May 15 2015

Friday Flash: The Dead Among the Dead

Behind a gate on a hill, the house skulks with the weight of its memories. It’s gardens bear rotting fruit. Vines crawl up its siding and peel back it’s wooden skin. It’s windows are cracked and broken, shutters clinging to rusted hinges, peeling away like a woman’s fake eyelashes at the end of an alcohol soaked night. The roof gapes up at the sky, open mouthed, drinking in sunlight, rain, and snow indiscriminately.

The house is home to specters, fragments of broken hearts and shards of regrets, drifting lonely and angry over the termite infested floors, nestling under the mildewed drapery, curled up in soggy chairs. They roam the many tilted floors, drift through peeling walls scattering mice, and wander into spiderwebbed rooms tasting the lingering once-was that paints a sheen over slow destruction.

When the front door falls off its hinges and the interlopers wend their way through the entry, taking up and altering space, the specters wail a distant keening easily mistaken for wind whistling in the eves. The interlopers offer up their own low moans, and for a moment their two lost nations take up a song of esurience.

Accustomed to percieving the ancient house as draped in its historic glory, as vibrant and fresh as when they were alive, the specters do not recognize the interlopers for what they are. They do not notice the flesh peeling in strips from bone, do not smell the too sweet stench of decay, do not comprehend the hollowed out emptiness of the interlopers that shamble without apparent purpose through the dim rooms.

The specters respond as they always do to invasion — slamming shutters, knocking wrinkled books off shelves, casting dark flitting shadows — expecting the screaming flight such actions traditionally evoke. But the just-bodies of the interlopers give no response other than to amble jerkily in the direction of each new sound. Confounded, the specters use up their electrostatic strength in games of fright that have no effect.

One interloper, in shuffling toward the sound of a portrait crashing, collapses through a wood rotted floor and smashes like an overripe melon on the stone basement floor. Specters huddle around it, waiting for one more to rise up and join their numbers. But the husk remains a husk with nothing to offer, not even its own ravenous hunger.

The specters learn. Unable to terrorize the interlopers into fleeing, they draw them with their howling, herd them with their bumping and knocking, guiding them to the hole to fall and smash and shatter and grow still. One unravels wire bit by steely bit until the chandelier, dusty and laced with cobwebs, crashes into a clutch of shambles, driving them through the cracking stairs into the rooms below.

One by one, the specters steer the interlopers to destruction until at last their home returns to its own quiet ruination, allowing the specters to slip back into their rumination and drift cloud-like through the fading chaos of memory.

* * *

Chuck Wendig invited writers this week to play the sun genre boogie this week. My random drawing pulled “haunted house” and “zombies” — which is utterly perfect for me.


May 8 2015

Friday Flash: The Shadows Among Us

(Note: This is in the horror realm, so wary readers be warned.)

“Look, I don’t think you understand — we open those doors, we let them in.” My dad’s voice is a growl. His eye is puffy and turning black, where I struck with my book and his face is red with rage, but in his eyes I see only terror. The same terror that had kept my family and I huddled in the locked basement, shivering in the dark for the past week.

“You don’t understand. We need water. Food,” I said, my own voice thick with fear and anger and guilt. I’m halfway up the basement stairs. The book — hard bound, sharp edged, thick as a brick — still hangs heavy as a dead weight in my hand. I suck in a stale breath. “We’re going to starve to death, if we don’t get food.”

“You’ll let them in—,” he snarls, shifting forward aggressively.

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May 1 2015

Friday Flash: Resident Ghost

A soft padding of feet comes from above, my cat Jaspar stalking across the attic floor. How he manages to get up there is a mystery, one I’ve long ago given up on solving. His slow prodding bursts into the rapid thumping of running, then silence. Scuffling sounds. A loud crash follows as something falls over.

He’s playing with the ghost again.

I sigh and climb out of bed, grumbling at having been woken up before 5 a.m. My limbs are heavy with sleep as I pull down the steep steps to the attic and ascend to discover what sort of mess they’ve made. The air in the attic is always chill and little goosebumps crawl up my arms.

When I bought the house four years ago, I didn’t know it came with a resident. We didn’t get along at first. My presence offended the ghost. I was an interloper, changing their home into something unrecognizable. I tore up the ugly carpets and replaced them with wood, remodeled the kitchen and the bathrooms. I repainted everything and arranged furniture. The ghost responded with loud thumping in the middle of the night, startling me from sleep, my heart pounding. Pictures would fall off the walls and shatter. Objects would move from one location to another, making me hunt for a pencil or my toothbrush or any other small thing when I needed it. Fruits and veggies went rotten in hours if left out on the counters. The electricity flickered and went out. It wasn’t I made a deal, promising to leave the attic alone and unchanged that the ghost left me mostly in peace.

Mostly. It still plays tricks sometimes.

I scan the attic with a flashlight. Jaspar blinks at me in the beam of the light, his pupils flashing green.

“What have you been up to,” I ask.

He yawns innocently and pads over to me, weaves in and out between my legs, purring loud as revved engine. I push him gently aside with my feet, afraid to step on him, but he just resumes his rubbing of my ankles.

The crate Jasper — or the ghost — knocked over lays on its side, its contents and packing grass spilling out onto the floor. I trip over Jasper on my way across the room, quietly cursing him and start stuffing picture frames and old knick knacks back into the crate. Every time I lift an item back into the crate it feels as though I’m touching a secret. I’ve never looked through any or the boxes or chests up here. Maybe because I associate them as belonging to the ghost, though they could belong to some family that left them long before or long after they arrived.

I pause to glance at the old black and white family photos, as I put them away. Turn-of-the-century photos always seem creepy, the pasty faces, the too white whites of their eyes, the blank expressions —presumably happy people at one time and all that’s left is this unsettling imagery.

A draft whispers along my neck. Something knocks against the attic floor. My heart races and the hairs on my arms stand on end.

“Alright, alright,” I say to sooth myself as much as the ghost. “I’ll get on with it, then.”

Jasper scampers down the ladder before him. I step down onto the first step and flick off my flashlight. “Have a good day.”

A bubbling sound like laughter comes back to me out of the darkness, unsettling, but not hostile. It’s a strange coexistence. But I’ve had worse housemates in my lifetime.

Jasper yowls downstairs for his breakfast. And that’s one of them, I think as I climb down and close up the attic behind me.

* * *

Footnote: Hmmm. I have to admit that this feels like a piece of a story rather than a complete story in itself, but it’s what I could manage today. I’ve always wanted to write a story where the owner of a house chooses to coexist with a ghost rather than try to remove it. Will have to see about expanding this someday.

* * *

In related news I’ve just learned that May is Short Story Month. Yes!

I’ve also learned that Sara Zarr has started a challenge in which she will be reading a short story a day in May and tweeting about it with the tag #ShortReads. I plan to do the same, posting short reviews on my blog here as well as on twitter.

And since I always need more reasons to write, I’m also planning to post a Friday Flash every week this month (maybe, we’ll see how it goes).

My first read:

Among the Sighs of the Violoncellos” by Daniel Ausema, published at Strange Horizons — The story is a poetic vision of a Eden-esque garden with fairy tale trees, wish granting lizard tales, and a single glinting white swan. It’s told from the point of view of the tenders, the ones invisibly keeping paradise tended and beautiful. Wonderful.

Favorite Line(s): “In the back of the garden is a tree that bears orphan farmboy fruits. If you pluck one at just the right time, it will become a hero. A moment too soon, and the unripe hero fails in his quest. A moment too late, and he lives out his life bitter over missed opportunity, brooding on the injustices of life.”


Nov 21 2014

Bluebeard

Blue Beard in Tales of Mother Goose (Welsh)

Bluebeard illustration from Tales of Mother Goose by Charles Perrault.

Superhero Plus Fairy Tales

Oh, how people love to whisper. The rumors of my husband were rampant as gnats in summer. They speak loathingly of his ugly blue-black beard and how he towers over everyone in a room, thick and tall as an evergreen tree. They say he goes through wives the way wolves tear through rabbits, one after the other. No one knows what becomes of these fine young, innocent ladies, they say. And they wonder at what great wealth he must possess to draw so many new brides into his home.

I married not for his money, but for the rumors.

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May 16 2014

Friday Flash: Beyond Borderlands

Section from Frontispice de la Toyson d or (1613) – Public Domain

Section from Frontispice de la Toyson d or (1613) – Public Domain

“This is an auspicious day,” speaks the Alchemist, the High Cleric, the Guardian of the Seven Realms, raising his palms to the passive crowd. The people squint up at the Alchemist as though staring into the sun, unaccustomed to looking directly at his grace. When his radiant smile falls upon them, a collective sigh whispers among the people. “For on this auspicious day, the people of the borderlands beyond the Seven Realms, who have been tried to the crime of sacrilege and been found guilty, will meet their punishment.”

The People of the Realms applaud with the polite respect due their Guardian.

The Alchemist lowers his hands, a light wind tugging at the edges of his robe. The robe, like the dais he stands on and towering walls of the temple behind him are laced with the luminescent weaving of centuries old magic. First planted as a protection and declaration of peace within the temple, the magic has since grown like a weed, swirling vine-like charms and enchantments into stone foundations, extending from the heart of the central city out into the Realms. The poetic pattern retains inertia, a soothing weight upon the People who do not struggle against the web. Even the Alchemist, the High Cleric, the Guardian of the Seven Realms, no longer questions it omnipresence.

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