black friday

Something for the 500 Club, which I haven’t written for in entirely too long, and for Nimue who told me some time ago that all my 500 Club posts are sad. This one started out that way–started, in fact, based on the other prompt. The opening line was “Give me the baseball bat” and it got less cheery from there. So, in the spirit of the holiday season, I scrapped it and started over, determined to write something a little more light-hearted and fun. Hope you (anyone who’s still reading) enjoy it.

black friday

I don’t know where the name “Black Friday” came from, but it fits. Black like the night you spend sitting outside some ungodly temple to capitalism waiting for the doors to slide open at 6 am, or 4, or 2, or midnight. Black like the pupils of the other shoppers, dead-eyed and greedy, clutching ads and newspapers and Styrofoam cups of coffee while they wait. Black like the darkened haze that now falls over the entire day of Thanksgiving which we no longer spend being thankful for what we have but plotting routes and wake-up times and stores to hit for all the things we don’t have yet. Or black like the ring of bruised skin around my left eye which recently made the acquaintance of a fellow shopper’s elbow.

I don’t know what irritates me more–that I got a black eye doing a modified dive-and-roll for the last blue Fijit Friend or that I was attempting to acquire a Fijit Friend at all. Those things creep me the hell out, as do all manner of dolls/stuffed animals/whatever-a-Fijit-is that claim to mimic human behavior. But Megan wants one and I’m a sucker for that kid.

The guy who elbowed me didn’t mean to, I don’t think. He was going for the same (God help me) Fijit and already had his arms spread to collect the little dancing freak doll. His wing span just happened to be wide enough to enter my “dance space” and voila, black eye. In fairness to him, he did retract his elbow only seconds after feeling solid contact with my skull. Of course, he did so while also pushing me clear with his considerable hips, but he had the decency to look mildly embarrassed afterwards. I even got an “I’m sorry, Ma’am.”

Ma’am.

That moron couldn’t have been more than 5 years younger than me. When did that start?

Point is, I missed my chance at the Fijit. The blue one, anyway. The yellow ones were in plentiful stock so I pick up one of those after inspecting my person to make sure no limbs had been pulled free. It hurt, though. The eye and the yellow Fijit. Megan’s favorite color is blue.

I made my way to the front of the store to pay, meandering back and forth to be sure I hadn’t missed anything I didn’t want to, and found myself behind moron in the check out line. His cart easily held over a grand worth of toys, games and assorted shit, the blue Fijit sitting proud on the top of the stack, taunting me.

Moron was playing Angry Birds on his phone when, miracle of miracles, another line opened up. He wasn’t watching, hadn’t even noticed me behind him. I withdrew quickly and quietly and scurried to the newly opened line. Five minutes later I was out, free and clear. The Fijit was paid for and I could go grab some breakfast. I slid my new blue friend into the passenger seat and smiled.

Megan likes blue.

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fade to black

Flash FictionAs promised last week, here’s the follow-up to last year’s Back in Black. I can’t say much about the story, though, because the fun of it is in figuring out what’s going on. If you haven’t read Back in Black yet, do that now. Skipping it will mean you have no idea what’s going on in the story below.

Plus, I’m asking nicely. Do be kind.

I don’t write a lot of stories like these, playing with subtle references to meaningful metaphors. Maybe that’s why I get such a kick out of doing it when I do. It’s more like a game than anything else. I’m seriously considering making it an annual thing. It might be entertaining to follow the decline of Black Friday in fiction. (And that, my friend, is as much of a hint as you’re going to get.)

If you have feedback, as always, hit me up with a comment below. Compliments and criticism are both welcome. Now, on to the story.

fade to black

“The night before Thanksgiving is the biggest bar night of the year.” Two said. “I mean, tonight’s a good night, but Wednesday was epic. Did you know that?”

“You may have mentioned it,” his companion said. One was sitting next to him at a table near enough to the bar to be convenient without being in the middle of the swarm.

Even if it was two nights too late to be the biggest night of the year, the bar was still crowded. Patrons ran the gambit, from young, dumb and full of cum to the middle-aged and older. They were flirting. They were dancing. They were sitting in dense clouds of smoke in the corners. And they were drinking. They were drinking a lot.

“It was a fun night,” he said.

“I bet.”

He shrugged. “But tonight’s good, too.”

“Mmhmm.”

They sipped their drinks. Both were buzzed, but and they would stay that way for the majority of the evening. One might or might not achieve a greater degree of inebriation before it was all over. That depended entirely on whether or not she could get lucky. Odds are, she would. Two, on the other hand, was destined to get good and hammered, staggering home in a drunken stupor so severe it would kill the average alcoholic. The beautiful part was he wouldn’t even suffer a hangover the next day.

He looked around the bar, admiring his own handy work. Not that it it had taken much effort. It’s pretty easy to lead a horse to water when it wants to drink. Two was staring down a guy at the next table.

“I don’t think he’s into you,” Two said.

With a frown, she agreed. “I think I’m taking the wrong approach. Save my seat. I’ll be right back.”

She shuffled off in the direction of the bathrooms, ducking and weaving her way through the crowd. A couple of minutes later, a slender guy in his older twenties took her seat. Two smiled.

“Ah, so that’s the hang up.”

“I think so,” One said, now with a male voice. “We’ll see if this yields better results.” She leaned back in her chair with an air of indifference. It made her look like a douche bag, but an attractive one.

It used to freak Two out when she did her gender-swap thing. Then he went through a period of intense curiosity. What must it be like to snap your fingers and turn from he to she? When he told her he was wondering, she promptly offered to show him. After assurance she wouldn’t do anything to embarrass, trap or harm him, he agreed.

The change itself hadn’t felt like anything, but when he looked in the mirror he saw a female version of himself staring back. That was weird enough, and then he tried to walk. His center of gravity had moved, and he staggered in his first few steps. That had been a fun night, culminating in the two of them sharing a bed. While he enjoyed it very much, he hadn’t asked to revisit it.

She made it look easy, though, going from vixen to virile male effortlessly. She took a lazy swig from the half full glass in front of her and smiled at her prey.

That’s what this is, Two thought. A hunt. But he didn’t say anything. After all, he was wearing an orange vest, himself.

Instead, he flagged down the nearest passing waitress–somehow they always saw him–and ordered another round. Then he thought about Five, easily the most epic asshole he’d ever met, and Three and Six. They hadn’t been as cocky during this year’s prep meeting. Things were changing, the tides once more turning in his favor, and he wondered what they were up to at that very moment.

Allowing himself a brief period of self-satisfaction, he indulged a fantasy. What if they were at a bar, very much like this one, knocking back drinks, complaining to each other, already talking about the good old days when folks cut family time short and went to bed early so they could wake well before dawn to go stand in line? What if, without even thinking about the delicious irony, they were giving themselves over to him at that very moment?

He imagined the scene. Five would most likely be slumped over an unnecessarily clunky beer mug, so pissed off that he couldn’t even speak. Beside him, Three and Six, the brother and sister, would be gossiping with each other over some variation of appletinis, their gestures tight and quick. That’s how they got when they were upset. When they lost.

And they had lost. They’d pushed things too far. People were beginning to see the day for what it had become, and the predominant attitude was, “Fuck that. I’d rather eat a shit ton of turkey and watch the game.” In a few years, there might not even be any sales. Two had won, and all he had to do was wait out the predictable yo-yo pattern of human nature.

When he snapped out of his fantasy, he realized One was no longer next to him. She’d made her way to the neighboring table where she was sharing a laugh with her mark. He seemed in favor of her makeover. Two had to give it to her. One was good.

He felt a tap on his shoulder. He didn’t even have to turn and look, though. Instead, he motioned to the now empty chair. Seven took a seat.

As always, Seven was immaculately dressed. His expression was confident without being smug. He looked like somebody’s rich uncle, a distant figure looming in the wings. Of course, that’s what he was. Always nearby, waiting for moments just like this one. Two had practically summoned him.

“You have every right to enjoy it,” Seven said.

Two thought about that for a moment. Five would be irate if he were here, screaming about honor among thieves or some such shit.

“Do I look like I’m not enjoying it?” Two asked.

“Not as as much as you could be. The day is yours. Drink. Dance. Fuck. Do whatever you like. The others won’t interfere. I’ve seen to it.”

Two smiled in spite of himself. He knew what was happening, but he didn’t care. The day wasn’t his. It was Seven’s. It was always Seven’s, no matter which of the other six managed to win out for second place. That was Seven’s way. But did it matter? Even if he couldn’t take the top spot, he was riding higher than Five, Three or Six. That was worth something right there. He could live with that.

“You’re smarter than they realize,” Seven said as thought reading his mind. Hell, maybe he was. It would explain a lot.

“You want something to drink?” Two asked.

Seven laughed. “I’m smarter, too,” he said. Then with a flourish he stood, nodded, and left.

When Two turned to look for One, she was gone, as was the guy she’d been wooing. Back to his place, maybe, or even to the bathroom. That girl didn’t care. As long as they consummated. And maybe that was all that mattered. Not besting his rivals, but reveling in his own nature.

He slammed what was left of his drink and ordered, not one, but two more. It was time to get down to business. It was time to get drunk.

back in black

Flash FictionPer Nimue’s request, a Black Friday story.

This is actually my second Black Friday story. The first was published three years ago. It needs some editing, but is otherwise kind of fun.

I’d like to think this story is really clever, but–back off Seven–the truth is it’s probably not as slick as I want it to be. Still, it was fun to write, and I like the riddle quality of it. Part of the fun of developing this kind of fiction is hiding what’s really happening in plain sight. That said, if you read it all the way through and find yourself scratching your head wondering what the hell is going on, click this link for your ah-ha moment.

The Dark Calling will be back next week. Apologies for yet another week off from the series, but, you know, Nimue asked.

back in black

“They can all piss off,” Two said.

“Stop pouting. You still have more than me.” It was One. She reclined in her chair, voluptuous curves wrapped in a tight silk blouse. Her fingers traced the ridge of her collar bone absently. She made it look like she had no idea what she was doing.

“Do you hear yourself? It’s like Six is feeding you lines.” Two had a point.

“And there’s not a hint of Five in the way you’re talking to me? Have the two of you been hanging out again?”

Two gave her a sheepish look.

“We get drinks together sometimes,” he said.

“You get drunk together, you mean. I’ve seen you. I hang out in the same places. It’s not like you guys have the bars all to yourselves.” She used her elbows to push her breasts together, looking down at the resulting cleavage.

Two huffed.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, give it a rest. Those things aren’t toys.”

One grinned like the Big Bad Wolf waiting in gramma’s bed.

“There are more than a few people who would disagree with that assessment,” she purred. She leaned forward, giving him a generous view. Her lips glistened as she ran her tongue from one corner of her mouth to the other.

“I’m not buying what you’re selling,” he said.

She laughed.

“It’s okay, really,” she said. “Plenty of people are.”

The door to the conference room opened. Three, Five, Six and Seven walked in like they owned the place–which made perfect sense. They did. At least for that weekend. Granted, it wasn’t really Seven’s gig, but he never let anything happen without profiting from it. He had his hand in all the pots. That’s why he was at the top of the food chain.

Seven nodded a greeting to the pair.

“One, Two,” he said.

“Still sulking?” Three asked. He and his twin, Six, smiled.

“He wants what we’ve got,” Six said. She made walking look like gliding, her tall, lean figure almost as visually appealing as One’s. Almost.

“Where the fuck is Four?” Five asked. “That motherfucker. I swear, if he was on time once, just one motherfucking time, I would shit a solid gold brick.”

His fists were clenched, knuckles white.

“Sit,” Seven told Five. “Save it. Four gets here when he gets here.”

Everyone found a seat.

“Let’s get right to it,” Seven said. “I have other pressing matters.”

He didn’t have to say it. They all knew . He was in high demand. He said it because he liked reminding them that he was top dog.

“Black Friday,” Seven said. “Three and Six, it’s your show.”

Two grunted. Seven considered the passive aggressive gesture for a moment and then called him out.

“Let’s deal with that, first. Two, I understand this used to be your weekend. I can sympathize with how you must feel, seeing it evolve into something that is more the twins’ forte. You’re in a support role now. Learn to live with it, and try to do so with some grace. Practice humility, please.”

One giggled, a thoroughly feminine laugh that was two parts little girl and one part porn star.

“Want me to deal with this?” Five asked. “My way?”

Seven cleared his throat.

“I don’t think that will be necessary–will it, Two?”

The door swung inward. Four made his way in, slowly. He sighed several times in the short distance from the door to the last available seat, as though the effort required to walk was almost too much to bear.

“Sorry,” he said under his breath.

“What was that?” Five asked.

“Eh,” Four said.

Seven raised a hand.

“Enough,” he said to Five. “Let it go. Two, are we going to have a problem?”

Two huffed. He was out ranked, out played and out numbered.

“No,” he said.

“Excellent,” Seven said. Beside him, Five didn’t even try to mask his disappointment. His fist, still clenched tight, bounced on the table top. He wanted to hit something. Or someone.

“Then you should all know the plan,” Seven continued. “The same as last year, with a moderately accelerated time line. Two, do what you can on Thursday. Push them as hard as you like. Three and Six, you should ply your wares, as well.”

The twins smiled like cats who had just eaten the canary.

“Four, you have free reign on Thursday, too, but I want you to withdraw completely on Friday,” Seven said. Four shrugged by way of acknowledgement.

“Five, capitalize on the football games if you like, but otherwise allow for peace. Your big move will be on Friday at the checkout lines and on the roads. Got it?”

Five nodded, still glowering at Two.

“One, my dear, do what you do. Wherever, whenever.”

One gave Seven a shameless wink. He ignored it.

“Anything else?” Seven asked, looking down at his watch. When no one spoke, he stood. “Very well. I want to remind you all that we’re on the same team. Play your part. Keep your egos out of it.”

Two rolled his eyes.

“Sage advice from the master,” he said.

“Indeed,” Seven said. “I must be going. Five, please walk me out.”

It was a tactical move. It put distance between Five and Two and immediately eased the tension.

Seven and Five left quickly, followed by the twins.

“You always want what you can’t have,” Six said as she passed Two.

One didn’t move. When only she, Two and Four remained, she slide her hand under the table and placed it on Two’s leg. She massaged his thigh, her fingertips drifting toward his groin.

“Want me to help you with that tension?” she asked. “I’ll let you go as long as you want. I know what kind of appetite you have when you get started.”

“Sure,” Two said. “I could do with some pleasure overload.”

They left arm in arm, the lesser players content to feed each others’ needs for the night. Two flicked off the light on his way out.

Four stood slowly. He looked toward the door in the dim light and then decided it was further away than he cared to walk. Sighing, he fell back into his chair.

He didn’t move again for days.

gun, fun and sun

Flash FictionHey, look at that. I kept my word two weeks in a row. I delivered my annual Black Friday story last week, and this week we’re back to my current series-in-progress, The Guild.

I wondered if it would be tough to slip back into these characters. It’s been a few weeks since I wrote about them, and you may recall me telling you that they’re in a rare category for me. I’m enjoying writing about them in spite of the fact that I neither love nor hate them. Those extremes are easier to tap into. Generally, when I develop a character who I simply don’t like, I leave ’em in the dust. These guys are different, I think because I understand their significance.

You don’t. You couldn’t. This is basically backstory, and you don’t know the fuller tale this serves as prequel to.

Regardless, I do hope you’re enjoying the series. It’s a little on the dour side compared to most of my stuff, but there are moments of darkness and light. Enough, I’d like to think, that it’s got the potential to pull the reader in. If only there were some way for you guys to let me know if you’re reading it. Some way to deliver…notes? Feedback? Observations? I’d love to hear your comments, so to speak.

Yeah, I went there, passive aggressive guilt trip and all. If you’re reading my stuff, even if you hate it, speak up every now and then. I see the stats. I know folks are at least landing on the page. Throw me a bone from time to time. Think of it as the price of admission. 

BOOM!

Or, you know, don’t. I won’t ban you from the site or anything. I’ll just subject you to increasingly desperate pleas for affirmation. Fun for all ages.

Speaking of fun, we have a story to get to. But first, the usual series-related spiel. This story is a part of a series. Click here to read it from the beginning. The posts will display in order, starting with the first, so you can enjoy them in order.

gun, fun and sun

Carter feels a twinge of sympathy. Barely anything, but there it is, a pale green blimp on her emotional radar. It’s not enough to keep her from making catty comments or laughing with Masters. That would take a lot. Still, there’s something desperately sad about watching Harkins squat in the corner, in full view of herself, Masters and the goddamn trainee, pissing into a water bottle.

He doesn’t spill a drop, and Carter considers that for a moment. The lip of the bottle isn’t wide. Most guys would experience at least a little splash, if not a brief moment of complete failure, urine spraying all over the place. Not Harkins. Everything goes into that bottle.

Jesus, how many times has he done this? she thinks.

His training partner had warned her about the ritual, more to save Harkins embarrassment than anything else. His entire cadet class seemed okay with the idea of a guy who very nearly pisses himself immediately before charging into a hostile situation. Bunch of pussies. In one of her crasser moments, she’d asked Harkins if he missed it.

“Do I miss what?” he asked.

“Those nights with your training class,” she said with a straight face. “You know, when you guys took turn giving each other blow jobs.”

Don’t be misled. She’s not the battle-worn equivalent of the hooker with a heart of gold. If Harkins goes down this very day, she’s not going to shed a single tear. She might take a shot in his honor, assuming it’s Bombay Sapphire, but that’s as far as her mourning ritual would go. She truly doesn’t care about his well-being. Her sympathy has more to do with the statement men like Harkins represent about the world.

There are monsters. They’re everywhere. Most of the world’s population turns a blind eye even though there’s evidence all over the fucking place. But there are a few people, people like her and Harkins, who fight. Not because they’re noble, and not for the sake of mankind, but because the monsters pissed them off. Or hurt them, in Harkins’ case.

This is the world. Bloodsuckers and beasts lurk in the shadows, the average civvy ignores them, and the men who take up the mantle of war don’t even have enough internal fortitude to hold their bladders. Harkins is the posterboy of the new world order, and he’s holding a bottle of his own warm piss.

What a world.

Masters clears his throat, point down the road. Carter forgets all about her evaluation of humanity and follows the line of his finger. There, slinking across the road no more than 50 meters away, is their target. The vampire, Hugh Delany. He moves with grace, light on his feet, no doubt energized from a recent feeding.

Looking at him, Carter doesn’t feel any sense of hatred. She’s beyond the pale. It no longer matters that one of his kind permanently altered the trajectory of her life. She’s not here for vengeance or closure. She’s not even here because of the paycheck. She’s here because this is what she does. It’s mindless for her, the way some people drive home from work every day by the same route and pull into their driveways one evening only to realize they remember nothing about the entire commute.

She’ll do what she’s done dozens of times before. She’ll slit his throat first, more a psychological attack than anything else. She’s yet to meet the blood sucker who doesn’t instinctively react as though the wound were mortal. Then she’ll hit him with the stake. In the movies, that’s all it takes, but she knows better. Next, she’ll take the head. That’s the hard part. They’re usually still kicking, and if you don’t have a fucking executioner’s axe you have to work the blade a fair bit to slip it between the vertebrae and severe the spinal cord. She’ll stuff his mouth with the host (not holy water) and hand the head off the the trainee. Then she and Harkins will lug the body out into the backyard with the trainee following behind. They’ll set it all in the sun and watch it smolder until it turns black and crispy. Then they’ll bag it, call Masters, and bring the charred remains back to HQ for full disposal.

Gun, fun and sun. That’s what she calls it, even though it’s something of a misnomer. If things go smoothly, there won’t be any gun fire, and she can’t even remember the last time she regarded any activity as ‘fun’ and actually meant it. There will be sun, though. At least that part is true.

They wait until the mark is in his house, and then they wait a bit longer. The tension builds, yada, yada, yada. Carter has her hand on the sliding door, ready to get down to business, when the trainee speaks.

The fucking trainee. Her words serve a twin purpose. They piss Carter off. That’s the first. The second is this. They make all three of the van’s other occupants pause and consider the very nature of their mission.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

ironic

Flash FictionMy apologies. For the second time within a month, I’m late with my weekly flash fiction post. The holiday weekend distorted my sense of time and I simply forgot. If it’s any consolation, good food and quality time with friends and family were involved. That makes it okay in my book.

Originally, I planned to publish a follow-up to last year’s Black Friday story. I’ve even started it. However, in the interest of getting something on the site ASAP, I decided to go with a 100-word piece instead. I’ll share the Black Friday story with you next week, and then get back to my current series in progress.

Thanks for your understanding.

The prompt for this story comes to us from The Prediction:

100 words maximum, excluding the title, of flash fiction or poetry using all of the three words above (‘forensic’, ‘seed’, and ‘imagine’) in the genres of horror, fantasy or science fiction.

ironic

“Sow the seeds of doubt,” he explains with a smile. His grin would be comforting were it not for the circumstances. His guest only listens.

“Imagine it as they’ll see it,” he continues. “Fingerprints, trajectories, DNA samples–all the trappings of modern forensics. Most try to erase the evidence. I find manipulation easier.”

He hasn’t eaten in days, and his wrists are raw with rope burns.

Meanwhile, his guest teeters. The noose is tight. His legs are shaky. He can’t balance on the broken chair for much longer. He gives in, kicking the chair away.

“How delightfully ironic.”

something more

Prompt 669

This story wants to be more. I can feel it.

Also, without spoilers, I’ll let you in on a secret. I have no idea what the end means. Frequently, I don’t know where my own stories are headed. For me, that’s a lot of the fun. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Happy Friday, folks.

something more

“This isn’t The Ring,” Carly huffed. “You’re not going to die from watching it.”

She was holding the VHS tape. Getting it had been easy. Finding a working VCR was the hard part.

Fortunately, Beth’s landlady had one, along with an ungodly collection of One Life To Live recordings going back to the mid-80’s. She rarely locked the back door, so Beth suggested they help themselves.

The irony wasn’t lost on Carly.

They weren’t breaking and entering, but they were probably trespassing. They were cloaked in literal darkness–black clothes, nail polish, lipstick, and heavy mascara. Most people in the small town would cross the street before passing either on the sidewalk. Oh, and they were witches. Not that the good folks of Lubbock knew, but they were. And yet they thought this poor old woman was a freak because she still had a working VCR and a thing for bad TV.

“I’m not scared,” Beth hissed. She was in a pissy mood. Carly knew why, but she wasn’t saying.

“You look nervous.”

“We’re in my landlord’s house without permission. I don’t like attention. Let’s just do this.”

Carly nodded. “Okay. Do you have the book?”

Beth produced a small, bound volume from her monstrous purse. It was black with silver insignia along the spine. No title. No publication information. It predated such ideas.

She held it to her face, breathing in its scent. Sage and incense. Carly popped the tape in the VCR and hit play.

The screen filled with fuzz. There was a popping sound and then the audio came in. It was a home movie, the kind people used to record on camcorders. A man stood before a black wall. He was hooded and masked, dressed all in red. The nature of the lighting suggested a fire just out of frame. He spoke.

“You know the truth,” he said. “Else you would not be watching. You’ve lived the lie. You cannot live it any more. It’s time to stop running.

“This is your orientation to a new life, but watching this tape alone will do nothing. Pause the recording. If you know the words and are willing, say them. Then watch the rest.”

Carly hit pause. Beth opened the book. She knew the page number by heart.

“Are you sure?” Carly asked.

“Now you sound scared.”

“Not scared. Just aware. This will change us. Are you ready for that?”

Beth shrugged. “We’re already on the outside. I don’t want to play by their rules, and neither do you. I say, fuck them. I say, let’s do it. I say, what do we have to loose?”

Carly nodded. “Okay.”

They two stood side by side, shoulder to shoulder, and said the words. Carly struggled a bit. She wasn’t as good with Latin as Beth. When they were done, the room felt eerily quiet. Nothing had changed. No shadows danced on the walls. There wasn’t a strange wind, or whispers from the beyond, or anything.

Once more, Carly hit pause. They listened. Then they changed.

Ten minutes later, the girls left Beth’s landlord’s house. To anyone who saw them, the would appear to be the very same girls who’d entered. They wore the same dark clothes, the same gothic makeup, the same sneers. What no one could possibly know was a switch had been flipped.

Going in, they’d been witches. Now they were something more.

Time would tell if that was good or bad.

dinner guest

Flash FictionI can’t take credit for this story. At least, not for the idea.

When I woke this morning, the memory of a dream was still fresh on my mind. I knew immediately that the dream was meant to be a story. I played with it mentally for a while, trying to figure out what to do with it, before I finally realized it’s a story, yes, but not one I’m meant to write. So I sat down and wrote out a message to a friend, detailing the dream and encouraging her to take the idea and run with it. It felt like the kind of fiction she might enjoy crafting.

She replied a bit later with a story idea for me, and this is that story.

I’m tempted to say something wise-sounding about how if you do something kind for someone (like gift a story idea) the universe will reciprocate, but that’s trite and, honestly, not entirely true. Cosmic justice doesn’t work that way. You could give away story ideas your whole life and never get as lucky as I got today. So instead, I’d just like to say thank you to my friend who was under no obligation or expectation to share anything with me. 

I hope you like the tale. I made it just a bit more twisted, and got crazy ambitious with the point of view, shifting it from one character to the other twice in barely 1,000 words. Please let me know what you think of it in the comments. 

Oh, and happy Friday the 13th. 

dinner guest

He walks into the room shrouded in a cloak of rich aromas. He carries two plates.

“It’s important,” he says as he circles to her left, “that you don’t get attached to me.”

He places the plate on the table before her. She looks up at him, a question mark in her expression. He merely smiles and withdraws, depositing the other plate on the setting opposite his guest. He takes his seat.

“You’ve hardly touched your wine. It’s very good. Please, have some.”

She reaches for the glass, still seeming puzzled, and takes a tentative sip. She’s malleable, that’s for sure. Otherwise she would not be here. He would not have invited her, and she would not have accepted. However, at the moment she’s more curious than scared, and that simply won’t do.

“Attachment can be bad. I’ve researched it,” he continues as he unfurls his napkin. She mimics his behavior, spreading a napkin across her own lap. He realizes, not for the first time, that the entire affair is something like looking in a mirror. A very special mirror that reflects so much more than appearance. In this duplication, he sees himself fully. It’s unfortunate for his guest that he’s quite fond of what he sees.

“Do try the Brussels sprouts,” he says motioning to her plate. She scrunches her nose. He smiles good-naturedly. “They’re roasted and better than you would guess. Indulge me. At least have a bite. Oh, and the roast is rare. I hope that’s okay. I prefer meat with a bit blood.”

She does as suggested, spearing a Brussels sprout and bringing it to her lips. As he watches, she crushes the tiny leaves between porcelain teeth. He believes he can see her breath as she exhales mid-bite. It’s exquisite. She chews, and for perhaps the last time, her trust is rewarded. She smiles.

“See?” he says. “Better than you would guess. Where was I? Oh, yes. You must not get attached. The research. Have you heard of Stockholm Syndrome?”

She nods.

“It’s something like that, but different. Stockholm Syndrome creates a bond forged in trauma. This will be nothing like that, of course.” He smiles reassuringly, and she smiles back. He would not be surprised if he saw a hint of recognition there, but still there is only curiosity. She could take lessons from the cat.

“Let’s try something,” he says. “A dinner game. Put down your fork and rest your hands on your lap. Close your eyes.”

She does as instructed.

“Imagine that you are in a safe place, a place of comfort where you feel completely at ease. Paint a full mental picture of your paradise. Would you be there alone? Or with a companion? Someone who understands you, perhaps. Someone who knows how you think, and understands the complex array of feelings you sift through each day. Someone who always knows how to bring a smile to your face. Make you blush. Wake you into passion, or plunge you into the deepest pain.”

He pauses for a beat.

“Someone like me.”

She opens her eyes, the spell broken by her curiosity. Or indignation. It doesn’t matter. Her eyes narrow as she recalibrates. He knows her better than she thinks, and he can sense the wheels turning. Is she beginning to figure it out?

“Forgive my prattling,” he says. “I get carried away sometimes.”

There it is. Relief. He can see it in her eyes. She was growing wary, but now she thinks she’s silly for getting worked up.

“Please, eat,” he says quietly, motioning toward her plate. “Your food will get cold.”

But he doesn’t pick up his own fork or knife. Neither does he does reach for his glass of wine. Instead, he presses his hands together before himself, as though praying.

She eyes him, the plate, and the fork beside it. He can sense the tension. She’s trying to make the connection. She wills her hand to reach for the utensil, but she doesn’t move. When nothing happens, her eyes jerk back up. There, across the table, they meet with his baby blues, so pale they might as well be the color of the horse death rides.

He nods slowly. “Good,” he says.

Worry begins to fill her. Blood rushes to her cheeks and her eyes burn with the first tears. Suddenly, she’s not sure why she even accepted this invitation. She didn’t expect anything to come of it. She was only trying to be nice. And besides, hadn’t her friends been bugging her to get out more? So he was a little odd. He was handsome enough, and he did ask her out. This was to be a symbolic night. The relaunching of her stalled social life.

“Don’t worry,” he says. His tone is meant to sound calming, barely more than a baritone whisper, but it’s nails on a chalkboard. It’s the screech of a cat in heat. It’s the dull thud of a foot slammed onto brakes that don’t work.

“That’s just the drugs kicking in,” he says with a smile. “A bit in the wine, some more sprinkled on the Brussels sprouts for good measure. The dosage was only high enough to cause a delay in motor function. If you apply yourself enough, you can still lift your hand. It will take all the willpower you have, though, and it won’t be fast.”

She pushes herself, her mind bending under the strain, and her hand lifts from her lap. She’s so elated, she forgets to concentrate and it falls to the table, clamoring against the dishes.

She begins to panic. That’s when she sees him smile, truly smile, for the first time. A Cheshire grin that blooms across the bottom half of his face like blood seeping through a sloppily applied bandage.

He reaches into his pocket and retrieves a pen and a small, black composition notebook. Flipping it open, he makes a quick note. When he’s done, he lays the pen across the open page to hold his place.

“As I said, you shouldn’t get attached. That’s what happened to the last girl.”

She can feel the tears now. Her breaths are shallow and quick. Her heart is beating faster than she’s ever experienced, as though it’s for lack of blood that her limps won’t move.

He shakes his head woefully. “She got attached, and she honestly believed it would save her. I tried to warn her, as I’ve warned you. I’m not the sort of monster who craves sorrow. I hated to see the heartbreak in her eyes, but I blame myself. The dosage was too low, for one. I underestimated her tolerance and it wore off long before I was finished.”

She tries to reach for her purse with her other hand. It’s hanging on the back of her chair. If she can only get her phone or the little key chain with mace. But while her mind is clear, her muscles feel like they’re made out of sand. She needs an explosion of action, and they reply with lazy drifts and only a few grains of movement.

“I told her it was no use, just like I’m telling you. Getting attached won’t save you. You cannot sway me. I’ve been planning this for a while, and I will not be deterred from my goal.”

He pauses, and she wants to scream. What is this dramatic bullshit? Why can’t this bastard just say what he means? Why must he play this sick fucking game? But in the silence of that pause, on the heels of her anger, fear finds her. It washes over her, its bony fingers slipping the ridges of the gray matter in her head. She topples, going from irate to trepid in a matter of seconds.

He leans forward, whispering. “In the end, it will be the same for you. I’m going to kill you, just like that other little bitch.”

She sobs, tears flowing freely from her eyes and snot bubbling from her nose. Her mascara runs, painting her cheeks black. Her shoulders shake, her pupils dart back and forth, her whole frame shudders, but she does not fight or take flight. She just unravels there in the chair before him, her mind coming unhinged as she sees the inevitability of her predicament.

That’s when he feels it. Joy. Pride. Exhilaration.

“It’s okay,” he says. “Isn’t it better this way? Most people have no idea when their end will come. Isn’t it better to know the moment and circumstance of your death, and to know there’s nothing you can do to change it? I would think you could find some peace in that.”

But there is no peace in her eyes. Only fear.

He lifts his glass then, finally, and salutes her before taking a long, slow drink of the crimson liquid, it’s poignant flavor both bitter and delicious.

by design

Time to add another layer to the trouble brewing in the Kinter house. If you haven’t read the first three installments of this series, be sure to check them out here before diving into this one. (The link will display them with the most recent story at the top. Scroll to the bottom and read them in the order they were posted.)

I’m not sure where all this is headed yet. This is the first time I’ve written a larger story in short flash fiction pieces and it’s a lot of fun. Each week I come back to the story with a vague idea of the next installment, but then I have to conform my rough ideas so that they accommodate a current prompt, and I refuse to let myself cheat on that. The prompt invariably pushes a few elements of the story in directions I wouldn’t have guessed, but that extra challenge also opens all kinds of doors. For example, I didn’t even know what a kukri was before writing this, but I needed James to have a curved blade so that I could use the word “curve”. Live and learn.

The prompt is from Flash Fiction Friday once again:

Prompt: Write a 1000 word story about someone who has no self awareness, or, alternatively, someone who has far too much. Include the following words: curve, substitution, relief, sacrifice, strikeout.

Word Limit: 1000

Feel free to let me know what you think of this post or of the series in the comments.

by design

James Kinter fervently believed that acute self awareness was his personal curse. Most people simply don’t know themselves well enough to know what their purpose is, but not him. Other people are slaves to their desires, not their design. He was no slave at all. He’d had the good fortune to discover early in life that his design and desire ran in parallel to one another. Harnessing such knowledge, what could he do but act on it?

His life to that point had been an elaborate series of choices, sacrifice intermingled with precise intention. Never substitution. He had hidden Jessica from the world because he knew they would not accept her. He laid out the foundation of a forgettable but solid reputation. He had been frugal with money, careful with his art and, above all else, very deliberate about his subjects. Until today.

He looked down at the boy now slumped on his couch and cursed himself. What had he been thinking? It was rash. Foolishly rash. He should have simply shooed the little bastard out of the yard, not hauled him inside, but he was caught up in the moment. His adrenaline was already peaked thinking about Mr. Baker down in the basement. Instead of simply telling the boy to leave he had whispered threats fueled by his enthusiasm. What’s worse, the tracks in the mud outside the window suggested that the young spy had not been alone.

Idly, his hand slipped under his leather apron. His thumb ran along the sharp curve of his kukri. It was tempting, but he could control the urge.

Slowly, a plan formulated, and with it a sense of relief. He recognized the boy as one from the neighborhood. He knew the rumors going around about him. He could wait until the lad woke and offer to call his parents, pretending that the boy’s memory of their initial encounter was simply the figment of a child’s overactive imagination. If he called the boy’s parents and was kind to him until they arrived, no one could accuse him of any wrong doing. With luck, the incident might actually quell fears instead of shining a spotlight on his true intentions.

He turned from the boy and retreated to the kitchen. Slipping off the apron, he trotted down the stairs. When he reached the bottom he put a finger to his lips to let Jessica know that the time had not yet come to reveal herself. She looked to him with doe eyes, all wonder and submission, and he smiled. She was a kind soul, his twin sister. So accommodating. So willing to accept her role as his silent helper. So very pretty. He’d seen to that years ago.

He hung the leather apron on a hook jutting from the wall and took off his utility belt. It held the kukri along with several other useful small tools–a pair of needle nose pliers, a tack hammer, so effective on knuckles, two ice picks and a taser, just in case. He bought the taser after the Peterson boy bit him. In the future, such insolence would be rewarded with 400 volts delivered to the neck.

Jessica watched him set his tools to the side with a curious frown. He dosed a cloth with chloroform and placed it over Mr. Baker’s mouth and nose. When he was sure his guest was sleeping, he turned to Jessica. “There’s been a small complication, love. A neighborhood boy and his friends were spying on the house. The boy is upstairs in the living room, passed out. I’ll need to contact his parents and play the role of a concerned neighbor for a while. It could take some time. I need you to remain here, in the basement with our guest. We’ll have to wait to begin until I can sort this mess out.”

“We can’t make him pretty now?” she asked. “Just a little?”

James smiled. Sweet child. “No, we’ll have to wait. But waiting will make it that much better, my darling.”

She pouted but he knew she would do as told. He crossed the room to her and placed a single kiss gently on her forehead. “He should remain asleep for a while. If he stirs, don’t say anything. Just use the chloroform like I did and put him back out. Do not make him pretty.

“Yes, James,” she said.

He caressed her face. “Soon,” he said, and turned to ascend the stairs.

Upstairs, he put on a pot of coffee. In the living room, he turned on the TV. “…and with that strikeout the Rangers are one step closer to a win. Two away, bottom of the ninth…” James found sports boring, but who could think him a monster if he were sipping coffee and enjoying America’s past time on a Sunday afternoon?

He was a stickler for detail, so he took the stairs to the second floor and went to his bedroom where he changed into a black shirt and trousers. Granted, it made him look like some kind of unholy priest, but the boy and his friends would swear he had been wearing a black apron. Black clothes would make this detail seem imagined. He was just tying the laces on his shoes when he heard a noise downstairs. Glass. Breaking.

He held his breath for a moment, wondering if Jessica had disobeyed and gone to the kitchen. Two seconds later he got his answer.

“He’s in here!” he heard a hushed voice exclaim. “On the couch!” A girl. The boy’s friends. Damn it.

He shook his head, anger and excitement rising in him. His arms felt on fire with adrenaline. He made for the stairs with all haste, having already forgotten the lie he had been preparing to tell.

raiding party

The saga of the Kinter house continues. If you haven’t read my last two flash fiction pieces, you might want to check them out before wading into this one. (Be sure to read them in the order they were published.)

I find myself warming to this story with each new piece I write for it. It is, admittedly, a stereotypical sort of premise: a strange old man who lives in the house that everyone on the block talks about. Is he evil? A psycho? What does he do in there all by himself? 

Maybe it’s the fact that it’s a classic setup that has me intrigued. There’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes it’s a good (even powerful) writing exercise to play with the formulaic, paying homage to those who have written similar stories before and adding your own little twists to the common legend. Whatever the case, I’m having fun making a serial out of these. I’m even enjoying using whatever prompts pop up each week to create the next layer of the story. It makes for an interesting challenge, knowing a little bit of where I think it’s going, but having to use specific words and setups to get there.

This week’s prompt comes from Flash Fiction Friday:

Prompt: Write a story using the following word list: Traffic, New Shoes, Calculus, Bus Stop, School, Principal

Word Limit: 1000

One more thing. Fear not–this story most certainly isn’t over.

raiding party

“Come on, Carrie. We got school tomorrow.” Kevin was such a little whiner.

Carrie leaned against the bus stop sign on the sidewalk. She seemed entirely unconcerned about the first day back. She and Kevin and Max had been watching the Kinter house all Sunday afternoon and she didn’t intend to leave without seeing Mr. Baker reemerge.

“So, go home,” she said.

But Kevin couldn’t go home. Not with Carrie still there, keeping watch. When they saw Mr. Baker go into the house Kevin had just about pissed himself. What did he think he was accomplishing, keying Mr. Kinter’s car? He only did it because Carrie dared him to. It seemed like a stupid thing now.

“Wouldn’t it be funny if Mr. Kinter was the new principal?” Max asked. Panic flashed across Kevin’s face.

Carrie laughed and said, “I told you–my mom heard he’s the new calculus teacher at the high school. No one knows who the new middle school principle is yet. Some big fuckin’ secret.”

Even Max turned red hearing Carrie say ‘fuck’. Max wasn’t a big baby like Kevin, but neither of them were as bold as she was. They were on a practically deserted street. They hadn’t seen traffic in over an hour. No one was even watering their lawn, but here they were blushing at the sound of a girl cussing. They both probably still thought new shoes could make them run faster. Carrie was almost certain Kevin still believed in Santa Clause.

“Look,” she said, ignoring their embarrassment, “Mr. Baker went in there and he hasn’t come out. It’s been two hours! Is he friends with that old creep or what? I think we should go check it out.”

Kevin looked like he was about to shit himself. “Check it out?!” he sputtered. “What, like sneak into his yard and try and spy on them through the window? My dad’ll kill me!”

That elicited a chuckle from Max. “Dude, your dad is already gonna kill you when he finds out you keyed Kinter’s car.” Kevin looked to Carrie for support but found none.

“Yep,” she said. “You’re pretty much screwed already. You comin’?”

She had them now. Max wouldn’t back down if she could taunt Kevin into joining her little raiding party. They were both nearly a year older than her, due to turn 13 in October and November, but they followed her lead and she knew why. She was a girl. They couldn’t retreat if she was going in.

“I gotta be home by 8:00,” Kevin said. “Mom wants me to go to bed early since school starts tomorrow.”

Carrie rolled her eyes. “Kevin, it’s 5:30. I think you’ll be fine.”

“Okay,” he conceded, and the trio tentatively crossed the street.

Huddled on the other side, shielded from the Kinter house by Mrs. O’Connelly’s massive bush–they’d laughed about that more than once–they formulated a plot. Carrie spoke: “We’re not gonna do anything stupid. We’ll just sneak over to the corner window and look into the living room.”

“Why do we all need to go?” Kevin asked.

Max hit the back of his head. “Stop being a pussy,” he said. Then, embarrassed by his own language, to Carrie, “Sorry.”

Carrie shrugged. “You don’t have to apologize for calling him a pussy. He is.” Then she crouched and ran across the yard toward the house, motioning for the other two to follow.

They arrived at the corner with little fanfare. Carrie put a finger in front of her lips to ensure that Kevin didn’t say something loud. It was the kind of stupid thing he might otherwise do. She straightened her legs, rising high enough to peek into the window from the bottom. She saw a boring living room, something that looked like a throw-back to the forties, but nothing more.

“What do you see?” Max asked.

“Nothin'” she said.

The promise that the coast was clear evidently gave Kevin a boost of courage. He stood, too, while Max remained crouched scanning the street. However, Kevin straightened his legs fully, bringing his head and shoulders into view just as Mr. Kinter, wearing some kind of weird black leather apron, rounded the corner from the kitchen.

“Shit!” Carrie said. “Run!”

She ducked down, having been missed by Kinter, and she and Max made a made stealthy dash for Mrs. O’Connelly’s bush. But Kevin twisted his ankle when he tried to pivot away from the window. Flailing his arms, he went down. Carrie and Max weren’t the deserting type, but there didn’t seem to be any sense in all three of them getting busted. Kevin’s ass was already on the line for keying Mr. Kinter’s car. This would just mean a little more punishment for him. They made it to the bush and turned, peering through the branches to watch.

Mr. Kinter moved fast for a man his age. He was outside and rounding the corner of the house just as Max and Carrie dove behind the bush. He looked down at Kevin. “It’s rude to spy on people,” he said. “Where are your manners, young man?”

Without waiting for an answer, he lifted Kevin by the back of his shirt and brought him to eye level. “Wow,” Carrie said quietly. “He’s strong.”

Whispering so that Max and Carrie could not hear, he spoke to Kevin: “Maybe I should open you up and see if I can find them? Perhaps they are in your spleen. I’ll have to dissect it to see.” Looking down, he saw footprints in the mud around the window. Certainly more than one pair. “Where are your friends?” he asked.

But Kevin passed out, his body going limp while his bladder released.

Carrie and Max watched as Mr. Kinter hauled Kevin to the back gate and out of sight. “Well shit,” Carrie said.

“Yeah,” Max agreed. “Shit.”

under the bed

Photo by Matt Baume

This week’s fiction post is a little different. First of all, while it’s not a particularly long story, it’s too long for me to consider it flash fiction. However, I am out of town today and this post has been scheduled for days. I typically write my flash fiction on Friday–most of the sites I go to for prompts post them toward the end of the week–but since I knew I was breaking from the norm anyway (scheduling the post days in advance), I decided to go an entirely different route this week.

Today I submit, for your consideration, one of the very first horror stories I ever wrote. I hadn’t read this story in years until prepping it for this post, and it kind of creeped me out re-reading it, which I take as a good sign. I can remember writing it, though, and I remember that the inception of the idea was something that Stephen King talks about–asking what if questions. In this case, what if there really was something under the bed…?

In a way, I suppose that was the prompt, though I gave it to myself. I do recall it being fun to write, and I had a blast re-reading it. Consider it something to think about on those dark nights when you wake some time around 3 am with the uneasy feeling that you’re not alone. What if, you’ll wonder…what if there really is something under the bed…?

under the bed

Brian McAlister woke from a fitful night of sleep glazed in a thin coat of sweat and wrapped tightly in his sheets. The material clung to his body. His pillows were scattered here and there across the landscape of his bed and he was almost perpendicular.

He had been dreaming. The content of his dream was just out of reach, lost somewhere in the milkiness of waking. It seemed to him that it had been important, this dream, but he had no idea why he thought that. All he could remember was that it had been a nightmare and that in his dream he had known it was a nightmare and struggled to wake himself out of it. But now, back in the safety of his bedroom with the soft glow of the bathroom light down the hall, he longed to remember what had happened just moments before, even if the events were only in his mind.

Brian was 32 years-old and single. He had always been single. Never married. Never a girlfriend. His childhood had been a traumatic one to say the least, and his adult years had not brought the relief he’d expected to come with freedom. No relief and no social success either. Brian had few friends. The real shame of it was that his lack of social prowess was nothing that a decent haircut and a little cockiness wouldn’t fix, but Brian didn’t know that. Brian never would.

He resituated himself on the bed, gathering up his pillows and trying to redistribute the sheet so that his feet were covered. He hated sleeping with exposed feet. When everything seemed to be in order, he worked his back into the bed, sliding down a little and getting comfortable. His breathing slowed. His mind began to blank. He could feel sleep coming on, but he could feel something else, too. It was almost un-noticeable at first, but it was there. Like a pea under the mattress. What was it? He adjusted his posture, moved his hands and his feet slightly to make sure he was lying just right and took another deep breath. The breath. Something was there, in his abdomen. Something subtle, but there. Another deep breath and he felt it again. A slight jab. His mind struggled toward consciousness, it was on the internal equivalent of the tip of his tongue. One more breath and—

Oh. He had to piss.

He exhaled in frustration and tried to ignore it. There was nothing unusual about that. Brian had found that after reaching thirty years of age, he rarely slept all the way through the night without having to get up to piss at least once. He hated this reality. Though he knew it was actually the result getting older, it felt like something a child would do.

Still just a little boy, aren’t you? Gotta go pee-pee?

His routine went like this: after feeling the familiar pressure he would try to deny it. He’d get as comfortable as he could and hope that sleep would come on again quickly enough for him to sink out of consciousness before he really had to go. He would negotiate with the bed, trying three or four new positions, though inevitably none would be comfortable enough to undo the building sensation in his crotch. Finally, after five minutes, maybe ten, he would concede and get up. The bathroom was a whopping 15 feet from his bed, but he would make that trek like he had just finished a marathon, limping toward it and collapsing into the bed on his return.

Sometimes he’d get a drink of water while he was up, but not every time.

He went through the full cycle of denial that night, tossing and turning and wanting to believe that he could wish the piss away. But he knew that in the end he only had three options: get up, lay awake all night or wet the bed. He huffed a sigh and began to pull the covers back when he heard it. A scraping, scratching sound.

It sounded like it came from under the bed.

He paused and listened for it. He could hear the AC churning and he could hear a few crickets. He could hear his fan humming on the other side of the room. A car pulled into his apartment complex. A couple of dogs barked—maybe the same dog, but it sounded like two different ones. No weird noises from beneath the bed.

He tossed the sheet to the side and began to sit up and then, scraping. Nails on a chalk board. Louder this time and definitely from underneath the bed. Brian froze, his legs stiffening. He held his breath and wondered what could be making that sound.

If he’d owned a pet, a cat perhaps or a dog, it would have been easy to account for a sound even as unsettling as this, but he was alone in the apartment. He wondered if a rat or mouse running on the hardwoods could make a sound like that. He wondered if his downstairs neighbors were messing with their ceiling fan or having a wild party. He even wondered if he wasn’t still asleep, maybe just having a particularly vivid dream, but a sudden urgency in his crotch convinced him that he was very much awake and very much in need of a bathroom.

Besides, this is silly, he told himself. I’m a grown man.

Are you?

What could possibly be under the bed?

Starting low and gaining volume, some unseen thing, a hook or some claws, ground into the wooden slates of his flooring again and he could see, in his mind’s eye, the wood pulling back and lying in neat little circles under the bed like the shavings from the number 2 pencils he’d used when he was in grade school. The noise was real.

He sat, full-upright, and considered what he could possibly do. He could ignore it. He could get up, planting his feet just inches from God knows what, stand and casually walk to the bathroom. He found himself believing that this is what any sane person would be doing.

Any sane person, yeah.

He could stand up in his bed, get a running start from the headboard and leap toward the hall, maybe clearing the reach of, well, anything that might be waiting. This is what he felt like doing.

But that takes courage, boy.

Or he could stay right where he was and piss himself in fear and shame.

Gonna wet the bed, big boy?

What he could not do, did not even, in fact, consider doing was to lean over the side of his mattress and actually look under the bed. This thought was nowhere near the vicinity of Brian McAlister’s mind. Instead he looked at the clock and counted backward from 6:45 am.

A soft, growling purr emanated from below.

It was then that he reached for his phone. He had it in hand and was ready to dial when he asked himself who he would call at 3:17. His only friends were really more along the lines of acquaintances and he didn’t have a single phone number memorized. What numbers did he know? He knew his mother’s number, back in Amarillo.

Yeah, call mommy! Stupid little momma’s boy.

And he knew 911. Oh, that would be fun.

Hello, 911 operator? My name is Brian McAlister and I live at 1474 Oak Park Drive, apartment 541. Yes, I’m 32 years old and I live by myself and there’s a very scary noise coming from underneath the bed and I have to piss. Could you please send someone by to escort me to the restroom. I would have called my mommy, but she’s in Amarillo.

No, he’d rather wet the bed.

And that’s nearly just what he did. The bed jumped, like it had been bumped from underneath, and the growling purr came again, this time louder. He peered over the side of the bed in time to see claws, yes claws, grinding into the floor just at the edge of the bed and he heard, once again, the horrible sound of those sharp edges whittling away his floor. He hugged a pillow and he started to cry.

Be a man! For fuck’s sake, don’t just sit there and cry! You worthless little shit!

“What do you want?” he asked, surprising himself with the sound of his own voice. His answer was another bump and a growl that sounded almost like a laugh.

You know what I want.

He bit the pillow and tried to calm himself, but he couldn’t relax.

Except for one part of him. One part of him did, in that moment, relax, and the warmth spread across his crotch and down into the mattress. He could feel it under his ass and he could smell the stench of it. He rocked himself back and forth, hugging that pillow and wishing that the dawn would come.

Bump.

He let loose a quick scream, sounding like a girl, and he sobbed, “What?”

You know what!

“Leave me alone! Leave me alone!”

Never!

Heavy breaths pounded out a rhythm from below and he could sense a growing climax. He closed his eyes and held them tight, wishing it away. Wishing it away and wishing in the dawn and a safe time, a safe place, maybe his mommy there to tuck him in—

Momma’s boy!

—and hold him until sleep came, keeping him safe from the monsters, safe from the monster—

Boy, I’m just trying to teach you to be a man!

—safe from the hitting and the punching and the yelling—

My old man was just as hard on me! And look at me. I ain’t no sissy-girl, cry-baby, momma’s boy waste-of-space! Is that all you wanna be?

—safe from the feeling that he would never be enough, never do enough, never amount to enough—

It’s useless, I swear. I tell your mother she’s ruining you, ruining you by fallin’ all over you and makin’ you think it’s okay to be weak, you sissy.

—and his mother, stroking his hair and assuring him that he was a big boy, a big boy and not weak at all. Even though he felt weak.

Nothin’!

Even though he felt like nothing.

You’ll never amount to nothin’, boy!

Never strong enough to be a real man.

Shoulda had me girl!

Just a little boy.

Just a stupid, little sissy boy.

The piss felt hot against his skin, his bladder empty, his face wet with tears. He wished away all the hurt, all the loneliness, all the monsters and pain of thirty-two long years. He wished it all away while the beast under the bed huffed and growled and carved his claws along the floor, delighted by the smell of hot piss and the sounds of crying.

All you’ll ever be, you little worthless fucker. Look at what you are—it’s all you’ll ever be.

Brian hugged that pillow and rocked for maybe an hour. He cried until he could cry no more and his eyelids, heavy from the crying, crept down over his pupils. He rocked while his breathing slowed and his mind sank into a blackness. He rocked while the monster listened and purred and scratched and scraped. He rocked until he fell into a deep sleep, and there he stayed until 6:45 am.

*          *          *          *          *

“—orning traffic out there heading into downtown. How does it look, Sheila?”

“Well, it looks messy, Tom. Northbound I-35 is held up all the way back to Roy—” Pop.

The alarm clock in snooze mode, Brian stirred. He was still sitting up. He moved toward the edge of the bed and froze.

The scraping.

Last night. Last night he woke up and there was scraping and he couldn’t even go to the bathroom because…

And that’s when his nostrils kicked in and a wave of shame broke over him.

Still not a man, huh, Bri-boy? Still not a man.

He released his pillow from the death-grip he’d held it in and he pulled his head over the edge of his mattress. Straight down, there was nothing. No sign of scraping or claw marks. No evidence of anything, human or otherwise, anywhere near his bed. He sat-up and looked down at the semi-wet puddle he was still sitting in. He could feel a slight burning in his eyes.

He started to get out of bed, but he still wasn’t sure. Instead, he decided to check once more. He peeked over the corner of the bed and pulled himself out further this time. There, just underneath the bed. What is that? Is that a shaving? Like from a pencil? A shaving of wood under the bed on the floor?

Bump!

Mornin’ sissy boy!

Brian bolted upright and grabbed for his pillow. His tears began to flow again and his mind raced.

Let’s see if we can make a man of you today, huh?

He had to piss. Oh, he had to piss. But he couldn’t get out of that bed.

Instead, he reached for the phone and, holding back tears, called in to work.

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