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Category Archives: Short Story

This week’s Trifecta Challenge gave us the word “animal,” with the definition being “a human being considered chiefly as physical or nonrational; also :  this nature.” It’s been a few weeks since I last wrote one of these, so with 333 words, here’s my entry for the challenge.

“Animal”

Animal.

That’s what they call me. They spit the word at me through the ventilation holes in my polymer prison. They don’t think I can understand them, that I’m mindless, that the virus that began developing inside of me three months ago has transformed me into a thing from their nightmares. Animal’s better than the other word.

But I can hear them. I hear the scientists talking. That’s how I know what’s happened, how long it’s been. And it’s not being held in a plastic cell that scares me. I’m just a passenger in my head now, a prisoner locked in my own body, and so far undetected by any of their tests. But I can still hear them. I know what they say, but all of my will isn’t enough to move my jaw and tongue and make myself say anything beyond the roars and screams.

I’m more scared of me than I am of them. I may be slamming my fists and feet and knees and head against the walls and getting them to threaten to shoot me, but that’s not scary. What scares me is that it’s not me doing that. I’m not any more in control of my limbs than I am of mouth.

It’s the virus. It has to be. I remember getting sick at work. The tremors, the headaches. I thought it was just the flu, but I went to the doctor anyway. Better to get back on my feet quickly, right? Turns out whatever it was was like nothing they’d ever seen before, or at least that’s what the scientists say when they come by to look at my body. It’s not me that they’re seeing. That’s why they call me an animal. Pure instinct. Unhuman.

Trapped in a cage that’s trapped in a cage. Still, I know they’ll come back to me, when they find a cure. After all, they’re using me to develop and test it.

I’m not an animal.

I am patient zero.

And weighing in at exactly 333 words, here’s my entry for Trifecta Week 91. This is what I was working on when I was interrupted, and found my writing time better served elsewhere.

“The Brand”

The brand still stung. The prisoner couldn’t remember how much time had passed, because he hadn’t been allowed to see the sun or a clock since he’d been brought inside. He couldn’t remember his name. Where he was from. What he had done for a living. What he could remember was the stink as the metal burned through hair and flesh, the shock of the realization that it was his own that seared. Countless hours or days or weeks later, it still stung, though the stench had faded.

In the cell’s dim light, he could make out a faint white and pink outline on the inside of his left wrist, the shape somehow familiar. Where had he seen it before? His memory of the time before his capture was gone, and details of the event still eluded him. It didn’t seem to matter how much of his immeasurable time he spent attempting to recall things. The brand stung, and…

Wait? Was that it? The brand… Could they have done something to his memory with it somehow? Burning out his past as they burned his arm? He jumped to his feet, calling for the guards. It was all coming back to him, his wife, his sons, his life, as his mind slowly beat down the barrier between past and present.

“I remember!”

The guards stood at the door.

“Think he means it?”

“Better to be certain.”

“Right. Out then, you.”

Matthew stepped out of his cell, the sting gone from his wrist. He saw brighter light down the hall and felt a surge of hope as a guard’s gauntlet connected with the back of his head, sending him cascading into darkness again.

The brand still stung. The prisoner couldn’t remember how much time had passed, because he hadn’t been allowed to see the sun or a clock since he’d been brought inside. In the cell’s dim light, he could make out a faint white and pink outline on the inside of his left wrist…

Another Trifecta Writing Challenge entry for you today. Here’s “The Crack.”

“I think I may be going mad,” Kerry muttered as he looked at his surroundings. The sun beat down upon the fields, black grass shimmering in the light. It stretched on into hills and valleys without a single variation in shade. Reality was breaking around him, and the source, the crack was nearby, but that was the only thing that was certain anymore. It was coming for him. He had seen things since his first encounter with the rift, since the day he’d met Alicia, though even now he couldn’t say if that had been ten years or ten days ago. This field before him might only be an illusion. Regardless, the crack was coming closer. There was only one way for him to end it.

“But if I am, I can think of worse ways for it to go.” He saw her then, or her shape, white flitting across the black, and he drew a dagger from his belt. She moved toward him, never touching the grass, never noticing the narrow band of chaos that seemed to be carved across the landscape by her passage. Finally reaching him, she stopped.

“Hello, Kerry.” Her voice a jumble of voices clamoring at once.

“Hello, Alicia.”

“I’ve been waiting for you.”

Kerry’s face was grim. “I’ve been looking for you. I hoped I’d find you sooner.”

Alicia’s shape twitched as if it had just noticed the blade he held. “Is that what I think it is?” the multitude asked.

“Let’s find out.”

He stepped behind her, arms around her in a final embrace as he guided her hands upward and the knife point found her neck.

The crack that had trailed behind her yawned wide. Kerry clutched Alicia’s limp body to him and let the chaos swallow them both. All that remained was black.

This is my entry for this week’s Trifecta Writing Challenge. Our prompt word this week was club, and I thought it was a great opportunity to dust off an idea that came straight out of a conversation my friends and I had back in college.

“The Rough Draught”

The bar was Noel’s idea in the first place. Everyone comes to see him.

They first met in college, students finding their place in the real world. They would chat about music, movies, video games, life. Most of the time, though, it was books. Books, authors, the publishing industry. It was their shared passion, whether they were heaping praise upon those that earned their approval or tearing down those that drew their ire.

Noel was majoring in business, Jackson in creative writing, Camille in professional editing, and Mike in art and philosophy. They quickly became close friends, and soon Mike and Camille were engaged. They met anywhere they were tolerated. Usually the volume and intensity of their conversations would scare other customers away in bookstores, and the relatively soundproof study rooms in the local library could only do so much once they really got started.

However, all good things must come to an end, and so it was with the club’s regular meetings. Graduation came, and their next reunion was not to be until Camille and Mike’s wedding a year later. It was at the wedding dinner that Noel proposed his idea.

“Imagine a place,” he said, “where people would be free to have the kind of conversations we used to have, but be able to find the support for their endeavors.”

“You obviously have something in mind,” Camille grinned, wiping a bit of cake from her mouth. “What is it?”

“I call it ‘The Rough Draught.’ A bar for book people, but not just a bar. A bookstore, a bar, a literary agency. Hell, we could even get a print-on-demand station if we wanted to. But I’d love your help. I’ve got a business plan and a couple of potential investors, but I would love your help. We could have editors and artists on hand every day. What do you guys think?”

“I love it, and the name’s perfect,” Jackson laughed. “When do we start?”

“As soon as we can,” Noel said.

Trifecta Writing Challenge: Week 81. Our word was light.

 

I can see the light from here. It’s shining through the blinds as I’m trying to fall asleep, and I’m beginning to realize the futility of that goal. I think it’s the North Star, but I’m too exhausted to care. It’s been a long trip, and I know that I’m nearly there, so I suppose that’s a plus. Maybe one more week before the ship reaches land. I’m hopeful that my son is safe, and that his last letter to me was accurate, that he is ready for my arrival. Our future is bright, almost as the star I see above. Perhaps instead of sleep, I will make a wish and go for a walk on the deck.

It’s Week 78 over at Trifecta, so here’s yet another one-word prompt story. “Pedantic.”

“It’s dull.”

“What?”

“Your story. Dull. Boring. Dreary. Pedantic. Drivel.”

“So, you didn’t like it?”

“I didn’t say I didn’t like it. Just that I think it’s shit.”

“What the hell, man?”

“Hey, you asked me what I thought of it. I’m just being honest.”

“Yeah, and an asshole.”

“An asshole who is happy to be brutally honest with you.”

“Apparently so.”

“But seriously. You can write better than this. This is uninspired. I’ve seen what you can do. Who were you trying to fool with this stuff?”

“What? Fool? Why the hell would I be trying to fool anyone?”

“Beats me, but this bit of ‘story’ that you handed me an hour ago is nonsense. Unimaginative. Dull. Bullshit. Pedantic. Did I use that one already?”

“Yeah, you did, actually.”

“Well then, I guess it counts double. Go rewrite it. Better yet, throw this away and start from the beginning. Forget you ever had this idea.”

“Fine. FINE. I’ll scrap it.”

“Good.”

“Is it really that bad?”

“Oh yeah.”

“Hmph. Fine.”

“Please, just…try harder this time.”

“Alright. But you know something?”

“What?”

“Next time I ask myself to read something I wrote, I’ll do it without all of this talking to myself nonsense.”

“Sounds like a good plan.”

“Good. Now, shut up and let me write.”

“I didn’t say anything.”

“Yeah, I know.”

This was written in response to the most recent Trifecta challenge. Here’s “Ecstasy.”

 

She had begged him to go to the cavern, to gain the experience for himself. Now he sat alone, waiting for the process to begin. Crispin closed his eyes and felt the vapors wash over him, enveloping his skin and pouring into his mind. The ecstasy would be upon him soon, the tremors in his legs, his fingers, his arms. Bracing himself against one wall of the cavern, he collapsed in a fetal ball and the visions began.

There they were, standing together with their fingers intertwined. The snow was beginning to fall as they shared a lingering kiss. Eliza’s dark lashes were dusted with white as she leaned against him. She had been laughing when he dropped to his knee and startled her into silence with a small velvet box.

They lay on their backs under an alien sky, Eliza resting her head against his chest. Crispin pointed out constellations that no human had ever named before, tracing dreams in the night above.

They sat at a café in Paris, half-finished pastries and cooling coffee on the table between them. Eliza ran her foot across his, blushing as she did.

They cried together in an empty room, Eliza slumped on the floor and Crispin leaning on the crib that would never be filled.

As suddenly as it had begun, the ecstasy ended. Crispin’s head cleared and he managed to stand. A bottle of water stood on the table. When he stumbled while reaching for it, Eliza’s hand caught him and pulled him upright. She waited patiently while he finished the water, only posing her question after the last drop was gone.

“So… How was it?”

“Different,” he replied. “I saw a lot of possible futures, Eliza, and only one thing was certain in any of them.”

She tapped her forefingers together, looking away. “W…was it…”

“It was you, Elly. You were there by my side, in every one of my visions.”

She smiled, pulling him into a hug. “Then let’s go home.”

This week’s writing challenge from the delightful Mr. Wendig has given me an opportunity to revisit an older piece. Back in August of 2011, I wrote a short story entitled “A Ball of Light in One’s Hand” for a writing challenge hosted by Sonia M. The story was a 500 word microfiction piece for a prompt that asked us to write about doorways. I obliged, and you can read part one at the link above. Today, I’m sharing a piece written for Chuck’s latest challenge over at Terrible Minds. We were given a link to The Secret Door and told to write a 1,000 word microfiction story based on the location we found on the other side of the door. I’m very pleased to be able to share this with you. This is Damien’s Return.

“Damien’s Return”

Damien landed on all fours on a blindingly white surface. Blinking, he stood only to stumble again as he realized he couldn’t find any sort of visible horizon. Everything around him was the same dazzling absence of anything that resembled anything. He shook his head in an attempt to orient himself, finally managing to stand on what he forced himself to consider the floor.

Wherever that last door had taken him, he was able to breathe, and the bookseller was nowhere in sight. “Phew… She must not have been able to follow me here. Wherever the hell ‘here’ even is.” It hadn’t been like any of his jumps before, no matter where or when any of the doors had taken him. She’d always been able to find him, track him somehow, but then all of the other doors he’d passed through had been real, physical ones. It was sheer desperation that had made him try for the picture in the book. No other door had been in sight, and her last words had chilled him. “Give me the book, boy, and I’ll kill you quickly.”

It hadn’t been an idle threat, and he knew it. He’d lost friends in the weeks since leaving her shop, the book clutched to his chest. She’d come for it, no regard for any who stood in her way. His cousin Ari had been found outside of Damien’s apartment, his blood pooling on the pale green hallway tile. Two of his coworkers the week after, dead in their cubicles with words carved over and over again into their skin: “The book.” Damien was well acquainted with the smells of paper and ink, but the bookseller taught him the smell of death, and it mingled with the more familiar scents. Here, though, only paper and ink remained. Paper and ink…

“I’m in the book,” he whispered. He took a hesitant step and heard the familiar crinkle of a crisp sheet of paper. “All of this white… I’m on a damn page.”

“Indeed, you are, young Damien.”

The boy whirled to see who had spoken. As he spun, a thin line of black began to spread, a horizon drawing itself across the white. “Who said that?”

“I did.” The black continued to crawl across the white until it had completely encircled Damien. The new horizon yawned and an elderly man stepped forth out of the black. “My name is Rhu, and I am the author of the book in which you have taken refuge. I must say, you’re the first one to think about hiding in here. Well done, Damien.”

“How did I get here, Rhu, and how do I get back out?”

“Do you really want to go back, my boy? After all, she’s in a fine temper, what with having lost you again. I’m sure that she suspects that you’ve made it here, but that scares her as well. You see, outside she controls the doors, but here in the book my power is absolute.”

“You haven’t answered my questions yet.”

“Very well. You got here the same way you’ve gotten everywhere and everywhen else you’ve ever gone since picking up this book. You learned the secrets of door travel that I originally mastered, thanks to my writings. When you needed an escape from her, the book responded to your need and gave you a way out. In, rather. As far as getting back out, I can send you away from here, if that’s what you desire. I can send you back to the real world, but there is no guarantee that you’ll be safe from her. Her power grows by the day.”

“Who is she?”

“A former student of mine, I’m afraid. She thought that by locking me away in my own book, she’d get rid of me. Instead, I’ve managed to get the book into the hands of those who might be able to defeat her. That’s why you found her bookshop that day, Damien. You have the ability to stop her once and for all, but the first thing you need is time. I can give that to you, if you wish to avenge the deaths of your friends.”

“I…What do I have to do?”

“Trust me, Damien. She can’t have sole control, and the number of people who might stand against her is dwindling. There is a place far from her. As I said, I can’t guarantee your safety, but I can grant you a bit of time. You see, I’ve been writing in here when she doesn’t have the book, adding to what I know, what I’ve learned. It might give you enough of an edge to win, but you’ll have to follow the instructions exactly as they are written. Can you do this?”

“I can.” If it meant stopping the woman who smelled of paper and ink and death, he would give it everything. A grim smile appeared on his face. “I just have to read?”

“Yes. The book will return to your hand as soon as you leave here.” Rhu grasped the black horizon, lifted it, and shaped it. A moment later a door appeared, black and inky at first, but gradually coming into shape as a heavy oaken door with a large silver knocker in form of a lion’s head. “Your door, Damien. Thank you, and goodbye.”

The old man vanished. Damien stepped toward the door, took a deep breath, and opened it. The noise was overwhelming, a deafening roar of wind and a clash of steel on steel. He was at the back of a train, winding along the side of a mountain. A small village sat in the valley below him, tranquil in comparison.

“This is the place,” he said, bracing against the railing. “But where’s the book?” As he spoke, a glow appeared above him. Damien stretched out his hand, and the light coalesced into the familiar black leather-bound volume that smelled of paper and ink. He opened the book and began to read.

To be continued…

This week’s challenge from Chuck gave us ten randomly chosen words (library, ethereal, storm, dolphin, replay, undertaker, envelope, satellite, chisel, and cube). We were asked to pick five of them to include as elements within the story for a thousand word piece. Here’s “Grave,” featuring library, storm, envelope, undertaker, and satellite, albeit a couple of hours late.

Grave

Lightning crackled across the sky, chasing itself from cloud to cloud as Devlin slung his spade over his shoulder. The storm had been building on the horizon for hours, and the apprentice undertaker had plenty of time to finish his last task, but he’d spent much of his afternoon hiding from his master, Thom. So it was that he found himself crawling out of a newly-dug grave as the first drops of rain began to fall.

Sure, Thom was kind enough on the surface. He’d taken Devlin in several years before, allowing his parents to care for his younger brother and pursue their own careers in archaeology. The old man knew he wasn’t going to be able to carry on his job for more than another year or so, but still, he didn’t have to beat Devlin every time he found him reading. His ears still ached from the boxing they’d been given that afternoon. At least his book hadn’t been thrown away this time.

Digging graves was a bore, always the same dimensions, always the same shovel. The only thing that changed was where in the yard he would be digging. At least the people in the books he read got to escape from their dull lives, off on some adventure. Dev sighed and made his way back to Thom’s cabin at the northern edge of the graveyard. At least the day’s work was done. He called out as he entered the door, the first raindrops hitting the ground as he propped his shovel against the door frame. “Thom? I’m done.”

“Ah, good. I see you managed to beat the storm. Dinner’s nearly ready, if you’ve completed your work.” The senior undertaker stood from a chair near the stove. A fire blazed in the fireplace, lending warmth to the cabin as the temperature dropped outside.

“I did. Mission accomplished, boss.”

“You know it would take you a hell of a lot less time if you didn’t read when you were supposed to be digging.”

“I know.”

“I’m not training you to read all day.”

“I know.”

“Is it going to happen again?” Thom raised his fist.

Devlin sighed. “No, Thom.”

“Good. Glad we talked. Sausage and cabbage soup for dinner. Enjoy. I’m going to bed before the weather gets any worse. Goodnight, Dev.”

“Night, Thom.”

Once the old man had gone to bed, Devlin sat at the table and sipped at a bowl of soup. The week’s mail had come in while he’d been at work and was sitting on the chair beside him, so he picked it up and idly thumbed through the various letters, magazines from coffin makers, and postcards from customers until he spotted a small yellowed envelope with his name on it.

Inside the envelope was a matching piece of paper, a letter in neat handwriting, green ink shining in the firelight.

“Dear Devlin,” it read, “Your father and I are very proud of you. We know that your apprenticeship hasn’t been easy. It’s never easy to have to spend your life doing something you don’t want to do. Still, it’s very important for you to have this opportunity. With the work you’re doing now, you’ll be able to earn a stable living. Who knows? In ten or fifteen years, you might be able to pursue more of your passions.

“You’re very lucky you know. Your brother has to travel to the satellite villages to find work anymore, and no one is about to offer him an apprenticeship. Still, I suppose things could be a lot worse for us right now. Your father and I are busy with our own work, naturally. The excavation of the library is going far better than we’d expected and the scrolls and tomes that we’re finding are in remarkable condition. It amazes me how well the desert manages to preserve artifacts for us.

“We continue to search for the heart of the library. We’ve found a clue that is pointing us even deeper underground. Oh, to have lived at the peak of this civilization! The level of skill it must have taken to be able to create something so massive, a facility of this size, beneath a mountain! Devlin, the words cannot possibly describe the way I feel right now. We’re sorry that you can’t join us. You’d love it here. It’s warm and beautiful, and the chances we have to find something big are growing better by the day. We love you, Dev, and can’t wait to see you. Love, Mum and Dad.

“P.S. Your father is working on some sketches to send when the post goes out again. I hope you like them.”

Devlin set the letter aside. His soup had gone cold, so he poured the remnants out and paced around the dining room. The library. His parents had talked about it for years before leaving for the excavation, and in his childhood he had considered it the stuff of legend. Now here he was, hundreds of miles away, the great desert separating him from them, bound by the terms of his apprenticeship. He longed to join them. There was a sense of finality about the work he did for Thom, with each grave he dug serving as someone’s end. The library was history in the making, each day bringing new discoveries for his parents. Even his brother was finding new things in the satellite villages that surrounded his home.

Dev sighed and sat back down. The terms of his apprenticeship bound him, and Thom was too clever to allow him to sneak off any time soon. As he stretched in the chair, a flash of lightning outside the window illuminated the whole room, throwing his spade into sharp relief. “There is a fresh grave outside,” he glanced at the envelope. “And Thom’s got no family to speak of…” The thunder boomed, rattling the cabin. Devlin sat in thought as the storm raged on and the rain continued to fall. “It is an option…”

This week, I decided to compete in a Trifecta writing challenge for the first time. As usual, it’s V’s fault. For the challenge this week, we were given three words. They could be used in any order, but we were only allowed to add 33 words for a total of 36. Our words were rain, rebellion, and remember. Here’s my entry.

 

*       *       *

It’s been thirty years this week. Thirty long years since the day that the blood fell like rain. The city in the clouds above us had erupted in war, a full fledged rebellion.

I still remember.