Friday, February 26, 2016

Chores

Turn a very normal task into something sinister.

The smell of ammonia burned Val's nose as she mopped the chamber. The floor was an epoxy enamel, seamless except for the drain in the middle of, which was a saving grace considering her chore. She didn't realize there would be so much - and the mop was old, it hardly made a dent in the mess.

She picked up the mop and put it in the large, yellow industrial bucket, it had already taken on a thick brownish tinge and she had just started. She plopped the heavy mop head into the squeeze, and heaved on the lever, draining most of the excess water out. She plopped and back on the floor and continued her chore, knowing that she was running out of time. The first few strokes actually made a difference, but it wasn't long until she was just smearing red in circles.

Sploosh. Squeeze. Plop. Sploosh. Squeeze. Plop.

"Come, on. Why isn't it working?" she said to herself, sniffling to keep the tears out of her eyes and failing.

Val's arms began shaking as she struggled to continue the routine. She glanced at the clock and a strangled noise of terror gurgled in her throat. Only five minutes.

"Oh, God. Oh, God," she said and tried to force her leaden arms to move faster.

Sploosh. Squeeze. Plop.

The door opened, and Val cried out like a trapped animal. Ben stood in the doorway, he was wearing a butcher's apron, heavy rubber boots up over his knees, and one of those clear, Plexiglas face shields that dentists used to keep spatter off their faces. She could clearly see his face, but her gaze was drawn to the machete in his hand, it was still crusted in gore from the last victim.

"Oh, that's too bad," said Ben. "Well, maybe the next one will do better. If she does, she can go home."

The last sentence was directed over his shoulder. Val caught of glimpse of another young woman bound and gagged watching with huge eyes, filled with horror.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Starcrossed

A firefly falls in love with a star.

January, 5, 2016

Flick tapped the controls with his foreleg, frowning slightly. The meters read everything was still within normal range, but it was pushing the yellow a little sooner than he was comfortable with. He secured the controls and moved to the back of the spacecraft to put on his space suit. He hoped it would be enough to get to her.

His best friend Lars had designed and constructed the suit, grumbling the entire time. Flick didn't mind the grumbling, because he knew Lars would actually do the best possible job. He always did, in spite of all his rough edges. And he'd outdone himself with this one.

It was perfect in every way a firefly could desire. It fit snugly over his exoskeleton and gently puffed oxygen to his spiracles. There were Plexiglas windows for his compound eyes, but also his abdomen to allow him to communicate effectively.

"Man, this is awesome, bud," he said, looking over the suit, which gleamed silver in the sunlight.

“I can’t believe you’re actually going up there,” said Lars as he handed over the suit. He thought the whole endeavor was insane, but would pretty much help Flick do anything, since he'd introduced him to his sister after High School.

Lars didn't always make the best first impression.

He had also helped Flick with the rocket, securing some of the major components, including the fuel. They’d been friends hatching and had been in and out of trouble ever since.

Lars was the only one Flick had told about her.

She was a pulsar.

The whole thing had been something of a drunken gag. Flick had been up pounding beers under a full moon when he’d seen the light flickering from space.

He decided to send a message.

-.-. .- -. / -.-- --- ..- / ... . . / -- . ..--..

Can you see me?

-.-- . ...

Yes.

And it had progressed for years. Sometimes jokes, sometimes telling her about the weather or describing a flower. She would tell him about comets and nebula. And then she stopped talking.

“There’s something wrong, bud. I need to see her. I need to be with her,” said Flick. “Maybe I can help.”

Lars looked at him mutely and then pulled Flick into a tight hug, pounding his thorax with all four of his arms. When he pushed Flick back to arm’s length, he could see that his friend was crying.

“You’re my brother. I’m going to miss you,” said Lars, his voice breaking. “Thanks for introducing me to Jeanie.”

Then without another word, he turned and headed back into his trailer and slammed the door.

An alarm started blaring on the console. He turned his attention back to the dash, and buckled himself in.

“I can make it,” he muttered, making minor adjustments as he flew through the vastness of the galaxy at interstellar speeds. “Just a little more.” His craft was shaking uncontrollably. More lights and alarms started to sound, but he flicked his antennae grimly. Just a few more seconds.

The craft gave a shudder and dropped out of hyperspace and he could see her. And he could see that she was dying.

“Oh no,” he whisper.

Without even waiting, he threw open the door and let the oxygen blast him out into her direction. He flicked the switch for his rocket pack and zipped as close as he could get. She turned to look at him, and she was even more beautiful than he thought she would be and he saw her smile. And she flashed.

-.-- --- ..- / -.-. .- -- .

You came.

Tears were streaming down his face.

--- ..-. / -.-. --- ..- .-. ... . / .. / -.-. .- -- . .-.-.- / .. / -.-. --- ..- .-.. -.. -. .----. - / .-.. . - / -.-- --- ..- / -... . / .- .-.. --- -. . .-.-.-

Of course I came. I couldn’t let you be alone.

Her tears were flares of light. He reached out his hands and she took them and pulled him close into a warm embrace.

.. / .-.. --- ...- . / -.-- --- ..-

I love you.

There was a flash of light, different from the rest, and she died, as stars do, with a nova.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Dream House


Dec. 30, 2015

The beeping of the machine grew faint, and darkness closed around my eyes. I heard the long steady trill of the monitor, indicating my heart had given out, but it sounded so far away.

Music blared, and I sucked air into my lungs. I opened my eyes to more darkness and tried managed to knock over my phone, keys, and three empty beer cans while trying to shut off the alarm. Already the dream was fading - it had felt so vivid.

Untangling my limbs from the sheets, I rubbed my face, rough with stubble, and not a small amount of drool. I pulled off my boxers and stumbled into the shower. By the time the water was sluicing over my body the shreds of the dream had gone.

I felt like a new person.

#

No sales today. Greg was on my ass again about the quota and how the cars weren't going to sell themselves. He made me work overtime on a couple that I could have sworn was going to drive off with a minivan, but they'd walked. And my commission walked with them.

It wasn't even eight at night and I was beat. I went to the cabinet and poured a double of Gentleman Jack and downed it, wincing at the burn. But it warmed me up, especially on an empty stomach. I flicked the TV on, and was clicking through my list on Netflix. I don't even know when I closed my eyes.

#

"Happy Birthday! Happy Birthday!! Happy birthday to you!"

People were singing roughly together and a small cake with an orange and white fish was laid out before me with four candles in it. I took a breath and blew out the candles, wishing for a Barbie Dream House while closing my eyes. A small cheer went up, and I saw I had hit all four candles and my heart beat a little faster.

There was a conga-line of gifts that I tore into with gusto. Disappointment oozed into my chest when I realized I was opening the last one and there was no way it could be the Dream House. But it was a Barbie, all done up in a lovely dress and fancy hair. I looked at mom and she smiled.

"I think you need to see if there's a place for her to sleep upstairs," she said as she sliced the cake for the guests.

I took the steps two at a time, Barbies tucked under my arm. As I crested the top, I could see it at the end of the hall - taller than I was - three floors of awesomeness.

#

"You can't ground me for this!" I screamed, knowing I was crying and knowing that there was nothing I could do about it. Rage filled my chest and Mom's face was stony. Next to her on the bed was a small box, it had been filled with rolling papers and a grinder, but I wasn't dumb enough to keep drugs in the house, but she didn't care.

"You think I'm stupid," she said, her voice was calm, but her eyes shone and I knew she was furious.

"What? No! But I don't have any drugs - you can't punish me -"

"That's where you're wrong," Mom said quietly. And I could feel my stomach sink. She was going for the jugular.

My phone, my car, all of my makeup, most of my clothes - gone. I listened as she listed it, and I knew no amount of rage or tears would bring them back. And there was something else that was gone. Something that Mom didn't even bother to bring up, but I could feel it - not even the rage could quiet it. The trust was gone.

#

I was sobbing on the edge of the toilet. Kevin wouldn't be home for another three hours, but I couldn't bring myself to call him. He had stopped being excited about my pregnancies after the first miscarriage. I wish I could have stopped feeling the hope and joy, but I couldn't. I couldn't.

I slid to the floor and curled up wrapping my arms around myself and began to wail.

#

Kevin was snoring in his chair, I held Clara in my arms, her head was nestled under my chin and I was just breathing in her scent. She had a mop of Kev's dark hair sticking straight up on her head and it felt like thistledown.

Her smell made the screaming, the curdled milk that crusted in the crevice behind the crib, and the rocket-launched poops worth it.

Clara made a small noise and snuggled into the curve of my neck and I sighed.

#

For a brief second I saw the headlights, the rest was crunching metal and spinning, spinning, spinning. More lights exploded and everything started to melt away.

I was vaguely aware of someone pulling the door open and telling me I needed to get out.

"Oh, God, oh God, you need to get out," said the shapeless form that I knew must be a person. Then there was a new sound, shrill screams. "Oh, Jesus, a baby –"

Reality flooded back to me, and I could smell gasoline and smoke and I saw the man, now in sharp focus, diving into the back seat, knife in hand and work at the straps. Something wet was trickling down the back of my neck. Smoke was stinging my eyes and it was getting so hot.

"Is she okay?" I whispered. The man wiggled out, his coat was smoldering and he was holding Clara who was crying her angry cry.

"She's fine," he said. He looked at me, his face was ashen and a ribbon of blood was flowing down the side of his face from a cut on his forehead. Orange light flickered over his face. I knew I should be concerned about the flames, but I was so tired.

"Good," I said and closed my eyes.

#

"Aaah!" I flailed about trying to put out flames that weren't there. My alarm was blasting music in my bedroom and my heart was hammering in my chest. I could still faintly smell... something. I rubbed my face, feeling the stubble and the confusion started to fade. I was achy from sleeping in the easy chair, my neck was killing me.

"Gotta get in the shower. What a weird dream," I muttered, staggering to my feet. The dream would be gone by the time I stepped into the hot water of the shower.

I felt like a new person.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Long Night


Dec. 26, 2015

"It's almost over," said Anna to no one in particular, because there was no one to talk to. There hadn't been anyone to talk to for weeks now.

Not since the monsters.

Everyone hears about the midnight sun and quickly forget the polar night. Not that "night" meant what people thought it did. Yes, the sun didn't breach the horizon, but it wasn't steeped in inky darkness twenty-four hours a day, either. Much of what would have been day became a hazy-blue twilight that faded to black. It just didn't last long, and let's be honest, it didn't make any difference. 

The monsters had the run of things so long as the sun couldn't scorch them. But it was almost over. Anna wasn't sure, but weeks had past, and soon the night would end. She just didn't know exactly when. It wasn't that she couldn't keep time or tell dates, she had been in the third grade before her world had effectively ended. She'd just never had to before. Mom would remind her, or Ms. Hanson at school. But the her phone had died more than a week ago, and she wasn't even sure what day it was.

Anna looked at the odd blue sky that held no sun like peering up through an ice cube. She glanced at her watch - it was actually her mother's old watch. She remembered making fun of her for wearing it - Why don't you just use your phone? she had said. The memory made her want to cry. The tiny arms pointed out that it was just after noon and soon what light there was in the sky would drip into darkness. 

Anna didn't look like a nine-year-old. She looked older than that, despite her size and pink sneakers and shirt with the cute hearts and kittens. It was her eyes. They looked tired and slightly feral. Her pale brown hair was greasy and matted, and her hands had a rime of grime on the palms of her hands and pads of her fingers, but she didn't hesitate as she scooped the tuna fish straight from the can into her mouth.

Weak flames flickered in the hearth. She knew she had enough wood because the monster kept leaving her wood. The generator had lasted a week after they cut the power. Her mother had finally been forced to search for food and propane in an effort to keep her warm. Temperatures outside were 50 below.

She'd watched her go, promising to lock the door. Promising to stay inside. She went out once a day to empty the bucket and bring in the supplies the monster left. She was late doing it, because going outside meant seeing the faces. But it was time.

She licked the oily fish from her fingers, and upended the juice from the can into her open mouth. Being mindful of the ragged edges, she licked some errant bits that clung to the bottom.

"Waste nothing," she whispered. Then pulled on the snowpants and boots and shoved her arms into the thick parka. And her hands into the thermal mittens. The hat covered her ears and was lined with fur.

She managed to pick up the bucket in one hand and looking out into the yard made sure it was as clear - or seemed clear and stepped out. Even with all the layers, the cold hit her hard, like hammers that pulled at her inside, sucked her breath out of her lungs and burned her skin where it could touch.

The faces stared at her as she went, and she did her best not to look. She used to love some of those faces. Jenny from school. Mrs. Briggs and John Jenkins from the store. They were mostly eaten, but their faces were still there. Why couldn't they eat the faces? The skulls were nothing. Just bone. But faces could be loved.

She quickly upended the bucket and tossed it in behind her, not minding the spatter. Because what really mattered was the supplies. She picked up the gallon of water, that was frozen and pushed it through the open door. Then the box - she could see inside that there was a variety of food. And saw a green bag that meant vegetables, and felt tears spring to her eyes - she remembered vividly a time when she hated vegetables.

A noise shifted all the hairs on her body. It was a low hiss, guttural and animalistic and she saw the thing moving towards her on all fours, and she scrambled backwards. The ice, her hands being full, something made her fall as she crossed the threshold and banged her knee. Despite the thick pants, pain exploded, and Anna gasped and tried to regain her feet, but felt the claws tearing at her down parka.

The thing that tore into her, used to be human. Its limbs were frozen, but still able to move, just better able to tear through things like clothing and flesh. Its eyes were white like the snow - frozen and frosted over, but they could see. They could see enough. The teeth were the worst - nothing like human teeth, thin like needles or those fish from deep under the dark waters - Anna was sure they were made of ice, but it didn't matter, because the blood didn't melt them.

"Mama! Mama!!" she screamed, not even hearing her words.

Another form exploded into the house, hands, pale and blackened with frost gripped the thing that was savaging Anna, wrapping around the things neck it raised it up and slammed it into the floor. 

Once. Twice. Three times. It had stopped moving by the second.
The second creature picked up the first and threw it out of the house without looking at the sobbing girl on the floor.

Anna, still whimpering, managed to heave the door shut, and pulling a mitten off in her teeth threw the bolt. She could see the monster tearing apart the body of the one that attacked her. Still shivering and sobbing she made herself watch the thing - it had shanks of long, brown hair - parts had been ripped out. It's fingers, blackened by the cold were scraped to raw bone talons.

In the right light it still looked like her mother, even as it slowly took bites of the other creature. The monster's pale eyes were fixed on the door, and Anna knew it could see her. She knew it could get in if it wanted to. Knew it was bringing her food. The food!

The box had spilled its contents all over the floor. Boxes of pasta, some cereal and a box of toaster pastries. And a note, the monster always left a note.

Sun rises tomorrow. Run, baby. Run.