Story Thread: December 1- December 14, 2016 Flash Fiction Contest “The Day After”


This post is for STORIES related to the Contest theme: “The Day After.”  Your story must take place after some type of event such as a birth, death, or Christmas, etc.

The link to the LinkedIn Comment Thread can be found here.

Critiques, comments and feedback are encouraged on the LinkedIn Comment Thread; non story comments here will be deleted.

The point of these friendly contests is to hone our craft and create successful stories within a predefined set of limitations. There is no monetary compensation.

New:

Please Note: comments may be considered “published” in regards to other contest requirements.

All stories are fall under general copyright laws. No part may be reproduced without the express consent of the respective author.

Story Submission Rules:
  1. One story per author. You may post more than one but only the first story will qualify for voting.
  2. Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.
  3. Stories must fit into a single comment box and must be under 1000 words.

Voting starts Wednesday morning at 9:00am PDT / 12:00pm EST / 10:30pm IST / 5:00pm WET/GMT/ 4:00am AEDT (Thursday) and ends the same time on Thursday / 4:00am AEDT (Friday).

  • You may vote only once.
  • You cannot vote for yourself.

***the next writing prompt will be chosen by Alice Nelson per the Writing Prompt Roster.

To be included in the “writing prompt roster”, you must have submitted two stories in the last sixty days. The roster is alphabetical and can be found here.

See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.


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9 thoughts on “Story Thread: December 1- December 14, 2016 Flash Fiction Contest “The Day After”

  • December 2, 2016 at 2:14 pm
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    The Last Day

    Dean Hardage

    Alec pulled himself up over the last rock shelf and looked out of the cave’s mouth. He had been exploring a new chamber, one deeper than any on record, when his communications had suddenly failed. He’d quickly tried to return to base but there was no response when he signaled the operator of the winch. It was already late in the day so he decided against free climbing the wall until the next morning. He’d slept through the night, the caves unusually free of the sound of bat wings he’d grown so accustomed to. The next morning he’d donned his climbing gear and gone up the wall.

    When he arrived at base camp he was met with a horrific site. The bodies of all of his friends lay where they had apparently died, sitting by the fire, writing in the daily log, and standing by the winch. Whatever had killed them had not been kind. Their bodies oozed blood from all their orifices and it was obvious they’d vomited profusely just before they expired. Alec walked gingerly through camp, avoiding contact with the remains. When he reached the second wall he once more free climbed upward. He would have done anything to get out of the cave. Three hours later he reached the top.

    The sight that greeted him when he pulled himself over the last ridge made him feel like he’d been punched in the gut. Everything had a kind of metallic sheen. The trees and brush looked as though they’d been scorched by tremendous heat but there was no evidence of fire. As he took in the view he realized he had a horrible headache and was beginning to feel nauseous himself. Pushing both sensations away, he began a careful trek down the trail toward the main camp.

    By the time Alec arrived at the bottom of the trail he was incredibly sick. He’d thrown up over and over, his balance was beginning to fail, and his head felt like it would explode at any second. The bodies here were in the same condition but he realized there were no scavengers of any kind, not even flies buzzing around the bodies. Something horrible had happened. Alec wondered if it was just here or this same kind of thing had happened everywhere. He stumbled over to the radio shack to try and find out.

    Trying to focus through the pain and nausea, he found the equipment to be in working order. He began checking the frequencies he knew normally carried news. All he got was static. Almost convinced he was the last person on Earth, he scanned all frequencies and finally got a broken, weak transmission. He fine-tuned the system and managed to make out a voice amid the random electronic noise.

    “No warning…….no survivors………………gamma ray burst……………….please………..help……..”

    Even as Alec heard the broken plea he knew it was useless. A gamma ray burst, the final scream of a dying star, had hit his world. High energy gamma, traveling at the speed of light, totally undetectable, unstoppable, and lethal. His death had only been postponed by the layers of rock above him in the deep cave. He saw blood oozing from beneath his fingernails even as his sight began to dim. He couldn’t help the anonymous caller. He couldn’t help himself. This was the end.

    If there had been anyone to see they would have observed that Alec cried bloody tears just before he collapsed across the radio table, his breathing stertorous and labored before it ceased. With that the world was enveloped in complete, deathly silence.

    Forever.

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  • December 3, 2016 at 6:12 pm
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    LAST NIGHT
    I had stepped inside the house that had been ours for the last time. My father, whose prior superior lien was the reason it was not simply forfeited to the government, would probably spend a few nights there, but he wasn’t going to live there. Directly his title was clear, he’d sell it… why keep it? He’d go up to Portland and live near my sister Aggie… and his son-in-law, and his two grandchildren. Twice widowed, with one son dead in adulthood and one dead before birth, he had no pleasant memories to cling to, neither here nor on the East Coast.
    “You… ready? Lark? Shota?” he said to me and my husband, before he locked the door.

    “Yes, Dad,” I told him.

    He looked at us, his blue eyes melancholy. “It’s faster if you fly all the way,” he said. “Amtrak to the East Coast takes days.”

    “We have to stop in Washington,” I replied. “Besides, I’ve never travelled beyond the Grand Canyon. The summer before sixth grade–” Where I had met my friend, Sukhail, no one said. The name of the little boy who grew up to be the Quadrangle Bomber was never spoken aloud.

    “I’ll drive, Professor Oberfeld,” Shota said.

    “You’re sure,” my father began. Shota, handsome as ever, was little paler than expected at the beginning of December. But maybe someone had told Dad about the heart attack.

    “I’m sure,” Shota answered. “Don’t worry. I won’t die at the wheel.”
    …..

    Of course, Shota didn’t. He even did most of the cooking at this belated Thanksgiving dinner… the last we would ever have. Even Consul Levanadze, who must have dined in many five-star spots, praised the cuisine. “When you’ve recovered,” he told Shota, “you’ll have no problem finding work in Tbilisi. You should have your very own restaurant in a few years–”

    Yes, I thought. Shota’s going home. I’m going into exile… Americans never expect to go into exile. And I don’t speak Georgian. I wonder how many Georgians still speak Russian…

    Aleks Levanadze was staying the night in the guest room at my in-laws’ house, so he could breakfast and take the train with us. Kote, Shota’s young cousin, would drive Dad to our old house. He’d still be here when we three had left the country… Dad had been eighteen years older than Mom, almost the same age difference as between Shota and me. If Mom hadn’t been such an obstinate chain smoker… I hoped I didn’t outlive Shota. Then I remembered the baby I was carrying. Shota would have to live to be old.
    …….

    The coachhouse behind the Ramazidzes’ was heated, but fear and fog crept into my bones.

    “You’re shivering”, Shota said. “Do you want me to get the electric blanket?”

    “No,” I told him. Then: “The first time we slept together, it was here. But it was hot, then, it was August.”

    “I remember,” he said. “In Georgia, I remembered. In Azerbaidzhan, I remembered. Even living… sort of… with Durna, I remembered. I remembered you, walking down the alleyway, those pipestem legs in khaki shorts. You went up the alley…”

    To look at that other coachhouse, where Sukhail last stayed, before…”They had whitewashed it inside,” I said.

    “You could see?”
    “No, but I could smell.”

    “And it smelled white,” he laughed.

    “No. But that’s what they do. They whitewash everything. It’s supposed to take the memories out. I suppose Dad will whitewash our house before he sells it.”

    “I want to whitewash my mind. Especially before the plane.”

    “Levanadze has pills for that,” I told him.

    “Lark, I wanted to be there to meet you… when you were released from detention… I tried… but even before I got in the car, I…”

    Had a heart attack. And the doctor gave him a shot that knocked him out. “Shota, don’t worry. I know what they did to you after you were seized at the airport. Of course you’d be –” Afraid, I didn’t say. No man from the Caucasus ever admitted to being afraid. Not even Sukhail, when he was still a kid.

    “We’ll never sleep here again,” Shota said.

    “I’ll kiss my father goodbye at the train station, and that will be it,” I answered. “He’s old, Shota. He’s been through too much. He’ll live near Aggie and Eddie and their two kids, and maybe write another treatise on horticulture or join Master Gardeners, but he’s at the tail end of his life. I’ll never see him again… my God, I’ll never see the Pacific Ocean again.”

    “You’ll see the Atlantic, at least from the…” Shota said, unable to repeat the word, “plane”. “You’ll see the Black Sea, and maybe one day the Caspian. The border between Georgia and Azerbaidzhan… you can practically walk across it. No one fusses.”

    I nestled against him and pretended to relax. I heard his breathing slow, and then the gentle start of a snore.

    I’ll see the United States first, I thought. All the breadth of it. And then, I’ll never see my country again.

    My country, I told myself, is already gone. A country that could seize an innocent man out of Customs, hold him incommunicado, and torture him, all because he had lived with an Azeri woman whose last name was the same as an unrelated bomber’s… no, my country could never have done that.

    The shiver that came over me I suppressed, so as not to wake the man at my back. If you pretended calmness, I’d found, you often became calm. So it was. For the last time, sleep washed over me in a familiar bed.

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  • December 3, 2016 at 6:42 pm
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    SSSHH!

    She opens the kitchen drawer and selects the sharpest knife there – one she uses for trimming meat. Ki sets her jaw, puts the knife in her bag and leaves through the front door. She stands on the doorstep for a brief moment as if weighing up her intentions, before closing the door firmly and starting off down the street.

    On the way to the office, she goes over again in her mind the events of yesterday evening. It was the Christmas party. Everyone had been drinking. She herself got a little drunk. But that was no excuse.

    “So, Ki. How are you settling in?” Her boss, Peter Sangster, had cornered her near the photocopying machine. He held his arm out, leaning on the wall, forming a kind of barrier she couldn’t pass. And nor did she want to, if the truth be told.

    “You’ll be the best judge of that, Mr Sangster.” She gave him a coy smile; in the cold light of day she shudders at the memory.

    “Peter, please,” he beamed at her, his perfect white teeth lighting up his face.

    “Peter. So tell me, how do you think I’m doing?” Ki was from a traditional Chinese family; if her father could have seen her flirting, he’d have sent her away somewhere.

    “Well, let’s see. You’ve been here for what? Three months? And in all that time, you’ve never been to see me in my office.”

    “You’ve never called me in …” She shudders again now, as she walks briskly through the early-morning streets. Yes, perhaps she’d been complicit. But that still did not excuse …

    He put his hand up and stroked a lock of hair from her cheek.

    “I think you’d better come now; there’s something I need to show you.”

    He looked round to make sure the coast was clear, took Ki by the hand and led her down the corridor to the large, frosted-glass door. The sounds of laughter and music from the open-plan area had become increasingly muffled as they walked, and all but disappeared when they entered the office.

    “What is it?” Ki asked. As soon as the question left her lips, she realised how naïve she’d been.

    “This.” Her boss opened his trousers, his excitement obvious. Ki giggled; she really wasn’t used to drinking. But the giggle was also a nervous reaction to a situation she’d not foreseen. And there was fear in there, too.

    “No, Mr Sangster. No.” She backed away, her movement halted by a waste-paper bin that she stumbled over. The next thing she knew, she was lying on the carpet, her boss on top of her.

    “Peter!” he insisted as he roughly hiked up her skirt and forced his way into her. The rest was a flailing, painful blur, but she remembered now how, when he’d finished, he got up, dragged her to her feet and bundled her out.

    Before pushing her off down the corridor and going back into his office, he put a blood-smeared finger to his lips.

    “Ssshh!”

    She stood there in a daze for what seemed like an eternity, then came to and left as quickly as she could, through the drunken merriment of the party, no one noticing the small Chinese intern and the distress she was in.

    She showered as soon as she got home. The police? Her word against that of a fine, upstanding member of society, with friends in high places? No. She went to bed and slept, fitfully. When she awoke, she had a clear idea of what to do.

    And so here she is now, standing outside the office building, looking up. She’s confident that he’ll be there already; he’s always the first to arrive, last to leave – as he’s very fond of boasting at motivational sessions.

    She takes the lift to the sixth floor, fondling what she has in her bag. The morning cleaners are in the open-plan area and shoot her dirty looks as she passes through, as if the debris from the party is all her fault.

    At the end of the corridor, the frosted-glass door, and on the other side of it, the faint sound of fingers tapping on a keyboard.

    Ki pushes open the door, which makes a soft hiss on the carpet. Sangster looks up from the computer long enough to register who it is, then continues typing.

    “Can’t it wait, Ki? I have to get this proposal out by ten o’clock.”

    She moves close to him. She’s chosen her words carefully and rehearsed them in the lift.

    “There’s something I need to show you.”

    He stops typing and smirks. When he turns, his throat comes into contact with something cold and terribly sharp. He realises instantly what it is, though still blurts out:

    “Wha–?”

    Ki keeps her hand quite still, but Sangster’s movement has caused the knife to nick his throat, forming a small line that begins to seep blood. Keeping the knife where it is, Ki wipes some of the blood off with the index finger of her other hand and raises it to her lips.

    “Ssshh!”

    .

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  • December 4, 2016 at 6:16 am
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    Bright Lights

    I edged forward on my seat and rested my elbows on my knees in an effort to quell the nervous energy that ran through me. I dropped my head to my hands and slid my fingers through my hair. The melodic beeping and chirping kept me present, made sure I wouldn’t forget the reason I was there. Of course, how could I forget?

    I spied the bed from my peripheral vision but couldn’t bring myself to take in the full scene. I imagined the bandages, the tubes, the monitors. I pictured the bloodied face and how the body would never be the same way ever again.

    It made me sick to know what I had done. At the time, I didn’t think there would be such consequence, that others wouldn’t have been as affected as they were. Oh, how wrong I was, how selfish I was with my actions. How could I bring myself to make sense of the last twenty-four hours? Bright lights, screeching tyres. That sound when metal bends and warps. It was all still so vivid in my memory.

    The door slowly creaked open and I sluggishly raised my head like I was carrying a weight on my shoulders. Through the gap I could see a large uniformed man standing guard by the door, his arms crossed across his chest, his mouth chewing gum. No doubt wondering what would come first: taking me into custody or finishing his shift.

    This image of the guard was overtaken as my family entered, what was left of them anyway. My mother was in the middle, clutching a tissue to her nose. Dark circles had formed under her eyes and she looked a shell of the person I used to know. She was supported by my brother on one side and my grandmother on the other.

    I stood, pushing myself wearily out of the chair and opened my arms, searching for connection, begging for forgiveness. I urged to give and receive comfort in the same transaction, but my mother brushed by me like I didn’t even exist, eager to get to the body on the bed.

    They attended the bedside in silence and I fell in the chair, overcome with grief, the guilt tearing at my chest like a wild animal. I clenched my jaw and let the emotion take me, so raw and unforgiving that I shook uncontrollably in my seat.

    I felt a hand on my head and I despairingly looked up, the salty water stinging my eyes. I blinked away the tears to see my grandma, Alice. Her grey hair was neatly tied back into a bun and she stared down at me with kind, grey eyes. The same look she gave me when I didn’t get the toy for Christmas, or when I was failing Chemistry, or when I told them all I hated them and wished they were dead.

    She placed a finger under my chin and spoke softly. “It’s okay.” The words captured me immediately, somehow soothing me in a way I couldn’t explain.

    “I’m so sorry, Grandma, for this, for all of this. I never meant to hurt anybody.” I looked over her shoulder to the door, somehow sensing movement on the other side of it. “Please don’t let them take me away. I’m not ready for this.”

    “It’s okay my child. We’ll be here for you, always. You’re safe.”

    I took in the gentleness and compassion in her smile, and gave my own smile in return, although deep down an uneasiness grew inside me.

    My mother broke from the bedside dabbing her nose, and hooked my grandmother’s arm, pulling her away. “We need to go,” she said quietly between sniffs.

    Alice reached up and gently touched her face, eventually cupping her cheeks with wrinkled fingers. Their foreheads touched for a moment as if transferring words in a world beyond ours.

    “Oh momma,” my mother said, “How could this happen?”

    Alice pulled her close and whispered in her ear. I joined the embrace, wrapping my weightless arms around them. My mother sobbed, burying her face into Alice’s shoulder. Alice patted her softly like she had done for all those years, for every mistake, for every injury.

    Alice turned her head to me. “We’ll see you soon, my child.”

    I watched as my mother and brother led Grandma Alice towards the door. As my brother held the door open, my mother handed Alice a stick that was propped up in the corner.

    Alice felt its length before tapping it on the ground. “Why thank you, dear.” She tapped it along the length of the door before disappearing through it.

    That last scene played out in front of my eyes as if on repeat, until it was washed away by the entrance of a doctor. He carried a folder under his arm as he repositioned a pen in his pocket, and he carried an expression of pain, like he was about to do something he didn’t want to do.

    He stood beside the bed and sighed, not in boredom, but in regret and loss.

    “Hey, doc,” I said. “I wondering if –.”

    He reached over to the wall and flicked the switch.

    “No!” I screamed. “Not yet!”

    I stood at the end of the bed and watched as the ventilator ceased. The heart monitor beeped twice more before emitting a shrill monotone signal.

    “I’m not ready,” I said, fear gripping me. “Not yet.” Coldness ran through me and my breathing laboured. “I can’t go.”

    An orb grew above the bed, a dazzling white light filled the room until everything faded away.

    “I can’t,” I said. “My grandma needs me. I can’t.”

    Wisps of light broke away from the sphere and encircled me. At once I felt at peace and I instantly let myself go, as the feelings of fear and insecurity evaporated.

    I closed my eyes and let it take me.

    THE END.

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  • December 9, 2016 at 7:59 pm
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    Morning After

    Cheyenne tried her hardest to pull herself out of the dark foggy pit. She did everything she could think of to open her eyes and see the light. Voices – she could hear voices. Maybe if she concentrated real hard she could understand them.

    But no, Cheyenne fell  deeper into the hole, until all she knew was deafening silence and total blackness.How long she remained there she didn’t know, as the emptiness had no time.

    Cheyenne came back up to the foggy state, but if she made any effort to move or open her eyes she was plunged back down to the dark.  So she learned to be still, not fight, be thankful for the bit of fog.  Eventually by doing so, she could make out the  voices.

    “Cheyenne, Cheyenne honey, please come back to us. We love you. We need you. The Doctor says it’s important you wake up soon. Yesterday you were in an accident. Do you remember? Honey I need you to try and wake up now” Jim’s voice cracks as he wipes away tears.

    Cheyenne wonders at Jim’s words.”I’m right here Jim. I’m fine, really. I am tired. I’ve been resting. Accident? what accident? I ran a few errands. When I got home I decided to take a nap that’s all. Don’t worry. I’ll be right as rain in no time. We can still get married in two weeks.”

    “Cheyenne, Honey the girls are here to see you. They are worried about their momma. Can you open your eyes? They are praying for you. We all are, and everyone at church. You wouldn’t believe all the people from around the world praying as well.” Jim kept his voice as normal as possible for the girls sake, even though his eyes filled with tears threatening  to spill over.

    ~~~
    Jim steps out into the waiting room with the girls. Cassie and Janae were 8 and 10, much too young to lose their mom. Someone from church approached, “How is she? How are the girls? I can take them over there to play, if that would help. How old are they now?”

    “Thank you, they are having a hard time comprehending all that is going on with Cheyenne. We all are really.

    Cheyenne was rushed to surgery right away. They had to remove the pressure on her brain. Now, So little life left in her. She is hooked to so many machines. Please keep praying.
    Girls Mrs. Keebler is going to sit with you. I think she has some things for your entertainment.”

    “Indeed I do. Come along girls.”Mrs. Keebler said.
    ~~~
    Cheyenne couldn’t make heads or tails out of what Jim was saying. They were to be married in two weeks. He must have meant Alice and llana, when he said the girls. They are my bridesmaids. Momma is always worried about us girls  getting into mischief.

    “Jim, Jim I’m here. Did you get all the arrangements made with the minister? Jim, Jim can you hear me?”

    ~~~

    Everyone at the church was kind and helpful in the beginning. Jim’s work so understanding of the time he needed off. They all gave him looks of sympathy for the first year or so. They asked about Cheyenne. But life goes on for everyone, everyone but Cheyenne. The machines kept her alive. Jim goes often to visit, to help move her limbs. He tells Cheyenne about the girls and the things they are doing.

    ” How long before Cheyenne wakes up? What will life be like for her when she does?” Jim wonders.
    Jim remembered Dr. Stine didn’t give much hope because she hadn’t woken up the morning after surgery. Or for the last three years.

    ~~~

    “I can’t go on like this Cheyenne. They want me to pull the plug. Oh Cheyenne do you understand? I can’t lose you! This is so hard please understand what I need to do.”

    Cheyenne had no sense of time? “So much activity these last few days before the wedding. She’d been so tired. Plug, what Plug? Jim came often and read her scriptures. He talked about two girls named Cassie and Janae. He seems fond of them. They must be nieces or girls from the church youth group. So many details about them. She couldn’t wait to meet them. Jim seemed to think she already had. Tomorrow, did he say tomorrow. I better get ready.”

    ~~~

    The family all gathered around Cheyenne’s bed to say their goodbyes. The  doctors came in – to do the deed. Mrs. Keebler who had become a housekeeper for Jim, after her husband’s death, took the girls outside.

    “Cheyenne my love. I’ve come to tell you how much I love you.” As Jim spoke the words he was stunned to silence. Did Cheyenne squeeze his hand? Was that a toe he saw move?
    “Dr. I think she moved.”Jim choked out.

    Dr. Stine said,”Common, normal involuntary body twinges. It happens when we disconnect the machines. Most people go instantly, but I’ve seen a few linger awhile.”

    ~~~

    Cheyenne’s mind was still working over time,”What is all the fuss about?  A few days rest is  all I needed. Okay, Maybe a week. But I’m stronger now. Why can’t they hear me. I’ve heard every word they say. Not always sure what they are talking about or who the people are they mention. But I hear. I answer. I feel their touch. Now what’s all this fuss about machines. I don’t have any machines turned on. The radio once in awhile, I like to hear the singing, but it’s off now.”

    ~~~

    The morning after the unplugging of life support, Cheyenne finally came out of the fog. Two sweet young girls stood beside her smiling, tears in their eyes. They called her momma. So strange. Who were these angels? could they be the ones she’d heard singing so often in her dreams? Where was Jim? She was ready to get married.

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  • December 10, 2016 at 3:53 am
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    They awoke as the red gold rays of the sun began to warm the cold rocks and the wide sand dunes that the desert night had cooled down to below freezing. Two children shivering in the tattered old sleeping bag at the entrance of a frayed two man tent peered out on the dew laden ground.
    “It’s ice. Here. Let’s gather it before the sun comes up proper.” The boy Jim, about thirteen, struggled out of the bag and took a large pan and began to gather up chunks of ice. He turned to call the girl still sitting in the unzipped bag. “Com’on. Get’em before the sun melts ‘em all. Hurry up, Cassie.”
    Once she had crawled out of the sleeping bag, Cassie began slowly to pick up bits of ice pieces and rub the dirt off against her overalls.
    “Don’t bother gettin’ the dirt off. Just get ‘em. We can separate the clean water from the dirt later.”
    Jim hurried to get the slivers of ice they needed for moisture during the hot day temperatures into the pan before they melted into the earth. Cassie pouted and dragged her feet as she sluggishly picked at the ice sheets on the ground.
    “When are Mum and Dad comin’?”
    “As soon as they can. They promised.” Jim gathered the last of the rapidly melting ice into his pan. He had filled it to overflowing with clumps of ice and added Cassie’s meagre pile to his. Once it melted down they should have nearly four litres. Jim calculated a litre and a half each to drink and they could store the remainder. He already had six litres stored from the past week in airtight old drink bottles which he had dug into the ground and covered so they should not be stolen by people scavenging like his family.
    “Is the water safe to drink?” He looked over at Cassie who was standing anxiously wringing her hands.
    “There’s only one way to find out?”
    “Oh?”
    “We drink it. If we die, or get sick…it’s not safe.” He did not mean to sound curt, but when Cassie started to cry, he realised it was a mean-spirited comment; however much truth there was to it. He went over and gently brushed the tears from her stained cheeks.
    “We gotta drink water or fluid every day. If we don’t, we gunna die. If we drink it and it’s contaminated, we may get sick. We may not. Either way, we need water.”
    “I’m hungry.”
    “Me too, Cassie.”
    “Do you think Mum and Dad are gunna bring sumthing t’eat?”
    “Maybe. Maybe.” Jim brushed off her questions. “In case they don’t let’s look for something to eat.”
    “Like what?” Cassie was sounding fretful and whiny again. Jim cursed softly.
    “Let’s go back to the road and see if it leads us to somewhere? Jim?” She walked over to him and tugged at his sleeve.
    “No. It could mean we’d be seen. That may not be a good thing.”
    “But why Jim? Let’s go back to the road. Please. Let’s go back to find the car. Maybe Mum and Dad are there too.”
    That was exactly where Jim did not want to go. He looked around at the low hills that stretched on forever into the distance to the west. Then he glanced back at the mountain range on the distant horizon behind and the forest to the east from whence they had come. He wanted to tell her, but now was not the time.
    “Com’on Cass, let’s pack up camp.” He walked over to the pan he had placed on the hot coals. The ice had melted. He carefully poured the now brackish water off the dirt and pebbles at the bottom of the pan, into a couple of bottles. After rolling up the tent and sleeping bag into a swag, he buried two bottles of water near a stone outcrop.
    Cassie did try to help, but her efforts hindered rather than aided Jim. Jim sent her off to look for berries or some dandelion leaf to have with breakfast. By the time they were ready to resume their trek, the sun was rising to shed warmth over the landscape. In the distance Jim could see a herd of deer like animals grazing at the edge of the forest. He decided they would spend their next night in the forest. It would be warmer and safer than the plains. They may even find water or a spring.
    With a deep sigh, he shouldered the tent and sleeping bag. He gave Cassie the rucksack with the matches, pan and other precious tools. They trudged off into the distance. Hope renewed in Jim that they may come across someone who would help him and take care of Cassie. Then he would be able to go back and bury their parents.

    The hunter had been tracking the two children for half a day. He had picked up their trail that morning when he had come upon the overturned car. The bodies of the man and the woman were barely recognisable. All fleshy parts had been hacked off and limbs torn from their sockets He was glad that the cannibals had not thought to check for tracks or others involved in the crash.
    They had been in the campervan that had overturned for some reason.It had been ransacked. He turned to go when he noticed two sets of foot prints leading away from the camper. He decided to track down the two survivors of the crash.

    Now he saw the two of them up ahead, crossing the plain. Foolish little ones. They had not even bothered to conceal themselves in grassy tussocks and were visible to all.
    He wanted to shout a warning. Then he had an idea.
    He fitted an arrow to his bow, fletched it and drew it back, far back and let it fly fast to hit the ground in front of the boy’s foot.

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  • December 12, 2016 at 9:15 pm
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    The Numbered Ones
    By Alice Nelson ©2016

    Yesterday Hollow Grove was its normally odd self; a town shrouded in an isolated world of secrets and denial. But a new and disturbing development changed things in ways they had yet to understand.

    The Numbered ones, these fleshy creatures who lived deep in the woods that surround Hollow Grove, were changing in a very dangerous way —now they were able to take on a human form.

    Old Alfie Wilcox began calling them The Numbered Ones back in the early 40s. He was the first to ever kill one, and on the back of what looked like its head, were numbers imprinted like tattoos. Five of these creatures had been killed since that time, each one with a different set of numbers imprinted on them. They still didn’t know what the numbers meant.

    The night before, it was discovered that a local woman named Penny Pomeroy was one of the Numbered Ones. The first one of the creatures that looked human, instead of like a mass of flesh, with leg-like stumps and skin that hung loosely from its bones. It fooled the entire town, and if a counterfeit Penny could deceive them for this long, it was possible that more were living among them.

    Sheriff Melvin Carmichael wasn’t an easy man to frighten, but he had seen firsthand what these creatures could do —how they seemed to absorb a person, until there was nothing left of them. That was scary enough, but this…this evolution terrified him beyond words.

    “They need to know Charlie, they don’t stand a chance otherwise.” He said, but Charlotte Farnsworth disagreed.

    Charlie, as she was called, was born in The Hollow. Melvin and her father Deacon, were best friends. After he died, Melvin became a father of sorts to Charlie.

    She wasn’t law enforcement, but worked alongside Melvin, helping him with The Numbered Ones cases.

    ***

    Sheriff Carmichael stood at the podium, he understood Charlie’s concerns, but he also knew what had to be done.

    People were filing in, curious faces wondering why the emergency meeting had been called.

    “Sit down folks,” Melvin said, “Let’s get started.”

    Never one to mince words, the Sheriff stated very simply what he’d come to say, “They’re back.” Melvin spoke in that flat tone he used when giving bad news.

    Everyone in the room knew the Sheriff wasn’t quoting the movie Poltergeist, they knew that he meant, the Numbered Ones were back.

    There hadn’t been a sighting of these creatures for years, and everyone hoped against hope that the Numbered Ones were finally finished with Hollow Grove.

    They were not.

    ***
    In the hall, Melvin glanced at Charlie, she nodded, and he felt better knowing that even though she didn’t want to tell the town, she was supporting his decision to do so.

    “Folks, they are back, and if that weren’t bad enough, they’ve come back different.”

    “Different how?” Someone shouted.

    “Well, they’ve… I guess you’d say they’ve evolved. They aren’t just those blob-like fleshy things that stay deep in the woods…they have somehow managed to look more… well more human.”

    The room erupted, and everyone began talking all at once. Question after question was hurled at the sheriff, he couldn’t make out a specific one to answer.

    Sheriff Carmichael didn’t even see Charlie move toward the front, or see her slide the mike over so she could speak. “Please, please quiet down.” Charlie said. “I can answer your questions better than the Sheriff because…because I was the one who discovered the imposter.”

    The chorus of “Who was it, Charlie?” rang out in the hall. Charlie looked at Melvin, this time he nodded. Finally she said, “It was Penny Pomeroy.”

    Now things went completely haywire, the sound in the hall swelled to deafening levels, and people started shouting over each other —again. Charlie heard someone say, “We trusted Penny, how can we trust anyone now?” That was a question she couldn’t answer.

    “Folks, folks.” Melvin held up his hands, trying to calm the crowd.

    Just then Lutisse Labourdette walk in with her sisters; Ghislaine, Adelaide and Delphine. The Labourdettes never attended these town meetings, and the room immediately quieted.

    Lutisse walked up front and Charlie stepped aside so she could speak. “Don’t shout at the girl, this ain’t the first time one a ‘dem creatures looked human.”

    The crowd was about to erupt again, but quickly quieted when Lutisse raised her hands.

    “You all know my Daddy died Christmas day, 33 years ago now. Melvin was there that morning.” Lutisse turned to look at the Sheriff, he nodded.

    “Most a you here think it was me dat killed him.” She scanned the room, “Well, you’d be right.”

    This time the eruption could not be quelled, so Lutisse waited for things to die down.

    “It wadn’t my Daddy that I killed though, it was one a dem things, masqueradin’ as Daddy. I saw that Daddy wadn’t right for a long time —that he’d changed. Bet you saw that in Penny too, didn’t ya Charlie?”

    Charlie nodded.

    “It’s somethin’ you jes don’t want ta believe, I didn’t for a long time. But they’s a way a tellin’ them from us, a way we can stop ‘em.”

    You could hear a pin drop in that room.

    “They have to go into dem woods to recharge every few weeks, or that human form begins to fade. I followed Daddy out there a few times and saw him speaking into somethin’ that looked like a remote control, then a light’d come up from the ground. I don’t know why it didn’t recharge that morning, but it just stood in our kitchen flickin’ back and forth between Daddy and that thing, until…until I finally killed it.”

    For years, Lutisse Labourdette, and her family had been nothing but trouble for the people of Hollow Grove. But now, she had given the town something they didn’t possess just a few short moments ago —she had given them hope.

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  • December 13, 2016 at 1:56 pm
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    Tool.
    By Ken Cartisano © 2016 December.

    The last thing he remembered was the front grill of a city bus illuminated by the streetlights, just before the moment of impact. He was in the middle of a gunfight, blasting away at a pair of undercover cops. It seems that one of his girls was an informant, and his pimping operation was in serious jeopardy. Firing his weapon, he stepped backwards off the curb to retreat behind a truck, heard the screech of tires, turned to look and — wham. Everything went dark.

    Then he woke up here, in a field, a place that looked like Eden, or Omaha: wide open spaces, blue sky, amber waves of grain, flowers, birds singing, goats munching and—people. Two of them, headed his way.

    He instinctively reached behind his back. No gun. He slapped his pockets. No knife. As they got closer he could see it was just a farmer and his wife. The farmer carried a hoe, more of an implement than a weapon.

    “Where am I?”

    “Where do you think you are?” The farmer replied.

    “Don’t be a smart ass, pal. I ain’t in the mood.” He stepped closer to the farmer, staring into his eyes. “I said—where am I?”

    “You’re on our farm,” he replied. “Mister?”

    “Mister King, since you asked, but you can call me Jimbo.”

    “Jimbo.” The farmer repeated solemnly, then introduced himself as Carl, and his wife, Beth.

    Jimbo ‘favored’ Beth with a rapacious leer; a plain looking woman, every square inch of her covered in clothes, Jimbo’s prurient attention had no effect. She wasn’t even flustered. “Would you like a glass of lemonade, Mr. King?”

    Jimbo laughed. Lemonade? “How about an ice cold can of beer, Beth?”

    Her husband interjected. “Sorry Mr. King, we don’t drink beer.”

    Jimbo snapped his fingers. “Just my luck.” He looked around. “What are you, Quakers? Or…”

    The farmer shook his head, “We’re not religious.”

    “Good,” Jimbo muttered, turning away. He studied his surroundings. Beautiful fields of grass and golden grain, a few bushes, more fucking birds. “Where the hell am I?” He asked again, genuinely curious. There wasn’t a wall, a brick, a street, a power line: no cars, no traffic, no noise at all in fact.

    “You’re on the farm, Mister…”

    “Call me Jimbo,” he snapped, annoyed at the man’s inability to be specific. “Where is everything?” He shielded his eyes as he searched the horizon, seeing nothing: his impatience growing visibly. “Do you have a house? Or do you people just sleep in the goddamned field?”

    “Follow me,” the farmer said.

    Jimbo was led to a cabin, obscured by the bushes, with no electricity, no appliances, and no indoor plumbing. He was ushered inside, looked around and said, “Christ, this is little more than a wooden box. How could you live like this?”

    “It’s adequate for our needs, which are modest.”

    After a time, Carl left the cabin to ‘take care of something.’. Jimbo sidled up next to Beth as she was slicing lemons at the kitchen counter, and slid his hand around her waist. She whirled to face him and before he could react she was holding the point of an 8 inch knife to his neck. “I’ll not be groped Mr. King.”

    He backed away defensively, apologizing, albeit insincerely. He never heard Carl come up behind him and was knocked unconscious by the handle of the hoe.

    Another interval passed before he regained consciousness. Vaguely aware of the previous ambush, he impulsively lunged at Carl as soon as he saw him. But Carl deflected this attack with the handle of the hoe, which Jimbo realized was never out of Carl’s reach.

    Between the lump on his head, the whack on his wrist and a painful poke in the stomach, Jimbo decided he’d had enough of Carl and Beth. The feeling was mutual.

    He left, found a wagon track that took him across the rippling fields of wheat. He walked for hours, the bright midday sun barely moved across the cloudless sky, if at all. He realized he was famished and thirsty. After several hours of walking he came to another rustic cabin and knocked on the door.

    A man answered, dressed in overalls, and wearing a wide brimmed hat.
    In a cold brittle tone the farmer asked, “What do you want?”

    A sudden realization dawned on Jimbo. “Do I know you? You look familiar.”

    “I should,” the farmer replied. “You murdered me.”

    Jimbo took an involuntary step backward, then peered at the man’s face with outright curiosity. “Josh? Is that you? What the hell?”

    A woman standing behind Josh said, “Well, well. Look who we have here. Your old pal Jimbo.”

    She too was one of his victims, a woman who dared to defy him. “What the hell are you two doing in this godforsaken place?” He looked around, shielding his eyes from the blazing sun.

    “What does it look like we’re doing? Asshole.”

    “It looks to me like you’re in the witness protection program.”

    “You killed me,” Josh said. “I was your friend and you blew my brains out.”

    “Friend?” Jimbo drawled. “Friends don’t rat out their partners, do they Josh?”

    Josh stared sullenly back at him. “I didn’t rat you out, Jimbo. The coke made you paranoid. I tried to help you, tried to keep your nose out of the shit, but…”

    “Just doing a good deed then, eh Josh? Is that how you ended up here?”

    Josh blinked. “What d’ya mean?”

    Jimbo waved at the pastoral surroundings. “Is that why you’re here, ‘cause of all the good deeds you did?”

    For the first time Josh smiled. “Oh, you think you’re in heaven?” He tossed the hoe at Jimbo’s chest. “Here. Start hoeing, asshole, and welcome to the farm.”

    /////////////////////////////////

    The two officers were sharing a coffee break. “You think he’ll ever come out of that coma?”
    “No sir.”
    “I wonder if you dream in a coma?”
    “I don’t know, but if you do, I hope he’s having nightmares.”

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