Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Nightmare Fuel Day the Thirty-First - The Door

Welcome to the end of October. This is the "official" 30th prompt, but I added an extra one AND a prologue, so this marks the thirty-second day of daily flash fiction.
We'll end in the woods, at the door. Thanks for reading along with me.
The Door

It was the eighteenth day that that Billy came to see me. That I remember.
I remember everything since the first day. Or, I guess, the last one.
God, I hope it wasn't the last one.
He was never my favorite of Justin's friends, but he was the one who came to my front door on the eighteenth day. None of the others came near. And, I have to give credit, looked me in the eye, as hard as that must have been.
"Mary..." He trailed off. I swallowed my annoyance; back when I was twelve years old I'd never have called a friend's parent by her first name. Especially if that friend had been missing for eighteen days. "Mary... there's something I never told you. About ... about Justin."
I looked down at him. He was pale, his face drawn. Still, his eyes stayed on mine. "It's just... this is crazy, but the last place I saw him...it was at the mystery door." the last bit came rushed, almost in a single breath. Now it was my turn to stare.
"The mystery door? Where's that? And why the hell didn't you tell anyone?"
"It's in the woods. It sounds crazy, but... can I show you?"
I was still numb. You'd know the feeling if your son was gone for eighteen days, but I hope to god you never do.
I didn't get dressed, didn't even lock the door. Just closed it behind me and followed him, still in my housecoat.
We didn't speak as he lead me around the corner to the block. Through the small park, through the hole in the fence behind it, to the woods.
Justin wasn't supposed to play in the woods. Still I said nothing. After a time, he said, "I'm sorry it's so long. I wanted to wait 'til it was just you. You know, Justin was afraid of..." he trailed off again, his ears red. I knew. And, mad as I was, I understood.
I was afraid of him too.
The only sound was the crunch of dry leaves beneath our feet until we came to a clearing. I don't know what I expected when he said "mystery door", but nothing this literal: a simple wooden door with peeling white paint, standing alone in its frame with no visible support or purpose.
He looked up at me. "Justin ran ahead, and.. I heard the door slam. Then I didn't hear nothing. He was gone."
I approached the door. It was battered and weathered, not handing quite true in its frame. I thought along the side I could see some light, brighter than  it should have been. As if the other side of it was a well-lit room and not, as we could see, simply more forest.
This is crazy, but I tried the doorknob, even though behind the door was clearly nothing. You do crazy things after eighteen days. The knob turned with some difficulty, but the door was stuck. I slammed on the wooden panels again and again with my hand, the drumbeat of flesh on wood echoing through the woods until I left bloody palmprints on the door. Still it didnt budge.
At some point I sat on the forest floor, leaned back against the door and wept. At some point Billy touched my shoulder, made what was meant as a comforting noise, and left.
At some point a raven landed atop the doorframe, bringing with it ill omens.
At some point we passed from the eighteenth day to the nineteenth, and beyond.
I'll wait. At some point this damn door will open.

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Thirtieth - The Tree Surgeon

I'm not an ordinary tree surgeon. I'm the kind who knows the forest and all the things which grow in it.
Yes, many of them are just trees. Most, to tell the truth. Just like most people are just people and not vampires or werewolves or something.
Oh, you thought those were just myths? You can go right on believing that. It's fine with me.
Anyway, the one sort of tree every red-blooded man cares about is the dryad tree. Part tree, part magic woman creature. Even more magical than normal women, and more beautiful. Really, it's true. I ain't never seen a dryad that wasn't drop-dead gorgeous, a bit exotic. Skin the color of old teak or mahogany, those leaf-green eyes, a voice like wind through branches. Oh, those dryad girls are special alright. Some think that the fairywoman thing lives in the tree, but a smart guy knows they're really the same. Take care of the tree and you're taking care of the woman.
They're also shy, also tricky. They'll magic you into a deep sleep, set forest creatures on you, get you lost or choked to death by the very living vines. Maybe get to forest to lead you around in circles until you get yourself drowned in a naiad pool. Even someone like me, a guy who really cares about trees and wants them healthy - even a guy like me can be a victim. You gotta earn their trust first.
How? I earn it the old fashioned way, with some iron spikes and a hammer. Oh, not too many. They are fairyfolk, and you know cold iron's bad for 'em. But one spike, deep into the trunk just above the rootline, that's usually enough. You can feel the whole wood tremble sometimes as you drive the spike in, the blunted tip penetrating old, strong wood. Pounding in a single spike is all it takes.
Yeah, the last one screamed at first, but I know she was grateful when I shimmied up the trunk with my climbing belt, a sturdy saw hanging from it. Cold iron blade, of course. I felt her eyes on me as I found the dead branches, one by one. Cut each one off. Cut the one the woodpecker had been worrying at, that would soon die itself. I could see the pain in her eyes, know that she needed me.
I know it hurts her, but it's for the good in the long term. Always for the good.
And yes, the sap does have medicinal properties and yes, I did collect some. You know that's not why I do it.
So I climbed back down, my work done. The girlpart of the dryad was pale and shaken from the ordeal, mute like they always are.
I took my reward, gathered my tools and left the wood, the coldiron spike still in place, binding her to me.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Twenty-Ninth - In the Gallery

I'm calling this one 29 after a diversion yesterday to use a photo taken by my lovely bride Dr Karine Suskin. IT's interesting that even when we see the same things, her pictures show that she seems them a bit differently than I do. There's probably a metaphor there.

The image came late, so the only other response we get today is from the stalwart Samantha Dunaway Bryant who has, to this point, written a response to each and every one of these.

In the Gallery

The changeling's human parents took her to a museum.

Oh, they didn't know that she was a changeling. That would have been common sense a century ago, but we don't live a century ago, now do we? We live today, in a world where everything is neatly boxed and measured, where the gap in a hedgerow leads to the other side of the hedgerow, where inside a wardrobe is naught but clothes. Where a child who suddenly becomes a bit wild is "precocious" or, perhaps diagnosed as something or other. That's the world in which we live.

These are good parents of the modern world, parents who'd tame their wild child and bring her to museums, to concerts, to whatever hidden delights they could find. In days of old a changeling would be beaten with sticks or burned with fire, perhaps it's better to tame them with money and culture.

This changeling - this Child - was a wild thing. She never could explain how the well-manicured lawns made her itch, how seeing the neatly shaped bushes made her feel constrained, as if bound in irons. So moments of despondent silence would punctuate wild running and dancing barefoot through the lawn, ruining the bottom of her skirts with mud grass stains.

THe museum was different.

Quiet, dark rooms seemed, to the child, alive with energy. Awake. If the lawn cried out because it longed to grow ragged, this was a place that was what it meant to be. She felt at peace here, so ran wild, ahead of the parents. Rapid footfalls on marble floors, echoing over the hushed voices of the other grownups.

The parents let her run ahead. They knew that it was best for children to run wild a bit, even if they didn't know what wildness lived within their tiny girl's heart. They also knew that this gallery was a dead-end, that they'd soon corner their little moppet and laugh and buy her an icecream.

She came to a painting of a wild scene, with a stern and giant creature. It saw her through the painting, she saw it.

On the other side of the painting, wildness. Perhaps the hunt someday. Flowers that grew where they will, not where they were forced to. On this side, her parents who always listened and brought her to these places so that she might run wild. The wild creature reached out, through the painting and offered to her a flower, a single glittering yellow thing. It shone bright in the dim exhibit hall, its deep yellow petals haloed in a bright glow as they flaked off into the air.

Scarlet Table, by vv nan
The parents rounded the bend, past that creepy tentacled sculpture. The one that didn't fit any known period ant that the museum was SO wrong for keeping. The next gallery was the deadend, where they'd find their daughter.

They turned the corner.

Did they see their changeling daughter, her eyes upturned as she gazed on a scene of wonder? Or did they find themselves alone, barely noticing the few spilled petals the only sign that anyone was ever here?

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Twenty-Eighth - Manifesto

No image prompt today, so I chose my own. Just a few short rantings of a madman.

Because really, aren't we all a bit mad?


It has been written that the most merciful thing in the world is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. That we live in ignorance a part we play of the awesome grandeur which is  the cosmic cycle. There are times men see beyond the veil, men we call mad, but they see something.

What it is that they see is always just beyond their ken, horrors they could imagine, horrors they couldn't resist. Just horrors.

So we read of the mad scientist creating a man of of elecricity and spare body parts.

Seamonsters, attacking sailing ships should they draw near the edge of the world.

Of the unholy terror drinking blood, resisted only by the holy power of church. Not so close.

Of the thing at sea, larger than the greatest whale, brought down by a great steamship. Closer. The guy who wrote that one really gets it.

Each story is of survival, even if not hope. We always vanquish the monsters. At least the best of us are. Sometimes someone from Africa or Israel or Poland has some kind of ancestral knowledge, but it's always the scientist who vanquishes them. The one who studies. The smart, civilized one with the books.

Civilized I am, and smart. I can make connections. The stories have lasted a long, long time. I've read all of them. About the thin places, about the elder ones from beyond. And one thing I know - they're always stronger than we are, but just barely. Beyond our ken, but not too far.

Today we'll learn more about what lies beyond, and what is beyond our ken today.

On, it doesn't matter where it came from. Say it's an old book, or an inscription on a relic in the museum. You know, one of the ones they keep in the back where the patrons don't get to see. It doesn't matter.

What matters is that I know.

What matters is that I'm tired of being laughed at.

I know things. I know that what's beyond our ken today is far and away beyond what was beyond our ken a decade ago.

Let's see what's on the other side of this veil. Just like some humans are better than others, some monsters are better.

This monster will be the right one to let in.

I can tell because it's white.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Twenty-Seventh - Some are Leather

Today's image is a screenshot from the film Hush. I've not seen it, so come to the image with no preconceived ideas.

Day 27 of this. Four days more and we'll have completed this project successfully. One full month of stories.

We also, as usual, have a creepy villain from Samantha Dunaway Bryant, poetry from Kary Gaul, and a few other responses directly in the comments here.

And Some are Leather


You jumped when the figure tapped on the window. No features, just a smooth mask, the color of old wood. It stared silently through empty eyes. Heart pounding, she stepped back.

"What... who?"

You step back as a gloved hand reached for the doorknob, opened the door. "What's wrong, honey? I didn't mean to scare you".

"Bill? What's with the mask?"

The shape of the face didn't change. "What mask? I'm not wearing a mask."

"Stop fucking with me Bill, and take it off. It isn't funny."

He shook his head as he stepped inside. The rest of the night he not only wouldn't take the mask off, but he'd not even acknowledge that he was wearing it.

When he undresses for bed the mask stays on, tight against his face. You can't even see his eyes through it.

"Aren't you going to take that ridiculous thing off for bed?"

"What ridiculous thing? Are you doing this again?"

You don't want to sleep next to that freaky mask, but he won't go to the couch and your leaving will be somehow admitting defeat. So you play along.

He leaves the next morning. "Are you going to wear that to work?  What will your boss say?"

The expressionless face turns to face you. "I'm not doing this again. For the last time, there is no mask." he pauses a moment, "I love you. Have a good day."

It's amazing what you can get used to. Other than the mask, he's the same. Not any crueler than usual, still goes to work on time, still comes home on time. Doesn't seem to be dallying with other women, isn't abusive, nothing like that. He's the same Billy. Just.. in a mask.

It's amazing what you can get used to, if you're willing.

Someday you'll peek beneath it and see his face again. Until then, you'll lie beside him at night and kiss the cool, unresponsive mask.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Twenty-Sixth - The Last Car

Into the homestretch now! Fortunately for the sake of this project I don't have the Netflix password, so don't have the temptation to sneak an episode of Stranger Things rather than finish this off (OK, I still have temptation. What I lack is the means to give in to it).

Anyway, we have a great bit of urban horror from Samantha Dunaway Bryant and something a bit lighter from Kary Gaul, who promises to soldier on through this project even as she prepares for NaNoWriMo next month.

Last Car

You saw her on the subway, in a not-too-crowded late morning car. Room to stand, but none to sit down. She was standing too, wearing leggings instead of pants the way women do these days. Well, girls really if you're honest about it. No way she was old enough to drink. Probably not old enough to vote either, but she filled those leggings out really well.

She must have caught you looking, because she turned all shy all of a sudden. Her back toward you, sneaking over to the next car. A glance over her shoulder at you as she pulled the heavy door open and tracknoise filled the car, then silence as the door slammed shut behind her.

You followed, of course. She wanted you to.

The door was heavy, but not too heavy to force open, pushing yourself into the space between trains. The track was a blur beneath you as the door slammed behind you, leaving you between cars with the rush of air and the noise of steel wheels on steel tracks in the tunnel deep below seventh avenue. You push at the door, hard. It resists at first, then flies open

into silence

The next car is empty. Completely dead empty. No sign of the girl, no other passengers. No foul smell to keep everyone out. Just... empty. Maybe she's playing hard to get? She's in the next car? You rush for that door, push it open. Again, emptyness. Maybe these cars don't platform. You turn back; she isn't worth it.

When you return the way you came, the car seems different. Some of the seats are missing, the bright rows of advertisements gone, leaving the car ringed in blank spaces. One more and you'd be back where you started. You force the door open one last time

and find yourself in an empty space, the shell of a traincar. No seats, but a few poles. You grab onto one as the train lurches through the darkness, the metal cold in your hand.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Twenty-Fifth - Shoes of Silk, Shoes of Wood

This is a great picture, which could have gone in different ways. Samantha Dunaway Bryant has a nice, delicate fairy-tale feel, while Kary Gaul and others wrote short poems and vignettes directly in the comments here.

Mine follows. Day 25 of 31. This looks like a successful month.

Shoes of Silk, Shoes of Wood

Long ago, in a place forgotten to time a lived a woman who wished to become a Dancer.

She had grace, beauty, and a fine sense of balance. What she lacked was simply knowledge; how to hold her arms, which foot went where, how her legs were to move. Other young women would search for tutors or instructors or even an older dancer to serve as a mentor, but this Dancer chose an easier, more treacherous path.

She went in search of the Djinn, and begged for a wish.

She knew of him, knew that he lived deep in the Forbidden Woods, that he was known as the Harvest Djinn. That he could grant wishes to one who was bold in deeds and strong in desire. This is all she knew.

"I wish to be a great Dancer, oh Djinn. It is told that you can grant such things"

The Djinn smiled at her. It appeared as a man-like thing, though far larger and more powerful than any man she'd met. Swarthy and tall, with a well-oiled dark moustache and darker eyes.

He handed her a pair of shoes, lovely red silk shoes with ribbons that tie up her ankles. You know the kind. "You may have these until the next harvest moon, but no longer. When you wear them, you shall be a dancer".

So she wore them and she danced.

She danced all the way back to her village, she danced in the village square. She danced with the skills of a thousand thousand dancers who before her had worn them.

Her dancing was graceful, fluid. Not a missed step, not a missed turn. The shoes guided her, her body knew what to do, each foot touching down in just the right place without a thought.

And of course, a traveler noticed. As oft happens in these tales, he was an emissary for the King, seeking entertainments for next years' Harvest Ball, to be held the night of the Harvest Moon.

"I'll go and dance there," she thought, "and gain fame and riches. The Djinn can have my shoes back the next day. I know he'd not begrudge me this chance." It's easy to fool ourselves, is it not?

The rout to the palace goes through the Forbidden Forest. The Dancer walked quickly, keeping her feet on the path and away from the trackless wood where the Djinn lived. As she stepped through the forest, those silk shoes guided her in a light skipping, dancing step, whirling along the path until, quite without her volition, they led her off it entirely. She threw her arms around a treetrunk to arrest her progress and fight the treacherous shoes, but they'd already taken her to far.

They'd already taken her to the Djinn.

"You disappoint me. It could have been easier, but now... now is the time of the harvest."

She felt rough hands on her ankle, heard the swish of a scythe, her body falling to the forest floor as her silken shoe hung from his hand by the strap, her foot still in it and quite detached from her body. She barely felt him take the other one.

They found her the next night, bleeding and half-delirious, but she survived. Survived to hire a woodcutter and go back to that forest, to the very tree stained by her blood, to tear it down.

Survived to hire a woodcutter to build from its heartwood a cunning and lovely pair of wooden feet.

Survived to learn, painfully, to walk and then to dance. No longer with magic shoes to guide her, but with memory and thought, tempered by the pain of her loss.

Years later the emissary returned to her village, saw her dancing in measured and graceful steps on her feet of wood and wondered how the wooden footfalls would sound on the King's marble dancefloor.