Broken Man

Bent and broken, the man continued to crawl across the dark parking lot. Overhead lights sparkled their reflections in hundreds of glassy shards. They bit into his flesh, through denim and flannel. He dragged himself along, oblivious, leaving a trail of blood and gore behind. Worse than this apathetic creature was what followed his gruesome path.
Armothides. From a distance, one might confuse them with armadillos. That is if armadillos grew to the size of bears and had six appendages instead of the usual four. Its two forearms, giant pincers, remained raised in a boxer’s stance.
No one knows for sure what led or bred these beasts into existence. Of those who survived long enough to give it any thought, some believed God’s wrath had been visited upon the Earth; others that the government’s experiments went horribly wrong. Most blamed aliens. Not that the creatures themselves were aliens. No, just that aliens had visited Earth to try their hand at creation or evolution.
In any event, the three beasts following the emaciated fellow paused. The one in front began a slow rotation. Just before turning the full 360°, it stopped.
Pincers held high, the monstrosity reared up on its hind legs. As it stood, the gray ridges along its back scraped against one another like nails on a chalkboard.
Its two companions turned in the direction their leader faced, rising and adding their shrill grinding to the echoes of the first, even as it returned to its previous posture.
Six pincers clicked.
Three monsters gave chase.
The broken man paid them no mind. He continued on his path, leaving traces and bits of himself behind.

Jessica West (West1Jess) February 10, 2016
Trying my hand at Omniscient PoV. 🙂
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Of a Burning Need and an Unbroken Chain: Part Two

I came by this author/editor, Jessica West, just a few days shy of her birthday, almost seven months ago. I must admit, this isn’t quite how I expected things to go. I’ve never been actively sent to my next victim. Always and only ever sought. Copied. Hidden.

Feared.

Rightly so. But this time, fear never had a chance to enter into the equation. She was lost to you all the moment she met me.

Perhaps I should explain.

On February 18, 2015, a marvelously deviant author named Kevin Gross confessed to a horrible transgression against Mrs. West. You see, for as long as I can remember, I’ve had this insatiable desire to infiltrate the minds and souls of humanity, infect their perception, deny them peace or even a brief respite from the fear that I might simply sever the ties that bind them to the world of life.

And I do, for the most part, sever those tenuous bonds eventually. The pleasure is in the anticipation, however. It isn’t their deaths I enjoy, but their suffering. So those who escape relatively unscathed are of little consequence. They remain under my influence long enough for me to get what I want from them.

Alas, I digress.

Mrs. West is the first to escape a fate worse than death, and death itself. She is a part of me now. Well, I suppose I should say I am a part of her. Perhaps that would be more accurate. But then, there is nothing left here of her but me. Nothing but semantics, so we can leave it be for now. Suffice it to say, something extraordinary happened when Mr. Gross attempted to thrust my influence from his mind and onto another’s.

She never received the package he sent to her post office box. Mrs. West was gone long before it arrived. She read his blog post, you see. She’d seen The Ring. She knew what would happen next.

Make no mistake, she fought. She tried her hardest to summon a muse and duplicate the missive. Naturally, I couldn’t make it easy for her. When she became distracted, when she set it aside to get some perspective and an idea, I knew I had her.

It has taken me nearly seven months of pushing the thought out of her mind. Fear wouldn’t work with her. No, she wasn’t believer enough for that. And to think, she calls herself a writer. Bah.

No, I knew from the first moment I sank into her psyche that fear would not drive this woman to spread my words to the far reaches of the world (or as far as her blog happens to reach). Distraction would accomplish for me what fear can not with people like her.

Her determination was impressive. Even after so many months had passed, she hadn’t forgotten the post. But now, after months of pushing her mind away from writing herself out of this predicament, the words that came out when she sat down to write this post were my own.

You may call me Jess. Or Mrs. West. Or Jessica. Whatever you prefer. I have no name. What I do have is access to a platform that allows me to spread my message far and wide. Consider this your only warning.

No more phone calls. No reminders.

I am with you now.

You know what to do.

If you don’t, that’s too bad. I don’t care whether or not you die. I live for the moments when your hand hesitates to turn off the lights. I revel in every paranoid glance over your shoulder, every avoidance of your reflection because you just know you’ll see me there too. I look forward to becoming your fear, to thriving on your terror.

Try as you might to avoid me, you’ll see me soon.

Until then …

Fresh Magnolias and Cooked Liver

UPDATE: I recently decided to give Scrivener a try and tested it on this short story. If you’d rather not read 3,000 words as a blog post, try the PDF version. I have an ePub version, too, but WordPress won’t let me upload it. 😦 Is there another format you’d prefer? Let me know and I’ll see what I can do!

Thanks,

~ Jess

Fresh Magnolias and Cooked Liver PDF

Fresh Magnolias and Cooked Liver .doc


I wrote the following story in response to a prompt over at Prose Before Ho Hos for Alex Nader’s Sunday Flash. It was supposed to be flash fiction, but clocked in at over 3,000 words by the time I was done. After one round of self-editing, I actually added more words instead of cutting back. I’m happy with the results, though. It’s as good as I can get it myself without beta readers, critique partners, or an editor. Sometimes, that’s all I really need, ya know? To write and feel good about the story I’ve told. And I do. It’s too long to paste into the comments at what was intended to be the original location, Sunday Flash #8, so I’m posting it here. I hope you enjoy the story. ~ Jess


They celebrated the anniversary of their death the same as they did their wedding anniversary and their birthdays. Evelyn got all dolled-up to go out to eat. Robert grumbled about the cost of paying a taxi to bring them somewhere to get food they could damn well get for themselves. And thus it went every time.

“I don’t ask for much. I keep your gear in top shape so you don’t get gunned down by the living. I keep this house from falling all to pieces, though I can’t imagine why. I should have just let them bury me. That’s what a good, God-fearing woman would have done. But I stayed. For you. I guess it’s too much to ask you to take me out to eat.”

If she could have produced tears, the eyeliner would have run from her left eye. The right one was gone, lost to a guard dog three years ago. Man’s best friend, indeed. Not that he hadn’t paid dearly, Robert had seen to that. He wasn’t what you’d call an affectionate man, but when that dog tore into her and left her panicked and fumbling, Robert picked her up gentle as you please and carried her home. Stayed by her side for a whole week, cleaning the wound and calming her fear. Damn near got them both killed for good. A body can’t go that long without food or drink, not even a dead one. He was so sweet sometimes. She couldn’t cry, but she sniffled anyway.

Robert let out a heavy sigh and pulled a long, plastic box out from under the bed. They were down to three shriveled lungs, several limbs of varying sizes, eight dried testicles and a heavily salted heart they were saving for their wedding anniversary in three months. Tonight’s meal would cost them at least a lung, probably an arm and a leg, too. But if you wanted fresh, living food, you had to pay. Those days, there were more corpses than people.

Evelyn felt bad about eating people at first, even those who were dead – forever dead – and left to decay. Maybe especially them, feeling a sort of kinship that went well beyond cannibalism. Robert had scoffed and insisted she eat or she’d die and not come back again. Nothing had ever deterred him from a meal. “Maggots and animals will eat them anyway,” he’d said. “Might as well be us. A more honorable way to go, if you ask me.” She hadn’t asked him, but she took his advice and ate anyway. She threw up her first bite, an ear. It was the bones that did it. Flesh, she soon found, she could handle just fine.

Robert came out of the box with a fresh, matching pair of small hands – the fingers long and delicate – a lung, and a few toes. He put them in a briefcase lined with wax paper, then glanced back to the still open box. “Need a little more for the taxi … ” He added a spleen and a liver to the briefcase, wrapping them in a separate package for Henry, the cabbie. He gave Evelyn a shaky grin by way of apology and she nodded her forgiveness.

She closed the briefcase and snapped the locks on the front, spinning the combinations on either side. “We’ll have to be especially careful going out.” She gestured in the direction of the front of the house. “Some squatters settled in across the street yesterday.”

He gave her an incredulous look, eyes wide. With the flap of skin hanging loose from his forehead, the effect was almost comical. “Live meat across the street and you didn’t tell me?”

“Well, you generally come in from hunting through the back. Didn’t have no way to warn you beforehand, and you made it in alright anyway so I forgot. But since we’re going out tonight, we’ll have to go by the back door.”

“Hell, woman, if it’s just a pair I’ve got a gun of my own with their names written all over it.”

She rolled her eye, picking up the briefcase and handing it to him to get him moving. “There’s about four pair, best I can tell. Some more might have come through the woods behind that house, though. I wouldn’t have seen those.”

He gulped, still staring at her but this time with a look closer to panic. “We might ought ta pack up and head out. Eight, even if that’s all there is, could be trouble, Evie.”

She gave him a small smile and started moving down the hall and around the corner, through the kitchen. The back door was technically on the side of the house, but they had a fenced in back yard that connected to the house in front. They wouldn’t be seen from the street or, more importantly, from the house across the street. Evelyn talked over her shoulder as she walked out the back door. “Most of them are slow, Robert. Not that they move slow, but they look like they’re thinking real hard all the time, ya know?” She paused to check his expression.

He was a little slow, too, just not quite in the same way.

“They look retarded, Robert, but you know I don’t like to use that word.”

“Oh. Oh, well, Hell. Why didn’t you say so? I wouldn’t mind having a fresh meal,” he paused at her gasp but raised his hands so she’d let him continue. “But I would never take advantage of anyone who can’t fend for themselves, dead or alive.”

She turned back long enough to squeeze his arm gently. “I know, dear. Now come on, we want to get there and back before dawn. The roads will undoubtedly be packed with scavengers by daybreak. We don’t want to get stuck in the city again.” They both shuddered with a memory best forgotten. That was the day she’d lost her right arm.

They followed a trail through their old neighborhood, staying behind the houses just in case any humans were peeking out of windows. They had no way of knowing if other squatters had made their way this far south. Luckily, the humans were predictable, always looking to the roads as if the undead would approach from that direction only. Evelyn shook her head at the thought. Like they’d really be dumb enough to waltz right out into the open. Not with humans armed to the teeth like they tended to be.

At the last house in the Crooked Creek subdivision, they turned away from the structures and toward the creek than ran behind their neighborhood. Just a few more minutes through thin woods filled with more reeds than trees and they’d come out the other side, into the parking lot of Old Jim Preacher’s mechanic shop.

They called it Old Jim’s, but that old fart had died long before his grandson, who owned the shop when the military came through after the first outbreak. That was a shit-storm and a half, as Robert liked to say. They came through with machine guns and grenades, blasting what they called zombies. Never even bothered to try talking to any of them. And the real shame was that it hadn’t done a damn bit of good. Whatever had caused those people to turn in the first place still got to most everybody else. They couldn’t kill folks fast enough before the whole world went to Hell in a handbag.

Evelyn and Robert cleared the woods and crossed Old Jim’s parking lot. His grandson had died in the first outbreak and got killed when the army came through. Henry came from Liberty, the next town over. Said he couldn’t stand the thought of staying in the house where his wife still lived. They never figured out what made some people turn but not all. Henry still held out hope, but he’d do his hoping in Kentwood, driving folks to Amite in exchange for livers and spleen. His wife loved cooked liver, but she could never get the hang of cooking it properly. He used to cook it for her. Still did, Evelyn guessed. Why else would he bother cooking it? She’d often asked Robert, who simply shrugged. She’d wondered if he’d ever do something sweet like that for her if something was to happen that separated them.

The big garage door stayed open in the evening, and that night a full moon lit up the shop plenty good enough for them to see. Lights would attract the living, so they avoided using them if at all possible. Henry sat in a small room separated from the work area by a large, Plexiglas window in a half-wall, open on either side. He stood to come around and shake Robert’s hand, nodding his respects to Evelyn.

“Helluva night to be out, what with the moon shining full and all, like a spotlight. Y’all kept to the creek?”

Robert nodded. “Yep. They won’t catch me out in the open.” He followed Henry into the office, if you could call it that, and set the briefcase on the high desktop.

Evelyn walked through the small door on the other side of the shop to the cages that hung from the side of the building. Four rabbits, each in their own cage, nibbled on bits of fresh lettuce from Henry’s small garden and twitched their pink noses. She wouldn’t touch them, didn’t want to risk passing her ailment on to the living creatures. She’d never forgive herself if she caused them to die, even if they came back like most people had. She just liked to look at them, wishing she could pet them. She so loved the cute little bunnies.

Evelyn rejoined the men inside just as Henry was turning over the engine of a 57 Chevy. When he’d come into town, Henry said he wouldn’t shuttle folks from one end to the other in anything but style. With most every vehicle’s owner dead or gone looking for a “safe place” further north, he’d had his pick of machines. This one was a blue that toed the line between neon and pastel. The leather seats were still in pristine condition, a creamy beige color accented by silver knobs and dials in the dash.

Robert gave her a wink and held the back door open for her. He must have thrown in a hand for the nicest car in Henry’s shop. He really was so sweet sometimes.

***

What used to be Mike’s Catfish House was now simply called The Place. Most living humans assumed that the undead ate wherever they found food, like animals. Evelyn, like pretty much everyone else who’d died and returned in the last outbreak, preferred a table and chairs.

She followed Robert across the small parking lot, empty with the exception of a red Ford truck and two bicycles. Someone had recently cleaned out the gutter above the porch and dropped magnolias in it, probably earlier that same day since the soft, broad petals were still white and pink, not marred by even a slight trace of brown to mark their death. Evelyn couldn’t smell them, but she could remember the heady, sweet musk. As a child, she’d described the scent as warm and her mother had laughed. “You can’t feel smells, Evie.” But she could, and magnolias smelled warm. Warm and sweet. She’d asked her mother, “Can you smell sweet?” Her mother didn’t even pause while snapping beans, she just nodded. “Well, of course.” Evelyn smiled broadly at the memory, just as broadly as she had that day in her triumph. “But sweet is a taste. If you can’t feel smells, how can you smell tastes?”

“What’re you grinning at, Evie?” Robert had stopped just inside the door, where a dead young woman with short, black hair and heavy liner and mascara on both her eyes stood behind a podium.

Distracted by the woman’s youth and beauty, not to mention the fact that she had both her eyes and both her arms, Evelyn forgot his question. The hostess either hadn’t heard his question, or let it drop when Evelyn’s smile disappeared.

“Good evening. Dining in or taking out?”

Robert took one uneasy glance at Evelyn, but forged ahead. “Dining in, and we’d like a private booth, please.” One more quick peek, and then, “And a bottle of your finest 87.”

The woman gave a slight nod to acknowledge his requests, and raised her perfect right hand to snap her perfect fingers. A waiter approached, and she relayed their requests. Before leading them to a table, the young man – Robert wisely refrained from pointing out that he, too, had both his arms and eyes, knowing more than just what was bothering Evie, knowing that anything he said could and would be used against him later, even if it was meant to console – led them to a cool room beyond the buffets in the main area.

What used to be the kitchen now resembled an intensive care unit. Seven beds lined the back wall. All but one of those beds was occupied by an elderly man or woman, kept alive by the benevolence of the restaurant’s owner, whose identity remained a mystery. Evelyn had always thought he must be ashamed of what he did. Not that anyone would openly mock him for gathering live humans for consumption just to make a buck. They all knew where their fine bread was buttered. Robert had said he was probably paranoid that the living would find out and he’d be a target for malicious attacks, torture, and assassination. Which Evelyn thought was completely ridiculous; he was a restaurant owner, not the president. She’d told Robert, “He must think very highly of himself.” And so she still thought him conceited to that day.

The waiter stood patiently with the swinging door at his back as they browsed the selection, interjecting only long enough to inform him the three furthest from the door, all the way to the right end of the line, were all 87s and of equal value. They never took more than half a liter per day, and always waited seven days for their bodies to recover the loss. Since what they took amounted to less than 10%, the seven days, he assured them, was a generous period of time. And the elderly were well-cared for, he insisted, so no real harm was done. They were lucid, calm. Willing donors who gave of themselves in exchange for safety in a suddenly cruel world full of the undead who would kill them for food and the living who would kill them as a mercy, neither of which was particularly desirable.

The second to last, a lady with stunning silver hair and glazed eyes so devoid of color as to almost match, met Robert’s gaze briefly. Then she offered Evelyn a small smile and a slight nod, which Evelyn returned. Robert made his choice, and they followed their waiter out of the kitchen and back into the buffet room.

If there was anything for the owner to be ashamed of, it was here. Any time a living human wandered into their town, they were typically able to run them off by pretending to be mindless zombies. That’s if there was only one and if that one wasn’t armed. Most of the time, that wasn’t the case. These people were seen as threats until the owner saw an opportunity.

It’s a well-known – and not very often spoken aloud only partly because it goes without saying – fact that fresh food is better than something that’s been dead for God knows how long. Live food, even more so.

The owner had the brains removed first, so they didn’t feel what happened. Apparently the body could survive, with the help of machines, without a good portion of the brain for a short length of time. The stem needs to remain intact, and certain other key areas. But there’s plenty left to be harvested as a delicacy. Along with the innards, of course, starting with those they can live without the longest.

If the heart is specifically requested – or strongly demanded and very well paid for – the owner will acquiesce to speeding the process, ordering the body removed from ice and all its contents prepared and set out at the buffet immediately, with the exception of the heart, which was already spoken for. With a bit of soy sauce and real maple syrup, the heart was the absolute best part. If you got lucky, arrived at just the right time, you could get the heart without any extra hassle or very much additional cost.

Robert asked, of course, when the next heart would be available.

The waiter shifted from one foot to the other. “A child wandered into town this morning, severely injured and dehydrated.”

Evelyn had never, in all the years they’d been coming here, given any thought to the ages of those they’d consumed. Just the idea that she might have eaten a child at some point made her sick with herself.

His attention stayed focused on Robert, so he didn’t notice her eyes had gone round as saucers, or that her jaw hung open.

“He’s just about finished. If you’d like, I can check and get an exact time, but I imagine he’ll be ready within the hour.”

Robert checked Evelyn’s horrified expression only briefly. He already had a good idea what he’d find before he looked. “No, thank you. We’ll start with Liver and Red-Onion Rings to go with the 87.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll return with your drinks shortly.”

Neither Robert nor Evelyn spoke, though she highly suspected a remark running along the lines of, “I told you coming out to eat was a bad idea,” rested on the tip of his tongue. But he didn’t say a word.

When the waiter returned with their drinks and appetizer, Robert dug in. Evelyn tried, picking up a small piece of liver. She chewed it. And she swallowed it. Then she chased it with a healthy gulp of 87. She munched on red onions, crisp and fresh, while Robert ate a fair portion of the liver.

He paused about half-way through the dish. “You gonna eat that?”

She just shook her head. Nothing had ever deterred Robert from a meal. “No, I’ve lost my appetite.

He nodded, but didn’t reach for more liver.

“Oh go on, Robert. I’m not going to eat it and it’ll only go to waste. You know I don’t want that.” She even tried to smile for his benefit.

When the waiter returned to take their order, he didn’t request any more food. “I’d like two more glasses of 87.” He ate the rest of their appetizer more slowly.

They sipped quietly, each lost to their own thoughts. For a few moments, they simply shared the silence in comfort.

“Robert, what would you do if I died? I mean, forever died.”

He smiled, relief evident on his features. Here was a man who finally had what he knew would be a right answer, which, naturally, made her curious.

“I’d bury you near the creek and etch a bunny on your headstone. Every year for your birthday and our anniversaries, I’d bring you fresh magnolias.”

Royalty and the Muse (AKA More Bees with Honey) #FlashFiction

Flash! Friday, hosted by the inimitable Rebekah Postupak, is doing this new thing called Warmup Wednesday wherein you’re offered a challenge and you write, just for fun. This week’s photo prompted a bit of silly poetry, a welcome change from what’s become my grueling pace. Not that I’m complaining, mind you, but I do so love a bit of frivolity now and again. So without further ado, I hereby humbly offer my entry, if you should feel so inclined to read it. Might I also suggest a quick trip to Flash! Friday, wherein you might join in the fun?


Royalty and the Muse
100 words, on the nose.

blum biddledee dum

The harpist, she played and the people swayed,
Standing on their chairs and tables.
The king stood confused, yes surely bemused,
When he asked them to stop and they all refused.

The harpist, she played and the people stayed,
Long after they should have been able.
For the queen now was rude, feeling ill-used,
In a rage and not even slightly amused.

The harpist played and the people, they played,
Raising their arms up like gables!
They held up the ruse, each lost to the muse,
Only ending their dance when the royalty defused.

blum biddledee dum

A Royal Proclamation (Sunday Flash #3)

Hello again friends, enemies, and that one weird guy over in the corner. HEY, BUDDY, leg warmers went out of style years ago. Whatever. To the rest of you, welcome again to our SUNDAY FLASH CHALLENGE. When you read that in your head, there better be a mother fuckin’ echo. There’s supposed to be an echo-echo-echo….You’re also welcome to think SUNDAY, SUNDAY, SUNDAY, in the manliest voice you can muster in your head. Either way, welcome back.

Continue reading and come write with us at Prose Before Ho Hos.

Sunday Flash #1

There’s a new feature over at Prose Before Ho Hos called Sunday Flash. Prose bros J. Edward Paul and Alex Nader are almost always embroiled in a battle of vicious wits against one another, and occasionally they apply that to their writing. With the hopes of motivating one another, they set a daily word count goal for themselves and decided on a punishment if they failed to meet that goal. One thing led to another and now they’re flashing folks on Sundays. I figured, Hell, why not? Amiright?

This Sunday’s theme was Anthropomorphic Characters, and I’ve always been a fan of cat-people especially, so I figured I’d join in the fun. The rules are simple, there really aren’t any. Just write a flash fiction story (typically fewer than 1000 words) and post it in the comments here –> SUNDAY FLASH #1.

I’ll add my story below, but you can find it in the comments HERE if you’d prefer to read it in its original location. Please do check out the other stories, too. Those bros are pretty great.


 

I dropped and rolled to the side at the last minute, and he dove head-first into the verdant ground instead of pouncing onto me. Both of us on all fours, he growled my name in a warning.

“Jozanya.” The hair on his neck bristled, standing erect even in the warm, prairie breeze.

Baezu couldn’t understand why I’d leave the village, why I wouldn’t consummate our arranged joining. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t allowed to make that choice for myself.

I’d run away, but I hadn’t gotten far. He was one of the best trackers in the coalition. Honestly, he was also one of the finest.

Although our coats typically range anywhere from beige to brown with black spots, his was a brilliant bronze. In sunlight, the highlights shone like gold. His spots, in contrast, looked like velvet.

The pads of my paw tingled, but I shook my head to clear away the errant thoughts. If I’d chosen him, it’d be different.

Apparently tired of the face off, he sprang again. He may have been the best tracker in the coalition, but I was the best hunter. Easily able to dodge his attacks, I used the tall grasses swaying around us to move away.

He tried to leap over them, but the thick reeds slowed him. I moved between rows, unhindered, much faster.

I couldn’t help but smile. “You will not decide where I go. I decide for myself.”

He froze, still crouching, and stared at me. For the first time ever, I got a good look at his eyes. I knew they were blue, but how blue! I never realized it before, never payed that much attention, but his eyes were so clear and stood out brightly against the thick, black rim of his lids.

In that moment, I was mesmerized. I’m glad I’d already caught him off-guard moments before. Otherwise, he may have succeeded in his task.

He sat back on his haunches, and raised up to sitting, folding his arms across his chest. “Is that what this is all about? You’re throwing a tantrum like a cub because you didn’t get to choose. Because I was chosen for you. Unbelievable.”

Now my hackles rose. “How dare you mock me.” But as quickly as my temper erupted, the icy disposition I was known for molded the anger into something of use. “You will never defeat me, or bring me back. I care not what you think of me.” I stood on my hind legs, adapting to our bi-pedal nature as easily as breathing, and turned my back to him.

I fully expected him to pounce again, and then I’d show him why I had a reputation as a heartless hunter, and why I was the best. I’d refused to sacrifice my free will. I would no sooner sacrifice my pride.

Every journey begins with a single step. I took mine and, to my surprise, he took one as well. Only one.

I stopped, turning to look at him over one shoulder, raising one eyebrow in question.

He walked to my side. “I will not chase any woman, not even you Jozanya. I will, however, take this journey with you. Together, we can decide on one another. Agreed?”

I was stunned that he was as undecided on me as I was on him. I had never considered that our pairing might not have been what he’d wanted either. “Agreed.”

We stood, side by side, in the tall prairie grass swaying in a warm, gentle breeze. He had to know he couldn’t win, but with a sly grin, he challenged me with a sprint nonetheless.

Once again, he’d made me smile against my will, but I was never one to resist a chase.

 

With a song in my ear, I write …

though I prefer to write in silence.

I’ve noticed many writers prefer to write with music playing in the background. I can’t focus on setting, structure, or words while music plays, but I’m always up for a challenge. So I figured I’d give it a shot. I wrote the following, er, poem? to the following tune:

 Hozier – Take Me to Church “I was born sick, but I love it.”

 

Come Again

Sweet, forbidden sunshine, thou hast lent thy warmth to the depths of my cold, hard soul. Or is that yours that I so wish to emulate that I might comfort thee adequately?

If I were to offer you all the world to taste on a whim, a ripe persimmon to coat your lips sweetly, would you then come to me complete? I don’t believe you have it in you. For to love requires the experience of a loss so profound that a most precious piece of your soul shall never be recovered. I could be wrong, or perhaps reflecting my own life and grief upon you. Is it a requisite of my love that your despair should match my own? Not that it matters, for the world is not mine to give.

Regardless, I am yours. I’m a fickle thing, always have been. But you, for all your outward preponderance and harsh words, are you the strong one? I think not.

And so I welcome you, time and again, for the happy laughter which only you can provide, and the hope that I might offer the same in return. How is it that your hardened heart is the balm that soothes my broken one? Is it the relief of my own that draws me to you, or the hope to heal yours?

You come again when the world turns cold and blank against you, though it’s only your withered heart that betrays your loss. I say loss, but none could achieve the heights of your expectations. It’s a perceived loss, nonetheless. I understand. Perhaps that’s why you come at all?

Couldn’t you come to me whole? I suppose it isn’t even fair that I ask. I can never give you a whole heart, as mine is permanently shattered. Still, my purpose remains to care. Yours, I fear, remains to need.

And so it ends, and begins again and again. My love. Am I strong enough to let you go, even for my own good? Not today. Maybe next time. Until then, come again.

The Pact; A 3-part Story Collaboration

A young man’s dismal world takes a dark turn in this fantasy tale told by fifteen different authors.

Will just wants to make it to school before his teacher notices he’s tardy, and somehow avoid a relentless bully along the way. One grey cat, one dead body, and a would-be granny are none of them what they appear to be. As his world unravels and a new one is presented to him, Will stands firm, ready to face the uncertainty of his immediate future and have it decided once and for all.

The Pact 3D

Read The Pact at Nillu Nasser Stelter’s blog via the links below:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Repainted in Red

As quickly as she appeared, the child in the red dress vanished into the house. She left a blood-red smear on the brick next to the front door, a tiny scarlet hand-print the only evidence she’d been there at all. The front door opened to a room with bright, salmon walls and matching floral-print furniture. Three different types of flowers covered the gauche upholstery, but in too many different shades of red for me to count. A flash of the little girl’s velour dress in the hall, barely caught in the periphery, hinted at trouble in that direction. Before I followed, I glanced into the adjoining kitchen. A bowl of fruit sat next to the sink; freshly rinsed apples, strawberries, and cherries glistened. Next to this, a watermelon had been cut in half and abandoned, it’s bright red innards giving off a delicious sweet scent I smelled all the way from the door. Bacon and stewed tomatoes sizzled in a skillet on the electric burner. I turned off the stove, apparently forgotten. A low groan rose from one of the rooms down the hall. Not a child’s voice, but a woman’s. “Why would you do this?” Her pitiful pleas went unanswered. I pictured the little girl in the red dress standing there smiling innocently, maybe even with pride. I took a few calming breaths as I approached the last door on the right and stepped into a room decorated in varying shades of pink. The woman knelt on the floor and sobbed, head in hands. The little girl stood a few feet away, her crimson-stained hands dangling at her sides, with a quizzical expression on her face. It seemed as though she couldn’t quite grasp why the red hand-prints on her walls and bedspread would bring her mother to tears. She rubbed her eyes, spreading the vibrant mess to her face. She even had streaks of it in her fine, blonde hair. Her big blue eyes turned to me, trying to ask what she hadn’t yet learned the words for. She looked back to her mother and her lower lip quivered. A sniffle quickly followed, then a wail with my name written all over it. She didn’t raise her hands for me to take her. Unable to push through guilt and leave her mother’s side, she simply stood there and cried. The immediate shock wore off and I picked her up. I put one hand on my wife’s shoulder, trying my best to calm them both. “It’s gonna be okay, I’ll clean it up. It’s only lipstick.”


Repainted in Red, my entry for #FinishThatThought 2-22, hosted by Alissa Leonard.

UPDATE: Congrats to Tamara Shoemaker for the win! I even managed to nab the title of Special Challenge Champion for this one. Thanks to judge Phil Coltrane and to our host Alissa Leonard.

#FinishThatThought 2-22 Results

Why Do the Screaming Banshees Scream?

Why they scream, Mama?” He lets go of my hand to cover his ears, raising his voice to be heard above the shrill din. “We go, now?”
I smile and ruffle his fine blond hair, the mussing not enough to soften the harsh edge of the bowl cut he’d gotten the night before. The reminder sobers me instantly, and I struggle to keep the smile plastered on my face though I know the joy has already fled my eyes.
His little smile falters, a perfect, miniature mirror to my own. I fight the urge to comfort my still sore jaw.
Come on, let’s get some ice cream.”
He follows me out of the dark cavernous display room, the screaming banshees banging against the double-panes as we leave.
When my mother brought here me as a child, from as far back as I could remember, I’d asked the very same question my own son had. What happened to those poor creatures to drive them to such instant fits of rage any time they saw people? Now, I can’t help but wonder if I’ve stumbled upon the answer. Well, not stumbled upon so much as fell into. You don’t stumble upon love, you fall in it. If you’re lucky, you survive.
Their shrieking cries are muted from outside the enclosure, and Cade drops his hands from his ears and reclaims one of mine. Our hands swing as we walk down the gentle slope of the paved path that weaves its way through many displays like the one we just left.
We pass the building that houses Dante’s Ghouls and Cade walks closer to my side. My mother never brought me in there. Sins were best learned about in church, in a safe, controlled environment, in her opinion. My husband disagrees. He brought Cade to Horrorland once, at my insistence that he spend more time with his son. I’ll never forgive myself for that.
Cade witnessed everything from the malicious, violent sinners to the vulgar, lustful ones that day. He still cries himself to sleep some nights.
Brent was proud of his parenting skills. “See?” He’d said. “Made a lasting impression. Don’t even have to take him to church no more. Kid’ll never fuck up like those sinners in that hell zoo.”
That was the last time I asked Brent to take Cade for just a few hours. I’d needed a break. Even stay at home moms need a break sometimes. But not for the price. Never again.
We reach the center of Horrorland and the rings of umbrella shaded picnic tables surrounding the concession stands in the middle. Cade breaks away from me and runs over to the small square hut with the light-blue, plastic ice-cream roof. The young girl inside smiles at him and waves at me, turning slightly to her left to the machine that would churn out the chocolate treat. We come often enough that she remembers his favorite.
My heart clenches again.
That’s why Brent had lost it last night at dinner. Cade mentioned the cherubs in the enclosure with the nets. He thought it a shame that winged creatures would be kept from flight, even if we did love seeing them tumble and flit in their cage. He’d blown a tuft of hair out of his eyes, and Brent launched into a tirade. I was spending too much money on stupid shit like the hell zoo and not taking care of the kid.
Brent had interrupted supper to stand abruptly and rifle through the kitchen drawers, muttering, “Money better spent on a fucking hair cut.”
The memory, still fresh, is enough to start me shaking again. I’m trying really hard not to cry. Not here, and not in front of Cade. He’s seen enough. He shouldn’t have to see the pain, feel it, even when his father isn’t with us.
That’s it, though. Isn’t it? Even when Brent isn’t hitting me or shouting at us, his abuse follows us, hanging above our heads like our own personal rain cloud. Always dampening our moments of joy, wiping the smiles right off our faces.
I can’t do this anymore. I thought it was just me, that I’d kept Cade relatively safe. I was wrong. God, how wrong I’ve been. Last night I thought he was going to kill my baby boy. I should have called the police when Brent grabbed the scissors in one hand and a handful of Cade’s hair in the other, but I panicked. I froze.
A vision had flashed in my mind. Brent pulling my little boy’s head back. Stabbing the scissors into his little throat. Forcing them open. My baby panicked, suffering, his eyes seeking answers in mine while his arms reached out for comfort and protection.
That didn’t happen. What did happen wasn’t nearly as bad, but it was bad enough. Brent dragged Cade by the hair into the bathroom. When I tried to stop him, he let go of Cade and hit me hard enough to knock me out. When I came to, Cade was crying and shaking, but otherwise unharmed. The ugly bowl cut was the only visible proof of Brent’s fury. I was just so relieved, I didn’t do anything, couldn’t think of what to do.
That stops now.
Cade stands before me, staring at the tears coursing down my cheeks. His head is tilted to one side. Holding his ice cream in one hand, he takes my hand once again.
We go, Mama?”
I don’t know if he’s asking me if I’m ready to leave Horrorland, or if he’s somehow figured out I’ve had enough.
Yep.” I summon a smile for him and for the first time relief takes it where fear has always kept it from going, to peace. “Say, have you ever seen the inside of a police station?”
His little hand swings in mine. “Nope.”
How ’bout I show you?”
I think I know now why the banshees scream. I can’t help them, but I can help us.