Tag Archives: short story

Hush Little Baby

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It’s a bit late or very, very early for Halloween but I’d like to announce that my short horror story, “Hush Little Baby”, has been published in The Haunted Traveler and can be read here The Haunted Traveler Volume 1 Issue 2

I’d also like to issue a warning, the contents of the story are of a disturbing nature.

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The House on Gambol Street

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The room was dusty, graceful sweeps of cobwebs decorated the ceiling and windows in ghostly garlands. Dancing, glittering motes streamed down as Kitty tiptoed through. Her wake caused more flurries of dust to rise like translucent blooming winds and it swirled around her, sneaking into her eyes and nose, tickling her throat. Kitty’s chest seized, covering her mouth, she surrendered to the fit.

 

The house was ancient to her twelve-year-old eyes. The decrepit, rambling Victorian with a sagging roof and missing shingles sat on the outskirts of town, near the end of Gambol Street where the pavement ended and the road became dirt. Outside, the summer evening was hastily advancing, the sky a dreamy violet and vibrant magenta. Kitty stalked silently through the house, her sneakered feet padding across softly creaking floorboards and musty carpets, rousing plumes of dust from their slumber. She passed a bank of windows, the glass broken and jagged. Shining pieces lay on the floor, catching the last bits of sunlight. A breeze stirred the sun bleached curtains; the moth eaten lace lunged for her. Squeaking with surprise, Kitty jerked away, skittering out of reach.

 

She found the staircase, her first goal accomplished and with a racing heart, she ascended, her hand gliding on the grimy railing. The steps moaned under her weight and she passed through curtains of cobwebs. Strands of the webs stuck to her face and arms, getting into her mouth and snagging in her eyelashes. She ignored the rising disgust and tried to rid herself of the silvery threads but they refused to be dislodged, nestling in around her neck and graying her ponytail. Cold fear tingled through her, raising goose bumps on her skin as she remembered stories she heard of this house and its occupant. Stories that inspired her derision, they weren’t so funny now.

 

The house had been abandoned long before Kitty was born, and from the questions she had pestered her parents with, it was empty before their time as well.

 

According to the stories told, the house had been home to the wealthy Markham family; their sole child was a daughter of great beauty and therefore had been widely courted. It was not a young, dashing heir that had captured Isabella Markham’s heart but the lowly clerk in her father’s store. They had made a pact to elope but on the night of their meeting, Isabella was left standing alone in the dark forest on the edge of town. The next morning, riddled with anger and despair, the heiress discovered her love had abandoned her. She had hung herself from the rafters of her bedroom. Still, Isabella was believed to roam the halls of the house. Kitty skepticism had spurred the dare. A dare that brought her inside the house.

 

She reached the landing, finding it dark. A murky twilight filtered in through the dirty windows. Kitty put a hand to the wall to help guide her down the hallway and to the bedroom. It was there that she was to go to the window and wave down to her waiting friends. She opened the door. The hinges protested, warning her with a rusty symphony.

 

The bedroom was a ghost of a once beautiful chamber. The walls were yellowed and smeared with some brown substance, dingy landscape paintings hung askew. Kitty stepped forward on the faded rug, intent on the two windows covered in moth eaten lace. The bed, a dark wooden, four poster creation with velvet hangings lay to her right. Something moved in her periphery and Kitty cried out, jumping. Her grimy hands went to her mouth and her heart thundered in her throat. She couldn’t see much past the foot of the bed, only shadows but something had moved.

 

As she slowly advanced, her eyes darting to the bed every other step, Kitty found herself wondering if the story was true. Something was there; she could feel its eyes on her, an icy fire danced along her skin. Kitty could hear nothing but the sound of her heart beating within her and sweat beaded along her brow, rolling down her face and leaving tracks in the grime she had acquired in her trespass. She wiped at her skin as the sweat stung her eyes. More than anything, Kitty wanted to complete her task and flee.

 

Kitty emitted a strangled shriek as the mattress springs groaned. She abandoned the dare, not caring whether she’d be branded a coward and bolted for the door. Freedom was only feet away when something yanked her back with violent force. The breath was knocked from her and her vision grayed, marred by bright, dancing sparks as her head hit the solid floor. She blinked rapidly, trying to regain her sight and wished she hadn’t when a face appeared over her.

 

Leathery skin was stretched taut over sharp bones. Hollowed eyes bored into her, deep darkness that held the glittering fire of life and intelligence in their centers. It grinned at her, sharp, jagged yellow teeth bared. Thin, ghostly wisps of gray hair clung to its skull, falling like cobwebs around the weathered visage. They tickled at Kitty’s nose as the creature knelt over her. She gagged, the smell wafting from it was foul, a dry mustiness combined with a deep earthiness.

 

Kitty opened her mouth to scream, help was only feet below her, but the creature’s hands wound about her throat. It squeezed and fire erupted along the skin of Kitty’s neck. She struggled, trying to escape but the creature slid atop her, pinning her firmly to floor. As the pressure turned into pain, Kitty’s vision waned, blackness encroached, narrowing her sight. It leaned in, closing the distance between them until the creature’s face was only inches above her. The creature began to lose tangibility, blurring around the edges. At first Kitty believed it was due to her failing sight but as she watched, helpless and terrified, she discovered that the creature was actually disappearing. The pressure eased and Kitty gulped in the musty air, the creature smiled, becoming evanescent as Kitty breathed it in.

 

 

It had been ages; decades even, since she had last ate. Her ancient body had thirsted beyond sanity for a vessel. Too long had she waited, and she had feared that the house she had been summoned into would be forever her crypt. How nice it was that such a foolish child had strode into her lair. She felt Kitty’s soul, her consciousness battle against oblivion as she overtook the child’s body. Possession was never a comfortable transition. She thrust the squirming soul back into the darkness of the subconscious and locked Kitty away.

 

She strode out of the room, the promise of freedom thrumming through her veins. Even though she knew that her time was already fleeing, could feel it tugging like a river’s persistent current, she was nonetheless eager to be once more about the cattle. She had only the vessel for protection; once the body was gone she’d be dragged back to this house. It had been Isabella’s ineptitude at dark magic that had created the curse and sealed her in the house unless she had a human host. For a decade, she had lived as Isabella Markham, had murdered the girl’s parents and roamed the country feasting upon flesh until she had been caught and killed.

 

She’d be careful this time, she promised herself. This body was young and she had decades of life she could live. The vow, a moment before made of iron resolve, wavered as Kitty opened the door and walked out into the dreamy purple haze of the summer twilight. Two children stood there, faces mirror images of anxiety. She grinned, her stomach growling.

 

“You were supposed to wave,” the boy said. Kitty tapped into the well of memories and pulled forth a name. Bobby.

 

“I got distracted. It’s scary up there,” Kitty said, laughing. Bobby’s face paled as she took a step toward him. He backed away.

 

“You lost the dare.”

 

“Fine by me,” Kitty said. “I want to go home.”

 

She turned away and began walking up the long dirt driveway. She heard the girl, Mina, race to catch up, her sneakered feet crunching on the loose pebbles hidden just under the soil.

 

“I think it should count that you went in at all,” Mina said, matching Kitty’s stride.

 

“I’m just glad to be out of that house,” Kitty said as they turned, reaching the mouth of the long drive, their feet scuffing plumes of dirt along the rural road.
Kitty knew she’d have to be careful out in the world; too easily would it be for her to be frivolous with her chance at freedom, especially when there were so many warm bodies to tempt her and she was so hungry. She grasped Mina’s hand in hers, relishing the feel of the girl’s pulse. Kitty grinned; perhaps she’d have a snack before going home to her loving parents.

Short Story Spotlight: The Grammarian’s Five Daughters

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Growing up, I was never into short story anthologies. I read Goosebumps, Choose Your Own Adventure books, various novels, and the works of Shel Silverstein. And as a young adult, I went through a Stephen King phase, reading about anything of his that I could get my hands on. Which included his short story collections. And that’s when, I think, I discovered the magic of the form. Short stories were, and still are, a box of chocolate to me. Each story was a different flavor and texture, some nuttier than others and some containing a delicious surprise that was unexpected but thoroughly enjoyable.

About ten years ago, or more, my brother gave me The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: The Thirteenth Annual Collection, edited by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow. Inside is gathered the stories of many talented writers, the tales steeped in shades of magic or probing the darkness. It is a delight to read, and every so often the volume calls to me from my bookshelf and I once more lose myself within its pages.

One of my favorites, and it so difficult to choose (which is why I will list some more favorites at the end of this post) is The Grammarian’s Five Daughters  by Eleanor Arnason. This story is whimsical, part fairy tale and part grammar lesson, both beautiful and charming. If interested, you can read it here The Grammarian’s Five Daughters

And as threaten–uh, promised, here are some of my other favorites:

  • Crosley by Elizabeth Engstrom
  • The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse by Susanna Clarke
  • Halloween Street by Steve Rasnic Tem
  • Darkrose and Diamond by Ursula K.Le Guin
  • The Girl Detective by Kelly Link
  • Harlequin Valentine by Neil Gaiman
  • You Don’t Have to Be Mad by Kim Newman

 

Do you read short stories and what are some of your favorites?

Wish

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“Danny doesn’t like blue,” Cara said, tugging on Amanda’s hand.

“But it’s not all blue,” Amanda said, holding the sheet set down for her daughter’s appraisal. “See, there are white clouds and yellow stars.”

“But the sky is blue.”

“Of course the sky is blue,” Amanda said.

“Blue gives Danny nightmares and when he has nightmares, he wakes me up,” Cara said.

Amanda sighed, replacing the sheets once more among its brethren and strode along the aisle, Cara in tow.

“And that’s why you tore your sheets?” Amanda asked.

Screaming had woke them in the early morning hours. They found Cara’s room a complete mess, cotton ribbons strewn about, the mattress and pillows bare while Cara sat in the middle of the floor, shivering and wide-eyed.

“Danny did it.”

“You’re too old to have an imaginary friend. Just tell me what’s bothering you,” Amanda said.

She halted and crouched to her daughter’s level. Large brown eyes stared at her, slightly puzzled and a little hurt.

“Why don’t you believe me, Mama?”

“Because nothing is invisible, baby.”

“The air, chameleons and the Klingons’ Birds of Prey are invisible,” Cara said.

Amanda blinked and burst into laughter. Drawing Cara into her arms, she kissed her daughter’s head, still chuckling.

“Got me there, and you are spending way too much time watching movies with Daddy,” Amanda said.

“These!”

Cara wiggled out Amanda’s embrace and dashed several feet down the aisle. She spun, facing Amanda, a set of sheets clutched to her chest. Amanda unfolded and joined her daughter. Taking the set from Cara, Amanda studied the field of vivid yellow covered with a pattern in neon pink and orange paisley swirls and purple peace signs.

“Really?”

“Yep, they’re perfect. Danny loves them,” Cara said.

“These would give me nightmares.”

Grasping Cara’s hand, Amanda began the trek to the check out lines, weaving through the labyrinth of aisles. Cara chattered happily, though Amanda couldn’t understand what her daughter said. Each time she halted and asked Cara about it, her daughter only scowled as if Amanda was wasting her time and said:

“I wasn’t talking to you, Mama.”

“Those sure are bright, huh?” The cashier grinned as Amanda handed the sheets to her.

“She inherited her father’s lack of taste,” Amanda said. “He has a pea green suit I’ve buried in the depths of the closet.”

The cashier chuckled and rang the set up. Amanda paid for the sheets, tucked the purchase into her shopping bag and grabbed Cara’s hand.

“Have a nice day,” the cashier said.

“Thanks, I hope so. You too,” Amanda said, walking away.

Amanda slowed her pace as they exited the store, her heart lodging in her throat. On the sidewalk bordering the parking lot, a clown capered, a bouquet of balloons in her hand. Amanda swallowed, her hand squeezing Cara’s.

“A clown!” Cara bounced, pointing. “Can we get a balloon?”

“I don’t know.” Amanda eyed the cavorting creature garbed in silk motley. Unease coiled in her belly. “Why don’t we just go home and I’ll make us some lunch?”

Cara pouted and tugged on Amanda’s hand, refusing to move. They stood halfway between the store’s entrance and the cluster of cars in the parking lot. Amanda spied her car twenty feet beyond the clown. She sighed, giving in to the inevitable.

“Hello,” the clown said.

Amanda cringed, staring at the impossibly wide painted mouth.

“Can we have some balloons?” Cara asked.

“Sure can,” the clown said.

She picked out three strings from the others gathered in her hand, giving one to Amanda. Crouching, the clown grinned and gave the other two to Cara.

“You’re very lucky. This one here is my fiftieth,” the clown said, tugging on the string of the red balloon. It danced above Cara’s head. “And it’s special.”

“It is? How?”

“If you pop it after saying a wish aloud, your wish will come true,” the clown said, her gaze flickering to the empty air to Cara’s right.

“Wow,” Cara said, eyes wide.

“Thank you,” Amanda said, pulling Cara away.

“Thanks, clown lady.” Cara tried waving with the hand holding the balloons, they jostled and bobbed, rubbing together.

“You’re very welcome.”

Amanda’s hand delved into her coat pocket, searching for the keys as they neared the car.

“Mama?”

“What?”

“Can I borrow your pin?”

“Hmm?” Amanda frowned, withdrawing her keys. “What for?”

“I want to make a wish,” Cara said.

It would be one less balloon in the car on the ride home. She handed Cara her balloon, slid the keys back into her pocket and began to remove the decorative pin on her lapel. As she worked the clasp, Amanda glanced at the balloons Cara held. Three shiny balloons, not two.

“Why did she give us three?”

“One for you, one for Danny and the special one for me,” Cara said, passing the other balloons to Amanda.

“Don’t be silly. Danny doesn’t exist.”

Cara glowered at Amanda. She wound the string around her hand, lowering it.

“I wish Mama could see Danny,” Cara said, jabbing the pin into the balloon.

The thin flesh popped, resounding across the parking lot. Amanda gasped.

A white furry creature towered over her. Tiny, leathery wings sprouted from its back. Amanda’s gaze traveled up the torso, and she found herself staring into a pair of large, black eyes. Cat ears flattened as its pink nose twitched nervously.

“This is Danny.”

Danny grinned, the smile nearly consuming the lower half of his face. Sunlight glinted on dagger-like teeth.

Amanda screamed, her hands fluttering to her mouth.

Free of her hold, the balloons drifted to the sky. Two specks of color soon lost among the blue.

 

This is Dreaming Blithely’s 50th post! Thank you all and I hope you enjoyed the story. 🙂

 

 

 

Bittersweet Dreams – Eco-Horror

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I’d like to announce that my short story “Bittersweet Dreams” can be found in the eco-horror anthology Growing Concerns published by Chupa Cabra House and edited by Alex Hurst. It will be available to purchase January 15th.

As I stated above, the theme of this anthology is eco-horror, with a focus on plants. I had several ideas but in the end, one spoke louder than the others. My MC was very vocal, she talked me through her story and I wrote it in a day. Very rarely does that happen to me and when it does, it is bliss. Anyway, the idea was unlike the others I had because it didn’t involve an active malicious plant. It wasn’t a poisoned dryad or the tell-tale pumpkin plants I had been working on but it was about a 17-year-old girl babysitting her cousins and getting lost in the woods. She mistakenly ingests berries that she, at first thinks belongs to American highbush, a fruit that tastes a bit like cranberries from what I have read and are harmless. What she actually eats is a great big handful of bittersweet nightshade.

American Highbush Cranberry or viburnum trilobum
American Highbush Cranberry or viburnum trilobum

Research here was tricky. I found only two recorded instances of bittersweet nightshade poisoning, both were children and were fine since they had a small amount. Bittersweet nightshade gets its name from the fact that the berries are very bitter and children won’t eat anymore of the berries after that first taste. Side effects varied and were never really confirmed, ranging from an upset tummy to death. And there was a lot of debate on the subject of bittersweet’s toxicity. Some claimed that it was extremely toxic, and everything on the plant was dangerous to encounter while others were singing the praises of the plant’s medicinal abilities. So it was hard to pinpoint exactly what would happen to my MC, Claire. And in the end, I did the writer thing and used creative license, drawing on the darker aspects of the plant.

Bittersweet nightshade or solanum dulcamara, it’s an invasive species here in my neck of the woods. And often found along roadsides and ditches, not to mention our garden and at the base of our willow in the back yard. I remember when we first moved to our house and we planted a row of ornamental corn. In the autumn, my sister and I were admiring the corn, the pretty shades of brown and russet when we spied a vine of pretty purple flowers, star-shaped and with bright yellow centers. We contemplated picking them and putting them in a vase but a part of me spoke up and I said that I was uncomfortable picking something I didn’t recognize. I’m glad I did, because it turned out to be bittersweet nightshade.

Nightshade Trivia

  • The members of the nightshade family include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and peppers among others.
  • The stems of the bittersweet nightshade has been approved by the German Commission E for the external use of chronic eczema. I’m still not touching the plant, though.
  • Members of the family of solanaceae or nightshade can be found on every continent but Antarctica.

Bittersweet Nightshade Side Effects

  • Gastrointestinitis
  • Dermatitis
  • Phyto-photosensitivity
  • Asthenia
  • Diarrhea
  • Drowsiness
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Seizures
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Vision changes
  • Abdominal pain
  • Respiratory depression
  • Death

As you can see there are many to chose from, but most people were pretty adamant that death is the least likely to happen because of the taste of the berries being so unappealing and the most one could expect was diarrhea and vomiting. One person put it colorfully like this: “It’ll clean you out at both ends.”

So that’s it, the research behind the tale. And I think the best way to end this post is with the awesome book trailer provided by Alex Hurst to whet your appetite. I know I’m very excited to read the stories in this anthology and feel very proud to be among the authors. I hope you enjoy it. 🙂

Revenge is Better Served Baked

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Katie was beautiful. It was a subject that most everyone agreed on. She’d been Homecoming Queen two years in a row, won numerous pageants, modeled for the local high end clothing store, Frostfield, and had broken many a teenage boy’s heart. Her beauty was something that she diligently worked on, although naturally acquired. Katie made sure she ate right, exercised, took vitamins, slathered her youthful skin with lotions and serums, avoided the sun and drank plenty of water. She was rather obsessed about her appearance, worrying about lines and freckles even at the tender age of sixteen. Her clothing consisted of the latest fashions, trendy but elegant and her hair was never mussed or out of place, professionally styled and dyed the perfect shade of summer gold.

She stood on the porch of a rundown, ranch style house. The front lawn was in sore need of mowing. The grass was high, reaching Katie’s knees. A sad, solitary whirligig sat near the gate. A girl drew water from a well whenever the autumnal wind blew. Katie rang the bell again and stared up at the sky. It looked like it was going to rain, the clouds gray and heavy.

“Hello, Katie!” An excited, bubbly voice greeted and Katie pasted a wide grin on her face. She looked at the girl who answered the door and felt a jolt of hatred course through her. Zoe McLeod. Last year, Zoe had been twenty pounds overweight, with a curtain of dark hair hiding her face and skin that was victim to violent acne. No one had noticed her, no one had cared and the girl had been a ghost. Katie had noticed her though, Katie noticed every girl, always comparing herself to them and often deemed them beneath her. Zoe had been the bleak night to her shining day, the perfect complement to Katie’s beauty.

“Hi, Zoe!” Katie answered in the same light, enthusiastic tone. The girl before her was now a swan. She had shed her ugly duckling skin over the last summer. Zoe’s dark hair was now stylish, the perky pixie cut complimented a beautiful, flawless, heart-shaped face and her figure was slimmer. She wore clothes that were more modern, even though Katie’s sharp eye detected that they were second hand and Zoe’s transformation had imparted more confidence in the girl.
“So…uh…what’s up? What are you doing here?” Zoe asked, her voice surprised and happy but also a little wary. She stood caught between the door and the jamb, blocking Katie’s view of the inside of the house. Katie grinned at the other girl; her cheeks stung from the effort of remaining cheerful and friendly.
“I have this stupid assignment, you know, Mrs. Weaver’s class.” Katie began and Zoe nodded, smiling ruefully. The Home Economics class was one they both took but at different hours.
“Yeah. I was just finishing up mine,” Zoe said and her eyes widened, making her look like a cute animal. Katie was reminded of Thumper from Bambi.
“Shit! My banana bread!” Zoe cried and rushed away, leaving the front door open. Katie grinned with genuine amusement and followed her enemy inside. Katie glided through the dim hallway, past the faded yellow rose papered walls full of family pictures and down into the clean but crumbling kitchen.
A scarred, scrubbed wooden table occupied the center of the room. Four chairs surrounded it like mourners at a wake. The walls were a pale, sea green which must have pretty once but now bordered on vile. The floor shone, the linoleum was white and gray and worn in places, displaying bits of the wood underneath. Katie set her bundle down on the table where two other loaves of banana bread lay, all of them wrapped in cellophane. Zoe was bent over, the oven door open, examining her creation.
“Good.” Zoe sighed as she pulled the pan out of the oven. She held the bread in her oven mitt covered hands and kicked the door of the oven close. It made a metallic thump and the appliance shook.
“So.” Zoe prompted, setting the pan down on an iron trivet. Katie’s grin widened, warming to her plan. She sort of like the feeling of being a spider to Zoe’s fly.
“I made tons of batches but none of them came out right. I kinda wanted your opinion. You are such an amazing baker,” Katie said, her voice honey sweet. She tried not to gag on the words.
“Aw! That’s so nice, Katie and means a lot coming from you! I have a hard time believing that, though. Mrs. Weaver raved about your oatmeal cookies last week. She even had a plate of them set out for us to enjoy. They were delicious,” Zoe said.
“Cookies are different. I’m having trouble with recipe. I thought you could tell me what’s missing,” Katie said.
“Well, I’ll try,” Zoe said. She went to a cupboard, opened it and retrieved two plastic glasses. Katie watched, eagerly waiting.
“Can you get the gallon of milk out of the fridge?” Zoe asked.
Katie walked over to the old refrigerator and opened the door. There was the milk next to a Tupperware bowl of spaghetti. The fridge was sadly lacking in bounty, the leftover pasta, the milk, half a dozen eggs, and a head of lettuce was all that the appliance held. Katie squashed her pity, telling herself that she was doing everyone a favor, one less mouth for the McLeod’s to feed. She grabbed the milk and returned to the table.
“Thanks.” Zoe grinned. She had sliced up a loaf, two glasses sat across the table from each other. Zoe took the milk from Katie and poured out a glass for each of them.
“Sit,” Zoe said, sitting down herself. Katie bristled at the tone. It had sounded cheerful, like a friendly request but underneath it was the ring of a command. She sat and waved away the proffered slice of her loaf. She was growing antsy, wanting Zoe to eat the bread so that she could leave.
“It’s really good. I don’t think you have anything to worry about.” Zoe smiled, good-naturedly, polishing off the slice and starting on the second piece. Katie waited, nervously. After several, long minutes she began to grow puzzled. Why hadn’t anything happened?
“I think it’s much better than mine,” Zoe said. She sliced a piece from the other loaf of bread. The cellophane had been peeled away already.
“Thank you, Zoe. I wasn’t sure. It didn’t taste right to me. Did it taste okay to you?” Katie asked, fishing. She wasn’t sure if the poison would have left an aftertaste.
“It tasted fine. Here. Try mine and you can see what I mean,” Zoe said and handed the slice to her. Katie frowned but accepted the bread.
“I really should go, though,” Katie said. She bit into the slice and tasted chocolate and walnuts. Funny. She didn’t think that anyone else would have added chocolate to the recipe or the glaze of translucent, cream cheese frosting. She swallowed the first bite and her mouth tingled.
“Go? You just got here.” Zoe laughed, resting her head in a cupped palm, her elbow propped on the table. Her eyes glittered with some dark, secret joke. Katie frowned and gulped at her milk, her mouth and throat felt as if she had swallowed needles, the sensitive skin prickled sharply. Her head felt funny, she was dizzy and her vision was fading. She stared at Zoe and the realization of what happened hit her.
She switched loaves! Katie thought, and her mouth opened to shout at the traitor and nothing came out but a gurgle of milk, saliva and mumbled, incoherent words.
“Can’t stand a little competition?” Zoe smirked. “You always had to have the spotlight and it spoiled you. You couldn’t just let me have a chance to shine, could you?” The girl was warming to her subject and her voice was growing louder, swelling with fury.
“You wanted to kill me? Why? Because for once you weren’t going to be Homecoming Queen?” Zoe spat, raising herself from her chair.
Katie heard the words but they sounded far away and muffled. All that was clear was the rapid beat of her heart echoing in her ears, her blood raced through her body, bringing death closer with every heartbeat. She panicked and stood, pushing away the chair as she tried racing to the front door. She stumbled after two steps, her face smashing into the floor, her limbs leaden and she was unable to break her fall. She felt herself being rolled over and a furious, wrathful face loomed above her, just visible amid the spots and haze of her sight.
“I knew you were up to something. Suddenly, the great and magnificent, Katie Calhoun graced my doorstep with a loaf of banana bread in her hands. You never talked to me before and I caught all those nasty looks you threw my way in Algebra. You didn’t fool me one bit!”
Katie’s lungs were refusing to work and her breath was shallow and panting. She tried clawing at her throat, something felt lodged there.
Scowling, Zoe stood over the girl and waited as the life ebbed from her. She sighed, her anger evaporating and sadness soothed the flash of rage. She pitied the girl at her feet, her blue eyes wide and scared, and hands still at her throat and the scratches oozing blood, blood that was no longer pumping and would soon congeal. She reached in her pocket and pulled out her cell.
“9-1-1. What’s you emergency?” The dispatcher asked.
“Hello,” Zoe said her voice flat. “Um…there’s a dead girl on my kitchen floor.”

Love’s a Bitch

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Warning: This story has some mild adult language and themes.

 

 

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“I didn’t expect to see you here,” Joey said.

 

He stared up at his ex-girlfriend, enjoying the view. Long legs encased in tight, faded jeans and a white tank top that barely hid the fact she was wearing a lacy, black bra. He hadn’t seen her in over a year and since then, she had lost thirty pounds and dyed her mousy brown hair a vivid, fire engine red. The music blared in the tiny bar and eruptions of drunken shouts or laughter often wafted over to the other patrons. Avery grinned at Joey and sat down. The petite, overly made-up blonde beside Joey frowned and wrapped an arm around his, laying her head on his shoulder.

 

“It’s a small world, Joe.” Avery replied, setting her elbow on the table and propping her chin in her cupped palm. She stared at him with smoky, green eyes.
“Is this some sort of revenge, Ave? You look good, and you know you look good.” Joey said with a wide, rueful grin. He took a pull off his beer. She shrugged and smiled.
“If it hurts, then I’m glad, but no, this wasn’t planned. I’m meeting someone here,” Avery replied. She glanced around.

 
“Who?”

 
“Don’t matter and no one you know,” she said. Her eyes danced at his tone. Joey nodded, trying to pretend he didn’t care. “I could ditch him, Joe. We could go out to Marlowe Grove, have a little fun, like the old days.” Avery suggested. The blonde sneered at her.

 
“I thought we were done. If I remember correctly, you said that you would rather sleep with twenty sailors than be with me again.”

 
“It was thirty crackheads, actually. And you cheated on me. I was angry.”

 
“Still singing that song?” Joey asked, giving her a crooked grin.

 
“The only one I know. You’ll learn it real quick, Blondie,” Avery said.

 

The woman gave a disgusted snort and stood. “Joe, I’ve had enough of this bitch’s talk. Get rid of her or I’ll leave,” she said. She crossed her arms over her chest.

 
“Go on then, Casey.” Joey said. “At least Ave’s interesting to talk to.”

 
“You are a bastard, Joseph Mueller. I hope she gives you herpes!” She hissed through clenched teeth. She snatched her purse off the back of the chair and stormed away, weaving through the maze of tables.

 
Avery gave a whistle and chuckled. “Cute kid, Joe,” she said and snagged Joey’s beer from him. She took a swig and handed it back to him.

 
“She’s legal.”

 
“Barely, by the looks and attitude.” Avery sniggered.

 
“What’s this about?” Joey asked. He studied her, sitting back in his chair.

 
“Seeing you brings back all the good memories, I guess. I had to stop over and just say hi when I noticed you sitting here. You know, you were something.” Avery grinned. “We were something.”

 
“Yeah, we sure were.” Joey leered and chuckled at the rush of memories.

 
“For old time’s sake?” Avery asked.

 
“Why not? My evening has become free.”

 

The summer air was heavy and hot. Avery rolled down the pickup’s window to let in the wind, but it did little to cool the air. Even in twilight, the atmosphere was humid and stifling. The world was violet and blue, still kissed with the sun’s heat. Joey turned the radio on, and an old country number played. Avery sighed and began to sing along, her voice blending beautifully in with Patsy Cline’s. He glanced over at her face turned slightly away. Her fiery hair, back in a ponytail, was tugged by the rushing wind, whipping it around her face. Joey felt his chest tighten. Why hadn’t he noticed how pretty she was before? Patsy Cline gave way to Waylon Jennings. The soft, dreamy twilight faded and the sky darkened. Stars began to appear, clear, cold shards of diamonds, as they drove farther from town. Joey turned down an old dirt road, his headlights bouncing with every dip, pothole, and rut they encountered.

 
“I must have been stupid to leave you.” Joey said, driving into the grassy area before the stretch of woods. He parked the truck, the headlights cutting through the darkness and casting the pines and oaks in brilliant light. He turned to face her and found that she was smiling.

 
“You were very stupid.” She agreed. “But that’s okay, though because after tonight I think I’ll be able to forgive you.”

 
Joey scooted across the faded, holey vinyl toward Avery but she opened the passenger door and slipped outside.

 
“Remember that time we went skinny dipping?” she asked. Joey lunged through the open passenger door and Avery raced toward the trees, her laughter trailing behind her. Joey swore and grabbed the flashlight he kept in the glove compartment. He turned it on and followed Avery into the forest.

 
“You know, a lot has changed since we broke up.” Avery called from somewhere ahead of him. “I discovered that I love to run, especially at night, in the light of the moon.”

 
“Wait, Ave!” Joey shouted, panting. Joey tried keeping up but she always remained ahead of him, her voice leading him onward. He heard her laugh echo around him.

 
‘If you want me, come and get me!” Avery laughed.

 
Joey halted, trying to discern where her voice was coming from. He spun around slowly, shining his flashlight into the trees. He heard a twig snap from behind him and he turned toward the sound. More laughter echoed from the darkness.

 
“A year up north really changed me,” Avery said, her voice sounding deeper, followed by a grunt, animalistic and pained that came from his left.

 
Joey’s heart pounded against his ribcage and his hands shook as he pointed the beam toward the sounds. A growl erupted from behind him and he nearly tripped as her turned to face the creature hiding in the dark.

 
“Ave! Where are you, Avery?” Joey shouted, his voice wavering with fear. He heard a sound like a rusty laugh followed by a long, drawn out howl pierced the air. The fine hairs on Joey’s arms and the back of his neck stood on end, and his skin prickled with gooseflesh.

 

The first thing that materialized from the shadows was a large, gray paw. A twig snapped and Joey jumped, torn between fighting and fleeing. A narrow, canine head followed, the shadows slowly pulling away from its features as it emerged into the beam of the flashlight.
Its muzzle wrinkled in a snarl, the teeth long, sharp, and gleaming with saliva. Predatory eyes glared at him with hatred and triumph. Joey took a step backwards, hoping he could evade the creature. It tossed its head, growling and crept forward.

 
“Holy shit!” Joey whined. The beam jostled and bounced in his shaking hands. He turned and ran.

 
The forest was unfathomable in the darkness. He couldn’t tell if he was running toward the safety of his truck or farther away from it. His heartbeat thundered in his ears, making it difficult for him to hear if the beast gave chase behind him. The objects that were illuminated by the beam of his flashlight came into sharp focus before he streaked past them, returning them to deep shadows. The full moon rose up toward her zenith, but her glow barely reached the ground.

 
He broke from the trees, stumbling into the harsh, bright glow of his truck’s headlights. Joey paused for only a second, dragging in deep, ragged breaths. A howl echoed behind him, and he sped toward the open passenger door. He slid along the seat, reaching across and slammed the door shut just as the animal rushed for him. He rolled up the window, his sweaty hands slipping every other turn of the handle. The beast thudded against the door, rocking the truck. Joey locked the doors and curled up on the driver’s side, rolling up that window as well. The radio played Willie Nelson’s “You’re Were Always on My Mind”. The truck rocked again, the shocks squeaking as the massive wolf rammed into it. Joey whimpered and mumbled a soft prayer. The wolf lunged at the truck several more times before an ominous stillness ensued.

 
Joey crawled across the seat an inch at a time, his eyes fastened on the trees ahead. The meadow was empty. He pressed his face against the glass, his breath steaming the window. Sweat poured down his face, stinging his eyes. A metallic scraping chirped behind him and he spun around on the seat. The sound stopped. The truck jostled. Joey peered out the back glass, watching the wolf stalk across the truck bed.

 
It stared at him, tongue lolling in an open mouth. Joey knew that it was toying with him. It gave a low, rusty bark that sounded like laughter to his ears before it leapt onto the roof. Metal groaned under its weight, and Joey slid from the seat to the floor, drawing his knees up to his chest. The roof was little protection against the beast’s assault. Each swipe tore at the metal. Long, jagged holes widened until Joey could see the wolf’s face and the starry sky above. He slowly unlocked the passenger door; his hand hovered over the door handle.
The hole was large enough for the creature to slide through, but only just. Its head entered, and after a little squirming, a leg followed. Joey grabbed the handle and pulled. Cool, night air rushed over him and he started for the road, his feet pounding against the sun hardened earth. He heard the truck’s shocks squeak behind him, heard the fury filled howl but he didn’t look behind him.

 
Joey was thrown forward, his face hitting the edge of the dirt road. The force knocked the flashlight out of his hands and it rolled along, rocked gently and then stilled a few feet from him. His gasping mouth filled with earth. He felt a pressure followed by searing pain. The creature flayed his back, snapping his spine in half. Joey twitched and gulped, his eyes staring at the road that led into darkness. The wolf sat back, admiring its work, panting. Satisfied, it stood and padded away. It howled once more, returning to the forest.

 
***

 
A pair of men who had entertained the thought of fishing in Marlowe Lake stumbled across Joey’s body the next day. Dave Frens lost his breakfast behind Joey’s truck while his friend, Bill Marx, called the police. His hand shook as he reported the corpse, his eyes pinned to what was left of it. The cops came, the men were questioned and the scene investigated before deciding Joey was the victim of an animal attack. They found Avery Williams in the woods nearby, shaken but unharmed. Avery told them that she and Joey were going for a moonlit dip when they spotted the wolf. She had ran and shimmied up a tree.

 
”I can still hear his screams. He kept calling for me.” She said, her green eyes large and shimmering with tears.

 

Dan Bolens, the county’s sheriff, nodded. His was face sympathetic as he took down her statement.
“Wasn’t your fault, Avery. There are no wolves in these woods. Well, there never used to be.” He added, trying to offer her some comfort.

 
“It is my fault. I led him here,” Avery insisted.

 
Dan couldn’t think of a reply. He led Avery to his cruiser to drive her home. He peered at her in the rearview mirror, frowning as Avery sat with her face turned to gaze out the window. She hummed a Willie Nelson song, a small smile playing about her lips.

The Keeper of Worlds

Standard

I stood in the corridor outside the Keeper’s chamber. Today was my first as the Keeper’s aide. My breakfast coiled uncomfortably in my stomach. The sound of a door opening made me jump. I gave a soft squeak as Iria slipped out of the Keeper’s chamber and walked toward me. Hoping that she hadn’t noticed my undignified yelp, I straightened the blue cloth that covered my hair, and brushed away the imaginary wrinkles in the skirt of my gown. Fidgeting with my appearance was a nervous habit.  

 “Good Morn, little Sister.” Iria greeted, beaming brightly. Her face was kind, given to expressions of joy and warmth than to reprimanding frowns and harsh words. That smile did much to ease my nerves and I returned it.

 “Good Morn, Sister Iria,” I said.

 “Your shift is about to start. Any last questions?”

 “No, Sister. I am ready.” Even though every sinew of my being screamed otherwise. Iria nodded, clasped my hands in hers and then patted my shoulder.

 “The first day is always exciting. Do your best; remember your training and focus. She isn’t an ill-tempered mistress, so you needn’t fear her wrath.” Iria imparted. I could only nod.

  “I shall see you at dinner then,” Iria said, giving my shoulder a gentle squeeze. She left my side, on her way to join the others still at breakfast and I stood for a moment, my palms damp with sweat, before the door. I gathered my courage and entered the Keeper’s chamber, my shift had begun and I could not delay. My fear quickly vanished as I closed the heavy door behind me.

  The first thing that caught my attention was her eyes. Worlds wheeled in her eyes. An endless sea of galaxies lost in the dark abyss of her pupils. I saw the wonder there, my awe reflected back at me. Older than time, her face was still smooth and her skin pale, snow silk stretched over delicate bones. Hair of ebony mysteries, stars caught like diamonds among the tresses cascaded over her shoulders and pooled around her. She smiled at me, a gentle curve of rose petals. I could do nothing but stand and stare.  

   “Welcome, Lyana,” she said. Her voice was akin to all the pleasant sounds one could ever wish to hear. For me, it was the sound of waves breaking on the shore of my home and the wind chimes dancing on a summer’s breeze, it did much to calm me. I curtsied, remembering myself.

 “I am honored to serve you, My Lady,” I said. My voice sounded rough to my ears compared to hers. She stood, leaving the black velvet couch.

   The room we occupied was unlike anything I have ever seen. Endlessly, the walls seemed to stretch on into the darkness. It reminded me of being under a night’s sky and the feeling was further enhanced by the globes that moved about, suspended in air. Tiny specks, twinkling diamonds, flashed in the light emitted by larger spheres of golden, boiling yellow. There were orbs of dusty red, azure and emerald, sandy beige, and frigid blue. Others orbited in the distance, twirling spots of color.

   “Come here,” she said. My legs were weak with nerves but I walked, closing the distance between us. I was careful to mind the spheres, knowing they were delicate and precious. I entered into the sea of stars and planets, standing by her side. She pointed at an orb of sapphire blue, dotted with irregular circles of green, islands on a vast ocean. I shivered, wondering if somewhere there was someone like me on the surface of that lovely marble, servant to a Keeper of Worlds.

   “Take that in your hands, be gentle, though. Just let it hover between your palms,” She said. I lifted my hands; they were shaking, and flanked the orb that spun on its axis. It is strange to say and it is stranger to feel, but I could sense life, souls and cultures, happiness and hardships. It was almost too much to absorb. The people were wise, on this planet. Peace had come after millennia of wars and destruction. A way of life had been built after the great catastrophe that had submerged most of the land in water. The people were more understanding and forgiving, more easily able to coexist without hatred or prejudice. It was perfect, a beautiful, utopian world.   In the minute I held that world in my grasp; their whole history was imparted to me. I could almost speak their language by the time I felt her hand settle on my shoulder. The skin burned, not painfully, where her palm rested.

   She can never touch these orbs unless she intends on destroying them or creating them. Her power is too great. Hence the reason for us, the priestesses trained to aide her. We are the receivers, the communicators and without us, little knowledge would be gained for her. Her eyes closed, the long dark lashes resting on her cheeks. Specks glittered on them and I thought for a moment that it might be stardust from ages of living in this room. Her brows furrowed in concentration and I remembered to focus myself on the orb that spun between my hands. I enjoyed the feeling of complete peace and enlightenment that this planet emitted. It was soothing and it made me hope for our own world to know such happiness, someday.

   “A good start, Lyana. Try to keep focused. Each distraction from you translates into a weak glimmer for me,” she said, not unkindly. She sighed, the sound slightly melancholy and her hand slid from my shoulder. I moved my hand, intending on releasing my hold on the orb.

   “Do not let it go!” She said, and my hands shot forward to once more capture the sphere between my palms. She stood before me, moving gracefully and slowly, as her hands cupped the orb, taking it from my grasp. I could see the ocean begin to boil, steam rising and I felt my eyes fill with tears. She quickly shattered the world between her palms, and I choked on my sorrow for those peaceful people. Her hand lighted once more on my shoulder, spreading warmth throughout my cold body.

   “It was their time. There was no more for them to learn or feel or experience. It was an old world,” she said. I wiped at my face, my cheeks raw and scorched by sadness. The remains of the planet drifted away, pulled along by the gravitational force of the sun that centered this system. Chunks of rocks and pebbles were all that was left of that beautiful world.

   “Come with me, child,” she said, drifting over to a table I had not previously noticed. Here on this stretch of marble lay her tools. Mounds of clay, jars of things with faded labels and barely discernible script scrawled on them, several silver implements used to make the geography of the planet and a narrow tube of some sort of metal. From my studies, I knew this to be the instrument of the Breath of Life. Her hands grasped at the clay and she began to mold it into a sphere, all the while a delighted smile dance upon her lips and her eyes narrowed in concentration.  

   “Not only do I destroy, but I also create,” she said, lifting one tool, which she used to shape the continents. Her deft fingers pinched clay into mountains, while she used an instrument to construct valleys, rivers and then the ocean floor. I watched, fascinated. She was an artist, crafting a world of beauty. Placing the orb on a stand, she reached for several bottles. I could not seem to make out the contents of these vessels. Was it sand, powdered bone or ground glass? The words were lost to me, gone for ages. She poured on a bit of this and a bit of that, rubbing the ingredients into the clay.

   Her hands, dusted with the particles of whatever was contained in the jars, lifted the orb and she eyed it critically. It was a dusty looking thing, pale gray, aged ivory and ochre. She grasped for the tube, her eyes never leaving the sphere and slid it into the ball. She blew through it and I could hear a faint sound that was like the winds of a dust storm or the call of an ocean in a shell or maybe the low howl of a winter’s breath on the frigid lands of the north. I was not sure. The orb blossomed with color and I watched in amazement as the ocean filled with water and snow capped the mountains, the rivers shone like silvery snakes and forests sprang to life.

   She wafted toward the back of the room, although that is not right for there did not seem to be a back to the room, just endless darkness lit with stars, and I followed. We halted near a larger sphere glowing molten orange and yellow. Little spurts and sparks erupted from it, making me wince. I sidled away from its heat. She held the orb in her hands, balanced on her fingertips, and her gaze met mine.

   “Sorry.” Abashed, I took it gingerly from her. Life was thriving already on this planet. I could feel everything. A hum that coursed through me, and I was everywhere at once. I stood in a sun dappled forest with the sweet summer breeze on my skin, on a night drenched beach with the cool waves of the ocean lapping at my feet, in a cold, dark cave with a blizzard’s breath chilling my face and traversing a vast, scorching desert all at the same time.

  “Let it go when you feel the pull,” she said. I frowned, unsure of what she meant and then I felt it, a light but persistent tugging at my fingers. It reminded me of the feeling of holding sand in my cupped hands and letting the river water wash it away. I let it go and the planet drifted neatly into its orbit, spinning on its axis. I smiled, thrilled with this experience.

   “Shall we venture further? There is a tiny planet that I must see to,” she said. I glanced at her, tearing my eyes from the planet I had released. She was grinning; not a demure, wise curve of her lips but a beam of delight. She had enjoyed my reaction, perhaps feeling proud of her talent or the fact I was new, I do not know.

   Absorbed with the task of aiding the Keeper, I lost all concept of time, all concerns attached to the outside world. My hands held planets, my veins thrummed with the knowledge and life of other worlds, and I was no longer the green acolyte that had been bound with nervousness of that morning. As I stood adrift among the stars, mesmerized by the perfect dance of the cosmos, the sound of a bell tolling resonated throughout the room. It called me back to myself and the heaviness of disappointment settled in my chest. The duration of my shift had passed far more quickly than I had realized. The Keeper’s head lifted, she had been constructing a new world as the bell sounded, and she looked to me. Awkwardness was once more my companion; I stood unsure of how to take my leave of her.

  “My shift is over, My Lady,” I said, feeling stupid at stating the obvious. My cheeks burned.

  “How did you find your first day, Lyana?” she inquired, floating over to my side. We began to walk toward the chamber’s door.

  “It was unlike anything I had been expecting. They train us for this but yet I was unprepared for the grandness of it. A universe,” I spread my hands to indicate the vastness of it all, “thriving with life.”

  The door emerged from the twinkling darkness, solid and a remnant of reality, reminding me of what lay beyond. I found myself without the desire to cross its threshold. How could I return to a normal life after experiencing such wonder? I was enlightened to the mysteries of the Keeper and nothing would seem to be the same ever again. My mind whirled with queries, some too big to voice and others I knew I would not like the answers to. Were all worlds like this, a goddess in a chamber to attend to other worlds or were we just unique? Are the gods I pray to every night like the Keeper? Vertigo seized me and I grasped at the Keeper to save myself from falling.

  “I’m sorry,” I said, my fingers had dug into her flesh and my skin tingled with the contact.

  “No need to apologize. This happens to the novices. You’ll find you are in good company.” She laughed; it was an amiable sound without malice, and helped me right myself. I blushed and adjusted my veil.

  “Have a pleasant evening, Lyana.”

 “Thank you, My Lady and may you have a pleasant one as well,” I said, curtsying and reached for the door knob. I reeled out into the corridor. One last glimpse of her I caught before the door clicked shut. Beautiful and serene, she waved at me as she stood with the sea of stars behind her.

 “You’re late,” Graciele said. Her pointed face was sour. I only stared at her, silently, my mouth slightly agape. She grinned, and in passing she patted me good-naturedly on the shoulder. “It takes a bit to adapt to, but the first day is the most unsettling. See you tomorrow.” Graciele disappeared into the Keeper’s chamber, her shift beginning.

  I wandered to the window at the end of the hall. The sun was setting, painting the sky in swathes of soft pink and burning orange. Pushing the window open to let in the evening breeze, I noticed that my skin sparkled with stardust. A ghost moon sat in the sky, secretly pearlescent, and my thoughts once again turned to the unanswerable questions. I rubbed my hands together; the stardust glittered as it fell. What if we were being watched? What lies beyond the dome of the sky, past the impenetrable darkness of night? I shivered, shaking the errant thoughts from my head. More stardust tumbled to the floor.

 Voices echoed down the corridor behind me, and I turned. Priestesses hastily scurried along the adjoining hall, called to dinner by the eventide bell. My stomach growled. I shut the window, my eyes flickering toward the moon. The spectral orb seemed to wink at me, although I know it was only the scurry of clouds. I raced toward my sisters, leaving the dreaming and stardust behind.

Miss Cellophane

Standard

I am invisible. I have always felt like I was the sort of person your eyes just roll across when you see me, like you are scanning a room and I am a table or an empty chair or a bit of shadow near the curtains. I could be the potted fern in the corner. I am nothing remarkable and maybe you are left with the sensation of having seen someone but not remembering who. It’s always been that way.

In school, I was ignored, even if my hand was up in the air. The teachers could never remember my name, and I was called my sister’s name or my cousin’s, or some variation of my given name. At conferences, the teacher often looked at my parents blankly, not able to recall who I was.

“Are you sure you have the right class?” One had asked.

“Do you mean Bethany Ryan?” Another inquired, as if my parents could get their child’s name wrong.

After school, it was pretty much the same. Work wasn’t all that different from school and someone was always taking credit for my accomplishments simply because my boss couldn’t remember me at all. I would protest and argue but it was futile. She just stared at me, slightly puzzled and a little cross. I kept my mouth shut after that. It was hard enough to land this job and I didn’t want to try looking for another. No one remembers me.

My siblings moved away and my parents died. First my mother and then two years later my father followed, and I found myself alone. I became a ghost without my family to remember me, to love me. My already tenuous existence was fading.

It started two weeks ago. The first morning, there was a slight paleness to my skin. I shrugged it off. I worked in an office, in a cubicle, nowhere near a window. The next morning, it was more than paleness. My skin seemed thinner. Like wet newspaper, the words from other pages could be seen and similarly, I could see every vein and artery, muscle and bone through my skin.

By the third morning I was gone. Empty space or at least, it appeared that way. I could touch things but it was a faint touch. Moving anything was a chore and now, after the bouts of anger and sadness, the fear and panic, I am giving up. Tomorrow, I will be gone. Just a formless drift of air. Is this what dying feels like? Will my soul move on or has that too disappeared like the rest of me. Vanishing like evening mist in dawn’s light. I need to tell this tale to someone and you sleeping here, alone and lost looking on this bench seem to be the perfect listener. All this I give you, my history, me. It’s not much, the story of my life. Don’t worry, you’ll forget it soon.