It was the first snowfall of the year. I sat up and my bones creaked as much as the bed did. That old rickety bed made of pine, just like that cabin. Made with my own two hands, mind you. I swung my legs around and lay my knotted feet on the cold, grained floor. As I drew in a deep breath and rubbed my wrinkled face, I thought about building that cabin twenty years earlier. A slight chuckle escaped my cracked lips when I reflected on my oblivion; not knowing all those years ago that I was, in fact, building a coffin.
The windows were foggy, which made it difficult to know at first, but the sight was unusually white. My back was aching as it did the previous day, and the one before that. As hopeful as I was that my old, rickety bed would do it good, my first conscious expression of every day was a grimace. Rubbing the glass with the sleeve of my night-shirt was a futile task, but it did not matter, really, because what else could a white wilderness be, besides snow? Nevertheless, I sought to open the front door and investigate.
The animals in the main room stared at me from their high vantage points upon the pine walls. Each day they detested me more. They looked down their snouts and turned the corners of their mouths toward the floor. Glassy eyes narrowed. I hardly acknowledge them any more. The fire never judged me, though. It enveloped me in a warm embrace and told me not to leave. The embers of yesterday’s fire still glowed a faint orange behind a grey façade. My modest pile of firewood was down to seven sizable logs, or six if you discount the one I picked up and dropped onto the ashes as I hobbled passed. I would have to check the store at the side of the cabin to fetch some more before the week was out.
I don’t know what else I possibly expected to see when I opened the front door. It was, indeed, the first snowfall of the year. The ground was painted a blinding white, and had engulfed the four stairs that lead up to the front porch. Icicles dangled from the eaves in the light morning breeze. One sprung loose and fell out of sight. I scanned the trees and the ground beneath them. The whole scene was still. Not a branch faltered. Not a sound uttered. My view was then obscured by my breath, which rose in front of my face as a cloud. I could feel the sting of winter on my cheeks. They were surely redder than usual, though I had not a mirror or reference to check. The thought of restocking the firewood inside seemed, in that moment, a monumental task after briefly considering the need to put on appropriate attire and the prerequisite of shoveling the snow from the front stairs. I decidedly shook my head at the wilderness and muttered, “not today.” A chilling breeze licked my nape as I shut the door behind me.
Gurgles and rumbles emanated from my gut. I wondered if I had any sweet corn left in the cupboard, or only beans. Some meat would be a welcome change, although I’m sure my house guests would not approve. Besides, I had not seen any signs of life outside of the cabin, so without anything to hunt I would have no meat, anyway. What a waste of energy. I thought about it not a second longer and opened the cupboard in the kitchenette, which was adjacent to the main living area.
I suppose you would call this open plan living. It was all one room, really. The main room had the fireplace, quite central, but not directly in the middle. It was made of stone, mostly, except for the metal grating I had to prevent embers spitting. I scarcely utilized it, out of laziness, I suppose. In front of the fireplace was a small wooden table and two wooden chairs that had on them some cushions fashioned out of deer skin. The deer didn’t like it when I sat on them, though, so I did not often sit. Sometimes, if my feet were too sore, I would sit on the floor between the chairs and the table. It was actually a perfect height for that. On the other side of the fireplace was a small table and two chairs, also fashioned from pine wood. It sat two people. It has only ever had one to use it, however, but even now that is rather rare an occasion. I had been eating only once a day, for I can’t remember how long, and usually do that on the other table, where the face of fire breathes more warmth. There is a washroom off the dining area and a bedroom off the opposite side of the main room. The washroom has no usual plumbing, however, it has a tank that acquires rainwater and I have a bucket and a tub that I can use to clean myself or my clothes. It hasn’t rained for many moons, though, and I wasn’t about to dip into my drinking water before more rain. The animals are yet to complain about the smell, so I mustn’t be that ripe.
The cupboard creaked as it always did. The whole cabin creaked sometimes. Even though I thought I would be used to it after twenty years, I am not. It irks me every time I hear so much as a squeak. Like a claw digging into my temple, the sound, I fear, might drive me mad one day. There were only two cans left. They stood silently at the back of the dark cupboard, like the final two competitors to be picked for their sports teams. One can of sweet corn and one can of baked beans. I was faced with a dilemma. Which was I to choose?
“The sweet corn, obviously. You’ve been eating nothing but beans for weeks!” Barry exclaimed. He was the boar above the kitchen counter. He was right, too, I had only eaten baked beans for weeks.
I’m unsure just how long I stood there with the cupboard open, but my arm grew sore. I was pondering. Was I saving the sweet corn for an occasion? What occasion might it have been? Was my birthday approaching? It would be nice to have sweet corn on my birthday. “I shall save the sweet corn, and beans are not so bad.”
“Beans are terrible,” scoffed Deidre, one of the deer the cushions were made from.
“No, they’re not that bad,” I retorted.
“They most certainly are!” Dave interjected. He was the other deer the cushions were fashioned from. He stood above my bedroom door. What he had to say wasn’t very important, though, because I no longer respected his opinion. Not since the rug incident.
“You stay out of it, Dave.”
“Oh, he’s okay,” Deidre said in a softer tone than before, “if anyone should stay out of anything, it’s you. What did the beans do to you to be imprisoned in a tin can for god knows how long only to be opened up at such an ungodly hour of the morning and eaten by you. The likes of you.”
“You’re right. I should wait until later. Maybe put it off until tomorrow.”
“Don’t listen to them, buddy, they’ve just got something against beans. I still think you should have the sweet corn though. Do you even know how old you are, today?” Barry was right. The deer were never on my side. Always stirring shit. I swear they only talk to me because they don’t like Barry, either. I should’ve built a bigger cabin. We’re all crammed in here like the can of beans.
I sat down on the floor and held my head in my hands. I felt the callouses scratch my skin. It must’ve been red, if felt red. I was so hungry,
but I didn’t want to upset everyone,
but they already hate me,
but they still talk to me,
but they put me down.
“I don’t put you down, buddy. Just eat the damn beans, at least. You haven’t eaten in days, you’re going to die out here if you don’t eat, buddy.” I hadn’t eaten in days. So I must’ve drank water, which meant that I could put off eating if I drank more water.
I don’t remember eating the beans. Nor the sweet corn, for that matter. I do remember opening the other cupboard and finding the empty water canteen. I held it up to the roof and watched a solitary drop of water cling to the rim of the bore. My tongue protruded further from my mouth than I think it ever had before. It grew sore, like my arm had, and I licked the drop up. I licked the bore over and over. My tongue slipped into it and over it, and yet my thirst would not quench.
The last thing I can recall is crawling to the porch and scooping up warm snow to eat. It tasted better than the beans, too. And felt better between my teeth.
“And, how long did this happen before they found you?”
“I don’t bloody know, does it look like I can wear a watch?”
“Of course, I-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just better to give the readers some idea of a timeline.”
“Yeah, I get it, the newspapers are always about the times. I’m sorry if there’s a flicker of resentment in my voice, but it must be the exhaustion. The doc said I’ll be fatigued for a while. I am grateful, really. I’m still here, aren’t I? Still kicking, well kind of. I can’t really kick anymore, either.”
I’m starting to realize there’s a lot of things I won’t be able to do anymore.
Writing Prompt: It was the first snowfall of the year.
To respond to this writing prompt, join the Facebook group Around the Campfire, where I post other prompts and encourage you to get creative with them. You can also check out all of my responses to writing prompts in the writing prompt category.
My day began like any other. I woke up and turned on the percolator in the kitchen before taking a hot shower. That way the pot would be ready by the time I was dressed. Once I was dressed I would usually spend around seven and a half minutes, give or take, deciding what to eat for breakfast. A futile task, as I always settle for eggs. Creatures of habit, we are, I suppose. It was Wednesday. I always visit mother on a Wednesday, which is an obligation I carry with pride, love and duty. Duty and reluctance. Don’t get me wrong, I love mother very much. She raised me well. She prepared me for the horrors of life and gave me all the opportunity a man could desire in his upbringing. It would be dishonest of me to claim I have not failed her and her expectations. Even on her deathbed she finds the words to tell me I’m living wrong. That I’m a failure. That I’ve squandered my talent. But, you see, things are just so difficult. Everything seems easy for people. People who are not me, that is. I don’t know why I find everything so difficult. I just do. To this day, I am the only kid to have been held back for two consecutive years at Ravenholme High. The third year I was probably only passed out of pity. I don’t deserve my Highschool Diploma. I didn’t earn it. This town just couldn’t bear to see me fail anymore. The rest of Highschool were the most confusing years of my life. I passed tests without understanding what was in them and I can’t even remember how to write an essay. I’m not even sure I ever did know. So many words in one place messes with how my brain works. I can’t really explain it better than that; if you put too many words on a page I just can’t figure it out. Sure, I can try, but gosh darn is it hard. I’ve never finished a book. Not even a short one. Sometimes I wonder how many people there are in the world who haven’t read books. I often think about other people while I’m in the shower. Like how many people have overbearing mothers. How many people still drink percolated coffee?
The air hung thick on that day. It was like a fog, only not. Maybe a mist? I’m not really too sure. I was only sure that it had a definite weight to it, as if the weight of the world was being laid upon the shoulders of man. At least, the shoulders of Ravenholme. As I sipped a mouthful of coffee and stared out of my kitchen window with a blank expression, I remember thinking something big was about to happen. Coincidentally, at that very moment, Tommy Johnson came hurtling past my window, charging down the street with his lacrosse stick raised above his head. His mouth was agape, though I am unsure if he was screaming out of anger or fear. The double glazed windows do a spectacular job of keeping unwanted racket at bay. It had startled me for a moment, on account of how sudden it seemed. The coffee only spilled solemnly on the countertop and was mopped up with a paper towel without much trouble. One of the perks of a percolator is that there is almost always enough coffee to top up a spilled cup.
Nevertheless, the air was heavy that day. I felt it from the moment I sprang upright in bed, drenched in a cold sweat. Was the air this heavy yesterday? Probably, but I couldn’t say. I haven’t been sleeping well for some time now. Lack of sleep tends to have a strange effect on the memory. You know, the little things that can easily be taken for granted. Like how thick or heavy the air is on a particular occasion. You know when you get into bed and roll around a little bit until you fit into your bed just right and close your eyes and drift off calmly to a far away land of dreams and splendor? I can’t remember what that’s like. I have had it, but it’s one of those things the memory takes for granted. Oh what I would do to fall asleep like that again. Why, I would kill to have that again. I think any person would after, what, at least two months of restless days. I know it’s been at least two months. Two months ago was when they shut down Ravenholme Mine and I hadn’t been sleeping well then, either. When they shut down that mine, it’s like a reference point in the memory. I wonder how many people use reference points in their memories. I look at it like if I’m trying to find my way around town, I use geographical reference points, you know, landmarks and the like. I do the same when I’m trying to find my way around my memories or the inside of my head. The closing of the mine was a monumental event in Ravenholme, and therefore an evident temporal marker.
They said it would save the town; the mine. From what, I always thought, I hadn’t realised we were drowning. And if we had needed saving, are we again doomed that the mine has closed? Of course not. We’re still here. The sweet little fishing town of Ravenholme. We might not be rich in minerals worth mining (though, we might be, I don’t know the details of the mine closure), but we are rich in community spirit. This town likes to win, which is probably why they couldn’t stand to watch me fail. When Ravenholme rallies together it cannot be beat. So if we do need saving, the spirit of the people will surely prevail where the mine could not.
The microwave told me my eggs were ready and I gobbled them up ferociously. I still couldn’t shake the habit of eating quickly lest the seniors doubled me over and stole my cafeteria tray. However, I was in a hurry on that day, as I usually am on a Wednesday, to get to the florist before it shut at five o’clock so I could pick up some Pansies for mother. They are her favorite. Only the deep red ones, though. Almost a blood red, with little yellow markings. They make me think of ember-spitting fires.
I reside on Oaktree Avenue, the street that runs downhill through the centre of Ravenholme towards the Coastal Highway, which is often referred to by the cool kids simply as “Coastal.” It is the only road in or out of Ravenholme. We are a nook in the landscape and dense cliffs that surround our town. No point in drilling a tunnel through, either. Despite it not being of much public interest to get here, it was decided it would be too expensive without aid or funding from the wider regions, which would not be given. “Can’t be drilled,” they said. “Can’t be mined,” they said, too, when the works began. Boy did we show them. Ha! Or did we? The Regional Council was probably sitting chuffed in their cushy chairs bearing smug mugs when the mine closed. Anyway, I’ve gone off topic. The florist was on Main Street, which dissects Oaktree about two thirds down. It would usually take me about six minutes, give or take, to get there by foot. I don’t own a car. When I turned the corner of Oaktree and Main, I checked my watch about three times consecutively and began to perspire. There were not the usual groupings of flowers displayed outside. Only a remnant of a broken pot and some left-over soil seemingly spilled in a hurry. I was in a hurry, it was Wednesday, and I had hurried there. They should not have been closed. Turns out they weren’t. Just unusually disorganised. I rapped three times on the glass door and peered in through the display window, which looked as though it was in turmoil. The pots that were still there were bare and flower stalks were strewn on the floor as though they had been torn and broken with bare hands. Alice, the nice girl that owned the florist, released the deadbolt and opened the door. She looked paler than usual, and was shaking ever so slightly. Tapping my watch I murmured to her, “uh, it isn’t quite five o’clock yet, should you be shut so early? I do get the same flowers at this time every Wednesday, and it is Wednesday, and I am in a hurry to get to the hospital to visit Mother before visiting time is over, so I won’t keep you. Are my flowers here? The Pansies. The red ones. Like blood.”
“Um, yes, of course. My apologies, there have been some, er, mishaps this afternoon. I should hope I still have your order out the back.”
“Mishaps? Whatever could go wrong at a florist? You seem to work like clockwork. To be honest, I sometimes wonder how you manage to stay in business. I suppose it is just as well Ravenholme is so sentimental in their flower gifting.”
“I’d rather not get into it, if you don’t mind. Let me see if I can find some flowers for you.” She closed and locked the door. As I waited I tapped my foot in time with the second hand on my watch and imagined a concerto in my head. I wondered how many flowers were thrown at orchestras. And then I wondered if anyone had ever given Tommy Johnson flowers. I started to wonder where he was running to down my street. Or was it something he was running from? Alice returned with an adequate bouquet, though smaller than I usually purchase. She waived the fee today through strangely frightened eyes. They were not in great shape, “will die within the day, I’m afraid,” she told me. What was I to do, except take them with me to visit Mother?
I arrived at the hospital about twenty-two minutes later, give or take. Darkness had befallen the town by that time and the hospital looked eery in the strange fog. It seemed to be unusually unlit. The solitary street lamp at the start of the cul de sac provided dim lighting that offered nothing in terms of increased visibility, rather just gave the air a faded yellow hue. As I reached the visitors entrance I noticed the sign’s green glow also saturated more than it normally would have, painting my face with a tint that made me slightly nauseous. I believe they call that ‘irony.’
I approached the visitor’s desk, which was unmanned. I checked my watch again to be sure, and visiting hours were still running. It worried me that it was unmanned because I had a little over half an hour to visit, and Mother was always displeased with my short visits as it was. A small, rather gaunt looking nurse came scurrying over to the desk from around the corner after I rang the bell exactly seventeen times. There was some kind of commotion coming from the hallway from which she had emerged and the lights kept turning on and off. “I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Fredrickson,” she told me, “ some unusual happenings today have had the hospital in a bit of disarray.”
“Yes, well, there seems to be a lot of happenings today causing disarray.” I wondered if it had anything to do with Tommy Johnson or what happened at the florist. I also wondered when the last time the nurse had eaten something. “I hope it hasn’t had you overworked without a meal break.”
“Although unusual in this town, Sir, it isn’t uncommon for nurses to be overworked. Lucky, I am, on most days. Here to see your mother I presume?”
“Of course. Same day, same time every week for the past two years.”
“I’m sorry, silly question. Just go on up, dear, the elevator should still be in order, despite these odd lights.” The lights were behaving oddly. I wondered if the hospital employed their own electrician or if they contracted out.
Possibly the strangest thing to happen that day was the doctor in the elevator. It might have been a close second to my experience I had in my mother’s ward, but we’ll get to that in a moment. I had not met him previously. I do not recall ever sighting him in the hospital, in fact. This made me wonder if it was like in the movies when someone puts on a doctor’s coat and plays with people’s trust. He was visibly sweating. His hair was a testament to that, although it also could have been overly greased. It looked very wet, nonetheless. When I entered the elevator he was facing the wall and no floor had been selected. My entering the elevator did not seem to startle him, either. Instead, he slowly turned to me and recognition washed over his face. “Mr. Fredrickson,” he said, apparently aware of who I am, “I should talk to you about your mother.” I feared the worst. She is the only terminal patient in Ravenholme hospital. She should have died well over a year ago, if the doctor’s predictions were anything to go by. “She’s alright,” he went on, “well, as right as she can be for someone of her status. However, she has been acting somewhat unsavory as of late.”
“Unsavory? Whatever do you mean? And who are you? I don’t believe we have met.”
“There have been some . . . incidents.”
“Incidents? What the devil are you on about?”
“On more than one occasion she has attacked a member of staff and she is refusing to eat or take her medication. We’re going to have to put her back on I.V. meds. There really isn’t any good news here. I’m sorry, Mr. Fredrickson, she just isn’t herself any longer.” I stood there in silence. There was a howl in my mind. My top lip curled up and I pinched my elbow. I counted the seconds with my foot and tried not to grip Mother’s bouquet too tightly. Thirteen. Thirteen seconds until the elevator reached the floor my Mother has lived on for the past two years. The doors opened with a muffled, drawn-out squeal and I squinted into the hallway before stepping off the elevator. All the lights were out, bar one that was flickering intermittently at the far end of the hallway. The doors had begun to crawl closed again, but I had reached back with a clammy hand to stop them. “Why are all the lights out?” I asked.
“Oh. A simple electrical fault, I’m sure.” And with that final exchange, the doctor turned again to face the wall. The doors shut. He hadn’t even selected a floor. I listened in an attempt to hear if the lift moved from that floor, however found myself wondering if I would know what that sounded like. I decidedly would not. And so, I turned to face an ominous, dark hallway that, for just a moment, began to swing and snake about as I squinted harder to see the end of it. I knew Mother’s room was almost at that end of the hallway, despite wishing it to be at the other, with the occasional comfort of fleeting light. I began to slowly step down the corridor with one hand on the wall so as not to lose my direction or footing should something block my path. I had counted seven steps when I could swear I spied a figure at the doorway to my Mother’s ward. “Excuse me! Sir, Madame!” I called out to them, to no avail. They were gone upon returning my gaze from glancing over my shoulder when the distant light flickered. The walls and floor looked to me as though they were moving. Surely my eyes trick me in this darkness, I reassured myself. After all, hallways don’t snake the way I had seen it do. My assurance was short-lived when something on the wall touched my hand. I recoiled and let out an embarrassing yelp. Nothing, it’s nothing. More tricks. Just the darkness. I returned my hand to the wall and continued to walk towards Mother’s ward. Just nothing. Just nothing. There’s nothing. Nothing. The darkness faded to a fog when the beacon far behind me beamed for a moment. I saw the ‘M’ on the sign that juts out from the wall just above her door before the darkness swallowed it once again. ‘M’ for ‘Mother,’ I used to think. Of course I knew this wasn’t the case. ‘M’ for ‘Mortal,’ no doubt. No one has ever shared the ward with her, despite the extra beds. No one has been terminal here, either. ‘M’ for ‘Morgue.’ She will die in that room. I quickened my feet and the lights flickered again, all of them this time. They all lit up sequentially, and faded almost as quick. I was reaching for the door when it happened, but my left arm was still on the wall, which was covered in swarming cockroaches. They crunched under my shoes and flew past my face. They screeched in my ears and crawled up my arm. They were the ceiling and the floor at once, making it snake and swing. Making me sweat and squeal. The door slammed behind me, and Mother’s ward looked as it always did.
The lights were far too bright in that room. “Why you have to wake me like that, boy?!”
“Sorry, Mother. I didn’t mean for it.”
“I’m dyin’ and here y’are tryin’ to frighten the life outta me.”
“I said I didn’t mean for it, Mother. There was . . . it was an accident.”
“Yes, okay. Come here, son, it’s okay. You look drained, come, come.” The lights were always that bright, even when she slept. Even when she was pacing around the room or staring into the night at four a.m. She says she’s used to them these days. I can’t imagine it to be helpful to her health.
I took her old flowers out of the vase on her bedside and replaced them with the pansies I’d bought that day. They didn’t look much better. “I got you some new flowers.”
“Rubbish, they don’t look new.” I sat on the side of her bed.
“There was an incident at the florist. I don’t know much of what happened, but these were the only ones they had. Still your favourite, at least.”
“Ha. At least.”
“The doctor said you haven’t been yourself lately. Said you wouldn’t be much for a conversation. What’s going on? You seem right to me.”
“Nonsense. Why would you say that? Which doctor said that? Howard isn’t in today.” Howard was her usual doctor. “The one in the elevat- you haven’t had a new doctor see you today?”
“He has greasy hair. Wait, who was in your room just now? Someone left as I was coming down the hall.”
“No one. Nonsense. Why do you always have to come here preaching nonsense at me, Clarence? I’m not well enough for this. Just once it would be lovely if you’d come in here with your life screwed on straight. Could you do that for me? Just once? Clarence?”
“Yes, well, I don’t know what you want me to do. I’m sorry, Mother. I have a job and pay my rent, and my bills. I thought I was doing okay.”
“You’ve thrown your life away and now you’re comfortable in a hole. Do you still play that clarinet?”
“I play the trombone now, as well,” the sad trombone, “I was thinking I could try to join the town band, again.”
“You know they don’t want you around. Even though you’re better than mos’ of ‘em.” It was true. I’ve only ever been great at one thing. No one in the town band is great.
Her curtains were still open and there was a chill in the air, so I stood up to draw them closed. “Are you cold? It’s cold. I’ll draw the curtains. I can’t stay long. I have to get to work,” I said, trying to divert the conversation.
“I know. Always fleeting, you are. Every week you can’t give your own mother the time of day. Slaving away at that stupid place. They can’t even get your name right. What is it today,” she squinted at me, “‘Roger?’ why strangers gotta call you ‘Roger?’”
“It’s just a name tag, Mother, it’s fine. I have to wear one, doesn’t matter what it says.” The fog outside looked thicker now. I could hardly see the light at the end of the cul de sac. My chest felt heavier and I lost my breath. The lights were far too bright. I took a knee and swallowed a lump in my throat. I remember the howl in my head grew to a deafening scream. The lights were somehow getting even brighter. Blinding. Glass was showering over me and scattered all over the teal linoleum. The lights were far too bright. The ceiling convulsed and lifted away. It was sucked into a maelstrom of clouds in the sky. Cockroaches covered the walls.
Then there was a bright light shining in my eyes. The doctor from the elevator turned it off and asked, “are you alright there, son? Bit of a fall on the lino, was it? Can you stand?”
I looked over at Mother, who appeared asleep.
“I was just speaking with . . . what time is it?”
“I’m sorry, son, I told you she isn’t herself much these days. Hard to talk to, even when she is awake. She’s been asleep all day.”
I felt confused. Maybe I was concussed. It was too bright in that room.
“I’ve got to get to work, am I allowed to leave?” Why I asked permission, I don’t know.
“Yes, yes of course. Don’t let me keep you.” So I left. I walked out of the room and I ran. I ran down the hallway, and I ran all the way to work. All the way to the Gas ‘n’ Gulp. I prayed I wouldn’t be late; my boss would kill me if I was late.
My body aches, this is how I know I’ve changed. It certainly isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last, but it feels different. As I start to become aware of my surroundings it makes me panic. . .
The light streaming in from the mouth of the cave stings my eyes. As I push myself up off the warm earth, I feel the breeze wash over my naked body. I begin to shiver. I am vulnerable. Have I come here before? The salty scent of my body filled my nostrils. Running my hand through my saturated hair, I draw in a deep breath and close my eyes. Remember goddammit. What. Did. You. Do?
Usually when I change, I still wake in my bed. At first, I was unsure if they were any more than mere nightmares. But I always woke the same: naked, sweating and with an unwelcome sense of violation. You know that feeling when you wake abruptly from an unusually vivid dream? But when you try to make sense of it, the memory falls just out of grasp before dissolving entirely? That has been my life for the past month. The dreams felt so real. Always so damn real. Without any tangible proof, however, I remained skeptical. Until one morning, while I showered, I noticed the dirt under my fingernails. So much dirt. There certainly wasn’t any dirt in my bed for me to claw at, nor in my dorm for that matter.
As it continued, I began waking with aching joints. I felt old, but not. I felt weak, but strong. I know that doesn’t make any sense. Heck, none of it makes any sense. My muscles constantly felt like they were surging with electricity. Despite my growing fatigue from seemingly sleepless nights, I had been feeling invigorated. Everything I knew about the world was beginning to slip away from me. Is it the stress of my assignments that I keep putting off? Is this my mental breakdown?
Just last week, I woke with sore fingers. God, they were so fucken sore. It felt like they were on fire. Some of my nails were cracked, and there was a piece of bark from a tree embedded underneath my left index fingernail. I had been bleeding, too. The skin on my fingertips was raw. I hadn’t been biting them, if that’s what you’re thinking. That’s what I thought. But that would be so out of character of me. Did I really get naked and leave my dorm to scratch at the trees on campus? It’s absurd, right? Try living this. I’m never going to get these assignments done. And do you really think Prof. Mrsir will believe me? You don’t even believe me.
But this time, I’m not in bed. I’m not in my dorm. Where the fuck am I? I didn’t know there were caves near the campus. I am faced with the lovely prospect of finding my way back to my dorm buck fucking naked. And I don’t even know what day it is. Or what time it is. I’m doomed. Everyone is going to see me, and I’ll be arrested for sure.
Was I running last night? I recall panting. Heavy panting. The trees were rushing past me in a blur. I could smell the entire forest, but one scent was in my mind. One scent. I could feel it. I can feel it. She’s still here.
I begin to pant heavily as I exit the cave, one shy step at a time. I can smell the entire forest. The trees, the moss, the wet earth. Even the ducks and pukekos. If I had a map, I could likely tell you exactly where they are. But most prominently, I can smell Kelly. Not fifty meters from the cave lies her body. Well, half of it. My heart is stuck in my throat. Filled with the weight of my circumstance, my stomach drops to my abdomen.
As I lick the blood from my lips, I remember: it was a full moon last night.
Prompt written by James McInroy for a creative writing exercise.
My body aches, this is how I know I’ve changed. It certainly isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last, but it feels different. As I start to become aware of my surroundings it makes me panic. . .
As I sit here writing this letter of application, a great darkness looms over the city of Plinkerton. Some say it comes from deep below the town’s sewer system, from the putrid earth fabled to have stood here centuries ago. Others say it was simply born out of the shadows cast by the citadel’s belfry. They say the bell only chimes the devil’s note. They say the melancholy of the bell’s tongue is what attracted the whores and the scoundrels that fill the city taverns. The truth be, it was such rumours that pulled the scum to our fair city. Those opposed to such unsavoury lifestyles constructed wild tales of mockery, and unintentionally filled the streets with that which they detest. That which they fear. These same mouths believe their own lies and say the shadows of that same bell gave wake to the death that now walks our streets. I, myself, am more inclined to believe it rose from the putrid earth.
How was Tanis Plinker to know the dirt upon which he chose to stand his empire lay atop the putrid earth spoke of in the scriptures? Besides which, no one can say for sure the scriptures are written of truth. They speak of a deep cave far south of here. While many have ventured in search of this deep cave, and while many caves lie between here and the edge of Barantar, not one man has returned boasting of his exploits. Most do not return at all. Those that do return often spend what little coin they have left drowning their failure in sex and ale.
Of course, now, no man can leave. The King has closed our gates and surrounded the city with a garrison of his finest men to slay any who try to flee. So says the notice, anyway. In truth, they are likely the King’s most ill-equipped men. I am certain they were posted on account of dreadful rumours that have no doubt found their way to the City of the Throne via trader’s tongues. The rumours, themselves, are no surprise at all; the casualties have been alarming. Not just in numbers but to bear witness to them is to see nightmare. The holes that pock their skin ooze a green hue; the strange lack of hair they all have; the grotesque tumours that burst if prodded too firmly.
What frightened me the most, however, was when they started to appear larger than they once stood. It must have been a month or so after the first deaths. They were dying with increasing frequency. It was then I noticed. When some unfortunate souls that I once knew fell victim to this mysterious plague. They had not died their same self. They had changed before they died. They were taller, and broader. They had limbs where before there were not. Their faces were twisted with hatred and anguish. They were monsters.
I write you to inform you that I know. I know what you are doing, and I know this darkness did not come from the putrid earth far below our city’s sewers. If, indeed, it ever existed. No illness is at play here. I know not of the twisted magick you employ or wretched alchemy you might weave, but I know. I know it is you who wear the masque of death that walks our streets.
I seek not vengeance nor justice. I seek only to join you. I do not have the skills of a swordsman or the knowledge of wizardry. But I do wield a quill like no other, and I do know diplomacy. They say the pen is mightier than the sword, and while it might not be as mighty as the grandest of magicks, it will certainly not ensue a witch hunt.
Simply put: if I have unraveled the riddle you have written with the blood spilled upon the cobblestone, others surely will. Not now, not soon, but they will. And when they do, can your magick and your pile of ghoulish corpses save you from the wrath of the Three Kingdoms?
Meet me at the grand fountain at the witching hour with your response.
The tendril that knows.
The flash was sudden and fleeting. It wasn’t blinding, but rather like a snapshot. The scent of the gunshot lingered in my nostrils and stained my skin. I hadn’t heard the gun go off, but I knew it had. And although the moment was over, the image illuminated by the muzzle flash was seared into my retina like a photograph. My arm was tensed. My muscles, pushing my veins against my skin, felt like they were about to burst. The look on George’s face was a twisted combination of joy and utter surprise. Sweat was perspiring from his brow and prickling his chin. Even the tins of tomatoes on the shelf looked shocked. The bullet had already entered the clerk’s skull and began pushing brain matter out of his face. Poor Roger. At least, that was the name on his clerk tag. This is exactly why his mother should have warned him not to take the graveyard shift. Heck, this is probably why they call it the graveyard shift.
I’m sure my face would have looked as though I had shat myself, and at that point I wasn’t entirely certain I hadn’t. All I could smell was gunshot residue, or gunpowder, or are they the same thing? I don’t know anything about guns; except now I know what it feels like to shoot one; that they are far heavier than they look and that the weight seems to quintuple for an instant when you squeeze the trigger. And that the trigger is so damned easy to squeeze. So easy it’s a miracle the recoil hadn’t caused me to shoot a second round. So easy that I kind of wanted to do it again.
Gingerly stepping forward, I inched closer to the corpse bearing the name-tag “Roger,” and looked down at how motionless it was, drenched in a curdling pool of blood and urine. I watched a piece of brain float under a shelf as the pool of bodily fluids grew larger. The smell of excrement began to mix with the scent of the flash. The flash that burned into me that image I couldn’t shake. I hadn’t checked the clerk’s pants; still unsure whether or not my own were soiled. I looked up at the tins of tomatoes. They just looked disturbed now. A fair few tins were flecked with blood. It almost looked like a new age marketing campaign for “Seriously Killer Tasting Tomatoes.”
“Do it again! Do it again! Make it POP! POP! POP!” George shouted erratically. I turned to face him, but I didn’t see him. Instead, I saw a different visage. Something much bigger than George was looming over him, contorting its neck downward to line its mangled face with his. A great, gaping grin. Some kind of ooze dangling from its jaw. Its teeth seemed no different in color than its skin, if you could even call it skin. It seemed ethereal, like a liquid but also like an opaque mist. I couldn’t quite make out its shape, either. It was as if it was constantly changing: slowly enough that it remained as one form, yet quickly enough for you to be unable to describe it to anyone else. Despite its unworldliness, it seemed eerily familiar. Then I blinked and it was just George. A sadistic smirk where the gaping grin was an instant ago. His eyes were wider than I’d ever seen him open them and his cheeks looked as though they might split open. I glanced back at the corpse and then back at George. He looked mortified. White as a ghost, mouth agape, shaking in his boots, the whole damn package. Something wasn’t right. “Th-this is fucked up, man! FUCKED RIGHT UP!” George yelled as he ran out of the gas station convenience store. The automatic doors whined as they opened.
“Dude, wait!” I called after him. They whined with a lower tone as they slid closed. He had already crossed the forecourt and dissolved into the darkness.
What was I to do? I had just caused a corpse. Ended human life. Halted an adolescent from ever becoming a man. What kind of person does that? Those were not things I should have been pondering at that moment. I had made a proverbial bed and, by god, I had to sleep in it.
I knew I had to get rid of the body. If not forever, then at least for long enough to get a head start. Fuck George. Why’s he gotta be like that, anyway? He always got me tangled up in shit, you see, and always flaked out when the goin’ got tough. It was that way at high school and it was the same way that night at the Gas ‘n’ Gulp. If we had graduated, our yearbook photos would’ve read polar opposites, I bet. His would have been something like “will always drop the ball,” and mine would have read “always sticks to his guns.” Not that I had any guns, mind you. I couldn’t remember how I ended up with a handgun pointed at that clerk, but I bet it had something to do with George. And I didn’t know what the fuck that black thing was, either, but I bet it had something to do with the mine.
Anyway, that body wasn’t gonna bag itself. I had recalled seeing a dumpster out the back at some point prior to that night, and decided it would be the easiest quick-fix. I could probably get the corpse out the back door and into the dumpster without too much hassle, and it would be out of sight for the time being. Then I could clean the scene with any number of chemicals from the plethora of products the Cleaning Corner had to offer. Got a stubborn stain? Walls that are white no longer? Is your plugged-up drain bringing you down? Come on down to the Gas ‘n’ Gulp! We’ve got all your solutions in the Cleaning Corner! Yup, the Cleaning Corner was the legitimate name. I hadn’t seen the ad in a long time but, then again, I hadn’t really watched T.V. in a long time. It used to play in the late afternoons right around the time mom would start cooking dinner. They had a marionette puppet in the forefront of every shot. It was a caricature of a salesman. He was very shiny, like those latex catsuits some people are into. I always thought he sounded too happy about our potential household problems. It was almost like he was mocking us. The film-quality wasn’t very good and the background shots looked like they were done on a cheap handicam. In the final shot, he would throw up his arms and the last frame or two would replay, giving it a somewhat uncomfortable tone. The awkward silence stretching the ad through the remaining moments of the time slot really hit that unsettling feeling home. There were also radio ads with the same script. Come to think of it, the radio ads might still air.
The old sign had survived the fire that burned down the original Gas ‘n’ Gulp and the owner, being the cheap bastard he was, must’ve decided to keep it in commission. There it was in the corner, hanging by two chains from the ceiling. Singed edges and all. “Welcome to the Cleaning Corner!” Such cringe. When you’re already in a shop, you do not need to be welcomed to the damned corner of it. I fetched an apron, some gloves and three shower caps; one for my head and one for each of my shoes.
Roger’s body was much heavier than I had anticipated. My hands felt cold as I gripped him by the armpits and lifted his torso off the ground. I winced. The mix of blood and urine dripped off of him in strings. With my knees either side of his dangling head, I waddled backwards with my face arched over my shoulder, dragging the corpse. A wide, red line followed us. As I navigated the storeroom doorway, I looked forward again and down at Roger. My gaze fell to his head, through which I could see his now-stained jeans. Peering through a tunnel carved into a fellow human’s skull might have made me gag or choke, were I able to wipe the shit-eating grin off of my face. I felt no guilt at that moment; no remorse for my actions. I was joyous and warm. The prospect of dismembering the body sprang to my attention and a quiet squeal of delight escaped my lips.
You might think me monstrous, or despicable, and you would not be wrong in thinking so; but, you must understand how out-of-character this feeling was for me. It was an exciting, almost liberating, elation. My brain surged with dopamine, and then it was gone—quite like a chemical high. A heavy weight rested on my shoulders. In my peripheral vision, I spied a darkness enveloping my body. A strong urge to find the nearest implements for undertaking a dismemberment gripped my mind. I paced erratically around the room, but found only a box cutter. This certainly would not suffice.
The matter of pulling apart this corpse had occurred to me to be undeniably unnecessary. It was only slowing me down, and preventing me from completing the task of quickly and efficiently solving my immediate problem. I had to get out of there. I had to find George. I also had to clean the bodily-fluid-flooded canned food aisle. And yet, all I desired to do was to tear the arms off of Roger. Something wasn’t right. I tried to make out my reflection in the window, but all I could see was darkness staring back at me. A wide, gaping grin. Is that my gaping grin?
Suddenly, the room was invaded by headlights. The bright, white light sliced through the doorway onto the back wall and then ran swiftly along the windows to the other side. I raised my arm in front of my face as it bounced off of the glass and into my eyes. Someone else had come to the Gas ‘n’ Gulp.
I should have high-tailed it out of the back door right then. I should have slipped into the shadows and made like I was never there that night; but, I didn’t. It might not seem to you like an odd thing for someone to visit a gas station in the early hours of the morning, and it probably shouldn’t to me, either. Something had a hold of me, and that something was curious. So, I was curious. Who has come to the Gas ‘n’ Gulp so late on this glorious night? The glass doors whined open. I clutched the door frame and cautiously pulled my head into the fluorescent light that filled the main store. My eyes darted to the automatic-doors as they groaned closed. “Got my danish, Percy?” The man called out. It was Constable Johnson. He stood there with his palms pressed onto the counter. He leaned back on his heels and arched his back, turning his head as he filled his lungs. Just then, something caught his eye. “Percy?” He called out again, “didja spill the tomatoes, Percy?” He almost fell right out of his pristine, blue, starched uniform. The realization was painted on his face. His gun slipped out of his holster with ferocious speed—it sounded like a whip sans the crack. Constable Johnson’s awareness had gone from non-existent to positively pinging in a split-instant. The barrel of his gun was locked inline with his gaze. It strafed into the canned food aisle and then followed the red road that I had paved to the storeroom. Our eyes met. “That you, Percy?” I pulled my head in like a tortoise and pressed my back against the wall in a futile attempt to sink into it. “Y’alright? Percy?”
No, no, no, no, this was not good, not good at all. No, this was perfect. I now had a live one to dismember.
I’ve never felt so alone, as I do on a night of an empty sky. Especially if the night is dead still. Nothing says you are vulnerable and alone like a quiet, still night. No wind in the woods out the back. No mating calls bouncing between the trees. No wildlife, and no sounds of civilization. That’s the downfall of living out in the sticks, isn’t it? On a night of an empty sky, when all is still and lifeless, the sound of the city could be a comfort. Out here, the serenity and solace that comes from isolation changes its face from time to time.
I grew up in this house, and it was far more secluded in my childhood. Then everyone started sub-dividing. It had become the fashionable way to own property. So, of course, my parents went along and sub-divided as well, resulting in this house not being so secluded as it once was, long ago. The nights can still be just as quiet, however. And sometimes, they’re so quiet that you can hear the silence over the laughter and intermingling of friends and family.
The ironic part of this isolated fear I have found myself to have is that I’m not so afraid of being alone, but rather afraid of being not alone. Afraid that none of us may ever be alone. And that we are not alone. Is someone watching us, right now? Are they incessantly observing? Are we really just an equation?
There was an incident, a somewhat embarrassing one I might add, when I was a child. The night was dead quiet – it was an empty sky. We often had guests over for dinner parties and the such, because we had a large decking looking over the rear of the property to the woods. The woods looked brilliant when they were painted silver in the moonlight. That night, however, they swallowed the light that spilled out from the glass doors that led onto the deck. We had a large, glass dining table on the deck that seated up to twelve people, and a massive grill. With the amenities, it seemed like we were almost obliged to throw all of those dinner parties. I didn’t care for them, really. I mostly kept to myself while the adults swapped stories from work or exaggerated anecdotes about business trips abroad. My brothers would show off their newest toys to the other children before we all sat down to eat the meat and pretended to be a civilized species. I didn’t care much for the meat, either. It always saddened me to think of the potential life it could have lived had we not been eating it. Of course, I was still young, so my perspective was naive. I didn’t really know where it came from. It still seemed all very silly to me to be having dinner parties in the cold season, but father always insisted.
Father was also a proud owner of a very large telescope. The biggest in our neighborhood, in fact. It always came out on cloudless nights, and that night was no exception. All of the other kids gaped in awe at its magnificence. It was so much longer than any they had at home, but more impressive was its girth. If it were a canister, you could gather all of their telescopes together and store them in it. Pushing and shoving ensued as each child raced to Father’s side begging and grovelling for a chance to see the cosmos through its superior lens. Of course they would, as this was half the reason it came out. The other half was the inevitable “mighty fine piece you’ve got, Harold, good show!”
I had also wanted to see the cosmos through that giant lens, but custom dictated that I let the other kids have a turn first. Father would find a star or a planet, get the lens in focus and hold a child up to the eyepiece. They would squeal in delight at the probably magnificent view. I sighed deeply. My eyes moistened as my lips curled into a frown and my cheeks flared a hot crimson. I knew I probably wouldn’t get to have a go. By the time the other children, and my brothers, had all had their turns it would likely be far passed bedtime and that would be that. I marched inside to continue drawing, as I was before the meal, and took off my coat. Father called out to me just as I had found the right shade of green in my case of colors. “Come! It’s your turn. I found your favorite, Neptune. It’s beautiful, tonight, you really have to see it.”
I was trembling as I pressed up against the eye-piece. I couldn’t see anything. It was very cold outside, and the eye-piece was icier still. My face was trembling more than my body and I was beginning to become frustrated. Raising my eyebrows did not help; nor did widening my eye as much as I could muster. Then, suddenly, I heard a deafening, low-pitched hum. Or did I feel the hum? As I brought my head away from the eye-piece, I noticed all the hairs on my arm were standing on end. Once again, I tried to view Neptune and was met with futility. Something had to be in the way.
It became vividly apparent, as I looked up, why I could not see Neptune while spying through the telescope. Directly in front of our deck, blocking the telescopes line-of-site, was a massive craft. Its hull was a deep green and the windows, of which I counted at least eight, were a burnt yellow. They were emitting a faint glow from inside the craft. The hull looked as though it was spinning, but the windows showed no such signs. Several figures flurried past the windows inside the ship. It must have been the size of our house.
My feet were anchored heavily to the decking. My face was no longer cold. I was weeping sweat from every pore as my core heated to unfathomable heights. I let out a shriek of pain and broke free from my paralyzing fear. Everyone was staring at me, questioning and judging. “What are you staring at?! They’re here, they’re here! They’ll take us all!” I tried to tell them. But no one listened. No one believed me. They all thought I was hysterical. Father told me to go to bed. And just as fast as it had appeared, it was gone again.
I haven’t seen any of them since that night. Not Father, not my brothers, not any of my neighborhood friends or their parents. No one could make sense of it. The newspapers called me Family Killer, but there was no trace of murder. They were there, and then they weren’t. Just like that. No one believed me. They all thought I was hysterical. I still don’t know what happened that night, exactly. I do, however, know where the meat comes from. It’s the only food you can buy in this sector, now. You just have to read the packaging:
Superior prime-cut human calf steak – stair-mastered and tenderized;
John Doe Rack o’ Ribs – finger-lickin’ good, serve with fingers;
Twerkin’ Toni’s Rump – the chewiest bubble-butt-steak you will ever eat!
Even the milk comes from them.
I was startled by the sound of a bumping through the wall. The kind of startled where your whole body jolts you awake. It was very jarring, and as you can imagine, I was instantly as wide awake as I would have been after a triple-shot cappuccino.
I could hear my daughter whimpering from down the hall. In the 3a.m. darkness, I walked softly up the corridor. The wooden floor was cold on my bare feet, and a breeze swept passed me, sending a tingle up my naked spine. I peeked into my daughter’s room and saw her figure shivering against the wall, in the corner of her bed. Her knees concealing her chin and mouth. Shivering, but not the kind of shiver you get from the cold. The kind of shiver you get from overwhelming anxiety. That unwelcome adrenaline-shiver. As I sat on the bed with my arms open, she leapt into my chest and clung to me. She looked up with a face that screamed for solace. I wiped her moist eyes with my thumb, “did you have another nightmare, Darling? Tell me what it was about.”
“It was about the monster, again,” she spoke in a whisper, and rather slowly. Almost cautiously. As if she was weary of who might still lurk in the shadows. I couldn’t see them clearly enough, but I imagined her eyes darting around the room as the words escaped her lips.
“Look, I’ll show you: there’s no monster in your closet. Just your coats and shoes and the dirty socks you threw in the back. Which is also why you haven’t been able to find any socks this week.” I made a point of standing to the side of the door so she could see the inside of the closet. Despite the darkness, this gesture usually seemed to render reassurance.
“It’s not in my closet, Daddy,” she said so mater-of-factly, shaking her head from side to side. “The monster is in your closet.”
“Darling, there are no monsters in any closets. Don’t worry your sweet little munchkin head about it, okay? I will be just fine.”
“. . . okay, Daddy.”
“Now go back to sleep, okay? Goodnight, princess. And how about we dream of unicorns this time, hmm?” I kissed her firmly on the forehead as I pulled the blanket up under her chin.
After returning to my own room, I let out a sigh of relief. Relief that my daughter once again felt safe and secure, but also relief that I could get back to my own slumber. I fell backwards onto my bed. It was now cold. It felt silly, but I briefly scanned the dark recesses of my room and glanced at my closed closet door. A smirk flashed across my face and I quietly chuckled at myself as I wriggled under the blanket, pulled it up under my chin, and shut my eyes.
I opened my eyes and there in my closet stood my daughter. She had no eyes, no mouth and no ears. But she could smell my fear.
A thrilling tale from fellow WordPress blogger DoNotAnnoyTheWriter, fit for any collection of creepypasta. It’s about a young boy, James, and his habit of staying awake at night while he should be sleeping. An excellent horror story to tell around the campfire!