and across his torso with ferocious, hungry speed. “I thought you loved me,” he whimpered, the pain forcing him to his knees.

“Oh, Matt, I did love you. I do. This never would have worked if I didn’t,” she said, smiling as if her confession made it all better.

The last thing he heard as the shadows consumed all that was left of his body, leaving nothing but a tattered soul in torment, was her parting consolation. “But, Matt dear, you have to understand. Now, I will be unstoppable. Now, I will be a god.”


Creative Commons License
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.


Creative Commons License
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.


Creative Commons License
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.


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


Card Challenge: Day 29

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

_____

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_____

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


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


Card Challenge: Day 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. 🙂


Creative Commons License
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.


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


Card Challenge: Day 26

Card Day 26: A girl stands atop a stack of books, bent to dive off of them and into an open one below. Standing on the open book is a woman—or fairy—in a ball gown, waiting for the girl to dive.

Lose yourself in a good book, he said. Reading will transport you, he said. Myra would have rolled her eyes if she had not been more focused on evading the screeching, fire-breathing dragon charging relentlessly after her. Every flap of its wings was another wall of air slamming against her back, pushing her forward just enough to evade its jagged claws.

Her sides ached and her lungs burned with the constant pursuit, and she gasped for air with shaky breaths as her feet drove inexhaustibly towards some imagined relief. She had not known there was a sleeping dragon in the middle of the forest; in fact, she did not think a forest was a particularly suitable home for a dragon. However, none of that mattered when the behemoth stretched its wings and took flight, eyeing its next meal with murderous glee.

The gale forces against her back began to abate, and she dared hope that she might be outrunning the predator. She risked a glance behind her to see the great lizard rising slowly into the air, its wings blocking out the sun as if it were a massive thundercloud. Then, its head reared back, thin streams of smoke snaking from the upturned nostrils. Her eyes widened in panic, and she flung herself towards the small outcropping of rocks to her side.

The fire rushed past her, its heat stinging her skin, but fortunately leaving it uncharred. It seemed like innumerable waves of fire crashed around her, lashing against the rocks but ultimately unable to overwhelm them. Myra felt sweat pour from her body in response to the heat, only to have it immediately evaporate. Eventually, it abated, leaving the world feeling icy with its absence. She peeked from her hiding spot in time to see the great creature toddle off into the sunset with its leathery wings and bloated body.

She sank against the rocks, feeling them cold against her irritated skin. It might not have burnt her to a crisp, but the exposure left her nerves feeling raw and weathered. Her lungs filled with gulping breathes of the acrid air, enjoying the sweet relief of oxygen despite the lingering haze that filled each mouthful. She tried not to think about it, or about the ridiculous circumstances that had brought her here.

Once her breathing returned to mostly normal, she stood gingerly on aching legs. She must have run for miles trying to escape, or at least it certainly felt that way to her unaccustomed body. Her feet pounded, and she could see blood tinging her socks from the raw blister that had formed and burst in her haste. Myra groaned and considered dropping back to the ground, letting this world spin on without her in the hopes that it somehow left her behind. But as she saw the sun glistening on the horizon, she found the courage to seek some sort of shelter. If dragons roamed the woods during the day, there was no telling what the night might hold.

A dirt path wound through the countryside towards some rolling hills. She could not see any people or structures nearby, and so set off in a direction, hoping something would appear. “Stupid book,” she muttered as she walked, still no refuge in sight.

She had sat down, begrudgingly, to read the book her teacher had offered her. She did not want to read it, but he had been so good intentioned recommending it that she felt she had to. That, and he had a dreamy smile. Myra could not help but feel a flutter in her heart at the memory of that smile. But, one moment she had been reading, and the next she was asleep. It was the moment after that which baffled her. She had awoken outside, wandered around the woods, stumbled upon a dragon, and fled for her life. If her body did not ache so profoundly, she would have sworn it was a nightmare.

The heat burn on her skin left her chilled as night descended. The stars poked out from the sky, pinpricks of icy light in a navy curtain. She did not recognize a single one, though she also knew she would not have recognized one if it had been outside her bedroom window at home. Stars were just not that interesting to her, though she suddenly wished they had been. Instead, her tired feet dragged her protesting body along the path and through the hills.

Eventually, she spotted a small cave. It was, she was certain, unsafe, but it was the only thing resembling shelter she had found. And she was about to collapse after the long, impossible day. The inside of the cave was dark, unlit by the moon or stars. She felt along the walls, leading herself just into the mouth of it, but strictly attuned to the slightest sounds. There were, after all, probably werewolves in there. Or some other equally unbelievable creature. Finally, her legs gave out, and she fell against the sandy floor. There was silence in the cave, silence in the world.

And then, there was light.

The man holding the light was your traditional wizard; long grey hair, messy grey beard, blue cloak, and gnarled staff. The tip of the staff glowed with a silver light, pouring into the cave from his position at the entrance. Myra shielded her eyes from it and tried to edge back into the dark of the cave, but he gave a shout of recognition.

“Ah! There’s where you wandered off to!” He shuffled over to her, and Myra found a wall against her back.

“Who are you?” she queried warily. Hopefully, not a dragon.

“I have a book for you!” he crowed, holding out a faded leather book. Myra eyed it with disgust.

“I’ve had enough of books,” she grumbled.

“Come now, I think you’ll like this one.” He shoved the book under her nose, so close she could smell the old leather.

“I don’t-“

“Here!” He quickly flipped the book open so that she had to see the first page.

“Myra sat in her room,” it began. She looked up at him, only to see her teacher’s warm eyes smiling back.

“What is this? Some kind of joke?” she asked, anger rising in her voice.

“Read.”

Seeing no give in his argument, she complied.

Myra sat in her room, the book forgotten on her lap as she slumbered.” As she read, she noticed the cave walls began to grow thin around her, giving way to the pale turquoise of her bedroom. She continued reading, watching her surroundings shift slowly back into her world until she found herself seated on her bed, reading diligently about a land of wizards and dragons.

Myra leapt from the bed, slamming the book shut. She could see herself in the mirror, her skin reddened, her hair a mess of dirt, soot, and leaves. She gingerly touched her arms and legs, feeling their realness, but aghast at their condition. Without a word, she scooped the book off her bed, and promptly threw it out her window, slamming the glass shut hard enough to shake it in the frame. No smile was worth that.


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


Card Challenge: Day 24

Card Day 24: A man sits below a tree, up to his waist in yellow sand. Above him is a tree branch, covered in birds that he conducts in song. From the branch, a spider descends.

Death sat at the edge of the bed, looking at the frail man beneath the sheets. His breaths were shallow and rattling, and his pulse was visible through the paper thin skin of his wrists. Gently, Death lifted his hand and placed it atop the man’s.

Edmund opened his eyes slowly, as if they were held shut by an incredible weight. He did not respond with fear or sorrow to the specter, but smiled the same way he did when his grandchildren roared into the sterile hospital room. It was a look of weary joy, speaking of all the ambivalences long life encompasses. His voice creaked when he spoke, an organ that had deteriorated from the booming orator’s voice of his youth. Now it was a scratchy whisper, wavering like a twig in a summer’s storm.

“I figured you’d come around soon.”

Death smiled, his eyes softening. “It is about that time.”

“You don’t look like I thought you would. Too much….skin.” The rest of Edmund’s words and thoughts faded off as he stared up at death. There was no skeletal face, no heavy black hood. The ephemeral spirit did not even carry a scythe. Instead, Death was a man in a black suit and tie, his hair trimmed and lying neatly in dark brown waves. His shoes were sharp and polished, one balanced precisely atop his knee while the other tethered him to the tile floor. Beside him sat a leather briefcase with complicated looking cylinders on top. In an unsettlingly human motion, Death repositioned his wire-rimmed glasses on his nose and smiled.

“The shock and awe thing really isn’t necessary most of the time,” responded Death calmly.

Edmund grunted his answer, his breathing coming in irregular hiccups. Death gave him a sympathetic look as he carefully weighed his words.

“It is almost time, and it can be time now.”

Edmund closed his eyes, swallowed hard and nodded. He relaxed against the stiff hospital pillows, feeling the last bit of struggle fade out of his body. It was quiet, peace, and freedom. He opened his eyes, feeling suddenly light now freed of his medical burdens, and smiled back at Death.

“That was not nearly as bad as people say,” he chuckled.

Death echoed the laugh, the sound feeling somewhat hollow coming from the man at the end of the bed. “Those who complain have rarely met me. It’s libelous, really.”

Edmund continued to laugh, though there was no clear impetus for it. He laughed until his entire form shook, tears sliding down his ghostly face. He laughed so loudly that, had he still been a corporeal being, the whole hospital would have awoken. After a time, the laughter faded to an occasional chuckle. “What now?” he finally asked between snickers, his voice regaining its youthful tenor.

“Now, it’s time for the Great Beyond. But, as a courtesy, any final requests? Barring harming someone or restoring your life, I’m fair game for last wishes.”

Edmund grew serious for a moment, pondering this unexpected opportunity. “I suppose…” his voice trailed off as he considered the question. “Well, after being locked up in here, I’d like one thing. I’d like to see one last bit of beauty in this life. I miss things besides grey walls, fluorescent bulbs, and tile floors.”

Death nodded, pursing his lips in thought. “That’s a tall order, Mr. Graves.”

Edmund shrugged. “I figure you’re the man who can make it happen.”

In a fluid, graceful movement, Death bent and retrieved the briefcase from the floor. His fingers danced over the tumblers in some well-practiced numbers, the case opening with a satisfying click. “I think I have just what you need.” He pulled a smooth stone from the case, and then closed it with a click. At that sound, the hospital walls faded away, making way for a broad, darkening sky. Edmund joined Death atop some pristine mountain peak, watching the sun set over a valley of impossible peaks and valleys. The colors spread across the sky like a spilled oil painting, creating shades that only existed for that moment. Death turned to Edmund, smiling with pride. “Beautiful, eh?”

Edmund shrugged, looking unimpressed. “I suppose, but I saw more beautiful sunsets when Agnes and I were dating. We used to sneak off to Lover’s Point and watch it set. This is nice and all, though,” he finished, suddenly sheepish and concerned her appeared ungrateful.

“No worries, Edmund. I aim to please, but even I miss the mark occasionally. Let’s try something else.” He delved back into the briefcase, returning with a paintbrush.

“Listen, Death, if the real thing ain’t gonna do it for me, a painting won’t either. I think we can skip that one. I’ve never been one for galleries and all that. My grandson had some art up in those things, and they were beautiful, but most of its just trying to capture what we can see with our own eyes. Or some modern mumbo jumbo.”

Death chuckled and returned the brush. “You’re a man who knows what he likes. I like that. Maybe we change tack.” He snapped the briefcase shut, holding a single sheet of music. The mountain gave way to the concert hall, filled with a celestial blend of instruments and human voices. They rose and fell in harmony, creating a slight echo that left feelings of nostalgia for each passed moment, while spurring the listener into the next marvelous note. The words were unimportant, but the sound seemed to wrap the entire hall in a shell of impenetrable peace. Death looked at Edmund, expecting to see his mouth agape and eyes wide. The man instead had a look of polite appreciation, and smile good naturedly at Death.

“Oh, now this is very nice. Reminds me of when Nina, my daughter, was in choir. She had the voice of an angel. I swear, nothing more beautiful than that.” Realizing what he had said, Edmund fumbled for an apology. “Not that this isn’t nice. It’s quite nice. Beautiful, even. Thank you, Death.”

Death shook his head and sigh. “Edmund, I promised you a last request, and I do take pride in keeping my word. Let me try one last thing. I think I’ve got you figured out.”

Another expedition into the briefcase, another item retrieved. This time, it was a scuffed metal fork. Death smiled as the concert hall walls faded, as the sound dimmed to a memory, and the ruckus of family dinner took over.

Edmund found himself in the midst of a family Thanksgiving some years hence. Nina and her husband John were smiling and laughing, Tracie played the piano while the smell of a slightly overdone bird wafted through the house. Jason and Michael were lying in the floor, putting together a puzzle. He saw piles of coats in the hallway, heard the hubbub of activity in the kitchen were Marsha was putting the finishing touches on the big spread, enlisting a joyful David to cart it all to the long table. Edmund smiled, and Death saw tears stinging at the man’s eyes.

“Well, now, I guess you finally got my number, Death. Nothing more beautiful than that. Nothing at all.”


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


Card Challenge: Day 22

Card Day 22: A woman with the body of a cello plays a song. The music staff and played notes stretch from the body of the instrument as children run and play along the music.

The sound of music stirred Sylvia from her sleep, and she gave it her usual smile and turned back over. There was something incredibly soothing about falling asleep to the wind-buffeted strains of music that intermittently floated through town. Someone somewhere was injecting a little beauty into the world.

Her window curtains fluttered in the breeze, the volume of the music growing with the wind. The notes did not conform to any song she recognized, but they were beautiful nonetheless. There was a haunting quality to it, a joy and somberness that made it perfect for the moonlit night. It was soothing, lulling her gently back to sleep.

The next morning, Sylvia woke to bird song, the haunting melody certainly having faded around early dawn. She stretched, unseating the stiffness of the night. She always felt so rested after a night of music.

Sylvia also found her curiosity impossibly piqued. The music had been a reality as long as she could remember, and it seemed like no one had ever sought it out. Sylvia tried to think back to her childhood, to a time when stories were so rampant and free, but she could not recall anything about the music. In fact, she felt a fuzziness close in around her childhood, presenting all the facts as shadows and echoes. There were rumors, of course, but she could think of no newspaper article or breaking news about the town’s claim to fame. It simply was, just as the sun rose and set predictably each day, the music would blossom under the peak of the moon and fade as day returned. But Sylvia felt drawn to discover the truth and thank whatever person or organization was responsible for the bit of beauty.

As dusk settled in the next night, she settled in with her thermos of coffee. She was not very good at staying awake late into the night, but she felt a sense of adventure and excitement at the prospect. She sat and read a dog-eared copy of her favorite book as the minutes ticked off the clock and the night grew darker. Just around midnight, she heard the music begin.

It was soft, but steadily growing in volume. Sylvia had images of sunrise in her mind, how the light ever so gently pierced the edge of night, suffusing it with levity and brilliance a moment at a time. The music grew cautiously, swelling with a solemn joy. Her lids began to feel heavy as she sat and listened, but she made the difficult decision to push back from the table and walk into the night.

On the winding sidewalk, she paused. Her ears strained in all directions, aching for the imperceptible beckon from some location. The right, she finally decided, and began walking determinedly in that direction. What was in that direction? Sylvia tried to remember, but found it was a bit hazy. She knew the school, the church, and the grocery were all to the left from her bungalow. To the right…there was a feeling as if she once knew, but it was hard to catch. She could not remember the last time she had deviated out of her comfortable little neighborhood, and especially not at night.

The breeze was cool and brought the music a little closer. It was definitely getting louder as she walked along the rows of dark houses. The stars were out and brilliant, as was the moon. The cheery lilt of the music made her want to skip, and so she let her feet shuffle her along the path, following the constant direction of the musical notes.

She tried to place the instrument responsible, but was stymied. It, ultimately, sounded unlike anything she could rightfully place, and the notes moved in such unison that it was impossible to believe two players could be in such synchronicity.

The sidewalk abruptly ended, and the music was still distant. Sylvia looked off into the distance, wondering what laid beyond. The bright moon overhead showed a grassy field that faded into the tree line. She had no memory of this borderland, but the trees waved her on. The music swelled a bit louder with a gust of wind, increasing with each step she took into the darkness.

The night was deepening, and the music seemed to permeate the air all around her. It was not a stream of music coming from any source, but a cloud that wrapped her and carried her onward. From the shadows ahead, a lit-window materialized. Sylvia quickened her pace and soon found herself in front of the simple wooden door.

The door swung open before she could knock, and Sylvia found herself face to face with the master musician. He was indeterminably old and youthful, bent over a stringed instrument that she could not recognize. He face was lit with a calm smile, and his eyes spoke of years beyond the relative youth of his supple skin. He smiled as she entered.

“Sylvia, so nice of you to visit.”

She paused on the threshold, wondering how he could know her name, but he exuded a kindness that put her at ease. “Are you the one who plays the music?” she asked, though the answer was obvious. All around her, the air hummed in time with his swiftly moving fingers.

He smiled, and motioned towards the seat beside him, his only answer to her question.

“How does everyone hear you, then?”

“I play for those who want to hear,” he began, his fingers never pausing, “and this world carrier my music to them. That is one nice thing here.”

She listened to his answer, listening to the swelling music. To sound across the whole town, it should have been deafening here, but it was perfect. “So it’s some kind of magic?” she asked, fully under his spell.

“I suppose, but only magical in the way that this entire place is.”

“It is quite magical, indeed,” she murmured, feeling drowsiness set back in. Then his words finally sunk in. “What do you mean this entire place is magical?”

He smiled and looked at her, perplexed. “Well, it certainly is not a place grounded in reality, now is it?”

She had never thought of that, but it seemed true. There was a surreal, perfected quality to things here that were in sharp contrast to the reality she expected. He could see her mind spinning with the idea, and smiled even more broadly towards her.

“This is my way of giving back, of adding a little something mystical to the daily.”

“Where are we, then?” she finally asked.

The music turned a bit more somber, though still with an edge of hope. “My dear you live in the Beyond, now. And I do my best to make you all feel welcome here.”

Sylvia felt his words crash into her, their honesty disarming her to the reality of the situation. She felt herself slipping and falling, but tethered back to the world by the music. The soothing music that coaxed her to calm, her lids heavy, her eyes closed, and sleep finally achieved.

Sylvia woke to the sound of birdsong and the memory of the universe’s lullaby.


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


Card Challenge: Day 21

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

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


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

What does it take to destroy a universe?

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

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

So, what does it take to destroy a universe?

______

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What? We can’t do that—“

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

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

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

So, what does it take to destroy a universe?

Fear, cowardice, and inaction usually do the trick.


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


Card Challenge: Day 20

So, when I saw this card, a song immediately started playing in my head. I don;t normally do the “Suggested Listening” thing, but I;d suggest Milk and Money by the Fratellis for this one. It just seems to fit. Also, this is not my favorite piece, but I think it was definitely a bit of a different track for me. Always good to stretch yourself!


Card Day 20: A reserved, white and black dressed clown stands alone in a spotlight, a single tear on his cheek.

She stood on stage, clutching the microphone stand in her hands with a mixture of excitement and panic. The final notes of her song still hung in the air, bouncing off the wooden rafters before being swallowed up by the heavy, velvet curtains pulled to the side. Her eyes were trained, however, on the lone forms seated halfway back in the front section with their empty expressions and matching clipboards.

“That was great,” said one of them—it was hard to tell who it was with the spotlight drilling into her eyes. The voice sounded like the musical director, but she had only briefly met and shook his hand before beginning. There was no was to be certain. Nevertheless, her heart fluttered into her throat.

“Thank you, I can’t wait to start!” Her excitement got the best of her, nad the words were cast out into the arena before she could properly process them.

A fated cough brought reality squarely back down. “Well, I mean, you have a great voice and all, but…” His voice trailed off into an awkward paused. She could see him shift around in his seat, a brief gesture of a hand wave. Then another voice jumped in to feel the lingering silence.

“You’re not what we’re looking for. Good luck next time.” That voice was clearly the smoke-clogged, nasally squeak of the director.

In that moment, the lone singer felt the walls cave in on her. She did her best to keep it together and exit the stage with grace. She half-mumbled a “thanks,” into the microphone before leaping for the security of the dimly lit wings. Tears stung in her eyes as she felt one more failure pile on top of her, threatening to crush her. Along with the unbearable feelings of defeat, anger swelled as well.

This was her dream! This was her life, what she had poured her whole heart into, and yet her fate was determined by a set of inky silhouettes seated in moth-eaten, theater seats. She felt her sense of failure melt into raw rage. She had practiced for hours, and had nearly driven her family broke getting singing lessons or going to various talent shows in the hopes of making it. And she had succeeded, won scholarships, starred in university plays. Only, now no one cared, and no one gave her the roles. No matter how much she practiced or how much heart she poured into each and every performance. It was just strangers dictating her life, judging her, evaluating and finding her repeatedly wanting.

The anger spilled from inside her, tracing down her face in mascara-laden trails. She stomped out of the building, her shiny heels snapping against the concrete floor as the sultry red dress swayed with each step. Not it lit her like a blazing avenging figure, tearing her way out of the building and into the dingy alleyway.

A failure. That was what she was, through and through. She had one goal in life, and had nevertheless repeatedly run into barrier after slammed door that just spelled out the futility of her continued perseverance.

She slipped into her car sagging into the run down seats. The engine started with a groan, a series of foreign sounding clunks and growls sounding the car’s tired protesting. Nonetheless, it shifted into gear, the wheels skimming through puddles running deep in long-forgotten potholes.

This theater wasn’t even in a good part of town, she bemoaned, looking at the cheap neon signs and barred windows that slipped past her. It was a last ditch effort, a fall back gig that she had nevertheless failed to acquire. As she drove past midnight tavern after dive bar, she considered stopping and letting her good old friend wash away the sorrow of the night. Yellow street lamps pooled rhythmically over her window as she somehow managed to keep her path steady and straight.

Failure. The theme replayed again and again in her mind as she drove along silent highways and silent city streets. It was 9:30, at least according to the obnoxiously green numbers on her dash, but it felt like she existed in a time of impossibly late night or eternally early morning. Despite the passing cars, she felt as if she drove in a constant bubble of isolation.

Was this what it was like to throw a life away? She could not help but reflect on all the missed opportunities she had pushed aside to pursue a dream that never materialized. What did she have to show for all of this? A few clippings from college newspapers, a collection of worn VHS cassettes where her childhood sang like a prodigy. An unemployment record spanning years, and a bank account that hovered tentatively around empty, constantly threatening to give up and plunge into nothingness each moment.

Her car wound its way home to the apartment, but she sat, the engine idling. She could not go home and face her failure once again. The thought of speaking the bad news, of seeing the pitying glance. She tried to put a smile on as she came through the door, but she knew the sooty trails of her face showed the true story.

“How did it go?” asked the voice from the living room. Her husband rounded the corner, and then his congratulatory smile fell. “Oh, honey.”

His compassion broke down whatever had been keeping her going, and she began to sob again. “I didn’t get it,” she needlessly added, sinking into his waiting arms.

He soother her softly, stroking her hair. “It’s okay. They don’t know what they’re missing. It’ll be okay. I’m sure you did great,” his platitudes fell like rain around her, doing nothing to stop the constant flow of tears.

“Why am I wasting my time? Our time? What’s the point” she moaned in broken phrases in between sobs. Her husband gently held her, whispering all the right words, but never managing to actual comfort the terrible ache inside of her.

After a few minutes, she calmed, her tears spent. “Are you going to try again?” he asked once she had time to calm down, now seated side by side on the loveseat.

“What’s the point? I’m not,” she paused, facing the sudden reality that had impressed itself so clearly, “I’m not a singer. I’m just a–“ she froze, unsure how to finish.

“Mom?” the tired voice echoed down the hall. She sat up with a sigh, gathering herself so that no distress leaked into her voice.

“Yes, Ellen?”

“I can’t sleep.” She and her husband traded knowing glances. “Can you sing to me?”

The simple question lit a smile on her face, banishing a bit of the darkness that had so quickly taken hold. “On my way,” she replied, rising gracefully and brushing away the lingering tears and makeup from her face.

“Hey, if nothing else, you’ll always have two super fans,” whispered her husband with a smile. While the feelings and fears still swirled, she felt a slight peace settle within her. She was appreciated by those who mattered. Even if it wasn’t fame and glory, it was important and it was what mattered.


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


Card Challenge: Day 19

Card Day 19: A cat stands before an easel, painting a scene of fish swimming. As the cat looks away, one of the fish swims off the canvas.

Carter’s eyes were beginning to blur with the mix of colors swimming between his palette and canvas. He was uncertain how long he had spent standing in front of the easel, his brush flying with inspired fervor across the once white space, filling it with his vision. Only, now, the vision had dried up, leaving him with a half-finished piece and no idea how to continue.

His weary eyes searched for the clock on the far wall. It was nearing two a.m., and his body suddenly groaned with the ache of standing for the past five hours with little to now movement outside of his wrist and elbow. It was like a trance of a sort, so enraptured had he been with this idea. It flowed out of his hands and onto the canvas as if creating itself. Carter felt weary and empty, but unfortunately the final product did not fill him with the same manic elation that the idea had. It sat in a half-finished state. All of the gross outlines were there, and he had splashed the color into the appropriate spots, but it lacked a life and vitality that he had hoped to infuse.

Now his eyes stung and watered, his lids dropping low. He mentally scanned the room, seeing the multitude of brushes and open tubes of paint. He needed to clean up unless he wanted all of this to go to waste. After subsisting on ramen for longer than he cared to imagine, he was not about to throw away his investment. He sighed, glancing at the canvas. When he entered the room that night, he had felt certain this was to be his masterpiece. He had felt that through every magical stroke, even as his arm grew weary. It was not until the spell mysteriously broke that he could see the abject mediocrity staring back at him. His first year art school projects had been more convincing.

Just a slump, he thought, consoling himself. And I made something at least tonight. The thought was less than reassuring. Turning from the canvas, Carter felt his shoulders slump. This one had felt real. It had felt necessary and important. Only, now…

He gathered the brushes up, trying to tidy up his space. He was so tired, though, and his feet ached after all that standing. In a concession to his exhausted body, he slumped into the wooden, straight-backed chair for a brief respite. Combatting the allure of sleep, he studied the failed canvas staring back at him. No, not failed, he softened, unfinished. He felt a new confidence that something would come along and show him how to complete this picture. The winds of inspiration would whip up again. For now, he simply studied it.

The background was foggy, a mist of trees and clouds that melded into a surreal landscape. He was very fond and proud of the way the limbs of the trees jutted out of the fog, mixing their solidity with the ephemeral fog. It was a beautiful juxtaposition, he granted. The foreground, however, was where he lost that delicate touch and realistic edge.

He had wanted to show the werewolf in mid-transformation, blending human and animal in fluid brushstrokes. It had come to him in a moment looking at the face of his dog, seeing his own human face reflected in the canine eyes. He would make the eyes the central piece, turn the body into a mirage of human and animal so that no one part was clearly either one. But the eyes would be wonderfully human and ferociously lupine. Unfortunately, it was the eyes that now gazed at him with drying paint, dull and lifeless under the yellow lights.

Carter walked to the painting, intending to set aside the reminder of his wasted evening, but a sudden sharp, barking noise gave him pause. In the newly minted silence, a new sound filled his workshop, echoing off the bare walls and concrete floor. It was a growl, deep and rumbling. Carter looked around, expecting to see Jonesy with his hackles raised at some imagined villain, but the loyal dog was nowhere to be seen. He followed the sound, and it led his eyes back to the canvas, where the creature’s mouth-snout was rippling with sudden energy. Now, the eyes were alive.

From the impossible blend on the canvas, the creature began to take shape. It merged out of the paint just as the animal features had flowed seamlessly from their human. One moment it was flat shapes on a canvas, and the next it was jutting into the world as if it had been molded. His mind reeled with what was happening as the growl grew louder. There was now a glistening line of saliva on the lip-jowls. The arm and paw now existed in three dimensions, reaching out from the canvas. Carter stumbled back away from the frame, his eyes affixed to it in horror.

He watched all the imperfections of his artistry fade away into the perfection of reality as the creature emerged, struggling against the fabric of reality and sanity. The paint seemed to stretch and grown as it took on flesh, and Carter was captivated with equal parts amazement and terror. It was not until the head broke through and the jaws began to snap that he found his feet and ripped out of the workroom.

Carter slammed the door behind him, hearing snarls and howls echo off the enclosed space. He gazed distrustfully at the cheap wooden door. Jonesy was barking, a sound which barely registered in his mind over the suspiciously human and utterly inconceivable growl.

He grabbed Jonesy’s collar and rushed towards the door. All thoughts but escape had fled, and Carter was left scrambling across the linoleum floor towards the exit. Jonesy leapt and growled, barked and whimpered, twining about his feet. In an instant, Carter felt his feet fly from the floor, his body hurtling towards the metal door separating him from freedom. And then, there was darkness.

The dull glow of morning brought him back to consciousness, along with a throbbing ache in his forehead. There was a sticky splotch of blood on the floor, corresponding to the odd stiffness of his face. He stretched, looking around and trying to remember what had led him to such flight. Jonesy sat beside him, carefully licking his hand as he saw his master awake.

The impossible events filtered back, and Carter felt foolish. Fumes, he reasoned, I shouldn’t have spent hours enclosed in that room. He gingerly lifted himself off the floor and walked towards the firmly closed door to his workshop. There was a slight hint of trepidation as he reached for the doorknob, but the light of day and the power of reason chased away his doubts. With sudden courage, he yanked the door open.

Inside was his canvas depicting a scene of fog and trees, a strange void existing prominently in the foreground. Outside, glass lay scattered about his window, leading off into the city streets with paint-stained footsteps, not quite animal and not quite human.


I went a bit  more literal with today’s, but I think it worked out. Hope you enjoyed it!

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


Card Challenge: Day 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, I am life. I am death.


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


Card Challenge: Day 16

Card Day 16: A rat sitting on a rug in front of a snake charmer’s basket, “playing” a cobra like a flute. Through the doorway, a castle is visible.

Prince Ajid rode over the sandy dunes, the thunder of his horse’s hooves whipping up a flurry of sand behind him. He knew the armies were marching north, and he knew that once they reached the stronghold, his men would be instantly overrun. It was desperation that drove him out into the wild dunes, seeking a miracle that would save the men he had failed in leading.

His eyes searched the dunes, looking for any sign of the promised signs. Some part of him knew it was a fool’s errand, a coward’s desire to flee the battle. No one trusted the old tales spun in the market squares. They were fables created by folks tired of the emptiness of the night, mere myths concocted to provide a brief respite of entertainment and hope. And now, it was his only hope.

H remembered his grandmother’s words when he was very young, spinning tales of a man who lived in the oasis found in the deepest parts of the desert. So remote was this place that most who sought him died in the process, their bones bleached signposts declaring their failure. However, should anyone prove himself worthy and pure, the man would use his great powers to provide whatever the seeker most desired.

Ahead he saw the first sign his grandmother had promised, not believing his eyes as the stones grew from the sand. The perilously stacked stones were clearly assembled in the form of a man, the topmost rock bearing a grim resemblance to a haggard face. It could, of course, be but happenstance, but Ajid pressed on, daring to hope. The sun was growing low in the sky, marking the end of the fifth day of his travels. Surely, this would be his last night before smoke billowed on the horizon, signaling the failure of his ill-conceived quest. He spurred the beast beneath him to greater speeds, passing by the stone giant and following its extended arm.

The sands reclaimed the horizon. It seemed as if no other sign would emerge. Ajid felt his sprits waning; was it nothing but a strange mirage, an accidental similarity that momentarily raised his spirits only to dash them? The sun beat down on his back, burning through the layers of thin robes on his body. The sweat dampened his body, beading along his forehead to descend into his eyes. His mouth was dry and parched as the desert stretching around him. The canteens hung full behind him, but he could not stop. So he pressed on, riding the heaving sides of his horse as it worked itself into a fine lather. There would be time to rest later.

In the distance, Ajid imagined he saw a flickering pool of blue. He knew it was a mirage, just as the stone giant was a regrettable coincidence. Nevertheless, he pressed on. He had dedicated so many days to this quest now, so there was no reason to turn back now when he might possibly achieve something.

The mirage solidified into a small pool, just a tiny breach in the dominion of the sand. In the bottom, Ajid saw brilliantly colored fish swim in the pool that, by all logic, should have dried up in a blink of the desert sun. Here, the wind stilled. Could it be?

As promised, the small pool dwindled down to a small stream reaching into the distance. It was so close. His body ached for a break, and the pool promised cool relief. Yet Ajid remained focused, driven by his need. There would be a better oasis awaiting if they only pressed on. And then, the quest would be at an end, their prayers answered.

In the distance, Ajid heard a call for help. He spun, looking for the source of the cry. Far on the horizon, he could see a man standing, waving his arms as he moved towards Ajid. The figure before him was mostly indistinguishable and minute, but he could make out the shade of brilliant green robes against the golden sand, as well as a splotch of brilliantly white hair atop the tiny head. The man was so far away, but certainly in great need. Ajid paused, drawing his mount to a slower pace. Her sides ballooned swiftly, welcoming the momentary relief. His nature drew him towards the silhouette on the horizon, but his mission spurred him on. Perhaps, after he was done, he could seek out the man and provide for him. Ajid marked the spot in his mind, trying to remember the precise directions from the stream to the figure. He would return, he promised himself.

Turning, he gave the horse a sharp, short kick and sped off along the tiny rivulet of water. Ahead, there was an oasis appearing, brilliant and blue in the distance, even as the sun began to grow swollen and red on the horizon. He rode in, sand flying around him as he brought his horse to a sudden stop. There was a man, just as he had hoped, sitting beneath the palms of the water. Ajid dismounted and walked towards him with great reverence.

“Are you the Man of the Desert?”

The white-haired figure turned towards him slowly, and an uneasy feeling of recognition settled over Ajid. The man’s bright green robes were dusty and worn, but the color was unmistakable. “I am he who you seek,” he croaked, his voice dry and cracked as the soil beneath the sand.

“Only those who prove themselves worthy and pure by his tests may receive their reward. All others will find their desires shattered,” echoed the voice of his long past grandmother. Ajid’s folly sank onto his shoulders. He had come so far, and he had lost.

“I have come to seek your help, though I fear none will be given.” The proud prince’s words faltered, uncertain in the rapidly darkening dusk.

“Ask me what you wish. I will grant as has been deserved.”

Ajid knew his folly, and knew that to ask for the fortresses safety would certainly damn those he loved to a painful death; he knew the legends well enough to know his punishment.

However, besides his dedication, his reckless faith, and his hope, Ajid was also brilliantly cunning. He smiled in the growing gloom. “Great one, I have come far and overcome the trial of the desert you set before me. I ask that you may now grant me victory over the fortress of Prince Ajid. May my armies march to victory!”

The man smiled a sly, wicked smile. He laughed, the sound brittle and echoing over the empty dunes. “Seeker, your request has been granted to the degree of your worth. Go and seek your reward.”

With that, the man disappeared. Ajid sank to his knees in the desert, hoping against hope that his ploy had worked. If not, he had done nothing more to doom them than had already been slated.

After a night of rest, Ajid set off under the kindly eye of the morning sun. He, unknowingly, rode to victory on the shoulder of his wits and perseverance, the wise Prince who was ultimately worthy of his reward.


So, this one nearly stymied me. Ultimately, I wanted to pull in some of the desert/royalty setting, as well as give it a bit of a 1001 Arabian Nights vibe. A little magic and creativity, maybe a bit of a moral. But I also wanted a happy ending. So, I decided that, based on the contents of the card, there could be an interesting spin on someone using the power meant to destroy them as something constructive (you know, like a rat using a snake). Not sure how successful it was, but I tried. And it was 150 words longer than allowed, so I had to cut some stuff. It was definitely a challenge day, but a good one. Hope you enjoyed it!


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


Card Challenge: Day 10

Card Day 10: An abacus with various planets as the beads on the rails.

“Cheryl! That’s great news. I didn’t even know you were psychic!” exclaimed Marian, her face alight with excitement.

“I’m not psychic. Like I told you, it’s all one big racket.”

“Oh, I understand,” Marian responded with an exaggerated wink. “So since you’re ‘not psychic,’ how will you go about writing all those horoscopes?”

Cheryl sighed, taking a long sip from her wine glass before continuing. Marian was a great friend, she reminded herself, even if she was not always the pinnacle of intellect. “They said to use some vague, feel good statements, sprinkled through with a couple of dire warnings. The things practically write themselves once you know the script.”

“I’m sure they do, the words just come to you, huh?” She chuckled at her own joke. “Well, I’m glad you finally found a job. We can toast to that!” She raised her glass, and Cheryl smiled at the gesture. “To new opportunities and the development of all our hidden talents.”

Cheryl took another drink, noticing how low her glass suddenly was. It had been a long day, and she still was uncertain she could stomach the reality of shilling such snake oil for a living, even if it was necessary to keep the lights on in her ratty apartment. The wine did not necessarily help with that decision, but it did serve to push it just a bit farther away.

“I just can’t believe you never told me about your gift. But I’m sure that can be scary. Most people probably think you’re crazy!”

“Mar, seriously, I’m not psychic. I just slap some words onto paper. You read them and plan your life around it. Then I get paid. No psychic abilities required.”

Marian looked slightly off put, her face twisting briefly into a irritated smirk. “Well, fine, you don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want. I’m just trying to be a good friend and support you in this. I’m sure it’s not the way most psychics want to make a living, but you are providing an important service to lots of people. Not everyone can afford a fancy private psychic, so some of us have to get by on the weekly paper. That’s your job now, and I think you should be proud of yourself.”

Cheryl realized it was a losing battle, one Marian could not afford to lose to reason. “You’re right, Marian. It’s just hard getting used to this job.” Marian reached out and touched her hand.

“I’m sure it is. Just know, I’m here for you, and I support you.” Her face beamed with pride in her friend and her own magnanimity.

_______

“Your kindness to those you meet will reap great rewards. Be patient, and watch for your return.”

“This week holds many opportunities for fun. Enjoy yourself, but don’t forget to take time to recharge!”

“Remember that problem that just won’t leave you alone? Expect news to clarify your path.”

“An unexpected inconvenience may bring unexpected rewards. Look for—”

Cheryl tapped a pencil on the edge of her laptop slowly, her eyes distant as she tried to find a new and creative way to end Capricorn’s latest memo. After only a couple months, she felt she was doing nothing but rehashing the same, empty promises week after week. Nonetheless, it was keeping food and lights on in her fridge, so it was hard to complain. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth and all that.

Her phone buzzed on the coffee shop table. Marian had been giddy at seeing the weekly horoscopes since learning about her friends new job, and she never failed to try to get a sneak peek into the future.

“Coffee, Cheryl?” she asked, skipping routine greetings.

“I’m already at the coffee shop, so why not?” sighed Cheryl, glancing around the sparsely populated bistro.

“And you say you aren’t psychic! I’ll be there around three? Maybe you can see if the stars have anything to say about me in the meantime!”

Cheryl glanced at the clock. Forty-five minutes would, likely, give her enough time to finish writing and fleshing out the next edition’s worth of swill. “Will do, Mar. See you then. Half caf mocha, as usual?”

Marian gasped. “Well, look at you, Ms. Cleo! I’ll be there on the dot.”

Cheryl knew that meant Marian would be about fifteen minutes late, and so mentally gave herself the chance to relax. What would Marian’s upcoming horoscope say? Cheryl smiled to herself, thinking of all the ridiculous lies she could put into print if she so desired, knowing no one would notice or care.

“Marian: You will come into an unexpected sum of money,” she typed lazily, smirking at the cliché. “But be wary of unknown strangers. While he may appear to be Prince Charming, you may be courting the Beast instead! A great tragedy awaits you at the end of your week. I hope you chose good life insurance!” Cheryl chuckled to herself in the coffee shop, laughing at the morbid horoscope. She would love to see Marian’s face if she actually read that in the final edition. She would certainly get fired, but it was almost worth it just to shake her friend’s conviction in the poppycock.

Cheryl stretched, went up for a refill of the house roast, and settled in to finish explaining fate for a few thousand loyal readers. Her next line came to her in a burst of inspiration.

“Look for chances to stretch and grow in the next week. Don’t let your cynicism get the best of you!”

_______

“Cheryl, you won’t believe my week!”

Cheryl was groggy on the phone, having slept well past her normal wake time this Saturday morning. She had needed to be up early to start her work, begin looking for more freelance opportunities, but that plan had fallen prey to a late night bottle of wine and sappy rom-com marathon.

“What won’t I believe. I’m psychic, remember?” She was snarky this morning, she noted, massaging her temples as she tried to force alertness into her consciousness.

“That’s true! So you knew about the money, huh?”

“Money?”

“Yeah. My bank realized I had been incorrectly charged some upkeep fees for years! I got a few hundred dollars back.”

“Oh, that’s great!” Something about that coincidence made a chill creep up Marian’s spine, but she could not identify it.

“And that’s not all! On Thursday, I met this great guy at lunch. Total Prince Charming. I mean, swept me right off my feet!”

“Uh, Marian, I don’t know if—”

“You know, I thought, maybe we’re moving too fast, but I think I’m old enough to know what I want. Besides, he’s a total beast in bed,” she whispered, her voice dropping into a conspiratorial whisper.

“Do you even know who—”

“I know, I know. I shouldn’t rush things but—Oh, I think he’s up. I’m going to have to let you go. He says we’re going hiking today. See you tomorrow for coffee?”

“I really don’t think you should—”

“Great! See you then!” The line went dead in Cheryl’s hand as the feeling of impending dread and tragedy welled up around her.


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


Card Challenge: Day 3

Card Day 3: A white candle, dripping red, slowly burns through a thin rope stretched above it.

Her legs shook, tapping out a tireless rhythm that she hoped would stave off the fatigue pulling at her eyelids. To say she was tired was an understatement, as egregious as trying to describe her condition with the simple term “exhausted.” Kara was quickly collapsing in on herself, unwound by a week of sleepless nights. Her eyes hung heavy with deep grey bags, and her head pounded with a relentless pulse that, in most circumstances, would have made sleep impossible. But in her state of sleep deprivation, it instead seemed to rock her and lull her towards sleep, the only cure and the most certain poison.

“The train is now arriving in the station. The train is now arriving in the station,” droned the mechanical woman overhead. That was the ninth train she had watched roll in, and she could see the security guard beginning to eye her warily. She had been seated there for nearly three hours, head hung low and eyes foggy with regrets. He was, likely, certain that she was carefully selecting the wheels to end her misery. Kara stood on wobbly legs. She liked the train station because of the constant noise, the hubbub of people coming and going. But it was clear she had overstayed her welcome. She slipped in just as the sliding doors swung closed behind her. She would go down a station and take watch again. It was getting late, she mused, so perhaps it was time to find some shady 24-hour joint serving stale coffee by the pot.

She sat, trying to find a balance between relief for her aching joints, and enough discomfort to last the ten minute ride to the next stop. Her neck ached and her eyes burned. She tried blinking quickly to clear away the nagging sting, but found her lids had grown even heavier. In her mind, some sibilant voice whispered that relief was waiting if she would just hold her eyes closed for one second more. Her head was heavy, as were her limbs, her tongue, and most importantly her eyes. So heavy, that surely one second more would not make a difference.

Kara snapped her eyes wide, staring once again down the moonlit path towards a listing shack in the deep woods.  A single candle burned in the window, a beacon directing her feet down the muddy path towards the door she never wanted to see again. Her feet moved of their own accord, pulling her forward in a daze. While her thoughts screamed, her body remained relaxed and calm, taking confident strides towards the rickety wooden door.

She could hear humming from inside as her fist rapped against the warped wooden boards. It was a song that awakened deep ambivalence within her. On the one hand, there was a rapid, lilting quality to it that reminded her of times spent in laughter, frivolity, and adventure. It was the image of a smile. Yet there was some twist or turn to the notes which promised a bleak future and ultimate despair. Kara felt herself at once drawn to it and repulsed, but unable to ultimately do anything but what her body demanded. The humming grew louder as the door opened.

The woman standing there was stooped with the weight of many years, her face a haggard mask of deep set wrinkles forming fissures in her face. Her hair spun out in wispy strands of spider silk, catching the flickering candlelight and disappearing with the shadows. The milky white, unseeing eyes fixed Kara firmly to the spot as her lips cracked into a toothless grin.

“Kara, Kara! I thought you had lost the way to me. Do come in.”

The woman shuffled to the side, gesturing to the large, dark interior. The room was bare but for the candle, a pile of yarn, a sturdy three-legged stool. And the ancient frame of the loom. Without another word, the woman made her creaking way to the stool and began the loom rocking once again. ”You came at the perfect time. I’ve nearly finished your tapestry here. I think you will love it!” crowed the old woman, her fingers moving deftly over the strands like spiders spinning a web.

Kara was frozen, the fear inside of her spilling through her mind like an avalanche while her body remained solid, still, unmoving, and unaffected. In and out came the steady breaths from her lungs as her heart plodded along its natural course. Only inside could Kara feel the panic building at the woman’s words. She had to wake up before the piece was finished. She had to break free. Only her everything was suddenly captive, enthralled, and enslaved by the soothing sound of the woman’s voice. The humming returned, fitting the rhythmic motions of her hands as the carefully directed the loom in the woven dance.

“Just the finished touches now, dear. Can’t have a strand out of place in something this important, eh?” Her hands danced over the surface of the nearly finished square of fabric, its contents hidden by the unsteady candlelight. Apparently satisfied, she lifted it valiantly into the light, dragging a tail of yarn behind her. “Here it is! All for you!”

The fear in Kara’s mind overflowed into her body as she saw the forsaken tapestry. On it, she saw her body lying lifeless on cold pavement, her arm pulling away at an impossible angle while blood leaked from her head. The threads ran dark, deep crimson in a amorphous pool, silhouetting her broken body in the street. Kara screamed, her legs finally free to drag herself towards the door. Perhaps she still had time to escape the woven fate.

The woman smiled broadly. “I knew you’d love it.” She carefully drew a pair of long, rusted scissors from the pocket of her moth-eaten housecoat, drawing them briskly across the remaining strings with a sharp snap. As the metal ripped through the final pieces of yarn, Kara felt her eyes snap open.

The train was around her, gliding softly into the station. “Now arriving at Nornwood Station. Please watch your step when exiting to the platform,” cautioned the cheery voice from above. Kara stood, her legs protesting with the sudden burst of movement, and bolted onto the platform and towards the stairs. She took them two at a time, climbing eagerly towards the crisp blast of evening air. She gasped, ridding herself of the foul stagnant air from the dreamt cabin, her throat raw from her scream.

Kara looked for the diner on the corner, seeking it like a beacon of safety after what she had endured. Had she been in time? Her feet hurried across the pavement, swift to escape the woman’s hum, but not swift enough to outrun the squeal of brakes fighting—and losing—against rain-slicked streets.


Creative Commons License
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.


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


Working Title: What the Stars Said WIP

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, because what now is approaching?”

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

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

“Walter Cromwell, we chose you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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