Another fine flash-fiction challenge courtesy of Mr Chuck Wendig. He gave us five sentences to include in a story. The one I chose was “The shape fights the motionless ink.” Because why the hell not?
I hope you enjoy!
The inmates whispered quietly to each other as Simon Attwood was led down the narrow, cell-lined aisle.
“There he is,” they mouthed to each other, their words coming out as hissed breaths. And each time Simon took a step forward, the metallic jingle of the chains which bound his legs to each other, and his hands to his legs, were an oddly musical accompaniment to the muted whispers. “They say he killed his wife and two kids. Butchered them with a kitchen knife. Kept stabbing and hacking long after they’d gone. He’ll probably fry.”
The other inmates looked on with disapproval in their eyes. Most of them had killed, but few of them had killed family. Some lines you just didn’t cross. For that reason, Simon was kept apart from the other prisoners. He was put in a cell, released from his chains, told to sit on the bunk and wait.
For an eternity, Simon waited. He coped by living inside his own head. He was dimly aware that things happened in the prison; he was brought food and drink, his dry-pan toilet was removed once a day for cleaning, other prisoners shouted at each other and on occasion they fought, incurring the wrath of the guards. But he was apart from it all, wrapped inside a protective mental cocoon of happier memories, like Christmas with his parents when he was eight years old, and the time he and his college buddies had drunkenly trashed their rivals’ frat house.
Things began to change when the guards brought him out of his cell and took him to a small white room, which had in it a small white desk behind which sat a small white man wearing a long white coat. In his hands he held a clipboard, which itself held sheets of white paper. It was all very sterile, very clinical, and when the guard sat Simon down in the chair at the front of the desk, he did not object.
“Good morning, Simon,” the small white man in the long white coat said. “My name is Doctor Hart. Do you know why you are here?”
Simon nodded, mumbling because he hadn’t spoken since the conviction, and the words tasted strange in his mouth. “They think I murdered my family.”
“That’s right.” Hart looked down at his white paper. “I understand that your legal rep claimed diminished responsibility on the grounds of mental instability. That you believe monsters killed your family?”
“Can you tell me a little about the monsters?”
With a shiver, Simon began. It had sounded so strange, the first time he’d explained this. By now, he’d said it so many times that it was more than familiar, but the memory of what he had seen still left him cold.
“They’re shadow-men. They live in the shadows where darkness meets light and they come out to kill the people you love.”
“And you saw these shadow-men?”
“Can you describe them for me?” Hart asked.
“Their faces…” Simon closed his eyes briefly as a horrible memory flashed through his head. “They’re like a liquid, always moving, their eyes and their mouths flowing around their heads. Their hands end in terrible dark fingers, like shadows of knives—”
“It’s okay, Simon,” Hart said quickly. “I’d like you to think now about a place that makes you happy. A place where you feel safe and comfortable.”
The guard, Walt, waiting patiently beside the door, released his hold on his truncheon as the prisoner stopped rocking back and forth and uncurled his fingers from the fists he’d subconsciously made. Walt gave a small shake of his head as Hart continued to take Attwood to a happier place; no doubt at all this one was a nutjob.
After two or three sessions, Simon was transferred to a mental institution. The other inmates watched him go, whispering to each other across the narrow aisle.
“There he goes. Definitely loco. Did you see the emptiness in his eyes? Those are a dead man’s eyes. Man, I’m glad he’s gone.”
The institution was nice. It had airy rooms and toilets which actually flushed, and even gardens in which patients could walk to aid their recovery. But Simon wasn’t allowed in the gardens, and he was kept away from the other patients. Perhaps, Dr Hart said, once they’d gotten his medication dosage right, Simon could go outside and sit in the sunshine for a while.
Dr Hart’s therapy continued. One day, Simon was led into Hart’s office and seated at the now-familiar oak table. Hart smiled at him, and held up a piece of white paper with an angry-looking black blob in the middle of it. Simon froze, barely even registering Hart’s words.
“Today I’d like to try something different. Please tell me what you see.”
The blob began to ooze its way across the paper, a swirling maelstrom of tar-like liquid, and a monstrous face began to form. A white smile split the lower half, of the face-blob, a cold and malicious grin aimed directly at him. Hello again, Simon, said a voice inside his head. In response, Simon screamed.
Two hours later, Dr Hart stood with his colleague, Dr Windle. Their attention was focused on the tiny window in the door. On the other side of the door, Simon Attwood lay still on the soft floor, watching the soft white walls in a drug-induced stupor. A single sentence spilled over and over again from his lips, whispered but just about audible; “The shape fights the motionless ink.”
“Another shadow-men?” Windle asked casually, and Hart nodded. “Hmm. Good job. How many does that make now?”
“Six institutionalised, four suicides and nine imprisoned or executed. Three on the run, but we’ll pick those up later.”
“The human mind is a fascinating place,” said Windle. He closed the flap on the door’s window and turned to Hart with a cheerful smile. “So, what should we make the next group see?”
Another Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenge! I must admit, I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the last one. I struggled to think of anything to write for any of the titles. This is my final product, not quite up to my usual standard.
How far will a sane man go to die?
It was a question I asked myself as I crawled prone through the narrow dirt tunnel, conscious of how little oxygen there was down here, worried about ploughing over random worms and giving myself a shit-load of negative karma.
At the time, it had seemed like such a good idea. In life I had been too big, too powerful, too successful. I had three prices on my head, each one of them larger than the last, and no idea which gangs had put them there. There’s only so long a chief of police can operate under those conditions. The solution had been simple; I’d needed to die.
The corruption within the government ran so deep that I could trust nobody with my plan. First had been the problem of death itself. For that I’d hired the services of a coroner willing to sign a death certificate with my name on it. Then I’d paid a chemist in Baltimore a princely sum for a substance that would put me in a state so close to death that only God himself would be able to tell the difference—or so he assured me. That had been the easy part.
Clearly, only my persona could stay dead. I myself had to come back, to continue my work. Unfortunately, being buried alive in a coffin is not exactly conducive to living. Even if I’d managed to bust my way out of it and crawl up into open air, I could see the headlines in my mind’s eye; “Recently deceased chief of police returns as zombie: mass panic ensues!”
No, crawling up from my grave was a terrible idea. But what if I could crawl underneath it? Inspired by Steve “Hilts” McQueen in ‘The Great Escape’ I decided to create a tunnel. Only, it wasn’t Nazis I was escaping from, but the prison of my own success.
I’d paid the undertaker handsomely to reserve me a plot. I’d hired a couple of local men to spend weeks digging an escape tunnel from beneath the grave to the tree line some distance away. They masked the entrance to the tunnel using thin dirt-covered sheets of chipboard. Then I paid for new lives for them on the other side of the country.
My coffin had needed to be unique. I’d bought it from a stage-set production company, claiming to be the director of some indie horror film. A small lever hidden within the velvet of the coffin lining allowed the bottom to open. My weight would cause the chip-board to break, and I’d land in the tunnel ready and raring to go.
The plan, of course, was best-case scenario. I hadn’t counted on waking from my near-death experience to darkness and a panic attack. How was I supposed to know I had an irrational fear of pitch-black coffin interiors? It’s not as if I’d ever been buried alive before.
After I’d finally calmed down, I remembered the lever. Finding it wasn’t easy, because my muscles were all stiff and my fingers didn’t want to work immediately. A little voice in my head told me I was rapidly running out of oxygen. I had another panic attack before I found the lever.
The door opened, I fell through, landed on the chipboard which quickly broke, and then I was in the tunnel, landing badly and choking on a mouthful of dirt that I’d somehow scooped up on the way down.
Another thing I hadn’t been expecting was the smell. I had no idea why I stank of formaldehyde, and I didn’t particularly care to think on it too much. In addition, the tunnel smelled of old, mulchy, musty earth, like soil, only more… soily. So there I was, lying aching and bruised in a tunnel, retching at the smell of formaldehyde and dank earth, panicked almost out of my wits because I was convinced I had only minutes’ worth of oxygen left, and in complete darkness.
In hindsight, I realise I should have requested to be buried with a torch. But I’d never had to plan my own death before, much less my own resurrection. Live and learn; next time I’d know better.
I’ll tell you honestly; I have no idea how far a sane man will go to die. But then again, sanity was never one of my strongest points. And perhaps, if I ever make it out of this tunnel, I’ll be able to give you an answer.
Another entry for a Chuck Wendig flash-fic challenge. Fourteen opening lines were given, one was to be chosen. Here is my piece.
I never trusted that statue in the garden behind the house.
To my six year old eyes, it was grotesque. Two feet tall and hewn from something like limestone or granite, it was a vicious-looking gargoyle, mouth opened to bare uniform teeth, deep-set eyes beneath an over-hanging brow, wings half-open as if it had just settled onto its dirty stone pillar—or was about to pounce on an unsuspecting victim (invariably myself).
The stone gargoyle was Aunt May’s pride and joy. She said he was called Clyde, and that he was a very special statue. The last was always accompanied by a wink. For a very long time, I didn’t know why.
He sat beside the lily-pond, guarding the goldfish. The local herons stayed away from the garden because of Clyde, and I couldn’t say that I blamed them. I would have stayed away too, given the choice. Unfortunately, I spent a lot of time during school holidays at Aunt May’s house. Mum said it was good for me to get out into the country, to enjoy the open air and the wide fields of meadow grass (she never brought up the copious amounts of cow dung).
For four weeks during the summer, and every Easter half-term, I was shipped off to Aunt May’s house with my suitcase of clothes. When I was young, I used to cry about it. Mum thought I cried because I was going to miss her. I couldn’t tell her that I didn’t want to go because the gargoyle made my skin crawl. Even as a six year old, I knew that sounded ridiculous.
Aunt May had a dog called Spot, and he was my constant companion during those holidays. He didn’t like Clyde, either. Whenever I threw his ball too close to the lily pond, he growled and backed away, refusing to retrieve it. We would have lost a lot of balls over the years, had Aunt May not gone and fetched them for us, smiling and shaking her head over my fear of her statue.
Every time I arrived at Aunt May’s, I’d hear Uncle John tutting over the latest rural scandals. Some predator, likely a fox or a cat, got into Mr Duncan’s chicken coop last night. One death, and all the eggs sucked dry; Little Milly’s rabbit was snatched from its open run last week, probably that damn kestrel again; The Ramsgreaves’ cat was found torn to shreds two days ago—looks like someone set a terrier on it, the bastards.
Each excuse sounded feasible, and I’m sure that to the adults, they were very logical reasons for the mishaps in the village. I, being a child, and therefore much more informed, knew better. The deaths weren’t caused by foxes or kestrels or terriers. It was Clyde who had killed those animals. I just didn’t know why he didn’t eat Aunt May’s fish, too.
When I lay on my bed in Aunt May’s spare room at nights, I fancied I could hear scratching on the window. It sounded just like claws against glass, and with every spine-chilling scratch, Spot (who was allowed to sleep on the bottom of the bed) would whine, and edge closer to me. I knew he and I shared the same thoughts; that Clyde was trying to get into the bedroom. Probably to drag us off and eat us, because that’s what gargoyles did. In the morning I would convey my fears to Aunt May, who’d chuckle and tell me that the scratching was caused by branches of the old apple tree brushing against the window, and that she’d get Uncle John to prune them.
For some reason, Uncle John never did. Or perhaps she simply didn’t ask.
Aunt May and Uncle John were like second parents to me. They never had children of their own (they tried a lot, I heard my mum once whisper to my dad), and I was like a daughter to them. I was nineteen when Uncle John died. A heart attack; he died in his bed. Part of me wondered if he’d heard scratching on the window just before his ticker gave out.
Aunt May lived to the ripe old age of 76, and bequeathed her house to me. After the funeral, Mum and I went around to the house, to start packing things up. Until then I’d been living in a tiny apartment, so I was looking forward to having more space, and a garden of my own. Of course, the first thing I planned on doing before moving anything into the old house was getting rid of Clyde.
When I looked out of Aunt May’s kitchen window, towards the lily-choked pond, my heart skipped several beats. Apart from the pond, and the ancient apple-tree, the garden was empty. The panic immediately turned to relief, and I told Mum how glad I was Aunt May had gotten rid of that old gargoyle before she’d died.
What old gargoyle? Was Mum’s reply.
You know, the one that used to sit by the pond. Clyde.
May never had a gargoyle, Mum frowned, looking completely puzzled.
Of course she did. Don’t you remember? Aunt May took a picture of me and Spot in front of it one summer when I was ten or eleven. The picture’s been on her mantelpiece for years.
Mum was adamant. She went to the mantelpiece, and showed me the photograph. The skin on my entire body broke out into a chill, goosebumps peppering my flesh. Spot and I were in that picture, both of standing uncomfortably in front of the lily-pond. But where I remember Clyde standing for over forty years, was nothing but empty space.
I put the house on the market that weekend, and it was bought by a family with three young children. I never went back, to ask if they’d ever seen an ominous-looking gargoyle loitering around the pond, looking after the goldfish.
Some questions are better left unasked.
Last week, Chuck Wendig asked us to post an opening line for a story, on which a flash-fic piece could be based. I immediately fell in love with the line by S.W. Sondheimer – It all started with Batman underpants. I decided that even if this wonderful opening line wasn’t picked as a ‘winner’, I would write a flash fiction piece around it anyway.
Sadly, it didn’t win. So without further ado, I give you my story.
It all started with Batman underpants.
Most people laugh when I tell them that. Then they see the look on my face. The smart ones back away, leaving me to continue searching for the meaning of life in the bottom of my pint glass. Those with less sense, or cursed with curiosity, take the stool next to me, and ask me to elaborate.
I take a moment to think about how best to sum up my fall from grace. How best to explain how New York’s brightest up-and-coming detective lost his job, his family, and any chance at a career in law enforcement. What should I say first? That it was a tragedy? That I was the agent of my own downfall? That I should have listened to my partner, who was far more wordly and experienced than I?
Usually I continue by rote, the words rolling from my tongue as smoothly as the beer rolling down my throat; it wasn’t supposed to be like this. It wasn’t our normal route. We’d come out this way hot on the tail of a stolen vehicle, but we’d lost it in heavy traffic. We drove around for almost three hours hoping to pick up a glimpse of that chevy, but lady luck was against us. Heavy fog had rolled in across the bay, thick as pea soup. As my partner, Danvers, put it; so thick I can’t tell my ass from my elbow.
A call came in over the scanner. Every cop, in the first week on the job, learns how to listen to the scanner without actually listening. Through all the calls and the chatter, you learn how to filter out anything that’s relevant to you. Most of the time you barely even notice the messages from dispatch.
I wish, now, I’d ignored that call.
Somebody had reported a robbery at a convenience store, corner of 3rd and Main. A mere two blocks away from where we were rolling through pea-soup fog. The shop owner had the perp at gunpoint. We should check it out, I said. Danvers, of course, tried to dissuade me. Cool your jets, hero. I’m sure a patrol will be out there soon enough.
Of course, I was young, and still fairly new to the job. I thought I had to impress my superiors with my go-get-’em attitude. Danvers shook his head and sighed, and I knew I’d won this round. We pulled up at the convenience store just a few minutes later.
The shop owner was an Indian man, or maybe Pakistani, or Bangladeshi. Always hard to know where your shopkeeper is from, these days. At any rate, he was pointing a shotgun at a tall young man cornered at the far end of the store. What struck me first was the perp’s expression. He didn’t seem afraid. In fact, when Danvers and I walked in, his face positively lit up with glee.
That should have set off warning bells in my head, but I was too wrapped up in the moment and the adrenaline.
I questioned the shopkeeper. This man came in and stole a pair of Batman underpants from aisle two. Check him, if you don’t believe me. So I checked him. And sure enough, there were the offending underpants, secreted away inside his coat pocket.
Seriously? Batman underpants? Out of all the things you could have stolen, that’s what you chose?
The perp shrugged, as if to say, So what? I happen to like Batman.
I asked him his name.
And that did set off the warning bells in my head.
Yeah, that’s right, he said. Maybe you’ve heard of my dad, William?
William McKinley. The Mayor of New York. The Big Kahuna. And I was first on the scene to find his son stealing underpants. And not just any underpants; Batman underpants.
They say hindsight is 20/20. I know, now, what I should have done. I should have slapped the kid with a caution, driven him home and handed him over to his dad. Here you go, Mr Mayor, I found this young tyke getting himself into a spot of bother, but no harm done.
That’s what I should have done. But the look on the kid’s face ignited a fire within me. He knew he’d get away with this. He’d done it before. That smug, self-satisfied smirk… I wanted to wipe it away. Teach him a lesson he wouldn’t forget.
I remember his expression when I whipped out the cuffs, spread him against the wall and started reading him his rights. I remember Danvers’ expression, as I did it. Open-mouthed shock, plastered across both faces. Danvers went pale. Shakily, he took me aside, told me that was enough, that I’d put the fear of God into the kid, that I’d made my point.
I didn’t listen. I was young, and new to the job, and oh so naive. I still believed in things like truth and justice and the American way. I still believed the dream. In my head, I was still seven years old, playing dress-up; a child living in an adult’s body, wrapped in a trench-coat and given a shiny badge to flash around.
You probably don’t need me to tell you what happened next. The Mayor was furious. The case folded. I don’t know whether the shopkeeper was bribed or blackmailed, but the result was the same. All charges dropped. My head was placed on a proverbial pike; I hadn’t realised that half of policing was about politics. Had somebody told me, when I was seven years old and playing dress-up, that if I wanted to be a law enforcer, I would have to dirty myself and the laws I held so dear, I would have become a street-sweeper instead. It would have been a better way of cleaning up the mess.
Five years on, I’m a private investigator. Wives pay me to follow their husbands, and vice versa. Occasionally I get a missing dog case; the highlight of my month. And every night, at six o’clock, I come to this bar, and drown my woes in beer. Sometimes I can even afford a little whisky.
Once in a blue moon, some schmuck like you notices me, and asks how I got here. And it takes me right back, back to that pair of Batman underpants.
From time to time, users with Polish-sounding names leave comments on my posts, and they get flagged up as spam. But maybe they’re not really spam; maybe it’s just Polish people with a really bad translator trying to show their appreciation for my blog.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank some of those Polish-sounding people for taking the time and effort to respond to my work (any associated links have been left out for obvious reasons).
Earlier today, piernekiche said:
“In place of of texting my daughter pertaining to laundry, I accidentally texted a banker from function and it autocorrected to whores.”
Well, piernekiche, you wouldn’t be the first person to fall victim to auto-correct, nor the first to be rumbled by a banker, either. It’s something auto-correct and bankers share in common; they cannot be trusted. Never.
Good luck with contacting your daughter (regardless of whether she’s a whore).
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So nice to hear from another visitor! I thought I was the only one on Earth right now! Though I do take exception to your use of the word “normal.” Surely we should be beyond assigning ourselves such primitive (and judgmental) labels. I do hope you enjoy being regular.
Yesterday, torty ślubne katowice (possibly a relation to the above commenter) said:
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Being an alien visitor to this place, I don’t actually possess a heart, but rest assured, if I had one, it would be warmed by your touching comments. I’m very glad my fantastic, enjoyable smartness has made an impact. I have to ask, though… was that you I saw spying on my spaceship from the bushes with your telescope the other night? If so, please could you stop doing it? I don’t know how, but you always manage to time it when I’m in the middle of taking a relaxing sonic-shower. I may not be human, but I have rights.
On the 4th April, szko³a dla doros³ych warszawa said:
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Umm… okaaaay. I don’t know what “pleasure” you’re talking about (are you confusing me with a purveyor of pornography, perchance?) but I certainly appreciate your, umm… yeah.
The day before that, młóto browarne said:
“whoah this blog is great i love reading your posts. Keep up the good work! You know, lots of people are hunting around for this information, you can aid them greatly.”
What?! People are hunting for this information? How do they know about it? My reports to my Homeworld are for my High Commander’s eyes only! Wait, are you a sneaky government agent spying on my communications? Tell your colleagues to cease their activities or I will be forced to take action!
On the same day, adwokat pszczyna said:
“Just about all of whatever you point out is astonishingly accurate and it makes me ponder the reason why I hadn’t looked at this with this light previously. This article really did switch the light on for me personally as far as this topic goes. Nonetheless at this time there is actually 1 factor I am not really too comfy with so whilst I try to reconcile that with the actual main idea of your position, permit me see just what all the rest of your readers have to point out.Very well done.”
I really have no idea which factor you’re not comfortable with. As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m not into probing. Or is this about that meteorite incident? Look, I’m sorry; how was I supposed to know that playing Meteor Pinball in your solar system would injure so many people? I promise I won’t do it again, okay? Also, many thanks for pointing out how astonishingly accurate my reports are. I’m glad somebody thinks that way; my High Commander certainly doesn’t appreciate how much hard work I’m putting into this assignment, even though I didn’t ask for it or even want it.
And last (for the moment) on the 31st March, Anonymous said this:
“I was recommended this website by means of my cousin. I’m no longer certain whether or not this submit is written by means of him as no one else recognise such specific about my trouble. You are incredible! Thanks!”
Human, whilst I humbly accept your claim of my incredibility, I suspect you have some deep-seated emotional problems. Whatever “trouble” you’re going through, I suggest you seek professional help. A blog is not a healthy outlet for your issues.
PS, please tell your cousin to stop perving on me in the sonic-shower.
A piece I wrote for a flash-fic contest, based around the topic “A Street Corner in November.”
Like it? Hate it? Let me know your thoughts.
The Frost Prince
Tiny ice crystals clung to the dirty stone wall of Hudson’s Bakery, each crystal a minute speck of pristine white which glistened beautifully in the moonlight. Mary studied the tiny crystals as she stood beside the street corner; watching each one grow larger as the temperature dropped helped to take her mind off how cold she was, helped her to ignore the way her breath frosted when she exhaled, how numb her toes felt inside her thin leather shoes. Not for the first time, she cursed God for sending winter so early to London this year.
A stone’s throw away from her usual corner, a dozen ships were moored at the old stone dock. Two of them were newly arrived, one carrying goods from Africa, another come to collect passengers to take back to the New World. Freedom was the name emblazoned on the hull of the transatlantic ferry, and for a brief moment, Mary toyed with the idea of trying to sneak onboard, to stowaway, to find a new life and fortune in America.
It was a fanciful dream. She knew she would be severely punished, if she was caught. Even if she wasn’t caught, she had no skills to speak of; the only thing she knew how to do was lie on her back, which was all a prostitute needed to know. But whether you were a prostitute in London or a prostitute in New York, it was still the same old song. The same men, with their grubby hands and breath reeking of stale alcohol, paying the same meagre fee for a quick roll in the sack.
Besides, George was waiting for her, back home. If she didn’t return before dawn, he’d wonder where she had gone.
A group of men approached from Freedom, and by their garb she saw they were sailors. Mary smiled and hitched up her dress, exposing one pale, slender leg. As the men passed, boisterous and jovial, two of them carrying bottles of rum or gin, she exhaled slowly, letting her barely-covered bosom rise and fall seductively. One of the men glanced at her, and she smiled with all the coyness she could muster, but he walked on, trailing after his friends. The noise of their merry-making died away, leaving only the sound of the Thames gently slapping against the side of the ships at dock.
Mary let her dress fall back down over her chilled leg. It had been a long shot at best. Sailors were good fare during their shore-leave, but only if you caught them alone. Once they were ‘out with the boys’ it was hard to separate them.
“Are you working tonight?”
The voice was deep and scratchy. It came from behind the shop, from the shadows clinging to the alley between the bakery and the cobbler’s workshop. Mary narrowed her eyes, squinting into the darkness, trying to see who spoke. Some men hid in the shadows, paranoid about being seen near a working girl. But a customer was a customer, and as long as he could pay, Mary did not judge.
“Aye, sir,” she said, leaving the ice-crystal corner, strolling towards the alley. “If you’ve coin to pay, of course.”
“Of course.” He stepped forward, into the pale moonlight, and she caught a glimpse of his face; narrow and clean-shaven, it was a face of harsh angles. That didn’t matter to Mary. After four years of working the streets, she no longer saw faces. They were all the same; indistinct featureless blurs. Even when she saw the same man twice, it was rarely his face she remembered.
“Here you go,” he said. He took out a small coin purse and counted several silvers. When he handed them over she pocketed them, glancing through her lashes at the dark suit he wore. Clearly he was no sailor, and no labourer. Why a well-to-do member of society would want to hire the services of a working girl, she did not know, but then again, she did not particularly care.
“Come along this way,” he said, stepping back into the alley. The darkness swallowed him, and Mary hesitated. As a rule she tried to keep to the main streets, which were well-lit and populous. But this man was a customer, and that he had paid her in advance proved he wasn’t likely to swindle her.
Lifting her head a little higher and fighting the unease she felt in her stomach, she followed him into the shadows. It wasn’t easy to see, in the alley, and twice she tripped over broken pieces of wood which had been casually strewn aside, but she could hear his footsteps up ahead, and she hurried along after him, trying to keep pace.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Mary Nichols,” she replied.
“Well, Mary, what would you say if I was to tell you that I’m going to make you famous?” There was humour in his scratchy voice.
“What do you mean?”
She heard him stop, and in the dimness of the alley she could just about make out that he turned to face her.
“My name’s Jack.”
There was a flash of something cold and bright, which reflected the moonlight as the ice crystals had, and Mary felt a searing pain across her neck. Ice flashed across her skin, chilling her. But then something warm began to pour down her chest. She went light-headed and sank to the ground. Her life did not flash before her eyes, because she’d had no life to speak of. Just one more painted face in a city of filth and sin. The last thought that crossed her mind before it ceased to work was that George would wonder why she hadn’t come home. Her son would grow up believing his mother had abandoned him.
When the sun rose over London, the tiny ice crystals on the wall of the bakery began to melt. And a tiny river of red ran along the ground, spilling into the dirty gutter.
Another flash-fiction piece for Chuck Wendig’s Friday flash-fic challenge. We were to click the following link and write about our destination. I have posted a picture of my destination at the end of this story. (http://www.safestyle-windows.co.uk/secret-door/)
Beyond the Door
I have a vague memory, one that is already fading fast. It’s dark, and I’ve just left the cinema with my friends. The movie, some action flick, was mediocre at best – a generic hero with generic muscles fought a generic enemy – and a hundred and fifty-eight minutes of my life had been wasted on stupidly large explosions and over-the-top CGI. Our Hero had saved the day and got the girl.
Real life isn’t like that, I remember thinking to myself. You don’t get a perfect ending in a hundred and fifty-eight minutes.
My friends wanted to go into town, to continue being social. I was starting to develop a headache, brought on by loud explosions booming from the cinema’s surround-sound with enough force to set off seismographs in New Zealand, and by the flashing lights on the big screen. Loud music and copious amounts of alcohol were the last things on my mind. I said goodbye to my friends.
“I’ll see you tomorrow.”
They returned my farewell, waving as they left.
It started to rain – it does that a lot, in England. The bus shelter, just across the road, was my one chance of salvation. Squinting, trying to shield my eyes from the water pattering against my face, I stepped off the pavement.
I found myself in an action movie. There was flashing light, something loud blaring at me, the scream of tyres on wet tarmac, echoed by the scream of some damsel in distress standing on the pavement behind me. But this movie had no Hero. I remember seeing one word; Volkswagen.
Then I wasn’t outside the cinema anymore. I wasn’t cold, getting wet by the falling rain. I was inside a room, and in front of me were two doors, one white and shining, above it engraved the image of an elephant, impressive tusks curled beneath its trunk. The other door was some shade of brown, and above it an image of a mountain goat with curved rams-horns was depicted in the stone.
I had been here before. As memories of the other place – the cinema, the movie, the Volkswagen – drifted from my mind, new memories entered, to replace what I had lost. This place… this place was not what it seemed. I had learnt my lesson long ago, and now I knew what I had to do.
I stepped towards the brown door, and it opened at the slightest touch of my hand. I smiled; the door had always done that, as if it sensed my desire to enter it. And as I stepped through, I already knew what would be waiting for me.
I found myself beneath a blue sky, not a single cloud marring that perfect expanse of azure. Beneath the sky, set into a small depression in the ground, was a model village. It was not the same model village I had seen last time, for it changed with each visit I made. This one was more intriguing than its last incarnation; right before me was a small information post, the words ‘Victorian Houses’ written at the top, a lengthier description of them beneath. Behind the houses was a green park, tiny bonsai trees planted here and there.
To the left of the Victorian houses were multi-storey rectangular buildings on straight streets which ran at right-angles to each other. I could not see the information post, but judging by the way they stood in perfectly neat blocks, I suspected they belonged somewhere in the United States. I had been there once, during the Great Depression, and recognised some of the architecture.
Off in the distance were some sky-scrapers; it could have been New York, or it could have been Tokyo. I was sure I had seen King Kong and Godzilla having their wicked way with some of these buildings… but that was part of my previous memory-set, and they weren’t important, now. I did, however, have fond memories of Tokyo; I had been there during Japan’s Edo period, when the great city had been nothing more than a fly-speck village. But it had been a nice fly-speck village.
As I was considering my next destination, the door opened behind me, and a man stepped through. He gave me a smile, and approached me with a spring in his step.
“Hey, first time visitor?” he asked.
“No, I’m a frequent flier,” I replied. “You?”
“Oh yeah, yeah. I love this place. Every time I come here I think, ‘this will be my last time, I’ve seen it all by now’, and then it throws me something new!” He squinted at the sky-scrapers. “Is that New York?”
“I think so,” I replied, not wanting to admit my lack of knowledge to this stranger. “Any idea where you’d like to go next?”
“Hmm… I don’t know… hmm, wait a minute!” His eyes lit up as they fell on the information post. “Victorian, eh? That sounds promising! I’ve never done Victorian England before. Have you?”
“No, but I was there for World War Two. You should really see St Paul’s Cathedral before it gets blitzed.”
“Oh, I will. Thanks for the tip.” He smiled, an eagerness in his eyes that I envied. My last experience had been rather unfulfilling, and I was in no rush to get back down there. Perhaps I would wait here for a while, until something piqued my interest.
“Well, I hope I’ll see you around again,” I said, not wanting to force him to leave, but not particularly in the mood for company right now. The word Volkswagen was still emblazoned across my mind, and refused to leave me alone.
“I certainly hope so too,” he said with a smile. “Who knows, maybe I’ll even meet you down there.”
“Yeah, maybe.” But we wouldn’t recognise each other.
I watched as he stepped into the model village, and he disappeared before my eyes. Down there, I knew, some Victorian woman had just gone into labour, and within hours her new son would be born. She would never know his true nature; nobody would. That was just the way things worked.
Another flash-fiction piece for Mr Chuck Wendig’s latest challenge.
From Beyond The Veil
It was a dark, stormy night.
It was the sort of night when people bolted their doors and pulled down the storm shutters over their windows. When woollen blankets, that smelt of mothballs and grandma, came out of storage and were wrapped around shoulders, held closed around shivering bodies by chilled hands. The wind had a way of sliding its icy fingers into every nook and cranny, of finding its way inside regardless of how well closed up a home was.
One person did not shiver, or huddle beneath a musty, rarely-used blanket. Eleanor Dupuis lived in luxury; her 10 year old mansion had been built purposely to look archaic, but it lacked the flaws older properties possessed. The window frames were perfectly level, allowing not even a breath of wind to enter. The floorboards, each one hand-cut from expensive English oak, never creaked – they would not have dared. The roof tiles did not rattle in bad weather, and the roof never leaked, not even a single drop of water making it into the house.
As a particularly strong gust of wind shook the windows of her mansion, Eleanor smiled to herself, and looked around her private library from the warmth and comfort of her armchair in front of the roaring open fire. This room was her pride and joy. She had nursed and nourished it as a new mother doted on her firstborn child. Into the creation and growth of the library went the obsessive care and attention that parents lavished on their children, and for good reason. From a young age – around nine or so, roughly the same time she’d learnt where babies come from – Eleanor had decided that she wasn’t going to be one of those women who popped out baby after baby and stayed home to look after her family. Eleanor had Plans. Very nearly they were Grand Plans.
Her grandfather had been an archaeologist, and to this day, ancient monochrome photographs of him posing in various countries at various dig-sites amongst various local peoples were amongst Eleanor’s most treasured possessions, and now she too was immortalised in print, her pictures framed upon the walls beside Grandpa; her first ever dig in Egypt, where a tip from an elderly local man who’d asked for later payment but then never returned to claim it, had helped her to unearth the lost tomb of an ancient Pharaoh; the expedition of university students she’d led to Machu Picchu when she was thirty six, in search of ancient Incan secrets; her very last expedition before retirement three years ago, a trip to England, to a newly discovered Neolithic settlement which had the potential to rock the boat of the archaeological world.
As Eleanor looked around her library, reflecting on the greatest moment of her life – and there had been many, because she had been a very successful and renowned archaeologist – the room began to shake. At first she ignored the shaking, dismissing it as a symptom of the storm, but when it grew in intensity, causing some of her books to work themselves loose off the shelves, she began to worry. The final straw came when the prize of her collection, an exquisitely hand-crafted jade dolphin figurine she’d unearthed in China, fell from the mantelpiece; victim of gravity and the hard English oak floorboards, it shattered into pieces, and Eleanor’s heart fell from her chest into her stomach.
She pushed herself up from her chair, stepping carefully around the small pieces of jade which littered the floor. Though the room still shook, she made her way to the mantelpiece – one did not become a famous and respected archaeologist by allowing a little earthquake to unnerve them – and pushed some of the other figurines back, securing them in place with her hands.
The shaking stopped. All was quiet, except for the storm outside. Eleanor looked up, into the mirror above the fireplace, and froze. Behind her stood a man in dusty brown robes, his feet clad in brown leather sandals, a wooden staff held in one hand to be used as a walking aid.
Eleanor turned on the spot. She didn’t need to look into the mirror to know the colour had drained from her face. Her eyes felt wide inside her own head as she faced the man.
“Y-you can’t be here,” she stammered. “You should be dead!”
The man did not speak. He merely walked towards Eleanor, his stick held aggressively above his head, and she screamed as the makeshift club was brought down towards her head.
– – – – –
The great lord Osiris, undertaker of the ages, leant his weight against his sturdy shovel as he stood above the fresh grave in front of the tombstone. It was, he thought, and not for the first time, such a shame that Westerners were so fond of interring their bodies in the earth. It made the raising more traumatic for the souls, when they had to rise up through the ground. The Egyptians had gotten it right. Mummification, and eternal rest of the body inside a tomb. Nothing at all traumatic about that.
As he watched, the pale, ethereal form of Eleanor Dupuis rose from the ground. She looked around in fright, and her eyes fell on him once more.
“I don’t understand,” she said. “Why did you do this to me?”
“It is not what I did to you, but what you did to yourself,” he replied. “Do you remember what I said to you, back in Egypt?”
“You said you could make my career, for a price.”
“And you said..?”
“I don’t remember,” she lied.
“You said, ‘For that, I would give you anything.’ So now I am claiming my fee. I have come for your soul.”
“But I wasn’t being serious!” the ghost objected.
The great lord Osiris waved his hand, returning himself to the underworld, and the ghost of Eleanor Dupuis went with him.
Entry for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: They Fight Crime. Based off the randomly generated text; ‘He’s an underprivileged arachnophobic boxer with a robot buddy named Sparky. She’s a cynical paranoid angel from a family of eight older brothers. They fight crime!’ from theyfightcrime.org
They Sold Me A Dream
‘And it was all just a dream.’
They were the words writers used at the end of the story to sell the audience a lie. To protect innocent minds from the harsh truth of a reality they just weren’t ready to handle. Other lies of reality included ‘if you eat your vegetables you’ll grow up to be big and strong’, ‘if you treat people nice, they’ll return the favour’ and, of course, ‘if you leave a tooth under your pillow, the tooth-fairy will take it away and leave you a quarter.’ The truth of reality was much, much simpler. Some people were destined to never grow up no matter how many vegetables they ate. Some people walked all over you even if you were nice as pie with a cherry on the top; sometimes they did it especially if you were nice as pie (including mandatory cherry). And, in reality, the tooth-fairy was a vicious little bastard who just wouldn’t quit. People thought they lost their baby-teeth as they aged. They simply didn’t see the tiny, winged monstrosity who snuck into their bedrooms at night and quietly chipped away at those little teeth with a minute pick-axe.
For Avril, the lies were of a different nature. ‘Of course there is a purpose to your existence.’ And, ‘yes, you can certainly make a difference in people’s lives.’ But that’s what you got when you were the youngest of nine children, and the only girl by simple virtue of the fact that Dad wanted to ‘try something different.’ So she’d spent eight or nine thousand years sitting on her cloud in heaven, looking down at the green and blue marble her family called ‘Earth’, watching her brothers given human after human to guide and protect. Dad’s excuse was always the same: “But this one’s a very important mortal. I need <insert name of random brother> to handle it. You can have the next one born, Avril.”
After nine-thousand years, she’d been forced to confront her own harsh truth, the bitter reality of her own existence. Dad just wasn’t going to let her do the job her brothers had been doing since the beginning of time. For whatever reason, he didn’t trust her to see it through. So, armed with her newfound insight which she’d teamed with unrepressed disappointment, she’d done the only thing an angel could do when planning to rebel against God. She’d run away from home.
Now, her view of the Earth was no longer obscured by clouds. Standing atop the generically bland New York skyscraper, she could see it all. Humanity, in all of its glory, in all of its filth. It had been the filth which had affected her most. As a righteous being of virtue, crime and corruption were an affront to her, a mockery of all that heaven stood for. Taking on the responsibility of fighting those twin demons had not been so much a decision as a calling which had been literally thrust upon her the first time she’d walked down one of the streets at night, and some thug had thought she would make an easy mark because she was a woman alone (or so he had mistakenly believed, before she had been forced to terminate his existence for the greater good).
From her vantage point, her steely eyes picked up the shape of her partner, former heavy-weight boxing champion Jimmy Alessi. He, too, loathed the corruption. Fed up with the match-fixing and crooked gambling that went on behind the scenes at the boxing rings where he’d made his name, he’d given it all up to oppose it, and now his fists punched for justice instead of fame. For Jimmy, who had been raised to believe in hard work and sacrifice by his widowed mother even whilst she had struggled to put shoes on his feet and food in his belly, to see his passion turned into a parody by those who cared only for the achievement regardless of whether they had earned it, was more than he could bear.
Avril stretched out her wings and flew down to his position, gliding past unlit office windows, landing silently beside him before folding her feathery appendages behind her back. Jimmy glanced at her briefly but said nothing.
“All is in place?” she asked at last.
Jimmy nodded, the spider tattoo on his cheek moving along with the motion. The spider had been a joke. Arachnids were the only thing Jimmy feared, so Avril had suggested he have one tattooed in a place he could see, so that he would be forced to confront — and hopefully, overcome — his fear. That was the day she had learnt that you couldn’t use throw-away lines like that when Jimmy was around.
“Yeah. Sparky’s monitoring the exchange. He’ll let us know when we can swoop in.”
Sparky. The robot Jimmy had bought from a junk sale and turned into his own personal spy-bot. One of the duo’s greatest tools in the fight against crime, and Avril still had no idea how he’d reprogammed the damn thing.
“D’ya think we’ll ever get them all?” Jimmy asked. But there was no hope in his dark brown eyes, and Avril wasn’t going to even attempt to lie. Jimmy deserved more than that, and for some people, ‘it was all just a dream’ was not a worthy ending. Some people deserved to see the harsh truth, no matter how bitter it tasted. For some people, the story never ended, it just continued on a new page.
In silence they stood, waiting for the robot’s cue.
Since my previous communicaé I have taken the opportunity to study several human subjects at considerable length, and am pleased to make the following report.
Human beings are a species of hairless ape, referred to by themselves as homo sapiens sapiens. A mammalian species, they reproduce by the method of sexual reproduction, an activity which appears to take up an inordinately large portion of their time and their thoughts.
The humans are, as a species, incredibly frail. The things which can kill them include, but are not limited to:
- Large animals
- Medium-sized animals
- Small animals
- Microscopic organisms
- Their modes of transportation
- Large things falling on them
- Small things falling on them
- Falling over
- Too much heat
- Not enough heat
- Too much water
- Not enough water
- Too much food
- Not enough food
- Sharp things
- Pointy things
- Blunt things
- Their own planet
- Their own bodies
- Each other
To the casual observer it would seem that life itself is opposed to the existence of the human species, so it is remarkable that they are so numerous on their planet. Not only are they easily killed, they also possess the curious habit of making excuses for death. These excuses are many and varied, but some common ones are:
- An act of a supreme creator-being they call “God”
- An act of an evil being they call “The Devil”
- Their upbringing
- Their genetics
- Video games
- Poor judgement
- Intoxication or addiction
- Mental illness
- and, my favourite: “That’s Life”
I have attached a data packet of information pertaining to human biology which I am certain the Supreme Head of SCOLIS will find useful. Unfortunately, I have reached the limits of what can be learnt about human biology with the technology currently available to me. The only way to learn more about these creatures would be to extract several of them for detailed probing, which, as I’m sure you are aware, is forbidden by the current Coalition for Intergalactic Peace, Prosperity and Trade (CIPPT).
I would be grateful if you could direct the topic of my next communication.
-Mr Urban Spaceman