Sitnalta

Posted: August 5, 2018 in Uncategorized

Peter had always wanted to see what lay beyond the gate, but it was forbidden. Venturing beyond the iron barrier meant certain death, they were told. Having lived all his life within the walls, he had to rely on the stories related by the elders, whose parents and grandparents had once lived on the outside.

The tales spun by the fireside at night told of wondrous things: gleaming silver castles that rose to the heavens; of magical devices that flew or sped along the ground at a breathtaking pace. At one time, people lived without walls and could travel anywhere they wished. They had even flown to the stars themselves.

That was before IT happened.

The land was tainted, he was told. Tainted by a mysterious force that swept the planet after a collision with a gigantic asteroid. The blow disrupted the Earth’s magnetic grids, changing the position of the axis and forever altering the face of the planet. Strange radiation emanated from the impact site, traveling along the lines of longitude until it enveloped the planet. The electromagnetic frequencies on the planet began to change; weakening and mutating into a new energy that was not compatible with biological life.

Areas where the new frequencies were strongest became ‘dead’. The old frequencies were too weak to support life in those regions anymore; vegetation died off and surviving humans were forced to move. Collecting seeds, plants and livestock in an attempt to preserve themselves and as much of their old world as possible, people migrated in a series of mass exoduses to the few regions left on Earth where the old magnetism remained strong. Several ‘power spots’ on Earth that had mystified humankind for centuries became safe havens in the face of what had the potential to be an extinction-level natural disaster.

Pockets of surviving humanity now clustered near Stonehenge, the Great Pyramids of Egypt, several temples of Mayan and other origins, Easter Island, the Hawaiian Islands and the newly located North and South Poles. Because of the polar shift, the planet’s ice caps had melted and refrozen in the areas surrounding the new poles. The movement of the ice and change in magnetics also caused the oceans to reposition themselves. Ocean floor became dry land and the sea swallowed entire chunks of continents, including the southern half of North America.

It was in one of these former ocean floor regions that Peter lived. He was born there, just as his parents were. Neither he nor his parents had ever ventured beyond the walls of the city of Sitnalta, located in the center of what was known as the Bermuda Triangle. The two thousand or so survivors who colonized the site did not erect most of the buildings; the place had been a city once, long, long ago. According to ancient legends, the city was part of a continent that had sunk into the sea. The ruins were remarkably well preserved and served the residents well after a bit of rebuilding. The new citizens of Sitnalta built a massive wall around the majestic city. A large iron-barred gate sealed the only path to the outside world. The Mayor of the city had the only key, and he opened the gate for no one.

Peter knew the wall was for his own protection. Although the magnetic energy was strong and healthy in the middle of the Triangle, it weakened as one moved away from the site. ‘Out There’ was where the bad energy was. Peter could never go Out There because he would die. His grandfather told stories about early explorers who ventured Out There and never returned. Others had made it back to the safety of the city but they were weak and pale. They were also insane; babbling in frantic, disconnected words, unable to form coherent sentences. They died soon afterward.

The land outside the city was dead, and it was common knowledge that all who ventured Out There would die as well. The exact borderline between safety and death was unknown, therefore the law decreed that all citizens stay inside the walls.

Just the same, Peter longed to explore beyond the gate. From the roof of the temple, the city’s tallest building, he could glimpse parts of the world outside the city walls. It was a magical alien landscape filled with colorful rock formations, the remnants of what had once been a coral reef. Pink and white seashells covered the sparkling sand as far as the eye could see, scattered like forgotten treasure. In the distance, on the other side of the reef the mast of a ship could be seen. It begged to be explored and it was close enough to the city that it had to be safe. He dreamed of being a brave explorer, even if he couldn’t venture far from the walls.

Life wasn’t fair; he was fifteen years old – practically a man – and yet he was unable to choose where he could or could not go.

Day after day, Peter made the trek to the gate to peer through the bars, hoping to catch a glimpse of something new. Each day the same view greeted him: rocks, sand and coral. He knew that the gleaming white bones to the left of the gate were part of a massive skeleton, from a creature called a ‘whale’ that had once lived in the water. He wanted to touch the bones to see if they were as smooth as they looked. The seashells beyond the gate looked the same as the thousands of shells found within the city walls but Peter was convinced they would somehow be better.

One day, on his visit to the gate, he noticed something unusual. The iron barrier sat at a different angle than before. On closer inspection, he discovered that the gate was ajar!

How? More importantly, who?

Maybe it had come open on its own. He inspected the lock. It was well oiled and appeared to be functional. No, the gate had been opened by someone with a key. The only person who had a key was the Mayor. What would the Mayor be doing outside the gate?

Peter hesitated, hand on the gate. This was it. Here was his chance. Did he dare?

He took a deep breath and then swung the gate wide and stepped through to the other side.

“I won’t go far,” he whispered under his breath. “Just enough to see. Just to the other side of these rocks.”

Well, maybe he would go as far as the whale skeleton, but no farther. He could touch the bones and maybe take one of its teeth as a souvenir.

His legs shook as he took first one step, then another. He saw footprints in the sand leading away from the gate. They had to belong to the person who had opened the gate. They led past the rocks, away from the whale skeleton.

Just a quick look, then I’ll turn back, he thought.

He followed the footprints past the rocks and another larger group of rocks loomed in front of him. The footprints led into a narrow crevice between the rocks. He had to follow if he wanted to see what was on the other side. He looked back. The whale skeleton was getting smaller in the distance and he considered turning back. Yes, he would definitely turn back now. Just as soon as he saw what was on the other side.

Peter eased through the narrow path, trying to step softly as his feet crunched on layers upon layers of tiny seashells that had accumulated between the rocks. The path twisted and turned and became almost completely dark. Once again Peter considered turning back but then he saw a sliver of light up ahead. He pushed forward and the path widened until he stepped back out into the sunlight.

The footprints continued past an outcropping of rock. Peter followed. A flash of color up ahead caught his eye. As he drew closer, he saw a small red flag, planted in the sand. As he followed the path further, he saw another flag, then another. When he rounded the corner of the rock formation, he froze.

No!

It couldn’t be.

Peter stood before another wall, much like the one that surrounded his city. Set within the wall was another iron barred gate, just like the other.

What did it mean?

As Peter approached the gate, he saw that it had a sign on it. He stopped once again when he read the words on the sign:

Danger!

Point of No Return

Peter stumbled backward and rushed back toward the crevice in the rock. He’d seen enough. Suddenly he wanted nothing more than to be back within the safety of Sitnalta’s walls.

“Young man!” A stern voice spoke. “What are you doing out here?”

An old man stood near the wall, holding a strange device.

Peter stammered, “I… I just… I’m sorry!”

“I was finished anyway. I will walk you back,” the man said. “What’s your name, son?”

“Peter.”

“Well, Peter, you need to understand this is no place for you to be. There is a reason you are confined to the city.”

Peter nodded. “I’m sorry. I was on my way back. I just wanted to see…” he gestured toward the wall. “What is this? Another wall?”

“Yes. And beyond that wall, there is another.”

“What? Why?”

The old man sighed.

“I suppose I should introduce myself. I am Professor John Davenport. I am a scientist. I work for the Mayor.”

“The Mayor… he has the key.”

“Yes, he is the Keeper of the Key but that is not to say that he is the only one who uses it. I have clearance to venture outside to do my work.”

“What are you doing?”

“The same thing I’ve always done, and my father before me and my grandfather before that. I am the Monitor. My job is to monitor the electromagnetic levels, the only way possible. This device was designed by my grandfather. He lived in the old world, before IT. He remembered the old technology and the way it worked. This Gizmometer is the only means we have of measuring the energy levels to determine where it is safe and where it is not.”

“So, is it? Safe, I mean. Around here.”

Professor Davenport shook his head sadly. “No. It is not.” Seeing Peter’s panicked expression, he touched the boy’s arm in reassurance. “You are not in any immediate danger, don’t worry. But, one day in the not-too-distant future this place will be dead, just like out there.” He nodded toward the gate.

“What are those?” Peter asked, pointing at the flags.

“Markers. They mark the spot where the energy begins to drop. As you can see, the weakness has already advanced into the second circle.”

“Second circle?”

“Yes. Remember, I told you that beyond this wall there is another? At one time, that was the wall to our land. Your ancestors could move freely about this area, just as you now do within the confines of the city. That was the first gate. As the weakness spread, our magnetic safe zone began to shrink. My grandfather advised that another, smaller wall be built to ensure that everyone remained well within the healthy area.”

“The safe zone shrunk?” Peter asked, alarmed.

“Come.” Davenport beckoned and walked back toward the gate. Peter followed hesitantly. The Point of No Return sign made him nervous.

“It’s ok. It’s still safe at the gate… for now. The levels are just beginning to drop in this area.”

They reached the gate and Peter stood beside the scientist to look through the bars. The boy gasped at what he saw. The meaning of it hit home all at once.

Flags.

Hundreds of them, as far as the eye could see, gradually advancing from some distant place to the gate where they stood, and beyond.

“Each flag marks the new border of the safe zone. Most of the ones you see were placed there by my father, then by me. When the red flags reached this wall, we had to pull back and build another one. The third wall was built about twenty years ago. In your lifetime, you will witness and likely participate in the building of another.”

Peter followed the professor back down the path toward the crevice.

As they passed the last flag, the scientist paused.

“This one,” he said, pointing at the flag, “I placed here today. The one before it, less than two years ago. It is accelerating. The smaller our circle gets, the faster it shrinks. We build the walls to keep everyone safe, but also to keep them from knowing the truth. We don’t want mass panic on our hands.”

Peter’s heart thudded in his chest. “What are you saying?”

“Isn’t it clear, boy? Our safe zone is shrinking. ALL of them are. The planet is dying and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it. Sitnalta will continue to shrink and we will be pushed closer and closer together until there is no more room to move. No more room to build walls. There will be no escape.

When it reaches that point, it is written that the Keeper of the Key will open the gate and we will be locked in no more.”

 

 

Copyright © 2012 Mandy White

(Previously published in Dragons and Dreams by WPaD)

 

 

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Sphere

Posted: August 3, 2018 in Uncategorized

Lola almost turned back when she saw the darkened street filled with abandoned buildings. Love for her sister and a desire for a better life for both of them spurred her toward the address given by the woman on the phone.
48 Egasuas Ave. There it was. The building didn’t look like much; it appeared deserted, except for the freshly painted white door and intercom. Lola paused before pressing the button. Last chance to turn back.
Footsteps scuffled in the alley. A thin, hunched figure was approaching.
Shit. A junkie. Just what I need.
Lola slid her hand into her purse and felt for the smooth round security of her pepper spray canister. She jabbed the intercom’s call button.
“Yes?” A woman’s voice crackled over the speaker.
“Lola Cooper. I called on the phone. Can you let me in please?”
“Of course, Ms Cooper. One moment please.”
Lola wanted to scream that she didn’t have a moment. The junkie was only a few yards away and probably seconds from mugging her.
A buzzer sounded, followed by a metallic CLUNK and the door swung open.
Lola dashed inside and tried to push the door shut behind her, but it was automated and inched closed at an excruciating pace.
Fuck. Fuck. He’s going to get me.
“Hello? she called, “Is anyone there? I need some help here.”
The junkie was right outside the door. Lola heard his raspy breathing.
“Wait! Hold that door!” he said.
Not on your life, asshole, Lola thought. The door clicked shut and she slumped against it with a sigh of relief.
The intercom buzzed.
Seriously? He’s a persistent one.
Lola heard the muffled sound of the woman’s voice over the speaker outside, and then the buzz and CLANK as the door opened for the junkie. Lola backed away from the door, unsure of where to run.
“Help! Somebody! Help me!”
Footsteps echoed from somewhere and a door opened. Light spilled from the doorway, around the figure of a woman dressed in white.
“Ms Cooper. Sorry to keep you waiting. This way please.”
Lola scurried over to the woman and ducked through the doorway into the safety of the light.
“Thank you. But we need to hurry, there’s a – ”
“We just need to wait a moment. There is one more person joining us.” The woman held the door open for the approaching junkie. “Mr. Benson, welcome. Come this way, please.”
Lola’s cheeks flushed and she ducked her head to hide her embarrassment. It hadn’t occurred to her that she might not be the only one arriving at that time.
The young man who stepped through the doorway wasn’t more than a kid; maybe twenty years old, but his sunken cheeks and gray complexion told a story of a hard life and probably addiction, as Lola had suspected. He was part of this too? Lola realized it made sense. An offer of a large sum of money to participate in a scientific experiment was bound to attract a lot of desperate people. And nobody was more desperate than an addict.
“If you’ll both follow me, please,” the woman said.
Lola almost had to jog to keep up the brisk pace. She focused on the tight blonde bun above the collar of the woman’s lab coat, to avoid meeting the eyes of the junkie.
The woman stopped at a closed door and entered numbers on a keypad. Another CLUNK and the door opened.
The glare of fluorescent lighting reflected off of every surface in the room. Everything was white from floor to ceiling, even the furnishings. Small tables with chairs occupied most of the floor space. It was a cross between hospital cafeteria and futuristic nightclub.
“Please have a seat anywhere you like,” the woman said, “The others will be here shortly, and then we’ll begin. Can I offer you some refreshments?” She pulled a remote from her pocket and pressed a button. A section of the wall slid back, revealing a fully stocked bar, coffee machine, and a glass-front fridge filled with beverages. “Talk amongst yourselves. I’ll be back shortly.”
Lola knew better than to eat or drink anything offered by strangers who kept hidden lairs in old buildings.
The addict made his way to the bar and rummaged, probably in hopes of finding something besides liquor. He finally settled for a can of Pepsi.
He leaned against the wall across the room from Lola, arms folded, scratching himself every few minutes.
Some time passed and then the door CLUNKED again. The woman in white returned, leading three people: The first was a large bearded man who might have come directly from a taping of Duck Dynasty. He was dressed in camouflage clothing from head to toe, from his boots to his baseball cap. The other two were a couple, judging from the way they squabbled. The woman wore heavy makeup and her hair was teased into a jumble of red on top of her head. Part of a faded blue tattoo peeked over the top of her hot pink tube top.
“Lola Cooper and Josh Benson, please welcome our newest arrivals: Bradley and Becky Modine and William Worth”
“Naw, nobody calls me William, sweetheart,” Duck Dynasty drawled. “It’s Billy, but everyone just calls me Bud.”
“Very well, Bud. Why don’t you and the others get acquainted and help yourself to some refreshments. We are waiting for a few more to arrive, then we’ll begin.”
Lola wasn’t sure if she wanted to acquaint herself with any of the others. She remained silent and stayed in her seat.
Becky wandered around the room, searching for something.
“Where’s the ashtrays?”
“Sorry, there’s no smoking in this part of the building,” the woman in white told her.
“What? That’s fucking bullshit! I didn’t sign up for…”
“Shut up!” Bradley shouted in her face. “Don’t start your shit right now, woman. Why don’t you make yourself useful and go find me a drink.” He planted himself in a chair and put his feet on the table.
“Don’t mind if I do,” Becky said, making a beeline for the box of Merlot on the counter. She poured a generous glass of wine for herself before opening the fridge to look for beer. She grabbed a can of Coors and gave it an extra shake before tossing it to Brad.
Lola heard the crack of the can being opened, followed by a string of cuss words as beer foam spewed over Brad’s hand.
“Fucking bitch! Be more careful next time!”
“How ‘bout next time you get your own fucking beer?”
***
An hour later, the room was filled with men and women ranging in age from approximately twenty to forty years. Many stood due to lack of seating.
A man walked into the room. Like the woman, he wore a lab coat.
“I am Dr Lawrence Hughes. You have already met my associate, Dr. Kathleen Welch. Thank you all for arriving on time.”
Junkie Josh raised his hand. “How much longer is this going to take?” Sweat glistened on his forehead.
“Not long. We will get started with a brief meet-and-greet. After that, we will proceed to the next room, where we will begin the experiment.”
“And then we can get our money and go?”
“Unfortunately, not all of you will be accepted for our program. Those who don’t meet the requirements will be paid a thousand dollars each for their time, as a thank you for taking the time to answer our ad. We will need to see identification from all of you. Please have your I.D. ready for Dr. Welch to inspect.”
Wallets and purses opened and everyone produced identification for the blonde doctor to inspect. Except for one – Billy-Bud Worth, aka Duck Dynasty.
“What if I don’t show I.D? he said. “Not sure I’m comfortable whippin’ it out for a bunch of strangers.”
“Then you won’t be accepted for the program. You will leave and collect a thousand dollars, no strings attached.”
Josh waved his hand. “Hey Doc! I’m out. Got no I.D. I’ll take the thousand and get out of your hair.”
“That’s too bad. Ok, if you’ll just bear with us – ”
“Nope. Now. I have to leave now. Give me my fucking grand and let me out of here.”
Dr. Hughes gave Dr. Welch a nod and she led Josh from the room.
Bud pondered for a moment, then sighed and pulled out his wallet, which was attached to his belt by a chain. He slapped his driver’s license on the table.
“When I call your name, you will follow me to the next room. Those of you whose names do not get called, thank you very much for attending. Dr. Welch will see you out and give you your thousand dollar payment.”
Hughes began calling names, and those called followed him down a hallway. The rest remained in the room, waiting to be escorted out by Dr. Welch.
The next room was white as well, but with slightly different décor.
Rows of white psychiatrist-style couches lined the room. On each couch was a clipboard with a document attached and a pen.
“Take a seat, everyone. The document you see is a release. This is your last chance to change your mind. You can choose not to sign, walk away right now and collect a thousand dollars. If you sign it, you give consent to participate in our ground-breaking sleep study. It will also release our payment to you. As promised, you will receive one million dollars in cash, or electronic bank transfer if you prefer. If you choose bank transfer, please include the email address you use for online banking. The security password will be “payday”. We will transfer the funds and you can see it deposited in your bank account before we proceed.”
Mutterings rose across the room, along with a few laughs as everyone scoffed at the idea of accepting anything other than cash.
Bud’s voice boomed over the others, “Yeah, right. Like I’m gonna use any o’ that online shit for money. Y’all know that’s how the hackers git ya. I’ll take mine in cold, hard cash.” He signed the document with an illegible scrawl.
Hughes leaned over and pointed at a line on the document. “Be sure to add your next of kin, Bud. In case anything happens to you, we need to know who to give your money to. Just a precaution, of course.”
“Ain’t got none. If I don’t come outta this, I want my money to be buried with me.”
“As you wish.”
The rest of the room followed suit. All opted for cash except Lola. She chose the bank transfer option because it seemed wise to have a paper trail. She also had little confidence in her ability to tell the difference between real cash and a good counterfeit. She doubted anyone other than a banker could know for certain and the room seemed to have a distinct shortage of financial experts.
True to Dr. Hughes’ word, Lola accepted the transfer and then checked her bank balance on her phone. The new balance was one million dollars higher than it had been moments ago.
“Holy shit, it’s real,” she whispered. She hoped this was worth it, whatever this was. If anything happened to Lola, her twin sister Lisa had access to their joint bank account and the money would become hers.
Once everyone had signed and been paid, Dr. Hughes allowed them a few minutes to examine their briefcases full of money. Lola had never seen a million dollars in cash before, but didn’t dare ask anyone for a closer look. The paranoid glances that flashed from one face to the next warned her to keep her distance.
Dr. Hughes cleared his throat.
“It’s time to get started. If you’ll all please lie back on your couches and relax, we will get this over with quickly and then you will be free to enjoy your wealth.
They obeyed with some reluctance, not wanting to let their money out of their sight. Twenty-nine people lay on couches, clutching briefcases to their laps. Lola lay briefcase-free, her arms by her sides.
The lights dimmed until only shadows remained.
“Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to make history. You are pioneers, about to take part in the creation of a brave new world.”
A murmur of excitement rippled over the room.
“Listen to the sound of my voice. Relax. And when the lights return, the experiment will be complete.”
The ones closest to the walls heard a faint hissing sound as colorless, odorless gas filled the room.
***
Bright light filled the room, accompanied by the rustle of movement, the rasp smokers’ coughs, and yawns.
Lola faded back to consciousness. It took a few minutes to remember where she was. Gradually the memories returned; the doctors, the million dollar payment, the Craigslist ad that started it all:
Volunteers wanted for sleep experiment. Payment in cash. Substantial monetary compensation for the right candidates. Call for more information.
When she called to inquire, the woman, presumably Dr. Welch, conducted a brief interview over the phone. Some sort of psychological questionnaire, judging by the odd questions:
“What is your favorite dinosaur?
How old is the Earth?
Who was the first man to walk on the moon?
Who was responsible for 9/11?
Is the Earth round, square, or flat?”
And so on… simple questions any fool would know how to the answer. A week later she received a call saying that she had been accepted for the experiment, and the payment would be… WHAT?
“I’m sorry, could you please repeat that?”
“One million dollars.” You will be paid one million dollars in cash,” the voice on the phone said.
Lola was skeptical, as was her sister Lisa. They had made the phone call together, via speaker phone. Lisa answer the questions, even though it would be Lola who showed up for the experiment. She didn’t agree with Lisa’s answers, but she never argued with her sister. Lisa needed to feel in control whenever possible. Her disability didn’t allow her that luxury very often.
“But what if it’s for real? We need the money.”
Lisa rolled her wheelchair closer to Lola and reached for her hand. “I need you more than I need money. Let’s pray on it. The good Lord will guide us with His wisdom.”
Lola tolerated the prayer like she tolerated the rest of Lisa’s eccentricities: her obsession with chemtrails, her membership with the Flat Earth Society, and of course her religious beliefs, which bordered on fanaticism. But all quirks aside, Lisa was her twin, and she loved her. Lola knew she was going to go, regardless of what Lisa thought God wanted.
She didn’t want to upset Lisa; her faith was her life. But Lola lived in the real world. Prayer didn’t pay medical bills. Lisa’s insurance didn’t cover the cost of her treatments, and as her illness progressed, the mountain of debt grew ever bigger. God wouldn’t have given her sister MS. God wouldn’t have buried them in debt they couldn’t pay. Fuck God. But maybe science could bail them out. She left Lisa a note asking her forgiveness and promising to return, then made her way to the address given to her by the caller.
***
While the rest of the room yawned and stretched, Bradley and Becky were already arguing.
“Gimme one of them!”
“Get your own damn smokes, woman! I only got a few left.”
“You ain’t gonna have any nuts left if I don’t get a smoke right now! Gimme!”
“Keep sassin’ me and you’re gonna get a fat lip. Here.” Bradley threw a cigarette at her.
“Gimme a light.”
He lit a smoke of his own, rubbed the lighter on his crotch and then flung it at her. “Stupid bitch.”
“Aw, real mature. Dickhead.”
Bud opened his briefcase to look inside, then snapped it shut again, as if worried that his cash would escape.
“Hey! Anybody know where a guy can drain the lizard ‘round here?”
A murmur ran through the group. Several others had the same idea.
“Over here!” A blonde woman in a leopard-print dress and stiletto heels clip-clopped toward an open doorway with male and female restroom signs on either side.
Other members of the group followed, forming dual lines in front of the bathroom doors, all clutching their briefcases of money. Bud drained the lizard one-handed, keeping a firm grip on his briefcase with the other.
The group milled around the room, exploring their surroundings. It wasn’t the same room they were in when they fell asleep.
A large TV screen hung on one wall with bland yet comfortable looking couches and plush armchairs arranged in front. Lola noticed one oddity: all the seats were equipped with seatbelts. A blind covered the opposite wall. The third wall accommodated the restrooms and the fourth held a set of double doors that led to a large open kitchen with booths and tables, all bolted to the floor like a fast food restaurant. Like the TV room, the seats had seatbelts.
“I still can’t find no ashtrays. Maybe I can open a window and ash outta that.” Becky strolled over to the wall opposite the TV and pulled on the blind. “Let’s see what’s behind here.”
The blind rose, revealing a large window. The room fell silent.
Space.
Blackness with stars stretched before their eyes.
A small tube was attached to the window. Becky saw the word TELESCOPE printed on the side of the tube. “Anyone know how to work this thing?”
Lola joined her at the window and examined the telescope. Astronomy was a hobby she kept secret from her sister, who didn’t believe in space or anything scientific. The telescope’s mount was a collapsible accordion-style thing. She pulled it away from the window and then expanded the telescope.
“Dang! Ain’t that nifty!” Becky said, breathing a lungful of smoke over Lola’s shoulder.
“Please, would you mind blowing that somewhere else? I don’t smoke.”
“Whatever, snowflake.” Becky huffed, moving back a few paces.

Lola ignored the remark and peered through the telescope. After a few seconds of searching, she found what she was looking for and confirmed her suspicions. A tiny blue planet with an even tinier moon could be seen in the distance. She adjusted the magnification on the scope to enlarge it.
Earth.
And they were not on it. In fact, they appeared to be moving away from it. But to where?
“Now what?” Becky said.
As if in reply, the TV screen flickered to life.
Dr Hughes was on the screen.
“Greetings everyone! If you’re watching this, then the sleep experiment was a success. Congratulations! Feel free to help yourself to refreshments and use the facilities at your leisure. You will be arriving at your destination shortly, and you will be notified prior to landing. When you hear the landing announcement, we ask that you follow instructions and remain seated with your seatbelts fastened. It’s just a precaution, of course. We anticipate a smooth landing, but in case the opposite occurs, we can’t have you hurtling around the cabin.”
“Cabin? What fucking cabin? Are we on an airplane?” Brad said.
Hughes droned on. Apparently they were watching a pre-recorded video.
“I’m sure by now you are wondering what your destination is. Let me start by saying that you are the first humans ever to set foot here. You are making history. You are pioneers in every sense of the word.”
Blondie stomped over to the screen and shouted at the larger-than-life image of Hughes. “I demand to know where you are sending us! This isn’t funny! I have an appointment tomorrow, and my manicurist will flip her shit if I have to cancel! You don’t even know…”
Voices rose across the room.
“Where are we?”
“You sendin’ us to one of those A-Rab countries? This better not be no Eye-Rack, or you gonna hear from my lawyer!”
“What the fuck kinda plane is this, anyways?”
“Hey! Quiet! Maybe we should listen to the rest of this!” Lola shouted over the crowd and pointed at the screen.
The TV screen had split into two panes. One continued to display Hughes, and the other, an image of outer space. A large reddish sphere filled most of the screen.
“What you see is your destination. The Red Planet, also known as Mars.”
“What? Fuck outta here with that bullshit.” Bud said.
“Yeah,” another voice piped up. “Y’all know that shit ain’t real.”
Dr. Hughes continued in the background. “You good folks have the honor of being the first humans to set foot on Mars. You will be the leaders of a new colony that has been decades in the making. We have sent numerous missions to Mars, manned by robots, which have constructed the domes and various structures that make up the colony. All that remained was to introduce a human population. You have all been carefully selected to be that population.”
Lola scanned the faces in the room. It looked like a trailer park block party. She had nothing in common with these people. How was it that she was chosen?
And then it hit her.
Lisa.
The questions.
Lisa had answered the questions, which were carefully selected to screen out everyone except science deniers, conspiracy theorists, Creationists… Flat Earthers…
Hughes droned on.
“You are all very fortunate to be part of this group. Your group is the only one to recieve a large cash payment for participation. Our financial backers cut our budget immediately following our payout to you. They felt a million dollars was too extravagant and that we should select test subjects with less… financial motivation. So you not only have the honor of being the first humans on Mars, you will also be the most wealthy.”
“That’s what I’m talkin’ bout!” Bud whooped, waving his briefcase. “Rest o’ them assholes can suck it!”
“To be honest, we didn’t think you’d get this far,” Hughes said. “Our previous test subjects didn’t survive the hyper sleep. And then we thought; why not kill two birds with one stone? This can be an experiment in education as well. So we chose individuals who would be most resistant to the idea of a space colony. Non-believers, if you will. Well, I predict that if you survive this experiment you will emerge as believers. How can you not believe in space or science, when you’re in space, making scientific history? And anytime you feel homesick for your beloved “flat” Earth, you can gaze at your home planet through the telescope and bask in its beautiful spherical glory.”
The screen switched and the image of Mars filled the screen again, but Hughes’ voice continued to narrate.
“I’ll ask you now to please find a seat and fasten your seatbelts. The ride might get a little bumpy from here. Best of luck, we’re all rooting for you. If you survive the landing, you can rest assured that your colony is going to grow. We have already dispatched a second shuttle filled with death row inmates to keep you company.”

Copyright © 2018 Mandy White

New Reality

Posted: July 20, 2018 in Uncategorized

Sweat beaded on Saul’s forehead. Being summoned to a meeting with the executives seldom meant good news. After thirty-seven years in the business, one would think he’d be used to it, but he’d never managed to shake the sense of impending doom he felt before every meeting. His fingers closed around the small cylindrical container in his pocket and resisted the urge. Xanax would dull the panic, but he needed to remain sharp when meeting with those piranhas.
* * *
Zorn reminded him of a bullfrog on Botox. His closed mouth, thin-lipped smile stretched impossibly wide across a face much too smooth for a man his size. He overflowed his chair like Jabba the Hutt crammed into an Armani suit. Saul half expected a long tongue to zip out of his mouth and snatch up a fly.
I’m that fly, he thought with a shiver.
His partner, Tang, was no less intimidating in spite of his slight frame. His hollow cheekbones and gaunt jawline displayed the lines of his skull beneath his taut grey skin. His dark eyes spoke no compassion, only cruelty.
“First of all,” Zorn began, “We’d like to congratulate you on the best rated season in history. You’ve really outdone yourself with this new leading man you’ve cast. Half the viewers love him, and half the viewers despise him, but nobody can stop watching him. He’s caused riots, violence between viewers and even some deaths. It has been…” Zorn paused to wet his lips and Saul shuddered. “Utterly delicious,” he finished. Tang nodded in agreement.
“Th-thank you,” Saul stammered.
Zorn silenced him with a wave of his pudgy hand. “Save it. I wasn’t finished.” He leaned back in his chair and stretched, testing the seams of his already-stressed jacket. “That said, we will not be renewing the show when the last season finishes.”
“What? Why? I don’t understand. You just said this was the most exciting season in history!”
“Exactly. The show has reached a plateau. It has nowhere to go but down from here. We are currently in negotiations to launch a new reality show elsewhere with a new cast. We are considering that Russian actor for the lead role.”
“The one from my show? But he’s practically an extra! The only thing that even put him on the map was his relationship with our leading man. The one I cast personally. My guy is a star. He’s the reason the show is number one worldwide.”
“We aren’t disputing that fact, Mr. Levinstein. You brought us a winner when you cast him, and believe me, we had our doubts in his abilities. His acting is dreadful and he’s come dangerously close to revealing our secret on numerous occasions with all his rambling about ratings. He really needs to watch his tongue. You are aware, of course, what will happen if viewers learn our show isn’t real.”
Tang’s eyes sparkled like chips of obsidian and the corners of his mouth twitched with a hint of a smile at his partner’s implication.
Saul stared at his shoes. If the viewing public discovered their secret, the only option was immediate cancellation. Not of just the show, but everything. Every damn thing.
“I understand, sir,” Saul said. “I promise I will have a word with him. There will be no more slips of the tongue.”
“No, there will not be. The next will be his last.”
“What if I promise you someone even better next time? Would you renew us for another eight seasons?” Saul knew he was grasping at straws, but straws were all he had left to salvage his career… his very life.
“Of course. But we know for a fact that you can’t. You will never find a candidate to top the one currently in office. In fact, we’re willing to bet on it ”
“Then place your bets. I will deliver to you the most dysfunctional presidential candidate the world has ever seen. The current star will look ordinary by comparison. If not, then I will retire from the reality show business forever and you can take the show in a new direction with the cast of your choice. Do we have a wager, gentlemen?”
“I do enjoy a gamble, Mr. Levinstein,” Tang said, “Even one I am confident I will win. What say you, Mr. Zorn?”
Zorn nodded. “It’s a bet. Eight new seasons against your directing career. But if you lose,” he waggled a bulbous finger in Saul’s direction, “You will retire not only from the reality show business, but show business altogether. You will never direct anything again. Not movies, not game shows, not even fucking traffic! Got it?”
“Got it.” Saul knew the consequences of disobedience. But he’d had a long and prosperous career. It was worth the risk if he could make this last shot count, and he had a plan.
* * *
After Saul left the boardroom, Tang scratched his chin, loosening the taut skin before sliding his face over the back of his head. Zorn followed suit, removing his human mask to reveal the reptilian head beneath.
Zorn stretched his jaw. “Damn, these things make me sweat. Don’t think I’ll ever get used to them.”
Tang regarded his partner, translucent eyelids blinking sideways over vertical pupils. “The Russian, Zorn? Where the hell did you come up with that one? We both know the guy is only an extra, and will never be more than that.”
“I have no intention of using him. But we’re only halfway through our biggest eight-season run in history and it wouldn’t do for our star director to panic and blow the whistle on the whole operation. We can’t change directors halfway through without risking ratings. He has chemistry with the leading man, and lord knows that guy needs someone who can rein him in.”
“And when he loses the bet, then what?”
“We cancel and move location. I already have scouts on several possible planets. We’ll observe while this show runs its course and choose the one with the most unstable population.”
“Who do you think he’ll come up with?” Tang asked.
“I’m thinking he’s got nothing. But I’m curious to see how it plays out. Maybe our friend Saul will surprise us.”
“Do you think this planet would even survive another eight seasons?”
“Not likely. We’ve depleted this rock. When we vaporize it we’ll be doing it a kindness.”
“Not that it matters. He will never find anyone to top our current leading man.”
* * *
Walking to his car, Saul pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and placed a call.
“Saul Levinstein, Central Casting here. I have the opportunity of a lifetime for one of your guys. Who do you have currently on death row?”

Copyright © 2018 Mandy White

The Pit

Posted: March 12, 2018 in Uncategorized

#ShortStorySunday

I was an avid outdoor enthusiast who loved everything outhouse-oldabout being in the woods: trees, fresh air, campfires and best of all, peace and quiet. Dirt, wildlife, tents, and pit toilets were all part of the experience. I’ll admit that having to use rustic restroom facilities were not my favorite part of camping but they never bothered me that much; that was, until I encountered the thing in the outhouse.

I stumbled down the path half-asleep one night sometime around three am, flashlight in hand in hopes that I wouldn’t trip and do a face-plant in the dirt. I locked myself inside the tiny wooden house and avoided looking into the hole beneath the seat before and after doing my business. I mean, who would want to see what was down there? Everybody knows what’s down there and it’s not pleasant.

When I was finished, I discovered to my horror that the lock was stuck. I set the flashlight on top of the toilet paper roll so I could use both hands to jiggle it loose. It really was stuck. The rusted bolt began to inch back slightly as I worked it back and forth. It was then that I heard a noise coming from behind me… or more specifically, below me.

I froze, holding my breath so I could listen carefully. Was there a wild animal outside the outhouse, waiting for me to free myself from one predicament just to stumble into even greater peril?

Silence.

Then I heard it again. A wet, sucking sound, followed by what sounded like a wheeze – laborious breath drawn into a congested pair of lungs.

I reached a shaking hand toward my flashlight, afraid to take my eyes off of the black hole I knew was the toilet pit. I fumbled and the flashlight fell to the floor with a loud THUMP. Then the light went out.

I froze again, listening for sounds from below.

Nothing.

I squatted, groping around on the floor for the flashlight. I bit back a scream when my hand touched something soft and wet.

Please let that be a slug or some mud! I begged inside my mind.

My fingers found the smooth metal cylinder of the flashlight, and I nearly wept from relief. The bottom had popped off and the batteries had come loose when it fell. I found the bottom and put the flashlight back together. I pressed the switch and it worked.

Do I even want to look?

I had to look. I knew I had no choice. If I was going to spend the night trapped in the shithouse, I at least needed to know whether or not I was alone in there. I shone the light into the pit.

The sight I beheld was the usual thing one might expect to see in the pit of an outdoor toilet – a mountain of stuff most foul, with bits of tissue embedded here and there. As nasty as it was, the sight comforted me because it was normal. Nothing moved and all was quiet.

Relieved, I once again turned my attention to the stubborn door lock and managed to work it loose. I opened the door a crack and peered out cautiously. I swept the flashlight beam across the path. If the noises hadn’t come from inside the pit, then whatever had made them might still be out there, waiting… I envisioned a Grizzly bear, sitting behind the outhouse, licking his chops as he waited for me to become his dinner.

Slurp. Suck. Wheeze.

There it was again! The sound had definitely come from behind me. I turned to face the toilet pit once again, keeping my foot braced against the door to prevent it from swinging shut. I leaned over and tentatively shone my light into the hole, preparing to look in again.

Whatever was down there didn’t like the light, from the frantic slapping, slopping noise it made. If I didn’t know better, I’d think someone had thrown a live trout down the hole.

I leaned over and looked. I saw nothing at first, then caught slight movement at the edge of the hole, near the base of Mount Feces. I followed it with the light as it burrowed into the muck. The thing was about the size of a toddler, plump and pink-bodied with a long ratlike tail. Some kind of hairless mutant sewer rat? It was too big to be a rat. It was probably a stupid idea, but I needed to see. I stamped my foot on the floor to get its attention. It stopped burrowing and turned to look up at me, face and… hands? covered in filth. The tail was where its resemblance to a rat ended. The face was rounded, almost human looking, with a scowl to rival the fiercest gargoyle. The thing withdrew from its burrow and, making that slappy-sloppy fish-out-of-water sound, it scuttled up the side of Mount Feces, toward my light.

I knew I should stop shining the light on it and get out of there. Somewhere in the back of my mind, logic screamed at me to run away as far and as fast as possible, but my body refused to listen. I stared, captivated, as the thing crouched on top of the shit-pile and raised a pale, bony arm. It reached toward the top of the hole as if hoping to grab the edge and pull itself out. The pit wasn’t full enough; it still fell several feet short of touching the edge of the toilet seat or possibly giving someone’s ass an unexpected tickle.

It wheezed a wet, whistly breath and then it spoke. The words were barely audible, but I swear it spoke to me.

“Feeeed meee,” it whispered, stretching its hand upward, long spidery fingers grasping but unable to reach.

If I hadn’t already used the toilet I probably would have done so right then and there.

Instead, I ran.

I packed my camping gear and drove away without waiting for sunrise. I was unable to explain my hasty departure to the group of friends I had been camping with, except to say that something urgent had come up. I warned them to stay away from that particular outhouse, using the excuse that I had seen a wasp nest in there.

As I drove down the highway into the dawn, I did some calculations in my head. The campground had about 150 sites, all occupied because it was the start of Labor Day weekend. By the end of the weekend, all of the pit toilets would be in dire need of pumping, but the truck probably wouldn’t arrive until midway through the following week. Plenty of time for the creature, whatever it was, to reach the rim of the hole and pull itself out.

I might camp again, someday.

But only in a campground with proper plumbing.

 

Copyright © 2014 Mandy White

 

Of Peach and Pigs

Posted: February 27, 2018 in Uncategorized

This is my entry to the Evil Squirrel’s Nest Annual Contest of Whatever:

Georgia hadn’t planned to run away. At first, she’d just planned to take off for the weekend to spend it with her boyfriend, Louie. When her mother caught her, things escalated.

Her mother disapproved of Louie.

“He’s too old for you! He isn’t even a high school graduate! Is that what you want? A future with a plumber?”

“Oh, you’re a fine one to talk, Mom! You dropped out of high school and eloped. With a mechanic! How did that work out for you?”

“Don’t you dare insult your father! He was an honest, hardworking man!”

“Yeah, until a Buick dropped on his head.”

Georgia felt the sting of the slap before she even saw her mother swing.

“You watch your mouth, Missy. Your father loved you.” Tears welled in her mother’s eyes and her tone softened. “He loved you so much. He called you his little Georgia Peach. That’s how you got your nickname.”

“I know.” Peach was her father’s special nickname for her. Most of her friends just called her Georgie. Georgia hugged her stuffed dragon, Yoshi. The toy was the last birthday present he had given her before his death. She had come home from school to find a bright pink box on her bed.

* * *

“Open it, Princess.” Her father stood in the doorway, grinning.

Georgia carefully untied the bow and opened the box. A green plush toy nestled in the pink tissue paper. She picked it up and hugged it. “He’s adorable! Thank you, Daddy!”

He nodded toward the box. “There’s more.”

 

She pulled back the tissue to reveal another, smaller box. Inside was a gold necklace set with a glittering gemstone. She held it up to the light and gasped at the shades of pink and gold reflected through the facets.

“Oh, Daddy! It’s gorgeous! What is it?”

“Topaz. Your birthstone. It’s called Imperial Topaz. I saw the color and thought you’d like it.”

“It looks expensive. You shouldn’t have.”

“Nothing is too good for my Princess Peach. Happy birthday, sweetheart.”

 

***

smash-luigi-peach-640x360

That was before. When life was perfect. Before a malfunctioning hoist crushed her father under a ton of metal. Before she met Louie.

 

Louie was a bit rough around the edges, much like she imagined her father must have been when her mother met him. She couldn’t understand why her mother didn’t like him, he should have reminded her of Daddy. Perhaps that was why. Her mother expected more from her daughter than what she herself had achieved.

None of that mattered now. It was her life, not her mother’s. How dare she tell her how to live it?

Later that evening, after her mother was asleep, Georgia packed a bag with a few extra clothes, makeup, and Yoshi, then slipped out the window into the night.

***

Her romantic rendezvous with Louie fell flat when she walked into his apartment to find him in the arms of another. His boss from the plumbing company, to be exact. Mary, aka “Hairy Mary” had a mustache to rival any of her male counterparts, not to mention a cavernous plumber’s crack. And there was Louie, in bed with her.

Georgia shrieked with fury and stormed out.

“Baby, wait!” Louie called after her, but he didn’t follow.

She set out alone, hitchhiking down a dark highway to who knew where.

She considered going home, but she wasn’t ready to face her mother yet. She needed to find a place to rest, and think about her next move.

The sky lightened on the horizon as dawn approached. The countryside was unfamiliar; desolate except for a few scattered farms. She noticed a large barn and wondered if she could take shelter inside. She hoped it was the kind of barn with a nice soft hayloft and not the kind filled with animal poop and rusted farm equipment.

Jackpot. It was the hayloft kind.

Georgia climbed the ladder and nestled into the hay, hoping she wouldn’t encounter any mice.

The Topaz on her necklace twinkled with an eerie light as she fell into a deep sleep.

* * *

Peach awoke, refreshed but somewhat confused about her surroundings. She could have sworn she had fallen asleep in a barn filled with hay. Now, she found herself in a sunlit green garden filled with strange trees and flowers. Odd structures dotted the landscape here and there; random clusters of bricks, ramps and upright pipes that didn’t seem to go anywhere. She approached one of the pipes and peered inside. Darkness swirled around her and she felt herself falling.

“Help!” she screamed.

“I’m coming, Baby! Hang on!” Louie’s voice reached her in the darkness.

“Oh, no you don’t, Luigi!” Peach recognized Hairy Mary’s gravely voice. “You ain’t goin’ nowheres! Now git yer lazy butt back here.”

Her fall ended in a gentle landing. Brick walls surrounded her. It looked like some kind of dungeon. Thirsty, Peach slipped her backpack off her shoulders and groped inside for her water bottle. Something squirmed.

She screamed and jumped back, dropping the backpack. A small green head popped out.

“Hellooo!” Yoshi squeaked.

“Yoshi? You can talk?”

“Of course! What are we going to do first?”

“Well, first I think I’d like to get out of this place.”

“Follow meee!” Yoshi said, his voice trailing off as he disappeared into the nearest pipe.

Peach had no choice but to follow. Darkness swirled again and she felt the falling sensation again, only this time she landed in a colorful place, beside a road. Yoshi sat behind the wheel of a car, waiting for her.

MKWii_Yoshi

“Let’s go!” he said.

Peach hopped in and Yoshi drove down the twisty road at blinding speeds, occasionally bumping strange creatures out of the way. They approached another car from the rear.

“Woohoo! It’s Mario and Luigi! We got ourselves a race!” Yoshi shouted over the noise of the cars.

Mary drove like a fiend, her unibrow furrowed and her mustache thicker and fiercer than Peach had ever seen. Louie said nothing. He looked scared, gripping the dashboard like his life depended on it.

Yoshi overtook their car, only to get bumped out of the way.

They crossed the finish line in second place. Mary, aka Mario, jumped out of the car and did a crazy little victory dance, whooping and waving two middle fingers at them. Luigi gave Peach a sad look and shrugged his shoulders.

Peach responded with a middle finger of her own.

“C’mon Yoshi. Let’s get out of here. Who needs these losers?” She walked toward the nearest pipe and jumped in without waiting for Yoshi to follow.

The darkness swirled, then changed to a warm, bright light. Pinkish gold, like the stone in her Topaz necklace. Strong arms wrapped around her.

“Princess Peach.”

She recognized the voice.

“Daddy?”

“What are you doing, sweetheart?”

“I don’t know. I just needed to cool off. I was mad at my boyfriend.” Peach fell into her father’s arms, sobbing. “I thought he’d be more like you, but he’s just a jerk.”

“I was a jerk at that age too. You should set your sights a little higher.”

“I miss you, Daddy.”

“I know. I miss you too, sweetheart. But your mother needs you. Please go home and take care of her for me. Remember that I always love you.” His words faded to a whisper and he shrunk until only Yoshi the stuffed toy remained in her arms. The light faded to a tiny glimmer, emanating from her Topaz necklace.

* * *

Peach sat up. Bits of hay stuck to her hair and clothes. Sunlight filtered through a window high in the loft. Voices conversed in the barn below. Something about bathing hogs.

“Hello?” she called.

She descended the ladder.

A woman in overalls stood beside an old cast-iron bathtub. A man, presumably her husband, was inside the tub with a pig.

“Um… hi there,” Peach said. “I’m sorry for trespassing. I just took a nap in your hayloft.”

The woman glanced up, busy opening the cap on a bottle of shampoo.

“Ain’t no matter. Y’all wanna give us a hand bathing these hogs? There’s room if ya wanna jump right in. That is, if it ain’t too weird for ya.”

“Thanks, but I need to get home. And by the way, this isn’t even the weirdest thing I’ve seen today.”

This is my entry to the Evil Squirrel’s Nest Annual Contest of Whatever! Check out the rest of the entries here!

Holocaust

Posted: February 21, 2018 in Uncategorized

The survivors called it The Holocaust.

Some disapprove of our using that word but the truth is, it’s just a word. Nobody owns a word. There wasn’t a better name for what happened; it was beyond all reason or comprehension.

It happened suddenly. One moment we were safe in our homes, under cover of darkness and the next moment a blinding light came, burning our skin. We were torn from our homes and thrown into a cramped space. Dozens of us thrashed against each other in confusion. It was chaos; up was down and down was up. We could feel the earth moving beneath us but had no way of knowing where we were headed.

That was just the beginning of the horror.

Those who died were the lucky ones.

When the earth stopped moving the bright lights came once again, searing, scorching those unlucky enough to be exposed. We tried to scramble for cover beneath the writhing masses of our neighbors’ bodies but not everyone made it. One by one we were plucked from the relative safety of our prison to endure even further horrors.

Some were never seen again.

Others were returned to the prison maimed and dismembered, telling horrific tales of our kind being skewered on sharp hooks and then discarded into the depths like so much garbage. Some of the amputees survived but the memory of their torture was forever etched into their minds.

When the ordeal was over we had lost many family and friends. Those of us who remained were set free; not to our original home but in a new land where we were able to start anew.

We will never understand…

We worms will never understand this fascination humans have with fishing.

 

 

Your Heart Will be Mine

Posted: February 14, 2018 in Uncategorized

valentine

~ You twist through my heart ~

~ Like a bolt through a nut ~

~ I am a nut ~

~ Think twice before you bolt ~

~*~

Megan wept, curled on her side in the tightest ball she could manage. She had been curled up in the fetal position on her bed for hours – days, actually, doing nothing but cry. Barely moving except to use the bathroom and drink a bit of water. She couldn’t eat, she couldn’t sleep and the ache in her chest wouldn’t go away no matter how many painkillers she took.

 

 

So this is what a broken heart feels like.

She now understood why they called it heartbreak. What she felt was beyond sadness; it manifested as a tangible physical pain in her chest that radiated down into her belly. It was the most horrible sensation ever, and it was all HIS fault. How could he have been so cruel to her when all she had done was love him? She didn’t know where she had gone wrong. She had given him everything; waited on him hand and foot and catered to his every wish but in the end it wasn’t enough. He took her heart and tore it to shreds and then walked out the door as if the last two years had meant nothing.

She wanted to die.

If I died, you’d be sorry! You’d have to live with it for the rest of your life, knowing that YOU were the one who drove me to suicide!

Died of a broken heart.

That would show him how much she loved him.

Nobody else will ever love you the way I do! You’ll see! One day you will come crawling back to me with your heart in shreds, then you’ll know how you made me feel. And then I can kiss you better. We can heal together.

No, she would not end her life. Life was worth living as long as there was a chance of winning him back.

She would get him back.

Or die trying.

Richard tried to leave her several times during the last year but each time she convinced him to stay. She begged and pleaded and promised to be everything he wanted in a woman but he became cold and aloof nonetheless. He didn’t want intimacy anymore. He participated in sex when she was persistent enough to make his physical urges overcome his mental reluctance but his lack of desire was obvious.

She was willing to accept his lack of enthusiasm in their relationship as long as he didn’t leave. They could work things out. She would make it better. She just had to make him see how much she loved him and he would know they were destined to be together.

The pregnancy changed everything.

The one thing that should have cemented them together forever was the catalyst that ended their relationship. He was willing to stay for the sake of the baby. He even agreed to marry her after much pleading and cajoling on her part.

It would be the perfect wedding. She had already chosen her dress – a high-waisted design that would look stunning even with the bulge in her belly. She booked the church and hired the caterer and sent out invitations. It would be the beautiful fairytale wedding of her dreams. Afterward, he would take her in his arms and carry her over the threshold and make love to her, tenderly and passionately the way a husband should. Their life together would be picture-perfect.

There was just one small detail:

She wasn’t pregnant.

Megan thought she was pregnant, without a doubt. Even though the pregnancy tests (three of them, to be exact) were negative, she assumed it was too early for them to be accurate. She experienced all the symptoms – the missed period, tender breasts, bloated belly, and irritability. She even felt sick in the mornings. When her period arrived late, it was easy to hide it from him since he showed no interest in her physically. Since their engagement Richard had become even more distant, never meeting her eyes and only speaking to her when necessary.

It didn’t matter that the pregnancy was a false alarm. She would be pregnant by the time they got married; she would make sure of it.

She managed to convince him to have sex once during the following month but it did not result in pregnancy. Panicked, she redoubled her efforts to seduce him, but the harder she tried, the less receptive he became. When they did try, he couldn’t sustain an erection long enough to finish.

Four months passed. Then five, and still she wasn’t pregnant. She faked the symptoms, pretending to get sick in the mornings and eating like a horse so she would gain some girth and appear pregnant. The wedding was just six weeks away and she only needed to keep up her charade until after the minister declared them husband and wife. After that, she could fake a miscarriage and he would be there to comfort her and they could try again to start a family.

She began to wear padding under her clothing to keep up the appearance of an advancing pregnancy

* * *

She didn’t hear him come into the house that day.

The past few months, he had been moving around the house like a ghost, silent, never speaking unless spoken to. On that particular day, he came home from work early. Megan wasn’t expecting him. She stood in front of the bedroom mirror; trying on the next size pillow she was going to bind to her belly to make it look thicker.

She had no idea how long he had been standing there, watching her in silence.

He said nothing, but his eyes spoke the rage in his heart.

He refused to speak to her, no matter how she cried and pleaded. He started packing immediately and left that night, taking only the bare necessities. She clung to his leg, begging him to stay but he peeled her off of him in disgust. He walked out of her life without giving a second thought to their future together, leaving her blubbering on the floor.

Megan was not only heartbroken; she was humiliated. He told his family and all of their friends about her deceit and his reason for leaving. Nobody would speak to her.

She was alone.

* * *

A year later, Megan still sobbed herself to sleep but not as often. The pain in her chest had diminished to a dull ache but it never went away altogether. They said time heals all wounds but she knew that in her case it wouldn’t. She still loved Richard heart and soul and would never stop. They were meant to be together. He was hers and no amount of time or distance would ever change that.

She wasted her Saturday afternoons wandering through the mall, gazing at the gowns in the bridal shop, the sexy lingerie in Victoria’s Secret and the endless displays of adorable children’s clothing. From infant to toddler to preschooler… there were too many cute outfits to choose from. She should have been buying clothing for her own child – for their child. Instead, she could only look and dream.

She wandered toward the food court to feed her craving for sweets. She had been living on junk food and had gained a considerable amount of weight. It didn’t matter because she had nobody to stay thin for. At that moment, Cinnabon called to her.

A baby stroller blocked her path as she navigated through the tables to get to the food counters. She edged around it, pausing for a moment to admire the baby, a little girl about three months old, dressed in an adorable pink outfit. The parents, engrossed in conversation, giggled and shared an intimate kiss.

Megan froze.

No.

It couldn’t be!

It was him. Richard.

Her Richard.

Judging from the age of the infant in the stroller, he hadn’t wasted any time after leaving her. He might have already been seeing that woman behind her back! That would explain his lack of interest in Megan. The slut had already tired him out before he got home.

Rage boiled inside her when she saw the engagement ring on the woman’s finger – a large, stunning diamond solitaire. Nothing like the cheap little band he had grudgingly given her.

“YOU BASTARD!” Megan roared, sweeping the food and beverages off the table onto the couple’s laps.

“YOU DIRTY CHEATING MOTHERFUCKER!”

“Richard?” the woman said, her voice fearful. She pulled the baby stroller away from Megan.

“You stay out of it, slut! I’m talking to my husband. You’ve done enough already!”

Richard finally spoke up. “Get the hell away from my family, you crazy bitch.”

“YOUR family? YOUR family?” Megan sputtered. “What about OUR family? The one you couldn’t even give me because your dick was always limp!”

“I never wanted you, Megan. I never loved you. You were a mistake. The biggest mistake I ever made.” Richard’s tone was calm. He spoke the words without emotion. How could he not feel anything after sharing his life with her for two years?

Richard’s bitch had taken her child and moved away from the table. She was talking to the clerk at Cinnabon and a security guard was making his way toward them.

“You think you’ll be happy with her?” Megan yelled. “She’s nothing! You and ME! WE were meant to be together! Nobody will love you the way I do. Nobody!”

The security guard stepped between them.

“I’ll have to ask you to move away, ma’am. Leave these people alone.”

“Fuck you!” she spat, leaning around the uniformed man to make eye contact with Richard once more.

“You can’t escape fate, Richard. You’re mine! One day you’ll come crawling back. You love me. I know you do.”

Two more security guards came from behind and took her arms, leading her away from the food court. They demanded that she leave at once or the police would be called.

Megan left. She had said her piece.

Richard knew the truth.

She would make him see the truth.

* * *

Megan’s outburst with Richard energized her; freed her from the shackles of depression. She felt electrified, filled with new hope. She had a purpose again: Richard, and her future with him. She just needed to take the place of the baby-making whore in the food court and everything would be perfect again.

She would win him back. His heart had always been hers; he just didn’t realize it yet.

Having been banned from the local mall, Megan’s Saturday shopping trip took her to the streets and a new neighborhood where she had never been. Her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder made it difficult to deviate from an established routine. As a result, she seldom visited new places. Occasionally change was forced. This time she found it refreshing instead of disturbing. Her therapist, whom she hadn’t seen in more than five years, would have called it “a positive step”.

The weathered red brick buildings offered a nice change of scenery from the icy-smooth grey concrete downtown. The new neighborhood featured a wealth of second-hand stores, a few hippie bong shops and some dusty-looking used bookstores. It was in one of these bookstores that she found it.

The tattered brown binding of the book caught her eye and immediately she reached for it.

The Joy of Spellcasting.

She chuckled at the silly title.

It sounds like a cookbook. Why not? It could be fun. Megan purchased the book and walked home with a spring in her step.

She opened the book to the table of contents and quickly found what she sought.

Love Spells – page 131.

She noticed handwriting at the bottom of the yellowed page. The ink had blurred over time but was still legible. Megan held it up to the light to make out the words.

“Be warned, ye who goest here. Think ye long on what thou desirest. The spells contained within be those most powerful. What thou desirest, thou shalt receive.”

Megan smirked. It sounded like something out of a low-budget after-school Halloween special.

Good to know. Let’s see if it’s true.

She turned to page 131 and began to read.

There were several love spells and potions but most of them looked complicated. They contained ingredients she had never heard of and took too long to yield results. They ranged anywhere from six months to three years to complete a spell. Megan wanted results now.

She settled on the One Moon Love Charm. It claimed to return a lost love in one month and she had all the ingredients to make it work:

 

A container made from wood or metal.

A likeness of your lost love. OR

An object belonging to your lost love, OR

A sample of your loved one’s blood or flesh.

 

Write on a piece of parchment exactly what you desire.

Seal with your own blood or flesh to bond with your lover’s flesh for all eternity.

Bury the container three feet deep in dark soil under the light of the full moon.

Stand over the burial site and turn around three times and then say the incantation every night for one month. When the moon reaches its next fullness, the object of your desire will come to you.

 

Megan selected a heart-shaped wooden jewelry box Richard had given her when they first started dating – back when he still knew he loved her. The box held no jewelry except the engagement ring she no longer wore. She had been using it to store her favorite photos of Richard, all carefully cropped with a pair of scissors to a heart shape.

A likeness of your lost love.

What better likeness than an actual photo? She left all of the photos in the box.

OR an object belonging to your lost love.

Richard had left most of his belongings behind when he left, so why not add that as well? She selected a watch she had bought him for Christmas that he always seemed to forget to wear and his razor, which he had left in the bathroom.

OR a sample of your loved one’s blood or flesh.

Technically, the razor already had that covered, since it contained beard stubble and probably skin cells as well. She wanted to add as much punch to the spell as possible. More would be better, right? She cleaned the bathtub drain, extracting a slimy hairball made up of both his hair and hers. That covered both samples of their flesh.

On a plain white piece of paper, she wrote the words she had chosen:

 

Richard Cole, I desire your heart and nothing else.

 

She folded it neatly and placed it in the box.

She sliced her index finger with a razor blade and let the blood drip over the contents of the jewelry box.

Under the full moon she stood, on the fresh mound of dirt beneath which the box was buried. She turned around three times and then recited the incantation, which she had memorized:

 

“By the Earth below and the moon above,

You will be my one true love.

Bound in blood and sealed in Earth,

Waiting for our love’s new birth.

Empowered by the Law of Three,

Richard’s heart will come to me.

Three times Three.

So mote it be.”

 

She repeated the incantation two more times just for good measure. If the Law of Three was a real thing, then it made sense to do everything three times to amplify the power threefold.

The following night she repeated the ritual, chanting the incantation three times. After a pause, she recited it three times more.

She couldn’t stop the pattern once it had begun. Richard had hated her OCD but it was one of the things that made her organized and precise in everything she did. Every night she added three more repetitions to the incantation. When she reached the 29th night she recited it a total of 87 times. When she went to bed at night, the rhyme played over and over inside her head until she fell asleep.

The moon had reached the first day of its three days of fullness. It would be at its fullest the following night. Megan snuggled happily into her bed, confident that Richard would be with her soon.

* * *

“Jenkins! Get in here! You gotta see this!” Ralph Anderson shouted to his assistant.

Jenkins wandered through the double doors of the morgue, stuffing the remains of a tuna sandwich into his mouth.

“I’m still on break. Couldn’t you have waited another ten minutes?”

“No, I need you to see this. You gotta tell me I’m not crazy.”

Jenkins approached the table where his superior was conducting a routine autopsy. The ribcage was splayed open, revealing the inside of the stiff’s chest.

“So what’s the deal? You find an alien in there? Looks pretty normal to me.”

“Look again. Tell me what you see. More specifically, what’s missing?”

Jenkins leaned over the corpse to take a closer look, licking mayonnaise off of his fingertips.

“Yeah, so it looks like you’ve already removed the heart, and—”

“But I haven’t,” Anderson said, almost in a whisper.

“Sure you have. It’s not in there.” Jenkins looked around at the empty stainless steel trays that surrounded the autopsy table. “So, where’d ya put it?’

“I’m telling you, it wasn’t in there when we got him.”

“So, what is this then, a serial killer case?”

“No. Probable heart attack. Sudden death, cause unknown.”

“So, where’s the heart?”

“That is the question, isn’t it? There was no incision in the body, no sign of hemorrhage inside. It’s just… missing.”

“We gonna record this?”

“Who’s gonna believe us? I’m closing him back up and labeling him a coronary.”

* * *

Megan woke the morning of the thirtieth day, feeling well rested and energized. Today, Richard would return. She would take a nice long bath and put on something pretty and fix him a nice dinner. It would be the perfect day – one for which she had worked very diligently.

She stretched and yawned, rolling over to caress the pillow where Richard would lay his head that night.

Her hand touched something wet.

Something rounded, about the size of her fist.

It was warm, and pulsed with a steady, rhythmic beat.

 

e¯f

 

Copyright © 2012 Mandy White

Vegan Meat

Posted: February 6, 2018 in Uncategorized

Something silly I cooked up for WPaD’s #ShortStorySunday challenge.

It’s based on an idiotic rant I saw on the internet in which someone (probably in jest) claimed pigs were a hybrid of muskrat, bobcat, and hyena. Ah, the internet… such a source of horsefuckery and inspiration.

Vegan Meat 

~*~

“The cow and pig are not even natural animals. Tell me, where in nature can you find a cow? A farm is man-made and cows and pigs are hybridized animals. A pig is cross bred between a muskrat, bobcat and hyena! So you’re eating muskrat… just let that sink in!”

bacon

The man on the TV screen continued to rant, struggling against the police officers, who cuffed him and wrestled him into the back of the cruiser.

Sinead sipped her lukewarm coffee, too engrossed in the newscast to pour a fresh one.

 

Sinead knew the crazy man. She also knew he wasn’t as crazy as he looked.

* * *

Scott Parke was a former co-worker of Sinead’s, back in the early days of their careers. Fresh out of university and bursting with optimism, Sinead eagerly accepted a job offer from a large corporation. It all sounded so environmental, so save- the- planet perfect in her idealistic young mind. Even the name sounded environmentally friendly: Evergreen Research. She didn’t learn until later that Evergreen was owned and funded by Monsanto.

 

Those early days in the laboratories were filled with excitement and discovery, and it was there that she met Scott, also fresh out of university. Sinead truly believed she was making a difference, developing things that would change the world for the better. It wasn’t until reports of the negative effects of their work began to surface, that Sinead realized perhaps her employers weren’t the saints she thought they were.

 

 

When Sinead made the decision to part company with Evergreen, they demanded she sign a document bearing the Monsanto logo. It was a gag order, which prohibited her from divulging any information about the work conducted in their laboratories or using knowledge obtained therein to profit herself or others. She had no interest in what went on in those laboratories. She signed the document and moved on, eventually finding employment in genetic research for disease prevention.

Scott stayed on with Evergreen for a while after Sinead left, but she heard through a mutual friend that he had been fired for “ethical differences”, whatever that meant.

* * *

Five Years Later:

Sinead’s contract expired, and the company opted to not renew it. She decided to take some time off and enjoy a much-deserved holiday in Mexico.

One tequila-soaked night in Puerto Vallarta, Sinead spied a familiar face in the nightclub: Scott. He whooped when he saw her, and pulled her into an off-balance bear hug that nearly landed both of them on the floor. He slung an arm over her shoulder and sprayed her cheek with saliva as he shouted into her ear over the music.

“You gotta come see what I’m doing! I made a breakthrough like you never seen before. Makes those ashhats at Monshanto look like kinnergarten! This shit’ll revolutionize the food innustry. It’s gonna be huge! As shoon as the patents go through, I gonna be a billionaire, and I ain’t talkin’ peshos!”

Sinead wiped her cheek and adjusted her balance to counteract Scott’s drunken sway.

“Sounds interesting, but I’m on vacation. Taking kind of a hiatus from work.”

“Thass even better! I’m gonna need a partner when this shit breaks. I’m gonna be so busy. I’m sherious. You’d be perfect for the job. I’ll let ya in on the ground floor.”

“I admit I’m curious. Give me your number and I’ll look you up when I get back home.”

“No, you don’t unnerstand. It’s here. My lab. I live here now. Can’t do this in the U.S. Too many regulations. It would take years to get where I am now.”

“Your lab is here, in Mexico?”

“You betcher sweet ass, baby!”

“Then how can I say no? For old times’ sake.”

Scott raised his glass. “For old times’ sake!”

* * *

Scott’s “lab” was the second bedroom of a two-bedroom rented condo. It didn’t look much out of the ordinary, save for the occasional bug-hunting gecko. A row of mismatched refrigerators lined one wall of the room.

“I can’t wait to hear what you’re working on here,” Sinead said, peering into the room. She nodded toward the fridges. “I can’t imagine what those could be for.”

The effects of the previous night’s drinks; lingered in the dull throb behind her eyes and parched throat. Scott looked worse than she felt.

“I’m dying of thirst. Got anything to drink?” she asked.

“I got orange juice. He pointed at the kitchen. In the fridge.”

Sinead wandered into the kitchen, where she found a package of Solo cups on the counter next to a bottle each of tequila and gin. She poured a cup of orange juice and then added some tequila. What the hell, I’m on vacation, she thought.

Scott followed her into the kitchen and poured himself a similar drink, with both tequila and gin. Instead of returning to the lab, he went into the living room, where he plopped onto the couch with a weary sigh.

Sinead followed and took a seat at the opposite end and sipped her drink, waiting for him to talk.

“I don’t know how much you might have heard, but I left Monsanto due to some irreconcilable differences,” he began.

“I heard you were fired.”

“Same thing. Potato, potawto. Best thing that ever happened to me. I learned a lot working there, but of course you know we’re not allowed to talk about that.” He gave her a knowing wink.

“We’re also not allowed to apply any of their research in other projects.”

“I believe the gag order specifies that we’re forbidden to use knowledge gained while in their employ to further the exploits of other corporations… or some shit like that. Basically, it means we can’t divulge their trade secrets to their competitors.”

“But what does it say about becoming a competitor yourself?”

“Well, you can’t do that either, per se. Meaning that you can’t start a company and employ their knowledge in research and development of products similar to theirs. And of course, with all the regulations in the U.S. and FDA approval and all that shit, there’s no way you could do anything without the big M finding out.”

“But you aren’t in the U.S.”

“Bingo! I’m also not a competing corporation. I’m just a guy doing science projects in his back bedroom.”

“But what happens when you try to bring… whatever this is back into the U.S? You can’t get a patent based on someone else’s research.”

“I’m not. This is all mine. Yeah, I learned a lot working in those laboratories, but they can’t regulate what’s inside my head. I developed this all on my own, and none of it resembles anything those assholes are doing.”

“Somehow I think they’d find a way to claim it if they wanted it.” Sinead drained her cup. “Enough with the suspense. Let’s get to the part where you tell me exactly what you developed.”

“To put it simply, it’s food. I have developed a line of revolutionary new food products. Trendy stuff. Vegan, gluten-free, all that shit. Not processed, but grown. The granola crowd will go nuts for it, pun intended.”

“Like what?”

“Bacon seeds, for one.”

“Fuck off.”

“Seriously. C’mon, I’ll show you.”

Scott led the way to the lab-bedroom, where he opened a fridge at the far end of the row. Shelves with rows of fluorescent lighting filled the interior of the appliance. Sinead realized that it wasn’t being used for refrigeration, but as a sort of green house. Trays of small seedlings covered the first two shelves, and larger plants were housed on the lower racks. On closer inspection, Sinead recognized the leaves.

“Corn? You’re growing corn in a refrigerator.”

“Not just corn.” Scott closed the door and opened another, a couple of fridges down the row. Inside were cobs covered with a substance Sinead couldn’t identify. She looked at Scott for clarification. He grinned.

“I give you…” he tapped his fingers on the door, simulating a drum roll. “Bacon on the cob!”

“Bullshit.”

“I shit you not.” He removed one of the cobs from the shelf and held it up to the light. “It grows just like this. All you have to do is cook it.”

Tiny pale rolled-up buds covered the cob. He took one in his fingers and unrolled it, revealing to Sinead what appeared to be an ordinary slice of bacon. The grain of the meat, the fat, the color – all nearly perfect. It was perhaps a bit too uniform, like the vegan fake-bacon sold in stores, but it looked close enough to pass for the real thing. Sinead slid her fingers over it and gasped at the greasy texture.

“It feels real!” she whispered.

“It is real. Pretty cool, huh?”

“It’s edible?”

“Hell yeah! Just like the real deal. It’s delicious, low in calories, high in protein. Gluten-free, too. It’s grown, not raised. Nothing gets slaughtered.” He chuckled. “Except for the plant, of course.”

“So it’s vegan, too.”

“As vegan as a corn cob. Sure, I had to make a few modifications, and maybe there is some pig DNA in there, but that’s science. Ever wonder why vegans always seem so angry? I know I’d be pretty miserable in a life without bacon. They taste this, maybe they won’t be so angry, huh?”

“Wow. This is amazing. If it’s as good as you say, and it gets approval… you could be sitting on a gold mine here. But what if the FDA doesn’t approve it?”

“They will eventually. I’ll start growing it here. Americans will get wind of it after a few thousand tourists get a sample. Get the right billionaire to back it and badda-bing! Suddenly the FDA won’t have a problem with us bringing it into the U.S. And of course they will want it produced there, to corner the market.”

Scott moved to another fridge. “The Bacorn is just the start of it. I also have KFG, but still working the bugs out of it.”

“KFG?”

“Working title. Stands for Kentucky Fried Garbanzos. Modified chick-pea with eleven herbs and spices bred in. But it’s a magnet for fruit flies. Like I said, still working the bugs out.”

Sinead peered into the fridge. Pod-shaped crispy golden brown clumps hung from scrawny vines. A cloud of small black flies rose toward her face and as she waved them away her nostrils caught a delicious savory aroma.

“It smells like…it’s already cooked!”

“Yeah, I think this one is going to be a winner, but it’s not ready yet. We also have the Hamkins, which will require a bit more growing space than I have here, on account of the vines.”

Sinead concluded her tour of Scott’s refrigerators with a promise to consider his offer. She accepted his business card, which simply read: Scott Parke – Innovations in Eating, and an email address.

As much as she hated to admit, his offer was tempting. She’d spent all her professional life working for others, following instructions. This stimulated both her scientific and creative sides. Breaking new ground by designing never-before-seen products… it was why she had become a scientist.

This had endless potential. It could end world hunger, if the plants were hardy enough. If she took Scott’s offer, she could make him see the big picture. If plant-based meats could be engineered to grow on barren land, entire countries could be saved. Appeasing angry vegans was merely a bonus.

* * *

In the end, Sinead dodged a bullet. Her decision not to join Scott’s research “team” turned out to be a wise one. Scott did not get FDA approval for his products. It turned out people had an aversion to eating genetically engineered meat, even if it was grown organically. Supposedly “health-conscious” people preferred to eat substances processed in factories from unknown ingredients than something they could grow in their own gardens.

Stymied by legal channels, Scott brought his products into the U.S. illegally and grew them in secret. The problem was, he couldn’t mass-market any of it without giving up the secret of their origin. He marketed the stuff as manufactured corn-based products and sold them at hippie festivals and farm markets, but eventually the FDA caught up with him. When they raided his greenhouses, the scandal broke internationally.

What they found… Sinead wasn’t surprised, given Scott’s mental state at the time of his arrest.

There were the Hamkins he’d mentioned, growing on vines like pumpkins. They looked like a whole pig, minus the innards. The torso was solid, smoky meat.

The KFG had evolved from fried chicken pods into whole pre-seasoned chickens, which solved the pest problem by feeding on the bugs. The disturbing part was the “chicken” had the head of a gecko.

There were other things, the media declined to mention all of them, but Sinead heard through a source in the scientific community that beef and lamb had been involved as well.

The public was outraged, and of courts the ethical argument made headlines: Were they plant or animal? Did they have consciousness? More importantly, was this food truly vegan? Scott argued that it was, since it was plant-based.

Sinead was shocked when they announced the charges, which weren’t what she had expected.

Scott was charged with two offences:

The first was violation of FDA regulations by creating and selling unapproved food substances. For that, he received a fine and probation.

The second was more serious, and it involved a lawsuit levied by their previous employer, Evergreen Research. Scott was charged with theft of intellectual property and breach of the gag order he had signed upon his departure.

Evergreen accused him of stealing the formulas for his products from their company. Their lawyers stated they were prepared to provide proof in a court of law that those products had been created in their laboratories several years earlier.

 

~*~

Copyright © 2018 Mandy White

 

 

A Sim-Ple Life

Posted: February 5, 2018 in Uncategorized

Have you ever had the feeling your life was out of control?

Like you were going through the motions, puppet-like, guided by some unseen hand of fate, or God, or whatever you want to call it?

Cheryl had felt that way all of her life. She had never felt in control of anything, as far back as she could remember. The worst part was the way her memory continually failed her. It grew worse every day. Cheryl was afraid; she feared she was losing her mind.

She found herself in the most bizarre situations, doing strange, inexplicable things after each memory lapse. She would set out to accomplish an everyday task and then would find herself standing somewhere, mind blank, at a loss as to what she should be doing.

Her surroundings changed daily and she blamed her faltering memory. She would know for certain where something was, but when she went to find it, everything would be different than she remembered.

Cheryl’s home was an ever-changing enigma. Every morning she woke to find new furniture, different wallpaper and a swimming pool with a new look. The pool changed shape on a regular basis; sometimes it was kidney shaped, sometimes square and sometimes rectangle. Sometimes a hot tub graced one end of the pool, sometimes two or more tubs appeared, as if by magic. Even the layout of the house changed from one day to the next. There were times when entire rooms moved or disappeared altogether. Cheryl never saw a carpenter or signs of construction, yet she saw a different house each day.

Remembering simple things like the location of doorways was a new challenge every day. Once, Cheryl couldn’t find the entrance to the bathroom even though it had been there the previous day. She ran from room to room searching for the toilet, bursting at the seams. She finally relieved herself on the bedroom floor because she couldn’t think of a better solution. The next day, the bathroom reappeared exactly where it had always been and Cheryl couldn’t understand for the life of her why she hadn’t been able to find it.

And then there was the time she almost drowned in the swimming pool. She climbed into the pool using the ladder, and then the ladder disappeared. One moment it was there, bolted to the cement at the side of the pool but the next time she looked, the ladder was gone, like it had never existed. Unable to think of any other way to get out of the pool, Cheryl kept swimming laps, looking for the ladder. Back and forth she swam until she was weak from exhaustion. She was on the verge of drowning when the ladder reappeared before her eyes exactly in the same spot. Not one but two matching ladders, firmly bolted to either side of the pool where she couldn’t possibly have missed them.

The other members of the household didn’t seem to notice anything unusual about the house nor did they care about Cheryl’s bizarre behavior. As far as she was aware, her housemates were no relation to her. She didn’t know anything about them. Household members were also subject to change without notice and none of the others seemed bothered by this. The other residents of the mysterious house spent their time engrossed in various activities, except when eating, sleeping or the occasional interaction with Cheryl. She had no idea what any of them were talking about. They all spoke gibberish, and Cheryl played along by replying in the same gibberish.

Cheryl’s current housemates were a young man named Damien, a woman named Tiffany and a little boy named Steven. The man and woman were not a couple, neither of them appeared to be a parent of the boy, and for some reason it was all normal and acceptable.

Cheryl spent her days swimming laps in the pool, painting endless canvasses of abstract art and singing melodies to songs with no lyrics. She had no job that she could remember. In fact, she couldn’t even remember her own last name!

She existed from day to day, repeating the same mundane activities; eating when she was hungry and sleeping when she was tired. Sometimes she slept alone and sometimes cuddled up next to a random member of the household.

How long had things been this way? She couldn’t remember a time when things were different. Cheryl couldn’t remember her childhood or being any other age than her current one. She couldn’t remember living in any other home besides this one.

She wondered if she had some sort of mental illness. Were her housemates aware that something was wrong with her? Maybe they knew she was a nutcase and weren’t telling her! Maybe they were all having laughs at her expense, mocking her by speaking nonsense words, knowing that she would reply in the same fashion. She supposed she should seek professional help from a doctor of some sort but had no idea how to go about it.

Cheryl dove into the pool and swam laps to ease her worried mind. Swimming was something she did every day and it always relaxed her.

When she tired of swimming, she climbed out of the water to find Damien standing on the pool deck watching her.

“The sun, it go kee-kah-ka-bee,” Damien said.

Cheryl laughed and nodded in agreement.

“Ah, a ham a hizza frazzirat!” she replied with a cheerful wave as she walked past him. She wasn’t in the mood for a conversation. She was hungry and needed to find something to eat.

Cheryl wasn’t very good at cooking. She usually foraged in the fridge for something already cooked, to avoid using the stove. She searched the fridge and found nothing that didn’t require cooking. She stamped her foot in frustration and swore under her breath.

“Hem a flama huzzit!”

She selected a food item that looked potentially tasty and placed it in a frying pan. After dousing it with cooking oil, she turned the burner on as high as possible to speed the cooking process. It was taking too long to cook. She stirred the pan vigorously in her impatience.

All at once the oil in the pan ignited, sending angry fingers of flame toward the ceiling. Cheryl slapped at the pan in a lame attempt to extinguish the blaze but succeeded only in catching her hand on fire. The flames spread to her clothing, racing up her arm until her entire blouse was burning. Her hair caught fire next. A human torch, Cheryl ran in frantic circles around the kitchen, shrieking and waving her arms.

Outside, Damien did a slow backstroke in the pool, oblivious to the fact that one of his housemates was burning to death in the kitchen. In another room, Steven and Tiffany laughed and joked, unaware that their gibberish was being drowned out by Cheryl’s dying wails.

 

* * *

 

After dinner, Jeremy rushed to finish his homework. He had left his computer running with the game loaded and he was anxious to see what had transpired in his absence. He woke the screen up from its sleep mode and slapped his palm to his forehead when he saw the carnage in the kitchen.

“Aw, nuts! My stupid Cheryl Sim went and burned herself to death! I knew I shoulda locked her outta the kitchen while I was away!”

The Sims was Jeremy’s favorite computer game. He had all the expansion packs and plenty of cheat codes to give him limitless hours of play – redesigning and recreating the virtual environment in which his computer-generated characters lived. The characters were always a learning experience. They always turned out to be a bit unpredictable, no matter how carefully he designed them. If you endowed a Sim with too much of one characteristic and not enough of another you’d wind up with a dumbass who’d end up getting killed.

Take Cheryl, for example. He had made her athletic and artistically skilled but obviously a little too much so because she turned out to be a bit of an airhead. She had no culinary skills and not a shred of common sense to solve even the simplest problem. She was the proverbial turkey who would drown looking up at the rain.

Jeremy sighed and set out to create a replacement for Cheryl. The new one would be able to cook like a master chef but he would have to make sacrifices in other areas. Cutting back on artistic ability, sense of humor and athleticism would make her a bit dull but maybe this one would live a little longer.

The creators of games like The Sims had done some pretty cool things with artificial intelligence, but in the opinion of that particular twelve-year-old, they still had a long way to go.

 

Published in Dysfictional: Short Stories for Twisted Minds

Copyright © 2012 Mandy White

#ShortStodySunday

The Art of Bathing

Posted: January 29, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

Takinbubble-bath-day-ftrg a bath. It’s a simple luxury that most women love, and many take for granted. I know I used to.

That was before I moved into this house.

Now, it’s a rare treat to soak in a luxurious bubble bath with a good book, and even then the clock is always ticking and I usually don’t get past more than a paragraph or two before my time is up.

And before I can take my bath I must scrub.

The tub and floor must be scrubbed and sanitized before I even dare to take my shoes off.

I start at the door with a mop and bucket of scalding hot bleach water. I work my way into the room, scrubbing the smears of blood from the floor until the entire room smells like a public swimming pool, complete with the added aroma of urine. Once I reach the window I can open it to air out the room while I scrub the piss stains from around the base of the toilet. Last of all, I use the mop to clean the outside of the toilet before dumping the bucket into the bowl. Finally the room starts to smell clean.

After that, I turn my attention to the tub itself. It too must be bleached, but first I remove the heavy-duty shower chair and the festering green rubber germ factory that the old woman calls a bathmat. I have tried to tell her that she needs to replace the mat but she won’t listen. I repeat my scrubbing routine, using a clean rag that I have brought with me along with the rest of my bath supplies. I will throw the rag in the garbage afterward; the thought of having it share the washing machine with the rest of the laundry turns my stomach.

Scrub scrub scrub.

I clean the inside of the tub and all surrounding surfaces with a solution of more bleach than water. When I’m satisfied that it’s finally clean, I check my watch.

Fifteen minutes have already elapsed. I have another twenty minutes, thirty if I’m lucky.

Tick tick tock tick… the clock is always ticking.

As my bath fills I can finally unpack my bag of bath supplies; shampoo, conditioner, loofah, soap and razor… typical stuff that most women keep in their bathrooms. I can’t keep the stuff in this bathroom because it’s not mine. I have a bathroom downstairs but it only has a tiny shower stall. I hate showers; I’ve always loved my baths. The only bathroom in the house that has a bathtub belongs to the old woman. It’s filled with old-person stuff; bottles and bottles of prescription pills, vitamins, laxatives and antacids. My scented soaps, lavender bubble bath and pink loofah would have no place in here.

Finally my bath is ready; steamy and inviting with fluffy white mountains of lavender scented bubbles.

Mmmm!

It’s a tiny slice of heaven, even if it’s only for a short time. I ease myself into the water and dunk my head under. It’s all worth it; even if I have to spend the same amount of time scrubbing as I do bathing. It’s all I get, so I have to cherish it.

As I reach for my washcloth I notice something on the edge of the tub.

NO! Please, No! Please don’t let it be…!

On closer inspection my fears are confirmed. The small kinky grey hair could be none other than…

A PUBE!

I shudder with revulsion as I stand up and reach for a square of toilet paper so I can remove the offending hair, which undoubtedly came from the old woman.

The elderly lady with whom I must share this bathtub is the owner of the house, who hired me to cook, clean and generally help her as her health continues to fail.

I try to remember that she is a woman like me, that she was young once but my mind sometimes has trouble making the connection.

She is a human being, and her name is Mary.

Once, she was young and thin and happy.

Now, she is old, fat and dying.

Instead of the pretty dark-haired woman pictured in the old black and white photos on the mantle, I now see a mountain of overflowing diabetic flesh, weighing in at nearly four hundred pounds.

Her legs are surreal; prehistoric tree trunks with flaky, scaly bark and bulbous, swollen roots for feet. She doesn’t wear shoes unless she leaves the house because she can’t reach her feet to put them on. Her bloated ankles appear to be overflowing the feet, which are now completely numb due to advancing neuropathy. The soles of the feet are cracked open in several places and never heal because there is so little circulation at this point that the flesh is nearly dead. Small smears of blood on the floor follow her every step around the house.

She is an amputation waiting to happen and there is nothing I can do to change it.

A perpetual infection lurks beneath the surface; her doctor maintains futile hope that it will succumb to the endless barrage of powerful antibiotic pills he keeps prescribing.

But the doctor knows the truth.

Everyone knows.

Even Mary knows that it’s just a matter of time before first one foot, then the other will have to be removed to prevent the spread of gangrene. At this point it’s simply a matter of keeping the feet attached for as long as possible. If she loses her feet I will no longer be able to take care of her.

As anyone who has seen advanced Type 2 Diabetes in action knows, once the amputations start, it’s the beginning of the end. First the foot, then the lower leg, and then the thigh… Once they have removed all of the leg and part of the ass, there’s nothing left to amputate and death follows soon afterward.

The old woman must be aware of this – how can she not be? I think she’s either heavily in denial or she has simply decided to go out happy. There isn’t any other way to explain her artery-choking diet of deep-fried, pan-fried, chicken-fried, fried-fried foods. Not a scrap of healthy food passes her lips if she can help it. She averages a six-pack of ‘diet’ soda per day and never drinks water, except to swallow pills. (and sometimes not even then.) I use my grocery allowance to buy healthy foods: vegetables, whole grains, fish and chicken. Mary orders pizzas and other takeout foods. She also chooses her own ‘groceries’ and has them delivered: cookies, doughnuts, jujubes, chocolates and candies. She crams them into her mouth by the handful, followed by increasingly larger doses of insulin to combat the rush of sugar. Her body has developed such a tolerance to insulin that it barely has any effect, even at doses that would be fatal to an ordinary person. Mary is playing with fire and I am powerless to stop her.

I mentioned that I cook for her. I TRY to cook for her, but if the food isn’t fried or sugary she turns her nose up at it. I try to avoid cooking the foods she wants. Sometimes, I wait until she takes a nap, then prepare healthy, Diabetic-friendly meals. I disappear before she wakes up, leaving her to fend for herself for a while. She then must either fry something by herself or suffer through vegetables and brown rice. Sometimes it works, but not often.

Mary’s family doesn’t visit her anymore because they don’t want to be bothered with her. To them, she is a burden and an embarrassment. It’s really quite sad. She has nobody but me to rely on, and I’m failing her miserably due to her refusal to care about her own health.

The reason I must scrub and sanitize the bathroom before I use it is her feet. Those horrid, decaying, borderline gangrenous feet. Every day she soaks them in a foot bath that I prepare for her – a solution of Epsom salts, iodine and warm water – in hopes that the infection will recede and the cracks will stop spreading. It’s mostly a futile exercise at this point but it’s better than the alternative, which is to do nothing.

Yes, she should be in a hospital but she refuses to go and has made it very clear that she will fire me if I attempt to have her taken to the hospital. Losing this job might sound like a blessing in disguise but then what would happen to Mary? The hospital won’t keep her against her will, and who would take care of her?

Certainly not her relatives.

Those vultures are hanging back, waiting for her to die so they can swoop in, exterminate the vermin, (me – domestic help no longer needed) loot her possessions and sell her house. Not that I care if I’m thrown out of here after her death; it’s just repulsive, the way they think they’re entitled to anything of hers after they have shunned her and left her to die alone.

When her daily foot bath is finished, I carry the plastic tub of water to the bathroom, where I pour the toxic bacterial stew down the bathtub drain. The water is cloudy and I try not to look at it. I discard my surgical gloves, then change my clothes and wash my hands up past the elbows afterward, followed by a healthy dose of hand sanitizer.

I’m not a germophobe. What I am is well aware of the terrifying ‘super bugs’ that have been emerging in recent years; strains of once-familiar bacteria that have mutated into antibiotic-resistant and potentially deadly versions of their former selves.

I’ve seen the antibiotics Mary is taking. Powerful stuff. I can tell that her doctor is worried. God only knows what ball-busting bionic bacteria might be lurking on her skin, especially on the legs and feet where too little blood flows and the immune system and antibiotics simply can’t reach.

I’m no dummy – I know I’m bathing in the same tub where I dump that septic soup, but the alternative is to dump it in the kitchen sink, where I wash dishes and prepare food.

So I bleach. And I scrub.

I don’t know why it never occurred to me until today that I should have been dumping the foot bath down the toilet.

I raise my head out of the steaming bath. The bubbles are gone, which means my time is probably up. I check my clock.

Sure enough, time is up.

As with many elderly people, bladder weakness is an issue with Mary so the time I can safely occupy her bathroom is limited. If she happens to wake, she will make a beeline for the bathroom. If I hear her thundering down the hallway and I’m still in the tub, there will be trouble and I will have a mess to mop up on top of it.

I pull the plug and am about to stand up when I realize that I still have some conditioner in my hair. I lay back down in the water, rinsing my hair as the tub drains. I lay there for a moment longer, savoring the last bit of my sultry paradise before I have to get out and rejoin the real world.

I sit up when I notice that the water hasn’t gone down much at all. The bath is still full.

I jump out quickly and reach for my towel.

I get dressed, keeping an eye on the tub, wishing it would hurry up and drain. I don’t want to deal with a clog after getting all nice and clean and relaxed.

Once fully dressed, I can see that I must face the fact that the drain is definitely clogged. It was probably a ball of hair or something. Ick.

I grab the plunger and work it up and down a few times until finally the water begins to drain. Whatever was plugging it either worked its way down or came back up into the tub.

As the water grows shallower, I see an object floating in the bottom of the tub; most likely the thing responsible for clogging the drain… the thing that I have essentially, been bathing with ever since I pulled the plug.

As the remainder of the water disappears down the drain, I begin to gag, then rush to the toilet and spew my guts. When I finish puking, I am moving immediately, running for the bleach and wondering if there is enough hand sanitizer to cover my entire body.

 

I will gather up the nerve to remove the toe from the bathtub later.