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The Maidens and the Bloodstone

31 Aug

((Here is an excerpt of a story I’ve been working on for a while, which [I feel] finally has a decent opening.  It still needs work, though.  I’ve entered this piece into a contest, earlier, and thought I’d share it here too.))

 

The woods beyond were somehow darker and colder than the enveloping night, and twice as still. Dorathy shuddered. She shouldered her raven, Tota, then joined the rest of her squad by the fire. No one had their backs to the treeline, including Dorathy as she sought a place beside Eirig.
Eirig sat hunched with his hands clasped and resting against his chest. His left forefinger tapped against the knuckle of his right and he didn’t look up as Dorathy dropped down next to him. Still trying to make the pieces of their mission fit, most likely. Anomalies bothered him.
Cameron sat on Eirig’s left. His eyes reflected the fire’s and a pinched grin fought to spread into his cheeks. At any second his vanity would bubble over, spill its musings, and heartlessly stain the silence.
The last of them was their Commander, Arnald, who sat just off from Cameron. Twice as old as his mid-teen charges, he was nearing retirement; but it was doubtful he’d follow through. Too much pride.
Their newest target, Big Bahad Wulf, was no ordinary Lycan. Skilled and strong, it was rumored he was also delving into the dark arts. His last victims, a trio of brothers, had their homes collapsed in with hurricane-like winds before they each died in a fire at the eldest’s stone home. The fire bespoke of an accomplice, possibly the witch Rydenhood, and that only complicated things further.

My Short Shorts (99 words or less)

22 Jun

((Just some micro-fiction practice that I’ve been working on.  Titles aren’t included in the word count.))

 

1. Hope
I undo my seat belt, then try the door and windows. It’s too late. Pressure clamps the doors tight and the power no longer works. I need to get out of the car. I don’t want to wait for it to fill with water first, but it’s looking like I’ll need to. Consciously, I’m scrambling from front to back testing options with escalating urgency. Subconsciously, I’ve drawn inward; watching my mad scramble from some far away distance as I regret never learning to swim. (84 words)
2. Hindsight
Sherry hurries past the empty crib and checks the window again. It’s locked, just as it had been the last few times she’d checked. Her husband Mike watches her return and take to sewing. He lets off a puff from his pipe as she fidgets. She sees it in him, that he wants her to stop, but it’s short minutes before she’s up and checking once more. Just once more. “There’s no point,” he says wearily, “The baboons have already snatched him. Days ago. He’s gone, love.” Trembling, Sherry pauses, then hurries past the empty crib to the window. (99 words)
3. The Lover’s Moon
“Watch your head,” Lewis said as he lifted another branch for Dina. They stumbled through the dark over more roots and around more tree trunks. “You feeling okay? Damn, we should have made it. . .” The trees thinned and parted into a vast clearing. It was lit romantically by the lover’s moon above. Dina gasped. She stood frozen, her mentations transfixed by the bewitching orb. Lewis grinned. “I know. Beautiful as I said, right?” Dina remained entranced. “Well, what do you think?” he asked. “Dina?” An inhuman growl emanated from her. His smile waned. “Um, Dina?” (97 words)
4. No Place Like Home
“Silas, suppa time! You better git yo butt in heah ‘fore I sic yo daddy on you!”

Silas smiled sadly. His father nodded and they both took seats at their prearranged table. Silas had spared no expenses here either. The tables were set with delicate chinas, silver cutlery and fluted glasses. The family and guests would speak of this gathering for ages. But he sighed. Suppers at home had been served on cracked plates with chipped jelly jars as cups. Yet, despite all the money he’d poured into it, nothing about his mother’s funeral was good enough. (97 words)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Trick-or-Treater

11 Jun

((Lori is spending Halloween house-sitting the doorbell rings late into the night. . .))

“Eeeya-ha-ha-ha!” Lori cackled, “Here ya go, kiddie.” She poured the last of her candy into a little vampire’s nearly empty pumpkin. “Now run along before I stuff your scrawny little butt into my oven for dinner.” The little boy sampled through her offering, then pouted.
“That’s all? Don’t you have anything else?” Lori shrugged.
“Sorry, kiddo, but I’m all out. I think your entire school has been by already. I just gave you what I was going to eat.”
“Aww,” he said, slumping further, “This isn’t fair. I wanted to go out with everybody else, but my dad wouldn’t come on, and now I’m too late for everything.” He looked like he was about to cry, and Lori couldn’t have that. Surely there was something she could do to resolve this quickly without letting this be the worst Halloween ever. No kid should have one of those on the most fun night of the year. Besides, it was so late, the little scamp and his dad had to be the last ones. The dregs had already come by so long ago that she was sure the festivity had ended already.
“Okay, look,” she rummaged through the pockets of her witch costume, “I’ve got. . .” Crap. All she had was a half-empty pack of gum, her cellphone and a ten dollar bill. She’d bought lunch today and already mentally added the change to her pay for house sitting once the Morgans returned in the morning. If she gave it away now, she wouldn’t have enough for that make-up kit she coveted. But, this was Halloween. And the kid was so, so sad.
“Here you go. It’s all I’ve got,” Lori said as she dropped the ten into the kid’s little pail.
“Oh, boy!” His eyes went wide, shocked as a forty-niner with a pan full of gold, “Wow, thanks lady!” He took off back to his dad who waited at the end of the driveway in a beat up Volkswagon.
“Don’t spend it all at once, kid,” Lori said as he got into the passenger’s seat. She watched as the car pulled off and turned the corner, probably going home since the little vamp probably had all he needed for the night. And congrats to him; at least she could make someone’s holiday special. May he always remember the six or so candy bars or the small toy he got with Lori’s dream money. She teasingly rolled her eyes at herself as she went back inside. She didn’t go back to her book immediately, but instead took five minutes to tape a sign on the door stating she was out of candy. And may that be the last awkward moment of the night.
Lori went back into the living room and plopped down into the thick sofa. The thing was too much cushion for her tastes, but if she spent anymore time in the guest bedroom she was going to start peeling up the yellow wallpaper. She pulled on her headphones and restarted her easy-listen mix on the lowest volume for a little background noise while she read. The one-story home was much larger than her tiny apartment and felt that much emptier. Add that she was house sitting on a holiday, rather than out getting stupid drunk with her friends and you had a late-in-the-year Valentine’s Day. At least the kids were plentiful this year.
Lori read a few more hours, then decided to turn in. She packed away her book and MP3 player into her overnight bag, then showered and fitted out the sofa for sleeping on. As many complaints as she had about the couch, it was much more comfortable than the bed in the guest room. And not as creepy. The last things she did were to set her phone on the charger and plop into her pillow.
She felt the edges of sleep at the corners of her dirt-packed eyes and was losing consciousness when a chill fell across her like the shadow of a cloud passing over on a scorching day. It snatched her back to wakefulness as effectively as ice water. Lori sat up and listened to the quiet night, studying the unfamiliar gray and black shadows contrasting an orange-yellow light coming in from somewhere outside. Something passed a window and Lori froze. It was at the side of the house and moving around towards the front. The chills crawled over her again and she hoped whatever it was would continue on its way.
The door bell rang and Lori shrank from the sudden noise. She reached for her phone to check the time. It was three thirty-three a.m.. The doorbell rang again.
Lori stood from the sofa and tried to decide whether she should answer the door or call the police. This wasn’t her house and no one was supposed to be visiting while the Morgan’s were gone. And what working men made house calls at this hour? The whole thing made her a rabbit in the scent of foxes, she couldn’t tell whether the threat was real or not. Perhaps she was still reeling from her horror novel.
The bell didn’t ring a third time. It was as if the person knew all they needed was to wait for her. She went and peeked through the peephole, half expecting a dark figure in black with one of those old-timey medical bags and shoulders broad enough to bust down solid wood doors. What the . . . ? There was a kid at the door. He stood on the edge of the steps, just within arm’s reach of the door knob. He couldn’t be more than eight by his height, but his head was down so she couldn’t see his face. He looked proportioned in arm, leg and body length; so he was likely all that he seemed. But, despite the odd oldness of his get up, Lori surmised he wasn’t dressed for trick-or-treating. There wasn’t even a bag or pumpkin. And he looked like he was alone out there. Maybe something had happened and he needed help.
Lori shuddered and mentally did everything she could to convince herself that this scene was non-threatening, but something about it was off—and not just the early morning bit, either. Something in the way he stood unnaturally still, his face concealed, and demeanor patiently calm sent up all sorts of red flags. Her body was deep in the fight-or-flight response and she clutched her cellphone so hard that the hand numbed around it. She was on the verge of a panic she couldn’t explain and everything in her screamed not to open the door.
Lori opened the door just enough to poke out her head, with her frame set against it in case she needed to slam it shut in a hurry.
“I don’t,” she said, then cleared her throat, “I don’t have anymore candy. I’m all out.” The kid’s head leaned slightly to the side as if he were studying something important at his feet. “I said I don’t—”
“May I come in for a glass of water?” The child asked. His voice was rough and dry and made Lori feel parched by only the sound.
“Are you alone, kid? Where are your parents?” Lori asked as she surveyed the surrounding area. The street was quiet and empty, the houses still and sleeping. Just this kid was out of place.
His head leaned to the other side. Lori waited for an answer or an explanation but nothing showed. This kid was getting annoying now.
“Look now,” Lori said, “I’m not going to put up with any of your games. Halloween has been over, for hours. If you don’t leave I’m going to call the police.” The kid straightened. That seemed to sink in. A relief washed through Lori like a deep breath.
The kid looked up, meeting her eyes for the first time since she’d opened the door. Lori choked and nearly leaped back from the door. The kid’s face was lit in the sickly orange pervading from the unseen light, but his eyes were deep black holes in his skull. No ounce or inkling of white or colored pupil or even life in them. The kid spoke once more, this time his voice was deep and clear.
“Please let me in, Lori.”
Lori slammed the door shut and locked it in a blink.
“May I come in, Lori?” he asked, his voice louder and deeper with each syllable. If she hadn’t been looking at him, she’d have thought James Earl Jones was at the door. She backed away. Her hands were fisted and trembling at her mouth as her feet moved her of their own volition. Her brain was a hollow cavern echoing emptiness to her numbed limbs.
“Lori . . .” He—it—said and rang the doorbell. The whole house was darker suddenly. The orange-yellow light draining into the oil-dark blackness of the house. The thing-child called to her again and told Lori to open the door. Her voice was gone and her whole body quaked. She shook her head, continued to back away. Were the shadows reaching for her?
A soft hand nudged her in the back and she jumped away screaming. Something fell by her foot and skittered across the floor. She flew away, her arms flapping wildly at invisible attackers while her throat alerted the neighbors. She stumbled over a chair in her haste and fell, hitting the floor hard and feeling nothing. She crawled on hands and knees under the table and wrapped around the one leg it stood on, the straw in her drowning madness.
But no one was there; nothing was after her. Everything was quiet. Even the door.
Lori’s wits momentarily returned and she realized she’d merely bumped into the back of the sofa. That was all. There hadn’t been a hand at her back. And the thing that had skittered by was her cellphone, dropped in her panic and now lying two feet from her on the linoleum. She snatched up the phone and flipped it open. The battery was full and she had all bars. She could call for help!
It took her hours to remember 9-1-1’s number and years to dial it with her quivering digits, but relief was instant at the sound of ringing. She peeped from her hiding place, but didn’t see anything. She didn’t hear anything either, but that didn’t mean the kid was gone. That just meant—
A ring cut short in the phone, and silence followed. Lori waited for the space of two more rings but the joyous sound did not return. Her phone was still on, still charged, still had all bars; even appeared to think it was still calling, but she didn’t hear anything. And then she did.
“May I come in for a glass of water?” The man’s voice echoed in the line. Lori snapped the phone shut and threw it anywhere. It slammed hard into a wall and bounced away. The child-thing started up again.
“May I come in and use your phone?” It asked, sounding like a slowed audio recording. She could almost hear it laughing at her. Lori shook her head.
“No!” She yelled to the door, “Go away!” A full three seconds of silence, and then the door nearly bucked in.
“Open the door, Lori!” The thing yelled back. It beat and clawed at the wooden obstacle. A tremor began under Lori’s feet until the very walls were shaking around her. “Let me in, Lori! Let me in, now!” Dishes clattered in the cabinets, chairs vibrated away from the table, pictures fell off the walls and a vase shattered. Lori’s teeth rattled in her head. The doorbell’s called like bats from hell jouncing against the walls and through the house. And the place had become so dark now that the windows were rectangles cut into black paper.
“LET ME IN, LET ME IN, LET ME IN!” The thing roared over the tumult of the quaking. Lori could hardly hear herself crying as she felt her way from beneath the table. She found a wall and followed it towards where she hoped the guest room was. It had the options of a bed to hide under and a closet big enough for the fetal position. Whichever she reached first would be it.
Lori had the thought to escape out of a window, but every time she neared one she felt that cloud pass over again and she wouldn’t risk it. As if it was somehow following her. Instead, she continued her wobbling, hands-over-knees-over-hands march towards anywhere. She found the bottom-edge of the bedroom’s door and pulled herself up by the doorknob. The voice seemed louder in here than anywhere else in the house and the beating of the door redounded in the walls. This multiplied once the room’s door shut behind her.
“LORI, OPEN THIS DOOR!” She crawled for the closet but came across the bed first. She slid underneath, but found there wasn’t enough room, so she vacated to the closet. Safely inside, she curled up in a corner and pulled her knees up tightly to her face. The whole world suddenly stilled. The house stopped shaking, the cacophany ceased and the thing at the front door hushed. The only sounds left were Lori’s whimpering, panting and sniffles, a caterwauling too loud for the tiny space. She covered her ears and buried her face in her lap. Convinced she was going to be drug from the closet and killed any second, she just let herself go. She cried and cried and cried.
# # #
Lori startled awake. The sound repeated itself and she held her breath to listen. There was movement in the house.
“Lori?” a familiar and completely non-scary voice called, “Lori, are you here?” It was Mr. Morgan. He and his wife must have come back from their trip. Lori’s heart leaped in her chest and clamored for the door—
The girl stopped herself. Relief had swept through her in a rush that was borderlining commonplace since last night. And every time that particular feeling came along, disappointment lashed it to shreds. Lori remained where she sat instead, and quietly played with her hands. The door of the guest room opened.
“Lori, you still here?” Mr. Morgan—assuming that was him—asked. Lori wanted to respond, yet couldn’t. She didn’t imagine she had much of a voice anyway. Her throat was raw from the back of her mouth to the top of her chest. She planted her face back into her knees.
Mr. Morgan entered the room, then exited soon after. He said something to Mrs. Morgan in the hall, to which she’d replied, ‘God, I hope so too.’ Lori sighed and allowed relief to sink in deep this time. The presence of two known voices was proof enough for her that Mr. Morgan was indeed Mr. Morgan. At any rate, she could either wait to be found or come out herself, but she couldn’t set up zip code in the Morgan’s guestroom closet. On top of all the other legitimate reasons, the most pressing was that she’d need to pee soon.
Lori crept from her hiding place and stepped out into the the hall as Mr. and Mrs. Morgan were making their second or so run through the house. It was day, with sunlight pouring in and filling every nook and cranny to dispel whatever dark was still hiding there. However, that wasn’t all. Her cellphone lay shattered in the middle of the floor, a dent in the wall the only other sign of its incident, yet that was all there was of last night. From where she stood she could see the dining table’s chairs were in their proper places and pictures hung as neatly as they had at her first arrival. There wasn’t a stray thread in the house.
“Oh, Lori!” Mrs. Morgan was the first to see her and ran to pull Lori into her arms. “Darling where have you been? After we saw the door, we got so worried. And then we found your cellphone. . . Oh, dearling, you look awful. Have you been crying? Where were you?”
“I was in the closet,” Lori said. She was hoarse and almost inaudible to her own ears. Mrs. Morgan became more concerned. Mr. Morgan frowned too.
“Lori, what happened? Are you alright? Are you hurt?” He asked, giving her a quick once over for any visible blood or injuries. Lori couldn’t answer. She didn’t know. She just hugged and hugged Mrs. Morgan until someone called her parents and had her picked up. A few days later she’d tried to explain what had happened, and about the boy with the black eyes that had wanted to come in. Of course, no one believed her. At least, not all of it. The story sounded too much like one of her horror novels.
As it was, she’d simply been pranked. All of her friends had alibis at the time and were nowhere near the house, so it was probably some random kids making mischief at her expense. Some vandalizing trick-or-treater had gone too far to spook her and had beaten in the door. In her panic she’d dropped her cellphone and couldn’t call anyone, so she ran and hid. Soon after, she drifted off and had a nightmare. That was all and nothing more. The Morgans, as well as Lori’s friends and family, were all just relieved that she hadn’t been broken in on and hurt or killed. A police report was made and the incident was dropped.
Over time, even Lori had begun to believe the new story. It was so much more plausible than the dream she’d cooked up about black-eyed people and Halloween frights. Still, just to be safe, she never spent another Halloween alone if she could help it. Not ever, ever again. And when she couldn’t help it, she camped out in her closet with all the doors locked and the lights on—surrounded by stuffed animals and a pee bucket and all things smiley. She was still a horror reader, but she steered clear of Halloween. One could never be too careful about nightmares on the most horrible night of the year, least they come a knocking to get in.

THE END

Nico’s Mission

11 Jun

((Nico is a canine on a mission.  He’s been to the house before, but is he ready?))

 

It had been hot. Possibly one of the hottest dog days in Australia’s history and dry as peanut butter in the mouth. But the sun was ending its slow arc in the west. Nico moused from yard to yard, careful not to be seen by any humans or their pets that may alarm at his presence. There weren’t many to watch at this hour, so he made good time, but he was still cautious. No point in being kicked at or chased off before he could make it to his home. On that note, it was also best not to be witnessed in the area period. Not everyone was welcome to have him here.
As Nico neared the yard of his house he slowed. He wanted to approach from the front, but it was probably better to take the back way this time. He slinked along a fence bordered by half-baked gardens and gravel still swayed with heat. He maneuvered over the dirt as best he could, so as not to burn his paw pads. This was also a good crossing place because he was almost the same sandy-brown as some of the plants were wilting into, which gave him a nice cover. Nico came to a hole dug beneath the planks of the fence, just behind some of the taller plants, and crawled in. Stopping halfway in, he checked for spying eyes or out-of-place cars.
The grounds and periphery were clear.
Nico approached the house, covering the empty yard between the fence and the back door quickly so as to minimize being seen. He then hid behind a bush just around the corner, by the side of the house. The key now was to wait.
Inside he could hear the lady of the house walking back and forth near a window almost directly above him. She was talking on the phone. Mostly. She also had a man-child with her who was still young and needed scolding a lot. He was in that “terrible two’s” phase, as the humans called it. Her other child was an infant, so it was only as fussy as infants came. Yet its schedule was somehow more lenient. In fact, it was probably sleeping or laying quietly in its bassinet presently.
Nico stood on hindlegs and peeked into the home. The young mother was placing the phone back onto the receiver so he ducked down again. He heard her calling to her boy as she chased him to somewhere further in the house. Then everything was quiet for a while. Nico waited.
Once the sun had descended more and the night shadow became dusky, Nico crept along the side of the house towards a worn trampoline that sat mournfully neglected about twelve paces from the nearest wall. The trampoline’s bouncing sheet had torn loose in one end and the cloth dangled limply to the ground. This made perfect cover for sitting behind. It blocked a view of Nico from the street, the trampoline blocked eyes from above, the fence behind blocked eyes from the rear, and yet he still had a well enough view himself of the front of the house. Or, at least, he could tell when the door was open by the light flooding out, and that was the crucial thing.
It wouldn’t be much longer now. The lady would gather her trash and bring it outside, then she’d head back inside to collect her brood and they’d then leave to visit the lady’s mother in the house on the opposite side of the home. She wouldn’t be there long, maybe half an hour to help with some chores the older woman needed. Then the lady would take out the mother’s trash and return to her own home, man-child riding her hip in tow. This gave Nico a very small opening for time, but he’d only need a fraction of it if all went well. He licked his lips. It was so close.
The driveway lit up with light and Nico reflexively shrank smaller. The lady came out carrying her bulging, plastic bundle one-handed and put it into a can at the end of her driveway. Nico could smell the leftover meat and table scraps it held from where he sat. It drifted casually on the air and tickled into his wet nose. The little boy came bounding out of the house after his mother and, to his delight, she then swooped him up and spun him through the air. She tossed him lightly, she niggled their noses together, she squeezed him to her. They shared in braying laughter for what felt like forever before she finally planted the child on her hip before closing the front door and heading to her mother’s.
Nico licked his lips and listened for the sound of a second door opening and closing, then waited a shy moment longer. He needed to make sure the mother didn’t come backtracking for anything before he darted out, or everything would be wasted.
She didn’t come back and no further sounds came, so Nico crawled from his hiding place and rounded to the front of the house. A quick survey turned up no witnesses. As he neared, the smell of the trashcan grew stronger. It burned rank and decayed in his sensitive nose and made his saliva a bitter sludge. He licked his lips and nose and turned for the door. After checking one last time for onlookers, Nico settled up onto his hindlegs and wrapped a paw around the doorknob. Unique in the canine kingdom, dingoes have revolving wrists—like humans. A useful tool for opening unlocked doors. He turned the knob, pushed the door open just enough, and stepped inside.
The house was cool and quiet, with a few lights still on since its owner planned to return soon. The scent trail of the trash still lingered, but faintly. Nico pushed the door closed behind him. He didn’t want the light to give him away.
A quick jog past the kitchen, the laundry room where the freezer hummed, the bathroom. . . and then you came to the nursery. This is where she kept the other man-child settled down for naps and sleep. Where it lay presently, left behind so as not to disturb its downtime. Its door was closed also. Unusual.
Nico opened that door as well and entered. The nursery room was dark, with the only sources of light coming in from the window. Also not a problem for Nico. He was nocturnal by nature and, in fact, thought there was too much light in the place.
The baby stirred and Nico’s ears perked to the tiny, helpless sound. He sniffed the air and picked up the deliciousness of tender, pink flesh and soft powder. He stood against the side of the frilly bassinet and looked in. It lay on its belly, but Nico’s sudden presence startled it, so it poked up its head to look. It cooed and bobbed, then dropped its too-heavy head. That was like humans, so fat and unable. Nico bent down to pick up his prize—
The room filled up with bright moving lights and Nico froze. The lights danced and grew and shrank from the walls before disappearing as suddenly as they’d come. Nico heard the car, though. The mother’s mate had returned early and parked onto the driveway. Nico had forgotten about that one. Great.
Nico didn’t want to leave what he came for. He snatched up the bundle around one of its fat thighs and hauled it from the bassinet. The attempt was clumsy and he dropped the child. It thudded against the floor. That’s when the crying started. Nico picked it up again and shook it, then ran for the back door. It was locked. He ran for the front door, but could already hear the mate rattling keys just beyond the wooden barrier. There wasn’t any place else to go. The infant still gurgled and twitched in his jaws.
A key was pressed into the knob and turned with a click. The man tried to open the door, but had locked it since it had already been open.
“Fair Dinkum?” the man said. The keys rattled again, “Bloody door was unlocked. I tell that sheila—” The man went on as the door knob jiggled and clicked again. Nico crouched along the wall, making himself as invisible as the dying infant would allow. Surely the human would smell the blood. Nico could taste its copper across his tongue and the smell was loud enough to summon death. Nico’s heart slammed in his chest. His legs contracted and released, contracted and released; springs with nowhere to go.
The door swung open.
“Eh, Sophie, you in here—?” Nico wiggled between the man’s legs, nearly knocking him to the ground. “What the. . . My baby!”
Nico tangled in the welcome mat before catching his feet and spurring off into the night. For several undecided seconds it looked like the mate would catch Nico by the tail, but a few pulled hairs later proved the difference. Nico cut across several yards before turning a different way. The man’s yells grew further and further with each bounce of step and stretch of body. And with that growing distance, Nico returned to his packmates with the hard-won catch, far from the interference of humans. At least, perhaps, until another mission.

THE END

bottledworder

easy reading is damn hard writing