Urban fantasy for modern humans.
You raise your hand to knock on the door in front of you. Your knuckles wrap against the wood, and you are surprised by how heavy the door is even though you can hear music playing inside. You drop your arm to your side and wait. After a few deep breaths, you raise your hand again, a closed fist this time, and bang on the door. Hard. Harder than you had intended to, and when the door opens the person on the other side looks annoyed. You realize that you are annoyed too. And for a moment you stand there and stare at each other. This lasts for a few seconds, maybe a heartbeat and then a smile breaks across the other person’s face. You mirror the expression, and soon you are ushered through the door and into the room beyond.
The music is much louder here. It weighs heavy on your ears but you smile and look for the face that opened the door, but they are gone. You scan the room. There are more people here than you expected. A bead of sweat breaks free from your forehead and trickles down your temple. You feel it run down your neck and into the collar of your coat. You’d like to take your jacket off, but you don’t know where to put it, and no one has offered to take it. You swallow, but with nothing in your mouth, the action leaves you feeling hollow. You are alone in a sea of people.
In an effort to look comfortable, you cross the room, making your way to the bar. People move and flow around you as you walk. They neither acknowledge your presence nor completely ignore you. You make it to the bar and pour yourself a glass of ice water from a pitcher set to one side. There are slices of lemons, limes and oranges. You select a slice of orange and drop into your glass hoping it may provide an opening for conversation. You take a sip of the water and cannot taste the orange. You add another slice.
What Are You Doing
“What are you doing?!”
That voice sounds upset, Sally thought to herself as her hands continued to shred the fabric that flowed between her fingers.
“What are you doing?!”
Sally’s mother was now shaking her. Mother’s pudgy fingers were digging into her arms with surprising strength. When Sally did not speak her mother shook her again, harder. Sally’s head snapped back, and her teeth made a loud clack as her jaw followed. The sound scared Sally, and she began to cry. Her mother’s fingers loosened.
“Oh baby, I’m so sorry.” Mother’s fingers trembled as she brushed Sally’s hair off her face. “Are you alright, darling?”
Sally found her voice.
“I’m okay.” She stammered, snot began to drip from her nose. Her mother fished a tissue out of her sleeve and wiped the child’s nose.
“That’s good, honey. Blow.” Sally blew her nose into the clean white tissue. “Good job, baby.” Mother placed the used Kleenex on the ground next to the large pile of torn silk, lace and taffeta. “But Baby, why did you do this?” Her voice was quieter now which pleased Sally, but she still didn’t answer the question.
Her mother began to weep gently, Sally could see great big tears fall from her eyes and drop onto the pile of shredded cloth. Her mother gathered the big pile of scraps closer to her and buried her face in the silk and lace. Sally quietly got to her feet and backed out of the room leaving her mother to grieve the once beautiful white dress.
Martin is a young man of twenty-seven. He enjoys walking his dog and showing up for his job a few minutes early. The former involves a miniature Schnauzer and a small plastic bag. The latter, however, is frowned upon by his coworkers as Martin always takes an extra doughnut when he arrives, leaving the last man through the door without a sweet confection to jumpstart his day. The men have discussed this with Martin, and every time Martin assures the men that he will no longer take an extra doughnut, but by the next morning, the box is a doughnut short and whoever is last through the door must go without.
But Martin needs the extra doughnut. He lives a very active lifestyle, and the additional calories are essential. Without them, he might become lightheaded while he does his work. Martin is very attached to his work. Not the things he does at his job, adding numbers is not work for Martin, it is merely a task he completes to provide him with funds with which he pays his bills and purchases his supplies. Rope costs money, duct tape costs money, and the store where he buys his crutches does not have a buy-five-pairs-get-one-free deal. He would not need to purchase so many crutches if he could keep better track of his things. But it is hard to keep track of all his tools when in the throws of his work. Creativity can take a body over.
So Martin will continue to take an extra doughnut, but he knows his days at his job are number. Not because he is subpar at the tasks involved in his job, remember, adding numbers is not work for Martin, but because sooner or later someone will find out just exactly what his work is.
The Old Woman
She parted the curtains as slowly as her gnarled fingers would allow. It does no good to be seen, she thought to herself, then they’ll stop doing whatever they’re doing, “the little shits.”
She said the last words out loud and revelled in the way the words clipped against her teeth. She’d gotten a good deal on the teeth, and although they were a little too big for her rubbery mouth, she never went without them, even when she slept. ‘You never know when the end will come,’ she’d say to no one in particular, ‘and I’ll be damned if I’m caught without my teeth.’
From the gap in the curtains, one milky eye raked back and forth. She balanced against the window sill and let out a long sigh. She had never understood the concept of ‘happy,’ but she figured it had to be something like what she felt now. Bony fingers entwined in the yellowing lace of her curtain, the brush of it against her cheek and the hard edge of the windowsill pushing against the inflamed joint of her hip and a plethora of neighbours to judge and ridicule.
“Little shits.” She mumbled again and again, like a mantra.
The little shits in question were just the neighbourhood children being neighbourhood children. They played in the streets until the sun went down, hockey in winter, soccer in the summer. The old woman had watched them grow up from her window ledge, and yet she felt nothing for them. When one of them had broken a leg last summer, she had, in fact, laughed so hard that she’d fallen from her window ledge and broken her hip. Karma left her on her floor for a few hours before she’d summoned the strength to crawl to her kitchen and ring for an ambulance. This was followed by the humiliation of a public nurse coming in every day to wash and change her. But like all assholes, she’d healed quickly and felt just a strong as always. So no lessons were learnt, and now she sat, watching and judging, from her wooden perch once again.
Jet Black Glass
Chloe stood before the window, one ear trained on the movements of her mother. She was washing dishes in the kitchen. A noisy exercise that Chloe knew would take some time. The kettle boiled and its whistle was shrill even from this distance. The sound quickly faded away as her mother pulled the pot from the stove and poured its contents into the big basin they used for such practices. Once Chloe heard the muffled sounds of scrubbing resume, she turned her attention back to the window.
It was a clean sheet of jet black. No light outside to define the darkness and no light inside to bounce against the double glazing. Once the sun went down all light in the house was extinguished, except for a single candle that now illuminated her mother’s scrubbing. The kitchen curtains were tightly drawn.
Chloe was being very naughty. She should be lying on her cot tucked into the back of this room. She should be asleep or at least be pretending to. Her siblings weren’t pretending. Their soft breathing filled the space behind her. But Chloe was tired of pretending. She was tired of days spent never going beyond their fence and nights spent lying the dark. Kids were supposed to explore; she’d read that in a book at school. She missed school.
Chloe stepped up to the glass. She decided not to be afraid. Chloe cupped her hands around her eyes and stared into the darkness. Her breath fogged the glass, and she wiped it away leaving a tiny smudge. Chloe stared hard into the darkness, trying to see something, anything.
As her eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, she was able to make out shapes. There, near the back of the garden, she could see their shed, and on the other side of the yard she could just make out the big tree and the swing that hung on its lowest branch.
As Chloe watched, the swing began to move. Slowly at first and then in big sweeping arcs. Chloe began to shake. She didn’t know why the swinging scared her so, but something deep in her gut that she couldn’t deny told her to be afraid.
Suddenly the swing stopped moving. Chloe gasped, her breath covering the glass in a thick fog. She pulled the sleeve of her pyjamas over her hand and wiped at the glass, terrified and desperate to see what was happening outside.
She cupped her hands again and looked out into the night. The swing remained painfully still. She strained her eyes and tried to make out the rest of the yard, but could see nothing, no movement, no shapes. Just the still, pitch black garden.
Chloe stepped back from the glass. Her mother was still washing dishes, the water in the basin sloshed rhythmically. Walking slowly and carefully, Chloe made her way back to her cot, never turning her back on the jet black glass.
In The Box
The table was cold and hard; its polished steal a stainless slab in the middle of the damp room. No matter how much they pushed the exhaust system there was always a hint of moisture in the air; it left a film on the tongue.
The young woman had not been there long, but already she loved the work. How nice it was to do it out in the open, no need to hide her projects in the back of the garage where her siblings could not find them. Taxidermy had been her first love but as the years went by death, in general, seemed to call to her.
They had all laughed when she’d chosen mortician school. But look at her now; just graduated, with a great job and she’d have her student loans paid off in no time. Let’s see them laugh at that, she mused.
She loved working here. Here she was appreciated. The funeral director loved her face work, her experience in taxidermy had taught her a lot about natural positioning. And she worked clean, no spills, no puddles of water on the floor. The funeral director liked that. When he found out she had experience in mummification, he practically doubled his offer.
“Fantastic! We’ve been looking for someone with that particular skill set.”
“Well, I got really into Egyptology in high school. I had a raccoon I was going to mount, and then I got this book on mummies, so I decided to give it a try. I did a few more after that; I still have one in my private collection.”
“Amazing.” The man stared at her for a moment. “Forgive me; you don’t often meet young women so experienced. You will definitely get to utilise those skills here.”
“Great.” Her smile faltered, “Wait, not on people, right?”
“Oh no!” The man laughed, “of course not. Some of our clientele wish to have their animal companions accompany them on their journey. We find that mummification is less upsetting for the open-casket ceremonies.”
“Oh, yes.” She nodded.
Today she was excited, the last month had been all people, but today she was getting a cat. She’d done the owner yesterday, heart attack, went in her sleep, and the family decided to have the cat done as well.
It was kind of sweet that the cat had died so close to their owner’s passing, she thought to herself, they must have really loved each other.
Footsteps sounded in the hallway. The funeral director would be there soon with the body. She checked her tools one more time.
“Alright,” the director said as entered the room, “here’s your chance to shine!”
He placed a box on the stainless steel table and left the room.
The box meowed.
Alone in the Dark
Jack was shaking.
Another crack of thunder and he practically jumped off the bed.
“It’s okay, baby. It’s okay.” Bailey reached down and scratched behind his ears. Jack whimpered and snuggled in closer. He was a tiny dog with dark grey fur and a short tail, a typical mutt, loyal and tough to a fault. Normally. But not when the thunder went crazy like it was right now.
Another giant clap, this one shaking the house itself, and then a flash of lightning, bright as day, blazed through the window.
“It’s right on top of us now, buddy.”
Resigned to the fact that she wouldn’t sleep while this storm raged, Bailey sat up. Jack took the opportunity to slip around her and under the blanket.
“Okay, Jack,” Bailey said, “just for tonight.”
Bailey looked out the window. Everything was dark. The power and phones had gone out hours ago.
Her bedroom was on the first floor of the house. When she’d lived there with her parents, it had been perfect. Just pop the screen on the window, run across the field, and she could be over at Jenny’s place in five minutes.
Now that her parents were gone, Dad five years ago and Mom last winter, the view gave her some comfort. Sometimes, first thing in the morning, she would forget, and for a blissful moment, she’d feel like a teenager again. Then Jack would bark to go out, and the reality of her forty-something, no family, all dog, life would come flooding back.
Bailey looked out the window at the sheets of rain and tried to decide if she wanted to sink into despair again. It was pretty easy, just let the first tear come and then drop down into the darkness.
Another clap of thunder, an explosion of lightning.
Bailey and Jack both jumped, but for different reasons.
As Jack shook under the sheets, Bailey could have sworn she’d seen someone in the flash of lightning. Just an outline, but definitely the shape of a person, heading towards the house.
“Must be a trick of the light.” She told Jack. He whimpered in reply. “Poor baby.” Bailey reached under the blanket and patted the dog. “It’ll be over soon.”
Another clap of thunder, a flash of lightning.
Bailey tried not to look. She tried to pretend that she wasn’t scared by what she’d seen, that it was just a trick of the mind. She tried to forget that she was alone in the rambling house. She tried to forget that the power was out, that the phones didn’t work. She tried to forget she was completely alone. But as the lightning flashed, she looked out the window. And there, the outline clear, someone was coming.
Jenny and Samantha
“Hurry up, stay close.”Jenny was hurrying, but Samantha’s legs were much longer than hers and the lamp Samantha carried was swinging back and forth, messing with Jenny’s equilibrium.
“Can’t you hold that still?”
“If I wanted to burn my hand, yes.”
Jenny grunted as she struggled to keep up with Samantha’s leggy strides.
“We’re almost there.”
Jenny knew better than to ask where ‘there’ was, Samantha wouldn’t tell her. The privilege of being the oldest; you always got to be in charge. But the passageway was narrow and the damp stone that engulfed them made her feel queasy. Jenny couldn’t wait to be out in the fresh air again. The lamp continued to swing and the light warped around her. Jenny swallowed a huge amount of saliva that had suddenly formed in her mouth and tried to focus on her sister’s head as she walked. But Samantha had her hair in a high ponytail that day and the bouncing of her sister’s long red curls in the changing light did nothing the help the churning in Jenny’s stomach.
“Just around this corner.”
Samantha’s voice sounded funny, but Jenny was still gulping back saliva and didn’t think opening her mouth to ask if Samantha was okay was a good idea. Her sister moved around a bend in the passage and the lamp swung hard, blinding Jenny. Stars flashed before her eyes as Jenny struggled forward, certain that any minute now she was going to puke. She moved around the bend and saw Samantha standing a few feet away in large cave, totally still. The lamp had stopped moving and Jenny breathed a sigh of relief as her stomach settled, the fear of impending vomit gone. Samantha seemed to be looking at something on the floor in front of her. Jenny didn’t move from the passage. There was something about how her sister was standing that made Jenny stay right where she was.
“What are you looking at?”
“What I wanted to show you.” Samantha said in that same strange voice. “I made you something.”
“Are you okay?” Jenny asked.
“Maybe.” Samantha replied.
“Maybe? Sam, you’re scaring me.”
“Don’t be scared. Come and look.”
Everything in Jenny screamed at her to leave, to turn around and run back down the passage, out through the forest and back to the main road. But Samantha was the oldest and she was in charge. Jenny stepped into the cave, her sneakers made soft squeaks on the hard stone. As Jenny drew close, Samantha spun on her heel, blocking Jenny’s view of whatever was behind her.
“Are you ready, Jenny?”
Samantha looked sweaty and pale, Jenny could see that even in the dim light of the cave, Samantha’s pupils were tiny black dots.
“Are you okay, Sam?” Samantha ignored the question.
“Are you ready, Jenny?” Samantha’s upper lip began to twitch.
“Sam, you’re really scaring me!” Tears streamed down Jenny’s face.
“Are you ready, Jenny!” Samantha shouted, her voice echoed in the stone room and Jenny slapped her hands over her ears.
“Yes!” Jenny cried.
“Good,” Samantha said, her voice now calm but still strange. “Then look.”
Samantha stepped aside.
A Drop of Blood
God, this was getting too easy, Jared said to himself.
He slipped the wallet into his pocket and walked quickly, but not too quickly, out of the subway station. When he got home he pulled out his haul for the day and began to riffle through; cash in one pile, credit cards another, IDs and finally trash for all the photos and keepsakes these idiots seemed to insist on cramming in their wallets. He got to the wallet he’d pilfered at the subway station. It was high-quality leather, black and scaly. Hmm, Jared mused, maybe this is worth something.
He opened the wallet, pulled out the contents and spread it on the table. Cash, check. A lot of cash, nice. Credit cards, check. Amex Platinum, excellent. Hey, maybe he could take the rest of the week off. He put the Amex in his pocket. There was very little in the way of keepsakes in this wallet, other than the cash and the credit card; there was a single piece of brown paper folded into a tiny square.
Jared was going to throw it in the trash, but something stopped him. It could be the pin number for the card, he thought to himself, sometimes the old guys had to write them down. He unfolded the paper; it was covered in elaborate symbols and swirly writing. In the centre was a series of interlocking triangles. Jared’s left eye started to water. He traced his finger over the triangles. His nose began to bleed.
A drop of blood fell onto the paper. Pain shot through Jared’s left eye as the front door of his apartment burst open.
Your Own Volition
“Can’t you just do it?”
“No, you must do it of your own volition.”
“Will it hurt?”
“Yes. If you have changed your mind…”
“No! No, I want to do it. I do. I just need a moment.”
“You have had your moment. There are others who will take your spot, make your choice. Now.”
“Okay, I’ll do it.”
She moved from tree to tree, gently brushing her fingers across their rough bark as she passed. Her bare feet sank slightly into the mossy forest floor as dew gathered on the hem of her dress, darkening the linen. A bird called somewhere near by, woken by the morning sun.
She continued moving east.
The ritual had been a success. She could feel her sisters moving along their own points of the compass.
There could be no light without dark, no good without evil, but it was her family who would dictate the percentage in this forest.
Boar Bristles and Melancholy Songs
The old woman loved to brush her charge’s hair, loved to run her hands through the thick strands after the boar bristle brush had done its job. And the girl had the most beautiful voice, high and light like a bird. She loved the little melancholy songs the girl would sing as she brushed. In her mind’s eye the hair was golden blonde and streaked with sunlight. The old woman sighed, perhaps one day the Queen would restore her sight and set her little bird free.
As she pulled the sheet away, light glinted off the mirror, striking Jane in the eye; her little hand shot up and rubbed at it. “That will not help.” Jane dropped her hand and looked right and left in the dim attic light. There was no one around; Ben had not snuck up on her. She stepped up to the glass; blue eyes looked back, her eyes. The mirror was old, the paint was peeling from its wooden frame and the glass held a yellow cast. It was almost dark in the attic and more silent than church. Jane didn’t know where the light had come from, or the voice. With a shiver, she picked up the sheet and covered the mirror.
He uncorked the bottle, the dark metallic scent of the liquid drifted towards her. He filled two glasses and came to stand beside her. She drank deeply and he smiled at her.
“Almost time.” He drained his glass.
She took both empty glasses and tossed them into the trees.
They stripped, taking care to fold their clothes when they were finished.
They faced each other in the darkness. Gently, she brushed his long hair from his eyes.
She was smiling now.
They waited for the moon to rise.
She hated this place. Hated it with a fury so pure it burned white hot behind her eyes. How dare they keep her here? How dare they say it was for her own good? How dare they? Had she not handled the situation perfectly well before they arrived? Had she not destroyed those mischievous machines with her own bare hands? She had. And she had enjoyed every minute of the conflict, even if she had gotten oil all over her favourite dress. But now they kept her here in this tiresome prison. Yes, the velvet chaise was lovely and were she not so angry perhaps the espresso would not taste so bitter, but she was bored, so very bored.
The snow was fresh and crisp under Malcolm’s feet and he reveled in the crunching sound it made as his boots descended. It was deep, almost to his knees, and the journey would take many hours, but he had been entrusted with a very important task and would not be deterred. Mother was counting on him. He continued forward, using one mitten covered hand to shield his eyes from the bright sun. The field was empty and silent except for his clomping and although it was high noon, Malcolm felt uneasy. He stopped to take a drink of cocoa from the flask his mother had given him. It was warm and sweet, and if he hadn’t glanced back it would have comforted him. But he did look back. There in the snow, a few paces behind his own ragged boot prints, were the unmistakable imprints of small bare feet. The flask slipped from Malcolm’s hand and as he struggled to breathe, the footprints moved towards him.
The bone was exposed. She had irrigated the wound and now Cali could clearly see the fine crack that threatened to split the femur. She closed her eyes and began to chant quietly under her breath. The words ran into each other forming an indiscernible braid of magic and sound. With her eyes still closed, Cali moved her hand towards the wound. The tips of her fingers brushed the wet flesh that had been peeled back to reveal the break. Using the roll of flesh as a guide, she slid her fingers deeper into the wound until they touched bone. Cali continued to chant, her words now thrumming above the din of the whimpering man who lay before her. Driven by her sound, the power in her heart moved down her arm and through her fingers searching for the fissure. As the cries of healer and patient reached a fevered pitch, Cali’s power crested and the crack was healed. Silence filled the room. Cali pulled back her hand and looked at the re-formed bone. Now came the sewing.
These Two-Legged Creatures…
The noise of the machines grew louder. He had to hurry. He strained with effort as he pulled his roots back through the earth they had fought so hard to penetrate. If he wasn’t clear of the valley by the time they arrived he would have no choice but to freeze in place. Then he would most certainly be cut down. Damn these two-legged creatures, he said to himself, who are they to cast me out? In the near distance, a machine screamed. He thought of his cousins to the west who had not had time to run. He redoubled his efforts. He would not be cut down in his prime.