Fiction

The Taciturn Beachcomber

“Why’d you freak out in the first place?” he asked.

“I looked down, saw the sand between my toes.”

“What?”

“The sand, grains of sand. They used to be one thing, got eroded into another; they wore away all their useless bits. I was full of useless bits, like a cross patch kid with no signature on the ass.”

“Ah…a cross patch kid?”

“What my daughter called Cabbage Patch kids when they started causing stampedes. My wife climbed a stack of shelves like a monkey to get a red-haired girl with pigtails, to match our Emma.”

“So you knew you were lost because you stepped in sand and lacked a Xavier Robert’s tattoo on your butt cheek?”

“Yup.”

“Not the typical start to an existential crisis, you must admit.”

“Nope.”

“So how did you finally rid yourself of your useless bits?”

“Didn’t.”

“Wait, what?”

“Figured out there are no useless bits.”

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Rowan Explains Herself (Part 8)

*Part 8*

Rufus settled into a plush settee and all their faces turned expectantly towards Rowan, who gaped her maw at them again, crossing her eyes into a horrifying expression. When their gazes remained constant, not even a flicker, she snapped her jaws together again and heaved out a sigh that sounded distinctly like a disaffected teenager.

“Fine,” she said. “Should I begin at my beginning or yours?”

Mara and Rolly looked at each other for a moment.

“Yours,” Mara said.

“Ours,” said Rolly.

They looked at each other again, and Mara laughed a little. “Start wherever you’d like, because honestly I don’t think either will be less interesting than the other and I don’t think we’re going anywhere for a while anyway.”

Bony shoulders shrugged. “Okay, mine then.” She wriggled herself around to get more comfortable, but as she wriggled a strange thing happened. She seemed to fill out her bony frame; the angles of her face became less severe, her head smaller, the cracks in her skin sealing together. As Mara and Rolly watched with increasing fascination, she became a normal looking, very pretty girl of probably fourteen or fifteen.

“So this is what I looked like about a hundred years ago,” she began. “Or, like, twenty probably. I dunno, time gets weird, so it feels like a hundred but it wasn’t.”

Rufus shook his head and smiled. “It wasn’t a hundred years ago, dear, it was seventeen years to be exact.”

“Longer than I was a real girl, then. So, seventeen years ago I looked like this. I know my name has always been Rowan, but some of the other details of my past have grown a little fuzzy. I know I lived with my mom, and my cat Zeus. I don’t really remember my dad. I don’t think anything bad happened to him, I think he just left or they got a divorce or something.”

She shrugged again. “I was never what you would call a happy or well adjusted child. I was, as my mother said, constantly prone to flights of fancy. It wasn’t fancy, though, that’s way too sugary of a word for it.” She paused for a moment, looking very human and sort of sad. “I saw things, all the time, things that weren’t really real. I would have these dreams, these god awful vivid nightmares. Horrid landscapes in lurid colors, with these brutish creatures everywhere. They tore each other apart, literally, they just, flung pieces of each other all over the place, they sprayed blood and guts across the sky like they were trying to paint it. I would wake up sweaty and crying, and fucking terrified. I had no idea then what this place was, I didn’t understand why my dreams always took me there, why I couldn’t ever just sleep and dream of fluffy fucking bunnies and unicorns like a normal kid. Never once did I ever remember a dream that wasn’t in the Nightscape.”

“How old were you when they started?” Rolly asked quietly. He was too familiar with nightmares to not be moved already by her story.

“I don’t really know. I think I first started really remembering them when I was about seven?” She looked to Rufus for confirmation. He nodded.

Mara spoke up. “Wait, how would you know when her nightmares started if she doesn’t?”

“It’s all in the Chronicle, dear. The Dreamer’s Chronicle. There aren’t many full-blooded humans who can or want to visit the Nightscape, and certainly far less who arrive there by accident. When this happens, I know of it immediately.” He held his hand up as Rolly started to speak. “I will tell you all about it, after Rowan’s story time is over.” He gestured for Rowan to continue.

“Okay. Well, so, it got to the point where I would do whatever I could so I wouldn’t fall asleep. My mom would put me to bed, and I’d sneak down to the kitchen and eat sugar and drink coffee, anything I could think of that would help me stay awake. She couldn’t understand why I was so tired all the time. I was doing even worse in school then I had been. Before I had just been bored and I didn’t care, but now I couldn’t understand what people were saying to me, I couldn’t think straight, I could hardly speak a coherent sentence.”

She looked up as Rufus walked over and held out a glass to her, with some sort of dark grey liquid in it and vague wisps of smoke floating from the top. She nodded her thanks.

“Everyone was concerned, confused, I think. I don’t know what the hell they thought. It never crossed my mind to talk about it. It’s not like anyone can help you to not have bad dreams, is what I figured, and I figured that’s all they were. No need to make myself weirder than I already was, and since I’d never heard anyone talk about anything even remotely along the lines of what I was going through, that’s what would happen. They’d think I was depressed or suicidal, or just plain bat-shit crazy. Why wouldn’t they? That’s probably exactly what it seemed like, from their point of view.”

“Then, one morning, when I woke up from a sleep I just couldn’t stop myself from falling into, the nightmares followed me. I was dreaming that I was being chased, that this time the creatures had seen me or scented me spying on them. They had roared their disapproval, spun themselves around, searching for the interloper. They weren’t, any of them, looking right at me so I don’t know how I knew, but I was so scared that I pissed my pants right there and ran for it, just went screaming, pinching myself, telling myself over and over again that it was a dream, wake up you idiot, wake the fuck up!”

She stopped abruptly and looked around. “It’s like it just happened,” she whispered. “I can’t remember what my mom smelled like or if my stupid cat liked having his ears scratched, but those foul disgusting sons of bitches are right there, in high definition.” She sighed. “So, anyway, I wake up and I’m on my living room couch and I really had pissed myself, which was revolting. I was so grateful to be awake and out of there that I didn’t really care too much, I just wanted to take a shower and change my pants. I stand up from the couch and, boom – hanging in mid-air in the middle of the dining room is this giant face, one of their faces. One lopsided eye and one battered eye socket, fangs sticking out over cracked lips, just a hole for a nose, shaped like a shovel. All by itself, one of them, in my house, in the real world.”

“It winked at me, and then it faded away, and I screamed. I screamed and screamed and screamed, until a neighbor broke down my back door and ran into the house. He shook me and called my name, he tried over and over again to find out what was wrong, but I just kept screaming. I heard sirens in the distance, figured they were coming my way, and still I couldn’t stop screaming. I screamed until I finally threw up all over that poor, scared man, and then I passed out.”

“That’s when Rufus came and found me.”

Categories: Fiction, The Dreamer's Chronicle | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

The Dreamer in his den (7)

*Part 7*

As the monolith dragged himself back into the dusty corners, presumably to find a broom and dustpan, Rowan gave Rolly a shove. He’d been rooted in place, only swiveling his head from Mara, to Rufus, to Galbreith’s retreating form, back to Mara. The shove brought him back to himself in a hurry.

“Fuck off,” he threw at Rowan, stepping forward and holding out a hand to pull Mara to her feet and into his arms. He brushed kisses against her temple, tightened his hold when he felt her shaking. She clutched at his arm, rather painfully, with one hand and reached up to massage the bruises on her neck with the other. “Are you okay baby?”

She nodded. “Yeah,” she answered in a hoarse whisper. “Fine. Hurts, though.” She coughed. “Like, shit, it really hurts. Ow.”

He rounded on Rowan. “Did you get your funnies, Rowan? You happy now?”

She lifted a shoulder, let it drop. “I’m never happy and that’s always funny. Not gonna say I’m sorry, if that’s what you’re waiting for. I told you he couldn’t kill her, so….” she let the word peter out, letting him know how much she didn’t care one way or the other.

“Ahem.” Rufus didn’t clear his throat, he literally said the word ‘ahem’. It probably would have been amusing under less dire circumstances. “Since you are already here, in my hallway standing idly with your Rowan, I suppose that you’ve got to take these last few all important steps and get some answers for yourself, yes?”

“Why do you keep calling her our Rowan?” Mara asked him.

Without answering, Rufus turned and disappeared into the gloom behind them, through a plain archway, plainly confident they would follow. He was right, of course, because how could they not?

They entered a cavernous room that was mostly empty, soaring ceilings, windows the size of a barn looking out into a dark night that probably wasn’t the one they were used to seeing. There was one cozily appointed corner, nestled away to their left. A fire burned merrily in greens and blues with licks of yellow to add light to the heat, and Rufus led them towards the furniture arranged around in a semi-circle, as oversized as the room that surrounded it.

Mara climbed onto the cushions of a sofa and turned to sit, legs sticking almost comedically straight out like a toddler sitting at the grown table. Rolly slid in beside her, and Rowan beside him. She returned his glare with a winsome smile, marred slightly by the blackened gums and slightly pointed teeth that he hadn’t noticed until they were nearly face to face.

He opted to look back towards Rufus rather than examine them more closely.

Three expectant faces were now staring at the man who stood, in a fancy purple dressing gown, holding his hands out to the flames, spreading his fingers until they bent almost backward. Fingertip by fingertip, they alighted, his hand a living, terrifying birthday wish in the making. He held them up under his chin as he pivoted to face them, backlighting his face into the grotesque visage of campfire horror stories everywhere.

“Welcome to your nightmare.” He paused for a moment. “Mwah-ha-ha.” He paused for another moment. “I try to pretend that I do that to be funny, but in truth I do wish that I was capable of maniacal laughter. No matter. The nightmare thing, however. This being your nightmare? That is reality. This reality, anyway, where it appears that your Rowan has brought you without your consent, and before I tell you what there is for me to tell you, I believe that first she should explain herself.”

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The manse of Rufus (6)

*Part 6*

The question of whether Mara and Rolly wanted to walk closer to this provocatively terrifying apparition of a girl, let alone would like to go into the shadowy house behind her, was a moot one. Their feet were moving them while they clutched at each other, struck mute either from fear or some undoing, until they reached the bottom step. Mara’s foot shook with the effort of stopping its rise, but it landed where it was supposed to land, and she dragged Rolly with her as she climbed up to the porch.

From a slight distance, the girl had had a freakish yet human appearance. Up close, the case for a remnant of humanity was lost. The grey pallor of her skin was a translucent overlay to flesh of dead green matte. There were little flays in her neck, her arms, tiny little wisps of skin peeling up to reveal dark blue mottling underneath. Her eyes fired at them, pupils shaped like diamonds, flashing as she gestured them in.

They walked, and she followed. Through the oversized doorway, into a dank hallway that didn’t smell so much as permeate, down a hallway carpeted with a runner that probably would have been an amazing piece of artwork if there were time to really study it. Rolly studied the pattern as they traversed the narrow expanse towards an archway; there was a rendering of Death worked into the weave there, a bent and wracked naked man on his knees, a smiling woman clutching a baby to her chest, a child with a fiddle tucked up under his chin.

“It’s the Danse Macabre,” he said loudly. “Are you taking us to meet our Judge, then, Rowan?” He turned his head backwards as the rest of him was fairly insistent on moving forwards. “Are we to meet Death himself?”

She pirouetted, a knee bent at an unnatural angle, and let loose her crackling laugh again. “No, you’re not so important as that, Mr. Rolly, you’re only going to meet Rufus.” Her eyes darted over, watching Mara, who had gotten a few paces ahead of them.

“Rufus?” It sounded like the name of some vampire lordling in a badly written romance novel set in the Victorian era. “Who’s Rufus?”

“Wellll…” she drawled. “He’s my father.” Again her gaze drifted toward Mara, and the corners of her lips quirked into a sarcastic flash of a smile, there and gone in a flash.

“Uh, your father? Like, your natural biological father?”

“I’m an organic creature, you know, it isn’t as if I’m made of granite, now is it?” She laughed as if they had shared a joke, but if they had then Rolly wasn’t in on it, and he didn’t think it would have a pleasant punch line regardless.

At that, a granite hand shot out from a niche in the wall and clutched Mara by the throat. “Not so far as that, woman.”

She struggled to scream but had to be satisfied with mewling and clawing desperately as the fingers tightened around her neck. A fingernail snapped off, which hurt like a son of a bitch and made her angry, and it also brought tears brimming, and that made her angrier still. She stopped scrabbling at the rock and let herself go limp and dangling. There was a jerk, a ripping sound, a puff of dust, a noise like a plaster wall crumbling, and she dropped to her knees, although the fingers still gripped.

“You bitch!” said an angry voice as the gargoyle disengaged himself from the remains of his pedestal. “I have not climbed off that perch in almost a hundred years, and you, you upstart little asshole, you think you can just drag me out of it at your whim?” His voice unfolded decibels as his height unfolded feet, until he stood at least twice the height of a man, pulling her back to her feet, and past, up to her tiptoes, lifting until they were face to face and she dangled from boulders.

Rowan’s black-nailed fingers grabbed Rolly’s jacket and held him place with no apparent effort. “Don’t,” she said. “He won’t kill her, he’s not allowed. You he’ll hurt, he’ll hurt you til you wish he was allowed to. So. You know. Just don’t.”

“I’m not made of granite, am I,” he mimicked viciously. “What are you playing at? You obviously knew that was gonna happen. Is this some stupid tableau, is this your entertainment for the evening? Get your fucking hands off me.” He yanked her hands free and threw them back at her, turning back to the horrors in front of him. Mara’s face was getting more pissed off by the second, but it was also getting redder.

The gargoyle wouldn’t stop shaking her, punctuating every hurled insult with a neck snapping jolt. His stone face was nearly immobile except for his mouth, wide open, fleshless and fang-full. He berated her in a manner she could only call old-fashioned, except he left out most of the sexist bits since his main issue seemed to be her human nature and not her gender. Flakes from the curled horns carved into his forehead and wrapped around bat-like ears continually fell, a mini avalanche of floating motes in the air.

“You walk into my home, you walk in to my home and you breathe your stupid breath and contaminate my world, and then you pull me from my wall, force me to touch this ridiculous flesh that you call home!” Her head bobbed backward and forward; she bit her tongue, tasted blood, and wanted to cry maybe more than she’d ever wanted to let loose before.

“Stop, Galbreith. No more.” A sepulchral voice of authority that brooked no dissent. This was not a request.

Mara was immediately released, gasping and cursing and scrabbling backwards, away from the large granite legs carved with rounded muscles that turned and ground towards Rowan. He stopped in front of her, and Rolly, whose entire being itched to smash it to nothingness with a sledgehammer. While its head inclined ever so slightly in what was supposed to be a show of deference, grinding slabs of stone loosened from his shoulders and his back, a stop-motion unfurling of wings that was as grandiose a gesture as could be imagined. They were huge, six feet to the tip at least, and it took some time before the last feather slotted into place. The effect was so overwhelming that for a moment, Rolly forgot completely about Mara, wheezing in shaky breaths, still on the floor.

“Rowan,” it said. “I was doing nothing but my duty.”

“Who’s home is this, Galbreith? Is it yours?”

“It is not my home.”

“Where are we, Galbreith?”

“The manse of Rufus.”

“I thought that I heard you say that this is your home. Did you say that?”

“No, Rowan. This is Rufus’s home.”

She nodded. “Yes, this is Rufus’s home. If you would step aside, then, as we’re here to see him at any rate.”

If gargoyles could be said to smile, than this is what Galbreith did. “You are taking these two to Rufus, here in his home? Then I shall gladly step aside, and let him have at them. Good riddance,” he tossed at Mara as started to step away.

“Galbreith?” She waited until he looked back. “Go and find some cement somewhere and repair your pedestal. Sweep up the bits of yourself you so delicately shed all over the carpet, too. Do you understand me?”

“Oh, aye, I understand you Rowan. Now begone from my hallway before I decide that I no longer care what Rufus believes my duty to be.”

There was a discreet cough from the archway behind them all, the kind of discreet cough that is pointedly making a point about being a discreet cough but was in fact the opposite.

“Disloyalty and disobedience, Galbreith, really? I would not have expected this from you.” The rotund man with a bald head and a funeral director’s demeanor turned towards the rather motley crew before him, hands clasped over his belly. “I do apologize for Galbreith’s overzealous defense of my sanctuary, but it is his job, after all.” He threw a pointed glance at Rowan, who shrugged.

“Well, good evening, I suppose. I am Rufus, your Rowan’s father.”

****

Thank you Lindsey Stirling, for some otherworldly musical accompaniment tonight. Here, have a gargoyle 🙂
*updated to hopefully clarify some confusion*

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The house that wasn’t there (5)

*Part 5*

She couldn’t have been more than ten feet away from them, the ravaged little girl with the dirty sneakers whose toes dug back into the porch to set the swing cricking. The wicked grin still split her face, and it wasn’t the wicked kind of grin that spoke of naughty but frivolous insouciance, it was the kind of wicked grin that said that wicked secrets were barely hidden behind it and if they jumped out and yelled boo you’d be far beyond startled.

Mara took an instinctive step forward while Rolly took one back. He grabbed for her arm and missed, grudgingly stepping forward with her. The closer they got, though, the wider the grin grew until it was a rictus of inhuman proportions and wicked transformed to grotesque. Mara shuddered, but took one more step. “Are you the one who was humming in our house?” she asked, almost demanded. “I heard you, just now.”

The girl’s mouth stretched ever wider and as the humming began again, her jaw unhinged, dropping almost to her chest while she tilted the top of her head up and back, creating a maw from which the sound emerged, faster and faster until it was one long incoherent buzzing. She stood, stick legs ramrod straight, arms stretching overhead, opening wide, encompassing their nightmare.

The buzzing set Rolly’s teeth on edge, rattled his brain in his skull, and frankly made him want to piss his pants. This was bad acid trip shit, this was not a random Thursday night dalliance less than an hour after he’d been peacefully sleeping after a rousing bout of love making. He felt a part of himself detach from the impossible reality in front of him and left the other part of him cowering in a corner, gibbering about demons and smelling of urine.

“Stop it!” he yelled, and boy did he mean it. If that unbearable sound continued for one more second he was going to lose his shit. Oddly enough, the girl stopped. A head still shaped like a badly peeled hard-boiled egg twisted around on her neck and those berserk eyes focused like lasers directly on his face. She croaked at them. “Welcome, Rolly. Welcome, Mara.”

The definition of the word and the circumstance in which it was delivered could not have been farther apart on the spectrum of meaning and intent. They were not welcome, this broken face said to them, they were interlopers of the highest regard. Here they were anyway, though, so she may as well play the game.

“Enough, I’ve had enough of this,” Mara stated. “You came to us, you came into our home, and you brought us out here. It was our bedtime, goddamn it! Now I’ve had ENOUGH of your SHIT!”

Crackling gravelly laughter rolled off a tongue that lolled out like a deflated balloon. Noise was still travelling differently; it reached the ears of the people meant to hear it, delivered directly and petering out to the sides, waves breaking against rocks. There was a lazy shimmer around the outline of the girl and, with no in-between, she stood before them, whole and unbent. Her body was that of an underfed 12 year old, and her head was cartoonish, perfectly round and too large for her neck. Giant, hollowed out black rimmed eyes took up half of her kitten shaped face and her mouth, when normal, was thin lipped and prone to sneering.

“My name is Marchessa. Marquisa? Francine. Francesca. Molly? I don’t know, I usually make one up on the spot, but I seem to be having difficulty settling at the moment.” The wicked grin flashed, snake in the grass fast. “What say you? What would you like to call me? No, not that, that’s not nice at all.”

Mara glanced at Rolly, who shrugged. “I thought Morticia Queen of the Damned was apt, sue me.”

“Kelly,” the girl decided. “For now, you may call me Kelly. Be warned, this may change at any moment and without prior notice or approval.” A pause. “No, Kelly’s stupid. I’ll be Rowan. Because it’s funny and ironic. Call me Rowan.” She held out a hand behind her and the front door opened, with a satisfying screech. “Would you like to come in?”

***

pssst…There be gargoyles in that there house…

Categories: Fiction, The Dreamer's Chronicle | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Nobody here but us chickens (4)

*Part 4*

There were no handles on the doors in front of them, so Rolly just flattened a palm against the glass and gave it an experimental push. The door started to move, but before it could open he removed his hand and wiped it on his pants. “Feels greasy,” he said. Lips sneering in distaste he did it again, and pushed until the door swung all the way out. There was no resistance.

They took their first foray into this odd dreamscape in lockstep, he clutching the strap of the duffel slung over his shoulder, her wielding the large flashlight like a club.

The fog was thicker than it had seemed from inside. While it was still moving, it was also leaving little gobs and globules of itself strung from storefronts and clogging gutters. As they took slow, small steps, their eyes roved constantly, up down and sideways.

“There’s nobody here but us chickens,” Rolly said quietly.

“You shouldn’t say that,” Mara whispered back.

“Baby, we can’t lie to ourselves. Until we see something to the contrary, we have to assume we’re running solo on this.”

“No, I know. I meant the chicken thing.”

“I shouldn’t say the chicken thing?”

“Yes, you shouldn’t say the chicken thing. It was part of a racist joke in the 1900’s, and the saying just stuck.”

“How the hell do you know that?”

“I Googled it one time. What? I was curious where it came from, that’s what Google’s for.”

“I love you, Mara.”

“I know baby, I love you too.”

They’d come to a corner, a corner that should ostensibly have been the corner of Fitch and Franklin, but most definitely was not that corner any longer. Mara stopped walking and stood, rocking back and forth from heel to toe, and really looked around. There was an unseemly, unfinished quality to everything that she saw. It all appeared to be the idea of what it was supposed to look like, as opposed to the thing itself.

There were no details. The buildings that looked like stores had no signs, and you couldn’t see anything through the front windows, just a flat black reflection. She walked towards one, leaning closer and closer, waiting for her reflection to appear but it never did. She pressed a fingertip against it and noticed the same greasy feeling Rolly had complained of. It felt warm, though, which for some reason tripped her out even more than the lack of a reflection did.

She walked back to Rolly, where he was gazing off down the side street. “There’s not even any front doors on the houses. It’s like a little kid’s drawing. A disturbed little kid. Hey, like a disturbed little kid who would hum in someone’s fuckin ear while they were sleeping!” He seemed to feel he had had some sort of revelation. “What if all of this is her?”

“Her?”

“Well, yeah, I guess I just thought it sounded like a girl. Didn’t you?”

“Could’ve been, sure. For awhile they sound a lot alike though.” She rummaged in her pocket, pulled out a couple nickels and a hair elastic. Keeping a coin and shoving the rest of it back, she tossed it up and down a few times and then winged it right where a convergence of foggy particles were congealed. A tendril shot out and grabbed it, immediately flowing back into the main body of condensation.

“Holy SHIT, Rol! Did you see that?” She turned towards him, scared, excited, too full to be called anything but manic, possibly bordering on lunacy. “I thought it would bounce off, maybe, or, or, I don’t know, I wanted something to make a fucking noise, there’s no fucking noise, but it fucking caught the nickel, it caught it…” She trailed off because her mouth couldn’t catch up with her brain, which was okay because her brain was rapidly shutting down.

He gripped her hand, partly for comfort and partly because the terror of being so far out of anything remotely resembling a comfort zone was starting to strangle his will to keep exploring. “I gotta say there’s a part of me wishing we’d stayed inside, at least for a little bit longer.”

“Yeah, well, there was no point. Murdered in there, disemboweled out here, it’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure but every choice sucks balls.”

He genuinely laughed at that, but let it trail off because the sound just sort of dried up even as it appeared. Then she felt him freeze in place.

He rolled his eyes like a spooked horse, gesticulating wildly at something behind her without even moving, and she turned quickly.

There was a house on the corner now, where moments ago a blank storefront had stood. This house not only had a front door, it had a front porch and the front porch had a swing. The swing swung back and forth, a brittle ‘crick’ of the chain at each push, and each push came from beat up sneakers wrapped around little feet attached to skinny legs belonging to the startlingly gamine girl who sat on it.

She dragged her toes across the porch and slowed, slowed, slowed to a stop. She looked right at them, face splitting into a wicked grin.

“Laa, lalala, lala, laaaa….” she hummed.

*****

Author’s note – when I first jokingly thought about titling this post tonight, I did Google the origin of the saying ‘Nobody here but us chickens’ because I had no idea where it came from. I can’t guarantee that what I read is the last word of its origins, but it did say that it’s earliest known usage was as the punch-line of a racist joke in 1902. So, I left it in there, because it’s interesting as it’s not what I would have assumed it was and now I won’t it use anymore because it’s rude. TRIVIA!

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The dreadful, clammy night (3)

*Part 3*

“There’s nothing new to be gained by this perspective, Mar,” said Rolly quietly, his head still stuck out into the night. “We can’t see all that much and I still can’t hear shit.”

Mara was already pulling on a pair of jeans. “I know, baby. I wanna go outside anyway, I really need to see if there are any other people around. I really want to talk to another person.” She did a shimmy and a jump and even under the exigent circumstances, Rolly forever enjoyed that moment where she yanked her jeans over her ass. “It’s no offense to you, if you weren’t here I’d be a fucking basket case, I just want a stranger to tell me I’m not stark raving.”

Rolly grabbed a pair of sweat pants off the back of a chair and sat to drag them on. “You wouldn’t be a basket case. You’d be a She-Hulk until you got everything under control. Ha, then you’d spend a month hiding under the covers and be a fucking basket case.”

“So what do you think we’re gonna find out there?,” she asked. “I can’t even guess. Like, are we crazy, like right around the corner everything’s all light and life and hunky-dory? Is everyone gone? What if everyone’s gone?”

Stamping heels into tennis shoes and zipping up a hoodie, he shrugged. “Dunno. They either are or they aren’t.” He dragged a giant sports duffel from under the bed and threw it on top of it. “I, however, am going to go with the assumption that there is a chance that outside of these walls there’s unfriendly shit. So, you’re going to go grab our ball bats. I’m going to grab the big flashlight, fuck it, and the little one too, and a kitchen knife.”

Mar stopped short on the way to the hall closet. “Rolly, seriously, a knife?” She looked towards the window, where no sound or movement floated. “Okay, fine, yes, a knife. I’ll throw in a couple bottles of water and some crackers, because who knows, maybe we don’t get to come back in.” Breezy words for a terrifying possibility. “But we’ll still look totally normal, so if we are the ones who somehow both devolved into lunatics trapped in the same delusion, no one will even be able to tell.” She smiled brightly and spun on a toe.

Rolly was trying to be rational in an irrational situation, which was commendable but also very easy to get wrong. For instance, you couldn’t ever stop remembering that there was no logic to fall back on, it was all spur of the moment calculation that could be undone by single moment’s hesitation. Ball bats, knives, and flashlights were all very good, but would they actually do any good? There was no way to tell, and better at least a sense of bravado than cowering.

Mara came back into the room with an armful of supplies. She tossed them down onto the bed for Rolly to pack as the man approached the endeavor like a real life game of Tetris. He could somehow fit the ability to live for a week into a bag that size; it was a bizarre gift.

“Okay,” he said. “We’re ready. Let’s go.”

As they walked towards the front door, Mara cleared her throat. “Uh, Rolly, I feel like I should tell you that when I went into the kitchen I heard the humming again. It was by the door.”

He glanced sideways at her but didn’t slow his stride. “Did it sound like an invitation or a warning?”

“A what? An invitation?” She thought about it for a second. “I really don’t know that it sounded like anything other than humming. It was the exact same sound we heard before.” Now they were in front of the door and she stopped with her hand on the deadbolt. They waited and listened, but there was no more humming, nothing at all in fact, stopping them from stepping out into the corridor, but still they hesitated a moment longer.

She turned the deadbolt. They waited. She snicked the chain lock off. They waited. As she reached for the lock button on the door handle, the humming came again.

“Laa, lalala, lala, laaaa….”, fading away, not as if the hummer was walking farther away, but as if the hummer was disappearing.

“Warning?” Rolly asked again. “Or invitation?”

“Doesn’t matter,” answered Mara, and turned the knob. She re-locked the door from outside, unsure whether she was protecting what was inside or defending herself from it, and whether or not such feeble security mattered anyway. Nothing for it, now.

From their first few steps into the hallway, they knew immediately that they were in fact the ones who were crazy. At least they were in it together.

It wasn’t their hallway. There were no patterns on the wallpaper, or the carpet, whereas theirs had geometric designs woven in. The stairs at the end of the hall had disappeared, replaced by a flat plane that led directly to a large, double front door that they didn’t recognize. The monotonous color scheme was unrelieved. What could loosely be called light was coming from tacky electric candles in tacky art deco holders on the walls.

Mara stepped closer to one of them, peering closely at the crude details. “Ugh. It’s a face.” She pulled Rolly over and pointed. “It’s a face, like an outline of a face. It is a decidedly unhappy face.”

The face hewn into the candleholder was indeed not a happy face. Quite the opposite, actually, seeming to indicate extreme suffering with just a few lines. Foreboding, that was the word for it. It boded of foes. They stepped back and walked forward once more.

She caught him staring at her again, and stared back confused. Then she shook her head. “Just say it, you moron.”

That stupid grin. “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

“I’m glad you’ve got that out of your system, because we’re at the front door now, and our lot in life is not about to improve.” They both turned to look through the glass.

The world looked exactly as it had through their bedroom window. No color, no sound, no people. Nothing but mucky looking fog and bilious light from strangely shaped street lamps.

It wasn’t even their street anymore.

* * * *

Get ready for the real weirdness to start in the upcoming Part 4, There’s nobody here but us chickens. Haha, I don’t think that’s what I’m gonna call it, but it would fit and it made me laugh….

Categories: Fiction, The Dreamer's Chronicle | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

…but how do you know when you wake? (2)

(Direct continuation of One can always dream…)

“Well, we have to go investigate.” Rolly’s grin was a little sickly this time around, but he was game.

Mara, not being the type to not go looking, with an aluminum ball bat over one shoulder, for what went bump in the night, agreed. “We’re turning on every damn light as we go, though.” They didn’t exactly creep into the living room, but it was a near thing. They stopped a few steps in. “So, what are we looking for?”

“Uh, cold spots or moldy looking stains on a wall? Shit. I don’t know.”

“Yeah, well, all I know about ghosts and whatnot I learned from watching the same movies as you, so I don’t know. I can’t think of anything else, unless you wanna try to rig up an EMF meter from a remote control car or something.”

“Dude, I couldn’t even fix the toaster.”

Having reached the end of their paranormal store of knowledge, there was nothing left for it but to start. They turned on every light, opened every door and cabinet and cupboard. Mara took a deep breath, fighting a childhood terror of what might be hiding behind the shower curtain, and yanked it back with enough force to pop off one of the plastic hoops. Even though she hadn’t been expecting anything, she still shuddered out a relieved breath when she found the tub empty.

They defied every horror movie trope and stayed together as they cleared the two-level apartment of any odd goings-on. The bedroom they saved for last, standing in the doorway, shoulder to shoulder, leaning in just enough to look around. “So.” Mara nudged him. “Here we be.”

“Yup, here we be.”

Mara took two running steps and jumped up on the bed from a few feet away. “Monsters under the bed gonna grab me!” she yelled. Then she dropped down to her knees and began sniffing at the blankets and the pillows like a dog.

“The fuck are you doing, Mar?” Rolly asked as he followed her into the room.

“We haven’t seen anything, haven’t felt anything, haven’t heard anything. I was seeing if you could smell something. Isn’t there a thing about sulfur, like you smell it if you’re being haunted?”

“No, that’s demons, you can smell sulfur if there’s demons. I thought you could smell oranges or something.”

Mara laughed. “No, you smell oranges if you have the Shining, Jacky Boy. Doesn’t matter though,” she added as she crab-walked off the other side of the bed. “I can’t smell anything.”

Rolly was peering into the little half-bath off their room, peeking behind the door, looking under the sink. Nothing. He started to turn away, but looked back and walked a few steps closer to the mirror. In the bottom corner, there was a small, smudged fingerprint. Way too small to belong to his hand, or to Mara’s. “Hey, Mar, come here a sec please.”

“I think you should come here first,” she called back. “Like, now would be cool.” Her voice was more confused than frightened, but you could hear the note of hysteria surfing right under that sound wave. “Yup, right now.”

She was standing by the window, a crooked finger pulling down a slat of the blinds, looking out onto the street. Something outside had her more freaked out than anything that had happened so far because the eyes she turned towards Rolly as he crossed the room were huge and stark. She stepped back to let him walk up and take her place.

It was black outside. Not just plain black though. Hulking trees on lawns were solid black with watery black shadows and shades of grey leaves; the light spitzing from the street lamps was a silvery-grey, all the same mono-chromatic color scheme, like a black and white photograph. The world wasn’t static like a photograph though. There was a haze that blurred the corners of things, and a thin fog was snaking along the ground, as far as he could see.

The humming came from directly behind them this time.

Mara spun around faster than thought and caught just a glimpse, around knee level, of an amorphous shape that faded even as she tried to mentally record details. Her heart was pounding and she flattened her palms against the wall behind her, leaving sweaty palm prints. “Holy shit holy shit holy shit.” She bent over, hands on her knees, taking deep breaths until her tunnel vision began to widen again.

Rolly slumped on the floor at her feet, doing some deep breathing of his own, keeping an eye out in case she got dizzy. What he had seen outside the window had unnerved him even more than that stupid fucking humming. It was the same street view he’d seen for the past five years, everything where it belonged, and all of it so incredibly wrong. He sat up suddenly, and realized that the major underlying cause for his growing unease was the lack of noise.

He stood again, turning back to the window. They lived on a block full of apartment buildings, shops, fast food joints, there was always noise, always. Right now, there was nothing. “Mar, I really can’t begin to explain any single thing that is happening right now. I’m tweaked out a little bit, here.” He looked out again, looking more closely at the fog. It undulated in swirls and whorls, snaking under and around and over a bench at the little corner park. It didn’t seem to be dissipating at all, though, as if it had no intention of just blowing through town.

“Right. We’ve gotta open the window.”

“Rolly, are you one hundred percent that’s what we have to do? Because I’m not one hundred percent.” She growled at herself and turned around. “We do gotta, of course we gotta, we gotta open the window because some batshit shit is happening and we’re here and we one hundred percent gotta.”

So she opened the window.

Rolly pulled the cord and drew the blinds all the way up, and they stood for a moment watching through the screen. There were still no sounds, no cars stopping and starting and blatting their horns, no doors shutting or cop sirens. A skitchy sound, an under-sound, he couldn’t think of any other way to describe it, seemed to carry flatly on a breeze that he couldn’t feel. He clicked the latches on either side of the frame and slid the screen up so he could stick his head out into the air.

Mara made a little noise in her throat at his side, grabbing onto his shirt and wrapping it around in her fist. He glanced over. “Hey baby, if some crazy ass flying gargoyle comes out of nowhere and tries to yoke you up I’m not letting you go without a fight.”

“Really Mara? A gargoyle?”

“You telling me you think that’s out of the realm of possibilities at the moment? Whatever, fuck you, I’m holding on. Look.” She held on tighter, bent her knees and braced herself, just in case.

Gargoyles. Jesus. He planted both hands firmly on the windowsill and leaned out into the night.

*****

Part 2 of a story inspired by my dude telling me that he was getting sick and tired of me humming like a creepy little kid in my sleep.

Categories: Fiction, The Dreamer's Chronicle | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

One can always dream…(1)

Rolly rolled over in bed with a disgruntled yank that pulled the blankets with him. “Jesus, Mara, what are you doing? Shut up.”

Mara poked her head around the bathroom door and stared at the bed. Rolly lay with his head facing away from her, completely alone, grumbling into his pillow about creepy little kids humming. She stifled a laugh and crept closer. Just as she raised her knee to slide into bed as quietly as she could, she froze, cocking her head to the side.

Angry now, Rolly rolled back in her direction. “Damn it! What is the matter with you!” Catching sight of her wide eyes gleaming in the mostly darkened room further away than they should have been, whatever he had been about to say next trailed off. “Mara?” He sounded unsure.

She slid the rest of the way into the bed next to him, leaning close to whisper. “It wasn’t me, Rol. I was in the bathroom, I heard you yelling. I thought you were talking in your sleep.” Before she could tell him that she had heard it, too, it happened again.

It sounded exactly like a creepy little kid humming.

Rolly was out of the bed, tripping over tangled blankets wrapped around his knees, and slapping at the light switch on the wall before Mara could figure out what direction the noise seemed to be coming from. The humming cut off abruptly. Wide eyed, he turned around to stare at her. “What the fuck, Mara? What in the actual fuck?”

She shrugged, ginger curls bobbing against her shoulders. She wasn’t really scared, not yet, but she was decidedly uncomfortable. “It sounded like it was coming from right here.” She was still whispering. She cleared her throat, and tried to continue in her normal voice. “It sounded like it was in bed with us.”

He held out a hand to her, and she took it, let herself be pulled up and across the floor, out of the room. Their fingers twined tightly as they walked with an oddly graceful nonchalance, no quick-stepping scaredy-cats here, no sirree. They took the few steps down to their sunken living room in one giant stride and turned the corner again into the catch all room. His computer, her yoga mat. His books, her comics. His Kuerig, her French press. He lifted their joined hands to stop her.

Mara reached out to shut the door but Rolly shook his head. No way in hell was something going to sneak up on them; he’d much rather watch a monster walk up on him than have one jump out and yell boo.

He crossed his arms, fingers tip-tapping on his tattooed forearms. “So. Uh, what did you hear, exactly?”

“I went into the bathroom to get a drink of water,” she started.

He couldn’t help himself. He grinned. “I dehydrated the hell out of you, baby.”

She smacked his arm and laughed. “Shut up, ass. I went to get a drink of water,” she paused, eyebrows raised, until he gestured magnanimously for her to continue. “I went to get a drink of water and you started yelling at me. Or, you thought you were yelling at me, whatever, so I stuck my head out to see what the hell you were doing and you were saying something about creepy kids.” She felt goosebumps rising on her arms. “Dude, I came over, I was going to talk to you, try to get you to say more weird stuff, and then I heard something.”

She stepped forward and grabbed onto his arm. She was scared now, alright, all of it rushing up to smack her in the face. “Holy shit, Rolly, it sounded like it was in bed with us!”

He nodded to her. “I know, love, I know. I thought I must have dozed off when you got up because I didn’t feel you come back to bed, but all of a sudden you were humming in my ear like a complete asshole. I swear, I don’t remember if I felt anything there, but I don’t think so. I don’t think something was there. I heard it, though, right in my damn ear.” His hand started to go up towards it, he stared at it and lowered it back down. “Did you see anything?”

“Nope.” She shook her head. “Nothing.”

****

So maybe a cool idea that will go somewhere and work out how I picture it…? I’d love to be able to write a weird sort of fantasy/horror hybrid tale 🙂

Categories: Fiction, The Dreamer's Chronicle | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

There’s Always a Morning After

Mort’s first day waking up as a ghost was not as disconcerting as one might think. He knew who and where he was, and grasped the circumstances, instantly, and was glad of it. What fun would it be to start your day off thinking you were a normal 15 year old boy waking up in your bed, waiting to smell what dad was making for breakfast, and then realizing you were dead, a ghost, now living in a graveyard where the smell of bacon drifting up the stairs and dancing in your nostrils was nothing but a teasing flight of fancy.

I think that we have spent enough time with Mort by now that there is no need to continue to come up with fancy ways to say that he didn’t really do the things he did – when it is said that he rubbed his eyes as he stretched, we understand that he didn’t, in fact, do anything of the sort. At least not on the corporeal plane that we are accustomed to. He did stretch, and he did rub his eyes as he woke, he just did these things in a ghostly manner.

He floated the rest of himself all the way up out of his grave, where he had chosen to lay his head and, despite Shmitty’s prediction, dream. The watery sunlight accentuated the translucence of Mort’s form, creating a hazy miasma of flotsam and particles that were his outline. As he gazed around the waking graveyard, he observed the same glittery shapes rising here and there, some already ambulatory at this early hour. There, shining outlines of an old couple, holding shimmery hands that were barely there until they passed through the shadow of a large tree, taking a morning constitutional ritualized more than a hundred years before. And there, there he saw to his delighted surprise ghostly kittens romping and rolling in the clipped grass on the bank of a small pond.

Feeling that this warranted further investigation, and possibly scratches or snuggles, who knew, Mort rose and wandered over. Happy mewing and mewling greeted him as he walked closer, the kittens abandoning their play to rub flanks against his ankles and purr in happy anticipation. As he bent to give the nearest one, a tiny little bruiser missing an eye and half of one ear, a pat on the head, the others, three or four he couldn’t tell, they moved around too damn much, all darted forward into a furry pile over his feet. Laughing, he sat on the ground and let them clamber and claw and climb all over him. Well, this certainly wasn’t the worst way to start his first full day as an officially dead guy.

As the kittens curled up, one by one, in his lap to take a ghosty little cat nap, Mort let his eyes drift from ghost to tree to sky without really noticing many details; his brain wasn’t in first gear, just idling, waiting for a thing to catch his attention, or demand it. Until then, he was oddly content in the moment. He could still feel a version of sunlight striking his flux of gathered bits and pieces, and for that he could only be grateful. He mimicked the act of breathing in deeply, exhaling slowly, just because it delivered a sense of comfort.

* * *

Sneed sat like a stranger-than-usual gargoyle, perched on the crumbling headstone of one Patrice Michaela Snodgrass, eyeballing Mort’s recumbent form. A woman’s bouffant topped head rose from the earth and passed through Sneed’s boot, to their mutual chagrin. “Damn it, Sneed, what in the hell?” Patrice pulled her head forward, causing particles making up Sneed’s boots to jump ship and vice versa with her hair becoming part of his footwear. “I thought we’d been through this. The last thing I want to see as soon as I wake up is the bottom of your filthy hobnails. Especially not when they abscond with my hair.” She huffed huffily and set about re-arranging her coif, an act that intrigued Sneed despite himself. After a few final flourishes she directed her full attention to the little man above her. He nodded towards the boy, and she swiveled around. “Oh,” she sighed, out loud and in her heart. So young.

“Name’s Mort. New arrival, just got in last night. Tell you what though, boy slept like one of the old timers, just went right down and didn’t see him ‘gain til just a few minutes ago.” He chuckled. “Went right for the kittens.”

Shoving Sneed over to make room for herself, in a very un-ladylike manner to his way of thinking, Patrice scooted up next to him. For all their cantankerous verbal jousting, she and Sneed had been very close for a very long time. She leaned into his shoulder a little and asked him for Mort’s story. She had left a son behind when she had died; ten years old, her Benjamin, sweet and smart, and as devilishly handsome as his bastard of a father had been.

Sneed shrugged his shoulders, a sack of potatoes shifting. “Don’t know much, really. I caught his mom talking to the old codger when they were picking his spot, something about a hit and run accident.” He shrugged again, this time with an agitated edge that betrayed a flair of temper he hadn’t felt in years. “He’s special, that one. Can’t quite put my finger on why, but he’s just slipped right into his life here so far without complaint. Suppose that’s enough to make one stand out around here.”

“Will you take me to meet him, Sneed?” She hopped off the stone and held out a hand to him. “Oh! Do you think we could get everyone together in time to do a show tonight?” He snorted. “What,” she bristled. “I know it’s been a while, and I suppose they’re not always cooperative…” She trailed off under the weight of his cocked eyebrow.

“Cooperative. Really, woman? Trying to get these ghouls to agree on a single damn thing is well nigh impossible, let alone getting them cooperate with each other for an extended period of time.” They walked towards Mort, who had opened his eyes and turned his head to watch them approach, careful not to jostle the sleeping litter in his lap. As his face split into a grin and his eyes warmed, Patrice felt the strings around her heart sing a lilting little melody. There really was something about this boy, she thought. She could see it from here.

As they reached him, Sneed pulled his hat off his head and bowed with a flourish whose affect was only slightly marred by the sunken shape of one side of his skull. “Boyo,” he said. “You are in for one hell of a treat as soon the sun goes down.”

* * *

Stay tuned for the next episode, ladies and gents ~snicker~ the ghosts in Mort’s graveyard cooperate to put on a show after all. This is episode 4 (I think..?! I’m pretty sure) in Mort’s Graveyard Tales. On the odd chance that you’d like to read them all, there’s a handy little link over on the left hand side…

Categories: Fiction, Mort's Graveyard Tales | Tags: , , , | 10 Comments

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