Under A Hunter’s Moon (Shadows Over Seattle: Prequel One) Richard Parsons is a maverick wolf-shifter with a tendency to find trouble. When a traveling exhibition returns to the McCaw Museum Richard finds that he has personal reasons to visit after hours.His audacious plan goes awry when a particular display forces painful memories to the surface.Can […]
Unconfined Delusions, Beyond the Threshold, will be live October 20th! Don’t miss out on the Unconfined Delusion Release Party So many prizes! Plus, I’m giving away copies of my previous collection Sanity’s Threshold, Slivers of a Twisted Mind which is available on Amazon.
“John, if you’re going fishing this morning, you better get Tanner up.” Rachel snuggles against me on the air mattress before goosing me on the butt.
“But it’s so cozy.” I nuzzle her neck, a trick that usually sends shivers down her arm.
She swats me away with a laugh. “I’m surprised he’s not bouncing around in here already. You saw how excited he was last night.”
We found the lake by accident and marveled that no one else had pitched a tent on its shores. The folks at the store called it Lost Lake and gave each other an odd look when we mentioned we were camping there.
We’re camping fanatics, and our son has refused to share a tent with us since he turned twelve insisting he is old enough to sleep on his own. He is an independent soul, to be sure.
“It’s your turn to make the coffee.” Rachel pushes me out of the sleeping bag.
“I’m going, I’m going.”
The mist over the lake leaves a film of condensation on the cover that rains down on my head as I exit.
“Hey lazy butt, get up.” I unzip the flap on Tanner’s tent. His sleeping bag is in a tangled mess, clothes are strewn around just like his room at home. “Tanner?”
Rachel emerges from our tent pulling a hoody over her head against the chill. She gives a chuckle. “One too many smores is my guess.”
“He’s not in there.” Panic sets in. “Tanner!” My voice echoes across the lake.
“What do you mean he’s not in there? There’s nowhere for him to go.”
“It’s a small tent, Rachel. He’s not in there.”
“Then where is he?”
“Tanner! Tanner!” Our combined voices create a symphony of hysteria. There is no place to hide, no trees, only the lake, and our previous day’s wading trip proved it’s no higher than Tanner’s belly button.
Rachel checks the tent again and looks at me wide-eyed.
“Do you think…?” Her gaze drifts across Lost Lake.
“He’s on the swim team, Rach. Besides, a toddler couldn’t drown in this pond.”
“Then where is he? Tanner! Tanner!”
I take her in my arms. “We have to calm down. He probably walked to that little store we stopped at. It was only a half-mile or so away. Let’s drive down there before we freak out.”
“I’m not freaking out, John. Our son is missing!”
“He’s not missing, we just don’t know where he is right now.”
“Come on. Let’s go down to the store.”
The bell jangles over our head. The man at the counter gives us a big smile. “Good morning! You folks are up early.”
I waste no time on pleasantries. “Have you seen our son? He was in here yesterday with us. He seems to have wandered off.”
The grizzly fellow removes his hat and scratches his bald head. “Well now, can’t say that I’ve seen any boys around here lately. How old is he?”
“He’s twelve. He was with us yesterday.”
“I remember you folks, but I don’t recall your son. It was just the two of you.”
Rachel’s voice grew pinched. “No, we all came in together. John, show him Tanner’s picture.”
I pull out my wallet. I have his most recent on the top where it is visible as soon as I open it. I rifle through the contents.
“It’s not here.”
“What do you mean? I just saw it yesterday when you paid for the fishing license.”
“It must have fallen out. Don’t you have a picture?”
“In my purse.” She pulls out her pocketbook. “What the… John, my pictures are gone.”
The bells at the door announce another customer. A pleasantly plump woman enters.
“Morning folks. How was your evening? How were the smores?”
The man behind the counter explains. “Darlene, honey, these fine folks say their son is missing.”
A veil of dread shrouds her face. “Son?”
Rachel rifles through her purse. Panic frosts her voice. “Yes, our son, he was with us.” She stops her search. “You saw him.”
Darlene shakes her head. “Don’t recall.” She exchanges a knowing glance with her husband.
John catches the slight. “What do you know? Tell us where our son is.”
“I’m sorry, folks. We don’t recall you son. Maybe you ought to talk to the police.”
Darlene hugs her husband. “Didn’t you tell them not to camp at Lost Lake?”
“It’s been ten years since anything like this has happened. And the other missing kids? None of the parents could prove they even existed. Maybe it’s all just a coincidence.”
“It’s not coincidence. It’s Lost Lake.”
Our days are numbered. The fireball in the sky will make sure of that. It’s too bright to look at, but I stole a peek through my fingers. The glowing sphere is larger than the sun; yet it’s light years away. Keplar’s Supernova, in 1604, was the last time something like this was recorded. It was 20,000 light years away and visible in the daytime for three weeks. That little kitten has nothing on this tiger.
I don’t go outside anymore. My air conditioner hums at full speed, on the coldest setting. The house shimmers with heat. I touch a wall and feel the heat fight its way through the plaster. I wonder how long the power grid is going to hold up under this much strain. My guess is, not long. Already I hear the drag of the motor as it tries to stay ahead of the temperature.
Water is rationed and only turned on for a few minutes a day. Usually it runs dry before I fill all my bottles. The plants give up one brown, crinkly leaf at a time and surrender to the pull of gravity. A crunchy carpet, that used to be grass, borders my sidewalk. The pond at the end of my driveway is a puddle surrounded by octagonal slabs of dried mud. Koi carcasses guard the edges and watch me with hollow eyes. I haven’t heard a dog bark or a bird chirp in days.
They say the shock wave will obliterate our solar system. Of course, life on earth will be gone long before that happens. The destruction will wipe out our corner of the galaxy with the energy of a thousand suns. It will be goddamn spectacular.
I’m not one who clings to false hope or prays for divine intervention. I don’t want to see the oceans boil and my skin melt. I’m not waiting.
Need more flash fiction? Need a horror fix? CHeck these out:
Blasting toward the edge of time
I walk across the sand just trying
to make some miles before the portal closes.
Conscious of my aches and pains
my muscles scream from constant strain,
but still I put one foot before the other.
I find that I am way too tired
standing with my feet so mired
in promises I knew I couldn’t keep.
But now is not the time to wallow.
I chew upon my pride and swallow
years of wasted grants and endless research.
Triple checked each calculation
knowing what my ‘valuation
meant to those who fled the crushing hatred.
No matter how much that I tried
with all the numbers cross multiplied
the answers came up less than optimistic.
I chose to be a hero touted
as the one who bravely shouted,
“Follow me, and I will be your savior!”
Told them we would find our freedom.
No longer would we have to let ‘em
hurt us just because we don’t conform.
Not the first time that I wanted
more than what the others flaunted
held aloft and touted as superior.
But who was I to play a god
who casts about his mighty rod
to sentence those below to persecution?
My recent actions make me cringe
as I stand upon the furthest fringe
and gaze into my certain dissemination.
Just before the worlds collide
I consider what my ounce of pride
reaped without remorse or resolution.
I know that I deserve to die
for all the times I chose to lie
to faces full of hope and desperation.
Before my marrow’s mortal dance
I wish that I had one more chance
to change my story despite their disappointment.
To tell them they’re already gone
and best thing is to just stay strong
and make their peace and preparations.
I’m the last to venture through
hoping I am one of few
who beats the odds and comes out unaffected.
As my atoms strip away
my bones begin to bend and sway
the gravity just too much for concentration.
Still there is no actual pain.
Molecules fall like drops of rain
A raging flood of moral contradiction.
Blinding light ignites and swirls
Convulsions rip across my world
This may be my last communication.
It whispers up my leg as I pass over the heater vent, the tickle of its fingers like feathers on my skin. Why did I have the heat on this late in the summer? The ting, ting, ting of the furnace echoes from the hallway closet and I smell the musty, singed odor you get when you turn it on for the first time in the Fall. I swear I shut the gas off because even the little pilot light radiated unwanted heat in the summer.
I walk back to the vent. Sure enough, I feel the gentle motion of the warm air move the fine hairs on my arm. I check the thermostat at the other end of the hall. It was off, just like I knew it would be. I flip it on and off again and hear no telltale click. I tap the side of it a couple times, like kicking the tires or lifting the hood on a car. The other vents in the room discharge a breeze, too, warmer than before.
I hear the scratching deep inside the duct. Maybe a mouse had found his way in and had made its home in the warm, round confine. More like rats by the sound of it. Great big rats. The scratching grew louder, and closer, building with the temperature of the air.
I try to close the damper on the duct but the rusty lever squeaked its resistance. The blast of hot air on my face dries my eyes, pushing me away with an invisible hand. Blinking quickly for new tears, I rummage around on my work bench until I found some pliers and WD-40. I smear the sweat off my forehead with my shirt sleeve and spray some of the lubricant on the lever. The liquid bubbles up like spit on a cast iron skillet. I’d never seen it do that before. I touch the lever to wiggle it and yank my hand away. White skin marks the spots where it made contact with the metal.
I run to the kitchen, turn on the cold water full blast and stick my burnt fingers under the running water. It’s hot, so hot! Maybe I turned on the wrong faucet, but no, it’s the cold handle. What’s going on? I shake my aching hand as if I could rid it of the pain.
The scratching echoes through the metal duct louder and closer. I can hear it in the other ducts, too, getting closer by the minute. I have to get some air in the house. I have to get the windows open. I lift on the sill, but it won’t budge. Old, dried paint plaster it shut permanently. I stare at the wire grating I had had installed on all the windows for security. Now it was the concertino wire of my prison.
I go to the front door to throw it open, ready to abandon the house and get help. The door knob throbs red with heat. Panic wriggles its way down my spine, squirming through my body like snakes. I strip down to my undies, sweat coating my body. I have to get out. Maybe if I found some gloves I could get the door open. The scent of burnt hair floats around my head. I run my hand over my scalp and it comes away with crispy wisps of dried threads. My mouth opens in a silent scream because, even though I feel no pain, I know I should feel the bubbling of my skin as I witness it melting like candle wax.
They find my smoking corpse today; tiny embers filling my skull, my arms and legs protruding from my body like burnt out matchsticks. I ignored their warnings when I bought the house. Full disclosure they had called it. They told me the fireman who had built it had died alone in the line of duty. He’s not alone anymore.
“Can you see them? They’re right there!” Jordan dug her fingernails into her wrist blazing another bloody trail down her forearm.
“There’s nothing there, baby. It’s the infection.” I pull her hands apart, but they snap together like two magnets; her skin the north pole, her nails the south. We’ve been playing this game for hours ever since the first symptoms appeared.
Spontaneous schizophrenia has become the term coined by the doctors, but most folks called it The Clutching. They traced patient zero to a South American man twenty-nine days ago, five more cases were discovered a week later. Of course, they didn’t identify it as a problem until the third week when fifty-six cases were reported. One hundred and two the next day. To date there have been over nine hundred, and it’s been less than a month.
The CDC has spared no expense, but the cause remains elusive. They have become so desperate to calm the public’s nerves they’ve labeled it a mental illness. If you ask me, it’s a breakthrough nanotechnology hopping across a synaptic highway at frequencies beyond our measurement.
But nobody’s asked me. It would be nice to use my Ph.D. in Nanochemical Bioengineering I paid so much for, but there hasn’t been time. Its arbitrary, indiscriminate spread has eliminated the possibility of proactivity. Every reaction is a thousand steps in the rearview mirror.
“Can’t you see them? Jesus, Patrick, there’re thousands of them! They look like sesame seeds in my veins. Tiny sesame seeds with legs!” Jordan digs at the vein on her thigh. “Get them out! Please, get them out.” Her terror etches the corners of her eyes, white and rimmed in black hysteria.
“I swear to God, Jordan, they aren’t there. Trust me.” I make another attempt to put the mittens on her hands. “Please, sit still a minute. You have to stop scratching yourself.”
Jordan’s tears pool and overflow. “It’s The Clutching, isn’t it? I’ve gone crazy like the rest of them, haven’t I? I feel them in my brain, Patrick. It’s real.” She rips a hunk of hair out of her scalp and examines the bloody roots, but tosses it aside when the results are negative. “Thank God.”
I manage to duct tape one mitten onto a hand. Her other hand traces the veins at her elbow pinching the blue paths extending past the gray restraint. I glance away to find the other mitten. It gives her enough time to tear away half of the tape. Panicking, I bind her wrists together flipping the roll around and around until her elbows are touching. I put on the other mitten and add more tape.
“Let me go, Patrick. I won’t do it anymore. Please, just let me go.”
“Come on. Let’s get you to the hospital.” Sedation is the only treatment, long-term sedation until a cure can be found. But how can you find a cure when you have no apparent cause?
I lead her to the car and deposit her in the backseat. For the moment, she is calm. I take advantage of the lull, climb behind the wheel, rev the engine, and adjust the rearview mirror. Jordan is picking at something behind her ear. Hopefully, the mittens will hold her at bay. Gravel sprays across the driveway as I head to the hospital. Other cars honk their annoyance when I blast through a stop light. I check the mirror again, and Jordon has disappeared. I chance a look behind me.
Jordan had slumped to her side, one mitten in her mouth, her jugular pulsing against her fingers buried in her throat.
I’ve had no time to mourn. My first symptoms erupted a few hours after leaving Jordan’s body at the emergency room. Like grains of sand draining through a sieve, my invaders flood my circular system. Even though I know it’s probably the manipulation of the hypothalamus or some such, the vision of them sends an electric shock through my marrow. I clamp my eyes shut willing the apparitions to morph into rainbows and puppy dogs, but the trespassers scurry across my eyelids.
“You’re NOT REAL!”
Or maybe they are.
It’s a moot point. I waste no time. I saw the medicated zombies strapped in their hospital beds.
I place the blade against the hollow of my neck and set the bastards free.
The doll glared at me from across the room. I hadn’t believed the old woman could construct life within a doll’s body, void of pulse, but there it was, a soldier waiting for its command.
The voodoo queen had warned me about the birthing process. It was dangerous and couldn’t be reversed. I didn’t have the same belief in her powers as the folk who lived on the islands. The legends ran deep, etched into the minds of the old, twisted by time, but then I saw the dull glow of its eyes shining on me, awakening for the first time.
Willful and demanding, like a baby’s first breath, it came into the world, gasping for air, wanting to live, needing to take life in order to save its own. Virgin lungs filled and wailed their hatred of the world. It yearned for destruction and the demise of the person whose existence it was created to consume.
That person was Sarah. She had given up on our marriage; left it to rot on the vine. I wanted her gone, but I could never let another woman touch her. She was mine, until death does she part.
Part of the birthing process involved a photo of her. The voodoo queen had lain the doll face down on the photo, sprinkled swamp water and lizard blood on it. Her words laced with a heavy accent were unintelligible to me. Twenty-four hours, she whispered, and it would come alive and complete its mission.
The time had come. “She’s in the bedroom. Go get her.”
With a wink, the doll leaped from the shelf holding the knife I had supplied. Its plastic lips parted in anticipation of her blood. I could tell it wanted to suckle, drawing more than milk, pulling lifeblood. Eyes like cold, hard marbles studied me. I had never noticed how much we looked alike, Sarah and I, until I saw my image in the voodoo doll’s eye.
“Sarah.” It muttered her name as it released the blood from my jugular.
Thank you PP&P!
Background photo: USDA/Flickr, CC0.
Manipulation and design layout: Elizabeth Stark
Poppa snaps off a wheat stalk, brittle and broken. He digs the toe of his boot through the octagon clumps of topsoil looking for life below the surface, a shred of moisture, a supple root. The plant upends, clinging to the soil in a fruitless effort to stay alive.
“If it rains, we’ll be able to save this crop.”
My lips are always chapped, and the area around my eyes not covered by cloth are blistered and cracked by the relentless blast of grit. The cloth over my mouth cakes up faster than I can shake it out, but Momma says I have to wear it. More than anything I hate the crunch in my mouth. No amount of water seems to rinse it out.
Poppa squats and scoops up a handful of soil. It filters through his fingers as…
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