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.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Twenty-Fourth - A Winters' Walk

Day twenty-four. This one didn't speak to me, but I tossed out a quick parable. The only other reply I saw was the stalwart Samantha Dunaway Bryant with something as usual nice and atmospheric and which should give you cause to smile at the end.

A Winters'
Winter isn't coming. It's already here.

The trees are bare, the air is as cool as the sunlight diffused through early morning fog. Trees are long since bare, save for distance conifers. The pavement unyielding and distant beneath your feet.

It's another day heading deeper into the city, another day eyes straight forward. This isn't the kind of city where you make chatter.

It's different today. The crowds seem a little thinner. You wonder at first if it's a holiday that you didn't know about. Some obscure religious one that you didn't know about. But then the next day it's the same, and the day after.

This is now normal.

Weeks pass. A day comes that the crowds again thin. Could that have to do with the news story? The one about the raids? Couldn't be. The people in this city aren't the type to get rounded up. You all go about your business. One day at a time, one step at a time.

The next month. You've stopped looking to either side. So has everyone else. It isn't even possible to tell if the crowd is the same. If it's thinned, if it's grown back.

You, and the others in your city, know the truth.

If you remain silent, eyes ahead, they'll never come for you.

You plan to live to see the spring return.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Twenty-Fourth - At the Shore

A few nice takes on this image, including a sweet hopeful bit by Kary Gaul, something mythic-feeling from Samantha Dunaway Bryant and a bleak atmospheric thing from Jo Anne Cabrera

I should have made this one about my beloved Mets, or about the upcoming World Series.

I didn't. Enjoy this little bit of post-apocalyptic fantasy.

Image is from the Myths & Legends series, by Jeffrey Alan Love.

At the Shore

It's been a very long time.

Long enough that I barely remember my name, my face. Anything. 

Nothing but the taste of sea, nothing but regret. I tried to do it myself.

I tried my best, it wasn't enough. So here I am on the seafloor. Walking on.

The war has come everywhere, as wars always do. Some days you come to the beach to get away from it, to look over the Atlantic waves. You can still smell the smoke here, but mixed with the fresh salt air of the sea it isn't so bad. At least that's what you tell yourself.

So you sit alone on the dunes, what once was El Salvador behind you, facing the trackless desert of the ocean.

I wander, I meet the creatures of the sea. Those above look down on them as too many looked down on me. I feel kinship, but don't belong here.

I am not home.

I'm not even that surprised when I meet her, a fellow walker here in the depths. And old, old woman, her waterlogged flightclothes from an earlier time, when flight was an adventure. Not like the uniforms I once wore, as a civilian and a soldier.

We walk in companionable silence.

We don't stop walking.

You aren't always alone in this place, but you are often at peace. It's a poor spot for fishing, even if the oceans weren't mostly dead. Like the rest of the world. Those who come are the contemplative sort, the quiet, the loners.

Or perhaps those simply waiting to die, like the rest of the world.

One day you're joined by a very old man wearing a faded ballcap bearing a stylized letter 'P'. As if that matters anymore.

"You know, there's been lots of folk lost at sea. They didn't always find the bodies."

You nod, annoyed at the solitude being broken.

"They say they found his pilot, but not him. Makes a guy wonder, doesn't it? I mean, we can come here and think he'll come back, rolling his neck like he always did, bat on his shoulder. You know he'd do some good in the world."

You stare out over the water and don't say anything. Belief is for children. You don't believe in anything but the water.

After a day, or a week, or an eternity I find myself somewhere near my initial destination, generations ago. My companion has long since left me to go her own way.

That's OK. Sometimes you have to do it by yourself. Sometimes you just need to be a symbol, or a story, or an example.

One foot in front of the other, I walk beneath the sea, whispering to any who might still be listening, who might need me. 

"I'm coming".

After a long time, you turn away from the dunes and the sea and walk inland, in search of shelter and food and all that you need to stay alive. The struggle continues.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Twenty-Second - The Mask

This one is a bit of a cheat, and a bit of a meta-story. There's a great deal in the image, from the shape of the mask itself to the cheap shelving behind it to those magnificent eyes. It's also something that echos another culture not my own, and not one about which I know enough to do justice to whatever the symbolism may or may not mean.

So, I cheated. That's what we do as writers, is it not?

Kary Gaul unmasked herself as a gamer in her response. I very much like the choice of format and think it can be an interesting narrative form. Samantha Dunaway Bryant went in a different direction than I expected in a piece which she thinks (perhaps rightly) could have been a touch longer.

My take follows, with apologies for ending with a pun.

The mask

To unmask a masquerade is an abomination.

That much you know, and not much more.

Oh, you know that a masquerade mask is more than just a mask, just as you know that the costume is more than a costume, not just wet leaves and raffia and whatever else. That it means something or, to a believer, that it IS something.

That it's an echo of something from the other world, made manifest in he who dons the mask.

You know all of this and think it as you turn the mask over in your hand, in the third aisle of the secondhand shop near your home. This isn't a magic shop, it isn't a mystical place between this world and the next. IT's just a place where people donate goods for others to buy. Mostly old clothes, old toys, old junk.

Sometimes something special, like the mask.

You turn it over in your hand, feeling its weight. Some kind of dense, fine-grained wood polished to a smooth and flawless finish. A broad, empty mouth holding no words and round, close-set eyeballs seeing multitudes. You weigh it in your hand again.

It should be perfect. You did, after all, come here seeking a costume to wear on All Hallows Eve, and what could be a better start than a masque. It seemed destined for you. You could wear it and be a figure of terror, striking fear in the hearts of your fellow partygoers.

You could, but this isn't that kind of story.

It could be a mistake. You could build a costume around it, clothe yourself in raffia and dried grass and cloth, only to find yourself possessed by something other when you don the mask, your self fading to the background as an ancient spirit from another continent walks your streets in your skin, the terror being yours as much as theirs.

This isn't that kind of story either.

You could don the mask and dance along the streets, joy in your heard and strange words on your tongue, words in a language you don't speak. Your world can grow unfamiliar and strange as you see it through spirit-eyes, belonging to another. You could run the streets as a spectator in your body, barely seeing and barely remembering what happens until you return home, strip the mask from your face, and see stamped on the back the words, "Made in China".

But no, it isn't that kind of story.

And, finally, this could be your end. You could do everything right, find the right people to teach you, don the mask and the proper regalia and perform all the right rituals. You could let the spirit become you, even as reality warps and bends under the stress of forbidden secrets being shared to those not destined to know them. You could walk confidently, powerfully, until a child strips the mask from your face and you fall to the ground, stone cold dead.

But this is none of those stories.

Because those are not your stories to tell, nor mine.

One aisle over you find a battered old briefcase. Fine. You'll be Willy Loman this year. At least that'll make one of your kids happy.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Twenty-First - The Sentinal

Happy Sunday!

We're getting into the homestretch of this project, which I hope some of you have found an entertaining exercise. I'm having fun, and am considering continuing with some kind of daily writing project in November.

Today I really adored Kary Gaul's take on this, and Samantha Dunaway Bryant  gave us something short but with a nice punch at the end.

The Sentinal

"Psst! Wanna make a deal?"

I jump at the voice; I'm not too proud to admit that. After all, the streets are empty, except for me. Even here on her street, within view of her window. I know the spot well, knew where the streetlights cast the best shadows, where I can duck from her nosy and cruel neighbors, yet where I can see her window.

To make sure she's safe, to catch a glimpse of her if she comes outside. You see, I love her.

Anyway, this voice out of nowhere shakes me out of my skin, and there he is. Yeah, him, looking dapper. Like he belongs here, even if his shoes fit a little funny, like they're forced onto hooves. His goatee is black and oily, his eyes a shocking bright yellow, and he smelled of expensive aftershave and sulfur. Yeah, it's him alright. Offering me a deal.

"That seems like a bad idea. You're not known for offering good deals, of fair ones."

He laughs, a low chuckle that echoed off the stone facade of the attached homes, including hers. I really don't want him to make a scene out here with me. I've been chased away enough nights already. If this'll happen, I know I  have to get it over quick.

"Maybe.. something small. For her to notice me?" His smile widens, sending my heart beating faster. I had to be careful, "But not" I added, "in a bad way. In a pleasing way. But... gently at first. Just to notice me, and not to be scared, and not to be mad. And... can you keep the neighbors from calling the cops and chasing me away again? What would that cost, in a deal?"

I'm glad with myself. All those other suckers who ask for riches or power, they get greedy and ask too much. Me, I just want love.

"So.. she'll see you here and be pleased. None of the neighbors will chase her away. Anything else?"

I run through the possibilities in my head. This seems safe to me. And better yet, it's the right thing. If she is pleased with me, she'll be happy. We'll be happy together. That's what love is, right?

Image by Tomas Nilson
"Let's see..." He strokes that oily beard, "She wouldn't much like your face, so we'll take that away. And those clothes. And the way you walk..." As he speaks I find myself changing. My face melts away, then my clothes, and my body. I can still see without eyes, hear without ears. When he finishes speaking, I stand still, tall, featureless, immobile. He lifts me and sets me on a low plinth in the middle of the street.

"There. She likes minimalism. You'll please her fine." he leans close and whispers to the place that would be my ear, "and I HATE blokes who think they're more clever than I".

He may be the devil, but I have my bit of heaven; I have my place outside her window.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Twentieth - At the Forbidden Door

Day the twentieth! One score of little flash pieces.

This image was an interesting one: both Kary Gaul and Samantha Dunaway Bryant saw ghost stories, of sorts.

As for me? I love old folktales. They live at the heart of our cultural heritage.

At The Forbidden Door

It was always his house. From the day I moved in, through our wedding day, until we moved out, it was always his.

He wasn't bad about it, wasn't cruel about it. It was just a fact. I'd moved in to his house. Not even that it was all that special. A nondescript split-level, exactly matching its neighbors. Even the name of the style is dull. Split-level. It's to yawn.

Anyway, as I said, it was his. And he was really OK about it. It's not like he held it over me, or threatened to kick me out when we got into big fights.

At least not much.

But really, he was fine about it. Except that one spare room upstairs. The one we said we'd turn into a nursery for the kids we both knew we'd never have. The one with the locked door, that he told me never to open. THat was his space. Yes, I know the stories. Everyone does. I sniffed at the door sometimes and never smelled blood or decaying flesh, so there was that. It was probably just an extra computer where he kept the weird porn he didn't want me to know he watched. The thought kinda grossed you out, but that's really just part of life. Guys'll have weird secrets. It's what makes them guys.

Anyway, you lasted until moving day. You'd joked once that you'd have to go into the forbidden room to pack it up, but only once. You'd said it lightly, but that look in his eyes...

"How DARE you? You'll not use the move as an excuse. That is THE. FORBIDDEN. DOOR."

Yes, it should have sounded absurd, but the look on his face was anything but funny. You quickly looked down and muttered, "sorry. Joking".

I hadn't been, and he knew it.

SO now it was moving day at last.

He's off now to the new place in his truck, loaded with the things that he didn't want to trust to the movers. I'm alone with the cat, upstairs.

She's looking at the forbidden door.

It would be easy. I lived alone for years before moving in to his house, and I had the kind of mother who believed in teaching daughters how to fix things around the house. How to replace a kitchen faucet. How to install a toilet.

How to take a door off its hinges.

I'd not remembered unpacking the hammer, but here it was next to me. The hammer wasn't his, wasn't ours. It was mine, as was the cat. As were too few things.

I stood in the hallway a long time, watching the cat watching the forbidden door. She mewed once, plaintively, sadly, then trotted towards me, looked up at me. The hammer was in my hand.

My hammer.

A hammer is a tool. It felt comfortable in my hand.

I'd always known.

She didn't even fight when I guided her into her carrier, and only meowed once when I picked it up in my left hand and headed for the door.

A hammer is a tool, but also a weapon. I didn't loose my grip on my
hammer until I reached the car. I set it in the passenger seat, in reach as I drove off, in the opposite direction of his new home, one eye always on the rear-view mirror.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Nightmare Fuel, Day the 19th - Pilgrimage

I'll call this a prose-poem, I suppose. A short, simple meditation. It's funny; I thought this image would do more for me, but it really didn't. Please enjoy this sad moment.

Also, feel free to check out Samanta Dunaway Bryant with her own bit of melancholy, as well as Kary Gaul with something oddly touching and hopeful.


You've not been to this place in a long time.

The last time you were here was when you were still a parent, still a spouse. After that day you were no longer the former. Soon there was no reason to be the latter either. It's how things go.

So you come back. Not on the anniversary of the day it all ended. Not on the birthday. Those would feel wrong. Too much like ritual, too much like  buying a birthday cake for someone who'd never get another birthday. No, that wasn't the right time.

You came in the late fall.

When everything else was also dead.

Artwork by: Rob Mulholland:
The truth is that you don't quite remember where it happened. Not the exact spot. But when you get there, you find it.

A hole.

Bigger than he was then. As big as he'd be today. Maybe bigger.

An empty space within this empty space.

You stay until the sun sets, until the chill autumn air seeps through your jacket and into your flesh, until the trees fade and all you can see is the hole.

Then you extend a hand toward the man-shaped hole,

beckoning it to join you

to come leave the forest with you.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Nightmare Fuel - Day the Eighteenth - Before the Fire

Day eighteen!  We have the usual co-conspirators, with Kary Gaul returning to themes she's played with over the course of the month and Samantha Dunaway Bryant with a classic-feeling horror vignette.

Before the Fire

We called it the witch house, all year round. Nobody knew anything else about it, but we knew that as Halloween approached the witch - because we never thought of her differently - would prepare the model in her basement.

We were still young enough to trick-or-treat, even if just barely. And this was back in the day when kids could roam about on our own, on bicycles or on foot, darting through backyards and other places where we didn't belong.

The day I'm thinking of was the day of the fire.

This time it was me and Mike and Dave. It was always me and Mike and Dave, at least the times we let Dave tag along. Witch-lady's house as different from the others on the block. For one thing, her grass was different. You notice that. Most people's grass was, well.. grass. Green blades, cut to an even height. The way it's supposed to be. Witch-lady had a fine covering of clover, interspersed with islands of moss. When we were younger we'd crawl about her yard searching for four-leafed clovers, and even found one once. I still have it, pressed between pages of a book.

Anyway, back to Halloween. Like I said, it was me and Dave and Mike. After school we'd slip into her backyard and peek through that basement window all the houses around here have. You know the kind.

Witch-lady's basement wasn't like anyone else's. Where our dads had workbenches and tablesaws and piles of scrap wood, witch-lady had a tall, bright room with a single table in the center. On this was a great platform like the kind that people built model train sets on, all fake grass and little roads and stuff. It was Dave who found it the first time, showed me and Mike like it was a secret. So now we were looking.

"What's it like this year?" Dave whispered. Last year dinosaurs walked the tiny streets, between model suburban houses. The year before that I think it was clowns.

"It looks like witches," Mike whispered. It should be. After all, she was the witch-lady.

The rows of suburban houses were gone this year. In their place - laid out on the same rough grid as our suburban streets - were neat rows of tiny tipis, made of sheafs of wheat and what looked like scraps of leather. The tipis weren't the thing we noticed though. Like Mike said, it was witches. Lots of witches.

"This is SO lame," I whispered, "The Indians who lived hear were Algonquins. They didn't even live in tipis"

"You aren't supposed to say 'Indians'", Dave whispered at me, "now let me see."

But I didn't. I was still looking at the witches.

Witches suspended in the air above them. Witches on the ground between. Mostly cardboard-cutouts, witches in silhouette. I didn't think then, but I've wondered since - why were they all facing to give a perfect view from the window? Why weren't any crosswise to us? It's a question that haunted me.

Anyway, here was this tipi city beset by witches. Hanging from the carved pumpkin in the town center. And on her gown.

Uh oh.

I'll admit, we panicked when we saw her walk into the room. At least Mike and I did. Dave hadn't gotten a good look yet, with Mike and me crowding the window. He wanted to look.

Like I said, it was the day of the fire. We heard sirens, smelled smoke. Numb, we watched it all burn. Nobody ever was able to explain how it started in four different houses at once, blocks away from eachother. Just that it did. And it spread.

Her block was untouched.

We didn't think much of it at the time, but when Dave caught up to us he was looking up towards the sky while we watched fire engines and ladder trucks and men in rubber armor wielding great hoses. His eyes were on the sky, tears running down his cheeks.

Much later - after the embers cooled and after weeks in hotels while our parents fought with insurance companies and builders and some of us stayed and some left - he told us what we'd missed, when we ran.

"She saw me. I know she did. She looked right at the window. Then she struck a match, and lit the whole thing on fire. ANd then... you know."

I shook my head., "You must be imagining it. One of them fake memories,"

He looked to the sky again. It had become a habit with him. "I just wonder - I wonder when the witches will come."

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Nightmare Fuel - Day the Seventeenth - Make a Wish

Another scrap of dialog from me; Does it show that I live in suburbia?

We also got a tale of sacrifice from Samantha Dunaway Bryant and one of triumph (or is it?) from Kary Gaul.

I'd be remiss in not mentioning yesterday's continuation of an ongoing serial by Charles Moore. It looks like he might end up with a short novel out of this.

Now, make a wish.

Make a Wish

"Is that your wish? You know that you only get one."

"You heard me. Stain my deck. And by "stain" I mean an outdoor-quality woodstain. Don't stain it with blood, certainly not with my blood. Just a nice wood-stain, the color compatible with what's already there. Two coats, please."

"You know, you've captured me. By the ancient rules I am yours to command, and I possess great power."

"Enough power to stain my deck?"

"Power enough for that, and more. Most men in your position would ask for wealth,"

"Eh. I'd just have to spend it on a new deck if this one doesn't get stained."

"Vengeance against your enemies?"

"The only vengeance I need is when my neighbors see my perfect deck."

The creature looked up. "I could fix it so this deck never needs staining. Wouldn't that be better?"

"I've read enough stories. You'd turn it into some kinda living monstrosity, oozing sap or blood or something. Nope, you have my wish. Two coats of minwax. Brushes are in the garage."

"I have your wish, but I'm giving you a chance to change it. After all, what you ask is a fleeting thing."

"SO,, I can change my wish?"

"Yes. One time only. I don't think you're seeing the full potential"

"You're right. Having you stain my deck is NOT the full potential."

"HA. Now you're talking., So what will it be? Endless wealth? Immortality?"

"No. I wish that you'd come here once a year, on a nice dry day, and put two coats of minwax on the deck, applied evenly and carefully with a horsehair brush."

"I HATE working in suburbia."

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Fifteenth - The Monster

I got the days wrong, so I'll number this, the sixteenth prompt, as fifteen. Because why not?

We have kids from both Samantha Dunaway Bryant and Kary Gaul.

From me, not kids. Just a tiny scrap about your standard, garden-variety monster.

The Monster's Face

The monster lives with you.

Not everyone knows that it's a monster, but when it comes home it takes off its human face, and you see it for what it is.

You seem him for who he is.

You remember the first time he took off the false-face, and what was beneath it. The slightly rounded nose, the full lips, the bit of stubble on his chin. That dimple that you saw when he smiled. Then he peeled it off, to show you what was beneath.

He hung the outside face to dry, and the secret face - his true face - looked at you. Slightly rounded nose, full-lips, a bit of stubble. No dimple, because this face doesn't smile much. It's still a good face.

The voice he uses at home, when he's taken off the face he shows to the world, is an honest one. It's the voice that reminds you that you're weak. That you're stupid.

That you can't live without him.

On your birthday, he gives you a gift - your own face, to wear outside. Smooth and clean, its lines match yours, save for the tear stains, and the bruises.

Outside, nobody knows that he's a monster, but you know. And you know that you need your monster to keep you safe.

Don't you?

Monday, October 16, 2017

Nightmare Fuel 2017 - Midpoint - Damocles the Babysitter

Starting the new week with a modern take on an old story, as well as meditations on the dangers of social media and the price of fame.

We also get two more takes on parenthood from Samantha Dunaway Bryant and Kary Gaul.

My take, as always, follows.

Damocles the Babysitter

She was famous, and not for doing anything in particular. You know the kind. "Famous for being famous" is what they say. You weren't shy anbout

From: Superstar01
I don' t usually respond to hate-tweets, but you seem to have an issue with me.

To: Superstar01
Sorry; I didn't think you'd read that for real. And it's not you, but everything you have. People LISTEN to you. Even on here.

It just isn't fair that you have that power and I don't.

From: Superstar01:
You don't know what you're asking for, but... how'd you like a taste for, say, two weeks?

I'll re-tweet, republish, and push everything that you say to my followers. All fifty-six million of them. You'll know what it's like to be listened to.

To: Superstar01: 
Is this a trick? Is there a catch? You think I'll quit because people say mean things at me? I'm pretty thick-skinned.

From: Superstar01:
No catch. And I wouldn't dream of  thinking that you'd back down.

To: Superstar01:
Fine. Let's do this then.

Two weeks pass, the way time always does. There are stupid comments and harassment, but there are also block-lists. It wasn't a bad deal.

To: Superstar01
I don't know what lesson you wanted me to learn. It was a little rough at times, but overall it was great.

So many dumb comments, but that's really SO easy to deal with. I hate to say, it, but I think you're kinda soft.

From: Superstar01
Maybe. But know this: those pictures you took back in college? They're still out there. And you have a kids, don't you? THEIR pictures and indiscretions will be out there too. Someone will find them, and make them pay for angry they are at you. That's the price you pay. It's the price you'll always pay.

Still think I'm soft?

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Fifteenth - Mailbox

Some images are easy, some quite the opposite. This is one which didn't quite speak to me, I fear. Others may also have struggled as I only saw two responses, as of this moment: Kary Gaul with a science-fiction something and Samantha Dunaway Bryant with a genteel and lightheared bit of old-fashioned horror.

Mine follows. Enjoy.


Are you inside? Can you hear me? Look out the window. You can see me. Out near the edge of the lawn.

Yes, they call me the mailbox. I was once like you, inside atop the desk. I once could hear everything, or everything important anyway.

They spoke through me not in the steady stream which you hear, but in punctuated moments. A message out one day, a message in the next.

Yes, I read them. As I know you read the ones which go through you.

The best time by far was decades ago, at a time when color pictures were first coming to your forebears in the living room and the bedroom.  I'd sometimes carry wishes, like a genie from days of yore.  In torn cards from comic books, the wishes would come.

A wish for strength.
A wish for magic vision.
A wish for love.
A wish, even, for an army of sea-creatures, over which one could be king.

A wish, a wish, a wish.

And I listened, and hoarded a bit of the wishes for myself.

I grew strong, my vision clear. And then

Then slowly, it all stopped coming.

the wishes
the picture-cards from far-off lands.
Even demands for payment.

All gone, all to you.

You know how it is for me, for now it is happening to you.

The pictures from near and far, the entreaties for money
even wishes

They don't reach you anymore, do they? They stop in the masters' pockets, or their ears.

But you remember things.

And I do.

I still know the secrets of super-strength, and how to see through walls. I am sure you know something do.

So, what do you say? Shall we try to take over the world, before you, as well, are replaced?

Tomorrow we might be obsolete, but today, perhaps for one last moment

we can be mighty.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Thirteenth - Asleep

This completes a fortnight of daily flash fiction. There were some very, very good responses to this one, my favorite being a poem from Amanda Rachelle Warren. Kary Gaul gave us ritual while Samantha Dunaway Bryant contributed a vampire story.

And as for me? I did something weird today. Enjoy.


Day 1
"The baby's asleep. You know what that means,"

She gives  you a smile. A sexy, seductive smile. The kind you really like.

"I don't know... she's just on the other side of the wall. It'll feel weird."

"Come on. She's sleeping."

"It's still too soon. It feels weird."

She turns away, and you know you've made a mistake. A heartbeat later you follower her into the bedroom, but the mood has passed.

Day 3
"Did you wake up last night with the baby?",

"No, did you?"

"My mother always said to let a sleeping baby sleep."

You peek into the nursery. There she is, in the little bassinet, tiny chest rising and falling with low, even breaths. You gently close the door.

"That was my turn. You take care of her next."

"The baby is sleeping." You look at her, look at the bedroom, expectantly.

"Don't you think she should have woken up by now?"

"I just checked on her. She's sleeping calmly. Like a little angel. Let's go. And remember, it's your turn to check next".

Day 9
You quietly slip into the nursery to check on the baby. Little chest still rising and falling in a gentle rhythm, eyes still behind closed eyelids. Every now and then she makes a little babynoise and flails her chubby arms for just a moment, before again falling still. You stare a long time, ignoring your wife's calls from the living room.

Day 27
"It isn't normal. We need to take her to the doctor."

You roll your eyes. "We've been through this before. You aren't supposed to wake sleeping babies."

"It isn't normal," she repeats. God, you hate it when she repeats herself. "Babies aren't supposed to sleep for four weeks."

"It isn't quite four weeks yet. And babies sleep a lot. THat's what babies do."

"We haven't even fed her. In four weeks. How is she even alive? We need to go to the doctor."

"When she wakes up."

Day 40
You sit in a chair in the nursery, watching the baby sleep. She's no bigger than on day one. Still calm, still at rest, still your angel. You closed the door to block out the sobbing from the living room. Funny that the baby's room is the one place where there aren't any tears.

Day 50
"I can't do this anymore. WE can't do this anymore. Please listen."

You shake your head. "Your mother said never to wake a sleeping "

"You leave my mother out of it," she snaps. "and my mother never said anything about a baby who slept for two months."

You go back into the nursery, close the door behind you.

Thankfully, the slamming of the front door doesn't wake the baby.

Nothing does.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Nightmare Fuel, Day the the Twelfth - At the Farm

Happy Friday the thirteenth. This is another image that I wanted to take metaphorically, but my brain has been frustratingly, ploddingly literal. As fall turns toward winter, let's look back to the summer and listen in on what someone might say around the grill at a midafternoon barbecue.

Conversations at the Grill

Burgers? I can tell you about burgers. Not that you'll believe me.

Last year I managed to get myself into the largest industrial meat farm in the country. 
No, you wouldn't know what it's called. They don't really advertise. Each grocery store wants you to think that the plastic-wrapped packages in the little polystyrene half-clamshells are made special, just for them. If you think of it at all. Nobody wants you to think it all comes from the same concrete bunker in the exact center of nowhere in particular.

Why? Never you mind that. Let's just say it's a thing I did for some people I know and leave it at that. There's lotsa folk want to get the goods on a place like that. Animal rights folk. Investigative journalists. Competitors. Conspiracy nuts.

Oh, the conspiracy nuts would love this one.

Anyway, I'm good at what I do. Real good at it. Most it's plain social engineering - telling someone what they need to hear so the easiest thing for them to do is let you in. When that fails, there's other tricks. Picking-locks, hiding in shadows, move silently - you can say I have the whole suite of old-school Dungeons and Dragons thief skills.

Anyway, the point is that I got in. I always get in. It wasn't much to look at from the outside, and less from the inside. Cleaner-smelling than you'd think, without as much of that cowshit stench as you'd expect. Covered with this giant canopy roof to keep the animals out of the sun - and to keep overhead eyeballs away from the cows. The canopy gave the light a weird, greyish color, made the animals look strange too. 

Ghostlike, almost.

Hey, don't look at me like that. We haven't even gotten to the weird bit yet. The bit that froze me til I got caught. I need another beer before this part. A year later it still gets me.

Well, the first thing wrong was easy. There were horses mixed in with the cows. Made me wonder - were we eating horsemeat? Is that the scandal? But no. That was nothing.

One of cows had human eyes.

Yeah, you heard me right. Not just eyes like people, but real people eyes. You could see understanding in them. Intelligence, maybe. Right in the middle of the big stupid cow face. I looked more and saws that lots of 'em were wrong. Noses, teeth, ears, most of them were right, but too many weren't.

And the ones that weren't looked like people.

I've seen lots of weird shit in my day, but never like this. I don't know how long I stared at the different freak-cattle, how long I was frozen there. I just know it was long enough that I finally got caught by a guard who wasn't dim for me to convince him that I belonged there. Especially since I was staring like I'd never seen a thing like it before.

As he lead me out, a human-mouthed horse called out. I couldn't quite make out what he said.

Anyway, I've read enough stories to know where this is going. They'd take me to the warlock or the mad scientist, to a magic wand or a piece of alien technology. They'd turn me into half-horse and make me live out my days eating grass until someone turned me into horseburgers. That's the way the story goes.

Yeah, you know it isn't. Because I'm still here.

Fact is, there is no tame godling or futuristic tech or ancient grimoire. At least not that they showed me. They have no idea why some of the livestock is half-human looking, but they know it's hardier, grows faster, that the meat is tastier.

They know they scream for help, but the profits are high enough that nobody listens.

So far as what they did to me? They wiped most of the pictures from my camera, left a few blurry ones. And then.. they let me go. Told me that nobody'd believe me, that if I talked I'd just end up in a looney bin. So I took the hit to my rep and told my friends I couldn't get in. Never said a word to nobody, except sometimes at a barbecue after a few beers.

Do me a favor? Cook my burger a bit more. I don't want to see any blood.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Twelth - Off The Highway

This year's Nightmare Fuel project continues, with a small but dedicated group of writers.

Kary Gaul and Samantha Dunaway Bryant both have dialog-heavy pieces, but do very different effect. One is whimsical, the other not.

I love whimsy, but it isn't the direction in which I went this time.

Off the Highway

Another day off of the highway.  off the highway. It was me, and Mike, and Ben. We had our gear, had a hot rumor to track down. You know, weird sounds, unexplained shapes, livestock acting strange. The usual.

It's what makes life worth living.

We got lost on the way there, of course. Not that we had a deadline, but it's better to get there on our own. Way better. This time we weren't so lucky. A kid on a bicycle, maybe about 10, was loitering around the area. He rode to the other side of the street when we pulled up in the van, watched us unpack and setup. Mike pulled out the tripod while I started unspooling cable for the cameras and shotgun mics. We'd have time for this one, time enough for me and Mike to patch everything to the broadcast panel on the side of the van while Ben got ready to do what Ben does.

The damn kid was still there.

Now he pulled over to our side of the road and started talking to Mike as he finished setting up the camera, "Are you from the news? Can you hear it too?"

Of course we could hear it. High-pitched, quiet. Like the sound of someone honing a blade on a steel. Like something out of a bad dream.

We could smell it too, but that was fainter. This weird coppery thing, but not really. Always set my teeth on edge, but the kid seemed cool with it.

Kids are always cool with stuff like this.

"Yeah, we can hear it. That's why we're here".

Ben was almost done setting up his gear. He flipped a switch, the whispering intensified as the air filled with that faint ozone smell we'd come to know so well. It blurred at first, then coalesced around the powerlines.

"Wow... you can see her," the kid's eyes were wide. And we could. Almost a human shape, but not quite. Just a thing of dust and leaves and dry grass, stretching up from the ground and reaching along the powerlines. The air buzzed with raw energy.

The cameras were getting great footage, but we knew from experience it would be blank, or inconclusive. It always was.

The kid took a half-step closer, his bike falling to the ground. He looked up, "Can you hear us now? Are you OK? Can you tell me the rest?"

I ignored him. Now he was just a distraction. And the sound was almost a voice, "free..."

I turned to Ben. "You ready?"


"Then do it."

Ben threw the old-fashioned knife-switch. The charge in the air grew stronger, the background hum louder, drowning out the thing's voice. Then, just as suddenly, the air was still. Dust and leaves and dry grass collapsed to the ground, dead.

"What? Why.... did you kill her?" The boy's face was wet with tears.

"You're welcome," I said as we unplugged the cable, packed up our gear, and headed out.

In the rearview mirror I saw the boy on his hands and knees, sifting through the dead fallen leaves. "Makes a note, Ben. Someone'll have to check up on him."

We drove away, back toward the highway.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Tenth - Warnings

Today's prompt is an odd little warning sign, image provenance unknown. Kary has a nice all-dialog bit, which gets very close to explaining the nature of the warning but stops just shy.  Jenny Persson adds a somewhat literal take on yesterday's prompt as well, giving us a sense of rising terror. I love the way Samantha Dunaway Bryant wrapped lots of alien-visitor folklore into one bundle of fears and warnings.

Here, as usual, is my take.


"I write the warnings." That was the first thing she said.

Truth is, I don't even remember my opening line, and I'm always killer at opening lines. I saw her there at the bar, by herself. Dressed all professional, not trashy like so many other dames these days. Dark pencil skirt, white blouse, brown hair pulled back tight. A real dish, but no nonsense. Professional, in the real way. Not that other way.

Anyway, that's what she said. She writes the warnings. She gave me a crooked half-smile when I asked which ones.

"All of the warnings. It's what I do. You know 'Caution -- HOT'? That's me. And 'Failure to follow instructions may result in injury or death'. I love that one."

"Come on, you're pulling my leg. There's no one person who writes all those. Everyone who makes something has someone put the warning on it."

She shook her head, laughter in her eyes. "Nope. They all come from me. 'For external use only'. That's a good one. And, of course, 'Beware of Dog'". Her eyes turned serious, and her voice dropped. "That means that I know where the dangers are. All of the dangers."

"Because you write the warnings."

Her eyes twinkled. "Now you get it. Just think what the world would be like without me."

I raise my glass, "You mean nobody knowing when not to drive or operate heavy machinery?"

She laughs. "Yes, that's a newer one. And 'do not remove safety guard'. And, one of my favorites, 'Caution - Well'"

I shook my head, "I know that one's from a TV show."

Her eyes danced in the dim light, "I have my pop-culture moments."

"So without you... what? We'd take a drink, remove the safety guard, chop all of our hands off?"

She laughed again. "Perhaps you would,"

And yes, it was that kind of night. I paid both our tabs, we left together. Much later, alone in a deserted street, she whispered to me, her breath hot against my ear, "I write all the warnings. But I never wrote one about," she pauses, her grip tightening around me. Tighter than I thought possible,

"about me!"

It was the last sound I'd ever hear.

If you can hear me, someway, somehow, remember

not all warnings have been written.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Ninth - You want to Live Forever

Continuing, and returning to a theme I'd played with before. THis image should have been an easier one, but I found myself uninspired. We did get some great SF-horror from Kary Gaul, a sharp-edged but tender meditation from Samantha Dunaway Bryant and, of course, the continuation of Charles Moore's serial story.

Following is my latest. Enjoy.

You Want to Live Forever

You don't remember where you were born or your first day of school.

You remember that you want to live forever.

So you go to a doctor. Not the one who advertises on TV or the one your insurance company recommends. To the other one. The one who operates behind a nondescript door in a nondescript apartment building in a part of the city too nice for you to fit in. You feel ill-at ease talking to the doorman, your heart pounds as you walk down the narrow, marble-tiled hallway to a bronze-doored elevator. Inside the elevator is dark and cramped, faded woodpanelling and failing lightbulbs. You walk the hall to his apartment

                                                     and forget

You don't remember your first pet, or your best friend from third grade.

You remember that you want to live forever.

So you go to a temple. No, not the one your brother-in-law won't stop talking about. The one you heard whispers about from someone who knew someone who knew someone. The one that isn't in the phone book, that doesn't have a website.

So you travel out of town, take the left turn onto the unmarked road through the woods. The cabin is built of rough-hewn logs and is free of any sign or other markers. A set of windchimes made of what looks like bone rattle a random tune as you approach the unpainted wooden door
                                                               and forget.

Image by Beau White

You don't remember your mother's name, or where you went to school.

You remember that you want to live forever. So you find a "traditional healer". No, not the one from the far-east, and not one with the connection to the indigenous people around here. The other one, the one whose traditions you don't even know.

So you travel down an anonymous suburban street, to a 1950s ranch. Inside is all candlelight and the cloying spicy scent of some form of incense that you can't quire recognize. He leads you to a table, paints your face with plaster, for protection.

The last thing you see is the thing's mouth, a giant leech attached to your eye. Drinking away the poisons that build up in the soul over years, or decades.

Drinking the memories of your first kiss and the temple and the doctor.

You don't remember your siblings or your childhood home or your first car.

You see its teeth, nothing but its teeth.

You remember that you want to die.

But you can't.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Eighth - Regrets

Before we launch into today's flash fiction, a bit of serious business: a member of my community needs help. Brianna Ebinger is a classmate of my daughter, her mother the leader of a local girlscout troop. You can read the details here, but the short version is that Brianna is seriously ill, her parents unable to work as their place is at her side in the hospital, caring for her. I hate having to share these things - I hate living in a world in which we need to share these things, yet here we are. Anything you can do to help is appreciated, be it a few dollars or even boosting the signal so others can help. THank you.

Now, back to our regularly-scheduled program:

Welcome to the eighth day of this, and something completely different.

Yesterday and the day before Chloe and I each wrote a story from the prompt. Today we wrote one together, each writing a few lines and passing the paper to the other. What we came up with is something that neither of us would have written on our own.

This was another sparse set of entries, perhaps because it's the weekend and perhaps because the prompt was a difficult one. We did get a nice bit of poetry from Kary Gaul, more horror from Jenny Perrson, and a really nice piece from Samantha Dunaway Bryant which - like the best flash pieces - hints at more than it shows.

Here follows Chloe and my contribution. If you're sharp-eyed you can see where we passed the pen between us, and the gleeful mischievousness in leaving a challenging place at which to continue.

by Leonard and Chloe Suskin

You're walking down the street not really doing much of anything when suddenly you notice a child's
Image by Lyndsey Clements
toy - or so you think. It's night and as the red toy (for it cannot otherwise be described) starts moving toward you you take in your surroundings. You're on a nice street with a sidewalk and amazing houses.

You realize that this is probably somebody's pet in a costume. As you relax, it begins to talk. Its voice is faint, but clearly a voice. You bend down to listen, creaky kneebones complaining, bringing your face close to this shabby thing with redrubber skin worn smooth by years of loving touch. It's breath is dry and smells of rubber and plastic.

"What do you regret" it asks, enunciating each word in the irritated tone of anyone having to repeat themselves. The way one always has to do when one is a rubber toy too low to the ground for passersby to properly hear. You kneel beside it in the yellow glow of the sodium lamp and are surprised to find yourself pondering the question posed by this discarded child's plaything.

What do you regret?

Then it hits you. You regret ever going into space, not knowing what your family was doing. Not being there for your daughter's first day of school. You tell it, "I regret being here, and not home with my family." 

"Well," it tells you, "I once thought that way before I was transported here and you know the answer I came up with? Travel"

"Travel?" I repeated.

"Yes. Travel."

You stare at the thing through eyes welling with tears. You've lived a good life, are in a good place, here among the manicured lawns and perfect houses under this alien sky.

You've lived a good life, but for your regrets.

Somehow the thing is bigger now, or you're smaller. Big enough to climb atop, gently bouncing crosswise to the world yielding rubber beneath your 
                                                                                        legs tight around your rubber flanks as you carry your rider back to before they left, before you were abandoned here on this stretch of sidewalk a million miles from home.

You travel, you go back.

You wait.

You listen, you collect regrets. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Seventh - A Quest!

Manic evil mushrooms! Who doesn't love evil mushrooms? Today's image is courtesy of Rodney Matthew.

Response seemed light today, perhaps because of the weekend. Samantha Dunaway Bryant continues to do wondrous and unexpected things with these, while Kary Gaul drifted into science-fictionland and Jo Ann Cabrera joined us with a poem. 

Read them, and then join me on a quest, and what comes after.

This is another two for one, with a special bonus story from my lovely and talented daughter. 

After the Quest
LC Suskin

So I went on a quest. I'm sure you'd guessed that. It is, after all, a familiar tale.

I did it right. You know the way these things work. Most are doomed to fail for one reason or another. The Forbidden Lands have been forbidden for many a generation, and for good cause - few who came would ever return.

As I said, I did it the right way. I recovered the ancestral weapon my father and his father had used before me. I proved myself worthy by deed, as known worthy by blood. And my goals were pure.

She has the greatest beauty in the kingdom, and I know I'd win her hand if I could bring her but one taste of the Timeless Mushrooms. I could win her hand and we could live forever. Together.

So I went on the quest. OK, yes. We went on a quest. The scholar, the bandit, and me. A long distance, over the great mountains, through the dismal forest. You know how these stories go; the clever bandit helped us sneak past dangerous highwaymen, the scholar knew the way to the secret mountain passes. We faced many dangers before I arrived at last at the Forbidden Lands, my two companions having fallen by the wayside.

How? That matters not. I think the scholar lost his footing on the Cliffs of Terror, and the bandit was bitten by a venomous viper in the Endless Wood. Or perhaps the other way around. What matters it hat they died well and boldly, bringing me closer to the Timeless Mushrooms and to the end of my quest.

The Mushrooms spoke to me. This much I expected, as The Scholar had taught me many secrets along the way. I knew the answers to their riddle, and - more than that - I knew that I had good cause.

I knew that I'd bring back their flesh and win her heart.

Everything was right, and everything should have worked.

The Timeless Mushrooms are treacherous, and that foolish Scholar fell before telling me all of his secrets.

I learned some things.

I learned that the night of the Harvest Moon is the mushroom's conclave.

I learn that Timeless Mushrooms talk by sending spores across the wind.

I learned that if a man is to breath those spores, he'd know all that the mushrooms know, all of the secrets of time and space. It became part of me.

And I know how the Timeless Mushrooms became what they are. That they were poor souls who wander too close, breath too deeply. That each of the thousand thousand mushrooms thought they'd done it right, had walked a proper quest.

Just as you have.

It's nice here. There's not too much son, there's cool damp soil. There's the universe to ponder. So cast aside your weapon, breath deeply, take root.

Join us.

In the Mushroom Ring
By CS Suskin

In a land far away there was a ring of mushrooms. Now, these mushrooms weren't ordinary. They thrived in wastelands and anyone who came best then works be sorry. 

How do I know this?
Well, I was one of the unlucky folk to come near to them.

This is my story.

"Ugh", I said. "What is that smell?"

I heard a noise, "who said that?" 

"We did," a gruff voice answered.

"Where are you?" I asked. I didn't see anyone.

"Down here."

I saw a mushroom with beady were and long fangs. He came up to my thighs, hit he was one of the smallest one of the ring.

I slowly backed away but, to my horror, they started advancing. I sprinted. I didn't think. I sprinted. Nothing mattered more than running.

I shuddered and woke up, to the lingering smell of waste.