Sunday, October 23, 2016

Nightmare Fuel 2016, Day the Eighteenth - Simulacrum

Another catch-up day.

Just a quick snapshot that may or may bot be worth developing into something more.


Another day at the office. The same day as before. Wait for the train. Ride on the train. Sit at your desk, toil. Return home. The train is delayed, you get home late. Eat dinner without tasting it, put the kids to bed without hearing them.

The next morning, another day at the office. The same day as before. Wait for the train. Ride on the train. Sit at your desk, toil. Return home.  The train is on time today, but the guy sitting next to you is getting progressively drunker from paper-bags full of beer. He spills some on you, you return home in a foul mood spelling of stale brew.

The next morning. Another day at the office. The same day as before. Wait for the train. Ride on the train. Sit at your desk, toil. Return home.

The next morning. You wake up early with a plan. Your son went through a phase where he loved legos, where they were all he ever played with. You have enough to shape a man. You breath life into it. Not a lot of life; it doesn't need a lot. Just enough for another day at the office, the same day as before. To wait for the train. Ride on the train. Sit at your desk, toil. Return home.

Sometimes the legoman comes home whole, sometimes it's missing a brick or two. 

On some days you fix it, on others you don't bother do, send it out short a piece.

The next morning. Another day.

You sleep late. Read a bit, watch TV.

Another day. It comes home. Different than you remember. Some pieces may be missing, some added. You barely notice.

Until the day it comes home, quietly, wordlessly. Spills out the erector-set and starts building a model of itself.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Nightmare Fuel 2016, Day the Seventeenth - Playtime

Getting back to this project, almost a week behind. Some days it's harder to find inspiration, or to find time. This is one that doesn't quite fit the photo, but it doesn't quite NOT fit it either.


You and Will loved the woods. You know they weren't really woods - at least you do now. Just a few stands of trees behind the identical row-houses in which your family lived, a short walk from the low, brick prison bunker of a school building.

Not that it's the school that was the prison.

You always called it the woods, and your parents always humored you.

"We're off to play in the woods, Mom."

"Who  are you playing with?"

"Just Will."

This answer always disappointed them. "Don't you want to see if any of your friends from school want to play?"

"Nah. Just me and Will."

You ran out, leaving their whispered conversations of "too old for this" and "antisocial" and "what's wrong with her" behind. There were always whispered conversations, never anything to your face.

They never seemed to know that you could hear them.

You and Will had been exploring the woods that are not woods for years when he found it. It was always Will who found things, though he never seemed to know what they were any better than you did. This time it was obvious to you that it was an old refrigerator with the door taken off, but Will insisted that it was a very old flying saucer, its windows and doors long missing.

You remember everything about it. The crunch of dry autumn leaves under your feet, the crisp cool air, the long shadows cast by the sun, low behind the tall, half-bare trees. Mostly, you remember the day the other kids found you.

They were a few years older, at that age when boys think they're young men but aren't really yet. They saw us at the spaceship -- well, they saw me. Not Will.

I don't remember all the things they yelled, but "faggot" was one and "loser". And more.

Then there was only the sound of their muffled laughter far behind me and the snap of dry twigs and crunch of leaves as I ran back home. Will didn't come with me.

In fact, that was the last I ever saw him. When I came back to the spaceship it wasn't a spaceship; just an empty refrigerator in an empty spot under the trees, littered with empty beer cans.

Phoo via The Vintage News on Facebook:


Monday, October 17, 2016

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Sixteenth - Back to Nature

Happy Monday. I've been asked why I always use fantastical elements in my fiction; it isn't a need, but it IS something that lets one speak to the world more clearly and with more flexibility.

That said, there's may not be a fantasy element in the piece below. You can decided if it still works.

Back to Nature

"Let's go back to nature."

That's how it started. Henry's idea. Things like this were always his idea.

And it's isn't like I minded. Seven years after welcoming Billy to the world, live had fallen into a comfortable rut of getting him off to school, getting him back from school, and the blur of activities between. "Back to nature" could be fun. For all of us.

And so what if nature meant a nylon tent in a grassy clearing just ten feet from a parking spot? It was still a break in the routine, even if the hours you would have spent cooking were spent as even more hours rinsing lightweight tin plates with biodegradable camping-soap after spending an embarrassing amount of time trying to cook over an open fire before giving up and taking the portable propane stove from the trunk.

And so what if Henry couldn't make it, called out of town at the last minute? At least Billy and I would have a moment's peace together. Away from school and home and dishes and the damn vacuum cleaner.

And so what if Billy barely picked at the hamburger it took far too long and too much effort to cook, and whined for Mac and Cheese and that we COULD have made Mac and Cheese if we'd only brought it. After all, we had a stove.

And so what if I left Billy in the tent for a bit when I ran off into the nearby wood, after the sun had set. After all, that's what I needed, right? And I wasn't too far.

Yes, I knew that last part was wrong. But really, it wasn't so far.

My heart froze in my chest as the car's headlights pierced the moonless night, a beacon back towards our site. I ran, footsteps crunching on the thick carpet of dry leaves. My stomach dropped as I saw Henry silhouetted in the light. Yes, I'm sure it was him. Yes, he was over a thousand miles away. And yes, he was so backlit that I couldn't see his face, but you know how your husband stands. It was him.

As I neared the site, the lights die, leaving you in darkness, the afterimage lingering in your eyes.

Henry, of course, isn't there. Billy is lying awake in his sleeping bag, staring at the roof of the tent.

I zipped myself into my sleeping bag by his side, never again to leave.
Image via Buzzfeed

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Fifteenth - "Footprints"

We begin the second fortnight of the Nightmare Fuel project with a ghost story, but not the creepy kind. Image is, sadly, from an unknown source.


We've been a long time away from Earth. Yes, we slept through most of it, but still the time passed. Six years, sixty, six-hundred, six-thousand. The numbers almost didn't seem to matter.

The ship, of course, was big enough to be a world.

A home.

My parents were born far from earth, but their parents weren't.

This, you have to understand, is back when we used earth-style names. Even those of us born here.So, Elon, Nikolai, Marie, Ada and I were telling ghost stories. Ghosts were another thing we'd  brought with us from Earth. The story I remember most was Ada's.

"It was the annual launchday party, and I was stuck with my parents. Again.  So Tom and I snuck off to the old containment site. The one that was build earth-style with concrete floors and those crazy old lights that cast a harsh, blue-white glare. You know the place.

Or maybe you don't. It's been a long time since any of us bothered with that. This is back when we still used old earth-style bodies. And when boys still wanted to do with them what boys wanted to do.

Oh, don't look at me like that. Tom wasn't a bad guy. Not really. He just wanted what he wanted. Though how he thought he'd get anywhere with the heavy trousers, jacket, and workboots we were wearing is beyond me.

And yes. This is a ghost story. Let me continue.

Anyway, this old bunker-space was a bit like a beach, if beaches were a bare and dusty concrete floor leading to a pool of stagnant water leftover for god knows what purpose.

Anyway, the more time we spent there the less good it felt and the more panicky. Like my heart was beating too fast in my chest, my stomach had that tight, cramped feeling. Like I should run. He put a hand around my waist as we walked, pulled me a bit closer. Too close. I guess if it were earth and a real beach it would've been romantic. I guess.

Or not.

Then, all of a sudden, I had this feeling of peace. Like I wasn't alone. I re-fastened my jacket, waked back across the dusty floor, back to where we came.  He followed with this hangdog look on his face, and the next day was all apologies, and the day after that acted like nothing had ever happened.

What? Yeah, I said it was a ghost story. After I ditched him, I needed to be alone. So -I went back. Yes, I know this is stupid, but what's a ghost story without someone doing something stupid? The place was just like I'd left it, bare concrete, our booted footprints in the thick dust. But beside them were another set of footprints. Bare human feet, alongside mine. Perfectly formed footprints, save for an odd scar in the middle of each bare foot, as if a hole had been borne in it.

They say that when we left earth, some earth-spirits came with us. That they walk with us, perhaps even carry us.

Share this story. Don't worry about Tom, or about me, or about what was happening.

Share the part about the footprints.

We're far from home, but we aren't alone.

As long as we remember that, we'll still always be human, and still always be from the earth.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Nightmare Fuel 2016, Day the Fourteenth - Transplant

We're starting the second fortnight of the Nightmare Fuel project with another quick sketch of just another lost soul seeking their life in the city.


You're older than you look, older than the city. Not that you come from here. You've always been a creature of the woods, of your grove. You've always had your sister trees.

Then the neighboring groves went away as the city-thing grew, sending tendrils across the land. As the grove had its woodland inhabitants - foxes and squirrels, birds and bats - so too did the city. It was a struggle for a time, a standoff. Your grove was the deep woods where woodsman didn't dare; where all manner of accidents could befall a man with an axe.

No longer.

The city grew and the grove shrank until you found yourself in a tame place, surrounded by identical row-houses atop manicured lawns. Even the plants are tame.

So you walked, searching for a place still wild, a place which could nourish. As much as the thought killed you, you found the city. You knelt on cobblestone streets, stretched your roots down, down through the world to feel the earth beneath. Soil and stone far below, the whispers of underground rivers above. It is the city, but it still rests on your land.

The city is a hard place, perhaps less hard for those like you who can appear as a comely young girl. It's always possible to convince a man to buy you a drink, or a meal, or something more. And the things you need do in return? Well, you're a creature of nature. You will do what you need to.

The city fought back at first. Cops would harass you on streetcorners, before you no longer needed to walk streetcorners. Businessmen would grope you on the subway. You were always walking upstream, always felt them pushing against you.

Not anymore. Today the businessmen and the workers and even the pandhandlers and the policement looked right through you.

Today the man who looked at you a bit the wrong way, who rubbed too close against you on a crowded train was clearly a tourist. Someone who didn't belong here. A stranger.

Yes, you followed him. Whispered some words of encouragement. And no, he'll not be returning from the city. Not this time.

Late at night,  you kneel on the citystreets in the early predawn hours and feel concrete and steel. You hear the whispers of waters running in city-grown pipes, the hum of electricity.

You are still yourself, you still have thorns.

Image by alexisnoreaga:
This is now where your roots lie.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Nightmare Fuel 2016, Day the Thirteenth - "Romantic"

We're near the close of the first fortnight of this project. Here's a bit of romance for Thursday the Thirteenth.


I'm a romantic. I believe in love at first site.

First site wasn't at the party, the way she thought. No, it was sooner, from the rooftop deck atop the campus library. The way the sun caught her lavendar-dyed hair, the hint of cleavage (magnified from above), just the way she carried herself. I knew she was the one for me. And I knew I could engineer a meeting.

Everything can be engineered these days, even romance. Even spontaneity. The right picture, the right search parameters, Facebook and Twitter and Instragrams… it was so easy to make it right for her. To engineer the right meeting at the right party to give her the same chance of love at first site.

And it worked. Like a charm. I'll spare the details, but I when I awoke beside her the next morning I knew we were at the start of something special. Her room was all strange, occult-looking artworks, ceramic bowls of salt or hard-to-identify herbs, the smell of some kind of incense. I knew I'd be back.

I am, after all, a romantic.

She played the game the way they all do. Coy for a day, not returning my texts, but that was OK.

The next day she didn't return them either. Or the next. But that's OK too,.

I am a romantic, and I know the value of the sweeping romantic gesture. Of course a girl like that won't respond to a text. A girl like that needs to be seranaded outside her window, like Juliet.


I didn't do the played-out boom-box over my head routine, but I did sing, and I did read my original poetry. I said I was romantic.

Even in the bitter cold. After all, it isn't romance without suffering.

Finally, she opened the window, looked down at me, shook her head. Sadder than I expected.

"I didn't want to do this, but you won't leave me alone. You can stay outside, but I'm tired of looking at your body." With that she muttered some words in a language I don't know, tossed a pinch of some odd powedery substance through the air and….

I was


There's no other way to describe it. One moment I'm a young romantic, the next I'm… some kind of ghost.

But that's OK, because I'm still here, still by her window as frost gathers around my ghostly shape.

I'll still wait for her, until she realizes that we're meant to be.

Isn't that romantic?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Nightmare Fuel 2016 , Day the Twelfth - Hunger

This was another image which really didn't speak to me, but still managed to come up with a quick sketch. This was the second and, to be honest, less vulgar option which came to mind.

The first one would have had the charming title "Bride of Goatse" and is one of those pieces I'm probably just as well off not having written.


She always hungered.

The truth is that it started before she could talk.

As a baby, she got her chubby baby-hands on some whole grapes and, to the horror of parents warned of choking hazards, swallowed them whole. Yet still she hungered, and cried until given more.

As she grew, so grew her appetites.

As a child, she ate whole apples, her mouth opening wide like a snake's, her neck. Nobody saw her eat it, but when they saw it was all gone they admonished her to not eat the core.

When she was older, the family's new puppy kept making messes in the house. The next day she opened her mouth and swallowed it whole. The family heard its barking echoing for the next three days.

When she was older still, her mouth would open wider, to eat anything. There was a boy at school who pulled at her pigtails, and was never heard from again. They tried appetite suppresants, they tried therapy, they even talked about lap-band surgery, but her parents nixed that idea.

After letters from the district, they started homeschooling.   It was OK, even if there were no pets, and - after an unfortunate incident - little furniture.

That's when she learned of Bakunawa, the great serpent who swallows the moon and is forced to sometimes spit it out, bringing eclipses.

She leaned of Fenris the wolf, who swallowed the sun.

The more she thought of it, the more the hunger consumed her. She barely saw, barely heard, didn't even take the time to get dressed.

She simply hungered. 

She realized that nobody had ever swallowed the whole world.

She wondered what it would taste like.

She'd soon find out.

Creepy, by zombiecore:

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Nightmare Fuel 2016, Day the Eleventh - "Changeling"

Two for the price of one as we continue to fight the darkness by binding it in words.


It isn't an easy journey, but that's OK. The fairies never raised anyone to be weak.

They didn't love you, exactly, but love isn't everything. They did teach you, in their own cruel way. Each prank was, after all, a lesson. A lesson in not trusting. A lesson in seeing through the glamours for what is real. A lesson in being alert, in being strong.

A lesson in how to dance.

Yes, there was dance. Always dance. Some say you danced at the revels before you could walk. That the dance made you quick, graceful, strong. You could dance for hours.

It isn't an easy journey, or wouldn't be for most. You are ready for it. Already bigger than most of them, strong and clever and perceptive. Easily able to find the ways.

How do you get across? That doesn't matter, does it? There's always a door for those who want one. In the back of a wardrobe, a rabbithole, a looking glass. They're the hunters' paths in the forest of worlds, well-worn thin places in the veil travelled by those who would do mischief and steal children.

And, more rarely still, travelled by those children on their way home.

You come across near the sea, at low tide. There might be an omen in that, there might be luck.

Luck was another thing they taught you.

It's luck that brings you that particar tide-pool where you see a well-crafted child's face, long since discarded and made home to a hermit crab. The face, of course, is an exact simulcrum of yours when you were a babe, neatly wrought as only the fair folk can. You know that you're close.

It isn't an easy journey, but it's nearly over. The house is at the edge of the beach, overlooking the sea. You know it's the house. Because they taught you perception you can see that it's empty. Because they never taught you manners, you let yourself in.

You step shakily across the threshold. This would have been your home. Would have been. There on the mantle is a photograph of a baby, wearing the face you'd seen in the tide pool. Then a boy, wearing an older face. Then an older boy. One taken, perhaps, each time the changling had molted.

You step closer,  your eyes meeting those on the latest photograph. It's your age now, your mother's arm around its shoulder, your father holding its hand.

It seems at home.

It isnt' an easy journey, and it won't be an easy one back. You return to wear you came from, to the revels, to your home.

But as you pass along the seashore, you step through the shallow tide-pool, your unclad foot crushing your old face and the hermit crab which had made it a home.

Photo by Jessica Amanda Salmonson

Nightmare Fuel, Day the 10th - "Downward"

Day ten, and another nod to classic American horror, this time from the late twentieth century.

This is one of those weird, spare pieces which I've come to favor for this project.



It was funny, in a way that wasn't funny. They'd called her "witch" for so long, but now they wouldn't be.

Now they'd be calling her something else.

 She went back to the scene of the crime because that's what felt right. To come back. The place looked different by daytime. No mystery, no magic. Nothing romantic. Just dirty, old, abandoned. What had once been a home, was now just a place. And not much of a place at that. Just a basement window leading downward, downward like Persphone walk, downward the way Orpheus followed Eurydice, downward.

Downward like Inana, shorn of her jewels, her clothes, her power.

Downward the way that she had fallen.

And no, what she did wasn't a fall. It's not like she believed the gym teacher when he said that one act would ruin them, the same way he said that one joint would lead to a lifetime of addiction. No, it was a fall because she'd given in.

Because they'd wanted it, she hadn't.

That she only went along with it because she was tired of being called a witch.

There are worse things to be called.

It was funny, in a way that wasn't funny. She kept thinking this as she climbed through the basement window of the abandoned house, into the familiar place with the old, stained mattress and earthy, salty, sour smells overlaid with blood and sweat and what they did here last week.

She kneels before the stained mattress, strikes a match.

It's funny, in a way that isn't funny that her name is Caroline and not Charlie. She'll think about that often, after.

Now, there's just her, down here.

One step closer to the underworld.

The flames rise around her, cleansing the space.

Leaving her alone

with her anger.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Nightmare Fuel 2016, Day the Ninth - "Your Father's Tools"

Nine days of this, with another little atmospheric piece. Nearing the midway of the month, with more to come.

For another, more light-hearted take on this see Andy Brokaw, who has also been writing these all month with us. Her takes are far different from mine,

"Your Father's Tools"

You saw your father's tools in the window of an antique shop.

It's not a shop you'd never seen before, not in an impossible place between what should be neighboring storefronts, or in an empty alley. This isn't that kind of story.

It's in a real shop, one you've walked past before. The case in the window is dark wood, the little bottles colored glass with rubber stoppers. It blended in well enough with the old furniture, glasswear, and old leatherbound books that you might have walked past it every day without noticing.

So you walk in, taking a moment to savor the smells of old leather, of mineral oil, of silver polish. Other things you can't identify. You approach the window display and look at the case

They aren't his tools. You realize that right away, that you're not reunited with a long-lost toolkit, that you'll not for the first time touch what he'd touched, put your hands on his cherished possessions. This isnt' that kind of story either.

The tools are just as you remember them, though. The case is, to be honest, a not quite as nice. No hidden hinges, simple catches replacing the brass latch you remember. The bottles are nice though. You run your hands along them, the glass smooth against your fingers, your mind conjuring familiar smells of brimstone, of saltwater, the coppery scent of blood. You look at the price. It's a lot for something that would just collect dust.

You don't leave it behind; this isn't that kind of story either. Not one about regrets and what-might-have-happeneds.

You open it again when you get home. Even without the nice dovetail joints and even without the better hardware you remember it IS a thing of beauty. The wand in particular is in excellent, excellent shape. It almost calls to you, the way a good artifact should.  You wonder at it. At who owned it before. If they ever managed to call upon a demon. If their demon gifted them wisdom, or strength, or the riches to quit their job and run off to their own private island.

You remember the instructions, remember listening to your father with his tools, calling upon his demons.

You never summon one yourself. This isn't that kind of story.

You set it on the coffee-table, the wooden lid propped open,  a conversation piece for guests who never come. It sits there for a while, the wand calling to you. Your cat sometimes knocking the little stoppered bottles loose.

So you close the lid, still look each day at the closed box, in your head seeing the wand and the stoppered bottles and hearing your father's voice bargaining with his demons.

After a week you move the box which does not contain your father's tools into the corner of your bedroom closet, behind the piles of old shoes. You don't think of it often, but sometimes when you need to find the workboots you keep in the back of the closet you'll see it and remember that you don't have your father's tools.
Necro-3 by Druidic-Trickster

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Nightmare Fuel 2016, Day the Eigth - Fragments from a comments section

This is a very short fragment, a mini-flash to continue the project with another prompt that really didn't speak to me.

In addition to the image, this is obviously inspired

"Fragments from the Comment Section"

Thanks for sharing your journey. I wondered if you ever thought to use these abilities for anything else. Whenever I see an Amber Alert or something I wonder if I could use travelling or even listening to find them. I'm just not sure where to start.

That's not his point and you know it. Besides, if he started coincidentally finding missing kids, how long to you think it'd take for him to be questioned himself, arrested or, worst, dragged off someplace to be studied. No thanks.

That's really bleak. I've used listening to get just the right present for my girlfriend, and that really felt better than using it to get the right answers on a test, or even to ace a job interview. 
 Do you want a cookie, Newslan? This isn't a do-gooder page and it isn't a SJW page. We know what we are. Do you?

We're all naive like that at some point, Newslan. Read about the Salem witch trials. Read about what they do to people who they only THINK can do some of the things that we can. Then say that again. You owe them nothing.

That's bleak, and sad. I mean, Does anyone else find it really beautiful? I mean, the things we can see and sense? Even in the nastiest person's mind, there's sometimes something unexpected. I want to think we can help bring that out.

Remember, everyone, the neanderthals are extinct. Homo erectus is extinct. Yes, what we can do is beautiful. The beauty is that we'll survive. The beauty is that they won't. THAT is what's beautiful.


Friday, October 7, 2016

Nightmare Fuel 2016, Day the Seventh - Mirror, Mirror

Number eight out of seven. This one is more literal than yesterday's SF piece.

Mirror, Mirror

"In case you've not guessed, it spoke to me. Surely you can see the draw, or we wouldn't be here."

I nodded mutely. I'd have loved it anyway. Loved the oval frame, thick and ornate with dark bronze shining through where the gold leave was worn away. Loved the surreal brightness the silvered mirror gave the room around me, even tolerated the slightly diminished quality of my own reflection, at times when the mirror-companion faded to the background.

The companion had said that part would get better, and it had. Now when I see myself I almost look like myself.

Today the mirror-spirit admonished me - gently - that I'd never asked about him. About how he came to dwell beneath the mirror's surface.

"So… you weren't created by a wizard or something? You found your own way into the mirror? I always guessed you were part of it."

"Sometimes there were appeals to vanity, sometimes a bit more. Sometimes I'd wander this side of the looking glass, like the girl from the book. But it's lonely on this side, when the ones on your side step away from the mirror. There've been others before you, but they grew bored."

I shook my head. "That doesn't seem possible."

The mirror-spirit shook its head. "Mirrors so often appeal to vanity. Who wants a mirror in which ones visage is washed-out like an old painting left in the sun too long, its pigments long faded."

I laughed. "You said that would get better. And it did. Show me my face."

The mirror spirit faded out,  my reflection faded in. True, it had once appeared thin and faded but now… now this looked like a normal mirror. "See? They were fools. They could have had a magic mirror and seen themselves therein."

My reflection laughed, turned on its heel and walked out the door - a doorway which I suddenly noticed was not reversed as it should be in a mirror. I turned behind me, so nothing but a silvery haze.

My reflection strode out the door as I beat my hands against unyielding silvered glass.

Nightmare Fuel 2016 - Day the Sixth "Spex"

I'm a day late with this one, but promise to catch up.

This is a simple fable for the digital age, given a prompt which really didn't much speak to me.


It was the first day in a long time you'd been outside without your spex. You'd been advised against it, of course, but part of you wanted to see the world unaugmented, the way too few left ever have. The city seemed greyer, muted without the RealSenseColour Enhancement, sounds muddied through your bare ears.

You remember when their were still newspaper kiosks outside the train stations, the feel of newsprint in your hand and the black inkstains left on your fingers. You of course remember that long in-between-time when print shared the job with newly minted digital technologies. Now print is as dead as the buggy whip, the fountain pen, the nine-to-five job.

Nowadays, with everyone seeing through spex or implanz there's no need to press ink onto the carcasses of trees. Centuries later, Mr. Guttenberg's invention has finally reached obsolesence.

So anyway, you notice that everything is greyer than usual, unsaturated. And you notice something else. The peace mural is gone. Every day you looked up and, through your spex colour enhancement, gazed on an oversized image of The Cardinal Hilltom Rohny - once the first female Cardinal, before abdicating to  successfully run for the presidency - planting a tree in the Amazon rainforest. She was drawn as the kind of impossible giant only America could imagine in an act of kindness only a modern American could conceive.

At least that's what you usually saw.

Today, the mural's title was gone, the wall blank. A passerby sees you gawking at the empty space, glances up over your shoulder.

"Yeah, love it to. Really shows 'em what we're about, don't it?" You strain to make out his words; in addition to translating, your spex served as hearing aids, boosting the high frequencies that your ears couldn’t quite make out anymore.

You shake your head. "It's gone. Can't you see that?"

The stranger smiles, "Spex are down? They sharpen your vision. I can't see much without 'em on. Here, take a look."

He takes his spex off and hands them to you. Worldessly, you put them on and look.

The mural is back, but Cardinal Rohny isn't there anymore. Instead, the image - which the spex helpfully tell you is titled "The Damp Lord John Nut" shows Rohny's challenger from the last election, in equally giant stature, grinding dozens of South American aboriginal figures unter a continent-wide bootheel.

Your stomach drops. "What… what the hell happened? Where's President Cardinal Rohny?"

The stranger glares, snatches his spex back. "Are you some kind of nutter? Rohny got her fat ass handed to her in the election. As she should have."

He settles the spex back onto his face, nestling the earpieces into his ear as you answer, "Are YOU crazy? Rohny won. Easily. The crazies backing John Nut were just that - crazies. Nuts, if you will."

He smiles. "Funny. You had me going for a minute. But you're right. Nut's a great leader."

Realization dawining, you turn on your heels and sprint back to the train station, your head low. Avoiding eye contact with anyone, avoiding looking at anything.

You order your meals in, not again leaving your home until after the new spex have arrived, bringing with them a world you understand.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Nightmare Fuel, Day the fifth - Invitation

Day 6 out of 5 in daily Flash Fiction for October


"Not all old wives' tales are false. Yes, I know that isn't the politically correct way of saying it, but really, so what?  You and I both know who spreads gossip and rumors the way bees spread pollen, buzzing about all day and not getting all that much done. Not that there are any bees around here, but there used to be. Long ago, before this scrap of city rose, tumbled again, started to half-rise before staggering along. It's as good a place as any to learn."

I nodded, listening to him hear himself talk. My mentor. My fellow monster. This wasn't the part of the city where I'd have gone, ever. Certainly not long past sundown, with not even the yellow sodium glare of old streetlights to guide our way.

Not that he and I needed much light. Not anymore. I nodded, he continued. 

"Like I was saying, the old wives' tales aren't all wrong. The bit about invitations especially. Oh, you can feed without being invited, but it's a struggle more than it's worth. The can have power over you. If you're not invited."

"So we should ask? Doesn't that go against the first thing you told me? Yesterday's lesson?"

His voice was low, measured, "No, don't be stupid. Please. Eternity is a long time, and I don't want a halfwit hanging around me that long. I really don't." 

I know it didn't happen this way for me anymore, but out of habbit I could feel the heat rising to me ears, feel something tighten in my chest. I took a deep breath that I didn't need - force of habit again - and forced my voice to be calm, to match his, "then what the fuck do you mean? How do we get permission if we can't ask for it? Sir."

He chuckled. "You have so, so very much to learn. Really. The trick isn't to ask for an invitation, the trick is to see invitations when they're offered."

He paused a moment. "Take that window."

I looked. It was an ordinary window. A bit cleaner than some around it, with plain white curtains half-drawn. I said as much, then asked what he saw. That's always a good way to keep him talking.

"You're exactly right. The glass is clean - cleaner than the neighbors'. And the curtains aren't tightly-drawn, but at three quarters. It's a window open to a bit of the night. To us."

He paused dramatically. A big part of getting along with him is  knowing the dramatic pauses from the times he just stops talking.

He continued. "It's an invitation. Definitely".

I knew the thousand ways that this was wrong, but we'd been out a long time already and the hunger was growing in me. The window didn't seal tightly so for those, like us, who could travel as mist it was no barrier.

We accepted the invitation, and began to feed.

Window by Daniele Marzocchi

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Nightmare Fuel 2016, Day the Fourth - "So Easy"

The 2016 iteration of the Nightmare Fuel project continues with another take on an American classic. Yesterday was the Headless Horseman, today we're revisiting
another character who you may or may not recognize.

"So Easy"

It's so very easy, at least to start. There's even a little DIY kit in the mail, with a medical-grade ax and an insulated box with some dry-ice. And you do so badly need the money. Really, who doesn't? After all, it isn't even as if you'd miss your left foot.

The ax is almost supernaturally sharp, and the replacement foot that comes with the kit is almost as good as new. Some kind of plasticky stuff, slightly yielding to the touch, in a sickly white color. Some people try to decorate them, but they don't take paint all that well. Still, it isn't a bad deal. You ship it back, and the money gets you and your date a really nice evening out, with a limo and all that.

It's so very easy. So you try again later. After all, the replacement foot works out. Even if you miss the feel of grass between your toes, it isn't as if you can afford to live anyplace with actual grass. So, the other foot goes, neatly sealed in the box they gave you. You can still walk, you'd still be able to dance, if you knew how. And the money pays the rent for the next few months.

It's so very easy. The ad is still there, not that you need it. You can order another kit online, don't even need to admit to anyone that you'll be selling another little bit of yourself. Just a little bit.

The hands go next. First the left. This seems a far bigger deal than the feet. It's smooth and featureless, like those feet. You notice more on the hands. The scar from the back of your hand when you slipped with a knife and cut yourself. That scar was just part of what you saw, everytime you looked down at yourself. Now it's gone, but the new hand is strong and you needed rent money. They money, in fact, is getting better. One more hand and you can put a down payment on a car.

It's so very easy, and almost looks unreal afterwards; the two brand-new plasticsmooth hands resting on the steering wheel of your new car. They - the hands and the car - don't even feel like yours. But they are. They're yours. Nothing can change that.

It's still easy. You'd think it's over, but it isn't. The next transactions are, to be fair, trickier, but not too much so. After all, you've given up your foot, why not the rest of the leg? And the new foot looks better against the new leg anyway. Your friends laugh a bit uneasily when you show it to them, but on the subway you see lots of people with shinynew limbs, and more.

No need to drag this out, once you sold one leg you knew you'd sell the other, and the arms beside. After all, it's easy. At least so far.

The next part isn't easy, but there's another baby on the way, or the landlord is raising the rent again, or the MTA just jacked the fair and you can't make it to work without a little help. It's a heartless world.

Heartless, yeah. That's funny.

So, you do it.  This time the box is bigger, like one of those coolers you take to the beach. Big enough for your body. You can get used to it.

You can get used to anything.

The money is really good this time, enough to last months, but it isn't enough. It's never, after all, enough.

You've taken good care of the medical-grade ax, and you know it's sufficient for the task. Just one final cut, and it will be over. This is for the best, really. After all, the new parts are working out great. Even that left foot you replaced so long ago is still just perfect.

You wonder for a moment what they do with the parts you shipped back; if somewhere somebody is walking on your old feet, if someone is looking down at their hands, seeing an old scar without knowing the story behind it. You wonder. If someone hears the beating-hard sound you've long since given up. You still miss that part.

You wonder these things and more as you look down at the final box, brand new eyes looking at your old face, looking up at you as you say farewell to what had once been your head.

It had been so easy. And the money was good.
Image by !Mediengruppe Bitnik

Monday, October 3, 2016

Nightmare Fuel 2016, Day the Third - "The Other Half of the Story

For each story, there's another,  secret half which nobody knows. Today we'll take in an American classic.

"The Other Half of the Story"

As we near Hallows Eve, it amused my Katrina to rename our home The Boneyard, after that old nickname of mine. It's not a bad thing to indulge the little lady, but this one bugs me. Not so much the name, but the winking not at how we got together, about how I got rid of him. Everyone's guessed at the story, everyone's in on the joke.

I love this time of the year, love sharing the joke with the rest of the town. What the schoolteacher doesn't get is that my winning means we won. All of us. It's our down, not his. The seasons have since turned, brown leaves covering the grounds as the air grows chill.
Image from Rosaarvensis

Deep in the leaves I saw another one. A cpumpkin, half-buried in the leaves, carved into a mocking face. Looking up at me. I swiftly stomped it, the orange flesh of the shattered gourd spattering across my black boot.

Somebody here knows the real story.

Everyone thinks they know what happened that night. Hell, I never out and said it, but gave 'em enough of a nod and a wink that even the folks here could put two and two together. It's not like it's hard. For all his booksmarts, the schoolmasterer has the wrong kind of booksmarts, the kind without the common sense to know what's real, what's the word of the lord, what's just old wives' tales. They all know we told him the one about the Hessian. Folk like the the schoolmaster, they think we're the simple oneAdd captions because we don't read as many books. We put one over on him though.

That's what everyone thinks.

I've never told the truth of that night. Not like I'm telling it today.

Most of it is just like you thought. He left the party late, I followed. I can handle a horse. Everyone knows that. Riding with my coat up past my head, with one hand on the reigns so the other could hold a head-sized pumpkin? That's easy. Even keeping a riding cap on top of that stupid pumpkin. That's also easy for me.

Everyone guessed at all that.

It was growing dark, and a light mist obscured vision just enough for my purposes. It's true that as I crossed the bridge I held the faux-head aloft, that I even called his name.

It's true that his eyes were wide with terror.

What nobody's guessed, what I've never even hinted at, is that those terror-struck eyes were fixated on a spot behind me, over my shoulder.

I'm a good enough rider to see behind me, with one hand on the reigns.  Easy enough to see over my head the mounted figure, the severed head in its hands still wearing a tall iron helmet. Easy to see its half-century old armor open, the bit of spine peaking up from the severed neck.

I'm a good enough rider to outride a rider who keeps his eyes in his hand, good enough to get back quickly and with my horse appearing fresh.

The schoolmaster was never really one of us. It's easy for everyone to think I'd driven him off. Somedays I even think that myself.

But as I rode away I know I saw, over my shoulder, the headless rider examining the pumpkin I'd left behind before its horsehoof shattered it.

A pumpkin that bore the same face as the one I found on the grounds.

But that will remain my secret.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Nightmare Fuel 2016, Day the Second - "The Greedy Trees"

Double-post today, and I'm caught up. This is a bit of a fable, not at all inspired by the hours I spent yesterday replacing a toilet.

"The Greedy Trees"

They don't tell you everything in the stories about the discovery of the New World. Part of it, of course, is shame. Shame at what we did to them (and it always does seem to be us telling the story, doesn't it? You've never heard the story the way they tell it. You probably never even realized that). Part of it is entropy; whatever really happened is long, long lost in the sands of time. No cameras, no film, nothing to create a record save scribblings in journals from those who could write, a centuries-long game of telephone beginning with those who couldn't.

No telephones either, for that matter.

There are, of course, other stories. Stories about secret native lore, about how those who were already here knew things that we don't, how they lived in harmony with the land and the white man blundered in and suffered for his hubris.

This isn't that one of those stories.

We can start with the explorer. His name doesn't matter, wouldn't mean anything to you anyway. Let's imagine him with his hooded lantern, casting beams of light into the dark woods in a place for which we didn't yet have a name.

Imagine him finding the hungry trees, each with its victim. Some newly captured, enchained with vines and creepers and spidersilk. Some old, their vital humours drained by the hungry trees, no longer really men. The explorer would see them as demon-like things, serving only the forest.

There's a story somewhere of the explorer getting his comeuppance (for those in the future, quibbling about gendered-pronouns, of course it's a he. Back then most women had more sense than to run into the forbidden forest with nothing but their wits and their thieves' lantern. Perhaps a witch, but this isn't a story about a witch. We'll talk of them later). Of his last moments as the tree-addled victim he tried to save wraps no-longer-human fingers around the explorer's throat, drags him into bark and wood, and demonic sap flows over his eyes, obscuring his vision forever.

This isn't one of those stories either.

Image from tsonline:
Perhaps this explorer had read stories older still, learned from them. Evil forests in Europe might not be the same as evil forests in America, but it's still an evil forest. The only way to deal with it is to not care about the rare and valuable woods in the ancient trees, to wait until dawn and take torch and pitch and dried kindling, to set it ablaze.

To watch it burn, so no humans will be chained forever to the trees. So those who came across the ocean to this place can be at peace and free, not chained to the ancient land.

Centuries past, the explorer was forgotten. The burned out forest lay fallow, charred stumps all that was left of the greedy trees.

A city grew nearby, but not too near. Slowly it spread tendrils, the way cities do. Little tracts of homes on postage-stamp squares of land, some of them where the hungry forest had once stood, but did no longer. The space remained uncursed and empty, free for men and women to ride horses and cars and rail to the heart of the city, return home to tend their lawns, fix their roofs, tinker with the plumbing. Unbound by the greedy trees which would drink their lives.

Nightmare Fuel 2016 Day the First - What We Deserve

A trifle to start the Nightmare Fuel project proper, a dialog-heavy piece. This wasn't the type of prompt that really speaks to me, nor is tomorrows; graveyards and foreboding forests are too much classic horror staple for my usual taste.

What We Deserve

"Reunited at last, beyond the veil".

Those are the first words he said on arriving, after shrugging off his mortal coil and re-awakening after his remains were interred in the family crypt with his late bride.

"You left the crypt door open." Those were his second words. Warmth spread across the bare stone floor as the lovers touched, reunited after all these years, here in the comfort of the grave.

"Sorry, love. It's easy to get into sloppy habits, it being just me. You still being alive and all that."

"Well, it isn't just you anymore. You're my wife again."

A ghostly chuckle. "I thought it was till death do us part? We are dead."

The air cooled. "That isn't funny. And it isn't how it works." He paused.  "You always left the door open when we were alive too. I see death hasn't made you any more responsible."

"Not this again. You're here one moment and already complaining?" If she still had breath, she'd have sighed.  "How did you die?"

"My heart, like everyone who strives too hard and does too much. The way men usually go. Not a dumb accident."

"Please don't start on that again. I've had years to think about it. I still don't have peace with it."

"You will. Peace is all we have now. The peace of the grave."

If possible, the darkness in the already sealed crypt deepened, to something beyond darkness. After a pause, she spoke again, "Is this what you imagined? How it would be?"

"It was always one possibility. There's been much written about the spirit, about it's connection to the body. I should have told you more about it when we were alive. I used to read about it quite a lot. You really should keep the crypt door closed. This is our home now. We need to treat it that way."

They paused for a moment, in the silence of the grave. Her voice - if you can call it a voice - was quiet, calm. "It already is my home. It has been for twelve years now."

"No. It was your resting place. It's not a home without a family. We're a family again. And... home".

"Yes, we are. I'll close the door."

With the memory of muscle stronger than actual muscle had been, her spirit had been able to move the heavy stone from the crypt entrance easily. Now, it was sluggish. Stuck.

"I'll get it." The stone rolled back, sealing the crypt in darkness.

"So... now what. What have you been up to these years?"

"I've been here. Mostly alone. The other dead are boring."

"Maybe we can make some friends together now that I'm here."

"Really, it's a waste. I've tried, they all either cry, or mutter to themselves, or sit quietly. One of them said that we all get what we deserve. That's just a few. Most of the graves seem empty."

"It will be different for you, now that I'm here. We'll make friends. You'll see.

But please, stop forgetting to close the door."

A hundred years later the stone seal has long since shattered, but, if you stand in just the right place by the crumbling stone walls, you can still sometimes hear his voice, muttering, "close the damn door".

We all get what we deserve.
Image by Mark Krawec

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Nightmare Fuel 2016, Day the Zeroth: "Not That Kind of Monster"

Write horrible things with me.

With these words, Andrea Trask began the annual "Nightmare Fuel" project, in which every day of October,  whomever chooses to do so writes a story inspired by the same image prompt. It's a tradition which now enters is fourth consecutive year. It's a tradition which began as a way for Andrea to deal with ill dreams which plagued her as the calendar turns towards All Hallows Eve and a tradition which I've continued sporadically.

This year I'm writing before the prompt was prompted, so I'll open with a brief poem inspired by one from last year that I didn't get to. We'll see how we round out the year.

So come, listen, join in.

Write horrible things with me.

These will all be potentially unsettling, but this one comes with a trigger-warning for street harassment.

"Not That Kind of Monster"

Date night. Not long planned, just a guy from Tindr.
Though moon is full, no hair grows on my face,
no howl escapes from my throat.
My legs are as smooth as a razor can get them, no pack awaits me.
I'm not that kind of monster.

He's cute, in a geeky kind of way.
Dinner,  a small table for two, he leans forward as I talk,
catching every word, or catching a peek down my blouse? No matter.
 My voice, though fair, doesn't hypnotize him,
                                                      doesn't steal his thoughts,
                                                                    doesn't curse him to follow me to his doom.
I'm not that kind of monster.

The movie ends sometime past midnight.
On the darkened streets, my teeth don't stretch into fangs.
I don't sensuously lick my lips before sinking my teeth into his neck
before drinking my fill
and leaving his drained husk behind.
I'm not that kind of monster.

When the men at the corner call out,
when they yell, "Hey sexy"
                    and "nice ass"
                      and "wanna share her, bro?"
I don't grow claws, don't break their bones
don't devour their flesh.
I'm not that kind of monster.

I do see him, my date, puff up with something like pride
even as their comments become more lewd
even as one starts to approach.
He speaks once to them,
                                   "she's mine".
I know that even if I take him home,
even after we fuck,
there will be no second date. No happily ever after.
I'll not kill him, tear his skin from his body, and wear it as a suit.
I'm disappointed in him, but
I'm not that kind of monster.

In the dark of the next morning I'll take the knife.
I'm practiced at this now. Two slices, and they're gone.
I string them up with the others as blood runs down the side of my head.
Knowing that it's useless.
Knowing that they'll only grow back again.
Knowing that I'll still hear the next time anyway.
But noticing that each time they seem to grow back slower.
That's the kind of monster I am.
One who is slowly
one ear at a time
being killed.


I lied in the intro; this poem IS inspired by the attached image, but also by a real life event. Last month, the aforementioned Andrea Trask was subject to a nasty and frightening bit of street harassment. While she was not injured in body, the circumstance and actions [a late night, an empty street, drunk sports fans in a car] were deeply unsettling and left her rattled for quite some time after.

Thus the opener, and this year's theme: Harm. The ways in which we harm each other, the ways in which we harm ourselves, the ways in which we allow harms to come to pass.