The scream of a blue jay broke through the shadow of the trees, a war cry as it battled a squirrel in the yard she pushed her daughter by. She paused to dab at her forehead with a silk scarf while her toddler cooed at the squirrel. She enjoyed this street, with its trees so old they cracked the sidewalks, sheltering the stately homes that carved out a well-manicured niche from the old-growth forest.
Periwinkles tumbled down the lawn to kiss the base of the towering tree the squirrel skittered up for safety. Sweet little flowers the color of the dress she wore, that woman he introduced her to at the party. She couldn’t remember her name. She looked so much like the woman on the news, the one that went missing.
She dismissed the thought. Her child thought the billowing white flowers were popcorn. She smiled at the thought of telling him when he came home, it was cute enough that maybe he would listen. Where would she be without him? Could she be without him? Could she do that to their daughter?
A flash of light on fluttering leaves startled her. She was embarrassed at how high she jumped. The leaves were pretty though, flitting in and out of the light. They reached the park, she hadn’t noticed. The clang of the iron gate reminded her of prison bars, but it would keep her child safe while she relaxed.
She sat on the fading bench and browsed her phone, looking for a podcast to enjoy. She tried one of her favorites, always good for distraction. A few minutes into it, she closed it. She tried reading earlier, she already knew she couldn’t focus on a plot. She decided to watch the birds.
The birds are in usually in pairs this time of year. Male birds preening and dancing, showing all their flash and none of their substance, female birds in awe of their skills and flattered with their attention, to be later disappointed when they find themselves chained to the nest.
A tiny white pebble caught her eye, reminding her of the tooth she found wedged between the boards on the porch this morning. She decided to push her daughter on the swing. Maybe the laughter of children would give her the peace she needed.
Tarot deck: Archeon. Tarot Prompt: Queen of Pentacles, reversed. Interpretation: A sensual woman, gentle but strong. She loves beauty, pleasure, walk is in the light of prosperity with dignity and grace. A patient, compassionate listener. Reversed: Falling into despair. Sharp, cutting, regret. Guilt, trapped in past misdeeds, bad choices, falling. Rather than a wealth of joys, narrowed in focus to a singular intrusive thought.
Is it just me or do you miss getting drunk around a campfire and telling true ghost stories without a care in the world for such things as “facts” or “credible sources”? Okay, sometimes the campfire was the living room coffee table, but there was always beer.
I was very happy to discover that I could eavesdrop on someone else’s barstool ramblings of the mysteries of the universe, complete with tangents and amusing life stories. So, shout out to the Rigor Mortis Paranormal podcast for the nostalgia, and for the inspiration for this little bit of flash.
The tap, tap of my shoes cheers me, and it sets my grit against the crumbling buildings that have too many street lights broken. The shadows have things larger than rats and stray dogs, I know that, but I am vigilant.
He still he grabs me, and it doesn’t work when I twist my arms the way the self-defense videos showed, and I have no time to react before the soul crushing whump thud crunch of the plastic lined trunk traps me. I can barely hear the engine over my panic as regrets scream in my ears and ‘I told you so’s laugh at me in the dark.
After the eternity of a nightmare, a hand comes for me, jerks my hair hard enough to tumble me crashing to the dirt and gravel below. Slow, sensual laughter runs a steady beat under something that must be my screams, can’t breathe, taste blood in my throat and maybe I will scream myself to death.
Stones claw my legs and back as I grab his hands above my head, trying to keep my scalp from peeling away like it wants to, and he drags me.
I see an old barn and feel sudden hope I might be rescued, relieved and excited, but I see there is no help around except for three frightened children. They can’t be hurt, I pray for them, that they would not be seen by him and would not follow us as the dark woods at the edge of the field that swallow me and the monster. I pray for all of us, to anyone that will hear.
Brambles and sharp broken sticks tear at me, and will it be the man who kills me or some snake? My body will not rest in a soft lined casket, and my soul screams because I know I will be eaten by squirming things and creatures will chew on my bones.
I stop thinking when I see the wolves. The largest one stands with his eyes locked with the monster, his low song of anger smothering the man’s chilling laughter.
I can’t tell if I fainted or not and a mist is forming right where the man can’t see. A woman in the mist reaches her hand to me, pours into me, and I am swimming, falling, flying, but also my body is moving, and I am somehow free of him and standing up.
I feel a line of strength running through my body and it dances and a flick sends my leg under the man, sends him tumbling through the air, but cat-like he lands in a crouch.
I start moving, I see the flash of silver in his hand, but I am already disarming him. Then, somehow, I have my hand in his hair, holding his face locked on mine. I raise a hand and strike as if to punch, but there is a sliding wet pop and my fingers are curled inside the sockets of his eyes.
He screams, part of me screams with him in revulsion and terror, the wolves howl in delight, and I smile someone else’s smile with someone else’s satisfaction in my heart, and I step back to watch the wolves leap in and carry him off into the dark.
I flick my wrist and a wave of something within me rushes down the broken trail, setting broken things back into place, pushing the blood into the earth. The moment of horror erases itself from the land.
With a sigh she steps from me, and the woman in the mist smiles. A voice of starlight whispers through me as she speaks, “Child, you have done well and being weaker is not your fault, but you will be stronger if you find the warrior in your soul. Let your instincts guide you. I might not be around to hear your prayers next time.”
Then she blows me a kiss, wiggles her fingers goodbye, and with a parting flick of her wrist I suddenly know how to find my way out of the woods and to safety.
Horseradish. That would be perfect, just enough to give the other flavors a bit more punch. Usually she prefers pork seasonings, but the occasional hint of something good with red meat helps bring out the earthier tones of the dish.
Grandma would disapprove of such additions to her recipes, designed to be simple and enhance the natural flavor. Unfortunately, the difficulty of the hunt lately made it so that meat was rare, every effort must me made to maximize enjoyment. The prey were learning to protect themselves much better than they did in Grandma’s day.
She hummed as she worked, slicing turnips while a thigh soaked in the marinade. So many people undervalued a good roasted turnip. The flavor was so strong when raw, you would never expect it to turn so savory and mellow.
The repetitive task allowed her mind to wander, and she considered the satisfying catch and kill behind her. This one had been taken in his sleep, always better for the meat. She didn’t know why horror movies and the like talked about fear enhancing the flavor of meat, in her experience it made it taste a little off. This one never saw a thing coming, he was nice and cozy in his sleeping bag.
The park rangers are cracking down like wildfire, but they don’t know how to track something like her. They look for their trails on the ground, not in the trees. They would be aware, and so would the campers, but there will always be one or two that consider themselves to be safe enough to stray.
We were born when the land was ice and fire. We watched ancient forests rise from melting snow and trickle across mountains. We watched with the trees when humanity came in long boats, gaunt with hunger.
They followed iron and fertile lands to plow under for their own use, driving away wildlife that would share and help nourish the land, as it was always meant to be.
They invaded our tunnels to steal our metals, forging them into weapons to use against us within our own homes. In turn, we found their young to be quite tasty, especially when their life force was still pure, and their meat sweetened with candies.
We are children of the earth itself, and tied to her energies, her lifecycle, the rise and fall of all creatures and plants around us. We are made of them: the predator, the prey, the herb.
The sweet, ever-reaching lives and souls of plants, in constant competition for the sun’s love, choking each other in shadows with subtle chemical warfare, tasting of the sun-boiled passion of the very patient in their strategy for survival, death only giving way to a new form of competition as they unite with souls that consume them.
Becoming one with hearts that beat the wild passions of hunter and hunted from birth to death, one with an ancient dance only somewhat younger than the moon, one as passionate in death as it is in life.
The grim fire in their being is the fire in our eyes, the tempest at the core of our mother’s horrible heart.
When humans came, we took on the flavor of their lives. We changed, we shaped to include them and their new role in the dance of the lives around them. We embraced their passion for war and precious metals and stone, we took on the shapes of the terrible horrors whispered of in the dark.
It was they who shaped us, stern and ominous in form, they who needed us to cause their children to feel uncertain terrors in the dark, that they may implore the love of gods and therefore be saved in their fear. We performed our duties out of love for our place in the world around us.
But they came for us, and we warred and struggled until my kin were battered down to scattered scraps of civilization that chose to hide rather than continue fighting.
But we still know our place in the world, we have never forgotten our purpose, and we continue to fulfil the needs of a creator too afraid to admit the depths of their need for darkness.
So it is that we have always been here, watching from shadows as mankind conquered lands and turned them into rising monuments of stone and steel, machines that feed on the dead of giants and vomit viscous poisons into the waters of the earth.
The violent hearts of mankind gave way to a greed and desire to dominate that drove many earth spirits into another realm entirely. My kin in our various forms often choose to stay. The dribbling blood of ancient reptiles is no poison to us.
Though we find we are at another danger. It seems our forms are now intimate with lore of an age that is fading, and we are fading with it, becoming no more than mere shadows, easily dismissed as flickering in the lights.
Worse, innocent meat untainted by the chemical foods of mortals is becoming difficult to find, and children are not as afraid of shadows, not as easy to lead into the dark, not as willing to accept sweets. Many do not even see us, dismissing our touch as a chill.
We’ve had to adapt or perish. We are learning to tolerate the disruptive energies of the machines and poisons, allowing us to venture closer into cities.
Chemical meats tainted with addiction and pollution still weaken us, but their darkened energies allow us to consume fear. When a human dies in the sweet agony of abject terror, we gain the ability to absorb the same nourishment from the atmosphere, as well as the savory and tangy notes of despair, guilt, rage.
We hide from the sun in alleys and under highways, areas where the underside of the city begins to corrode and decay.
We follow addicts and prostitutes, angry teenagers with their colorful hieroglyphics, curious children wandering in the edges of their school yards where weeds overgrow lots full of junk and treasure.
They are easy targets, those who are willing to wander.
We follow them into shadows where we whisper to them to act on the dark aspects of their own hearts. We whisper that their greatest terrors are about to come true.
Their souls see us as they would fear us to be. We stand formless in the shadows, but we take on the shapes of their nightmares.
We gain strength, and if we are lucky, we can manipulate the human into death. Only just enough meat needs to be consumed as can pass off for the work of rodents, then as that death slowly decays into the shadows and the legends grow of hauntings and missing people, we grow strong enough to touch the world again.
The lovers make the sweetest meats, as we toy with them and make them turn on each other, pushing them to preform atrocities that will forever torment them in the early hours of the morning. We pit brother against brother, mother against child. A lovely aroma of lingering despair that helps the area to grow fertile and refreshing.
Akin to the way that human tribes turn a forest into land for only their own consumption, we can now spice the air of cities for our own desires. Eventually, someone will die in terror, and we will claim that victory as our own and reap the benefits of the magic it can fuel.
Some of us are changing again. Some of us grow to hunger the despair we bring to a haunted life more than the sweetness of a pure heart, and they find they can move even further from the shadows, and it is easier to touch the world.
Once again, we will change to suit you, to fulfil your ever-present desire for endless sorrow and desolation. We will fulfil our purpose. We will do anything for you.
We love you, and the art you bring the world.
P.S. – a longer repost. Still having technical issues, am thinking when my charger died it may have been caused by a power surge that caused boring stuff to not work right. Starting to feel settled back in to Tulsa, but will need to recover from moving and home repair costs before I can replace the laptop.
This was inspired by a bit of word art using words gleaned from Poe’s The Raven, by the way.
I couldn’t sleep with the need to see you, so I have come. You’ve held me captive from the moment we met, my mind is a prison dancing with your image, your song, your laugh. My thoughts know nothing else.
You are an artist in your seduction, flirting and flickering around me. Preening, then darting off coyly. You trap me with your enchantment, like a nymph, a will-o-the-wisp.
You gaze at me gently, your skin pales as your love trickles from your fingers in delicate lacework of red, pools at your feet that shiver with every drip, every tiny giggling plink.
Your graceful fingers reach out to touch me, then shy away, beckoning and flirting, the smile glimmering in your eyes as you pout and pretend to be upset, candlelight shining from your manacles like the brightest gems.
But soon you give way to me, relaxing against me in our embrace, weak to your desire. Your hips sway to the rhythm of your chains across the concrete, your movements rich with your love of turning all the world into a song as we dance together in this prison I have come to love.
P.S. – So we moved back to Tulsa (sigh), and discovered our “house sitters” left us with massive projects like dealing with where they moved a washer with water in it to slowly leak all over my daughter’s bedroom floor the entire time we were gone. Yes, there is mold. This is only one example. My point: looks like I’ll be busy with repairs over writing, the reposts will go on for a bit.
In the shadows he paused, listening. He took a steady, silent breath, scenting her out. He tasted the air with his tongue, confirming, seeking direction. He walked into a room full of polished wood and the scent from old books. The well-oiled leather chair barely whispered when she turned to face him, a look of surprise not yet upon her face.
He smiled. “You are vile, corrupt, heartless, and doomed. You stand on your shiny money and claim credit for work that is not yours; you lie to the people. You are a stain. You have convinced the city that your generosity and community outreach are responsible for the safety of our children but it is ME. I am the reason these streets are safe, ME. You lie and use your wealth to hide your true nature, your crimes, and you will be destroyed for the good of all.”
She tilted her head before she replied. “A monologue? Are you serious?” She sighed and stood up, brushing the wrinkles from her slacks. She took a step toward him, slinking as her heels traced the winding vines along the carpet. “You are motivated by instinct, a drive you barely understand yourself. An attempt to right wrongs done to you that can not be corrected, over and over and always with fail. You are little more than an animal. You deserve no credit.”
He did not anticipate this. She didn’t seem the least bit frightened, and it was beginning to chill him. She seemed to notice, and the way she moved her head as she looked him up and down reminded him of a snake. “Did you really think that if you sought out those with few ethics, that you would not find one with a darkness to match your own? Sweetheart, I am no mere white-collar criminal or one of the thugs you’ve been whetting your bloody appetite on. I’m just as much of a monster as you are, only more intelligent.”
“I am not a monster! I am a hero!”
“Tell that to McClary’s widow. Or the Johnston kids. They don’t have anyone left.”
He had no response, growing more pale as he noticed the silencer on the gun she had apparently been holding all along. “Did you think you were the one hunting me when you saw my press release? It was easy to draw you here. You are blatant, predictable, and drawing too much attention to my neighborhood.” He stood, waiting for her next words, as her gun hissed and the wall behind him splintered.
Here it is. If you’ve been following me for a while, long enough to see the rising obsession with my new camcorder, you’ve surely realized this was going to happen. A couple of weeks ago, I posted a bit of flash called Stolen Apples, that I now present to you as a brief film.
I almost lost the trail. Here it is, a bit of pink thread, the right shade for the child’s skirt on a tangle of rusted junk. The sun threatens to set, warm light giving a soft glow to the glitters of glass along the sides of the alley. Which way?
The old man returns, stepping out from the shadows. I suddenly smell old paper and hear something rustling. The stern lines on his face are softer, looking oddly gentle. Tired, maybe.
“I’m close, I can feel it.” I say.
He looks down the alley, glancing over his shoulder at the decrepit house with the creaking swing set, then back ahead of himself, his eyes resting on a bus stop’s advertisement, some hotline number for those in crisis. “You need to know where to go.”
“We’ll find her. She went one way or the other, she wouldn’t have had a lot of time before dawn to get to her mama.”
Pa smiled softly, “Well, when you find it, it will feel like you’ve been there before.” He’s gone again. He seems to be fading. Doesn’t seem to make as much sense as he used to. Unless he means that’s part of their magic he told me about. That charming thing they do.
I look at the old swing set. I bet the little leech used to play on that. I step carefully through the cut fence. I can feel them. This place hums with suck, a sickly aura that saps you right down.
I look through the little broken window on the door, down a hall stained dark and trashed by squatters. For a second, I hear a woman screaming, and have a flash, a weird impression of a beautiful woman standing in the middle of the hallway, a child hiding in the corner behind her, the woman holding a baseball bat, her face distorted with rage and hatred. Must be haunted.
I enter the hall, start looking around for places you might be able to hide from the sun. Basement seems too obvious a choice to really be safe, but I’m not so sure these things run on a fully working brain. They seem kind of like animals, might be working on instinct alone, brain trashed when they stop being human. Steps are probably in the kitchen.
Kitchen seems familiar. Did I dream of this tile? That’s right. The old man told me. The right place will feel like deja-vous. I pull out my Maglite and start down the stairs. There they are. Two piles of freshly turned earth. Just like I knew there would be. I grab my stake, and head toward the shallow grave of the bitch monster who killed my wife and daughter, the one I will kill or die trying.
P.S. – This story is a repost, because this week I’ve got my hands full. Remember when my dog passed a couple of months ago? Well, we’ve been worried that Bear, the remaining dog, would be lonely without his wife, so we got him a child bride.
Her name is Lacy, she’s five months old, and she likes me best. I found out later that’s partly because Joe the dog lover hung back for a couple of days to make sure she bonded with me over him, because Bear and Isabelle were his babies even before he met me. So his birthday is today, and for it he got me a puppy.
So, right now there is more learning about dog training going on then writing, but it was nice to re-post this. I have dreams that someday, someone will ask just the right question about this story.
He tells me sometimes, it seems a little like fishing. Selecting the right bait for the kind of fish you want, making sure the environment is non-threatening, pretending to be harmless and appetizing until the hook has already taken hold.
He says it usually feels like tending an orchard, though. Fertilizing the land with lies, the light of his charm and attentions encouraging his grove of admirers to blush and flower. He thought his fruits watered themselves with their own tears while he plucked their heartstrings, speaking to them of love and loneliness, making them feel understood, securing their sympathies with stories of a troubled life.
Not all apples are the same. Some are soft, crumbling across your tongue, their flavor more like mealy sugar water than apple. Some are hard and tart, stinging the tips of the teeth, puckering the mouth to thirst. The best are crisp enough to echo in your ears as you bite, but still give way with a gentle tug. Borne of the blooms of summer, touched by the exciting humming of bees. Young enough to be firm, old enough to be ripe. Juices that stick to your fingers, sweet, heady, earthly; a flavor no candy can ever replicate.
It’s a skill, but not an overly difficult one. Lately, he has found that hosting a podcast gets good results. He writes a character who will do the podcast, gives them a romantic air. A sense of mystery, a sense of humor, and a deep sense of empathy. Teenage girls love a lonely, moody sort of guy. He creates a role and plays it online, gathering an audience tailored to what he’s trying to find.
He drops a few hints of a tragic backstory, then backs a local charity event to show what a great guy he is, so deserving of their compassion. Shows up to the event doing volunteer work, gets approached by girls who just must come meet him in person to tell him how much they understand what he’s going through, to give him their sympathetic ear in the hopes he might hold their hand, mistaking dangerous over-sharing for bonding with someone who truly understands them, needs them as much as they need him.
For the public appearance, he’s found he gets better results with big, sappy eyes. He uses just a bit of dark shadow, a neutral tone only a shade darker than his skin for a sunken look. Only a little brown eyeliner, not black. Don’t overdo it. Make the depression look real, not like a kid playing in mommy’s makeup. “What follows is easy,” He tells me. “Like picking the brightest apple from the tree.”
When her family hears he is a freshman in college (or so he has said for the last decade), doors in her house start slamming. He can provoke a family fight, wait outside and listen for the evidence of her locking herself in her room. The passions of a teenage girl run wild. While her anger is hot, he can approach her window with the promise of escape.
They often resist taking his hand and running off into the night, that first time. He does not worry. He usually has a few girls he can rotate through, driving greater and greater rifts between them and their families. Eventually, one or the other is ready to cut her ties. His efforts cover his tracks, make her disappearance seem logical, something the police don’t question too deeply. By the time he moves on, sometimes he’s harvested three or four. Even then, often a cop never realizes a mother’s panic and fury might hold truth after all.
He doesn’t kill them. If he did that, he would never get the chance to watch them, savoring each stage as they wither. It starts with the first crash of horror, a slight bending of her knees, a reflex as panic comes in. The primal parts of her nature freeze her in posture for flight, her darting eyes hungering for escape even before she understands fully what the danger is. Then, panic fights her dawning truth. The widening of her mouth, the sudden sharp breath as she realizes her lover is offering her as a gift to his father, and she will not be allowed to return home; these moments arouse him.
Then their fear and revulsion, when he forces them to know the glittering world they were born into does not exist, is illusion, that is his favorite part of it all, this spectacular moment when their hearts break and the terror begins.
Their journey doesn’t take as long as he wishes it would. When his father invites over friends and she understands she will be shared with others, her struggles making them laugh or become aroused, he cheers inside. When she starts to ask for the drugs used to keep her subdued, he enjoys pushing the limits of what she is willing to put up with to get more. He smiles as he says he especially loves when they realize how fast they are falling.
Eventually, they learn why some women do the things they do so willingly, why they put up with so much. Because hope is nothing more than an illusion, and he mocks them for ever believing otherwise. When this happens, he is done with them, their education is complete. He sells them, and his “father” and he move on to a new town, to find new toys to play with.
P.S. – This story became my first artsy type attempt at film.