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10,000 Miles Straight Ahead – Friday Fictioneers

copyright Dawn Landau

copyright Dawn Landau

10,000 Miles Straight Ahead

My sister Olivia left to ride the rails when she was sixteen. She only told me, but I was 10 and scared. I tattled.

Too late.

Olivia came back three years, 22,400 miles, and an entire lifetime later. She had the best stories. Mom was furious. Dad wiped away a tear and hugged her.

“Stay around,” I said. “For me?”

She nodded, but two weeks later I found the note by my bed.

“That’s who she is,” Dad said.

“Will she ever change?”

“She’s like a train,” he said. “10,000 miles straight ahead, but not an inch left or right.”


Tidings by Tide – Friday Fictioneers

No text this week, just pictures. Still 100 words exactly though.

copyright Georgia Koch

copyright Georgia Koch

Tidings by Tide

Tidings by Tide 1

Tidings by Tide 2

 Tidings by Tide 3

FF111 newspaper


Wishbelly

Roland went to see Wishbelly when his family finally ran out of money for doctors for his sick father. Not that the doctors were helping, although their increasingly bizarre treatments did provide Hope, which is a key ingredient to Life, as his grandmother said. The week after the money was almost all gone and it was clear that no more doctors would come, Roland saw something like a veil cover his father’s eyes, as if they were already staring up at the inside of a coffin. That night, Roland got a bottle of water and an apple and went outside by himself. This was a huge deal for a six-year-old.

Roland had heard of Wishbelly from other children in his neighborhood. None of them knew what he looked like—he was the kind of legend your brother’s friend swore he knew—but they knew where he lived: in the abandoned factory across the rushing creek and through the phalanx of rusting farm equipment that was a Tetanus Superstore, as Roland’s mother always said.

He opened the front gate and stepped out onto the shoulder of the rural highway, a tiny boy in a huge, monstrously dark world. He knew the way, even in the dark, but the blinding white beams of a car that rushed past gave him enough light to avoid stumbling over the guardrail and falling into the stream.

After the stream, it was a fifteen minute walk up the highway and then down a narrow dirt track next to a fallow meadow. The tall blades of grass bent and waved in the breeze, rustling and whispering to him.

“Roland, Roland,” they murmured. “Such a little boy. What’s he doing out at this hour? Wishbelly will eat him for a midnight snack. Such a little, little boy.”

This almost made Roland stop and go home. He had always thought of Wishbelly as being good and willing to help, but now the idea came into his mind that maybe he was a terrible creature who ate children foolish enough to fall into his snare.

The voices were spreading. The wind had picked it up into the trees and bushes and now all around him, Roland heard the mocking pity. “Poor Roland. So young to die. Such a little boy.”

He was about to turn back when he heard one voice among the others. “Go!” it said. “Go. You can make it, Roland.” It sounded so different from the others that he planted a small boot resolutely in front of him and continued on until the sighing voices of the grass and trees were behind him.

But now there was a greater obstacle in front of him: one made of terror and decaying metal spikes showing black against the thinly-veiled moon. Roland shuffled forward slowly, groping in front of himself. Almost immediately, a corroded spike reached out and tore his jacket, almost scratching him. He wished he had brought a flashlight.

He was almost considering going back for one when he noticed a dot of pale green luminescence off to the left. He went towards it instinctively and noticed another. They were appearing more frequently now, one every foot or so. Roland felt pieces of metal brush past him on both sides, but he kept his eyes on the dots. After a hundred feet or more, the glowing dots spread out in a carpet and in their midst sat a dark figure.

The figure was seated with its head down. Roland took a step further and it spoke, soft and raspy. “Yes?”

“I want to see Wishbelly,” he said, his voice shaking.

The figure laughed, a low, dusty chuckle. “Wishbelly, is it? Why?”

“My father is sick.”

“That’s not what Wishbelly does.”

“Oh.” Roland started to turn around, but stopped. “Why not?”

“He can only do things for the people who come see him. If your father came here, Wishbelly could make him better then.”

“But he’s sick! He can’t come.”

“That’s not Wishbelly’s concern,” the figure said. Roland could not see his face. “But you are here, so what can he do for you? You took the leap of faith to come. You made it past the obstacles.”

“Did you put the obstacles there? Did you make the grass mock me?”

The man shrugged. “There are always naysayers and obstacles in life, especially when you are doing something important.”

“And what about the encouraging voice, and the glowing path?”

“Everyone who truly seeks will find.”

“Are you Wishbelly?” Roland asked.

The figure laughed. “Possibly. But you haven’t answered my question. What do you want? To be smart? Strong? Would you like to always be happy?”

“Can he . . . can you make me able to heal my father? That’s all I want.”

“All you want is to help him?” the figure said. He stood up and Roland saw that it was an old man with a bald head and silvery skin that glowed slightly.

“Would you still want that if none of your own wishes could come true? If you could only help others? I wasn’t the first Wishbelly, you know. There were others before me who passed on the gift. So this is what I will do, Roland, conqueror of fears, asker of audacious requests.”

He touched Roland on the head. “All who seek, find, but they often find much more than they could ever have dreamed of. You are Wishbelly now. You wished to help others and you have that chance now. You can wish nothing on yourself, but I hope that helping others makes you happy.”

“Who are you?” Roland asked.

“Just an old man now,” the man said, smiling. “And in need of some rest.”

“How does it work?” Roland asked. “How can I make my father better?”

“He must want it,” the man said. “He must ask. That is the only way. It may be difficult, but I wish you luck. Now go on home and get some sleep.”

Roland walked back along the luminous path through the Tetanus Superstore and through the sighing grass and trees. The dissuading voices had gone silent. All he heard was the one small voice. “Courage, young Roland. The hardest part is behind you, the longest is ahead. Courage.”

~*~

This story is a strange one and it has taken me a long time to write, for one reason or another. Don’t ask me where the name came from, since I’m not sure. You may be tempted to see allegory in it, but it was not written explicitly as one. Let me know what you see, since I am always curious how my readers take my stories.


The Strangemans (Part 2)

This is an Aftermath story. In the previous part of the story, Damian and his friend Nikolai find shelter in a ruined house in the post-apocalyptic wasteland outside Ipswich. They meet a deformed woman who gives them food and shelter.

wasteland

“Do you live here by yourself?” Damian asked.

“No, there are several of us, but they will not show themselves yet,” she said. “We are the Strangemans.”

“The Strangemen?” Nikolai asked.

“Strangemans,” she corrected, smiling with yellowed fangs. “For changed people like us, even the language must change. We are men no longer, or women. But where are you coming from, and where are you going?”

“We came from Ipswich,” Damian said. “I—I don’t know where we are going though.”

“You are not the first to run away from that place, although most who flee thoughtlessly out here die quickly. It was fortunate you came across our house. I will give you a choice. If you wish, you may become one of us. You will have food and shelter, and more importantly, allies. Or you may leave. We will give you some food to take with you if you choose.

“How many of you are there?” Damian asked.

“Several,” she said again. “The witchers—raiders from Ipswich—hunt us if they find us, so we never tell our number or faces to outsiders. I’m am an ambassador of sorts. You may think about it, if you wish.”

“I will join you,” Damian said immediately.

“Me too,” Nikolai said. He eyed the empty bowl in front of him.

“Are you sure?” she said. “There is a sort of test to join us, but it is quick.”

“I’m sure,” Damian said, looking up into her eyes. He trusted her eyes.

“Very well.” She took his left hand, caressed it and then brought it to her mouth as if to kiss it. The next moment she bit down hard at the first joint of his pinky finger.

Damian screamed and jerked his hand back, but it was done. The woman pulled the tip of his finger out of her mouth, dirty nail and all, and placed it in his trembling right hand.

“Why? Why—” His voice shook from physical and mental shock.

“In a moment,” she said. “We must stop the bleeding.” She bandaged his finger with the care of a mother and then kissed it, as if in benediction.

“There is one more step,” she said. “Now throw it into the fire over there and you will be one of us.” Damian looked down at the tiny bit of bloodied flesh in his hand. Apart from him, it was nothing but a foreign object. He threw it in the fire.

“Now you have given part of yourself to us forever,” the woman said. “And we will protect you with our lives as well.” She held up her left hand and Damian saw the tip of her last finger was missing as well. “Welcome to the Strangemans.”

She turned to Nikolai, but the other boy had backed against the wall, his whole body shaking. “You are next, if you would like,” the woman said.

“No, no! I can’t,” he said. The tears were pouring down his face. “There has to be another way.”

“There is no other way,” she said. “Life out here is no game. If you cannot give of yourself, we cannot give ourselves to you. It is quickly done and the benefits are for a lifetime.”

“Damian! Damian, help me!” Nikolai cried. There was desperation in his voice and Damian understood the crushing dilemma he was in, wanting to belong, but not daring to go through with it. And Damian could not save him, not like he had from the butcher of Ipswich. Only Nikolai could decide. Damian wondered what he would have done if he had known what was coming and how unfair it was for Nikolai to know.

“Be at peace,” the woman said. “You may stay here another day or two at most, unless you decide to join us before then. For right now though, you must stay here.” She turned to Damian. “As for you, newest Strangeman, come meet your brothers and sisters.”


The Strangemans

This is an Aftermath story. In the previous story, the Butcher of Ipswich, Damian rescues his friend Nikolai from a butcher who is about to kill him. Due to stress and fear, Damian enters an altered state where he moves faster and is much stronger, but also totally deaf. He escapes the post-apocalyptic city of Ipswich and runs off into the dark, nighttime wasteland.

wasteland

The dark, putrid wasteland echoed with screams and weird cries but Damian heard none of them as he ran, carrying his friend Nikolai in his arms. He had no destination and no plan, except to get as far away as he could from the depraved city of Ipswich. It seemed like almost no time had passed when the sun rose behind him and his shadow—a dark, sickly skeleton—leaped out in front of him. It was only a moment or two before he could feel the sun’s terrible rays burning into his skin, sending up tiny blisters. It didn’t hurt, but some part of his brain beneath the preternatural fog that covered his mind knew he had to get out of the sun immediately.

He was in a narrow lane with ruined houses on both sides. He ducked into the closest house on the left, the only one with an intact roof and dropped Nikolai to the dusty kitchen floor. Damian was still deaf—whatever power had seized him in Ipswich when he had snatched Nikolai from the terrible butcher’s table and fled had also plunged him into a silent world of his own. He would be worried later; for now the lack of screams and cries of pain that had filled every day of his life were absent and he walked in a sort of aural Nirvana.

Nikolai was still unconscious. Damian looked at him and then, in a sudden decision, lay down next to him and went instantly to sleep.

He woke and found himself gazing up into the kindly face of a monster. It was, or had been, a woman, but now her face was swollen and tumorous and her teeth were yellow and sharp. But her eyes were kind and she when she mouthed unheard words to him, he felt strangely reassured. She held a cup up for him to drink and then gave him some food. It was plain stuff but far better than he was used to. After a few minutes, he fell asleep again.

When he awoke again, it was dark and the first thing he noticed was the crackle of a fire. It was indistinct, but his hearing was returning. Nikolai was up as well and eating. “Hello,” he said, when he saw Damian. “Where are we?”

“I don’t know,” Damian said. He would have thought it was all a dream, except they were definitely not in Ipswich anymore.

“What is your name?” the monstrous woman asked, coming over to Damian. She held out a bowl of food for him, which he eagerly accepted.

“Damian,” he said. “I could not hear you before. My ears— but it’s okay now.” Despite his upbringing as a fugitive and her hideous appearance, he found himself trusting the woman. “Do you live here by yourself?”

“No, there are several of us, but they will not show themselves yet,” she said. “We are the Strangemans.”

(To be continued tomorrow. Don’t miss it!)


Exploring a Haunted School

This is a true story. As you probably know by now, my wife and I like to explore abandoned buildings at night, especially ones reported to be haunted. We don’t really expect to see anything, but we keep our eyes open.

Not my picture, but the view as we climbed up the slope to the school.

Not my picture, but the view as we climbed up the slope to the school.

Chungil 2

Last Friday night, we went to the Chung-il Girl’s High School, in Daejeon, South Korea, which was closed in 2006. It’s reportedly haunted and I’ve seen some pretty shaky evidence, but it is a huge structure: 5 stories plus the basement, holding 3000 students at its height. We went after work on Friday and got to the school about 9pm. There were spray-painted signs on the entrance saying things like “Forbidden” and “You must not enter” but we did anyway (of course).

I didn't get great shots, since I only had my phone, but you get the idea.

I didn’t get great shots, since I only had my phone, but you get the idea.

The basement was cool, although not that big. It had a trench cut into the concrete floor with water running through it and you could hear the faint tinkle of dripping water. The light of the flashlight shown off the water and reflected on the walls, making a cool shifting pattern of reflections as I moved the light. I could see someone getting freaked out if they were by themselves down there, and their light suddenly went out, and the rusted metal pipes that blocked the basement from the next section started to creak, ever so slowly…

But none of that happened to us. The school was constructed in an L-shape and we walked the length of it and then up a floor and made our way slowly up the floors until we reached the roof. Most of the classrooms were empty, although a lot had graffiti on the walls.

This says "die". We are terrible at following instructions.

This says “die”. We are terrible at following instructions.

The most interesting rooms were the art and music rooms, since they had things left behind. In the art room was a stack of old drawings that I looked through a little.

20140411_21552820140411_215555

20140411_215712There was a lot written on the music room chalkboard. It kind of looks like a song, but the last line says something like “for impact, make the follow-through loud.” The funny thing is that three of the words are English, written in Korean letters, like “polo seuroo” (follow through).

In one room, we found the words “Absolutely don’t turn around” spray painted on the wall. There was nothing behind us though (that I could see).

충일여고 Exploration

We didn’t stay in there too long; no more than half an hour probably. We had missed the last bus back to our city by then so we grabbed a hotel nearby and stayed the night. We were thinking about sleeping in the school, just for the experience, but it was a bit cool and there was no bathroom (my wife’s objection). The hotel where we stayed was named the Lotto Hotel, and their thing was that they gave you a lottery ticket when you checked in. I didn’t check it to see if we won, since I didn’t know where to. Probably we had a better chance of seeing a ghost than winning the lottery that night.

20140411_214250

 


The Retail Trail

The Galacto-Mart had a separate postal code—for every department. It was so big that customers could rent small electric cars at the front and high-speed resupply trains ran under the floor. It could be seen from space. It could be seen from the Moon. It was reported to have its own airport somewhere on the east side. It was big, is what I’m trying to say.

I always felt a sense of stomach-churning awe when we drove past the front entrance, built like a modern tower of Babel. We had heard rumors of the fabled toy department, the mecca of all things juvenile, somewhere in the misty expanses beyond Lawn and Garden. It was our dream to see it, just once, but my parents never ventured more than a few hundred meters into the store, just far enough to pick up their prescriptions at the pharmacy, eat at the first food court and maybe grab some groceries from the borderlands of the grocery department. We begged them to visit the whole store, but my dad joked that it made his credit card hurt to think about it.

food court

Finally, we decided to strike out on our own, my brother Kiefer and I. I was twelve and he was ten, so we weren’t babies, although I didn’t want to tell my parents we were going. There were stories of kids who wandered off in Galacto-Mart and just never came back. Rumor had it they turned up years later, wearing store vests and earning minimum wage.

My friend Jonas came too since he had overheard us talking about it and insisted. It’s not really that I didn’t want him to come but Jonas always gave up on things easily and I knew this was going to be an epic trek that would test all our abilities.

We set out one Saturday morning, when mom would be expecting us to go out and play anyway. I left a note for them in the cookie jar, where they would discover it eventually but hopefully not too soon. It was my secret hope that we would be back first, but I wasn’t confident. We took the bus over and then we were there, staring up at the massive building.

department store2

“Hi, welcome to Galacto-Mart,” the greeter/customs officer said. She looked over our passports and stamped them. “What department are you headed to today?”

“Toys,” I said.

She got an apologetic look on her face. “Oh, I’m sorry. You have to be eighteen to rent an electric car.”

“That’s okay, we’re going to walk.”

She looked shocked. “Walk? That’s near the back. That’s almost to Automotive!”

I just nodded and walked on, Kiefer and Jonas following and trying to look cool. “Do you want me to at least make a hotel reservation for you near the halfway point?” the woman called after me. I ignored her.

At first, it was fun. We bought provisions at the closest food court and set out, hitting a large book section and then a section of party supplies. We sat down in Stationery and ate our lunch on a table we built out of reams of paper.

After Stationery, the journey immediately got awkward. We hit the plus-size lingerie section and although we tried to go around it, it went on and on and we finally dove in. None of us talked as we walked through forests of huge bras and panties. I was blushing and I didn’t dare look at the others to see if they were too.

Finally, we were out and into girls’ socks, which was marginally better. Jonas started making fun of all the patterns and we all started it, pretending we were going to buy girls’ socks and giggling in relief from being away from lingerie.

We finally hit another food court around four in the afternoon. I could tell Jonas wanted to go back and I started to regret bringing him. We ate lasagna and then started again but it was soon clear we couldn’t go much further. Kiefer was lagging and Jonas was complaining and even I was starting to feel that it was getting to be too much. Then up ahead, I saw computer games and I thought we had finally made it. But when I asked a worker, he said that Computer Games were part of Electronics, which was a sub-division of Household Goods, nowhere near Toys. We spent several hours playing with the games until I figured we should get going again.

department store

This time, we didn’t make it far. Jonas was about to turn back on his own, until I reminded him how far we had already walked that day. Kiefer was drifting off on his feet. We made camp in the Menswear department, under a forest of shirts, snuggling into a nest of hockey jerseys.

We were woken up by a worker wielding a hanger and a scanner gun. He almost got me, but I dodged him and we escaped into the boxers aisle.

The rest of the next morning was spent wandering through aisles of dog collars, road salt, beanbags chairs, and the like. Jonas sat down in the beanbag chairs and refused to get up until I threatened to leave him. There were maps along the way and I could tell we were getting close. Then, just before noon, we saw it over a rack of rakes: the Toy department.

It opened up like a valley. On one side was a fluffy mass of pink and white. Unicorns and kittens romped around and behind it, a Barbie’s dream castle towered up. Near it was a castle made of Legos, wooden blocks and other building materials. There were Nerf artillery and machine gun nests on top.

To get in, we had to roll a pair of huge dice and go the number of spaces it said. My space said, “Go right in!” Kiefer’s said, “Go back to plus-size lingerie.” He started crying, so the attendant let him roll again. Jonas’ square said “Go immediately to Barbie’s dream castle”, which didn’t make him too happy.

We had all just gotten in, when an electric car pulled up outside and Mom and Dad got out, looking both worried and furious. They whisked us away and grounded Kiefer and me for a month for running off. Later, when they calmed down a bit, they said maybe we could back to the Toy department for my birthday.

I hope so. I’ll never forget that place, where the streets are paved with Legos.


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