We’re almost at the conclusion of The Kinter House. This post is the second to last. I think I see how it’s going to end, but the prompts may yet dictate a sudden change. We’ll have to see.

Speaking of the prompt, it was particularly hard to adapt this installment to one this week. This piece of flash fiction marks one of the most liberal interpretations I’ve made of a prompt. Metaphorically, I’ve fulfilled it, for what that’s worth, but you have to squint and tilt your head to the left to see it.

Still, I feel it’s a nice addition to the series. I’m happy with how it turned out. 

The prompt, supplied by Flash Fiction Friday, is this:

Prompt: Use the picture above as your inspiration. [The picture is the interior of a large cave.] This is the view as you and your guide close your eyes for the night. When you wake up however, you’re alone. Your guide’s gear is there, but he is nowhere to be found. You hear a sound that sends a chill down your spine. Is there someone, or something, down there with you? What do you do now? And, what happened to your guide?

Genre: Horror

Word Count: 1,500

If you aren’t familiar with the series, this story may not make much sense. I encourage you to read the other installments, first. Click here to get to them, and be sure to start at the bottom and read them in the order they were posted.

in the dark

When I was a kid, my parents took me and my sister on a short vacation to Carlsbad to see the caverns. The Carlsbad Caverns are a wonder to behold. They are, in a word, huge. We hiked in from the surface. The world faded from warm, summer air and dry heat to the cool, musty smells of the caves. Rock formations hung above and rose from the ground all around us. It felt alien, that place, and magical. I was captivated by the other-worldliness of it.

When we arrived at the bottom we took one of the guided tours. About half way through the tour, the guide instructed our group to sit and be still. He explained that he was going to turn off all the lights, leaving the cave in its natural state of total darkness. He asked that we not take pictures or even talk, but just look and listen.

When the lights went out, we were lost in an utter void. I remember holding my hand before my face and seeing nothing. Absolutely nothing. When you’re a kid, you think of any dimly lit room as “dark”, but this was true darkness. There was no light at all. It was the most dark place I’ve ever been.

Until the day I woke in Mr. Kinter’s basement.

The ear-cutting had concluded and he proceeded, from the sounds of it, to flay someone’s fingers and then cut off the entire hand. I heard him light the torch, presumably a hand-held blow torch. I could smell the gas its blue flame produced. He cauterized the wound. He announced this before he began, but I would have known what he was doing without his commentary. I could smell the burning flesh. I’d never smelled charred skin before and, sickeningly, I recognized the scent immediately anyway. It wasn’t foul smelling as much as it was unnerving. It was knowing, I think, what the smell represented that turned my stomach more than the actual scent.

I heard him invite someone named Jessica to “kiss” the burn victim with the flame. She sounded gleeful.

Then a collision of sounds happened in fast succession. The hiss of more skin under the flame, the sounds of scuffling, her screamed apology, the metal canister of the torch hitting the concrete of the basement floor, a male voice crying out in pain and, finally, a muffled pummel, like someone hitting a pillow. Hard.

Shortly thereafter, there was a voice in my ear. It was female and young.

“You can’t see, can you?”

I mumbled into the ball gag. She unlatched it and my jaws were free. It was the most wonderful ache I’ve ever felt, opening and closing my mouth to make sure it still worked.  I spit, tasting blood in the spittle, and answered her. “No, he blinded me. Some drug or something.”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “He’s down and hurt and his sister looks like she’s knocked out. We don’t have much time, though. We have to get outta here.”

As she spoke, I could feel her small fingers furiously working on the knots that bound my hands. When my arms were free, she moved to the front of the chair and set to work on my feet.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“Carrie Wilson. I live down the block from you, Mr. Baker.”

The image of a young girl came to mind. A tom boy who’s friends were mostly male. She played little league and ran with the guys, but there was a spark of something beautiful in her face, even at age twelve. I remember thinking, when I met her, this one is going to be a heartbreaker. I hoped she still would be.

I pumped my hands, opening and closing my fists to get the blood flowing again. When my legs were free, I flexed them, as well. I was afraid to stand. I knew all of my limbs had been asleep. I could very well topple right over, falling onto God knows what.

“Stay here a sec,” she said. I heard her scurry away and return seconds later. “Got a knife.”

Good, I thought. Stab the fucker. She was only a kid, for God’s sake, but I wanted to urge her to kill nonetheless. However, getting out was more important than getting even, so instead I just said, “You’ll have to lead me.”

“Kevin, get up! We’re going!”

There was sobbing to my left. It had been such a constant sound that I must of tuned it out, but the crier, presumably Kevin, mumbled something in response and she gave him a stern, “Now!”

She took my hand and I stood. The world spun. If I could have seen, I’m certain I would have experienced vertigo. Bile rose in the back of my throat and my head was immediately dizzy. I would like to claim that I felt firm resolve in that moment. That I had taken stock of my life and that I was ready to fight to keep alive, blind or not. That adrenaline kicked in and I could have torn through walls to escape, if necessary. But the truth is, I questioned if I could take even one step.

I feared I was dead already.

She pulled my arm and I stepped forward. Right foot. The world tumbled and I sucked in air. Left foot. The world tilted in the opposite direction like the entire basement was a huge teeter totter. Right foot. Left foot. Right. Left.

“Come on, Kevin,” she urged again. “Let’s get out of here!”

“Leaving…so soon?” The voice was Kinter’s. It was in front of us, blocking our way. He sounded labored. His breathing was ragged and his voice marked with pain.

“I have a knife!” Carrie announced.

Kinter laughed. “As do I, girl.”

Shit. It sounded like the challenge was energizing him. His voice grew stronger, his will set.

Carrie’s small hand slipped from mine. I wanted to hold it, to hold her back. What could a girl do against that monster? But my palm was sweaty, as was hers, and her fingers slid right out of my grip.

Kinter laughed. “The cub wants to play!” he announced with elation. “Very well. Come on, little one. Let’s see how spirited you truly are!”

Carrie made a sound from deep in her throat. A feral growl. She sounded like a wild animal and I remembered, once again, the look I’d seen in her eyes. She was a tigress, this one, and the smallest sliver of hope leapt within me.

“Get him,” I said.

She screamed like a seasoned she-warrior and charged forward.

This scene played out earlier today:

Vye looked at me from across my study. Her arms were crossed. “I don’t care.”

“But all the others have been based on prompts,” I tried to explain.

“I don’t care.”

“But what about the continuity of the series?”

“I don’t care.”

“What about consistency?”

“I don’t care.”

“What about my word? I said all the stories in this series would be based on prompts!”

She narrowed her eyes. “I. Don’t. Care.”

“Fine,” I said in frustration. “What do you care about?!”

She never faltered. Never dropped eye-contact. Never hesitated. “The story,” she said. “I care about the story.”

Vye and I don’t have it out often, but when we do one of two things happens. Either she wins and the story plays out the way it was meant to, or I win and the story suffers for it. I’ve learned the hard way, it’s best to do what your muse demands.

That said, this week’s story, the final piece of the Kinter house series, is not based on a prompt. I knew how the story needed to end, how it wanted to end, and the prompts this week simply didn’t work. They were way too specific or just too out of place in the insanity that is the Kinter basement. So I didn’t use one. I just wrote. 

If you’ve been keeping up with the series all along, I hope this is an ending you can, ahem, live with. Please let me know what you think of it in the comments. If you haven’t read the rest of these stories, please click here, and be sure to start at the bottom and read them in the order they were posted.

into the blinding light

Kinter responded to Carrie’s growl with a grunt of his own. His eyes were all whites and pupils. Blood cascaded down his leg. The torch had burn him badly but failed to cauterize the wound. It was a wonder he was able to stand at all.

Carrie charged forward, her knife hand leading. Kinter opened his arms in a come-to-papa gesture. He smiled at her in a way that was obscene. She let out another war cry just as she was about to collide with him, and then threw her weight to the left, toward the stairs. Kinter didn’t see the change-up coming. He’d been prepared with a counter-lunge and was already in mid-swing when Carrie disappeared on him. He stumbled forward, unable to recover his balance.

He was headed right for Mr. Baker.

Carrie looked down at the knife. It looked unlike any knife she’d held before. It looked like something from a movie about Navy Seals and Delta Force guys, not something you’d expect to see in an old man’s basement. It was heavy, though, and it felt good in her hand. And, of course, it was all she had.

She had never thrown a knife before, so she knew nothing about technique. Still, Kinter’s burnt leg was toward her and he made for a decent-sized target. If she could make contact with the raw, ruined flesh of his leg, even with the dull end, Kinter would forget all about Mr. Baker and chase after her, like a mad hound chasing a rabbit.

Yeah, she thought. Chase me, you fucking bastard.

She gripped the knife by the blade–that’s how they do it in movies–and chucked it at Kinter. It flung end over end toward the charred flesh that used to be his leg and, unbelievably, made contact. More than that. The blade caught on his muscle and easily slid in. Carrie heard it hit the bone. She ran forward and wrapped her fingers around the handle while Kinter thrashed, obscenities flowing from his lips like he was speaking a language made only of curse words.

She had to pull hard.

When the knife popped free, blood spewed from the wound with more force and in greater volume than Carrie would have thought possible. He was an O+ piñata.

Clutching his leg, Kinter dropped the knife he’d been holding and crumpled to the ground. He was mewing now, incoherent sobs that reminded Carrie of Kevin. She kicked Kinter’s fallen knife away from his body and took Mr. Baker’s hand.

“Come on. We need to get outta here! Now!”

When she turned back to the stairs, there was Jessica.

“The sister. Fuck my life.”

“What?” Mr. Baker asked.

“The fucking sister. She’s between us and the stairs now.”

Jessica had ribbons of blood across her scarred face. The bright scarlet shining in the dim light was the only attractive thing about her. She looked to Carrie and said, “Don’t you want to be pretty?” She posed the question with mild indignation, the same way Carrie’s 3 year-old sister might ask, “Don’t you want to play with my dollie?”

“No thanks, crazy,” Carrie said. “I’m just fine the way I am.”

Jessica clearly didn’t understand. “You don’t want to be pretty? I thought everyone wanted to be pretty. Like me…” She stared into the middle distance trying to wrap her mind around Carrie’s preference for plain looks. “I’ve never made anyone pretty,” Jessica muttered. “I’ve just watched all these years…”

That’s when Carrie saw Jessica’s hands. In one hand, she held a pair of yard sheers. In the other, something wet and red and small. Carrie could not help but stare at it, horrified. She had to know what it was, but she was afraid to look at Max. She had intentionally avoided even a glance in that direction. Pragmatically, she reasoned that Max was likely as good as dead. He’d lost a lot of blood–so much she could smell it–and even if he lived, he’d never be the same. Her friend was already gone.

In spite of herself, she looked at Max now. His body was ragged, sagging in the chair they’d tied him to. The stump where his right hand should have been was black and, God help her, gooey. But it was his face that made her gag. His cheeks had been sliced open at the corners of his mouth. His lower jaw hung open, unnaturally wide, allowing for a too-full view of the interior of his mouth.

Jessica had been playing. She held Max’s tongue in her hand, her fingers rubbing it like it was a good luck charm.

Mercifully, Max was passed out from shock or already dead. At least, that’s what Carrie told herself.

Carrie looked back to Jessica. There was a twinkle in her demented eyes. Come and let me make you pretty, it said. Carrie had never been one for make-overs. She hated slumber parties because someone was always making her try different kinds of make-up, just for fun. Maybe one day she’d grow into it. Maybe when her breasts came in and her hips acquired curves. Maybe then she’d paint her face and select her clothes strategically. Maybe then she’d want with all her heart to be pretty, but not today.

Today, she didn’t give a flying fuck about being pretty.

Unlike her brother, Jessica wasn’t sporting a severe burn down the length of one whole leg. And Carrie doubted she could taunt her into a charge. She’d be harder to get past.

Mr. Baker squeezed Carrie’s hand. “What’s going on?”

“Mexican stand-off,” Carrie said.

“The sister?”

“Yeah. She’s in our way. How are your legs?”

Mr. Baker’s face twisted in confusion. “Fine, I think.”

“I mean, you aren’t hurt, right? You could run or kick, couldn’t you?”

“I guess so.”

“Good.”

Carrie turned back to Jessica who stood swaying in a breeze only she felt. She seemed entirely unconcerned about the two human beings intent on leaving the basement, even if they had to kill her to get out. Carrie did a quick visual search for Kevin. He was behind her, still sobbing silently, sucking his thumb.

“You wanna make me pretty?” Carrie asked.

Jessica smiled. “Yes.”

“Like…my friend?” Carrie gestured toward Max.

“Oh, no,” Jessica said. “Much prettier.”

“Come and get me, then.”

Jessica chuckled. “Child. You have a knife. I’m not as foolish as you think I am.”

“Fine.” Carrie tossed the knife toward Max. It slid to a stop at his feet in a puddle of crimson. “Now I don’t have a knife.”

Jessica nodded. “And I will make you pretty.”

She began to walk forward. When she was about 3 feet away, Carrie slipped her hand from Mr. Baker’s and dove at Jessica’s legs. She was fast, too fast for Jessica to see it coming. Jessica dropped her sheers and the tongue. Carrie hit her at the ankles, wrapping her arms around Jessica’s legs and throwing all her weight into the lowest possible point. Jessica had been walking quickly, eager to begin the make-over, and the momentum of her body carried her forward still.

She was falling–over Carrie, toward Mr. Baker.

“Mr. Baker!” Carrie shouted. “Kick now! Hard!

Mr. Baker didn’t hesitate. His right leg swung forward with as much force as he could muster, his foot making contact with Jessica’s chin. Even with sight, he could not have hoped for a better hit. Jessica’s head snapped back and her body flung over Carrie, landing in a heap where she’d been standing only seconds before. Blood flowed freely from her mouth. She’d bitten her own tongue off and it lay on the floor next to Max’s, tips touching like some kind of sick, sadistic kiss.

“Let’s go!” Carrie declared.

Mr. Baker held a hand out and Carrie took it. She pulled him around Jessica and toward the stairs. “Kevin! Move it!”

Behind her, she could hear Kevin trudging forward.

When she reached the stairs, she said, “Steps.” Mr. Baker nodded and they started up.

They burst through the door at the top of the stairs into the kitchen. The sunlight was blinding, even late in the day. Had it been that dark down there? She navigated Mr. Baker toward the front door. Once in the yard, they would be more or less safe.

When she opened the door, a warm breeze greeted her. It seemed to caress her face, bringing with it the smells of newly mowed grass and hot dogs on a grill and hints of late blooming flowers. It was the sweetest thing she’d ever smelled.

Mr. Baker felt the sunlight, too, and exhaled. Had he been holding his breath? “Is the boy with us?” he asked.

Kevin. Damn it, where is he?

“He’s slow,” she said. “I’ll make sure he made it out.”

She trotted back into the house cautiously, expecting to see Kevin headed toward the front door. But no one was there. She crossed the living room. No one in the kitchen. She looked to the door leading down to the basement.

No, she thought.

Kinter appeared at the top of the stairs. His arm twitched and he was still bleeding, but he wore a smile nonetheless. Carrie searched the kitchen counters for a knife or something, anything, to use as a weapon.

“Go, girl,” he said. “We’ll not make you pretty. You’ve beaten us, an old man and his sister. Go. Tell the authorities and bring an end to the beauty of  the pain.”

Carrie eyed him with suspicion. Was it a trap?

“But go knowing this: we have one offering yet to make.”

Carrie heard Kevin then, crying from somewhere down in the dark. There was another noise, too. A gargled sound, like someone laughing and choking at the same time.

“Oh yes,” he said, his eyes alight. “We will make him pretty.”

And then he closed the basement door. When Carrie heard the lock engage, she ran. When she heard the first scream, before she’d even made it to the yard, a tear traced her face.

Out into the blinding sun she ran, looking for help, but the only help Max and Kevin were to receive would come on the other side of the pain.

Flash FictionYesterday was busy for me. I’ve not missed a weekly fiction post in years, though I have missed the occasional Friday. This week I’m late, and that’s only half the bad news. The second half is that this is not an episode of The Dark Calling.

But, to make it up to you, something brief and grim from a while back. A side story. A snapshot.

This is also ‘proper flash fiction’. Though late, I used this week’s prompt from The Prediction:

100 words maximum, excluding the title, of flash fiction or poetry using all of the three words above (‘colony’, ‘pastry’ and ‘increments’) in the genres of horror, fantasy or science fiction.

Enjoy.

pretty, pretty

He works in increments, like he had with the ant colony. No swift kicks. He went insect by insect, savoring each.

The cat mews.

His fingers reach for his face. It did scratch him. He feels the ridge of the wound, puckered flesh crusting at the edges like a pastry made of skin.

But this isn’t justice. This isn’t payback. This isn’t revenge.

This is a young man on a journey. This is a monster finding himself. This is fun, pure and simple.

He clips off the tail. Jessica watches.

James, only 11, grins. “Pretty, huh?”

“So pretty,” she says.

Flash FictionI can’t say much about this story without spoiling it, so I’m not going to say anything.

Instead, I’m just going to invite you into it. I hope you enjoy it. Please let me know what you think in the comments. I’d very much like to hear your thoughts on this one.

condolences

“For you,” he said.

The color caught her eye first. Deep, rich pinks fanned out along the petals, outlined in white. The color gave the appearance of veins, the way it spider-crawled along the delicate flesh. At the middle was a burst of red mingled with gold. The center looked like a tiny angel, wings extended to the sides to hold it aloft. An angel surrounded by beauty.

“It’s an orchid,” he said. “A Phalaenopsis.”

She smiled. “It’s lovely.”

He nodded agreement. “I thought you might appreciate it. Do you have a vase? I’d like to get it in some water so you can enjoy it for as long as possible.”

She opened the door wider and invited him in. He was older. Probably 25 years her senior. She didn’t know him well at all, but he seemed nice enough. His smile made the corners of his eyes wrinkle, and she took that as a very good sign.

She led him to the kitchen where she retrieved a simple glass vase from the cabinet beside the fridge. He took it from her hand, his fingers gently caressing hers as they made the exchange. There was nothing sexual or sensual about it. It was a comforting gesture, and she appreciated it more than she let him know.

“I didn’t think I’d want to see another flower ever again,” she said.

He frowned. “Oh, no. I’ve reminded you of unpleasant days.”

She shook her head. “No, no. It’s okay. I mean, all the arrangements. There were so many flowers. Most of them were fake, though, and none was as lovely as this. What did you call it?”

“A Phalaenopsis orchid.”

“Well, it’s far prettier than any of the others. All those plastic flowers and sympathy bouquets. Those things are so fucking depressing.”

She heard the word coming out of her mouth, but didn’t quite catch it. Immediately, her eyes went wide. She wondered if she’d offended him. He looked just old enough to believe a proper young lady shouldn’t use such language.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t have used that word.”

He chuckled. “It’s only a word. In my experience, they’re not worth getting upset over. Besides, you’ve been through an ordeal. If the occasional verbal indulgence brings peace, swear all you want.” He smiled conspiratorially. “All you fucking want.”

She laughed at that. She laughed hard. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt so light, and all of this over a flower.

“Are these hard to grow?” she asked as he slipped the vase under the facet, turning on the water.

“Nothing is really all that difficult to grow,” he said. “This flower wants to grow. It wants to bloom. This is what it was meant for. The challenge is to avoid getting in its way. One has to know the ideal conditions and then replicate them. Phals can’t be overly watered. They don’t care for direct sunlight. Extreme temperatures are also detrimental. And, of course, I believe firmly in fertilizer of the highest quality.”

He sat the vase on the counter top and took a small pair of garden sheers from his coat pocket. He snipped one-fourth an inch from the bottom of the stem and gently lowered it into the vase.

“There,” he said. “I would suggest keeping it away from the windows. It won’t last forever, but perhaps it will give you a few days of beauty.”

She felt the tears in the corners of her eyes before he saw them. They slipped the bonds of her eyes and made twin trails down her cheeks. She didn’t know why she was crying. Perhaps it was just his kindness. Such a simple act, but he seemed to understand the abiding nature of her pain and the emptiness she would feel for some time. She wondered who he had lost. A wife, perhaps. Maybe that was why he waited to bring her this gift. To comfort her. Maybe he knew it would mean more now.

“Thank you,” she said.

✦          ✦          ✦

He was genuinely moved by her tears. After all, she was young. He knew it had been hard, these last few months. He’d been watching from a distance. She put up a strong front, but he could see it–the pain she wore like a heavy shawl, its weight pressing down on her shoulders all hours of the day.

The flower was a gift, something beautiful he wanted to share with her. But it was more for him than her. He wanted this moment. When she saw her crying, he felt he’d played his part to completion.

✦          ✦          ✦

He wrapped her in his arms, hugging her tight. So many people had offered condolences, but that hug beat every cheap word, every Hallmark sentiment, every stupid Bible verse someone had quote. She leaned into him, weirdly comfortable with the affection from someone who was, in so many ways, a stranger.

He kissed her forehead. It reminded her of what her father might have done if he’d still been alive. She was grateful for it, that magical, unexpected moment.

Then, without a word he patted her on the shoulder and made his way to the door. There he paused.

“If you ever need to talk,” he said.

“Thank you,” she said again.

As he made his way across her lawn, she realized she couldn’t even remember his name. Embarrassed to call out to him, she made a mental note to ask a neighbor. She knew she knew it, but it was caught somewhere in her subconscious. Just out of reach.

No matter. Even if she couldn’t remember his name, she would never forget his kindness. She sat down at her kitchen table and sighed at the sight of the orchid. It was truly beautiful. The pain was still there, the sense of loss, but in that moment she felt only one thing. In a word, gratitude.

✦          ✦          ✦

As he made his way across her yard back toward his house, he smiled.

She wasn’t as far removed from her dead husband as she thought. Not now. In a way, he was right there on the kitchen table. For a few precious days, he would grace her life once more. And then the flower would wilt and, none the wiser, she would most likely throw it out. She would never know how close she’d been.

And that was why he’d done it. It was an act of poetry, bringing the entire affair full circle. He really had outdone himself.

Fertilizer of the highest quality, James Kinter thought with a chortle. Indeed.

Flash FictionI like to revisit characters, even in super-short form. This is one of those times.

James Kinter remains, for me, an epic villain. There’s nothing particularly original about him. He’s like so many other killers, a disturbing mix of sophistication and psychopathy. But that’s part of why I like him.

Well, not HIM. Stories that feature him. He’s deplorable, but you can’t have horror without a good villain.

This one was especially fun as the closing line echoes the title of the first story I wrote about him, back when I wasn’t sure how I felt about being able to go so dark. Now I delight in it. Ain’t that a kick in the head?

If you like this little thing, be sure to check out the much longer original series, The Kinter House. It’s classic American horror.

Oh, and the piece below was written based on a prompt from The Prediction:

100 words maximum, excluding the title, of flash fiction or poetry using all of the three words above (‘lone’, ‘sanguine’, and ‘splay’) in the genres of horror, fantasy or science fiction.

rhapsody

He was sanguine, even as sirens sounded in the distance. They were a pack of rabid dogs on the hunt, but he didn’t care. He just smiled, depositing his tools on the table and taking off the heavy butcher’s apron.

His work was splayed across the room. “Rhapsody In Red” played on a lone speaker. “Love to feel it flood down to my soul…,” Garcia sang.

His soul felt light, sanctified by the sacrifice.

They would come, ready to dissect his masterpiece. But it didn’t matter.

He would simply wrap himself in the comfort of the memory of those screams.