Category Archives: Short Stories

Loss. Short Story.

Danny looked at himself in the hall mirror, he turned his head this way and that, then tried smiling. It looked wrong, too bright, too manic. He let his face relax and tried again. Better. “Morning! Yes, it’s a beautiful day isn’t it? Oh I’m great, how are you?” It sounded too forceful, too fake. Danny took a breath and repeated it, it sounded better, natural. He smiled at himself and nodded, it was good. He grabbed his keys from the table and turned the doorknob, after a deep breath he opened the door and stepped outside.

The day was bright and sunny, though the air held a chill. Danny felt himself relax slightly as he saw that the driveway next door was empty, their car was still there but if he hurried, he could be gone before they left. Quickly Danny got into his car and started the engine, as he pulled out the couple next door were leaving, he raised one hand in greeting and kept driving. Ok, that was good, he got through that just fine. Now he just needed to get through work. That was easy enough, people felt weird around him now, awkward, and that meant limited conversation. He hadn’t discussed anything deeper than the weather with the people in work since it happened and he was perfectly happy for things to stay that way. He just needed to keep his head down and get his work done, keep moving forward, things would start to get better sooner or later, he just had to keep going.

Danny reached for his coffee and took a sip, the day had been going by at a reasonable speed, but now it was lunch time. Everyone was going out to the usual restaurant, they had invited him but he had refused as he knew it was just out of politeness. He sat in his cubicle and mechanically ate his sandwich, one bite at a time. When he finished he realised he wasn’t actually sure what kind of sandwich it was. Ham maybe? Some kind of deli meat that was in the fridge. Lately things had been slipping, just small things, like what he had just watched on TV, or what he had eaten. People told him that things like that were bound to happen, but they made it seem like it would go away at some point, but it had already been three months. Danny frowned, was it three months already? That seemed impossible, it felt like it had only happened a week ago.

As people started entering the office Danny busied himself, pretending to work, one or two people asked if he had a good lunch. He tried to engage in witty banter with everyone, but it just seemed to feel flat, like the words had no real meaning or substance behind them. It was just noise. What ever he had said did the trick and they left him alone again. He shuffled papers around his desk, it had always been reasonably tidy before, but now there were pages and files strewn everywhere, and possibly a mug or two buried underneath it all.

“Hey Danny, how’s things?”
“I’m good, how’re you?”
“Oh can’t complain, have you gotten around to the Frank files yet?”
Had he?
Danny searched his desk and found them underneath his keyboard, “Yeah, here they are sorry.”
“No worries, we don’t need them until tomorrow but I’m just trying to get myself organised ya know? These meetings always make me nervous.”
“Yeah me too”
“So uh a few of us were going to go out for drinks later, I know you haven’t been up for coming out since…well, I thought I’d let you know, if you were feeling up for it.”
“Thanks Joe, but I can’t, I promised Sheila’s parents I’d be over to see them. It’s been a while since I checked in with them.”
“Oh, no worries, just thought I’d say, we’ll be in the usual place from seven if you’re free.”
“Thanks Joe.”
“And look, if you ever need to talk or anything.”
Danny smiled at him, Danny knew how fake it must have looked, “Thanks man, I really appreciate it.”
Joe smiled, “Well, I guess I better get back to it. If you feel like coming out we’ll be there until probably ten or so and I do mean it, if you ever need anyone to talk to, let me know.”
Danny nodded, then looked back at his computer screen, he felt a pit of worry forming in his stomach, had it been that obvious? Had people noticed or was Joe just saying the things you are supposed to say? Should he go out? Just to be seen so everyone would think he was fine? The thought of going filled him with dread, all those people and talking and music. No. He wasn’t ready for that. Not yet.

Danny turned onto his street, he looked around for a second, then sighed, he must have zoned out. He really had meant to visit Sheila’s parents, they were only a ten minute drive from the office, but now it would take at least an hour to get over there, what with traffic and everything. He felt a thin thread of relief, it was too much of a hassle now. Tomorrow he’d go for sure. Beneath the relief there was something else, a low, gnawing guilt, he had meant to visit them yesterday too.

Danny let himself into the house, he could feel the emptiness of it pressing against him from all sides. They had bought the bigger house, dreaming of the children they’d fill it with. Gone. All gone. No one left but him now. Danny went into the sitting room, he dropped back onto the couch and turned on the TV. At some point he got food, another sandwich, apparently it was pastrami that he had at lunch. He chewed the sandwich slowly, not really tasting it. How long would he be like this? Just doing things for the sake of doing them. It seemed impossible that he had been so happy once, like that life was just a dream and now he was in the real world again.

Danny sat, staring at the TV, though he wasn’t paying attention to what was going on. At around 9 he turned off the TV and made his way up to bed, it was a little early, but he had nothing better to do. He lay in the darkness, eyes closed, willing himself to sleep, to dream, so he could see her again, feel her warmth, hear her laugh. The morning would come all too quickly and then it would be over and she’d be gone again.


Oracles. Short Story.

Happy St. Patrick day! Hope everyone has a good day!

I’m not up to much today, just going to have a relaxed one. I always find Paddy’s day can be a bit stressful, town is always packed and it’s a hassle trying to get in and finding somewhere to go. Really you just spend most of the day walking around looking for somewhere that isn’t packed so you can go drinking there and trying not to lose everyone on the way.

I’m also super aware that the above makes me sound old, but it’s not that, it really isn’t. I’m just really lazy and unsociable. Wait. That’s worse. Let’s just go with the getting old thing instead!
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“How are you this morning sweetheart?” Angela walked into the dark room, it stunk of sweat and fever, beneath it was a faintly sweet, spicy aroma. The girl lying on the bed groaned slightly, her skin was coated in a thin sheen of sweat, strands of dark hair clung to her face. Angela gently pulled back the curtains, allowing some light into the room, the girl groaned and rolled away from the light. Angela opened the window slightly and a cool breeze entered. Angela went to the small table, the girls morning tray was already there, carefully she picked up the glass and brought it over. “Here, drink this, it will help” Angela held the girls head up slightly while the girl took slow, careful sips. Even though she knew it was for the greater good it was sometimes hard for Angela to look at the oracles, with their gaunt faces and staring, black eyes. The girl finished the drink and sighed in relief. “Better?”
“Much. I can think again. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. When you’re ready let me know and we’ll go and get you cleaned up.”
“I think I’m ok to stand.” Angela helped the young girl from her bed and together they made their way to the cleaning rooms.

Already the rooms were full of men and women preparing for the day, most of them stood in sprays of water or rested in warm baths while their caretakers scurried around the room. Most caretakers had a few charges to look after, Angela was lucky in that she only had to care for Serena, after all she was the strongest of them all.

Once Serena had bathed she felt almost human, the shakes were mostly gone at this point, though the doses she had been given were just to level her off she was already craving more. That was the worst of it all, the constant need. Once she was dressed in a light cotton robe Serena was brought to her room. “Are there many today?”
“No, they wanted to give you a bit of a rest after last week.”
“Yes, that was a busy one.” Serena frowned, “I feel like I’m on the edge of something, some knowledge. I think maybe I should take the usual doses today, just in case.”
Angela smiled and shook her head, “I’m sorry, I can’t get any more. I will ask though, they may make an exception.”
“Thank you.”
They both knew there would be no exception, there never was. Angela donned the thick, heavy gloves and went to the small cubby, there she removed the small pot of God’s Eye and brought it to the table. Serena removed the lid and instantly the room was filled with the tantalizingly sweet fragrance, the scent of it alone made Angela feel a bit light headed. Serena picked up a good pinch and carefully put it into her mouth. She chewed for a moment, almost moaning as the flavours danced across her tongue, then she swallowed. Angela carefully closed up the pot and put it back into its cupboard which she locked. When Angela turned back Serena was slumped over the table, after a moment she sat up again with a dazed grin. “Oh Angela, it’s so beautiful, you’re surrounded by a golden light. Good things are coming.”
Angela gave her a small, tight smile, “Please don’t do that. I’ve asked you this before.”
Serena’s face dropped, “I’m so sorry, I forgot, it was just so overwhelming. I’m so sorry” tears started to well in her eyes, “Can you ever forgive me?”
Angela smile grew a little more, “of course I do. Always.”

A man entered the room, Angela didn’t look at him, nor did Serena, “I’ll be back to give you your next dose later. Ok? If you need anything, just let Christopher know.” Angela left the room, suppressing a shiver as she passed Christopher. She hated his presence, that dead look on his face. He was one of the blank slates, completely clear of destiny or fate, whose only job was to protect the oracles without distracting from their predictions.

Angela changed the sheets in Serena’s room and opened both the window and the curtains wider to clear out some of the smell. The girl didn’t have much longer left, maybe a year if she was lucky, then the God’s Eye would finally destroy her mind. Addictive and destructive, seeing the future required a price to be paid and that price was life. People came from all over the world to talk to the oracles, where else could they find a direct line to the gods? When she had first started working at the House of Destiny she believed that it was all done for the greater good, but after ten years she saw what it really was, a machine that would chew up young boys and girls and spit out their corpses. Not everyone was blessed with the second sight, but the only way to truly access it was through the God’s Eye, without it predictions were vague and almost useless, but with it everything was clear.

Angela half walked, half carried Serena towards her room, Serena was giggling to herself as she stumbled down the hall. Angela carefully tucked her into her bed and smoothed some hair from her forehead. “You have a good nights sleep, rest and I’ll see you in the morning.” Serena’s hand shot out and grabbed Angela’s, “Stay with me until I fall asleep, please.” Angela sat on the edge of the bed and smiled down at her, “of course sweetheart, I won’t go anywhere if you don’t want me to.” As Angela watched Serena’s breathing slowed, her chest rising and falling softly, carefully Angela let go of her hand and snuck out of the room, gently closing the door behind herself.


#ShortStory: Death Express

Hello my Freaky Darlings,

It’s Friday!

So … here’s another short story for your reading pleasure. Hope you enjoy it.

Death Express

The screams of delight mingled with exhilaration and echoed from the roller-coaster rides as we explored Gold Reef City, south of Johannesburg. It was one of the first times we’d been out in public together. I’d been having an affair with David for a few months and we were feeling reckless. His wife was away for the weekend, visiting her family at the coast, and we felt we deserved to have some fun in the sun as well. We were trying our relationship on for size and seeing if it still fitted outside of the bedroom.

We rode the Anaconda about six times. David wasn’t a big fan, but he sat in the front of the ride with me because he knew I loved it, which made me love him even more. His wife was an absolute fool who didn’t appreciate him. She was also a jealous and possessive cow who gave him little freedom. Or that’s what I told that nagging, guilty voice scratching at the back of my mind.

To take my mind off the guilt, I decided to up the ante for an even bigger rush. Only one ride could give that to me. David screamed like a girl on the Tower of Terror and couldn’t understand how I could laugh as we plummeted. He didn’t know the guilt I felt about having an affair with a married man had finally been silenced by the adrenaline rush. I’d be back to feeling like a home wrecker once it wore off, but for a few moments I could enjoy being in love with him.

His legs shook as we got off and I couldn’t help kissing him. It was the first time we’d kissed in public. It took us both by surprise and felt so right. We held hands for the first time while we explored the rest of the gold mining theme park.

We considered going straight back to my place after that kiss, but decided we’d try one more ride. Just one more ride and then we’d make love and never let each other go.

“Promise me, after this ride it’ll be just you and me forever?” I asked, as butterflies danced in my stomach.

“I promise, after today, you’ll be mine forever.” His smile made my heart stop for a second. I knew I was acting like a silly school girl, but couldn’t help myself.

With the promise made we started our search for that last ride.

The Death Express was new and the queue wasn’t as long as those for the other rides. I wasn’t even sure what it was supposed to be, and the expressions on the faces of the men and women as they came out were interesting, to say the least. They all looked haunted and completely freaked out. It gave me the creeps.

“How about we forget about this one and just go home?” I suggested. “Start our new life together?”

“Why? I thought you liked these kinds of things?” David said; his eyes opened wide and his eyebrows rose, giving him that rather comical surprised look.

“I do, but I want to get you home and into bed more than I want to go on some stupid ride I haven’t even heard about.”

“Let’s just try this one. It looks like it’ll be more my speed. I’ve gone on all the ones you chose. Can we try this one? Please.”

“Okay.” I smiled and pretended my stomach wasn’t in my throat. I couldn’t understand why, but there was something about the looks on those faces that made me want to run in the opposite direction. I’d seen a similar expression on my sister just after her car crash. The doctors said she’d been clinically dead for a few seconds. Her eyes had lost their shine. She’d had the eyes of a corpse.

“Do you know what this ride is like?” I asked a red-headed girl in front of me.

“No. No one does and no one who’s been on it will tell me, so I have to see for myself.”

“Oh,” I said. “No one will talk about it? That’s a bit weird.”

“It must be one hell of a ride.” David’s eyes shone.

The queue moved along faster than expected and before I could chicken out, we were at the entrance. I barely had time to read the small print on the sign board at the door. I had to squint to make out the words: Experience your death. Then I was inside before I could consider the ramifications of that line. People were herded one by one into dark cubicles. Someone screamed in the dark then I heard a cry. It was filled with pain and remorse. I wanted to get out but the door was locked and I was trapped in my own dark cubicle. This wasn’t like any ride I’d ever been on and I didn’t know where David was.

The darkness closed in on me, surrounded me. I couldn’t breathe or think. The floor whirled under my feet, making me dizzy. The air was sucked from my lungs and my legs buckled under me. I knelt on the floor, but I was no longer in that small dark cubicle.

I looked around, feeling dizzy and sick to my stomach. Something was very wrong. I was in the Gold Reef City parking lot. David stood over me, a knife in his hand. Where the hell had the knife come from? The thought had only just formed in my mind, when he thrust the knife into my chest. Sharp, excruciating pain sent my nerve endings into spasms. Blood gushed out of the wound. The look in his eyes as he killed me was cold and unemotional. Shouldn’t he be really angry to kill me? I looked into his glacial eyes as I took my last breath. My body tingled as my heart pumped the last bit of blood through my veins.

Then there was nothing. No white light. No singing choir. Nothing! I’m not sure what pissed me off more – the fact that the man I loved had just stabbed me for no apparent reason or that there was nothing at the end of the line.

I don’t know how long I lay in a puddle of my own blood in the parking area, but I woke in the cubicle, where I started. I checked my chest. There was no blood and no stab wound. It was as though it had all been a dream. But it hadn’t been a dream. It had been too real. I touched my cheeks and felt they were wet with tears. I hadn’t even realised that I’d been crying, but at least I felt real to my own touch

A bald man with a goatee came into my cubicle and gestured for me to follow him. He didn’t say a word as he led me towards the exit. He made no offer to explain what I’d just experienced.

“What happened to me?” I asked, as I grabbed his arm. I needed an explanation. I had to have one.

“You died,” he said, without any emotion or sympathy. “Everyone’s experience is different, but what you felt and saw is what will come to pass. What you do now, is up to you.”

“That’s not possible. What I experienced isn’t possible. There’s no way that’s going to happen.”

He simply shrugged and led me out into the bright daylight. The red-head from the queue looked lost and confused. Her eyes were red and puffy. Tears ran down her pink cheeks.

David walked up to me and put his arms around me. He smiled.

“That was amazing. I’ve never felt more peaceful than I do right now. How about you?”

“I’m not sure how I feel right now. I just want to go home. Can we please go home now?” I fought for control of the hysteria welling up inside me. It wasn’t possible.

We walked to the car in silence. David held my hand and smiled. I didn’t understand how he could be so happy about his death.

“What did you see?” My voice caught in my throat.

“I was an old man and died happily in my bed with Jess sitting at my side, holding my hand.” He sounded so happy when he said that, so bloody peaceful.

“Your wife? Jess?” I couldn’t believe it. His promise earlier had been a lie. Everything between us had been a lie. Shock clenched my stomach and then his feet moved.

“Yes. My wife.” He punched me in the gut. My senses reeled as my burning stomach muscles clenched and nausea welled up. All the air rushed from my lungs and I fell to my knees in front of him. Small, sharp stones cut into the thin layer of skin covering my knees. I didn’t see from where he produced the knife. The memory of how the ride predicted my death slammed into me.

And happen it did, just the way it had a short while ago. The knife was thrust deep into my chest before I could ask why. My ribs were torn apart by the blade, sending hot flashes of fresh pain to my brain. I struggled for air like a goldfish out of water. His eyes held the same coldness I’d seen in them before. I didn’t understand. How could the man I love and gave myself to – so completely – kill me, without the slightest show of emotion?

I waited for the nothingness to come, but it didn’t. I lay there in my puddle of blood, looking up at him, watching him wipe the blade of his knife on my dress. I kept hoping for that nothingness but it never came. Instead I was a prisoner in my own body as he loaded me into the boot of his car.

The car stopped about an hour later. We’d been driving on a dirt road for the past ten minutes. My corpse bounced around a bit. If I’d been alive to feel it, my teeth would have rattled rather badly, but being dead does have its advantages. I felt nothing. The pain was gone, only numbness prevailed.

I got a glimpse of sunlight as he opened the boot. He bent over me and took out a shovel. His feet crunched leaves and he grunted as he dug my grave. It didn’t take as long as I thought it would. He smiled as he hauled me out of the car and carried me to the open hole in the ground. A beautiful willow tree provided shade. The wind rustled the leaves above us. I landed in the grave with a thud, on top of another girl. She was a brunette. She must have been pretty, but time in our grave had not been kind to her. I stared into her empty eye-sockets, hoping for some glimmer or sign that she was like me, trapped. Then she smiled. Her lips were shrivelled and decaying. Her teeth, while still white, wobbled in her receding gums. I wanted to scream but no sound came out.

Sunlight was replaced by darkness and still the nothingness eluded me. I longed for a true death. I wanted the type of death I’d been promised since childhood. The one that included a heaven with choirs of angels. Was this my own personal hell? Was this my punishment for being a bad girl? Or was it an after effect of the Death Express? I had a feeling I would have an eternity to figure it out. What I knew for sure was that David would be back to visit us soon. He would be bringing another tenant to share the grave.

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This story was originally published in Bloody Parchment: Hidden Things, Lost Things and other stories

Thanks for Reading cat

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Vacation. Short Story.

“I think…I think someone is out there.”
“Oh ha-ha John, stop being a dick. We both know there’s nothing out there. You tried that the last time too remember?”
“Yeah, no I know, and I was joking then but I’m not joking now. I swear to god I saw someone moving by the trees over there. I just saw them for a second, but it was definitely a person.”
“It was probably shadows or an animal, there’s lots of them out here.”
“Animals don’t get that tall.”
“Ok, how about this, I’ll turn on the outside lights and you’ll see there’s no one there and then you’ll drop this shitty joke, ok?”
Stacy reached over and flipped the switch, the garden was flooded with harsh, white light. Stacy squinted at the trees, the light was good, but the trees quickly fell into darkness. “See? No one there. We would have seen something if there was.”
“Maybe my eyes were playing tricks. I swear I thought I saw someone though, I wasn’t just trying to scare you.”
“Yeah yeah, whatever. Look even if there was someone there, they know we’re home, they’re not gonna break in. Burglars want empty places where they’re less likely to get caught, or shot.”
“True.” John shook his head, “I guess I’m just a little on edge out here. I’m not used to how quiet it is.”
Stacy chuckled, “give it a few hours, you’ll be hearing lots of animals.”

“Really? I don’t remember that the last time.”
“That’s because there were five of us, we had loud music and you were absolutely shitfaced. You didn’t even make it to a bed, I found you passed out in the kitchen the next morning.”
John coughed, “Yeah, I guess. Don’t worry that won’t be happening again.”
“Oh, I know, I’ve locked up the booze this time, I used chains and everything.”
Stacy smiled and gave him a quick kiss on the lips, “C’mon, you get the popcorn ready, if we don’t start watching this movie soon we’re gonna be up all night.”
John smiled at her, “I was hoping we’d be up all night anyway.”
He pulled her in for a deeper kiss, Stacy pulled away after a minute, “Maybe the movie can wait for a little bit.”
“When is your sister coming up?”
“Sometime tomorrow, in the afternoon I think.”
“ah perfect, plenty of time for us then.”
“Exactly.”

Stacy woke suddenly, looking wildly around the dark room. After a second she realised what the loud banging noise was, someone was knocking on the front door. There was a brief pause, then it started again, even louder than before. Stacy groaned and nudged John, he always did sleep like the dead.
“Hey, wake up. I think something happened.”
“What?”
“Someone’s at the door, there might have been an accident or something. C’mon, I’m not going down there by myself.”
John groaned and rolled over, “I’ll go down, you stay up here.” He rubbed his eyes and yawned, “have a look out the window, see if you can see them. Keep your phone with you and be ready to call the cops or an ambulance.”
Stacy nodded, downstairs the banging stopped. The sudden silence felt heavy and uncomfortable.

John looked through the peephole, he couldn’t see anyone, he flicked on the porch light, revealing a woman, she looked tired and dishevelled, her hair was messy and it looked like there were twigs and leaves in it. “Are you ok?”
“Oh thank god! I thought no one was home, please you have to help me. I crashed my car on the main road, someone ran out in front of me, I think they’re chasing me, please you have to let me in, they’re out here. I think they have a knife. I think he’s going to kill me, please we have to call the police!”
“Ok, just slow down, just one second, I need to grab the key to unlock the door ok, I’ll be right back.”
“Oh god, please hurry, I don’t know where he is, please, he could be here any second.”
“Ok, ok, don’t worry, you’re safe, I’ll grab the keys and then we’ll call the police.” “Don’t open it.” John jumped he spun around, Stacy was standing behind him. “There’s a woman out there, she needs help, she’s being chased by someone, where did you put the key?”
Stacy shook her head, “No, don’t, I saw someone out there, there’s a guy, he’s standing just to the side, there’s no way she can’t see him. Don’t open it. It’s a trap.”

John’s heart was thudding heavily, the steady sound of rushing blood filled his ears, john jumped as the woman from outside called out, “Where are you, please hurry, I think I saw him by the trees, oh god, I think he’s here.” She started banging on the door again, her shouts getting louder, more panicked. Stacy shook her head and started dialling on her phone. Outside the shouting turned to shrieks, “Oh god, I can see him, he’s coming right at me, please dear god open the fucking door he’s going to kill me, shit. Shit shit shit. Please, no, don’t please, no!” Silence.
John felt a worm of nausea squirming in his stomach, what if the woman was telling the truth? Quietly he moved back to the door and looked out, he couldn’t see anyone, but there was bright streaks of red all over the porch. His stomach clenched, he could hear something, it was faint, he moved his ear close to the door, what was that noise? Whimpering, low and panicked, it almost sounded like someone was whispering the word “please” over and over. Behind him Stacy was whispering into the phone, he jumped as a hand landed on his shoulder, he felt shaky, sick. Just at the edge of his vision through the peephole, was that a foot? Stacy pulled him back, “They said to go upstairs and lock ourselves somewhere, the more doors between us and them the better, c’mon”
John allowed himself to be pulled from the door, “What if it was real? What if she couldn’t see him?”
Stacy shook her head, “there’s no way she couldn’t.”

Together they made their way up the stairs. At the landing John paused and looked out the window, he could see someone out there, standing in the grass, looking up at the window. John ducked back, his breathing quick and panicked, “I saw him, in the garden, I think, I think he was holding a bloody machete.”
Stacy grabbed his hand and pulled him across the hall and into their bedroom. The doors were thick, sturdy. Stacy locked the door and then continued into the ensuite, the door was lighter, but it was an extra lock between them and the outside. She pulled John into the bathroom and locked the door behind them and together they waited in the darkness for help to reach them..

When the police arrived there was no sign of the man, or woman, just a blood splattered porch and thin scratches on the door, like someone had been running a knife, back and forth across the surface.


Captured. Short Story.

“I have killed thousands of your kind. Hundreds of thousands. It means nothing to me.”
“So you admit to your crimes?”
The woman threw back her head and laughed, it sounded high pitched and jarring, full of mirth and evil. “Crimes? Do you call it a crime when you eat a pig to survive? Or a lion eats a deer?”
“No, but they are animals, you are not.”
“That is correct, I am not the animal, you are. You and your kind are hunted by mine. We stalk through this world, proud hunters looking for our next kill. You are nothing more than cattle to us. Meat that raises itself for the slaughter.”
“We know who you are, we know that you’re human. If you’re hoping for an insanity plea it won’t work.”
“Oh, you do, do you? What do you know about me then?”
“You’re name is Sarah Goodchild, you were born to John and Melissa Goodchild in 1983. You grew up in Fairfax, about sixty miles north of here, you moved here about ten years back, we’re currently tracking down your last employer and landlord.”
“Sarah Goodchild? Is that the name I’m going by now? I thought that was the one before it. It’s so hard to keep track sometimes. Mostly your kind just fall all over themselves to help me, but not you. You’re different. You want names and evidence and everything to be oh so orderly. Why is that?”
“We’re not here to discuss me, we’re here to talk about you and what you did. We found all the bodies, well, most of them, we’re working on exhuming the rest. Why did you do it? What was it about them?”
“I don’t know really, there was nothing specific. I just knew they were the ones. Maybe they were slightly weaker or stronger if I was looking for a bit of fun. For the most part though they presented themselves to me willingly. Oh they may not have known what they were getting into, but they still came to me and I accepted their offers. I can feel them inside me right now you know, their souls. All bundled together, squirming over one another, like maggots in a slippery ball, writhing together as one. It’s indescribable really, I don’t think I’d ever be able to convey the simple pleasure it brings me to feel them inside.”
“So you admit to doing it? To murdering all those people?”
“oh gladly, I feel no shame in what I did. I feel pride. I fought them all and won, where is the shame in that?”

Paul studied her face, she sat there pleasantly enough, smiling at him. She didn’t look like a murderer, she didn’t look like anyone. She was plain, with almost nondescript features, with a bit of makeup she could have been pretty, but that was all she could ever be. Her skin was pale, her eyes an almost boring shade of light green, her lips were thin, almost as though her mouth was just a small line on her face. There was something off about her mouth, something he couldn’t quite place. There was a feeling in the room, a feeling of being trapped, of being in danger.

“So how many are there? Surely you must remember them.”
She looked up at the ceiling for a moment, “Hmm, well you don’t remember every meal that you ate? I can give you a rough number if you’d like.”
“Sure, why not start there.”
“Hmm, well, as Sarah Goodchild, there were probably at least a thousand.”
“C’mon Sarah, be serious here. I’ve been to your house, there is no what you’d fit a thousand corpses there.”
“Well, not all of them remained corpses. We tend to eat every part of our food. Sometimes you can’t finish for one reason or another and then the meat has started to spoil. It’s a waste but then when your kind have such large numbers there’s no need to be particularly careful, is there?”
Paul shook his head, “Look, you can keep up this act as long as you like. It won’t make a difference. We have proof, you’re going to jail for a very, very long time.”
She chuckled again, the noise made Paul’s skin ripple in goose bumps.
“You think I’m your prisoner do you? I’ve merely stayed here because it’s an interesting distraction. I can leave anytime I want to.”
Paul shook his head, “I can assure you there is no way out of here, not for you.”
“Do you think this is the first time one of your kind has caught one of mine? It’s rare but it does happen, less so these days now that you’ve done away with angry mobs. We get arrested every now and then, sometimes we get away immediately, other times we wait. It’s not like we are in any rush to escape, unlike your kind ours has plenty of time. Speaking of time, I feel that I should be going. I no longer find this amusing.” Sarah stood, her cuffs clanking against the table as she did so, Paul stood, unsure of what she was going to try. Sarah held out her hands, “Now. Uncuff me.” Paul laughed, “No, of course I won’t. Did you really expect that to work?” Sarah smiled, her grin was bright and her eyes shone with madness, “I was expecting exactly that.”

Sarah stepped outside of the police station, she breathed the fresh air deeply, the room they had kept her in was not only small but stuffy. Sarah started walking, there was no rush, besides she was quite full after her last meal, it had been a long time since she had eaten more than one human in a sitting. It reminded her of her early days, when she would travel the world descending on small villages, consuming everything and everyone because who knew when the next meal would stumble into her path. Not like these days, where food was astoundingly abundant. She had lived as Sarah Goodchild for long enough, now was the time for a new name, and a new face. She had gotten a little sloppy, she had allowed herself to relax too much and she wouldn’t make that mistake again. There were only ten or eleven bodies buried around her property, those who she couldn’t finish, or those whose meat had been tainted. In a few weeks people would start to forget, it would just become one of those things that nobody talked about until eventually it would be like it had never happened.


The Collector. Short Story.

So the scopes went well, didn’t end up throwing up or hospitalised afterwards this time so that’s a plus! I’m mostly back to normal now, stomach was fairly tender for the last few days. Over all not a particularly pleasant experience, but not crazy bad. I suppose its helps that I have no memory of the procedures at all, the last thing I remember was being in the operation room and the doctors confirming who I was and why I was there and then there’s just nothing until I woke up a while later, don’t even remember getting the sedative. I was even home and all by one! Hopefully it’ll be another few years before I need one again. Don’t really have any results yet but everything looked fine so I’m taking it as a win. Also, as an aside, the laxative drink wasn’t as bad as the last time. Still not great but this time I didn’t have to rinse my mouth out after each glass, so that was a bonus I guess. Well, as much as fakely sweet, slightly salty, lemon flavoured drink that’s oh so slightly thicker than water can be a bonus.
The Collector.   Benny sat down, his head was throbbing dully and the constant background chatter wasn’t helping. He reached into his bag and pulled out a pack of painkillers, he took two and dry swallowed them and sighed, that’ll help take the edge off. He sat back into the sofa and closed his eyes, he just needed a minute, that was all.
“What ya doing?”
“What does it look like?”
“It looks like you’re sleeping, but that can’t be right, it’s only two in the afternoon, you didn’t get up until noon too.”
“It was a late night.”
“They’re always late nights, shouldn’t you be used to it by now?”
“That’s only if you can actually sleep during the day too.”
“I don’t know why you’re so grumpy. I work the same hours as you, no in fact I work longer than you and I’m fine.” Benny sighed, “that’s because you’re dead, you don’t need sleep.”
“Ok, I’ll give you that. Still no excuse for this, you should be up and doing your job, that’s why we’re here after all.”
“I just need a second, it’s not like there’s anyone here to see, besides you that is.”
“Fine. You waste the day, I’ll have another look around.”
Benny took a long, deep breath. If she wasn’t already dead he’d have throttled Mary by now. Relentlessly loud and always pushing for action and they were stuck together. After a few minutes the pain started to recede a little, the dull throbbing becoming a gentle ache. Benny stretched, yawned then stood up, it was time to get to work. “So do you see anything?”
“No, where ever she was killed it wasn’t here.”
“We don’t know that she’ dead yet.”
“Yes we do. C’mon, how many times have we found someone alive?”
“Yeah, but we’re usually called in after they’ve been killed. This woman is just missing.”
“Missing and presumed dead.”
Benny gritted his teeth, “Do you see anything or not?”
“No, some murkiness around the kitchen, I think it happened in there but it could have just been a really bad argument too. Nothing that suggests murder. I had a look around, no clothes missing, her make up is still in the bathroom, if she left she left with nothing.”
“Did you find a purse? Phone?” “Purse yes, it was by the door when we came in, you stumbled over it, remember?”
“Oh yeah. I was a little distracted. Sorry.”
“It’s ok. Didn’t find a phone though.”
“Ok, that’s good we-ah!” Benny winced, his eyes closing and his hands going to his head, “What? What is it?”
“Nothing. Just my head. It’s ok, I’m ok.”
“They’re getting louder, aren’t they?”
“Yeah, but what’s new.”
“That’s bad Benny. Really bad. I know you don’t want to think about it, but you have to. It means they’re getting closer.”
Benny shrugged, “I have to find this woman first, get some money in. Then I can worry about the voices.”
“Are they any clearer?”
“No, just chatter, it’s all blurring together.”
“Ok, well that’s something at least. I can have another look around if you want to rest for a minute.”
“No, you’re right, we’ve work to do.”
“I was just teasing, you do need your rest.”
Benny moved into the kitchen, nothing seemed out of the ordinary, pots were hung neatly on one wall, every counter gleamed, nothing seemed out of place, there wasn’t even a mug in the sink.
“She was a bit of a neat freak I think. Bedroom’s the same, so is the bathroom. You could eat out of that toilet, not that you’d want to. Well, I try not to judge.” “Ha. Ha.” “Oh. Oh no.”
“What?”
“I think I just saw her.”
“Here?”
“Yeah. Hang on.” Benny leaned against the counter, he hoped that there would be something, anything to help find her, but the truth was he was out of his depth. He dealt with the dead, not the living and it was hard to concentrate with that damn chatter. It seemed even louder than before, like there were a thousand people crammed inside his head, all clamouring to be heard. He shouldn’t have taken this case. It was a bad idea, why did he allow Mary to talk him into it?
“Ok, it was her. She’s definitely dead. She isn’t saying much, she’s still in shock, but from what I can gather she’s been dead since Monday. I think it happened soon after she left this place.”
“Did she give you any details?”
“No, she just keeps saying why is it so cold and why does it hurt so much.”
“Any visible wounds?”
“No, she looked fine, well apart from being dead.”
“Ok well-” There was a loud knock on the door, “Hello? Are you still here?”
A man entered the kitchen, he was tall and pale, with dark circles around his eyes, “Ah, Mr. Murphy, I’m just finishing up.”
“Did you find anything?”
“Not yet, no.” The man smiled, “are you sure? I thought she’d have been back here by now.” Benny frowned, “If you thought she was coming back, why hire me?”
The man shook his head, “No, not her body, her spirit.” The chattering in Benny’s head became louder, his hands shot to his head.
“Oh, I always hated that part. Don’t worry, it’ll stop soon.”
The man stepped towards Benny. Benny groaned and opened his eyes, the first thing he noticed was the silence, complete and utter silence, followed by the darkness. Had he ever actually been in silence before? Ever since he was a child he could hear them, but now they were gone. “Hello?” His voice sounded odd, quiet and muted, like he was in a soundproofed room. He reached out expecting to feel a soft wall, but there was nothing in front of him. Carefully Benny stood, his body wasn’t sore, that was something. He didn’t know what had happened, but he wasn’t in pain and that was a bonus. Benny shuffled forward, his arms outstretched, he expected to run into a wall at any second, but there was nothing. He lengthened his stride a little and started counting the steps. Benny stopped walking, he was up to a thousand now and he was reasonably sure he wasn’t walking in circles. The room must be far larger than he originally thought. After a moment he started walking again, sooner or later he’d have to reach a wall. The man placed a label onto the dark, glass bottle, the name Benjamin was written on it in tight, spidery script. The room was large but seemed smaller, every wall covered in bookshelves and each bookshelf was full of bottles crammed in together. He had lost track of them all years ago, but there were thousands. He carefully put the bottle onto the shelf, beside it was another, smaller bottle, this one had Mary written on it. He ran his finger tips across the bottles, shivering slightly as he did. He had been collecting for a long, long time and there was still plenty of space on his shelves.  

First Day. Short Story.

Hey, so just a quick warning there won’t be a short story on Friday, but I’ll be back on Monday and everything will continue as normal then. Going for a colonoscopy and an gastroscopy tomorrow so I figure give myself the time to recover and all that. Not particularly looking forward to it (big surprise) but it won’t be that bad, going by the last time the worst part of it is having to drink what is basically 2 litres of laxative. Yay Crohn’s. Though hopefully I’ll be able to see what’s happening during the gastroscopy, because it’s not every day you get a chance to see what your insides look like!  
First Day. “They’re real?”
“Yeah? Of course they’re real, I thought everyone knew that.”                                                    “I thought they were like an old wives tale, something you tell to kids so they eat their vegetables and scare them away from crime. How come you never hear anything about them on the news?”
“They report on it all the time, they just leave out the Three Hundred angle, call it gang warfare or something like that. They’ll report it just like any other crime.”
“So what do we do about them?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, how do we stop them?”
“Are you crazy? We don’t. I don’t want to get mixed up in any of that, we just stay far away from them.”
“They’re criminals! They’re murdering people!”
“Criminals with a mandate from the Gods. Do you really want to piss them off?”
“The Gods are real too? I need to sit down.” Jack stumbled over to the small, over stuffed couched, Doug rolled his eyes.
“You’re one of those huh? Atheist? Well, were I guess. Never understood it myself, I mean sure they don’t exactly pop in all the time these days but they’re around enough. Small ways. They’ve stepped back a good bit, still not a good idea to cross them.” Doug looked at Jack for a moment, he was pale and clammy, “You really didn’t know what you were getting into here, did you?”
“No one told me this, no one told me anything about it. I was just told that I was assigned here, that’s it. Nothing else…What else is real?”                                                                      Doug shook his head, “I don’t think we should get into that right now, it might fry your brain. You’re gonna see a lot on this job, if you don’t think you’re going to be able to handle it, it’s best to transfer out now. No one will think less of you, you wouldn’t be the first or the last. You look like you need a drink, c’mon lets go to Joseph’s” The bar was small, intimate, booths lined the wall and tables were dotted about the room. Doug strolled up the bar, “Hey Tommy, how’s things?”
“Ah same old, can’t complain. The usual for you?”
“Yeah, that’d be great. This is the newbie, give him something strong, would ya?”
Tommy smiled, “Yeah, no problem. He’s looking a little pale though, make sure he doesn’t throw up on the seats. It took me forever to scrub it all out the last time.”
“Don’t worry, I think he’ll be fine.”                                                                                         Tommy put the drinks and the bar and Doug paid. He grabbed the two glasses and joined Jack. “Here, drink this.”
“What is it?”
“Don’t ask, just drink. Trust me it’ll do you some good.”
Jack took a tentative sip, “wow, this is actually really good.”
Doug smiled, “Told you, I’m not going to steer you wrong. We’re going to have to have a conversation. I don’t know why they keep sending people over to us unprepared. Right, tell me what you know.”
“Well, the usual stuff I guess. I went to church when I was younger and just kind of fell away from it.”
“Yeah, that’s happening these days. The Gods have calmed down a bit from their early days, they’re less flashy now, more into the whole invisible guiding hand stuff. They don’t really care too much what people are up to for the most part.”
“So all those stories are real?”
“Well, most of them, you get embellishment, people changing stuff around, but the core of it is real.”
“So the Three Hundred are out there? Just wandering around?”
“Yeah, but it isn’t a bad thing. Usually they take out the worst of the worst. One or two are actually pretty decent, but you will want to avoid them for the most part. There are a couple that are dangerous to everyone, but they haven’t been active in a while.”
Jack took a gulp of his drink, “Why don’t people know about this stuff?”
“They do, they just ignore it. It’s easy to dismiss stuff that isn’t really obvious. The Gods don’t interfere unless it’s really important. I think the last time they popped up properly was about four hundred years back. That was when that false prophet came along, so they took him down.” Jack took another gulp from his glass. “So then is it true? How the Three Hundred were created?”
“Well, we think so.”
“Then why don’t the gods do that kind of stuff any more?”
“Smite people for being sinful and all that? They were…different then, if what I’m told is correct. They’ve loosened up a bit. We don’t really know why but there’s a few theories out there.”
“So I’m not going to be turned into an eternal monster if I sin?”
Doug chuckled, “They’re not monsters. They look like everyone else. They don’t age and they can’t die but they’re not real, literal monsters. Most of those died out years ago. Besides, they only go after bad people.”
“Why only bad ones? They can do what ever they like, can’t they?”
“Well, from what I hear they believe that if they help cleanse the earth of sin they will be cleansed of theirs. The worse the sin they faster they get to die and move on. It’s kind of a double edged sword though, a lot of them can’t really control themselves once they get started so they inflict pain and torment before killing. Personally I think that’d cancel out what ever good they’re trying to do but it’s none of my business.” Jack drained the last of his drink, “Ok, so what exactly are we going to be doing here? I mean if most of the monsters have died out, the Gods don’t interfere and we leave the Three Hundred alone, what is our job?”
“There’s plenty of people and things out there that aren’t quite every day humans. There’s demigods, heroes, creatures that pass for humans and ones who are no where close. We look after them. We investigate any crimes they’re involved in and just generally try to keep the peace between everyone. When we go back to the office later you’ll see a few of them hanging around, don’t worry they’re all lovely.”
Jack shook his head, “I’m sorry, but you’re joking right? People would know, how could they not? Everyone has a camera in their pocket these days, there’d be proof.”
“Oh it is there. Pictures and videos. We have some people that help scrub out the more dangerous stuff to stop people from getting hurt, but we let a good lot of it through. I could show people plenty of sites with real pictures, and they’ll dismiss it as photoshop or a costume. People don’t see it because they don’t want to, plus a lot of these creatures are adept at using magic, they tend to keep themselves hidden most of the time. Usually if anyone comes out about it they’re labelled as a loon. Remember that singer a few years back? Came out about demon filled sex parties and then her career pretty much died because everyone thought she was crazy? She was telling the truth, or at least it wouldn’t surprise me if she was. I’ve heard stories about the parties her manager throws and let me tell you…Are you ok?”
Jack had gone pale again, he was slightly slumped over the table.
“Look, just take a few deep breaths. You’ll adjust fast, everyone does if they stay. Most people aren’t coming at it from your perspective but hey, you’ll get there.”
Doug stood from the table, “In the mean time I’ll get you another, I’ll even pay if you just do one thing for me.”
“What?”
“If you’re gonna throw up, do it outside, I don’t want Tommy pissed at me again.”
Jack’s eyes widened slightly, he lowered his voice to a whisper “Why? Is he some kind of creature too?”                                                                                                                                    “No, that bastard will just water down my drinks for the next six months.”                      Doug clapped Jack on the back and went to the bar.

#ShortStory: Trapped

Hello my Freaky Darlings, It’s Friday!! Here’s a short story for you…

Trapped

Hey you! Yes, I’m talking to you. Don’t pretend you don’t see me. There is no way you could possibly miss a woman locked in a box in the middle of a field. You’re not completely blind are you? Please don’t just walk away. I need your help. Come a little closer. I won’t hurt you. Can’t you see I’m trapped in here? Okay, I can see from your expression that you think this is some sort of hoax. There are no hidden cameras. No one’s going to jump out from behind a bush and scream “surprise”. Have a look around; it’s just you and me. Yes, I feel it too. It feels like we’re being watched, but I’m sure it’s nothing. Please just get me out of this thing. Sorry! I shouldn’t have yelled at you. I’m a little frustrated. Being locked in a box for a night and all day will do that to a girl. They’ve all gone. Packed up and left in the middle of the night like something was chasing them. Hopefully whatever was chasing them isn’t here. Don’t worry. I’m sure it’s not. Those freaks from Dark’s Carnival left in such a hurry they left this field scarred by their caravan wheels. It’ll take the earth a while to recover from their destruction. And that god awful smell, in case you’re wondering, is elephant and horse shit. It’ll be dark soon and if I don’t get out of here before then something terrible is going to happen to me. Don’t pull that face. This is no joke. I’m being serious. Look, I’m still not sure how it happened or why she did this to me. I didn’t insult her, or at least I don’t think I did. Did I? Okay, so I might have told her that her tarot reading was the biggest load of crap. And maybe I did freak out a little, but if she’d told you the things she told me, you would also have freaked out. Anybody would. I’m not some homicidal demon stuck in human form. The woman is clearly off her rocker. Tarot readings are supposed to be fun. They’re not supposed to be all gloom and doom, are they? I’d never had one before. Have you? Anyway, Madam Zinzi and the rest of her tribe of unwashed carnie folk left me here, stuck in this bloody box stage magicians use to saw people in half, with only my head, hands, and feet sticking out. They wrapped that chain around the top and the bottom and the padlocks are out of reach. They also didn’t leave me a key to unlock them. I don’t suppose you have any tools in your car? I’m not an escape artist for fuck’s sake. It doesn’t matter how hard I bang around in here, I can’t get out. And now thanks to the constant rain my head is also soaking wet. I just know I’m going to get a cold. Those bastards told me I had until sundown then he would come for me. You’re not him, are you? It’s not an unreasonable question. You are a he, aren’t you? And it’s almost sundown, and you’re here in this field. So it’s not completely beyond the realms of possibility that you’re him. So … are you him? No. You sure? Okay. I believe you. Sorry. I’m rambling. I’ve gotten a little ahead of myself and forgotten my manners. Let me take a breath and a virtual step back so I can tell you the story as calmly as possible. I’m Josephine. If you take a step over this way, I can shake your hand. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I don’t suppose you can move your umbrella to cover my head as well as yours. I’d really appreciate it. Thanks. So … This mess started last night when my friends decided that a trip to Dark’s Carnival would be a good laugh. Boy were they wrong. It certainly started off as a fun night out. Who doesn’t enjoy candy floss, toffee apples, and carousels? I know I certainly do. We even met a few attractive guys from town who bought us a couple drinks at the beer tent. Some of the men from the carnival were also rather cute, although there were a few freaks as well. The elephant man scared the crap out of me. Don’t get me started on what some of the women looked like. If I had a face like some of them I don’t think I’d have a mirror anywhere in my house. Were you here last night? Did you see what the bearded lady looked like? Talk about being hit by the ugly stick. Sorry! I’m digressing. I tend to do that when I’m freaking out. It was shaping up to be such a promising night. Jeff, I think his name was Jeff, asked me if I’d have dinner with him next week. I even gave him my number. I don’t normally do that but it’s been such a long time since I went on a proper date. I was actually feeling a little giddy. I haven’t felt like that since I was a teenager. Jeff took me up on the Ferris wheel. I hadn’t done that in years. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that I’m afraid of heights, but I think he guessed that I was scared and held my hand the whole time. We kissed right at the top and, for a few moments, I forgot all about my fears. For that moment in time I was just a girl enjoying her first kiss with a boy. It was all so very romantic. The hall of mirrors was a little creepy. A sign of things to come. I always thought that those mirrors were only supposed to make your body look a bit funny, but this one was different. Jeff said it was just trick lighting, but I’m not so sure. I kept seeing a shadowy figure just at the edge of the reflection, but when I turned around to see if anybody was behind me, there was nothing there. When I turned back to look at the mirror, my reflection was different. My eyes seemed to change. It was slight, almost imperceptible. My eyes went from brown to red then back to brown. I would probably have thought it was a pretty cool trick if it hadn’t been for that shadow giving me the creeps. I was already feeling a little on edge when Jodi came up with that hare-brained scheme. Stupid bloody woman. She decided that we all had to go have our fortunes read. Madam Zinzi was at the edge of their encampment. The bright red caravan stood out of the dark like a beacon in the night. Mist from the river swirled around our feet, giving the whole place an otherworldly feel. Although she may also have had one of those fog machines they use in night clubs. I wouldn’t put it past that bitch. We all took turns to have our fortunes told. Jodi went first and came out in tears. Apparently Madam Zinzi had seen death in Jodi’s near future. I mean, everybody dies at some point or another. Nobody gets out alive. Why death was such a shock to her system was beyond me. But then the rest of the gang had similar experiences. Which was a little strange, I grant you. They all came running out one by one, with these horrified expressions then they all gawked at me as though I’d killed their dogs. From the looks they gave me, one could have sworn that I was pointing a gun at them and threatening to pull the trigger then and there. It was completely nuts. Madame Zinzi’s voice came from inside her blood red camper, calling my name. I must admit the sound of her voice gave me a shiver up my spine. One of my so-called friends must have told her my name. There’s no other explanation for it, is there? She couldn’t have known it by herself. She couldn’t have plucked it out of the ether, could she? My heart was thumping up a storm as I walked up those steps to her caravan. Candles were burning all over the place. A real fire hazard if you ask me. She sat in the corner behind a small makeshift camping table which looked like it would buckle under the weight of her ample breasts. They had to be a double D at the very least. After I recovered from my cleavage envy and got my heart to stop racing I managed to observe more. A crystal ball rested on the counter. I was mesmerized by the smoke churning inside. The smoke formed into a huge eye and as I watched, I felt as though I was being pulled towards it. The eye was staring at me, into me, and examining my soul. Judging by what happened next, I think my soul came up wanting. The candle flames flickered in the breeze, but I couldn’t figure out where the air was coming from, the door and windows were all closed. Madame Zinzi’s eyes went pitch black. My throat tightened and my palms got sweaty. The hair on my nape stood on end. I’ve always heard that expression but never actually experienced it until last night, and I hope never to experience it again. My heart still hasn’t recovered. My ears itched and felt blocked. You know how your ears get blocked up when the cabin pressure changes in an aeroplane? Like that. I didn’t think things could get stranger, but I was wrong. Madame Zinzi shuffled her deck of cards and grinned at me. Her teeth were skew and yellowing from smoking too many cigarettes. A cigarette smouldered in a dirty ashtray that was already filled with butts. The smoke mingled with that from the candles, the small space filled up with smoke quickly and I struggled to breathe. I’ve never suffered from claustrophobia, but last night I did. I wanted to run. I needed to get out of that tiny, smoke-filled caravan, but the door was locked. I know I didn’t lock it when I went in. I know I didn’t. No matter how hard I tried, the damn door wouldn’t open. I even tried kicking it, but it wouldn’t budge. ‘Calm yourself.’ Her voice was sharp and heavily accented. She sounded Russian. I couldn’t help but do as she commanded. I was transfixed. I had to obey her. ‘Come. Sit.’ The cards flew through her fingers as she shuffled. The Tower, Death, and The Hanged Man landed on the table in front of me. ‘A sacrifice is required.’ ‘What is that supposed to mean?’ I asked. I thought it was a perfectly acceptable question, but she didn’t seem to think so. She just ignored me ‘He is coming.’ She sounded like one of those cryptic oracles foretelling death and destruction. ‘Who is coming?’ I asked. Once again she ignored me. It took me a while, but I eventually realised that she was channelling something. Madame Zinzi had left the building. Okay the caravan. Same thing. You know what I mean. There was something else inside that camper, and I don’t think it was human. ‘He comes on the wind calling for Josephine. All will die who stand in his way. He searches for his mate, his other half trapped inside the human. She must be given to him. Death will follow swiftly unless he is reunited with his love.’ The next thing I knew I was in this box and everybody was gone. My friends abandoned me. I can’t believe they left me here to die. How could they believe that fortune teller? Don’t look at me like that. Not you too? It’s ridiculous. I’m not some demoness trapped in human form. I told you the crazy bitch was off her rocker. I’m not some great evils long lost love. I know that crap is all romantic in the movies, but when you’re the one shoved in the box waiting to be sacrificed, it’s not so romantic. Trust me. What are you looking at? Do you see something? Shit! The sun is setting. I have to get out of here. Please. Help me. What was that? Did you hear that? No. Please don’t leave me here alone. Come on. Be a man. Where’s a hero when you need one. I’m sorry I didn’t mean that. Please come back. Fuck! Please don’t leave me here. I’ll do anything. Oh! Come on. This is so not fair. And now I’m talking to myself. Great. Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, it goes pitch black. Oh my god! What the hell is that thing? No!

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This story was originally published in Noir Carnival

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#ShortStory: The Trial

Hello my Freaky Darlings, Since it’s Friday I thought I’d share another short story with you. I hope you enjoy it.

The Trial

The Judge presiding over my case sat on his oversized and overstuffed throne. He was one of the three men who decided over life and death in our city. Judge Farris had a reputation for being a hard case. He’d put more people to death during the culling than all of the other judges put together. He would be the one who would decide if I was a useful member of society or not. If he decided I wasn’t, that would be it. I’d lose my head. The thought of the executioners axe coming down on my scrawny little neck made me want to run to the bathroom again. I hadn’t stopped needing to pee since my number had been drawn. In every town, in every part of the world, identity numbers had been thrown into wooden boxes and one by one our numbers were drawn to decide if we would live or die, depending on how useful we were. Prisoners were executed first, and prisons stood as empty, reminders of the past. Then the over sixty-fives were crossed off the list, their assets seized by the state and their organs recycled. Those with IQ’s under 110 were also immediately crossed off the list and deemed as unfit breeding stock. The culling had begun two years ago, and the executioner was very busy. I’d been one of the lucky ones who’d had those extra two years of life. It had taken the courts longer than anticipated to get through all the numbers. They’d only managed to execute about two thousand people in our city over the last two years through the court system, not including the prisoners and over sixty-fives. Two years of daily executions can be deadening on the spirit, but I’d had the time to meet my nephew, see a few more sunsets, and enjoy the feel of the sun on my skin, which so many others could no longer do. It’s amazing how the small things that count when your number could be up at any moment. The world population had reached the nine billion mark. Famine and water shortages raged.  Governments all over the world came to the conclusion that there was only one solution. The courts were tasked with deciding on which members of society were the most productive, whose life had the most value. My mother had been one of the first to go. She had been over sixty-five. My sister was a teacher, with an IQ of 130 and therefore useful. My brother, a farmer, was also found useful in a world where there wasn’t enough food and too many lawyers and accountants. The old university degrees, once so sought after, were no longer as important as they once were — now it was genetics and intelligence that mattered. If university graduates didn’t have an added skill, or were not the best at what they did, or were not classified as good breeding stock, they were crossed off the list; even being prematurely bald was a reason for being culled. No ordinary citizen was safe. My heart felt as though it was trying to escape from my chest. I understood its desire for escape. The thought of running away had crossed my mind more than once, but there was nowhere to run. At this rate, I’d die of a heart attack long before the trial was over, saving the judge the trouble of deciding my fate. My trial wouldn’t take long. I’d have a day at the most to convince them that I was worthy to continue breathing. I was allowed to plead my case because I had good genes and a relatively high IQ, but the question was: was I useful? Was a writer needed in this new society? Was a freethinking author someone they wanted to keep in the new world order? I didn’t hold out much hope. I wasn’t a bestselling author or famous; the rich and famous were pretty much exempt for their ‘social’ contributions. The courthouse had been built in 1802, two hundred and fifty years ago, and had survived two world wars and an attempted bombing two years ago by terrorists protesting the culling — they’d only succeeded in blowing themselves up, four more people the courts didn’t have to worry about. The wooden panelling on the walls of the courtroom was a dark mahogany and made the room feel solemn and yet strangely warm.  It felt right that my fate would be decided in a room as old and as grand as this one. “Marin Brown,” the Bailiff called. I heard my name through a wall of nervous fuzz in my ears. I walked down the stairs and stood in the wooden box, where the Bailiff told me to stand, my legs wobbling under me. I wasn’t sure how I’d manage to stand throughout the ordeal. Judge Farris sat on my right, looking down his nose at me. His white wig looked like it dated back to when the court had first been built; it probably itched like hell. His eyes were dark and cold. He probably only had another five years to go before he too was culled. The thought gave me some comfort, but not much. My bladder wanted to go, but I would have to hold it till the end, there would be no recess. The Judge banged his gavel a few times, calling the court to order. The wood hitting wood reverberated through my brain and made the hair on my arms stand up. I spotted my brother and   sister sitting in the front row. They would speak on my behalf during the proceedings. It was up to them and the few people who had read my work to convince the judge that my life should be spared. There would be no lawyer to defend me; the few left were too expensive for a poor writer. I would have to argue my own case, fight for my own survival. The judge looked over the rim of his glasses and stared down at me from his judgemental height. His beaked nose reminded me of a Dickensian character. I couldn’t decide if he looked more like Martin Chuzzlewit or Fagin. “Stand up properly young lady,” Judge Farris said. His voice was hard. “This court has been called to order, and you will stand to attention throughout the proceedings. If you sit at any time I will make my ruling immediately, and it will not be favourable. Do you understand?” “Yes sir,” I choked. My tongue was too thick for my mouth. My brother’s neighbours, who were often spectators at trials and had seen Judge Farris in action, had told me that the Judge felt that standing to attention was a point of respect, and failure to do so was to demonstrate contempt. He’d once made a pregnant woman stand for several hours before declaring that she had to have an abortion. It had been her third child, and unless she was prepared to have one of her other children culled, she would have to get rid of her latest addition. He had also declared that if she didn’t start practising safe sex, she, too, would be culled. “Would those who are here to speak for this woman stand?” Judge Farris instructed. My sister, brother, a few fellow writers, and a couple people I didn’t know, stood. Together, they didn’t even fill up half of the front row. There had been a public announcement letting people know about my trial, the usual notification that went out for all trials, asking anybody who knew me to show up and speak on my behalf. Notifications, however, were only sent out the day before the trials. “Your testimony must be completely accurate. If you are found to commit perjury, your status will be called into question and you will find yourself in the dock. Is that clear?” The judge instructed. The witnesses for my defence nodded in unison. My stomach fell a few notches. Nobody would lie for me or exaggerate my usefulness — I wasn’t worth dying for. “You,” the judge pointed at my brother, his short, cropped blond hair, calloused hands, and deep tan screamed that he spent many hours working the land, “step forward.” Jason took a few tentative steps closer. “Come closer,” the judge commanded. “Stand where I can see you properly.” Judge Farris leaned forward in his seat. “Who is this woman to you?” The judge asked. “She’s my sister, Your Honour,” Jason replied. “Besides being your sister, is there a reason she should be allowed to continue to exist in our midst?” “Y… Yes your honour,” Jason stammered. “She’s a very talented writer, she helps my wife with our child, and she cooks really well, and she pays us rent when she can.” “Did you get permission to have this child?” The judge asked with a furrowed brow. “Y… Yes your honour.” Jason’s face turned white. The implication in the judge’s question was obvious. If he didn’t have permission, his son’s life would be forfeit. “And your sister stays with you?” Judge Farris raised his eyebrow. “Yes your honour. She used to stay with our mother and looked after her, but when Mom was culled, my sister moved in with me and my wife. We needed help with our baby because our nanny was culled.” “Why was your nanny culled?” “She was classified as being poor breeding stock, but as you can see my sister is from very good breeding stock.” “Is she?” The judge looked over at me. I felt his eyes roving over every inch of me, judging me, looking for imperfections — they wouldn’t be hard to find. My slightly crooked teeth and pale blue eyes, indicative of eventual bad eyesight, were painfully obvious. Even though I didn’t need glasses, my eyesight was not perfect and the judge would most certainly use it against me. Then there was my broken nose too, which I’d broken when I was six while trying to prove that I could climb a tree just as well as Jason. “You may be seated.” My brother was dismissed. His testimony hadn’t lasted as long as I thought it would. At this rate, my trial wouldn’t even last an hour. I had a feeling the judge had already made up his mind. He then called up my sister, Iris, to testify. She looked every bit the teacher, but unlike me, her eyesight was perfect. She and Jason both had brown eyes, the same as our mother. I’d inherited our fathers blue eyes and poor eyesight. Her testimony was even shorter than my brother’s. He asked her only one question. “Does your sister make enough money from her writing to support herself or is she a burden on your brother and you?” My sister looked like a doe caught in the headlights. “She’s not a burden, Your Honour,” Iris finally managed to say. “She pays her own way.” “Does she?” Judge Farris leaned further forward and eyed my sister over his glasses. Iris took a step backwards. Her lower lip shivered, usually a sign that she was about to cry. “Dismissed,” the Judge said, and sounded bored. He leaned back in his chair and sighed. “Next,” he said without looking to see who would be speaking for me. I didn’t recognise the man who stepped forward. He wore an old tweed jacket and looked like a university professor. “Have you read this woman’s work?” The Judge asked. “Yes,” the stranger said. “Did you enjoy it?” “Yes.” “Would you buy anything else she wrote?” “I think so, yes,” the stranger said looking at me and smiling. I tried to smile in return, but my face didn’t co-operate. “Dismissed.” The Judge then looked at the handful of people still standing. “Are the rest of you all here to give similar testimony?” They all nodded in reply. “So noted. I’ll stipulate for the record that the remaining witnesses all stated the exact same thing as the previous witness.” The Judge banged his gavel when audience members started to chatter amongst themselves at his decision. The stenographer typed out his stipulation. His decision recorded for posterity. “Looks like I’ll make my tee time after all.” The judge sounded pleased with himself. “May I object to that ruling, Your Honour?” I asked, my voice just above a whisper. “No you may not.” Judge Farris banged his gavel again. “I’m ready to deliver my verdict.” “But I haven’t had a chance to defend myself,” I said, my voice rising above the sound of the gavel. “I have made my decision and there’s nothing you can say that will change your fate. You are a burden on your family. You are not prolific enough or good enough to compete with other high calibre writers. There is not room in our society for yet another mediocre author. I therefore sentence you to death. You will be sent from here to your place of execution. There will be no reprieve.” The Judge banged his gavel. My sister collapsed in a hysterical heap. My brother stared at me, his mouth open in shock. “Bailiff, take her away.” I heard the Judge’s words as though from a distance. My skin tingled on my face and I desperately needed to go to the toilet, but I refused to embarrass myself. I promised myself that I would be culled with some dignity. We’d all heard the stories of how some people carried on when they were led away, the hysteria. I would leave that to my sister. I squared my shoulders and allowed the bailiff to lead me out. There was a part of me that still clung to some small hope that the judge would change his mind, that he’d realised he’d made a mistake, but I knew those hopes were futile. The judge never changed his mind. I would be dead before sunset. There was a short queue waiting for the executioner in the holding cell. There were three trials everyday, of which two, at least, ended with a death sentence. It didn’t happen often that one of the judges allowed someone to carry on existing, especially Judge Farris. Another woman waiting to be culled sat in a corner, sobbing. She had paint splatters on her clothes. From the way she was dressed, she looked to be an artist. I sat down next to a man who stared at a spot on the wall opposite us. There was nothing remarkable about him. He was dressed in a simple, cheap suit. His shoes were cracked and looked more plastic than leather. He rocked himself slowly. The shock of where he was and what was about to happen to him stamped on his face. I probably wore the same shocked look. Two men in uniform came into the holding cell. They headed straight for the woman in the corner and dragged her out. I heard her scream as they took her down the passage towards the chopping block. Next would be the man sitting next to me. I would be the last of the day. The executioner would take a break between each of us; apparently chopping people’s heads off is hard work. Two hours later, they came for him. He went quietly. He hadn’t said a word while we waited and he was silent when they culled him. They’ve come for me. I try to stand, but my legs betray me. One of them helps me to stand and I thank him. My mother taught me to be courteous. I thank them again for helping me to walk, with some dignity, to the execution chamber. The chopping block is a huge piece of black granite with a hollowed out bit where I place my head. They tried to wash away some of the blood from the previous two victims, but they missed a few spots. The site of the blood makes the little bit of food I managed to get into my stomach before my trial travel back up my throat, I swallow it back down. I hate that I will die with the taste of bile on my tongue. It’s rather rude that they didn’t even give us a last meal. The executioner stands with his axe resting on his shoulder. The blade looks sharp enough. I hope he’ll be able to do it with one blow. He looks strong enough. I kneel and place my head in the hollow. I’m grateful that they didn’t allow any family members to attend. It’s a private matter. It’s just between me, the executioner, and whatever god I believe in. Only problem is I’m not sure any god exists. Well… I’m about to find out.

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This story originally appeared in AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers  in 2013.

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“Mystery and Suspense in Poetry” (by Jackie Sherbow)

There isnt an author for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine or Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine who has not corresponded, at some point, with the magazines associate editor, Jackie Sherbow. For the past six years, she has been an integral part of the Dell mystery magazines team, brightening every day for the rest of the staff with her cheerfulness, energy, and capable handling of all that finds its way to her desk. What most of those who know her are probably unaware of, though, is that these are not the only magazines to which Jackie has a connection. In her free time, she volunteers her talents as associate editor for Newtown Literary Journal. EQMM has had many assistant, associate, and managing editors who were also writers (most famously, novelist and magician Clayton Rawson), but we have never before had someone in the position whose primary field is poetry. What makes this even more remarkable is that Jackies current counterpart with the Dell science fiction magazines, Emily Hockaday, is also a published poet, a fact that highlights a kinship between the short story and the poem. Weve explored before on this site the affinity between poetry and mystery, and in this post Jackie illuminates it with compelling examples. Readers whod like to sample Jackies own poetry should go to: Go Places (Issues 5 and 6), Bluestockings Magazine, and The Opiate.—Janet Hutchings
“Thanks for the tree between me and a sniper’s bullet.” These are the two opening lines of the poem “Thanks” by American poet Yusef Komunyakaa—but I think they’d make an enticing hook for a mystery story. As a poet, a mystery-fiction editor, and a reader of both genres and forms, I’ve often been struck by the relationship between poetry and mystery fiction, particularly when it comes to a poem’s language and structure. Poetry has an important connection to the American mystery genre—and particularly the short-story side of it, as Edgar Allan Poe is considered by many to have written the first mystery short story. EQMM specifically has a noteworthy history with poetry. Frederic Dannay had a bond with the form, which you can read more about in Janet Hutchings’ post from June 2015. Furthermore, the magazine publishes poetry; many readers will remember the “Detectiverses” and “Criminalimericks” that were at a time found often in EQMM’s pages: short, rhyming verses, usually including a puzzle or a punch-line. And verse by EQMM authors such as William Bankier, John Dobbyn, and Donald Yates has appeared over the years. Last year, in the March/April 2016 issue, we published a handful of Clerihews by Richard Stout, along with a bit of history by him about “the only poetic form created by a writer of detective fiction.” Along similar lines, in 1955 Frederick Dannay included a prose poem by Norman MacLeod titled “Twelve Knives” accompanied by an explanation by the author analyzing and annotating the poem. Poetry was even included in the Department of First Stories in 1969: “Acrostecs” by Laurel Anne McVicker. In his introduction, editor Dannay said, “Yes, it is stretching the form to call these three sonnets a ‘first story’—but as the first-published work of a new writer they are much too good to be passed by because of a technicality of definition . . .” So it seems that the magazine’s goal of providing a diverse collection of writing in each issue spreads across form. The magazine has a history of providing a dynamic reading experience by giving space to the criticism, history, and analysis of poetry as well as the lines of poetry themselves. The characters that inhabit mystery stories inhabit poems, too; in poetry contemporary to classical, we find gamblers, drug dealers, money, violence, jilted lovers, and plenty of weaponry. Thematically, the heart of a poem often resides where the heart of a mystery story does. How do we handle tense situations, relationships gone wrong, frustrated hopes, and genuine or perceived injustice? What do we do with strong emotion, external pressures, and struggles with physical and mental health? Mystery writers are testing the boundaries of the self, digging for the darkness and the truth about what resides inside all of us. Poets are excavating the same thing. But the connection that interests me most is that of the language itself. While many stories include poetic language, plenty of contemporary poetry rings with the tense and the mysterious. Many poems are full of suspense, and poets achieve this in many ways:

Pacing and Repetition

Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” is one of my favorites, largely because of the turn in the final stanza and the slowly paced build to it. The first three stanzas are carefully constructed description and consideration, unfolding as measuredly and quietly as the scene described. The tone in the final stanza is a shift, and the repetition of the final line—and the fact that it’s the first instance of repetition in the poem—gives those lines and the “promises” the poet references a deep sense of gravity. The quiet deepens and, somehow, the dark becomes darker. It’s so simple, but chill inducing. Anne Carson’s “Thunderstorm Stack” uses short lines and tight sentences pushed through by repetition to create a quick pace in another evocation of a dark and stormy night. Her piece opens:

A bird flashed by as if mistaken then it
starts. . . .

Meter and Rhythm

Meter specifically is something that most fiction writers aren’t privy to in their prose toolbox (although I’m sure there’s someone out there who can prove that wrong). Some meters, the ones beginning with trochaic feet, are designed to start with a stressed syllable—a punch. Since most traditional English verse is iambic (and begins with an unstressed syllable), it can throw the reader off kilter from the outset, a goal achieved by many mystery writers too. Shakespeare utilized this: In Macbeth, the witches speak in an altered form of trochaic tetrameter, and in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the fairies. Poe, too, often started lines with trochees. And what can be more jarring than interrupted meter? In “In a Station of the Metro,” a short poem by Ezra Pound, the title and first line establish an imprecise, rhythmic meter that carries onto the third line, just for the final three words to branch from it in three subsequent stresses. To me, it has a nice disruptive effect.

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Line Breaks and Page Structure

Another power that prose doesn’t exactly share is the line break—something that can work as a built-in cliffhanger. The end of a line or stanza and a phrase’s enjambment onto the next creates an immediate moment of tension, often emphasizing the relationship between the connecting words, or giving multiple meanings to them. Kimiko Hahn’s poem “Alarm” is a good example of this. In the first stanza, “vanity” takes on several meanings:

In her dark she surveys empty: the vanity
from the in-law’s Bronx apartment,

And between the third and fourth stanza, a break creates suspense after the world “alarm”:

the husband’s profile, an alarm

for news and forecast. . . .

Poets can also play with how and where words appear on their pages. The end of Victor Hernández Cruz’s poem “Latin & Soul” reads:   screen-shot-2017-02-01-at-9-44-45-am It’s interesting to think about how a short-story writer would describe a similar scene, and create similar geography, tension, and emotion through entirely different techniques. I’ll leave you with the final stanza of Emily Dickinson’s “Love, Part 4: Suspense”, which reads:

What fortitude the soul contains,
That it can so endure
The accent of a coming foot,
The opening of a door!

Once you’re looking for them, the connections don’t stop. Poet Stephen Dobyns has a poem dedicated to Stephen King (see “Lullaby”). “Feeling frightened? / Are you scared?” he asks. Nabokov’s 1962 novel Pale Fire is a mysterious, haunting approach to both poetry and fiction. What are your favorites? I’d love to hear. Many writers are quick to point out there’s “no market” for short stories or for poetry—and many readers are quick to casually stuff mystery writers and poets in their own boxes (artistically, socially, historically, and otherwise). It is hard to ignore the shuttering of small-fiction presses and literary journals, and the proliferation of nonpaying markets for poetry. I’m optimistic enough to think, though, that neither form is in danger—as I’m lucky enough to be connected to both communities, and fond enough of both to seek them out whenever I can. Whether I’m reading poetry or mystery fiction, I’m always searching for the tension between the light of day and whatever element is lurking below the surface.