An Unexpected Visitor

Oh boy you do love packages! Yet this one’s different. It’s oddly colored, like a deep maroon. The material is unlike anything you’ve ever felt and something is violently shaking the box. The worst part is you never ordered anything. So how big is the box? What’s inside? Where did it come from?

Post your response (500 words or fewer) in the comments below.

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373 thoughts on “An Unexpected Visitor

  1. iansmcclure

    Ok! This was a little thing I wrote to practice for an exam. I acutally think it could be a bit better, which is why I’m posting it here for advice. So, without further ado…

    When the box was bequeathed unto me, by the postman, unassuming and cordial, I immediately knew that it was a most tenebrous thing indeed. The coloration, an odd shade of deep maroon, was accompanied by a rattling and shaking which did not fail to incite terror within my heart. Alas, curiosity, it its’ morbid folly, convinced me to pry open the box, to behold whatever eldritch monstrosity lay within. But, said box of horror proved itself most vexing to open. Only when I chanced to offer it food (what malign insanity provoked this, I have yet to know), only then did said box reveal unto me its’ true nature. For, on it’s own, it opened, revealing a cavernous and fanged mouth, with which it promptly devoured the meal. At this, I can not offer no rational explanation- indeed, ’twas at this point my consciousness failed me. When I regained a semblance of mental coherence, the box was nowhere to be found. I can only shudder as to it’s nature, it’s purpose, and hope I never encounter it again.

  2. Kazuma29

    It passes the limit by a few words, but not so much. Anyways hope you enjoy it!

    Yesterday was a rollercoaster compared to most. In the morning, my wife and I got into a discussion about how I “don’t” try to spice it up. Then at work, my boss suddenly kicked it into high gear and was on my ass all day- please don’t visualize it literally. It will hurt me- about some paperwork that needed to be done. Any other day I could’ve left it there for hours, HOURS on a desk, and he wouldn’t even bat an eyelash at me. Jesus. Like those two wonderful events weren’t enough, I got stuck on traffic for around two or three lifetimes before getting home. Oh and three family members died. ON THE SAME DAY. Impeccable timing, I must say. All I wanted was to relax when I got home… Sure enough life gave me a little gift or so I thought. Damn, yesterday sucked.
    A package arrived later that evening, although it looked a little funny. Honestly I didn’t even mind that I never ordered anything. I just love packages. Ever since I was little, every time the mailman came around, I was already waiting in front of the mailbox. He must’ve thought I was psychotic, but he always greeted me with a smile. Nice guy… Back to the funny package. I asked my wife if she ordered something… Yep, she’s still mad. Usually somebody throwing something at ya means they’re pissed, or they like throwing stuff. I’m going with the first option.
    “Alright, let’s take a look. Please be something good!” Boy, I was borderline praying for relief at this point. This box better have gold in it or I’m gonna be disappointed.
    The strangeness of the package didn’t stop at visual aspects, the box also had a weird skin like texture. No animal I ever touched felt like that, so maybe it was just a funky addition from the sender. I left the room to look for my trusty “package destroyer”-just a fancy pocket knife, don’t judge- to get that treasure inside. The moment the knife made contact the box got wild. Like jumping all over the place wild. And so a game of cat and mouse ensued. I swear it looked like I was on some sort of prank TV show. That’s how ridiculous it was.
    “Honey, can you please come over for a second? Could use your help here.” Hey, she’s mad but she can move. What better way to bond than trying to catch a demon box? Nothing. NOTHING.
    We spent around 3 hours of our precious live chasing down the damn thing before we finally pinned it in a corner with brooms in hand. Teamwork at its finest. I was still excited to see what was inside, albeit with a bit of worry and anger. I finally opened the package and guess what?

    “Dear victim:
    You’ve been pranked!
    We hope this makes you laugh about how silly you must feel after reading this.

    Sincerely, Prankmeisters
    PS: It wasn’t a bad day right? LOL”

    I laughed… And laughed and laughed and kept on laughing…

    “Fuck this.”

  3. typistdoe

    At about 05:37AM I was at the kitchen pouring a cup of fresh hot coffee, when the doorbell rang. I wasn’t expecting something or someone since I’ve never had a visitor at such time. I went to the door and looked through its magic eye and saw nothing, but I did hear some light battering coming from above the floor. Waited a little more and opened the door to see what was going on. There was a box and a bag, which contents I couldn’t see at the first glance.

    I brought them inside in a hurry since the box was shaking non stop, and then I opened it. For my surprise, It was a small Koala. It looked agitated.

    There was also a letter taped on one of the sides of the box, saying “I don’t know what to do with it. Please, take good care.”. So I thought myself what made this person think I knew something about taking care of a baby koala. At that time in the morning, I couldn’t do anything but wait for the local environmental authorities to start their work time and receive that koala to be taken care of. I looked at the bag contents, and there was an yet cold gallon of milk and a feeder bottle. I didn’t thought of anything else than fill the bottle with the milk. So I did It, and gave It to the little koala that was still shaking in that box. For my surprise again, It knew what to do with that bottle and started drinking the milk. In a little bit, the bottle was empty and the koala calmed, laying down on the box slowly.

    I finished my coffee and took care of some tasks I had for the morning, and the time arrived. I picked up the box, with the koala sleeping inside, and the bag on my way to the local authorities. Reaching there, I gave them the koala and explained the situation. With the employee saying It was the right thing to do, since I couldn’t have It in my house, I went home.

  4. Teff

    What a horrible day! My head weighs heavily in my hands as I ground my palms into my eyes.

    First I get fired then I nearly run a pedestrian over and then, to top it off, every station is playing the same weird song. I just want to go to bed. I’ll deal with a new job tomorrow. Another few seconds of blissful darkness as I roll my neck and shoulders before I tackle dinner.

    There’s a box sitting on the coffee table in front of me. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t there before but I tell myself I just didn’t see it. With all the crap that piled on me today, it’s no wonder I missed it.

    My landlady is always so thoughtful, or maybe nosey. She is always bringing in my mail whether I like it or not. Good ole Ms. Lindeman.

    It’s a rather unremarkable box. The wrapping is a dingy red. Maybe it was meant to be maroon. My hand hovers just inches from it, and I feel a strange warmth surrounding the box.

    Just grab it and get it over with. I have a sinking feeling, especially with how my day has already been, that this box holds only more misery for me.

    I pull the coffee table closer to my position on the couch. I figure if I’m in for more bad news I should at least be sitting for it.

    Now that it is closer, I can see that the box isn’t wrapped. This ugly red is the box itself. I have no idea what it is made of, but does it even matter? In moments it will be discarded and its contents in my hand. The light around it seems to shimmer and dim has I reach for it again. My hand is within inches and I feel that warmth again. It is nice. Inviting.

    “Run, lest you lose your soul.” The lyrics from that strange song slice through my mind. I begin to pull my hand back, but something, that warmth, wraps around my fingers with a lover’s touch. It beckons me to touch it, to open it. With one swift movement, so I can’t wimp out, I rip off the lid. My hands are delightfully warm where they wrap around the sides of the box. My hands slide up steadily moving for the mystery of what’s inside. I realize I’m not moving my hands. As panic takes my mind, the force that was gently pulling my hands begins to suck at my entire body with a great hunger.

    I’m being pulled into the box! My mind barely registers this fact as I am enveloped by darkness. Just before my vision goes completely black, a smiling face hovers above me. I know the face. There are differences, less wrinkles, brighter hair, but I know it is my landlady, Ms. Lindeman.

  5. Observer Tim

    MYSTERY BOX
    (a standalone story)

    The box is maroon; I LOVE maroon! And this velvet gift wrap is so expensive looking! And the tag on it says “Especially for you, Melanie.” I have no idea who it’s from but I can’t wait to open it!

    But I have to. Christmas isn’t for over a week. You’re only supposed to open Christmas gifts on Christmas, right? Well, maybe Christmas Eve. I’ll open this one Christmas Eve.

    I hold it up to my ear and jostle it. I’m not really shaking it, just, you know, if something inside is loose it might shuffle around a bit. Or if it’s gold and crystal with dangly bits it might tinkle a little. You never know.

    It scritched! There’s something alive inside this box! It’s too small for a cat but maybe a kitten or a puppy, or a ferret! I heard ferrets make great pets. But that settles it. I can’t let whatever little critter is inside starve for a week. And the nasty person that gave it to me didn’t even poke any air holes! Unless… they want me to open it!

    I carefully open the package, taking care not to damage the silvery ribbon or the velvet paper.

    Inside is an ornate box, like a jewel box with little inlaid geometric designs on it. The inlaid gems are gorgeous; this thing must be worth a fortune! I’m really starting to warm up to whoever gave me this!

    But the scritching is coming from inside the jewel box. Whatever’s inside really wants out badly. I take the little gold key on the long silver chain and put it into the lock. I hope it’s a ferret, that would be fun to have.

    It IS a ferret! I look into its cute little ferret eyes. They’re staring back at me and I feel a little dizzy.

    ***

    I look in the mirror and do a double-take. Melanie? Melanie Armitage? The most beautiful and stuck-up girl in school? How on earth did I end up in her body? The last thing I remember was opening that strange present…

  6. JayAllenWrites

    Better luck next time, Tim told himself on the drive home, and the banality of the thought made his teeth gnash. Still, it was all he could muster.

    The voters had spoken and two-thirds of them told him that he was not the party’s candidate for mayor. Since two-thirds of Morgan voters were registered as Democrats, Robert Morehouse would remain Mayor. He shrugged and thought if he had to lose to anybody, it may as well have been him. Another teeth gnash.

    Still, the loss was not alone in his mind; she was. Sylvia, with the razor wit, the lively smile on the imperfect face and the inappropriate sense of humor, was doing a Jordan-at-the-Garden type of domination on his mind. Sylvia, who tonight told him, without prompting, that the engagement was off due to an incompatibility of ambition between she and the man who felt he was doing just fine as a medical biller. “I want someone who gets it, you know,” she said and Tim nodded. He knew.

    “Where’s Marlena?” she asked him in an apparent effort to stop his nodding. “Haven’t seen her all night.”

    “Headache,” Tim said with a shrug. “Plus, she’s not much for events like this,” and he waved his hand to indicate the campaign staff, most of them college kids who were drowning their sorrows in an impromptu game of beer pong.

    Her turn to nod and she kept her eyes on him. “Gotcha.” Thankfully, Marcus came over with the cell phone so he couldn’t show her that he was speechless.

    The cab pulled up to Tim’s brick colonial. He got out, pulled the “Hoffman for Mayor” sign out of the yard and walked in the front door.

    He was saw a box on the kitchen table and he walked to it using the living room light to find his way. The box was covered by dark expensive wrapping paper that felt alien to his touch. It was also shaking and Tim heard a familiar clamor inside.

    He unwrapped the box and opened to find Ricky, his toy monkey that had a psychotic smile and banged tin cymbals. Ricky was still on and it took Tim a second to remember how to turn him off.
    “I got it from your mom,” Marlena said behind him. “She said it was the one toy you loved as a baby.”
    He half-turned and saw her silhouette leaning in the doorway, arms folded. “Well?” she asked, “aren’t you excited?”

    Tim raised his eyebrows and even though he couldn’t see her face, he got the feeling there was something else in the box. He reached in found a small wrinkled piece of paper. Marlena turned on the kitchen light and after taking a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the light, he saw it was a sonogram.

    She looked at the picture and frowned. “I tried to position it so that Ricky was holding the picture but I couldn’t stop him from playing. It’s ruined now.”

    Tim noticed the deep wrinkles in the picture, looked at Marlena’s perfect face and gnashed his teeth.

    1. Observer Tim

      Is Morgan a community of polygamists? Otherwise, Tim was on the edge of a very tricky legal place. Unless Marlena isn’t his wife, in which case he’s on the edge of a very expensive place. Nice one, Jay. I find myself wondering about the background of these characters. 🙂

    2. gamingtheblues

      Jay Allen…

      How can I say that I needed a story like this today. My mood has been tired and irritated, from a combination of dissatisfaction of work and being mildly ill.

      The subtlety of this piece is something that I am not sure if the others here have picked up on 100%. The best writing in this piece, is so much more in what is not said. While there were one or two spots that might have held our hands just a tad too much (Telling instead of showing…my example for this is the contrasts between the two women’s faces. Instead of mentioning facial perfection, describe her perfection, same as imperfection) or could have used a tiny bit of word pruning. All In all I really enjoyed this though.

      I fully picked up on the parallels and contrasts, Your MC’s perceived wants and actual circumstances. I really really appreciate the effort in subtext with this piece and it reminds me that perhaps I have been a little self indulgent and lazy with my own writing on this forum lately.
      The most important thing is that I felt the heart of your MC and related in different ways. Easily the best parts are the interaction between Tim and the two women in his life.

      You just made my day. Thanks!

    3. JayAllenWrites

      Thanks, everyone. I was a little nervous posting it. It’s my first time writing something and actually showing it to another person in years. Your feedback has encouraged me to write more. Thank you!

  7. Kemter

    First there’s light.
    Then there’s a voice. I know that voice. I hate that voice.

    That’s the voice of oppression. The voice of why don’t we just let you starve this week eh? The voice of impossible choices. Of good behavior. Of staying quiet. Of saying yes sir to a pig. Of getting kicked in the gut. Of my enemy. That’s the voice of fear.

    They fear me too. Thought they could rewire a troublemaker, but they weren’t expecting the trouble maker to make trouble I guess. Ain’t that just piss poor planning. Whatever, I don’t really care what they fear. I’ll tell you what I fear.

    Packages.

    Because after the light came and after the voice came; the package came. And I don’t ever get packages.
    Not here.

    Not red packages that look like the color of my dried blood. Not vibrating packages that are too far away for me to reach. Wait a minute, my arms are locked up, how am I supposed to open it anyway?

    Noisy thing, rattling around in my dirty cell. Annoying.

    If I made that much noise there’d be hell to pay. Funny that nobody cares if the package does it. Maybe it will keep making noise, just of reach, until I go crazy. That’d be a new one.

    That’ll give them the excuse they’ve been looking for since day one.

    Like a seizing crab, its own tremors knock the small box close enough for me to reach out with my leg. Hurts, but I can just step on it.

    Just a bit of pressure and I feel something click. The shaking stops, the package goes quiet.

    Well shit.

    Guess they’re not waiting for me to leave my sanity behind after all.

    I make a careful effort to sit up, wasn’t planning to today. Stone can be pretty comfy once you pass out. Sweat prickles my grimy skin.

    How easy would it be to lift my foot? Not really much of a choice. Just a little more pain, and then nothing at all.

    My lip stings, ouch. Oh wait. I’m smiling.
    A cough rips from the fluid in my lungs. Oh wait, no. I’m laughing.

    Maybe I’ve finally cracked. Maybe this has been coming on a long while. Maybe I’m still two steps behind. That’s all it took to get caught anyway.

    Static crackles from the package. A new voice.

    “Hang in there buddy.” A young voice. My age? “We’re coming for you.”

    My foot doesn’t move, but I’ve started to shake. Tremble. My eyes hurt too, not the throbbing typical hurt, but a stinging. Geez I think I’m finally dying. Everything is sore, but something is relieved.

    Wait I know what this is. I’m not dying after all.
    I’m crying.

  8. Pete

    Had some time, so I wrote a silly one.

    The Crossroads

    2015 had not been a banner year for rapper/actor/malt energy drink spokesman, Critty Crumbles. First, his third studio release album, WITTY CRITTY, flopped, selling only fifty thousand copies and getting ripped online. Then in the summer, young Critty was cited for merely smoking a joint in an airport checkpoint, where the situation quickly escalated after he allegedly groped a female TSA agent. The situation caught further caught fire when the rapper was quoted as saying, “She had an ass like an apple. So I took a bite.”

    The bad news continued when Critty’s record company. Critty Critty Bang Bang, or CCBB, was served a cease and desist letter in reference to a trademark infringement of “some old wack ass movie back in the day.”

    To put it bluntly, Critty Crumble’s music was stale. His rhymes—once chock full of clever metaphors and only months ago considered a voice for a movement, an entire generation, had simply gone flat. And while the current spate of arrests did well to keep his name in the headlines, Critty was looking for a spark of creativity.

    He put a call down south. To an old uncle from his mother’s side. Uncle Robert was known to get things done, and sure enough a week later he and Second Hand—a reference to his doing more time in jail than a clock—were sitting on the hood of Critty’s leased Bentley, at the junction of Highways 49 and 61 on the muggiest of Mississippi summer nights.

    “I don’t know about this, Crit,” Second hand muttered between coughs. He passed the blunt to his boss.
    “Just chill, all right, Uncle Rob said midnight, we got a few minutes.”

    They were both tense, not to mention riddled with sweat and mosquito bites. Second Hand paced, wiping at his sneakers, “Something aint right, Cri. Out here in the sticks.”

    In fact they were in Clarkston, where only the light of the moon, bouncing off the deep rimmed vehicle was the only source of comfort. A coyote barked in the distance and Second Hand jumped like he was between two girls with a rope in their hands.
    Critty laughed, exhaling smoke towards the moon.

    “Check it, yo check it…um…uh.”

    Second Hand looked to his boss, awaiting his freestyle, but instead found him hanging his head.

    “Shit man, what happened?”

    “Don’t know.”

    “Yo here comes headlights.”

    Through a haze of weed smoke, a wide beam of dim lights emerged. An old Cadillac roamed down Highway 49 and slid to a stop at the crossroads. Crit looked to his bodyguard, but neither wanting to admit fear. Second Hand reached for his waistband, but Critty put a hand on his massive shoulder.

    “Hold on. Chill with that.”

    The car idled in the night. Seemingly floating in the haze. The window came down, and a pale face shown in the darkness. A pointy nose, beady eyes that seemed to search their soul. With a single finger he motioned for Critty to come forward.

    “You the guy?”

    The closer he looked, the less he saw in the darkness of the car. From the front window came a phone, the light from which shined from the rapper’s sunglasses.

    “Sign here.”

    “What’s this?”

    “Just sign here if you want the package.”

    “Package? Let me see it first.”

    The pale face was as blank as Crit looked around. Not another car in sight. They were miles from civilization, nearly a thousand miles from NYC, when inside the car they heard a beat, from a glowing box. A rollicking knock of a rhythm. Critty perked his head at the sound. A shuffle, then a rumble, then again, like nothing he’d ever heard before.

    “Yo, that’s dope!”

    “The beat box is yours, just sign, Mr. Jackson.”

    The sound of his own last name sent a howl down his spine. Critty wiped the sweat from his brow, looked to Second Hand—his ever faithful muscle— a guy who’d only months ago returned from Riker’s Island. Now he looked like a little boy who’d wet himself on the first day of school. The window went up, the shady character said with a laugh.

    “I’ll see you soon, Crit.”

    With that the car sped off. Crit looked at the box, purring rhythmically, already writing a sure-fire banger about the crossroads in his head. A surprise breeze in the darkness and it all came back to him. Second Hand glanced back at the fleeting dust where the car had been.

    “What do think he meant by soon?”

    1. regisundertow

      Oh, Robert Johnson is about to get some company. While the initial rap-speak put me off, the story soon descended into a beautiful sweaty Southern Gothic tale. Somehow, the devil as a record executive is so fitting.

    2. ReathaThomasOakley

      I know nothing about current “music”, but suspect this is a good description of what is happening, and like the others, I think your devil is perfect.

  9. Witt.Stanton

    “You really should’ve planned ahead, Cas. What if I didn’t make it?” Theo was leaning against the mahogany casket, picking at his leather bracelet. “Really, I expected more from you.”

    A muffled shout came from inside, but Theo ignored him, continuing, “How’d you expect to get out?” He felt Cas kick at the lid, but Theo maintained his position, trapping him.

    He couldn’t help but grin when he heard Cas swear in Russian. “I was out of options. Let me out, and I might just forgive you.”

    “Hey,” Theo laughed, “It’s not my fault traffic was slow. You’ve got to learn from your mistakes.” The church doors opened with a thundering band, and Theo’s head jerked up.

    Sam stood in the doorway, his form outlined by the bright outside light now streaming in. As their mentor walked in down the center aisle, he let his disguise slip away. Faded, white wings unfurled out behind him.

    With a smirk, Sam jumped into the air and landed gracefully on the polished wood of the coffin’s lid. He tapped it experimentally with a hand. “Cas? You hear me?” He was answered by a muffled stream of curses.

    Sam laughed. “You’re a bad influence on Theo. Ready to get out?”

    “You bet your sorry –”

    “Hey — swear again and we’ll leave you here.” That shut Cas up. Rolling his eyes, Theo flipped open the latches and gave the go-ahead signal to Sam. He then took a precautionary step back as Sam lifted the lid.

    The angry Russian jumped out and brushed himself off, running his hands through his spiky red hair. “That could’ve gone better. Thanks for locking me in, Theo, really appreciated that.” He swore again, but paled at the look Cas gave him.

    “Let’s get going, you two. No more fighting.” Cas turned his back on them, jogging towards the door. “And next time, Theo, you’re the one who has to die.”

    1. Observer Tim

      This reminds me of a Bing Crosby/Bob Hope sketch with Cas and Theo taking the leads, except neither of them is going for the cheap laughs (Hope’s job, as I recall). I’m left wondering about the backstory, but it really doesn’t affect the power of the banter. Very nicely done. 🙂

      I think in the second-last paragraph you meant “the look Sam gave him”. Otherwise Cas is glaring at himself, which is a whole nother level of strange.

    2. regisundertow

      This is indeed interesting and merits a continuation, merely on the grounds of the multitude of ideas you hint at. There’s obviously a lot of history between your characters that we’d love to see expanded upon.

  10. JRSimmang

    PATCHWORK MAN

    He was a wanderer, a patchwork man, tilted top hat with peeling felt and a drooping brim, the kind that would spill rainwater down his back when the clouds opened up and surprised him with a shower. His name was consequence, and he never thought twice about his profession.

    He swaggered unnoticed into towns and cities, clutching tightly to his bag of things. Things they were certainly, and heavy too, always threatening to knock him over, always threatening to inflict calamity. But, people like him, with his nod of knowzit and shoes full of miles, go unheeded like a tree’s leaf too tired to cling to the branches anymore.

    He has it in there, in his bag, the box of goodies that are covered in the whispers of the people who have held it before and helped themselves to what it has to offer. What they get, they never tell. They can’t. Their mouths are forever sealed shut against it.

    He knows where he’s going. Today, he finds her, her blinds shut tight, her face in a jar, just like the Beatles song. He thinks to himself that that band is the reason why people can’t spell beetle correctly, and he remembers relinquishing himself to pleasure at leaving the gift for Lenin. McCartney was always more talented, though his day is coming soon.

    He shuffles to her door, his hips drawing arcs, his toes gripping against the sole. He raises his hand, but the latch clicks and the door swings open to a pair of eyes, clouded and bluer than poetry. “Hello, stranger,” she rasps. “Come in.”

    He has done this before, walking through living rooms and picking up collected trinkets. He has touched picture frames and wondered what a family would feel like, what a dog’s wet nose is, how pancakes taste when smothered in maple syrup. But these thoughts are mortal, and he has not had the luxury of dying.

    “You’re late,” she quips. “I been expecting you.” She sits in a worn recliner directly across from the TV. It’s stuck on some station and hasn’t changed in a few days.

    He gently swings the bag to the carpet and undoes the knot.

    “I always wondered what you’d be like.” She lights a cigarette. “You’re cute.”

    His fingers stumble, then he shakes his head to refocus and opens the bag around a box.

    She chuckles. “Probably don’t hear that too often.”

    “I’ve delivered. The rest is up to you.”

    She glances at the box. It has defied human explanation before, so he knows that her head cannot perceive of its exterior, of the way that it seems both liquid and in motion and smooth all at once. She cannot fathom its blackness, though it shimmers and shifts.

    “Yeah, yeah, just leave it there. I’ll get to it when I’m ready.”

    “It’s to return with me.”

    “Sure,” she whispers. “Sure.”

    He stares at her as she pulls another drag and lets the lunt spill from her nostrils, curl around her thinning lips, and settle into the air around her. She puts the cigarette out in a built-in ashtray and struggles to her feet.

    “So, do I look inside?”

    “If you desire.”

    As she moves closer, the gift shivers.

    “Will I like it?”

    “It’s made for you.”

    It shudders and ratchets back and forth.

    “Have others liked theirs?”

    He nods. The gift jumps and squirms.

    “Will it hurt?”

    He shakes his head and motions to it writhing and fighting against time and space.

    She holds out her hand to him and he accepts it. She painfully lowers herself to one knee before letting him go. She looks up to him while she reaches out to the gift.

    He smiles at her anxiety, at her fear, at her turmoil, and her face becomes soft. She touches the surface of the gift, and it unravels like loosened ropes onto the floor, puddling around her, dousing her in the heat of forever, bathing her in quintessence.

    “It’s,” she takes a rattling breath, “glorious.”

    The shadows move up her legs, up her hips, cresting on her shoulders until all that is left is her smoldering cigarette still in the ashtray and a box that is sated for now.

    He gathers the ties to the bag, knots it closed, then he slings it over his shoulder.

    He stops in the hallway on his way out the door and looks at the family portrait. She was smiling, surrounded by her late husband and her two children, who were still living in the city. He would give them a few days to grieve, but his collections would not wait much longer. The box was still empty.

    -JR Simmang

    1. Kerry Charlton

      This is powerful and deep and kind of melancholy at the same time. Who knows what the experience of death brings, and we’re not supposed to understand. But somehow, I think you might have an understanding that some do not acheive. I didn’t notice a sentence or word that didn’t need to be there. It certainly is a story to be proud of.

    2. regisundertow

      This was amazing with some inspiring craftmanship. The prose merits close attention, the story is gothic in all the right ways. Death has been given a face before, but I don’t recall seeing something similar elsewhere. Really glad you wrote this, JR.

    3. Observer Tim

      This is a lovely story, JR; you had me hooked at the Beatles reference. I’m a wee bit curious why the Patchwork Man carries all that stuff around, considering he only has one job, but that concern is easy to loose in the well-flowing gentle text. Great job! 🙂

    4. Beebles

      I knew this was going to be good from the first sentence and it did not disappoint. elegantly written and a world which thickened quickly, like a good broth. Super.

  11. Observer Tim

    NAUGHTY OR NICE?
    A Crisis at Christmas, Part 4

    JANE: (screams)

    PAT: Don’t put that sweater on!

    JANE: Kerry!

    PAT: Who’s Kerry? My name’s Pat!

    JANE: Then Kerry must have sent you. Why are you… oh, I can see why.

    PAT: That, lass, is a natural reaction to your current state of total undress.

    JANE: It’s not getting any closer to me unless you have some weed.

    PAT: Will century-old Irish whiskey do?

    JANE: Come here, then.

    PAT: Anything you want, love. Just don’t put the sweater on.

    ***

    “Cap’n! Thank God I’m back!”

    All three of them stared at me. I know the Cap’n and Mad Steven, but not the other one.

    “Kill the wench, Oily Bill! She ain’t gettin’ a share o’ this treasure!”

    I saw the purple box but paid more attention to the pirate leaping at me with a shiv. Didn’t Oily Bill die before I joined the Bloody Shrike? In my defense I’ll say it was a reflex; he landed on my sabre.

    “Cap’n, how d’ye not know me? I’m Busty Bob, yer second mate!”

    They drew steel and come at me from both sides. A kick to the jewels dropped Mad Steven but the Cap’n’s a master fencer, better than me. Pretty soon I was on my back and unarmed.

    “Now wench, I’ll run ye through, but I won’t need me sword for that.”

    He tossed the sword and got ready for another type of fight, then suddenly turned his head.

    “What’s that, Smilin’ Pete? This wench is a lad? Well, I’ll take yer word for it.”

    He helped me up, and even offered me a place on his crew, what with Oily Bill having retired recently. I told him I just wanted that purple box; it was owned by a witch. After confirming it was nothing but a sweater, he let me take it. Grudgingly.

    ***

    She steps out of the shower and I hand her a towel; I hope the normality of the action will forestall questions.

    “Ramona Dare? Wow, in full costume too. I didn’t know ‘Time and Delilah’ was filming here.”

    What is she talking about? Some kind of mistaken identity, I hope, but she knows my name. Curious. Time for some bluffing; I smile and help her dry off.

    “What happened to you?”

    “There was an accident with some marinara sauce. It was turning people into real zombies. Monty’s dead; Jenna tore his heart out.”

    “You don’t seem too broken up about it.”

    “He was an a-hole anyway.”

    This is definitely Hollywood.

    “Look, has anyone received a purple box with an ugly Christmas sweater?”

    “It’s in my dressing room.”

    “Let’s go, then.”

    I grab her arm and start leading her as she holds the towel over her chest.

    “Ramona, you know I’m not really into girls…”

    “Neither am I. I just need to get that sweater. It’s…” I think quickly, “…contaminated with marinara sauce.”

    “Take it!”

    For someone who’s not LB she’s staring at my chest a lot. Finally she asks.

    “Those are real? Wow.”

    1. Observer Tim

      STEALTH TEAM
      A Crisis at Christmas, Part 5

      Stefani corners me, “Rebecca, we’re going about this all wrong. Stopping the packages is working, but this problem has to be handled at the source.”

      “You think I don’t know that? I’m open to ideas.”

      “We need to get to this Wanda person somehow. I don’t think Tim is having any luck talking to Eric, and the rest of us are too busy bouncing from world to world destroying sweaters. Pat’s going slowly because he seems to be cuckolding the entire multiverse; he’s worse than Tanni.”

      “Tanni?”

      “My pilot. She’ll sleep with anything.” She looks pensive for a moment. “That’s it! Have we recovered any of those sweaters intact?”

      “Just one, but it smells kind of funky.”

      She picks up the sweater and sniffs it, wrinkling her nose like it slapped her. “Perfect. Can we send this to my ship?”

      ***

      I scamper into the lounge to check out the sound. Maybe Stefi’s back; she can tell us how she disappeared while we were in fold space.

      I look around; nothing is out of place except there’s another present under the galaxy holo. It looks like the purple box that Stefi had when she disappeared, but this one smells like… a boy!

      I’m in the box before anyone can say “Tanni don’t open that!” It’s a woven animal-hair coat and it smells like a boy and a girl were cuddling on it. I stick my head inside and roll on the floor. Pretty soon my whole upper body is in it.

      Three comes into the lounge and I peek out at her through the neck hole.

      “Tanni, I don’t think you should…”

      The coat comes to life. The strands are unraveling and reforming into a fragrant cocoon around me. I’m being cuddled by a big ball of string. In a matter of moments I’m all wrapped up and snuggly. Three is pulling at it to no effect. Then everything goes from snuggly to tingly…

      …and Stefi pulls away the yarn covering my face. I lick her nose.

      “Welcome to Limbo, Tanni.”

      Becky introduces me to Rebecca, a girl with pore occlusions, Tim, a boy, and Eric, a… something else. I point at the quiet girl in the corner.

      “Who’s she?”

      They all look surprised when the girl steps forward. “I’m called Wallflower. People tend not to notice me.”

      I jump into her arms and purr. “Want to cuddle?”

      Stefi lifts an eyebrow; I can hear pride in her voice. “I guess we have our espionage team. Now we just have to find Wanda.”

      “I can help.” The boy holds up something shiny on a loop of string. “This normally tells me where my girlfriend is; now it’s attuned to Eric. He seems to be two people; the other one’s probably Wanda.”

      Wallflower takes the shiny and dangles it around her neck. “I should be able to locate her with it.” I sniff it closely, “Tanni, please take your nose out of my blouse.”

      I purr some more.

  12. JosephFazzone

    Strangest thing it was to see this little package sitting on the mat in front of my door. If I hadn’t been paying attention, and on the lookout for ninjas (for one can never be too careful), I would have smashed under the heel of my otter skin boots. Well, faux fur, I’m not that cruel. I’d say only a handful of plush otters were skinned to make them, not very comfortable, they itch an awful lot. My point is I almost stepped on the box. It was a deep maroon, and it sat there with an air of pretense. My enemies were few, and usually involved in customer service somewhere in foreign lands. My chances that one of them would board a flight to come all the way here just to lay this strange box in front of the door was limited at best, well maybe the ninjas, one can never be too careful about ninjas. They’re everywhere.

    The box jumped up violently. I could hear a strange muffled sound, like music, or talking or something like that. Was it a new smart phone, is that how my service handles renewals now. If so then, cool, if not then, what oh what was this thing. I stood there thinking of the best way to discover the answer to this burning question. Meanwhile the box jumped a bit more impatiently. It was then that I decided that opening the box would probably be the best course of action.

    I know, I know, I abandoned all safety protocols. I didn’t scan it, I didn’t run it through the microwave for a rabid succession of 15 second intervals, I didn’t put it on the couch and sit on it, no, I just placed it on my coffee table made from the door off my bathroom, and a couple of cinderblocks, and I opened it.

    With eager fingers did I undo the tape that was holding the top down, and as soon as I had one side done, a faded blue top hat popped open the box, and under it was a bug of some sort. It was dressed with a crimson vest, yellow tie, and a very elegant black dinner jacket. He hopped out of the box with is blue shoes with yellow spats, and brushed his tan leggings with his white gloves one which held a red umbrella. He cut quite the dapper sort. Not just for a bug, but of any dapper sort species aside.

    He looked at me with irritated eyes, and pointed at the duct tape on his mouth. He impatiently tapped his blue shoe on the table indicated I should speed things up. I pulled the tape off his mouth hoping this was my equivocal of rubbing the genie’s lamp. Having already spent my wishes, I might have yanked the tape off a little too anxiously.

    “YEEEOW!!!” It bellowed in pain.

    “I’m sorry.”

    “Your impatience is to blame”, he spoke in the slow gait of a substitute teacher I remembered hating in the seventh grade.

    My agitation grew. I took a breath, “What the heck are you?”

    “You never saw the movie with the well dressed cricket saving the life of an idiot boy it literally gets swallowed by a whale?” it lauded heaps of sarcasm onto each syllable. What an annoying bug. “I’m your conscience.”

    “Oh shit”, I said. I had seen that movie.

    “Don’t swear”, he scolded in a reproachful tone. “It diminishes your character.”

    F you bug, I thought. Out loud I asked, “Who said I needed a conscience?”

    “Your great uncle Pino”, said the bug, “At least that’s what he told me when he shoved me in the box.”

    I don’t remember having an uncle Pino. “What did I do to him?”

    “Do?” the bug said incredulously, “I’m a gift. Happy Birthday! I will be your voice of reason and caution, I will teach you to live in moderation and aim for the status quo. Plus reminders about social graces, how to be PC, what PC is, what to say, what to not say, what to think about saying, but never say, and well, be a better you.”

    “I’m not good enough?” I said offended that it presumed as much.

    “No one is”, the bug said with the grandest of airs. “Only we crickets know the delicacy of grace and dignity.”

    “You look like a grasshopper”, I offered.

    “Insult!” cried the aggrieved bug, “I do respect that kind of attitude towards insects you may call us crickets, not the more lamentable title of chirpers, and certainly never ever call us grasshoppers.”

    “I see”, I said, “Well, no use for a conscience here.”

    “Oh we’re quite useful. We can tell you how to be, who to be, what to be, when to be, and whether or not to be or not to be.” he said triumphantly, and then sniffed looking around. “You know you could use a bath, and what’s with this trashy dump. Am I supposed to live here?”

    “I’m just going to put you back in the box”, I said, “You can live there, in the alley, specifically in the dumpster in the alley.”

    “Oh no”, he said, “That’s not how it works. You see, we have an arrangement now. You opened the box, and now we are bound.”

    I muttered, “Can’t I just get the lamp and the genie? For a movie this is a shitty Dis…”

    “Need I remind you, you can’t say the name”, he pointed out. “Copyrights!!! And cussing! Hello? What did I say about that?” He swatted me on the hand with his umbrella.

    I said with my hands up in surrender, “I need to think about this. I need a drink of water.”

    As I began to walk to the kitchen, I heard him call out, “You know you can offer me something. It’s rude to not consider your guests, or in my case, roommate.”

    I stopped with a groan and asked, “What do you want?”

    “Water would be wonderful, please, and if you have any lemon verbena”, he said gracefully, “that would be lovely. Thank you.”

    I walked into the kitchen desperate for a way to rid myself of this thing. I found the bug spray under the kitchen sink. With a small sigh of resignation, I went back into the living room with the spray hidden behind my back, a glass of water in my hand, and a smile on my face. On the bright side, this was a cake walk next to going up against ninjas. Never can trust a ninja, they’re everywhere.

    1. regisundertow

      Joseph, this is the writing equivalent of jazz. Very reminiscent of Tom Robbins and other amazing, psychopathic, irreverent writers out there. The rapid pacing with the rat-tat-tat of ideas and references works great for this type of prose. Great idea to go balls out in the beginning, then shift focus to the cricket. It set up the tone nicely and created the right type of expectations for the rest of the piece. Real good stuff. Some minor word choices that need tightening, just minor things that don’t detract from the coolness of this piece.

    2. Beebles

      Hi Joe
      This made me laugh. I liked the style – jazzy is an apt description – and I liked the way the MC’s character was portrayed through that. I loved the Ninjas – yeah bloody everywhere – and I think the spray was the only possible option. In the best traditions of jazz – NICE! (though I don’t know if that translates across the pond).

    3. Observer Tim

      This is wonderfully strange, Joseph. I think Regis nailed it with the jazz reference. As I figured out what was going on I could hear the cricket’s voice like the classic cartoon. Now if only there was some way for him to put the thing back in the box… 🙂 🙂

  13. Kerry Charlton

    THE LEGEND OF MARY CATHERINE COBB

    PART FOUR

    PART 3 AT BOTTOM OF THIS PROMPT

    Nottoway temporarily closed in respect for the basement discovery. But John’s resolve didn’t. Shaken by his discovery and waiting for the forensic report from Tulane, he wandered the vacant house and grounds accompanied only by his thoughts and sorrows. When he walked to the private cemetery of the Cobb family, an ill wind drove into his face. There was no marker or tombstone for Mary, it’s as she never existed in the first place.

    Moving from his small quarters on the fourth floor to the bridal suite with it’s four poster bed soaring eight feet to the top of the canopy, seemed to comfort him some from his sorrow. Time stood still and he lost himself in the tragedy of a nineteen year maiden from the civil war.

    ‘If I didn’t know better,‘ he thought, ‘I might think I had fallen in love with Mary.’
    Carefully storing that idea from his mind, he descended to the basement as he had done every day since the discovery, just to sit within his thoughts,. His longing was intense that he might hear from Mary. But no, it wasn’t to be. He had found her burial place or was it the truth? The report wasn’t due for another week and the thought she might have reached her final resting place with her Union lover seemed to disappoint him, but why?

    ‘I’m getting in way over my head,’ he realized as he left the basement, went to the kitchen and fixed a sandwich. ‘What led me here in the first place, why me in particular?’ These thoughts ransacked through his mind as he settled in for the night. The haunting painting of the lost girl of Nottoway still hung in it’s place to the right sideof the bed and the moonlight of the late evening, enveloped her sweet face as his eyes closed lost in his thoughts.

    His sleep was troubled by bits and pieces of former nightmares and he awoke, trembling and shaking. He glanced to the painting on his right. Shadows surrounded it as the moon had rotated and no longer illuminated her face. He closed his eyes and started to weep uncontrollably. A hint of foot steps across the room, reached his ears as he felt the mattress depress some and she slipped under the covers with him..

    She placed her arms around him and nestled her head to his neck.

    “Don’t cry for me, for I have found my true love.”

    “Mary?”

    “Yes love?

    “I want to kiss you and hold you all night.”

    She rose to her knees while still on the bed, removed her lace pinafore and laid it carefully at the end of the bed. Two time crossed lovers consummated their love through the night, Right before dawn. John’s eyes closed in a dreamless sleep. A mocking bird searching for her mate, awoke him at mid morning and he rubbed his eyes and glanced toward Mary. She wasn’t there for him. He knew it to be too real for a dream and when he found Mary’s pinafore he understood.

    One thing he realized, if time could warp for two lovers once, it could again.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thank you Reatha, for stopping by. This particular part was kind of a rest stop and to set the love between the two. More twists and turns when the tests come back and John returns to the small museum and reads the letters from the latter part of the nineteenth century. Who knows, this may go on for a few weeks Ideas keep boiling up in the old gray cells.

    1. regisundertow

      And now I’m going back to comb the previous stories for clues. This proved to be a very interesting take on a ghost tale. Rarely is the question “why did she choose me” asked by whomever gets in contact with the ghost. Even though I’m not much of a romance reader, I found myself sighing in the end. Excellent story, Kerry.

    2. Observer Tim

      This is wonderful and touching, Kerry. As a short piece this is completion; as a longer one it’s a chapter break. I love the languid description and the vibrant images. It also conforms to one of my preferences in stories: nearly all dialogue, or nearly none. It’s nice to see John “get the girl”, though I would love to read more about her tragic life and death. Maybe in a few weeks when the forensic tests come back… 🙂

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thank you Tim for following along. In the next chapter, John discovers family turmoil that existed in the Cobb family durng the civil war from the letters in the museum and more importantly, he traces down an ancient memer of the family who holds ill secrets. More in chapter five.

  14. Observer Tim

    FIELD OPERATIONS
    A Crisis at Christmas, Part 3

    I stand quietly in the shadow of the hall table, black tatty blanket held in my hands. My eyes are adjusted to the dark so I can see the three-foot black triangle of the Christmas tree with its tiny glints of light, but more importantly I can see the shape underneath it.

    The creature is bigger than me, and I count six white monkey arms and no legs: definitely a monster. It’s torn open the pretty purple box we found under the tree yesterday and is ripping up the sweater that was inside.

    I do what Mommy Angel told me; quiet as a moonbeam I creep over and toss the blanket over the monster’s head. It gets still, and stays still while I wrap the blanket tightly. When it’s properly swaddled I uncover its face and stare into its big owl eyes.

    Hush little monster, don’t you scream,
    Vampire mommy says you’re a dream;
    Happy little monster, just be strong,
    We’ll get you back safe where you belong.

    I play tug-of-war over the sweater with it, like with a puppy. Finally it seems happy and fades away back to a dream. The sweater’s gone too but that’s okay. Vampire Angel Mommy doesn’t like pink anyway.

    ***

    KG-145 brings the package in. What is the point of having a secret island lair when people can find you? Next thing I know it’ll be junk mail.

    “Scan the box, 145.”

    “It contains a yarn-like substance latcheted into the shape of an upper-body outer garment.”

    “A sweater.”

    “Affirmative.”

    “Why didn’t you just say that?”

    I don’t get to hear its answer because a superhero teleports in. Crap. She’s high school age, slim and athletic, in fox-pattern tights with a fox mask and a tail. A part of me says I should tie her up and neo-erotically torture her, but that’s just the supervillain I think. Then she breaks the mood.

    “Don’t open that box! It’s a trap!”

    Two of my guard robots grab for her but she dodges. I watch her fight them for five-point-three seconds. Add ‘replace two robots’ to my worklist. She strikes a pose and addresses me again.

    “Who are you? Why do all these robots look like black-and-chrome versions of you?”

    “So when I take over the world they’ll know it was Kay Gunderson and not some other evil mastermind. Why are you here, Foxgirl?”

    “I’m called Vixen and I’m here to protect you. Whatever you do, don’t open that box. The ugly sweater inside was sent by a trans-dimensional being to kidnap you.”

    “That sounds so stupid it might be true. Do you have evidence?”

    “No, and I don’t have time either. Wanda’s sent out dozens of these things and there’s a lot more to stop. If you want to put on the sweater, we’ll see you in Limbo.”

    She takes out a cell phone and starts talking immediately. “Done here, Becky. Check off Gunderson and send me to the next one.”

    She vanishes. Christmas time is really strange.

  15. Amaria

    Straight off the cuff so any errors please forgive me:

    “Sylvia’s dilemma”

    The box sat on Sylvia’s bed
    playing tricks with her head
    she wasn’t sure on what to do
    she didn’t want to be rude
    but the boy was so young –
    in more ways than one
    it was a lie to say from the start
    he hadn’t captured her heart
    with his smile and bedroom eyes
    that ignited a fire deep inside
    she thought was extinguished long ago
    but no – she would not let her mind
    drift to such lurid thoughts
    she had to be the adult
    and put this affair to rest
    but one glance from him
    would break down her resolve –
    she couldn’t bear to break a heart
    so there she sat with the box
    wrapped in crimson red
    enticing her to take a peek –
    just to put her mind at ease
    until her phone chimed with a text
    asking “do you like your present?”

    1. regisundertow

      Really like it. I’m not much of a consumer of poetry, so it’s always impressive to me when someone puts together a story that’s not only coherent, but deep as well.

  16. TMClarke

    It wash’t so much the appearance of the box that caught my attention, although looking back now I realize that something about the color of the paper it was wrapped in – far too close to the wet, glistening maroon of fresh calf’s liver – should have alerted me that this was no ordinary late afternoon Amazon parcel dump. Nor can I say I was particularly alarmed by the fact that the box was shaking violently and emitting a hissing-growling sound that was distinctly audible from where I stood on the opposite side of the elevator lobby. What caught my attention was the fact that the box was being held, carefully and at arms length, by a lime green Praying Mantis the size of a full grown man.

    I flatter myself that I’m not particularly frightened by insects – although I do sometimes wonder what their existence says about the presumed benevolence of a hypothetical Creator – but this particular bug was definitely creeping me out. His potato-shaped head was rocking from side to side, and he was making a particularly unpleasant chittering noise by grinding what appeared to be an impossibly complex set of mouth parts together, all the while snapping and rolling his outsized eyes back and forth between me and the elevator door.

    I must have been staring because he turned to me and spoke. And here’s where everything moved about fifteen degrees catawampus to reality. He spoke the King’s English with an accent so droll and jammy that I knew that he couldn’t possibly be your average Pseudoharpax virescens.

    “I say sport,” he said “You weren’t expecting a package were you?” His eyes rolled up to the top of his head, twisted in opposite directions and snapped down again.
    “No,” I said. “Sorry.”
    “My last delivery of the day,” he said. I think he smiled. I hope he smiled.
    “What’s inside?” I asked.
    “Not sure, sport,” he said. “But I think it’s hungry.”
    “Sounds like it might be,” I said.
    The elevator arrived the door opened and the Mantis stepped inside.
    “Have a good one,” he said.
    “You too,” I said.
    “Looks like I’m going to get home late again,” he said.. “My wife will have my head.”
    I couldn’t think of anything to say to that.
    He smirked and added: “Just joking.”
    The elevator doors closed.

    1. Beebles

      Excellent TM. liked the style, change of direction and the closure. I might take exception to the use of the word sport for an Englishman unless prefixed by ‘old’ perhaps. On its own its much more antipodean. I speak from experience. Still thoroughly enjoyed that.

    2. Observer Tim

      This is lovely and surreal, TM. I love the way the MC takes the notion of a human-sized talking bug in such a blasé manner. Of course they could be coexisting with humans en masse, but that wouldn’t really justify the staring. It’s a wonderful slice of a rather different life. 🙂

  17. cosi van tutte

    Oh, and here’s one more just for the fun of it…

    So, picture this: I’m on my futon reading “Half-Hearted Twilight”, which is only, like, my most favorite book in, like, ever. Jack Jilhouse shows up and gives me a red velvet ring box from Jarrod’s Designer Boutique and the ring is like the most gorgeous thing in the whole, entire world. And I am sooo not exaggerating. It’s soo all that and a diamond studded bucket.

    “What’s this?” I ask like all innocent and junk. I figure if he’s going to propose, he’s gonna do it right.

    “An engagement ring.”

    “Oh? Like, do you expect me to do something with it? Like, I don’t know, give you my general opinion of it or—”

    “Accept it.”

    He isn’t kneeling down, which is so totally wrong. And his proposal is so poorly worded. I should reject him.

    But maybe he doesn’t know how to do it right. Like, he is an alien. Maybe this is how they propose. I hope not. It’s soo unromantic. “Like, you should be kneeling.”

    He frowns like I told him he should be eating wallpaper paste. “Why?”

    “Like, you are so hopeless. It’s important. It’s like a whole presentation thing.”

    He kneels and I swear it’s like C-3PO kneeling. Sooo awkward. Soo stiff. Like ohmigosh! “Accept it.”

    “Soo not right.”

    “What now?”

    “You can’t just say accept it.”

    “Why not?”

    “Like, you’re missing the most important part. You have to ask me to marry you.”

    “Ask? Why would I do that? If I ask, you might refuse. If I tell you to accept it, you don’t have a choice in the matter.”

    I should totally reject him for that statement alone. “Excuse me, but like I want to have a choice in the matter.”

    He shakes his head. “You’re just trying to make this difficult for me, for some reason.” He sighs like his lungs are full of really bad air and he’s eager to get it all out. “Will you marry me?”

    I look at the ring and try to imagine it on my finger. I love love LOVE the mental image.

    “Callie? Marry me.”

    I could easily say yes, but there’s like this big gray alien elephant in the room that needs to be discussed first. “What about Asree?”

    “Asree?” He sits back on his heels and like gets himself lost in all of his thoughts. “I know that name, but I don’t. I’ve heard it before. I’ve said it before. But I can’t remember. Callie, who is she?”

    So, like this is where I’m supposed to do the noble thing and spill all of the details about his sci-fi past. And, give me credit, I actually do give it like a ton of consideration. “She’s your old girlfriend.” Hey! It’s like the total truth minus some details.

    “Girlfriend. Asree was my girlfriend. That doesn’t seem right.”

    I shrug.

    “Why don’t I remember her?”

    Okay. So, how the heck am I supposed to answer this one without full out lying? Like, is that even possible?

    “What did she look like?”

    Ohmigosh! This question is even worse. I like want to totally bail out on this topic, but it still needs to be addressed whether I like it or not. “She…was very…” I remember her glowing cat eyes and gray skin. “She was very ethnic looking. Like, a total alien.” There. That was close enough to the truth. “You broke up with her and she like went back to her home planet.”

    He frowns. “Why did I break up with her?”

    This is like the worst proposal ever. He went from demanding that I marry him to like interrogating me about his weird alien ex. It’s like totally my fault, but like that is soo not an excuse. “I don’t know. You couldn’t agree on stuff or some junk.”

    “What stuff?”

    “I don’t know. Personal stuff.” Like totally personal.

    He reclaims the ring box.

    “Like, what are you doing now? I totally haven’t given you my answer!”

    “I need to think things over.” And he like totally walks away. With the ring box!

    Like, ohmigosh! I was totally planning to say yes. Maybe.

      1. cosi van tutte

        Thanks, Reatha!

        I borrowed Callie, Jack, and Asree from my earlier prompt stories. I’ve been wanting to write another story about them and this prompt seemed just right for them. For some reason.

        I’m sure they’ll show up again. 🙂

  18. ReathaThomasOakley

    (The Caribbean called, we answered, so I missed two prompts. Trying to combine two here. Comments later.)

    Horace 1906

    “My hideout,” Horace struggled to strike the kitchen match on the side porch step where he sat, “who’d a thought I’d be tryin’ to escape what’s inside.”

    “Mr. Horace, suh,” Horace dropped the match, “don’t mean to scare you…”

    “No, no,” he turned toward the woman opening the screen door behind him, “uh, Dessie, ain’t it?”

    “Yes, suh, that be me. This here be for you, Mr. Palmer tole me give it to you, with his comp’ments. He say he be waitin’ out front. I better git back to Miz Sarah and that little gal she done had.” Dessie laughed as she handed a package to Horace. “Whooee, that little gal is sumpen else, ain’t she?”

    Horace watched the large Black woman move back into the house, his house now taken over by women. Sarah’s aunts turned up three days ago, then Dessie came, and now there was another female, a red, squalling, squirming thing that all the women acted like was the only baby ever born.

    Horace looked at the box in his hands. “What the hell’s he up to?” he whispered as he turned over the small wooden rectangle, painted the color of dried blood, and felt something roll inside.

    “Ain’t you gonna open it?” John Palmer was standing just at the corner of the house.

    Horace moved down the steps. “Get off my property,” he shouted as he threw the box at Palmer.

    “Now, Horace, look what you done. Them good cigars gonna get dirty on the ground.”

    “Everthing good here?” the man coming around the corner asked Palmer.

    “All jest fine, Sheriff. Ain’t that right, Horace? Everthing jest fine?” Palmer smiled. “Ole Horace here jest dropped his cigars, him bein’ a new daddy and all’s got him flustered.”

    “I’ll wait ’round front. You need me…”

    “Yeah, me and Horace jest gonna have us a little talk, a little chin wag,” Palmer picked up the box and cigars as the sheriff left.

    “What you doin’ here?” Horace asked through clinched teeth.

    “Why, Horace, I’m here to wish you and the little lady my best. We was worried when you didn’t have the doc out, jest a grove worker’s woman.”

    “The women wanted…”

    “We was all taken by surprise that baby come so soon.” He grinned at Horace. “You got you a big gal for a, what would it be, a seven month baby?”

    “You son of a…” Horace moved toward Palmer.

    “Careful, Horace. All I gotta do is yell and you’ll be in jail. I been good to you, ain’t I? Didn’t have you arrested when you bloodied my nose. But, you ever come close to me agin, I swear I will call in all your notes.”

    “Why’re you here? You said you was givin’ me a year.”

    “Well,” Palmer slowly took an ivory toothpick from his watch pocket and used it as Horace stood and clenched his fists. “Well, when I heard ’bout that baby I done some hard thinkin’. Folks remember when that little gal come to town and witched you away from my girl, yore true wife. That was some fast work, you hauled her out to them crazy women…”

    “Sarah’s aunts…”

    “Crazy aunts then, livin’ out there, no menfolks, grove workers in and outta their place. You hauled her out there and now, not eight months later, I can hear cryin’ like a nine month youngen.”

    “Stop it, just you stop,” Horace could feel the blood coming up into his head, into his brain.

    “Yep, fast work.” Horace felt as if the blood in his brain was boiling. “So, I hear you got this baby here and I gotta wonder what happened out on that road, or maybe that little gal got herself caught back there in the hills, I heared how them gals are. And, she was on that train how long? Lotta young bucks work railroads.”

    Horace shut his eyes, tried to shut out Palmer’s words.

    “Hmm, you think maybe her folks sent her down here, so’s not to be shamed?”

    “If you don’t stop I’m gonna…”

    “You gonna do what?” Palmer put the pick carefully away. “Lessen you got a gun you ain’t gonna kill me right here. Tell you what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna tell the sheriff I come here today to tell you I’m wipin’ the slate clean ’cause you now a family man. You gonna keep yore groves and this house, my daughter’s house what you brought some little whore to.”

    “She’s not…she was…” Horace stopped, tears running down his face. All night he’d been thinking such low down nasty thoughts that he’d burned with shame. He turned away from Palmer, “Get away from here, away from me.”

    “I’m goin’ now, Horace. I’ll jest take these cigars on to town, hand them out for you. Tell folks ’bout the baby. Bye, now, give your misses my regards.”

    Later, when he finally got his pipe going, Horace thought about a ghost story a visiting cousin had told him, years before, a story about a man who’d been told never to go into the cellar of the house he was renting. But, when he started hearing noises down there, his curiosity got the best of him and he was destroyed by what he found. As Horace recalled John Palmer’s words and remembered his first sight of the red, screaming creature Sarah said was his daughter, he felt as if he was standing at the top of a long staircase, being pulled down into a dark and forbidden place.

    1. cosi van tutte

      And the plot thickens…

      “Horace watched the large Black woman move back into the house, his house now taken over by women. Sarah’s aunts turned up three days ago, then Dessie came, and now there was another female, a red, squalling, squirming thing that all the women acted like was the only baby ever born.” 😀 Poor Horace.

      Why do I get the feeling that, even though he shouldn’t pay attention to what John Palmer told him, he totally will and things are going to get bad between him and Sarah?

      Bring on the next part!

      1. ReathaThomasOakley

        Thanks Beebles, I’m finding using lots of dialogue to move the story helps with my word count, which was long for me this week, but if was trying to incorporate two prompts.

        1. Kerry Charlton

          Hello Retha , While you was messin’ in da Caribeean place, me was a workin’ with my stupid arm a hurti’ with me trottin’ to de Walgreen’s gettin’ de pain stuff for my hurt. A bunch of miseries ’round me with nothin’ better to do. Damn, Reatha, you gots all de talents, I ain’t got nuthin’ to show.

          1. ReathaThomasOakley

            Sorry about the arm, Kerry, hope things have improved. Thanks for the comment, but you have nothing to worry about in the talent department.

    2. Observer Tim

      This is definetely pointed in the direction of something dark, Reatha. The Caribbean has done you good. I love the imagery and all the implied threat. It seems Horace’s future is closing in on him rapidly…

      🙂

    3. regisundertow

      Great to have you back!
      There aren’t many stories out there that make me want to read them three times, once for the prose, twice for the story, thrice to appreciate them. Yours do that every time. There’s so much backstory, so much history implied in every line.

  19. sudhiriyer

    Order, Enter Payment details, Confirm.

    I finish an online order for a GoPro Hero 4 just before Christmas sale. The joy of seeing shipment packages arriving home is second to none. The whiff of contents of a newly opened package heralds excitement of that which I know I have ordered but yet sits as a surprise waiting to be seen and touched. The virgin fragrance of new gadgets and untouched objects is a joy only a shopaholic can understand.

    The doorbell rings.

    “Parcel for Mr. Iyer. This is Bluedart”, says the courier.

    Puzzled, I take the delivery of the box, sign the consignment receipt and walk back in to my bedroom in excitement as I don’t know what is in it. A GoPro order just minutes ago won’t reach me so soon. The surprise, therefore, enthralls me.

    “Gift? But from who?”, a though runs through my mind.

    I greedily unpack the box. No brand labels. A black coloured wooden box. “Unappealing package, I like brands and labels.” I say to myself.

    I reach out to a paper knife and cut through the packing tape.

    Strange things start happening.

    ”Why is it so dark suddenly?”

    The clock shows 16:30. A jet of breeze escapes through a narrow window slit and blows the calendar hung on the opposite wall. It tries to remind me it’s December.

    “Southern hemisphere does not get dark in December by 16:30”, I think in fear.

    I rise from the bed and close the window and try to look out through the window.

    “Solar eclipse?”, I struggle to come to terms with the sudden darkness.

    “Mr. Iyerrrr”, I hear a voice calling me from the bed. The box starts shaking. A bright, white flash blinds me. I rub my eyes and try regaining my vision. I see an apparition in bright room, sitting right on my bed, in a lotus position, exactly where the box was.

    Goose-bumps. I feel my hair leaving my body, slowly, as if it was starting to levitate me.
    “Wh..who are you? Wh..What are you? Why are you here?” I utter nervously.

    “I am you. You’ve ordered me”, replies the apparition.

    I collapse on the ground and scream loudly for help. But I am unable to hear myself.

    “Where did my voice go? Why can’t I hear anything?” a train of nervous, helpless thoughts run through my mind.

    “I come from your guilt”, replies the apparition.

    The apparition continues talking.

    ”Zak Hanby is three blocks away from you. At this very moment, he is sipping coffee with a newspaper in his hand and pretending to read. But he isn’t actually reading. He is contemplating ending his life. He lost his job to your political move at work. You knew you could have saved his position. You did nothing and instead chose to flatter your boss for your next move up the ladder. You failed in fair-play at work.

    “Winston’s mother passed away yesterday. Remember Winston? Your old friend from school, whom you often dismissed for not taking studies seriously because academics was all that you had in your orbit. He begged you for money a month ago on Facebook. But you dismissed it off thinking it was a hoax, or a hacked account. But you also did think it could have been a genuine plea, but you yet you ignored. Check your phone. Winston has left a message saying his mother passed away and that you could have helped pay for her treatment. You failed as a friend.

    “You profess Vegetarianism to friends but when alone you enjoy the smoky flavour of Chicken Tikka. You ask people not to kill to satisfy their appetite but yet you devour the taste of roasted white meat. You, too, Mr. Iyer kill to eat. Stop falsely affirming your vegetarianism. You are a hypocrite.

    “You lecture your wife on not spending on frivolous items and expensive items that she can do without. You are sedentary. You hate even walking. You don’t need a GoPro. You know GoPro is for taking shots on the move during adventures. Why gratify your desires for materialistic pleasures alone and not share your money with your lovely wife? You failed as a husband.

    “You knew your father suffered from extreme tachycardia. You claimed money on his medical expenses but you never offered for his treatment. He breathed his last without a complaint. You failed as a son.

    A sudden lull prevails. The apparition slowly starts to wither away. The white flash disappears. The ambient brightness sets back in. It starts feeling like 17:00 in December. It’s bright outside. Atleast as bright as 17:00 in December should be.

    But I lay at the same spot I had collapsed on. I feel paralytic, unable to scream, move or even think clearly. Tears trickle down.

    “I’ve failed.” I say to myself to regret. I notice also that there is no box on the bed.

    1. regisundertow

      Reatha is spon-on, Dickens was what first came in mind. I like your prose, there’s an interesting choice of words and it flows pleasantly. I wonder what your MC will do now that he’s seen the light, so to speak.

    2. Observer Tim

      This is a dark tale of judgement. The litany of failures, presented in such a cold and judgemental way, is probably the worst nightmare anyone could face. I hope he gets a chance to rebuild his soul and, if he does get the chance, that he takes it. 🙂

  20. SheepCarrot

    “Go home, Marcail. You’ve done enough for today.”

    I drop the scrub brush back in the bucket of hot, soapy water and slowly get to my feet. My back and knees scream in protest at the movement, as would be expected of someone twice my age. “Yes, sir,” I mumble, gathering up the bucket. As I return to the kitchen to dump the dirty water and return the tools to their place, I curse my father again. Five years I’ve been an indentured servant to the Ruling Family, sold by my own sire to pay off his gambling debts. Five years is a long time to gather hatred and resentment.

    I wipe my hands on my long apron, then push open the heavy wooden door that’s the servants’ entrance to the castle. It’s already pitch black outside, but I can find my way to my tiny “home” with my eyes closed. It’s not much, just a single-room shack just large enough to house my bed, a small trunk for my clothes, and a tiny fireplace to keep warm on winter nights such as this.

    I set to work immediately with my flint to start a fire, and it’s not long before the warm glow has shadows jumping on the walls. I remove my apron and drape it across the foot of my bed, for the first time noticing something on the center of my bed. It’s oval, about six inches by four by four, a maroonish-purple leathery exterior, and I recognize it immediately.

    A dragon’s egg.

    My heartbeat quickens as my panic rises. I also realize the danger of the item. It is forbidden of anyone in my station to even look upon, let alone possess, such an thing. Only the select of the Ruling Class have dragons, and the Dragon Masters are jealous of their prizes. If they find me with this, I will be executed immediately and publicly. I glance around to see if anything else is out of place, to speak of where it came from but find nothing. I don’t have anything to be disturbed.

    The egg wiggles, jumps, and dread hits the pit of my stomach. A small crack forms, and I know I’m in serious trouble. Dragons form bonds with their Masters at birth. Dragons who formed bonds with those outside the Ruling Class always perished once their human was executed. I glance at the door and discard the thought of running immediately. Without a human to bond to, I would still be condemning the creature to its death. Through centuries of breeding, the powerful lizards have become dependent on humans.

    A small nose appears through the shell, and it’s only moments before the dragon fully emerges. It’s a perfect miniature to what it will be when fully grown: sleek body, angular head, legs ending with taloned feet, and wings with a span equal to the animal’s body length. Its eyes latch onto me and I can’t look away. It cocks its head to the side, much in the same way as the stray dog that I feed kitchen scraps to does, then it lets out a tiny screech.

    I move to the bed’s side and kneel, bringing my eyes level to the baby, lifting a trembling hand to his. He closes his eyes and pushes his head against my hand. I run my fingers down his scaly body in wonder. I’ve never seen such a beautiful dragon. His body is the same color as the egg, and the webbing of his wings and underbelly are the deepest of black. I’ve never heard of or seen one this color.

    As he crawls up my arm to my shoulder, I know there’s only one thing for me to do, for the good of us both. I wrap my extra clothes in my apron, making a pack out of it, and don my heaviest cloak. I drop the corner of my blanket into the fire, watching as it catches and slowly spreads to the rest of my shack. Then, with the baby dragon tucked against me under my cloak, I slip into the night. Hard times are ahead of us, I know. But even that is preferable to being put to death.

    I run through the night, through the small drainage ditch under the castle wall, and into the woods. The fight for our lives has begun.

    1. regisundertow

      I really like this. I’m not one for fantasy, especially when it involves dragons, but the writing is so good here. In just a few lines, I got a pretty good idea of how society works in that universe. You’ve got such a good platform for world-building, I’d love to read more.

        1. SheepCarrot

          I knew that had to be an autocorrect fail, but couldn’t figure out what it should have been! Thanks, Katia! I want to follow up on this, but it probably won’t be this week. I’m sure I can twist a future prompt to suit my needs for the story tho. 😉

    2. cosi van tutte

      Hi, Sheep!

      This was excellent! I love the description in this whole part: “It’s a perfect miniature to what it will be when fully grown: sleek body, angular head, legs ending with taloned feet, and wings with a span equal to the animal’s body length. Its eyes latch onto me and I can’t look away. It cocks its head to the side, much in the same way as the stray dog that I feed kitchen scraps to does, then it lets out a tiny screech.”

      I’d love to read more of this story. 😀

    3. Beebles

      And I liked this too. It has lots of potential and I thought you set it all up very well as the others have alluded to. Far better start than some published works in this genre – which I will not mention;)

    4. Observer Tim

      So when do the other 200,000 words of this come out, Sheepcarrot? You’ve written the first chapter of an engaging novel. The imagery is thick and heavy, yet somehow still readable. All in all it’s a perfect blend.

      🙂

      1. SheepCarrot

        200,000? I was panicked at reaching the 50k for NaNo! Thank you for the kind words, Tim, and when I have the time to figure out where it’s going, I will definitely start making it into a novel. I would have fun with this.

  21. regisundertow

    And the second part.

    ****************************************

    THE THRALL – PART II

    They were…cautious of me. There was respect too, but most of it was permeated by fear. Indescribable. Ill-defined. I don’t understand. I wasn’t going to hurt them, though I could have if I wanted to, but I didn’t.

    Leo had me describe the outside world by his bedside. Even his friends had become too much for his health, especially when his joints flared up. On those days, even a slight breeze or the soft touch of bedsheets was enough to cause paroxysms of crippling pain. I had returned to the estate to find him collapsed in a couch, too weak and in too much agony to walk to his bed. I lifted him gently and carried him to the master bedroom across the hall from mine, ignoring the sour citrus stench of days-old sweat and stale urine emanating from his clothes. I then rushed out to the gardens, collected several armfuls of cherries and made him his tea. He nodded slowly when I entered with the tray, his eyes downcast. I held the ivory-colored porcelain cup to his lips and made sure he had enough pillows.

    He listened without interrupting, waiting for natural pauses to ask for clarifications. The experience of wearing that mask had left an intensely black after-taste in me. This doesn’t make sense, I mumbled and shook my head. They weren’t cautious of me like they are with plague victims. That was different. They were…I just- I don’t understand! They would do what I asked of them, not because they loved me, not because my skin was pleasant to the eyes and touch, but because they were afraid of what I could do to them. I had no intention of hurting them. I didn’t like it…

    I felt the sea heave in my chest.

    A misshapen hand caressed my cheek as I tried to regulate my breathing. The hand moved to my forehead and, with considerable effort, swiped horizontally. I sighed relief as I took my face off and placed it in its box.

    His body might have been laying waste to itself, but his voice remained as commanding as the day he had brought me to life. There is one more I have created. One more I want you to try. Help me out of this bed.

    I carried him to the room with the floor mirror and lowered him tenderly onto a plush divan. I opened the cherrywood box on the pedestal and gasped in horror. I looked at him pleadingly, hoping to find understanding. His grim eyes glared in reply. Put it on.

    ***

    I left the estate after destroying the mirror in anger and disgust. I walked for hours through the wheat fields and the vineyards until I reached the town. Wrapped in my cloak, I slipped amongst the crowds. I avoided being seen by taking back alleys, passing through dank side-streets, favoring shadowy arcades over open plazas. The sea heaved violently in my chest.

    I felt oppressively miasmic. To myself. To others. I felt I was trapped in a swamp, being pulled under putrid waters by unseen hands, the scum filling my nostrils and making me gag. Those who caught a glimpse of my face recoiled in fear, pointing and yelling as they covered their mouths and shielded their children. I tried to hide from their wide-eyed stares and their attention, tried to slip into unilluminated passages, but soon a mob was following me. They spat words out that I didn’t know, short clipped barks with a poisoned edge that frightened me. Townhouse windows opened, curious heads searching for the source of the commotion, adding their fury to that of the mob upon spotting me.

    Something round and heavy landed on the back of my head with a thud and I stumbled, warm oil flowing from the wound. Rocks and rotten vegetables fell around me, one of them striking my shoulder. I tried to run down narrow streets, stumbling, my vision blurring with static. One turn, then another, and then another with high walls all around me blocking the sun, the sickly sweet smell of garbage and trash unable to mask my own.

    The back wall of a townhouse rose forbiddingly at the end of the street, marking a dead-end. I slowed my pace and, for the first time in my life, I cursed Leo. I had done as he’d told me, slipping the mask on and sneaking into town unnoticed. Then, letting a few people, people who thought were safe from the plague that was confined in the old center quarters, catch a sidelong glimpse at my new face. My scaly, toad-like face that had made my circuits burn in frenzied protest over the assault. I had watched in horror as the mask became alive, its warts steering, its buboes leaking cloudy fluids the color of spoilt milk. I had screamed in agony at what the mask was doing to me, at the morbid thoughts that invaded my mind, at the pain it introduced to simply breathing. Leo had been impassive, inscrutable, letting me tear out chunks of my own flesh until I exhausted myself, refusing to hold me like he had before until the worst was over. I begged him, why was he doing this to me? He considered the question absurd.

    The mob turned around the corner and spotted me, immediately marching towards me. I fought back tears and steeled myself to what was to come. I let my cloak fall to the ground and held my chin up for all to see. A stone landed on my cheek, shattering the bone beneath it. My circuits sputtered and I had the vague feeling my body fought to reject the mask. The mob must have noticed it, because whispers of “Thrall” filled my ears. It’s a bloody Thrall with the plague! Must’ve been sent by his masters, don’t let it poison the wells!

    The pain was dull and muted as stone after stone crashed my bones and pulverized my head. Only the impact registered and I was thankful for it. As the mob turned their backs and left me for dead, I smelled the viral vectors released from my mask cling to their clothes and hair and nostrils. Tonight, they’d bring them to their families, their friends, their co-workers, infecting more and more until none was left without a trace of them in their bloodstream.

    The last thought that went through my mind before it shut down was the memory of Leo lying on his divan deep in thought. He had looked as if he were carrying the weight of the world on his arthritic shoulders. None of them will survive the plague, he had said. Not unless they evolve, like grubs on cherry trees.

    1. ReathaThomasOakley

      This is such richly textured writing that I’m not certain how to comment. The world you’ve created is amazing as is your MC. Your descriptions are so vivid that pictures formed in my head as I read. The references to breath and breathing and to smells gave the MC “life”. All in all a truly great piece. Sorry about your injury. Take care.

    2. Observer Tim

      Whoa. This is deep, cruel, terrifying and beautiful, Regis. It reads like an apocalyptic form of Frankenstein (the book). The imagery is florid and egaging, the emotion is heart-wrenching, and the moral is sobering. This is an extremely powerful piece of fiction.

      Now stop injuring yourself and get better. Even though the results are this artistically intense, it’s not worth letting your body be damaged for it. Either that or we’ll have to change your name to Vincent. 🙂

      1. regisundertow

        Your comments are deeply appreciated, Tim. There’s elements from the Golem of Prague story I tried to incorporate; Leo is named after the Rabbi that supposedly created it and the swiping motion refers to writing and erasing the mystical words responsible for giving it life. It’ll definitely go into the “Consider to Expand” folder.

        Thank you for the concern, I’m thankfully off the painkillers and able to walk more-or-less without looking like a zombie 🙂

  22. regisundertow

    This ended running even longer than last week’s piece, so I split it in two.
    Injuries tend to get me all creative, so this is partly inspired by me sitting on my ass for the last 3 days with a useless leg. Hope you enjoy.

    ***************************************************

    THE THRALL – PART I

    The mask in the carved cherrywood box sitting atop the pedestal felt like eggshell to the touch. I lifted it and turned it over, letting it catch the sun coming in through the French windows, taking in its details. Not a singe blemish, no mold lines or anything to indicate it had come off an assembly line. The edges were smooth, curved by a loving hand, and, when I brought it to my nose, rose oil and sandalwood prickled my senses. Holding it with one hand by the chin, I brought it to my face and found the eye holes a perfect fit, neither too large nor too small. Its contours rested snugly on my cheekbones and my lips filled the space forming the mouth. I glanced back at Leo, his stern bearded face studying my reactions. The corners of his mouth twitched in tiny spasms of pain and he hid his malformed bulbous hands behind his back when he caught me staring at them. Well, he said in a cavernous voice, what do you think, my dear girl? Come, have a look in the mirror. Tell me what you see.

    I stepped in front of the Venetian floor mirror that dominated the center of the room. Leo came around to face me. With the mask still on my face, he touched a thumb on my forehead and, gritting his teeth, swiped vertically, activating the mask. I felt it coming alive, reaching out for a connection. My circuitry reacted, listening to the mask’s electronic calls and responding to them, integrating. I blinked and, in the time it took to do so, the mask became my face and my face became the mask.

    I had to remember to breathe. My fingertips kept tracing my new features and I had to convince myself what I was seeing was real and not an illusion. The cheeks, my cheeks, smouldered like hot bronze, my eyes shone like pools of cool water. I tried to remember how the maze of carbon-based circuits that made up my real face looked like, but the person in front of me overwhelmed me.

    Did you create this, I asked Leo. How? He studied me like a craftsman looking for flaws in a crystal glass, but his face eventually softened, even allowing himself a smile. Powerful medication, he whispered. With some thought he added, And years of failure.

    Satisfied with what he saw, he opened one of the side doors leading to the internal gardens and he motioned for me to follow him. His frequent visitors would regale me with stories from his youth, stories that would typically involve him ending a dispute with a fist-fight or him getting what he wanted by stealing it. They themselves had been men and women to whom life was a challenge to be attacked with gusto, their bodies shrines to the dangers they had indulged in during their youth and to the excesses they had succumbed to in their opulent twilight. To hear them talk about it, Leo had been their better in every way and, for that reason, more so of a disappointment now for his lack of decadence. He had retired from the world, content to live the remainder of his life within the confines of his estate. When he wasn’t entertaining his guests, he would spent all hours of the day and most of the night either in his office or walking those gardens.

    Shortly after my creation, when he was diagnosed with the beast that ate at his joints and made his moans echo during particularly cold nights, he developed a fascination with manipulating the life strands of insects. He set up these gardens as a sanctuary for the new beings he brought into existence; beetles with segmented armor, mercenary wasps that protected the larvae of other species, even ants that fused temporarily to fight off a much bigger animal. He proudly displayed their moults in displays around the estate. Often, I would spend hours studying them until he needed my services.

    When we walked together through the gardens, he’d point at specimens to be collected, but now he disregarded the black-and-white Titan Moths flapping overhead or the luminescent grub tubes hanging from the cherry tree branches. There’s something I want you to do, he said, something you haven’t done before. I want you to spend a few days out there without me.

    ***

    Leo nodded and stared at a far away point above the gardens as I described the outside world. People smiled. They were pleasant, polite. Accommodating and willing to ignore any remarks or requests that might have sounded odd. Leo had warned me to expect this. There were too many subtleties, too many nuances about moving through society to consider. As much as he and his friends had taught me, as much as I observed and listened and learned and asked, I was expected to fail somewhere. You can’t teach experience, he’d muse and his friends would howl with laughter.

    I pretended to be a visitor from a foreign country, I explained to him as he carefully sipped his warm cherry tea. Men and women were eager to give me directions and quick to dismiss words used in the wrong context. They warned me of the plague victims and instructed me of the safest parts of town to be in. Most of all, they commented on my face, its beauty. One of them remarked that it looked like the beach at sunset. I liked that.

    Something about that last comment made him sit up and scowl. He interjected with questions. How did I find a place to sleep? What did I eat? How did I pay for it? I was confused. The same way as always, I replied, unsure if I had done something wrong. I asked for it and someone gave it to me. A few people refused to let me sleep at their houses, but there was always someone. Leo nodded and I noticed his swollen joints redden as he squeezed his cup. What did they want in return, he asked, his question sharper than usually. I stared at him, wondering whether I should lie, but how could I do that when I didn’t know what was expected of me or what yardstick my answer was measured against?

    Without waiting for an answer, he stood on trembling knees, one arm steadying himself on the chair. I rushed to help him, but he waved me away. Come, he motioned. We still have work to do.

    The new box on the pedestal contained a different mask. Leo swiped his thumb horizontally across my forehead, breaking the links and turning my face into a lifeless eggshell-thin veil. He gently removed it and put it back into its own box. My internal mechanisms exposed, I felt the sea heave in my chest. Leo avoided looking at me as he pointed at the new mask. Wear this, he said.

    Its surface was muted, harsh. Its texture was rough and grainy, like running a hand over industrially-produced steel. No warmth existed in it and its scent made the skin on my nape crawl. As the circuitry between my body and my new face connected and links were established, I gasped. Wearing the first mark was akin to being in a pregnant forest; this one was like being tossed into the water of a frozen lake. Whimpering and moaning, I tried to rip it off my skin, my fingers digging into the invisible seams. I doubled-over and pulled at my flesh, but Leo held my hands and whispered in my ear, this is you now. This is you. Accept it or you’ll destroy yourself. Breathe. Breathe.

    With my eyes closed, I synchronized my breathing to his and let the icy waters wash over me. Breathe, he commanded, and I obeyed, letting the bitterness flood my lungs. I floated at the bottom of a frozen lake looking up, calm, collected. I opened my eyes and I stared at the harsh lines on my face in the mirror, the aggressive eyebrows, the stubborn eyes, the clenched jaw. I’m in control, I said as I straightened my body.

    1. Beebles

      Hi Regis. I hope you are on the mend – and then again … this was an enchanting read, seemless and smooth and an intriguing world that it painted with touches of Forbidden planet amongst other things I thought. I could see Leo’s garden clearly and the imagery was splendid. I really felt in the mind of the MC and the emotional description was, again, splendid. I suppose the only phrase that drew me up was face being like a beach at sunset which just felt more like something a writer rather than an ordinary joe would say. If I could write like that I’d be more than happy.

      1. regisundertow

        Thanks Beebles. I can sort of hobble now and the painkillers are doing their job. At least the immobility helps with concentrating on writing 🙂
        Much appreciate the comments. Been reading a lot of scifi lately and wanted to try my hand at it. And, of course, you’re right about the lothario’s comment, maybe a tad too poetic.

    2. JosephFazzone

      Mesmerizing. I love the way you compose your stories. Glad you are feeling better, and even more glad that you are making the best of it. That’s spirit! Your writing is exquisite, and I really loved the way it was so sci-fi and yet poetic in its tone. Just made for a great read! Well done.

  23. Witt.Stanton

    I checked my phone for the thousandth time. No one had replied to my text yet. With a groan I let my head flop back and onto my rolled-up sweatshirt.

    I lay on my back, in the middle of the floor of my college dorm, trying to avoid anything that reminded me of him. Conan.

    Try as I might, it seemed I couldn’t forget about him and his perfect eyes. Not to mention the feeling of him holding me close, of all the idle pulls on my hair and hugs that were happy nothings to everyone else but me.

    We’d fought last night. Breaking up with him saved myself from the pain of having him dump me. I tried to convince myself that we were done.

    And that meant doing everything in my power to avoid sleeping in my bed. Conan used to come over every day. It still smelled like his cologne, sort of woodsy and warm.

    Frowning, I swiveled my finder around the phone’s surface. My homework was strewn around me, but I couldn’t focus. Senior year made everything seem rather pointless.

    Someone knocked on the door, making me jump. As carefully as I could, I navigated through my notes and pulled open the door.

    The first thought that hit me was that the guy was cute. And I was in sweatpants and a stupid cross country T-shirt from high school. I didn’t feel too embarrassed, though, because I recognized the guy. One of Conan’s friends. All of them paying their ways into college while I’m working my socks off to keep my scholarship.

    But I feel that I have to defend Conan, though, because as much as I’d like to ignore it, he was different. He was the keeper in my metaphorical sea, and I let him go.

    “Hey, you’re Kierran, right?” The guy leaned back and glanced at the room number posted on the wall again. “Probably. You fit the description.”

    “Whose description?”

    The guy’s mouth quirked into a lopsided smile. “Conan’s. He said for me to give you this.” I began to protest, but he held up a hand. “He said, and I quote, ‘Nothing gold can stay.’ And, while I don’t find quoting dusty old books as sexy as he does, it still stands to par.”

    We’d had a thing where we’d leave messages for each other, except each was some obscure quote. Conan had cared so much more about me than anyone else had before. But he was different. And I was my fucking self who couldn’t keep a steady job or even good grades.

    “Take the box as an apology,” the guy sighed, waving it in front of my face. “He’s sorry.”

    He must’ve realized that I wasn’t going to go for the box, so he set it near the hallway wall and backed away. “He’s a coward, but a sorry one. Give him credit.” Giving me a smile, he bowed with a grand flourish and left down the hall.

    For some reason, it felt like I was the one left out on a joke.

    I had to make sure he was gone before I picked up the box. It was small, roughly the size of my hand, and was covered with an artistic splatter of maroon paint. I flipped open the lid.

    Inside lay a small slip of crinkled notebook paper. I unfolded it.

    He wrote:

    “You gave me a forever within numbered days. I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity.”

    His last quote to me: the only movie that ever made me cry. Of course he would know.

    This wasn’t our happy ending.

    A tear trickled down my cheek as I felt myself move on, just as he had.

    I shouldn’t have let him go.

    1. madeindetroit

      Great stuff here, Witt. Love the pacing here as you give us some backstory to the MC’s complex state of mind and relationship, and how she reacts to the box the note inside. Your writing invokes the range of the MC reactions: hope, sorrow, and reluctance. I love that she questions her judgment, even though she’s feeling herself move on with this line:

      A tear trickled down my cheek as I felt myself move on, just as he had.
      I shouldn’t have let him go.

      Great job in bringing us in to her thoughts and feelings.
      Nice!

    2. Observer Tim

      This is tight and heartbreaking, Witt. I was half-expecting a twist, but you reeled me in and held me through the whole thing. Nicely done, wonderfully paced and subtly tragic, but with a tiny bit of hope at the end. Wonderful! 🙂

  24. Katia.Snow

    The Maroon Package

    Today, I walked down the stairs thinking that it would be just another regular day. I slid down the banister and walked into my kitchen. I poured some milk into a bowl of Frosted Flakes. I quickly ate my breakfast. Not that I was in a hurry, but I like to eat quickly. I was halfway through my breakfast when the doorbell rang. I nearly choked on my cereal. I never had visitors this early. I slowly approached the door and opened it. I looked around. No one. I closed the door and started back to the kitchen. The doorbell rang again. I whirled around and opened the door. I took a step to get a better view of what was outside. My right foot nudged something. Looking down, I spotted a square shaped maroon package. I picked it up and examined it. The maroon wrapping felt oddly smooth under my palms. I stepped back inside my house and closed the door after me. I carried back into my kitchen and set it down on the table. There was no address, no name on it. It was like the sender didn’t want me to know who they were. I stared down at the parcel, chewing on my lower lip. Curiosity came over me and I unwrapped the package. It was a wooden box. There was a lid at the top of it, with a golden plaque on it. It read: ‘DO NOT OPEN UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.’ I blinked. Should I open it? Well, it didn’t exactly satisfy my curiosity, so I opened the box. I peered inside. It was…darkness. I frowned. There seemed to be a sound coming out of the box. I leaned in closer. I could hear screams! They were painful, sad, heartbreaking screams. I tried to close the lid but it wouldn’t budge. I felt a wind rushing from the box. I backed away quickly as a stream of black moths flew out of the box. They flew everywhere, and any contact I made with them burnt my skin. I yelled, a mix of surprise and pain. What was going on? I shielded my face. The moths began to dissipate, flying through other rooms in my house. Then, just as suddenly, it stopped. I opened my eyes (which I had shut) and looked around. The kitchen was a mess. Pots and pans were strewn everywhere, and the floor was littered with broken glass. My skin was stinging painfully. Tears leaked out of my eyes. Suddenly, I heard another voice from within the box. Unlike the first time, it was only one voice, and it was gentle and soft. It reminded me of Adele and Frank Sinatra all rolled into one. It reminded me of Christmas trees and warm lazy afternoons. A golden butterfly sprang out of the box. I tensed, expecting the worst, but I relaxed as my wounds faded, and my red, burnt skin returned to its original light tone. I looked at the butterfly in thanks. I could only think of one thing: this butterfly brought me hope.

    I sat up. I was in bed, and my alarm clock was going off like it was the end of the world. Not unusual, because my alarm clock hates me. I turned it off and swung my legs out of bed. Had this all just been a dream? The maroon package, the wooden box and the creatures inside? I got dressed and walked downstairs. I slid down the bannister and walked into my kitchen. No smashed plates or cutlery. I poured some milk into a bowl of Frosted Flakes. I quickly ate me breakfast. Not that I was in a hurry, but as I said, I like to eat quickly. I was halfway through my breakfast when the doorbell rang. I nearly choked on my cereal. I walked briskly to the door and opened it. Looking down, I saw a maroon package. Oh no.

    1. madeindetroit

      Your ending took a very unexpected and powerful turn. Hopefully, there’s more to read! You managed to create much mystery in such a short space. Loved the butterfly metaphor! The teasers and possible misdirection are cleverly constructed and arranged. You definitely painted word pictures in my mind as I read.

      Loved this line describing a voice: It reminded me of Adele and Frank Sinatra all rolled into one.

      You did an amazing job of getting us into the happy-go-lucky MC’s head but also leaving the story open for more.

      Awesome job Katia!

    2. Observer Tim

      This is a wonderful cyclical take on the classic myth, Katia. I especially love the way you kept the narrative consistent but subtly altered the details. I loved the line about Adele and Sinatra, though I would have used Bing instead of Frank (personal preference).

      All in all, fantastic! 🙂

    3. gamingtheblues

      I found the story interesting, and I LOVED the metaphors, though I am torn about what they actually represent. I will throw one word of caution out there. Be careful about what internet aficionados call “the wall of text.” You should break up your paragraphs a bit. (If you typed this in word and copy-pasted it over, often formatting does NOT carry over. I deal with this myself all the time)

      Breaking them up into more manageable pieces will make it easier for your reader to re-read key sections and give more structure to the story.

      Still, really interesting story.

  25. Beebles

    Really struggled with this one for some reason. Hey ho. Blasted thing won’t accept itlaics!

    … Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome to the stage the great Bartolli …. –

    George straightened the cushions on the divan, careful not to spill the smoky Japanese single malt that glowed like the dying embers of the fire in the grate. He looked in the mirror above the fireplace and straightened his bow tie. He took a swig and cast a glance over his shoulder at the door to the hallway, before strutting to the bottom of the stairs and calling up.

    ‘Are you coming, Bertie? As much as I’d like to, Darling, I can’t wait down here glugging whisky all night. We are supposed to be there in fifteen minutes.’

    Bertie’s bald head popped around the corner of the landing, ‘Just five minutes, sweetie, I need to fix my hair piece.’

    … thank you, thank you. For my first trick, Ladies and Gentlemen …

    George tutted good naturedly; Bertie was always making them late, bless him. They wouldn’t have met if Bertie hadn’t been running late in the first place and cannoned into George, sending their bags heavenward. The delightful little man had been buying for his new flat, having just moved in to town. George liked to show Bertie off at these charity functions, he was so theatrical, made everyone laugh. But the hair piece! He was so vain. You’ve got nothing to hide, George kept telling him, bald men are so sexy.

    ‘I’m going to get my hat from the car, Darling.’ He didn’t wait for the response, but grabbed the car keys and opened the front door.

    He almost fell over the box sitting on the porch.

    ‘What the hell?’

    The box was three to four feet long by two feet wide, about one foot deep. It had once been a metallic maroon colour, a pattern of angled diamonds had once created a sparkling mirrored effect, but now it was dulled, tarnished and encrusted with rust.

    … There are many famous illusions, ladies and gentlemen and I would like to perform one of those for you tonight …

    George stepped out of the porch light, into the garden and scanned the street. There were several parked cars, frozen in amber light, but all appeared empty. The only movement was the shadow of the suburban trees in the December breeze. All was quiet.

    George started as the box began to vibrate. It sounded like a cell phone, calling from inside.

    There were catches on one edge that released the lid. George’s hands fumbled from the cold of the night and his own consternation. The catches were stiff, protesting with a squeak, but eventually each surrendered with a gravelly clunk.

    … Will you please give a big hand for the young lady from the audience. What’s your name my dear, Annie? Such a pretty name …

    ‘Don’t open it!’ Bertie was standing behind him. ‘Close the catches. Let it ring.’ His tone was insistent.

    George looked questioningly at his lover. He read the panic in his expression and then did as he was asked. Immediately he was pulled back inside and the door shut. Bertie leant his back against it, the remnants of his freezing breath obscuring George’s reflection in his wide eyes. Outside, the phone continued to buzz.

    … now Sweetie, give your husband a wave, that’s it, now would you be so good as to step into the container…

    Bertie’s perfect lips were moving, ‘Dear God, not the other half.’

    George rested a hand on his shoulder. ‘What other half? What’s in the box, Darling? Who’s calling on the phone? What’s wrong?’

    … and as I turn the container around, Ladies and Gentlemen, you will see that there is nowhere for Annie to go…

    Bertie’s face was the colour of mercury powder, his hand to his mouth. He was just staring into space, pleading tears in his eyes. George felt great spikes of dread growing like crystals within him.

    ‘What is going on, Darling? Bertie, answer me!’

    … and as I take the first blade, Ladies and Gentlemen, place it in the gap and give it a good hard shove …

    ‘Forgive me, Sweetie,’ Bertie stuttered at last. ‘We have to leave. We have to leave right now!’

    1. Kerry Charlton

      OOOH, this can go in so many directons. It is really creepy and spell-binding as you approach the end of your story. Then it’s slam dunk and the reader is all alone.

    2. regisundertow

      This was the equivalent of picking up tasty morsels of clues leading the reader to one hell of a cliffhanger. Like Kerry said, this could go in so many directions and my imagination is giving me some pretty weird vibes and nasty images, which is the strength of this piece. I almost feel like crying “what’s in the box?!”

      1. Beebles

        Damn then it would appear that I have failed. What is in the box should be reasonably, with a touch of doubt, discernable from the evidence provided. I blame my cold.

        1. Beebles

          Thanks Sheep, you are too kind. I guessed there was a way to get italics but also that it wouldn’t register until posted – and I was just too chicken to take that risk. I will investigate further.

    3. Observer Tim

      Wow, great implied horror here, Beebles. I see the struggle bore fruit, and I don’t just mean George and Bertie. The creepiest thing to me is not just the implication that Annie is in the box, but also that she’s alive in the box. Very well done! 🙂

      P.S. I just dropped the how-to on italics under gregmyarbrough’s story.

    4. gamingtheblues

      Beebs…this was excellent. I have no doubt what is in the box. A magic trick gone wrong, old demons, probably secrets and now cats out of the bag. I thought your intro was perfect and I had literally no inclination that it was going to turn dark. Very well done.

    5. JosephFazzone

      First things first! WOW! I was drooling at the mouth wanting to taste this whiskey. What an amazing description! “smoky Japanese single malt that glowed like the dying embers of the fire in the grate” Secondly…Great story. Such a tragic tale of everything hitting the fan one fateful night. Awesome take on the prompt! Very clever.

      1. Beebles

        Thanks Joe, appreciate it. Yoichi or Yamazaki preferably. Just a hint of smoke. I was trying to be clever and lace the tale with references to smoke and mirrors, obfuscation and reflection.

  26. cosi van tutte

    So, this box is more like a Phantom Zone kind of thing, but…close enough? 😀

    She lay all curled up in the darkness, tired of sleeping, tired of waiting. She yearned for freedom, but there was none who would grant it to her.

    “I did nothing wrong! I did only what I had to do to live, to survive. I must survive. Does anyone hear me? Am I truly alone?”

    How long had it been since she had seen the sun and the vast array of stars? When was the last time she had walked on the grass-filled ground? She could not say. For she did not know.

    “Is there no one who will save me? No true love? No true friend? Is this world devoid of life? No. There must be life. Without life, how could I live? How have I lived here for so long?”

    Who owned her possessions now? Her little cottage by the sea? The seashells with their oceaned voices? Her ship? Would she never see them again?

    “If you can hear me, then come. Set me free. Let me walk amongst men again. Let me dance. Let me sing. And I will teach you my favorite song.”

    Her world trembled. The darkness became golden moonlight. She reached upwards and the light spiraled down her arms.

    “I’m so hungry. Come to me. Help me. Save me.”

    “I’m here, Laetissa.” He reached into the moonlit darkness and grabbed her hands. “You may enter.”

    “At last!” She held tight to his hands. “Help me.”

    He pulled her through what felt like layers of old silk and hard velvet. But she held on and he did not let go.

    It was a difficult journey, but the journey ended as all do. Laetissa looked up at her rescuer. The sour apple taste of disappointment stung her throat.

    “You are like me.” She pushed him away. “What am I to do? I am hungry. So hungry. And you have nothing for me.” She pushed him again. “Go! I have no use for one like me. I need one like them. Alive.”

    Ambrose looked down at her and smiled. “I know what it’s like to be that hungry, to feel isolated.” He came close to her and stroked her face. “Come with me. I know where there is food for one like us.”

    She grabbed his hand and held it tight. “Take me there.”

    1. Kerry Charlton

      What a stark, biting world you write of. I see no color In her existance except variations of dark. It is a cold world the dead inherit, seeing their possessions carelessly thrown to the four winds. BRRRR!

    2. regisundertow

      Huh…This is probably your best piece that I’ve read, Cosi. I like Kerry’s interpretation and I’m sure others will come up with their own as well. The piece is almost abstract in its vagueness. I like the elements of New Weird and making the reader project what they have in mind onto the story, but still has a strong theme. I really liked this.

    3. Observer Tim

      Geez, Ambrose is a two-timing jackass! In other words, just a normal vampire. 🙂

      This is great, Cosi. I love the way you captured the lonely emptiness of the undead world, especially for someone who’s been in the sensory deprivation chamber (a.k.a. coffin) a bit too long…

  27. gregmyarbrough

    What concerns me is not waking up on the couch, what concerns me is that I’m still in my clothes from work yesterday and it’s full on daylight outside. Falling asleep on the couch is something that I’ve done from time to time, especially if the Padres are losing, and – let’s face it – that’s pretty often. But not changing into house sweats or at least pulling off my shirt is new, and concerns me because I don’t quite remember exactly how I got here – or when.

    I freeze and do an inventory, all the fingers and toes seem to be there and I don’t feel injured or in pain in any sense, nor do I see any blood on the furniture or floor, and the house looks like it’s in pretty good shape. So far so good, and then; what is that ruckus coming from the front porch? It sounds like Dexter trying to get in…

    … or, more accurately – out.

    The package is covered in a cheery Christmas pattern with bells and sleighs set on a crimson field. What it doesn’t have is any kind of markings, postal or otherwise, that would indicate where it came from, who sent, or…

    … who put my dog inside of it and closed it up. I am not amused and neither is my dog!

    This is a little surreal, first waking up on the couch and then finding my dog in an unmarked package on the porch. And I’m getting ready to freak out just a little and then…

    … I burp pepperoni pizza.

    Could it be? Is he back? Oh God, how; I’ve been so careful, but I can’t take a chance. Dexter punches his way out of the box, snarling at me as he marches back into the living room and behind the couch, his metal chain keeping cadence with the claws on his feet against the wooden floor. He hasn’t acted this way towards me since…

    … Please God, not him again!

    Just the slight hint of terror colors the sleep still in my eyes as the bathroom mirror moves left and right as I reach in to get the medication file. Monday gone, Tuesday gone, Wednesday gone, Thursday gone, Friday gonnnne – oh shit!

    Fridays Ludiomil is still in its slip…

    … and today is Saturday.

    The mirror closes back and I can see him in the reflection. “You know we can’t handle lactose, what is up with the pizza? And why do you insist on messing with Dexter, he loves us, and…

    … just shut up! God, that’s the problem with you! No wonder you can’t keep a woman, and no, ‘we’ are not lactose intolerant and Dexter does not love ‘us’. And you can’t blame me for the pizza, how often do I really ever get out, and, you’re going to tell me that Dexter in a box isn’t hilarious……………..

    1. regisundertow

      That’s an interesting psychotic episode, if such a thing exists 🙂 It was interesting following your MC’s logic in determining what had happened to him. I do feel it needs more in the end. Ending the story halfway through a dialogue (or monologue, I guess) made it feel incomplete, even though it isn’t.

      1. gregmyarbrough

        Thank you for input and I agree that the ending was abrupt and clunky. The issue I seemed to have was that the comment section format doesn’t allow for italicized script, and I’m too new to really understand how to “paint” my way out of the dialogue corner I was in.

        Again, thanks for the input!

    2. Observer Tim

      This is strangely clever, gregmyarbrough. As I’ve said before on the topic, mental illnes is tragic, but its expressions can be very entertaining. You did a great job with the “morning after” story and held the enigma quite nicely. All in all a high-calibre job. I think the narrator should pop that Ludiomil pretty quickly, or take Saturday’s (but not both – that’s dangerous).

      The ending is a little sudden, but that’s easy enough to deal with – the 500 word limit isn’t cast in stone.

      As for italics, <i>these are the symbols</i> you use to turn it on and off. But you have to be careful because they can run away on you.

  28. cosi van tutte

    I apologize in advance for my character’s awfulness…. 🙂

    I love receiving presents, but really? Who doesn’t? There’s something enthralling about someone handing you a gift and saying, “This is for you. I picked this out for you. I saw this and thought of you. This had your name scrawled all over it.” Then, you open it and find the perfect present inside. It is yours and it’s perfect and you love it and you’ll keep it forever and treasure it always.

    Giving presents, on the other hand, ehhh. I’m not too crazy about that part. In fact, I hate it. Going to all of these annoyingly crowded stores with annoyingly insane people bustling and bumping and rushing and “Get out of my way! Hey! That’s my parking spot! I was here first! Go to the back of the line!” Gag me with a whole silverware drawer. And, if that weren’t bad enough, you find the perfect gift only it’s the wrong color, the wrong size, needs AAA batteries which aren’t included, and the line is twelve thousand miles long with sixteen screaming babies and ninety-five texting teenagers mixed in there somewhere.

    So…I don’t buy anyone presents. It’s a simple and elegant solution. I tried to give them money, but it turned into this ugly debacle of “Why did you give her a twenty dollar bill and I only got sixty-five pennies? I don’t want twenty dollars. I want one hundred dollars. I want a thousand dollars.”

    Therefore, no presents for anyone but me. I get presents and they do not. And I am happy. My girlfriend, Melanie, isn’t so happy about the situation, but that’s why she has family members.

    ***

    George sat back in his Posturepedic Springform chair and admired his blog post. Certain people were going to say that he was the worst kind of Scrooge, but he didn’t care. “It’s my blog and I will write whatever I want in it.” He clicked on POST MESSAGE. “Ta-da! My masterpiece is released into the blogosphere.”

    He cracked his knuckles and prepared to type a new message.

    “George!”

    He released an aggrieved sigh. “What is it, Melanie?”

    She strolled over to him and wrapped her arms around his neck.

    “Aack! Too tight.”

    She loosened her grip. “I love you. You know that, right?”

    “Yeah. Now, let me get back to my typing.”

    “Did you get me any presents today?”

    He scoffed. “Why would I?”

    “Oh, because you love me and you want to surprise me.”

    “I’m not buying any engagement rings if that’s what you’re hinting at.”

    “Oh, darling. I’m not hinting at anything. I’m just saying any present from you would be a wonderful surprise.”

    “It would surprise me more a lot more than it would surprise you.”

    “Then…Nothing?”

    “Nothing.”

    “Not even a necklace?”

    “Can you go away? I have a brilliant idea for my next blog essay.”

    She released his neck. “Do you love me?”

    “Yeah, sure.” He placed his fingers on the keyboard and typed. “The word Scrooge is commonly used as…”

    She quietly left the room.

    ***

    “And POST MESSAGE!” A warm sense of accomplishment and satisfaction filled him up from the tips of his hair down to his toenails. “I love my blog.” He picked up his can of Diet Coon soda only to discover that it was empty. “Tsk. Figures.”

    He got up and walked into the kitchen. “Well. What’s this?”

    A stove-sized box sat on the table. It was wrapped up in maroon colored paper.

    He walked up to it and smiled. “Melanie must have been feeling very generous this year. It’s so big.” He poked it.

    The box came to wildly jiggling life.

    George backed away from it. “Well, what the flying—”

    The box burst open.

    A short, pale faced guy stood on the table. He was wearing a blue and white shirt and he had a weird red coral shaped thing stretched across the top of his bald head.

    “What the—”

    He smiled a seedy smile at George. “Hi, there! Do you want a nice Hawaiian Punch?”

    Alarm bells rang in George’s head. I should say no. I should say—

    “Well? Do ya?”

    “Uhh, no?”

    “Too bad!” He leapt into the air and punched George with all of his might.

    George fell to the floor and lay there in a state of confusion and plain shock.

    “Melanie says that punch was long overdue. Whoo-hooo!” And he gleefully skipped out the door.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        I really liked this cosi, a great place for George to end up in. I do hope he’s wearing asbestos britches or his ‘you know’ is going to be roasted for Christmas.

  29. ShamelessHack

    You know the tune…

    Hark, the doorbell goes ding dong,
    A great big box: but who’s it from?
    I drag the package in the door,
    And set it here upon the floor.

    I call my wife, the kids, the cat,
    They all show up in no time flat,
    One and all, from head to socks,
    Stare in wonder at the box.

    With the bow I struggle and fumble,
    From in the box: a shake and rumble!
    I roll up sleeves, get down on knee,
    And push it near our Christmas tree.

    Finally the lid pops wide,
    Up on my toes I look inside.
    I’m struck with crazy indecision,
    Staring at the wondrous vision.

    We tip the huge box on its side,
    And out they come from deep inside:
    Mary, Joseph, angels, sheep,
    Little baby fast asleep.

    All move towards the tinseled pine,
    Settle calmly in no time,
    In the holiday’s bright lights’ pool,
    They’ll stay in peace throughout the Yule.

    ****

    Here’s your gift from Shameless Hack,
    If you’re yellow, white, or black,
    Man or woman, rich or poor,
    When a box comes to your door:

    For as long as you will live,
    The best gifts are the ones you give,
    This song’s for you and now it’s done,
    Merry Christmas, everyone!

        1. Kerry Charlton

          Boy, I really liked this. I have a question for you however. I am thrilled you accept all races of the earth, rich or poor, man or woman…. but do you take Republicians?

    1. regisundertow

      And Merry Christmas to you too, Shameless!
      Love how our resident poet produces pieces that feel effortless and read like flowing water. This is no exception. I don’t know much about the mechanics of poetry, but the beats are there, the cadence is there.

  30. mbyfieldcameron

    “What in dog’s name is this?”

    The coroner was yelling at the camera lens. He had just walked in from his morning smoke to find a deep maroon coffin on his table. He ripped the note off the top.

    “Kill upon opening.”

    Coroner Phil Maksby scratched his head and looked at the coffin. It was covered with leather and sparkling beads. The. It began to rattle and groan. When coroner Phil finally calmed himself, he realized he had jumped onto another slab and screamed like a baby.

    “What in the world is that?” He climbed down from the slab and began to unlock the coffin. He had to help this see what was inside. When he opened the coffin, a man popped out and screamed.

    “You’re me,” the naked man said.

    It was true. The man staring back at Coroner Phil was Coroner Phil. But this Phil was about twenty years younger. Coroner Phil pulled out his gun and shot the young man dead.

    THE END

    Twitter: @marks_book
    Web: bookmark.cool

    1. Observer Tim

      This is vary strange, MByfieldCameron. I kind of wonder what would happen had Phil let his double live. It’s tight and to the point, like flash fiction should be, though I think the idea is worthy of expanding on.

    2. gamingtheblues

      This…hmm. I can’t tell if the awkward word usage in a few spots was intentional or not. If they are or not does not really matter I suppose. I actually really like the simple style of this and might experiment with the idea myself…

      Loved the ending!

  31. Kerry Charlton

    JOHN PENNYCAMP’S SURPRISE

    Senator John Penneycamp, majority leader of the U. S. Senate sat in his office on a drizzly day in Washington and stared at the huge crate just delivered to him. Was it from an unmentionable democrat or from his own party? He feared to think, on one hand if it was what he had dreamed about, it might destroy the world if he opened the crate. On the other side of the coin, if it happened to be what he wanted it to be, it would just destroy the democratic party. He hyperventilated on the premise.

    Delores Doitright his executive secretary, slithered into his office in a moss green dress that left no doubt why she was hired,

    “John, baby I’m tired of listening to the noise coming from that damn crate. It
    sounds like a mad woman, let’s open it.”

    “If you’re curious, you do it, I’m going to lunch with Harry Speed to try to mend fences.”

    Six martinis later he entered his office. Sitting at his desk was a beautiful young woman with long brunette hair.

    “Who in hell’s name are you and where’s Miss Doitright?”

    “My name is Pandora, your slinky slut went home ill.”

    He looked her over carefully,

    “Who sent you?”

    “Zeus did along with this large vase with the lid on it.”

    “You were in the crate?”

    “Yes and damn mad about it.”

    “Don’t tell me that old fable the evils of the world are in there.”

    “How would I know, I’ve been locked in this stupid wood box for three thousand years, By the way, where’s the bathroom, good-lookin‘.?”

    His body tensed all over as he watched Pandora’s swaying hips swivel by him as she headed to the restroom. He quickly pushed a button on the side of his desk and a panorama view of the ladies power room entered his computer screen.

    “Modern technology’, he thought, ‘I love it.’

    Muffled scrams emitted from the large earthen ware vessel that stood four feet high, still sitting in the crate. Pandora swooshed through the door and tapped the lid of the vessel. Screams ceased.

    “Shall we open it?” she asked.

    “Why not, we have nothing to lose.”

    The ancient lid resisted all effort from opening.

    “Wait,” John said, “I’ve got a tire iron under my desk.”

    “What’s a tire?”

    “Never mind, help me.”

    The pair took turns with the tire iron beating at the lid ‘till it cracked and unfolded to the creature within. Was it the evil of the world? A hand appeared, an arm and the creature stood full height, dressed in a three thousand dollar suit and a red tie. A look of horror crossed John’s face,

    “All is lost,” he said.

    The creature spoke,

    “I am Ronald Stump and I’ve come to save the world.”

    John took Pandora’s hand and slipped out of the office.

    “Pandora, you’re going to love Switzerland this time of year, walk faster.”

    1. jhowe

      Reading this story reminds me of the first time I visited this site a couple of years ago. Your story was the first one I read. You had all these names, like Suzy Goodbottom and Clyde Straightshaft to name a few. And ever since, about every fourth or fifth prompt, you get the comedic itch and come up with some funny stuff. I’m conflicted on what we should do about Ronald Stump.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thanks jhowe, I read every story you write and have for a long time. You have a creativity most people would die for.Your range in wrting is vast from bitter, romantc, biting, dark, and comedic, you name it, I’ll read it.

    2. Jay "The Doc" Wilson

      Not a bad story, Kerry. Not bad at all.

      I’m curious, why is it she had such a good grasp of modern language but didn’t know what a tire was or why she question what tire and not tire iron?

      Anyway, fun story, and I see what you did there. lol 🙂

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thanks Jay, funny thing, I did wonder how awkward that reference might be, sort of a gut feeling about it. Listen to instincts, Kerry! I had a great time making fun of political nonsense. The high and mighty in Washington have less sense then anyone. They are so into themselves, they can’t smell the odor and see the world as it really exist.
        And this is what Leads our country, Bush’s and Obama. Where’s Harry Truman when you need him?

    3. cosi van tutte

      Hi, Kerry!

      Wonderful reveal! It made me smile.

      And, just so you know, I have no idea why, but I love this line: ““My name is Pandora, your slinky slut went home ill.” 😀

    4. Beebles

      Too cool Kerry, too cool. I have a ‘friend’ who would blanche at this. i do not jest she would bear Ronald’s children! Bang on. Christ, she’s coming to dinner before Xmas. What are we going to talk about?

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thanks Beebles, glad you enjoyed it. Okay, here’s my thoughs on your girls visit:
        Tell her you don’t talk politics any more. If that doesn’t work, tell her she looks fabulous and you can’t wait to run your hands all over her body. If that fails, have her call me, I speak Trump

        1. Beebles

          Talking politics is definitely off the table, but so is the whole body rubbing thing – eugh! Besides her husband will get drunk and start sobbing that he doesn’t lover her anymore – its going to be one hell of an evening!

    5. Observer Tim

      Lovely bit o’ political satire here, Kerry. I love the voice you gave this; it sounds just like we imagine Washington to be (my guess is it’s actually really boring most of the time). This kind of story really gets the motor running on a Monday morning! 🙂

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thanks Tim, it may be the first time I’be been called ‘lovely’ but I kind of like it. Don’t you know it’t going to be an interesting 2016? I want be a fly on the wall when Donald and Ted really attack each other. I haven’t had this much fun snce NIXON and WATERGATE.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thanks Reatha, you’re right about that. They think they’re Gods coming to save the planet. Well, the world can save itself as you well know. Look at WWII. 25 million Ameticans answered the call including housewives, Rosie the riviter, Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, kids fresh from high school. A Cripple in intense pain most of his life, [Roosevelt] , you name it.

    6. gamingtheblues

      Wait…I didn’t know you had connections in Washington Kerry… How else would you have been able to get the transcript from this business meeting?? You sir, are a sneaky sneaky man.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Sneeky Pete. My Father worked for Roosevelt during WWII. Even back then, when he told me hings later on, it would have amazed anyone. Think about it now. Even Doc or Reaper couldn’t write that dark. Thanks as always for stopping by.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thank you Pete, I enjoy writing satire. The shoe is on the other foot and I can make them dance or weep. That is, if the have any brain power left after living in Washington.

  32. gamingtheblues

    Sarah bounded down the stairs. The pigtails flying behind her whipped her brother lightly as she tore around the bottom corner and flew into the living room, making a beeline for the tree. She loved the lights, and would spend hours lying underneath it, playing quietly or just staring up into the blinking colors and daydreaming.

    “Hey! Watch it you little sh..snot”

    She came to a stop so quickly that she almost fell to her knees and turned to glare at him.
    Hands on her hips, one leg cocked to the side, she looked so annoyingly like a little version of his mother that he snorted.

    “Tim-A-Thy,” enunciating every syllable, “You was about to say a bad word.”

    He rolled his eyes at her, and her mouth opened and he could already hear his mother’s words about to come out “And don’t roll your eyes at me young man.”

    Quickly he said, “Aww ok..I’m sorry Sar. Come here,” and held his arms out.

    As she moved forward to give him a hug, he leapt up and laughing put a hand on her forehead and sent her flying into the nearest couch. Her startled squawk caused him to laugh again. God he loved his little sister to death but she was frigging annoying sometimes and he couldn’t resist picking on her.

    “MOM!! Timmy pushed me!”
    “I DID NOT!”
    “Yes you…”
    “KIDS…KNOCK IT OFF NOW, I’M ON THE PHONE.”

    Mary pushed her hair off of her forehead and sighed, holding the phone several inches from her ear. She could just make out the sounds of her mother on the phone, most likely crying now.

    “Mom…no..mom..mom just listen. Yeah, I know. We can’t afford to come out this….yeah. Mom, I know you haven’t seen the kids in..but, maybe next Christmas… Mom. MOM, look you won’t be dead next year…it’s just.. look. Oh.. hold on. What’s that Danny? You need help? Alright hon, be right there. Look Mom, we have to talk later..I..yeah Danny needs me to help with the um..kids. Yeah. Ok. Love you too, I’ll call you as soon as I’m done. Bye!”

    She put the phone down on the table, briefly contemplated throwing it in the trash compacter, and rejected the idea. Walked over to the fridge and opened it. She briefly contemplated taking the bottle of champagne from the shelf and cracking it open here and now, or, at least smashing herself in the face with it. Rejected those two options as well. When would Danny be home anyway, she needed someone to bitch to about her mother.

    Danny St. James pulled up to the house moments later, and turning off the engine, sat. He covered his face with his hands and ran fingers through his hair, massaging the scalp and his forehead. It was hard.

    He worked fifty, sixty hours a week and they were not making ends meet.
    Mary…his Mary, was quietly applying for work, looking for jobs, something he had promised himself she would never have to do. And she thought he didn’t know, didn’t want to hurt his pride at not being able to provide for his family.

    It would hurt him more for her to see him crying like he was right now though.

    No. Tears and pride be damned…they would not just suffer silently until even their marriage was crumbling. Fuck that. Danny knew that if they could just talk…make a plan, their little family would be alright.
    The box was sitting nestled in the snow just outside the front door as Danny walked up. The wood glistens in the afternoon sun and when Danny looks at it he is suddenly queasy. Stress and worry are making me sick he thinks, as he squats down to look more closely at the box, shifting the little heart of chocolates he bought for Mary to his left hand.

    It is the color of smashed plums on watery rocks, the color of a blood orange, mangled and crushed on the street.

    As Danny’s hand brushes against its glistening, smooth top it feels— it feels—– thick. It feels thickly lacquered with heavy oils and curdled cream. The world spins…and his breakfast comes up fast and hard. Danny retches, turns and almost falls over. Jesus.

    He is crying again and not sure why. Danny stands, the oily box tucked securely under his arm. He does not realize this. Just as he does not realize how much blood he left behind with his breakfast, steaming in the snow.

    Hours later, after the screams, and prayers ended. After the house was silent, empty, dead. Only then did he come. Walking through the house, over broken glass, silently looking. There. The box sat in the middle of the living room floor, next to an overturned Christmas tree. He wrapped it gently, but, carefully, oh yes carefully in a blanket inscribed with dark letters. He did not let it touch his skin, no matter how much it violently lurched as he covered it.

    The police asked neighbors, friends and relatives. Checked airports, train stations and taxis, but no one ever saw the St. James family again.

    1. Kerry Charlton

      Whoa, this is plain scary. It reads lke a radio show from the 1940’s called ‘Inner Sanctum.’ It scared me then, it scares me now.Your descriptive power with words is simply awesome.

    2. Jay "The Doc" Wilson

      I liked the story and the premise, gamingtheblues. I feel like you could have started the story from the point at which Danny arrived home, and ended it just where you did and not lost even a little bit of your impact. I think the beginning slows the roll.

      If it were me, I’d have, as I mentioned, started it with Danny arriving home, and showing the family dynamic after that but before they “go missing”. This way the focus is on the mysterious creepy box but also allows the reader to build good character rapport without risking the readers attention.

      I like a good dark story, and you delivered. Excellent descriptions and voice. Some pronouns appeared to be missing, but I realize those pesky WD gremlins are kleptomaniacs (and that we don’t have pro editors at our disposal, lol). Thanks for sharing, gaming! Look forward to reading more of your work. 🙂

      1. gamingtheblues

        Hmm I will have to think on that. I was hoping to connect the reader emotionally, before taking it away…but it was probably a little too transparent. I did not want to reader to have any indication that it was a dark story until the final few paragraphs….but lol perhaps I was not giving enough credit and I do realize people sometimes want the slow dread and not always want surprise twist, quite possibly it was a paper thin hope =)

        The pronouns missing are actually quite intentional, though admittedly….questionable judgement. I tend to bend and even break proper grammar and writing conventions in attempts to convey the….scene of the story I suppose. See..when I read, I visualize the scene and stop seeing words. I tend to write like that as well, and so I let me words flow as the vision of the story plays in my head.

        Risky yeah…I risk losing people if the story becomes jagged and jumbled. My dream is that if I can catch the readers into the story…into the visuals, they would not see the weird structure or sometimes disjointed way of presentation, and would instead see what I saw as I wrote it.

        Thank you for your comments and critiques!

        1. Jay "The Doc" Wilson

          After reading your comment to FullRetard, I think it makes a little more sense. I did a similar thing a while back that totally failed. I ended up opting to turn “he” (the other person) in the story into first person while maintaining a third-person POV for the other character just so the reader can understand it.

          The problem isn’t necessarily our writing, but being able to convey what we know as writers. As I’m sure you well know, writers know so much more than the reader, and when we try to tell a complex story in so few words without revealing too much too early, we quite often end up just confusing the poor soul who has to read it.

          I like the effort, and I think you should keep experimenting here. Maybe not so much with disappearing pronouns, because without building a proper background with something like that to prepare the reader for it, it will always slap them in the face. However, your evil and dark POV is something to spend a lot of time on (in as few words as possible, mind you) because once you master it, you’ll gain a very good grasp of splitting characters that will be invaluable to you in the future.

          Good luck, gaming!

    3. FullRetard

      Wait, I am a bit confused what happened here. Danny didn’t know what the box was when he initially came up to the house, but then he brought the box into the house and “hours later”, he was taking good care of it as if he used the “devil inside the box” to slaughter his family. Does he know what is inside the box or not? Is this writing inconsistency or is my reading capability really underwhelming?

        1. FullRetard

          OH WOW! I totally missed that one. Thanks for clearing that up! For a second there I thought I had to go back to grade school to learn how to read again.

    4. cosi van tutte

      Hi, GTB!

      Wow!

      This took a dark turn. I’m left wondering who the he in the second to last paragraph was. Was it Danny or something unknown? I think having it be something unknown makes it even creepier. Either way, just wow.

      And just so you know, this is an amazing description: “It is the color of smashed plums on watery rocks, the color of a blood orange, mangled and crushed on the street.”

    5. Beebles

      Hi GTB. This made me feel as if the family were already in the box before it arrived, fighting and struggling. Such a dark and bleak picture you painted. shivers.

    6. Observer Tim

      I’m glad you and Doc aren’t in competition; I’d be afraid to read stories on the site. This is damned dark (in both senses of the word damned) and very intense. While I agree with what Doc said about being able to chop off the first half of the story, I’m glad you didn’t. For a reader like me it’s enough of a Norman Rockwell hook to get and hold my attention. Masterful piece, Gaming. 🙂

      In response to Full’s comment, you could have capitalized “He” in the second-last paragraph, which would have telegraphed it a tiny bit better.

    7. regisundertow

      What the hell did just happen? I was inclined to agree with the Doc on the first part of the story, due to creating certain expectations for it. However, once the ending hits, it does so like a sledgehammer, precisely because of the suburban scene that played just before it. The beginning is dark, but it’s normal. It’s life. Then, time leap, and everything is chaos and the reader is guessing at things gone horribly wrong. How very dark and gothic.

    8. JosephFazzone

      Wow! Brutal story. I love the shifting from character to character. I really got to know each character so quickly as you paint the picture of a normal family with normal problems, and then there’s this box… Loved this tale, my friend. Excellent work!

  33. Pete

    I’m returning home from fellowship when I spot Kate and the kids in the yard huddled around something. It’ s dusk, still humid as I step out of the car and approach.

    It’s a box. Perhaps a package from Nana and Papa. Could be those long lost books for Kate’s Sunday school have finally shown up.

    “Hey guys.”

    Kate turns to me, swatting at the gnats. But something in her face gives me caution. I scoop up Emily, then set her down behind me. “What do we have here?”

    About the size of a cinder block and by the tap of a foot just as heavy. Its brushed felt material looks untouched by transit, immaculate, the color of dried blood.

    “Where did this come from?”

    Kate has to find her voice. “It just, showed up. It was here when we came out.”

    I give her a look, just as the box slides an inch or so on its own accord. The kids scream and Katie whisper a prayer. “Has it been doing that?”

    A car passes with a honk and I toss a hand up, hoping that none of my congregation happens past to find their reverend fiddling with some exotic box with a pulse.

    “Let’s get it inside.”

    Kate jerks her eyes to me in horror. I look again to the street, then laugh for the kids’ sake.

    “Kate, please.”

    Inside I test-touch the sides to gauge the temperature, warm like that of a sick forehead. This is just silly I tell myself.
    Ghosts and the supernatural are not be considered in my home or my church, yet still my heart convulses as I get my fingers under the lip.

    It holds some sort of amniotic-like jelly. Purplish and warm. It jiggles and shakes and glows in time with our breaths.
    Kate whispers scripture. I’m speechless, even as a man of God, one who teaches of parting with possessions. One who puts family first. One who shuns man-made temptations. I do not amaze easily. And still I’m overcome by this inexplicable substance. I touch it, for reasons unknown, and I’m filled warm with euphoria. A devilish tingle that shoots through my limbs, rides my spine to my groin. All while cooing in my ear.

    Suddenly I’m swimming. I hear the muffled terror of my family. Yet I’m unmoved. A silhouette beckons just at the edge of the fog. A womanly figure with olive skin, eyes the color of a reluctant sunset. I shuffle towards her, gravitated by a force stronger than temptation. I feel her warmth under the sheer gown between our bodies. She opens her lips with a rasp, leaning, almost touching. Then she’s gone.

    I’m on my floor. The ceiling fan wiggles above me and the kids are crying. Katie stands over me, pale and looming. I’m overwhelmed by uncontrollable laughter.

    That night I attempt to work on my sermon, but the box calls. I wonder back to the living room, where it glows in the quiet of the night, tickling my skin with its warmth.

    I reach out to it.

    “Paul.”

    Kate’s voice is like that of a siren. She’s stock still, clutching at her collar. Eyes wet and shimmering in the light of the stone. I want to listen. To care. But that figure in that box. I want to hold the woman, to touch and feel her.The urge to have her urge that goes beyond anything I’ve ever felt in my life.

    “Paul please.”

    I understand Kate’s pleas. Yet there is nothing I can do. I think only of those eyes, lips, her touch.

    I go, swimming through the fog towards the silhouette. I call out, a primal roar that I hardly recognize as my own. She turns and I surrender everything I know just to catch her. She whirls around and I fall to my knees in horror, caught like wild game. The hazel eyes, so brimming with promise are now black enough to drown me. She is no longer a figure but a shadow. A blot of rage that consumes my faith. I shiver as it takes me.

    When I return Kate is asleep. I do not lie on the floor or contemplate much at all. I simply shut the lid on the box and return it to the crate. As I’m packing it up, I hear my son call out from his room and I feel only a whisper of concern. Like an old itch on a limb that has been removed. It’s all banging around in that box.

    I shrug, then walk out into the darkness, a shadow. Hatred brimming through my veins as I carry out my duty. Leaving the blood red box in the neighbor’s yard.

    1. gamingtheblues

      Wow… you did an amazing job ratcheting up the dread, as we all know that something is terribly wrong with that box…and hope upon hope your MC would find his faith and strength at the last, before losing himself.

      That my friend, is a damn good story and damn good writing. You made me lose myself in the world you created. Well done.

    2. Jay "The Doc" Wilson

      I enjoyed this, Pete. I have a lot of questions, but I’m pleased with the darkness of it. I find it incredibly interesting how many people use the myths surrounding Pandora’s Box (er, jar.. whatever.. haha).

      Well done ,and the descriptions do it well because they’re clunky and wild much like the narrator.

      Thanks for sharing!

    3. Beebles

      This was beautifully written Pete. I went through it slowly in places to see what you had done. The emotional description was especially vivid. took alot from this. Cheers.

    4. Observer Tim

      Why do I get the sense that all seven of the deadly sins (lust, avarice, envy, sloth, gluttony, rage, and pride) are hiding in that box. This is an excellent story, Pete, all the darker for its implied continuation and the fact that the minister is just as corruptable as anyone else. 🙂

    5. regisundertow

      That was excellent. Otherwordly and bizarre. How very fitting that the object of corruption would be a priest. There were several parts I loved, especially the mirage’s description. This felt like a good old-fashioned horror film from the 80s, pulling no punches in creating nightmares.

  34. jhowe

    I put up a tree this year. Just a stunted scrub pine I found growing in the cracks of the asphalt. I pulled it out by the roots and carried it into my room in what was once, years ago, a thriving dockside warehouse. There’re rumors floating around that it will be demolished soon. They say that every year around this time, but it’s still standing. I couldn’t get it to stand up, the tree, so I just propped it up in a corner near my things. I didn’t have a lot of things. Around here, you couldn’t leave anything lying around so you had to take it with you wherever you went. It was a pain in the ass but I needed my things, especially now, when it’s cold.

    The other day I went out to find something to eat and maybe get some money for a bottle. I didn’t get much food but I did score a fifth of Old Crow. Some old guy was feeling charitable or something and slipped me a ten spot. Merry Freaking Christmas is what I said to him and immediately regretted it. He deserved better.

    When I got back there was a package under the tree. I looked around. The place was deserted. Pun intended. The place had been deserted for twenty years. Pardon this major tense shift as I progress into the present. I’m a hobo, not a goddamned writer. It’s still here, the package; sitting there under the tree. It’s small, about the size of a double deck of cards. I haven’t dared touch it. It looks alive. I swallow the last of the bourbon and pick it up. It’s wrapped in what looks like liver, soft and slightly wet, a deep maroon color splotched with darker reds. It quivers in my hand.

    I remember when I was a kid, my father took me hunting. He shot a deer and we had to wait for it to die. But it didn’t die right away. We had to follow it, looking for the blood trail. When the deer finally ran out of blood, we found it lying there. I put my hand on his neck and it quivered beneath my small palm and then it went still. That’s what the package felt like, like the deer’s neck, quivering right before death. I wonder what’s in it (back to the present tense). It quivers again and drops of blood fall to the floor.

    There’s a black ribbon around it. It looks like if I pull the ribbon, the package will open and I’ll see what’s in it. I grasp the ends of the ribbon and hesitate. The quivering has become a steady pulse. I think of the deer coming back to life and goring me for my part in the hunt. The unwilling hunting partner gored because he was there. The deer had no idea who had pulled the trigger. My father and I were equals in the mind of the deer, both deserving of our fate.

    I place the package under the tree and gather my things. Screw it. I ain’t opening that thing.

    1. gamingtheblues

      Heh…I think many of our MC’s could use a little Hobo wisdom on this day and for this prompt. Not all of the fates are pleasant ones.

      This was excellent.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        The stark realism of your writing puts the reader next to your MC to see the other side of what most people think of as Christmas. To the downtrodden, it’s just another day of survival. You are dead on with the story, especially bringing the death of a deer into the forefront. Great job on this, full oF gut wrenching emotion. Tense changes never bother me, you used it wisely.

    2. regisundertow

      I’m wondering how much of this is in the head of your MC and how much is actually happening. This is gritty in a very simple, very realistic way. The scene with the deer was so powerful in its contrast, I may have to steal it! And, of course, I’m looking forward to finding out what’s inside the box, if anything.

  35. Observer Tim

    PRESENTS
    A Crisis at Christmas: Part 1

    I love the season of Corona; it’s the only Imperial holiday that wasn’t created to aggrandize one of the Emperors. The galaxy holo with the Brightest Star is in the lounge and my presents for Sooki, Three, Aris, Enna, and Tanni are safely nestled beneath it, or as safe as anything secret can be with Tanni around.

    I am totally surprised when I get to the cabin and find a box sitting on my bed. Who broke the rules? Owners give bondservants gifts at Corona, not the other way around. Until Enna takes up her mantle I’m the only owner on board. Maybe it was Aris, though it would be a bit forward of him.

    The purple velvet box is sized in a way that screams clothing, and has a little gold tag that says, “Open now, Captain Danger. Please.” Hmm. That sounds more like a call for help than anything. I open the box…

    Who knew Ferguson House even had a post office box? I’ve just finished sorting five years’ worth of mail: twenty-seven letters and a parcel, and I have to take two loads of junk mail down to the recycling depot.

    The parcel intrigues me; inside the plain brown wrapper is a purple velvet box with a white ribbon. It looks like a sweater box from an upscale store. It’s from two years ago and addressed to me, which is strange because I wasn’t working here then.

    As I open the box I realize something very important. December 2013 had a Friday the thirteenth…

    How did someone sneak a purple velvet box into my study without me noticing? It can’t be a gift from mom or dad or Carl; Wells would have barked if he saw any of them. And I would have noticed anyone else. Face it Delilah, you have a mystery here.

    I guess there’s no harm in opening it. When you live in a house outside of time and space Christmas is any day you want it to be. I carefully pop the seal on the box and look in… and start laughing.

    It’s one of those Christmas sweaters with the knit festive patterns on it. This one’s bright red with snowflakes. I don’t know what comes over me but I toss off my bathrobe and slip it on over my nightie. It fits perfectly, like it was made for me…

    “What does the tag say, Vix?”

    “Open soonest.”

    “Then what are you waiting for? Maybe it’s a new super-suit.”

    I pop the seal; it’s not a new super-suit, it’s a coarse-knit pullover. The pink bunnies are cute, but so not my style. I’m more into foxes, hence my super name: Vixen.”

    “Try it on.”

    “No way, Rose. You wear the bunnies.”

    So Rose, a.k.a. Wallflower, slips it over her head. She looks adorable…

    …and then the sweater springs to life. Tendrils of yarn spring outward like a Christmas tentacle monster looking for lunch; they’re tying up Wallflower, but also reaching for me.

    1. Observer Tim

      FLIES
      A Christmas Crisis, Part 2

      Now I know how a fly feels. I’d thought the sweater was gift from Jennifer; more likely one of her relatives. I’m cocooned in wool with only my head free, dangling from a ceiling I can’t see clearly.

      I’m not the only one here. On one side of me is a pimple-strewn teenaged girl and on the other a guy cursing up a storm. Beyond them are an angry-looking woman and a woman with gorgeous black hair and, um, ample frontal development. There’s also a blonde who’s even more endowed, but not so much by being bigger as by the fact that she has three breasts. There’s also a pair of girls about my age trussed up together in a way that would make Steve pop his trouser buttons, and some kind of hawk-creature with a white hairless (featherless?) face and beak.

      Pimple girl looks at cursing boy, “Will you stop talking please, I’m trying to think.” He does.

      Black hair focuses on pimple girl, “Don’t worry, love, I’ll get us out of this.”

      “Oh please lady, GUTC and I get out of worse scrapes than this before breakfast.”

      “My name’s Delilah, not ‘lady’. How much experience do you have with time travel?”

      “Time, dimension, name it. Who else knew before I said so that we’re in Limbo? Show of hands please.”

      Three-breasts looks perplexed, “I thought limbo was a dance.”

      “Belay this!” Angry woman glowers around. “Does anyone have a way to get us untied? I think better when I’m not bound.”

      The hawk thing is ignoring us while picking at the bonds with its beak. Eventually it gets an alabaster arm free, then another, and then four more. It drops to the ground and surveys us all from a splayed crouch. Then it lets out a screech and leaps onto the two-girl cocoon and starts tearing at the wool.

      Angry lady announces, “The hawk morph sent me a text message; she’s going to let us free.”

      And she’s as good as her word. Pretty soon we’re all free and making introductions. The angry woman is Stefani Danger, space captain, and the hawk creature is called Silent Stalker. The other guy is Patrick Shawnessy, caretaker of a haunted house. Pimple girl is Becky Larson, girl adventurer. Black hair, Delilah, is a time traveler, and the pair who were wrapped up together are Vixen and Wallflower, superheroes. The blonde, Busty Bob, doesn’t actually have three breasts; the third one is a polished human skull she calls Pete. I just tell them my name is Tim and I’m Jennifer Nelson’s boyfriend.

      Once everybody’s introduced Becky speaks up. “Since we’re in Limbo, which is part of the Foam, I should probably take the lead.”

      Stefani responds, “I’m a Captain, I have leadership and combat experience.”

      Vixen waves her hands. “Girls! Put your type-A personalities aside; this is some kind of Crisis, and we’re going to have to work as a team.”

      “She’s right, you are.”

      We all turn at the sound of the new voice. Whatever you might think of as a hero, this guy is the exact opposite. He holds up a hand before we all ask.

      “I’m Eric, and my sister Wanda has you all in her snatch.”

      Bob gulps. “Please tell me you mean ‘clutch’.”

      “Of course! What else would I mean?”

      1. gamingtheblues

        I feel like I am at a literary comic con and surrounded by fantastic characters who I have no idea of who they are! Though I do remember being introduced to Tanni before….er.. can we have some more Tanni.. for umm research purposes??? 😉

        I really enjoy the tongue-in-cheek style you play with. It has much harder than it looks to write a story that is very self aware, and to do so with style, grace, good humor, and not fall into shtick and cliche. So yeah.. only problem I have with this story is where the heck is Tanni!! ….

        I’ll let myself out now.

        1. Observer Tim

          Don’t worry, Gaming. Tanni is coming; after all Captain Stefi is here. This idea came to me while going over all my prompt responses all the way back to 2013 (that’s another story), and is at least in part an homage to “The Five Doctors” (Doctor Who) and DC’s various “Crisis” plotlines.

          Is Wanda really a menace worthy of ten heroes? Quite possibly! Or maybe something more going on…

      2. jhowe

        Holy cow OT. Some of these things rang a bell, others didn’t. But it’s so well written with zinger after zinger that I couldn’t get enough of it. You must have had a great time writing this.

        1. Kerry Charlton

          You have me running on all sixteen cylinders this morning like a ’37 Cord. Surely you know what a Cord is….. or do you? What a fun trip, I would like to see three brest for my self. Do you have any photos to go with this tale?

          1. Observer Tim

            I do indeed know what a Cord is; that’s the era when cars had this funny things called ‘style’ and ‘class’. Glad to get the motor going… 🙂

            You want to see the three-breasted woman? Given that the third member of that duo was Smilin’ Pete, I thought you’d want to be the third member… lol.

        2. Observer Tim

          Thanks, John. The reason I’m writing this is a partial celebration. I recently had to go through every story I posted to WD; the story’s Tim (Jennifer Nelson’s boyfriend, and alas no relation) was introduced in the very first prompt response I submitted back in ’13.

      3. regisundertow

        That’s one hell of a gathering 🙂 Not sure I recognize all of the characters, but definitely most of them. My reading speed crawled a bit, it was that thick with details and characters doing things that it felt like the manuscript for an epic comic book fight.

        And congrats for the inclusion in the Fall of the Galactic Empire!

  36. Reaper

    Part 39, and only three more weeks until I wrap us this part of the story.

    In the Beginning – Her Name Day

    Thomas felt more and more grown up. Something about Jack trusting him to stay home alone since he turned thirteen. The greatest joy the young man knew was in receiving a package. That little thrill when an stranger bearing gifts he was allowed to accept knocked on the door was the primary reason most of his allowance money was spent in online shops.

    Jack didn’t understand the obsession, but he enjoyed the independence the boy showed. He also liked the smile on the young man’s face. Thomas was a melancholy child, who lived far too much in his own head. So Jack never considered putting a stop to the mild and non-harmful addiction.

    When the two simple joys combined, there was nothing better in the world. Not even close. This one though… a trill of fear quaked up his spine as he opened the door and signed for the package. Jack’s birthday was coming up. Thomas was saving for that, so he had not ordered anything in weeks. Yet, here was this package.

    The door closed on the delivery man, leaving Thomas to his wonder and the unnatural silence that suddenly filled the house. Jack wouldn’t order something for him. He’d buy it in the store and watch the boy’s face. So there was a secret here. Mysteries are irresistible to teenage boys, and Thomas was no exception. Then there was the package itself.

    The fabric containing the gift, for that it surely was, was like nothing Thomas had ever seen. The color for one thing. Thomas thought of it as a supernatural shade. A cross between midnight blue and the red of heart’s blood, it shown like the black of a moonless night. Thomas instinctively thought of it as Judgment Night purple.

    The feel of it was no different. Like furry sandpaper he could not help but pet. It felt like sex and violence. That touch of the beckoning divine, corruption and salvation. It felt like his first time, though that had not happened yet. Thomas knew not how he understood all these things. But he did.

    When he set the shoebox sized package on the floor, it began to shake violently. It beckoned to him. A silent scream emanated from the box, for his ears alone. It called to him with the ceaseless appeal of modern siren. Thomas could not resist, no, tell the truth and shame the devil, he would not.

    With all the patience inherent in the male of the species he showed the wrapping its proper respect. He tore the fabric asunder, discarding it like a prom dress. The box inside was made of an ebony wood held together with pure gold fastenings. Interesting, but nothing compared to the fabric that previously encased it, or the things inside. Also, much like a prom date.

    Thomas flipped the lid open. A howl whirled past his ears. Blistering cold and numbing heat, damnation and salvation, angels and demons, all whipped past him and into the night. He saw none of these things but felt them just the same.

    When he recovered and looked inside there was but one piece of velum, smaller than an index card. Everything the world needed was already out of the box. Written on that parchment in flaking, metallic ink, once the black of night now faded to the gray of forgotten sins were three words.

    Treason – Love, Pandora.

    1. gamingtheblues

      Ahh Reaper. I will not pretend to fully understand what is going on. Your story carries with it interesting connotations and deep, swirling undercurrents. Your style always has been sensual, with many and more allusions to sexuality both purposeful and unconscious, so to see that particular subtext manifested so superbly in this…mysterious, dangerous box and wrapping… It is exquisite.

      This is you writing some of your best and it was a pleasure to read, and experience it. Worlds beyond last week’s prompt, this was disturbing and breathtaking all at once. I would read a book like this, barely breathing, head lost in the emotions and feelings. Afterward I would need to sit for a couple hours under a hot shower or go to a long walk outside for reflection.

      Bravo, well done and it is supremely satisfying to be able to say that to you.

    2. jhowe

      You have quite the talent for building tension and keeping it cranked to the end. The box had to be opened, it was inevitable. Now that it’s all out there, you only have three weeks left to make the most of it. I think you’re up to the challenge. I look forward to next year’s endeavors.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        WHOA, Reaper, two minds thinking on the same plain. Although mine had to dispose of Miss Doitrght. My evils of the world are just as fearful as yours!

    3. Observer Tim

      Whoa, nice update on the myth, Reaper. The whole prom date analogy was appropriate but jarring, which means it fit the piece perfectly. Altogether wonderful. 🙂

      I’m kind of relieved you’re approaching the conclusion, only because I’m starting to run low on superlatives. 🙂

    4. regisundertow

      Well, damn…That was one interesting ending 🙂
      That was a vivid piece, with beautiful descriptions. There’s always nuggets in your writing that I have to read over and over again. I’m not sure the foreshadowing works in the color description (heart blood red, judgement night purple), but it’s spot-on generally. I especially liked the prom date metaphor.

  37. jeff.beyer

    The House was quiet.
    I made sure everyone was gone before I made my move.
    Dad….at work.
    Mom…….shopping
    Older sister……..who cares.

    It was go time.

    I navigated through the kitchen and up the stairs like an “American Ninja Warrior”. I come to an abrupt stop outside Mom and Dad’s bedroom door. I slowly scan the hallway for any witnesses……..Clear.

    I slowly turn the door knob gently as if it would shatter in my hands if I turned to hard. Hearing the latch click I push the door open slightly, pausing wondering if an alarm would sound. Hearing nothing I proceed in.

    Every year they get a little smarter with they’re holiday subterfuge. Last year promising I would never find them.

    I scan the room for possible hiding places.
    Under the bed…..last year.
    Top of closet……..to easy.
    Armoire……..I don’t even know what the means.

    Suddenly a sound breaks my concentration. A low, muffled, vibrating sound. I follow the sound to the dirty clothes basket in the corner of the room. I pull off layers of clothes like shovels of soil on a buried treasure.

    I see a box. A crimson box with a white bow. No mistake that it’s a Christmas present.
    I reach for it. I flinch when it vibrates again. Could they really be silly enough to leave the batteries in? In my hands now I jump when it vibrates again. I reach for the lid to pop it off. I move slowly because years of television has taught me that the box could be “wired”.

    I peek inside……a phone. I look closer……MY phone. It vibrates again but this time I glows and a blinking “MOM” mocks me on the screen.

    I answer the phone cautiously, “Hello?” Not wanting to hear the response.

    “Honey, I told you that you would not find your Christmas present this year, now come help me bring in the groceries.”

    I drop the box, put the phone in my pocket and mope out of the bedroom. My only redeeming thought that Easter is only 4 months away.

  38. changeishard

    I love to receive a package. Then again who doesn’t? The thrill of anticipation before it arrives. The increased heart rate when you spot it on your porch. Bringing it in, the crescendo as you open and expose your treat…orgasmic.
    At least I assume.
    Being a forty year old librarian with no sexual history I can only surmise the books describe it accurately. In the books I write with titles such as His Bountiful Love and Her Secret Treasure I always describe the moment as “an explosion of pleasure, pure veneration, or if I am feeling whimsical the BONNE BOUCHE (supreme delight).” How else can you describe an event the French refer to as the little death?
    With this anticipation in mind I bring in the long rectangular package that was left at my stoop. It was unexpected in the literal sense as in I have not ordered anything and did not expect it. It was also atypical in the color and material. The box was a deep maroon like a hooker’s painted smile. It felt soft like the taut flesh of a woman’s perky breasts, or as I would have written it heaving bosom.
    There was a card made out to L. Chastain my pseudonym when writing my erotica… I mean romance novels.
    In ink as red as the box it said:
    I am a big fan of yours. I hope my gift will allow you to explore the subject matter you write so freely about. Please enjoy and clean up after yourself when you are done. Signed John Doe.
    Inside the box is a single red rose and a key to the local motel. I drive there straight away. In room 109 I find two double beds. Tied to the first one is a buxom red head in a filmy night dress. Next to her, occupying the second bed is a virile young man completely nude.
    My chest tightens and I fish out my inhaler taking three sharp puffs. I scurry over to the bed and untie my presents handing each a bath robe before excusing myself. I sit in my Prius and wait to catch my breath before I make the call. “Dad, stop trying to set me up. I am perfectly happy being single.”
    “I know my little Bubbala, but when will you make me a grandfather so I can die happy?”
    I sigh and hang up the phone preparing to drive back. Sometimes he can be such a yenta, but hey he is my number one fan.

    1. gamingtheblues

      Oy, I have a feeling that neither your story nor reapers will be the first that draws parallels to sex and sexuality with this prompt. But…is that not an interesting window into the psyche of our consciousnesses. Still the undressing…of the box…so to speak is often more exhilarating than the realization of the gift.

      On to your story. This was again, another fun, well written prompt. I found your MC engaging (and you left them purposefully androgynous which I found interesting) and likable. Though a Dad that is so engaged with their offspring’s sex life….. Tad off that guy.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Tad off is certainly correct, he wants her for himself but is never going to tell her because the anticipation is worth more than the actual. Wow, that is dark, dark.

    2. jhowe

      Wow, this was good. Your writing style is very appealing and fun. “A hooker’s painted smile,’ what a great way to describe a color. It was interesting that the sex of the MC was unclear, but the father left both a man and woman tied up in the hotel. It was as if he were offering a choice, any choice, just pick one and get it over with. You can always adopt if that’s the way you want to swing. I liked it how the MC drove a Prius and carried an inhaler. Very entertaining.

    3. Observer Tim

      You got me, changeishard. The whole story was a set-up, and a beautiful one; you had me fooled right up to the reveal. The sexuality without sex definitely makes the piece. All in all, excello! 🙂

      I also love the little Yiddish touches in the last part. Though a part of me is wondering what if the narrator had chosen the partner of the same sex. 😉

      And for some reason I’m wondering about the stories of the man and the woman in the motel, and why they allowed this to happen to them. Probably fans number 2 and 3, that’s my guess.

  39. Trevor

    Word Count: 589

    Secret In The Box

    I have no idea who sent the gift. It just appeared at my front door, as if it materialized out of thin air. As I picked it up, I immediately took notice of the wrapping paper. It was a dark shade of red, almost resembling blood. And the texture was also peculiar. I could see it was normal paper, but it felt like imported velvet. And it felt warm. All in all, it was a bizarrely packaged gift.

    As I sat on the couch, I thought I felt something. It was like something inside the box had stirred slightly. Could it be an animal? I placed an ear against the box. Nothing inside made a sound. It was then that I noticed the green tag attached to the box.

    “Alex never got his Christmas presents”

    As soon as I read the tag, I realized why this present had been delivered to me. I had been trying for the past five years to push it out of my thoughts, tried to forget my horrendous deed. But it still lingered in my brain, like a stain that refused to wash away.

    Alex was my neighbor. His family moved into the neighborhood a year after I did and they held a party to meet their new neighbors. Instantly, I was attracted to his charisma and self-confidence. He was a senior in high school and had already received a soccer scholarship to the best university in Maine. Mr. Hartfield was beaming with fatherly pride as he showed off his son’s many sports trophies.

    I tried to resist. I tried to fight back the urges. But they were so powerful, so….overwhelming. It started out as simple daydreaming, but it grew with rapid intensity. I would go to any soccer game I could make. I would watch him mow the lawn and swim in the pool with his friends. For months, I admired him and his young, lean, muscular body. I was infatuated, and there was no going back.

    His parents were out that night. No one saw me jump the fence and sneak in through the back door. He was lying on the couch, watching a football game. He was shirtless, his abs on full display. It was almost like an invitation…

    In that moment, it felt amazing. It was the first thrill I’d had in years. But now, five years after the fact, I feel disgust at what I’d done. I can still see his tear-streaked face. His trembling hands. His plaintive cries for mercy. They haunt me at night, stinging my ears like hornets. But most of the pain in my heart comes from what happened two days later.

    Alex’s parents came home from a friend’s Christmas party and found him hanging from a ceiling fan.

    No one in town ever found out why Alex killed himself, but I knew. I would ALWAYS know what drove him to such an abrupt end. And the fact that it was only six days until Christmas made it all the more tragic. The anonymous deliverer of this package was right; Alex never did get the chance to open his presents that Christmas.

    Tears stinging my eyes once again, I carefully tore away the soft paper. I opened the box and looked at the gift that lay inside.

    It was an electric cord, tied up in the form of a noose.

    It’s over now. The urges have finally stopped. The guilt has finally subsided. Justice has finally been served. And I am at last at peace.

    1. gamingtheblues

      What is it with the boxes that bring out sexuality. In this story, it is dark, tragic, forced? or not..? I can not tell if this is a crime of criminal assault…or a crime of passion. It was written to lean towards the assault…but left with enough questions as to the truth. This is difficult subject matter to even bring up, never mind write a story about. I give you praise alone for your daring.

      Is this a story of two people who are ashamed of their desires…or just one and his horrible crime and the terrible consequences. I will not linger too long on this one, for I wish to get too deeply into the mind of your MC.

      Excellent writing though. This prompt is bringing out the best in people it seems this week.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        I think I got the message also and you did a beautiful job leaving the reader with the idea of whayt caused his suicide. But as in real life, someone else knows also and the punishment starts, perhaps physical but certainly mental.

      2. regisundertow

        Blues, this is how I read it too, although there’s no indication of the MC being male or anything non-vanilla being in play here. It’s to the strength of the piece that it can be read either way, I definitely see why someone would think of a sexual assault here.

  40. Jay "The Doc" Wilson

    The Evil Within the Beholder

    The man sat in the kitchen with thick, sticky gloves of blood coating his hands. He wondered how it had come to this, how he could let everything get so out of control. It was only 13 hours ago that his life was normal, and then the box showed up on his doorstep, changing his life forever.

    Sitting there, he felt madness creep up on him as he tried to make sense of everything. It was just a box or perhaps it wasn’t. At that point, he couldn’t be sure. All he knew was how it looked and felt. It had a deep maroon exterior like that of a full-bodied wine. It felt soft and skin-like, and the body of it vibrated, sometimes violently but most often just a subtle, constant shiver.

    He looked up, and drew in a deep breath. The light filtered through the window, illuminating the small motes of dust and feathery filaments floating languidly in and out of those golden bars. The sun pressed against the wall, acting as a spotlight to the filigree of blood splattered upon the walls. Dripping from the ornamental violence, were long lines that seemed to represent the slow death of the woman lying on the floor.

    It wasn’t just any woman dead on that once cream but now deep red carpet. She was his wife. She was the woman he adored and never once felt ill toward. Her smile was the thing that brightened his day and her soft, rhythmic breaths were the things that sent him packing to visit the sandman every night. She was understanding. A protector. A lover. Such a blessing in his life that there was no mortal by which to could convey his emotions to people.

    Now, she was dead. And the thing moved. The box. He watched it from his peripheral, and it writhed as if excited by what he’d done. His vision quickly darted away from her matted and bloody blonde hair to catch the box moving, but it remained still. He felt only the soft vibrations through the table.

    The sirens called from afar. They grew closer and closer, but he didn’t care. If he had not felt like he’d done all this, as if none of it was his fault, he might have tried to run. That’s wasn’t the case. This was him. He knew within his heart of hearts that this was something he would never do, and yet, he was convinced that he did. Not convinced. He was sure that he did it. That he wanted it, as if he’d desired to kill her all along.

    And the box moved.

    And he looked.

    And it stopped.

    And the sirens grew louder.

    He brought his trembling hands to his face, and pressed the cold sticky blood to his skin. He didn’t care that it was his wife’s blood; he just wanted to be close to her. Feel some part of her one more time. He thought how crazy it sounded, but he missed her. He couldn’t shed a tear for something had stopped him, but he cried. He wept internal tears of memories that bled deep into his soul. Still he could not feel guilt.

    And still it moved.

    And still it stopped.

    The sirens bled into the scream of rubber against the tarmac. Sudden human screaming at his door confused him because he couldn’t understand what they said, but he knew why they were there. He remained seated, waiting for them to arrive and take him away from this place. He needed to rid himself of this darkness, rid his heart of the death in this house. Soon, the police granted themselves access through the front and back doors, and conferred his desire to leave.

    And it moved.

    And he looked back.

    And it stopped.

    For now, but soon it would start again.

    The officer took him to the car and stuffed him into the back seat while Detective Reynolds stepped into the room. Reynolds thought for a moment that something on the table moved. Was it the box? That strange green box?

    He picked it up, and it felt velvety, like the petals of a lush flower. It felt warm.

    And it whispered.

    And he listened.

    1. gamingtheblues

      Another Dark take this week…but a window into supernatural horror. This was tense, teetering on the edge of madness, the tone was spot on. The writing tight, with no wasted words I could feel. Nicely written.

        1. Kerry Charlton

          A complete breakdown into insanity written in 500 words is a difficult task. Is the power from the box or was it triggered by some deep seated resentment toward the woman he loved. The premise arrives that the wife was too perfect, to the point that he began to resent her perfections. And at the same time, realized his dependence upon his wife. Was the box just an excuse to release his rage in an uncontrollable manner he could not stop. There are avenues of thought that spring from the story that could keep me entertained the entire weekend.

    2. Nicki EagerReader

      I love these atmospheric piece- good job, Jay! You know I think highly of your writing skills, so I hope you’ll forgive me a bit of nitpickiness: The sentence “Such a blessing in his life that there was no mortal by which to could convey his emotions to people.” in the fourth paragraph is sort of nonsensical (accident with the short cut keys? 😉 happens to me whenever I forget to lock the touchpad) but I know what you mean. The end simply sent a shiver down my spine. Thanks for sharing something that matches my mood so well… 😉

    3. Observer Tim

      Very nice, Jay. You’re definitely becoming the master of atmospheric horror on this site. I noted a few hiccups which is probably the word processor, but nothing that dreadfully impacted the story. The last two lines are an absolute gem. 🙂

    4. regisundertow

      I like the general theme of unexplained madness you bring to your stories, Doc. Very Lovecraftian. I only wish there were some background to the package, but maybe it makes the story spookier just having it show up one day. Makes one wonder when madness would strike.

  41. thejim

    Chapter 7 – It arrived –

    What’s this I thought as I opened my front door? Out on the stoop was a package. Oddly enough the bottom was dry when I picked it up. Which I thought strange, I assumed it would be somewhat damp from carpet that soaked up the rain from the night before. I waved hesitantly to Mrs. Renshaw across the street. I did not want to be pulled into any unexpected projects or fix something that one of her incompetent sons screwed up, so I quickly stepped back into my house and shut the door. Peeking out through the front window I smiled and snickered as she went back to her flower garden.

    I turned my attention back to the box. Generally I would have been excited to get a package but I have not ordered anything recently. My EBay buying binge had come to a squealing halt when I got shafted by someone in Kryburstan or Kalazanistan no it was Kyrgyzstan. I was supposed to get this Yak skin coat hand crafted by a Yurt shepherd, but that never happened!

    I set the football size package on the counter. The maroon paper that covered it seemed to have a different appearance here in the kitchen it now appeared darker like OX blood. Rest assured my keen insight of colors is only a ploy. The only reason I know the color Ox blood because I bought some shoe polish to match a new pair of cowboy boots and it was the only color that came close to matching.

    I began to open the packing paper around the box noticing that it had a faint shipping stamp from Peru, specifically from city of Machu Picchu.

    As I removed the paper and it drifted to the floor I began to open the plain white box. Then it started to vibrate. As it increased the vibration turned into shaking. I set it down and backed away and it began to shake violently, and it fell to the floor and rumbled there next to the Ox blood paper.

    I waited for a few minutes for the box to calm down. I slowly moved in to pick it up as I reached for it I could feel that it was warm. There was something generating heat.

    My hand froze, I immediately went to the dark place in my mind and all I could think was I would soon be dead because of some sort of explosion about to decorate my kitchen walls with my intestines.

    Shaking off those thoughts I picked up the box carefully and slowly opened it up then a dragon fly darted out. It flew around the room I tried to swat it way with the back of my hand as it rocketed near my head. It eventually made its way to the floor and landed. About the time I approached it and was ready to crush it under my boot. It burst into flames and a huge spiral of smoke appeared and standing before me was a small man like creature with a horn and green liquid eyes.

    Never before had I ever fainted but apparently there is a first for everything.

    1. gamingtheblues

      Hmmm I have not read the previous chapters so I am a little unsure of what is going on, but I like the quirky…slightly neurotic MC that you have created. The story flowed nicely, and I had no idea that things were about to turn into a fantasy story, so that was good too!

    2. Observer Tim

      Nicely atmospheric and an interesting voice, theJim. Like gaming, I don’t recall seeing the start of this, but the chapter stands on its own (though without resolution yet). I am curious to see what comes next… 🙂

    3. regisundertow

      There’s an issue with tenses and punctuation here, that needs to be tightened up. Other than that, the dragonfly imagery is interesting, I’d like to see what the creature is about.

  42. Kerry Charlton

    THE LEGEND OF MARY CATHERINE COBB

    Part Three

    [PART ONE AND TWO IN FORBIDDEN BASEMENT]

    Headlines jumped from the page to John’s memory,

    ‘Reported missing, the daughter. Mary Cobb from Nottoway, she was last seen the day before the exit of the Union Forces stationed at the plantation house. Searchers have expanded their quest but after five days, little hope remains to find her.’

    An article two weeks later,

    ‘Mary Catherine Cobb’s search has ended in a mystery. Some say she ran off with a particular Union soldier by the name of Lt. Marshall of Pennsylvania.. Others quote foul play, including her beloved family.’

    John paused in frustration, dried his eyes and asked himself,

    ‘What is it you’re trying to tell me Mary?’

    He felt a chill in his heart and a desperate need to enter the basement in hopes of another clue. Descending the damp stairs, armed with three strong flashlights, he felt drawn to the same corner the message was scrawled in. Soft tearful sobs echoed through and among the sturdy hand hewn cypress beams criss-crossing at the ceiling. He looked in that direction and noticed a rusty iron hook embedded in the largest beam of the floor foundation.

    His fingers carefully separated the powdery soil at the base until he found strands of thick hemp rope under the top layer. His mind revolted from his first thought. ’No, she wasn’t the type to hang herself but what about murder?’ He stayed to his knees and lowered his ear to the soil, the moans reverberated louder from the same spot. A cold he
    had never experienced before overcame him as he watched faint letters appear in the dust.

    ‘e-r-e-h’

    He stared in dis-belief and them mounted the stairs, went to the garden shed and
    borrowed a small shovel.

    Oh so carefully he removed one layer after another until he reached three feet under the soil. First the bones of a hand, then forearm appeared. He stopped there in reverence, lay the shovel down, and stared at his find.

    A wind rose and blew the dusty soil back across the bones. A woman’s cry of desperation emitted from the ceiling and as he lifted his head, Mary’s face appeared, he studied her lips as she mouthed her message,

    ‘It is not as it appears, search further.’ And then her image faded to the color of the beams.

    He fell to his knees in deep sorrow and waited for another sign. Hours went by, he climbed the stars and used the office phone, first contacting Rice and then the owner. The next day, a forensic team from Tulane University as well as an archaeologist from Rice arrived. John stood by and watched with a heavy heart until one of the team approached him,

    “There are two people buried here, one appears to be a young woman and the other, a man in his mid twenties.” He held a small piece of cloth in his hand, union color and the stripes of a lieutenant in rank.

    1. gamingtheblues

      Ohh much tighter writing this week. Nice job. You kept the spot on tone and heart of the piece and not a single thing pulled me from the story. I would read this book, very intriguing.

    2. regisundertow

      This is turning out to be very interesting. The best ghost stories always have an obvious story and the real one going much deeper. Really looking forward to see where this goes.

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