November Challenge: Day 30 (Final Day)

Well, dear readers, I’ve done it. 30 days of continuous writing. 2,000 words a day. Over 60,000 words it total, not counting these little snippets before each day. I made it through illness and frustration and even Black Friday. I’d like to say I was going out with a bang, but I’m not. That isn’t what this month is about. I never expected to arrive anywhere in particular. All I wanted to do was leave where I already was behind. And I think I succeeded.

Thank you to everyone who read my posts and commented/liked/followed. It was a big help.

I’m going to be taking a few days off, rest my brain and my fingers, but I’m not done writing. I plan to look back over the month’s writing and choose some stories that I think have potential, let them percolate a bit and then revise/rewrite/continue them. Maybe in December, maybe in a month or so. Who knows. If you have any suggestions on stories you think were the best, please let me know. I always love an outside point of view.

So, without any further ado, I give you the final post in my November Writing Challenge.

Writing Challenge Day 30 (Untitled)
By E. W. Morrow
Word Count: 2054

It is a strange and terrible thing to not be in control of your own body, to wake up and find that someone has been using it while you were away. The first time it happened to me I found myself standing in a secluded corner of a park near where I lived at the time. It was in the late hours of the night, so late that I’m almost compelled to say it was early, and the silver light from the full moon suffused the entire landscape before me in such a ghostly fashioned that I could scarcely believe I was not still dreaming. But dreams don’t hurt, and they don’t leave scars. My naked body was bloody from a hundred tiny cuts, mostly on my forearms and the soles of my feet. Most were superficial, barely even piercing the uppermost dermal layer, but a significant amount were deep and jagged. Whatever had done the cutting had been pointed, but otherwise dull, and had dragged across my skin with so much force and under enough pressure that it had hooked the skin, pierced the flesh, and torn the gashes open rather than slice them. Even to this day, years later, I still know which scars were the first and which came later.

In the beginning that was all it was, a series of events, always occurring while I slept, from which I would awake suddenly in strange locations, all memory of how I got there expunged. I consulted physicians and psychiatrists, always taking care to downplay the scale of my nocturnal wanderings, but none could give me any definitive answer as to the cause. All that anyone could say for sure was that I was a somnambulist, a sleep walker. I was put on a rotating cast of sleeping pills and anxiety medication, but the only noted change in my behavior was that I slept longer and traveled farther. One doctor suggested I participate in a sleep observation study for a few nights. All that came of the experience was a few restless nights in which it was observed that I awoke several times, looked around the room, and then went back to sleep. I don’t remember any of these supposed awakenings. For several weeks after the studies I slept soundly, and thought myself cured, but then my somnambulism returned, just as bad as it had ever been.

The most alarming part about these recurring losses of control was that little by little my activities became more and more complex, as though my body was becoming more comfortable in walking around without me there to guide it. Friends and acquaintances began asking questions, relating stories to me of parties I could not remember attending and conversations I did not remember having. Some mornings I would wake up in my own bed with a hangover, empty beer bottles strewn across my room. Other days I would open my closet and find my laundry had been cleaned and folded, only some of the items of clothing weren’t mine.

I began to grow desperate for an answer, any explanation for what was happening to me, and so I sought out less scientific avenues of inquiry. I started going to church again. Several churches, in fact, as I was always too embarrassed to return to one after asking the priest or minister or preacher if he or she knew anything about possession. The fact that I didn’t seem to believe in demons must have clashed with my fervent desire to be cleansed of one. Usually the conversation ended with the other party murmuring an apology and walking away as I begged for an exorcism, yelling my argument of “just in case” as they did so.

Then I made the biggest mistake I could ever have made. I found the answer to all of my questions. Looking back on it now, I guess it should have seemed like the most natural place in the world to discover the source of the problem, but at the time I was incredibly skeptical about anything I deemed too “new agey” or “mystic”. Hypnotherapy seemed to fit into that category about as much as anything else, but by the time I went to the tiny parlor set in the corner of that half abandoned strip mall, I was willing to try anything I could.

It was a small office with tinted windows and the lingering scent of incense soaked in to every porous surface. The receptionist was a short, college aged woman with more piercings on her face than I could easily count without being rude. She barely even glanced up as I entered the waiting area and clicked her tongue in disgust when I cleared my throat.

“Can I help you?” she asked in a bored voice.

“Yes, I’m here to see the doctor,” I said in what I hoped sounded like a casual voice.

“Fine,” the receptionist sighed as she pulled clip board out from a drawer in the side of her desk. She handed me the board and a cheap ballpoint pen with no cap. “Please read everything on the pages in front of you and sign at the bottom of the third page. On the back of the last page please list any serious medical conditions you may be in danger of experiencing including, but not limited to, high blood pressure, claustrophobia, brain aneurisms, irritable bowel syndrome or narcolepsy. By signing you declare your understanding and agreement to see the doctor, who is not a medical doctor, for services that do not constitute scientifically recognized methods of medical treatment and should always consult a licensed physician if you are still concerned about any medical issues after your visit. Please take your time before consenting and return the pen when you are finished.”

The stream of legal fine print rolled of the receptionist’s tongue in a rapid fire fashioned that held no emotion or passion at all. I glanced through the three page document, noting how it essentially said everything the receptionist had just told me, albeit in a much wordier manner, and signed at the bottom. On the last page I hesitated, unsure how to describe my condition without sounding crazy, and opted for “severe somnambulism”. Remembering, possibly somewhat cruelly, that the hypnotherapist was not a medical man I added underneath, in parentheses, “sleep walking”. Then I underlined it. Then I handed the clip board back to the receptionist, having to wave it a little to get her attention. She took it without comment and looked away again. After more than a minute she glanced up and saw I was still standing by the desk.

“What?” she asked in a short, nasty tone of voice.

“Nothing,” I mumbled. I went over to the row of chairs on the other side of the room and took a seat. The chairs were itchy and lumpy, but I was actually glad that they were uncomfortable. I hadn’t slept in days and was afraid to nod off while I waited. Even with the scratchy wool and the lumpy cushions I nearly faded out of consciousness several times in the half hour I was forced to wait. I tried to distract myself with the old, crinkled magazines jammed into the wire rack at one end of the row of chairs, but back issues of “Women’s Health” and “Fly Fisherman Monthy” did little to hold my interest. My eyes drooped and I became subconsciously aware of my left hand idly swirling figure eights in the air and tracing the tread lines on the sole of my right shoe, which was propped up on my knee, without me choosing to make it do so. I grit my teeth and forced it to stop, but whenever my concentration slipped it would start up again, sometimes tapping out a lively tune instead of tracing the treads. Finally the little beige phone beside the receptionist rang a shrill, beeping ring that cut through my exhaustion. She held a mumbled conversation with the person on the other end and hung up.

“He’ll see you now,” she told me, not getting up from her chair. She waved towards the only door in the room that wasn’t marked “exit” or “restroom” but otherwise went back to ignoring me.

I got up and made my way to the door, opening it gently in case I would be disturbing anyone. As it turned out the door led to a short hallway with three doors in it, one on either wall beside me and one at the far end of the corridor. The doors to either side of me were both closed but the one opposite was open and the light inside was on. I headed towards it, passing by what appeared to be a maintenance closet to my left and an filing room to the right, and popped my head in to the room beyond.

“Ah, Mr. Willson. Please, come in!” A large, jolly looking man in blue jeans and a bright peach polo shirt stood up from behind a desk in one corner of the room and approached me, large, meaty hand extended. I slipped in to the room and took his hand in mine, noticing how light his grip was for such a large man. He wore glasses with thin golden rims and his hair was brown going to gray around the temples. “So glad you decided to stop by. Shall we have a seat.”

“Thank you, doctor,” I said.

“Please, call me Mike,” he boomed in response. “Only my mother calls me doctor these days, and even then only when there’s company over.” He gave a hearty laugh as he led me to the center of the room to a pair of big leather chairs. Unlike the chairs in the lobby these were incredibly comfortable. I sank in to the cushion, the supple leather barely making a sound as it flexed beneath me. Instantly I felt like giving in and falling into a deep sleep, but I resisted the temptation. It could wait.

“So,” Mike the not quite a doctor said as he took a seat of his own, “tell me why you came to see me today. Trouble sleeping, wasn’t it?”

“Um, well,” I started, not quite seeing the point of telling him what he should already know and unsure how to go about correcting him. “I guess you could say that. I—I haven’t slept in a few days actually.”

“And why is that?”

“Because it isn’t safe.”

“In what way?” Mike’s relentless cheerfulness was growing a little irksome by this point. Instead of answering I rolled up my sleeves and showed him my forearms, pointing out the deepest, most violent looking scars without even needing to look. “I see,” Mike said. “And, you do this while you sleep?”

“This happens while I sleep, yes,” I said. Mike didn’t seem to notice the subtle correction to his question.

“And does this happen often?”

“Every time I sleep,” I said. “Not always like this, obviously. Most nights I just wake up somewhere I shouldn’t be. Other times I wake up in bed but things around me are different.”

“Different how?”

“Sometimes things are missing,” I told him. “Other times I find things that shouldn’t be there at all. Friends ask me how I’m feeling after last night, but I don’t remember seeing them at all.”

“And how do your friends describe you?” Mike asked, pulling out a little notepad and pen from his pocket. “I mean, describe you when you see them and don’t remember it.”

“Um…Well, actually most of them seem to like it,” I said. Nobody had ever asked me that before. “They say I’m outgoing, fun to be around, maybe a little crazy from time to time but always amusing.”

“Is that different from how they normally describe you?”

“Yes.”

“And how does that make you feel?”

I don’t answer right away. This wasn’t going the way I had expected it to go. I thought I’d show up and there’d be some crackpot old fool waving a gold watch in front of my face the second I stepped in the door. This large, normal looking man with the bright expression on his face and his polite, piercing questions was the more disarming than I cared to admit.

November Challenge: Day 29

So, today was a bad day for me. Lots of stuff went wrong. Working retail on Black Friday, in a toy store, is lame. Very lame. So, I have a few random bits of story I’ve been working on today. They are both write ups of some outlines I made months and months ago now for stories I never actually wrote. Just wanted to get some stuff on paper to see how it panned out. Tomorrow is the last day of my challenge, and I think I already have a story in mind, so we’ll see how that turns out.

Writing Challenge Day 29 (Untitled Works)
By E. W. Morrow
Word Count: 2082

Through the swirling fog and sporadic jungle vegetation, Shas’ui Sa’cea Soo’Mont sighted and centered the imperial walker on his visor’s view screen. The image pixelated and shifted for a moment as additional sensors collected, collated and overlayed new information. Distance, current velocity, structural analysis, movement prediction algorithms, enhanced outline projection, temperature; all of this and more was calculated, displayed and recalculated moment by moment.

Soo’Mont made a minor adjustment to his aim. Overhead the two tons of railgun swiveled less than two degrees and froze. The constant mechanical drone inside the hammerhead’s chassis rose in pitch a little as magnetic servos kicked in, auto-correcting the railgun’s position against the slight sway of the skimmer. Soo’Mont raised the safety catch and hovered a finger over the firing mechanism. It gently grazed the switch and he took a deep breath as the tingle of contact spread throughout his body, fueling the sweet thrill of the hunt.

The walker, apparently sensing it had been spotted, stopped and backpedaled suddenly. Soo’Mont’s line of sight was temporarily blocked by a particularly broad tree trunk. He mentally chided himself for placing personal gratification above duty towards the Greater Good. Using the new calculations flickering across the inside of his visor he adjusted his sight. A dense bank of fog swirled on the other side of the tree, baffling his sensors and further hampering his view.

“Target retreating. Position unknown. Full weapons lock not guaranteed.” he said over the crew’s comm channel.

“Acknowledged,” came the reply from Shas’ui Sa’cea Vesa, the crew’s communications operator. “Requesting markerlight support. Stand by.” Soo’Mont heard the short, telltale beep as Vesa switched comm channels.

A few seconds later the outline of the Imperial walker reappeared on Soo’Mont’s visor. This time secondary information was relayed and displayed. Shas’ui Sa’cea Yr’Tash, the main pilot, activated the tank’s lateral thrusters, strafing left and opening up a clear line of sight once more. With the aid of the targeting computer and markerlight information streaming to his visor’s view screen, Soo’Mont realigned the skimmer’s turret literally on the fly.

“Target reacquired,” he said, once more flipping the safety switches. “Thank the scouts for their service to the Greater Good.”

The walker’s torso twisted as it’s pilot hastily tried to line up his own shot. A faint point of light appeared in the muzzle of the long barreled weapon mounted on its side. It grew in brightness slightly before disgorging its energy charge. A white hot beam scythed through the jungle, vaporizing the nearby mist in an instant. The panicked shot flew wide and continued past the hammerhead for several hundred feet before it impacted a tree. The trunk exploded several feet above the jungle floor and the rest of the tree, now supported only by ionized air, crashed noisily, yet harmlessly, to the ground.

Soo’Mont calmly made an adjustment to his aim.

With a hydraulic hiss the walker ejected a smoking power cell. Auto-loaders kicked in as the pilot desperately tried to reload his weapon in time.

Soo’Mont took a deep breath and fingered the firing mechanism once more. In a level voice he said over the comm “Opening fir-”

The tank gave a sudden lurch as though a weight had been dropped on it. Something had landed on the tank at great speed. The front end of the tank dipped momentarily before the anti-grav thrusters could compensate for the additional load. Soo’Mont removed his finger from the trigger, his careful aim ruined. He caught a glimpse of something blue-gray and metallic as it flashed across one of the view finders on the tank’s exterior. Whatever it was shimmered slightly as it moved and was gone in an instant.

The weight suddenly lifted and the tank lurched again, this time because half of the thrusters were firing with excessive force. A moment later Soo’Mont’s visor flashed and went dark. He heard Vesa cry out in alarm as his console exploded. The engines gave an almighty scream followed by a loud bang. Yr’Trash screamed something about losing partial thruster power. Soo’Mont was shaken in his seat as half of the tank dropped out of the air. His visor flickered to a static filled approximation life just in time to see the ground rise up to meet him.

The hammerhead drove into the dark jungle soil nose first. The impact slammed Soo’Mont’s face into the fire control console. Without his helmet his skull would have been caved in by impact. As it was he was merely dazed, and his world began to spin even before the tank flipped, tail over nose. He blacked out on the second impact, and was spared the bone shattering experience of being thrashed about the cabin like a doll.

 

Sentinel pilot Malaki Griss of the Polovan 74th visibly sagged with relief as the winged, hawklike figures of the Eldar warriors lept from atop the tan bulk of the Tau skimmer with undeniable grace. A moment later blue flashes peppered the side of the tank, followed by brilliant electrical discharges. Whatever strange payload the Eldar had left had certainly done its job. Malaki grinned as Tau vehicle took a nose dive and rolled several times before crunching to a halt.

Not for the first time Malaki questioned the sanity of his commanding officers in accepting the Eldar’s help. Eldar and Tau, Tau and Eldar. One alien was just as bad as another, as far as Malakai was concerned. Maybe worse, he thought as the tuned set his radio to scan the various comm channels being used by the beleaguered remnants of the 74th. They’d sided with the devil they didn’t know against the devil they did.

On one hand you had the Tau, upstart colonists and enthusiastic empire builders that they were, who had pushed across the entire sub sector in a slow, methodical fashion Malakai had come to expect from the race of blue skinned xenos, reaping conquest after bloody conquest every step of the way. Loathe as he was to admit it, the Tau possessed technologies and firepower far more advanced than the Imperium of Man. They had skimmers, the floating anti-grav engine tanks that could fly above the treetops or zip in between the trunks just above the tangled green floor of the jungle, and graceful armored battle suits, twice the size of any man but still smaller than the bulky walkers of the Imperium. Their vehicles were armed with a staggering array of weapons, from rotating, mutli-barreled plasma cannons and pod mounted missile launchers to the huge, squat rail guns that could send a chunk of depleted uranium across miles of battlefield with pinpoint accuracy. Their foot troops were no less dangerously armed. Long range pulse rifles and shifting camouflage suits that only seemed to wink into view before the squad unloaded a round of superheated energy into a cluster of men and faded again before the dust had settled. Every single aspect of the Tau army was a picture of brutal, mechanized efficiency of the highest order.

And on the other hand you had the enigmatic Eldar, the devil in disguise. Theirs was an ancient and immortal race, long fallen from power before mankind had taken its first steps to the distant stars. Their technology was no less advanced than the Tau, but it where the Tau were brutal, hard and efficient, the Eldar were subtle, majestic and devious. To them battle was an art, a discipline to be mastered, to be embodied and even enjoyed. Unlike the Tau, the Eldar race was incredibly gifted psychically, so much so that the strange energies the bound to their will bordered on sorcerous, even divine, in nature. If the Tau’s military might was a piston, relentlessly pounding away, then the Eldar were a grandfather clock.

Malakai picked up some chatter on the comm that sounded important and tuned the radio in to listen to that channel exclusively. Sgt. Eller’s squad was pinned down by long range fire and close quarters squads were bearing down on their position. That was another thing about the Tau. They weren’t so much a race as a collective. While there was indeed a singular race of xenos known as the Tau, the Tau Empire was actually a collection of many species that had opted for integration rather than destruction. The bulk of the army was Tau, but specialist forces were drawn from every race under the Tau’s umbrella.

 

 

“I thought you said most deserts weren’t covered in dunes.”

A few feet away, Marina shook her head and sighed. This was the fourth time Leo had broached the subject of desert composition since they’d left the small port town of (town name). That had been three days ago. At first it sounded like an innocent question, but now Marina secretly believed that Leo had either begun to suspect the desert of deliberate subterfuge, or was being intentionally annoying. With Leo, she couldn’t be sure of either.
From two camels ahead her uncle, Alberto, who was usually very patient with his son gave an exasperated reply.
“Leopold, I do wish you would listen. I never said that most deserts were devoid of sand dunes. I merely stated that the common conception a desert being a vast sea of dunes was an incomplete one.”
“What’s the difference?” Leo asked after a few moments of silence.

“Some deserts are flat and covered with hard, cracked soil. Others are covered in rocky mountains and barren valleys. I have even heard stories of far off deserts that are desperately cold, where snow persists through the year and biting winds scour all but the heartiest of life from the face of the earth.”

There was another moment of silence.
“So,” Leo began, “what you’re saying is that most deserts aren’t covered in dunes.”
“For the sake of simplicity: yes,” her uncle conceded. “Though I believe that the existence of dunes is not as rare as you seem to believe. And for the last time, your camel’s face away from me.”
Marina looked up. Leo rode just in front of her in the caravan, who in turn rode just behind Alberto. Or at least, he should have been. Right now he rode just behind and to the right of Alberto. He was leaning forward slightly, trying to catch as much shade from the large umbrella that Alberto had mounted to the back of his saddle. It was big, and black, and around the brim gold colored tassels bobbed up and down as the camel plodded along. Even so, to get any shade at all Leo had ridden his camel nearly side by side with Alberto’s, and his camel’s head was just about even with Alberto’s saddle. And Leo’s camel was a spitter.
There had been a short but heated argument about the umbrella. There had been only one at the little merchant stall they’d stopped at just before they left (merchant town), and Alberto had purchased it almost immediately upon spying it amongst the various rugs and vibrantly dyed cloth on display. Leo had been quick to complain. He’d said that since he had inherited his mother’s fair skin, the umbrella should be his.

And it was true. Leopold, who had sandy blonde hair and was a head taller than Marina, did indeed have pale skin while his father and Marina both had dark hair, almost black, and a deep tan to their skin. Her uncle was chief diplomat for the island nation of (name) and had met Leopold’s mother while on a mission to some country in the north. He had stayed too long and had been forced to winter in the foreign land. When the snows lifted the next spring, he returned home with his new bride.

Alberto had won the argument and kept the umbrella. He had put forth three main points. First, He was the king’s emissary, and therefore the most important person in the caravan. Second, young people should respect their elders. And third, sons should respect their fathers. Leo had relented, but now it seemed like he was determined to take the umbrella back one bit at a time.

Not content with his minor victory, Leo pressed on.

“Well, since we picked the one of the few deserts covered in tall, hot hills that tend to give way beneath you without warning…”

“You don’t even like boats.” Alberto snapped.

Even though Marina could only see the back of his head, she knew Leo had an affronted look on his face.

November Challenge: Day 28

Happy Thanksgiving everybody. I just got off a six hour shift and I have about 5 hours before I have to be back at the store for a 10 hour shift (I will not be sleeping before Black Friday starts).

I’m not 100% sure I knew where I was going with this story, so I probably won’t keep it going tomorrow, but I’m going to post it anyway. Let me know if there was anything about it that worked and I’ll try to save it for use on something later. Thanks.

Writing Challenge Day 28 (Untitled)
By E. W. Morrow
Word Count: 2035

“I can’t believe he has his own private island,” Simon said as the small ferry churned its way across the chilly waters of Lake Pinatoba to the small island in the center.

“Had,” corrected Amber, pulling her jacket tighter around herself. “He had his own island. Now you have one.”

“Yeah, but still, I never knew…”

“What, never?” Amber asked, endeavoring to squeeze every last ounce of warmth from her thick woolen coat. “Never visited dear old gramps for the holidays?”

“Nope,” Simon said, a hint of sadness in his voice. “Never even met the man. I think I saw him at the funeral, but it was a long time ago. I was just a kid and, well…”

“You had other things on your mind,” Amber finished.

“Yeah.”

They grew silent after that exchange, content to let the lapping of the water against the prow of the boat and their own misty breathing fill the void. Lake Pinatoba was hardly a lake at all, barely more than a mile across at any given point. According to the locals it was actually the remnants of some ancient crater that had landed in these hills millions of years ago, and looking at it Simon could believe it. It was almost perfectly circular in shape. More of an ovoid really, since the north-western an south-eastern ends tapered slightly where a few streams from the hills above filtered in and replenished the water supply. Simon imagined that from above the entire lake looked like a giant eye with the island in the center representing a pinpoint pupil of some kind.

The island itself was a geographical oddity of it’s own. Word around the watering hole in the nearby town said that it was a super dense collection of dolostone and granite, crushed down by the impact that had leveled the surrounding area and created the lake millions of years ago. Year after year of erosion and weathering had widened the lake slightly and softened it’s edges, and the forest had grown back in and even the rocky clump of land in the center had it’s own tiny ecosystem on it.

Local legend about the island was colorful and varied, as one might expect. It had all manner of nick names and epithets, from “Wizard’s Island” to “Devil’s Horn” and “Angel’s Landing”.

“They say,” Amber said as the ferry neared the ancient wooden dock on the island’s south side, “that late at night you can see lights flickering around the island as far back as the opposite shore.”

“Oh yeah?” Simon said in a distracted tone of voice. “Was this before or after my grandfather built his cabin on the island?”

“Both,” Amber chuckled. “Apparently the legends go as far back as the mid 1800s when the lake was first discovered. Even longer, probably. You’d have to ask the Native American tribes who used to live in these parts. Not many of them left now, I’m afraid.”

“So what are these lights supposed to be?” Simon asked.

“Hard to say. In one legend the island is a sort of siphon, or a trap of some kind, and it catches lost souls. Spirits get funneled in and never escape. Another story says that the impact that made the crater weakened to walls between this world and the next, and things from the other side peek through from time to time.”

“What kind of things?”

“Who knows. Ghosts. Aliens tourists. Demons. Whatever scares you the most, I guess.”

“Huh,” grunted Simon as the boat pulled up alongside the dock. The gnarled old ferryman killed the engine and let the boat coast the last few feet while he made ready to tie the boat off. “Anyone actually see these lights on the island itself?”

“I don’t think so,” Amber said. “But as far as I know the lights are only supposed to appear at night, and apart from your grandfather I don’t think anyone has ever spent the night on the island.”

“Until now, anyway.” Simon said.

“Until now,” Amber agreed.

The old man had finished lashing the boat to the mooring and was waving at them impatiently to disembark. Simon and Amber grabbed their bags and did as they were asked. They had barely stepped on to the damp wooden planks of the ancient dock when the ferryman started untying the boat again. He grumbled something about being back tomorrow to collect them, but when they asked for a specific time the only response they got was “after dawn”. Then the old man swung the small boat out onto the water again and made his way back to the mainland with considerably more haste than he’d shown in getting them there.

“Well,” Simon began, “I guess that’s that.”

“Yes, I suppose it is,” Amber replied. “Let’s get inside before it gets dark.”

The two made their way up the worn dirt path at the end of the dock and up a gentle incline towards the center of the island. The whole island was maybe two hundred meters across but the cabin was supposed to be only thirty or forty meters ahead just beyond the tree line. It took them less than ten minutes at a leisurely pace to scale the steepening incline and round a bend in the woods. The foliage was surprisingly thick for such a small island and the cabin was almost entirely obscured from view until they were nearly upon it.

“Wow,” Simon said as they rounded a second bend and the cabin came into view. “That is not what I was expecting.”

“Me neither.” Amber said.

“You haven’t been here before?” asked Simon, slightly shocked.

“No. I’ve been mostly occupied by settling the more…traditional aspects of your grandfather’s estate. I didn’t have time to make it out here until now.”

“But you must have had some idea,” Simon insisted.

“Well, yes,” Amber admitted. “I was given a description of the cabin’s interior, along with instructions on getting settled, but still, I wasn’t entirely prepared for this.”

The cabin was much larger than any cabin Simon or Amber had ever seen. The stood two stories tall but apparently had a quite spacious attic above one side. The whole thing towered in front of them seemingly out of proportion to the trees surrounding it. The cabin’s face was wide and actually had ornately carved wooden pillars leading up the path to the front door, a path that became cobblestone instead of dirt some twenty-five feet up. The foundation was all hard, blocky stone, apparently from the same material that comprised the bedrock around these parts. The windows were arched in a Gothic style, tall and thin and plentiful. It looked more like a small mansion than the simple log cabin Simon had been expecting.

They made their way up the stone path and up to the massive oak door at the front of the house. It had a large iron knocker affixed to the front but no visible doorknob. Amber, apparently expecting this, simple pushed and the door swung open with a long, loud creak. Inside was dark and shadowy, but Simon could just make out a flight of stairs in the distance and possibly a ring of statues along the walls.

“Welcome,” Amber said as she stepped over the threshold and gestured to the darkness, “to Danefield Manor.” She dropped her bag by the door and fumbled in the darkness to her right for something Simon couldn’t see. He heard the clink of glass and a rustling that sounded like a box of matches and the suddenly a bright, golden light bloomed inside. Amber reappeared holding an old fashioned oil lamp beneath her chin so that it played strange shadows across her face. She smiled what might have been a genuine smile but looked sinister under the effect of the lantern’s flame.

“Let’s get a fire going, and then we can find our rooms,” She said, and then turned and looked around for a moment as if trying to remember where she was going. Simon followed her, desperate not to be left in the manor’s darkened interior by himself.

“We only have to stay one night, right?” Simon asked as they made their way down a gloomy corridor.

“Yes, that’s all the will required. One night in the manor with a duly represented legal official present as a witness.”

“And then I get the money.”

“Yes, the money, the company, and the island.”

“I’m not entirely sure I want the island,” Simon mumbled.

“Why not?” Amber teased. “Think of it as the best pickup line you’ve ever been handed.”

“Oh yeah?” Simon asked.

“Definitely,” Amber said. “All the girls want a guy with their own island.”

“Huh,” Simon said, ignoring Amber’s laughter. “I still can’t believe my grandfather actually stipulated spending a night here. Its so—so…”

“Cliche?” Amber finished, pushing open a door at the end of the hallway that led to a wide chamber of some kind.

“Exactly,” Simon said, relieved he wasn’t the only one who thought so.

“Well,” Amber said, lighting a row of candles to her side, “from what I gather, your grandfather was always rather eccentric. I guess he just decided to accept the fact and revel in it. Would you care to start the fire while I finish giving us some more light?”

It took a few minutes to work open the rust metal grate over the small fireplace and a few more to stack some kindling and small logs inside. It wasn’t until the fire was crackling and popping that Simon even wondered why everything should be so well prepared for them. The kindling was set off to one side of the hearth, a tin bucket of dry twigs sitting on a pile of incredibly old newspapers, and the logs were stacked neatly on the other next to the rack of pokers, smallest logs on the top and bigger ones on the bottom. There was even a box of long stem matches on the mantle above the hearth. Simon said as much to Amber as he stoked the fire.

“Your grandfather was a very neat person,” she said as she took a seat in one of the high backed chairs near the fireplace. “I imagine this place has been kept pretty much static over the past few years.”

“But, this doesn’t seem a little too—planned out to you?” Simon asked, taking a seat in the chair opposite Amber. “It’s like someone came in and set all this up ahead of time.”

“I doubt it,” Amber said, staring into the fire, “but I suppose anything’s possible.”

Simon got out of the chair and made a circuit of the room. It was sparsely but expensively furnished. Along the walls were a few book cases packed with dusty tomes. There was a sideboard off to one side with a crystal decanter set atop a silver tray. Amber liquid glistened in the candle light. Simon had little trouble believing that the cupboards below were full of bottles of very strong, and very expensive, liquor.

“Care for a drink?” Simon asked, uncorking the decanter and giving it a whiff. “Smells like scotch. Probably something else down below.”

“I don’t suppose you’ve got the makings of a gin and tonic, do you?”

“Let me check.” Simon pulled open the cupboard drawer and, just as he thought, found bottles of several types of alcohol. He rummaged around for a moment, bottles clinking, and came up holding two that looked promising. “Well, so long as it hasn’t been opened this should still be good. Never seen tonic water in a glass bottle before.” Simon gripped the top of the bottle and heaved. It gave an enticing hiss as it opened. “Well I’ll be. How do you take it.”

“Pretty strong, usually,” Amber said with a grunt, stretching and rubbing the cold from her limbs by the fire. “It’s been that kind of day.”

“Yes it has,” Simon agreed, helping himself to a glass of scotch. Maybe it was just his imagination, or some residual smell from the other side of the room, but the liquid smelled woody and warm, like a campfire. It made him think of pleasant childhood memories.

November Challenge: Day 27

Really tired, no time to talk. Here’s the words.

Writing Challenge Day 27 (Untitled)
By E. W. Morrow
Word Count: 2007

I love winter. I love everything about it. Which, if you think about it, is strange since I didn’t always love the colder months. In fact, I used to hate them. Imagine that, hating nearly half of the year with every fiber of your being. What kind of a way is that to live? But I hated it. The oppressive, leeching cold. The early sunsets and the lengthened twilight. Everything around me either dead, dying, or struggling for survival. Lonely, desperate holidays invented just to stave off the shadows and the gloom. I distinctly remember hating all of it. Out of all the things I’ve forgotten from the time before the change, it is still a mystery to me that I should remember that one fact above all others.

What was I thinking? Winter is wonderful. It’s divine. Oh, granted I no longer feel the cold and I positively bathe myself in the extra hours of darkness, but it goes beyond that. Winter is the great equalizer, the ultimate arbiter of survival. Adapt or die, that sort of thing. You are never quite so alive as when you’re clinging to life by your fingernails, digging in to the icy shore between life and death and pulling yourself up over that ledge. There is no less vitality in winter than any other season, it is simply more—concentrated. Maybe I never noticed before simply because I couldn’t, not because I wouldn’t. I’m so much more in tune with the living now that I’m dead.

And, of course, it’s also so much easier to hide during the winter months. Everyone scurries to and fro swaddled in layer upon warming layer of cloth and coat, bundled up to the point of obscurity. You can hide anything beneath those layers. A semi-automatic weapon, a wooden stake, an explosive vest. Two tiny puncture wounds just above the nape of your neck, deep purple and violently vivid. Scarves and high collared coats are so much less conspicuous in December than the rest of the year.

Then there’s the hunt. You might say there’s less prey in the winter, but I would counter that less prey makes the hunt more thrilling. Humans tend to stay indoors during the winter months, and those that venture out into the cold tend to huddle together for warmth. It’s a small matter to join the herd, to live amongst the sheep for a moment or two, grinning a wolfish grin behind your stolen wool. A slight nudge is all it takes, barely noticed in the press of bodies, a warm breath on chilled skin, the tremor of excitement at the welcomed and unexpected intimacy, and then a kiss, gently placed on the neck, just above the carotid artery. When the sheep are under winter’s spell you hardly need to bother placing them under one of your own. When you’ve only just released them from their numbness they hardly even notice the prickle of pain as the fangs pierce the flesh. The slight gasp, the pleasure mixed with a dash of pain, is lost amongst the crowd as the wind picks up. The huddled group shares a collective shudder, but only you and your dinner companion are every exactly sure why. You part ways then, head off into the long shadows of the night, and no one even notices you’ve been there at all. Over the next week or so your chosen companion will be sluggish and docile, but the sheep will assume it’s a cold or the flu and say nothing about it as they wear their scarf indoors until the wounds close up and heal.

When I was alive, I hated winter. Now that I’m dead, everything about it is perfect.

 

 

I am going to die.

It’s funny, but I’m almost glad. These past ten years have been nothing but a slow, inevitable slide towards oblivion in any case, and I’ve long since grown weary of the doomed uphill struggle of survival. A great weight bears down on me, on my limbs and on my spirit, and I think it shall be a relief to finally be rid of it. Almost. Some small spark of defiance still sputters inside me, refusing to die. And besides, the screams of the dying are so terrible to hear that I wonder if death could truly come as a relief.

It has been hunting us for days. At least, I think it has. God above, please let there only be one. I don’t know what I would do if more than one of those things existed in this world. What began as a small, barely cohesive community of roughly fifty individuals has been reduced to three. Only three that I know about, at any rate. We were scattered two days ago, and the screams of the dying have not stopped since. They still come, though less frequently than they did, and I am beginning to think that we are the only ones left.

Argus thinks it some kind of troll. One of the fabled mountain yetis, or abominable snowmen, whatever you want to call them. Piotr disagrees. He claims it to be nothing less than the frozen will of the Winter Queen made flesh, sent out into the frozen tunnels and catacombs to sate her capricious desire for death and violence. As for me, I keep my mouth shut. I have no idea what has been hunting us these last two days. I’ve only seen glimpses of it. Lithe and feral, loping along the tunnels like a wolf at times and striding proudly through the gloom on two legs at others. It is fast, so incredibly fast, and I wonder that anything could move that quickly in this never ending cold. The exits have all been sealed by rock slides and walls of ice. We are trapped beneath the earth with the shadowy hunter, and I do not believe any of us will make it out of here alive.

Ten years, it has been ten years since the troubles began, since hardship followed hardship so close behind one another that I’ve scarce had time to contemplate one before another looms to take it’s place. We never saw it coming. The world had become entrenched in technology and innovation and the old stories were forgotten. The end of the world came not from nuclear weapons or bio-terrorism or even from space. When the end came, it came from the past and was shrouded in beauty.

I hardly even remember a time when I didn’t believe in fairies. Intellectually I know that eleven years ago I didn’t, but it’s so hard to imagine that time now, let alone remember it. Some say the Faerie Queens returned, others say that they simply awoke, but everyone agrees that one day, ten years ago, they simply appeared and everything changed.

Deep from the icy reaches of the north came the Winter Queen, and she was beautiful. Pale of skin and white of hair she shimmered like a freshly laid blanket of snow in a new dawn. Her eyes were hard and blue and possessed of hidden depths, like ice bergs floating in a pristine ocean. She called all manner of winter beast to her side, the polar bear and the wolf and the reindeer and the elk, and built herself a towering crystalline palace in the north. She had many names. Mab. Maeve. Aurora. Jadis. The only one she answered to was Queen.

And from the misty, mysterious depths of equatorial rain forest came the Summer Queen. Her skin was dark as mahogany, her hair wreathed in orchids and roses and flowers unknown to man. Her eyes were bright as the sun, yellow and slitted as a panther’s. From bramble and branch she wove herself a sprawling palace of life and beauty, resplendent with gardens and brooks and glens. She, too, had many names. Titania. Lily. Nerida. Eolande. The only one she answered to was Queen.

In the beginning many rejoiced at the coming of the Faerie Courts. Their beauty was undeniable and their power unquestionable. The wonder lasted for less than a year. It surprised a great many people that the immediate threat came not from the North, but from the equator. Millions had flocked to the garden palaces of the Summer Queen, seeming to think that she was the more desirable of the two. The vitality and beauty of Summer was a strong lure to many. No sooner had the first wave of supplicants arrived when the Summer Queen turned violent. All manner of beasts, natural and supernatural alike, poured from the misty depths of the rainforests, driving the humans before them like rodents before a flame. Those that were not trampled or mauled soon fell prey to contagion and disease. All forms of life flourished under Summer’s rule. All forms except the human form, it seemed. The desert lands of Saharan Africa and the Middle East were swallowed by a tide of green and brown in little under a year. Soon a vibrant belt of death ringed the planet.

And so the population of the world retreated from the center of the Earth, seeking the cool, unchanging rule of Winter. But where the danger of Summer had been quick and full of vitality, the perils of the Winter Court were slow and patient. The billions of humans still inhabiting the planet soon found their growing seasons shorter and their stores of food diminished. Not long after the stores of oil and other fossil fuels, rationed from the beginning, began to dry up completely. It was about that time that whole communities began to go dark, bot literally and figuratively. Stories of shaggy beasts roaming the northern tundras began to circulate. In some tales the beasts hunted in packs, in others a single, solitary creature was responsible for wiping out entire villages. Others claimed that the beasts were not beasts at all, but feral men reduced to murder and even cannibalism. Wendigo, they were called.

It makes little difference to me. We retreated down to these tunnels to escape the cold above and the monsters that stalked the blasted tundras and deserted streets. It seems as though the monsters followed us down into the earth. Man or beast or specter or illusion, it makes no difference any longer. We are dying, and that’s all that matters.

The crowning irony is that the old stories were wrong. Either these creatures are not of the faerie realm at all, or the tales about the fae were embellished over the years. In the stories the faerie folk are quick, and devious, and deadly but they have weaknesses as well. Cold iron, magic circles, incantations and runes. All manner of defenses against the trickery and the might of the faerie world are purported to exist and yet none of them work. I still carry an old pry bar at my side, though I have first hand knowledge of it’s impotence when dealing with the faerie beasts. Even the weight of it fails to provide peace of mind any more. It’s just one more problem, one more bit of baggage that I carry along with me without even knowing why. The metal is cold, and I think that is the worst of all. Everything is so incredibly cold that I cannot take it anymore.

Argus and Piotr are beginning to look at me with something like fear in their eyes. At least, I hope it is fear. I can’t even tell the difference between fear and hunger anymore. So often they are the same thing. If they were to attack me now, I don’t think I would even try to resist. Fear, hunger, the will to survive, all of these go hand in hand but I can’t bring myself to feel any of them anymore. I’m numb to the core. Even that tiny spark at the center of my being is cold and dark now. It’s not a beacon of hope, its a grim reminder of all that I’ve lost.

November Challenge: Day 26

Hello all. Thanks for coming back. Fair warning, I’m probably going to start gushing here in a moment. If you are sitting too close to your monitor, be warned, you may be in what we here at the E. W. Morrow blog like to call the “emotional splash zone”.

So, today has been another shining example of how I just need to write even if I don’t feel like it. I started today by continuing yesterday’s story of babysitting gone wrong, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I wasn’t feeling it so much that I stopped writing all together. I went away, ate some dinner, played some Pokemon, and tried to clear my head. Then I came back. I didn’t return to the original story, because I really didn’t know what to write anymore, and I started writing something new. Four or five somethings new, as it seemed. Several ideas were started and scrapped. Half ideas and faint notions that I hadn’t explored in even the most perfunctory sense. They died too young. So I decided to just buckle down and write something. I fell back on an old staple I’ve used a lot this month. I started with a single image, the image of a lonely, boarded up house, beaten by life and imprisoned by neglect, left to rot in the turgid waters of time, and I went with it. I just tried to keep the mood for the whole story, kinda lost it about 2/3 of the way through, and got it back again in the end. In a big way.

And it’s got me to thinking. I really need some perspective on the things I write. Dearly. Incredibly. Incessantly. Unabashedly. I need some distance. I am, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, very hard on myself. I am depressed most of the time and anxious the rest. Sadness and anger seem to be the only emotions I feel anymore. A lot of the time that shows in my work, which isn’t always a bad thing. But I can think of no force on earth, save complete, moronic ignorance of one’s surroundings and abilities, that clouds judgement so completely. I plan on re reading everything I’ve written this month, perhaps trying to revise stories and ideas I thing deserve it, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to. I’m not sure I can take a detached and critical approach to my own work, or even view it with anything other than deep seeded contempt and disgust.

And that’s why I’d really like input from my readers. Please, don’t think of this as a guilt trip, as a cry for help. I know I just went down a dark path with my post in regards to myself, but it wasn’t really to influence, merely to…inform.

I don’t get a lot of comments on my writing. Oh, I’ve had feedback, of a sort, but it’s always vague. General statements and compliments. And, while I don’t want them to stop and I understand on an intellectual level their subliminal importance, they aren’t what I want. I’ve had several people offer to read and critique my work but none of them have panned out. Most of the time it seems people offer and then do their best to ignore me, never going so far as to rescind the offers or even acknowledge difficulties in their fulfillment. This has been…hurtful, to say the least. A few people have read and commented on the stories but, as I’ve said, only in generalities.

I don’t expect everyone to be a scholar or a crack editor. I don’t expect everyone to like my work. Believe me, I know how it feels to go through life barely being able to connect with the things I read and hear, and it frightens me. I shy away from commenting on current events for fear of being dragged into a discussion I didn’t want or plan. But I think that everybody, no matter how well or poorly educated, has the ability to read a work of fiction and have an opinion, a viewpoint, something important to say. I truly want to hear what people have to say about my work because I can’t do it on my own. I’m not writing this for me. Not just for me, anyway. If I thought no one was reading my work I’d be pulling my hair out at the futility of life. Every day I become more and more aware that I cannot function in normal society, in a normal job, but maybe I have it in me to function in an abnormal one.

So, I guess, this is my point. The final summation of my angsty, emotion fueled rant. The very nub of my inevitable gist. Give me a comment. One. Single. Comment. That’s all. A whole month’s worth of comments and I would like one thought, one opinion, one tiny morsel of truth that I have not yet stumbled upon. I don’t expect anyone to read all of the stories I’ve written/abandoned this month, but I’d like to think that everyone who read even a couple had a thought about one of them. If I could get five, ten, a dozen comments, critiques or criticisms, I’d not feel like this time was a waste.

And, not to put too fine a point on it, it would let me know that people weren’t just visiting my blog and clicking “like” on a story they haven’t even read just so I’ll visit theirs and do the same. I’m interested in the quality of views, not the quantity. You have quality in you, I just ask that you share a little with me.

So, with all that out of the way, I give you another day of sub par writing. Let me know what you think. General impressions, what works, what doesn’t, etc… And, as always, thanks for reading.

Writing Challenge: Day 26 (Untitled Pieces)By E. W. Morrow
Word Count: 2106

Nikki didn’t lose consciousness after the fall, but the darkened room did spin unsteadily as she lay on the carpet. She reached up and pulled the sack of Legos from beneath her head and groaned. Nothing felt broken but already she could feel bruises forming on her back and hips where she’d impacted the ground most severely. More than a minute passed before she felt secure enough to sit upright, and then another two before she got to her feet. Staggering over to the doorway she kept her senses well enough not to lift her feet as she went and this time she didn’t take as much care not to kick toys across the room when she nudged them with her toes. She flicked the light switch.

It didn’t turn on. Maybe, she though to herself, the impact of me landing on the floor shook the bulb loose. It wasn’t quite in all the way, after all. But that didn’t do much to explain why the rest of the house was suddenly so dark. Timmy had probably gone through the house turning off all the lights, that would be it. No cause to be alarm.

At the top of the stairs Nikki groped for the panel of switches that controlled lights in the hallway, the stairwell, and the landing below. None of them worked. A moment of panic took hold of Nikki and she frantically tried them all again and again, as though rapidly flicking them up and down might somehow recharge the electricity, cause some spark to illuminate her passage.

From somewhere downstairs, probably the kitchen, the sound of a cupboard being opened squealed through the empty house. A second later the cupboard banged shut and another creaked open. This continued unabated for several minutes.

“Timmy!” Nikki shouted down the stairs. “Timmy stop this right now! I’m already going to tell your mother about what you’ve done, don’t make it harder on yourself!”

The sound of the cupboards ceased, and silence reigned once again. Slowly, one step at a time, Nikki descended the stairs. Her phone was in her hand, mercifully undamaged from the fall, and she held it in front of her like a shield. The tiny screen barely seemed to illuminate the space in front of her for more than a few feet, and the color of the background image colored everything in a reddish-purple light, but it was better than nothing. A few steps up from the bottom of the stairs she paused and panned the screen across the room, shining light into every possible corner she could. There was nothing but shadows and darkness.

Still holding the phone in front of her, Nikki almost fell again as she climbed down the last few steps. Her foot missed the second to the last one and she barely managed to grab on to the banister in time. From the darkness to her left she thought she heard the sound of laughter.

“This isn’t funny Timmy,” she said to the shadows as she regained her feet. Now that she was on ground level again and had a pretty good idea of where the little trouble maker was hiding, she moved with a bit more confidence.

She rounded the corner at the end of the entry hallway and took another left, toward the living room and the kitchen beyond. Just as she made the turn, and without any warning at all, something darted into the reddish light of the cell phone. It was short, and plump, and looked a lot like Timmy. It was in its pj’s, and wore a red and black mask. And maybe that was all it was. Maybe it was only the faint, shifting light from the cell phone that made the masked face look like it had a snarling, dagger filled mouth. It was possible that the chittering snarl the thing made as it swung the baseball bat at her was just the sound of Timmy’s laughter. It was so hard to tell over her own scream.

The tip of the bat collided with the fingers of Nikki’s left hand. White hot pain flashed across her vision and arced along her body. Something punctured the flesh between the bones of her hand and nicked the fingers and skin to either side. The phone went flying into the sitting room to her right, spun a few times as it went and crashed against the wall. In the final moments of strobing, rotating light before the screen cracked and went out Nikki could just make out the glittering points of nails sticking through the wood of the baseball bat. The Timmy-thing in front of her dropped let go of the bat’s handle and scampered off into the living room.

 

 

A lonely brick building with boarded up windows. A door wrapped in yellow tape. Condemned sign hanging limply from a single bit of weathered tape. Months of bills, overdue notices, final demands and eviction notices mouldering in a rust letterbox on the porch. This is all that remains of my childhood home.

The concrete steps crumble a little beneath my feet as I climb back down them. I walk backwards and nearly trip over a clump of weeds poking through a paving stone on the walkway. Much like the house and driveway the front yard has fallen into disrepair. Somehow I remember the lawn being a lush, green carpet that needed mowing every weekend from spring all the way through autumn, but now the dusty soil only supports prickly yellow stalks with the occasional patch of crabgrass defying even time’s best efforts to eradicate it.

The wind picks up and blows across the disheveled property, bringing with it the motley sounds of a dying neighborhood with it. A few dog bark and howl in the distance. The drone and buzz of insects rises and falls in waves of lazy, indifferent existence by habit. That’s all this place is anymore, just a bunch of people and things going on as they always had because failing to do so was too much work. But the march of time and the patient forces of entropy and decay wear everything down in time. Houses. People. Memories.

But not me. I escaped the rot and the stagnation. I got out of here while I could. For twenty-seven years that’s what I told myself. I’d escaped and I was never going back. It’s just a bit of bad luck that had brought me back, and soon I’ll be done with it.

That’s what I tell myself.

God damn those property developers. A couple of no good, money grubbing, spit shining grease balls who surround themselves with do-gooders and yes men. They can’t revitalize this neighborhood. Why even bother. Sure, the crime’s low and there’s basically no graffiti, except what hasn’t faded over the decades, but there’s a reason for that. This place is a pit that even the gangs and the drug dealers are too smart to fall into. Greed makes fools of us all, it seems.

I head back to my car, barely stopping to look around as I pop the trunk and pull my pack of tools out and sling it over my shoulder. No one’s watching, so why bother to check. But I do check when I pull out the last few items, the ones too big to fit in the pack and, coincidentally, the ones most likely to cause alarm if seen. Just a pick and a long handled spade. Fuck me but I wish I owned a hoe or a metal rake, something a little less conspicuous than a fucking mining pick. But I don’t, and I need something to break up the soil unless I want to be here all night, which is the last thing in the world I want to have happen. Even more than being caught, than my ultimate goal be discovered and subsequently uncovered, I do not want to be here when the sun rises. If the light finds me here, and this place becomes aware of my presence, I don’t think I’ll ever escape it again.

Time to get to work then. I close the trunk of my car silently and make my way to the side of the house. I dump the bag on the other side and quietly lay the larger tools beside it, letting the wooden handles fall the rest of the way to the dusty soil when I can’t reach down all the way. With my luck the hinges on the gate have rusted, and the last thing I want is the sound of squealing metal alerting some nocturnal listener in one of the nearby houses to my presence. I take a few steps back and get a bit of a run up to the fence, placing one hand on a sturdy looking metal post as I leap over the chain link barrier. I’d done it a hundred times before and my muscles remember the actions. I land silently, if a bit awkwardly, and collect my things before I continue on.

I’m in for a bit of a scare when I round the side of the house and make it to the back yard proper. Two scares, as it happens. The first scare is the first impression of the yard. It is a decidedly treeless impression. All of my calculations, all of my planning, everything about tonight’s operation was based on the large oak tree that had been in the back yard. Without it I won’t be able to orient myself properly. I won’t be able to measure my paces from it. I won’t know where to dig.

I drop my bag in anger, fighting the urge to throw it across the dusty, crabby lawn and scream out in rage. I settle for swinging the pick in a wide arc, relish the feel of it as it bites into the dirty brown soil with a thump. Then I take a deep breath.

It’s a little known fact that the human eye sees things better at night when it doesn’t look directly at them. The cells in the center of the eye, the cones, are tuned for color and sharpness of vision, two things it’s hard to come by at night. The rods, the cells that make up most of the eye and which are situated mainly towards the edges, are what pick up shades and values. So if you were, for instance, standing on a barren plot of land, hands on your knees, coming down from a fit of rage, you would be more likely to notice, say, a withered and charred stump sticking out of the ground and shrouded by weeds than you might have been a moment ago.

That’s how I notice the stump. It isn’t very much, just a few feet tall and, like I said, covered by weeds and creepers so that it blends almost seamlessly into the background of ivy and shrubs along the back fence. I sign in relief and turn to gather my things. That’s when I get my second scare.

In front of me is the old dog house my father and I built when I was just a boy. I say we built it, really I just held things while he hammered and sawed, handed him tools when he asked for them and stayed quiet when he didn’t. We got a dog the very next weekend. It ran away a week later, and I didn’t even remember it’s name, but a month or so after that we got another dog, named it Max, and painted it’s name on the dog house just above the door.

And here is the dog house. I can still make out the letters, just visible beneath the grime and dirt that have been caked on over the years. And inside, I see Max. The rage I felt before at the missing tree returns, fully laden with acidic guilt and cloying sadness. It’s not all of Max, obviously. Just bones and a little glint where his name tag catches the moonlight. How long has he been here, I wonder? How long did he wait after I’d gone? Did they even feed him? Probably not. Nobody even cared enough to have his remains taken away. They’d just left him.

Something else stirs inside me and I bite it back. I bite all of it back. The tears, the remorse, the anger, even the searing, painful hatred I have for this house and this neighborhood. This is how it gets me, I think. This is how it traps me. Strength now, sadness later.

November Challenge: Day 25

I am most likely going to continue this story tomorrow. Either that, or I will rewrite parts of it and the continue it. I’m not sure which one yet. I’m going to re-read it after a night’s rest and see if I think the build up is too slow, or not slow enough. Or a bit of both (i.e. certain parts are too long while others are just glossed over). Either way, I’ll almost certainly be focusing on this story for at least another day. Babysitting gone wrong, gotta love it.

Writing Challenge Day 25: Babysitter (Working Title)
By E. W. Morrow
Word Count: 2081

“Oh, perfect timing,” Mrs. Gruberman gasped as she opened the front door. “Please, dear, come in, come in. How are you?” Nikki stepped inside, brushing a few flakes of snow off her jacket as she did and stomping her boots on door mat.

“Fine, Mrs. G. Thanks.” Nikki began mirroring Mrs. Gruberman’s actions, only in reverse. She unwound her scarf from around her neck and slipped off her heavy coat as Mrs. Gruberman put on her own coat and scarf. “Is Timmy feeling better?”

“Oh, he’s still a bit under the weather, but nothing like as bad as he was last week.” Mrs. Gruberman gave Nikki a wide smile. Everything about Mrs. Gruberman seemed wide, from her smile to the car she drove to her figure. She was an expansive person. “Now there’s ice cream in the freezer if you fancy a snack, or popcorn if you and Timmy feel like watching a movie. You have our cell numbers in case anything happens. Candles in the hall closet if the power goes out, heaven forbid. Charles, are you ready yet?!” This last question was hurled down a wide hallway towards an open door at the far end. The sound of a football game and the flickering lights of a television came back in reply. “Charles, you can watch the game later. Put it on the DVR. We’re going to be late!”

Nikki heard Mr. Gruberman grumble in reply and turn off the television. A few moments later he rounded the corner and waddled down the corridor, pulling on his shoes just as Nikki was removing her own. Mr. and Mrs. Gruberman, each a foot shorter than Nikki, looked like two brown puff balls in their winter coats and hats.

“Timmy!” Mrs. Gruberman yelled up the stairs behind her. “Miss Nikki is here! Come and give us a kiss goodbye!” From the second floor came a muffled shout that was probably something like “Not now” and then Mr. Gruberman yelled back “Mind your mother, boy!”

A few seconds later a short, chubby child in a one piece set of blue and green dinosaur pajamas and a black and red super hero mask Nikki didn’t recognize bounded down the steps. Behind him trailed a deep red bath towel that had been tied around his neck like a cape. He came crashing to a halt at the foot of the stairs just short of the legs of his mother and father then he stood up straight and struck his most heroic pose. His parents laughed.

“I see you’re feeling better,” Mr. Gruberman said. “Well enough to clean your room I suppose?” Timmy shook his head emphatically.

“Oh, Charles, let him leave it til tomorrow,” said Mrs Gruberman, idly slipping on her gloves. “Now Timmy, you be a good boy for Miss Nikki, okay? You can have a snack in an hour or so but only if you’re good and go to bed when you’re told.” Timmy nodded his head in affirmation. “Good boy. Give us a kiss.” Timmy didn’t remove his mask and instead took the index finger on one hand and pressed it to where his lips would be on the mask he wore. “Oh, alright then,” sighed his mother. She pecked him on the mask and chuckled to herself. His father did likewise, taking a moment to ruffle the hair on the back of his head.

“Have fun,” Nikki said as she waved them out out of the house. She shut the door hurriedly after they were in their car to keep out the cold. “Well, then,” she said as she turned around, “do you want to watch a movie, Timmy?” Once again Timmy shoot his head no. “Okay, how about a game?” Another nonverbal negative. “Well, alright. I’ll be in the living room if you need me.”

The boy didn’t leave right away. He just stood on the bottom step and watched Nikki leave the entry way, waited until he heard the television in the living room turn on and the channel change a few times, and then reached up and straightened his mask. Then he slowly went upstairs, shut the door, and waited for the sun to completely set.

 

It was an hour later and Nikki still hadn’t found anything good to watch. A bunch of reality show reruns and old, commercial infested movies. There were a few bad action movies and a rom-com she had seen a dozen times before and had never particularly liked in the first place. Outside the sky was just losing the last of its color, the darkness of night reclaiming the world for the time being. She sighed and checked her phone. The Gruberman’s would be gone for hours. After the movie they planned to go out with some friends and have a few drinks. Nikki didn’t mind. Every time they did that they always miscalculated her fee, and always in her favor.

From the floor above there came the sound of a loud thump followed by something heavy being dragged across a carpeted floor. Nikki jumped slightly at the unexpected noise. Timmy had been extremely quiet, so far, and she’d almost forgotten he was in the house at all. At least it didn’t sound like he’d hurt himself. More like he’d pulled something heavy off a tall shelf and was now dragging it to wherever it was he was playing. She went back to flipping channels again, but stopped when a second thump, this time followed by a series of smaller ones and possibly a crunch or a snap or some sort, resounded through the ceiling.

“Timmy!” Nikki called as she got to her feet. “Everything alright up there?”

The sounds from upstairs stopped abruptly. No more dragging, no more thumps.

“Timmy! Did you hurt yourself?” Silence was the only answer. She made her way across the living room and into the entry hallway. At the foot of the stairs she called out again. “Timmy, is everything okay up there? Do you need anything?”

This time the answering silence was short and then was interrupted by the scamper of feet and the slam of a door. Then more silence.

“Timmy!” Nikki called in an exasperated tone of voice as she started climbing the stairs. “Come on now, I just want to make sure you’re alright. You aren’t in trouble.”

At the top of the stairs was an open space that the Gruberman’s used as a computer room and storage space. An old, boxy computer monitor gathered dust on a modular IKEA desk in the corner. Along the walls bookshelves full of mouldering National Geographics and a set of dated encyclopedias fought for space with filing cabinets and a credenza full of what Nikki assumed were important family documents like birth certificates and tax forms. At the end of the room was a single hallway that veered off to the left at a right angle. Nikki turned the corner and made her way to the end of the hall, past three other doorways, to Timmy’s bedroom door. It was shut tight and Nikki could tell the light was off. He turned the handle, pleased to find that it wasn’t locked, and pushed it open.

“Timmy,” she said as she fumbled for the light switch. “are you in here? You aren’t hurt are you?”

The room was dark, lit only by a pale, silvery glow from whatever nightly light was reflecting off the fresh bed of snow on the ground below. All the light did was to throw vague shadows and hints of shape around the room, seemingly at random. Nikki found the light switch and flicked it on with a sigh of relief that vanished when the light bulb winked on and then popped and winked back out. The sudden flash of light left its afterimage on her eyes, temporarily rendering the room even less visible than before.

“Come on Timmy,” she said, alternating between opening her eyes as wide as they would go and screwing them shut to rub them. “Just let me know that you’re alright.

Behind her she heard a door creak open suddenly followed once more by the sound of scampering feet. She turned around quickly, catching the barest glimpse of a pajamaed foot as it disappeared around the corner and down the stairs.

“Oh, I see!” Nikki called after the retreating figure in a long, sing song voice. “Hide and seek, is it? So you do want to play! Well alright then. You have until I finish changing the light bulb in your room, and then I’m gonna find you!”

Nikki descended the stairs, listening for the telltale sounds of a little boy, especially a chubby little boy, cramming his way into a hiding space. She thought she heard a faint rustling coming from the left, somewhere in the living room or dining room most likely, but wasn’t positive. She smiled to herself and opened the hall pantry by the bottom of the stairs, fished around for a moment and then pulled out a new light bulb, still wrapped in it’s impotent cardboard protector. Then she climbed the stairs again, grabbed the old metal folding chair from beside the dusty computer, and dragged it into Timmy’s bedroom.

Nikki cursed under her breath as she made her way across the little boy’s room. It was indeed messy, and she found herself wishing that Mrs Gruberman had listened to her husband and made Timmy clean it tonight instead of putting it off til tomorrow. After stepping on the second toy, a pointy bit of plastic that felt like it belonged to a toy tank or monster truck, she resorted to shuffling her way across the carpet without picking up her feet, kicking aside discarded toys rather than treading on them. She set up the folding chair beneath the shadow of the ceiling fan in the center of the room and got unsteadily on it. Her free arm flailed in the dark as she struggled to find the light fixture. Finally, she found it and, after a moment or two of repositioning herself, unscrewed it. She left it part of the way in so that she could find the fixture again the second time as she transferred the new bulb to her dominant hand. Slowly, she guessed her way back to the spent bulb.

Metal tinkled against glass as the new bulb collided with the old. The old bulb, less secure in the fixture than Nikki had thought, was sent plummeting down. It bounced off her foot painlessly and went tumbling into the dark room. Oh well, she though, just one more bit of junk on the floor, I’ll find it later. She groped for the now vacant hole and managed to socket the new bulb in on the third try and screwed it in.

About halfway through the act the bulb flared to life six inches from Nikki’s face. Brilliant incandescence poured in through her expanded pupils in a painful blinding flood. Nikki jerked her face back, almost unbalancing herself on the shaky perch of the old metal chair. With her eyes closed she reached out for the light bulb, eager to finish tightening it before it grew too hot to touch.

So engrossed in her task was she that she didn’t hear the scamper of little feet behind her, or the faint sound of something being dragged across the carpet. Not until it was too late. She opened her eyes, still partially blinded by the flood of light after minutes in darkness, but she saw a masked, pajama clad figure in the corner of her eye, saw the blur of motion as it swung the object in it’s hands, and felt the object, which turned out to be a baseball bat, strike her on the ankle.

Nikki’s body lurched as the weight on that ankle suddenly became too painful to bear and the sudden motion coupled with the change of balance sent the chair beneath her feet toppling. She landed on hard on the carpet below, her head mercifully missing the edge of the dresser as she fell but not the bag of Lego building blocks below it. Her elbow landed on a Power Rangers action figure and a small gash opened up. The rest of her hit nothing more than floor, which proved solid enough in it’s own right to be agonizingly painful.

Then the light above her went out, and the sound of feet receded into the distance.

November Challenge: Day 24

Hello all. Not a whole lot to say today. Still really sick. The only difference today is that I no longer have the deep, many voice of a late night smooth jams radio DJ. Instead I sound more like Bobcat Goldthwait out of breath.

I’m noticing one thing about my writing recently. I’m not really discouraged by having to write consistently every day, which is good. What I am doing, though, is treating it more like a school assignment, constantly checking my word count, possibly avoiding long stretches of dialogue that might slow my progress down. I will be making a concerted effort in the coming days to avoid writing solely for volume because I feel like my quality is slipping a little as a consequence. I’m going to focus more on taking the story where it needs to go, where it should go. I think I’ve not been doing that as much lately. I’m still going to write 2,000 words a day, but I’m going to try to make them the “right” 2,000 words, if that makes any sense.

Today’s entry is a bit of a sci-fi horror thing. I may or may not have stolen the idea from another story I’ve read before. It’s a pretty common troupe though. Scientists on an alien planet, accompanied by soldiers, exploring and experimenting. They start being hunted by the local wildlife. Etc… It’s just what I felt like writing today.

Writing Challenge: Day 24 (Untitled)
By E. W. Morrow
Word Count: 2119

The hunter slipped from one shadow to another, barely stirring the pebbles underfoot as it went. It kept itself low to the ground, spreading it’s weight across its legs and letting its natural camouflage keep it hidden in the space between. What appeared to most to be a flat, barren waste punctuated by smoldering mounds of rubble was a perfect playground for the hunter.

Up ahead, maybe two hundred meters, it could sense prey. It had followed the trail for hours, tongue darting out to sniff at the depressions in the dust and rocks that the prey had left, the smell of meat like a fluorescent invitation hanging in the air before it. It was so close now that the hunter could sense tiny vibrations traveling up from the rocky soil into the pads of its feet and hands. The spines on the hunters head and back quivered in excitement and it made a conscious effort to calm itself. After a moment the quills settled and the sound of them rubbing against one another, a sound like sand running through an hourglass, subsided. The hunter slithered out of its shadow and moved to the next, its body so low its stomach pressed against the ground. It flicked its tongue out one more time, tasted the meat-scent of the prey up ahead, and slunk off after it.

 

Sargent Major Kent Brixton puffed his cigar as though he were in a cigar smoking race. He only smoked cheap, mass produced cigars these days, with the occasional hand rolled import on special occasions, such as his birthday or the incredibly rare weekend leave. When he got agitated, or impatient, or excited he tended to take long puffs and expel them quickly before going back in for another so that the smoke spent barely any time at all in his lungs or mouth. When the cigar was just a nub he tended to extinguish it but leave it in his mouth so he had something to chew on for a bit. Right now, Sargent Brixton was very agitated indeed.

“Excuse me, Sargent, but would you mind putting that cigar out? Or at least smoking it upwind of our current position? It’s contaminating our samples.”

Brixton glared at the thin, aging man with the thick glasses and shiny plastic clipboard who was giving him a quite impressive glare of his own. Brixton had met drill Sargents who could learn a thing or two about intimidation from the little man.

“Today,” said the spectacled man, “if you don’t mind, Sargent.”

Sargent Brixton didn’t respond. He simply stood, shouldered his rifle and sauntered off to find another rock to sit on. As he passed the little man he made sure to blow a stream of smoke as close to his face and to the complicated instrument at his side as possible. The little man coughed and sputtered.

“Really now, Sargent, you were briefed on my medical condition. Please try to be more careful.”

Brixton decided that he might have been more inclined to listen to the man if he didn’t have such a high pitched, needling sort of voice. Forgetting for a moment that it rankled him to have to take orders from civilians it was a damn disgrace that he had to take them from a civilian like Kreiger. The rest of the troopers ringed around the perimeter of the crater snickered as the little man sputtered and wiped the thick lenses of his glasses in disgust. A few more scientists gathered around the cluster of sensors and computers in the center of the crater and began to take new readings. One of them, a pretty young girl with long brown hair smiled at him briefly before jotting something down on her own clipboard. Brixton puffed his cigar a little faster.

This whole detail was a joke, Brixton thought. This whole planet was as shit hole. It was too close to the system’s asteroid belt and seemed to get pelted by rocks every forty or fifty years it seemed. The only things on the planet that seemed to survive were the giant fungal growths that settled in the valleys and lowlands of the planet’s pock marked surface and around it’s poles, and a few rodent and insect-like creatures that scurried away whenever they heard the crunch of boots on dusty soil. They wouldn’t even be here if the giant mushrooms didn’t appear to be some evolutionary jackpot. Millenia of constant asteroid and occasional comet impact had altered the atmosphere of the planet, and with it the planet’s flora. The mushroom growths that seemed to be the full extent of this flora were now the biological equivalent of a Hoover. They scrubbed the thick, poisonous atmosphere so efficiently that it was possible to breathe on the planet’s surface most of the time.

Possible, but not enjoyable, Brixton thought as he mouthed the plastic tube by his left shoulder and breathed in a fresh lungful of pure oxygen. It was a bit like climbing a mountain with oxygen support, except instead of thin the air felt too thick. Thick and dirty.

Brixton understood why the planet was of interest to the scientific community. Even he could see the importance of learning from the planet’s peculiar circumstances. Air filtration was vital to space travel, and if it was possible to learn to increase efficiency from the pulpy, misshaped fungoids on some tiny dust ball in the middle of nowhere, then a tiny dust ball in the middle of nowhere was where someone would have to go. What Brixton didn’t understand was the need for an armed, military escort. Surly there was some private security firm who could handle a simple operation like this.

 

The hunter slithered to the lip of the next crater slowly. The prey was in there, it knew. The quills on the back of its head shook once more but ceased almost immediately as the hunter forced them to lie flat against its skin. It flicked it’s tongue over the rocky edge. The prey was close, but not too close. Slowly the hunter peeked it’s head over the lip until it had a good view of the entire crater and then froze. To any casual observer the part of the hunter’s head now visible above the rim of the crater was just another misshapen rock, its scales the same gray color as the rock and rubble around it, its two eyes just strangely regular divots in the otherwise normal rock face.

Down in the crater were nine figures. They were all bipedal and perhaps twice as large as the hunter. Four of the creatures appeared to be making no attempt to conceal themselves, shrouded as they were in long white garments and shuffling around the crater in noisy haste. The other five were only marginally better. They were partially, if inexpertly, camouflaged in appearance, though the hunter reasoned that this was not their natural coloration, merely additional material chosen consciously. This fact, coupled with the strange devices that the figures in white seemed so interested in, told the hunter that these creatures possessed some level of intelligence. Not much, given their inability to conceal themselves on a hostile world, but enough that the hunter realized on some basic level to treat them with caution. Especially the partially camouflaged ones with the black metal sticks. The hunter was not entirely sure what those objects were, but it recognized a weapon when it saw it.

As it watched, one of the figures in white made a sound with its mouth. Another answered it and gestured off to one side without looking up. The hunter also recognized language when it saw it. The figure that had spoken first, a shorter, rounder specimen than the others around it, put down whatever it was holding and made his way toward the edge of the crater, slightly in the direction of the hunter. The hunter almost recoiled, fearing it had been spotted, but none of the other figures made to move along with it. In fact, one of the camouflaged figures stood firmly in the other’s way, glaring at it as it edged its way between the man’s weapon and a lump of stone. The plump figure in white crested the lip of the crater barely ten meters from the hunters position but didn’t appear to see it. Then he made his way down the slight hill surrounding the crater and a short way further until it disappeared behind a particularly large pile of rubble.

The hunter’s quills vibrated again as it backed away from the crater’s edge and towards the isolated prey.

 

“Where’s Robertson?” Kreiger asked, looking up from his work for the first time in several minutes.

“Went to take a piss,” Brixton replied, idly chewing on the end of his spent cigar.

“And yet I see you found it prudent not to accompany him,” chided the scientist.

“If you wanna hold your people’s hands while they take care of nature’s business, be my guest.” Brixton sighed.

“They probably need it, eh Sarge?” This comment came from one of the soldiers on the other side of the crater. Brian Willowby chuckled and winked at Brixton, basking in the snickers of the other soldiers.

“That’s enough, Private.” Brixton said before Kreiger, already sputtering a reply, could protest. “If I remember correctly, you were a little damp the first time you saw action.” This got another, louder, chorus of laughs from the men in uniform. Even the scientists smirked a little.

“Well maybe if you’d have held my hand like I asked I wouldn’t have,” Willowby said in mock anguish. Say what you like about the little shit, Brixton thought, but he could take a joke about as well as he could give it.

Kreiger looked as though he were about to make some biting remark about the situation or the lack of decorum from the soldiers, but one of the machines at his side started beeping furiously and he soon lost all interest in the soldier’s conversation. The scientists went back to taking measurements and fiddling with knobs and dials and the soldiers back to hurling insults and spitting in the dirt. Brixton fished another cheap cigar out of his breast pocket and lit it up, making sure to keep the lighter away from the oxygen tube as he did.

 

The hunter slid silently onto a ledge overhanging the secluded refuge the fat man had chosen to relieve himself. The man hummed to himself and cast a few nervous glances around as he tried to do his business. The hunter waited patiently for the sound of liquid falling on the ground before he started moving. The fat man was obviously not used to his surroundings and his nerves were getting the better of him. It took nearly a minute for a steady stream to start, and even then the hunter waited a few seconds before it moved. It’s quills were vibrating now, and it was so caught up in the thrill of the hunt that it couldn’t quiet them. Normally the hunter would have been able to control itself, but these things were something new, and it always loved killing something new.

The hunter edged its way forward, mid and hind legs gripping the rock face, coiled and ready to spring should the prey become aware of its presence and bolt. Luckily for the hunter then twin sounds of the humming and the stream of liquid hitting the hard earth masked the sand-like sound of the vibrating quills. The hunter’s fangs, already dripping venom, slid from their sheathes in its mouth, joining the rows of solid, curved teeth that permanently ringed its maw. One bite was all it would take. The fangs would sink into the prey’s flesh, pumping neurotoxins into the bloodstream, while the rest of the teeth hooked the skin and clamped the victim in an inescapable death grip.

Suddenly, the sound of urination ceased and the fat man gave a sigh of relief. He arched his back and took a deep, labored breath. Then he opened his eyes and saw the hunter less than a foot away. He didn’t even have time to scream before the hunter pounced, sinking it’s fangs into his jugular and clamping a strong, scaly hand over his mouth. The toxins worked their way quickly through his body and into his brain, paralyzing him in less than a minute. His legs gave way and he slumped over. He couldn’t feel pain anymore, but he was horribly aware of the first few bites that the hunter took from his ample midsection. He passed out from lack of blood long before the toxin wore off.

November Challenge: Day 23

Hey all. No time to chat today. Parents in town to visit and I have a long day of work later, so I got my writing done early. Sorry I had to leave it off before the end, but I gotta jet. Maybe I’ll finish it tonight before I go to bed. Thanks for reading.

Writing Challenge Day 23 (Untitled)
By E. W. Morrow
Word Count: 2020

Barton Kline slung his pack over his shoulder and made his way down the gangplank, his thick soled boots clanging on the slightly rusty iron plates as he went. He made his way down the ramp quickly, eager to pass the space between the skiff’s two main thrusters, still pregnant with residual heat from flight and landing procedures. Various men in heavy heat resistant coveralls and safety helmets were already swarming around the ship, clamping down the landing gear and bringing loading drones in to restock and refuel the small spacecraft. That was one of the perks of being a noble, Barton though. Everyone always scrambled to obey as quickly as possible.

Which was why Barton had to get clear of the landing platform and into the bowels of the station proper before the rest of the minimal crew finished the post flight safety checks and Mr Bigshot Important Noble Man was roused from his nap. Nobles were not used to being denied, but Barton had no intention of leaving with the ship when it was scheduled to depart six hours from now. He’d signed on for the full duration of the trip out of necessity, not honesty. A station like this was bound to be crawling with able bodied men with naval experience. Surely one of them would be sober enough for the final leg of the journey.

Barton wound his way through the deck crews, supply crates, freight loaders and refuel and repair drones and headed straight for the nearest exit. Years of service in both the Confederation Navy and civilian shipping industries had given him an almost preternatural ability to navigate everything from the busiest landing ports to the most remote space stations with relative ease. By the time the first of his recent companions had disembarked the nobleman’s skiff he’d been off the dock for five and a half minutes. It was another two hours before anyone realized his bunk was turned down and his personal effects were missing. When the skiff left four hours later, Barton had been replaced by a scraggly but sober man with a slight limp and one augmetic arm who smelled faintly of chewing tobacco but seemed to know his way around a ship.

By that point, Barton was already dead.

 

After his hasty retreat from the landing pad Barton made his way toward the seediest portion of the station he could find. It wasn’t hard for a well traveled man like him. All stations tended to be the same. All you had to do was find out where the local centers of law enforcement were and find the bar, tavern, or other suitable rat hole that was as far as possible from all of them. Since most of the time stations advertised such centers of law and order, or at the very least provided maps to find them, it was as good as having an personal guide to sin and vice.

Port Fairwind was no different. It was only a medium sized station, a bustling port by the standards of a smallish star system more than 10,000 light years spinwards of the Confederation Homeworlds, so Barton had few places to check before he found what he was looking for.

It was a fairly large tavern by anyone’s reckoning located at the ass end of the station’s main entertainment district. The district itself occupied three decks and the tavern had expanded to encompass all three and probably much of the real estate to either side. There were obvious signs, if you knew to look for them. The place was generally cleaner than the places around it. Someone regularly took a power scrubber to the metal paneled front of the tavern, swept up cigarette buts and carted away beer bottles and snuff tins. Three tall, burly men in sunglasses and loose fitting clothing played cards at a table by the main entrance on the bottom deck. Barton noticed the telltale bulges of barely concealed weapons underneath their jackets. And, of course, there was the constant roars and cries of the tavern’s patrons reveling in wild abandon at two o’clock in the afternoon, station time, with no regard payed to outside events such as time of day or even day of the week. The tavern might be a long way away from the law, but it had it’s own system of order that made it unmistakeable.

Barton made his way inside, sidestepping a few drunks and pulling himself away from the clutches of busty women in old fashioned bodices and pounds of rouge, and headed straight for the bar. He ordered a shot of whiskey but drank it slowly as he glanced at his surroundings. It was pretty standard, as far as he could see. The main floor was dedicated to the drinkers and the gamblers. At every table there seemed to be a stack of faded chips and a group of greasy men holding fistfuls of cards while trying to to leer in triumph or grimace in despair. The bar, and several of the shadier, more remote booths, were home to the heavy drinkers, those so lost in despair or self-loathing and short on coin that not even the ladies of questionable virtue bothered to flirt with them.

From the main bar it was easy enough to see up to the second floor. It was lined with doors all around, many of them shut but enough of them open that Barton’s imagination had little trouble figuring out what went on inside. Even if they had been shut, the constant stream of scantily clad women and staggering men entering and leaving them painted a clear enough picture for a blind man to see. The third floor was a mystery, but Barton had a pretty good idea of what went on up there, and knew that he was going to have find his way up there before too long. He downed the rest of the drink in one go and turned back to the bartender.

“Same again,” he said, waving his glass with one hand and a folded bill with two fingers of the other. The bartender stopped polishing a mug and picked up a bottle. Halfway through pouring it Barton extended the rest of the fingers of his money hand, revealing a substantially larger wad of cash. “And perhaps some information, if you’d be so kind.”

“Depends on what you wanna know,” the man said, the cash disappearing behind his apron just as the liquid reached the top of the shot glass.

“Just looking for someone. Pretty sure you’d know if you’ve seen her. Recognize her?” Barton downed the whiskey and then reached inside his jacket. He saw the bartender clench his fists as a reaction, but release them again as he pulled out a simple photograph. It was bent down the middle but the face in it was quite visible.

“This some kind of joke?” asked the bartender, screwing up his piggy eyes in confused concentration.

“Do I look like I’m laughing?” Barton asked, just as serious as before.

“Didn’t say it was a good joke, did I?” the barman retorted. “It’s a pretty bad one if you ask me.”

“Funny thing,” Barton said, “is that I didn’t ask you. What I did ask you was whether or not you recognized her. Do you, or don’t you?”

“Course I bloody recognize her,” barked the barman. “And if you don’t you must be new here.”

“Pretty new,” Barton assured him. “Can you tell me where she is?”

The barman stared at Barton intently for a moment. He liked his job. He was well paid and if anyone started any trouble in the tavern then the three kind men outside would make sure that the trouble was taken outside. Sometimes in pieces, but they always cleaned up afterward. The boss didn’t mind him making a bit of cash on the side, so long as it didn’t interfere with business. This stranger, however, was dangerously close to falling into that second category, and it was more than his job was worth to let him keep poking his nose around. But it was basically common knowledge, and there was something else about the stranger, something on the tip of the barman’s tongue.

“You know,” he said eventually. “That picture ain’t the only thing that looks familiar. I seen you somewhere before?”

“Not exactly,” Barton said.

“You look damn familiar though.”

“Let’s just say that it’s all relative, and leave it at that.” Barton winked in case the barman missed the obvious clue in that sentence. He needn’t have bothered.

“Okay, right,” said the barman after a moment’s pause. “Up them stairs, two floors up. I’ll buzz the security, let them know you’re coming.”

“Thanks,” Barton said, downing his second shot of whiskey and heading for the stairs.

Once again Barton was forced to pry himself loose of the loose women as he ascended the staircase. Once he reached the second floor the press of bodies and bosoms lessened and he made better time up the second flight of stairs. Once again his intuition proved correct. The third floor was much quieter and darker than the bottom floors. This was a place where serious vice was conducted, and serious vice liked it’s privacy. There were less rooms on this floor than the second, and none of the doors were open. At the top of the stairs stood a pair of hulking figures even larger than the ones outside. One of the men was hunched over a small view screen, speaking in mumbled conversation to someone on the other end. Neither of these guards made the effort to hide the weapons at their sides, and both of them looked like they could kill Barton effortlessly without them. Barton paused at the top of the stairs and waited to be addressed. The guard finished his conversation and turned to Barton.

“The lady will see you now,” he rumbled and then moved off without another word. Barton followed him in silence.

Barton had expected to be led to the very back of the complex, perhaps even into a set of rooms not technically part of the tavern as a whole. Instead they took only a single turn down a short corridor and stopped at a door halfway down. The guard knocked three times and stood back, blocking the rest of the corridor from Barton’s view. The door opened and the guard gestured for Barton to enter. He did not accompany Barton over the threshold.

The room was simple but elegantly decorated. It was done mainly in dark reds and blacks. Here and there were hints of other colors though, dark mahogany or glints of polished silver. The only other occupant was a slender man in a well tailored suit in one corner. He had a book of puzzles open in front of him but no pencil in his hand. After a few moments he licked his finger and turned a page. Barton took a seat in a cushioned chair facing a large wooden desk and waited. After a few minutes of silence he heard the man in the corner turn another page. After two more page turns a second door, opposite the one he’d entered from, slid open and the woman from the photograph in his pocket stepped out. Barton could just make out another muscle bound figure in the darkness beyond before the door slid closed once more.

“Barton,” the woman said as she took her seat.

“Nicole,” Barton replied. “Long time no see.”

“Yes. I was rather enjoying it, to tell you the truth.”

“Sorry to burst in on you like this,” Barton said with a frown.

“If you’re here to tell me about Mom and Dad you can save your breath. I probably knew before you did.” Nicole steepled her fingers as she looked at her brother. The resemblance between them had faded somewhat since she’d last seen him, but it was still there. Same eyes, same nose. Slightly different chin and wildly different hair, though Nicole knew that was only because her’s wasn’t entirely natural anymore.

November Challenge: Day 22

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the most pretentious working title for any story I’ve written to date. Not sure why I thought it was a good idea, but it’s in my head now and only wide scale mocking and derision will shake it loose.

Be warned, I am still incredibly sick. Not throwing up til dawn sick, but exhausted, coughy, phlegmy, raspy, highly medicated sick. With that in mind, this story is entirely a mood piece. I’ve been feeling really…lonely, I guess, lately. Rather than write sappy poetry or something, this is what I’ve come up with in an attempt to channel the emotions and maybe stop dreaming such tantalizing and ultimately depressing dreams. It’s vague, and weird, and probably nowhere near as deep or insightful as I think it is, but I’m posting it anyway, because damnit, if I don’t care what I think, then why should anyone else?

That last sentence made more sense in my head, believe me. Like I said. Sick. And tired. So, yeah, give it a read and let me know what you think. It needs work but it might have the spark of something good in it yet. Thanks, as always.

Writing Challenge Day 22: Flaxen Silence (Working (and pretentious) Title (fear my triple parentheses!))
By E. W. Morrow
Word Count: 2222 (I’ll be honest, I added two words just to make it straight 2’s. Sue me)

She told me, the very first time I ever visited her house, that the cellar was off limits.

I didn’t press the issue at the time, since our relationship was still in it’s fledgling stages. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was in love. A more wonderful woman I have never met, before or since. Intelligent and funny she somehow managed to fit herself in to any situation, any group of people, and improve it with her presence. When she laughed it was like opening a bottle of champagne, effervescent and intoxicating. For some reason she took an interest in me, in my poetry and in my silence. She said she like the silence better because she could hear more poetry in it than I could ever say aloud. God above, I wish I knew why she chose me. I am not an ugly man, but neither am I handsome. But she was a most definitely a beautiful girl. Tall and slender. Pale as the new dawn. Eyes like chips of ice in the sunlight. I loved her hair most of all. It was thick and heavy and hung in rivulets, often times over one shoulder. When we would share a pillow, our faces close together after a night of sex, or love making, if you prefer, it would often cover the pillow like a second silken sheet, and I would fall asleep amongst the lavender scented curls. Gold. It was a golden was a mass of curls and waves of a color I might have called flaxen had I been a poet from a more romantic age. Maybe one day I will. Age seems to make everything more romantic.

Everything but the cellar. She warned me not to go down there, but as I grew to know her more completely, the persistent secret of the barred door became the thing I most wanted to know. Long after the spark of mystery had gone from our nightly passions I desperately wanted to know what was behind that heavy wooden door with the great, big padlock. Was it dangerous, I would ask? No, she would answer, not exactly. Should I be worried about you? No, of course not. Why can’t I go down there? You can, she’d say, but you shouldn’t. Please don’t ever go down there. Will I ever know what’s down there? I hope not. I never asked her more than one or two questions. After that she’d stop answering altogether. Most times she would flip her hair over her shoulder, shielding her face from me, and burrow deeper into my arms.

It probably wouldn’t have happened if the two of us hadn’t moved in together. When I say “the two of us”, what I mean is that I moved in with her. At the time it seemed natural. Her place was bigger and in a better neighborhood, and I had much less clutter to move than she did. With the exception of the bed, which we ended up taking to the dump later in the week, we made the move in one trip with nothing but my father’s pickup truck and two work friends desperate for free pizza. My book collection proved the most difficult thing to transport, but once we decided to pack the boxes to the brim and worry about their weight later, our space issues were solved. It wasn’t until several weeks later that I began to suspect that the reason she didn’t want to move in to my place was that I did not have a cellar.

Once we began living together I started questioning her more frequently about the contents of the locked cellar, but she never gave me more information than she thought I needed. She never told me it’s contents or specifics of any danger that might reside there. The one thing she did do was to clarify and expand the warning.

Do not go into the cellar, she said. Under no circumstances should you ever go down into the cellar. No matter what you hear, keep the door shut. If you come home and the door is open, close it. Even if you think I am down there, never go into the cellar.

Her new, more specific, warning only served to heighten my curiosity even further. In the year we had been together I had never heard a single sound that seemed to originate from behind the wooden cellar door, nor had I ever seen it unbarred, much less open to the world above. It seemed almost cruel that she would add those details to the realm of possibility only to deny me their eventuality.

I started to listen at the door whenever she was away. When she was at work I would sit in the hall and write, stopping my pen and leaning closer if anything audible pierced my concentration. On the weekends I would wake before her, pad down the stairs who’s creaks and groans I had started to anticipate and master, and creep up to the door, crouched low so that my head was almost near the knob. I never heard so much as a whisper from the space below.

My work began to take on a dark, morbid tone. My editor called one day to ask me if I was going through a “Poe Period”, as he called it. He gave me the address and meeting schedule for the local chapter of AA and told me to start attending meetings if it got too bad. It was strange, though, that my mental shift had not affected my reader base very much, if at all. Where once I had written bright, romantic poetry and, occasionally, prose, my newest pieces were dark, almost Gothic in their style, but apparently no less romantic for it. Middle aged women and love-addled teenagers still gobbled up everything I wrote. Two sides of the same coin, I suppose.

For some strange and unknown reason it never occurred to me to actually go down the stairs and into the cellar until the day she lost her keys. It was in the middle of the week and I woke up to the sounds of her throwing clothes out of the hamper like a mole digging into a freshly tilled garden. A pair of blue jeans hit me in the face a few seconds after I gained full consciousness and I groggily asked her what she was doing.

Had I seen her keys, she asked? No, of course not. Had I seen what she’d done with them last night? I didn’t think so. Why weren’t they on the night stand like always? I didn’t know. I asked if she’d checked around the night stand, and for the first time in our entire relationship she actually shouted at me. It flared up in an instant and was gone just as sudden. It was like being slapped by an emotion. Whip-like tendrils of hair lashed out and seemed to stretch beyond the periphery of my vision, like I was viewing her through a fish-eye lens, and her ice-blue eyes sent cold daggers through my heart. And then she was herself again, lavish mounds of flaxen hair hanging over one shoulder, eyes as calm as a new day. She apologized, and I did the same. I proffered my keys, told her to take my car to work. I would look for her keys and set them back on the night stand.

It took her several moments of agonized silence to accept. When she did, it was in silence still, just a hand held out in my direction to accept the ring of keys. She looped one finger through the ring and pulled me close. Still without words she touched my face, starting high on my temple and running the fingers down my cheek, the index finger lightly brushing my eyelashes as they went, and ending on my lips. She pulled me closer still and kissed me deeper than she ever had.

She left in silence, not saying the words that both of us heard regardless: Please, don’t go into the cellar.

Within an hour I had located the wayward keys, caught on a lip behind the night stand between the wall and the power cord of the stand’s small lamp, and within a minute of finding them I was standing in front of the cellar door, trying whatever keys I was unfamiliar with on padlock. I would have opened it sooner had my hands not been shaking with excitement and read, or had I thought to read the brands etched on the keys to find one that matched the one on the lock itself. In the end it was the smallest key, silver and round at the top, almost hidden between two massive, blocky brass ones on either side. I could feel the tumblers sliding into place as the key slid home. Turning the key was unexpectedly easy for a lock that saw such infrequent use. The click as the shackle popped out of the main body was the loudest sound I’d ever heard.

I’d been right about one thing though. The door was indeed heavy. It was an old, solid wood door, maybe even older than the house itself. It stuck in the frame slightly so I had to tug it free but it offered no real resistance. When I had the door open all the way, I stopped and looked within.

All I could make out in the darkness below as a simple wooden staircase with hand rails on both sides. Halfway down the staircase leveled out and then tuned left at a right angle before continuing down. The space to the left of the steps was empty once the it got below the floor level of the room I was currently standing in, so that to one side there was a black gulf protected only by a railing that was no more than length of wood painted white.

Even after all of the waiting and wondering about what was behind that old wooden door I could not bring myself to take that first step. Instead I listened to the void below the stairs. Silence was all that greeted me. If sound could have a color, then the sound of the space behind the cellar door would have been as black and empty as the space it originated from. As far as I was concerned, rooted to place at the top of the stairs, there was absolutely nothing in the cellar.

Of course, there could have been something down there. All I had to do was flick the light switch on and take a few tentative steps down, peer into the void and then gone back up. But I didn’t. As much as the dark silence frightened me, it also gave me joy. I backed away from the abyss until my back hit the far wall of the hallway, and then I slid down the wall, grinding my spine against the accent trim about two-thirds of the way down, and sat staring into it.

I must have sat there all day. I must have. It didn’t feel like it, but the next thing I remember was a gentle hand around my waist and another lifting my arm. She draped my arm over he shoulder, sliding it through her golden strands of lavender scented hair so that my fingers slid through them and came to rest on her arm still intertwined with them. I pulled her close without realizing it.

“Did you go down,” she asked.

“No.”

“Why not, she asked?”

“Because I didn’t need to.”

“What do you mean, she whispered?”

“I know what’s down there now.”

“What’s that?”

“Nothing.”

“But you said you didn’t go down.”

“I didn’t,”

“Then how do you know.”

“I just do.”

“But what if you’re wrong? What if something is down there?”

“Doesn’t matter. To me, this is all that’s down there.” I gestured at the open door. “Just….darkness. And silence.”

“And you’re okay with that?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“I like the silence better.”

And that was all we said. There wasn’t a need for any more words. Silently she got up and shut the door, locked it back up tight, and then pulled me to my feet, dragging me clumsily to the bedroom as we stripped each other of our clothes. That night, after we had finished and I had lain my head on her silken curls, she told me she had something for me. She rolled over, after I’d raised my head so as not to pull her hair. She reached into the drawer in the nightstand and for the first time I realized that I had never seen that drawer open before. She pulled out a key, small and silver and round a the top. It was a perfect twin to the one I’d used earlier that day.

But I didn’t need it, I told her. I know, she smiled, and that’s why you can have it. I didn’t say I wouldn’t use it, and she didn’t tell me not to. She’d given me the key to her darkest, most silent secret, and I’d given her the proof that I would never use it. Nothing had changed, but it was the most important nothing in the world.

November Challenge: Day 21

So, here’s the thing, folks. I’m sick. Sick as a dog who has had the misfortune to suffer from a rather nasty ailment. I had to tell work twice today that I couldn’t make it in to cover someone’s shift, and another time to tell them I couldn’t make it in early tomorrow. Too sick. So I’m going to spend the rest of the night as I spent the day. In bed. But I did manage to bang out my requisite 2,000 words. I was somewhat inspired by events in my own life for this, and prompted by the daily prompt from WordPress. So, yeah, maybe I’ll finish this tomorrow. Maybe have some killer rats or something. I dunno. Let me know what you think. I’d like to know if my illness has affected my writing ability.

And, as always, Thanks

Writing Challenge Day 21 (Untitled Piece)
By, E. W. Morrow
Word Count: 2012

“Are you sure this is a good idea, Ben?” I asked asked as the other kids finished tying the rope in knots around my waist and in between my legs.

“L’k, w’re g’na—bah—gonna test it before we put you all the way down, don’t worry about it.” The beginning of his words were mumbled as he used his teeth to tighten the final knot. He gripped it with a thick, meaty hand and gave it a hard tug. The knot slipped a bit but didn’t come untied.

“So you’re sure its safe?” I asked for the fifth or sixth time that afternoon.

“We gave you a helmet, didn’t we?” This was from Trudy, who had opted to let the boys tie the knots while she kept lookout over the edge of the catwalk. The auditorium below was dark and silent, but there were numerous ways in. Trudy had positioned herself so that she could see most of them, or at least see a portion of the auditorium and stage that someone would have to cross to get from an entrance to the ladder up to the catwalk. It was unlikely that anyone standing among the rows of cheap wooden seats with the ratty, dusty cushions would be able to look up and see them, but all that would have to happen would be for someone to hear a string of whispers or a stifled curse and they’d be discovered.

“Why do I have to be the one to go?” I whined in the quietest voice possible.

“Because you’re lightest!” hissed Brian from somewhere between my legs. He’d been a boy scout up until high school, but that only gave me slightly more confidence in his knot tying abilities than my confidence in Ben’s. Brian had never exactly been top of his class, if you know what I mean.

“No I’m not,” I replied. “There’s no way I weigh more than Trudy.”

“Yeah, but I’m stronger than you!” Trudy sneered.

“No you’re no…OW!” I gasped as Trudy leaned over and punched me on the bicep.

“Shut up!” hissed Ben, thunking the side of my helmet.

“Told you,” Trudy whispered triumphantly.

“You didn’t have to use the knuckle.” I sighed.

In truth, Trudy probably was stronger than me. She was the only girl on the school’s wrestling squad and one of three that opted to take weights as a second gym class. I wasn’t exactly a featherweight, but most of my extracurricular activities had tended more towards the academic side of things.

“Alright,” Ben whispered. “We’re gonna lower you down about four or five feet and then pull you back up. Tell us if the knots are slipping or the hole get’s too small.”

“Okay, fine,” I said. “But if I don’t feel safe we stop, got it.”

“Fine, whatever,” said Trudy.

I climbed up over the catwalk railing and swung my legs out over the side. There was barely any gap between the metal walkway and the cinder blocks forming one wall of the triangular abyss in front of me. The auditorium had been built like all auditoriums: with special attention payed to the acoustic properties the space would possess. To that end the walls of the auditorium were angled toward the back. Every fifteen feet or so they would take and abrupt turn away from the center of the room. That meant that the room was square on the outside but jagged on the inside. This left a row of triangular spaces in between the two sections of wall. Each one was about twelve feet long and five or six feet wide at the widest. Each space was a tube that went down to the auditorium floor, roughly fifty feet below. We had seventy five feet of rope, but at least fifteen feet of that had been wrapped and tied around me.

For safety reasons, of course.

What few people knew was that the floor of the auditorium was not actually where the concrete tubes ended. They ended roughly five feet below that, beneath the sloping floor and the rows and rows of dusty, moth eaten chairs. There was a little maze of access tunnels down there so that maintenance crews could get to the building’s wiring. It takes a lot of wire to provide electricity to an auditorium, especially if it uses hundreds of high powered theatrical lights on a regular basis. The building didn’t do that anymore, but it had been built that way.

I felt the rope around my waist and thighs pull taught as Ben, Brian and Trudy braced themselves to take my weight. I bent at the knees and shuffled my feet out over the emptiness, grabbing on to the metal bar of the railing behind me for support. I sat on the cinder blocks and edged my way out over the ledge. My hands were now both on the rough, concrete to either side of me and I raised myself up to go that final distance. With my legs I pushed my self out even further, so I wouldn’t hit the lip of the hole on the way down.

And then I dropped. Only about half a foot as the extra give on the rope that had accumulated when I’d raised myself up got eaten up. I know I gasped, but I’m not sure if the others did as well. They inched me down the tube, slowly at first but then quicker as they found their stride, moving their hands in time so that they each had one hand on the rope at all times but still let it move. I got a bit over five feet down when I heard Ben whisper indistinctly above me. I dropped a few inches as they readjusted their feet and then they pulled me back up. Thirty, maybe forty-five seconds had probably passed, but it felt like longer.

“How was it?” Brian asked as I pulled myself back up onto the cinder blocks and planted myself there.

“It was dark,” I said. I didn’t want to tell them how claustrophobic it had made me. How loud my breathing had sounded or how far away the top had seemed.

“Think you’ll be alright going all the way down?” asked Ben. For a moment I actually considered telling him no, but I didn’t. People didn’t tell Ben no unless that was the answer he wanted.

“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, I think so. But give me the flashlight.” Ben smiled and handed me the heavy, silver metal flashlight. I would have preferred something smaller, something lighter and easier to hold, but it was all we had. And besides, the amount of light it produced would be a godsend in the pit. Plus, something about the weight of it was comforting. Reassuring. Trudy would call it phallic, and maybe it was, but at least I was going into the cave with a club.

“’Kay,” Ben said as he cracked his knuckles expectantly, “remember, get down there and head towards the back of the auditorium. It should be two sections back, but there’s no telling how clear the passages are.”

“Why do we have to find it again?” I asked.

“Because, if we leave it down there then, one, they’re going to know we were here, and that’s trespassing, and two, I’ll kick your ass if you don’t.”

“Fine,” I grumbled. The others took their positions again and I felt the rope tighten once more. “But it’s your wallet, that’s all I’m sayin’.”

“Shut up!” Ben hissed. He put his size twelve shoe flat against my back and pushed me out over the hole. “And don’t come back til you’ve got it.”

The trip down was long, and tense. I had no idea how long it took. Ever since Ben dropped his wallet down one of the other shafts we’d all been a bit smarter about not bringing along possibly incriminating valuables to our urban exploration attempts. Things like phones. Or watches.

If only he’d dropped it down a shaft that hadn’t been boarded up, this would have been so much easier. As it was, Ben was lucky that the bottoms of the shafts were connected, and that Brian’s brother, Steve, was part of the renovation crew that would be rolling in here tomorrow to start work revitalizing “a historic landmark for the community”. I’d been all for telling Steve about the wallet and asking him to find it and return it before anyone else in the crew saw it. They were going to be knocking holes in walls anyway, it seemed like a cinch that it was the easiest route to take.

But Ben had resisted. How do we know Steve will be the one to find it, he’d said. We can always use that as a backup, he’d said. I can’t have another strike on my record, he’d said. It didn’t help that he’d been his usual, persuasive self, using logic and charisma to lead us into another crazy and dangerous situation.

My biggest fear was that I would get to the bottom of the shaft and not have enough rope to make it very far through the tunnels. Forgetting for a moment that I would be forced to untie myself to navigate the tunnels and then retie myself to safely ascend the shaft, but I would also no longer have a lifeline to the surface, a line that would stop me from getting lost. I would have to untie myself and then drag the rope behind me in one hand, hoping against hope that it would be sufficient to see me to my destination. We’d only talked about this after getting to the run down theater, though, and nobody had thought to bring any extra string, so it was decided that once I was down there I was on my own. La-dee-freakin-da.

The bottom of the shaft was covered in garbage. Decades of bored technicians and stressed interns in the catwalks above had been too busy, too lazy, or too clumsy NOT to dump their coffee cups, napkins, fast food bags and used tissues down the conveniently placed hole. There was even a folding chair, though a quick examination revealed it to have only three legs and one twisted, jagged stump. I gave the rope a few light tugs to signal to the others that I had reached the bottom. If they did like they were supposed to, they would move as close to the hole as they could, let as much of the remaining rope down the hole as they could, and then tie the rope off on the catwalk railing, resting until I shook the rope upon my return. I gave them a few minutes to get settled and then I saw someone, either Ben or Brian by the looks of it, wave an arm over the shaft entrance fifty-some feet above me. I was good to go.

I had to duck to fit into the small access tunnel which was less the four feet tall. I managed it at a crouch, and was intensely relieved. One thing I hadn’t expected, besides the pile of human refuse at the bottom of the shaft, was the amount of visible mouse droppings that littered the tunnel floors. I was glad I wouldn’t have to crawl along that face first, unless I lost my balance, of course, or the tunnel narrowed. I don’t dislike mice or rats, but I have an intense aversion to poop.

I made it five feet into the tunnel before the rope pulled taut. Unwilling to risk pulling on it to see if it had merely gotten stuck on something I retreated into the main shaft and began loosening the knots. It took me nearly ten minutes to undo the first two, but by then I could slip the rest of makeshift harness off over my hips and down my legs. I spent another five minutes trying to loosen the other knots before I gave up. I’d just have to make my way through the tunnels without it.

(End for today. Here’s the daily prompt link. Feel free to see what others said about it
http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/11/21/daily-prompt-safety-first/)