Category Archives: Dusk

Rebirth

I tried to think of a pithier title and couldn’t come up with anything.

Rebirth

You can’t know what happens after you die. The piano feels screws loosening, feels a crowbar somewhere underneath. Wood cracks, splinters. It’ll be soon. They’ve already pried off its ivory keys.  At least it doesn’t hurt.

There’s a pling sound as its strings are cut, the last music it will ever play.

Consciousness fades.

* * *

“What a unique table!”

The table feels a hand run along its glossy surface.

“It looks like it was made from a grand piano top.”

Was I ever a piano? the table wonders. It can’t remember. Unfortunately, you can’t know what happened before you were born.

 

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McGonagall’s Delivery Service

Pamela pushed through the driving snow, balancing the cup carrier on her back. Why hadn’t she started this business in the summer? She had always been impulsive and starting her own delivery business had seemed like a great idea when she was lying by the heater behind the counter of the bodega with her friend Maya.

Maya knew all about business, having lived in the bodega her whole life. She had advised Pamela on all parts of the business, from advertising to hours to invoicing. Maya could even use a computer and had helped Pamela set up a Paypal account to make payments easier. However, even Maya could not deny that it would be an uphill battle starting a business in New York City as a cat.

She had decided to name the business McGonagall’s Delivery Service after the Harry Potter character who could turn into a cat. She figured that people would trust her more if they thought she could turn into a human if she wanted to. If nothing else, the name would appeal to the Potterhead demographic.

Pamela consulted the smartwatch strapped to her paw. She was almost at the address. She ducked under the covered entrance and scratched at the door until the doorman opened it. She resisted shaking her fur as she walked in, as not to spill the coffee she was carrying.

“Shall I push the button for you, miss,” the doorman said after she showed him the address on the smartwatch. She liked doormen like this, professional to the marrow and deferential to all woman, regardless of species. She gave him a meow of thanks as the elevator doors opened and she darted inside.

The customer was waiting outside the apartment door when Pamela stepped out onto the 12th floor. She plucked the cup of coffee out of the carrier and took a sip. “Ugh, it’s not even hot anymore.”

Pamela typed out a quick message on the smartwatch and held it up. I apologize, but you did order a cup of coffee from 10 blocks away in a snowstorm. It was catty, but Pamela couldn’t help it. She resisted the urge to add a certain canine-based insult to the message, about the worst thing a cat could say.

The woman grumbled something and went into her apartment and shut the door, not even saying good-bye. Without the coffee on her back, Pamela could leap up to push the button for the elevator. The doorman tipped his hat to her and held the front door open as she left. She hesitated under the covered entrance as she prepared to brave the storm again to go home.

I can do this, she thought as she trudged home. Life was never easy as a catrepreneur, but she’d get her break.

I can do this.

 

 

Read more about Pamela’s friend Maya here.


I, Pawn

FF197 Jeff Arnold

copyright Jeff Arnold

Even pawns can become queen. Just keep moving forward.

I may only be a lady-in-waiting, but over the years, across the chessboard, the queen has taught me everything until I am sure I know more than that hapless prince.

So one night I take a large pillow and go to the queen’s bed.

Just get to the end.

Regicide? No, promotion.

I put on the crown and march to the hall.

“The queen is dead! Long live your new queen!”

I don’t see Sir Geoffrey until he stabs his sword into my side.

I always forget how the knights move.

 


Big Sister Loves You

FF196 Roger Bultot

copyright Roger Bultot

The phone rang immediately. Of course.

Be strong. I picked up the receiver.

“Josh,” the female voice said. “You covered your camera again.”

“Look, I’m just not comfortable—“

“Josh.” She was chiding. “It’s for your own good. How many lives does SIS save?”

Everyone knew the statistics. Special Interior Surveillance saved 47,000 lives a year. They said.

“What if you have another panic attack? Like last month? We need to see to help you.”

My chest was already tightening at the thought. “Okay,” I mumbled.

She made a kissing noise into the phone. “Thanks, Josh. SIS loves you, remember?”


Shorn Glory

Shorn Glory

She takes her first tentative steps onto the runway, foreign territory after a year’s absence.

The crowd erupts in applause at her appearance. She can read their thoughts in their expressions.

She’s beautiful again.

You can’t even tell she was sick.

At the end of the runway she pauses. Reaching up, she pulls the wig from her head, her smooth scalp reflecting the harsh scrutiny of the spotlights.

The expressions change to shock. The applause falters.

Someone is still clapping. One little girl is applauding wildly, a grin on her pale face, a bright bandanna tied around her hairless head.


Factor-E

old factory

The rust-toothed hole in the factory wall smiled a tetanusy smile, hinting of adventure and rebellion.

“I’m going in.”

“Don’t do it, Mike,” Aaron said. “You can’t cuz—” Reasons escaped him, all but a lingering fear that showed as clear as neon on his face.

“I won’t be more than a minute. Relax.”

“There’s probably tramps in there,” Aaron said.

“Naw, this is the only way in, you know that. And grown-ups couldn’t squeeze in here.” They had spent the last forty-five minutes circling the ramshackle building, chucking rocks at the few remaining panes and beating sticks on rusty oil drums to hear the ghostly boom.

“Raccoons then. Maybe. Rats definitely. Definitely.”

Mike ignored him. Of course there’d be rats inside. He’d be disappointed if there weren’t. He squatted down and peered inside the holes, careful not to touch the tetanusy edge. He shucked off his pack filled with the last of the snacks his mom had packed for him when she thought he was going to Aaron’s to play down by his creek. Maybe he should bring that last apple and peanut butter sandwich in case he needed to distract any rats. He picked up a stick instead.

Aaron caught hold of Mike’s ankle just before he started into the hole. “Hey, careful!” Mike said. “I almost clipped my ear on the edge. You want me to get blood poisoning?”

“What if it’s haunted?” Aaron said. His face showed this was the ultimate terror, the one hiding behind all the excuses of tramps and raccoons and rats. Everybody knew this factory was haunted. That’s why the two boys had been drawn there, why they had spent forty-five minutes looking for a way in, even if neither said it out loud, even if Aaron had not admitted it to himself.

“It’s not haunted, stupid,” Mike said. He turned back to the hole and a small shiver went down his back. He hoped it was haunted.

Over twenty years before, when the factory had been recently abandoned, a girl named Katie had crawled inside, maybe through this very hole. There’d been witnesses. The other girls had waited for hours, crying and shouting Katie’s name into the hole over and over until they’d run and told their parents. The police had searched every inch of the factory, but no Katie. All the entrances had been sealed. Mike liked to think that even this hole had been welded shut, that it had opened up on its own after decades of slumber to show its rusted teeth once more.

“Look, I’m going in,” Mike said again. “Come if you want or stay here. I’ll be back in a second.” He ducked under the rusty teeth and eased his body inside.

“You’re stupid, Mike. Stupid!” Aaron smacked his stick off the side of the building, and the metal around Mike boomed and reverberated back and forth, fading off into eternity. Mike pushed forward, trying to ignore the damp mold that squished around his hand and knees.

He came out a moment later into the factory’s main room. Rays from the late afternoon sun invaded the room through the high western windows. The room was a gloomy graveyard of covered machinery and stacked crates. There was no sound from outside—Aaron had evidently stopped whacking on the sides of the building. Nothing moved inside the building. It was as if time had stopped.

There was a crash from nearby, and a stack of pallets fell over. Mike jumped. He took a step towards the hole when a flashlight beam fell on him.

“Who are you?” someone asked. Mike couldn’t see the speaker between the flashlight beam in his eyes and the cloud of dust that the falling pallets had kicked up. He put his hand up to shield his eyes and the beam dropped to the floor.

“Sorry.” It was a girl, Mike could tell. When his eyes recovered from being dazzled by the flashlight, he saw that she was about his age, with curly permed hair and a colorful jacket.

“Who are you?” she asked again.

“I’m Mike.”

“How’d you get in here? Through that hole?” She pointed to the small hole Mike had just come out of. “Are Tammy and Deborah still out there?”

A jolt of fear and exhilaration shot through Mike. He stepped back before he could stop himself. “Are you Katie?”

“Yeah, so?” Katie looked unimpressed. “Did they send you in to find me? I just got here, you know.”

He had found the ghost. She was standing right in front of him, and she didn’t even know she was a ghost.

“What year is it?” he asked.

“What?” She stared him down, then snorted in derision. “1993. Duh. Hey!” Mike had stepped forward and grabbed her hand. She jerked back, yanking her hand free and glaring. “What are you, some kind of pervert?”

She was solid. He had been expecting his hand to go right through her, but she was as solid as he was. He had smelled something from her when she moved back, fabric softener or shampoo or something flowery. Ghosts didn’t have smells, did they?

“We have to get out of here,” Mike said. A thought had struck him, a terrible, impossible thought more horrible than any he had ever had because unlike all his daydreams of monsters and ghosts and aliens, he had a feeling that this one was true. He scrambled into the opening and looked back. Katie hadn’t moved. “Come on!” he shouted and something in his voice made her move to follow him, grumbling a little.

“Keep going,” she said a moment later. “Why did you stop?”

“It’s blocked,” he said. Katie clicked on her flashlight and shone the beam past Mike’s shoulder. The exit was blocked with packed dirt.

“Those jerks!” she shouted. “I knew Tammy was mad at me, but this is too much!” She pushed past Mike to claw at the dirt.

Mike helped her dig, his heart pounding painfully in his chest. This was bad, really bad. A moment later, Katie’s hand broke through into open air. Five minutes later, she pushed herself out into the open and Mike followed, birthing himself out into a stand of ferns.

“What is this?” Katie asked. Her bluster had been left underground. Now she sounded like a scared little girl.

“It was 2017 when I went into the factory,” Mike said. He showed her his phone, and the date it displayed. There was no signal now, not even a single bar. He stood up and looked around. They were in an evergreen forest that stretched as far as they could see in all directions.

“We gotta go back!” Katie cried. “We need to fix this!” She rushed to the hole and stuck her feet in. A moment later, she pulled them out and started crying. Mike saw why; the hole was only two feet deep now.

“Time must have moved differently inside,” he said. “You disappeared ten years before I was born.”

“So what year is this?” Katie asked. She scrubbed her hands across her face, leaving dirt smeared on her cheeks like tribal warpaint.

“I have no idea,” Mike said.

*   *   *

I originally thought of this story for this week’s Friday Fictioneers prompt, but decided to do my own thing when I realized I couldn’t cram it into a 100 words. So what do you think happened? What do you think will happen to Mike and Katie? Should I continue it?


Oranges for ET

FF182 Jan Marler Morrill

copyright Jan Marler Morrill

Traitor.

That’s been my nickname for six months now. Hey, I’m just a fruit seller, making a living. Maybe even a profit.

“Morning,” I say to the first alien. Twenty are lined up behind him. He slings his rifle, holds up twelve fingers, and I bag up a dozen oranges in exchange for a glowing cube which I guess is money. I’ve got 518 so far.

Later when the aliens all die, scientists discover that the Vitamin C was slowly poisoning them. Suddenly I’m a hero.

The government is really curious about those glowing cubes.

Now the real profit comes.

 


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