Thursday, August 30, 2012

"Heart-Shaped Box"

There was a heart-shaped box on her desk that morning. Opening it, she found that it was filled with chocolates delicately wrapped in thin pieces of tissue paper, each piece of tissue paper a different color for a different type of chocolate. Some had a coconut, some had nougat, there was even that one in the center that had an oozy strawberry filling that most people would never eat and threw away with the wrapping, but she ate it. She loved it.

"What's the occasion, Marti?" one of the other nurses asked.

"Anniversary," Marti said, delicately placing the cover back on the box. "Bob always remembers and this one is special: forty years."

"No shit?" The other nurse glanced at the heart-shaped box with a twinge of jealousy. "Well, you're a lucky girl."

"I'm no girl," Marti said. "No spring chicken here. I'm nearly sixty-seven. And while it was a very nice gesture from Bob, I'm slightly worried about when I get home."

"Why? He want something kinky in bed?" The other nurse, whose name was Betancourt, was a notorious gossip.

"No, it's not that," Marti said in a whisper. Sex was still a somewhat taboo subject for her, though she knew Betancourt loved to talk about it. Nurse Betancourt had emigrated from Trinidad and still had her thick accent, which somewhat eased Marti when she talked about such a frank subject with her. "It's just hasn't been there lately."

"Ah," Nurse Betancourt said. "I understand. And Bob? What about him?"

"Oh, is fine," Marti said. "Anyway, I shouldn't be talking about this. We have work to do." She picked up a stack of paperwork and started filling it out. Betancourt sighed - her source of gossip having been cut off, she went back to checking on the various patients in their ward.

Two hours later, police admitted an unconscious woman to the hospital. An officer explained that she had been knocked unconscious during a rave and might possibly be on drugs. Marti scheduled her for a CT scan to see if there might be a concussion, then starting drawing blood in order to do a drug test. As Marti drew the blood, she noticed how the woman's hair was a vivid shade of red.

At that moment, the woman's eyes snapped opened. Marti pulled back, but she wasn't quick enough - the red-haired woman sat up with startling speed and jumped off the table. The suddenness of the movement made Marti jump herself and then trip, falling on the floor. She felt a sharp pain in her thigh and closed her eyes. When she opened then, the red-haired woman was gone and the officer was calling for backup.

When Marti finally got up and brushed herself off, she noticed with alarm that the needle she had using to draw blood from the woman was now embedded in her thigh, with the plunger all the way down.

The officer helped her sit down and she delicately pulled the needle out of her thigh. The officer appeared to be panicking more than she was - she was in a strange state of calm. She knew she should be worried about the red-haired woman's blood - there might be drugs in it or HIV or any number of other viruses, but she knew there was nothing she could do about it now except take antivirals and wait.

So she did. In fact, she went back to work, since she was still on the clock. She wondered how she would relate the news to Bob - this was their anniversary and it was not going well. Her daydream about breaking the news to Bob was interrupted by Bob's voice: "Marti, what are you doing?"

"Bob?" she looked up and saw his kind, wrinkled face. "Why are you here?"

"The hospital called me," he said. "They said there was some sort of accident? I came here as soon as I could."

"Oh, you shouldn't have," Marti said. "I'm fine. I've taken a load of antivirals and-"

"Marti," Bob said, "come on, this is me."

"I'm fine," she said. "Truly."

He was quiet for a while and then said, "Okay." Then he pulled her into a big bearhug and she breathed a sigh of relief. Everything was going to be fine. There anniversary wasn't going to be ruined by one little needle.

That evening, Bob took Marti to a fancy restaurant and they sipped red wine and laughed at old stories. Marti thought she would be tired after working eight hours at the hospital, but she felt better than before. There was an energy inside of her that she wanted to release.

In fact, the drive she had been talking about earlier with Nurse Betancourt seemed to have returned. After diner, Bob and Marti went back to their brownstone and made love.

The next day, Marti felt even better. At the nursing station, she couldn't stay still, moving her hips as she filled out the paperwork, never sitting down for more than a minute. "What's up with you, girl?" Nurse Betancourt asked.

"Oh, nothing," Marti said. "I just feel...good."

"Someone got lucky last night I bet," Nurse Betancourt said.

"Oh yes," Marti said. "And I aim to get lucky again tonight."

And she did. Night after night, she and Bob made love. When she had the night shift and went home at five a.m., she would even gently wake Bob from sleep and they would have soft, sleep-deprived lovemaking.

By the end of the week, however, Bob was worn out. Marti seemed to have limitless energy, especially in the sack, and after they would make love, she would sometimes request to go again. Bob would bemoan and say, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak!" Or sometimes, if he was feeling silly, he would affect a Russian accent and say, "The vodka is good, but the meat is rotten!"

Marti was getting more looks at the hospital, too. She had been nice looking when she was younger, but at sixty-six, she had too many wrinkles and not enough exercise to get rid of excess fat. But now she could see some doctors look at her with roaming eyes.

"Are you taking some sort of treatment?" Nurse Betancourt asked.

"No," Marti said, "why?"

"Because you're wrinkles are fadin' away," Betancourt said. "Whatever moisturizer you are on, I want some."

Marti checked the mirror in the bathroom and realized it was true. Her wrinkles were slowly vanishing, one by one. She no longer looked sixty-six. In fact, she looked like she was back in her forties. She thought this was strange, but decided not to question it. "You shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth," her mother had always told her.

By the next week, Marti looked almost thirty. Every morning she woke up more excited and energetic than the last morning. She was applying makeup now, just some rouge and a little lipstick, but it was more than she had done before.

Bob, however, was getting more and more tired. Sometimes, he didn't even have the energy for their daily lovemaking. One morning, when she returned from the night shift, she tried to wake him up, but he was sleeping too soundly. She shook him more and he mumbled out about how he was sorry, but that it "won't come up anymore."

She knew this was a problem many older couples faced, but she didn't feel old. She felt young again. She felt new!

She ended up talking with Bob's physician and seeing if she could get a PDE5 inhibitor, which would help with any...disfunction that Bob had. She managed to get some and as soon as she convinced Bob to take one a day, they went right back on their schedule.

One morning, as she was cutting vegetables for soup, the knife slipped and she cut her finger. It stung and she instinctively placed her finger in her mouth. This simple act changed everything for Marti. The taste of her own blood was almost orgasmic. She ended up sucking a bit too much on the finger, but when she finally pulled it out of her mouth, the cut was gone. It had healed in less than a minute.

At work, she was getting more and more looks. "Tell me your surgeon," Nurse Betancourt would say. "He does great work."

Marti would just smile mysteriously (and a little seductively) and say nothing. Her home life was going a little better. They were back on their daily lovemaking sessions, but now Marti had a taste of her own blood, she wanted more.

She started giving Bob small cuts on his arms and licked them up. Then more and more, until finally it was equal parts lovemaking and bloodplay.

Finally, one evening, Bob said to her, "My only wish, Marti, is to make you happy. That's all I wanted. That's why I've gone along with all of this. But I only have so much stamina and so much blood in me. I can't keep going like this."

"But I want more," Marti said. "I have this...need. This thirst."

"Then take what you want," Bob said. "Please. I hope it will be enough."

She cut him on his arm and licked the blood and then made another cut and another. Soon, she was lost in her own blood-filled world and when she finally looked down, Bob was still. She hadn't noticed as his heart stopped. Her mind was clouded with sex and blood and she took the knife and cut deep into his chest, cut further than she should have with an inhuman strength. She cut and pried open his ribcage and took out his heart.

She tried to make it beat again, but it wouldn't. So she licked the blood and then put the heart in a plastic ziplock bag and placed it in her purse. She would bring it to a doctor, that's all Bob needed, Marti thought as she cleaned up. A heart doctor.

As she walked down the street, she could feel others staring at her and she reveled in it. She walked into the hospital and up to her nursing station, where Nurse Betancourt was. "Can I help you?" Nurse Betancourt asked. "Admissions are over there."

Marti was confused until she saw a mirror. She no longer looked almost thirty. She looked younger, younger than thirty, younger than twenty. She was eighteen, if she was a day. And she wasn't Marti at eighteen, no, no mousy brown hair. Now, she had bright, vividly red hair and a gorgeously curvy body. No wonder Nurse Betancourt no longer recognized her.

Marti looked at her hair. When had it turned red? And why?

And then she finally remembered the red-haired woman and the blood. Marti licked her lips. It all came down to blood.

"Ma'am?" Nurse Betancourt said. "Admissions are down there."

Marti turned around and walked away, leaving her purse there. Nurse Betancourt would later find it, recognize it as Marti's, and look inside to see if there was any of that chocolate left from that heart-shaped box. When she found what was inside, however, she would let out a blood-curdling scream.

Marti walked out of the hospital, blood still on her mind, blood the only thing on her mind. She had to find more of it. As she walked down the street, the blood took control and threw away all of her old memories, all of her old life.

As she walked, a car pulled up and the man inside the car propositioned her. She smiled and got into the car. "What's your name, honey?" the man asked.

A song came on the radio and triggered one memory that the blood hadn't gotten rid of. It was their song. Always their song.

"Ruby," she said licking her lips. "My name is Ruby."

"The Mistral"

David's mind swirled.

The events of the past few weeks replayed in his mind at a dizzying pace; his promotion to full partner at the firm, his complete rearrangement of staff, his complete domination over the other partners- he had the firm in the palm of his hands.

Then the weather changed, and with it came the nightmares - the horrible nightmares. And then the voices. Always at night or in the early mornings, when the fog hung heavy over his new, very expensive house in the Hollywood hills. Those voices, always just out of the range of being able to understand, but always conspiratorial. Always accusatory.

Then he noticed a change at the office. He saw the looks. He knew they were talking - knew they were plotting. He saw the gradual turnover of office staff. Saw his hand-picked employees being replaced by new, unfriendly faces. He knew what was happening. Hell, he had invented the technique.

He took steps to stop it, but it was too late. They were all in on it. He was so frazzled already that he snapped in the board room. Right in front of the partners. Made quite a scene. They suggested he "do himself a favor" and take a vacation. They actually said they were being generous!

Then came the insult to the injury: that fair-weathered bimbo he'd invested all that time and money (Botox and silicon aren't cheap) just left. She hadn't even bothered to leave a note!

As the world slowly began to swim back into focus he remembered what had just happened. He was driving his Mercedes up the Pacific Coast Highway when out of nowhere he ran into a heavy patch of morning fog. He didn't even have time to hit the brakes when a powerful gust of wind hit the side of the car like a battering ram, sending the car over the side of the road.

As his vision cleared, David found he was sitting on the ceiling of the overturned Mercedes. He had a coppery taste In his mouth and the side of his face felt slick. He touched his hand to the side of his head and felt the gash running at an off angle above his ear. There wasn't as much blood on his hand as he expected to see. How long had he been out?

He leaned down to look out the window, strained muscles screaming as he craned his neck. The fog was gone, so no telling how long he had been sitting there. He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out his Blackberry. Cracks spiderwebbed across the screen.

The driver side door was jammed shut, but with some effort he managed to get the passenger door open enough to squeeze out.

His car sat at an odd angle on a downward wooded slope. The trees were rather thick, so he couldn't tell how far down the car had rolled, but he knew it couldn't be that far, so he slowly and painfully started up the hill intending to get back onto the highway and flag down a passing car.

After a short time the slope began to level off, which was a relief for his aching body, but he found no sign of the highway. After five more minutes he knew something wasn't right. There was no way his car could have rolled that far, especially through trees. All he could think to do was to keep walking.

He came to a clearing in the trees. A thin layer of mist hovered over the clearing, casting a pale yellowish light over the grassy clearing floor.

As he stepped out into the clearing he noticed how eerily quiet it was. He was looking at the layer of mist trying to judge the time when suddenly the mist appeared to expand, enveloping the clearing in a thick fog. David stood there in the unearthly silence, unable to see as far as his own feet.

A slight cool breeze picked up. He sighed in relief, expecting the air to begin to clear. Then he heard the voices. Many voices, none speaking above a whisper and all just outside his range of understanding. He could only make out hints of words. He couldn't tell where they were coming from, but knew they had to be close. He called out for help. He explained that he'd been in an accident. The whispers continued. No one called back.

He thought of his nightmares. Thought about the conspirators in the mist outside of his house. Could the have followed him here? Why? He'd already been destroyed at the firm, what else could they take from him?

The oppressiveness of the fog seemed to draw back. Now he could make out the vaguest hint of trees. He made for them. The voices seemed to follow him - no doubt a trick of the fog.

He had entered the woods on the other end of the clearing when he suddenly stopped short. Had he just seen a human shape in the fog next to that gnarled tree, just out of sight, revealing only a hint of their presence? The vision was gone as quickly as it had come. He heard a concentration of whispers to his right. He whirled around and again just the impression that something had just been there, out of the corner of his eye. This time he was sure it had been the shape of a woman. Another burst of whispers from behind. This time it was the hint of two large men.

The whispering began to sound sharp and threatening. David started moving again, trying to get away from the accusatory whispers. Soon panic overtook him and he ran. He didn't care where he ran, he just wanted to be away from the whispers - away from that fog. He ran blind, narrowly dodging the hulking dark shapes of trees as they burst from the fog. Always the voices remained with him. Always catching hints of figures in the fog, just out of sight... standing there watching.

He screamed as a human shape suddenly came racing out of the fog at him. He was unable to avoid the shape and collided with it. The world spun again as he went sprawling. He landed hard on his right arm and heard a crunch. A sharp pain shot through his whole body. He cried out as he spun around, attempting to crawl away from the shape that was now laid out on the ground. The shape groaned.

"What the Hell, man!" The shape said, sitting up slowly. David could see that the shape was an old man. The old man looked at him.

"Sweet jumped up Jesus, you look rough, mister," the man said, pulling himself up.

"Help me, please!" David heard himself say. "They're after me!"

The man nodded as if he saw this twice every day. "Ain't no 'they' to it, son. It's just one and I thought it was after ME up until I ran into you. Sorry about that, by the bye, I was kinda runnin' scared there, I reckon."

"What do you mean there's only one?" David cried as the old man helped him to his feet. "What the Hell is going on?"

 The old man looked at him with an expression of both surprise and pity. "You been marked by the Dark Wind, boy."


"The Dark Wind, the Zephyrym, the Watcher in the Fog... the Mistral, for Chrissakes!"

David continued to stare at the man in disbelief. "What... the... FUCK are you talking about, old man?"

The old man's eyes darkened. "I would think a man in your position'd be a mite more polite. The Mistral has a liking for high falutin’ mucky mucks who's gotten too big for their britches. That's a mighty fancy lookin' shirt you're wearin' there."

David picked up on the insinuation. He bit back. "So why'd you think it was after you?"

The old man laughed. "You sure gotta mouth fulla spite there, boy. Everytime my momma'd curse me for bein' rambunctious, she'd finish up by sayin' 'Mistral take ya'. The way it came up on me like that I figured she'd got her wish" He looked at David sideways and spat. "That is, till I saw that it was just followin' you."

A cold breeze picked up, and with it the whispers returned.

"That's my sign to leave. May the Archangel show pity on you, son."

Panic flared in David's vision. "Wait!" He cried. "You can't leave me! Help me! You've got to hide me from them!"

"Hide you?" The old man looked shocked. "Don't you get it, boy? How do you hide from the beast once it's swallowed you?"

A sudden powerful gust of wind swirled up around the old man. An expression of absolute terror came over his face as the swirl became a tiny cyclone, lifting the old man off the ground.

David watched in horror as the old man's clothes were suddenly ripped away. The old man tried to scream, but no sound came. The old man's lips darkened as blood vessels burst in his eyes, turning the whites a bright red. The old man flailed wildly for a moment until his eyes slowly rolled up into his head and he stopped fighting. Then the wind changed course and the old man was pulled back into the mist, out of site.

David stood there frozen in horror and disbelief over what he had just seen. The whispers began accusing again. Always just out of his range of hearing, only picking up scattered words that spoke of deceit, of treachery, of betrayal.

He saw them. Under every tree, groups of four or five. Just far enough out of sight that they were only shapes, but they was no mistaking them now. Standing there watching him. JUDGING him. How many lives had he destroyed on his way to the top? How many confidences had he betrayed? How many good people had he deceived?

As the wind swirled around him faster, he opened his mouth and cried "I'm sorry!" No sound came. The wind had stolen his voice. And as his body was lifted into the air, the wind stole his breath.

Friday, August 10, 2012


Dear Janette,

I hope this letter finds you in good health. I hear California is having good weather; perhaps you could send some of that sunshine over to us? Any break from all this rain would be nice.

The twins are getting so big these day, and they're constantly full of energy! It's a wonder Mark and I are able to keep up with them. They're always talking about your last visit, and they do miss you. If you ever happen to be in the area, don't forget to stop by so they can see you again!

And you know how much I hate to be a gossip, but I can't resist indulging for a little bit here. There have been rumors that the visits Mrs. Mason has been paying to Mr. Solomon ever since her husband left on his business trip haven't been entirely innocent. At first I put no stock in such slander, but then I saw the two of them walking down the street together, their relationship was obvious. It's scandalous, them acting like that in public! And with Mr. Mason only having been gone for a week! Hopefully the new pastor will be able to talk some decency into them!

Oh, what have I done, I completely forgot to tell you about the new pastor! We both know that Pastor Parker isn't getting any younger, and he's been looking at retirement for a long time. A new pastor has been brought into the church to take over now that Parker is stepping down. At first I wasn't sure about this Pastor Michael, what with him being a city boy and all, but as soon as I heard him give the sermon I lost all doubts. The town won't be the same without Parker, but Michael's as good a replacement as we could ever have hoped for.

Your friend,


Dear Janette,

Father Michael has been an absolute godsend for this town. The whole place seems infused with the Spirit, and church attendance is higher than it has ever been before. Oh, you should hear him speak! Every service, I feel his words lifting my soul up, and when he describes the coming Kingdom of Heaven, it's as if I'm seeing its glory with my own eyes! “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of The Archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God”

Of course there are still the bad apples. I had hoped that Father Michael would be able to show Mrs. Mason and Mr. Solomon the error of their ways, but they have ignored his message of salvation. Why, just last Sunday, when the rest of the town was going to church, the two of them went fishing at the lake! Yes, “fishing,” that's what they called it. Those two are absolutely shameless! Time and time again I have tried talking sense into them, but all they do is laugh me off!

In the past I may have ignored such blatant disregard for our Lord, but Father Michael has taught us the risks of such passivity. By tolerating sinners in our company, we put our own souls at risk, and may lose our chance to achieve the Kingdom of Heaven! After witnessing part of its glory through the words of Father Michael, none of us want to let that slip through our fingers due to the actions of a few.

Oh, but what am I saying! Surely you're interested in more than just church talk. School will be starting for the twins' soon. 2nd grade already! Time really does fly. And I'm glad to hear that you've found a new job. I was so worried after your last letter, but now things are finally looking up for you! And I don't want to hear any talk from you about repaying me for the money I sent you. That was a gift, not a loan. After all, hasn't our Lord commanded us to be generous with one another?

Your friend,


Dear Janette,

The pictures you sent were wonderful! California really is such a beautiful place. If Mark wasn't so busy with his job and me raising the twins, we'd come visit you in a heartbeat!

But enough of my daydreams. I bring good news! We have solved our problem with Mrs. Mason and Mr. Solomon. All of us had hoped that we could convert them through the power of prayer, but their hearts were turned to stone. But even in the face of such adversity, Father Michael showed us the way to salvation. If the sinners could not be brought down the path of redemption, then we had no choice but to get rid of the sinners, lest they corrupt our salvation.

None voiced dissent to the plan, for we had all been filled with the Holy Spirit, and could hear its call for righteous judgment. The two were found in sinful company inside Mr. Solomon's house, and brought out before the church. Each of us took up a stone, and cast it at the sinners.

The Devil tried to stop us by sending a sheriff to interrupt the punishment. But Father Michael stopped him, and with the power of the Lord filling his voice, cast out the evil possessing the sheriff and sent him on his way. And now that the infection of sin has been cut away from us, and at last we can work on preparing ourselves for the Kingdom of God.

We're still getting wet weather here. I know I should be grateful, since they say it's good for crops, but I wish I didn't have to clean up so much mud from the floors every day. At least it keeps me busy, now that the twins are in school all day.

Your fellow daughter of God,


Dear Janette,

I still haven't heard from you since my last letter. I pray that you're alright. If you've run into any trouble, don't be afraid to let me know.

Things have been busy here! We thought we'd solved all our sinner problems, only for more to emerge. Liars, cheaters, adultery, blasphemy, thieves, we've discovered every sin imaginable lurking in our town. Father Michael warns us that we must be ever vigilant for those who stray from the path of the Lord, and we have been. If we want to achieve the salvation Father Michael promises us, we must punish all those who seek to sabotage our journey.

Mark is worried by all the sinners we have been forced to send to Hell, and I share his feelings. To think that such evil could exist in our town? Every day there are more names on Father Michael's list, more punishments that we must give. It hurts me to do this to people I had thought were my friends, but I do this for all of our sakes'. A single sinner in a community of holy men, and the whole community is corrupted, says Father Michael.

Of course the forces of evil seek to thwart us at every stage. Some men from the government came by the town and threatened to arrest us all. They said they had received word that the people of our town had murdered people. Murdered! We have done no such thing! All we have done has been the righteous punishment of God! As he had with the sheriff, Father Michael spoke with them, and through the power of the Lord turned them away. But it has reminded us to be always on guard for those who treacherously try to steal the Kingdom away from us.

Your fellow daughter of God,


Dear Janette,

They say that the Lord seeks to test our faith through adversity, and if that is so, then this is the greatest test I have ever faced. I write this to you with a grieving heart, but also with the knowledge that I have done what is right.

I woke up last night to find Mark and the twins gone, and a letter on the kitchen table. It was from Mark, saying he had taken our children and left. His faith had wavered, and in that moment of weakness he had let the voice of the Devil whisper lies into his ear, telling him that we were not the followers of God, but an insane cult, and that our righteous judgment was murder. The Devil convinced him that he had to protect our children by taking them far away. I know he only meant the best for our children, but could he not see that he was not saving them, but ensuring their eternal damnation?

I rushed to Father Michael to tell him what had happened, and the Father assured me that everything would be alright. The twins were under the protection of an Angel, and they would be returned to us. And sure enough, Father Michael spoke truthfully. Mark was stopped by the sheriff as he was driving away from town, and brought back to face the judgment of the Lord.

As I cast my stones, I told myself that it was for the sake of our children. I know that Mark understood that. For their sake I had to remove all obstacles on the path to salvation. I know Mark understood that. I know he did. Even in his weakness of faith, all he wished for was their well being. If only he had not allowed the Devil inside his heart, he too could join us as we ascended to the Kingdom of God.

Your fellow daughter of God,


Dear Janette,

Rejoice, for I bring good news! The time for us to cast aside our sinful earthly bodies and allow our spirits to ascend has come! Out of a town once filled with so many, now only twelve of us remain. We are the last few, the ones who have kept our faith through all the trials and tribulations, not once straying from the path Father Michael laid out for us!

I once thought that Father Michael was a messenger from God, but I never imagined how true that would be! He has shown to us his true self, and he is a being of beauty and perfection, who has graced this Earth for a short time to show us the way to Heaven.

The gallows are being constructed in front of the church, and all of us are dressed in our finest. Tears of happiness come to my eyes when I look at the twins and realize that soon they will be leaving this cruel world behind, and spend eternity in the glory of Heaven.

Father Michael is outside now, standing by the gallows, his true appearance shining like the brightest star in the sky. When he speaks, it is with a voice that shakes the ground itself. He tells us that the time has come for us to Embrace the Archangel, and become one with Him.

But do not feel sad, dear Janette! We shall not be parted long. For the Archangel will one day come to visit you as well. One day, all the people of the Earth will learn to embrace him, and we shall be brought together in His presence.

Until that wonderful day arrives, your friend,

Thursday, August 9, 2012

"The Cage"

Once upon a time, my life was a storybook.

I woke up on the cold metal ground; distinctly not where I had fallen asleep the night before. Where had I gone to rest, I no longer remember. It was so long ago. Maybe it had been in a bedroom, maybe on a couch – anywhere would have been better than the grimy bars and steel slab boxing me in, a chain creaking as the cage swayed. I was hanging in blackness; it’s been dark for so long that I never know whether it's day or night.

I assumed it was a dream, at the time. I don't know how long it took for me to realize that it was reality. Thick, monotonous reality.

I didn't eat. I didn't sleep. All my body functions had been – have been – shut down, and I was trapped. Stuck inside my shell – my body. Trapped within The Cage.

Sometimes I would scream. Just…scream, for however long it took for my throat to crack and bleed.

Sometimes I would force the cage to swing, hearing the creaking of that chain keeping me suspended, hoping it would snap. If the links wore through and broke, I would plummet. Hopefully hit the ground that I wasn’t certain was even there. Or else, maybe I would fall for eternity and god, at least that would be something new.
It won’t let me wither, or die. It has me here. It won’t let me go. I’m just trapped like an insect in amber – I can't even tell if I’m alive anymore.

The Cage has me forever.

Somebody please.

I don't even care if you save me.

Just come for me.

It will be something to watch. Something to distract me. Something to happen.

Something to break up eternity.

Monday, August 6, 2012

"A Lesson"

There is a woman, with a veil made of smoke. You draw near and you notice the flames flickering at her feet. Yet she doesn't scream, she doesn't cry out in pain. She bears the torture without a sound as she draws near enough to raise a hand and brush a finger against your cheek. You feel a sudden rush of heat, as if someone splashed boiling water on your skin. The Burning Bride speaks to you in a voice that crackles like the last coals on a fire.

"Your children don't respect you."

You feel the tears at the corner of your eyes. You don't know if it's from the physical pain of the burns, or the emotional pain from your wayward children.

"Teach them how to respect you."

You look into her eyes and see the unwavering flame of righteousness.

"Teach them."

"The Lake"

His name was Edmund Twitch. He claimed it was indeed his real name, but no one believed him, for he had a terrible tick: whenever he was peeved, his nose twitched constantly from relaxed to scrunched up, in quick succession.

Edmund was more commonly known to them as "Mr. Mirror," for he was the one who supervised the set-up of the funhouse in every town, and collected the tickets for patrons who entered therein.

Mr. Twitch (which was, after all, his true name) worked for a carnival--Mother Goose's Twisted Mirror Maze. As the title suggested, there were plenty of nursery rhyme-themed decorations and costumed performers ambling about. However, Mr. Mirror's funhouse was the star attraction of the whole affair. Ordinarily a simple funhouse wouldn't have a special appeal, being a common exhibition of carnivals, but this particular one was said to be truly amazing. A stand-out presentation. A real treat.

For this particular funhouse full of mirrors had a secret: many, oh so many, screams were heard at intermittent intervals. And sometimes a few who went in never came back out.

Those who did never said a word. They were too shocked to describe the experience. Naturally, people being people, they assumed it must be something good, something exciting. And so more victims.

This mirror maze is not, however, the centerpiece of this story. In fact, the carnival workers themselves were never even aware of what went on inside. They were as perplexed as everyone else. Whenever they investigated, it seemed a normal attraction to them. No bodies, no blood, no signs of anything amiss. (It was a curiosity the police never got involved.) The great mystery of it was the only reason for their success, their only draw for customers as rumors swiftly swept across the landscape, arriving at each town before the troupe. Otherwise, they'd be a rather generic (and in all likelihood, bankrupt) group of entertainers.

Mr. Mirror went about his daily work: taking tickets, smiling at those entering the Maze, listening to the occasional screech, taking breaks, et al. Finally, at sundown, the place was closing for the night and he sat relaxing in his private tent drinking a cool beer.

After a moment he was interrupted by another exhibit that drew customers (though less so than his own). She entered without warning or introduction, feigning patience.

Edmund sighed. "What is it?" he asked as he swatted at a bee buzzing near his face.

"Katz wants you. Some kid's gone missing, parents think the Maze might have something to do with it," said the Snake Lady, so called on account of the texture of her skin, which was like unto reptilian scales.

"Yeah, so?"

"He wants you to head the search in there posthaste," she hissed.

Grumbling audibly, Edmund followed her outside, then went his own way. Once at the attraction, Mother Katz, as they facetiously referred to him, handed Edmund a flashlight and gave a short description of the young girl. A few others followed him inside.

Being the caretaker of the Maze, he knew it inside and out. But not tonight.

Tonight it was different--every way he turned, he found a dead end. Nothing if persistent, they all continued to call the child's name. No answer. One of them growled impatiently.

"OK," said Edmund, his tick acting up, "is this some kind of joke?" He turned on the others. "Who's been messing with the layout?" The others just shrugged. "No wonder people get lost in here. The hell is going on?"

Edmund perused the corridors of reflective glass, shining the light to find any corners and crossways they might be coming upon. As he stared into the infinite copies of himself unto oblivion, he realized he was suddenly alone. There was a faint whispering in the air.

He sprinted back a few feet the way he'd come, calling for them, but there was no sign. In fact, the corridor was blocked by a mirror wall, as though it had always been that way. The whispering gradually grew louder.

His nervous tick was becoming unbearable and he began rubbing his face in distress. "What is going on!?"

The murmurs followed a decrescendo into silence, and from around a corner that didn’t exist just seconds before stepped the Snake Lady. "Mr. Mirror," she called from the other end of the hall, her voice echoing in an otherworldly manner, "I am here to congratulate you. You’ve been chosen."

"What?" Sweat began to bead on his brow. "What are you talking about?"

"The Mother has chosen you for her purposes. As once, as a child, she chose me."

"Mother? You mean Katz?" He glanced around nervously and almost thought he saw a serpentine tail flick past him in the mirrors.

She smiled. "No. He knows nothing of us." At his look of confusion, she provided, "The Lilim. We serve her."

"Who're 'we'?"

"Well, you and I, for starters."

"What is going on!? I want answers! Where's the little girl?"

The Snake Lady grinned. "You don't like who you are. The twitch. The temperament. The boring, dead-end work you've been doing for decades. You're afraid that one of these days" --here she began to emphasize each word-- " you might just lose your mind."

Edmund remained frozen.

"She can help you, my friend. As she has helped us all." And with a step into a nearby mirror, she was gone.

He looked after her, even though she could no longer be seen. An image of a lake shimmered into view, as though on a television, only in color instead of black-and-white. Recalling the trek to this location, he knew this was the lake they’d passed only a couple of miles north of the town.

He knew he was supposed to go there.

The full moon shone down on him and the surrounding landscape, casting an eerie glow onto the trees. Being a bit out-of-shape, he decided to rest on the grass near the edge of the water, next to a thicket of reeds.

But he could not relax. The whispering had returned. The Snake Lady? It seemed to be coming from the woods. The incessant voices would’ve driven him mad if the sound of a few flies near his ears hadn’t sufficiently distracted him.

Then another, clearer voice called out from somewhere on the water, "Mr. Mirror! Mr. Mirror!"

He crept to the edge of the lake and saw her--the Mother. She was frightening, yet beautiful. It was as if a human had a serpentine tail rather than legs. But she wasn't on the water, no she was in the water. More precisely, she was talking to him from where his reflection should be.

"Mr. Mirror, you may consider me a sort of jinn, if you wish. I can give you a better life. All you have to do is accept."

Whirling in confusion, Edmund's head was aching. All of this was just too fast--a shifting maze, the existence of supernatural beings, an offer granted for nothing in return.

"I...I'm not sure what to say."

"Just accept."

He paused. "All right, then. I accept."

She smiled and Edmund felt another presence behind him. He turned around and, to his horror, saw a terrible beast. It was like a wild animal, with very long claws, yet an unnervingly human-like face.

Before he could even think of screaming, it brought its bladed fingers close to him and struck.

He knew not how many hours had passed while he was unconscious. At least he was alive. Dragging his sore body to the water so he could calm himself and clean his wounds, he realized it was worse than he'd thought: thick, unhealed scars and deep, bloody gashes covered him.

He was disfigured, but alive.

But it was worse still. As he peered into his reflection, he could see bugs of all types, many with stingers, pincers, and poison, crawling in and out and between his wounds. Bugs, living inside him.

He tried to come to terms with this while he tried to stand. Yet he could not.

He had no legs, but a serpent's tail.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

"Death's Beacon"

Before you die, they say you see something in a black cloak. You remember all the tales you'd been told, that Death comes on a pale horse, that underneath the robe is a skeleton, that his scythe is more akin to an extension of its arms, that when Death knocks on your door all you can do is follow. You remember all this, and with one glance at the thing before you, you realize it's all comforting lies.

Standing down the dark hallway in your home isn't even a humanoid object. It's tall and thin, but it has no visible limbs. This is Death's Beacon, a towering featureless black robe, and it's slowly moving down the hall. Through the only opening in the robe, a freakishly large pale cone juts out. The Beacon's beak.

With every passing second, you feel more blemishes and sores opening up on your body. You feel bugs crawling under your skin. Your bones crack and cringe, freezing you in your tracks, trapped in the headlights of the slow but inevitable end.

The moment you caught a glimpse of this ominous sight, you felt a loud sense of helplessness and mortality. This is a monster you fear, and you know that it does not fear you. It does not care for you; it does not even notice you. Looking at this abomination, you are reminded of old stories where men encountered giants. You feel as if you are staring at the foot of a giant that does not see you underneath where its next step will be. Where's the rest of this giant? Somewhere in the darkest corners of comprehension, beyond the land where doors lead, below Hell itself.

You fear that you may be going insane. The fact that it'll all be over soon gives you a brief moment's relief before the Beacon passes, your eyes turning upwards in their sockets and your stomach eating itself from the inside out.

"The Ballerinas of Versiansa"

Welcome to the swamps of Versiansa, where the birds all sing the same tune and the trees grow crooked as old fingernails. A grim canopy covers the lightest hopes of vision; down here, your mind makes its own mysteries. Mushy marshes make a muddy march through the landscape, and if you look hard enough, you might just find life in the torn depths of this organic junkyard. If you can call it "life."

Your march through the marsh is interrupted every few minutes by the sounds deep down here. Was that one a bird? It sounded like a tuning fork. Something steps on a branch. Your eyes can't adjust to this darkness, for the swamps don't provide any conventional concept of low visibility; this is to the dark what fog is to rain. It's oddly eldritch, just the way you like it. This is why you come out here; its surrealism helps you think.

You see figures dancing around the trees, neither creature nor plant. They spring and swirl and say sweetness upon this tranquility. You recognize their giggles as a plain "Hello" and say it back, prompting further chuckles and shrill laughter.

Insects fly around, fireflies of the sound barrier. They chirp when perched on trees, acting as audial signs when the clearing never quite opens for your vision.

The dancing submarine ballerinas circle you; the closer they dance, the closer they are to something you can perceive as sight. You catch glimpses of blue hair and dresses giving the illusion of bedsheet ghosts. Still, they twirl on, and still, you find yourself strolling through the swamp with them.

The birds complete their tuning and sing an aria suite, with the ballerinas matching their movement to every movement of the music. A melody tickles your fancy, and your feet flinchlessly follow the flurry. The swamp is your ballroom, and the ballerinas beckon for your audience. Glimpses of sunlight shine through patches of canopy, acting as aerial spotlights and lighting pinches of the grey swamps around you.

Branches shift; these patches of light are covered, and you are again shielded behind the haze.

This is all but a reverie, and your morning dance only gets more surreal as you find yourself in the presence of more and more ballerinas. Their giggles give way to more direct contact: One maiden grabs your hand and twirls a classical jingle through your arms. Her perfume smells of blueberries and the faintest hint of pickled fish. Lavender scents enter the mix, and the grey haze of the swamp fades to indigo.

You are in love with the surroundings, and for the first time in your life, you feel you can declare absolute joy.

More maidens become your dancing partners, your feet practically hovering above the ground in movement by now. Frogs are heard, their croaks providing alto and bass, the aria becoming a courante of careful craft.

As the dance progresses into an art, you consciously recognize that your movement is no longer your own. The blue ballerinas have fully incorporated you into their routine, and even if you were to stop controlling your limbs, you know they would prolong your progressive parade. You are a prisoner of the dance now, the melodious maidens' tight grips on your hands providing more than enough inertia to keep you swinging. The secret of the submarines surfaces as their vocals guide the musical:

"All, always the same.
With time on our side, the dance moves
Between trees and grooves,
And the water rises to tame.
Take a bow, you've joined the dance and will follow me now."

The ballerinas stomp the ground, and it gives in to the water below. Fungal strings form a tight grip on your legs, and you are forced to your knees in the warm swamp, arms grabbed next, your head poking out of the water.

A sole maiden stops dancing and steps in front of you. You spy her short blue hair, her blue dress too clean for the swamp, her legs seeming to walk on a pathway of fungi. She cracks a smile, and for a moment, you are certain her face's beauty is a light source in its own right.

"Welcome to the endless obsession, our liquid throe.
In moments, you will long no longer for absent friends.
Submit. I am all you feel, my knowledge all you know.
There will be no more ‘You;' this life you fled never ends.
Life lapis, drown with me. Drink the spring of Salmacis."

Your head goes under, and your panic ceases before you even get the chance to begin.

"The Street Artist"

He is a street artist, making money off the paintings he sells to tourists. In order to draw them in, he creates intricate chalk drawings on the sidewalk. Critics have praised him for the incredibly life-like art he produces. The short life of the fantastic drawings pulls people in as much as the art itself. If anything, the chalk drawings are more realistic than the more permanent oil paintings he sells. He creates with oils to feed his body, but he creates with chalk to feed his soul.

He doesn't talk often, indeed questions asked while he draws often go unanswered. He is in another place, someplace where the only reality is the colored dust on his fingers.

You walk by this artist often. Lately you've begun to notice a trend in his work, a woman in white. She shows up in the distance, her ivory umbrella setting her apart from the rest of the average city crowds. You are entranced by this woman. You've walked by his work countless times, but this is the day you purchase something.

It's one of his smaller works, one of the few chalk drawings he sells. The city skyline in the background in infinite detail and the faceless gray mob rushing through the streets. It perfectly depicts life in the city; the sparkling hope you hold in the back corner of your mind contrasted with the day to day minutiae that threaten to drown you. Uplifting and depressing, all at once. In the back is a flash of white, the woman. Maybe she is the woman you are meant to meet? Maybe somewhere in this grand city is the woman destined for you.

You hang it up on your wall in your living room. It hangs there for months, just an ordinary piece of wall art. You soon forget about it, it becomes a blur in your life just like the people you pass on the street.

One cold winter day, you spy a white butterfly on the stairs to your apartment building. It flaps its wings lazily then flutters away as you draw near, hopefully to some warmer climate. While watching the butterfly, you slip on a patch of black ice and fall.

People in the city are not sympathetic to a person in crutches. And the concussion has left you with aphasia and occasional memory loss.

As the winter goes on, you begin to see the white butterflies more often. Sometimes the accidents are immediate, but more often they happen when you are not paying attention. Then you remember seeing their delicate beauty flying around whatever instigated the accident.

Toward the beginning of spring, the painting on your wall stops being a simple blur in your life. You notice it has changed. The woman in white is closer now, halfway to the front of the frame.

That's when you see what the street artist has done. She is not the woman in white, she is not a woman at all. She is the absence of a woman, of a person, of color. She is blank paper, yet somehow even less than that. She is a hole that hurts your eyes, hurts your mind. You can't bear to look at the painting any longer, you leave for work.

The constant accidents have taken their toll on your body. You have gotten rid of the crutches, but you have steel rods in your leg. An accidental cut with a utility knife needed stitches, and the stitches are infected. You've had at least two more concussions, leaving you with migraines. The memory loss is even worse than before. Your medical insurance agent knows you by the sound of your voice.

This day, you spy them again. A small flock of ivory butterflies perches on the yellow line in the subway. Against your will you are drawn to them, peering close to see the ragged edges, as if they have been drawn on concrete. They burst into flight and you are surrounded by a familiar smell of chalk. Next thing you know, you have been pushed onto the tracks. The quick actions of a heroic soul are the only thing keeping you from being a mile-long red splotch.

When you get home, the ivory woman is closer. She is almost close enough for you to see her not-face. On that not-face is a not-smile, one that chills you to the bone. There will be no good Samaritan to save you next time. She is done teasing with you, the next time will be the last.

The street artist created with chalk to feed his soul. What if his soul wasn't the only thing he was feeding?

You spend all day at home now. You don't dare go out into the world. Too many opportunities for an accident. But you forget that 77% of accidents happen in the home.

You don't notice the wallpaper until you turn off the shower. Butterflies. Butterflies cover the wallpaper, slowly flapping their wings and making the bathroom walls ripple. You rush to leave the room but the shower door was not fully closed and water has pooled on the floor. You slip and your stitches tear when you try to catch your balance. Instead of regaining your feet, you fall and hit your head against the counter.

It isn't the end for you, but it might as well be. You lie in a hospital bed, reacting to nothing. Your parents found the chalk painting. It hangs on the wall opposite you now. The Ivory Lady is gone now. Her games are done and she has moved on to a new target.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

"The Lonely Crowd"

I stared at the car as long as I could as it drove away. Unfortunately, it turned after only a few seconds, drifting out of sight without leaving so much as a skid mark behind. I was alone. My best friend and roommate had left for a better life, and I was stuck here. Going to work in an cold office cubicle, surrounded by apathy, staring at the door, hoping someone will care enough to visit me. My apartment is surrounded by so many others that are filled with people. Yet no one cares.

One day, someone did. It was a little boy. He seemed underdressed for the cold weather, so I invited him in and offered him some hot chocolate to warm him up. He didn't say very much. He didn't reply when I asked if he was lost or if he wanted me to call his parents.

He looked up and asked me if I wanted to be his friend. I said yes without hesitating. Something about him made me want to know him more. I wanted him as a companion. He said I had to do something for him first. He gave me an insulated box. It was about the size of my head and wrapped up tight. He gave me an address to deliver it to. He told me not to open it.

I did as he said. I didn't even think of opening it. I knew he would know, and I couldn't risk him leaving. I couldn't handle being alone anymore. I needed him.

I walked through the cold streets. Everyone in the neighborhood was locked up safe with their families in their warm houses. They got to enjoy each other’s company and revel in companionship.

I dropped the package off on the front step of the house he told me, rang the doorbell and quickly moved away. They opened the door and took the package. The wind screamed past the rooftops and warmly lit windows as I walked away.

After that the boy stayed with me. Sometimes he would ask me to do other things for him. I delivered more packages. I sent messages. I did all manner of things. I did it all gladly. I didn’t want to make him angry. That might make him leave. I wasn't so lonely anymore. I had a friend who helped the apartment feel more full. I did everything he said.

But today. Today he walked up to me while I was making us dinner. He looked up at me with cold eyes and said, "You're a bad person. You hurt people's feelings. You make them cry. I don't want to be your friend anymore."

He left. He left without saying anything else. I ran after him, but I couldn’t even see him turn out of sight. He didn’t leave so much as a footprint behind.

I can't handle being alone again. He left the window open, despite it being such a cold day.

But it is so nice outside. I think I’ll go out. It’s so cold inside.