STORY THREAD; Mar 31– Apr 14, 2016 Flash Fiction Writing Contest: “Fear”

The LinkedIn Comment Thread can be found here.

This post is for STORIES related to this week’s Writing Prompt.

Required Elements – The story must be about, or prominently feature, ‘a fear of something or someone.’

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.

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

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

Story Submission Rules:

One story per author. Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.
Stories must fit into a single comment box and must be under 1000 words.

Voting

You will need to vote for the following:

  1. Your top 5 votes in order.
  2. Story with your favorite character.
  3. Story with the best use of dialogue.
  4. Story with the best pacing.
  5. Story with the best structure.

See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.

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).

A link to the voting page will be posted at that time.

Winner will be announced in the Comment and Story thread.

  • You may vote only once and cannot vote for yourself.
  • In order for your story to qualify you must vote.

The winner shall name the next week’s writing prompt.
In case of ties, co-winners may be announced and the moderator shall select a winner to name the theme.
The winner has three days after the announcement to contact either Alice Nelson or Carrie Zylka via LIFlashFiction(at)gmail.com with the next theme/items of their choosing.

12 thoughts on “STORY THREAD; Mar 31– Apr 14, 2016 Flash Fiction Writing Contest: “Fear”

  • April 2, 2016 at 2:25 pm
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    I drive.

    My passenger rolls down the window, turns her head aside, and exhales a long plume of smoke out of the car. When she first asked me if she could smoke, I said no. I can’t remember when that refusal fell by the wayside. I crinkle my nose at the smell and say nothing.

    She finishes her cigarette and sighs in satisfaction, a long rasping sound that sends a frisson down my spine. She turns back to me. I can feel her stare on my face like concentrated sunbeams that scorch my skin. I try to wet my lips. My eyes are glued to the road, but I’m hyper-aware of everything about her: the tight tank-top, the flowing golden hair, the way her breasts rise and fall with every breath. I know I shouldn’t. I know I shouldn’t. But I can’t help myself.

    At this early hour, there are few cars on the road. It’s forty-five minutes from my home to my office, but time stretches and distorts like a fever-dream. We’ve been driving forever. We’ll be driving forever.

    Slowly she leans towards me. Not touching. I know she won’t touch. But my heart stumbles in my chest all the same. My fingers clench the steering wheel until the tendons in my hands stand out. My every nerve-ending is electrified. I will myself not to close my eyes, I breathe through my nose, and I wait.

    She laughs, a throaty thing, and leans back in her chair. My next exhale is shaky. I wipe cold sweat off my brow with a cold, damp hand. The car swerves.

    It’s then that a siren blares behind me, and a police car signals me to pull over. I haven’t even noticed them. I slow to a halt on the wayside. One of the cops comes over.

    “Sleepy?” he asks me.

    I shake my head. My passenger puts her hand on my headrest, just beside my head, and leans over to smile at the cop. Her golden curls tickle my nose.

    The cop ignores her.

    “Drunk?” he presses.

    I shake my head again, wildly.

    “Step out, please.”

    He shines a penlight into my eyes and demands I walk a straight line. Moments later, reluctantly, he waves me to get back into my car.

    I could have told him. I could have told him I never had a drink, not since that night four years ago. But my mouth is drier than bone dust, and I can’t speak.

    The police car takes off. I wait another moment, but my passenger says nothing and makes no move to get out of the car. I retake my position behind the steering wheel. I can feel her stare on my cheek again as I switch on the car and pull off.

    She will never get out of my car, this passenger whom I picked up on a drunk night four years ago. She will always be there, until I am as dead as she is.

    I drive.

  • April 6, 2016 at 7:35 am
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    Bending The Rules

    Spotting the car that he was radioed to check on, Ashwin flashed the driver to a stop on a layby. He pulled behind the car and leaving his unmarked still flashing, he strode to and tapped on the driver’s window.
    “Could you come out of the car, please?” He furrowed his brows. His voice was firm and authoritative

    Ashwin held the door as the elderly man struggled, then stumbled out of the car. He was obviously under the influence of alcohol or some sort of medication. He looked familiar.
    “It looks like you’ve been drinking! Are you aware that it’s against the law to drink and drive. I’m afraid I will have to conduct some tests on you. Please follow me to my car.” Ashwin beckoned with a curved finger.
    The man did not object.
    As he watched him step into the backseat he remembered who the old man was. He clasped his fist into a ball and knocked them together.

    “Sir…” He managed to utter.

    “Yes, Sir.” Ashwin answered to Mr Dundee. His body shook and he looked down at his small feet.

    “You never learn your times’ tables, your spellings and the composition of your sentences unless I punish you, don’t you.” Mr Dundee rubbed the ruler in preparation to strike his pupils. “Hold out your palms, and look at me when I talk to you.” He shouted brandishing the ruler.
    Ashwin and the others queueing behind him felt their body stiffened.
    The ruler struck his palms several times in succession. Ashwin rubbed the pain off and took his seat in the class. “You will stay for detention and learn your 9 times tables after school.” Mr Dundee pointed his threatening finger at each of them. “You will repeat it in front of me.”

    “Yes, Sir,” They answered nodding.

    Ashwin came from a poor, illiterate family. He helped his father gather wood from the forest so that his mother could cook their food. After that he helped his younger siblings wash before they went to bed. He did not have time to study when he was at home. Mr Dundee’s wrath was always in his mind but he could not find time or the energy for homework.

    Mr Dundee would sent a child to fetch him whenever he skipped lessons, and if he hid under the bed he would appear to extricate him.
    “Beat him, Sir if he doesn’t learn.” His father encouraged Mr Dundee to punish him, not admitting that when at home Ashwin could not spare the time on any studying.

    Whenever there was too many children to punish, Mr Dundee lined them up in front of the classroom and ordered them to hold the tips of their ears and rotate from sitting down on their heels and standing up whilst repeating the times tables or the spellings written on the black board.
    When he glared at them, his eyes dug into their souls to read their minds. That look was enough to make their legs turn into jelly. The following year, Mr Dundee took their class again which made it another year of hard work and misery.

    The only time that Ashwin recalled that Mr Dundee looked happy and smiled was when the whole class passed their 11+.

    Despite his authoritative and draconian ways, Ashwin loved and hated him. He tried to bribe him with the seasonal fruits but it never worked. He treated him as badly.

    “Mr Dundee?” Ashwin turned from his seat and pondered.

    “I thought it was you Ashwin. I heard that many of my pupils have turned out as teachers or police officers and nurses. That is one thing I’m proud of.”

    “But, but,” Despite of himself Ashwin regressed like a child in front of Mr Dundee as the old fear and respect took hold of him. He slapped his thighs. He forced to cough to alleviate his feelings.“You made us into good citizens. And, you Sir, have fallen into an uncharacteristic behaviour.” Ashwin stuttered as he braved up.

    “You would if you were in my shoes. I an old, retired, a lonely fool now. I’m no longer good to society or to anyone. My wife died six months ago. I have to talk to myself or to the walls to know that I’m alive. What’s the point of living?” They stayed silent for a while looking at each other. “I started drinking and ended up being silly, uncaring. I knew it was wrong to get in that car after I had a tipple or two and my medication. I still did it. I’m so sorry.” He stretched his arms, waved his palms and lifted his shoulders to Ashwin. “Take me away.” His eyes brimmed with tears.

    “Mr Dundee. You sound depressed. I’m glad I’m the one to catch you on time before you got into further trouble. For you, Sir, I’m going to bend the rules. I’m taking you home and I promise you’ll never be alone again. The guys and girls, your former pupils, will not allow you to fall in this rut.”

    The tables were turned. Ashwin had the upper hand.“If you could hand me your keys I will lock your car and we can come and pick it up after my shift.” Ashwin reached out for the keys.
    “Don’t risk your job, son, I’m not worth it.” Mr Dundee shook his head.

    “Sir, You gave us the best present in life – education and the ability to face fear. Because of you today, we are literate with good jobs. That’s the least I can do for you.”

    Mr Dundee seemed to regain his older self. “As you deemed right, Officer. “You’re so kind. I could not help drinking. It calmed my fears.” He dropped his chin down.

    “He has no idea of the fear that he used to exercise on us,” Ashwin thought as he pulled on the road.

  • April 8, 2016 at 3:07 pm
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    Fearless Flores. by Ken Cartisano

    “I’m leaving one of my best men to keep a sharp eye on you,” the Sergeant said as he opened the door to the holding cell. “Get your ass in there.” I was pushed from behind and then a uniformed officer followed me in. The door clanged shut behind us. “Sit tight,” the Sergeant added, “I’m sending for the Federales, amigo.” Then he left.

    “Ironic is it not?” I began. “What are the odds that they would leave me alone with the only honest cop in the province?”

    The officer just looked smug, and bored.

    I examined the cell. The yellowed paint was cracked and chipped, the walls crumbling from years of decay, the plaster was permeated with the acrid smell of urine and sweat. Countless names and dates were carved into every available blank space. I almost laughed. The jail in this poor rural village was no match for me, the most ruthless drug lord in the territory. I had an escape plan, plus accomplices within and outside the jail; but first, I had to get these cuffs off.

    I gave my uniformed guard the once over. The heat was oppressive, we were both sweating profusely. “What’s the matter?” I said, “Do I make you nervous?”

    He looked at my dirty pants, torn shirt and bare feet. My hands and ankles were cuffed, with a chain linking them together. He pushed me further away with the barrel of his rifle.

    I smiled confidently. “You can get out of this in one piece, you know, if you play your cards right. Are you a gambling man?” I looked at his nametag. “Flores?”

    The officer said nothing.

    “No? I think you are, Flores. And you know why? Because you’re gambling with your life right now. Did you know that?” I glanced toward the single window high up in the wall.

    “I can have you killed with one word to the right person.” I drew a finger across my neck. “It would be easy,” I said, snapping my fingers. “Like that!” I lowered my voice. “But what good would that do? Eh, Flores? I’d still be locked in this—this shit hole. Wouldn’t I?”

    I had his interest and attention now. I was sure I was getting to him. I can get to anyone.

    I held out my wrists and rattled the cuffs. “What I really need, is to get these cuffs off, Flores.”

    He raised one eyebrow.

    “Do you know what I would pay to get these cuffs off?” After a moment of mutual silence I said, “Ah, I can see that you’re thinking about it.” I did not try to conceal my pleasure. “I can see that you’re a man with a brain. You’re starting to figure it out, eh?”

    He was thinking, all right. Starting to realize what he had to gain or lose, no doubt. He pulled out a stick of gum, peeled off the wrapper and popped the gum into his mouth.

    “You like chewing gum, eh? I can deliver a thousand pounds of chewing gum to your front door, Flores: A lifetime supply. Or, better yet, I just give you the cash, and let you buy your own gum, eh? How does that sound?”

    Flores watched me, chewing his gum.

    “You like money more than gum, don’t you?”

    He blew a bubble with the gum, then popped it, and smiled.

    “I need to get these cuffs off, Flores. They’re starting to annoy me. Why don’t you give me the key and we’ll take that as a first step in our negotiations.” I regarded his lack of response as a small rebuff, a minor obstacle to be overcome. “You’re not like the rest of these clowns, Flores.” I motioned at the four walls that surrounded us. “I can see that you’re a man of strong moral character, and it will take serious money to—how shall I put it—compromise your stubborn decency?”

    Flores remained stoic.

    Every man has his price—I intended to go well above it. “I’ll tell you what, Flores. How does 5 million dollars sound? Eh? 5 million.”

    He smiled impishly. He was a cool customer, but who can say no to 5 million dollars? I could see the wheels turning in his mind, dreaming of all the things he could do with that kind of money.

    “You like that eh? That’s a lot of chewing gum, eh my friend?”

    We both heard a commotion coming from somewhere in the jail: People shouting, or arguing. “That will be my associates, Flores. I need a decision—pronto.”

    Flores frowned.

    I tried to hide my exasperation, the desperation in my voice. If the Marshals arrived before I could make my escape—things will get too complicated.

    “I’ll bet your son likes chewing gum too, eh Flores? Like father, like son? You have little ones, no?”

    He stopped chewing.

    “It would be a shame to see something happen to them. It would be even worse if your pretty little wife had to watch it happen.” I allowed my smile to fade as I let the threat slowly sink in.

    I could wait no longer. “Come on, Flores. Give me the keys, and be quick about it. I have lost my patience with you.” I held out my cuffed hands belligerently, but he just squinted at me, then he shoved the gun barrel against my chest. For a moment I thought he was going to pull the trigger.

    A moment later the cell door clanged open and a squad of Federal Marshals stood ready to take me into custody.

    I screamed at the gum chewing officer. “You’ll regret this Flores. I swear to God I’ll kill your whole family, all of your friends, I’ll even kill your dog you ignorant piece of shit.”

    “Enough, enough,” the Sergeant said, pulling me out of the cell. “You’re wasting your breath, Shorty. He has no family. Flores is a deaf-mute. He can’t even read lips.”

  • April 8, 2016 at 7:39 pm
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    THE STRANGER

    I don’t fear my husband like other women might fear theirs. Mine doesn’t beat me, for a start.

    A friend of mine, Jackie, came into work one day in sunglasses; it was November. We went to lunch and she told me all about it – how he’d come home late the night before, drunk and stinking of another woman’s perfume; how she’d called him out on it; how he’d taken his jacket off and simply punched her in the face; how she was now afraid to go home, and to go to the police because of what he might do to her.

    A couple of days after that, she told me that everything had been put right between them. He’d apologised to her and he’d taken her to dinner, they’d made love, all was well with the world. Only it wasn’t: as she was talking to me, I could sense a catch in her throat every time she mentioned his name. I know her well, and I knew she was anxious inside. Two weeks later, she came in wearing sunglasses again.

    Nor am I afraid of my husband like my sister’s afraid of hers. She loves him absolutely – he’s the only man she’s ever been with and ever loved, I can vouch for that. Her fear is that he might one day leave her. She’s not getting any younger, and having three children does things to your body. I’ve known her husband for many years – I was at school with him – and he’s the archetypal ‘lady’s man’; any excuse to flirt or go beyond flirting, if he can do it without my sister finding out. She’s aware of this penchant he has for younger women (although she’s not aware that he’s tried it on with me on more than one occasion). But her fear of being without him, and being single at 46, stop her from making any kind of scene that might force him away from her.

    No, I fear my husband for an entirely different reason, and it’s this: I don’t know who he is. Or rather, I don’t know what he is.

    Three years into our marriage and he’s stopped making love to me, and not for want of me trying to make it interesting for him. I’ve been doing gym for months to try to get into shape. I’ve bought lace bras, panties, negligées, suspenders. I’ve even ordered on-line all the gadgets you might find in one of those seedy shops down a side street in the centre of town. He simply refuses to respond, and what’s more, he won’t let me get anywhere near him. I’ve been reduced to doing strip-tease at the foot of the bed to try to seduce him. Nothing.

    He gets undressed in the bathroom, comes in with his pyjamas on (and socks!), gets into bed and turns the light out. We’ve always had single beds, so it isn’t a straightforward question of sliding over and trying to arouse him that way. But anyway, he’s been so cold that I must admit my own flame’s been flickering, too.

    Now there are the noises. We have a television in the bedroom, and when he goes into the bathroom to have a shower, or to dress for work, he turns the sound way up on the TV set. I went over to the door this morning (locked as it always is these days), put my ear to it and jumped back: there was a kind of groaning coming from inside, but not like he had constipation or was masturbating or anything like that. The noise was deep and guttural and – this is what’s freaking me the hell out – not human-sounding.

    After he’d gone downstairs to have breakfast, I went into the bathroom to check it out. There was nothing out of the ordinary except that his towel was on the floor, crumpled up; he’s usually such a tidy person. I was about to leave the bathroom when something else caught my eye – a little glint of reflected light from the bottom of the shower cubicle. I went over, ran my finger over the wet floor and touched something small and hard. I brought my finger up to inspect the thing: it resembled a scale, like a fish-scale, only triangular.

    I was feeling seriously nervous by this time, but I went down to have breakfast with him anyway. It went normally – he was reading his paper, I made him some extra toast, he re-filled his coffee cup. But then at one point, when I was closing a cupboard, I caught his reflection in the large clock we have on the kitchen counter. He was staring at me, in the most intense way I’ve seen him looking at me in months, but it wasn’t a loving look – far from it.

    He left for work without a smile and without a kiss, for the first time since we got married. I might have thought it was something I’d done, and I racked my brains trying to remember whether I could have offended him in any way. But apart from my clumsy attempts to get some reaction out of him sexually (which I’ve stopped doing in recent weeks anyway), I couldn’t think of anything.

    Here I am now, then, sitting on the sofa, waiting for him to come home. I may try to have a chat with him, if he’s a little more responsive tonight than he has been. But I still have that look from this morning in mind. And the groaning. And the scale. So just in case, concealed by my side under a cushion, I have my hand on a comfortingly large kitchen knife.

  • April 10, 2016 at 11:33 pm
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    A Death Row Concession
    By Alice Nelson ©2016
    (997 words)

    There’s a difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is dependent upon what’s transpiring in that moment; while joy means resting in whatever we’re experiencing, regardless of how hard it is. I admit I’m scared shitless, but I accept my fate. I’m here because of what I’ve done, and somehow I’ll try to find some joy in that.

    My name is Charles McManus, and I will be put to death by lethal injection in two days. Don’t feel sorry for me, I killed three young women in the prime of their lives. I’m not even sure if God will forgive me, but I’ve tried during my time in prison to make amends.

    My mother came to visit me a few days ago, she wanted to say goodbye. Mom hadn’t seen me in years, it was just too hard; dad never came. He’s an attorney, lost a lot of clients when I got arrested, and my Mother, well she lost most of her friends. I ruined their lives, and the lives of those who loved the young women I so callously murdered.

    I’ve got no sad story about drug addicted, or abusive parents. My life was good, I just refused to see it. My folks tried their best to help me, but I was beyond reach —looking for something I couldn’t even put into words. At first I just ditched school, smoked pot, and shoplifted items at the mall. Didn’t take long to expand into bigger and better crimes; home invasion robberies was my specialty, and I got real good at it too. Then came the night that three young girls were home when no one was supposed to be.

    I still see their faces; at first terrified, then empty. In my mind, their eyes are forever staring into nothingness.

    “Make your peace now Charles, that’s all you can do,” Mom told me during her final visit. And she was right, that’s all I could do.

    When I found out that I had no more appeals, I wrote the parents of the young women, and apologized. I didn’t ask for forgiveness, I would never expect or want that. I just wanted them to feel something other than sorrow.

    At least I was able to hug my mom one last time, and I was grateful for that. “I’m sorry.” I said. “You and Dad did nothing wrong.” I wanted her to find something other than sorrow as well.

    I saw on the news that protestors were outside the prison; one side saying the death penalty was wrong, while the other side saw it as some kind of ultimate justice. To me, it was neither. It was simply the penalty for taking a life, or in my case three lives. Justice deemed fair by the state, and I deserved whatever fate had in store for killers like me.

    Whatever position you embrace know this, I don’t hold any grudge against the judge or that jury. They did what they thought was right. There was no doubt about what I’d done, and this is the punishment I must accept. I hope the protestors do to.

    “Hey McManus, I come to get your request for your final meal.”

    It was Jeb, he was one of the guards. “Pizza from Geno’s downtown. It was always my favorite.”

    He gave me a little smile, then locked the cell behind him.

    __________________________________

    I was surprisingly calm when I woke up on my final day. I showered, shaved, and got dressed like I always did. I ate my last meal with Jeb, he was my watcher until the end.

    The protestors were still out front, and it didn’t appear I’d get clemency from the governor. A part of me had hoped I would, but I wasn’t surprised.

    __________________________________

    The room was cold, the faces of the men inside were bleak —serious. No one made eye contact.

    “Dear Lord,” The pastor began. “This is a sad day, but we look to find some meaning in it. Bless our brother Charles as his time has come to an end, and I pray that he knows you before he leaves this earth. Give peace oh Lord to the families damaged by his hateful deeds, and let them know that you are there with them. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

    “That was nice pastor,” I said. “Thank you.” He touched my arm, and moved out of view.

    “Anything you’d like to say before we continue?” The warden asked.

    “Yes.” I said. A button was pushed, and the table slowly moved to an upright position. I was shocked to see the pained faces of Addy, Beth, and Carla’s parents, and horrified to see my mother. Suddenly fear and panic overtook me, and I didn’t know if I could open my mouth to speak.

    Finally I said, “I know apologizing won’t bring back your daughters, but I truly am sorry. I willingly take my punishment for what I’ve done, and hope it brings you all some peace.”

    They began to cry, and it broke my heart that after all these years, the pain of what I’d done was still just as fresh to them as it was 12 years ago.

    I was lowered back down, and the reality of what was about to happen hit me hard. I began to shake uncontrollably, realizing that this is the exact time and day of my death. I don’t wish that knowledge on anyone.

    The tears poured out, and I said over and over, loud enough for everyone to hear, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!”

    The faces of the pastor and the others in the room hovered above me. A darkness began to creep in from the corners of my eyes, and I knew it was almost over. “Forgive me, please.” I whispered.

    I had accepted that I would die, but that didn’t stop fear from being the last thing I ever felt.

  • April 11, 2016 at 2:38 am
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    Shadow play

    I was a little kid when the boy looking after me said, see your shadow, they’re dangerous and are out to kill you. Be careful. I asked him why they would want to do kill me. He says they’re like ghosts that are sent to destroy bad children. I try to be a good child, but they never vanish. And since them I live in fear.

    I would see them at all times, but when I was with people, I managed to stay sane till i spotted one and the party was spoilt. I worked in my office through the skin of my teeth. It was difficult to avoid them and by the time it was time to go home I was a bundle of nerves.

    I reach home dodging all of them in varying sizes and run to my home. Panting for a while as i open the door, I stand and then take off my shoes then relax on the sofa, switch on the tv. The sound is playing on highest decibel and I rap to old melodies. For a moment life seems like a dream.
    Then suddenly I get an inkling of a shadow slipping past me.

    Aaarrrgh I was so happy for a moment trying to forget my torturers, but they always come to remind me at any odd time that they are near. I hid behind the curtain; trying to see if my shadow was still there and there it was with my remote switching channels at will. I believe it is an evil person, and it had an entity.

    There’s not a time it leaves me alone. Morning, noon or night it follows me everywhere. I’m scared I feel like climbing the walls and hide somewhere, where they can’t be in front or behind me sometimes they’re looming high, I gasp at their size and sometimes the stunted body sticks to mine and I wish I could kick it like a football.

    I reach home and switch on the light quickly, but I glimpse it sneak away through the window. What should I do? I lock the door tight and pray no one would come through. I was a mass of water flowing down. The clock ticked, my heart thudding with its every tick, as if it was announcing the end.

    I decide to take a bath keeping the TV on full volume. I feel a little calm and begin to sing a tuneless song and as I bathe. I take a step to go to the bedroom; I slip over the tiny stool and lay on the floor with my head on my arms. Something touches me and I start, but frozen I watch. I know there’s nothing I can do. I’m like a statue waiting as they laugh waiting for me to react.

    Things will be fine. It’s just a nightmare, I try to console myself. Then the phone rings and my heart pulses hard. Then the clock stops. I stand there unable to move.

    A while later I can’t see any shadows. Maybe they’re scared of my stifled screams. Someone knocks the door again. Then it turns to rough, urgent knocks and it slips through the door. I run for my life and end up in a ditch lying quietly. Yeah, I’m free. They can’t reach me. I shut my eyes, this is haven.
    I hear a step creaking down. Then hell’s bells toll.

  • April 11, 2016 at 11:53 pm
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    She crouched down. She had been taken with the other children down to the creek. They were told it was all a game. Painted up with green and khaki camouflage sticks, the twelve children were a buzzing. Some had been given sticks and two of the others – a bow and a quiver with five arrows.

    Seven children happily run in circles, shouting with glee, waiting to start the game. Three children they pull aside and mark with a fluorescent yellow Y on the backs of their jackets. When one of the seven complain to the four men preparing them, that they have no ‘special marking’ like Ron, Fiona and Antonia had, he winks at one of the other men and places a X in tape on the back of the seven jackets. The men look at the whole group and laugh.

    The silver Rolls Royce pulls up. The chauffeur opens the doors and two men in hunting jackets get out. The taller of the two, a red headed man with a crew cut hair do, pencil thin moustache and a goatee takes command.

    ‘Well. Are they ready?’

    ‘The burly bear man who was in charge of the group before and who had placed the X’s on the backs of seven children’s jackets nods. The red haired man scans the men in front of him. Then he beckons them closer. They amble in closer as a group until they are standing apart from the happy crowd of children.

    ‘What have you told them?’

    The question is sharp and the man’s voice is icicle sharp.

    ‘That they are going to be playing a game. A war game. Why?’ The red haired man looks behind at his companion and smiles grimly.

    ‘Boris, you hear that?’ Boris is short and dark. His build lithe and muscular, and his face is harsh, with a thin mouth and pock marked cheeks. His black eyes burn with something akin to molten fire.

    ‘Ya, Hans.’ These two men seem to share a private joke. Hans turns to the four men.

    ‘Did you tell them about the arrows?’ The big man looks concerned.

    ‘What about the arrows?’

    ‘That they are poisoned. From a frog used by the South American Indians for their blow guns. The golden poison frog.’

    ‘Jesus man! Mike we didn’t sign up to get kids killed…’ Barely had the words left his mouth before Boris lifted his coat aside to reveal a short semi-automatic hand gun.

    The gun made a popping sound that sprayed the group of four men including Mike with bullets. Boris walked calmly around the moaning men on the ground, the silence muzzle against each of the men’s ear and pumped one round into each of them. Hans watched.

    Meanwhile the children playing in the clearing had not noticed yet the demise of their carers. They were having too much fun.

    One of the girls with the bow and arrows had placed an arrow into the bow. She looked at the point and the discolouration on the arrow head. She frowned and pricked the point with her finger, concerned that this ‘arrow’ may not be as harmless as it should be. The point drew a bead of blood from her finger tip. She sucked her finger for a minute. Then thinking no more about it she started back to play with the others. As she loped over, she felt a building nausea. She was sweating when Fiona put a hand on her shoulder.

    ‘Are ya ok, Moni?’

    ‘Umm not sure. Feel funny.’

    ‘You’re sweating.’ It was true she had started to sweat profusely. Droplets ran down her cheeks and neck. Before long her tunic top was soaked. She began to shake and dropped the bow as she crumpled to the ground. Fiona started to come to her aid.

    A line of bullets ricocheted off the ground in front of the group of children. Birds rose shrieking in distress from the trees. Startled they looked around to see the two men who had come in the long silver car armed with handguns, watching them smiling. Horrified they noticed the four men with whom they had spent the last three days preparing for this ‘war game’ slumped in pools of blood. Monica was shuddering and moaning on the clearing floor.

    Boris took advantage of their confusion and hesitation to take careful aim and shot one of the younger boys. Blood welled from a hole neatly centred between the boy’s blue eyes. He had a startled look that did not leave his face as he staggered for a few seconds before slumping to the ground.

    Hans was pulling on black leather gloves and his chauffeur waited by his side with a hat in one hand and a pistol in the other. Boris had taken out another pistol.

    The children turned as one and fled into the scrub. Fiona heard the men’s laughter behind them. She ran, and ran, and ran until she could run no longer. The sun was still over head. Her legs were scratched and the thin material of the camouflage trousers had ripped to shreds on the blackberry bushes, as had her shirt. She was panting. She had a stitch and trembled. Whether it was the sight of the dead men, the coldness of the two killers who were coming after them, she did not know and did not care. She knew they were in a tract of scrubland that was at least two hours’ travel by car across. She wondered what she was going to do when she reached the fence.

    ‘There is enough voltage through that to stun a bull elephant or camel.’ Mike had remarked to the other men and children, the day they came through the double gates to prepare for their war game. What would happen when she reached the fence? She was soon to find out.

    She heard a shot up ahead. Veering off to one side, she climbed through a gorge into a rocky outcrop. Carefully to keep hidden, she looked down over one section of the fence which was cleared on both sides with warning signs.

    In the distance, by the fence, one of the older boys lay on his side. Boris stood over him. He leaned down and took a tuff of his blond hair and cut it off with a hunting knife.

    Fiona shuddered. A stone fell behind her. She whirled round and looked straight down the barrel of Hans’s handgun. The plea for mercy died on her lips.

    His eyes were black holes as he squeezed the trigger to send a bullet into the head of the cowering girl. Her last act was to cover her wildly beating heart with her hands.

  • April 12, 2016 at 6:13 am
    Permalink

    Stalked

    Stella huddled into the deep seat of the armchair; her shaking body begging for it to enfold her in its soft velvet fabric. The armchair was her one remaining retreat.
    ‘At least for the moment,’ her overwrought mind whispered, causing her to spontaneously check around its recesses.
    Her body shook, her lip quivered, then tears streamed down her cheeks.
    She smacked them off her face in sheer frustration, causing sprays of moisture to glisten in the rays of sunlight filtering through the living room window.
    Octavia was messing with her head. Of that one fact Stella was certain, in the midst of all other uncertainties.
    A few minutes ago, determined not to let Octavia spook her, she had ventured into her kitchen driven by hunger and a need to stave off her growing paranoia that Octavia was out to mentally unhinge her.
    She flicked through packets of soups on the pantry shelf deciding on Potato and Leek.
    Movement caught her eye.
    ‘Octavia!’
    Panicked she flew through the room, scattering soup sachets, stumbling over the mat she had meant to pick up the first time this happened and landed with a flying leap into the armchair.
    And there she was; a blubbering mess.
    Drying her eyes, regulating her gasping breaths and stilling her overactive imagination she tried to muster courage, as she stared back across the space she had just run, with every intention of facing up to her tormentor.
    She froze!
    On the edge of the doorway she glimpsed a hand, or was it a leg? Not sure, but it was enough to make Stella yank back hard against the armchair, her heart thumping like a frenetic drummer banging against her rib cage.
    Cupping her hands either side of her head – not daring to cover her eyes – she let out an anguished sob.
    ‘Why can’t I get a handle on myself? That rotten creature has got me under siege in my own home!’

    Octavia watched, hatched plans and went without food, not daring to be caught off guard by Stella. The hungrier she became the more aggressive was her mood.
    She had been living in Stella’s home for the best part of the month, minding her own business, sticking to the laws of survival and getting on with her life.
    If Stella was directing the blame at her for this terrorism, then she deserved all that was coming her way now.
    She should never have done what she did.
    That was a threat and it needed to be punished.
    Octavia felt justified.
    She must move carefully because the tables could turn, putting herself into grave danger.
    Defeat was not a thought that she had ever entertained for a moment.
    Retreat?
    Well, that was different. She would retreat to give thought to new plans of attack should she find herself endangered by Stella.
    The effectiveness of her latest surprise attack pleased her. She enjoyed spooking Stella by showing herself just a little bit here and there.
    The strategy appeared to be working.
    She moved back to her corner to stop and plan the next move.
    Mentally she ran through her armoury of strategies once more and turned to the crevice between the bookshelf and lounge room wall.
    She smiled.
    Within that dark space Octavia was nurturing her greatest and most effective weaponry.
    Stella may own instruments of death and chemical warfare, but she was not prepared for what was hidden there.
    Octavia alone didn’t have strength or size on her side, but she had resources, once they were matured.
    Meanwhile she had to use her intelligence, prepare well and seek out Stella’s vulnerability.
    She must stay vigilant, calm, clever and courageous.

    The room had darkened. Stella could only guess that it was now early evening and she was trapped, hungry and not daring to move from the armchair until she knew where Octavia was lurking.
    Just then her mobile began ringing.
    Sickeningly she realised she had left it in the kitchen near the food shelf.
    She could see it flashing; still she clung to her seat.
    It rang out.
    Isolation!
    She shuddered, unable to retrace her steps to where she felt sure Octavia was crouching and watching.
    The mobile beeped to indicate a new message; either to advise of a missed call or the caller has left a message.
    If it was Matt, her best friend, hopefully he might visit.

    Starving, Octavia’s patience had finally run out.
    She wanted more action while she held the upper hand.
    Running over to the crevice she surveyed her most secret and effective weaponry.
    ‘It is time my little ones.’
    She moved in to release the ‘two hundred strong’ junior army harboured within their silken net.
    As they all emerged she quietly led them forward across the kitchen floor.

    Now, as daylight faded Stella was mustering courage to step across the room to turn on the light, all the while hoping to inch into the kitchen to grab her mobile.
    How she longed to hear Matt’s warm, soothing voice.
    The door bell rang.
    She sprang for it, opened the door and fell into Matt’s outstretched arms.

    Octavia and the first wave of her junior army had just entered the living room. Octavia urged them onward.

    Stella and Matt turned to walk back into the living room.
    She was not going to tell Matt of her fears. He wouldn’t understand. He was here now and that was enough.
    She could just bring up the subject of Octavia in a casual manner, enough to illicit some practical ideas from him and retain her dignity.

    At the next step forward Stella suddenly stepped on something squishy and fell screaming among Octavia’s army of huntsmen spider offspring.
    Matt was thunderstruck.

    Octavia recognised Matt and understood that to spare her life she must move quickly.
    Used to sacrificing children for her schemes, she used the moment of initial shock and horror to scuttle away and start a new adventure with her waiting partner.

  • April 12, 2016 at 1:40 pm
    Permalink

    Fear

    Dan awoke with a start. No beam of light broke the stygian darkness of the room. The cold, not just cold, but cold with menace – he was not alone.
    “Who’s there?” he faltered, knowing there would be no answer. The sweat on his body chilled, he was cold, so cold.
    As his eyes grew accustomed to the darkness he made out a figure, shrouded in a green mist that seemed to ebb and flow. Struggling to control blind panic he pulled the blanket over his head, hardly daring to breathe. A strangled cry escaped him as he felt a pressure on his legs, something or someone was sitting on the bed. With superhuman courage Dan peeped over the blanket. There was nothing there, but the pressure on his legs persisted. Then, from the corner of the room he sensed a movement. A pair of green glowing eyes approached him. There was no body, just the eyes. They approached slowly and malevolently. Following on behind them he saw shadows without substance, floating and undulating as if they were in space; rising and falling, sometimes nebulous and sometimes showing yellow fangs. A low vibrating hum filled the air.
    As the creatures approached Dan felt a tightness in his chest that left him gasping for air. Bright lights flashed in front of his eyes, then oblivion.
    Dan awoke in a light, airy room. The large picture window gave on to a well maintained lawn and flowerbeds. The smell of newly mown grass drifted in through the window, while from somewhere far away he could hear the jingling sound of an ice cream van. He had no memory of the previous twentyfour hours, in fact he was in a pleasant daze. Dan felt distanced from his surroundings; as if he was observing things, rather than being a part of them.
    There was a knock on the door and an orderly in a white coat brought in a tray.
    “Breakfast, Mr Levison.”
    Dan sat up in bed.

    ‘Why am I in bed, and why are there tubes and monitors attached to me?’

    He flexed his legs and feet; they seemed to move normally. ‘I’m not ill,’ he thought. This was a puzzle. Suddenly he was too tired to try and work it out.
    The bacon and eggs looked appetising, and taking up his knife and fork, Dan wondered when he had last had a meal. He thought it strange that he appeared to have no memory, but somehow it didn’t matter.
    As he dug his fork into the yolk of his egg he jumped back in shock. The yolk had spread and was still moving over his plate, little tentacles were emerging from the liquid mess, and the bacon had turned blood red. The plate began to pulsate and Dan hurled it across the room. The yellow yolk spilled on to the floor, and was starting to creep towards the bed. Dan was powerless to move. From the corner of the room the same eyes that had haunted him before were slowly, inexorably, crowding in on him. A medic approached the bed with a tray of pills. Dan shrank back unable to distinguish between reality and the terrifying visions. He struggled to remember what had brought him here, flashes of memory came and went like smoke evaporating.
    Later that evening, in a brief moment of clarity, Dan recalled a scene some weeks ago, he had been summoned to the head office of the IT firm where he was a programmer. The news was bad – the worst!
    “Dan, We have to let you go. It’s nothing personal, your work has always been excellent, but the firm has unsustainable levels of debt. We either have to lay off three workers, or close down. I’m truly sorry. You will, of course, be paid three months salary.”
    Although it was a shock, Dan believed he would soon walk into another job, after all, there was always a demand for competent computer programmers – or so he thought. As the first month passed and there were no vacancies anywhere, he began to worry. What if he couldn’t find another job? His rented flat was expensive, being in an upmarket area of town. The third month loomed, with no viable offers of employment. Scanning the small ads in the local paper in a vain hope that something would materialise, an advertisement caught his eye.
    ‘Volunteers needed by a leading pharmaceutical company to participate in clinical trials. Excellent remuneration.’
    Three weeks spent in luxurious surroundings and as much money as he could earn in a month. This
    was the answer to all his problems.

    What could possibly go wrong …?

  • April 13, 2016 at 12:24 am
    Permalink

    Her Loving Parents

    On their first night, Vicky kissed Dimple’s hands, “”Here are the tickets.”
    “Switzerland. Oh, my God! But can we afford it.” He just smiled.

    They had a swell time in Switzerland, lived in expensive hotels. Anything was there for her asking. During their courtship, she could guess that he is quite well off, hs

    Oh, my God! But can we afford it.” He just smiled.
    They had a swell time in Switzerland, lived in expensive hotels. Anything was there for her asking. During their courtship, she could guess that he is quite well off, though he never flaunted his money, never wore designer or branded clothes . Actually, she had fallen for his good looks and suave personality. She found him generous, caring, and full of patience and resilience. He proved to be a dream husband.

    On their return, when she told her parents about Vicky’s riches, her mother was too happy, but her father became thoughtful.

    Ten days, later her dad approached Vicky, “I’m in dire need of hundred thousand dollars, otherwise my business will be ruined.”
    “I’ll try, but I can’t promise you.”
    In the evening, he told Dimple that his dad has asked for a loan, but he was against money lending between close relatives, as the relations often become sore because of that.”
    “You don’t know my father! He would not have approached you if he had not needed the money that badly.”
    He called her dad, “I’ve arranged some money.” He came within no time. Vicky gave him the check.
    “Just 20 grand! you have insulted me Often, this much money I earn in a day.” He crumpled the check, threw it on the table, “You can take it back.” And then quickly gulped his coffee, wiped his mustaches, took the check, looked at it in disdain, thrust in his pocket and left in a huff.
    Dimple did not speak to him for two days.

    Vicky had an awful childhood. His mom and dad were two decent persons, but temperamentally they were poles apart. His mom left his dad for another man. They had a divorce with mutual consent. He was only 6 at that time. He believed that marriage is for keeps; a lifelong companionship.

    Dimple’s mother started instigating her against Vicky. She told her that such rich people always keep a mistress and advised her to smell her clothes which may carry a woman’s perfume. Dimple never could find a clue to accuse him of two-timing her. She told her mom her so, who sighed, “He is two smart for innocent people like us.”

    One day, he phoned, his father-in-law, “It’s 4 months, you took the lone…”
    He snapped at him, “I’m not to gulp your money. A father-in-law is also a father. You have not given money to a stranger. You have insulted the father in me. Dare not you ever and NEVER.” And he banged the phone.

    After that, Dimple started nagging him over small matters. He became fearful of her and lost his nerve and became forgetful. He began failing in the bed. Dimple sniggered at him, “Of course, you’re sleeping with other women. You lack the energy for overtime.” Vicky further lost his confidence.

    One day Dimple asked him to bring chicken while coming back from office. He brought fish instead. Dimple got flared, “You have intentionally done it to piss me off.”
    Vicky apologized and tried to pacify her, but Dimple was not prepared for it. She blurted out, “I have my sympathies for you. What could you learn from your debauch dad and slutty mom, who left him for another man. Perhaps, rightly so.” Vicky lost his cool and slapped her. She hurriedly put things of her need in a bag and left the house with a sour throat, caused by her invectives hurled on Vicky. He did not stop her.

    Life became tough for her in her parents’ house. She missed the comforts and amenities of her home. Her mom often chided her, “You should have taken all the jewelry and cash before leaving the house. You should have never left your job. Try to find one.” Her parents never asked if she needed any money. Luckily, she had enough money. On her parent’s coaxing, she had already filled for a divorce. Her mom often chided her, “You should have taken all the jewelry and cash before leaving the house. You should have never left your job. Try to find one.”
    Her parents never asked if she needed any money. Luckily, she had enough money in her purse.

    On her parent’s coaxing, she had already filled for a divorce.

    The night before the first hearing, she got the test report which showed that she was pregnant. She became reflective; the child needs the father also. She had seen that her parents’ love and concern for her was all pretention, but she had no other place t go. She had made a mess of her life by blindly following her parents’ diktats. Who will take care of her child? She felt miserable. Tears fell from her eyes. She decided to go to the washroom to wash her face.
    The lights of her parents’ room were on. She heard them talking. “if he asks for his money?”
    Her dad laughed, “Not a cent. There is no written argooment..”
    “That’s great!”
    “He will have to pay a hefty alimony. Our lawyer is going to charge him of torture our kid with unnatural sex and many things.”
    “Now our sons will have no problem for their engineering education. What else a mother wants, but the best for her sons. You have made me so happy. Now you can jump over me all night.”
    She felt disgusted and did not want to hear more. She rushed out, did not even change her clothes and banged the door and started her car.

    When she reached her home, Vicky was drinking.
    “Hear are the keys to the car you presented me on my first birthday after our marriage. I don’t deserve it.”
    Vicky did not respond.
    “One slap was not enough for me. You should have thrashed me and I deserved it.”
    No response.
    “Vicky, I did not behave like a wife, but a vamp. I was too gullible to see through the villainy of my parents. I know I don’t deserve it, but can you give me just one chance. I’ll behave. Please.”
    Vicky stretched his hands, “Let’s not spoil our today by thinking about the past.”
    She clung to him and started kissing him madly. Just then her phone rang. Her father was on the line
    “Where the hell are you? Your mom worry crying. And you banged the door. This are the manner you learning from that wretched Vickoo?”
    “Shut up you bastard. And never dare to bother me again. Tell your dastardly woman never to enter my house ever or I will break her legs. Also, return our money within a week or our dog will take care of you.”

    There was a victorious smile on Vicky’s face. He lifted her up and took her to the bed. After their lovemaking, Dimple held his hand, “Now let the two of us take some rest.”
    “I wanna no rest.”
    “Not you, stupid. I mean…me and our baby.”
    Vicky could not react for a few minutes and then he began singing and dancing like a monkey. Dimple laughed and laughed.

  • April 13, 2016 at 10:41 am
    Permalink

    The Essence of Death
    by Ralph Jensen

    She could not recall how long she had hunkered in her current position. The bridge she had crossed to reach this place–

    “Is this a place?”

    Her eyes wanted to scan the landscape she remembered but just like the bridge, the railroad tracks, the gate behind her… all had vanished, shrunk into a distant memory.

    “A memory of what? What do I remember?”

    The sole remaining reality was an icy cold that by now penetrated every cell of her body – or rather her being because just as her eyes did not find a hold in the surrounding void her hands, her limbs, all of her body had been reduced to a memory whose sole purpose was to be the carrier of pain.

    “Karen! Pull yourself together!”

    At least she remembered her name.

    A name.

    And then came the fear.

    All her life, as far as she knew, she had reacted with anger and aggression whenever fear arose, adrenalin suppressing this chronic affliction that attempted to run her life.

    Karen cringed of the pain. The cold seemed unbearable. Could she retreat into herself, merge with nothingness, vanish into oblivion? This had been her hope, a certainty she had cultivated until it had become her reality, her conviction: Life would end.

    The thought had given her comfort and confidence on her violent journey through life. One day there would be no tomorrow – a speck of justice in the jungle of human existence.

    But now life did not even grant her that.

    She cringed in the cold.

    “Well, it won’t kill me.”

    Cynicism had been another source of comfort but not anymore. And with the growing awareness of her fate grew the fear, grew with the pain.

    This lasted for eons.

    ###

    Then, from a sea of silent screams, a memory arose.

    She had never known her mother and her father had been no bargain. His exit from her world was one of her brighter memories but it didn’t matter now. What mattered was that even there, at her life’s early horizon, was fear, existential, primordial fear.

    And a cross, a giant cross – dangling from a chain around Franklin’s neck.

    “Franklin?“ Another name.

    He had been their uncle, a man respected but unloved in the rural community where she and Miki, her sister, had been sent by the well-meaning authorities.

    She seven, Miki three years old.

    The cross.

    More memories ventured to rise – corn fields and flowers, a rose bush, singing birds in spring. The recollections promised orientation, some hope of identity in the formless void. But almost instantly they turned out to be treacherous illusions, withering quickly at the horror of remembrance.

    While Franklin had paid little attention to Miki he had looked upon Karen with a scary kind of interest. At first she had hardly noticed it. To a child grownups were people of respect, if only for their size.

    And Franklin had been kind. For some time she enjoyed the attention, innocently, at times joyfully.

    That had turned to shit when Franklin began to touch her.

    Waves of disgust rattled Karen’s mind – and anger at the mere existence of this memory. This was supposed to be erased, forgotten, eternally buried under the hate that had guided her life from then on.

    Instead it acquired a life of its own, became immediate, undeniable reality.

    For a moment.

    Then… it was like falling forward, into the past but no, there was no past, no future – only this dreadful present moment in the icy cold and… fear.

    This kind of fear she had not encountered again in her life. If she had she would have laughed, derided the very source of it.

    The fear of love.

    Love was the ultimate illusion, an eternal mocking of the soul, a heinous curse woven into the fabric of life.

    Karen’s mind stirred forcefully while a painful lack of tears seemed to cauterize her soul.

    She was supposed to be loved.

    And Franklin had told her that. He told how he loved her, that God loved her and how she was to return that love.

    Images raced through her mind. Disgust and powerless anger in their wake drenched the cold embrace, offering relief. But the fear returned.

    What if there was no love?

    Finally, Karen had learned to endure Franklin’s presence with numbness and indifference. This was what life was about, her life. It was not okay but it was okay for her.

    When, after years, Franklin turned to Miki, Karen ended it. She was only 16 and could have claimed self defense if it hadn’t been for his intestines being spilled across the room.

    ###

    Finally, finally Karen shed a tear.

    Copyright © Ralph Jensen, 2016. All rights reserved.

  • April 13, 2016 at 2:20 pm
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