I don’t know what to say about this piece of flash fiction. It is easily one of the darkest I’ve ever written. (If you’re squeamish, feel free to skip this one. I promise, next week’s won’t be so rough.)

It takes a standard, familiar premise (the weird, old guy everyone in the neighborhood suspects is a killer) and pushes beyond the urban legends kids pass from one to another as they walk past his house every day to and from school. It makes him into a monster, something truly worth being afraid of. 

I have to confess, though, I feel like a hypocrite posting it. This is the second time since I wrote about the need to keep your fiction from going too dark that I’ve written something darn near hopeless. I honestly think I’m working through some things in my own mind that are finding their way onto the page in the form of these grim short stories. I’ve had a couple of rough months, personally. Some disappointments and unpleasant revelations. Since writing is somewhat therapeutic to me, that shit tends to wind up in my stories one way or another. It’s good for me, if you can believe it, but I question if I should be sharing the dark visions that visit me when I’m working through my own issues.

But then again, it’s Friday. I need to post some flash fiction and this is what I’ve written, for better or for worse. And honestly, writing this took a lot out of me. I don’t really feel like crafting a whole new story right now, so this is what you get this week, dear reader. I hope you’re in the mood to be disturbed.

The prompt came from Flash Fiction Friday:

Prompt: Tell us a tale about a nosy neighbor, and include the outcome of one of their routine snoop sessions. Let’s make this even more fun and include the following words in your story: Cellar, bottle, blinds, suitcase, and freezer.

Genre: Any your secretive little heart desires.

Word Limit: 1,500 words.

Fasten your seat belt and gird your loins. Here we go…

those screams

There has always been speculation about Mr. Kinter. In fairness, he is weirdly reclusive and he moved in just shorty before the Peterson boy went missing. The neighborhood rumor mill took to that like lonely teenage girls take to Twilight.

It doesn’t help that he’s an odd looking goliath of a man. Seriously, minimal costuming would be needed for him to go to Halloween parties as Frankenstein. He has a prominent, blocked brow, a chin that looks like it was chiseled by a beginning sculptor under duress, and savage, beady little eyes. Even adults give him a wide berth. In response, he sits on his porch for hours at a time, eyeing anything that dares to tread the sidewalk in front of his house.

I’ll admit it–his glare is oppressive. I don’t like walking by that place when he’s outside. I feel like he’s looking at me in a way that leaves me naked, and it creeps me out. But I saw Kevin Underhill key his car. I watched the little shit put a deep scratch in it running from the front quarter panel all the way to the rear wheel well. If some kid had done the same to my car, I’d want to know about it, so I figured the neighborly thing would be to walk over to his house and tell him. He could work it out with the Underhill’s from there.

He wasn’t on his porch that afternoon. In fact, it looked like he wasn’t home at all. I knocked on the door a couple of times and was about to go home for a pen and some paper to leave a note when he finally opened the door. A musky smell rolled out. He didn’t smile.

“Yes?” he said.

“Mr. Kinter, I’m Jack Baker. I live across the way there. Listen, I saw one of the neighborhood kids key your car.”

He gave me a questioning look.

“He used a key to leave a long scratch down the side of it. It was Kevin Underhill. His folks live down the block at 4326. I thought you’d want to know.”

He gave me a curt nod and, having delivered the message, I smiled and turned to go.

“Won’t you please come in for a cup of coffee, Mr. Baker?” he said.

God, I wish I hadn’t.

The first thing I remember smelling when I woke up was formaldehyde. I hadn’t been around any since eleventh grade when they made us dissect frogs, but it has a distinct odor. You don’t forget it.

I was blindfolded and there was something in my mouth. Something round and rubbery. I could feel a strap holding it in place, leaving my jaw aching from being forced into an open position. I was drooling.

“It’s a ball gag,” Mr. Kinter said. “Some people use them for fun, if you can believe it. Sex games, that kind of thing. I actually ordered it from a BDSM website. I’ve found few other implements that suppress screams as well.”

I mumbled into the ball gag, my teeth biting down on the rubber and my tongue pushing against it. It did no good. He was right–it suppressed sound of any kind quite nicely.

He was silent while I struggled. I could feel my hands now. My feet, too. I could tell I was strapped down to a chair, my arms behind my back with my hands tied together. The air was cool and crisp with an earthy smell, which led me to believe we were in his cellar. I was a captive within 100 yards of my own home. I pulled at the bonds, twisting my arms and trying to kick my legs, but it did no good. Finally, I screamed into the gag, but that, too, accomplished nothing. In frustration, my throat raw, I stopped.

“There is typically an initial fit, like the one you just threw. Calm yourself. You are securely strapped down to a very solid oak chair. You aren’t going anywhere.”

I could hear him moving. I could feel the air in the room swirl as he walked past me on the left and then around me, returning on my right. I heard a chair move and I guessed that he sat down. “Now, we have some…unpleasantness to discuss. I doubt you remember the coffee you took from me. It was laced with two chemicals. The first knocked you out. The second was a derivative of methanol. Are you familiar with what methanol does to a person when ingested?”

I shook my head and tried not to break down.

“It blinds,” he said.

Realization swept over me like a lawnmower sweeps over grass. I wasn’t blindfolded. I was blind. My stomach rolled and I began to feel nauseous, but with my mouth so thoroughly gagged, if I threw up I would drown in it.

I rocked back and forth in the chair, pulling at my bonds again and yelling into the gag. I could feel slobber streaming off my chin onto my chest. The chair teetered to one side and I threw my weight in the other direction, pushing it beyond balance and rewarding me with an abrupt encounter with the concrete floor.

Mr. Kinter tisked. “You nearly knocked over my suitcase,” he said. “Not that you can see it.” He sounded glib, even happy. I could hear a smile in the fucker’s voice. “You might have damaged some of my toys. We can’t have that.”

He walked around me and lifted the chair back into an upright position. I sat in it, held in place by rope like a rag doll. That’s what I felt like–little more than lifeless meat and bone in sack made of skin.

“I have a bottle of water here,” Mr. Kinter said, shaking it within inches of my face so that I could hear the fluid. “Would you like a drink?”

I grunted at him, or at least that’s how it came out. It was considerably more colorful in my head.

“Very well. Perhaps I’ll offer it again in a while.” I could feel him close to me now. His acrid breath was in my face, his large hands on my shoulders. He leaned in close and whispered into my ear, “Or perhaps not.”

Then he chuckled. It was the most alive I’d seen him since he moved in. Not that I actually saw him. Not with my ruined eyes. But in my mind, I could see his sweaty smile, his grossly plump lips pulling back from yellow teeth in a sick pantomime of joy. I could see his eyes, typically deadpan, now dancing with delight. And I could see his hands, large and rough and lethal, tracing along my collar bone, brushing across my chest as he pulled back from me.

I wanted to kill him. I wanted to see him red.

“I have a deep freezer here in the basement,” he said. “I like to keep things. Souvenirs. Scottie Peterson’s hands are there. He had the most lovely hands. I wish I hadn’t skinned the fingers, to tell you the truth. They were lovelier before. But then again, his screams were lovely, too.”

I hated myself for it, but I began to cry.

“When you’ve settled down, I’ll take out the gag. I’ll let you have some water and maybe some food and we can begin. I could take the gag out now–no one can hear you from down here. The walls are sound-proofed–but I don’t like whiny screams. I like the more passionate screams. The screams that are born in the purity of pain. Oh…those screams…”

He sounded like he was becoming aroused and, again, my stomach lurched. Now I wanted to throw up. To drown in vomit would surely be better than anything he had planned.

He moved toward me again, his fingertips caressing my face while I sobbed. “You will know the pain. Oh yes. You will feel its kiss, its thorny embrace. I will take you to places you’ve never even dreamed of, and then, when we’ve frolicked enough, I will set you free.”

He pushed his fat lips against my cheek while I thrashed.

Having finished his Judas kiss, he ran his fingers through my hair and, finally, mercifully, he walked away. I heard him on the steps, ascending, leaving me alone in the dark so I could calm down and give him the screams he wanted to hear. I heard him reach the top step and stop. He stood there for a moment, watching me, I suspect, and said, “I think I’ll keep your head.”

And then he left, and all hope left with him.

Fiction, Uncategorized

This story is a continuation of the flash fiction I wrote last week for Flash Fiction Friday, though this one has been written based on a prompt from the 500 Club. (If you haven’t read “those screams” yet, you might want to check it out first.) It’s funny–I thought last week’s piece was particularly dark, but that wasn’t the feedback I got on it. And, as I mentioned in one of the comments, no sooner had I posted it than I wanted to go back to it and see what happens beyond the end. 

I knew, even before I looked at any prompts this week, that I would revisit Mr. Kinter and poor Jack. Then, when I saw the prompts at the 500 Club, it was clear I was meant to keep this story going. One of them fit so perfectly with the idea I already had, how could I pass it up? Vye was positively giddy.

Here’s the prompt:

Write a scene with a ticking clock. Figurative or literal, this scene must have a countdown, a deadline, a looming axe about to fall. Go.

Now, let’s see how deep this rabbit hole goes.

make it pretty

James told me not to make any noise. It’s hard, though–like when we were kids and he would make me laugh during church. Momma pinched the back of my arm if I embarrassed her, so I tried to hold it in, but that only made things funnier. James liked to make fun of the preacher. Sometimes we pretended that he was talking about sex instead of Jesus. That was dirty but it always made me laugh, and momma would pinch my arm and put her hand over my mouth to keep me from screaming.

James says that’s where we both learned about the pain.

That was when we were little, though. Sometimes I had bruises on the back of my arm after church, but it wasn’t too bad. James liked it when they were deep and purple, but usually they hardly showed at all, so sometimes he’d help them. When he first started doing it he had to hold me down, but the colors were so pretty and it made him so happy, I ended up asking him to do it. “Make them pretty.” That’s what I said to him.

When we were 12–we’re twins, even though he’s a boy and I’m a girl–James started making the cats pretty. There were tons of them around our house. Most of them were strays, but there was this widow across the street who had at least twenty cats, James said. Sometimes we would make one of hers pretty. As much as I liked the purple on my arms, the red was even lovelier. James was like an artist.

Usually when we made a cat pretty we took it down to our basement. Momma was real sick by then and she didn’t pay any attention to what we did. Besides, that’s where James kept his tools–a pair of pliers, a file, a tack hammer, a funnel, some wire, like the kind they used to hang pictures, and a couple of screw-drivers. Plus, there were lots of bottles of stuff down there. It was always fun to see what would happen if we made the cat drink some.

One time James decided he wanted to make one of the widow’s cats pretty in her own backyard. I carried his tools for him. My job was to be the lookout and to keep quiet. James made my arm pretty before we went to help me remember.

We made the widow’s back porch red. It was beautiful–James said so–and then we hid behind her shed so we could see her when she came out.

She cried for a long time. I’d never heard anyone cry like that. It made me sad, but it made James very happy. He said he liked the sounds of her screams.

He’s going to make this one scream, I think. He can’t see me because James made him blind. I’m just supposed to watch him until James comes back. His tools are all here.

It won’t be long now.

Fiction, Uncategorized

The saga of the Kinter house continues. If you haven’t read my last two flash fiction pieces, you might want to check them out before wading into this one. (Be sure to read them in the order they were published.)

I find myself warming to this story with each new piece I write for it. It is, admittedly, a stereotypical sort of premise: a strange old man who lives in the house that everyone on the block talks about. Is he evil? A psycho? What does he do in there all by himself? 

Maybe it’s the fact that it’s a classic setup that has me intrigued. There’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes it’s a good (even powerful) writing exercise to play with the formulaic, paying homage to those who have written similar stories before and adding your own little twists to the common legend. Whatever the case, I’m having fun making a serial out of these. I’m even enjoying using whatever prompts pop up each week to create the next layer of the story. It makes for an interesting challenge, knowing a little bit of where I think it’s going, but having to use specific words and setups to get there.

This week’s prompt comes from Flash Fiction Friday:

Prompt: Write a story using the following word list: Traffic, New Shoes, Calculus, Bus Stop, School, Principal

Word Limit: 1000

One more thing. Fear not–this story most certainly isn’t over.

raiding party

“Come on, Carrie. We got school tomorrow.” Kevin was such a little whiner.

Carrie leaned against the bus stop sign on the sidewalk. She seemed entirely unconcerned about the first day back. She and Kevin and Max had been watching the Kinter house all Sunday afternoon and she didn’t intend to leave without seeing Mr. Baker reemerge.

“So, go home,” she said.

But Kevin couldn’t go home. Not with Carrie still there, keeping watch. When they saw Mr. Baker go into the house Kevin had just about pissed himself. What did he think he was accomplishing, keying Mr. Kinter’s car? He only did it because Carrie dared him to. It seemed like a stupid thing now.

“Wouldn’t it be funny if Mr. Kinter was the new principal?” Max asked. Panic flashed across Kevin’s face.

Carrie laughed and said, “I told you–my mom heard he’s the new calculus teacher at the high school. No one knows who the new middle school principle is yet. Some big fuckin’ secret.”

Even Max turned red hearing Carrie say ‘fuck’. Max wasn’t a big baby like Kevin, but neither of them were as bold as she was. They were on a practically deserted street. They hadn’t seen traffic in over an hour. No one was even watering their lawn, but here they were blushing at the sound of a girl cussing. They both probably still thought new shoes could make them run faster. Carrie was almost certain Kevin still believed in Santa Claus.

“Look,” she said, ignoring their embarrassment, “Mr. Baker went in there and he hasn’t come out. It’s been two hours! Is he friends with that old creep or what? I think we should go check it out.”

Kevin looked like he was about to shit himself. “Check it out?!” he sputtered. “What, like sneak into his yard and try and spy on them through the window? My dad’ll kill me!”

That elicited a chuckle from Max. “Dude, your dad is already gonna kill you when he finds out you keyed Kinter’s car.” Kevin looked to Carrie for support but found none.

“Yep,” she said. “You’re pretty much screwed already. You comin’?”

She had them now. Max wouldn’t back down if she could taunt Kevin into joining her little raiding party. They were both nearly a year older than her, due to turn 13 in October and November, but they followed her lead and she knew why. She was a girl. They couldn’t retreat if she was going in.

“I gotta be home by 8:00,” Kevin said. “Mom wants me to go to bed early since school starts tomorrow.”

Carrie rolled her eyes. “Kevin, it’s 5:30. I think you’ll be fine.”

“Okay,” he conceded, and the trio tentatively crossed the street.

Huddled on the other side, shielded from the Kinter house by Mrs. O’Connelly’s massive bush–they’d laughed about that more than once–they formulated a plot. Carrie spoke: “We’re not gonna do anything stupid. We’ll just sneak over to the corner window and look into the living room.”

“Why do we all need to go?” Kevin asked.

Max hit the back of his head. “Stop being a pussy,” he said. Then, embarrassed by his own language, to Carrie, “Sorry.”

Carrie shrugged. “You don’t have to apologize for calling him a pussy. He is.” Then she crouched and ran across the yard toward the house, motioning for the other two to follow.

They arrived at the corner with little fanfare. Carrie put a finger in front of her lips to ensure that Kevin didn’t say something loud. It was the kind of stupid thing he might otherwise do. She straightened her legs, rising high enough to peek into the window from the bottom. She saw a boring living room, something that looked like a throw-back to the forties, but nothing more.

“What do you see?” Max asked.

“Nothin'” she said.

The promise that the coast was clear evidently gave Kevin a boost of courage. He stood, too, while Max remained crouched scanning the street. However, Kevin straightened his legs fully, bringing his head and shoulders into view just as Mr. Kinter, wearing some kind of weird black leather apron, rounded the corner from the kitchen.

“Shit!” Carrie said. “Run!”

She ducked down, having been missed by Kinter, and she and Max made a mad, stealthy dash for Mrs. O’Connelly’s bush. But Kevin twisted his ankle when he tried to pivot away from the window. Flailing his arms, he went down. Carrie and Max weren’t the deserting type, but there didn’t seem to be any sense in all three of them getting busted. Kevin’s ass was already on the line for keying Mr. Kinter’s car. This would just mean a little more punishment for him. They made it to the bush and turned, peering through the branches to watch.

Mr. Kinter moved fast for a man his age. He was outside and rounding the corner of the house just as Max and Carrie dove behind the bush. He looked down at Kevin. “It’s rude to spy on people,” he said. “Where are your manners, young man?”

Without waiting for an answer, he lifted Kevin by the back of his shirt and brought him to eye level. “Wow,” Carrie said quietly. “He’s strong.”

Whispering so that Max and Carrie could not hear, he spoke to Kevin: “Maybe I should open you up and see if I can find them? Perhaps they are in your spleen. I’ll have to dissect it to see.” Looking down, he saw footprints in the mud around the window. Certainly more than one pair. “Where are your friends?” he asked.

But Kevin passed out, his body going limp while his bladder released.

Carrie and Max watched as Mr. Kinter hauled Kevin to the back gate and out of sight. “Well shit,” Carrie said.

“Yeah,” Max agreed. “Shit.”

Fiction, Uncategorized

Time to add another layer to the trouble brewing in the Kinter house. If you haven’t read the first three installments of this series, be sure to check them out here before diving into this one. (The link will display them with the most recent story at the top. Scroll to the bottom and read them in the order they were posted.)

I’m not sure where all this is headed yet. This is the first time I’ve written a larger story in short flash fiction pieces and it’s a lot of fun. Each week I come back to the story with a vague idea of the next installment, but then I have to conform my rough ideas so that they accommodate a current prompt, and I refuse to let myself cheat on that. The prompt invariably pushes a few elements of the story in directions I wouldn’t have guessed, but that extra challenge also opens all kinds of doors. For example, I didn’t even know what a kukri was before writing this, but I needed James to have a curved blade so that I could use the word “curve”. Live and learn.

The prompt is from Flash Fiction Friday once again:

Prompt: Write a 1000 word story about someone who has no self awareness, or, alternatively, someone who has far too much. Include the following words: curve, substitution, relief, sacrifice, strikeout.

Word Limit: 1000

Feel free to let me know what you think of this post or of the series in the comments.

by design

James Kinter fervently believed that acute self awareness was his personal curse. Most people simply don’t know themselves well enough to know what their purpose is, but not him. Other people are slaves to their desires, not their design. He was no slave at all. He’d had the good fortune to discover early in life that his design and desire ran in parallel to one another. Harnessing such knowledge, what could he do but act on it?

His life to that point had been an elaborate series of choices, sacrifice intermingled with precise intention. Never substitution. He had hidden Jessica from the world because he knew they would not accept her. He laid out the foundation of a forgettable but solid reputation. He had been frugal with money, careful with his art and, above all else, very deliberate about his subjects. Until today.

He looked down at the boy now slumped on his couch and cursed himself. What had he been thinking? It was rash. Foolishly rash. He should have simply shooed the little bastard out of the yard, not hauled him inside, but he was caught up in the moment. His adrenaline was already piqued thinking about Mr. Baker down in the basement. Instead of simply telling the boy to leave he had whispered threats fueled by his enthusiasm. What’s worse, the tracks in the mud outside the window suggested that the young spy had not been alone.

Idly, his hand slipped under his leather apron. His thumb ran along the sharp curve of his kukri. It was tempting, but he could control the urge.

Slowly, a plan formulated, and with it a sense of relief. He recognized the boy as one from the neighborhood. He knew the rumors going around about him. He could wait until the lad woke and offer to call his parents, pretending that the boy’s memory of their initial encounter was simply the figment of a child’s overactive imagination. If he called the boy’s parents and was kind to him until they arrived, no one could accuse him of any wrong doing. With luck, the incident might actually quell fears instead of shining a spotlight on his true intentions.

He turned from the boy and retreated to the kitchen. Slipping off the apron, he trotted down the stairs. When he reached the bottom he put a finger to his lips to let Jessica know that the time had not yet come to reveal herself. She looked to him with doe eyes, all wonder and submission, and he smiled. She was a kind soul, his twin sister. So accommodating. So willing to accept her role as his silent helper. So very pretty. He’d seen to that years ago.

He hung the leather apron on a hook jutting from the wall and took off his utility belt. It held the kukri along with several other useful small tools–a pair of needle nose pliers, a tack hammer, so effective on knuckles, two ice picks and a taser, just in case. He bought the taser after the Peterson boy bit him. In the future, such insolence would be rewarded with 400 volts delivered to the neck.

Jessica watched him set his tools to the side with a curious frown. He dosed a cloth with chloroform and placed it over Mr. Baker’s mouth and nose. When he was sure his guest was sleeping, he turned to Jessica. “There’s been a small complication, love. A neighborhood boy and his friends were spying on the house. The boy is upstairs in the living room, passed out. I’ll need to contact his parents and play the role of a concerned neighbor for a while. It could take some time. I need you to remain here, in the basement with our guest. We’ll have to wait to begin until I can sort this mess out.”

“We can’t make him pretty now?” she asked. “Just a little?”

James smiled. Sweet child. “No, we’ll have to wait. But waiting will make it that much better, my darling.”

She pouted but he knew she would do as told. He crossed the room to her and placed a single kiss gently on her forehead. “He should remain asleep for a while. If he stirs, don’t say anything. Just use the chloroform like I did and put him back out. Do not make him pretty.

“Yes, James,” she said.

He caressed her face. “Soon,” he said, and turned to ascend the stairs.

Upstairs, he put on a pot of coffee. In the living room, he turned on the TV. “…and with that strikeout the Rangers are one step closer to a win. Two away, bottom of the ninth…” James found sports boring, but who could think him a monster if he were sipping coffee and enjoying America’s past time on a Sunday afternoon?

He was a stickler for detail, so he took the stairs to the second floor and went to his bedroom where he changed into a black shirt and trousers. Granted, it made him look like some kind of unholy priest, but the boy and his friends would swear he had been wearing a black apron. Black clothes would make this detail seem imagined. He was just tying the laces on his shoes when he heard a noise downstairs. Glass. Breaking.

He held his breath for a moment, wondering if Jessica had disobeyed and gone to the kitchen. Two seconds later he got his answer.

“He’s in here!” he heard a hushed voice exclaim. “On the couch!” A girl. The boy’s friends. Damn it.

He shook his head, anger and excitement rising in him. His arms felt on fire with adrenaline. He made for the stairs with all haste, having already forgotten the lie he had been preparing to tell.

Fiction, Uncategorized

Once again this week we revisit the Kinter house. If you haven’t read the other stories in this series, be sure to check them out here before reading this week’s flash fiction. (Start at the bottom and read them in the order they were posted.) The prompt for this story comes from the gang over at the 500 Club, and it fit quite nicely with where the story left off last week. (As an aside, the 500 Club is hosted by The Parking Lot Confessional and I had the honor of writing a guest post for them which was published earlier today. If you’d like to read my thoughts on the craft of exposition, you can find that post here.)

Now, on to the prompt:

Write a scene in which a character is given the worse news ever. Avoid clichés. Avoid being overly sentimental.

I do believe this story manages to fulfill the prompt in a way that is not cliché and not at all overly sentimental, but I’ll let you be the judge of that. Tell me what you think, of this installment and of the series, in the comments. Any one out there rooting for Mr. Kinter?

bad news

Kevin awoke to some startlingly bad news. It was, he believed, the worst news he could have possibly gotten. Had he known how the next 2 minutes would play out, he would have been grateful for how good he had it, but he didn’t know the future so he woke up believing he was already pretty damn close to rock-bottom.

The first thing he noticed was Carrie’s voice. It was strong, even demanding, and still somehow beautiful. She was urging him to wake up, and the idea that she wanted him in any state at all made him smile lazily. The next thing he noticed was a cooling sensation radiating from his crotch. For the briefest of moments, he thought maybe Carrie was touching him there, but then his nose caught the scent and he felt the moisture and he knew what it was. His joy evaporated. He plunged headlong into the deepest pits of shame.

He’d pissed himself, and now here was Carrie shaking him awake–seeing him for the little baby she surely thought he was.

He opened his eyes, already prepared for things to be bad, and took in his surroundings. There was Carrie, her face frantic, and Max a few feet behind staring over his shoulder. They were both jumpy. The room was strange to him. Foreign. It smelled of cabbage soup, like his grandmother’s house, and half the stuff looked like it belonged in a museum.

Then it hit him. Holy fuck–Mr. Kinter! Mr. Kinter saw him outside the window. He said he was going to rip him open and look at his spleen. His spleen! Oh, God!

“He’s awake,” Carrie whisper-yelled.

“Get him on his feet and let’s get the hell out of here. I can hear Kinter moving upstairs.”

Carrie pulled Kevin to his feet. In spite of his embarrassment, he knew the most important thing at that moment was to get out of the house. Mr. Kinter scared, well, the piss out of him, and whether he meant his dissection threat or not, Kevin had no desire to encounter him again. He stood and, following Carrie’s lead, moved toward the kitchen.

That was when all three kids realized Max’s mistake. They hadn’t heard Mr. Kinter moving upstairs, but rather down the stairs, only he wasn’t coming down the front staircase that led into the living room. He was coming down the back staircase. His shadow was already big on the kitchen floor and from the sounds of his footfalls he would arrive in the room before they could cross to the back door and make their escape. Looking for an alternate path to safety, Kevin discovered they were standing next to a door. It was open only a crack, but he could see stairs leading down.

The basement.

Without another thought, he swung the door open and rushed down the stairs. Carrie and Max followed. At the bottom of the stairs Kevin discovered just how bad his day had gotten.

Fiction, Uncategorized

Once more to the Kinter house, but first, the standard disclaimer: If you haven’t read the other stories in this series, click here to read them before getting into this week’s flash fiction. (Start at the bottom and read them in the order they were posted.)

The prompt for this story is brought to you by the 500 Club. It is, honestly, very similar to the prompt I used for the third part of this series (‘raiding party‘) in that it’s all about back to school. But, as we already know, Mr. Kinter is a teacher–in more ways than one–and the trio of kids are living out their last day of freedom before another tour of duty in the classroom. (At least, they hope it’s just their last day of freedom and not their last day.) All that to say, the prompt worked into the series nicely.

The prompt:

Write a story about a teacher and his/her students. What are they studying? Are they learning how to slay a dragon, or is this the first day of space camp? Feel free to write about your own hobbies or interests, with a twist.

I assure you, I did not write about my own hobbies or interests, though there could be a twist. I hope you enjoy it.

lesson one

When Mr. Kinter arrived at the bottom of the steps he found the children only a few feet beyond, their eyes fixed on sweet Jessica.

“Ah,” he said. “You’ve met my sister.”

At the sound of his voice, the girl whipped her head around and glared at him. She was the fiery one, he surmised. The dangerous one. She pivoted and charged him, her tiny fists clenched. Her pony tail bounced behind her head like a banner–the girl knight of the golden locks. Mr. Kinter smiled.

The girl gained an impressive amount of speed in the few feet between her and Mr. Kinter, but he was much bigger and much stronger than she. Also, he had dealt with this sort of thing before. Whereas her adrenaline was on overdrive, he was nursing a comfortable epinephrine high and was resolved to avoid a second instance of rash over-reaction. When she was only inches from him, he side stepped and slipped his arm behind her, his palm locking onto the small of her back. All he had to do then was pull his shoulder blades together, capitalizing on her momentum. She very nearly flew into the staircase.

Her head made solid contact with the third step and her body crumbled to the floor.

The two boys watched in horror. Without her, their unspoken leader, he doubted either would even put up a fight.

“School begins tomorrow,” he said. “The first day of term. However, I think an advance lesson might be in order for you two young men. Perhaps something that will encourage you to avoid breaking into a neighbor’s house in the future.”

He took two big steps toward them and knelt, bringing all three of them to eye level with one another. Behind the boys, Jessica cooed.

“You’ve made a mess for me, frankly. I had intended to settle here. To stay here for some time. Now I have to pick up and move on…again, this time much sooner than I had planned. I cannot let you go, you understand.” He clucked his tongue. “Still, the more the merrier, they say. Now Jessica and I have four…projects…instead of only one.”

He looked past the boys to Jessica. “We’ll have some fun,” he said conspiratorially and winked.

Then, without warning, he grabbed Max by the left arm, stood and jerked hard. Max spun on his toes and his shoulder popped, the jointed dislocated. He howled, which won him a brutal backhand. Mr. Kinter pulled him to an empty chair near the foot of the stairs and pushed him down into it. He used duct tape to secure his arms and legs, and then slapped the boy again across the face, for good measure.

Turning back to Kevin, he smiled. It looked alarmingly like the smile Lucifer might have worn just after Jesus died on the cross.

“Lesson one,” he said. “How to remove a human ear with a simple pair of scissors!”

Max fainted.

Fiction, Uncategorized

First, a disclaimer: If you haven’t read the other stories in this series, click here to read them before getting into this week’s flash fiction. (Start at the bottom and read them in the order they were posted.)

The prompt this week (from the 500 Club) is a perfect example of how unpredictable the development of this series can be, even for me. This prompt was, I assure you, the easiest one to weave into the fabric of this series available this week, and it was no easy thing to fit it in. (Feel free to let me know in the comments if it feels forced or if it works for you.) And yet, I loved writing it…because I had to be creative and work to make it fit. (It helped that Vye was definitely by my side today. She’s a helpful girl when she wants to be.)

While I’m talking about the series, another thing I’ve enjoyed about writing it is that the point of view changes with each installment. That makes each piece feel totally different to me, and allows me to capitalize on the knowledge, experience and ignorance of different characters. (Also, since it’s what Stoker did when writing Dracula, it makes me feel just a little bit–a teeny, tiny bit–like I’m following in the footsteps of one of the greats.)

Okay, the prompt was:

Luck Would Have It: Pick a common lucky item, good (horse shoe, penny on heads, rabbit’s foot) or bad (black cat, monkey’s paw, cracked mirror) , and give it an uncommon story. In 500 words, turn luck on its ear.

the wishing stone

It’s a little thing–something I’ve never even told anyone about for fear of embarrassment. A couple of years ago I was out on a walk, thinking about life and some big decisions I had coming up. I was worried and anxious. I knew what I wanted to have happen, but I felt like it was a long shot. All the stars would have to align, that kind of thing. While I was walking, I found this small, round stone on the street near the curb. It looked like the kind of stone that should be on a beach somewhere, having been worn smooth by the constant churning of water. And yet, it was on my street, less than half a mile from my house, nowhere near a beach of any kind.

I picked it up and, without realizing I was doing it, began to rub my thumb against it as I walked and thought. I thought about what I wanted to have happen, how I wanted the turbulence in my life to settle, and made those quiet, secret wishes we all make but pretend we don’t. When I got home, I set the stone on my dresser.

Within days I knew the outcome of the issues I’d been fretting over. Everything came out just as I’d hoped it would. The superstitious side of me attributed my good fortune to the stone, which I decided must have granted my wishes that day on my walk. Since then, more days than not, I carry the stone in my pocket. It’s small–only about the size of a silver dollar–and I remain convinced it somehow helps. Call it my rabbit’s foot. My lucky pair of socks.

It’s my personal talisman.

As I came to, the first thing I felt was that stone in my pocket. I should have felt my hands, still bound to the chair, or the ball gag, still stuffed securely in my mouth. I should have felt the drool running off my chin or even the tears I’d cried earlier, now dried on my face and leaving crusty reside around my useless eyes. But no. I felt the stone, it’s meager weight reminding me that it was still in my pocket.

I heard steps and sobbing. There were more people in the basement now. I heard a child’s whimper and Mr. Kinter announce that he intended to teach someone how to remove a human ear with a pair of scissors. Then I heard sounds. Horrible sounds. No screams, but cutting sounds mixed with sploshes, splats and hacks.

I closed my mind to the sounds and focused on the stone. Maybe it was just a stone. Maybe it had no power at all, no magic to it. Maybe it was silly or stupid or desperate of me, but I started wishing. I called on it to hear me again. I wished to be out of that basement and somewhere safe.

And as crazy as it sounds, the stone heard my wish.

Fiction, Uncategorized

For this week’s flash fiction, we head back to the basement of the Kinter house. But first, a disclaimer: If you haven’t read the other stories in this series, click here to read them before getting into this week’s installment. (Start at the bottom and read them in the order they were posted.)

The prompts were tough this week. They were good prompts, don’t get me wrong, but very specific, making it difficult for me to select one that I could weave into the fabric of this series. Fortunately, the prompt from Flash Fiction Friday was written with a lot of wiggle room, and I was able to find a way to make it work. (I’ll admit, though, that I really, really wanted to keep the Kinter house stories on pause for another week and just write a straightforward vampire story. But, since I was out of town last week I felt it best to get back to the series. I mean, I’m not heartless. I can’t just leave those kids down in that basement forever. At least, not alive.)

Here’s the prompt:

Prompt: Craft us a tale about a vamp, but forget all the stereotypes. Be scary, be wild, be hilarious, be touching. Paint us a picture of one of them that we’d never expect.

Word Limit: 1,500 words.

James Kinter is unquestionably wicked. Is he a monster, too? Read on to find out…

blood sucker

Carrie wasn’t supposed to watch rated-R movies. Her mom strictly forbid it. “Why would you want to fill your mind with that filth?” her mother asked when she said she wanted to see The Lost Boys. She tried explaining that it’s an old movie, tame by modern standards. That she could see far worse on TV. That, truth be told, it should be PG-13 at the worst. It had Corey Haim and Corey Feldman in it, for crying out loud. How graphic could it be?

Her mother narrowed her eyes. “I know all I need to know about it from the rating. No.”

That had been that. Or, at least that’s what Carrie’s mom thought. Carrie wasn’t truly a bad girl. She had too much integrity for that. She did what good girls do–she asked permission. But, getting an answer that didn’t please her and feeling that her mother’s reasoning was insanely stupid, she did what proactive girls do, be they good or bad. She found a way to watch what she wanted to watch. It hadn’t even been hard.

The movie failed to fascinate her, though. She had no idea what her friend, Heather, who recommended it highly, found so frightening about it. The monsters weren’t real, that much was obvious, and the Corey’s were over-rated. Granted, Kiefer Sutherland had been fun to watch for two hours, but she could look at pictures of him in his younger years without having to listen to all that drivel about head vampires and not turning until your first kill.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Besides, she didn’t believe in monsters, anyway. Until, that is, she found herself lying on Mr. Kinter’s basement floor.

Her collision with the stairs had been brutal. Her head was bleeding. She could feel the warm fluid dripping down long strands of her hair and pooling beneath her face. Her skull hurt like a motherfucker. In fact, had she chosen to say anything at the moment, that’s exactly what she would have said. “My skull hurts like a motherfucker.” Under normal circumstances she would have verbalized just such obscenities. It was fun to watch Kevin and Max squirm when she cursed.

But Mr. Kinter was clearly a nutbag, and she decided just shortly after her cranium made acquaintance with the stairs that it would be best to play dead for a bit. It would buy her some time to think.

She’d been lucky in the way she fell for two reasons. One, her body slouched forward and to the right, leaving her head lying on its right side, facing the room. Her hair had fallen over her face. She discovered that she could open her eyes and see most of the room quite clearly without anyone noticing that she wasn’t dead or passed out. Her hair formed a veil. Like a two way mirror, she could see out, but others couldn’t see in. The second reason she was lucky was because she couldn’t see all of the room. Behind her and to the right an entire corner was a huge blind spot.

Thank God. That was the corner where Mr. Kinter had Max.

The screams were like nothing she’d ever heard before. Far worse than even the best lungs she’d experienced when watching horror films. She heard Mr. Kinter’s movements and ripping sounds and the sound of blood splattering across the floor, but none of these compared to the screams. And while Max screamed, Mr. Kinter laughed.

In fact, the bastard giggled.

She decided then and there what he was. She didn’t know if he had any special powers or if he drank blood. She had seen him in sunlight and doubted that garlic would have any repellent effect on him at all. No matter. She decided that Mr. Kinter was, without question, a vampire. He was draining life out of Max and something about the process fueled him. If that didn’t make him a vampire, nothing would. He wasn’t human. He was a monster.

She didn’t know how long he would toy with Max or what he might cut off after he was done with the ear, but she was sure when he finished with Max he’d move on to Kevin, or Mr. Baker.

Or her. She needed to find a way out.

She could see clearly that Kevin would be no help. He’d pissed his pants. Again. He was crying and sucking his thumb. She felt no anger or judgment about it, though. It was a shitty situation. She wished she could revert to baby behavior, herself, but if she did, who would get them the hell out of there? Kinter was distracted with Max. Maybe she could work that to her advantage.

Of course, there was another adult captor in the basement. The woman with the scars.

She looked like Freddy Krueger but worse because it wasn’t makeup. It was real. Kinter called her his sister, Jessica, but it was the first Carrie had heard of another person living in the house. Having seen her when the kids first came down to the basement, she knew why Kinter wasn’t parading her around town. The woman was a walking freak show. Her face was a twisted map of scars and burns, cuts and crud stitching. It almost looked like her face had been cut off her skull at some point, cooked, and then sown back on. She was horrifying, sitting there on the stool with that dumb-ass, lopsided smile, watching Mr. Baker breathe.

But ugly or not, she could prove to be a huge problem. And Mr. Baker–well, he looked worse for wear. He was tied to a chair, his hands behind his back and his ankles bound. His head drooped to the side. He was breathing, but he was not awake. She had no idea what had been done to him so far, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

When Max’s screams reached a deafening crescendo, Jessica stood and walked forward several steps. She was smiling and the bitch even licked her lips. Kevin had snot streaming from his nose. He was on the floor rocking himself back and forth, still crying and sucking his thumb. But Mr. Baker moved. His head cocked to the side and he opened his eyes. They were blank, his eyes, rolling to and fro without settling on anything. At first Carrie thought he was drugged, but then she remembered where she’d seen the same thing before. Her uncle, Harold. His eyes sometimes did that if he wasn’t wearing his dark glasses.

Like Harold, Mr. Baker appeared to be blind.

Just as she realized this, Mr. Baker closed his eyes. Damn. He was awake, but how much good would he be to her if he couldn’t see?

“Would you like a look, my sweet sister?” Mr. Kinter asked Jessica. Jessica nodded and moved forward, cupping her hands to catch the ear that had, minutes ago, been attached to Max’s head. Max moaned in the corner, his voice hoarse from too much screaming. After passing the ear off to his sister, Mr. Kinter kicked Carrie’s leg, probably to see if she was still out. Carrie let him, hoping for at least a few minutes more time to formulate a plan.

“Show the ear to his friend,” Mr. Kinter said. And Jessica did. Holding it like a mouse, she shuttled it across the room to Kevin who blew fresh snot bubbles from his nose at the sight of it. Mr. Kinter sighed with contentment. He was standing in the middle of the room, in Carrie’s sight, looking from one of his “guests” to another. Finally he turned back to Max. “It seems, young man, that you are to remain the focus of my attention for the immediate future.” He wore a chilling smile, ear to ear. Carrie knew it was her mind, the stress or the trauma or the fear, but she would have sworn in that moment that he had fangs, as well.

Mr. Kinter spun on the balls of his feet and walked to the far wall, away from Max. Behind Kevin there were all kinds of tools hung on hooks. He reached for a chisel, a small hammer, a utility knife and a cordless drill. Carrie had to hold her breath to keep from screaming.

It evidently took a moment for Max to see Kinter walking back toward him, but Carrie knew the moment Kinter was in Max’s sight. Max began to beg. It was the saddest, most desperate thing Carrie had ever heard, and in response Kinter merely chuckled.

“Do you know what the word ‘flay’ means, young man?” he asked.

Max began to sob.

“Here, let me show you. Your left hand, please.”

Fiction, Uncategorized

Things are coming to a head in the Kinter house basement. If you haven’t read the other stories in this series, click here to read them before getting into this week’s installment. (Start at the bottom and read them in the order they were posted.)

I feel the series drawing to a close. It won’t be long before we know who lives and who does not. Just a few more weeks, I think, but between now and then I hope there are a few more twists and turns in the mix–for me and for you. (After all, writing all of this based on prompts, I really have no idea what will happen week-to-week.)

The prompt I’ve chosen for this week could have easily led to the end of the series, but it did not. It leads, rather, to the end of something else. The prompt comes from Flash Fiction Friday. Here it is:

Prompt: Tell us a story about a character facing the end of something–a job, a relationship, their sanity… What is actually ending can be whatever your imagination dreams up, but also let us know how it turns out for him or her. Give us some type of ending (pun intended).

Word Limit: 1,500 words.

I’ve gotten some positive feedback from a few friends about this series, dark and demented though it is. If you have any thoughts, critical or complimentary, feel free to share them in the comments.

As always, thanks for reading.

la fine

The boy’s screams were delicious.

There was a brief intermission following the removal of the ear. It was understandable. The boy had exhausted himself during the process, thrashing to and fro and making a hard task that much harder. Ears are small compared to other appendages, and of irregular shape. Even if you have a firm grasp on the cartilage, as soon as the first cut is made there is blood everywhere. It gushes. It spurts, it spews, it sprays. It makes the skin slippery and the ear a difficult things to manage.

The first time James removed an ear it was from a cat. That was easier than a human ear, and he still nearly cut off one of his own fingers in the process. Jessica had done a poor job of holding the cat down. In frustration, he ended up driving the X-Acto knife directly into the animal’s eye socket. He finished the ear after the cat stopped twitching, and then he dealt with Jessica.

He was confident she remembered the lesson well. She still bore the evidence of it.

But the boy’s ear–that had been a chore well worth undertaking. It was delicate work, lifting and slicing just so. The boy was left with a dark, wet hole where his ear should have been. He was hoarse from the screams. It was all so breath-taking.

To James’ delight, the flaying had gone well, too. Flaying sounds hard until one has done it a few times. It’s not so difficult. The boy found new air in his lungs and the screams came again. They were intermingled with cries for his mommy and begging pleas to make the pain stop.

“No, no, my boy,” James said to him, running a bloodied hand across his forehead. “We welcome the pain.”

The girl was still knocked out on the floor, and Mr. Baker was as good as dead. In James’ considerable experience, the newly blind are helpless. Jack Baker’s world had been reduced to sound, smell and touch. But he was tied up and could not touch anything. If he was awake he could certainly hear things–the boy screaming most of all–but that would only serve to indicate his future. And the predominant smell in the basement was the metallic odor of blood mixed with the fowl scent of urine, courtesy of the other boy writhing and crying on the floor.

The situation was well in hand. James had not planned for four guests. Truth be told, he was concerned when he drugged Mr. Baker that perhaps he should have waited. It wasn’t so long ago that Scottie Peterson had been in this same basement, his screams filling the holes James and Jessica had in their hearts. It was as if fate had delivered Jack Baker to him. It could not have been easier. Furthermore, it was unlikely that anyone would associate the Peterson boy with a grown man. No one would think the same person had abducted both.

Easy, peasy, he had told Jessica.

But now, with these nosy children in the mix, well, what could be done? Each must meet the pain. Each must be dealt with. Each must learn what his beautiful sister already knew, and more. That James Kinter is not a man to be trifled with, and that the pain is powerful. It can change the shape of your whole world.

When he finished with the left hand, he stood. The boy was losing a lot of blood and James didn’t want him to pass out. Not yet. The time would come for that and then he could move to one of the others, but he wanted a little more time with this lad, first. He was so energetic and enthusiastic. Just a few more screams.

He made a decision. He looked back to Jessica and said, “The hatchet.” She nodded, his faithful sister, and pulled a small camp axe from its place on the tool wall. “The wood block, too.”

“Of course,” Jessica said, her eyes alight.

She tucked the hatchet under an arm and scooped up a large, round wooden block. Its top surface was chipped and ridged and stained dark with crimson. James had used it in the past for all sorts of amputations. It was easier to cut or chop with a solid surface below. The wood block was actually a cross section of a tree trunk. It stood about 2 feet tall and had a diameter of roughly 18 inches.

James sawed it, himself, from a tree in the yard he’d grown up in. He used it as a chopping block with his mother, when he showed her what he and Jessica had discovered. When he taught her about the pain. Her blood was still there, his mother’s, deep in the grain of the wood. Like a first offering.

The first of many.

Jessica set the wooden block next to the boy and James placed his skinless hand on top. “Hold his arm,” he told Jessica, but the boy, now moaning again, made no effort to pull his ruined hand back. Perhaps he wants to be rid of it, James thought. A welcome end.

And that was when he saw it.

He’d spent years ducking and dodging, building an identity so he could explore the pain again. These four guests were bringing a swift end to his time in this small town before he’d even gotten started. He had hoped to dance the blood dance with a dozen or more before picking up and moving on, and he’d hoped to do that without having to go into hiding again. Life is too short to spend in fear. He wanted to live, and he wanted to do it on his terms.

But he could see this was la fine of that dream. He could see the house lights coming up. He could see the credits rolling, the cast so much smaller than he’d hoped. And he could see that he and Jessica would need to go back to a life of hiding so much sooner than he’d planned.

This was the end, these four. At least for a while. It pained him to realize it. Not a pain to be worshiped, but rather an aching pain. An emotional pain. The kind of pain he’d spent his life trying to outpace.

He shook his head. Enough of that melancholy non-sense, he told himself. What’s done is done. I’ll make the best of it, as I always do.

Jessica was still holding the boy’s arm, his hand on the wooden block. James could feel the familiar weight of the hatchet in his hand. Perhaps this is the end, he thought, but what an end it will be!

“Sweet Jessica,” he said, “when I’ve removed the hand, I’ll need you to fetch the gas torch. You’ll have to be quick. I want to cauterize the wound without the boy slipping from consciousness. To do that, we must move fast.”

She nodded with solomen reverence.

“You’ll need to light the torch. When you hand it to me, be mindful of the flame. If you wish, you may stay close by. When I’m done with his hand, I intend to kiss his cheek with it. You’ll want to watch that.”

She smiled. “Yes, James. Thank you.”

James Kinter looked down at his sister, her hands wrapped around the boy’s arm. Blood dripped onto the wooden surface of the stump and ran along its length to the floor. Jessica’s scarred, twisted face contorted to form her smile. It was a lunatic’s smile, James knew that. The smile of a sweet psychopath, but he loved it. In that moment, knowing the end drew near, knowing he might not be able to worship the pain again for some time, he was happy. His heart felt whole. He had all he needed to feel fulfilled and content.

What more could a man want?

He returned Jessica’s smile and winked at her. She smiled wider, the braided flesh of her cheeks pulling her lips back from her yellowed teeth. It was beautiful.

He heaved the axe over his head and brought it down on the boy’s wrist. The hand, as though it had a life of its own, toppled from the wooden block and skid across the room coming to a stop before the crying boy. He pulled back from it, the stupid child, as though it might bite him. And then, believe it or not, he wet himself again.

Oh, that one will be fun, James thought. Fun all the way to the end.

Fiction, Uncategorized

For anyone who is wondering, I see The Kinter House coming to a close in the next couple of weeks. I think there will be two more installments. I have a loose idea of what I think (and hope) will happen, but until I see the prompts, I just won’t know. Oh, and if you haven’t read the other stories in this series, click here to read them before getting into this week’s installment. (Start at the bottom and read them in the order they were posted.)

This week’s prompt is brought to us by the gang over at the 500 Club:

Write the moment a character finally gets something they’ve wanted for a long time. Was it worth the wanting? Can you show emotion without going over the top or going with what’s been overdone? 

I think this short piece satisfies the prompt nicely, though you might have to be familiar with the entire series to really see it. Jessica is a simple creature. Okay, simple and twisted, but simple nevertheless. I believe this is something she’s wanted for a long, long time.

Thanks for all the comments on last week’s story. It’s encouraging to hear that folks are reading them and finding them to be scary. As I said in one of the comments, they scare me, too. Kinter and Jessica are, in many ways, my own personal fears at a very basic level. They remind me of people I know…

But enough of that. On to this week’s story. We’ve come this far–only a little further ’til the end.

the kiss

It was a beautiful kiss.

The torch hissed and the skin pulled back, crackling and turning dark the way it does. Every time James gives someone a kiss, it’s like it’s the first time. I always feel like I’m watching something magical.

When we were little and Momma took us to church, the preacher used to talk about sacred things. I remember him saying that when a thing is sacred, it’s holy, and he said that holy means “set apart”, like the good china we only use on Christmas. It’s special. It’s just for certain times.

That’s how James’ kisses are.

I used to hate that James didn’t tell me he loved me more. After he showed Momma the pain, I wanted him to hold me. I was scared. But it made him angry. I think he thought I was sad for her, but I was sad for us. I didn’t know he was planning to show other people the pain, too. I thought when Momma died, that would be it and I didn’t want it to end.

James has kissed me a few times. I have pretty marks to prove it. They are all over. James says I’m the prettiest girl he’s ever seen. He says that’s why I can’t leave the house–everyone would want to know who I was and why I was there. He says it’s like how they follow celebrities around, taking pictures and talking about everything they do. He says he’s protecting me from that, so I have to stay hidden. But I have him, and that’s all I really need. Him and his kisses.

After he kissed the boy’s cheek, he turned to me. “Would you like to…?” he asked, holding out the torch.

My heart beat so hard, then. James has never let me kiss anyone. Sometimes he lets me cut things. Small things, like fingers and toes. One time he even let me dissect one, but she was already dead. It looks like more fun when James does it. They’re still moving and screaming then.

But a kiss. I’ve never given anyone a kiss. It’s a sacred thing, a kiss. Holy. Set apart.

He handed me the torch and my hands shook.

“Be careful with it. The end is very hot. Point the flames toward his skin and only hold it there for a short bit.”

James had kissed the right cheek, so I decided to kiss the left. I leaned forward with the torch, but there was so much blood on the floor. My feet slid and I fell into the boy. The torch pushed into his face hard and he passed out or died. His body just stopped moving.

James tried to help me up, but the torch was so hot. I spun and dropped it. He caught it as it fell, but the flame was twisted toward him. It kissed his arm and lit his shirt on fire.

“I’m sorry, James!” I cried.

And then something hit my legs from behind.