Tag Archives: Flash Fiction

Flash Fiction Horror Collaboration: The Dark Fairy


This week: the conclusion of Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction horror collaboration.

I’ve gone with the supernaturally bent The Dark Fairy, started by Rosemary Carlson and StarNinja (feels like there’s a Guardians of the Galaxy joke in there somewhere). For ease of reading, I’ve plonked their text down here, but I highly recommend that you visit their sites too, as they’re taking new stories in new directions this week — and who knows, one of them might even finish one of the two others I’ve worked on here.

Anyway, the conclusion of The Dark Fairy is below; my part comes last. Enjoy! (And if a fairy talks to you, just run. STRANGER DANGER.)

****

Part 1 by Rosemary Carlson

****

Evan wondered what to do, if anything, with the information he had just received from his grandfather. Evan was only 17 years old. Most of his family was gone. His mother had recently passed away. His father had left the family when he was a child. He was living with his grandfather, who was dying. Evan was taking care of him. Evan could hear his rasping breath, even though he was in the next room. They didn’t have the money to hire any help. Evan was exhausted from the 24 hour shifts, grabbing sleep here and there, that he was pulling taking care of Gramps.

Gramps was napping and Evan was wrapped up in a wool blanket, sitting beside his bed. The old house was cold and drafty and he had just heard the most fantastic story. He wondered if Gramps was just sick and delusional. He even wondered if he was so sleep-deprived that he had imagined it all. Suppose it was true? What should he do?

As the old man lay sleeping, Evan thought about the story. Fairies. Could fairies really exist? If Gramps was telling the truth, they did exist. Evan started to drift off to sleep while thinking of the fairy story but something hit his head. He jumped up, looked around, but there was nothing there. What was it? He must have dreamed it. He had to stay awake in case Gramps needed him.

Once again, he started to think about the fairy story. Gramps told him that, all of his life, there had been this creature, a fairy, that had accompanied him everywhere he went. The fairy, a female, thought of him as her pet. Evan had always thought of fairies as funny, light, fairy tale things. Gramps said this was a dark fairy, really a mean fairy. Gramps was confessing to Evan because he felt guilty. This fairy had made Gramps do many bad things.

Gramps told Evan about a book he had on fairies, so Evan went downstairs to find it. As he started down the stairs, he tripped on broken wood and started to fall, but suddenly he wasn’t falling. The fall stopped and it felt like something grabbed him by the shirt collar.

“That’s weird,” Evan thought. “What broke my fall? Felt like something stopped me. Oh well, best consider myself lucky.”

Evan went on down the stairs and into the living room to the bookcase. He found the fairy book and reached for it.

“Ouch,” Evan said, as it felt like something hit him on the hand. Then, as he tried to get the book out, it felt like it was stuck. As he tugged on it, he fell backwards and hit his head on the wooden floor.

Evan started wondering what was going on, but he picked up the book and walked back upstairs so he could read and sit by Gramps. He leafed through the old, tattered book until he found the page on dark fairies. The more he read, the more frightened he became. Dark fairies do just what Gramps said. They make people do bad things. They treat them as pets. They are malevolent creatures. Evan started to shake all over. Gramps continued to softly snore.

Evan tried to calm himself by deciding that Gramps’ story was just the ramblings of a sick old man. He was so sleepy that he gradually drifted off in his chair.

Evan woke with a start. How did he get outside? He wasn’t just outdoors but he was in the sky. He was flying and something was holding him up. He heard a whisper in his ear, a female voice, that said her name was Ramona and she was his fairy. Evan started to scream and squirm and Ramona put something over his mouth. He could hardly breathe. She told him in a very stern whisper to shut up or she would make the noose around his neck, with which she was holding him up, even tighter.

Evan was so scared. He was scared of Ramona and of flying. He couldn’t stop squirming and he was screaming behind his gag. Ramona pulled the noose a little tighter. She whispered that Gramps was a much better pet than was Evan.

Suddenly, Evan could tell they were going down toward the ground. Before they got there, Evan fell. All of a sudden, he was on the ground. He could hardly move since he had hit the ground hard. There beside him stood a creature. She was maybe a foot tall. Evan noticed that she had a long black cape on and sported long, flowing black hair. She had piercing blue eyes. He couldn’t look away from her eyes.

Ramona laughed uproariously. She asked Evan if he had enjoyed the ride and the fall.

Evan said, “No. Take me back to Gramps. He’s sick and he needs me.”

“That old man is dying,” said Ramona. “He doesn’t need anything but to be left alone. We have a job to do.”

“Who are you and what do you want with me?” Evan asked.

“I told you. I’m Ramona, your fairy. I was your Gramps fairy and now I’m yours. You’re my pet. You look like a fine boy.”

Evan replied, “I don’t want a fairy. I want to go home. I’m cold and sleepy and I need to be with Gramps. He’s my responsibility. You’re a horrible fairy. I must be having a nightmare.”

“You are going to have a nightmare if you don’t shut up,” said Ramona, as she hit  Evan with a stick. She hit him over and over again, until Evan was almost unconscious. Then, she woke him up.

As Evan sat up, Ramona said, “Do you see that house over there?”

Even shook his head yes.

Ramona said, “There are three people who live there. A man, woman, and female child. The woman needs to die and you are going to kill her.”

****

Part 2, by StarNinja

****

Evan didn’t want this. He didn’t want this with every fiber of his being.

“I’m not a killer. I don’t kill. I won’t do it.”

The fairy sighed, pondering the stick in her tiny hand.

“The stick worked well for your grandpa. Perhaps for you it will be the carrot instead,” said Ramona.

“There’s nothing you can say that will make me do this,” said Evan.

“So confident,” Ramona said knowingly.

“Okay then, why? Why does the woman need to die?”

“Need is a strong word,” said Ramona.

“Answer me,” said Evan.

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“Why, because my feeble human mind couldn’t possibly comprehend?” Evan asked angrily.

“Close. No it’s less a matter of comprehending than it is a matter of context.”

“Stop playing around with me and answer me straight! What did she do to deserve death?” Evan asked.

“If you want the whole truth, we’re going to be here for a while and neither of us have that kind of time. Wouldn’t it be easier to be a good pet and do what I say?” asked Ramona.

“I refuse. I won’t do it no matter how much you hurt me,” said Evan.

“Would it be easier if she was an abuser?” Ramona asked.

“No. She should be reported and go to jail for that,” said Evan.

“What about if she was a child molester? Hmm? What if she preyed on the children of this neighborhood? On her own daughter? Would that change your mind?” Ramona asked.

“Well… no. She still wouldn’t deserve…”

“And!” Ramona said, cutting him off, “what if she herself had killed? What if she was going to kill again?”

“Killing her wouldn’t be the answer.”

“Why not?” Ramona asked.

“Because everyone deserves a chance to own what they’ve done. To make up for whatever it is you think ought to get them killed. They deserve a chance at life,” said Evan.

“Oh, my precious pet. No one deserves to live,” she said with a dark smile. Evan felt himself shiver, or maybe it was the cold night air.

“That’s insane. Of course we do,” said Evan.

“We? Are you putting yourself in the same boat as that monster? No no, she’s got to go. She is a plague upon this earth, my pet. She ‘deserves’ everything you’re going to do to her. If you don’t know what that is, don’t worry. I’ll teach you. I’ll show you how. But I did not misspeak when I said we had a job to do. It is a job. A most important job. Do you believe in Karma?”

“What?”

“Karma. Not a lot of people believe in it anymore. Not around here anyway. Not really. They give it a lot of lip service, but they live their lives like it doesn’t exist. But the great wheel cares not whether you believe in it. It’s kinda like the rain, or earthquakes. It just is. But the problem with people, especially people around here, is that they’ve found a way to get around good old fashioned Karma. They’ve dumped it on other people. Across space, across time.”

“You’re not making any sense,” said Evan.

“See? Context. Maybe you’ll understand after I tell you a little story. Once, little Suzie was a good girl who wanted to become a firefighter. But that didn’t last very long. Her family moved away when her uncle died, they had to get away from the stigma around the whole thing. So Suzie grew up, studied Literature, married a lawyer, had two kids, aborted one because reasons. She was living the American dream. Is this America? You still call it America, right?

“Anyways, Suzie moved into a nice two story home here in the suburbs with her family. She doesn’t do anything with her degree. She wants to, but it just hasn’t turned out that way. Instead she bides her time, waiting for her moment to be relevant. Maybe she’ll write that book she’s always wanted to, or maybe get a job at a magazine, or hell maybe her blog will take off. I mean something’s gotta happen, right? Guess how many people Suzie’s killed to get where she is.”

“Killed? She’s a murderer? Maybe, I don’t know, lead with that next time?” Evan asked. Ramona hit him with the stick again.

“Guess.”

“Ouch! Okay! Um, I don’t know. If she’s a serial killer, like four or five?”

“Three hundred thousand,” said Ramona.

“What? How?”

“Two people died in the forest cutting the trees down, another in the lumber yard that processed the wood for that house. Five commited suicide who’d worked in the factory making the smartphone in her pocket that she’s going to throw away in a week or two when the new model ships. One hundred people died in the mines getting the precious ores that went in her phone and computer and car and…”

“Stop! She didn’t do any of that! That was just…”

“If you say ‘It’s the system’s fault’ I swear to everything that is holy… ha, never mind. Little pet, I didn’t say she was directly responsible for all those deaths. She is a grain of sand on a scale, tiny and insignificant on her own. But. There’s a lot of sand. A LOT. Tipping things in favor of her and all her friends which means we have a lot of work to do tipping that scale back towards balance.”

“But that doesn’t mean…” Evan stammered.

“People she’s never met suffer every day, die, grow ill, working themselves to the bone to make her life so comfortable. But like I said, Karma doesn’t care about her ignorance, it reacts all the same.”

“I’m not going to kill her because…”

“Because what? She doesn’t know any better? Of course she does. She has the entire span and breadth of human knowledge at her fingertips. It wasn’t her fault she was born into these circumstances, but then neither was it the poor little girl’s fault who made her shoes. So how to make this right? What to do, what to do,” Ramona said, pushing Evan forward.

“I’m just as guilty as her for all those things. I deserve death just as much according to that logic,” said Evan.

“Logic: a system of thought developed by Ancient Greeks that didn’t save them from their own destruction. Don’t be like them, my pet. This is nature. This is the world. The universe doesn’t care what you think. The wheel keeps turning, gears crush and grind the dreams and hopes of every living thing that can dream and hope.” Ramona stroked Evan’s hair. “Tonight, it’s going to get a little more grease.”

****

Part 3, by me

****

Evan looked up and found himself face-to-face with the door of the house Ramona had pointed to only a few short moments ago. How had he traversed the distance? The house had looked impossibly far away, and yet here it was.

Here, now, Evan felt more doubt than ever. It would have been better if the family had turned out to be some disconnected, isolated, living-in-opulence sorts, but no, the house was entirely like his grandfather’s: not run-down, but in need of maintenance that the owner didn’t have the money, time, or energy for. Peeling paint. Drooping gutters, heavy with leaves. Windows smeared with children’s fingerprints. It was, in short, the all-too-familiar home of a family working hard to get by.

Evan turned to walk away, but found his feet would not budge. Ramona, riding weightless on his shoulder, droned in her tinny, urgent voice about balance and right and wrong. Gritting his teeth and summoning up every inch of resistance in him, Evan growled: “I won’t do this!”

A tiny little cackle in his ear. “You’re already doing it.”

Into Evan’s vision, his right arm drifted. Closed in the fist was a rock. When had he picked up a rock? With a yelp of terror, Evan spun and hurled the rock away — or meant to. The rock left his hand and sailed through the porch window, shattering the glass with a horrible sound. Evan was sure it would wake the neighborhood.

Again, he turned to run, but the fairy floated into his view before he could take a step. “You’re a fool about a great many things, and that’s not your fault, but don’t be a fool about this. Fingerprints on the rock you just used to break into the house. Do I need to tell you how guilty a young man fleeing from the scene of the crime in the dead of night looks?” She pointed. Lights had gone on in the house across the street.

He hated her, but she was right. Evan punched out the remaining shards of glass, reached through the window, and gingerly eased himself into the house. Maybe he could wake the family, explain all this away. If the fairy would just shut up. But no sooner had he stepped on the scuffed hardwood floor than he heard a commotion of footsteps upstairs. He froze, torn between bolting and hiding. He glanced around; there, in the cast of moonlight through the broken window, was the rock.

Get the evidence and go, he told himself. He grabbed his rock and ran back to the window, and then the room was flooded with light.

“Daddy?” The voice was sleep-thick and innocent. At the top of the stairs stood the child; a scrawny girl of no more than four. She stared at Evan oddly, her head cocked to the side.

“She’s not the one you want,” Ramona taunted. “Of course, if you wanted to…”

“Shut up!” Evan hissed. The girl took a timid step backward. Evan pressed a finger to his lips, but it was too late.

The girl screamed.

Evan ran. He only got one step before Ramona flitted into his vision again, screeching: “you’re not finished, Evan!”

He swatted her aside like a gnat and ran to the window. He threw one leg over the sill and gasped in pain; a gleaming shard of glass protruded from his thigh. He seized it and yanked it out; the blood gushed out in a thick gout.

“DNA evidence,” the fairy tsk, tsked, from behind him.

“SHUT UP!” Evan screamed and spun, lashing out with the dagger-sized shard of glass. There was a mist of blood, but the resistance was considerably more than he expected. He hadn’t sliced the fairy in half; he’d opened a gash in the throat of the man from the photograph.

Where the hell had he come from? Evan hadn’t even heard him approach.

The man held a baseball bat aloft, his face stretched wide in surprise. The bat fell to the floor with a clatter as the man clutched at his throat, blood washing over his hands in a thick sheet. He fell to his knees, then collapsed on his face in a growing red pool.

“Mistake, Evan. You want the wife, not the husband. God, you’re making this difficult.” Evan could no longer tell if Ramona’s voice was coming from her perch on his shoulder or the inside of his own head. Another scream echoed from upstairs. “His wife is getting the gun. She’ll use it on you unless you kill her first.”

Evan shook his head fiercely. “I won’t. I’m leaving.” He made for the window again —

And he felt himself flung across the room. Ramona stood on his chest as he blinked at the ceiling. “Not until you or she is dead. And I’m starting to doubt your usefulness. Now get upstairs.”

Dizzily, Evan got to his feet — the blood draining from his thigh clouding his vision — and stumbled up the stairs. Weak and injured as he was, it was easier than fighting. The fairy’s voice guided him.

“Right, now. End of the hall. Second door. There.

There she was, hunched over a little safe, just opening the door.

“Wait!” Evan lunged for her, not even really meaning to — but still, of course, clutching his dagger of glass. He tripped and fell toward her as she brought the gun about and fired.

Heat and pain bloomed in his chest as their eyes locked in horror. She reached up and pulled the shard from her neck, and the blood rushed out in a great fountain. It sprayed, smoky and thick, across Evan as he collapsed on his back.

The last thing he saw was the little girl watching from the doorway. Not screaming in terror, but nodding in understanding at the words of the tiny fairy on her shoulder.

 


Ashore (Flash Fiction Horror pt. 2)


Chuck’s challenge this week is a continuation of last week’s project. Last week we wrote a 1000-word beginning to a story; this week, we continue somebody else’s story with another 1000 words.

I ran with a story begun by Nate F at Line Meets Sand. His work begins at the 1; mine takes over at the 2. His piece was untitled, and seeing as we’re not sure how it turns out yet, I’ll just title my piece: “Ashore.”

Enjoy!

**************************

1.

Finally some real rain—a decisive, if not delinquent, increase in ferocity compared to the drizzle that had hung suspended, noncommittal in the air for days.  Water dripped from his longcoat as Josiah Leech lifted the last of the fancy trunks not yet aboard.  His jaw tightened as he turned to make his way back to the Trinity.  Whatever was locked in this particular trunk made it heavier than the others by far.

“Mud.

“That’s what April showers bring.

“And so do March showers.  And May showers. And June showers.

“Mud.  Mud.  Fuckin’ mud,” he murmured as he trudged on, stubbornly wrenching his boots from the mire with each soggy step until, at last, he reached the docks.

Josiah’s stride narrowed to cross the thin, roughhewn board that connected the old galleon to the dock, but his pace never slowed.  Just short of his destination, Josiah’s muddy right boot lost grip of the wood and he staggered forward, hands forsaking the trunk in order to grab the railing and prevent the Thames from claiming him.  As he pulled himself back to his feet and onto the main deck, he watched the trunk hit slide to a stop next to the deckhouse.  At least he had propelled it forward.  Through rotten teeth, crows in the riggings laughed down at him.

“You’ll be payin’ recompense for damages caused by your imbecility,” said Bernard Ambrose.  Without so much as a glance up from the manifest, the ship’s quartermaster addressed the nearest deck hand.  “Master Clement, after securing the gangplank, do help Mr. Leach locate that trunk within Mr. Lambert’s stateroom.  The grandiosity of it is clearly too much for but one man to bear.”

“Aye.”  Francis Clement’s mouth spoke agreement as his eyes told Josiah something else.  He too would rather be hoisting the normal cargo of woolen cloth instead of these thirty five haughty aristocrats and their weighty accoutrements.  But in this rare moment of restraint, Francis held his tongue until they were below deck.  “Gents will be the end of us.  Had you slipped but one step further back, you’d been crushed between hull and wall.  They know naught of what the sea brings yet they talk of hunting beasts and savages in uncharted lands.  Worse, they’ve steered Captain Hore and Mr. Ambrose to folly. We’ve too many these trunks and too few stores.”

Josiah gave a single nod in agreement as he wondered from which gossiper the lad had stolen the words.  They were too keen for Francis’ own mind, having been with him for only two voyages.   “Aye, Francis.  Let’s get this done and get to our stations.”

The pair carried the trunk through a narrow passageway formed by planks that had been hastily thrown up in the aft hold as a means to create apartments for their esteemed passengers.  They rounded the last corner and dropped the trunk just inside the door of Mr. Lambert’s room.  A heavy thud spread across the deck, shaking the makeshift walls.

“Reckon we should open it?” Francis asked.  “Just to see.”  Josiah paused, unsure if he saw inquisitiveness or fear lurking in Francis’ eyes.  “Not to steal nothing.  Christ, Josiah.  I ain’t no thief.”

“That’ll be quite enough lads.”  The steady voice came from somewhere inside the dark room.  Francis was so overcome with fright that his clumsy escape made Josiah think of a rat thrown overboard, contorting its body frantically in search of land isn’t there.  “You may be excused,” the voice continued.  Josiah left with a nod, never having seen its owner.

Josiah approached the aft hatch and found clogged with sailors looking onto the main deck.  “What delays?” he asked, pushing through.  “I’m due at the wheel.”

“The passengers,” responded the originally named Mr. Cook.  “They’re lined up at the rails like a boarding party of pirates.  Yet instead of bearing muskets, they stand in the pouring rain, waving to all of London as if to the Queen herself.”

“Who do they suppose will dry their clothes and fancy hats?” asked Josiah, continuing to elbow through.

“We could hang ‘em from the foremast,” said the cook.

“The linens or the gentlemen?” Josiah asked as a matter of practicality.

***

During the voyage, the voyagers encountered storms typical of the North Atlantic and a few near collisions with icebergs hidden by fog.  Nevertheless, most days were smooth and uneventful, even if the crew did keep below deck more so than usual.  They weren’t so instructed.  They preferred it to watching the highborns preen and puke.

Francis, or whoever he had parroted, was right about the stores; the crew had been on reduced rations for weeks when they finally spotted the New World.  Strangely, the passengers didn’t seem nearly as distraught about this as the crew would have expected.    Especially when repeated forays into the wilderness yielded nothing but hard roots and poultry herbs.

***

“Ho, landing party ahoy.” The announcement came from the crow’s nest.  Josiah turned and gripped the railing with anticipation.  The gentlemen cared little for the daily chores, yet they seemed to relish the opportunity to take landing parties ashore in pursuit of food.

“Mr. Lambert, what good news gives those with you cause to smile?”  Captain Hore greeted the men with hope in his eyes.

Grins now absent, five of the six who left a day ago climbed back aboard as Mr. Lambert responded.  “Not by Christ’s mercy, Captain.  This is a terrible place.  An awful creature came in the night and snatched young Mr. Clement.  He wailed with terrible fright as it carried him into the wood.”

“Did you see the beast?  Could it sustain us, just for a little while, if we return and overtake it?” asked Captain Hore in desperation.

“Nay, Captain.  To be true, none saw this demon outright.  The good Mr. Cook, for he was the one lying closest to poor Mr. Clement, did say that he felt a terrible shiver preceding the snatch.  I fear that no good can come of another sortie.  We must press on.”

#

2. Ashore

Five days passed before Hore ordered another landfall. The rations were all but exhausted. The crew had grown gaunt and haunted-looking, and even the gentry aboard had tightened their belts. On the favorable side, the ship’s complement of rats had been dramatically reduced.

But when time came for a landing party to scout the shore, Lambert’s men refused. Like a plague, the legend of the monster on the shore had consumed the ship.

“The demon stalks us by night, and hides in the shadows by day,” said one.

“Eyes like moons in the wood, it has, and teeth like to pierce God’s own arse,” said another.

Cook, still shaken by the loss of Clement, bothered not with excuses. “I won’t go, and that’s that. I’d sooner walk the plank than go ashore with that hellspawn.”

In the darkest hour of the sixth night since the first landfall, Josiah wakened in a sweat.

As he shuffled onto the deck, bleary with exhaustion and hunger, he nearly bumped into a young woman, apparently out for a look at the stars. Somehow, she had not wasted away like the rest of the souls aboard; her cheeks were full and radiant, her eyes bright and deep. At first he thought she was a hallucination, lovely as she was, but the warmth of her was real enough.

His gaze drifted to other parts of her, which were similarly unblemished — Josiah had been many months at sea, after all — but meeting her eyes again, propriety seized him, and Josiah snatched his hat off his head. “Ma’am.”

“Mister Leech.” Her voice was full and warm, the purr of a pampered cat. “I need to go ashore.”

Josiah’s jaw worked without effect for a moment before his words found him. “Pardon me, miss, but nobody’s goin’ ashore until we send a landing party, and, well …”

“The monster, yes.”

Of course, she knew, but she said it with the off-handed impatience reserved for childish complaints. He felt silly, suddenly, and shuffled his feet on the water-swollen boards. “Right. And seein’ as nobody wants to volunteer, I reckon we’re all stuck aboard until –”

“Until the rats have been exhausted and we’re forced to eat each other? You know as well as I do, Mister Leech, that something must be done.”

The moon cast an unearthly pall across her bare shoulders. Josiah tugged his threadbare coat tighter, tried not to stare, but the cold of the night seemed to affect her as much as the starlight. But she was right — something had to be done. He nodded.

“I knew you’d see reason.”

“Beg pardon, miss –” he didn’t know her name, and he paused, but she did not offer it — “but even if I were to help you, the captain would never allow me to take one such as yourself off this ship.”

“Hore and his men,” she sneered with contempt, “are dead men walking.” She flicked her gaze up toward the crows’ nest; there, the watchman sagged in a heavy sleep. “We’ll not be spotted under the cover of the night.”

Sweat broke on Josiah’s lip and his scalp, cold and prickling. “Why me?”

She smiled, warm and terrible. “Because you know where my trunk is.”

And that’s when he knew. Hers was the voice in Lambert’s room.

#

The noise should have waked the dead. It would have, Josiah figured, but the sickness settled upon the Trinity had left them all somewhere between life and death, untroubled by bumps in the night.

He found the trunk in Lambert’s room, and under the watchful eyes of the lady, Josiah dragged it away. Lambert slumbered not a few meters away, but never batted an eye. The trunk was every bit as heavy as he remembered — more so, perhaps, or maybe that was just his own weakness — but the lady’s presence drove him like a lash.

Driven first by the fear of being caught, but more and more by the lady’s impatience, he hauled the trunk up from the cabins and onto the deck. It banged and scraped something terrible, but not a footstep nor a quickened snore rose in response.

With tremendous heaving and contortion, Josiah worked the bulky thing into a lifeboat. The ropes creaked their complaint, and he licked another sheen of sweat off his lips.

“Miss, pardon me for saying so, but I don’t know if –”

“It will hold,” she said, and that was an end of that. Josiah offered her a hand into the vessel — her touch sent a chill through him, but the night breeze more than explained that — then climbed in himself and began the laborious work of lowering the craft into the waves.

The Trinity shrank to a black speck amidst the riot of starlight behind them as Josiah rowed, the only sound the wet slap of the waves against the boat. Most highborns get green on a tiny craft like this, but the lady was unmoved. She stared past Josiah at the shore, one hand resting lightly on the trunk, the way a mother rests her hand on her sleeping child’s back.

The instant their tiny craft scraped the sand of the shore, a soul-rending shriek erupted from the treeline. A powder keg caught fire in Josiah’s chest. What had he done? Brought this lady and himself to their deaths upon this shore, and why? He didn’t even know why.

He stumbled out of the boat, into the freezing waves, and looked toward the land. It coalesced like a fog, a black shape blotting out the edges of the trees behind, great white orbs for eyes floating twenty — no, thirty — feet above the ground, a horrible maw of teeth and talons gleaming dully in the moonlight.

The demon.

Josiah’s blood turned to ice, his thoughts and his sense deserted him. But out of the corner of his eye, he saw the lady, striding through the waves like an angel advancing against the devil himself, arms outstretched toward the creature.

“Josiah,” she cried, her voice like a crashing wave, “open the trunk.”


Overtaken


Running, Sprint, Athlete, Run, Athletic, Race, Sports

10 P.M.

The line blurs as I toe it. To my left, Skarsgaard, who ran like a goddamn gazelle to beat me in Boston, wearing the white and blue and these ridiculous bug-eyed sunglasses. He looks like a mosquito with his lanky neck and those big bubbles on his face. To my right, Ellersen, a hotshot kid who came out of nowhere and shot up the charts at trials. He’s shorter, stockier, more beetle than mosquito, but he’s got a closing kick like nobody’s seen. Don’t let him get in front of you.

Behind me, a host of nobodies. Fastest in the world they may be, but I won’t know it because they won’t pass me today. Bring what you will in qualifiers, but all that matters is what you can do on the day.

We wait for the gun, crammed in like cattle, restless as dogs still on the leash scenting a jackrabbit.

Crack.

#

11 P.M.

Fog rests on the track like whipped cream on a slice of pumpkin pie. Won’t burn off until breakfast time, which isn’t for another three hours.

Metronome in my head. Left-right-left-right. The track flies underfoot, the crisscross of dashes and hash marks seeming to paint some ethereal pattern that I could discern, if only I could slow down. Shapes emerge out of the soup and glide past me. Bleachers. Hurdle stack. Coach Cross.

“Nice finish,” she says. “Two seconds ahead of last time.”

Not good enough. I lower my head and tear into another lap as the fog swallows her up behind me.

#

12 A.M.

Skarsgaard matches me stride-for-stride on the left, but we’ve left that little hotshot Ellersen behind. We’re at the end of the first leg, and there’s a nasty hill up ahead, like a ramp that could send a rocket car into orbit. Skarsgaard and his mosquito legs blast off up the hill, but I hang back. A glob of Russians splits and reforms in front of me, and I clip along at their heels as we trudge up the hill.

#

1 A.M.

“The hell’s all that about, then?” Cross barks when I finally stop, three more laps on.

She gave up on calling me in and waited in the bleachers until I stopped. It was the dizziness that got me. I felt like a drunken giraffe on the last lap, my knees buckling under me like a couple of rickety umbrellas.

I raspberry the sweat off my lips and nose and shrug, not really looking at her. “If I’m going to qualify, I’ve got to work harder.”

“You stick to the plan or you’ll burn out.” She thrusts a bottle of water into my chest. “And I don’t coach burnouts.”

#

2 A.M.

The hill feels like it could go on for miles, but we finally top it and the valley spreads out below us: a tiny model city just waiting for Godzilla to trample it. And I feel absolutely radioactive.

I lean into the hill and flow past the Russians like greased goose shit through a flowing stream. They exclaim to one another in their curt, clipped tongue, but their voices are fast drowned out by the whistling wind in my ears. In moments I come up on Skarsgaard, wheezing and panting like my old Chevy. He’s hit the wall, I can tell by the hunch of his shoulders, the shuffle of his feet, the downward cast of those weird bug eyes.

I smack him on the ass as I pass. “At least you took Boston!”

If he’s got a response for that, I’m not waiting around to hear it.

#

3 A.M.

Another workout without Coach Cross. No more chirping in my ear on every pass to “back off,” “be smart,” “hold your pace.” Just me and my watch and the blistering July heat. It’s muggy and still and I can look backwards over my shoulder and see the grass trimmings off the track swirling in my wake.

I sail across the line and check my watch: another second off my last lap. I brush the sweat out of my eyes and laugh to myself.

#

4 A.M.

I top the last of the foothills and see a smooth downgrade leading into the last straightaway, like a red carpet leading straight to heaven. The only footsteps I hear are my own. Far behind are Skarsgaard and the Russians and everybody else. I can feel the medal around my neck already, its heavy weight dragging my shoulders down, the glare of the sun off my chest blinding the spectators in the home stretch. Their cries even overtake the hammering of the blood in my ears, but something’s wrong. They aren’t screaming my name.

“El-ler-sen! El-ler-sen!”

I feel him as I turn, and in my dream, he’s monstrous, leering, a hungry wolf staring down a broken-legged sheep. The shock of seeing him — in perfect lock-step with me, I never even heard him closing in — makes me jump. I stumble. Fall. Like a toddler’s block tower in a slow collapse to the ground. Knees, elbows, chin smash against the blacktop.

Swish. Ellersen blurs past me, moving like lightning in slow motion.

Swish-swish-swish. Three other nobodies right on his heels.

The medal evaporates from my neck. The podium dissolves in smoke. Ellersen’s slightly squashed face looms large, cackling, swallowing me up as I lay on the pavement, bleeding and spent.

#

5 A.M.

I can’t lie here another minute.

I kick off the covers. Ignore my phone. I don’t need all my friends and teammates asking me what happened. I don’t need anything except that medal that goddamn Ellerson’s wearing instead of me.

Which means I need to make a phone call.

Of course she’s awake already. She doesn’t even say hello. “Ready to get to work?”

Yes, I am.

*****************************

 

Been a while since I partook, but this one comes to you courtesy of Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Friday challenge. This week’s challenge: Insomnia. Inspired by the upcoming Olympics, and a documentary I just watched: Fittest on Earth.


The Sisters’ Snack


Man, Face, Fear, Risk, Grunge, Art, Eyes, Waste, Dirt

It happened early this morning. Neighbors heard what they described as a “loud, tearing sound” and came running to their windows. In the darkness, they couldn’t see who or what was responsible, but there are several reports of an enormous shadow moving away down the street. You can see here the shell of the house, sort of like a seed pod that folded open. It appears to have been torn apart, almost as if from the inside. The owner of the house, thirty-three year old Kaitlyn Ziller, is nowhere to be found. We’ll be following this story as it develops.

#

We’re confirmed reports now of a similar occurrence in the neighboring community of Riverside belonging to Mrs. Ziller’s sister, Kim Smithers. Mrs. Smithers’s husband, Ron, joins us now. Ron, can you describe what you experienced?

“Well, I was asleep, with Kim next to me. It’s been a long day at work, and I have an early shift tomorrow morning. Kim gets up at four to run — she and her sister are getting into fitness, you see, doing this crazy juice thing — so I heard her get up but didn’t think anything about it. Next thing I know the house is getting blown to pieces, like a damned tornado blowing through. Ground shaking like an earthquake, and I heard this pounding, like footsteps. I wound up on the front lawn in my boxer shorts and ran back in to see if Kim was all right, but I couldn’t find her anywhere.”

You say you can’t find your wife?

“She’s long gone. I figure whatever tore the house to pieces took her with it.”

Mr. Smithers, let me clarify. You said “it.” You feel some … thing … destroyed your house and took your wife?

“Damn right. It was dark, but I saw two enormous legs walking off East, toward Roanoke.”

#

We now have confirmed reports of similar events taking place in numerous towns all up and down the seaboard — Tampa, Raleigh, Richmond, just to name a few, though there are over a dozen. In all of these cases, the same circumstances: houses torn apart, women missing, sounds of destruction. The sun will be up soon, and we hope that will shed more light on the matter.

#

This story is getting harder and harder to believe, Jen. As you can see from the photographs we’re sending you, it appears that all of the missing women bear striking similarities. All of them are in their early thirties, all have naturally dark hair and green eyes. In fact, we’ve had some trouble organizing the graphics you’re seeing now because it’s so easy to mistake one for another. In our local case, Kaitlyn and Kimberly were known to be identical twins. Some have theorized that all of the missing women might be related, but we cannot confirm that at this time.

#

This is remarkable, Jen. The rising sun led to our first eyewitness accounts. Kaitlyn Ziller was spotted in a wildlife reserve by motorists, and my team and I got here as quickly as we could. We have caught up with Kaitlyn, and as you can see, she’s … well … she’s over a hundred feet tall. We’ve tried, and local police have tried, to make contact with her, but she’s either unable or unwilling to respond, and she very nearly stepped on the Channel 6 News Van during the attempt. We’ll follow Kaitlyn from a safe distance to give you up-to-the-minute coverage.

#

We can now confirm that all of the missing women have grown in size as Kaitlyn Ziller has. That means that there are more than twenty women over a hundred feet high spread across the Eastern United States. We’ve put together a map showing the known paths of these women, and as you can see, they seem to be converging on a point somewhere in rural Virginia. We don’t know if the women are intentionally going to the same place or if it’s just a coincidence; nobody has yet been able to communicate with them. What is sure is that they are leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. Many of them are cutting paths through woodlands and other uninhabited areas and are only destroying trees, but some are moving through rural areas, smashing cars and buildings as they pass. Andrea Danvers, of Fredericksburg, has at least been polite about it: she was heard to shout apologies to motorists as she made her way down I-95. Unfortunately, her booming voice was loud enough to shatter glass and peel the roofs off a few nearby apartment buildings.

#

Joining us now is a man identifying himself only as Jones. He claims to work at a hidden military facility in the woods that the giant women are moving towards. Sir, what can you tell us?

“The women — we call them the Sisters — are part of a cloning project we initiated thirty-three years ago with great success. It appears, however, that ingestion of some radioactive material — possibly the bananas in the smoothies that the Sisters outside of Elmington have been drinking lately — has caused a quantum reaction which has rippled out to all of their shared DNA.”

And why are they all heading to the woods of Virginia?

“In addition to their obvious size, we theorize that the radiation has altered their DNA to produce at least a psychic connection between the Sisters, if not full-blown telepathy. It’s not surprising, therefore, that they would converge to puzzle out what’s happened to them.”

But why Virginia?

“Oh. That’s where we created them.”

And what will they do when they get there?

“Hell if I know. We’re going to nuke them into orbit before they get close.”

#

Jen, the scene here is pandemonium. We are unable to confirm the identity of Jones, who we spoke with earlier, but at least some of his information appears to be true. Nuclear weapons were deployed just moments ago, and the results were devastating. The target — our own Kaitlyn Ziller — instead of being destroyed in the blast, has grown exponentially. From ground level, here, many miles away, we appear to be safe, but … well, this is hard to describe. Only her feet and legs are visible at this point, her torsos disappearing above the cloud of the nuclear fallout. Kaitlyn Ziller now towers into the lower atmosphere. The earth itself appears to be collapsing under her weight, and great fissures in the ground are opening up behind her as she continues toward the woods. Her movements are stirring up tornadoes all around her. Just a few minutes ago, she appeared to sneeze, and the resulting squall tossed a 747 from the sky a full eleven miles away.

Military personnel are fleeing the area in droves, not stopping for comment. It’s unclear how long we will be able to remain here.

#

Much of the smoke has cleared, and we can more clearly see what the Sisters are doing. Several of the others have arrived on site by now as well; there appear to be seven or eight of them, milling around, engaging in whispered conversation. The one who was struck with nuclear projectiles — Kaitlyn Ziller, who now towers into the lower atmosphere — has seated herself to better converse with the others. Nothing else has happened for several minutes, until —

Wait.

Ziller has moved into a kneeling position. Even so, she towers high above the rest. She’s —

Christ! Hold on there, steady. Are you all right? Jesus. Did we get any of that?

Sorry, Jen. Ziller has just thrust her hand and arm deep into the earth, causing what felt like a major earthquake. She appears to be reaching, searching — she’s got something. She’s pulling something up from the ground.

It looks like a concrete slab. It’s impossible to tell at this scale, but it might be the size of a football field. No, it’s not a slab; it’s a bunker. There are people falling out of it. My god. She’s shaking it like a can of peanuts.

There! She reaches down and cups one figure as it falls. I can’t see if it’s a man or a woman. She holds this figure down so that the others can see and speak to him.

“That’s Ernst Felding.”

It’s Jones. Get him in the shot. What can you tell us?

“Felding. I worked with him for over a decade. He’s the architect of the Sisters project. They’re talking to him. I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes right about now.”

What are they saying?

“Hard to say, but it can’t be good. How would you feel if you found out that your whole life was a lie, and it’s all because of this guy? And now, you’re five hundred times his size?”

Jen, I’m not sure if you can see this. Felding is on his knees in Ziller’s palm, with his hands above his head … he’s holding something. Can you zoom in on that? It looks like … a gun?

“The bioserum rapid injector.”

What’s that?

“An emergency protocol. A bioserum to shut down the cloned genes if they should ever behave erratically. Maybe it’ll work.”

Ziller is holding Felding up to the other women, where he appears to be delivering injections into their shoulders. And — my god, it’s working! They’re shrinking! Jen, you can see clearly now, the Sisters are shrinking — it looks as if they’ll be back to normal in just a few moments. In a dramatic turn of events, we appear to have been saved from certain destruction by —

Wait a moment. Ernst has just injected Ziller’s palm, and she’s beginning to shrink, though she’s still gargantuan. She lifts him to look into his face. The other women, shrinking by the second, nod at her. He looks as if he’s pleading for his life. Now Ziller is — oh, god. She’s swallowed him.

“Um … I’m gonna go. Forget you saw me.”

Jen, the man known as Jones has run into the trees, leaving us only with his story. The Sisters, as they will no doubt be known, are rapidly approaching normal size. Today’s events will be talked about for years to come, but the lives of the women involved have been forever changed, and the man responsible has paid a terrible price for what many would consider crimes against these women.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to buy my wife some flowers before I get home.

********

This week’s flash fiction comes to you courtesy of Chuck Wendig’s X meets Y pop-culture mashup. My x meets y: Godzilla meets Orphan Black.

I started with great ideas for this one, but it seemed like too much story for the space allotted, and I had to wrap it up quicker than I would have liked. That, and I have to get back to the real project: the novel. This one was threatening to suck up too much time this week.

Anyway. Be good to the women in your life.


Chick Magnet


Birdman, by Peter Meijer @Flickr.

Birdman, by Peter Meijer @Flickr.

“I’ve never dated online before,” says Greg, fidgeting with his spotted hands on the linen tabletop. It’s a lie, but one he never gets called on.

Theresa, a silver-haired beauty, grins with downcast eyes at her silverware, her face flushing a little. “Me, either.”

She’s divorced, he’s widowed. Sidewalk cafe. Small talk, overpriced wine.

“Kids?”

“Two. You?”

“Four. Grandkids?”

“Eight. They’re like rabbits.” He laughs, and thank God, so does she. “You?”

“Just one.” She can’t help herself. She reaches for her phone and shows him a picture of the little angel, slumbering in that striped hospital blanket. “Two weeks old.”

“Ahh, it’s the best. You’ll see. Even better than having kids of your own.”

“So I’ve heard.”

She’s wonderful, really. Just like his wife in a lot of ways — same hairstyle, same easy way of talking. But then, she’s different too — quicker to laugh, with a nervous energy that keeps her looking around the room, knotting up her napkin. None of them are his wife, but there’s always something to like. She could be the one.

And then it’s over. Pleasant, but abrupt. She doesn’t look back as she walks away, doesn’t promise to call. Probably won’t call. They never call. He sighs and shoves his fork into his half-eaten portion of tilapia. Wishes he’d just ordered the burger he wanted. Stupid diet. Stupid doctor’s orders. A pigeon flutters up and lands in Theresa’s spot at the table, stabbing its beak at the rice pilaf she didn’t finish. He throws a spear of broccoli at it, and it flaps irritably away.

In his pocket, a newspaper clipping. Ragged at the edges, soft as feathers from all the times he’s handled it and not called the number. He frowns at the back of Theresa’s silvery head. He calls the number.

#

It arrives eight days later: a tiny brown box the size of his palm. Not what he was expecting. No flashy marketing inserts, no fancy designer packaging, only an unlabeled brown medicine vial with a dropper nestled in downy cotton packing. Beneath all that, a note: A few drops will make you irresistible to females! Use with caution!

No sense in waiting.

#

“Another first date, Greg?” Marcus, the waiter, grins at him as he pours him a seltzer.

Greg nods, almost giddy. He thumbs the vial in his pocket.

“I never see you here on any second dates. You take them someplace nicer?”

“Never been so lucky. But today’s different.”

“Oh?”

“Something special up my sleeve. That’s the secret with these older birds; you have to work a little harder.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Marcus flashes him another smile: perfect teeth against his dark skin.

Greg watches: Marcus turns the corner inside and gooses the pretty little waitress. She playfully swats his hand away, then plants a quick, affectionate kiss on his cheek. Young love. So easy, so effortless, like falling into a soft, downy mattress.

Maybe it’ll be that easy for me this time.

Linda’s due in ten minutes. He produces the tiny vial, looks around to make sure nobody’s looking, then squeezes out a few drops on his outstretched fingertip. It’s viscous and gritty, almost like birdlime, but it’s got this pungent aroma of … what? The sea? The sky?

Out of nowhere, a pigeon lights on the table right in front of him, staring at him with round, vacant eyes. It bobs its head a few times.

“Shoo.” He swats at it and it flies away, gurgling. The arc of its flight draws his gaze up toward the street, and he sees her — Linda. Pretty as her picture, red hair feathered and falling around her shoulders as she approaches. She hasn’t seen him yet. He dabs the oily stuff behind his ears. At an impulse, he squeezes out a few more drops, which he rubs into his hair.

Before their drinks arrive, another pigeon — or maybe the same one? — coasts lazily in and settles on the table opposite. By the time Marcus brings the appetizer, there’s a second bird perched there. They’re staring at him, like customers at a deli awaiting their turn. Linda doesn’t notice them, but Marcus does — with a languid wave of his hand, he scatters the critters, and Greg sighs his relief.

But by the time Greg sinks a fork into his seared trout, the two pigeons have returned and become four. They watch him implacably as Linda chirps on about the men she’s dated and divorced. More and more arrive. Another winged watcher lands as Greg picks up the check. Linda’s saying she’d really like to see him again, but Greg can’t focus on her at all for the dozen denizens of the sky sitting opposite. Then he notices she’s looking at him, waiting for a response. Oh. Turned down again. He forces a little smile, says he understands, wishes her luck in the future.

Linda’s face falls to pieces like an egg dropped from a nest. She stands, mumbling in disbelief, looking around, lost.

Her claim on Gary vacated, the birds descend. The first one swoops at her and she bats it away. Another tangles its claws in her hair. They chase her down the sidewalk in a flurry of flapping wings.

When Marcus arrives to take the bill, Greg has been swarmed. Pigeons roost on his shoulders, nuzzle at his knees and ankles, lightly bonk their heads against his fingers as he drums them on the tabletop. One nips lovingly at his thinning hair from its roost on his bald spot.

“Damn, Greg,” Marcus says. “Strike out again?”

“Take it from me, kid,” Greg sighs. “Women are for the birds.”

 

********

It’s been a little while since a Flash Fiction challenge. I really can’t apologize enough for the ending.

Anyway, this challenge comes as usual from Chuck Wendig: the random photography challenge. I found the photo above by Peter Meijer, and, well. He just looked so weary.

Comments always welcome.


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