A Darker Road, the second Tales of the Automazombs book, is now available in print and ebook! You can find it on Amazon here.
A Darker Road, the second Tales of the Automazombs book, is now available in print and ebook! You can find it on Amazon here.
I figured I haven’t written fore the blog in a while (been writing a lot, just trying to get them published which means I can’t share them yet). This one works both for the Terribleminds Flash Fic challenge, and for A to Z. Had to use a dragon in the story, and title it something beginning with F.
Fang and Fire
Felix held the vial of orange powder between his thumb and forefinger. Almost looked like taco seasoning, or maybe the contents of a sugar straw like he snuck from the corner store. But this, this was Dragon. Made you strong, powerful like you had a fire inside, and your breath sent up billows of smoke.
He’d been selling the stuff for almost a year now. Even when he lost a few clients to the side effects, he was still raking it in. He even broke his ‘don’t sample the product’ rule. It was too new and different not to. The boost it gave him, he never went into a dangerous situation without it anymore.
Special stuff like this, there was so much potential being wasted. His supplier, the only source of Dragon he knew of to exist, only sold tiny amounts at a time. Felix was going to change that. He was ready to move up in the world.
Another Terribleminds challenge where three specific things have to be used in the story. Mine were talisman, a found dog, and a gateway. Enjoy!
Sebastian rolled his sleeves up and began the incantation. A gust of wind swirled around him and Margaret as thunder echoed through the alley. He closed his eyes and spoke over the growing storm. The sky above them began to glow and spark.
It was cold that night, even for October. Margaret rubbed her hands together and blew into them. She stood next to two suitcases by the brick wall.
“Does this have to be outside?”
Sebastian opened one eye.
“I need lightning for the spell. A lightning strike in the apartment will kill our deposit.”
“Seriously, like, ninety percent of your spells need lightning!”
“If you know, why did you ask?”
She stuck out her tongue playfully.
“I thought having a sorcerer for a boyfriend would be more fun.”
He glanced up to check the cloud above them. It was big enough now that it wouldn’t collapse into a magical twister. The cleanup for those was insane. Literally, it could send a sorcerer to the psych ward.
He called Margaret over.
“Do you still have the necklace?”
She let the sapphire gem dangle on its silver chain, and placed it in the center of a circle on the pavement. Sebastian added a few more arcane symbols with the chalk. Margaret stepped back as he lay walnut tokens around the outside. He uncorked an aromatic bottle, and sprinkled the contents in a rune pattern over the whole thing.
He called over his shoulder as the circle returned the glow of the sky above.
“The gateway’s almost ready. Grab the bags and we’ll get this vacation started off right!”
There was no answer. He thought she’d be more excited. She’d been talking about Hawaii for months now. He turned to look for her.
She emerged from behind the dumpster with a bundle of fur in her arms.
“I found this poor guy cowering away from your spell. He looks like he could use a good meal. Don’t ya, buddy? I think I’ll call him Coconut”
She smiled and reached up to scratch the mutt behind the ears. Sebastian’s mouth hung open. Now? They’re about to go on their very first trip as a couple and she finds some stray now?
The first bolt of lightning struck the necklace, then another, and another. Each charge of energy came down in a different hue. The alley lit up like a dance club. Sebastian knew the necklace had become a gateway talisman as soon as it started floating. Even after the lightning stopped, the talisman had an ethereal glow to it. Even after they were home from their trip, it would make a lovely gift for Margaret.
Just as Sebastian stood up to grab the suitcases, the dog leapt from his girlfriend’s arms.
The scruffy terrier snapped up the talisman in its slobbering jaws. The dog’s body glowed as it swallowed. Sebastian raced over, desperate to pry the little beast’s mouth open and get his hard work back.
“Drop it! Come on. It’ll be months before I can try again!”
The dog’s eyes glowed blue. It had already bonded with the talisman’s magic.
Sebastian collapsed back onto the asphalt and rested his head in on his knuckles. Margaret crouched down behind him and hugged his shoulders. Coconut barked at a pigeon and popped out of existence. The mutt came and went with each subsequent bark.
A few months later, in the dead of winter, Sebastian was finally able to finish the talisman without interruption. He and Margaret lay on a sandy beach, watching the waves roll in. The dog popped in and out, using his new talents to chase unsuspecting seagulls.
It’s time for another Terribleminds challenge! This time, we were tasked with creating a story around a random song title. I opened up Pandora and found Mirrors in the Moonlight, by Noosa (great song, btw). So, here it is!
Mirrors in the Moonlight
Four boots crunched through the deep snow. The forest was deathly still; their tracks lay exposed with nothing to cover their path. Red droplets leaked from the bandages on Adrian’s leg. They spattered the snow in an uneven line. He glanced up at the night sky. Clouds as big as mountains drifted past the full moon. On the horizon, a new storm raged. Adrian beckoned for his son to hurry. There wasn’t much time left.
A few paces behind, his son stumbled and fell to his knees. The boy’s tears froze halfway down his face. Adrian knelt down next to Luca. He wiped his son’s cheek with a mittened thumb.
“Not much farther, now. Everything will be better when we reach the glade.”
Distant, angry voices interrupted him, followed by the bark of hunting dogs.
Adrian yanked Luca up by the shoulders.
“Hurry! We have to move!”
As they ventured deeper, the trees became thick with bushes and brambles. Adrian pushed through as thorns tore his face and coat. Luca clung to his back for safety. He exhaled through his nose. There was no time for obstacles.
A new cloud blocked the moon’s light, but Adrian could still hear it: the ethereal song of the glade. He closed his eyes and let the music guide him. He charged ahead until, finally, they burst into the glade.
Adrian watched the sky again, waiting for an opening. The hunters drew closer. Flashlight beams flickered through the trees. Luca whimpered into his scarf. Adrian held his son to his side. He grabbed a thick branch with his free hand – a club to use against the dogs.
Then, the clouds parted. Adrian backed over to the center of the glade as the first of the mirrors appeared. There were twenty in all, tall crystalline ovals that reflected the moonlight. Amid the reflections were glimmers of other worlds. Luca gasped when he noticed the mirrors, and reached out.
Adrian grabbed his son’s hand.
“No! Not that one. Look closer.”
The boy’s eyes grew wide when he saw the writhing, black shapes.
“Where does it go?”
“Nowhere good. Find the one that contains a meadow. Quickly!”
The boy dashed from mirror to mirror. Adrian kept his eye on the flashlights and gripped his branch weapon tighter. The first of the dogs jumped out of the brambles. It snarled at Luca and bristled the fur on its back. Adrian rushed forward, roaring like a wild beast as be swung the branch. He struck the dog in the side, sending it crashing into a snowbank.
Two more hunting dogs emerged as the first shook off the snow. They circled around Adrian, who continued to lash out with the club. The flashlights were getting closer. A rifle went off, blasting the bark off a nearby tree. Storm winds whipped the old snow. Time was running out.
Luca shouted from the opposite side of the glade.
“I found it! Hurry papa!”
A second rifle fired, and Adrian felt a new, searing pain in his chest. He staggered as his son looked on in horror. He took another good swing at the dogs and gritted his teeth.
“Go Luca! I’ll be… right behind you.”
The boy sobbed as he touched the mirror, and slipped into a safer world. The storm clouds encroached on the glade, causing the mirrors to disappear as they lost the moonlight. Adrian watched as the last of the mirrors vanished. He collapsed, knowing the hunters would never find his son.
Ethan squeezed under the loose fence picket. The yard beyond it was so overgrown, he couldn’t see the night sky above, or the abandoned house to which the yard belonged.
His brother grabbed his arm and hissed.
“Shh! You want the ghosts to hear us coming?”
“No way this place is actually haunted.”
“Is too. I’ll show you! Unless you’re too chicken?”
“Shut up. Let’s just get this over with.”
They trudged forward through the weeds. Ethan couldn’t help but wonder if the strange purple blast in the sky last week had something to do with how big the plants were. A lot of weird things had happened that day.
“Do I tell him? He’s going to think I’m a freak.”
Jacob pulled out his flashlight as they got to the steps. The wooden slats creaked beneath their feet. When they reached the door, Jacob shined the flashlight in Ethan’s face.
“I don’t want you seeing how to get in. You might tell Mom. Now turn. And close your eyes, too.”
Ethan faced the street and shut his eyes tight. He listened for whatever pins or skeleton keys his brother was using on the lock. But, all he heard was a small whoosh-pop
“I could show him instead. Break the door and he might be more impressed than scared of me.”
The old door whined on its hinges. Ethan turned around to see his brother standing on the threshold. An ancient mist of dust and mildew wafted into the night air. It looked a lot like their house, except covered in a gray film.
Jacob motioned with the flashlight, and walked deeper into the house.
“I heard it happened upstairs.”
The stairs to the second floor were lined with photos of the family. Their smiles made Ethan shudder. He bet the little girl in the pictures didn’t smile much anymore.
Jacob flicked the flashlight’s beam around the bedrooms. The button eyes of a ratty teddy bear gleamed in the light. Wind whistled through a crack in a window pane, billowing the cobwebs. Ethan had to admit, this place was definitely creepy.
Jacob stopped at a closed door. He held the handle, but didn’t turn it. He pointed the flashlight up at his face.
“You want proof this place is haunted? Look.”
He opened the door to the bathroom. Inside, there was a dark patch on the floor. A wet, red spot coating the tiles. Ethan’s heart raced at the sight of the murder scene.
“Every time somebody tried to clean it, the spot kept coming back like it was fresh.”
Ethan knelt down next to the haunted stain. It looked a little like ketchup. He reached out.
His brother grabbed his hand.
“What are you doing? Don’t touch it!”
Ethan yanked his hand away.
“It’s fake, admit it. I’ve seen enough.”
He waved Jacob off and left the bathroom.
A chilling moan resonated behind him. The flashlight flickered. Jacob’s voice jumped up an octave.
“It’s not fake. They’re here!”
Jacob hit the flashlight’s metal casing. The light went out entirely as Ethan turned toward his brother.
“Nice prank, Jacob. I’m out of here.”
“No, don’t – AAH!”
Jacob’s scream cut short. The moan returned, fiercer, louder. Ethan swore he heard another whoosh-pop as the flashlight clattered to the floor. The bathroom’s window burst open. Ethan fumbled for the flashlight.
“Give up, Jacob. I already know it’s you.”
His fingers grasped the flashlight and clicked the button on. Jacob was gone. Ethan tore open the shower curtain.
His brother wasn’t there. He tried the linen closet next, but still nothing. He looked down the hall.
The ghostly moan returned while Ethan checked the bedrooms. A big mirror in the older boy’s bedroom cracked as if hit. In the little girl’s room, the stuffed animals threw themselves at Ethan.
“I… I don’t know how you’re doing this, Jacob, but… but it’s not funny!”
The moan turned into wicked cackling. Ethan felt a chill on the back of his neck. He slapped it away as he swiveled around. He could feel his insides growing hot. Maybe there were ghosts. If the blast could make him into a freak, it could bring back the dead as vengeful spirits. But, Jacob…
“I’m sorry, Jake.”
Ethan ran down the stairs. He’d get help and come back to save his brother. When he got to the bottom of the stairs, the front door slammed shut.
His insides burned, and this time Ethan gave in to the feeling. His vision went red. He roared in pain as thick spiked plated grew over his skin. He clenched his hands into tight metal fists.
“You can’t keep me here!”
The door splintered as he punched it. A second hit tore the door from its hinges completely.
A shimmering silver face floated next to his head.
Ethan growled at the ghost.
“You! Give me my brother back!”
He swung a fist toward the thing’s face. It materialized in that second with a whoosh-pop. Ethan’s spiked knuckles drove deep into Jacob’s cheek and eye. The force of the hit threw him across the room against the brick fireplace.
Ethan gasped. His vision cleared when he realized what he’d done. He raced to his brother’s side as his skin returned to normal.
Blood trickled from Jacob’s mouth.
“We… both got powers?”
Ethan nodded with tears in his eyes.
“I’m sorry. I should have told you. I’m so–”
Jacob coughed a laugh.
“Maybe now this place… really will be… haunted.”
I woke up gasping for breath. My fingers fumbled for the notepad I keep by the bed. The vision wouldn’t be worth the high price I paid if I didn’t remember it. My hand shook. It all came out as hash marks and scribbles, so I drew instead. The monster. Destruction. A clock. The rough silhouette of the person responsible. I could only hope it was enough.
The world spun as I picked up the phone. The motes of dust illuminated by the lamp sparked and caught fire. The fires raged in my room, just like they would across the world if we didn’t stop it. It was getting harder to breathe.
I shook the hallucinations from my head and dialed Mara. The fires vanished. The world kept spinning, but it was slower, more manageable when she answered.
“Thaddeus? It’s 2a.m., can’t this wait?”
My response was a garbled mess. I couldn’t will my throat to form words any more than I could write. Thankfully, Mara knew about my dreams.
“You did it again, didn’t you? What did you see?”
I didn’t speak. Mara sighed and told me to meet her at the Night Owl in an hour. Then, she hung up.
With the state I was in, I’d need the entire time to walk the six blocks. I didn’t bother with any more clothing than the pajamas I already wore. Stumbling out of my apartment, I passed a homeless man. He grew roots and branches as I passed him. His beard sprouted luminescent yellow flowers.
I averted my eyes, and continued to stumble toward the diner. My legs felt as if I were walking through thick brambles. When I opened the door, the chime sounded like the laughter of a ghostly child.
Mara sat with three others in the corner booth. She waved me over.
Seeing my friend cleared some of the fog in my brain. The coffee she set in front of me did the rest.
One of Mara’s companions, a man with hipster glasses and occult tattoos, pointed at me.
“This wreck is the guy? You’re the one who knows how to stop the apocalypse?”
My words were metered.
“Mara, can we trust them?”
She nodded. I tossed my notebook onto the table. They leafed through the pages while I explained my situation.
“I dream twice a night; the first one’s free. The second one – the one with the visions – costs a piece of my sanity. It was an accident at first. But, well, we’ve come to rely on the information to save our lives.”
Mara scanned the crude drawings of my latest entry.
“I know this place. That’s downtown! It’s happening right here. But, who’s this?”
She pointed out the silhouette.
I took another sip of coffee.
“I only caught a glimpse. But, that person is orchestrating the whole thing. I know that much.”
Hipster glasses counted the facts on his fingers.
“We know it’ll begin downtown. Otherworldly monsters are the method of attack, which will be summoned by dark magic. Hell, you even gave us a date and time; we have until tomorrow to put an end to this. But we don’t know who the mastermind is. We’ll never find out in time!”
“You think my visions come easily? Do you know why I only have two dreams a night?”
The man sat back and folded his arms. Mara bit her lip. The other two, teen girls in matching black hoodies, looked more curious than ever.
I exhaled slowly.
“One night, I allowed myself to have five dreams. The cost was exponential. That was three years ago. If I were to try multiple in one night now… I might never recover.”
Mara reached out. She rested her hand on mine.
“I know the sacrifices you’ve made. But, Thad, you have the chance to save all of humanity. You’re the only one who can do it.”
“My life in exchange for the world, huh?”
Her eyes welled up as she squeezed my hand. I looked out the window, to the cloudy night sky. Even with my mind clear enough to speak, the hallucinations ate away at the edges of my perception. The clouds swirled with angry faces.
“Fine. Follow me.”
I led the group back to my place. I pulled a pair of syringes from my desk drawer. I never thought I’d need to use them. I handed them to Mara.
“This one puts me to sleep. This will wake me up. Don’t use it until after I have the dream.”
As I lay down, she injected the first drug into my arm. Seconds later, I saw the creature I’ve come to call the Dream Dealer. It strode up to me on tall, spider legs and twitched its spiked head.
Snakelike fingers stabbed into my skull. I could feel the immense suffering that would come to pass if I didn’t see what I needed. I focused my mind on the woman behind the end of the world.
A woman emerged out of blue fire. Her face remained shadowed. I could feel her heart racing. She’d been planning this for so long and finally all the pieces were coming together.
I opened my eyes to a room of anxious faces. Behind them, the room became a swamp. Fireflies sparked and where they landed turned to ash. Mara pressed a pen into my hand. I shook my head. Tears filled my eyes. I had failed. The man in glasses looked angry. Mara offered the syringe, and I accepted. I had to try again. For the world.
I went under one last time. The Dream Dealer grunted at my return. This time, the vision was clear. I finally knew who was behind it all.
When I awoke, I recoiled. The walls flickered in blue light as Mara leaned closer. Her smile was shark-toothed and gleaming. As the last of my sanity slipped away, I knew I had been played.
This is the last of the 3-part Terribleminds challenge. I’m finishing a story that two other people worked on. Below are all three parts, but here’s some links to the original part 1 and part 2 of the story. It’s funny, I almost did this story as my part 2. It would have had a pet demon that the girl summoned through reading the ghost stories. Very different.
The noise came again, and this time there could be no mistake: somebody was in the house. Worse, somebody was in my bedroom. I strained to hear, holding my breath, hoping that what I heard was just something from outside on the street, a drunk perhaps, a stray dog going through the garbage bins, but no. It was faint but unmistakably closer. I squeezed my eyes shut and opened them again, trying to see in the dark without moving. It was there, a scratching sound on the wooden floor, like something scrambling frantically in the same spot. Perhaps a rat, I thought as I lay, face up, cursing silently the fact that I stayed up late, trying to finish that damn book – the one with rats on the cover. No wonder I was imagining things.
The noise had stopped and nothing else could be heard, except for the occasional car going down the street but even that faded away and the fear began to loosen its grip on me. My eyes grew heavy, my body relaxed. Then it came again, closer, the scratching, and in my mind I saw a huge rat, as big as a cat, its teeth sharp and hungry for meat, the beady eyes glistening in the dark. I considered my options. Option one, pretend nothing happened, it was a nightmare (a persistent one at that) and try to go back to sleep. Option two, stretch out my hand over to the nightstand and turn on the light. Perhaps it was a small mouse and the light will frighten it. Or perhaps the light would scare it right into my bed.
I began to shiver under the blanket. I tried to move my hand as quietly as possible but the thing must have heard me and it stopped. I breathed slowly, trying to give myself courage. Now this is truly stupid, there is no rat, it was all in my head. I shifted slightly to the left, reaching out with my hand.
The noise began again, and this time it was so close it made my skin crawl and my heart beat like a war drum. It must be under the bed now, whatever it was. Perhaps I could use my pillow, swat it away. Or my tube of hair spray, or the chunky volume of ghost stories. All on my nightstand, if I could just reach over and turn on that light.
I inched closer, my fingers stretched to find the switch of the reading lamp. I knocked over an empty glass, and it tumbled to the floor, rolling, before coming to an abrupt stop. I cursed silently, and in the next instant I heard the scratching on the floor, followed by a soft thud. It was on the bed now, whatever it was. I bit my lip and swallowed the scream that threatened to spill out; I felt the blanket slipping from my body, slowly, cold air on my skin, my blood turning to ice…
* * *
Suddenly a giggle and a look of confusion washed over my face. It giggled again as it crawled closer to my face. Fumbling for the light and twisting the switch, I turned back into the face of a child.
The little boy smiled, “found you!” he squealed.
My heart was still racing but the fear had all but disappeared. It wasn’t a woman-eating-rat, but a child, who wasn’t hers, right in front of her as if it was no big deal.
“Hi there little guy. How’d you get in here?” I asked in as soothing high pitch voice as she could muster.
“Mommy said I should go play hide and seek. So that’s what I did. I found you. You weren’t really hiding very well.”
I tried to recall who in the building had a child but nobody came to mind. Recovering and throwing a big smile, I asked where mommy was.
“She’s at home.” he replied as he sat on the bed, crossing his legs as if he’s ready for a story.
“Hmm, I don’t know. At school we are learning where we live to help us.”
Great she thought. This kids probably 5 or so, doesn’t know where he lives and somehow got into my locked apartment.
“Well, why don’t we go into the kitchen and get something to eat. We can figure out where you live and take you home. Does that sound good?”
“Yeah, I guess. But mommy said to stay out until the sun comes up. And the sun isn’t up yet.”
I started moving off the bed, reaching for my robe and the boy followed. Walking down the hallway I finally asked the odd question.
“That’s a long time from now. Why did she want you to stay out so long?”
“She always says I should go explore at night. Because I feel better when I do. She’s right. I don’t feel good when the sun is up. Mommy says it’s a condition I have. I don’t remember what it is but she told me. I know she did.”
“How does some cereal sound?”
“Does it have marshmallows?” his face brightening.
“Sorry, no marshmallows.”
“Aww, man.” he said with defeat.
“But it’s got sugar” trying to cheer him back up.
“I guess. It’s not as good without the marshmallows.”
“Yeah, I agree”
We sat at my small table, the boy scarfing down the cereal and sipped some tea herself. He was pumping his legs back and forth while humming and chewing.
I started asking a series of questions that he might be able to answer, helping her narrow down where he lived.
“Do you live in this building?”
“Where do you live?”
“In the woods”
The woods, I thought? I live in the heart of a small town, the woods are a few miles away. Something wasn’t right and I went to grab the phone, something I should have done minutes ago.
* * *
The little boy pointed at my smartphone.
I held it out for him while I looked up the police non-emergency line.
“It’s a phone. I can use it to call a friendly police officer who can help.”
His face turned bright red.
“No! Not them!”
I held up my hands in surrender.
“It’s okay! I won’t call the police.”
“They hurt daddy! The mean police made him go away.”
I felt a lump in my throat. I rushed to his side with open arms. He wrapped his tiny arms around my neck, and sobbed into my shoulder. I kept my voice hushed.
“We can do this, alright? No mean people, just us.”
He nodded weakly.
“So, you live in the woods. Can you describe your house? Is it made of wood?”
“It’s made of rocks and dirt.”
“Is it close to a road?”
The tears slowed, and the boy pushed away so that he could eat again.
“Mommy says roads only help the bad people come. But, there’s a lake with lots of fish. I catch them sometimes. They’re wiggly.”
My fingers tapped against the phone. Maybe I was going at this the wrong way.
“How are you so good at hide and seek?”
The boy shoved a big spoonful of cereal in his mouth. His mischievous grin lost some of its effect between full cheeks.
“I want to learn how to be sneaky, too. Can you show me how you came inside?”
“I think really hard. Pretend it’s daytime. Then, my claws come back and I can climb the bricks!”
The boy scrunched his face up. He took a deep breath in, then exhaled slowly. He placed his hands on the table. The seconds drifted by. I couldn’t help but sit and watch. The kid was confused. He couldn’t possibly mean…
Tufts of gray fur suddenly sprouted on the sides of his face. His forearms and hands went fuzzy as well. Sharp puppy claws scratched the cheap wood of the table.
I scrambled to my feet.
“You’re a werewolf?!”
The boy stared up at me with his mouth pushed to one side. The fur and claws retreated into his skin.
“I don’t think so. Oh! I remembered! Mommy said I have rebers-lie-canter-dopey.”
I repeated the words in my head until they made sense. Reverse lycanthropy. He wasn’t a werewolf, but a were-boy! Once my body stopped its frightened shaking, I walked over to the boy’s side of the table.
He nodded, so I reached out my hand.
“Let’s go for a walk. Do you think you could find your way home if I take you to the edge of the forest?”
He wrapped his hand in mine as he scooted off the chair. His grin extended to his ears.
We went out into the pre-dawn darkness. As we walked, I breathed a silent hope that the boy’s mother wouldn’t maul me for going near her puppy.
Remember that “first 500 words” challenge I participated in? Well, this week I’m picking up the middle 500 words from somebody else’s story.
The first part is by Arin Pandey. My part follows after the “* * *” halfway down. Next week, a completely different person might take this story to its conclusion.
It was only after I opened the door at seven fifteen that I remembered Mum’s catchphrase sounding all my life: “Don’t open the door to anyone after seven.” She didn’t say it that night, before she went to work her night shift. But that’s no excuse.
I’d asked the obvious question when I was much younger, “If it’s so dangerous to let anyone in then why is it okay for you to go out at night?”
The answer was as bizarre as the instruction itself. “Because Tamara, the Grim Reaper comes to get you, not the other way around.” Then, whispering a prayer, she left for her night’s excursions.
The stranger standing on the doorstep looked as wild and woolly as the night itself. His thick, curly, black hair stood in wet spikes, so I didn’t notice the peaks at each side of his forehead. Not then. The light coming from the hallway behind me was too pale to see his face clearly.
The wind was whooshing like a drunken ghost, and there was so much rain that I could hardly see the other side of the road. None of our street lights have worked for as long as I can remember. I know this ‘cause I do look out the windows, like a prisoner behind bars.
Although the unknown quantity didn’t look much older than me, I felt the need to protect Tonkin. He’s only sixteen. I didn’t want the guy to think I was afraid or that we were alone at home. Obviously I couldn’t shut the door in his face, so I barred the entrance and started to angle the door slowly shut.
“Play with them,” Dad used to joke. “Then hit them with it when they’re least expecting it.” Of course he was halfway across the world, doing exactly what he preached.
“Sorry, we’re going out,” I mumbled, keeping my voice as low as possible so I sounded older.
“I just want directions,” he said in a teenage twang I recognised. “My GPS says I’m on the corner of Blackthorn and Wildling Streets. But if I go either way I hit a dead end.”
“Then go back the way you came.” I stated the obvious.
“That’s the funny thing. Every way I go from the intersection hits a blind alley.” He was sounder higher pitched.
Then what I had been dreading. “Who’s at the door?” Tonkin called out.
I wouldn’t have minded so much if Tonkin’s voice was deeper, more like Dad’s.
“He’s just leaving,” I called back, trying to remember what Mum did when she opened the door at night.
Then I turned to the guy. “Turn your GPS off. GPS signals go kaput in this part of town. Then drive back the way you came. If you come to a kerb, do a U turn. Try this on all the streets until you find a way out. Who are you?”
I was surprised to see the Grim Reaper looking frightened.
* * *
“That’ll take too long. I need good directions, or…”
He glanced away, checking the street.
“Or a place to hide.”
My arm stiffened against the door jamb.
“I told you, we are going out. Who are you?”
“Don’t. Go out, I mean. You really, really shouldn’t. It always gets nasty when he shows up.”
“I’ve had enough of this. You won’t tell me who you are? You got your directions, now get going!”
Outside, the wind whipped the rain into icy daggers. It blew the door from my grasp.
My brother stomped down the hall behind me.
“What are you still doing? Let’s finish the movie.”
Tonkin saw the drenched stranger outside and ushered him in.
“That storm’s terrible. Get inside, man!”
I reached out to shut the door on the stranger, but he was quicker than anyone I’ve ever seen. In a blur of black-green, he was behind the door, pushing it closed. I jumped out of the way with a shriek, just barely managing not to lose a finger as the door slammed shut. The teen slumped to the ground against the door.
I glared down at him.
“You got what you want, now I get what I want. Your name.”
He turned to face me and my brother. I took a step back when I saw his face. Tonkin gasped behind me. Our unwanted houseguest had a pair of short, curled horns sprouting from the hairline above the brows. His eyes were a brilliant amber. He had a face that was almost, but not quite, human.
“I have no name, aside from my title.”
“The Grim Reaper?”
He choked at my words, then laughed.
“Well, if not, then who?”
“I’m an acolyte to the Wild Guardian. And… a thief.“
He reached his hand into his jacket pocket. I shifted my stance, ready to run. I would push Tonkin to the back door when the stranger inevitably pulled his weapon on us.
When his hand retreated from the pocket, the stranger held a glowing, pearlescent key.
“My job was to safeguard this. But, I got greedy. I stopped myself before I sold it, but the buyer won’t take no for an answer. Now, he’s after me.”
The storm outside raged. Hail beat hard against the windows. The stranger scrambled to his feet.
“We need to move. Somewhere without windows.”
I glanced outside. The streetlights were turning on, one after another. A large shadow stalked beneath them. The storm grew wilder as the thing approached.
I was frozen, fixated on the thing outside.
Tonkin grabbed my arm and led us down the hall. But it was too late.
The beast’s footsteps shook the house. It slid past the window. I covered my ears at the sound of claws on glass. Why didn’t I listen to Mum’s warning?
With one kick, the shadowy monster broke the door from its hinges. It bellowed a gruff laugh.
“Humans. Don’t you know to never open the door after seven?”
This is only the first half of a story! The Terribleminds challenge this week said to write the first 500 words, then next week somebody else will finish it (and I’ll finish somebody else’s).
– – – –
Ted stared at the wall of empty cubbies. They had been his countdown calendar for five hundred days. Each cubby was meant for one day’s worth of food. It was now day 501.
Yesterday, the final food cubby contained an extra box. He celebrated his supposed last day with chocolate cake.
Today, the wall of meals was completely and utterly empty. He hadn’t brought any of his own snacks when he entered the room. The study told him not to. He brought entertainment – video games, a kindle, notebooks to record his experience – but nothing edible.
He walked back to the thick, windowless door. It was still locked, like it had been the past ten times he checked it that morning.
“Hello? I think there’s been a mistake.”
It hurt his throat to speak aloud. Was this another test within the larger study? What would future astronauts do if they were en route to Mars and ran out of food? Ted had done well with the brain teasers and other tests that were sent to him. But to tell him he would be finished and then leave him? That was something else entirely. Something must have gone horribly wrong.
He banged on the door. It echoed hollow through the room.
“Hey! Is anybody out there? I’d like to come out!”
Hadn’t there been a code phrase for if he had a mental breakdown? They would open the door immediately if he said the right thing. Ah, that was it.
“Little green men!”
Ted folded his arms while he thought. He’d been chosen for this study because he could handle extensive time alone. But even he had limits. After a year, he’d been eager for the isolation to end.
Now, he’d kill to get out.
By the evening, looming dread picked at the edges of his mind.
He had been forgotten. Some explorer of the distant future would find his skeletal husk and wonder what Ted had done to be put in such a prison.
He laughed to himself. He could barely remember why he signed up for the study in the first place. It wasn’t money or fame. He never had the noble urge to expand humanity’s knowledge either. It was… a girl. She left him and he needed purpose in his life. Then again, maybe that was a lie he told himself. Maybe he was insane. Maybe everything around him was an illusion. Or he was dead. Or…
His stomach growled.
Dead men didn’t get hungry.
Ted shut off the light, retreated to his cot, and hoped for sleep to distract him.
He was awoken by vibrations a short time later. He rolled over to press his hand to the floor. The room’s hydraulic system was meant to simulate space flight. He breathed a sigh of relief. At least the machines hadn’t left him.
But, they felt different today. Louder, more insistent.
Bright yellow light poured in from a crack on the far wall.
The door was opening.
I did this week’s Terribleminds challenge, where a title is picked at random.
The old man and the newbie arrived at a sunny beach in the late afternoon. It was deserted, aside from a lone woman in a bathing suit, reading beneath an orange umbrella. They walked without footprints, without noise, to their target. The woman spoke without looking up.
“I have ten pages left. I’d thank you to wait until I’m done.”
The newbie leaned over and hissed a whisper.
“She can see us?”
“Yes, she can.”
“Can everyone? That’s going to make this job difficult.”
“This one’s a special case. There’s always one for each Reaper.”
The old man dug around in a hidden pocket of his black robes. He pulled out a silver locket in the shape of a skull. It had delicate filigree engraving around the face. He handed it to the newbie.
“When you find your one, put a portrait in here. He or she will be protected until your time is up.”
The newbie opened the locket. A faded sepia-tone photograph was tucked inside. The woman in the picture wore a lace-trimmed dress with a high collar. The woman on the beach looked exactly like the one in the photo.
“But, this must be a hundred years old!”
“Older. 1903, I think it was?”
“But that’s not… This woman… She’s…”
The woman sniffed as she turned a page.
“I can hear you. It’s not polite to speak of a lady’s advanced age.”
The old man smiled.
“Almost done, my dear?”
“Nearly. Ah. Yes, thank you.”
The old man nodded and turned to the newbie.
“You will go quite insane if you don’t have a friend to share the journey. Collecting life energy takes a heavy toll on a Reaper. Remember that.”
He took one last wistful look at his faithful scythe before passing it on. The newbie gripped the handle as a surge of dark power washed over her.
The woman set down her book. As she stood to take the old man’s hand, her skin formed wrinkles, and her hair lost all of its color. They stood hand in hand, facing the new Reaper.
The newbie lifted the scythe. She exchanged a smile with her mentor before bringing the blade down.