I don’t know if you’ve heard of K.Z. yet, but she is the queen of the short fiction horror genre (and yes, such a thing exists, because she’s the queen). I’ve known K.Z. for over a year since we are both faithful Friday Fictioneers and I’ve probably read every story she’s posted there in that time. I look forward to reading hers every week, since they’re always amazing.
She has a new book out, coming in April, although the exact date is not announced yet.
100 NIGHTMARES by K.Z. Morano is a collection of horror stories written in exactly 100 words and accompanied by a few illustrations.
It takes a brief encounter with death to cause enduring nightmares.
A single well-placed blow could maim you for life…
One well-placed word could haunt you forever.
Microfiction is a blade—sharp, swift…
Sometimes it goes for the jugular, killing you in seconds.
Its silver tongue touches your throat and warm blood hisses before you could scream.
Sometimes, the knife makes micro-cuts on the sensitive sheath of your sanity, creating wounds that would fester throughout eternity.
Take my 100 words like prescription… a slow-acting poison.
Or read them all and die of overdose.
It’s your suicide after all.
Here’s the cover. Pretty scary, eh? If horror’s not your thing, then it’s probably best not buy this, but if you like it, definitely get K.Z.’s book when it comes out.
K.Z. Morano is an eclectic eccentric… a writer, a beach bum and a chocolate addict who writes anything from romance and erotica to horror, fantasy, sci-fi and bizarro fiction. Over the past few months, her stories have appeared in various anthologies, magazines and online venues. Visit her at http://theeclecticeccentricshopaholic.wordpress.com/ where she posts short fiction and photographs weekly.
For more updates on the story collection like K.Z.’s Facebook page www.facebook.com/100Nightmares
This story deals with somewhat disturbing material. Just a heads up. It’s a story for Al Forbes’ Sunday Photo Fiction. A bit over the word limit, but please forgive me this time.
All Wrung Out
I feel wrung out, with a soul like an old dishrag, flapping in the burning wind. But you gotta keep on, so I flip a smile, crack a joke and pretend. We all do.
“We got a drill hole on 10th Avenue,” Marc calls. “A real slip-n-slide.”
“And here I forgot my bathing suit,” I say, climbing into the truck.
There are no survivors, of course. The laser beam drilled a perfect hole down through the 20-story building, gutting it and disintegrating everything in its path. Nobody calls us when there are survivors, only when there is “organic material” to clean up. I don’t mind the “organic material”; it’s picking up the body parts I can recognize that gets to me. Nobody said war was pretty.
“Do you ever wish one of those lasers would get us?” Marc asks that evening. “Just erase the memories and nightmares forever.”
“What, and leave this dream job?” I say, laughing and taking a swig of beer.
He looks at me with pain in his eyes, pleading silently for me to be serious, just once. But I can’t do it, because I feel so thin inside that if I stop smiling, I’ll shatter.
I’m just all wrung out.
This past Wednesday, I did a Friday Fictioneers story called Jasper’s Lamp. It’s a creepy story about five generations of women and their relationship to a lamp that has something growing inside it. The problem is, that the Friday Fictioneers stories are 100 words and I wanted to say more about it. So I wrote this one to tell the whole story. It’s a bit long, but if you like creepy, then enjoy.
“I brought it,” my mother says, and with those three innocuous words, a shiver of terror goes down my back. This is the moment I have been dreading since my grandmother showed me the lamp and told me it would one day be mine.
“I don’t want it,” I say. “How dare you bring that thing here?”
Her eyes are filled with the wearied horror that comes from years of caring for a monster. “Look, I promised my mother I would do this. Throw it away if you want. I don’t care. I’m sorry to do this to you, Sarah. God knows I’m sorry, but now I’m done. I’ve fulfilled my promised. I brought the papers too.”
With that, she stands up and walks to the front door. “I don’t want it!” I shout after her. I know it is useless; the front door clicks shut.
I go to the door in time to see her drive away. The lamp is sitting next to the door, covered loosely by a canvas bag. I am tempted to leave it there, but of course that is impossible. What if Evelyn, my daughter, sees it? What if the wind blows the bag off and the neighbors see the monstrosity that is underneath?
It takes all my willpower to knowingly bring that thing into my house; to actually put my hand under the glass globe and lift it, holding that terror so close to my body. A folio bound with a string is next to it, and after I bring the lamp inside, I get the papers and bring them into the kitchen.
They smell old, with a mustiness that reminds me of sickness. I make some coffee and then open the folio. My mother has told me about these papers, which my grandmother collected as a history of the lamp and an ongoing record of it. She loved it, my mother said, although I cannot understand why.
The papers on top are a bundle of yellowed, type-written transcriptions of an interview between my grandmother Ursula and her mother, my great-grandmother Celeste.
Ursula: Tell me about my father, Jasper.
Celeste: Jasper, he was quite the dashing young man. He was dark-skinned, and my parents didn’t approve of him, but he was a romantic. Always talking about places he’d been all over the world. He said he’d take me with him sometime, but I didn’t want to go. Getting malaria in some sweaty, God-forsaken jungle, no thank you.
Ursula: And when did he give you the lamp?
Celeste: The lamp. He sent it to me, if you can believe it. I don’t how it didn’t break, but he packed it tight into a crate with straw and paper and bits of rag. It was an oil lamp back then, not the electric lamp you’ve made it now.
Ursula: Can you describe the lamp?
Celeste: Describe it? You know damn well what it looks like! Fine though, I guess it has changed over the years. When I first opened the package, it was a brass oil lamp, with a glass chimney and underneath, a large glass globe. Inside the globe, there was a single eyeball floating, about as big as a cow’s eye. Gave me one hell of a fright. I found the note he sent with it. ‘I need you to look after this for me. Promise you will, it’s important. I’ll be back for it soon, but for now, keep the lamp burning. Keep it warm!’ That’s all he said, no ‘I love you’ or anything.
Ursula: And that was the last you heard of him?
Celeste: That was it. He was heading for Indochina when I said goodbye to him for the last time, but that note and the lamp was the last I got from him. Five months later, you were born. I did as he asked though, taking care of you and the lamp, keeping it lit, although I covered up the bottom most of the time. I couldn’t abide that big, staring eye just looking, always looking. I kept expecting it to fall apart, just decay, but as you know, it didn’t.
Ursula: When did you first notice it growing?
Celeste: you were about three at the time. You were toddling around and you grabbed at the skirting around the lamp and yanked it off. You screamed when you saw the eye first, but then you couldn’t keep away from it. You named it George, I remember. It was then I noticed it was growing, that there was more flesh behind it and another eye growing next to it, though at that time, it was dull and undeveloped.
Ursula: What do you think about the lamp?
Celeste: [sighs] I didn’t like it and I still don’t. It still gives me the creeps and if you didn’t have such a connection to it, I would order you to destroy it when I die. But Jasper’s last letter to me made me promise to take care of it and I did it for him. You can do what you like with it. For years, I kept imagining he’d come back and take it off my hands. I don’t suppose he will now though.
The transcript ends there. I heard hints of this from my grandmother, but not everything. The next thing in the folio is a battered,spiral-bound notebook. On the cover, it says, “The Book of the Lamp, by Ursula McIntyre-Willis”. I didn’t know about this.
June 5, 1958: I’ve decided to call the thing Jasper instead of George. Not that it’s Father, but I never met him and this is all I have from him. Sometimes when I look into the lamp, I can imagine those eyes speaking to me as they look unblinkingly into mine. I can almost understand, but not quite. It’s frustrating. Both eyes are full size now and a body is growing behind them.
I flip through a few pages. My grandmother Ursula has made detailed notes about its development and her feelings about it.
August 19, 1961: The body is taking on a definite shape now and I can see a head forming around the eyes. Last night I had the insane thought to open the globe, even though I knew it might endanger Jasper. I pried off the lamp part, but the globe is totally sealed, as if it was made whole. I don’t know how they did it. I will replace the lamp with an electric one, I think.
July 29, 1964: My husband Randy tried to smash the globe with a baseball bat. He’s always hated Jasper, but the bat didn’t even make a scratch. He knows not to try to touch Jasper again though. I made sure of that.
February 3, 1968: The kids never want to go near Jasper. I don’t care about Brody, but if Rose is going to take care of him after me, she needs to love Jasper as much as I do. An hour a week in the closet together should help their relationship. If she looks into Jasper’s eyes, he’ll speak to her.
March 28, 1970: I got the good idea to record my mother’s recollections of the lamp. She never loved him as much I did. I’m glad she let me take care of him.
July 2, 1973: The area over his eyes has been thickening for almost a year now. At first, I thought they were fading, but now I see it is the eyelids growing. Last night, I saw my dear Jasper’s eyes for the last time. Now they are shut and he is sleeping.
November 6, 2003: I am going into a nursing home tomorrow and I can’t keep Jasper anymore. My heart is breaking, but now it’s Rose’s turn.
At the top of the next page, my grandmother has written my mother’s name: Rose Willis-Hunter. But the pages afterwards are blank. At the back of the notebook, I find a letter from my mother to me. It has been crumpled up, but then smoothed out again. It is dated June 20, 2007, the day after my grandmother’s funeral.
I feel like I’ve been living in a nightmare most of my life and the last thing I want to do is pass it on you. You were there for the reading of the will, but there was a secret clause about it. She left it to me along with her papers and a book of things that the thing inside has supposedly told her. She wants me to pass it on to you when I get old.
My darling Sarah, forgive me. I will keep it away from you as long as I can, but you have no idea what it was like living with her. She broke me, slowly but steadily. I hate that thing, but I can’t destroy it and I can’t abandon it. I dream about my mother even now and about that thing she loved. The hours she locked me in the closet with it before its eyes closed changed me somehow. I hate it and I hate myself for being so weak.
At the bottom, in red pen, my mother has scribbled, I threw this letter away, but decided to show it to you anyway. It was a moment of truth I don’t think I can bring myself to repeat. I burned the book of things it told her. I made the mistake of reading it and I may be weak, but I couldn’t let that survive. I left the notes she made of its history, so you’ll know the truth and be warned.
I close the folio and go out into the hallway, where the lamp is sitting. With a deep breath, I pull off the canvas bag.
The monster, Grandma Ursula’s Jasper, lays curled up inside. It is more developed than the first time I saw it, that time when Grandma brought me up to her secret library when my mother was away. This is Jasper, she said, as if introducing me to a friend. One day, he will be yours to take care of. Now, I can see a whip-like tail curled around the bottom, curved spines along its back and its hundreds of little legs curled up, each ending in a single claw. Its closed left eye is pressed against the glass now. I have a sudden image of it opening and I throw the bag back over the lamp. Somehow, I get the lamp down to the basement and bury it behind boxes.
I go out to do errands and come back that afternoon to find, with horror, my 8-year-old daughter Evelyn reading the papers about the lamp I have thoughtlessly left out on the table.
“What’s this?” she asks.
“Nothing,” I say, grabbing them.
“Do we have this lamp?” When I don’t reply, she continues, “Where is it? I want to see it.”
It’s like I don’t have a choice. With mute horror, I lead her downstairs and move aside the boxes, aware that I am continuing the chain. Show her now and she will be revolted by it, I think, to comfort myself.
“So this is Jasper. Wow, he’s so cool,” she says, gazing into the globe.
“It’s just a thing and it’s not cool.”
“But great-grandma Ursula called him Jasper,” she says. “He’s almost done, right?”
“Done?” I ask with alarm. “What do you mean?”
“Well, from the notes on the table, he’s been growing for years. So when he’s finished growing, he’ll wake up, right?”
“What makes you say that?”
“I don’t know. I guess I just assumed.”
“Look, Evelyn. Don’t come down here, okay? This thing is evil. I’m going to get rid of it, okay?”
“But I want to be there when his eyes open,” she says and my mind revolts at the smile on her face. Not for this! I want to shout. Not for you, Jasper. You can’t have her.
I lay awake in bed that night, thinking. I am all by myself since my husband left two years ago and I need to do something to stop this. I need to destroy the lamp, carry it to a dump, drop it into the ocean, anything to get it away. I fantasize about doing it, day after day, while I keep the basement door locked and an eye on my daughter. But I feel that time is running out. It’s almost done,” Evelyn said, and I feel it too. So I keep on, think about destroying it and do nothing and hate myself for doing nothing, around and around, in a maddening spiral.
But I have to do something. I have to. Before the eyes open.
“Jasper left me the lamp. It had a glass globe underneath it, a single eyeball floating inside. Creepiest thing I’d ever seen. “Keep it warm!” he said. He never came back, for me, the lamp or his daughter.”
“Mama gave me the lamp when I moved out. I had grown up with it, that little lump of flesh and two bulging eyes.”
“I didn’t want it, but I took it. The curled-up monster inside freaked me out.”
“‘Its eyes just opened,’ my daughter screamed from the basement. Then she screamed again and I heard glass shatter.
(I think this is the most alliterative post title I’ve ever had. )
“And this is the koi pond,” Lady Phram said. “You will be responsible for feeding the fish.”
“They look well-fed,” Ali said. He was still surprised a street urchin like him had been suddenly given a job in a mansion.
Lady Phram’s eyebrows arched. “Oh, quite.”
Ali put his hand in the water and the fish swarmed. “Ouch!” He yanked back his hand, bleeding.
“These aren’t normal koi.” She walked through a wooden door, shutting him in.
“What do I do now?” he called.
“You feed the fish,” she called through the door.
Water began to pour into the courtyard.
The Lure of Dark Gully
Stay away from Dark Gully, when the wind is rising in banshee shrieks and tearing at rocks and trees like a vengeful demon of the night.
Stay away when you hear the small coaxing voice come through the maelstrom, telling you to come closer; telling you there is shelter from the storm in the narrow knife-slash in the cliff face.
Flee when you see the faint glow dancing on the tips of the waves, moving slowly to the shore to rest on the storm-slick rocks.
Flee when the tiny glowing balls of mesmerizing ether begin to coalesce into a form that rises out of the surf and takes a step onto the shore.
Despair when the figure holds out its hand and you take a staggering step towards it, all warnings and common sense blown away by the gale.
Despair as your foot steps into the stinging, foam-flecked wave and you are led, unresisting, out to the place where waves pound and rocks break and life is sucked away like a match tossed into the dark abyss of space.
So when the wind rises in the east; when the waves begin their tramping march up the rocks of the beach; when the sky darkens in an ominous light, stay away.
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