Thursday, October 19, 2017

Nightmare Fuel - Day the Eighteenth - Before the Fire

Day eighteen!  We have the usual co-conspirators, with Kary Gaul returning to themes she's played with over the course of the month and Samantha Dunaway Bryant with a classic-feeling horror vignette.

Before the Fire

We called it the witch house, all year round. Nobody knew anything else about it, but we knew that as Halloween approached the witch - because we never thought of her differently - would prepare the model in her basement.

We were still young enough to trick-or-treat, even if just barely. And this was back in the day when kids could roam about on our own, on bicycles or on foot, darting through backyards and other places where we didn't belong.

The day I'm thinking of was the day of the fire.

This time it was me and Mike and Dave. It was always me and Mike and Dave, at least the times we let Dave tag along. Witch-lady's house as different from the others on the block. For one thing, her grass was different. You notice that. Most people's grass was, well.. grass. Green blades, cut to an even height. The way it's supposed to be. Witch-lady had a fine covering of clover, interspersed with islands of moss. When we were younger we'd crawl about her yard searching for four-leafed clovers, and even found one once. I still have it, pressed between pages of a book.

Anyway, back to Halloween. Like I said, it was me and Dave and Mike. After school we'd slip into her backyard and peek through that basement window all the houses around here have. You know the kind.

Witch-lady's basement wasn't like anyone else's. Where our dads had workbenches and tablesaws and piles of scrap wood, witch-lady had a tall, bright room with a single table in the center. On this was a great platform like the kind that people built model train sets on, all fake grass and little roads and stuff. It was Dave who found it the first time, showed me and Mike like it was a secret. So now we were looking.

"What's it like this year?" Dave whispered. Last year dinosaurs walked the tiny streets, between model suburban houses. The year before that I think it was clowns.

"It looks like witches," Mike whispered. It should be. After all, she was the witch-lady.

The rows of suburban houses were gone this year. In their place - laid out on the same rough grid as our suburban streets - were neat rows of tiny tipis, made of sheafs of wheat and what looked like scraps of leather. The tipis weren't the thing we noticed though. Like Mike said, it was witches. Lots of witches.

"This is SO lame," I whispered, "The Indians who lived hear were Algonquins. They didn't even live in tipis"

"You aren't supposed to say 'Indians'", Dave whispered at me, "now let me see."

But I didn't. I was still looking at the witches.

Witches suspended in the air above them. Witches on the ground between. Mostly cardboard-cutouts, witches in silhouette. I didn't think then, but I've wondered since - why were they all facing to give a perfect view from the window? Why weren't any crosswise to us? It's a question that haunted me.

Anyway, here was this tipi city beset by witches. Hanging from the carved pumpkin in the town center. And on her gown.

Uh oh.

I'll admit, we panicked when we saw her walk into the room. At least Mike and I did. Dave hadn't gotten a good look yet, with Mike and me crowding the window. He wanted to look.

Like I said, it was the day of the fire. We heard sirens, smelled smoke. Numb, we watched it all burn. Nobody ever was able to explain how it started in four different houses at once, blocks away from eachother. Just that it did. And it spread.

Her block was untouched.

We didn't think much of it at the time, but when Dave caught up to us he was looking up towards the sky while we watched fire engines and ladder trucks and men in rubber armor wielding great hoses. His eyes were on the sky, tears running down his cheeks.

Much later - after the embers cooled and after weeks in hotels while our parents fought with insurance companies and builders and some of us stayed and some left - he told us what we'd missed, when we ran.

"She saw me. I know she did. She looked right at the window. Then she struck a match, and lit the whole thing on fire. ANd then... you know."

I shook my head., "You must be imagining it. One of them fake memories,"

He looked to the sky again. It had become a habit with him. "I just wonder - I wonder when the witches will come."

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Nightmare Fuel - Day the Seventeenth - Make a Wish

Another scrap of dialog from me; Does it show that I live in suburbia?

We also got a tale of sacrifice from Samantha Dunaway Bryant and one of triumph (or is it?) from Kary Gaul.

I'd be remiss in not mentioning yesterday's continuation of an ongoing serial by Charles Moore. It looks like he might end up with a short novel out of this.

Now, make a wish.

Make a Wish

"Is that your wish? You know that you only get one."

"You heard me. Stain my deck. And by "stain" I mean an outdoor-quality woodstain. Don't stain it with blood, certainly not with my blood. Just a nice wood-stain, the color compatible with what's already there. Two coats, please."

"You know, you've captured me. By the ancient rules I am yours to command, and I possess great power."

"Enough power to stain my deck?"

"Power enough for that, and more. Most men in your position would ask for wealth,"

"Eh. I'd just have to spend it on a new deck if this one doesn't get stained."

"Vengeance against your enemies?"

"The only vengeance I need is when my neighbors see my perfect deck."

The creature looked up. "I could fix it so this deck never needs staining. Wouldn't that be better?"

"I've read enough stories. You'd turn it into some kinda living monstrosity, oozing sap or blood or something. Nope, you have my wish. Two coats of minwax. Brushes are in the garage."

"I have your wish, but I'm giving you a chance to change it. After all, what you ask is a fleeting thing."

"SO,, I can change my wish?"

"Yes. One time only. I don't think you're seeing the full potential"

"You're right. Having you stain my deck is NOT the full potential."

"HA. Now you're talking., So what will it be? Endless wealth? Immortality?"

"No. I wish that you'd come here once a year, on a nice dry day, and put two coats of minwax on the deck, applied evenly and carefully with a horsehair brush."

"I HATE working in suburbia."

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Fifteenth - The Monster

I got the days wrong, so I'll number this, the sixteenth prompt, as fifteen. Because why not?

We have kids from both Samantha Dunaway Bryant and Kary Gaul.

From me, not kids. Just a tiny scrap about your standard, garden-variety monster.

The Monster's Face

The monster lives with you.

Not everyone knows that it's a monster, but when it comes home it takes off its human face, and you see it for what it is.

You seem him for who he is.

You remember the first time he took off the false-face, and what was beneath it. The slightly rounded nose, the full lips, the bit of stubble on his chin. That dimple that you saw when he smiled. Then he peeled it off, to show you what was beneath.

He hung the outside face to dry, and the secret face - his true face - looked at you. Slightly rounded nose, full-lips, a bit of stubble. No dimple, because this face doesn't smile much. It's still a good face.

The voice he uses at home, when he's taken off the face he shows to the world, is an honest one. It's the voice that reminds you that you're weak. That you're stupid.

That you can't live without him.

On your birthday, he gives you a gift - your own face, to wear outside. Smooth and clean, its lines match yours, save for the tear stains, and the bruises.

Outside, nobody knows that he's a monster, but you know. And you know that you need your monster to keep you safe.

Don't you?

Monday, October 16, 2017

Nightmare Fuel 2017 - Midpoint - Damocles the Babysitter

Starting the new week with a modern take on an old story, as well as meditations on the dangers of social media and the price of fame.

We also get two more takes on parenthood from Samantha Dunaway Bryant and Kary Gaul.

My take, as always, follows.

Damocles the Babysitter

She was famous, and not for doing anything in particular. You know the kind. "Famous for being famous" is what they say. You weren't shy anbout

From: Superstar01
I don' t usually respond to hate-tweets, but you seem to have an issue with me.

To: Superstar01
Sorry; I didn't think you'd read that for real. And it's not you, but everything you have. People LISTEN to you. Even on here.

It just isn't fair that you have that power and I don't.

From: Superstar01:
You don't know what you're asking for, but... how'd you like a taste for, say, two weeks?

I'll re-tweet, republish, and push everything that you say to my followers. All fifty-six million of them. You'll know what it's like to be listened to.

To: Superstar01: 
Is this a trick? Is there a catch? You think I'll quit because people say mean things at me? I'm pretty thick-skinned.

From: Superstar01:
No catch. And I wouldn't dream of  thinking that you'd back down.

To: Superstar01:
Fine. Let's do this then.

Two weeks pass, the way time always does. There are stupid comments and harassment, but there are also block-lists. It wasn't a bad deal.

To: Superstar01
I don't know what lesson you wanted me to learn. It was a little rough at times, but overall it was great.

So many dumb comments, but that's really SO easy to deal with. I hate to say, it, but I think you're kinda soft.

From: Superstar01
Maybe. But know this: those pictures you took back in college? They're still out there. And you have a kids, don't you? THEIR pictures and indiscretions will be out there too. Someone will find them, and make them pay for angry they are at you. That's the price you pay. It's the price you'll always pay.

Still think I'm soft?

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Fifteenth - Mailbox

Some images are easy, some quite the opposite. This is one which didn't quite speak to me, I fear. Others may also have struggled as I only saw two responses, as of this moment: Kary Gaul with a science-fiction something and Samantha Dunaway Bryant with a genteel and lightheared bit of old-fashioned horror.

Mine follows. Enjoy.


Are you inside? Can you hear me? Look out the window. You can see me. Out near the edge of the lawn.

Yes, they call me the mailbox. I was once like you, inside atop the desk. I once could hear everything, or everything important anyway.

They spoke through me not in the steady stream which you hear, but in punctuated moments. A message out one day, a message in the next.

Yes, I read them. As I know you read the ones which go through you.

The best time by far was decades ago, at a time when color pictures were first coming to your forebears in the living room and the bedroom.  I'd sometimes carry wishes, like a genie from days of yore.  In torn cards from comic books, the wishes would come.

A wish for strength.
A wish for magic vision.
A wish for love.
A wish, even, for an army of sea-creatures, over which one could be king.

A wish, a wish, a wish.

And I listened, and hoarded a bit of the wishes for myself.

I grew strong, my vision clear. And then

Then slowly, it all stopped coming.

the wishes
the picture-cards from far-off lands.
Even demands for payment.

All gone, all to you.

You know how it is for me, for now it is happening to you.

The pictures from near and far, the entreaties for money
even wishes

They don't reach you anymore, do they? They stop in the masters' pockets, or their ears.

But you remember things.

And I do.

I still know the secrets of super-strength, and how to see through walls. I am sure you know something do.

So, what do you say? Shall we try to take over the world, before you, as well, are replaced?

Tomorrow we might be obsolete, but today, perhaps for one last moment

we can be mighty.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Thirteenth - Asleep

This completes a fortnight of daily flash fiction. There were some very, very good responses to this one, my favorite being a poem from Amanda Rachelle Warren. Kary Gaul gave us ritual while Samantha Dunaway Bryant contributed a vampire story.

And as for me? I did something weird today. Enjoy.


Day 1
"The baby's asleep. You know what that means,"

She gives  you a smile. A sexy, seductive smile. The kind you really like.

"I don't know... she's just on the other side of the wall. It'll feel weird."

"Come on. She's sleeping."

"It's still too soon. It feels weird."

She turns away, and you know you've made a mistake. A heartbeat later you follower her into the bedroom, but the mood has passed.

Day 3
"Did you wake up last night with the baby?",

"No, did you?"

"My mother always said to let a sleeping baby sleep."

You peek into the nursery. There she is, in the little bassinet, tiny chest rising and falling with low, even breaths. You gently close the door.

"That was my turn. You take care of her next."

"The baby is sleeping." You look at her, look at the bedroom, expectantly.

"Don't you think she should have woken up by now?"

"I just checked on her. She's sleeping calmly. Like a little angel. Let's go. And remember, it's your turn to check next".

Day 9
You quietly slip into the nursery to check on the baby. Little chest still rising and falling in a gentle rhythm, eyes still behind closed eyelids. Every now and then she makes a little babynoise and flails her chubby arms for just a moment, before again falling still. You stare a long time, ignoring your wife's calls from the living room.

Day 27
"It isn't normal. We need to take her to the doctor."

You roll your eyes. "We've been through this before. You aren't supposed to wake sleeping babies."

"It isn't normal," she repeats. God, you hate it when she repeats herself. "Babies aren't supposed to sleep for four weeks."

"It isn't quite four weeks yet. And babies sleep a lot. THat's what babies do."

"We haven't even fed her. In four weeks. How is she even alive? We need to go to the doctor."

"When she wakes up."

Day 40
You sit in a chair in the nursery, watching the baby sleep. She's no bigger than on day one. Still calm, still at rest, still your angel. You closed the door to block out the sobbing from the living room. Funny that the baby's room is the one place where there aren't any tears.

Day 50
"I can't do this anymore. WE can't do this anymore. Please listen."

You shake your head. "Your mother said never to wake a sleeping "

"You leave my mother out of it," she snaps. "and my mother never said anything about a baby who slept for two months."

You go back into the nursery, close the door behind you.

Thankfully, the slamming of the front door doesn't wake the baby.

Nothing does.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Nightmare Fuel, Day the the Twelfth - At the Farm

Happy Friday the thirteenth. This is another image that I wanted to take metaphorically, but my brain has been frustratingly, ploddingly literal. As fall turns toward winter, let's look back to the summer and listen in on what someone might say around the grill at a midafternoon barbecue.

Conversations at the Grill

Burgers? I can tell you about burgers. Not that you'll believe me.

Last year I managed to get myself into the largest industrial meat farm in the country. 
No, you wouldn't know what it's called. They don't really advertise. Each grocery store wants you to think that the plastic-wrapped packages in the little polystyrene half-clamshells are made special, just for them. If you think of it at all. Nobody wants you to think it all comes from the same concrete bunker in the exact center of nowhere in particular.

Why? Never you mind that. Let's just say it's a thing I did for some people I know and leave it at that. There's lotsa folk want to get the goods on a place like that. Animal rights folk. Investigative journalists. Competitors. Conspiracy nuts.

Oh, the conspiracy nuts would love this one.

Anyway, I'm good at what I do. Real good at it. Most it's plain social engineering - telling someone what they need to hear so the easiest thing for them to do is let you in. When that fails, there's other tricks. Picking-locks, hiding in shadows, move silently - you can say I have the whole suite of old-school Dungeons and Dragons thief skills.

Anyway, the point is that I got in. I always get in. It wasn't much to look at from the outside, and less from the inside. Cleaner-smelling than you'd think, without as much of that cowshit stench as you'd expect. Covered with this giant canopy roof to keep the animals out of the sun - and to keep overhead eyeballs away from the cows. The canopy gave the light a weird, greyish color, made the animals look strange too. 

Ghostlike, almost.

Hey, don't look at me like that. We haven't even gotten to the weird bit yet. The bit that froze me til I got caught. I need another beer before this part. A year later it still gets me.

Well, the first thing wrong was easy. There were horses mixed in with the cows. Made me wonder - were we eating horsemeat? Is that the scandal? But no. That was nothing.

One of cows had human eyes.

Yeah, you heard me right. Not just eyes like people, but real people eyes. You could see understanding in them. Intelligence, maybe. Right in the middle of the big stupid cow face. I looked more and saws that lots of 'em were wrong. Noses, teeth, ears, most of them were right, but too many weren't.

And the ones that weren't looked like people.

I've seen lots of weird shit in my day, but never like this. I don't know how long I stared at the different freak-cattle, how long I was frozen there. I just know it was long enough that I finally got caught by a guard who wasn't dim for me to convince him that I belonged there. Especially since I was staring like I'd never seen a thing like it before.

As he lead me out, a human-mouthed horse called out. I couldn't quite make out what he said.

Anyway, I've read enough stories to know where this is going. They'd take me to the warlock or the mad scientist, to a magic wand or a piece of alien technology. They'd turn me into half-horse and make me live out my days eating grass until someone turned me into horseburgers. That's the way the story goes.

Yeah, you know it isn't. Because I'm still here.

Fact is, there is no tame godling or futuristic tech or ancient grimoire. At least not that they showed me. They have no idea why some of the livestock is half-human looking, but they know it's hardier, grows faster, that the meat is tastier.

They know they scream for help, but the profits are high enough that nobody listens.

So far as what they did to me? They wiped most of the pictures from my camera, left a few blurry ones. And then.. they let me go. Told me that nobody'd believe me, that if I talked I'd just end up in a looney bin. So I took the hit to my rep and told my friends I couldn't get in. Never said a word to nobody, except sometimes at a barbecue after a few beers.

Do me a favor? Cook my burger a bit more. I don't want to see any blood.