Posts Tagged ‘fiction


Writing Prompt: Sleep

I don’t sleep anymore. Not since they brought me back. None of us do.

They don’t know why; they run tests, they poke and prod, they try to put us under the hard way with drugs and electric shocks and sometimes concussions. None of it works. We just don’t sleep. At all. We’re always running at maximum power, always awake, alert, ready for… whatever.

Some people think that makes us freaks, that we’re something that shouldn’t exist. Of course, plenty of people thought that even before they found out we don’t sleep. Tampering with the dead, bringing them back to life, that tends to set people on edge even if it does mean the keys to immortality are in their hands.

That’s what we were, you know. Dead. Suicides and cancer patients, mostly. Those who still had enough of their vital components to try resuscitating them. I think that’s why we don’t sleep. Had enough of it while we were out of the game.

There’s downsides, though. How to fill the time, for one thing. You never realize how useful sleeping is as a method to just speed up the clock a notch until you can’t do it anymore. It means you have too much time to sit and think. Thinking isn’t as good as you believe it is, not really; when you have nothing but time to think, no break from it, no chance to actually process what you’re thinking, well… it leads some pretty dark places.

Places like “What if no one had to sleep anymore?” Sure, sounds great. Until you realize the only way to do that is to make sure they all take the big nap first. Some of them aren’t going to wake up from that, of course. Someone’s going to get too roughed up, a liver or spleen ruptured here, a giant hole in their head over there. But you start thinking of that as collateral damage, as acceptable losses. After all, things will be so much better when everyone is like you.

That’s what’s running through my mind as I crouch behind the couch of what used to be my wife, thinking and waiting for her to come home. I say “was” because she decided she didn’t want to be married to some “unsleeping zombie freak” as she called me. She’ll see. She’ll understand when she’s like me and doesn’t have to sleep anymore, doesn’t have to worry about nightmares. When she knows what it’s like.


Writing Prompt: Bleed

It’s easy. The pen is the scalpel, the page the wrist. The words, best of all, are the lifeblood.

It starts slow. A slash here, a droplet of blood there. Single words without much meaning, blossoming on the page. Another cut, deeper this time, the bloodstains begin to merge together, giving birth to clauses, sentences, eventually paragraphs.

That’s not enough. Never enough. Cut again, tear through the flesh and expose the beating heart beneath. The arterial blood is what we need, what we will have before the day is through, staining the whole page red. The white space will be killed. Writing is not an act of peace; it is an act of war and violence, altering perception by shattering it. Leave your mark on the world in the splatters of blood that tell your story.

Eventually, however, the blood runs out. There’s no more left. Either the patient has died, or needs time to recuperate. The pen is put away, the bleeding allowed to stop.

But tomorrow, a fresh page will be waiting, clean flesh to hack into the design you choose.

Don’t keep it waiting too long.


Writing Prompt: Tree

“The ground here is sour,” Ezekiel said, staring at the blackened earth beneath his feet. Surrounding him were the long-dead stumps of trees that had been cleared long before he’d come here. In front of him stood the sole survivor, a twisted looking oak that had only a dusting of leaves despite it being summer. Only one branch of any significance jutted out from it, the bark worn away in the middle as though something – or several somethings – had rubbed against it harshly for long hours.

He looked up, towards the three others in the clearing with him. Josiah and Abelforth, both members of his flock, stood on either side of Harold, their hands clamped on Harold’s wrists and elbows. Harold drooped lazily between them, blood running from his temple and dripping on the ground below. The ground drank of this offering with greed, leaving no trace it had ever fallen.

“Sour indeed. The Indians knew it. It’s why they cut all these trees down.”

Ezekiel moved to stand in front of the withered oak, laying one hand against the trunk and caressing it like a lover.

“But not you, old friend. Not you. You they left, and we thank God and all the saints for that, can you say ‘hallelujah’?”

Josiah and Abelforth both gave a murmured “hallelujah” in response. Harold remained silent.

“And you know why they left this one,” Ezekiel asked. He received no answer, but hadn’t expected one. He was sermonizing, and those who were in his flock knew his tone.

He knelt before the tree and picked up the coil of rope he’d laid there. His fingers began the work of knotting it, leaving a loop just slightly bigger than a man’s head and a strong slipknot. He rose, tossing the long end of the rope over that solitary branch. He was pleased when it landed perfectly on the worn spot. He’d been casting his rope there for a long time.

“Because the ground is also hungry. It is very hungry, brothers, and must be fed.”

He gestured to the others, and Josiah and Abelforth moved towards him, carrying Harold to a spot just beneath the dangling noose.

Ezekiel slipped the noose over Harold’s head, and cinched it against the man’s neck.

“Witness, and be not afraid.” With another gesture from Ezekiel, Josiah released Harold, letting Abelforth hold the man alone, and moved to grab hold of the long end of the rope. Putting force against it, he pulled it taut. Once he had the weight, Abelforth did the same.

“Now go, lost sheep. Feed the tree. Feed the earth. Feed the flock.”

Ezekiel pulled out a weathered hunting knife, and ran it across Harold’s neck. At the same time, with practiced motions, Abelforth and Josiah yanked, hoisting Harold into the air. Harold began to dance, gurgling and thrashing against the trunk of the tree as his blood rained down onto the ground below.

The miracle came quickly. Ezekiel’s weathered face was splattered with the lifeblood of his sacrifice, and the years were washed clean from it. Crow’s feet disappeared, rheumy eyes saw clear, and hair that had beginning to go white became a thick and lustrous black once again.

The tree, too, saw improvement; small branches began to burst forth on all sides, and fresh foliage bloomed. A rain of acorns dropped, pelting all three of the men below, and Ezekiel made note of where each landed. They would fetch them once it was done. Not for planting, of course; God, no. There must always be only one tree. The power of the sacrifice would be in them, though, and his flock was just as hungry as the ground.

In a few moments, it was over. Harold was no longer dancing, and no more blood ran from him. He was a limp doll swinging slightly in the breeze that had come up. Ezekiel nodded.

“Bring him down and bury him as the Good Book says. Then hurry to the church. Sacrament will be at noon.”

Josiah and Abelforth nodded, and began their work. Ezekiel paid them no mind. Instead he caressed the tree again, the old hangman’s tree that he had fed for over a hundred years.

“Sleep well, old friend. Another sacrifice soon.”


Writing Prompt: Bag

Benjamin had lifted the backpack right off the old dude without even trying. It had been easy, almost too easy, and he couldn’t wait to find out what was inside. It felt pretty heavy; if he was lucky, there’d be a laptop or a tablet inside. Something Lucas could leech personal info off of, anyway; it’d make the paycheck bigger.

He swept the assorted detritus off the top of his father’s workbench, not caring that one or two of the little wooden figurines his dad liked to carve hit the ground and cracked, sending splinters into the air. Giggling a little to himself, already imagining all the things Lucas’ money could buy, he upended the bag and let the contents spill out.

His giggles were cut short when he saw his supposed treasure. Meaningless bric-a-brac, trinkets and doodads galore. No laptop. No tablet. Not even a cell phone. Just a bunch of junk.

He swept through the pile, scattering it a bit, hoping to see the gleam of black metal or hear the chime of a mistreated bit of electronic wizardry, but no luck. All he saw were inhalers, empty pill bottles, a switchblade, ticket stubs, a bag of marbles. More crap.

There was a bang on the shed’s door. Benjamin jumped, but paid it no mind, his hands still rummaging in the treasure pile for something actually of value. At the second bang he glanced over his shoulder, irritated.

“I’ll be out in a minute, Dad! I’m busy!”

There was silence from outside for a moment. Then a third bang, but this time it wasn’t knocking. It was the door being blasted inward with what must have been a massive amount of force. Standing on the other side was the old man Benjamin had lifted the bag from in the first place. He recognized him from the ugly orange jacket and the battered fedora the old guy was wearing; no sane person would wear that kind of getup in a Floridian summer.

“You have something of mine,” he said, his voice cracked and weary with age. “I’m going to have it back.”

Benjamin snorted. “What? This crap? Fine, take it, you old fuck.”

Benjamin swept his hand across the worktable again, scattering the items and causing more than one to hit the floor. The old man winced as he heard something crack, as though it caused him actual, physical pain. He moved forward, into the shed, bending over his treasures.

Benjamin saw his chance. The old bastard was right there, right below him. His hand crept out and picked up his dad’s hammer. The expression of surprise on his face when he tried to bring it down and couldn’t move, couldn’t even command himself to take a breath, would have been comical if it wasn’t also terrible.

Blood began to run down his chin, staining his Slipknot t-shirt. The old man had picked up the switchblade and without batting an eye or giving Benjamin any time to react, had driven it into the boy’s stomach.

The old man stood, pulling the knife out in a motion that spoke of years of practice. He folded the blade and set it gently on the table. Then his fingers pulled the hammer from the boy’s hand and set that aside as well.

“Glug,” said Benjamin, then repeated the syllable a couple more times as if for emphasis.

“Glug, indeed,” said the old guy, as he wrapped one of his gnarled hands around the boy’s throat and began to squeeze.

When it was done, the body safely tucked in the corner, a grisly present for the boy’s father to find later, perhaps, the old man bent over and began putting his treasures back into the bag. After he had accounted for each and every one, whispering to them as though they were lost children, he stopped, considering.

Slowly and carefully, he picked up one of the wooden figurines from the floor. This one was of a swan, or would have been, had it been finished. The general shape was there, but details were still hard to pick out.

“Benjamin,” the old man whispered to it, stroking its splintered backside. “Welcome to the menagerie.”

He added the wooden swan to his bag, before shouldering the pack, and walking away.


Writing Prompt: Choke

The thing has been stalking me in my sleep for weeks. Every night, it’s the same thing: fall asleep, dream of a maze of hallways and shuttered doors, being followed by someone who never quite gets close enough to identify.

Sometimes they lean out of one of the doors I didn’t check and give me a shove. Sometimes they get in front of me somehow and herd me in a different direction. Once or twice they’ve had something sharp in their hands and drug it across the walls of the dreamscape, producing an unholy shriek that makes me stop in my tracks and cover my ears.

I always wake up from the dream sweaty and ill-rested, feeling like I’ve been running marathons. My wife smiles and tells me I need to lay off the red meat and booze. Sometimes I think she’s enjoying it.

Last week, it got worse. Instead of using whatever sharp implement my stalker has on the walls, it’s taken to lashing out when I inadvertently pass it, gashing my arms repeatedly. When I wake up, my arms are covered in welts where the blade hit me.

My wife smiles and tells me it’s psychosomatic, that I need to lay off the television before bed. I sometimes think she’s enjoying it.

Tonight, though, it’s different. I can tell. There’s a mist in the air of the maze, and my stalker isn’t always stalking me. Sometimes I see them just ahead, and they’re facing away from me. Sometimes I hear them making that screech in a corridor opposite the one I’m in, or sense footsteps behind me, moving further from me.

That’s my chance, I think. To end it. I hear another screech to my right, and there’s a door there. I slip through, and there they are. Right in front of me, facing away, looking lost as they drag their blade across the wall and bob their head back and forth like an animal scenting for pray.

They don’t notice as I come behind them, one arm locking around their throat and cinching tight, the other flailing at the weapon in their hand, knocking it aside. Once they’re disarmed, I grab hold of their throat with my hand instead of my elbow, spin them, and lock on with both hands, squeezing as tight as I can.

This dream is going to end, one way or another.

The thing in front of me has no face to speak of. It’s a black mass, with only the outline of a mouth and vague suggestions of eye sockets and a nose. The mouth-shape twists into a smile, and it’s one I almost know, but it doesn’t stop me. I squeeze and squeeze until the being first starts twitching, and then stops.

Then, I’m awake. Just like that. My hands are swollen, sore, and locked around my wife’s throat. Her eyes are bulging but glazed. A little runner of drool has slipped from the corner of her still smiling mouth.


Fiction: Woman at the Window

She was there again.

Jimmy Greer had made it a bedtime habit to creep out of his bed, tiptoe across the hardwood floor of his bedroom with as much stealth as his seven year old body was capable of, slowly pull the edge of one Adventure Time curtain back, and peer through the small gap at the world beyond. He’d been doing it for three weeks now, and out of those twenty one days, seventeen of them, he’d seen her.

The first time had been an accident. He had thought he’d heard a dog barking or a car backfiring or some other noise that had roused him from sleep and made him double check to be sure zombies weren’t invading the neighborhood. He’d seen no zombies, merely one old (maybe) woman standing under the street light at the corner. Nothing particularly odd, even if it was late at night; lots of the people in his parent’s apartment building worked nights or kept weird schedules for some other reason. But his skin had been crawling just the same, rippling with gooseflesh at the sight of her.

Just a woman in loose green slacks and a black sweatshirt, deep creases in her face that might have been old age, stress or a generally nasty disposition. The kind of person you saw standing in the corner at the market, glaring at you like she just knew you were there to steal something, break something, or both. Not friendly looking, especially since he couldn’t see her mouth – she was holding her hand in front of it, for some reason – but nothing that should be making him feel like he had to pee, or that he was in mortal danger. But that’s how he felt just the same.

He’d tried to break his gaze from her, to let the curtain go and just go back to bed and not think about it, but he’d been frozen. Then she’d tilted her head and looked up, locking her weird gray eyes on his, and he knew, just knew, that she’d seen him. How that could be, he wasn’t sure; he was in a dark room and the only lighting on this part of the street was coming from behind her, but some part of his brain – probably the part that his dad would call a “lizard-brain” – was certain she wasn’t just looking at a dark window in a building full of them, but was looking right at him.

He’d seen her cheeks twitch, and even though her hand was still in the way, Jimmy was pretty sure she’d smiled at him. Not the nice smile, the kind that says “Yeah, I may look old and mean, but I might have a cookie somewhere in my pocket,” but the kind that says “I have the bones of six or seven other little boys in my basement.”

That first time, Jimmy hadn’t been able to stop it. He’d made water in his pants. The rush of wet heat, followed by cold as the air hit the spreading, foul smelling spot, had broken his paralysis. He could have screamed for his parents, could have run to the bathroom, but did neither. He had leapt back into bed, and had stayed there, shivering, for hours. Until the sun had finally come up he had been somehow certain that if he looked at the window, he’d see her peeking back in at him, waiting for him to let her in so she could do something to him.

The night after, he’d checked the window. Almost against his will. She hadn’t been there. His relief had been greater than anything he’d known in his seven – almost eight! – years on this earth. But the night after that, he’d checked again – chiding himself the whole while, that it was silly, that there was no ax-murdering old woman watching him – and she’d been there again. Only instead of at the corner down the road, she had been a few steps closer. And instead of turning up to look at him when he’d opened the window, she had already been staring. As though she’d been there for hours, just waiting for him to look out.

Since then, every time he saw her, she was a little closer. Always staring up at him, and always that little cheek twitch when he peeked out, even though he was sure the small movements of his curtains weren’t really enough to give him away.

Tonight she was directly below the building, looking straight up at him. Jimmy could see, now that she was close enough, that her mouth was moving constantly behind that obscuring hand. He thought she might be talking, but he couldn’t hear her if she was. The thick glass, the distance, and the wet, heavy air of the October night made sure of that. Jimmy wasn’t sure he wanted to hear what she might be saying. It was probably something that would only make her behavior even worse. “I’m going to eat you, Jimmy,” maybe. Or “I know about the rabbit, Jimmy!”

He hadn’t thought about the rabbit in a long time, until now. At least, that’s what he told himself. The rabbit was actually never far in his thoughts, casting it’s maggot-eaten and still somehow sad gaze over everything he said and did, not that he’d ever admit to it.

Why he was thinking about it now – actually thinking about it, instead of pretending not to – he didn’t know. Why he thought the woman would know anything about it was also a mystery to him. But somehow he was sure of it. After all, scary things like crazy women who crept a little closer to you every night only happened to bad people. He knew that from the movies he watched and the things his parents told him, when they bothered to talk to him at all. It was the only bad thing he’d ever done.

It wasn’t really that bad, he tried to tell himself, but it did no good. The woman standing on the sidewalk below, muttering to herself and smiling up at him said otherwise. In her eyes there was the sum of all bad things, the worst possible things, and she was here for him. There wasn’t any doubt of that. That meant the rabbit had been a very bad thing, too.

He crawled away from the window – somehow, keeping his body below the level of the sill, creeping towards his bed on his belly, made him feel better – and crawled under the covers, pulling them over his head. The air quickly grew stale and muggy, but it was better under there. Safer. If he couldn’t see the bad things, the bad things couldn’t see him.

But he could still see the rabbit. The way it’s paws had looked, battered and torn and covered with blood. The way the the eyes were still moving, like they were watching him, until he realized they were actually maggots and the poor thing’s eyes – big, brown orbs that glimmered and promised all the good things in the world – had been eaten away. The red stains on its nose, probably gained while it battered itself fruitlessly against the cage door in a last attempt to escape.

Jimmy didn’t know he was crying until snot and tears started dripping into his lap and his sinuses sealed up. To find that he still could cry for the rabbit left him feeling somewhat relieved. He’d cried plenty when he found it, of course. Any child would have. But, like most children, it had passed quickly from the sharp cut of recent experience to the dull throb of memory, burying itself deep within and not bobbing to the surface again for months at a time. When he told himself he didn’t remember the rabbit – who hadn’t even been his long enough to get a good name – he didn’t cry, didn’t even feel bad. Not on top, anyway. The idea that he could still cry for his lost pet, in his mind, somehow made it okay, was proof that it wasn’t a bad thing, that he wasn’t a bad kid, didn’t deserve whatever nasty trick the old woman was trying to play on him.

It didn’t help much, though. It still left him with the question of what to do about it. He’d tried talking to his mother, but she had brushed it off. Told him there were no old women in the neighborhood except for Mrs. Misha, and she never left her house because there was something wrong with her legs. She had a helper, a teenage girl named Alison, who came by sometimes and tossed her hair about while she stared with pursed lips at the older boys in the building. But the woman who Jimmy’d seen under the streetlight that first night definitely wasn’t Mrs. Misha – who was fat and in a motorized chair when she left the house – and she definitely wasn’t Alison, who was young and pretty and wore bright colored shirts that barely covered anything at all.

He’d tried to explain those things to his mother, but she’d just started nodding and “uh-hunh”ing before he’d gotten even halfway through, then held up a finger when her phone started buzzing. By the time she was off the line with her assistant, she’d forgotten all about Jimmy’s problem and was focused on her own.

He’d thought about trying to talk to his dad, but that was an even worse idea than his mother. Dad only had two moods, and neither of them was good for important communication. In one, he was sullen, quiet, and responded to almost any question with “Go ask your mother.” In the other, he was erratic and silly, acting more like a kid himself than the grownup he was supposed to be, and asking questions then was liable to set off a chain reaction of bodily noises and yo mama jokes.

Jimmy didn’t have any friends at school – he stuck to himself at recess, usually sitting in the corner of the yard with a PB&J in one hand and a filched Batman in the other, and even the teachers barely knew he was alive unless he had his hand up for the hall pass to use the bathroom.

As he lay in bed, going over his options for what wasn’t the first – or the hundredth – time and coming up with the same net result of “none at all,” Jimmy suddenly had a thought. It made him bolt straight up in bed, his heavy Spongebob comforter puddling around him, granting him a large breath of cold, fresh air that shocked him into full wakefulness.

She couldn’t get in. She could stand below his window all night, every night, if that’s what she wanted to do, but that was all. Sure, that was scary, and it’d probably take some getting used to, knowing there was a crazy woman down there muttering to herself, but that’s all she was. His parents’ apartment was on the fourth floor. The fire escape was on the other side of the building. All the windows had little iron cages around them, keeping the pigeons away. Unless she could fly – and if she could fly, why would she be waiting out there all night, every night, when she could be using her superpowers to make money or bother someone else? – there was no way up to his room, let alone actually into it.

The idea, the simple logic of it, entranced him. It didn’t even matter if she knew about the rabbit or how it must have suffered. The idea that if she did know about it somehow, she probably did have superpowers didn’t come to him. The deeply held notion of only an hour before, that she was some form of malignant Santa Claus, here to punish him for his misdeeds – even if they had only been accidental – was forgotten in his exultant pleasure over knowing she had no power over him, no way to enforce whatever punishment she might have wanted to lay upon him.

Laughing to himself – quietly, so as not to either wake his parents or be audible to the woman below – Jimmy lay down again, flipping his pillow over to the side that hadn’t been soaked with nervous nightsweats. His lips were parted in a broad smile that exposed his three missing teeth, one of which he’d swallowed last month. He laughed again, remembering that he had been worried that the tooth fairy would come for her prize and have to cut it out of him. At the time, the idea had been every bit as real and traumatizing as the idea that the woman below was somehow going to hurt him… and every bit as completely, patently, false. Somehow the two ideas together became an equation in his head that said no harm could come to him.

Thinking of equations reminded him that there was a math exam tomorrow, and if he didn’t want to get detention for failing another one, he had best get some rest. Knowing that he was safe from the woman meant he could. As his eyes started to slip shut, Jimmy was still smiling. It was over. No harm, no foul.

* * *

After his math test – which he did not ace, but at least passed – and the remainder of the school day, Jimmy made his way home, endured a near-silent dinner nestled in the taller chair between his parents, and retired to his room as he always did. When his mother called out to him that it was bedtime and he should put his things away and get washed up, he did without complaint, not even a single peep of “Just five more minutes, mom?” He was still floating on his newfound freedom, still satisfied that all was well and the world would now be returning to its regularly scheduled programming. “Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel,” like the announcer on Batman said, when he could convince his parents to let him stay up an extra half hour and watch it on Nick-At-Nite.

Once he was ready for bed, the lights turned off, his comics stacked on his desk, the air conditioner making its bubbling noises as it drowsed in the energy saver mode, Jimmy glanced at the window, feeling a single bright pulse of fear twist through him.

Oh, stop it, he told himself. it doesn’t matter anymore. The thought pushed the fear back, brought his smile out. Without bothering to peek beyond the curtains, he slid into bed, pulled the covers up, and closed his eyes.

His eyes snapped open an uncountable period of time later. He wasn’t sure when he’d fallen asleep – something that had always bothered him. He could never tell the moment when he fell asleep, and like worrying about the light in the fridge and when it was turning itself off and on, it seemed like a tremendously important question, made all the more important by the fact that he was unable to discover the answer through any means he had available. But he had been sleeping, the puddle of drool at the corner of his mouth and the way the hall light, shining with an aura of absolute normalcy through the cracked bedroom door, lanced at his eyeballs said it was so. He didn’t have the urge to pee, didn’t see his father’s bear-like shadow drifting across that small oasis of light, didn’t hear his mother’s television or any sirens, so he didn’t know why he was awake. At first.

“…in a cage. Just like your rabbit.”

The voice was gravel, the way people talked on television if they had been screaming a lot or trapped in a fire with too much smoke or something. When he heard it, his balls drew up into his body, his arms became pebbled leather, and his hair pulled itself into a cock’s comb on his head. It was coming from directly outside his window. He was sure of it.

“Just a bunch of garbage. Watching old Mary every night, laughing at old Mary, like she doesn’t know. But she knows. She saw. Saw how it beat itself against the bars, how it was drowning in the filthy garbage and shit you left in there, nothing to eat, nowhere to sleep. She knows.”

He didn’t notice when his pants were soaked through. He’d pissed himself, again, but his entire body was locked, unable to process anything except that horrible voice and what it was talking about. His throat was locked, and while he wanted to scream, nothing came out, not even the breath he had first taken when he awoke. Total vapor-lock.

“Thinks he can do what he wants, just go along without anything ever happening. But old Mary knows better. Old Mary sees everything, knows about the garbage that builds up, how that’s all anybody really is. Just garbage and shit that walks around and laughs and screams and how she loves the screams, especially the ones that don’t come out, because if they came out they’d scare away the maggots and we don’t want that.”

Jimmy’s body wasn’t his anymore. In between his mind flashing images of his last glimpse of the rabbit that he had oohed and awwed over for a week before forgetting to feed it for too long and the soul-rending fear he had of the woman, made all the worse because he had been certain that there was nothing there to fear at all, he wondered if Pinocchio had felt this way. His body got out of bed, fat yellow droplets oozing off his pants leg to dribble on the floor, and walked towards the window. His hand reached up, bunching Jake’s smiling face on the curtain into his tiny fist. He knew in another moment that fist would yank the curtain wide, and knew what he would see when it did… but was completely powerless to stop it.

“Yes, he comes to old Mary, they always do, because they want to go to her basement and see the rest of the garbage, be with the rest of the garbage, because that’s what they all are, and they know it.”

The gravel was leaving the voice. It was changing somehow, turning soft and seductive, making him quiver in ways he didn’t really understand. Had Jimmy been older, he might have even been aroused by it, but he only knew it reminded him of the way Alison sometimes sounded when she was talking to one of the boys she liked, and how he sometimes wondered if she’d talk to him that way.

His hand yanked the curtain back, and he saw just what he had expected. But it was oh-so-much worse.

The woman was floating in front of his window. Her hands – both of them – were wrapped around the bars of the pigeon-protecting cage, and her feet were braced against the wall below the window sill. She looked like some kind of human spider, and he might have laughed at the idea except that this was no comic book. This was real. Her mouth was moving, and without her hand to cover it, to hide the things it was saying, her voice was very loud and becoming something inhuman. The words were no longer the smoky gravel, or the flirty teenager’s sing-song, but had become something like the hiss you heard when the TV was tuned to an empty channel or the way a wasps’ nest sounded if they were riled up. But he could still hear the words in it.

“There he is, our boy. Don’t worry, old Mary will take good care of you, my little garbage heap. So much shit in the world, filling it up with nothing but, but Mary will take care of it, clean it up.”

Her mouth wasn’t human. Where lips should have been, there were thin strips of silky brown fur. Rabbit-fur. His rabbit’s fur, he was certain. She had no teeth. Instead of pearly whites, black, spindly things that looked like grotesquely sharpened fingers twitched and waggled at him. Every time her tongue popped out on an explosive consonant, he saw it was covered in pale green scales and split at the end, forking into two small snake heads that moved their mouths in conjunction with the words she was saying. They too had heads on their tongues, and those had heads on their tongues, world without end, amen.

He was still the puppet, still Pinocchio being run with someone else’s string. His arm dropped the curtain, and disengaged the latch. His arm went taut as he pushed the window open, his eyes locked on those of the smallest snake-tongue he could see.

Hissing with triumph, her teeth-legs pointing straight forward and lengthening further, the thing that wasn’t an old woman bunched the muscles in its arms, and squeezed through the gaps between the bars. Jimmy was no longer concerned with things that were impossible, though he knew this certainly fit in that category; the bars were no more than eight inches apart. He couldn’t even fit through them, and he was small for his age. He’d tried, once, when his mom had taken away a He-Man figure he’d found in the trash. Decided he was going to show her by running away. The attempt had failed, but it proved that no person could fit through those bars.

But somehow she had. His body politely stepped backwards, giving her room, as she poured herself through his window and onto his floor. Jimmy saw her clothes were rippling, bulging in places they had no business bulging, and that he could hear other voices coming from inside it. He didn’t move. Couldn’t. Circuits in his brain were turning off one by one, leaving him unable to do anything except stare at her and shiver in terror.

She rose to her full height, looming over him, and he noticed that her shadow had extra arms and legs, springing from her back and curving over her head or bracing her on the floor.

“Garbage day, darling,” she hiss/whispered/shrieked as her head came up to pin him with her eyes.

Gone were the gray chips of ice that he’d first seen three weeks ago. The sockets were ragged, ringed with more of that soft brown fur, with bloody tears running down the furrows in her face. Maggots squirmed around the diseased flesh, feasting with slurps and chomps that would have sounded silly and cartoonish to him if he’d seen them in a movie.

But there was nothing silly or cartoonish about the way she was looking at him now, through his dead rabbit’s eyes.

She reached out, lightning quick, and grabbed him by the wrists. He saw that her hands weren’t precisely hands, anymore; they were covered by some kind of black, icy-feeling scales, and the fingers were merging and elongating into spines. He heard one of his wrists pop, ground into powder by the strength of that grip, and would have screamed if he were able.

She drew him close, leaning into his face and blowing breath that reeked of rabbit shit and dead animal directly at him. His throat clenched, trying to gag, and a rancid burp leaked out from between his own lips, but nothing else.

“Old Mary knows just what to do. Take out the trash.”

She lunged, those horrendous mouths-upon-mouths latching onto his eyes, his cheeks, his own flapping tongue, and Jimmy learned what the rabbit had felt like.

(This story is an excerpt from Insomniac Nightmares; there’s 16 more just like it. Interested? Just click the link!)


Writing Prompt: Chair

He wasn’t certain of where he was, or what he was doing there, but he did know one thing: his back hurt like a bitch.

He was sitting in the center of a five-by-five room. The walls were concrete blocks, most of them leaking through the gaps; whoever had built the place had obviously been cutting corners, or hadn’t had any kind of building code to live up to in the first place. The floor was bare concrete, spiderwebbed with cracks and dotted with patches of mold that were busy assaulting his sense of smell with the odors of mildew and rot.

The part of the room that had the most pressing impact on him – literally – was the chair he was seated in. It was cold against his naked flesh, meaning it was probably metal. The seat itself was flat, and at just the right height that his feet were planted perfectly on the floor. The back, though… that was another story.

It was covered in knobs that pinched and punched in all the wrong places. Trying to shift only made it worse. One, right at the base of his neck, left him hunched like a grotesque, staring down at his own feet with almost no opportunity to raise his head.

His arms were dangling above him, chained to the ceiling – or maybe just a higher part of the chair, it was impossible for him to tell with his limited movement – with manacles that were barbed on the inside. Trying to pull himself up, for even a moment of respite on his overtaxed shoulders, caused searing pain in his wrists and sent fresh trickles of blood running down his forearms to drip on the ground below. He wasn’t entirely surprised to see the blood blossoming over older stains. Apparently he wasn’t the first person to wake up in the chair.

“Ah. You’re awake,” a voice said from behind him. Feminine. Husky. Slight lilt to it, like she was amused.

A figure came into view. Wearing a shapeless black cloak and with the hood pulled down low over the eyes, it made it impossible to tell anything about her, beyond the pouty lips she spoke from. One hand, wearing a black leather glove, came out from the cloak and pinched his jaw with more strength than he would have expected, forcing his mouth open and a groan of pain to slip out.

“Now. Let’s talk about why you’re here.”


Writing Prompt: Playground

It looks like any other school playground in existence; nothing special about it. Over on the west side, there’s a crappy pave job with a storage shed and shakily painted goal areas if the kids want to play soccer or football. There’s a steel rod mounted in a pair of spare tires with a flimsy piece of twine holding a repurposed dodgeball if you’re into tetherball.

On the south, you’ve got a wide spot of dirt, monkey bars holding court in the center, the rusty exteriors daring anyone to keep their grip and not go sprawling in the divots left from previous combatants. A few sawed-off tree stumps serve as the thrones the bigger kids sit on while passing judgment on the freaks and geeks, and behind that is the fence that serves as the boundary for games of Red Rover.

On the east side, only the older kids hold sway, having carefully mowed the overgrown weeds and drug out old pillows to serve as bases when they played America’s favorite sport. Sometimes one of the younger kids would wander out there, and return screaming when he got beaned or one of the bigger kids decided to give him a friction burn for daring to tresspass.

To the north was the institutionally styled main building, looming over the lot like a dark god. There were basketball hoops and hula hoop stands by the building, but no one uses them; it’s too close. No one likes to be too close to the prison when they don’t have to. Only the misfits sit there, the ones who’ve been exiled from every other group, the ones too afraid of the bullies to leave the teachers’ protective gazes.

Underneath it all, something is waiting. Listening. When lightning hits the tetherball pole in the middle of the night, when shadows caper across the monkey bars, when unknown shapes scurry through the thick weeds that mark right field, you can almost hear it. It listens, and it scowls when the children laugh. But when they yell as the bully sucker punches them and steals their lunch, when they bite down on their lips, hoping not to scream and thus avoiding worse punishment when one of the nuns takes the sharp side of a ruler to their knuckles or their backsides, when some kid or other hides behind the storage unit behind the soccer goal and cries because they just can’t take it anymore, it smiles.

In its smile there are daggers instead of teeth, and its eyes are black orbs of ink. All the children know about it, dream about it, though they don’t know that they know. Every one who graduates or transfers away is secretly glad, freed of psychic chains they barely acknowledge were holding them down. But for every one who leaves, there’s always another coming in, and no one ever asks why there’s so many more bruises and tantrums among the students than there are at similarly sized schools. They all know, but either don’t care or are secretly glad.

One day that thing will get tired of listening, tired of subsisting on just the scraps of horror and guilt and sorrow that have kept it complacent for the fifty years St. Teresa’s School has sat atop its resting place. On that day, when lightning strikes and the shadows dance, it will come up. Then even the nuns and teachers and parents will learn to be afraid, afraid of what they fed and fostered all those years.


Writing Prompt: Alone

There’s no one coming.

My parents said “Be right back, hon.” That was six days ago.

The police said “We’ll be right there.” That was five days ago.

My aunt and uncle said “What happened? We’re coming.” That was three days ago.

The cats and dog ran off. They didn’t say they were coming back, but they meowed and barked on their way out, so maybe they did. That was yesterday.

I’m afraid of what happens tomorrow.


Writing Prompt: Mirror

Have you ever looked into a mirror? I don’t mean looked at the mirror, glancing at your reflection to make sure your makeup is just right or your hair doesn’t look bad or to see just how bloodshot your eyes are before you decide whether or not to call in sick to work. I mean really looked at what’s in there.

Sure, you see your room reflected behind you, but if you really look at it, if you stare long enough, you’ll start to notice little differences. Maybe a book is on the wrong side of the table, or maybe a pill bottle says something different. Maybe you catch a brief moment where your own reflection isn’t quite in step with what you’re doing.

You know how sometimes, when you go to brush your hair or put in some eyedrops or something, how you can’t quite judge the distance and it seems like your reflection is playing tricks on you? That’s because it is. I know, because I’ve watched them do it. I’ve tested it, plenty of times. Your reflection isn’t actually your reflection, it’s someone who looks just like you do, aping your actions, but sometimes they just aren’t very good at it.

Them. The reflections. They’re good at what they do. Too good. But sometimes they goof, sometimes they shimmy left when they should bob right, or move six inches when it should have been three. Stare long enough, you’ll see it too.

They don’t like being watched, though. They don’t like thinking someone’s on to them. They know I’m onto them. They’ve stopped even pretending, and now they change things just to make me seem crazier.

I’m not, you know. Crazy. They want you to think I am, they keep doing things like changing the medicine bottles, swapping them from their world to ours, so if someone looks in the cabinet they see things like Thorazine instead of Tylenol. That’s what the social worker said, anyway. I tried to tell her, but she just made a note and called my doctor.

They figured out how to do more than swap things, too. One of them must have figured out how to step through the mirror, because the other day I found a stack of my books turned into a spiral tower on top of the toilet. My bed is unmade, like someone had a restless night in it, when I know I made it right after I got up. The orange juice is bad even when I bought it yesterday and the roast beef is full of maggots that weren’t there two hours before.

I tried telling them to stop, yelled at my reflection, punched the mirror. That was a mistake. Aside from the obvious issues with pulling glass out of my knuckles, having to clean up the mess, and that I’ll eventually have to explain just why my hand is bandaged to another doctor who doesn’t believe me, it’s a crack.

A crack in reality, really. A little hole that they can slip through. I don’t know how they’ve managed to do things on this side before, but now they’re free and physically here. I can hear him – my reflection – now, tiptoeing through my living room.

I can’t tell if he is trying to be quiet and failing, or being just loud enough to hear to try to scare me, but it doesn’t matter.

I reach down and pick up the largest shard of glass from the mirror. It’s a good size, easily seven inches long and wickedly pointed at one end. Sure, it cut the hell out of my hand, but I needed something, anything, to defend myself with. I can hear him breathing, lurking there on the other side of the bathroom door.

“Harold, are you alright?”

The voice isn’t my own, but of course it wouldn’t be. They want to drive me crazy, and my reflection is trying his best, trying to make me think the person on the other side of the door is just Nurse Conway, checking up on poor little crazy Harold who might have cut himself.

I have cut myself, but I’m not crazy and that’s not Nurse Conway on the other side of the door.

I grabbed the handle. When I open the door, my reflection is going to be shoved backwards and to the left. If I move quick enough, I can bury the glass in his neck before he recovers. I’m ready.

I threw open the door.

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