Don’t Feed the Fruit Flies

Posted: August 13, 2019 in Uncategorized

Dr Rogin was right. These were no fruit flies. Nothing I’d ever seen compared to them. Sure, they were tiny, dark and winged, but the resemblance to anything on earth ended there. The most notable difference was the number of legs the things had. Insects had six legs, arachnids had eight, but these bugs had ten. I’d never seen anything with ten legs before, though I’d heard of one rather obscure case involving a ten-legged creature of Australian origin. What I was looking at had to be one of two things: a newly evolved or previously undiscovered species from Earth, or something alien in origin. Both options simultaneously excited and terrified me. Having seen the destructive power of these tiny swarming creatures, I had no doubt it was a matter of time before humanity was overcome, unless we could find a way to stop them.
The insects, if that was what they were, (I preferred to think of them as ‘bugs’ until I knew exactly what they were) appeared to be evolving. Or maybe it was another stage of their life cycle that we hadn’t seen yet. The new bugs looked different. They had tripled in size, and had pale whitish wings instead of the mottled black wings of their ten-legged predecessors. Their bodies were shiny, black and heavily armored. The smaller bugs had translucent gray bodies with visible innards. Both varieties were unlike any insect I’d seen. As if the ten-legged bugs weren’t disturbing enough, these new ones only had four.
What the fuck am I dealing with here? fruit fly
“So what do you make of it?” Dr Rogin had slipped into the room while I was looking into the microscope.
“I’m not sure what I’m looking at here. Is this another phase of its life cycle, or an entirely different species?”
“That’s what I aim to find out. Then you can get busy with your job, which is to figure out how to kill them.” He glared at me over the rims of his half-moon spectacles. “While killing as little else as possible in the process, of course.”
Dr. Leonard Rogin was my partner on the project, although we didn’t work for the same employers. He was a senior FDA research scientist who spent most of his time evaluating the safety of products before releasing them to consumers. He was responsible for double-checking my research to ensure that I didn’t endanger any lives in the process of doing my job.
The company I worked for, Evergreen industries, worked in cooperation with heavyweights like Monsanto. My job was to ensure the safety of the. North American food supply by eliminating any possible threats to said food supply.
I used my degree in entomology to study insects for the sole purpose of finding the most effective methods of killing them, and I was paid handsomely for my effort.
These bugs were unlike anything I had ever encountered.
It had all started innocently enough.
A year previously, swarms of fruit flies descended over the Midwest. At first we assumed it was merely a heavy season for the tiny pests, but it soon became obvious we were faced with something much greater. Granted, we had noticed an increase in fruit flies and other pests in the past few years, but nobody gave it much thought. We shrugged it off as ‘just a bad season’ for this pest or that one. How blind we were, not to have recognized the signs.
For the past ten years that I worked for Evergreen, Monsanto and the many organizations that worked in silence beneath them were doing what they had always done – messing with the genetic makeup of plants to produce hardier and more prolific versions. Their mission, as stated, was to make our valuable and life-giving food crops resistant to pests, extreme weather, poor soil conditions and other potentially destructive factors. As the world’s honeybee population plunged into extinction, increased focus was placed on the development of self-pollinating hybrid varieties of all staple crops.
One of the less-talked-about projects was the nuke-resistant crop.
Worried that the threat of nuclear attack was imminent, the powers that be felt the need to protect our food supplies by making them resistant to radiation and other challenges faced following a nuclear strike. For years, scientists had been working (covertly, so as not to create panic) to develop nuke-resistant strains of corn, wheat and other vital food crops. They succeeded, but what they didn’t anticipate was the effect these new crops would have on the rest of the ecosystem.
It’s a well-known fact in science that every living thing has a survival mechanism. Even minute viruses and bacteria have ways of surviving when faced with obstacles. When a body becomes immune to a virus, it mutates in an attempt to circumvent the immune system. When an infection is bombarded with enough antibiotics, the surviving bacteria evolve into antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
Darwin called it survival of the fittest – living things adapting in order to survive.
What made them think the genetically altered crops would exist in the same environment as their predecessors without having any effect, adverse or otherwise, on the living things around them? For a bunch of brainiacs, we scientists could be pretty stupid sometimes. We ignored what should have been plain to see until it was too late. And now, there I was, stuck inside my lab at the eleventh hour and no closer to finding a solution than I had been five, ten years ago, before this whole mess began. Back then, there would have been plenty of time to avert disaster if only we had seen it. If only.
The fruit flies appeared to have evolved into the ten-legged abominations I was now studying. Not only had their appearance changed, but their habits had as well. This latest batch of flies was of a more devastating breed than anyone could have imagined. They decimated fruit, vegetable and grain crops. They squeezed through the tiny holes in window screens, coating everything inside and out with a live, buzzing ash-colored blanket. It was impossible to display fresh produce at a market without seeing it covered with the tiny gray flies. The usual pesticides had no effect on them.
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when winter came, because it meant the end of what they considered to be the worst fruit fly season in history. But the flies persevered. In spite of sub-zero temperatures, they survived and even seemed to thrive. Extreme temperatures, lack of water and even lack of food didn’t seem to slow them down. They continued to multiply and spread, until all of North America was infested. International flights were halted to prevent the swarms from migrating to the rest of the world, but the outlook was bleak. We knew that it was only a temporary solution; attempting to quarantine an entire continent was neither logical nor feasible. Sooner or later the bugs would spread if we didn’t find a way to stop them.
By the end of the year, their numbers had reached disastrous proportions. Car engines developed problems as the insects clogged air intakes and exhaust. People wearing safety goggles and surgical masks were a common sight on the streets. Due to mass crop dusting, Malathion poisoning in people and animals became commonplace, but the flies remained healthy.
And now, there were these new bugs. Larger, faster and, presumably, even more destructive, though we had yet to see what effect they would have on what was left of the continent’s crops.
* * *
I stared into the twin glass tanks that contained my test specimens. A swarm of small bugs in one, and a slightly smaller group of the larger bugs in the other.
An idea occurred to me.
I placed both tanks inside the glassed-in observation room and then removed the lids. I exited the room quickly, sealing the door behind me.
I had set up a video camera on a tripod outside the room to record the experiment, just in case anything unusual happened. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect, but it was better to be prepared than to miss anything.
I wanted to know how these two species interacted with each other, and if they were indeed different developmental phases of the same organism, or if they were two different animals entirely.
I grabbed a fresh cup of coffee and pulled up a chair next to the glassed-in room to watch.
The bugs kept with their own kind, each forming a thick swarm. It was eerie, watching the two swarms moving about the room, flying in such an organized formation they could have been mistaken for two single organisms.
The swarms stopped and hovered, maintaining a distance of two or three feet between each other. They seemed to be waiting. I knew it was an insane notion, but it looked like they were ‘facing’ each other.
When it began, it was a sight I would never forget. The larger bugs attacked, and I could have sworn I heard a faint collective scream like a battle cry as they charged into the thick black cloud of tiny flies.
The two clouds of insects became one, and the battle cry became a squeal that increased in pitch and intensity until I had to cover my ears. When it was over, only one swarm remained. The larger bugs were the victors.
The big bugs were able to kill the small ones. I had found the solution to one problem.
Now I had a new problem. What else did these big bugs kill? What would it take to kill them?
Oh, dear God. Have we gone from the frying pan into the fire?
I picked up the phone. It was time to call my superiors and inform them of this new development.
* * *
I woke with something wet and sticky on my face. I raised my head from my desk, where I had fallen asleep after my twenty-eighth hour on the job. A document was stuck to my cheek, from the remnants of a cup of coffee, which I had evidently knocked over in my sleep. I sighed and pulled the paper off of my face, then checked my watch. It was ten-thirty, presumably at night.
I hadn’t been home to shower or change clothes in two days, ever since we received word of the government’s 72-hour countdown. If I, and the others working on the problem didn’t find a feasible solution to the bug invasion, we would be relieved of our duties and the military would intervene. They would eradicate the problem by any means necessary. That meant poisons, experimental chemicals, nerve gas, napalm, and if all else failed, Operation Black Flag. Operation Black Flag, named after a popular insect extermination product, involved luring the bugs to remote desert areas and nuking them. Residents would be evacuated, but any who refused to go would meet the same fate as the bugs. That was, assuming a nuke would kill the things. For all we knew, it would kill everything except for the bugs. We had no way of knowing the effects of things we hadn’t tried yet.
There had to be another way. The potential for global catastrophe was enormous, whether by bugs or by humankind’s ham-handed intervention. The time to find a solution was running out. Who knew what kind of horrific nerve gases and biological weapons the US military had in its possession? They let the public think such things didn’t exist, but I knew better. History had proven that we were capable of creating some pretty nasty stuff.
My head spun when I thought about all the lives at stake – not just people, but livestock, crops, and natural flora and fauna were all in danger of extinction. The government assholes didn’t care; all they thought about was winning. They had to prove they were number one, and no little bug was going to knock them off the top of the food chain.
I stretched my arms over my head as I walked back to the lab station where I had been working. A metal rack next to the microscope held twenty-four glass vials, each containing an individual specimen of the larger bug. I had studied them, poisoned them with everything I could think of, and still they lived, bouncing angrily against the glass. Attempts to dissect them had proven fruitless; their armor seemed impenetrable. As much as I hated to admit defeat, it was starting to look like our time on this planet was coming to an end.
The odd thing about the large bugs was, they didn’t seem to be multiplying the way the small ones were. I had yet to catch one in the transition from small to large, either. When the small ones appeared, we saw them multiply exponentially. The larger bugs hadn’t shown up until the small ones had reached epidemic proportions. They didn’t seem to hatch or evolve – they just appeared.
I breathed a weary sigh and reached for a vial containing an untainted specimen. I didn’t know where to turn at this point, except to repeat my previous experiments to see if I had missed anything. There had to be a clue somewhere. These things had to have a weakness.
I was overtired; otherwise I wouldn’t have been so clumsy. When I reached for the vial, the sleeve of my lab coat caught on the rack and I accidentally swept the entire thing onto the floor.
I gasped at the sound of glass smashing. The specimens were free.
“Shit!” I shouted, jumping back from the station. I ran to the door and hit the Emergency Quarantine button. The doors automatically locked, sealing the room and everything in it. The lab was now contaminated, and so was I. Nothing would enter or exit until the threat was contained.
The buzz of the bugs rose to a high-pitched squeal as they swarmed around my head. I swatted at them, even though I knew it was unwise to do so. The little buggers were already pissed off; there was no need to antagonize them. I pulled my lab coat over my head and retreated into the inner office, slamming the door behind me. I leaned against the door, panting, while the bugs hummed angrily on the other side.
Suddenly I felt a sharp pain in my neck.
“Ouch!” What the..?
I was bitten! One of the bugs had followed me into the office and stung me.
“No,” I whispered as the strength left my body and I slid to the floor.
Darkness.
* * *
I heard the soft murmuring of voices. At first, I thought I had fallen asleep with the TV on, then I remembered the lab, and the bugs. I opened my eyes tentatively.
I was no longer in the office where I had fallen. In fact, I was no longer in the lab at all. I was surrounded by a bizarre alien landscape. The ground beneath my feet resembled a dried-out lake bed; It was flat and solid, covered with cracks. It reminded me of the Bonneville Salt Flats, which I had visited to watch land speed testing on a couple of occasions. How I had managed to travel from Nebraska to Utah? More importantly, why? Had I been unconscious that long?
I looked around for landmarks; anything that would help me get my bearings. The horizon was hard to distinguish because the sky was the same color as the ground.
“Hello?” I called. “Anybody here?”
I heard a fluttering sound, but couldn’t pinpoint where it was coming from. Then more voices, whispering. It occurred to me that maybe I was dead. Was this Purgatory, or some kind of spirit world? I pinched myself, then slapped my face. It hurt, and I felt solid. I certainly didn’t feel like a spirit.
Voices whispered, like rustling leaves.
“Who’s there?” I shouted. “Show yourself!”
The fluttering grew louder, then I sensed movement above my head. I looked up and my jaw dropped in amazement.
The individual responsible for making the sound descended from above and landed lightly on the ground in front of me. She was my height, and looked somewhat human, but that was where the resemblance ended. She had wings. Wings! Her skin was the most beautiful pale iridescent blue, like an opal. Her long wings were long, narrow and clear, like those of a dragonfly, with the same iridescence as her skin. Her delicate beauty was breathtaking. She wore a suit of armor similar to a Medieval knight’s, but form-fitting, shiny and black. A smooth helmet covered her head and a sword hung from her lower back, positioned pointing straight down with the hilt resting at the base of her wings.
“Please accept my apology,” she said. Her voice was light and musical, with an odd accent I’d never heard before. “I didn’t want to wound you, but I had no other choice. All other attempts at communication have failed.”
“W-who are you?” I stammered. “Wound me? How?”
She placed a delicate, shimmering hand on her hip, where a sheathed dagger was attached to her armor. “I had to inject you with serum. I am truly sorry.”
“I am Ilara,” she said, “Warrior. Wanderer. Guardian of the innocent.”
My questions remained unanswered, given that I didn’t have the slightest idea what she was talking about.
“But how? Where?” Questions swirled in my head. I didn’t know where to begin.
“You are the one who can bridge the gap. We need you to communicate with your race, to let them know we are here to help.”
“I don’t understand.”
Ilara turned away from me and made a shrill whistle. The whir of many sets of wings filled the air as more of her kind descended from the sky. I gasped, awestruck at the sight of them. This had to be a dream. I must have hit my head when I fell, and now I was having a most bizarre and wondrous dream. Irridescent wings flashed as a vortex of tiny beings swirled around my head.
Fairies, I thought. They look like fairies!
They alit on the ground and gathered around Ilara, chittering in a musical language like a flock of sparkly birds. Then they lined up in a neat formation, as if waiting for inspection. All appeared to be female, and breathtaking in their delicate beauty.
“Where are you from?” I asked.
“We have no home. We are citizens of the universe. We travel wherever we are needed. At this moment, your planet is in dire need of our assistance.”
“The bugs,” I whispered.
“The ‘bugs’, as you call them, are evil overlords who conquer through utter annihilation of all which they encounter. They are eaters of worlds; ruthless, vicious parasites. They will not stop until your world is devoid of all life.”
“I was starting to get that impression,” I said. “Can they be stopped?”
“Yes,” Ilara said. My army has the power to stop them. They are many and we are few, but they are no match for us. You must release us before it is too late.”
“What will happen after you defeat them?”
“Then we will leave your world in peace.”
“And if you don’t defeat them?”
“There is no ‘don’t’. We will be victorious. Listen to me when I tell you, your leaders’ plans to attack the Horde with nuclear weapons will have no effect on them. You will destroy yourselves and your planet in the process, while the Horde grows stronger. They absorb the properties of that upon which they feed. Nuclear weapons will have little effect on them.”
“Nuke-resistant crops…” I whispered, thinking.
“Correct.”
“Why us?” I wondered aloud. “Why our planet?”
“They are the reality you have created for yourselves through your own actions. The Horde is here because the ideal conditions for their existence were already present. They are here because they were drawn here.”
“By what?”
“Why, you, of course. You attracted their attention, and they found your world to be a worthy investment. They are parasites. They attach themselves to existing life forms, and then become those life forms. They are attracted to large masses of life forms – whatever will make the best army. As their army grows, so does their ability to take over larger forms of life. They started with bacteria. Now they have graduated to fruit flies. Next, larger insects. Then the higher life forms. Eventually, you.”
“Us?”
“Yes. Without our assistance, you are on the verge of extinction. This planet and everything around it will become uninhabitable by everything except the Horde.”
“How will they survive once everything is gone? Won’t they die off, too?”
“No. The Horde feeds on low frequency.”
“What does that mean?”
Ilara explained, “Energy vibrates at different frequencies. That which your kind refers to as negative energy – anger, hatred, violence – all of those emotions emit a low frequency. Higher frequencies are at the other end of the scale – love, hope, compassion – all things which the human race claims to practice but only takes part in sporadically.”
“We’re not that bad, are we?” I asked, even though I knew the truth. The company that issued my paychecks was a prime example.
“The Horde are energy parasites, and they are attracted to the frequencies easiest for them to consume – the lower ones. They are like…” she paused, searching for the right word, “like the things you call vampires,” she finished. “Each of them is a merciless vacuum of nothingness. They devour everything they encounter. In the beginning, the higher frequencies were immune to them, but as fear spreads throughout your world, you will become more and more vulnerable, until nobody and nothing will be safe. They are only in their first stages of attack right now. They are generating fear, charging the planet with negative energy until everything on it is ripe for the harvest. You have only seen the beginning of what they can do.”
“And you can stop them?”
“Yes. It is early enough for us to stop them if we attack now. If you wait too long to release our army, all will be lost.”
“So, where are you, and how do I get there to release you?” I asked.
“We are already here,” Ilara told me.
“I don’t understand.”
“We are trapped in the place where you work.”
“My laboratory? But all I have in there are…”
“Bugs,” Ilara finished. “You call us, the ‘big bugs’, I believe.”
I looked around at my surroundings. Nothing looked familiar until I looked up. Suspended in what I had originally thought was part of the sky, I saw a large, shiny silver object. After studying it further, I recognized a familiar shape. A rectangular metal plate, with three round holes and a cylinder on one side… it was a hinge! I was looking at the office door, which I had been hiding behind when I lost consciousness.
Aw, nuts! This is just some stupid hallucination. I’m probably dying from some alien toxin right now, I thought. And just when I’d begun to have some hope that there might be a way out of this mess.
“Not a hallucination,” Ilara said, confirming my theory that this was indeed, a hallucination.
“I was unable to communicate with you,” she explained. “I could hear your thoughts, but for some reason you were unable to hear mine, so I had to take drastic measures. I used my sword to inject you with serum to reduce you to our size.”
I looked down at the ground, which I had thought looked like salt flats. Now I realized I was standing on the tile floor of the office. They had shrunk me!
“I’m your size?” I said, still in disbelief.
“Yes.”
“I’m not going to stay this way, am I?”
“No. I will put you back into your world, but we need to explain some things first.”
“Okay, I’m listening.”
“Once you return to your normal size, you will need to release our army from your laboratory. It is also very important that you release the Horde as well, so that we can eradicate them. If you do not, they will multiply all over again and this disaster will be repeated.”
“But, labs all across the continent have them contained! How am I supposed to convince them to release their specimens?”
“You will have to find a way. The more of them left alive, the greater the risk of re-infestation.”
“Risk, you say? You mean, re-infestation isn’t certain?”
“Not certain, but likely. There is one weapon your race has that can eliminate them, but I do not believe enough of you will use it.”
“What weapon is that?”
“Love.”
“Love?”
“Love energy has the highest of all frequencies. Love, mercy and compassion for each other is the most powerful weapon your race possesses. Sadly, too few of you make use of it. You find it easier to dwell in the anger frequency. Anger is powerful in its own right due to the passion that often fuels it, but it is lower than the frequency of love. If more of you could rise above that plateau to exist in love, the Horde would be driven from this world, never to return.”
“I can’t expect everyone to just drop everything and start loving each other,” I said.
“No, neither do we,” Ilara sighed. “We will do what we can for you, but when the battle is over, it will be up to you whether or not the Horde will thrive again.”
“But, there’s a chance, right? I mean, even a slim chance is hope.”
“Hope is a good place to start. A good place indeed.” Ilara smiled, and the army of iridescent faces behind her lit up as well.
“Let the battle begin!” Ilara crowed, drawing her sword. The rest of the warriors joined her cheer. Silver flashed as they drew their weapons and raised the blades to the sky. Their visors slid shut, and shiny black suits of armor unfolded to encase the warriors’ bodies. With full armor, they looked exactly like the ‘bugs’ I had been so exhaustively analyzing under the microscope.
Ilara stepped forward and pricked the back of my hand with her sword. I smiled as I slipped down into blackness once again.
For the first time since the whole mess began, I felt like humankind might have a future.

fruitfly

Copyright © 2014 Mandy White

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A Stitch in Time

Posted: June 30, 2019 in Uncategorized

The sound of the shower ceased. Heather’s head poked out of the bathroom, wrapped in a blue towel.

“You don’t have an outlet in here,” she said.

“Well, it ain’t the Hilton.”

Heather held up a blow dryer. “How am I supposed to use this?”

“There’s a mirror in the hall. The outlet there should reach.”

Josh heard an exasperated sigh, followed a few minutes later by the sound of the blow dryer in the hallway. He rummaged in his sewing box for the right scrap of fabric. He found a suitable piece, snipped it to the correct shape, and then threaded the needle with matching thread. He sat calmly, stitching the pieces together.

The blow dryer stopped. Heather returned to the bathroom and Josh heard the clatter of makeup items being dumped on the countertop.

“I appreciate you letting me stay here,” she called through the open door. “I didn’t want to bother with a hotel for just one night.”

“Not a problem.” Josh snipped the thread and started a new seam on the other side.

“I’m going to stop by the hospital on my way to the airport. I need to see her one more time before I go…you know, just in case.”

Josh said nothing.

“I really wish you’d go with me.”

Not a hope in hell, he thought.

“Josh?” Heather poked her head out of the bathroom.

“What?”

“Did you hear me?”

“I heard you. And the answer is no.”

“But Josh! She’s our sister!”

“YOUR sister. Not mine.”

“She’s sick, Josh. Really sick, and they don’t know what’s wrong with her.”

“Don’t care.”

“How can you say that? How can you not care?”

“You have no idea how easy it is.”

Heather emerged from the bathroom, fully dressed and made up. She stood in front of Josh. “How can you be so cold? She is your sister, Josh! She is family.”

“Ex-sister, and she is no family of mine.” Josh stitched furiously, pulling the thread too tight and causing the fabric to pucker. He loosened the thread before continuing.

“But she needs us. She has no one else.”

“Boo-fucking-hoo. I told you I don’t care.”

Heather thrust her cell phone in front of his face. “Please, just look at this. I made a video so you can see I’m not exaggerating.”

Josh finished the seam and knotted the thread before pausing to watch the video. He supposed it would be disturbing to watch…for someone else. The woman in the video screamed and thrashed on the hospital bed.

“What’s with the restraints?”

“Apparently she tried to claw her own eyes out. According to the doctors, she came in that way. Blind and screaming about pain in her eyes.”

“Holy shit!” He let out a chuckle. “She really is fucked up.”

“You think this is funny?”

“It kind of is. Not ha-ha funny. More like poetic justice.”

“You know what I think? I think it’s guilt. She regrets what she did to us, especially to you, and can’t express it, so it’s made her sick.”

“I agree with you there. She brought this on herself.” Josh said.

“Why don’t you go and see her?”

“Now that’s funny!”

“Maybe your forgiveness is all she needs. Couldn’t you find it in your heart to try?”

“I’ll send thoughts and prayers.” His voice dripped sarcasm.

“Don’t you think she’s suffered enough?”

“Oh, no. Not even close.” He snipped the thread and reached for a spool of red to match the next piece of fabric.

“What the fuck are you even doing? Are you sewing?”

“It would appear that way.”

What are you sewing? Are those…doll clothes?”

“Mama Antoine has been teaching me.”

“Who?”

Mrs. Antoine is kind of like a mother to the whole block. She makes dolls. I help her out with chores and she’s been teaching me to make stuff. I’ve learned a lot from her. It’s very relaxing.”

“I don’t even know what to say. I don’t know you.”

“And that’s always been the problem, Heather!” Josh set aside his sewing project to give her his full attention. “You don’t know me. You don’t know what I’ve been through. You don’t know much of anything except for your own life. Where the fuck were you when I was thrown out of my home? The house MY father wanted to leave to ME, his only son. You knew what Dad wanted, but you didn’t stick up for me. You didn’t stand with me when I wanted to challenge the will. You knew Kristen was mentally incompetent, but you just stuck your fucking head in the sand! Where were you when she was out of control, and I needed your help?”

“I didn’t know how badly out of control she was, Josh. I wish things had gone differently.”

“A stitch in time.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“It’s an old saying: ‘A stitch in time saves nine.’ It’s about taking preventative measures. If you act when you first see a problem you can prevent something worse from happening.”

“I couldn’t possibly have known how bad it would get.”

“You didn’t WANT to know. I tried to tell you, but you wouldn’t listen. In fact, you went to great lengths to make sure nobody could tell you anything. Running around the Australian outback with your husband, hiking some Bibbity-Boobity Trail. Who in their right mind goes for a walk for three fucking months?”

“The Bibbulmun Track is a huge commitment. We trained for months to prepare for that hike.”

“Your timing was impeccable. You found the perfect place to hide where nobody could reach you. A convenient excuse to not get involved. Let poor dumb Josh twist in the wind while Miss Psycho destroys everything his father worked a lifetime for.”

“It wasn’t like that.”

“It’s always like that. You’re always training for some kind of marathon. You use fitness as an excuse to hide from anything you don’t want to face. You ignored what was happening, what she was doing to me. It wasn’t until she attacked you that you stepped up and did anything. But by then it was too late.”

“There are things more important than money, Josh.”

“Says the wife of a millionaire. You didn’t get pissed off until she wanted money from you. Yeah, there are things more important than money. Dad wanted me to have his fishing gear and tools. Those are the best memories I have of him, and it meant more to me than money. I would’ve gladly paid for them, but I wasn’t even allowed to do that. Instead, she has an estate sale behind my back and sells my memories to strangers for a few lousy bucks.”

“It was wrong of her to do that, I agree. But can’t we let by-gones be by-gones?”

“Maybe you can, but you have a lot less to forgive than I do. You didn’t have your life torn apart. You weren’t the target of personal attacks, of false accusations. You weren’t driven from your home into a shitty apartment without so much as a memento.”

“Isn’t that a bit dramatic?”

“How is the truth dramatic? Dad was my best friend. We did everything together. When he got sick, I took care of him. She never called or visited. Not until he was on his deathbed. Then suddenly she showed up, looking all weepy. And everybody bought her bullshit act.”

“So I can’t talk you into coming with me to the hospital, then? I have to leave if I’m going to make my flight.”

“I think my answer is pretty clear.”

Heather stomped to the spare room to collect her things, then with the slam of a door she was gone.

Josh didn’t have to explain himself. He had plenty of reasons not to care what happened to Kristen. He didn’t believe in Heaven and Hell, but if there was an afterlife, he hoped his father waited for her on the other side to make her answer for what she’d done.

* * *

The three siblings shared a mother, but the girls had a different father than Josh. When their mother was diagnosed with cancer, Josh was only twelve. Kristen was eighteen and Heather, five years her senior, was already married to a famous athlete and living in Sydney.

The day after their mother’s funeral, Kristen moved out, stating that she could not live another day in that house with HIM. She despised her stepfather, and resented Josh’s close relationship with his dad.

With both sisters gone, it was just Josh and his dad. He spent his teenage years fishing and learning to fix cars. His father was his hero, his mentor, and his best friend. Josh was well into his thirties and still living with his father when the old man’s health began to fail. With Kristen estranged and Heather in Australia, it was up to Josh to take care of his dad, which he did lovingly. His father promised to leave Josh everything: his house, his tools, his fishing gear – the things that had shaped his childhood and held beloved memories of their life together.

When the time came, Heather made the trip from Australia to say goodbye to her stepfather.

And then came the reading of the will. Josh assumed it would be a will created by his father leaving everything to him as promised; him being the only biological child. Then came the surprise: Josh’s father had never made a will. But his mother had, years earlier, when she was dying. Her husband, grief-stricken, had signed without question. After her death, that will became his and he had never bothered to update it. Their mother’s will named Kristen as executor, or “executioner”, as Josh came to call her, and ordered all assets to be sold and split equally between the three children.

At his father’s funeral, Josh faded into the background and Kristen took center stage. She played the role of bereft daughter to perfection, sobbing and hugging, soaking up sympathy like a toxic sponge. The moment the door closed behind the last guest, the tears dried and a ruthless tyrant stepped forth.

Growing up, Kristen was the embodiment of middle child syndrome: acting out to get attention, and then telling lies to get out of trouble. She was jealous of her siblings: of Heather, for having more privileges due to being older, and of Josh, for being the “spoiled baby”. Josh was the only one of the three who had a relationship with his biological father, and Kristen did little to hide her resentment.

Being appointed as executor finally gave Kristen a chance to stick it to her brother and sister. Mentally unstable, drunk with power, and bent on revenge: it was the recipe for a perfect storm. A shitstorm, that was.

She arrived at Josh’s home unannounced, suitcases and screaming children in tow. She moved into “her” house and declared everything in it to be property of the estate, even Josh’s personal belongings. She barked orders at Josh like he was a servant, then screamed and raged when he refused to obey.

Kristen made it her mission to make Josh’s life as miserable as possible. She convinced the rest of the family Josh had been stealing from his father. She had her lawyer waste countless hours poring over years worth of old bank statements. When no evidence of fraud was found, she accused him of stealing “estate assets”, which were in fact his own belongings.

Josh had no choice but to leave. He walked away from his father’s legacy and the only home he had known for 34 years, and moved into a cheap apartment. Yet again, Kristen spun it to make Josh look like the villain and she the victim. He had walked away and left her, a poor single mother, to care for that large house and property all alone. Nobody cared to hear Josh’s side of it.

Heather watched events unfold from a distance, through the rose-colored lens of Kristen’s lies. Josh begged and pleaded with her to listen to the truth before it was too late, but his pleas went unheeded. By the time Heather suspected a problem, four years had passed and she was thousands of dollars out of pocket – money she had sent Kristen for “estate expenses”. When Heather refused to send any more money and demanded to know when she would be repaid, Kristen showed her true colors. She vowed to drain the estate until not a penny was left. Heather hired a lawyer and brought Kristen’s reign of terror to an end, but by that time Kristen had already wasted most of the money. After legal fees, only a few dollars remained.

Josh didn’t care about the money. Everything that had mattered to him was gone. All he had left of his father was a collection of bittersweet memories.

But maybe Heather was right. Maybe he should pay the bitch a visit.

* * *

Josh stood in the doorway for a moment, observing.

Kristen moaned in pain and thrashed on the bed. Her face was covered with angry red scratches.

Josh entered the room. The door clicked shut behind him. Kristen turned toward the sound, her sightless eyes glassy from pain medication.

“Who’s there?”

“Hello, sister dear.”

“You!” The glaze in her eyes turned to clarity.

“Yeah. Me.”

“You did this to me.”

“Actually, you did it to yourself.”

“Fuck you!” she spat.

“Poor little Kristen. Always the victim. And look at you now. Hope it was worth it.”

Kristen responded by literally spitting at him.

“Gross. You always were a slob. You invaded my home and stole my father’s things, and didn’t even have the decency to clean up after yourself. I had to clean your nasty hairball out of the shower drain. Luckily, I had a use for it.”

“I never asked you to come here. Get the fuck out!” Her fingers groped for the nurse’s call button. Josh yanked it out of her reach.

“Don’t worry, I’m leaving. Just had to see you one last time.”

“Get out! Help!”

“I’m going to need you to shut up now, Kristen.”

“Help! He – ” Kristen’s scream cut off abruptly.

“That’s better. I’m sick of hearing your voice. All it does is tell lies.”

Kristen kicked her legs and fought against the restraints. When she tried to scream, no sound came out. She gasped and panted, but remained mute.

“It’s a shame you have to be strapped down like that. I think I can help.”

Josh held an object in his hand. A doll, hand-sewn from scraps of cloth. A clump of human hair harvested from the shower drain adorned its head, embedded in a bit of wax. Pins protruded from its eyes and various other parts of its body.

“You were always such a pain in the neck,” he said. He twisted the pin he had just inserted into the doll’s throat and shoved it deeper. “There. Now I’ve returned the favor. Now you won’t need those restraints anymore.”

Kristen’s struggles ceased and she lay limp on the bed.

“How’s it feel to be powerless? At someone else’s mercy?”

Her unseeing eyes smoldered with the blackest of hatred. Tears trickled down her cheeks.

“I don’t know what you’re complaining about. You may be paralyzed, but at least you aren’t numb. You can still feel everything. Everything.

He examined the doll thoughtfully. “I wonder what we should do next. We’re going to run out of room eventually. When that happens, a nice jab to the brain should finish you off.

I’ll leave you alone…for now. But every once in a while, when you feel a little twinge…or maybe a big one, you’ll know I’m thinking of you.

* * *

Josh stitched the final seam together and snipped the thread. He admired his handiwork. Mama Antoine was right. He was getting better the more he practiced. All it needed was a final touch.

He ran his hand over the carpet below the hallway mirror and found what he was looking for. He then proceeded to the bathroom, where the blue towel still hung on the shower curtain rod. There, he found three more long auburn hairs. Cleaning the shower drain produced several more.

He lit the candle and melted the wax while speaking an incantation in an ancient language.

Josh inserted a pin into one of the doll’s knees, then the other. He repeated the process with six more pins in the legs of the doll.

Heather didn’t deserve what Kristen had gotten. She wasn’t a bad person. Self-absorbed perhaps, but not hateful like her sister. With a few preventative measures, Heather could improve. She could learn to face her problems instead of running off to the wilderness. No more hikes. At least not for now.

Copyright © 2019 Mandy White

Dead End

Posted: May 13, 2019 in Uncategorized

The Dead End sign should have been our first clue to turn around. But Craig had refused to ask for directions and he would never admit that he’d taken a wrong turn. I kept my mouth shut to keep the peace.
After we passed the sign, the road narrowed and there was no place to turn around. We pushed forward, looking for a wide spot in the road but the trees closed in tighter, branches scraping against the shiny red paint of Craig’s new Escalade. Curse words spewed from his mouth at every new scrape. I remained silent, knowing that to suggest we try to reverse out of there would only anger him further.
And now there we were. Stuck axle-deep in mud at the end of what could only be described as a trail – the road had ended miles back.
Craig swore and stomped on the accelerator again. The smell of hot rubber filled the cab and rooster tails of mud spewed out behind the vehicle. We weren’t going anywhere without a tow truck.
I checked my cell phone. No bars. Of course.
I calculated in my head the amount of time we had been driving since we passed the sign and tried to estimate how long it would take to hike back to the main road. Even the most optimistic estimate had us hiking through the woods in the dark. It was already 3:30, and the October sky was losing light fast. I didn’t relish the idea of walking that road even in daylight, clad in a cocktail dress and pumps, but at night…
Craig killed the engine and we sat in silence. He knew what I wanted to say, but I didn’t dare say it. He fucked up. He should have listened when I told him not to try to take a shortcut just because Google said there was one. He should have turned back at the Dead End sign. I told him so. I told him so.
Dusk fell over the vehicle. I pulled my sweater around me but it was little help against the chill of the approaching night. A flash of light in the rear view mirror caught my eye.
“What’s that?” I finally dared to speak, having something to say other than ‘I told you so’.
Craig looked over his shoulder.
“A vehicle! Holy shit, we’re saved. Must be some hunters or something. Wait here.”
Craig jumped out and waited at the rear of the car for the approaching vehicle. He waved his arms to flag them down, not like they could have gone any further anyway.
I head a loud POP and my husband fell to his knees.
Two figures dressed in plaid approached the vehicle. I was trapped.
“Well, lookie here, Clem!” a voice said. “Looks like we’all won the lottery!”

Chernobyl Charlie

Posted: May 2, 2019 in Uncategorized

The old man placed another log on the campfire.
“You kids ready for a story?”
“Yes!” Kylie and Joel chorused together.
Every summer, his daughter-in-law Laura brought the grandchildren on weekends for a backyard campout. The kids got to sleep in a tent and enjoy fireside stories, just like they’d done with their father. Since loss of her husband, a Marine, Laura tried to maintain a connection with his side of the family. The old man appreciated the effort she made. The kids enjoyed his stories and he enjoyed telling them, and boy, he had a lot of stories.
“Get comfortable, ‘cause tonight I got a great story for ya. This one’s about Chernobyl Charlie.”
“Wait!” Kylie ran to the tent to grab her blanket. She returned and nestled in her lawn chair with the blanket wrapped around her shoulders. “Okay, I’m comfortable now.”
Her brother rolled his eyes. “Ok, are you ready now? I want to hear the story.”
The old man began,
“There once was a boy, we’ll call him Nathan. This boy only wanted one thing for his entire life: a dog. He didn’t want anything else, not ever.
Every year, his parents would ask him what he wanted for Christmas or his birthday, and his answer was always the same:
‘I want a dog!’ he’d say.
And every time, the answer would be the same: ‘No’.
It wasn’t that his parents were mean, or didn’t want him to have a dog. It was just that they lived in an apartment, and weren’t allowed pets in the building, other than fish or birds. Birds gave him the creeps and goldfish just weren’t the same. Fish were boring. They just sat in a bowl. You couldn’t take them for a walk or pet them or play ball with them.
But one year, the year he turned twelve, Nathan’s life changed forever.
His father had started a new job a year ago, and was making more money. Enough money that they could finally buy a house. A whole house! With its own yard and everything! Most importantly, there was a fenced area for a dog! This year, when Nathan’s parents asked what he wanted for his birthday, the answer was yes. He could have a dog.black-and-white-dog-sitting-down.png
His mother agreed to the dog on one condition: they would adopt, not shop. No pet stores or fancy breeds; they would find a shelter dog that needed a home. Nathan was fine with that. Any dog would be a great dog, and he would love it with all his heart.
They registered with the SPCA and a bunch of other rescue groups, looking for a dog that would be a good fit for their family. One day, Nathan’s mother called him to look at something.
She was sitting at the kitchen table with her laptop open to some website.
Nathan took a look over his Mom’s shoulder to see what she was looking at. The screen had a picture of a group of dogs on it.
‘What’s this?’ he asked.
‘There are puppies available for adoption, and you’ll never guess from where. Chernobyl!’ she told him.
‘Isn’t that place like, radioactive or something?’ he said.
His mother explained, ‘According to this, hundreds of dogs roam the woods in the exclusion zone near Chernobyl. They are the descendants of pets that were left behind in the evacuation. Some of the puppies are being brought to the U.S. for adoption. The adoptions will be done through the SPCA, and we’re already registered with them. We can ask to be put on a wait list for one of these puppies if you want.’
It sounded pretty cool, but Nathan had some concerns. He asked his mom, ‘Is that even safe? Like are they mutants or anything?’
‘No, not at all,’ she told him, ‘Many of the dogs are perfectly healthy. No radiation sickness, and they are carefully vetted before they are put up for adoption.’
Nathan was sold. ‘Cool! I want a radioactive puppy!’
‘And if we don’t get one, we will find another shelter pup that needs us, agreed?’ his mom said.
‘Okay!’ Nathan said.”
“What happened that they had to evacuate, Grandpa?” Kylie asked.
“It was a meltdown!” Joel said. “We learned about it in school. Some kind of power plant in Russia. It went nuclear. Like, psssh!” He made a sound that mimicked an explosion and motioned with his hands.
“Well, it didn’t actually blow up, but it was really bad. It happened back in the eighties. They used some pretty dangerous stuff to make electricity in the old days. The power plant at Chernobyl had a bad accident. All the land around it became poisoned from radiation, and the people had to evacuate. The place is still deserted today. You can see pictures on the internet of all the empty buildings. There’s even a deserted amusement park. And nobody can go there even now, because it’s still radioactive.”
“But what about all the animals?” Kylie asked.
“A lot of them got left behind to fend for themselves. Some died, and some just went wild. There was still a working power plant there, thirty years later. And the workers started feeding some of the wild dogs that were running around. And, as dogs do, some of them became friendly again. Eventually, some rescue organizations got wind of it and started to capture the dogs. The wilder ones got checked by vets, fixed so they couldn’t have any more puppies, and then set free again. And they started catching the puppies and finding homes for them.”
The old man took a sip of his coffee, which had gotten cold, and continued the story.
“June twenty-fifth was a date Nathan never forgot, because it was the happiest day of his life. School was out for the summer, but most importantly, the time had come to bring home the new puppy. Surprisingly, their application for a Chernobyl pup had been accepted and they were minutes away from meeting their new family member. Nathan and his mother paced the waiting room of the SPCA, too excited to sit down.
They didn’t know much about the puppy, other than it was a male, approximately four months old, and would grow to be a medium to large-sized dog. The breed was anyone’s guess, but it was said that some of the wild dogs had been running in wolf packs, so the puppy might even have had some wolf in it.
A woman came from the back room, holding a wriggling bundle of black-and-white fur in her arms. When the puppy saw the new people, he squirmed away from the woman. He ran to Nathan, slipping and sliding on the floor on huge, clumsy feet. The puppy whined and wagged his tail so hard his whole body wagged. He licked Nathan’s face, covering it with dog slobber, but Nathan didn’t mind.
‘I’m going to call you Charlie, and we’re going to be best friends!’ he told the dog.
And it was true; Nathan and Charlie were the best of friends from that day forward. They were inseparable.
To most people, Charlie seemed like an average puppy; he liked to chew, had boundless energy and loved Nathan more than life itself. As far as Nathan was concerned, Charlie was exceptional. He was bright and obedient, and easy to train.
Charlie loved to fetch, and his favorite toy was the frisbee. After he had shredded several regular frisbees, Nathan bought him a special chew-proof one designed for dogs. Every day they walked to the dog park, rain or shine, to play fetch. Charlie didn’t really need a leash, but Nathan put one on him to and from the dog park to keep the neighbors happy.
One particularly blustery autumn day, Nathan threw the frisbee and a gust of wind caught it, sending it sailing over the fence and onto the busy street next to the park. Charlie was in hot pursuit. Without missing a beat, he leaped over the fence – a six-foot-high chain link fence it was – and dashed into the traffic. Nathan didn’t have time to wow over the amazing feat of fence-jumping he’d just witnessed – he had to get his dog.
He dashed through the gate, shouting, ‘Charlie! Stop!’ but Charlie was on a mission.
Nathan was too late. The driver of the truck couldn’t possibly have stopped in time, even if he had seen Charlie.
It happened in slow motion, to Nathan’s eyes. The big eighteen-wheeler mowed Charlie down and ran over him, first with the front wheel, and then both sets of wheels on the trailer. He watched in horror as Charlie was flung like a rag doll from one set of dual wheels into the path of the second set.”
“No!” Kylie cried. “You didn’t tell us he was going to die! I don’t like this story.” She looked like she was going to cry.
“Shh! Don’t interrupt!” Joel hissed.
“Don’t worry, sweetie, it gets better,” the old man assured her.
“Anyhow, there Charlie was, lying in the road, just a limp bundle of black-and-white fur. Nathan’s knees felt weak. He wanted to collapse, but he willed himself to stay standing. He wasn’t going to leave Charlie out there in the traffic, even though he knew it was too late to save him. Tears streaming down his face, Nathan ran toward the scene of the worst horror imaginable.
He reached the edge of the road, and then the unthinkable happened.
Charlie stood up, shook himself off, and walked over to pick up the frisbee from the street. He trotted happily over to Nathan, holding his head high in the air all proud-like. All he cared about was that he’d gotten the frisbee. He knew he was a good boy.
Nathan checked him over, and he looked fine. Not a scratch on him, just black marks on the white part of his fur from the rubber tires. He rushed home to tell his parents, but they didn’t believe him. They thought he was exaggerating, but they brought Charlie to the vet just in case.
Dr. Michaels found nothing wrong with him. No injuries of any kind. She explained to Nathan in a condescending way that the wheels of the truck had missed Charlie when the truck passed over him.
‘But what about those black marks in his fur?’ Nathan said. ‘That’s rubber from the tires. I saw the tires run over him.’
“That’s probably grease from the underside of the truck,’ Dr Michaels said. ‘See? That reinforces what I was telling you. The truck straddled him. The tires missed him. He’s one lucky dog.’
Nathan didn’t argue further, but he knew what he’d seen. The most important thing was, his best friend was okay.
Fall turned into winter. Charlie loved the snow as much as he loved everything else. He found fun in everything he did. He learned to ride a toboggan and tried to fetch snowballs. He discovered hockey, which Nathan and his friends played on the frozen pond. Charlie was an excellent goalie.
One day in the middle of a game, they heard screams. Nathan and his friends rushed to help, with Charlie racing alongside.
A crowd of kids were gathered around, and it turned out a small child had fallen into an ice fishing hole. Usually they’ll put some kind of barrier or safety cones to let skaters know there’s a hole, you know. But this jerk, whoever the fisherman was, had just left an open hole there.
The little boy had been skating with his mother. She had already called 911, but time was running out. The poor woman was in hysterics.
Nobody could reach the kid; the hole was too small and the kid had sunk too deep. By the time someone got there with something to cut the hole bigger, it would be too late. That little boy was a goner.
Charlie pushed through the crowd and slithered into the hole like an eel. Nathan wouldn’t have believed the dog would fit, but he did. But how was he going to get out? Now they had lost Charlie as well. Nathan peered into the depths of the hole, trying to get a glimpse of Charlie or the little boy, but saw only blackness. Minute after agonizing minute passed.
They heard sirens in the distance, but Nathan knew help wouldn’t get there in time.
There was still no sign of Charlie. More than five minutes had passed since he dove through the hole in the ice. Nathan started to think that this time Charlie wouldn’t be so lucky.
And then, he saw a glow under the water. The light grew brighter, and then Charlie surfaced, holding the collar of the little boy’s jacket in his teeth. The boys pulled the child out of the water and passed him to his mother.
Nathan helped Charlie climb out of the hole. The dog shook the water from his fur nonchalantly, as though he had just taken a fun little swim.
Nathan hugged him tight and told him what a good boy he was.
The paramedics arrived and performed CPR on the little boy and wrapped him in blankets, then carried him to the ambulance.
The boy survived, thanks to Chernobyl Charlie.
And then there was the time when Nathan was sixteen, and he took a camping trip with a few of his friends. And Charlie, of course. Charlie was a great camping buddy because he was also a night light. You see, he glowed with a soft greenish light when he was happy. All it took was a belly rub or a scratch behind the ears to turn the light on. Or telling him he was a good boy, that worked too.
So, on this camping trip, the boys hiked a ways into the wilderness, to a spot beside a nice little lake. They planned stay a couple of days and do some fishing. The first day, they caught a nice bunch of trout. They cooked a few over the fire for dinner, and packed the rest in ice in the cooler.
Well, it turned out, a bear had caught the scent of their fish. Late at night after the campfire had died down, the bear came into the camp to steal the fish. It was a big bear, too. A Grizzly. The boys had hung all their food in a tree, the way you’re supposed to when you’re camping, but this bear was determined. Mr. Grizzly smelled that food and wasn’t leaving until he found it.”
Kylie shivered and pulled the blanket more tightly around her. “This is scary.” She glanced over at the tent, where she and her brother would be sleeping that night.
“Don’t be a fraidy-cat. There aren’t any Grizzlies around here. Right Grandpa?” Joel said.
“Right. Don’t worry, you’re perfectly safe. I promise there are no Grizzlies here. Remember, the boys were high in the mountains, out in the wilderness.”
“What happened next?” Kylie asked.
“Well, the boys woke to the sound of the bear rampaging through the camp. And I’m not gonna lie, they were plenty scared. They had hung up the food, but not all of it. They had snack foods in the tent with them. A bear’s nose is sensitive enough to detect even a small amount of food. They didn’t have anything to use as a weapon. All they had was an axe, and it was beside the fire.
Charlie started growling. Nathan tried to shush him, but he wanted out of that tent something awful. He started tearing at the door of the tent until he found an opening in the zipper and forced his way through. He charged at the bear, barking and snarling like he’d lost his mind.
He chased the bear away from camp, and in the distance the boys could hear the sounds of a horrible fight – snarls, roars, branches breaking. Once again, Nathan thought his dog was done for.
A while later, Charlie returned. He was covered in blood but otherwise just fine. The boys were pretty shook up. They cut their trip short, packed up the camp and left as soon as it got light. On the hike back, they came across a gruesome sight on the trail. The remains of a large Grizzly bear. The bear had been ripped to shreds. Like it had gone through a meat grinder or something. One of the boys commented how lucky they were that the marauding bear had killed another bear instead of them.
Nathan knew that the bear hadn’t been killed by another bear.
Chernobyl Charlie just panted and smiled. He knew he was a good boy.”
“Time for bed, kids! Say goodnight to Grandpa!” Laura had joined them sometime during the part about the bear.
“But Mom! He’s not done the story yet!”
“I’m done for tonight. We’ll tell more stories about Chernobyl Charlie tomorrow.”
“Give Grandpa a hug.”
Kylie and Joel hugged their grandfather.
“Goodnight, Grandpa. Thanks for the story,” Joel said.
“What happened to Charlie? Like, did he live with Nathan forever?” Kylie asked.
“Well, you know, sweetie, dogs don’t live as long as we do, but I’m sure he had a good long life. Charlie was pretty special.”
After the children were tucked into their sleeping bags, Laura returned and sat next to the fire.
“You know, Nate, I wish you wouldn’t tell them scary stories before bed. Grizzly bears? Can’t you make up something a little, I don’t know… nicer?”
“What’s nicer than a dog that saves the day? Besides, it’s all true.”
“I mean, I know you believe it’s true, but seriously. It’s pretty far-fetched.”
“I promise I’ll tell them a ‘nice’ story next time, ok?”
“OK. Thank you.” She stood and gave him a hug. “You’re a good grandfather. I appreciate all you do for them.” With that she went into the house.
“Don’t mind her, Charlie,” Nate said to the old black-and-white dog that lay at his feet. “I know how special you are.”
Charlie thumped his tail on the ground and a soft greenish glow emanated from his body. He knew he was a good boy.

Copyright © 2019 Mandy White

Change

Posted: May 2, 2019 in Uncategorized

Bus_Stop_i..don_Fog

Dusk lurked on the horizon as I walked to the theatre to catch the nine-o’clock show. The crimson sunset bathed the streets in blood, breathtaking yet somehow ominous.
I pretended not to see them but I knew they were there. They were always there; lurking in doorways and alleyways, watching me, hungering for what they knew I had. My pace quickened as I hurried past the darkening doorways. I would be safe if I could just make it to the movie theatre where my friends waited.
But after the movie… I dreaded the thought of encountering them in the darkness.
They say the full moon brings out the crazy in normal people, and enhances it in people who are already full-fledged members of the Basket Weaver’s Society. According to statistics, hospital emergency rooms were busiest during a full moon and police forces had their hands full during those times. People seemed more aggressive, or perhaps they were less inhibited; I didn’t know. I didn’t feel any different. I was just as nervous walking through that neighborhood during a full moon as any other night.
The movie wasn’t bad for an overrated piece of crap, but not worth the outrageous price they charged for admission. The popcorn was also overpriced, and of course the scamming bastards over-salted it to make sure you bought a drink to go with it. I threw half of it in the garbage. Good thing I’d eaten before I left, thanks to my neighbors, who had invited me over for prime rib. It was probably rude of me to eat and run but I explained to them that I had made previous plans. They were actually inconveniencing me by having their dinner on movie night; they could have chosen a different night if they wanted my company so badly.
When the movie ended I said goodbye to my friends and mentally prepared myself for the short four-block walk down the empty street to the bus stop and the bus that would carry me away to the safety of my suburban home.
Only four blocks, I told myself. Piece of cake.
The full moon glowed against the indigo sky like a shiny new quarter, obliterating some of the meteor showers, but if I looked toward the outskirts of the city, the Perseids meteor showers could be seen clearly, sprinkling their glittering dead into the earth’s atmosphere. It would have been nice to stop and watch them if I had been anywhere but here, on this dark empty street.
I began to whistle in an lame attempt to conceal my nervousness and appear nonchalant. I cringed when I realized which tune I was whistling.
“When you wish upon a star…” Great. Now Jiminy Fucking Cricket was playing in my head. I only had one wish, and that was to survive these next four blocks without encountering THEM.
No such luck.
I heard a shuffling noise as I passed the first darkened alleyway. I walked faster. From a doorway another one emerged. It mumbled something as it reached for me. I sidestepped and kept moving.
Just keep moving and don’t look at them. Maybe they’ll think I didn’t see them.
It was easier to get past them during the day when the streets were crowded but at night they were more aggressive, perhaps because their need was greater. Many of them had already gotten a taste of what they craved at that point but their appetites were far from satisfied. I had the feeling I was being followed but didn’t look back because it would mean acknowledging their presence. I anxiously pressed forward toward my goal.
I saw the bus stop ahead and checked my watch. The bus was due to arrive in less than five minutes. If I could make it there I could hole up in the brightly lit bus shelter and hopefully fend off their attack.
Just before I reached the bus stop another one emerged from an alleyway. He shuffled toward me, muttering, clothing in tatters, sooty hands outstretched.
I tried to avoid eye contact but it was too late. He knew I had seen him. I shook my head and sidestepped, ducking into the bus shelter.
Come on, bus! Where the hell are you? I looked down the street and tapped my foot impatiently.
The last one wouldn’t take no for an answer. He made a beeline for the bus shelter, followed by two more of his kind.
I was trapped.
I thought about making a run for it, but to where? I edged around the corner of the bus shelter, keeping it between me and my stalkers. To my horror, I saw several shadowy figures huddled alongside the wall of the adjacent building.
Oh shit.
Now they had also seen me. They too began to repeat the same phrase my other three followers were muttering.
I averted my eyes and shook my head again, telling them no.
The first three had reached the bus stop and were closing in.
I was cornered. Only one thing could save me now. I had to give them what they wanted, even though I needed it for myself.
Where the fuck is that bus?
They knew they had me. The ones huddled against the wall saw the opportunity for easy prey and rose, approaching me from behind as the ones in front continued to advance.
I had no choice but to give them what they wanted. I groped frantically for the only thing that would make them stop.
“There! Take it! Just leave me alone!” I shouted at them as I flung it as far away from the bus shelter as I could. I sighed with relief as they turned away to collect it.
The bus pulled to the curb and I dove inside as soon as the door opened. With no other passengers at the stop, the driver immediately slid the door shut behind me and steered the bus back onto the street.
I was safe.
Bye-bye assholes!
I reached into my pocket for my bus fare, already knowing that I would find none. With a sigh, I opened my wallet, which contained nothing but a thick wad of twenty and fifty-dollar bills.
“I don’t suppose you have change for a twenty?” I asked the bus driver, even though I already knew the answer. The driver shook his head and pointed at the sign behind the fare box. It read: “Use exact change for fares. Driver will not provide change.”
“Damn panhandlers got all my change,” I muttered.
The driver looked unsympathetic.
With an even heavier sigh, I folded a twenty-dollar bill and fed it through the slot.
Officially the most expensive bus trip I had ever taken. So much for saving money by not taking a taxi.
Oh well, I thought, At least I’m safe now. I’m in here and they’re out there.
As I made my way down the aisle of the empty bus, I heard movement from the back seat. A grimy, tattered homeless man sat up and repeated the phrase muttered by the others:
“Do you have any spare change?”

Copyright © 2012 Mandy White

Ruby in the Mist

Posted: April 3, 2019 in Uncategorized

This was one of my first short stories. I wrote it to match the cover we had made for the first WPaD Creepies anthology. The poem at the start of the book also matches this story:

Beneath the Bed

Something lurks beneath the bed
They say it’s all inside my head
But they haven’t seen its icy stare
Or felt its hot breath on their hair

The mirror reflects two glowing eyes
If I stare long enough they grow in size
If my breathing takes a pause
I hear the clitter-scratch of razor claws

I set my slippers on the floor
Ready to bolt toward the door
Suddenly the tile’s quicksand
My leg feels the scrape of a bony hand

I wake – a scream rips from my throat
My bed’s an island, my room a moat
In the inky depths it swims below
Waiting to gnaw on foot or toe

The door swings wide – the light could blind
I struggle against the straps that bind
Me tightly to this bed each night
To stop me from my panicked flight

Just another night in the loony bin
That’s what they call this place I’m in
The only way I’ll ever be free
Is to make peace with the beast in me

~*~
Ruby in the Mist

I know it sounds cliché but it was Halloween night when my neighbor Roy told me his story about the girl in the mist. We were sitting at my kitchen table having a few cold beers, talking about things that go bump in the night and other topics appropriate for that particular eve. We eventually reached the subject of local folklore. Our little town had ghost stories aplenty.
Honeymoon Bay was formed in the late 1800s by pioneers, mostly loggers and later mill workers as the town grew and industry gained a foothold. During the mid-twentieth century, a sawmill dominated the tiny village. The reason I included this somewhat dry bit of trivia is that it has relevance to the story that follows.
At one time, the main road through town was nothing more than a narrow dirt path through the forest. It was there on that main road that Roy claimed to have seen the little girl on more than one occasion.
“She’s always running,” he explained, pausing to take a deep drag from his cigarette, one of many that he had bummed from me over the course of the evening. As I watched my tobacco supply dwindle I once again considered the wisdom of just quitting the habit altogether. Definitely on my to-do list, but not that night.
Roy looked directly into my eyes. “I don’t know what she’s running from but I don’t like it,” he said. “She scares the fuck outta me. She has this… this darkness about her even though you can tell she’s shit-scared. I don’t wanna see what’s chasing her to make her that afraid.”
“Where does she go?” I leaned forward to help myself to one of my own smokes from the package that seemed to have migrated over next to Roy’s elbow.
“I don’t know. She just kinda vanishes, y’know? Like into thin air or something. It’s like she comes straight at me, all lookin’ like she’s screamin’ or something. She passes right through me, I think, then I turn to see where she went and she’s gone.”
“I see. And you want me to see if I can sense anything?”
“Um, yeah.”
I crushed my smoke into the overflowing ashtray before taking a deep breath, then rubbing my palms together, mostly for dramatic effect; it didn’t actually do anything besides set the mood. I had a few beers under my belt so I thought it would be fun to play up the mystic act a little.
“Give me your hand. But don’t get any funny ideas, ya perv.”
Roy laughed nervously. We had known each other for more than five years, ever since I moved into the little house next to the park, one street over from where Roy lived. I knew he was attracted to me but he knew he wasn’t my type and that it was never going to happen. He passed me his left hand and I grasped it firmly before closing my eyes.
A kaleidoscope of images flashed through my mind’s eye, like book pages rapidly flipped. I saw Roy as a boy; then as a teenager, standing next to his mother’s deathbed; then older, masturbating to a photo of a woman I hoped wasn’t me. Finally I saw the object of my search and slowed the flipping of the pages until I arrived at the scene.
Roy stood at the side of the main road. It was night and he was most likely walking home from the local pub. Watching through his eyes, I saw the apparition. It was a little girl, maybe eight or nine years old, wearing what appeared to be an old-fashioned dress. She came running out of a thick mist, which hadn’t been present a moment ago. Her face was unclear in the darkness; all I could make out were the two dark shadows where her eyes were and her gaping mouth, stretched wide in a silent scream. She ran as if the Devil himself was chasing her. She looked over her shoulder, presumably at whatever pursued her and lost her footing, nearly falling. She managed to recover in the nick of time and continued to run full speed past Roy, so close that she did almost appear to pass through him. It was easy to see where he got that impression.
I whirled, watching through my own mind’s eye now, trying to keep sight of her to watch where she went next. To my surprise, she made a sharp right turn up the street on the opposite side of the park from where I lived. She stopped at the first house and began pounding her fists frantically on the door. When nobody answered, she ran to the next house, then the next, hammering on one door after another but finding none who would answer. When the little girl reached the last house on the street, once again finding her knock to be futile she turned abruptly and ran into the park, vanishing in the center of the basketball court.
I released Roy’s hand and opened my eyes. He released a shuddering sigh.
“Phew!” he whistled softly, “Did you see that shit?”
“Yes. Did you see the rest of it? Where she went?”
“No! You saw?”
“I did.”
“Where does she go?”
I described to Roy what I had seen; the girl’s panicked attempts to find a door with someone behind it, finishing with her disappearance in the center of the basketball court.
He rubbed his grizzled chin thoughtfully with one hand as the other reached once again for my cigarette pack.
“Well,” he began after lighting up, “That’s a funny thing there. That court was actually built over top of the foundation of the old schoolhouse.”
“Really? The school was originally in that spot?” That was interesting. I got up and grabbed two more cans of Budweiser out of the fridge and handed one to Roy while he continued.
“Yup. One of those old one-room schools that doubled as a church on Sundays. When the town got bigger, the church got its own building and they built that school up behind the community hall. The old one sat abandoned for years. Rumor has it some kid died playing in there so they tore it down because it was unsafe or something.”
The gears were turning in my mind; filling my head with questions I didn’t dare voice. I wanted to investigate further but had to do it alone.
I stifled a false yawn.
“Well, this really has been a fun night and what a fascinating story! But I think I’m ready to turn in. Doing the psychic thing really takes a lot out of me.”
“Gotcha!” Roy reached toward my almost-empty cigarette package one more time. “Mind if I have one for the road?”
“Sure, take the rest of the pack so you have a couple for later. Next time you’re buying.”
I let Roy out the front door and waited until he had turned the corner toward his own street. I turned off all the lights in the house to make it appear as if I had gone to bed, then put on my shoes and grabbed my winter jacket to guard against the frosty October night. I checked the clock on my way out the door and saw that ironically, it was nearly midnight. This night was turning out to be one cliché after another. As a practicing psychic, I was well aware that the veil between this world and the next was at its thinnest near midnight on All Hallow’s Eve. The timing couldn’t have been more ideal. I slipped quietly out my front door, which faced the park and the basketball court Roy and I had just finished discussing.
A delicate mist floated just above ground level, transforming the picturesque park into an eerie wasteland, the brightly painted playground equipment into ancient skeletal ruins. The eerie mood didn’t faze me in the least. Eerie was my business.
I sat quietly on a nearby picnic table, facing the basketball court. I closed my eyes to shut out all distractions and waited for an impression to come. There was nothing at first. Then I heard something. It was a rhythmic thumping sound, faint at first, then rising to a more distinct beat. Another sound began to accompany the pounding; a high-pitched wail that I soon recognized as a child’s voice. A few words became discernible in between the mournful wails:
“Help! Help me! Somebody! Heeelllp!”
Goosebumps prickled the flesh of my arms in spite of the heavy jacket that covered them.
In my mind’s eye, I was no longer sitting in the park beside the basketball court. I was inside the room from which the noise originated. It was an old building; dust-covered and draped in cobwebs. A shaft of daylight shone through the broken pane of a small window, set high in the wall of the building. The rest of the windows were securely boarded up, keeping the rest of the room in shadows. Seats similar to church pews had once been arranged in two neat rows but many of them were now overturned and shoved helter-skelter against the walls.
BAM! BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM!
I jumped and turned toward the sound and found myself facing the front door of the building. The door and the walls surrounding it were covered in rust-covered stains, some of which could distinctly be identified as handprints. On closer inspection I noticed that some of the marks were redder, fresher. Some of them were still wet. It looked as though the prints had not been made all at once but been added to over a period of… hours? Days? Weeks? It was impossible to tell.
“HELLLP ME! PLEASE!” The girl’s wail tore through me like a dagger. It sounded like she was right in front of me. I homed in on the sound of her voice and struggled to maintain my focus in the midst of the heart-wrenching scene.
The space in front of the door shimmered for a moment, then a human form took shape. I watched as a little girl with long dark hair appeared, translucent at first, then solidifying just as if she was real and not merely an apparition.
She paced back and forth in front of the door with uneven, lurching steps, pounding the palms of her hands against the bloodstained wood. One of her ankles was broken; twisted at a grotesque angle yet she continued to walk on it, half lifting, half dragging the injured limb. Her hands were red, covered in blood both fresh and old from being beaten to a raw pulp from her relentless attacks on the door and the wood that framed it.
I put up mental shields to protect myself emotionally from the devastating spectacle I was witnessing – a tactic taught to me by my mentor, a well-respected police psychic.
The girl’s frantic but fruitless struggle to escape was tragic but I knew there was nothing I could do except watch. My clairvoyant abilities allowed me to witness past events but I was helpless to intervene as much as I wished I could have. God knows I wanted to help her but I was a mere observer, bearing witness to an event that had never before been seen by anyone except for the child who had experienced it.
The little girl lurched and pounded, her hands reduced to little more than bloody claws and her desperate wails heard by no one. I flinched when she changed her routine and began beating her head – her face – against the door, either in frustration or because her hands were simply too sore and raw to strike another blow.
Suddenly she froze. She whirled around and faced me, covering the distance between us in an instant until we were only inches apart. I recoiled from the sight of her purple-bruised face, blackened eyes and inky, dilated pupils. She glared at me with a seething rage that I felt to the core of my being in spite of my mental shields.
“WHY WON’T YOU HELP ME?” she shrieked.
My eyes flew open and immediately I was back in the park, still sitting atop the picnic table facing the nets. Pulse racing and hands shaking, I wished I hadn’t given Roy the last of my smokes. I took several long, slow cleansing breaths to clear my aura of the intense emotional energy I had just absorbed.
She had seen me.
That had never happened before. I was an observer, not a medium. Channeling spirits was not part of my routine and as far as I knew, not an ability I possessed. Never before had any of the apparitions I observed ever interacted with me as I watched.
She had seen me, and she had spoken to me as though I had been right there in that room with her. I’d also gotten a glimpse of her name. The initials were R.T. but I couldn’t quite get what they represented. Renee Tucker was the closest I could come up with but I knew that wasn’t it. Close, but not quite right.
* * *
The plight of the little girl intrigued me but for some reason I didn’t try to get any more impressions of her. In fact, I avoided the main road and the park at night and even refused to look out of the front windows of my house after dark. Sometimes when I was asleep, I heard her pounding and wailing in my dreams, then that horrible bruised face with the blackened eyes would appear, launching me back into wakefulness with a scream caught in my throat. Over time, the dreams faded and I began to make peace with what I had seen and it seemed my life would return to normal. That was, until I learned the rest of the story.
I was browsing through a box of used books at a local garage sale when a title caught my eye: A History of Honeymoon Bay. It was spiral-bound, with a simple cover; a self-published work written by a local woman named Edith Watts. Edith had died several years previously at the tender age of 96 if I recalled her obituary correctly. She was born and raised in Honeymoon Bay and had probably known more about the town’s history than anyone alive. I had no idea she’d actually recorded all of that knowledge in a book. I paid the asking price of fifty cents for my new treasure with the intention of doing some light reading and learning a bit about the town I called home.
I was less than halfway through the book when a particular chapter practically leapt from the page. It was a story about a little boy and girl – brother and sister – who were chased by a cougar. The little boy was just six and his sister eight years old. Their names were Kenneth and Ruby Thatcher. Renee Tucker… Ruby Thatcher. I had been so close! I read on, a knot growing in my gut in anticipation of what I thought was to come.
It happened in the mid-1930’s when most of the road was still a dirt path. The children were picking berries some distance from the village when a mountain lion leapt onto the path with the intention of making a child its next meal.
The children fled for their lives, toward the safety of the village. Being older, the girl ran faster than her brother and in her panic she left him behind. She ran and ran, screaming at the top of her voice, but never made it home. Somewhere near the town site she vanished without a trace. As it turned out, the boy managed to make it home alive several hours later, having hidden in some bushes while the cat pursued his sister. Three weeks passed and everyone gave Ruby up for dead, assuming that she had been carried off and eaten by the deadly predator.
It was around this time that some local boys decided to claim the old schoolhouse as their clubhouse. They pried the boards off of one of the windows and climbed inside, unprepared for what waited within.
Ruby Thatcher was still alive, but just barely. She was starved and dehydrated. Her hands were reduced to blood-crusted claws, flesh worn to the bone in places from relentlessly clawing at the door. Her ankle was shattered, with bones protruding through the flesh.
After inspecting the scene, the townspeople managed to piece together what had happened. Ruby had gained entrance to the old schoolhouse by climbing a tree next to the building and squeezing through the tiny window near the peak of the building. She must have believed she would be safe from the cougar once inside and in her panic, jumped from the window down to the floor without considering the height of the drop or how she would get back out of the building. She broke her ankle when she landed, then discovered that she was trapped.
Terrified and in horrific pain, she must have beaten on the heavy wooden door day and night, screaming for help until her voice was no more. The only explanation they could come up with as to why no one had heard her was that the noise from the nearby sawmill – which ran day and night at that time – must have drowned out her cries. Nobody was looking for her because they had already mourned her loss, assuming she had become cougar bait three weeks earlier.
Ruby survived but was never the same as she was before the ordeal. Her family decided she needed special care and sent her away to Riverview Hospital, a mental institution in Vancouver.
I gasped aloud when I read the name of the person the author had interviewed to get the full story. Kenneth Thatcher – Ruby’s little brother. As of the writing of the book, both he and his sister were still alive. The publication date was 1998 – not all that long ago. It was possible he might still be alive, in his mid-eighties.
I didn’t know why I felt compelled to look him up. I needed to know if he was still alive. I wanted to know how the story ended – what had become of Ruby?
After a brief search, I found him, or at least a name I thought was his. Kenneth J Thatcher lived in Victoria, just a two-hour drive from where I was. I called him and sure enough, he was the same Kenneth who had once fled from a cougar with his sister Ruby. I explained that I was researching the story for an article and was hoping for an opportunity to interview him. To my surprise, he was happy to oblige and invited me to come for a visit the next day.
On the drive to Victoria, I couldn’t get Ruby out of my mind. Did she ever recover and lead a normal life? How did she die? Did I dare ask Kenneth any of those questions?
Kenneth lived in a senior citizens’ assisted living facility located across the street from one of the local hospitals. It was a nice place – not exactly a rest home but an apartment complex, which allowed residents to have full independence while still having help nearby if they needed it. He was an amicable man and I liked him immediately.
As Kenneth heated the kettle to make some tea, I explained to him that I was also a psychic and that a quick reading could speed up the interview and help me understand the details of his story more clearly.
“Well, sure, if you want to,” he laughed good-naturedly, “But I have all the time in the world, so no need to rush if you want to stay and chat.”
I sensed that he didn’t get many visitors and welcomed the company. I smiled to reassure him.
“Of course. I’d love to stay and chat.”
Once he was comfortably seated across the small kitchen table, I offered my hand to him.
“May I?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Sure, why not?”
I closed my eyes and allowed the book-page images to flash past but not for long. The scene I was searching for was right at the beginning of the book, when he was only six years old.
Through Kenneth’s eyes I saw Ruby, smiling and talking as she filled her pail with blackberries from the heavily laden vines.
“Stop dawdling, Kenny! It’s going to be dark soon and you haven’t even half filled your pail. Mine is almost full.”
“I can’t go fast!” Kenny whined, “The thorns hurt my fingers.”
Ruby gave him an exasperated sigh. “Your slowness will be the death of you one day.” She froze the moment she finished the sentence. “Run,” she whispered.
“What?” Kenny said loudly, “I din’ hear you.”
Ruby grabbed his arm roughly and thrust him toward the path leading home. “RUN!” she screamed.
Kenny chanced a quick look backward as he began to run and saw his sister fling her berry bucket at a large yellow cat. The pail made a ‘BONG’ noise as it bounced off the animal’s head. Kenny ran.
He ran as fast as his little legs could carry him but his sister soon ran past and disappeared down the trail ahead of him. He wanted to call out to her to wait, but he was breathless from fear and exertion. He couldn’t keep up the pace much longer. His legs felt weak and he had already begun to slow. He dove as far as he could into the blackberry thicket that lined the trail. Maybe he could hide in there and it wouldn’t see him. His skin stung as the sharp thorns ripped and tore. He was convinced that teeth and claws were shredding him as the cat devoured him alive. He wet his pants and curled up into a tiny ball, sobbing and waiting for the end.
The end didn’t come. After a while he cautiously opened his eyes and saw nothing but blackberry bushes and heard nothing but the usual late-summer sounds – birds chirping and insects buzzing. It would be sunset soon and already the forest was beginning to darken. He didn’t want to be out there in the dark so he untangled himself from the prickly vines and ran the rest of the way back to the village. He was covered in scratches and caked in blood but otherwise unhurt.
That was when he learned that his sister hadn’t made it home.
I released his hand. “Thank you for allowing me to do that,” I said, “I saw it all – the cat, and your escape.”
“Really?” he asked, seeming surprised. “You actually saw it? You’re the real deal, then, aren’t you?”
“I suppose so,” I replied, “Can I ask you, what happened to your sister?”
“Well,” he paused for a sip of tea. “I suppose it’s just as easy for you to ask her yourself as have me tell it to you. Given that little talent of yours.”
“Wait – you mean she’s still alive?”
“Still alive and kicking at 88. That’s why I picked this place to live. No one in his right mind would want to live across from a damn hospital unless he had a good reason.” He stood. “Would you like to meet her?”
We left the apartment complex and its cheery garden surroundings and crossed the street to the hospital. We passed the main entrance and followed a path that led away from the main building to another wing set away toward the rear. It was surrounded by a fence, and Kenneth entered a code on the keypad to open the gate. He entered a code once again to gain entry to the building. The woman at the front nursing station waved hello to him and buzzed us in through a set of security doors. After winding through a maze of hallways we reached another nursing station, received another greeting from the orderly at the desk and were buzzed through another set of doors.
“Here at Ferndale,” Kenneth explained, “They are equipped to provide long-term care for people who need it. Their primary focus is on therapy and rehabilitation but for some people, the only treatment is… maintenance. Like my sister.” He shook his head sadly. “There are some who just never make it back.”
We reached another set of doors, which were unlocked, and Kenneth held one open for me. “She’s been getting weaker lately,” he explained. “It’s her heart, you know. You may think I’m a ghoul, but it will be a blessing when she finally does pass on. She has suffered so much and continues to suffer each day, I’m sure.” We paused outside a room numbered 312. Beside the heavy-looking metal door was yet another keypad to enter a code. “Are you ready?” he asked, finger poised over the keys.
“Yes.”
“If you want, you may touch her and do your… thing. She can tell you her story better than I can.” He punched in the code once more and we entered the room.
Ruby lay in a hospital bed, situated next to the barred window and adjusted so that she was almost sitting upright and could see outside. The first thing I noticed was the leather restraints she wore around her wrists. The second thing I noticed was the stump of her right leg. The broken ankle. I wondered if the untended injury had become infected and turned gangrene.
Kenneth greeted her with a kiss on her cheek. “Hi Ruby,” he said softly, “How are you feeling today?”
“Who are you?” she asked him.
“It’s me, Kenny,” he said patiently, “I’m your brother.
“No you’re not. Kenny died.”
He crossed the room back to where I stood, lingering near the door. “This is what it’s like every time I see her. Has been ever since… well, ever. I keep hoping that one day she’ll snap out of it and realize that I’m alive; so that she can die knowing I survived.”
He turned to me. “I don’t suppose you can… communicate with her somehow? Pass her a message, maybe – tell her that I’m alive and that I’m here?”
I shook my head sadly. “I’m sorry, but no. My abilities don’t work that way. I can receive information but not give it.”
He nodded toward Ruby. “Well, go on, then. This is what you came here for.”
I tentatively approached the bed, then hesitated before reaching for Ruby’s hand. I looked back at Kenneth for confirmation. He nodded.
“Go ahead,” he urged, “It can’t do any harm at this point. Each day she lives could be her last. If you want the full story, you’d best get it from her while you have the chance.”
Ruby appeared to be dozing lightly, as if tired from her brief conversation with her brother.
“Hello Ruby,” I said softly, “You don’t know me but I’d like to hold your hand for a moment, if you don’t mind.” Ruby’s eyelids flickered but didn’t open.
Ruby’s hands were those of an old woman – twisted and arthritic – but I could still see the scars on the tips of her misshapen fingers where the flesh had never fully grown back. Her eyelids flickered once more as I slid her cold, gnarled hand into my own. She responded to my touch by grasping my hand with a surprising amount of strength. I slowed my breathing, closed my eyes and allowed the visions to flow. The book-page images flew past, taking me almost immediately to the point in time I sought.
Ruby scolded her brother for not being a faster berry picker. She felt frustrated at his whining but didn’t want to return home without two full pails of berries. After telling him that his slowness would be the death of him, she saw movement out of the corner of her eye. It was a large tawny-colored cat – a mountain lion or puma, as her grandfather sometimes called them. For one heart-stopping second she met its gaze; she was close enough to see the fine black streaks outlining its yellow eyes like the makeup worn by fancy ladies.
After shoving Kenny toward the trail and screaming at him to run, she did the only thing she could think of – throw the pail at the animal. The children had been taught to throw the fruit if they encountered a bear while picking because the bear would almost always prefer to eat the berries than chase a person. The cougar was not interested in berries but being stuck in the face with the pail might have startled it enough to interrupt its attack, giving Ruby a head start when she ran.
She heard heavy footfalls on the trail; to me, it seemed as if she was hearing the sound of her own feet but Ruby was convinced it was the cougar she heard and ran even harder. She overtook Kenny and passed him on the trail without giving him a second thought as her instinct for self-preservation took over. By the time she did remember him she had reached the village. She looked over her shoulder to see if either Kenny or the cat was behind her and stumbled, nearly falling to the ground.
Ruby ran to the first house she saw and pounded on the door, screaming for help. When nobody answered she ran to the next, then the next. Nobody was home; the men were working at the sawmill and it was harvest time, so the women were in the fields and gardens. The constant screech of the sawmill in the background drowned out her cries for help.
Ruby thought she saw movement at the edge of the forest and was certain it was the cougar, coming to eat her. She needed to find safety, fast. She spied the old schoolhouse and the large maple tree beside it, which she had climbed dozens of times just for fun. As she climbed, she remembered that cats were also good climbers.
Her sanctuary had become a trap.
There was a small window near the peak of the schoolhouse roof. The glass was already partly broken. If she broke the rest of it, she could squeeze through into the safety of the schoolhouse. She inched along the narrowing branch until she could reach the glass with her feet and kicked in the remaining pane. Then she lowered herself into the window feet first, slid through and dropped.
And dropped.
If she had seen how far it was down to the floor she might have thought twice about jumping but because she went in feet first she didn’t see the perilous height until it was too late.
Crunch.
She felt her ankle turn sideways just before a fiery pain shot up her leg, causing her to crumple to the floor. She slipped into unconsciousness from a combination of shock and exhaustion.
When she woke, it was dark. Her ankle throbbed and she was unable to stand on it. A weak sliver of moonlight shone through the broken window from which she had fallen, giving her enough light to get her bearings. She could hear the ever-present roar of the sawmill in the background and remembered that she was in the schoolhouse and safe from the cougar. She had managed to outrun the deadly predator… and her brother.
“Kenny!” She cried his name aloud when she realized that the lion must have gotten him. It was her fault for leaving him behind to save her own skin.
She had killed Kenny!
Ruby hobbled to one of the dust-covered pews, where she curled up and sobbed herself to sleep from the pain of her injury and grief for her little brother.
When she awoke it was light outside and that was when Ruby realized that she was trapped. She pounded and pounded and screamed and screamed while the sawmill screamed back at her twice as loud.
I flipped past the next three gruesome weeks because I already knew what happened next and had no desire to witness it again. I slowed the scenes and watched a shaft of daylight fill the schoolhouse, then the faces of several different people. After that, I was back in the schoolhouse again, experiencing through Ruby’s eyes as she staggered back and forth, hammering and clawing at the door with her bloodied hands.
That was odd.
I must have accidentally gone back instead of forward. That had never happened before. I pushed ahead again and once again saw bright light, people’s faces, then the schoolhouse. Once again I pushed forward with the same result. It was like watching a reel-to-reel film spliced into a continuous loop.
As I watched the loop, I began to see glimpses of things that did not belong in the schoolhouse or in the village where Ruby lived. A white room. Her leg a bloody stump swathed in bandages. Sterile steel objects; people dressed all in white; the pinprick of a hypodermic needle; an object shoved into her mouth, followed by jolts of electricity; restraints, much like the ones she wore now. And pain. Lots of pain. I began to understand.
In her mind, Ruby had never left the schoolhouse. A child’s life destroyed – spent in institutions subjected to all manner of brutal ‘therapies’. None of the torturous procedures she endured did anything to bring that innocent child back from the madness that had become her reality; they only served to fuel the rage that continued to build inside her. She was restrained to prevent her from acting out her frantic attempts to escape the schoolhouse again and again, day after day for what remained of her tragic life.
It was no wonder Kenneth would see her death as a blessing.
I had seen enough. I opened my eyes and released my grip on Ruby’s hand to break the connection but she refused to let go. Her bony hand held mine in an ironclad grip. Suddenly her head snapped in my direction and she glared at me, pupils dilated to the same ink-black I had seen in my first vision of her.
“WHY DIDN’T YOU HELP ME?” she screamed.
I struggled to pull my hand away from hers, looking frantically at Kenneth for help.
“Ruby, look at me!” Kenneth placed his own face between hers and mine. “You have to let go.”
“Kenny?” she whimpered, “Is it really you?”
“Yes Ruby, I’m here. You have to let go.”
“I didn’t kill Kenny?” she whispered.
“No, my dear, you didn’t. You saved me. Please remember that.” Kenneth’s voice broke as he spoke.
Ruby was silent but maintained her rock-solid grip on me. Kenneth had to use both of his hands to pry her fingers loose from mine. I stumbled backward, finally free and eager to put some distance between Ruby and me.
I watched as Kenneth leaned forward and kissed his sister tenderly on the cheek, then stood and closed her eyelids. It was only then that I realized she was no longer alive, and that he had pried her still-clenched dead fingers from my hand.
“There will be no Code Blue here today,” he said quietly, “‘Do Not Resuscitate.’ That is what I requested, as her guardian and next of kin.” He looked at me, his pale blue eyes brimming with tears. “She saw me. Even if it was just for a few seconds, she knew I was alive. My Ruby is at peace now.”
* * *
As I read that last sentence I wrote, it seems prudent to end the story there, with the end of Ruby’s life. After all, there isn’t much else to tell. My doctor told me it would be therapeutic to write it down. He thinks it will stop the dreams. I’ve given up trying to explain to him that they are not dreams. It’s real, all of it.
She’s still with me, you see. Ruby. Maybe that was why she clung so hard to me at the moment of her death. Maybe she wasn’t ready to leave just yet. She’s not at peace like Kenneth said. She is still very disturbed. After all, she was batshit-crazy right up until the moment she died.
She comes to me at night.
Sometimes she lies in wait beneath the bed; waiting for me to place my feet on the floor. As soon as I do, a bloodied, skeletal hand will snake out and grab my ankle, sending me screaming toward the door, where I pound and pound until someone hears me and comes to my rescue. As long as I stay on the bed and remain awake, she leaves me alone. But sooner or later we all have to sleep. When I fall asleep, she takes over. Time after time I woke to find myself lying before my bedroom door, bruised and bloodied from Ruby throwing me against it.
I voluntarily committed myself to this place to prevent her from killing me. Sooner or later I was bound to wake up with more than just black eyes and a concussion… or not wake up at all.
The doctors call it sleepwalking and of course they have a lot of medical jargon to explain the how and why of it, but I know the truth.
Ruby is inside me and has no intention of leaving.
Now they restrain and medicate me every night, but I get no rest. In my mind at night, I am Ruby and each night the scene inside the schoolhouse replays over and over until the drugs wear off and I awaken. I feel her terror; I feel her pain; I experience her descent into madness each night. It is torture beyond description.
There is a solution, I believe.
I have a secret.
For the past several months I have been tonguing my meds and stashing them in a small hole I made in the side of my mattress. I tell them I prefer to make my own bed because it helps to alleviate my night terrors, and they’re happy to oblige.
I think I have enough now, for a nice potent, no-returnsies overdose. It had better be enough. If I take them now, I should be good and gone before lights-out time. That’s when they come and bind me to my bed so I don’t hurt myself in my sleep. It has to be tonight. I can’t take another night of this.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way I’ll ever be free is to set Ruby free.
I just hope nobody else happens to be nearby when Ruby leaves me.

Copyright © 2012 Mandy White

Vacation

Posted: March 24, 2019 in Uncategorized

This story is featured in Dysfictional 3. It’s kind of a sequel to another story of mine, Battle of the Bean, published in 2014 in WPaD’s Goin’ Extinct anthology and Dysfictional 2.

This one will most likely make an appearance in WPaD’s upcoming Goin’ Extinct Too.

 

“Are we there yet?”

“No.”

“How much farther?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’m bored. Can’t we stop somewhere?”

“Will you stop harassing me? We will get there when we get there.”

“Don’t yell at the children, Dax. They’re just restless. They’ve been cooped up in this vehicle for ages. Can’t we find a place to stop so they can get some exercise?” Sky said.

“Where would you suggest?”

“I’m sure there’s someplace suitable around here. How about that place?”

“What if it’s no good?”

“There’s only one way to find out. Scan it.”

Dax entered the coordinates into the computer and read the results.

“Sounds ok, but might be some kind of tourist trap.”

“Well, we’re tourists, so it sounds perfect.”

Dax sighed. “I guess it wouldn’t hurt to stop and stretch our legs for a while. Maybe we will find a nice place to camp.”

“That’s the spirit. We’re on vacation. Let’s relax and enjoy ourselves.”

* * *

The place looked promising. Clean air, trees, plenty of water. The children scrambled out of the vehicle and rushed toward the beach. Within moments they were splashing happily in the water.

Sky nuzzled her mate. “See? That was all they needed. Why don’t you relax while I find us something to eat?”

Dax was feeling more relaxed already. The place was pretty nice, he had to admit. Maybe they could stay a while. It seemed like a great place to spend a holiday.

Sky wandered away, taking in the sights while Dax basked in the sun, lying on a large flat rock near the water. Some time later, Sky returned, her arms filled with tasty looking food.

“What are those?” Dax asked.

“I don’t know, but they taste good. Here, try one.” She handed a wriggling, furry creature to Dax.

“Children! Come and get something to eat!”

“But I wanna swim!” Chi whined.

“You can go back and swim after you eat something and warm up for a little while. You don’t want to get a chill,” Sky ordered.

Pouting, Chi and Dik left the water and joined their parents on the beach. Their reluctance quickly turned to enthusiasm when they saw the delicious treats their mother had brought.

“This is nice, don’t you think, Honey?” Sky said, gazing up at the brilliant blue sky.

“It sure is,” Dax agreed, “Why don’t we stay here for a while and camp? Looks like we have the whole place to ourselves.”

“Yes! Let’s do it.” Sky said.

“Yay!” the children shouted in unison.

* * *

The next day, the children did some exploring while their parents napped in the sun. They happened upon a strange object.

“Wonder what this is?” Chi said, examining the rounded metal thing.

“I think it’s some kind of lid. Help me open it.”

The steel door groaned open. They peered into the hole, closing their inner eyelids against the rising dust.

“What is this?”

“I’m not sure. Looks like some kind of ancient ruins. There’s a cave or something down there. Let’s go down and check it out.”

They scuttled down the shaft into the cavern below.

“Look there! Bones! What kind of creature is that?”

“I don’t know, but it’s not one of us. Look, only four appendages and it doesn’t even have a tail! Must be some kind of weird old fossil.”

“What’s that object beside it?”

Dik’s webbed, green-scaled hand reached for the metal object.

“Is it some kind of weapon?” Chi asked.

“I don’t think so. Maybe it’s food or something. Look, I can open it.”

Sniff. Sniff.

“What is that?”

“I don’t know, but it smells delicious! Should we taste it?”

“No, it might be poison. Let’s go and ask Mom first.”

“What’s this other thing?”

“I don’t know, but it looks like it was as important to this creature as that container. It died holding both of them.”

* * *

They ran back to their parents carrying the metal container and the other strange object they had found clutched in the arms of the fossilized remains.

“Mom! Dad! Look what we found!”

Dax and Sky examined the objects their children had found. The container was filled with dry, dark brown granules that had an intoxicating aroma. The other object appeared to be a collection of ancient writings, inscribed on thin sheets of a brittle, delicate material.

“I’ll scan this with the ship’s computer. Maybe we can decode it,” Dax said.

He scanned the documents and then left the computer to analyze the alien language. Meanwhile, the family went out to explore, starting with the cave the children had found.

It appeared to be some sort of underground home, accessed by a metal tube. The remains of a lone life form lay below. Nearby, they found some ancient ruins, above ground. Inside, they found the remains of another life form, and its death appeared to have been caused by a large hole in its head. A metallic object in its hand may have been a weapon of some sort.

“What happened to these creatures?” Sky wondered aloud. “Do you think any of them are left?”

“I don’t know,” Dax said. Maybe those ancient writings will have a clue.”

“Let’s look around some more. These things are fascinating if nothing else.”

Some distance away, they found more ancient ruins that appeared to be untouched since the demise of the civilization that had built them. It was an archaeological marvel, this crumbling city, destroyed by some sort of war or disaster. They found more remains, lying where they had fallen. Whatever had happened, not everyone had seen it coming.

They explored until dusk, and then returned to camp. Dax checked on the ship’s computer to see if it had made any progress decoding the ancient language. It had. The results were amazing.

“Sky! Children! Come here! You have to see this!”

They crowded around the screen as Dax read what the computer had translated.

“According to what the being in the cave inscribed, this planet was once a thriving civilization, but it was destroyed by war. That cave was not a home, but a shelter, built to withstand the blast. It seems that poor fellow went down there to escape the war and ended up starving to death, even though he could have come back to the surface.”

“What made him stay down there?”

“He was protecting a substance more valuable than anything on the planet; the very cause of the war. It seemed this civilization worshiped the substance, until one day the plant that provided it became extinct. When the supply ran out, war broke out. They bombed themselves out of existence with their own weapons. That guy found a treasure trove of the valuable substance down in the shelter, so he went to ground and locked himself in. He had one container left when he ran out of water. He died down there, probably of starvation, locked in with his treasure.”

“The container! That must be the treasure!” Chi exchanged an excited look with her brother. “We just found the most valuable thing on the planet!”

“So, what exactly is this treasure?” Sky asked. “What makes it so valuable?”

Dax leaned over the screen again. “It says here that it’s some sort of drink. They called it COF-FEE.”

 

Copyright © 2019 Mandy White

Don’t Stop

Posted: March 19, 2019 in Uncategorized

deserted road3

Since this is your first night and all, I’ll just ride along and keep ya company. I’ll help out if ya need it, but otherwise, I’m not even here. Just think of me as a ghost or somethin’. There ain’t a lot to this job, just cram them papers in the mailboxes or bag and chuck ‘em in driveways. Just a lot of driving is all. Oh yeah, you’ll log a lotta miles. We call this route the car killer. Oh, people scoff, sure, after all it’s a paper route, but it’s not like you’re a little kid on his bike throwing a few papers after school. This here’s a real job, and it ain’t for no kids. It pays well, but there’s good reason for it. You’re out here at night, all alone, in all kinds of weather. This ‘little paper route’, as they call it, bought me a shiny red Jeep and paid off my mortgage. Which reminds me, ya might wanna look into upgrading your vehicle to something with four wheel drive. This lil’ sports car you got is cute, and it’s prolly good on gas, but son, you gonna want a four-by when the roads git nasty. You’re gonna be out here before the snow plows most nights, and ain’t nobody around to help out if you get stuck. No cell service either, in most places. If you get stuck, you’re on your own.

You’ll do fine kid, if you just remember one thing: Don’t stop for nothing or no one, no matter what you see. Don’t pick up hitchhikers. Don’t offer rides, and for the love of god don’t stop to offer assistance. If you see someone broke down beside the road, keep moving. Do NOT stop! Ya hear me, son? Even if it’s a wreck. You keep drivin’. Get a safe distance away, find some cell service and call 911. That’s how you help. Don’t never, ever stop, no matter what you see.

I done this job for years, and I tell ya, I seen a lot of things. It’s a different world out here at night. People have no idea. While they’re asleep in their beds, things happen that they don’t see during the day. Animals prowl around, that’s a given. But there are other things, too. Things they don’t see in their happy lives during the day.

Things look different in the dark. Guess you noticed that. No color out here. One of the other drivers I worked with, she had a route over in Dexter, I think. Anyhoo, she dyed her hair all kinda crazy colors. Pink, purple, blue. Every few weeks she’d have a different color. She said it was because she lived in a black and white world, out there at night, and she craved color, like someone would crave a kind of food or something. Her brain wanted to see colors, on account of she slept all day and only saw the night. Ain’t that a thing? I guess it makes sense, though.

Anyways, what was I saying? Oh, yeah. Different. Things look different in the dark. Especially when it’s foggy. Things look like shit they ain’t. A trash can looks like an animal. A tree stump looks like a person standing there. Now, I ain’t no scardey-cat. I seen combat in my time. I been around the block a few times. But this job, it plays games with your mind. Make you see things that ain’t what they seem. I tell ya, there’s one thing that’s always scared the shit outta me – seeing a person somewhere where a person ain’t got no business bein’. Like you’re on a deserted road in the middle of the night, miles from any house. If you see a person out in the middle of nowhere, you can be sure of one of two things: Either that person is in trouble, or they are trouble. You don’t wanna find out first hand. Folks have disappeared on these roads. Full grown men, some of them. Remember that guy awhile back? Vehicle left running on the side of the road. Wallet, cell phone still inside. But the guy was just gone.

I seen some shit out here though. One night, there was a wreck. I stopped, even though I knew I shouldn’t have. Car was twisted, like it’d hit a steel pole doing a hundred. Just wrapped around something. But there it was, in the middle of the road. Whatever it hit, just wasn’t there. I thought maybe an animal, like a bear or moose… but there was nothing, you understand? No blood, no fur, no nothing. I figured for sure I was gonna find a dead body, or someone near death. But the driver’s seat was empty. Nothing. No blood. Airbag wasn’t deployed. If the driver wasn’t wearing a seatbelt they woulda gone through the windshield. Windshield was intact. No way someone coulda wrecked a car like this and not been hurt. And yet they were gone.

In fact, it was right around here somewhere. Yeah, it was that road. The one you’re turning onto now. I always hated this one. Just one delivery, way down the end of the road. Pain in the ass. And way out in the middle of nothing. The wreck was right there up the road. See that red Jeep? Was right there.

Wait – what’re you doin’, son? Don’t stop! Didn’t you hear a word I told you? Don’t stop! Just drive on by.

Aw shit. Now you’ve done it. Sorry kid, you’re on your own. I ain’t stickin’ around for this one.

This is where I get out. Seeya.

* * *

Kevin looked at the stack of undelivered newspapers on his passenger seat and stifled a yawn. He was going to have to get used to this new schedule. He wondered how the other drivers did it. The old guy who had had the route before him had done it for years, up until he died. The pay was awesome, but he couldn’t imagine doing it long term. He figured the job would be extinct soon. The younger generation didn’t read paper newspapers, and the current customers were dying of old age. He gave it five years max.

His GPS announced that he needed to turn on the next street. He made the turn. Damn, it was dark out there. No streetlights. Just trees and fog.

A dark shape on the roadside caught his eye. As he neared the object, the twisted image of a wrecked vehicle became clear. A red Jeep, from the look of it.

“Holy shit!”

He screeched to a stop beside the wreck and jumped out, leaving the car idling.

* * *

“Looks like we need a new carrier for route 8020.”

“Shit! Again? You thought that last kid was going to work out. He seemed really stoked about the pay.”

“Maybe so, but he no-showed last night. And the route was only half finished the night before. We got a lot of pissed off customers. Can’t have that. We need someone reliable. That literally is the only requirement for this job. Just show up and do it from start to finish. Is that really so difficult?”

“What are you going to do until you find someone?”

“I’m the supervisor, so I’ll have to do it until we get another driver.”

“Damn it, Gary, are you serious? I really hate the thought of you out there all night while I’m stuck at home alone.”

“You aren’t alone. You have the kids. And the dog.”

“Still, though. I wish you didn’t have to.”

“It’s part of my job. Don’t worry, it’ll be fine. It’s just temporary.”

 

Copyright © 2019 Mandy White

Don’t Feed the Fruit Flies

Posted: March 17, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

swarms.pngDr Rogin was right. These were no fruit flies. Nothing I’d ever seen compared to them. Sure, they were tiny, dark and winged, but the resemblance to anything on earth ended there. The most notable difference was the number of legs the things had. Insects had six legs, arachnids had eight, but these bugs had ten. I’d never seen anything with ten legs before, though I’d heard of one rather obscure case involving a ten-legged creature of Australian origin. What I was looking at had to be one of two things: a newly evolved or previously undiscovered species from Earth, or something alien in origin. Both options simultaneously excited and terrified me. Having seen the destructive power of these tiny swarming creatures, I had no doubt it was a matter of time before humanity was overcome, unless we could find a way to stop them.

The insects, if that was what they were, (I preferred to think of them as ‘bugs’ until I knew exactly what they were) appeared to be evolving. Or maybe it was another stage of their life cycle that we hadn’t seen yet. The new bugs looked different. They had tripled in size, and had pale whitish wings instead of the mottled black wings of their ten-legged predecessors. Their bodies were shiny, black and heavily armored. The smaller bugs had translucent gray bodies with visible innards. Both varieties were unlike any insect I’d seen. As if the ten-legged bugs weren’t disturbing enough, these new ones only had four.

What the fuck am I dealing with here?

“So what do you make of it?” Dr Rogin had slipped into the room while I was looking into the microscope.

“I’m not sure what I’m looking at here. Is this another phase of its life cycle, or an entirely different species?”

“That’s what I aim to find out. Then you can get busy with your job, which is to figure out how to kill them.” He glared at me over the rims of his half-moon spectacles. “While killing as little else as possible in the process, of course.”

Dr. Leonard Rogin was my partner on the project, although we didn’t work for the same employers. He was a senior FDA research scientist who spent most of his time evaluating the safety of products before releasing them to consumers. He was responsible for double-checking my research to ensure that I didn’t endanger any lives in the process of doing my job.

The company I worked for, Evergreen industries, worked in cooperation with heavyweights like Monsanto. My job was to ensure the safety of the. North American food supply by eliminating any possible threats to said food supply.

I used my degree in entomology to study insects for the sole purpose of finding the most effective methods of killing them, and I was paid handsomely for my effort.

These bugs were unlike anything I had ever encountered.

It had all started innocently enough.

A year previously, swarms of fruit flies descended over the Midwest. At first we assumed it was merely a heavy season for the tiny pests, but it soon became obvious we were faced with something much greater. Granted, we had noticed an increase in fruit flies and other pests in the past few years, but nobody gave it much thought. We shrugged it off as ‘just a bad season’ for this pest or that one. How blind we were, not to have recognized the signs.

For the past ten years that I worked for Evergreen, Monsanto and the many organizations that worked in silence beneath them were doing what they had always done – messing with the genetic makeup of plants to produce hardier and more prolific versions. Their mission, as stated, was to make our valuable and life-giving food crops resistant to pests, extreme weather, poor soil conditions and other potentially destructive factors. As the world’s honeybee population plunged into extinction, increased focus was placed on the development of self-pollinating hybrid varieties of all staple crops.

One of the less-talked-about projects was the nuke-resistant crop.

Worried that the threat of nuclear attack was imminent, the powers that be felt the need to protect our food supplies by making them resistant to radiation and other challenges faced following a nuclear strike. For years, scientists had been working (covertly, so as not to create panic) to develop nuke-resistant strains of corn, wheat and other vital food crops. They succeeded, but what they didn’t anticipate was the effect these new crops would have on the rest of the ecosystem.

It’s a well-known fact in science that every living thing has a survival mechanism. Even minute viruses and bacteria have ways of surviving when faced with obstacles. When a body becomes immune to a virus, it mutates in an attempt to circumvent the immune system. When an infection is bombarded with enough antibiotics, the surviving bacteria evolve into antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

Darwin called it survival of the fittest – living things adapting in order to survive.

What made them think the genetically altered crops would exist in the same environment as their predecessors without having any effect, adverse or otherwise, on the living things around them? For a bunch of brainiacs, we scientists could be pretty stupid sometimes. We ignored what should have been plain to see until it was too late. And now, there I was, stuck inside my lab at the eleventh hour and no closer to finding a solution than I had been five, ten years ago, before this whole mess began. Back then, there would have been plenty of time to avert disaster if only we had seen it. If only.

The fruit flies appeared to have evolved into the ten-legged abominations I was now studying. Not only had their appearance changed, but their habits had as well. This latest batch of flies was of a more devastating breed than anyone could have imagined. They decimated fruit, vegetable and grain crops. They squeezed through the tiny holes in window screens, coating everything inside and out with a live, buzzing ash-colored blanket. It was impossible to display fresh produce at a market without seeing it covered with the tiny gray flies. The usual pesticides had no effect on them.

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when winter came, because it meant the end of what they considered to be the worst fruit fly season in history. But the flies persevered. In spite of sub-zero temperatures, they survived and even seemed to thrive. Extreme temperatures, lack of water and even lack of food didn’t seem to slow them down. They continued to multiply and spread, until all of North America was infested. International flights were halted to prevent the swarms from migrating to the rest of the world, but the outlook was bleak. We knew that it was only a temporary solution; attempting to quarantine an entire continent was neither logical nor feasible. Sooner or later the bugs would spread if we didn’t find a way to stop them.

By the end of the year, their numbers had reached disastrous proportions. Car engines developed problems as the insects clogged air intakes and exhaust. People wearing safety goggles and surgical masks were a common sight on the streets. Due to mass crop dusting, Malathion poisoning in people and animals became commonplace, but the flies remained healthy.

And now, there were these new bugs. Larger, faster and, presumably, even more destructive, though we had yet to see what effect they would have on what was left of the continent’s crops.

* * *

I stared into the twin glass tanks that contained my test specimens. A swarm of small bugs in one, and a slightly smaller group of the larger bugs in the other.

An idea occurred to me.

I placed both tanks inside the glassed-in observation room and then removed the lids. I exited the room quickly, sealing the door behind me.

I had set up a video camera on a tripod outside the room to record the experiment, just in case anything unusual happened. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect, but it was better to be prepared than to miss anything.

I wanted to know how these two species interacted with each other, and if they were indeed different developmental phases of the same organism, or if they were two different animals entirely.

I grabbed a fresh cup of coffee and pulled up a chair next to the glassed-in room to watch.

The bugs kept with their own kind, each forming a thick swarm. It was eerie, watching the two swarms moving about the room, flying in such an organized formation they could have been mistaken for two single organisms.

The swarms stopped and hovered, maintaining a distance of two or three feet between each other. They seemed to be waiting. I knew it was an insane notion, but it looked like they were ‘facing’ each other.

When it began, it was a sight I would never forget. The larger bugs attacked, and I could have sworn I heard a faint collective scream like a battle cry as they charged into the thick black cloud of tiny flies.

The two clouds of insects became one, and the battle cry became a squeal that increased in pitch and intensity until I had to cover my ears. When it was over, only one swarm remained. The larger bugs were the victors.

The big bugs were able to kill the small ones. I had found the solution to one problem.

Now I had a new problem. What else did these big bugs kill? What would it take to kill them?

Oh, dear God. Have we gone from the frying pan into the fire?

I picked up the phone. It was time to call my superiors and inform them of this new development.

* * *

I woke with something wet and sticky on my face. I raised my head from my desk, where I had fallen asleep after my twenty-eighth hour on the job. A document was stuck to my cheek, from the remnants of a cup of coffee, which I had evidently knocked over in my sleep. I sighed and pulled the paper off of my face, then checked my watch. It was ten-thirty, presumably at night.

I hadn’t been home to shower or change clothes in two days, ever since we received word of the government’s 72-hour countdown. If I, and the others working on the problem didn’t find a feasible solution to the bug invasion, we would be relieved of our duties and the military would intervene. They would eradicate the problem by any means necessary. That meant poisons, experimental chemicals, nerve gas, napalm, and if all else failed, Operation Black Flag. Operation Black Flag, named after a popular insect extermination product, involved luring the bugs to remote desert areas and nuking them. Residents would be evacuated, but any who refused to go would meet the same fate as the bugs. That was, assuming a nuke would kill the things. For all we knew, it would kill everything except for the bugs. We had no way of knowing the effects of things we hadn’t tried yet.

There had to be another way. The potential for global catastrophe was enormous, whether by bugs or by humankind’s ham-handed intervention. The time to find a solution was running out. Who knew what kind of horrific nerve gases and biological weapons the US military had in its possession? They let the public think such things didn’t exist, but I knew better. History had proven that we were capable of creating some pretty nasty stuff.

My head spun when I thought about all the lives at stake – not just people, but livestock, crops, and natural flora and fauna were all in danger of extinction. The government assholes didn’t care; all they thought about was winning. They had to prove they were number one, and no little bug was going to knock them off the top of the food chain.

I stretched my arms over my head as I walked back to the lab station where I had been working. A metal rack next to the microscope held twenty-four glass vials, each containing an individual specimen of the larger bug. I had studied them, poisoned them with everything I could think of, and still they lived, bouncing angrily against the glass. Attempts to dissect them had proven fruitless; their armor seemed impenetrable. As much as I hated to admit defeat, it was starting to look like our time on this planet was coming to an end.

The odd thing about the large bugs was, they didn’t seem to be multiplying the way the small ones were. I had yet to catch one in the transition from small to large, either. When the small ones appeared, we saw them multiply exponentially. The larger bugs hadn’t shown up until the small ones had reached epidemic proportions. They didn’t seem to hatch or evolve – they just appeared.

I breathed a weary sigh and reached for a vial containing an untainted specimen. I didn’t know where to turn at this point, except to repeat my previous experiments to see if I had missed anything. There had to be a clue somewhere. These things had to have a weakness.

I was overtired; otherwise I wouldn’t have been so clumsy. When I reached for the vial, the sleeve of my lab coat caught on the rack and I accidentally swept the entire thing onto the floor.

I gasped at the sound of glass smashing. The specimens were free.

“Shit!” I shouted, jumping back from the station. I ran to the door and hit the Emergency Quarantine button. The doors automatically locked, sealing the room and everything in it. The lab was now contaminated, and so was I. Nothing would enter or exit until the threat was contained.

The buzz of the bugs rose to a high-pitched squeal as they swarmed around my head. I swatted at them, even though I knew it was unwise to do so. The little buggers were already pissed off; there was no need to antagonize them. I pulled my lab coat over my head and retreated into the inner office, slamming the door behind me. I leaned against the door, panting, while the bugs hummed angrily on the other side.

Suddenly I felt a sharp pain in my neck.

“Ouch!” What the..?

I was bitten! One of the bugs had followed me into the office and stung me.

“No,” I whispered as the strength left my body and I slid to the floor.

Darkness.

* * *

I heard the soft murmuring of voices. At first, I thought I had fallen asleep with the TV on, then I remembered the lab, and the bugs. I opened my eyes tentatively.

I was no longer in the office where I had fallen. In fact, I was no longer in the lab at all. I was surrounded by a bizarre alien landscape. The ground beneath my feet resembled a dried-out lake bed; It was flat and solid, covered with cracks. It reminded me of the Bonneville Salt Flats, which I had visited to watch land speed testing on a couple of occasions. How I had managed to travel from Nebraska to Utah? More importantly, why? Had I been unconscious that long?

I looked around for landmarks; anything that would help me get my bearings. The horizon was hard to distinguish because the sky was the same color as the ground.

“Hello?” I called. “Anybody here?”

I heard a fluttering sound, but couldn’t pinpoint where it was coming from. Then more voices, whispering. It occurred to me that maybe I was dead. Was this Purgatory, or some kind of spirit world? I pinched myself, then slapped my face. It hurt, and I felt solid. I certainly didn’t feel like a spirit.

Voices whispered, like rustling leaves.

“Who’s there?” I shouted. “Show yourself!”

The fluttering grew louder, then I sensed movement above my head. I looked up and my jaw dropped in amazement.

The individual responsible for making the sound descended from above and landed lightly on the ground in front of me. She was my height, and looked somewhat human, but that was where the resemblance ended. She had wings. Wings! Her skin was the most beautiful pale iridescent blue, like an opal. Her long wings were long, narrow and clear, like those of a dragonfly, with the same iridescence as her skin. Her delicate beauty was breathtaking. She wore a suit of armor similar to a Medieval knight’s, but form-fitting, shiny and black. A smooth helmet covered her head and a sword hung from her lower back, positioned pointing straight down with the hilt resting at the base of her wings.

“Please accept my apology,” she said. Her voice was light and musical, with an odd accent I’d never heard before. “I didn’t want to wound you, but I had no other choice. All other attempts at communication have failed.”

“W-who are you?” I stammered. “Wound me? How?”

She placed a delicate, shimmering hand on her hip, where a sheathed dagger was attached to her armor. “I had to inject you with serum. I am truly sorry.”

“I am Ilara,” she said, “Warrior. Wanderer. Guardian of the innocent.”

My questions remained unanswered, given that I didn’t have the slightest idea what she was talking about.

“But how? Where?” Questions swirled in my head. I didn’t know where to begin.

“You are the one who can bridge the gap. We need you to communicate with your race, to let them know we are here to help.”

“I don’t understand.”

Ilara turned away from me and made a shrill whistle. The whir of many sets of wings filled the air as more of her kind descended from the sky. I gasped, awestruck at the sight of them. This had to be a dream. I must have hit my head when I fell, and now I was having a most bizarre and wondrous dream. Iridescent wings flashed as a vortex of tiny beings swirled around my head.

Fairies, I thought. They look like fairies!

They alit on the ground and gathered around Ilara, chittering in a musical language like a flock of sparkly birds. Then they lined up in a neat formation, as if waiting for inspection. All appeared to be female, and breathtaking in their delicate beauty.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

“We have no home. We are citizens of the universe. We travel wherever we are needed. At this moment, your planet is in dire need of our assistance.”

“The bugs,” I whispered.

“The ‘bugs’, as you call them, are evil overlords who conquer through utter annihilation of all which they encounter. They are eaters of worlds; ruthless, vicious parasites. They will not stop until your world is devoid of all life.”

“I was starting to get that impression,” I said. “Can they be stopped?”

“Yes,” Ilara said. My army has the power to stop them. They are many and we are few, but they are no match for us. You must release us before it is too late.”

“What will happen after you defeat them?”

“Then we will leave your world in peace.”

“And if you don’t defeat them?”

“There is no ‘don’t’. We will be victorious. Listen to me when I tell you, your leaders’ plans to attack the Horde with nuclear weapons will have no effect on them. You will destroy yourselves and your planet in the process, while the Horde grows stronger. They absorb the properties of that upon which they feed. Nuclear weapons will have little effect on them.”

“Nuke-resistant crops…” I whispered, thinking.

“Correct.”

“Why us?” I wondered aloud. “Why our planet?”

“They are the reality you have created for yourselves through your own actions. The Horde is here because the ideal conditions for their existence were already present. They are here because they were drawn here.”

“By what?”

“Why, you, of course. You attracted their attention, and they found your world to be a worthy investment. They are parasites. They attach themselves to existing life forms, and then become those life forms. They are attracted to large masses of life forms – whatever will make the best army. As their army grows, so does their ability to take over larger forms of life. They started with bacteria. Now they have graduated to fruit flies. Next, larger insects. Then the higher life forms. Eventually, you.”

“Us?”

“Yes. Without our assistance, you are on the verge of extinction. This planet and everything around it will become uninhabitable by everything except the Horde.”

“How will they survive once everything is gone? Won’t they die off, too?”

“No. The Horde feeds on low frequency.”

“What does that mean?”

Ilara explained, “Energy vibrates at different frequencies. That which your kind refers to as negative energy – anger, hatred, violence – all of those emotions emit a low frequency. Higher frequencies are at the other end of the scale – love, hope, compassion – all things which the human race claims to practice but only takes part in sporadically.”

“We’re not that bad, are we?” I asked, even though I knew the truth. The company that issued my paychecks was a prime example.

“The Horde are energy parasites, and they are attracted to the frequencies easiest for them to consume – the lower ones. They are like…” she paused, searching for the right word, “like the things you call vampires,” she finished. “Each of them is a merciless vacuum of nothingness. They devour everything they encounter. In the beginning, the higher frequencies were immune to them, but as fear spreads throughout your world, you will become more and more vulnerable, until nobody and nothing will be safe. They are only in their first stages of attack right now. They are generating fear, charging the planet with negative energy until everything on it is ripe for the harvest. You have only seen the beginning of what they can do.”

“And you can stop them?”

“Yes. It is early enough for us to stop them if we attack now. If you wait too long to release our army, all will be lost.”

“So, where are you, and how do I get there to release you?” I asked.

“We are already here,” Ilara told me.

“I don’t understand.”

“We are trapped in the place where you work.”

“My laboratory? But all I have in there are…”

“Bugs,” Ilara finished. “You call us, the ‘big bugs’, I believe.”

I looked around at my surroundings. Nothing looked familiar until I looked up. Suspended in what I had originally thought was part of the sky, I saw a large, shiny silver object. After studying it further, I recognized a familiar shape. A rectangular metal plate, with three round holes and a cylinder on one side… it was a hinge! I was looking at the office door, which I had been hiding behind when I lost consciousness.

Aw, nuts! This is just some stupid hallucination. I’m probably dying from some alien toxin right now, I thought. And just when I’d begun to have some hope that there might be a way out of this mess.

“Not a hallucination,” Ilara said, confirming my theory that this was indeed, a hallucination.

“I was unable to communicate with you,” she explained. “I could hear your thoughts, but for some reason you were unable to hear mine, so I had to take drastic measures. I used my sword to inject you with serum to reduce you to our size.”

I looked down at the ground, which I had thought looked like salt flats. Now I realized I was standing on the tile floor of the office. They had shrunk me!

“I’m your size?” I said, still in disbelief.

“Yes.”

“I’m not going to stay this way, am I?”

“No. I will put you back into your world, but we need to explain some things first.”

“Okay, I’m listening.”

“Once you return to your normal size, you will need to release our army from your laboratory. It is also very important that you release the Horde as well, so that we can eradicate them. If you do not, they will multiply all over again and this disaster will be repeated.”

“But, labs all across the continent have them contained! How am I supposed to convince them to release their specimens?”

“You will have to find a way. The more of them left alive, the greater the risk of re-infestation.”

“Risk, you say? You mean, re-infestation isn’t certain?”

“Not certain, but likely. There is one weapon your race has that can eliminate them, but I do not believe enough of you will use it.”

“What weapon is that?”

“Love.”

“Love?”

“Love energy has the highest of all frequencies. Love, mercy and compassion for each other is the most powerful weapon your race possesses. Sadly, too few of you make use of it. You find it easier to dwell in the anger frequency. Anger is powerful in its own right due to the passion that often fuels it, but it is lower than the frequency of love. If more of you could rise above that plateau to exist in love, the Horde would be driven from this world, never to return.”

“I can’t expect everyone to just drop everything and start loving each other,” I said.

“No, neither do we,” Ilara sighed. “We will do what we can for you, but when the battle is over, it will be up to you whether or not the Horde will thrive again.”

“But, there’s a chance, right? I mean, even a slim chance is hope.”

“Hope is a good place to start. A good place indeed.” Ilara smiled, and the army of iridescent faces behind her lit up as well.

“Let the battle begin!” Ilara crowed, drawing her sword. The rest of the warriors joined her cheer. Silver flashed as they drew their weapons and raised the blades to the sky. Their visors slid shut, and shiny black suits of armor unfolded to encase the warriors’ bodies. With full armor, they looked exactly like the ‘bugs’ I had been so exhaustively analyzing under the microscope.

Ilara stepped forward and pricked the back of my hand with her sword. I smiled as I slipped down into blackness once again.

For the first time since the whole mess began, I felt like humankind might have a future.

 

 

Copyright © 2014 Mandy White

 

I had intended to create something clever this year for the Evil Squirrel’s Nest Annual Contest of Whatever.   The theme of this year’s contest was, “A Squirrel Walks into a Bar”.  And then the day of the deadline dawned and I still had nothing. I looked up some squirrel jokes on the internet to pass the time, and somehow this emerged. Without further ado, here’s my entry:

halloween squirrel

* * *

A Squirrel Walks Into A Bar…

Reggie and Chelsea Chipmunk sipped their beers and stared at the TV screen over the bar. The only thing more boring than playing golf was watching it, but neither of them felt motivated to ask the bartender to change the channel. If only something would happen to break the monotony of the humdrum Wednesday afternoon.

The door of the bar banged open and a squirrel walked in.

“Oh, shit, it’s Silas!” Chelsea said, pulling her hair over her face, as though that would actually help.

“Great,” Reggie groaned. “I wonder what he wants today.”

“I’ll make a wild guess. ‘I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a beer or two today’,” Chelsea said.

“Shh! He’s coming this way,” Reggie whispered.

“Ack! I can smell him already!”

Silas was a large squirrel with fur the color of soot and an aroma that entered the room before he did. He drank heavily, smoked, and never had money to pay for his vices. He relied almost entirely on the kindness of strangers. One would think it would be easy to turn him away, but the truth was, everyone kind of liked him in spite of his shortcomings. His accent made him sound cultured in spite of his appearance, and his sense of humor was disarming; he always had rapid-fire jokes at the ready. Laughter seemed to diminish his stench to an almost bearable level.

He reached the bar and squeezed in between Chelsea and Reggie, slinging an arm over each of their shoulders. “Oy! There’s me best mates!”

Chelsea tried not to gag.

“Did you hear the one about the squirrel who liked humping acorns?”

“No.” Chelsea shook her head.

“It was fucking nuts!” Silas laughed heartily at his own joke and Reggie and Chelsea joined him in spite of themselves.

“What does a squirrel and a ciggy have in common? Both are safe until you light them on fire and put them in your mouth. And, I might add, also quite satisfying.” He reached for Reggie’s pack of cigarettes and helped himself to one, as if to demonstrate.

Chelsea groaned. “Oh, that’s just plain bad.”

“Aha! but your smile says different!” Silas grinned like a rotting Jack-O-Lantern.

“Don’t encourage him, Chels,” Reggie said.

“What’s easier to load, bricks or squirrels? Squirrels, because you can use a pitchfork.” Once Silas had an audience, there was no stopping him.

“A vulture boards a plane carrying two dead squirrels. The flight attendant says, ‘Sorry sir, but you’re only allowed one carrion’.”

Silas waved the bartender over and ordered a beer, then looked at Reggie questioningly. Reggie sighed and then nodded.

“Put it on my tab.”

“A dog was chasing me in the park, so I went up a tree. Should have seen his car, it was totaled!”

“Did you hear about the squirrel who got hit by a car?” Silas was on a roll. “I told them they never should have let me drive! Seriously though, getting run over by a car isn’t all bad. I hear it’s very flattering.”

“But seriously, for real. I need to ask a favor.”

“Aw, here it comes,” said Reggie.

“I need a place to stay.”

“Nope.” Chelsea said. Inside her mind, she screamed in horror at the thought.

“Sorry man, can’t help you,” Reggie said. “We don’t have room.”

Silas turned to Chelsea.

“C’mon, Luv, how about it? I’ll even do dishes.”

Chelsea hated being put on the spot this way. She always ended up agreeing to things she didn’t want to. She had to stay strong. She shook her head.

“It’s like Reg says. We just don’t have the space. We’re converting the spare room into a nursery.”

“Congratulations! You’re going to be a Mum? Are you sure it’s wise to be drinking?”

“I’m not yet, but we want to have kids in the near future. So, you know, we need to have that room available.”

Silas winked at Reggie. “Keep trying, mate. Amiright?”

“That’s right,” Reggie said. “That’s why we need our privacy. No roommates.”

Chelsea blushed and wished for a hole to crawl into.

“I’m not looking for anything permanent. Just a few nights. I have a flat coming up, but it won’t be ready for a week. I’ll sleep on the couch and stay out of your way.”

“Well, in that case…” Reggie said, “What do you say, Honey?”

Chelsea glared at Reggie. He would pay for this. Hell, he would pay for the new couch they’d have to buy afterward. No. He would sleep on the old one for a week first, on those stinking cushions, so he would understand what he’d done.

“I guess it’s already decided,” she said, making no effort to hide the anger in her voice. “You can stay for a week, but only on one condition.”

Silas put his arm over her shoulders, making her want to crawl out of her own skin. “Anything, my dear. Your wish is my command.” His dumpster-breath wafted into her face.

“One week. Not a day longer. And you will take a shower, brush your teeth, and wash your clothes before any part of you touches any of my furniture.”

“I tend to avoid water. Gotta keep me nuts dry!” Silas’ attempt at humor fell flat this time.

“Take it or leave it,” Chelsea said. “That is my final offer.”

“Milady drives a hard bargain. Of course, I will need to borrow your privy to take a shower. And your washing machine. And you don’t happen to have a toothbrush I can use, do you?”

Chelsea sighed. “I’m regretting this already.”

* * *

True to his word, Silas shed his grimy clothing and placed them in the trash bag Chelsea provided, and stepped into the shower with some reluctance.

“Use the shampoo!” she shouted through the door. “Lots of it! I don’t care if you use it all!”

Some time later, Silas emerged from the bathroom looking clean and fresh, a towel wrapped around his waist.

“Sorry for the nudity, Lovey, but me clothes are in the wash. I don’t mind if you don’t. Got anything to eat?” He wandered into the kitchen without waiting for an answer and Chelsea followed to make sure he didn’t break anything or make a mess. She sniffed the air. He still stunk!

“Wait a second. What the hell is that?” She stared at his back, not believing her eyes.

“What’s what?”

“That! That damned white stripe down your back! What the hell kind of squirrel has that?”

Silas turned to look at his back and tail. He shrugged. “Oh, that. It’s nothing. Me Mum always said I was special. I was adopted, you know. She found me all alone under a bush and brought me home. I was always bigger than me brothers and sisters, and had this dark fur with the white stripe. We looked it up on the internet one day, and apparently I am a special breed known as a Fart Squirrel.”

fart-squirrel1