Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Dead End

Posted: May 13, 2019 in Uncategorized

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

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Chernobyl Charlie

Posted: May 2, 2019 in Uncategorized

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

Copyright © 2019 Mandy White

Change

Posted: May 2, 2019 in Uncategorized

Bus_Stop_i..don_Fog

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

Copyright © 2012 Mandy White

Ruby in the Mist

Posted: April 3, 2019 in Uncategorized

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

Beneath the Bed

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

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

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

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

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

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

~*~
Ruby in the Mist

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

Copyright © 2012 Mandy White

Holiday

Posted: March 24, 2019 in Uncategorized

This story is kind of a spin-off of another story of mine, Battle of the Bean, published in 2014 in WPaD’s Goin’ Extinct anthology. It can also be found in Dysfictional 2.

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

 

“Are we there yet?”

“No.”

“How much farther?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’m bored. Can’t we stop somewhere?”

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

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

“Where would you suggest?”

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

“What if it’s no good?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

“What are those?” Dax asked.

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

“Children! Come and get something to eat!”

“But I wanna swim!” Chi whined.

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

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

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

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

“Yes! Let’s do it.” Sky said.

“Yay!” the children shouted in unison.

* * *

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

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

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

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

“What is this?”

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

They scuttled down the shaft into the cavern below.

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

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

“What’s that object beside it?”

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

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

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

Sniff. Sniff.

“What is that?”

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

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

“What’s this other thing?”

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

* * *

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

“Mom! Dad! Look what we found!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What made him stay down there?”

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

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

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

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

 

Copyright © 2019 Mandy White

Don’t Stop

Posted: March 19, 2019 in Uncategorized

deserted road3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is where I get out. Seeya.

* * *

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

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

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

“Holy shit!”

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Copyright © 2019 Mandy White

Don’t Feed the Fruit Flies

Posted: March 17, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

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

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

What the fuck am I dealing with here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

These bugs were unlike anything I had ever encountered.

It had all started innocently enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

An idea occurred to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly I felt a sharp pain in my neck.

“Ouch!” What the..?

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

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

Darkness.

* * *

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

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

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

“Hello?” I called. “Anybody here?”

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

Voices whispered, like rustling leaves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t understand.”

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

Fairies, I thought. They look like fairies!

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

“Where are you from?” I asked.

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

“The bugs,” I whispered.

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

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

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

“What will happen after you defeat them?”

“Then we will leave your world in peace.”

“And if you don’t defeat them?”

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

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

“Correct.”

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

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

“By what?”

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

“Us?”

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

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

“No. The Horde feeds on low frequency.”

“What does that mean?”

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

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

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

“And you can stop them?”

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

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

“We are already here,” Ilara told me.

“I don’t understand.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes.”

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

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

“Okay, I’m listening.”

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

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

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

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

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

“What weapon is that?”

“Love.”

“Love?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Copyright © 2014 Mandy White

 

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

halloween squirrel

* * *

A Squirrel Walks Into A Bar…

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ack! I can smell him already!”

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

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

Chelsea tried not to gag.

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

“No.” Chelsea shook her head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Put it on my tab.”

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

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

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

“Aw, here it comes,” said Reggie.

“I need a place to stay.”

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

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

Silas turned to Chelsea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chelsea blushed and wished for a hole to crawl into.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s what?”

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

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

fart-squirrel1

Mesachie Man

Posted: February 28, 2019 in Uncategorized

wilderness1

Trevor shifted the Jeep into third gear and accelerated. “Pass those beers around, bitches! We are officially off-road now!”

The road to Port Renfrew was a paved public road, but technically it was also a logging road, which created a grey area where the law was concerned. They could still get busted for drinking and driving, but the odds of meeting a cop out there were next to nil.

The Tall Trees Music Festival didn’t start for another three days. By leaving early, they planned to avoid the traffic and inevitable police presence on the normally deserted road. They would lay claim to a prime camp spot and be all set up by the time the crowds arrived.

“This is going to be sweet! Three days of music, sunshine and partying!” Cassie handed Trevor a beer and taking a second one for herself. Cassie’s best friend Nina Charlie was in charge of the refreshments. She sat cross-legged in the middle of the back seat, between her boyfriend Gordon and a cooler full of beer. The cargo space of the Jeep overflowed with camping gear. Coolers were stacked in the space beside Nina for easy access.

The road from Mesachie Lake to Port Renfrew wound through nearly sixty kilometres of scenic wilderness. There were no houses, stores or gas stations, and limited amenities in the tiny towns at either end. Every year, thousands of hipsters converged on the small seaside community of Port Renfrew to listen to live music and “commune with nature” at the Tall Trees Festival. “Communing”, for some, consisted of getting wasted on drugs and alcohol and passing out in their own filth. Paramedics were on-site around the clock and the first-aid tent was well-equipped with overdose kits.

The musky aroma of cannabis drifted from the back seat.

“Pass that up here, Gordo!” Cassie said, turning in her seat to take the joint from Gord. She inhaled deeply and then held the joint to Trevor’s lips. He sucked a lungful of the sweet smoke and then sputtered, trying to keep from coughing.

“Zmooth,” he croaked. The four of them busted up laughing. Everything was suddenly a lot funnier.

They crossed a bridge over a deep ravine. A jade-green river snaked between the cliffs below.

“Gosh, it’s so pretty,” Cassie said, looking down. “Hard to believe nobody lives out here.” She had lived in the city all her life, and had never seen any place so utterly unoccupied.

“This is the real deal, baby! Real Canadian wilderness. I promised you an adventure, didn’t I?” Trevor reached over to caress the front of Cassie’s blouse, then leaned in for a kiss. The Jeep swerved, and Cassie recoiled with a gasp.

“Hey! Watch what you’re doing!” she slapped his shoulder lightly. “Keep your eyes on the road and your hands off my tits!”

“I got it. Don’t worry, I grew up driving these roads.” Trevor gripped the wheel and glared at the road, embarrassed at being spurned in front of their friends.

“Fuck! How do people get here without a truck? This is crazy rough!” Cassie said.

“Most of them come from Victoria. The road through Sooke is better. That’s where most of the crowds will come from. Only us redneck types take the back way,” Nina told her.

Trevor jerked the wheel to the left and veered off the pocked pavement of the main road onto a narrow gravel road.

“You guys are going to love this. We have two days to kill and I’m going to treat you to one of Cowichan’s best kept secrets. There’s a little lake up here where we can camp, rave, fish and swim, and best of all, we’ll have the whole place to ourselves.”

Nina and Gord high-fived each other and whooped.

“Sweet!” Nina squealed. “I haven’t been to Lost Lake in forever!”

Trevor laughed. “See? My girl Nina knows what I’m talking about!”

They were climbing now, and the road had degraded to the gravel equivalent of a moguled ski hill. Trevor downshifted and put the Jeep into four-wheel drive. The vehicle bucked and bounced, turning their beer to foam.

“How much farther?” Cassie asked.

“Shouldn’t be long now,” Trevor said, steering around an outcropping of rock. “Pretty soon you’ll see a little slice of paradise.”

The Jeep bucked down the road for some distance, then the front wheel dropped into a large pothole with a loud BANG. The force of the impact hurtled them forward. An avalanche of tents and sleeping bags buried the occupants of the back.

“Ow!” Cassie rubbed her chin, which she had bumped on the dash. Luckily they hadn’t been traveling very fast.

Trevor killed the engine. “Everyone okay?” He turned to see Gord and Nina emerging from a pile of camping gear.

“Yeah, bro, we’re cool. But that didn’t sound good. Sounded like something broke.”

“Yeah. Gonna check it out now.” Trevor got out of the Jeep and Gord followed. The girls joined them.

“Looks like a broken axle.” Trevor and Gord squatted beside the front wheel, which twisted sideways at an impossible angle.

“What does that mean?” Cassie asked, “Can you fix it?”

“It means we’re fucked,” Nina said.

“Yep,” Gord agreed. “This beast needs a tow truck.”

Cassie rushed to the vehicle to retrieve her phone.

Trevor chuckled and shook his head, glancing up at the treetops. “Oh, honey, you’re so cute. There’s no signal out here.”

“WHAT? No, there has to be some bars somewhere. We’ll take a walk until we find a signal.”

“There’s nothing.”

“What about at the festival grounds? We can’t be that far from there. We could walk.”

“We’re about halfway. It’s about thirty clicks to civilization in either direction. Plus, we’re another five or six from the main road”

“So we can walk it if we have to.”

“Yes, but not now. It’s going to be dark in a couple of hours. You do not want to be out here in the dark.”

“But somebody’s bound to come by. What about the festival crowd?”

“They won’t start coming through here for at least another day or two. And they will be on the main road. Nobody’s going to come up this way. Besides, we will have gotten a tow truck by then.”

Cassie shivered, realizing the truth of what he was saying. They were stranded in the middle of nowhere, at least for the night.

“Your call, friendos. Do we hike to the lake, or camp here?”

Gord and Nina were already pulling camping gear out of the back of the Jeep.

“I vote we hike to the lake,” Nina said. “We were going there anyways. Might as well go ahead with the plan and enjoy our adventure, we came this far. At least we’ll have plenty of water there.”

“Seconded.” Gord looked at Trevor. “Bro?”

“Yeah. I’m up for a hike. The lake is way nicer than the side of the road.”

Cassie huddled close to her boyfriend. She was nervous about leaving the relative safety of the vehicle, broken as it was, but it was obvious she didn’t have a say.

They stuffed their backpacks with camping supplies, which included as much food and booze as they could carry, leaving the coolers behind. They set out down the dusty road, laden like pack mules.

The four friends arrived at the lake within the hour. The setting sun painted the treetops with majestic golden hues, but down below darkness crept over the forest floor. Cassie fought panic with every step, but there was no turning back. Finally they stepped out of the woods into a small clearing surrounding the glistening green gem that was Lost Lake.

“It’s so pretty! she breathed, in both awe and relief at being free from the creepy forest.

The group shrugged off backpacks and began to unpack.

Gord tossed a tent to Trevor. “We might as well set up right away. We’re here for the night.”

Trevor nodded. “Yeah, we are. We can walk out to the main road in the morning and catch a ride to call a tow truck. There won’t be time to fix the Jeep, but with any luck we can borrow something else to drive and still make the festival.”

* * *

The four friends sat around a crackling fire under a starry, moonlit sky. With the abundance of beers and joints, it felt almost like a regular camping trip. If they’d reached their destination as planned, the scene wouldn’t have differed much, except they would have had the Jeep and its booming stereo to scare away whatever lurked in the darkness.

Cassie had never been camping before, except for road trips in her parents’ RV. Those trips had always been to campsites with showers and electrical hookups. Sometimes even swimming pools. She couldn’t understand why her friends seemed so comfortable in such rustic surroundings.

She’d had to pee for hours, and didn’t know what to do about it.

Nina stood and pulled a small flashlight from her pocket. “Back in a minute. Gotta use the ‘facilities’.”

“Wait!” Cassie said. “Can I go with you?”

Nina shrugged. “Sure, c’mon.”

Cassie followed Nina away from the campsite, into a small grove of trees. She wondered what happened next.

Her eyes widened in horror as Nina squatted next to a tree, then pulled some tissue from her pocket.

She couldn’t possibly… but there were no other options.

Noticing her hesitation, Nina said, “You want me to wait for you?”

“Yes, please. It’s so dark out here. You got any more of that tissue?”

* * *

The girls were almost back to camp when a bloodcurdling shriek pierced the darkness.

Cassie grabbed hold of Nina.

“What the fuck was that?”

“You promise you won’t freak out if I tell you?”

“No. Yes.”

They walked back into the safety of the firelight and Nina grabbed two fresh beers from her backpack.

“Did you guys hear that?” Cassie asked.

“Sounded like a cougar,” Gord said. “When they’re mating, they sound almost human.”

“No way! That was – wait – there are cougars out here?” Cassie’s terror refreshed and rose a few levels.

“And wolves too. Actually, Vancouver Island has more cougars per square kilometre than anywhere in Canada. You didn’t know that?”

“It wasn’t a cougar,” Nina said.

Trevor met her eyes. “No, I’ve heard cougars, and they don’t sound like that.”

“Well, if it wasn’t a cougar, then what the fuck makes a noise like that? Jesus, it sounded like someone got murdered out there.”

“Light a joint, Gord. You guys up for a story?” Nina’s dark eyes glinted with a hint of mischief.

“Is this one of those tribal tales from your family?” Gord asked.

“Yessir, it is. But Trevor should know it too. His family has history here too.”

“You’re talking about the Mesachie Man, aren’t you?” Trevor said.

Nina nodded. “When the white people first settled this area, they chose to build their towns and mills at various spots around the lake. One settler, by the name of Frank Green, chose Mesachie Lake as the site for his mill. When he found the spot, he fell in love with it – pretty little place in the mountains, nestled between two lakes. He couldn’t believe nobody had already settled there. Not even the local tribes had claimed it. My grandfather liked to tell us kids the story. Apparently, the reason my ancestors didn’t use the land was they believed evil lived there.”

“Frank Green?” Gord said. “That’s your last name, Trevor.”

Trevor nodded. “I’m named after my great-grandfather, Trevor Green, who was Frank’s son.”

“So you know this story?”

“I know it well. It’s part of my family history as well as Nina’s. Frank settled the area, built a mill and a small town sprang up around it. Not much, just a church, a school, and about sixty homes, owned by the mill, where the mill workers lived. Frank’s wife, Louie, they called her, was curious about the area, and why the natives never lived in the area or even fished in the lakes. She talked to the locals, and they told her a story of a horrible man-beast that lived in a cave nearby. Rumor had it, the thing escaped from a ship that ran aground on the reefs outside Port Renfrew. It was said to have been part man, part ape and was en route to a freak show in San Francisco or elsewhere up the coast. Most people nowadays figure it was just an ordinary gorilla on its way to a zoo. Anyhow, they believed it found the Robertson River, remember that bridge we crossed?”

Cassie nodded, remembering the dark green river in the ravine.

“Well, legend has it, this creature followed the river inland and took up residence in a cave in Mesachie Mountain, which overlooks the town of Mesachie Lake. That’s where we turned off the main road toward Port Renfrew.”

Cassie remembered turning at a flashing amber light – away from the last inkling of civilization.

“So what was it? Did anyone ever find it?”

“No, but if it was a gorilla, it would have died at some point,” Nina said. “The stories from my family go way back to the early 1800s, as far as we know. And there have been reported sightings of something throughout the 1900s, as recently as the 90s. Whether or not it’s the creature from the legend or just a bear is impossible to know, but if it is the same thing my ancestors saw, then there had to be more than one of them.”

“Did anybody ever find the cave where it lived?”

“Nobody knows. There are plenty of caves in these mountains. It could have been in any one of them.”

“Come on! You guys are just fucking with me! Trying to scare the city girl with Bigfoot stories!”

“No, I swear, this is real history from my family and Nina’s,” Trevor said, putting a protective arm around Cassie’s shoulders and pulling her close.

“And there have been a lot of unexplained disappearances over the years. People have just walked into the woods and never returned. Like that guy years ago who took his dog for a walk and disappeared.”

“I remember that,” Gord said. “The dog came back but he didn’t. His remains turned up eleven years later, in a place far outside the search area. It didn’t make sense for him to have gone way up there.”

“The thing was,” Trevor added, “He was something of a legend in these parts. A serious outdoorsman. He knew these woods like his own back yard. The kind of guy you would call to help search when someone went missing. Not someone who would ever get lost out here.”

“What about that old woman last summer? They say she had dementia and drove onto these back roads and got lost. But when they finally found her she was eleven kilometres from her car. How does a woman in her eighties hike that far into the wilderness?” Nina said.

“And that other guy. They found his vehicle running on the side of the road with the driver’s door open, wallet and cell phone inside the vehicle. They also found blood in the vehicle and in the trees nearby. They searched for months, but when his body was finally found it was miles away in a place nobody would have looked.”

“Did they say what all those people died from?” Cassie asked, trying to hide the tremor in her voice.

“Nope. The cops are always very hush-hush about these things, for the privacy of the families. They said there was no foul play in any of the cases, but they all sound fishy as hell to me. I mean, what makes anyone just drop what they’re doing and make a beeline into the deep woods? Where were they trying to get to?”

“Or away from.” Nina said. “One reason for charging blindly into the woods is to escape from something.”

“Stop it, Nina! That’s not funny.” Cassie said.

“I’m not trying to be funny, just stating facts. Panic makes the illogical seem logical.”

Trevor saw the terror on Cassie’s face and leaned down to give her a kiss. “Don’t worry, babe. I’ll keep you safe from the Mesachie Man.”

The shriek echoed through the night again. It sounded closer this time. A wolf howled in the distance, as if in reply.

* * *

 

WOMAN RESCUED AFTER THREE-DAY ORDEAL IN WILDERNESS

A confused and dehydrated woman found wandering on Pacific Marine Route has been unable to offer police any answers. An abandoned vehicle and nearby campsite was found, but police have confirmed the vehicle was not registered to the woman.

Foul play is not suspected. Police believe the campers may have been en route to the Tall Trees Festival in Port Renfrew when their vehicle broke down. They are being sought for questioning at the festival.

The unidentified woman was admitted to hospital and treated for dehydration and minor injuries. She has been detained for psychiatric evaluation.

Anyone who has further information regarding the whereabouts of the woman’s alleged companions is asked to contact police as soon as possible.

 

* * *

 

“I need you to take this patient. I think you could make better progress with her than I can.” Dr. Phillips handed Cecily a file.

Cecily read the name. “Cassie March. What do we have here?” Cecily wasn’t a psychiatrist like Dr. Phillips. Her specialty was counselling victims of rape and other violence.

“Female, twenty-three years old, catatonia due to post-traumatic stress.”

“The source of the trauma?”

“That’s just it – we don’t know. She won’t talk to me. In fact, I can’t even enter the room without putting her into hysterics.”

“Does she react the same way to everyone? What about the nurses?”

“No, she seems ok with the nurses. It’s just me she has a problem with, or men in general, though the physical examination didn’t indicate sexual assault.”

“What were her injuries?”

“Aside from dehydration, just bruises and abrasions. The sort of thing you’d expect from someone who was lost in the wilderness.”

Cecily peeked through the observation window.

A young male orderly was in the room, putting fresh towels in the bathroom. The patient seemed undisturbed by his presence. The patient sat quietly on her bed, muttering to herself.

“What’s she saying? Has she said anything intelligible?”

“She just repeats the same phrase: ‘Mesachie Man’, over and over. I think someone may have done something to her, but I’ve made no progress because of her obvious fear of men.”

“She doesn’t seem bothered by all men, David.” Cecily nodded toward the fresh-faced orderly. “Maybe there’s something about you specifically that bothers her.”

Dr. Phillips stroked his bushy beard, remembering that he was overdue for a trim.

dysfictional 3front

“Hmm… I wonder what it could be?”

 

Copyright © 2018 Mandy White

Published in Dysfictional 3

 

The Dark Side of the World

Posted: February 21, 2019 in Uncategorized
Published in WPaD’s sci-fi anthology, ” Strange Adventures in a Deviant Universe”:
~*~*~*~
Snippets of conversation and laughter drifted through the brisk air. The shadowy figure observed from a distance as the small family huddled around the fire. The stranger had been watching them for what felt like days, scavenging their scraps for survival, hesitant to come out of hiding despite the group’s benign appearance. Things were not always what they seemed on an unknown planet.
The ship had exploded following the crash, destroying the navigational equipment and anything else that might have provided a clue as to where this place was. It was a stroke of luck to have escaped the wreck alive, and landed on a planet with a breathable atmosphere.

darkside2

It was an eerie land, cloaked in twilight, with sunlight visible on the horizon. The stranger had been walking toward the light when the ramshackle settlement came into view. Why did these people choose to live out here in the darkness, instead of closer to the light? The question needed an answer, before further travel in that direction was attempted.
The stranger strode into the camp.
***
Aaron pinched his sister’s arm. “I saw that. Quit hoarding the protein pods. I want some too!”
Lucy squealed and slapped his hand away. “Stop that! I wasn’t done yet!”
“Both of you stop it!” their mother scolded. “We do not fight over food.”
Preoccupied with bickering, none of them noticed the stranger in their midst until the crunch of gravel underfoot caught their attention.
Donna’s eyes widened at the sight of the shadowy figure. She scrambled backwards, shoving her children behind her.
The stranger reached a hand into a jacket pocket, withdrew a small device and aimed it at Donna.
“Please don’t hurt us!” she pleaded. “Take whatever you want. We don’t have much, but it’s yours if you spare our lives. Please! Kill me if you have to, just don’t hurt my children!”
The stranger lowered the device and removed the battered helmet from her head. She smiled at Donna.
“Looks like I won’t need this thing,” she said, placing the translator back in her pocket. “I’m not going to hurt you. I am lost on this world and in need of help.”
The woman’s age was difficult to guess; she looked middle-aged, yet her athletic, muscular physique gave her a youthful appearance. She wasn’t pretty in the conventional sense, but no less striking. Tattoos snaked up her neck, over her cheek and one side of her half-bald scalp like alien tentacles. Silver hair cascaded to her opposite shoulder. Metal rings glittered in her nose, ears and lips. A thick lens covered her eye on the bald side, held in place by metallic bands embedded in her flesh.
“Go and get your father,” Donna whispered to Lucy, shooing her toward the cluster of tents and shacks.
Aaron knew it was rude to stare, but couldn’t tear his eyes away from the fascinating stranger.
Donna’s fear evaporated when she recognized the woman’s military uniform. “Come and warm yourself by the fire,” she offered. “You must be cold, traveling out in the wasteland. I’m Donna, and this is my son, Aaron.”
“I am Vista.”
“Where did you come from?”
Vista pointed toward the Dark. “I have been walking since my ship crashed. I don’t know how far or how long. The darkness… it’s confusing. I kept moving, toward the light.” She pointed toward the bright horizon. “I saw your fire, but didn’t approach at first. I didn’t know if you were hostile. I have been watching you from a distance.”
“No, what I mean is, where are you from? How is it we speak the same language?”
“I am from Earth,” Vista said, “As I assume you are.”
Lucy returned with her father in tow. Her eyes widened at the sight of the woman seated beside the fire.
“Donna, are you all right?” He held a flashlight in his hand, and he shone the beam in Vista’s face, revealing rough, twisted scar tissue beneath the tattoos. The lens on her eye made a whirring sound as it adjusted to the light.
Donna stood and gave her husband a brief embrace. “Yes, we’re fine. Darius, this is Vista. She is from Earth. Her ship crashed near the Dark Line. She was traveling to Summerland when she came upon our camp.”
“Summerland?” Vista’s brow furrowed. “What is Summerland?”
Aaron pointed toward the horizon. “Summerland. Land of the Light.”
Donna scowled. “Land of the Deviants, you mean.”
Aaron shrugged. “Well, that goes without saying.”
“What do you mean?” Vista asked.
“First, you explain some things to us,” Darius said. “How can you be from Earth, if we have never met?”
“I think you just answered your own question. Have you met everyone from Earth? I haven’t.”
“What I mean is, you didn’t come here on the ship with us.”
“No. My ship crashed. I don’t know where I am, only that I am far from home.”
“You’re military?” Darius asked, indicating her attire.
“Yes. North American Air Force. Captain Vista Daune.”
Lucy sat on the bench beside Vista. She reached up to touch the tattooed, marred surface of her face.
“What happened?” she asked.
“Lucy!” Donna scolded, “Don’t be rude!”
“It’s ok.” Vista put an arm around Lucy. “You’re not rude. You’re direct. It’s a good quality to have. Don’t ever lose that, sweetie. I’ll tell you, as long as it’s all right with your parents.” She looked at Donna, who nodded her consent.
“When I was younger, I worked at an amusement park. A low-budget little place, way out in the desert in Nevazona. It featured low-tech, cheesy attractions, enhanced by spraying the patrons with a mind-altering drug while they stood in the lineups. Anyway, to make a long story short, there was a malfunction on one of the attractions, a train ride that was supposed to mimic time travel. Riders started disappearing. They’d get on, but when the ride returned, it was empty. We asked our bosses to shut the ride down until we could find the problem, but they refused. One day the train returned with a single rider on board, and he was freaking out, bad. He’d had a reaction to the ride drug, and he insisted he was from the past. I tried to calm him down, but he was trippin’ balls somethin’ awful. He accused me of being part of a conspiracy. I gave him the antidote to the drug and sent him on his way, but apparently he didn’t swallow the pill. He returned later, still in a psychotic state, and threw a jar of acid in my face. Turns out the amusement park was actually a military experiment. They were testing mind control drugs. The idea was, use a drug to make subjects suggestible to whatever reality they chose to feed to them.”
Lucy gasped, clapping her hand over her mouth. “That’s awful!”
“It’s not so bad.” Vista pointed at the lens. “The optical implant is better than a regular eye. I can see things really far away, even in the dark.”
“Cool!” Aaron said. “I want one!”
“Well, first you need to find a sharp stick…” Vista joked.
“You must be hungry,” Donna said, offering her a wrapped package of food. She shot her husband a stern glance, and Darius passed Vista a bottle.
“Thank you.” She took a sip. It tasted sweet and fruity, some sort of wine.
“After the accident, the military wanted to keep me close, because I knew too much. They offered me a job. I enlisted in the space program where I worked as a mechanic.”
“What year did you leave Earth?” Darius asked.
“I left in October, 2048,” Vista replied.
“But that’s impossible! You couldn’t have! The planet was long – ”
“Destroyed? Yeah, no it wasn’t. That’s just what they told all of you to convince you to evacuate. I know the story. A giant asteroid was on a collision course with Earth, extinction level event, blah blah… everyone needed to evacuate or they would die.”
“Yes, exactly. And after we were off the planet, we watched it hit. We all watched Earth being destroyed on the screens, from the safety of the ships.”
“What you saw was fake. Spectacular special effects, staged for your benefit. They just wanted to be rid of you.”
“Who?”
“The ones in control. Governments.”
“What makes you think so?”
“I worked for them. I helped build the ships that brought you here, and countless others who ended up who knows where in the universe.”
“I don’t know,” Darius shook his head. “It all sounds pretty far-fetched. Not to mention coincidental that you ended up here, the same place where we landed.”
“It’s quite logical, when you think about it,” Vista said. “The ship I came in was built with the same technology as yours, though a bit more advanced, being a newer model. But both were built with the same type of navigational system. They’re programmed to seek out habitable planets. The difference is, yours landed safely. My landing gear was damaged during the flight and I crashed.”
“Assuming what you’re saying is true, why did they send us away?”
“As you probably remember, Earth’s governments were run by the wealthy. Every high office in the world was for sale to the highest bidder. The Elites wanted the planet to themselves. They’d tried genocide in the past, but then they realized it wasn’t race or religion that was the problem, it was population. The masses of non-wealthy were taking up space they felt they were entitled to and cutting into their profit margin.
“So they made up a lie to make us leave?”
“Yes. What better way to get rid of a problem than by shooting it into space? They’d been doing with their garbage for years: out of sight, out of mind. And then they took credit for cleaning up the planet. They did the same thing with what they viewed as human refuse. Anyone they decided was a burden – basically anyone who was in the wrong tax bracket – was sent into space like so much trash.”
“How did they decide who was a burden?”
“Anyone with a bank balance of less than a million dollars was immediately disqualified. After that, the heads of the nations met, and each came forward with a list of those they deemed worthy. The chosen ones were informed. Everyone else was told the planet was about to be destroyed.”
“I remember.” Donna said softly. I was only sixteen years old. My life was just beginning. They told us we were going to die. I’ve never been so afraid in all my life. Before that day, my biggest problem was getting the boy I liked to notice me. In an instant, my whole world changed. Everyone’s did.”
“And the bastards let you all think you were going to die. For weeks they fed you a mixture of doomsday bullshit and false hope. Their ‘brilliant’ scientists were working on a solution, they said. And then, two months after the news of the asteroid, came the big announcement. Humanity was saved! Everyone would escape the doomed planet onboard a massive intergalactic cruise ship, with a chance to find a new world somewhere out there. Tickets were free, of course, but passengers had the option of buying upgrades – private quarters, individual stasis pods – all stuff that made no difference in the long run, but the Elites never failed to grab an opportunity to make a buck. Billions of people blasted into space in every possible direction. Some were doomed to die; some are still out there cruising, locked in stasis until their ships find a livable planet. Some got lucky and found a place to land.”
“We got lucky, I guess, if you can call this lucky. My family signed up right away. But my grandparents refused to go with us. They preferred to stay and die in their home. I wonder what happened to them?” Donna sighed. “I miss them. I wish we could go back.”
“Actually, no, you don’t. After the evacuation, the Elites tried to starve out the squatters by making life as rough as possible for them, dangling the promise of food and shelter aboard a cruiser. A lot of them gave in and finally left, but some refused to take the bait. The survivalists fared the best; many had been stockpiling for Armageddon since the turn of the century. Those who were unprepared just starved.”
“But there must have been some chosen ones who didn’t agree with the plan!” Donna said. “What happened to them?”
“The penalty for non-compliance was execution. They couldn’t risk putting them aboard a ship with the masses once they knew the truth. The secret had to be protected at all costs. A few chosens met their end that way, but not as many as you’d think. Wealth and corruption go hand in hand.”
“Why did you leave?” Aaron asked. “Were you sent away too?”
“No. Military was exempt. They didn’t want to be left without defenses in case of attack. The Elites didn’t trust each other. They were so worried about being betrayed by one of their own, they overlooked the real threat.
Once the Elites got rid of everyone, they didn’t have the planet to themselves for long. Hostile aliens landed and took over. Our guess was they intercepted one of the evacuation ships and tracked it back to Earth. Our weapons were no match for them. Most of our armed forces were wiped out. As a mechanic, I never saw the front lines, so I survived. The Elites lost everything. They were forced to live in squalor, slaves to the new alien overlords.”
“Serves them right, the bastards.” Donna threw a bundle of sticks on the fire with more force than was necessary and it erupted in a shower of sparks.
“Right? It was kinda beautiful, to be honest. Anyway, I escaped, stole a ship and got the hell out of there while the rich idiots had the aliens distracted, demanding rights and fighting to keep their country clubs. I didn’t know where I was going; just set the autopilot and went into stasis, hoping whichever world I landed on would be less corrupt than the one I left.”
“Sorry to disappoint you,” Darius said, “but it isn’t.”
“What? I left only fifteen years after the evacuations. How could anyone fuck things up that quickly? You got some kind of Lord of the Flies thing happening here?”
“Some kind of. I don’t have much basis for comparison, to be honest.” Darius reached for the bottle and Vista handed it to him.
“We left aboard a ship called the Aldous, four months after the doomsday announcement. Donna and I were teenagers, traveling with our families. We didn’t meet on the ship; everyone went into stasis shortly after takeoff. We met here, after we landed.”
“And what is “here”? Does this place have a name?” Vista inquired.
“We named the planet Xterra.”
“I get it. Ex-Terra. Kind of a clever play on words. It was also a model of car, if I remember correctly.”
“Apparently, yes. I don’t remember, but that’s what someone told me.”
“Where are the rest of you? That ship had a capacity of five hundred thousand. Are there more settlements like this one?”
“Yes, there are more like this, but not everyone is out here. The rest live in Summerland.”
“And why aren’t you there as well?”
“Because,” Darius said, passing the bottle back to Vista, “Summerland is only for the Uppers.”
“What the fuck is an Upper?”
“According to what you’ve told us, a lot of people who considered themselves Elite didn’t make the cut. They took what they believed was their rightful place. As for the rest of us…” Darius gestured at the surrounding camp.
“So you live out here in the dark, while those entitled assholes get to live in the sunshine? How do you survive? Where do you get food?”
“Why we work, of course. For the Uppers. And for the record, this isn’t the Dark. This is the Twilight Zone. The Dark Line is still a great distance from here.”
“You live in the Twilight Zone? You can’t be serious.”
“Of course.”
Vista shrugged. “Sure, whatever. Suitable, I guess. What’s this Dark Line?”
“Xterra is different from the planet we came from. Remember how Earth rotated on an axis? I mean, I assume it still does.”
“Xterra doesn’t rotate?”
“Yes, it does. The way my father explained it, this planet turns so slowly it travels around its sun faster than it makes a single rotation. On Xterra, a day is longer than a year. On Earth we had short days and nights, seasons, cold places and warm places. This planet has those as well, but the dark and light move very slowly.”
“Your father sounds pretty knowledgeable.”
“He used to work for NASA.”
“And yet they sent him away.” Vista shook her head in disbelief, even though she already knew most of Earth’s scientists and scholars had been evacuated.
“Yes. Their loss, Xterra’s gain.
“I’d like to speak to your father.”
“So would I,” Darius said, hanging his head. “My father died, a few years after we landed.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
“He was sick. Cancer. That’s why he retired from NASA. He wasn’t expected to live more than a year when we left Earth. He beat the odds, survived a deep space flight and helped colonize a new planet. He completed his life’s work and died happy, given the circumstances.”
They passed the bottle between the three of them in silence. Finally Vista spoke.
“Tell me more about Xterra.”
“The sides closest and furthest from the sun are inhospitable. The Scorch burns everything in its path. The Dark is frozen, like deep space. In between, are the regions where we live. Summerland is the ideal place to live. The sunlight is warm but not too hot, and the constant light is great for growing crops. We plant crops at the edge of the Twilight Zone, and by the time they reach the Scorch Line, they have matured and been harvested.”
“You must have water here, then.”
“Yes. The Dark is covered in ice, like Earth’s poles were before the climate change. As the sun advances, the ice melts and flows toward the warmth. The Scorch evaporates it into clouds and it rains and snows, just like it used to on Earth.
“Which explains the atmosphere. But your homes must also get scorched. What do you do, move the camps?”
“Yes. We move the camp as far as we can into the Twilight Zone, so we don’t have to move as often. It’s dark and cold for a while, but it gets warmer and brighter as the Summer approaches.”
“But what about the people who live in Summerland? They must have to move as well. Do they come out here too?”
“The Uppers? Oh, hell no. They would never leave the light. Moving them is a constant process. It keeps all of us working. Those who aren’t tending crops, working in the city or serving in the homes of the Uppers are on Moving duty.”
“You mean they move the tents and camps for the Uppers?”
“Tents! Ha!” Donna chuckled, opening a fresh bottle of wine. “I’d love to see an Upper sleep in a tent!”
“But how do you move them, if they don’t live in tents?”
Darius said, “We build. And dismantle. And rebuild.”
“Let me get this straight. You take apart entire buildings when the heat gets too close, and rebuild them where it’s cooler?”
“Yes.”
“And you’re ok with that arrangement?”
“Yes. We earn our food and whatever else we need, and everyone is happy.”
“Are you?”
“Happy? Yes, I’d say so, considering the alternative.”
“But why can’t everyone live in Summerland? Like you said, it’s a huge planet.”
“Because the Uppers won’t allow it. They don’t want crowds of Workers cluttering up their space.”
“Just like fucking Earth,” Vista muttered.
***
Vista accepted the family’s invitation to stay at the camp. They provided her with a tent and some necessities. Getting a job wasn’t a problem. Everyone worked, and the Uppers didn’t question who was who as long as the work was being done.
Vista couldn’t wait to get a look at this Summerland civilization.
Crews worked around the clock on Xterra because Summerland was daylight all the time. With no discernable day and night to guide them, they relied on Timekeepers to notify them of shift changes. The few remaining functional timepieces from Earth were used to create calendars based on Earth years, to give them a relatable way of measuring time. Shift changes were announced by the ring of a Timekeeper’s bell.
Vista was scheduled to start a shift on the next bell.
***
Aaron accompanied Vista into Summerland for her first shift. He was also scheduled to work at the next bell. Darius and Donna had finished their shifts and were at home asleep.
During the walk to the city, they chatted.
“How old are you, Aaron?”
“Mom says I’m about thirteen, in Earth years.”
“And you work? Don’t you go to school?”
Aaron laughed. “School? That’s only for the Uppers. They go to classes in the church. We don’t have to. Our parents teach us all we need to know.”
“Church? Seriously? They’re still flogging that old horse?” Vista laughed and shook her head. “Some people never learn.”
“All the kids work, as soon as they’re old enough.”
“Even your little sister Lucy? What is she, about eight years old?”
“Seven. Lucy works with my mom, on the Cleaning crew.”
“Cleaning?”
“The Uppers like everything clean and polished.”
The sky grew lighter as they neared the city, and the temperature warmed by several degrees, like an ordinary sunlit morning. People came into view, other Workers, all walking in the same direction, toward a small building that looked like a toll booth.
A bell sounded in the distance.
“We’re almost there. We’d better hurry up and punch in.”
“Punch in?”
“You punch in at the gate when you get there. Keep your card with you and don’t lose it. You’ll need it to punch out at the end of the shift.”
“The card keeps track of our pay?”
“The card is your pay. It’s a voucher. You collect vouchers, and then you can spend them in the marketplace.”
“Huh. Cut out the middleman. It’s so simple, it’s almost brilliant.”
They had reached the toll booth.
“Where do you work, Aaron?”
“Here.” Aaron took his place inside the booth, relieving a youth of about the same age. He punched a card and handed it to Vista. “Remember to punch it again when you’re done, or it will be worthless.” He beckoned to a man standing behind Vista. She recognized him from the encampment. “This is Carl. He’ll show you what to do. You’re both on the same Moving crew.”
Vista tried not stare as she entered the city of Summerland. She intended to keep a low profile, but her jaw dropped in awe.
Shining towers rose all around, connected by raised, enclosed walkways, like a giant above-ground ant colony. Workers moved about the streets at ground level, while figures in flowing white robes traveled through the walkways.
“What is that made from?” she asked Carl, pointing at the towers. “It’s so shiny!
“Gold, mostly. And some copper.”
“You’re kidding!”
Carl shrugged. “We use what is available. The Aldous came equipped with plenty of tools, and seeds to grow crops, but not a lot of building supplies. We mined the planet’s minerals and smelted the metals. There happens to be a lot of gold available. There are other materials, but the Uppers prefer the gold.
“Of course they do.” Vista shook her head at the absurdity of it all. “So you have gold towers with thatched roofs?”
“Mostly, yes.”
“And I thought Earth was fucked up.”
***
With Carl’s guidance, Vista survived her first shift without asking too many questions. She turned a few heads, but transfers from other shifts weren’t uncommon and nobody questioned her presence.
The crew was in the process of dismantling a mansion-sized home on the hot side of the city. Each building, she learned, had a duplicate next to it, which the occupants lived in while the other was being moved. Once the first home was rebuilt on the cool side of the city, crews went back and dismantled the second. And so on… building by building, until the entire city had been moved. Half of all buildings in the city were unoccupied at all times. And yet the people who did all the work were living in tents in the darkness! Vista fumed as she worked. The job never ended. As the city moved, the sun advanced.
Vista pondered what the Uppers would do if they had nobody to move their city for them.
The Uppers did nothing for themselves. Household servants prepared meals, cleaned their homes, shopped in the market for them and brought them everything they needed from the outside.
All buildings were connected by walkways, allowing Uppers to travel anywhere in the city without coming in contact with the ground. They were obsessed with cleanliness; their shoes never touched dirt and they wore spotless white garments. All the Uppers Vista saw were overweight, some morbidly so. The place was like a country club for obese germophobes.
They even had an above-ground golf course on the roof of the marketplace, with live sod planted over a fabric membrane. The marketplace was like a gigantic open-air shopping mall, with vendors of every description gathered under a roof like a giant parking garage.
One shift, while transporting materials to the cool side, Vista caught sight of something shiny. She zoomed in with her implant. The Aldous! The magnificent ship that had transported them to the planet sat a few miles outside the city, past the farmlands.
An idea formed in her mind.
***
Later, in the encampment, Vista and Darius were seated at a table in the tent that served as a pub.
Vista asked, “What happens to the Aldous during the move? Do they move it as well, or does it stay in one place?” She had to speak loudly to be heard over the chatter of voices in the busy pub.
“In the past, Captain Samuels would fly it deep into the Twilight Zone,” Darius explained, “as close to the Dark Line as possible. But he was old. He died recently, and the person who took his place doesn’t know much about the ship. On the last flight, it had a rough landing and now the engines won’t fire. We have nobody who knows how to fix it.”
“Yes, you do.” Vista grinned.
“You?”
“I spent my entire military career working on that propulsion system. I know it well.”
“The ship should be moved if possible,” Carl said, “We don’t know if it would survive the Scorch and the Dark Freeze.”
“I can answer at least half that question. The Aldous was built for intergalactic travel, which means it was designed to withstand extreme temperatures. Yes, it would definitely survive the Freeze. That’s equivalent to the temperature of space. As for the Scorch, I’m about fifty percent certain it would survive that as well. Though the ships weren’t designed to fly into something as hot as a star, they are well insulated, in case of landings in harsh environments. I don’t know enough about this planet to say for sure. I don’t know how hot it gets. But that’s irrelevant, because we aren’t going let it get trapped in the Scorch. We want that thing accessible and operational, and I’m going to make it happen.”
“Vista, what are you plotting?” Darius asked. “If the Uppers find out…”
“Then what? Tell me, WHAT will happen if the Uppers find out?” Vista’s voice rose. “What will they do?” She gestured around the room. “What can they do to any of us that they haven’t already done? Is there some sort of punishment I don’t know about? Public beatings? Executions? Prison?”
“No, nothing like that! But they could cut off our rations,” Carl said. “Without the crops, we’d starve. We need access to Summerland to survive, and the only way to do that is to work there.”
“And what if you didn’t? What if none of you did?
“What are you saying?” Darius asked. A murmur rose across the room. Vista had the attention of other tables besides theirs.
“What would the Uppers do if everyone refused to move their damn houses for them? Would they pick up the tools and do it themselves? Of course not! They wouldn’t know where to begin. I’ve worked over a dozen shifts and haven’t seen one of those pricks set foot on the ground.”
Vista stood and addressed the room.
“Don’t you people realize you’re the ones with the power, not them? I say fuck the Uppers! Let them burn when the Scorch comes! We’ll survive, because we have tents and know how to move them. We know how to plant crops. Who would feed the Uppers if we didn’t harvest their crops or serve them their food?”
“Fuck the Uppers!” came a shout from the crowd.
More voices joined in until it became a chant.
“Yeah! Fuck the Uppers! Fuck the Uppers!”
Vista turned to Darius and said, “That, my friend, is what we Earthlings used to call a strike.”
***
Word of the strike spread through the camps, along with instructions that everyone was to work their normal shifts until told otherwise.
Vista traded shifts with one of the farm Workers. The first chance she had, she slipped away, to the Aldous.
Walking onto the bridge of the old ship was like coming home. Vista blinked back tears. If she forgot about the messed-up civilization outside, she could almost pretend she was back on Earth, back at her old job, before everything went to shit.
The Aldous was easy to fix; just a loose connection caused by the impact of a rough landing. She completed the repair, then accessed the ship’s navigational system and reprogrammed it. If this strike went the way she expected it to, the Aldous would take care of their problem for them.
***
Workers gathered in the wasteland at the edge of the settlement where they awaited instructions and answers to their questions.
Vista did her best to alleviate their fears.
“In our old lives back on Earth, we were used to working for someone else. We all had Uppers to answer to. It’s natural to want to continue what we’ve always known. It feels safe.”
Several heads nodded and voices murmured in agreement.
“The rules have changed. This is a new world, and you have the power to write new rules. The Uppers are playing by the old rules. Their power lies in your willingness to obey. Take that away and they have nothing! If nobody shows up for work, the Uppers will be afraid. They will be in a position to negotiate, and we can ask for whatever we want.”
“But what if it doesn’t work? What if the Uppers won’t negotiate?” a voice in the crowd asked.
“We have the Aldous. We will threaten to leave, and tell the Uppers to take care of themselves. Believe me, they’ll negotiate.”
“We could actually leave this place?” another voice asked.
“I think that’s a question we need to ask.” Vista addressed the crowd, “Would you want to leave on the Aldous, and take your chances in space? There’s always the chance the ship’s navigation system doesn’t locate another hospitable planet, or that the one it finds is inhabited by a hostile race.”
A woman spoke up. “I think I speak for most of us, when I say, we don’t want to leave. This is our home now. Our children were born here. We want to negotiate better living conditions for ourselves.”
The crowd voiced its agreement.
“Ok, it’s settled, then. We will leave only as a last resort. We are going to demand equal treatment for everyone. The Uppers will have no choice but to share Summerland and all its luxuries with us.”
“How long will it take? What if we run out of food?” someone asked.
“There’s nothing stopping us from helping ourselves to the crops in the fields. Nobody goes there except us.”
The chatter of voices rose. Apparently nobody had considered the obvious.
“Just give me three shifts. You all have enough food to last that long. Three shifts. I promise you, we’ll know the outcome by then.”
A cheer rose from the crowd, followed by chants of, “Fuck the Uppers! Fuck the Uppers!”
***
When the next bell rang, all Workers went home, but no new shifts took their places. Even the Timekeeper left.
The Uppers woke from their clean white beds to find no clean robes to change into. Their breakfast wasn’t made. Their household servants didn’t arrive with fresh goods from the marketplace.
An eerie silence had fallen over the city. The constant sound of construction was absent. No Workers bustled in the marketplace. No Timekeepers’ bells marked the shift changes.
Nobody did anything at first; they just waited for their servants to arrive. After the second sleep with no meal, they ventured out of their homes.
The Workers had vanished. Only Uppers were left.
They raided the marketplace, stripping it of anything edible. When the food was gone, what would they do? Nobody knew.
There was plenty of food in the fields, but with nobody to harvest, how would they get it? With nobody to run the bakeries, who would make the breads and cakes the Uppers loved to eat? More importantly, who was going to move them away from the Scorch? They were going to burn to death!
Panic gripped the city.
BONG! BONG! BONG!
The Timekeeper’s bell sounded in the courtyard.
The Workers were back! They were saved! They rushed to their windows.
A lone figure stood in the courtyard. A strange looking woman nobody had seen before.
“Uppers! We need to talk!”
***
The meeting with the delegation of Uppers went as expected.
Vista studied the row of ponderous, balding old men, lounging in their overstuffed armchairs. She recognized a few of them as former politicians from Earth.
“I regret to inform you, that as of this moment, all work in the city will stop, unless our demands are met,” she told them.
The room erupted in laughter.
“Get back to work!” A man who looked like Colonel Sanders dismissed her with a wave of his hand, as if swatting a fly. “Everyone needs to get back on the job, right now. There’s work to be done!”
Vista joined in their laughter.
“What’s so damn funny?” Sanders demanded.
“Suddenly I have a craving for Kentucky Fried Chicken,” she giggled.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Just a moment, gentlemen, before we get down to business, I need to take care of something.” She withdrew a small aerosol can from her pocket and covered her mouth and nose with a cloth. She sprayed the air above the men’s heads.
“What is that?” one of them asked. He looked like an aging Cabbage Patch doll.
“Just a precaution. A little disinfectant for your protection. I came from outer space, remember? I don’t want to expose you to any deadly space germs.” When Vista stole the mind control drug from the amusement park, she never imagined she would use it on an alien planet one day.
Their eyes clouded with confusion. The atmosphere in the room changed from belligerent to complacent as the spray took effect.
“Thank you,” Cabbage Patch said.
“Kentucky Fried Chicken,” Sanders said.
“I was from Kentucky, once,” a voice drawled. The owner of the voice resembled 500 pounds of sweaty melting wax. “Senator Roy Gubbles.”
“I remember you, Mr. Gubbles.”
“Senator Gubbles,” he corrected.
“Whatever, Gumby. Actually, you were only a senator on Earth. Here, you’re just… I’m not sure what you are here. Jabba the Hutt, I think. Such a shame your colleagues didn’t choose you to stay.”
“What do you mean? Nobody stayed. That planet is dead. Destroyed by the asteroid.”
“Vista grinned. “Oh, no, dear Gubbles. That’s what they wanted you to believe. The sad truth is, they chose the ones worthy to stay and blasted the undesirables into space. You, sir, did not make the cut. Did you piss anyone off, by chance? Money troubles, Senator?”
Gubbles hung his head and she knew she had nailed it. He’d fallen into financial trouble and his cronies were tired of bailing him out.
“Why should we believe you?” Sanders barked.
“Because I was there. Long after you all got kicked off the planet, I remained, along with your old golfing buddies. If you don’t believe me, I have a little video you might want to see.”
Vista clicked a button on her implant and turned around. An image projected on the wall in front of them. It was the phony broadcast shown on the ships, of the asteroid destroying Earth. Except this video wasn’t on a ship’s screen. It was displayed on the giant screen in Times Square, with a giant party of New Year’s Eve proportions in full swing below. Billionaires from around the world cheered and celebrated. Champagne corks popped.
The Uppers watched in stunned silence.
“Sorry guys. Hate to break it to you, but there was a big party, and you weren’t invited. They celebrated after you left. You were duped. Thrown away by your own kind.”
“But… what…?” Sanders sputtered.
“Chicken butt!” Vista giggled. “But seriously, boys, if I were you, I’d be pissed off. I’d want revenge! Those bastards took everything you had! Your jobs, your property, your money!”
“Those bastards!” Cabbage Patch repeated.
“You know what I’d do if I were you? I’d go back there and take back what was mine.”
“But we can’t! The ship is broken!”
“Not necessarily.”
“What do you mean?”
“What I mean is, I can fix it. I can program a course for Earth and send you on your way.”
The Uppers murmured amongst themselves.
“Think about it fellows! The assholes who sent you away will be long dead by the time you get to Earth. But you – you’re still strong and… erm… healthy. You could take your families back home and take your rightful place on the planet of your birth.”
“What do you want in return?” Gubbles asked.
“Why nothing, really. Just leave this planet, this pain-in-the-ass, useless, always-having-to-move planet, to the less fortunate. The Workers have no place to go. You wouldn’t have to take them with you to Earth. You’d have the ship all to yourselves.
***
It didn’t take the Uppers long to reach a decision.
Vista moved the Aldous closer to the city in preparation for boarding. The Workers built a walkway for the Uppers, leading from the city to the gangplank, and loaded their belongings, most of which were made of gold. Hopefully the alien overlords of Earth liked gold. Maybe they’d be able to bargain for their lives.
The new citizens of Summerland gathered to watch the massive ship and its equally massive cargo rise into the sky, and then in a flash, it was gone.
Donna gave Vista a huge hug. “I don’t know how to thank you. I can’t believe you convinced them to leave. How did you do it?”
“Let’s call it the power of persuasion.”
***
Summerland thrived. Everyone did their share of work, and everyone shared in the benefits. The ridiculous golden towers were left to melt when the Scorch came, and the city was replaced with more practical, easily movable structures to suit the Summerlanders’ nomadic lifestyle. Aaron and Lucy grew up and had children of their own.
Even though Vista was old and blind in her real eye, she was not blind to the trend she’d seen developing in the younger generation. Some citizens stopped doing their share of work, opting to saddle others with their workload in return for goods or favors. As the lazy ones increased in number, the working class was pushed toward the edges of the city. One day she overheard someone suggest they move the workers out of the city, into the Twilight Zone.
Vista’s fingers caressed the spray can in the pocket of her robe. Some people never learned.
“Here we go again,” she muttered.
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