Little Red Rock

One of the hardest things to do as a writer, it seems, is to handle the crippling loneliness that constantly threatens to drown you like the black waters of a high tide you don’t notice until their chill is constricting your chest and-

Ahem.

What I meant was, one of the hardest things to do as a writer, it seems, it to do just that: Write. Finding a place to start. Staring at a blank page. Making the dream theater in the your brain real on the page. Like, it doesn’t seem that hard, but there’s some strange paralytic element to the act of…just doing. It’s a skill that takes time to cultivate, and the bummer is that there’s no real trick to it. The way to do it is to just friggin’ do it; and the more you do it, the more momentum you build and the easier it gets.

A byproduct of that is you wind up writing a lot of crap. And not in the sense of how much content you create, though that’s true to. I mean a lot of the ideas you have, flesh out, and bring to life through effort and time will inevitably suck. But what’s cool is that the more you do it, the more crap you generate, the more gems in the rough you come across, and the more stuff you have to look back on and go, “Hahaha, wow. Once upon a time, I thought that was a good idea. Geez.”

Like this one.

Technically, the story that follows was the result of a drunken New Year’s Eve a couple of years ago. There was a deadline approaching for a magazine that held a call for cheesey, sci-fi/horror taking place in space. This totally fit the bill, but…it’s…just not real good. I’ve kept it in my folder for manuscripts I’ll pitch to open calls for stories and sling it at anyone asking for something like that: cheap horror set in space, but I definitely recognize that I rushed the story to a conclusion I thought was funny and then have never since bothered to edit it or fix.

So, if you have ten minutes you’re looking to burn on a piece of bad sci-fi/horror fiction that ends in a badly told “Tell me about the rabbits, Lenny” joke, I present…

Little Red Rock

Mars.

A tiny, copper light among the stars that inspired priests, storytellers, and astronomers for millennia. Does it have water? Did it have water? Or little green men with ray guns, flying saucers, and big heads?

The first Mars rovers and probes sent back images of bare rocky expanses. They were boring but at the same time so exciting because they reminded us that Mars was a place, a very real and reachable place. These boring pictures were lauded as an awesome expanse of the frontier. They kept news cycles around the globe busy for about two weeks before the latest and greatest political scandal stole back the headlines. The pictures almost fell into comfortable obscurity when the rover sent back new images, interesting ones, the ones the world was really waiting for. December 18th, 2021, the Mars rover sent back images of a large, angular structure, embedded into one of the planet’s innumerable rocky, red cliffs.

Right on time for Christmas.

In a brand new, cooperative Space Race, efforts mounted to get boots on the red planet and, just four incredibly short years later, the Ares mission launched. On board was a team of six international specialists. Head of Linguistics and Communications Anthony Gomez, Chief Technical Officer Tanisha Roberts, and Lieutenant Colonel Leonard Thompson made up the team’s military arm. Chief Geologist Makoto Tanaka, Chief Medical Officer Victor Andrade, and Chief Biologist Sonya Manesh comprised its civilian science wing. Together, they represented both the world’s best and brightest as well as Earth’s attempt at a potential diplomatic contact with an extraterrestrial.

Initial reports from the Ares mission began as they would go on: short and usually upsetting.

Six months into space flight, Officer Andrade succumbed to an illness, allegedly resulting from a previously undisclosed or unknown serious food allergy to peanuts. Then, stemming from a course deviation and near miss with Phobos, a miscalculation put the shuttle’s landing off its mark by some forty-eight kilometers. To follow, a hard landing left Officer Gomez with injuries to his leg and spine. He was stable, but after it was deemed necessary to take the shuttle’s Ranger to the site of the structure, it was voted among the crew that Gomez was to stay behind.

The Ranger departed the shuttle January 23rd, 2027, at 16:00 Earth’s time. Its last transmission was received at 17:43 of the same day as it approached the structure. The crew described a mountainous, angular facility with strange runic markings about much of the face of its walls and thick cables which were woven into the rock like roots from a tree. The transmission was broadcast live on Earth to a global audience which hung greedily on every detail and set thousands of historians immediately to work on their dissertations. The excitement peaked as the transmission described an even stranger sight.

“There’s…what, it looks like a door,” said Officer Roberts’ voice over the radio. “It’s opening! The door to the facility is opening and- what in the? It looks…there’s someone there. Two legs, arms, my God! It looks human- well, humanoid. But blue, like it’s made of light. A hologram of some kind maybe? It looks like it’s…waving to us? Yes! It’s greeting us! Contact, I repeat, we have made contact! Holy crap, this is incredible! Approaching the door now!”

With no word since then, Officer Gomez and the rest of the world were left to wonder what it was the rest of the crew of the Ares mission had discovered inside.

*

“Duck! Duck goddammit!” Thompson slammed his hands against the viewing glass. “Above you!”

“Now on your left, Sonya!” Tanaka shouted. “Fuck, Roberts, can’t you shut this thing down?”

“I’m trying! He’s locked me out!” Tanisha pushed a button and her voice rang out of a speaker in the chamber they were all watching. “You have one more wave, Sonya. Get ready.”

Things were not going well.

On the other side of the glass where the three crew member stood, Sonya Manesh gave a weak thumb’s up. She was in a blank room with featureless chrome walls. She was dressed in an orange and white jumpsuit, drawing heavy, gasping breaths, and her hair stuck to her forehead with sweat. She had a deep cut on her left arm and various singe marks on her other arm and legs.

“Final commencement agility testing,” came a voice with a thick Russian accent over the speaker. “Will now begin. I am wishing you good luck.”

“Fuck, come on Kestrel! That’s enough!” Thompson shouted.

“But the testing must be beginning soon. These are rules.”

“Can’t you just rip out the wires or something?” Tanaka whispered to Roberts, who was frantically searching the console in front of them.

“You want me to just start ripping things out?” she hoarsely whispered back. “We barely understand what this place is, let alone how it was built. I do that, who knows what would happen?”

“I do,” came the Russian voice over the speaker again. “Also because I am hearing you. Your whisper is very bad.”

“How about instead of these tests, you just let us-”

“Anyway, testing starts now!”

A red light on the wall beside them turned green. Inside the room, dozens of small nodes began to emerge from hidden creases in the walls. A light hum filled the chamber as beams of light shot across the room and connected between the nodes, forming something of a fractured grid of lasers. Sonya spun around, wildly taking note of the several new deadly lines of burning plasma. She began to panic.

“Guys? Guys, there are way too many! This is so many more than last time!” she cried.

“Keep your head on straight,” Thompson shouted into the microphone on the console. “That’s an order!”

“You can do this, Sonya. Just stay focused,” Tanaka followed.

The nodes began to move slowly across the walls, shifting the lines of light with them. Sonya ducked out of the way of one, dove off to the side of another, and flattened herself against the ground to avoid a net of more. Seeing another line descending on her, she rolled out of the way, and then narrowly missed another beam that slid under her with a quick hop.

“She’s doing okay,” Roberts breathed to herself, her thumb off the microphone’s button

“She isn’t out of this yet,” warned Thompson. “But she’s doing alright.”

“See?” A blue figure statically phased into being behind them. It appeared to wear a jumpsuit and an ushanka hat with a hammer and sickle symbol just above the forehead. Its arms were crossed and it wore an exaggerated smirk on its flickering face. “It would not be test if there was no winning. You were all worried.”

“It shouldn’t be a test at all, you son-of-a-bitch,” Tanaka shouted.

Sonya rolled out of the way of another beam, but caught her foot on yet another. It cleanly sliced off a portion of her shoe and she howled, fell to the ground, and held her foot. In her moment of stillness, a third beam twisted in her direction. She threw herself out of its way, but too slowly. It passed through the peak of her bent knee and after a stunned moment she let out an agonizing scream.

“Turn this off, now!” Thompson shouted at Kestrel. “Do it or I swear to God I will tear this place apart. Discoveries and exploration be damned, I will hunt your Commie-ass down if you don’t let her go!”

With an unnerving precision of movement and suddenly grave expression, Kestrel’s head turned towards Lt. Colonel Thompson. “It sounds to me like someone is volunteering to be going next.” The two held a hard gaze for a long moment, before Kestrel suddenly smiled again. “But! You are correct,” he said, facing Tanaka. “It is no longer test. With leg like that, test is failed. I will proceed with the deactivating of the testing equipments.”

Kestrel’s blue form flickered and then dissipated entirely. The crew members turned around and saw that, one by one, the nodes in the testing chamber were deactivating. When they were all again recessed into the walls, a door on the far end noiselessly slid open. A door in their own viewing room also opened and Roberts held her thumb to the microphone’s button.

“You’re done here. Kestrel’s letting you out, you won. We’re coming to get you, hon. I know it’s gotta be hard as hell, but get yourself out of that room. Crawl if you have to and we’ll meet you back in the anteroom. Okay?”

Sonya Manesh just lied on her back and cried for a long moment, but with heaving sobs managed to get herself to her feet and began walking with support from the wall towards the newly opened door.

“Alright, she’s moving. Let’s do the same,” said Thompson.

They made their way out of the room, but as Roberts was about to step through, something caught her eye. She turned and saw a small dot appearing on one of the walls. A shock pulsed in her heart as she realized what it was and ran back to the console. She jammed on the microphone’s button as the beam shot from the node whirred across the room towards the limping scientist.

“Sonya!” she screamed.

“Oops,” the speaker crackled.

*

The remaining crew members of the Ares mission were gathered into a small, dark room, lit only by four small light emanating from the floor’s corners. Roberts was slumped against one walls with her arms around her knees, Tanaka leaned against another with his hands in his pockets, and Thompson paced back and forth like a boar.

“Okay,” Kestrel said, slapping his spectral hands together. “You are having questions?”

“You’re goddamn right we do!” steamed the Lt. Colonel. “She passed your test, why in the hell did you kill her anyway?”

“Whoa, whoa. It was technical malfunction. Facility is old. These things have bad luck of happening.”

“Why?” Tanaka asked softly.

“Why, what, comrade?”

“Any of this? We still don’t know who you are, what you are, or why any of this is necessary.” He slumped his shoulders defeatedly. Thompson and Roberts both looked to the Russian ghost.

“Ah, well, that is long story. But is short also, because most of it I am not remember. I was, long time ago, cosmonaut, part of Red Eagle mission, 1967.”

“Wait, what?” asked Roberts, rising to her feet. “You were part of the Space Race of the sixties? But that was to the moon.”

“Ah,” shook Kestrel. “You Americans wanted moon. When you Americans got moon, U.S.S.R. figured hey, what is better? Moon or Red Planet? Red planet made better symbol for win over you western capitalists. Figured, eh, ‘go ahead and keep moon, we have Red Planet. Fuck your moon.’”

The crew members of the Ares looked to one another with what was either astonishment or utter disbelief. Tanaka was now the one pacing and Thompson was leaning against one of the walls.

“Wait,” said Tanaka. “Then what are these tests for? And how did you guys build all of this?”

“Well, two are sort of same,” replied Kestrel. “Firstly, big head boom discovery-” the hologram made an exaggerated motion with his hands of his head being blown up, complete with a cartoonish face expression, “-is that this was already here. Whole building. We wanted to radio back and tell of discovery, but landing was bad.”

“So then what did you do?” asked Roberts.

“We did what could do. We explored, saw what station building could be use for, what Kremlin would want station be use for. Training. Mining. All things to win next big war. Then, we found strange room, I fell asleep in strange bed and when I woke up, comrades were dead and I was like this…blue. Bleh. Blue.” The image shuddered as if in disgust.

“You wanted,” began the Lt. Colonel slowly, “to start up a war base on Mars?”

The spectral Russian nodded proudly.

“That’s about the stupidest fuckin’ thing I’ve ever heard!” The barrel-chested military man began howling. Roberts and Tanaka looked at each other uncomfortably, and Kestrel faced Thompson with a stern look on his holographic face.

“Sir, I wouldn’t egg him on.”

The Lt. Colonel continued to laugh. “And what’s he gonna do, huh? He wrapped us up into one of those death gizmos already. He ain’t nothing’ but pixels, anyway.” Thompson moved to walk through the projection that was Kestrel but stumbled back, finding the man of light to be surprisingly solid. “What the hell?” was all he could utter before he was lifted up by the throat.

“Sir!” Tanaka shouted.

“Leonard!” followed Roberts.

“Wait.” Kestrel stopped suddenly and set Thompson back on his feet, whereupon he immediately fell to the ground gasping and coughing. “You are named Leonard?”

“Yeah, what of it?” he coughed.

The ghost that was Kestrel giddily jumped and pranced around the room. Singing incomprehensibly to himself as the three others shared unnerved glances. When he finally stopped, he walked up to Thompson, stopping just short of the man’s nose. “Your turn, Lennie,” he laughed. The wall behind the Lt. Colonel slid swiftly open and closed behind him again as Kestrel kicked him through.

“Hey, what the hell is this?” they heard the military man’s voice faintly through the wall.

“It is last test,” replied Kestrel, his back against the wall Leonard had just been pushed through, facing the others. “Tell us what you are seeing.”

“I ain’t tellin’ you shit!”

“What do you see?” Kestrel’s voice boomed and they could hear a whirring on the other side of the wall.

“Is this really necessary?” Tanaka asked, almost pleadingly. Roberts just shuddered quietly. The two looked at one another. Without words, the glance they shared said all that needed saying. Whatever mind was trapped inside the projection they called ‘Kestrel’, whether it was from time in isolation or from frayed wires elsewhere in the facility, it was a mind that was cracked and broken.

They weren’t leaving this place.

“Eiyah! Okay, okay. Jesus, put that thing down,” came Thompson’s voice again. “It looks…ah, it looks like there’s a screen in here?”

“Yes? And?” Kestrel appeared to be silently chuckling to himself. “What else is there, comrade?”

“Ah, hell. Um, looks like there’s a farm house, maybe? A lake too, or a pond? What the hell is this supposed to be about, anyways?”

“What else? Is part of visual acuity testing and for communication skills. Very important.” Kestrel leaned forward, whispering over the others’ shoulders. “You know,” he said quietly, “I never actually hated you Americans. In fact, I was always big fan of proud American work ethic, grit much like Russia, and your American literature. I was big fan particular of your ‘Of Mice and Men’.” He winked at the two remaining crew members of the Ares and back to the wall he called, “What about the rabbits, Lennie?”

“Yeah, looks like some fuckin’ bunnies too. What of-”

There was a muted bang and dull thud on the other side of the wall. Kestrel chuckled silently into his hands, but then suddenly stopped as though his ears had just pricked.

“I’m sorry comrades, but that is all for the testing. Thank you for time and the participating, but now is time I go. Wish well and things.”

Just like that, the blue figure of Kestrel flickered once, twice, and then ceased to be. Tanaka and Roberts both silently looked at one another, each shaking, as one by one, the lights in the corner of the room they were in slowly dimmed and went black.

*

Communications Officer Anthony Gomez lied on his cot feeling the medication he’d found in Andrade’s station. The unbearably sharp pains in his back and leg, a slipped disc and fractured femur he was certain, had been reduced to dull aches for the time being. He stared out of the shuttle’s port window at the setting martian sun. It was funny, he thought, that this was truly the most lonely he had ever been, but he was alright with it. Whether it was the morphine talking or not, he couldn’t help but find the last rays of sunlight that splayed out over the canyons of that barren waste to be the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.

“Where the hell are you guys?” he whispered to the ceiling.

Just then, a light flared to life at his station. He groaned, but slowly rolled off of his cot and limped over to the console. Fortunately, at little over one-third Earth’s gravity, he only stopped at a spasm in his back once on his way there. He slumped lightly into the seat, grimaced, and answered the hail.

“Finally, you guys. I thought you’d forgotten about me.”

Silence.

“Hey, you there?” Gomez ventured again, more nervously this time.

“Evening, comrade.”

END

PS – Holy crap, I just realized I set the date for news of a structure discovered on Mars for a few months from now. Let this also, officially, count as me friggin’ calling it, if that happens. Because I wrote this almost two years ago before the rover touched down, for the record; and yes I do expect to be hailed as a damned prophet for my abilities…if it pans out. Otherwise, ahem, y’know, I’m just kidding.

Sin Walkers

Another year, another round of contests in the books.

Okay, I say that, but the thing I’m going to share is from a contest that’s underway. The following has been submitted and we’ll see how well it does.

If I haven’t shared this before or if you’re new, I like to take part in the NYC Midnight fiction contests from time to time. This time around was their Flash Fiction bracket, and they go like this:

You have 48 hours to write a story of a thousand words or fewer. You’re given a genre, a location, and an object which all have to be represented. So, say for example, your given genre is ‘Fantasy,’ placed at ‘a restaurant,’ and featuring ‘a length of pipe,’ you can see how you’d have to piece together those elements into a little diddy.

This time around, I was given ‘Horror,’ ‘a clifftop,’ and ‘a crowbar.’ I forgot that the weekend over which the contest was held, I actually had a number of obligations I’d committed to, so instead of forty-eight, I crammed this out in two.

The synopsis: “A group of five friends is on route to a weekend getaway when a highway accident diverts them, and the night quickly descends into terror as they flee from a monstrous hunter.”

Still though, I think it came together alright.

Sin Walkers

I’m sitting in the back seat of Travis’s Ford just watching the streaks of nighttime rain worm their way across the cold glass. We’re on our way to my dad’s cabin, and everything is just as normal as it always is. Travis is talking about this new job he’s about to land, and Chris is pretending to listen. Sarah won’t look up from her Switch, and Patrick sits between us pretending not to sneak glances at my legs. I fog up the window with a sigh and go back to counting the lines in the road when Chris suddenly shouts.

“Watch out!”

I don’t have time to see what it was or even to think. Travis wrenches on the steering wheel, there’s the screech of metal against the guard rail, and then just gravity. My stomach lurches into my throat, and I feel myself screaming. The cab is chaotic with light, dark, noise, and force all battling for rank. I think we swept right over the clifftop, tumbled end over end, and finally crashed through some trees.

My ears are ringing. In turns, we all fall out of the truck. I’m dizzy. Sarah pukes. It’s minutes before anyone says anything. There’s a howl in the distance behind us.

“Everyone alright?” Chris asks finally.

“I don’t know,” is all I can whimper out.

“Did you guys hear that?” asks Patrick, looking back up the short cliff we’d careened off.

Travis huffs. “It’s just coyotes, dumbass.” Then to Chris, he says, “What the fuck was that for, man? You ran us off the road!” He shoves him.

“I don’t think coyotes sound like that…”

Chris growls back at Travis. “There was a guy standing in the middle of the road!” he shouts. “You almost plowed right into him!”

Patrick doesn’t have time to do more than yelp when some kind of huge animal tackles him to the ground. It’s dark and raining. There’s a roar and a grisly crunch as Patrick’s screaming stops.

So we scatter. I bolt off into the woods crying like a maniac, and Chris manages to follow. I don’t know where the others go, I just run. I dart through trees, cut through bushes, jump over rocks, anything to obey this primal need to flee. I hear Chris breathing and struggling behind me, but there’s another noise too.

It doesn’t sound anything like a coyote.

We keep running, leaping over roots and dips in the ground, and I hear water ahead. I charge ahead with the last of what my legs will give me and dive right into the forest stream. We make it to the other side together and glance back. On the other side of the stream is this…thing. It’s partially hidden in the shadows of the trees, but it looks like a person with yellow eyes.

And the eyes are seven feet from the ground.

The thing looks from us to the stream, then steps back and growls. It disappears from view, but we can hear it running away along the stream, trying to find a way around.

“What the hell was that thing?” Chris asks breathlessly. “Did you see what way the others went?”

Another howl on our side of the stream keeps me from answering, and we start running again. About a minute later, we find the edge of a fenced property. We make our way through a hole in the links and can see that it’s some kind of scrapyard or cemetery for old cars. Chris finds a rusted crowbar on the hood of an old Chevvy, and uses it to get us into a ramshackle storage shed.

“I don’t know,” I say at last. I try in vain to wipe my wet hands off on my pant legs, but I wind up just nervously wringing them together and I can’t get them to stop shaking.

Chris gives me a confused look. “What?” he says.

“The thing that…” I swallow a lump in my throat. “The thing that killed Patrick. I have no idea what that is.” I start crying again. “I just hope Travis is okay,” I sob.

He moves to put his hand on my shoulder, but we both hear something.
“Chris? Chris, Rebecca!” a voice from outside shouts. “Where are you guys?”

“Travis?” Chris calls. He sets the crowbar down and jogs out to find him. I move to follow, but my heart begins racing anew, and some deep survival instinct anchors me to the spot. Something leaps out from behind a crushed car and shoves its arm through Chris’s chest.

It’s tall with taut skin, pink and white like it’s been burned, sickly shining with the rain. Its limbs are unnaturally long and has fangs like a big cats. It rips into the dead meat of Chris’s neck, but stops when it sees me. It howls this clicking, wailing shriek and starts stalking right toward me. With eyes fixed on mine, its mouth opens impossibly wide and its throat starts to quiver and vibrate. “Chris? Chris, Rebbeca!” comes the voice, perfectly like Travis. “Where are you guys?”

It lunges at me, and I react just in time to catch its head in the door. A clawed hand breaks the glass, rips into my shoulder, and I hear something break that adrenaline tells me to ignore. The wood quickly begins to creak and splinter, but I grab the crowbar Chris left behind and bash its skull over and over again until it stops moving.

I curl up against the back wall and just hug my knees with my good arm. I think about Patrick, about Chris, about Travis, and just pray to God and against hope that Sarah got away. Then I hear something outside, just audible over the drumming of rain.

Voices.

“Chris?” calls one from my right.

“Rebbeca!” calls the same voice from my left.

“Where are you guys?”

“Chris? Rebecca! Where are you guys?”

They’re getting closer.

Ooopy Spoooky

Happy All Hallows Eve, guys n’ gals.

Whether you believe in them or not, we all have a couple ghost stories. They might be for telling around a camp fire, sharing between friends, or recounting to a therapist. They have a habit of ranging from “just weird feelings” to seeing an apparition of some sort at the foot of your bed.

I won’t lie to you, I’ve never seen anything, but that’s SO MUCH for the best. I’ve heard things, felt things, and felt things, but never laid eyes on anything beyond the grave. I am completely convinced, however, that if I did, that would kick me straight into fight-or-flight mode. I realize there’s also a ‘freeze’ option there, but nope; if I see something, there’s going to be motion.

(First up, I want to remind you to check out a post from earlier this week, Lady Death, just as it’s a little appropriate for today. And what’s more, if you’re REALLY feeling a good ghost story, do me a favor and check out Episode 209: “The Scars of Eliza Gray” on the NIGHTLIGHT podcast. It was one of my first publications and remains one of my favorites.)

And now, a series of ghost- or near-ghost-experiences:

  1. The Christmas Ornament
    Little bit of backstory to start off: my father passed away when I was nine, December of 2003. As one might imagine, that had a certain impact on Christmas that year. For the first time, it was just my mother and I, and looking back, I think on it less of how I remember it as a kid and more of how well she handled it as a newly single mother – which was, for the record, very well.
    We moved house that next summer, and when December ’04 came around, as the story goes, mom had an encounter.
    I had gone upstairs and gone to bed, she was downstairs closing down the house preparing to do the same. The way the house was situated, her bathroom was at the end of a short hallway that connected it to the now darkened living room. She’s standing there, brushing her teeth, when she hears a sound coming from the Christmas tree standing at the opposite end of the hallway.
    There was a little electronic train ornament that was a staple of our Christmas decorating. It had my name written on it, and when you pressed the button on the steam spout, it would sing a little song out of choo-choo noises. Thing was, the button had stopped working years ago.
    So there she stands, toothbrush in mouth, watching this little, long-silent ornament sing its song at the shadowy edge of the bathroom light’s furthest reaches.
    As she tells it, she addressed my father by name, calling out, “Vern, you don’t live here anymore. Go upstairs and see your son, but after that, you need to go.”
    I joked the next morning that I found it pretty irresponsible to think there was a ghost in the house and have your first response basically be, “There’s a defenseless, sleeping boy upstairs. Go bug him instead.”
  2. Suddenly Awake
    This one remains my hallmark experience, and apologies up front as I still haven’t yet found that words do it justice, but here goes…
    It was a night like any other. I was maybe eighteen or nineteen at the time, fast asleep. Middle of the night, time unknown, I open my eyes. I wasn’t groggy, wasn’t sleepy or coming to consciousness. I was just suddenly awake, as if I had been for a while and was just now noticing; not startled, not scared or anxious or energetic, just suddenly conscious. I know that, because it was moments after I woke up where I began to wonder why I’d done so, that a dreaded creeping sensation came over the room.
    I didn’t hear anything, but some other sense was telling me that there was another person in the room with me. I felt myself being looked at, being observed or examined. It wasn’t sleep paralysis, necessarily. I could move if I wanted to, but chose to play possum, like if I’d looked over my shoulder at that moment it would incense whatever was in the room with me.
    The pinnacle of the experience came in two parts.
    The first was that – and as certain as I remain of this, the part of me that’s objective knows to acknowledge it may be the fault of memory – I finally heard something. There was a whisper, clear-as-fuckin’-day, right next to my ear. Couldn’t make out what it said, just that there was a voice inches from my head. And not a sound that’s half-heard, prompting a “Did I just hear something?” response; it was undoubtedly something.
    The second was that moments after the whisper, that anxious, defensive dread that had blanketed the room evaporated. It was a palpable change. As cliche as it is to describe something this way, it’s as though there was this weight to the air, and suddenly it vanished. It didn’t “lift,” it just…ceased. Right after it did, the exhaustion of sleep immediately took hold, like I’d been awake for days, and I konked out.
    Really, it was the suddenness of the experience that spooks me, here. Suddenly awake, there’s a presence, whisper, then nothing, then sleep again.
  3. “Can’t get me now, bitch.”
    I’ll be honest, this one’s more funny and a moment of pride than anything else.
    If you’ve ever seen the movie The Grudge, you’ll know that, especially for it’s time, it was goddamn terrifying. I’ve always had a weakness for horror films, and not in the sense that I can’t resist watching but in that they affected me A LOT when I was younger.
    The gist to the film, if you haven’t seen it, is that an American gal goes to Japan for reasons and gets haunted by a dead girl for other reasons.
    There’s a scene somewhere near the middle where she’s in her high-rise apartment and receives a phone call from a friend of hers, another American. He tells her he’s downstairs and wants to be buzzed in to come up and visit about something in person. She hits whatever button that unlocks the ground floor gate to let him in, and not moments later, there’s a knock on her door. She goes to look through the peep hole and sees it’s her friend who was supposedly just on the ground floor, some twenty-odd stories below her.
    She makes a joke about “why go through the antics if you were already up here?” and opens the door for him. Of course she opens the door to an empty hallway. A ghostly sound comes through the phone and lights in the hallway begin ominously going dark. So, like a responsible adult, she flings the phone to the ground, slams the door shut, runs to her bed, and hides under the covers. While there, a lump rises at the end of the bed and starts snaking towards her, and INSTEAD of wildly kicking her legs like she should, she anxiously lifts the covers and gets dragged into the abyss by the ghost only to awake an untold time later.
    I was maybe twelve years old when I saw that and found it ghastly amounts of frightful. But what did I do? I didn’t let fear get the best of me, I got creative.
    For the next two weeks, I slept on TOP of my covers in a zipped-up sleeping bag, confidently safe in the knowledge that, “Ha! Bitch can’t get me if I’m in a BAG! Winning!”

Take it easy and goodnight, everybody.

Congratulations, You’re a Time-Traveler now…

Happy Wednesday, everybody.

If you’re a fan of double entendres, you probably noticed the title of this post. So, just pretend today is Tuesday. It’s ALSO relevant today, because we’re getting back to our roots and digging up an old treasure.

Oh! Also, did you know that Australian wallabies have been observed recently eating opium poppies and then making crop circles while stoned off their gourd? What a world, down under.

So dropping right into it, today’s is an old one that was my VERY FIRST attempt at writing the horror genre, ever. It was part of an NYC Midnight Flash Fiction contest, and if you’re unfamiliar with how their contests go, you’re given a random genre, location, and item/object you have to feature in some way, all inside a word count of 1,000 or less. They’re a ton of fun and if you’re an aspiring writer in any way, I’d super recommend checking one out.

Without further adieu…

The Harvest

My nails grate against the window sill every time I hear another scream. The voices are still coming through the fog, but it isn’t really fog. At least, I don’t think so.

It was dad’s idea to come to the harvest fair. We were just supposed to “swing by” the farmers’ market here because he wanted to grab some corn to grill on the camping trip he was forcing on us. I told him I didn’t want to go, but he always thinks he knows best. He’s always babied me ever since what happened to my leg at soccer camp, then even more after mom died. Like it would fix things.

I was looking through some locally grown eggplant when the ground started to shake. We thought it was an earthquake until we looked up. If the sky was a big glass of water, it looked like someone spilled ink in it, like the night sky was webbing and bleeding across the blue. That was when we all heard this deep rumble that hurt your ears and stomach, like a fog horn in a cave. From there, people just started going nuts. They shouted about monsters, some just screamed, others started laughing. One guy had a pitchfork and was stabbing anybody who ran by and giggling about all the blood.

We tried to run with people, but we couldn’t make it to the car. With my leg, Dad picked me up and tried to make a break for it out of downtown, but there was something slithering in the road and more people screaming, so we broke into Kyoto’s.

And now we’re stuck here.

I pull out my phone and check Twitter again, but it’s all the same nonsense. There are posts of people apologizing, others filming themselves shouting “Fuck you!” at celebrities, live feeds of running away from…nothing? I scroll over another one and see a woman tied up in a chair being dragged by whoever is holding the camera. They shout “It’s you they want!” and push her out in the road. I turn it off when I see her get hit by a truck.

“You okay?” my dad asks me.

“Yeah,” I shrug. “I’m fine.”

I count twenty of us in the room. Most are hunkered down, muttering to each other and crying, but I see one in the corner by himself. He’s sitting at a booth and is hunched over something on the table. Dad must have seen my face.

“What’s wrong?” He follows my eyes to the guy then pats my shoulder and walks over to him. “Hey buddy, everything alright?” he says.

The guy doesn’t look up. “It’s funny,” he says and starts to cackle. Then I can’t tell if he’s still laughing or crying now, but he’s drooling all over the table. “We’re here selling vegetables and fruit, but we’re all made of meat. And bone! I teach science in middle school, to kids like you!” He points at me. “You see bones on skeleton models, but never think about your own!” He stands up and shows us the end of his thumb he’s cut off and squeezes the bone out of the skin. “There!” he laughs. “Just like edamame!”

My dad and another guy jump up as the man tries to tackle me. He’s shouting that it’s because I was staring. They hit him a few hard times and he stops moving, but the other guy walks away shaking his hand and shouting, “Fuck! He bit me!” He shouts about not wanting to be a zombie when the others remind him about the mist outside. We think it’s the mist that’s making people do these things. There’s almost a sense of calm after that, but not for me.

“Here,” Dad says, grabbing his pack from the bar counter. “I’ve got some disinfectant wipes.”

“That’s lucky,” says the guy.

“We were going camping before all this. Do you-”

I tug on his jacket sleeve and whisper in his ear about the hole in the window where the guy was sitting. I could see the mist slithering onto the booth where the guy was sitting.

“Tell you what,” my dad says to the guy, “I’ll trade you.” I know the tone he’s using. He always talks like that when he knows something you don’t. He’s running an angle.

“Are you serious? What the fuck am I going to-”

“You have a car? You can clean the bite for your keys.”

“You’re going out there? Don’t be insane!”

They go like that for a minute or two, and I can’t keep my eyes off the mist in the booth, but they finally wind up trading. We open the door and I hear someone shout about the window as we run out. We can hear the shouting behind us as we go, but soon it goes quiet and I start hearing singing. It’s gospel music and it sounds like my mom’s voice. I’m following my dad, but I trip and suddenly he’s gone.

“Dad?” I start shouting. “Dad, help! I don’t want to die! Dad!”

I hear his voice right next to me, but he looks different, and he’s smiling.

“’She’d still be here if you’d just let her fucking drive.’ That’s what you said about mom, wasn’t it, Casey?” I can see he has something in his hand. “Dying is the easiest thing to do, kiddo. After all, people have done it forever, it can’t be that bad.” He laughs and tries to lunge at me, but stops.

“Dad?” I ask. Then I see something with a claw sticking out of his chest. Whatever it is lifts him up into the dark and without even thinking I grab the keys he dropped and run.

It feels like forever while I’m running around clicking the remote on the keys, but eventually I find the right van. I get inside and try to start it, but a slam on the passenger window scares me. I look over and see my mom. She’s pounding on the glass and shouting something I can’t hear, so I crawl over the center console and try to unlock the door but it won’t budge. She has cuts on her face like I remember and some of her fingers are broken, but she doesn’t stop trying to get through the window. She points behind me. I look over and my dad sitting in the driver’s seat. He’s covered in blood and has a hole in his chest.

“I told you, I’m fine!” he shouts, just like last time. He sounds drunk.

I turn back to my mom and see her crying. A pair of headlights flare in the mist behind her and I hear the truck’s horn. I close my eyes, feel something slam into the van, and everything goes black.

I guess my dad was right. Dying isn’t so bad.

END

The Take: Weird, right? I remember this one was challenging for a number of reasons. First off, it was my first attempt trying to write something “scary,” and I figured one of the main components of that was to set the mood or tone of suspense, raise the stakes n’ all that; especially if you’re going for a psychological edge over straight gore porn. Pretty tough to do with that short of a word count.
The parameters I had to work with were horror (obviously), a farmers’ market for the location, and disinfectant wipes as the necessary object. And truth be told, I kind of skirted the rules a touch for the amount of time they spent in the restaurant. The way I figured it, writing in the present tense can be pretty tricky, but for the circumstance seemed like the right call if the action is happening now as opposed to a past-tense account of something. I also sort of cheated in that I included some helpful information in the following synopsis included with the submission:

“Casey’s mother died last year in a drunk driving accident that left her father Will at fault and her with a permanent limp, ruining a promising career in soccer. Now on parole, the last few months have been spent with her dad trying to reconnect while they both handle their grief, when the world suddenly becomes a cruel parody of the one they knew.”

Anyway, end of the day, I liked how it came together, but it’s not something I’m particularly proud of.

Ciao, catch you guys tomorrow.

Today’s Fable Fact source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8118257.stm
(link is being funny, apologies)

Prompt Challenge #2 – Lost in the Woods

Okay, and we’re back.

Sup everybody. Happy Tuesday to you. It’s been a busy-ass week.

But let’s skip the formalities. The last time we did this it went over pretty well, so we might as well get up to it again.

This time, the prompt (graciously given by the noble Mr. Bacchus) is as follows:

“An investigative journalist goes to a forest where people have been disappearing, and one night they’re awoken by someone breaking into their tent.”

Pfft, spoilers, right? (#kidding)

But just like last time, we’re going to set a timer for thirty minutes and just start pounding keys until it’s either done or those precious little seconds have all dripped away.

“Yaaaaas! But Evan,” I hear you cry, “how will we know you’re actually timed??”

Easy, I’m a believer in the Honor System (and you…well…you just can’t).

Anyway!

3…

2…

1…

Lost in Hoia-Baciu

Justin adjusted his camera strap. He held the straps on his backpack as he took a deep breath and filled his lungs with the fresh, mountain air. It had taken him three flights, a bus, a boat, and a rented car, but he’d finally made it.

Hoia-Baciu, nestled in the arms of Transylvania, Romania, it was known as the world’s most haunted forest was the common villain pointed to for missing persons, alien sightings, paranormal experiences, and supernatural occurrences. There was no shortage of stories ranging from the bizarre and eerie, to the ookie and strange. Urban legends even told of one where a young girl went missing and reappeared seven years later without having aged and with no recollection of her absence.

Justin hiked down the hill to the treeline. He’d been warned by his editor, the locals, and even his parents to get a story some other way, but he was set on this one. He wanted to get a lens on what all the hubbub was about. Though, for his money, he expected to spend the night, find a few tire tracks, some tags, or some other evidence of government presence, then bounce with a catchy headline. All that crap about aliens and ghosts was just…well, too easy. He stood at the edge of the dense forest and checked the time: 11:23 am.

Plenty of daylight to march to the center, set up camp, and get a good boundary before dark. So he did, and on the way saw the sights that made the woods so famous. There was a portion where the trees were strangely curved, like upside-down question marks, and arranged in neat rows. Justin always figured they might have been planted like that by someone who died a long time ago, and when the next people came around and couldn’t meet him, people cried “Aliens!”

He found a spot to set up camp and began unrolling his tent. The stories about strange lights, feelings of unease, and illusory people would probably be easier to judge once it got dark. As it was, he felt great. No lights weirder than the sun poking through the trees, no uneasiness besides a bit of an irritated colon (but that was probably the stew from earlier), and the only imaginary people were just the figments of his boss and Hot Susan from the office he normally kept around. He spent the rest of the day’s light checking his equipment and playing his harmonica.

Once dark had fallen, he ranged a bit with his flashlight. About two hours of looking for Slender Man and an alien light show, he was met with nothing, not even the quiet fart of a white-tail deer. He made his way back to his tent with a strange mix of deep-seated relief and the confidence of a debunker. He crawled into his tent, zipped up his sleeping bag, and prepared for sleep. Then he noticed something. He sat up in his sleeping bag and strained his ears.

He couldn’t hear anything.

Nothing at all, save for his own quiet breathing and small movements. There was no wind through the trees, no small brushing of leaves, or distant animal calls. The close walls of his tent suddenly felt incredibly claustrophobic.

It’s okay, he told himself. You’re out here by yourself and you’re jet-lagged. Bound to feel a little weird, but you’re by yourself – no one’s out here with you.

As he breathed a small sigh of relief, his heart leapt out of his chest.

A sound. He heard a sound.

It was distant, tough to make out. It sounded like leaves crunching. Then the sound drew closer, and Justin realized there was a rhythm to it. It sounded like footsteps- no, it sounded like someone was running.

Someone was running towards him. In that moment, the anxiety returned to the thought that was once so calming, but with a chilling new addition: No one can help you either.

He reached for his flashlight with one hand and the tent door with the other. He fumbled with the zipper as the footsteps approached faster and faster. As he hissed the zipper open, there was a splay of leaves that covered him. A figure, a person, tackled him back into his tent.

“Ah!” Justin screamed. “Get the fuck off me!”

His assailant just screamed in response, but not normally. It sounded like a loud moan, like they were screaming without parting their lips. In the fumbled light of the tent, with the flashlight flailing about in the melee, Justin scrambled and wound up on top of them. He beat his fists against the intruder until, in the chaos, the flashlight illuminated their face.

He would never forget the feeling of that moment, the regret of seeing what he saw.

The intruder was a young man with fair skin and brown hair, though it was matted with dirt and…was that blood? This observation paled in notice that they had only one eye. The rest of the man’s face was fused together, like a wax statue that had been melted and blended. The single eye was panicked and frightened, but upon being seen, seemed suddenly to turn angry and hostile.

[TIMER BUZZES]

(…nope. No, we’re gonna keep going. Adding ten minutes and restarting in 3…2…1..)

The intruder’s hands gripped Justin by the wrists. Whoever they were…whatever it was, was inhumanly strong. They wrestled Justin over and began to hit him again and again alongside his head. Justin kicked frantically and finally freed himself. He burst from the tent and ran blindly out into the dark.

He ran, breathless and without a guide of any sort. Twice he was knocked over by the trunk of a tree in the invisibly dark wood. Each time, he clawed his way to his feet. The forest that had once been so silent was now alive with sounds of all kinds: clicks, burbles, distant caws, but above all of them, the pursuing moan of the one-eyed intruder.

Then, he began to see lights. A twinkling procession of pale green lights revealed themselves between the dark forms of tree trunks. He used this as a heading as he ran with all his breath, all the time hearing the pained moans behind him. A wayward root sticking up from the ground caught his foot and Justin flew forward, landing on his face and chest. Sharp stones in the dirt lacerated his cheek and got in his eyes. He rubbed his eyes fiercely to clear them and got his left open.

With his depth-perception compromised and breathing made difficult from his bloody nose

[TIMER BUZZES]
(No! Fuck, spent some of that editing. We’re close. Five more minutes! Starting…now!)

With his depth-perception compromised and breathing made difficult from his bloody nose, he felt like a wounded deer being stalked by a wolf. Nonetheless, he made his way to the floating green lights. Behind him, he heard the furious moans of the monster in pursuit.

He burst from the trees onto a small, dirt path. The green lights lit the way like road flares. He followed these, sprinting with all his remaining strength.

The path curved, and near the end he saw something. Was that…a tent?

There were other campers here! He’d have help! Maybe they had a phone since he’d left his behind. Maybe they had weapons.

He gritted his teeth and ran. Just as he got to the tent, its door flew open and he slipped. Justin fell headlong into the stranger’s tent and the two scrambled into a twisting mess. They were hitting him and he tried to scream, but he found he couldn’t open his mouth.

Finally, a flashlight was rolled over and clicked on. He froze by what he saw.

[TIMER]
(No! Two minutes!)

Justin looked up with his one good eye and found he was looking at himself from earlier that night. He screamed, but all that sounded was a moan. This wasn’t happening. His doppleganger screamed back. There was a fight. Justin was kicked, and his doppleganger ran off into the woods. Stunned, the disfigured journalist sat there, but soon heard the rhythmic running footsteps come up from behind him and primal fear pulled him to his feet.

He ran back out into the dark of Hoia-Baciu.

END

The Take: Okay, technically the timer rang halfway into the word “dark” of that last line, but c’mon. Anyway, hey! We did it (mostly)! Even though we cheated just a little bit, this one was cool. I liked the prompt and as soon as I read it from him, I knew I was going to base it in Hoia-Baciu. Speaking of, if you’ve never read it before, it’s pronounced like ‘Hoya-Botchu,’ and least, I’m pretty sure. If you prove me wrong somehow, that’s okay. But yeah, I put you through a lot of set-up to get there, but that was mostly just me ‘blurrrrb’ing until I pieced together what was going to happen. I knew early on I wanted the twist to be “He runs into himself out there” but what to do with it once we’d gotten there was the trick.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed it this time around, catch you guys n’ gals Thursday!

Ciao!

Almost- WAIT!! If this little appetizer whet your palate for something creepy, pop on over to the NIGHTLIGHT podcast and check out my episode with them, “The Scars of Eliza Gray” because I think that would be pretty cool. If that works, then consider also sticking around the catch and interview between me and the podcast’s creator, Tonia Thompson (and tell ‘er Evan sent ya!).

‘Kay, bye!