I get on these kicks sometimes. I’ll find a fictional device and I want to play with it, exploring it from different angles. If you read last week’s story, you’ll get it. This one uses a similar structure.
Some of this stuff is straight from my actual nightmares. As such, I find this particular story haunting. Eh, it might not scare you. Horror is extremely personal that way.
Regardless, I’d love to know your thoughts. If you like it or hate it, speak up. Tell me what you think in the comments.
I woke with a start. Immediately I noticed the room didn’t feel right.
It’s hard to explain. My nightstand was there. The lamp. The alarm clock, those sideways eyes staring me down, blinking, relentlessly declaring the passing of time. A silent scream I can only ignore when I sleep.
But everything was all wrong, too.
The windows weren’t quite square, the tops tapered just enough to leave me uneasy. The blinds rattled in the breeze, and I struggled to remember why I’d left them open. I could hear rain, and the rational part of my brain, the part not really awake yet, tried to tell the rest of me I needed to close them to keep the sills from getting wet.
There was more.
Little things out of place on the dresser. The sense that my bed was shorter than it should have been. No glow from the streetlamp outside. Darkness enveloped me, like a thick blanket on a warm night, and I couldn’t seem to kick my feet free.
It felt like a caricature of my room. An artist’s rendition. It was close, but not accurate.
The darkness hung in the corners like the shadows had mass. They ran under the bed when lightning struck. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her.
She was short. Maybe five feet tall. Her hair was a tangled mess of black curls and leaves. She smelled like autumn and tasted, I thought, of dirt, though how I would know such a thing I had no idea.
She swayed beside the bed, not four feet away.
I strained to make out her silhouette in the dark, but she might as well have been a ghost. There was a flash and, like a cat, she was somehow closer by a foot. Her head was down, her face hidden in shadow and hair.
Another bolt, and she was closer. I could hear her nails scratching on the caked surface of her nightgown. Was this a neighbor, sleep walking in the middle of a thunderstorm? How had she gotten in? Was it safe to wake her?
Flash. She was beside the bed, near enough to touch. But I didn’t want to touch her. The pale hue of her flesh glowed in the aftermath of the lightning, and I became certain her skin would be cold to the touch. Not cool from the rain. Cold and . . . dead?
I felt panic rise in me, and I tried to move. Only I couldn’t. I couldn’t stand, or sit up, or even roll away. I opened my mouth to scream, but nothing came out. I strained, pushing myself to vocalize something, anything, but my lungs pushed out empty air and frustration.
Light filled my vision, and she was straddling me. I hadn’t even felt her climb on top. Her head hung down and I still couldn’t see that face – that horrible face, for I was certain she was a demon. A specter. A tormentor, and I, her prey.
I felt her weight settle on me, her crouch pressed against mine like we were making love with our clothes on, me and the mysterious dead girl. But I felt nothing. No inclination to caress or thrust. I wanted to vomit, but all I could produce was another neutered cry for help.
She was leaning forward. I saw her lips, dry and cracked, blood oozing and glistening in the blue-white light of the storm. She was moving to kiss me, and something inside me knew, simply knew, that if she did it would kill me.
I began to thrash, moving what little I could, trying to break the paralysis. I strained my throat to produce even the smallest sound, and somewhere deep within my chest I felt it coming – the scream I wanted so badly to produce.
Just as her hair tickled my face, as I smelled her sour-sweet breath, as her ashen hand caressed my cheek, it happened. My voice broke through and I bellowed with enough force to break the spell, jolting myself from the nightmare.
I woke with a start. Immediately I noticed the room didn’t feel right . . .
There’s no deeper meaning. No commentary on society or human nature. No treatise on how people should behave, or the consequences of careless action, or even an ode to beauty or love.
It’s just a 400-word gimmick. But an entertaining one.
The entire point of it is the first and the last line. That’s it. All the stuff in the middle was just getting from one to the other, which will make sense when you read it.
Go on, then. Read it.
basically the same
“They’re basically the same thing.”
Jenny gawked. “The same thing?”
Val nodded. She wasn’t even looking at her friend.
“Yeah,” she said. “The same thing.”
Jenny stopped walking. As if on cue, a dog barked somewhere in the distance.
“How is being bitten by a vampire the same as sex?”
Val circled back to her friend. They had the sidewalk to themselves. Hell, they had the street to themselves. But it was well-lit and in a mostly-nice part of town, so neither was particularly worried. Plus, they had cell phones, and Jenny never when anywhere without mace on her keyring.
“Well,” Val began, “both involve penetration, for one.”
Jenny scrunched her nose. Val rolled her eyes.
“Like you haven’t thought about it.”
“It’s that word,” Jenny said. “Penetration. I don’t like how it sounds. It’s so, I don’t know, forceful, I guess.”
“It’s what happens. And in both cases, it’s something hard sliding into something soft.”
Val only grinned.
“If it’s the first time, sex even involves blood.”
“I said stop.”
Val laughed quietly to herself. “Okay, princess. But you asked.”
“I didn’t ask for details. Not like those.”
“And anyway, you gotta get over being so fucking innocent.”
Jenny’s eyes went wide.
“What?” Val asked.
“You said the f-word.”
Val grinned conspiratorially. “It’s just a fucking word.”
“Stop it. Why are you being so gross tonight?”
Val thought about that for a moment.
“I’m not sure. I mean, we just saw a horror film. Could be that. Or maybe I just like torturing you. It’s what friends do.”
“Well, think about puppies or something.”
“No! Regular, cute little puppies. Geez, what is wrong with you?”
Val laughed, and then they walked in silence for several blocks. They parted ways at Jenny’s house. Val lived just three blocks east. They hugged, and Val said she’d call when she got home.
Only she never called.
Cutting through the alley by her house, she’d run into a stranger. A man she didn’t recognize, but about whom she did not have a good feeling. When he saw her, he leered and said, “Wanna fuck?”
“Uh, no, creep.”
A grin split his face, revealing not teeth, but fangs.
“Then maybe a snack,” the stranger replied. “You know, they’re basically the same thing.”
Earlier today, a Facebook friend posted a simple request. “Tell me something good,” she said. I’ve been watching responses come in. It’s a fascinating informal sociological study.
Some of the responses have been genuinely inspiring. Some have been silly, which is its own kind of inspiration. And some, more than I would have expected, have been focused entirely on the responder.
It’s good that so-and-so is older than me, for example. Or it’s good that I’m doing something nice for someone.
Those things aren’t bad, but I feel like there’s something better about finding good outside of yourself. In many ways, that’s the goal of art. To find goodness in the world – in other people, in nature, in the ebb and flow of things – and bring it to light.
Can you imagine an artist who only seeks to highlight what she thinks is awesome about herself? An artist whose sole goal is to convince the world that he’s kick-ass?
(Basically, can you imagine more artists like Kanye West? And . . . I just threw up a little in my mouth.)
Isn’t it better to focus on the goodness outside ourselves? To turn our attention to that which is lovely about the world beyond who we are? To allow that goodness to inspire us and lead us to be better people, rather than just patting ourselves on the back?
I think so.
If you’re up for it, tell me something good in the comments below. Something good that isn’t about you.
Thank you for waiting so politely in my absence. You didn’t complain or pitch a fit or anything, and I appreciate that ever so much. Especially given how much you must have missed me. It was agony, I’m sure, but you managed it quite nicely.
This week, I’m venturing back to The Prediction for our prompt:
100 words maximum, excluding the title, of flash fiction or poetry using all of the three words above (‘necessary’, ‘pucker’, and ‘willow’) in the genres of horror, fantasy or science fiction.
I hope you enjoy it.
the price is the price
“Necessary?” he asked. “Is anything really necessary? That willow by the lake, for example. Seems a bit much to me, but there it is.”
I sighed. Fairies are exhausting.
“That’s not what I mean,” I explained. “Is there another way to cover the cost?”
His eyes widened with understanding. “Oh. I see. Too expensive for you?”
“In a manner of speaking,” I said.
“Sorry, lass. The price is the price. Pay it or chew cabbage.”
What could I do? No substitute would work for the spell.
I closed my eyes and puckered. His lips were cool like the autumn breeze.
Safe feels good. It feels secure. And it’s a lie.
But you don’t really see that until the risks are HIGH. Then it’s like you’re at the edge of the platform, looking down at a tightrope, and struggling to take the first step.
If you don’t, you know your heart will never soar. And if you do…you might fall. So what do you truly want – to touch the sky or kiss the ground?
Yup. Two weeks in a row. I’m just exhausted.
I’m not done writing fiction. I’ll be back. But I’m not doing.
I didn’t post fiction last week. It’s rare that I take a week off, but it was a crazy-busy week. I could have pushed myself to go ahead and write something, anything, but that’s not why or how I write fiction.
I write fiction because it’s fulfilling. Because it’s fun. Because I want to.
I think all art should come from that place.
That doesn’t mean you never have to push yourself for the sake of art. Sometimes you do. Sometimes art requires great devotion. In the learning of a new skill. In the commitment of time. In slow, methodical execution. Or even in resolve to explore emotion, meaning and purpose on a deeply personal level.
But even then, even when it feels like it’s draining you dry, it should also fill you up. If it doesn’t, why the hell are you doing it at all?
I like Seth Godin’s blog. Most of his entries are super short and jam-packed with practical wisdom.
Like the one linked below.
The post is so short, it doesn’t even make sense for me to quote the beginning as a teaser. Seriously, just click through and read it. It’ll take less than a minute, and the implications for artists are profound.