Tabula Rasa (Horror Story)

So…I’ve been sitting on this story for a little under a week. It started as another challenge to make something mundane scary. I think I ended up taking too long with it, and I seem to have lost the thread, so I’m going to post what I have. If I decide to I will continue with it later, but I’m not too sure I will. Anyway, enjoy. I’m going to try to write another flash story today so maybe I’ll have another for you before too long.

Tabula Rasa (Working Title)
By E. W. Morrow

She was so close now. All the pieces were finally coming together. First in a literal sense but then, surely, not long until the act was mirrored, figuratively, in the rest of her life. No more lonely nights waiting for her children to call. No more pervy boss looking down at her. Down on her chances for promotion. Down her blouse. No more cheap wine straight from the bottle. Soon, everything would be good again.

First things first, Jane, she thought to herself. She reached inside the tin to her right at pulled out a piece at random. The tin was old and battered. It had once been a deep blue, like cool depths of a calm ocean, but now the corners and edges were scuffed and faded until they were almost white, and the lid looked as if it had been stepped on and hammered back into shape multiple times. Apart from the faded paint and uneven reflections the tin was an unblemished solid color. It gave no hints on its surface to the contents within.

The cardboard puzzle pieces inside were just as blank as the container, flat, unglossed tan on both sides, but in pristine condition, the edges crisp, nubs and corners unbent. There weren’t many of them left in the tin. Most were spread out beside it on the folding card table, and most of those had already been painstakingly fitted together by the patient hands of a puzzle expert. Jane tried the piece in her had, first in one spot, then another. On the third try it slid neatly into place, male and female components of the two pieces interlocking so perfectly that it gave Jane an embarrassed tingle when when she considered the metaphor completely. She took another sip of wine from the bottle at her feet. Then she set it down again gingerly, making sure it came to rest in the bottle shaped indent in the carpet. She couldn’t set it on the table, she reasoned. If it spilled it would ruin the puzzle. Months of work. Possibly her whole life. Better the carpet get one more stain than even one piece of the jigsaw. She was so close now she could taste it, sweeter than grapes, more pleasant than wine.

It had started a few years ago. Actually, it had started just over a decade ago when the kids had left the house for good and that cheating bastard had flown off to Chicago “for business” and had never come back. That was when the bottles had started piling up, when the pu zzle boxes began to fill every closet, every shelf, every corner of every room. She enjoyed doing them. The act of taking something broken into so many pieces and making it whole, making it beautiful, again. And so what if some of them got damp? She always kept a box of tissues nearby to clean the tears from the pieces as they fell. Somehow, it never seemed important enough to wipe them away before that point.

But it had only been two years since she’d heard of the blank puzzle. It popped up one day on an internet message board for puzzle enthusiasts, some unknown stranger asking a whole world full of strangers if they’d ever heard of the unfinished puzzle? What did it look like, someone had asked? Apparently nothing. Just plain cardboard. Don’t they make puzzles like that? Supposed to make them more difficult, right? Yes they do, but not this one. This one’s different. Well who made it then? Not sure. How old was it? Not sure. Do you know anything useful about it to help us identify it for you? Not really. Then why do you want it?

Because it’s special.

That was the last post the thread starter left. For a day or two the other members of the conversation bombarded the thread with questions (Special how? How did you hear about it? Where are you? Why won’t you answer?), but there was no reply. For several months the subject of the unfinished puzzle lay dormant, like a field left fallow for a growing season, and then it cropped up again.

It was a different person than the first, or at least a different user name, and he or she wanted to know more about the unfinished puzzle. Again the thread was subjected to the usual questions, questions that the original poster could not answer. Only this time, newcomers to the forums began to drop single hints before disappearing again, rumors that were always left in sentences without any capitalization or punctuation, like digital whispers.

The puzzle was a window. It could show you things. The past. The future. The puzzle was a door. It set you free. The number of pieces was always changing, only ever enough to be a challenge, but it could always be finished. It was only blank until you finished it. What happened next was a mystery. Some said it showed you things. Others said it came alive. Others still said it vanished, piece by piece, until it was gone forever. It couldn’t be bought or sold, only found. Some claimed to have found it, a few to have finished it. Those that had were reluctant to talk about it, but seemed glad that they had. Nobody ever asked what happened to the ones that found it but didn’t finish it.

One year and nine months after first hearing about the mysterious puzzle Jane found it in a flea market on the edge of town. It was sitting at the bottom of a pile of Thomas Kinkade’s that had been shoved in a corner between rickety bookshelves crammed with dusty spy novels. She’d managed to wriggle the tin without knocking over the entire stack and pried off the bent, battered lid with a clang.

Inside were several thousand crisp, unadorned puzzle pieces. The smell of cardboard wafted from the tin, carrying with it a mixture of memories. Her first apartment. Helping the kids move to their own apartments. Packing her ex-husbands belongings without wrapping them in bubble wrap and shipping them out, third class. And every single puzzle she had ever completed. When Jane asked the stall vendor, a corpulent woman who was wearing a flowery tank top and using a fly swatter to fan her chins, how much she wanted for it the woman laughed a toothless laugh and said there was no charge. The damn thing was a nuisance and she was glad to be rid of it.

By the time she made it home she was convinced that she had found the it: THE unfinished puzzle. That night she cleared off the card table in her puzzle room, sweeping the half finished picture of a flock of hot air balloons drifting lazily through the sky unceremoniously into its box, not bothering to keep it in as few large chunks as possible for later or even caring if all the pieces made it in the box. It wasn’t important.

She had started by doing what any good puzzler did: sifted through the pieces, found the edges and the corners, and separating them from the rest. It took her almost six hours to finish all four edges. There was nothing to indicate which piece went where. No picture on the box. No variation of color or texture. There wasn’t even any way to tell if the pieces were right side up or not, adding yet another dimension to the difficulty.

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Human Resources (Horror Story)

Well shit. I did not mean to go a month without posting anything. My bad, guys. That one’s on me.

I think my basic problem is that I’ve forgotten most of what I learned during my writing challenge. I have gotten hung up on two or three stories. They are really good ideas, I just can’t make them do what I want. And that’s me thinking about things wrong, I know it is. I’m the one who should do what I want. If I can’t, I should do something different. FIND something that works, don’t wait for it to find me, etc…

So, anyway, I had an idea for a different story, and I just kinda sat down and wrote it. Started last night, but I got tired, and my cat wouldn’t stop jumping on my keyboard and meowing in my face, which got really distracting, let me tell you. But I finished it today.

It’s….it’s good. It’s longer than I thought it would be, but not too long. I tried to hint at back story more than flat out say it. Let me know if anything is confusing. Basically, do you understand why the main character is going through his ordeal? Why this specific set of things is happening to him? If not, please let me know. That’s the kind of feedback I need.

Anyway, here it is. Thanks for the read, sorry for the wait.

Human Resources
By, E. W. Morrow
Word Count: 1807

It was a big room. Probably the biggest one in the whole complex, except for the airplane hangars, but those were never used anymore. Definitely bigger than his cell, Alex thought glumly as he fidgeted in his seat. After three days alone in the tiny, dark, concrete room barely big enough for the heavy iron door to swing open without hitting the rickety metal cot, the room’s only furniture, he felt almost agoraphobic beneath the high, arched ceiling above him. He’d been here before, of course, everyone had, but he’d always been at the back of the room in the uppermost tier of seats, looking down, seeing everything. He’d never been on the bottom tier, the bleak, semicircle of cracked concrete. All the lights pointed at him now, turning the mass of onlookers rising above him in concentric rings into silent, indistinct specters, the walls and ceilings into mere suggestions rather than definite borders. Everything looked bigger from the bottom. It was as if at any moment he would fall up into the darkness. At least he felt he could have, if he hadn’t been strapped to the chair in several places.

Alex turned his gaze downwards, away from the dizzying heights of the room, as much as he could. The straps across his forehead and chin made it difficult to move his head. The sunken platform on which he rested was surrounded by a wall who’s top was just below head height, and below the wall ran a gutter he had never seen before. It’s presence surprised him at first, before he realized it shouldn’t. Space was at a premium in the complex, and the elders had seen to it that the largest space available was put to ample use. Consequently this room was a kind of multipurpose room, and was equipped with all manner of features. It was used for public forums, as a war room and a lecture hall. It had cameras and microphones that could broadcast a live feed to the entire complex if needed, spotlights perched high in every corner should a member of the audience require illumination, moldering charts and discolored maps of the land surrounding the complex where no one went anymore. There were even cup holders by each of the seats for the showings of the weekly efforts of the propagandists. Everything served a purpose in this room, even the gutter beneath his feet. All the blood had to go somewhere.

“Alexander Garrison Kane,” a mechanically amplified voice boomed through the chamber. Alex shifted his vision higher once more. One of the shadows in the crowd had shifted noticeably. It drew near the blinding circle of light, close enough that it caught some faint reflection which gave it’s features depth, though not enough to identify the figure. Instead, Alex had the impression of thin, harsh lines at sharp angles. Whoever the face belonged to, they were as stern and hard as a blade. Once it had Alex’s attention, it spoke again.

“You have been found guilty of crimes against the stability of the human race. You have knowingly, and with malicious forethought, placed your own selfish desires before the needs of the community and have endangered the future of our species. It is the finding of this council that your continued existence can only do more harm than good, and as such you have been condemned to death. In accordance with the Human Resources Preservation Act of 2056, your execution will be carried out in such a manner as best allows you to provide benefit to society.”

Without any more warning than this someone thrust their arms around the sides of Alex’s head and clamped two thick fingered, sweaty hands firmly on his chin and forehead. The rumbling grunt from behind was drowned out by Alex’s sudden scream, and then the scream itself faded as another pair of hands inserted something hard and thick between his teeth. The bite-gag obviously had straps on it as well because a moment later Alex felt it jerk a few times and then come to rest at an uncomfortable tightness. Finally the meaty hands let go and Alex struggled vigorously but impotently at his bonds once more. The gag was made of wood and it felt like he was choking on splinters. Alex wondered how many others it had been used on in the past. How many mouths had it been in? How many other dead men had bitten down as they died, splintering the wood even further, coating it with their spittle?

A long, metal table on squeaky rotating casters was wheeled in front of him. The two orderlies on either side of the table were covered from head to toe in rubber and leather of varying shades of green and brown. Rubber boots and aprons, thin rubber jumpsuit, thick leather gloves that extended past the elbow. Their faces were completely covered as well, but not with leather or rubber. Bulging black gas masks clung to their heads like twisted parodies of human faces. Their breathing was regular, monotonous even, mechanical, and devoid of emotion. But even their shrouded, farcical resemblance to the human form was comforting next to the objects on the table.

There were only two items, and Alex didn’t know which one was worse. The first was a bone saw, wickedly serrated and glinting under the lights. It was clean, at least, and Alex imagined he could smell the disinfectant from where he was.

The second object was a metal box, welded shut on the tops and sides and clamped to the table itself on the bottom. Each corner had been reinforced and the entire thing kept clean of rust. Alex knew what was inside. He’d seen this happen before, a long time ago now. It was one of his earliest memories. Now it seemed it would be his last.

That was it. Just those two objects set in front of him. No bottles full of antiseptic. No bandages. No IV bags full of morphine. Nothing that could possibly be of use to someone else would be wasted here today.

The orderlies approached the center of the table, where the metal box was clamped. They adjusted their gloves, checked each others suits one final time, and then released the clamps. The box was obviously very heavy, because it took both of the rubber suited men to lift and even then they showed signs of difficulty. But they managed, lifting it straight up at least two feet off the table before placing it on the table again, away from it’s contents. There was a collective gasp from the hidden audience. Alex let out an involuntary whimper.

On the table where the box had been was a human head. Most of a human head, at any rate. Large sections of it had rotted away, mostly around the mouth and ears, and a single eyeball, milky white and glistening, sat loosely in a lidless socket. The whole thing had gone a putrid brownish green color, and the whole thing could only be described as gooey. It was a frightening sight in it’s own right.

Then the head moved.

The cloudy eye began to swivel in the socket and the lipless mouth opened and shut as if biting the air. What was left of the thing’s nose flared again and again, drinking in the smells of the chamber. It obviously enjoyed what it smelled for the whole thing began to shudder and the eye swung around madly. Blackened teeth chomped viciously at the air. A rotten tongue lolled from the thing’s mouth and a moment later was severed by the horrible, thoughtless strength of the hungry jaws.

The orderlies had moved around to the front of the table and each one gripped the side of the severed head. Neither one so much as flinched when the pale eye in the gaping socket came to rest on them. With tender care they lifted the head from it’s place on the table and then carried it to the chair where Alex was bound.

Alex struggled, just as he told himself he wouldn’t, but the straps were strong and he barely moved an inch as the head was lowered to his left forearm. Alex closed his eyes as the starving teeth joyously ripped a section of flesh from his arm, just above the wrist.

Alex had experienced many types of pain in his life: electric shocks, burns, broken bones, even a bullet wound several years ago. This was a lot like that. All of those, rolled into one. Separate from the pain of having several square inches of skin removed in a matter of seconds was a second pain. Something other than teeth had penetrated his defenses, and already he could feel it spreading. It ached with a dull, exhausted sensation and then sparked violently into life with each heartbeat, each beat felt longer than the last though he knew his heart must be racing. The feeling lingered on like fiery coals before it waxed again. He bit down as hard as he could on the wooden gag but it did nothing to ease the pain. Then, through the fog of agony, he heard a voice.

“Set timer for ten seconds. Prepare for first amputation.”

It was calm and clear, totally lacking in compassion or pity. One of the orderlies retrieved the bone saw from the table and rested the serrations on Alex’s arm just below the elbow. He wanted them to do it. Wanted them to take the arm before the infection spread, before the searing pain in his arm reached his core and all he knew was pain and hunger and sorrow forever. Desperately he tried to count to ten, but lost track after four. A few seconds later he blacked out completely.

When he woke up, everything was a blur. There was light, and color, but no shape or depth. He blinked a few times and the world swam back into view. Light and dark separated. Outlines reasserted themselves. He could make out the table in front of him, spattered red, bone saw resting on the corner, dripping on the concrete floor. There was movement to his right. He swiveled his head as best he could, noting the bloody stump where his arm used to be.

He saw the orderlies. They were holding the severed, starving head above his right forearm. It chewed and spat at the air as if it had never eaten before. The cold, monotone voice rang through the chamber once again.

“Amputation successful. Infection contained in amputated limb. Record time as sufficient to halt full body conversion. Reset timer for twenty seconds and prepare for second amputation.”

Alex’s sobs went unheard, the dead strip of wood in his mouth swallowing them up as it had done uncounted times before.