Archive for: October, 2013

THE FIRST PAIN by Courtney Duff

Oct 27 2013 Published by under The WiFiles

Streams of light roamed in between the dense foliage, highlighting the random arm or bit of foot poking from between the leaves. Stray clumps of hair dangled from pockmarked, baseball-sized heads. The dolls hanged intermittently throughout the forest. The feet dangled from the tree limbs at irregular intervals and path-walkers had to duck around them. Tourists moved about the forest in clusters. A little girl could be glimpsed as she darted through the trees, peeking out from behind gnarled, thick trunks and crouching beneath dirt-grazing branches.

She wandered off to the edge of the forest. The scene was less unintelligible when viewed from the outside. The trees stood far from each other; the little girl could see through the leaves quivering in the breeze to the dolls hanging high above the ground and dancing in the breeze. The dolls tethered by their necks and arms bounced their legs and the ones tied by their legs or waist waved their arms in the air carelessly. The eerie choreography made the little girl shiver. Her fair, mahogany hair quaked in the wind when she shook. It caught the liquid streams of sunlight and washed her entire body in a spotlight of warm, buttery yellow.

She was alone. The island buzzed with groups of tourists, but none claimed her. Women smiled serenely at the startlingly young girl’s mocha skin and assumed she was with another group, confident that a doting mother would soon dart in to sweep up the seven or eight year old girl. Men shot glances at her, very few looking for longer than a moment. The men who did watch her were fathers, their glances proprietary and protective. She was a beautiful little girl. Her eyes were wide, outlined in feathery lashes and a small wrinkle when she smiled. Her lips were puckered in a permanent pout because of her overbite. The girl only smiled with her mouth shut and her eyes wide.

She giggled and dashed towards the center, playing a game with the dolls to the delight of the women and fathers. She tugged on the errant legs and arms, her tiny fist barely wrapping around the baby doll’s plastic limbs.

#

The sun’s departure made the little girl’s game turn frantic. Her desperate movements were juxtaposed against the sad serenity of the island. The moon hanged lazily in the sky, clouds casually passing over it. The trees bent naturally with the breeze. It blew in from the coast and dragged twigs and leaves with it.

She stopped when the breeze brought a voice with it.

“Carmen,” it called. “Come home.”

Carmen dropped her hands to her sides, palms hitting her hips, and dragged her feet through the dry dirt. The dolls sagged heavily on their lines of twine as though disappointed that she hadn’t managed to release them from their nooses and let them finally complete their suspended fall to the forest floor.

A ragged man stood at the entrance of a small, disguised hut. The skin of his face drooped heavily with wrinkles, the curls of skin bulging towards the end with stray lines of fat.

“Julian, can’t I go home?” She brushed her dirty feet against the woven mat propped on the stone hearth of the building.

“Sweetie, you are home,” the man said. “You can accept that, can’t you, mija?”

“Sure,” she said, despondent. “Sorry, Papa.”

He leaned his arm against the door frame and nodded towards it. She ducked in beneath his outstretched arm and settled on a couch. Above it, the wall was blank but for one framed photo. The woman pictured was garishly attractive. The eyes she pointed carelessly at the camera were empty, its corners pointing to crow’s-feet. Her lips were badly chapped and lines were visible in the fine skin. Her neck was wrapped in a tacky, multi-colored scarf. A gift from Julian.

Carmen was in the space between two cushions beneath the photo. She sank into the space and curled into a fetal position.

“Stop sulking,” Julian said. “Your mama will be here soon.”

“She isn’t my mom!” Carmen cried. “I want to go home.” She turned her head away from him and his gaze traveled upwards to the photo of Lumia.

“You will accept your mama when she gets here,” he said, staring at the photo.

“She isn’t coming, Julian,” Carmen spat. She still didn’t look at him. “It’s been thirty years. Let me go home.”

“I told you to call me dad.”

“You’re not my dad.”

Julian stood and walked out of the room. He came back bearing a doll cradled in his arm. Although it had all four limbs — unusual for Julian’s collection — its face was pimpled by plastic blisters from fire. “Let’s go.”

Carmen shook her head vehemently, the bronze hair flipping across her face. “I’m not doing it tonight.”

“You have to,” Julian said plaintively. “You have to be here when Mama arrives.”

“No.”

“I said to come with me. You’re supposed to do what I say, I’m your father.”

“You’re not my dad.”

“I’m as good as you’ve got, so you obey me like you should. It’s time to perform the ceremony, and you want to make daddy happy, right?”

Carmen sulked. “I’m not going. I’m not getting trapped here.”

“I have enough to trap you here forever, Carmen, this is just extra insurance. Your disobedience won’t stop me from making sure Mama has a baby to come home to. She’ll be here any day now, Carmen.”

“No she won’t!” Carmen screamed. “She isn’t coming. Julian, she isn’t coming, she would have come here when you came here if she had meant it. I’m not your puppy love’s daughter! She was a prostitute! She said what you wanted to hear so you’d pay her!”

Julian slapped Carmen across the face. The fleshy bang echoed through the trees. Carmen leapt to her feet and snatched his cigarette pack. She ran from the hut. He roared and stumbled after her, trying to rise to his feet and run at the same time.

#

Carmen’s breath burst from her lungs as she ran. She fumbled with the pack and extracted a lighter from amid the bent cigarettes. Julian’s strong legs caught up to her easily. He wrapped his hairy arms around her skinny waist and her flailing legs rocketed Carmen’s lower body into the air. Julian hefted her under one arm and snatched at her wildly waving arms, trying to grab the lighter despite his inability to see in the absolute darkness.

“I’m going to let the dolls go, Julian,” Carmen huffed through his suffocating grasp. “You can’t keep me here anymore. I want to go home. Let me go!” She flicked the lighter multiple times, trying to spark a flame.

“You can’t,” he said through gritted teeth. “Killing the dolls will kill the parts of your soul in them. You won’t have any soul left to go home.”

“I’ll have whatever you haven’t stolen,” she said. “I’m not yours.” The lighter caught and she flung it far from his wildly searching hand.

The lighter plopped into the center of a pile of dry leaves. Carmen and Julian stopped moving, stopped breathing, did nothing but waited. The leaves shuddered in the breeze and suddenly, instantly, the entire pile was aflame.

Julian wailed a single note of pure, despaired lament. The fire spread quickly in the dry heat, roaring as purely as Julian did. Carmen went slack in his arm. Her face lit up with excitement. Julian dropped her and she fell lifelessly to the ground. When she stood, she stretched her arms out from her sides.

And although she stood as far from the flames as Julian, a solitary fire licked at her feet and began to curl around her limbs and climbed up them, fully encasing her in moments. Julian watched in terror, crying fat tears without realizing it. Carmen’s fire painted his face with oranges and golds. She stood still and watched the fire absorb her. She recoiled backwards as the fire spread across the island and consumed dolls. Each twitch corresponded to a doll falling to the ground.

“It’s happening,” she said. The flame was to her chest. She licked her lips and said, “I can feel it.”

Julian stopped crying and watched, face impassive. His eyes were flat and dark, his arms clasped together behind his back. He watched as the flame rose higher and Carmen’s jerks came more frequently. She began to convulse frantically as the final dolls fell together and faster. She cried out and he looked at her. Her face was contorted by an expression of pain, of heat and misery, and of absolute joy and awe. She moved forward and Julian took a step back.

“I just wanted to tell you that I can feel the pain for the first time since I died,” Carmen said. “Julian, I can feel it. It’s so beautiful.” She crumpled and the flames consumed her.

Bio: Courtney Duff currently resides in Indianapolis, Indiana. Follow her on Twitter at @CourtneyEDuff for absurdist ramblings and rare insight.

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A Pound of Cure By Kevin Nunn

Oct 20 2013 Published by under The WiFiles

Ground Force signed the papers with the sort of flourish one expects from a hero in multi-hued spandex. “How’s it feel to be a hero instead of a sidekick?” Longarm grinned. When he was a sidekick he much preferred the official term ‘Special enforcement level two’, but now that he had made it to ‘special enforcement level one’, aka superhero, he now felt that it couldn’t have been that bad. What’s in a name, really?

Ground Force grinned back and slid the shiny blue booklet to the next seat at the bar where Blue Jay fiddled with the pen and made a big production of tapping her head and thinking over whether to sign before out flourishing Ground force’s signature and giving a big wink. “Of course you know, now you have to take on a sidekick for training.”

Longarm hadn’t thought of that, but it stood to reason. You only got to be a supe by doing the apprenticeship. Well, some didn’t, but they were vigilantes, not supes. If you wanted to have the backing of the police and the government you had to jump the hoops. It could be a pain, and there wasn’t a supe around who didn’t complain about some sort of red tape almost daily, but it came with a paycheque and legitimate rights of arrest as a de facto special auxiliary of the RCMP. Two years as a side kick showing you understood the laws, could stand up on court without looking like an idiot and revealing your secret ID to your mentors didn’t look at all bad. Especially now that it was all behind him. No matter how often they complained about this or that, the Canadian licensing system beat the hell out of the carnage that littered the news south of the border every night where American supes couldn’t agree on any sort of oversight, always producing some rogue hiding behind a secret identity and messy legal liability issues that made sure no police force wanted to work with them. Supes up here would often say the edges of the Canadian flag represent that two thirds of our life was made of red tape, but they usually said it with a hint of pride.

Ground Force grinned at Blue Jay. Blue Jay grinned at Ground Force, and then they both turned to Long Arm. He had a sudden worried feeling that their grins were a little too…grinny.

“Speaking of…” started Blue Jay.

“There has become a little tradition…” interrupted Ground Force as they smirked to each other.

“Your new sidekick is ready!” they said together, pulling out another little book and making hasty signatures in it as well, before giving each other a hug as if celebrating the passage of a burden. Longarm was the tallest of them at 6’8”, but Ground force wasn’t too far behind and Blue Jay’s marvelous wings towered over them both as she opened them slightly to make room for Ground Force’s embrace. It wasn’t until they stepped apart and made room that he could see an average sized woman dragging GF’s multi-tool closer to a table. On the attractive side of average, around 5’6” with brown hair and stylish glasses she seemed to be one of the few people in the pub who could keep her eyes off of the magnificent physical specimens swathed in spandex at the end of the bar. Her ‘costume’ appeared to be sensible cargo pants, a roomy tee and runners. Her shirt did at least have ‘The Ounce’ embroidered over one breast as some sort of nod to a super identity. The domino mask beneath her glasses made the barest of acceptable nods to super costuming rules. It was barely visible under the glasses themselves.

“Uh…huh, what?” Longarm sputtered as The Ounce put her hands on her hips and gave an appraising glance up and down her new mentor. She didn’t exactly radiate the aura of respect that one expected from a sidekick working her way up to hero. She stepped out of the way of a waitress who  couldn’t take her eyes off of GF and BJ as she walked through the spot GF’s multi tool had been parked just a minute before.

BJ stuffed both books in Longarm’s hand as if finally ridding herself of handcuffs. He looked at them both. His had his stats for ID purposes, limits of license, brand new signatures complete with license numbers to make it official. He then looked at hers. It had pages added, which was odd, but after perusing a bit he discovered it was to make room for all the additional names – 15 different mentors over six years. “Six years?” he blurted without thinking.

“Closer to six and a half now,” BJ said.

“What’s…uh…?” Longarm started, but politeness stopped him while the subject of the query was less than two paces away.

“What’s wrong with her?” said Ground Force feeling no such difficulty as a reached down and absentmindedly pulled his multi-tool back into the path that the wait staff tended to use. “Nothing.”

“But apprenticeship is only two years…what the…?”

“She just never completed many of her reqs.” Said Ground Force as The Ounce moved a pitcher of beer slightly down the bar for no apparent reason.

“She also has no mobility advantages” said BJ as she ruffled her wings prettily over a now empty patch of the bar. “She shows up after things have already wrapped up. Usually via subway.”

“No combat skills” said GF in a slightly hushed voice as if it was a secret shame that he dared not speak too loud. “I have no idea how she survives in the field. I spent more time keeping my eye on her than the bad guys.”

The Ounce didn’t appear to be listening. Instead she just casually reached over and tipped the multi-tool so that it fell into the shadow of a nearby table. She then sat quietly behind BJ as if she couldn’t care less about the conversation and wanted to be out of the way of something.

“She’d constantly make me late” said BJ, “or get me somewhere early. She once had me sit in a bank for an hour. I signed a few autographs, chatted to a few fans, and after a while she just said ‘okay, done’ and we left.  Absolutely nothing had happened. No robbery, nothing. You’ll have to be quite firm with her if you want to get anywhere, but as you can see it really doesn’t make much of a difference to her if she ever gets her full license. “

A gent popped in from the snooker room at the back and suddenly presented with three large colourful super heroes did a double take. GF smiled and waved, comfortable with fame and attention, but with his eyes firmly locked on the wall of muscle waving at him the new arrival didn’t notice the handle of the multi-tool and stumbled over it. BJ’s lightning fast wing shot out and kept him from falling, cradling him in a wall of soft blue feathers. In the jostling his wallet fell from his jacket. Then his other wallet. Then a few more, slapping against each other as they fell on the ground. His eyes bugged out a little and he suddenly spun on his heel but his attempt at flight was cut short as GF lifted him from the ground by the scruff of his neck and his feet no longer had the benefit of the floor as a means of propulsion.

“That’s an unusual number of wallets, friend” GF said in a voice that practically wagged fingers all on its own.

“I think we need to bring you down to the station” BJ added “Longarm, would you like to have this as your first fully licensed nab?”

Longarm pulled thoughtfully on his lip as he noticed GF absently reach for his multi-tool again without even realising that it had fallen down. Apparently The Ounce had already stood it back up, for it was right where he expected it to be and he popped it back over his shoulder.

“I think I’d better stay and get to know…my sidekick.”

BJ and GF shrugged, gave him sympathetic looks and lugged out their pickpocket leaving him to settle the bill. The Ounce just looked at him. During a long pause she nodded slightly several times as if agreeing to something before she smiled at him, a smile that he got the impression was fairly rare for her mentors. At last she spoke. “You’re smarter than most supes. I think you should ask the question.”

He hadn’t even realised that he was about to ask her a question until then, but then it just popped out. “I barely made it on a sidekick’s stipend, how come you aren’t trying harder to get a full license?”

For the first time since he’d noticed her she looked self conscious, in fact, a little shy. She cocked her head to shield part of her face with her hair, in that fetching way shy girls sometimes do. “I won the lottery about 7 years ago. I don’t need the money.” She blushed, and seemed to develop that alert clumsiness that folks who are unused to such scrutiny sometimes have. She seemed different now, as if letting down a shield she hadn’t realised that she’d had.

 After an awkward pause they both started to speak at once before he held up his hand and said, “You first. I’ve had my question.”

She took a deep breath, as if rehearsing a question in her mind for the thousandth time before actually ever daring to give it voice for the first time. “What’s more important? Stopping a tragedy, or getting credit for cleaning it up and catching the villain?”

That took him aback for a moment, but the penny was in the midst of dropping anyway. “You’ve never told anyone how accurate you are as a precog?”

She blushed even more fiercely, a wholly different woman than the almost robotic, almost emotionless sidekick that he’d first seen when the spandex sea had parted. She stared at the floor making her eyes totally unreachable. “Not much glory if you don’t have any crimes.” She mumbled. “But you’re different. You’re smarter.” She gasped out as if having a hard time breathing. She looked distinctly uncomfortable.

“How do you know that? Ground Force and Blue Jay are local legends! They’ve rushed into fires to pull people out! They’ve faced hails of bullets sheltering innocents behind them!”

“Yeah, they do that. I prefer just making sure these things don’t happen. You do too.”

“Precog tell you that?”

“It’s one of the things you say the day you sign my papers” she said, beet red, face getting more hidden by the moment as she virtually curled up to avoid his gaze. It wasn’t easy at his height but he found himself trying to lower his head to look up at her, completely unsuccessfully.

“The other being?” he said extending one of his arms to the floor to keep his balance as he continued trying to find her face.

She threw money on the bar to cover the tabs as if she needed a sudden break from an intense conversation, and practically ran for the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow!” she practically yelled as she made an escape. Or almost did, she stopped dead in her tracks a mere moment before his arms shot out to their full strange length to stop her, obviously knowing he was about to. She gave him the briefest of eye to eye gazes before declaring in a panic, “You know it wouldn’t be appropriate to ask while I’m still just your sidekick. It’s a definite conflict of interest!” She ended that in a high pitched squeak of panic, and while he froze trying to figure out what the hell was happening she made it to the door, and disappeared into the night. After a few moments he realised his mouth was dry and shut it with a clack. It opened again almost immediately when he looked down at the money she left and noticed she’d written on the top bill in hasty letters before she’d put it down; “But I’m pretty sure I’ll say yes”.

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Catches Burning by Robin Dunn

Oct 13 2013 Published by under The WiFiles

Joe was on fire.  He was a beautiful liar, and his days had come to an end at the stake.

“Look at Joe,” said the man to the boy, “he did what we all wanted to.”  It was hard for the boy to listen to the screams of Joe, but he did so, because he knew it was expected of him.  He knew that Joe had done wrong and was paying for it.

Joe’s flesh crisped, and his soul did something or other, perhaps leaving this universe, perhaps opting to stick around as an angry ghost, perhaps both.  As the people threw more faggots on the fire, a fiddler struck up a tune and some of the couples took up dancing, slowly, holding each other tightly, rotating like human spits.

Joe was quiet now, and it was getting dark, and the smell of the cooked meat and the warmth and color of the flames were beautiful.  The boy was crying.

“Why did we burn Joe?” he asked a man.

“Joe?  I never knew him very well, boy.  But I wanted to.  I wanted to know him.”

The boy ran home, through the darkening streets, over the cobblestones.  He shouted a few times, just to hear the sound of his voice echo off the pavements and walls of the houses.  The moon was rising and the light of it shone on the boy’s face, flashing off his wet cheeks.

“Momma, they burned Joe,” he said, arriving at the back stoop of home, burying his face in his mother’s skirts.

“I know, boy, I know.  Have some tea. Time for bed.”

They sat and drank the tea at their table.

“Momma, why did they burn Joe?”

“I don’t know, son.  People do all kinds of things.  Sometimes we burn each other.”

“But why, Mom?”

“God has a plan, son.  He knows, even if we don’t.”

This shut up the boy, though it did not satisfy him a bit.  He drank his tea and watched the grandfather clock tick back and forth.

“Where’s Charlie?” asked the boy.  Charlie was their cat.

“Out hunting mice I think,” said the woman.

The boy finished his tea and sighed, and lay down to sleep on the table.  His mother, a generous soul, picked the boy up in her strong arms and took him to his bedroom, where she stripped him to his underwear and tucked him into bed.

Later that night, Joe’s ghost slipped into the boy’s room, squatting over his small chest as nightmares do, watching his sleeping face.  It felt natural to Joe, being here, on top of this boy, not quite here and not quite gone.

“Boy,” he whispered, and the sound of his whisper was like a cave, like an ocean cave where rocks smashes against the lime-covered walls.  “Boy, it’s Joe . . .”

The boy woke.  He did not scream, but looked up at Joe’s pale face.

“Joe,” he said.  “Why did they burn you?”

“The same reason they’ll burn you, boy, if you don’t get out of here.  Mark my words!”

The boy believed Joe, though he could not have said why.  He felt something stir in his breast;  a dragon, or a mountain, perhaps a river, something large and dangerous and his.

He followed the ghost out of his house, dressed only in his underwear.  It was not that cold outside now, he found, rather pleasant, though he shivered from the anticipation, the thrill of this strange night.

“Where to, Joe?” he asked, but the ghost was gone.  The boy gazed up at the moon, thinking many strange thoughts he had never thought before.  At length, he returned to his bed, and to sleep.

– –

Many years later, the boy was a man.  And if we would speak of men, we must speak of burnings.  Not too long, I promise.

What, after all, is a burning of men alive, when it is not meant specifically to propitiate a god?  If the nature of this punishment is secular alone (and it may well be, whatever the priests say), is it then just another in a long list of creative ways to cause pain to one another?  An arbitrary distinction in a long line of them made by a few million governments since Time began?

The boy, whose name was now Brian, or Lucky, if you knew him well, had spent a great deal of time thinking about burnings.

Something about the heat, he thought.  And the dancing.

And he was right.  For what spiral of our final end, wherever it may come, cannot be bourn out but by the slipping loose of another’s vital knot?  It is best, you see, when villages forget their thoughts and lives at burnings, so that they may only huddle by its heat and stir their bodies for so many unions, so many further forgettings.

A bit Gnostic, perhaps, but Brian had met a great many of them, and this tangled philosophy served him well in his travels, where he never stayed long enough to become really known, and he learned much.

– –

Many years after that, Brian became a burner.  In a village much like his own, he took men the village brought to him, tied them to the stake, and set them afire.  It seemed logical to him, this new position.  It did not fill him but it soothed him, and warmed his face and skin.

After his fifth burning, the ghost of Joe came to Brian the boy, who was now almost sixty years old.

“Boy,” said Joe, squatting on his grey-haired shallow chest, “boy.”

Brian woke and screamed but found he could not move.

“You got out, but you didn’t get out quick enough.  I warned you.”

“I’m sorry!” cried Joe.

“Yes,” said Joe.  “You’re sorry.”  And he reached down to Brian’s face with his ghostly finger and left a mark there, a long, deep mark;  the mark of a ghost.

– –

In the end the boy Brian who was now old was reduced to beggary, and a very strange beggar he was, skittish even by the standards of other beggars, never staying in the open long, usually crouched under logs or watching the sky, to see what faces might appear out of the dark.

And that is all I know of Brian, the boy who saw Joe burn and later burned men himself.

 

Bio: Robin Wyatt Dunn lives in The Town of the Queen of the Angels, El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles, in Echo Park.  He is 33 years old.

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Odd Jobs by Jesse Martin

Oct 06 2013 Published by under The WiFiles

In Georgetown, just north of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, the lakefront houses resonated an orange glow in the dying sun. Dusted with a thin snowfall from the night before, the elaborate houses towered over icy streets on one side, and hung over the frigid, abandoned beaches of Lake Michigan on the other. The wind was a dry, bitter breath as it whipped around buildings and whistled through dead, barren trees. Walking down these streets on this cruel Saturday was a tall, thin young man with light hair and blue eyes, a book bag hanging from his back. He was alone.

Eddie Hayes walked down Hartford Street, the bitter wind stinging his squinted, thin face. A brief muscle spasm seized him for a moment. His breath was stolen, and he felt light headed. He thought he heard something behind him, something grunting. A quick glance over his shoulder proved the winter street empty. He paused for a moment, and then walked on.

He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a crumpled yellow piece of paper torn from a legal pad. Scribbled on the piece of paper was an address: 360 Harbor Ave. He returned the scrap of paper to its place and pulled out his cell phone to check the time. 4:56, the clock read. “Fuck,” he muttered under his breath. A brief cloud formed, and then dissolved before his eyes. “There goes this job.”

With numb and stinging fingers, Eddie pulled up the GPS application on his phone. Harbor Ave was still four blocks away, the phone showed. He returned the phone to his jacket pocket, retiring his hands there as well, trying to work warm blood into them. Far away he could hear a bus roaring and sloshing through the street. The light had begun to drain into the West and would soon be gone. He hoped to be indoors before that happened.

To the north of the University was Georgetown: a small, wealthy, Russian populated suburb on the shores of Lake Michigan. The houses that filled the small suburb were elaborate, towering structures, all unique in their architecture and style. Eddie noticed, in fact, that no two houses were the same. The structures–even the squatty ones–seemed to loom over Eddie, watching him with wide, dark eyes as he walked.

Eddie remembered the unlikely circumstance by which he had stumbled upon the job advertisement. He had just gotten out of his evening Geography lab at and was walking down the hallway leading to the back of the building. Pinned to a corkboard near the end of the dim-lit hallway was an advertisement printed on dark red sheet of stock paper.

HELP WANTED

GENERAL CLEANING AND YARD WORK

FLEXIBLE HOURS

CALL NOW!

210-761-8496

The paper seemed to have an aura to it. Not the kind that psychics on TV claim to see, or the kind that are in movies, but an invisible, pulling presence. The deepness of the red paper was lulling, and seemed oddly sexual. The pull-off tabs that were previously on the advertisement had all been ripped off.

A janitress came zooming from around the dark corner, pushing a cart containing various unmarked bottles, limping, used rags, and a large blue trashcan. The woman was quite large, Eddie noticed at once, and the smell of sanitizer seemed to radiate from her thick, slab-like body.

“Hey,” Eddie said, not exactly wanting to strike up a conversation, but rather just acknowledging the woman’s presence. The janitress shot him a brief smile. She reached a large hand over to the corkboard where the advertisements were.

“Hold up a second,” Eddie said over the crumpling papers, gesturing forward with his body as to somehow signify his presence. The janitress paid no attention as she continued to grope at the corkboard.

“Excuse me, ma’am, I want to copy that one down,” Eddie said louder this time pointing at the dark red advertisement. She paid him no attention, and continued to pile the papers into the plastic can.

What happened next happened fast. Even recounting it later, Eddie would never really understand why he had done what he did; it was not like him.

Eddie reached with both of his hands and grasped at the janitress’s thick arms. “I want to copy that one down, please wait until I am done.” Eddie pronounced each word slow and with great articulation. The woman looked at him for a second, then the corkboard, then him again. She gestured toward the advertisement and cocked her head sideways in inquiry. Eddie, still holding on to the woman’s arms, nodded slowly. This woman is deaf, and probably mute, too, Eddie thought, and released his grip on her hands. The woman allowed her hands to fall to her sides as she stepped away from him. Eddie felt his heart pang a little. He pulled his legal pad from his backpack and scribbled down the phone number on the corner. He tore the corner from the pad and stuffed it into his pocket. Returning the legal pad to his backpack, Eddie stood up, brushing his jeans off. “Thank you,” Eddie said, smiling. The janitress half-smiled in return. As Eddie walked away, he could hear the sound of crumpling papers begin again.

Eddie walked back to his dorm room, stripped to his underwear, and fell almost instantly into a deep dreamless sleep. He realized then that he no longer needed the piece of paper with the number written on it. He had not been able to get the number out of his head, and had memorized it.

Eddie woke up at 7:00, took a shower, ate, and was sitting down at his desk when his eye caught the scrap of paper from the night before. The phone number was scratched on it and fastened to his bookshelf with a piece of electrical tape. I must have put that there last night, Eddie thought, giving the paper a curious look. He hadn’t remembered taping the note there.

Almost impulsively, Eddie grabbed his phone and dialed in the number on its touch screen. No point, Eddie, my man, someone probably has the job; all of the tabs were taken, remember? Eddie pushed this voice out and listened to the phone ring a single time before a voice appeared on the other side.

“Hello?” a woman asked.

“Hello, my name is Eddie Hayes, I saw an advertisement for-”

“Oh yeah, right!” the woman bellowed. Her voice was low and smoky for a woman, and Eddie pictured her to be a nurse. “Why don’t you come on by tomorrow at five for an interview. I’ll give you dinner, too! 360, Harbor Ave.”

“Yeah, that sounds great,” Eddie said, surprised, and scribbled down the address on the wooden desktop.

“Well alright then, I’ll see you tomorrow at five then mister Hayes.”

“Ok, thank you.”

“No problem at all. You know, this really is a great job for a college student.” The woman hung then.

Now, at 5:15, Eddie stood underneath the looming house that lay on 360 Harbor Ave. Of all the houses that Eddie had passed in Georgetown, this one was by far the biggest. The Victorian monstrosity towered three stories tall. Two brick-red chimneys stuck up from the house. It was painted a faded teal-green color. Bleach white steps led up to an extensive porch and double front doors. The receding light had seemed to soak into the house, giving a shaded look.

Had he not needed a job, he would have moved on, walked back to his dorm, and probably fallen asleep.

He walked up the weathered bone-white stairs and rung the doorbell.

The double doors swung open. Standing before him woman of medium height with a neat bowl-cut that made her look like a slightly overweight fifth Beetle. She was wearing a paisley dress that went down to her feet, which were housed in glossy, yellow gumrubber boots. She wore a large, warming smile on her face, which, with the purple glow of the house, seemed to shine against the seeping darkness that Eddie was standing in only four feet away. She looked at him–and him at her—in silence for what seemed a long time, but was probably only two seconds before she spoke.

“Well hello there!” The woman exclaimed. “Come on in, you’re probably freezing out there!”

“Okay,” Eddie said as he stepped though the doorway and into the house.

“Just you go on and take a seat now, young man,” the woman said, gesturing to a long velvet couch in what seemed to be the living room, but was more extravagant than his parents’. He sunk into the velvet couch as the woman disappeared through a pair of swinging, saloon style doors.

The dim, orange light from a table lamp glowed against the deep-stained wooden furniture that populated the room. A mahogany writing desk sat in the corner; facing a window that looked out onto the dark, empty streets. Sitting on the desk was a large MacBook Pro, a wire cup full of red and black pens, and a stack of neat papers.

The woman appeared again through the swinging doors, carrying a polished tray with crackers and various cheeses lined up in rows. She placed the tray on a large, heavy-looking coffee table between them, and sat down in a recliner opposite him, looking at him with a sincere peculiarity.

Eddie helped himself to a whole grain with provolone, popping it into his mouth and chewing. The woman pulled a single sheet of paper, folded once, from a large packet in her paisley dress, and placed it on the table next to the tray. He swallowed the chewed food.

“My name is Tammy Joyce, your new employer,” she said, the smile bloomed on her face again. It was the same smile that his parents wore when they saw their five-year-old Eddie open a present on Christmas Eve.

Eddie was dumbfounded, and stared in disbelief at the woman. She raised her eyebrows as if to say, yeah I know, you showed up late and I still hired you before the interview. But she said no such thing; she only threw her head back in bellowing laughter.

Eddie found himself joining in, but not to the same degree as her.

“Aren’t we going to do an interview first? I mean…I showed up late,” Eddie said, not knowing why he was reminding her of the fact. At this, Tammy just shook her head and readjusted in her chair.

“Oh, Eddie,” Tammy began, “I had a professor in graduate school that always said ‘time is relative.’ You know, he wouldn’t even mark us tardy in lecture; I guess that’s what I’m doing with you. You should also know that nobody else showed up for their interview, either.

Tammy picked up the paper with her thumb and forefinger of one hand, plucked a pen from the coffee table with the other hand, and held both out to Eddie, her eyes locked on his. Her smile was still present, but took on a cold, business-like air. She was the employer after all, right?

Eddie took the paper and pen, and unfolded the former, and looked over it silently. It was a simple document, something like a high school student organization would make in order to keep a stripped down record of its members. There was a spot to write his name, phone number, address, age, gender, and signature confirming that “all of the preceding information was up to date and correct.” He scratched his information out the paper and handed it back to Tammy, who folded it along the same crease, and put it back into her large paisley pocket.

“Alright, very well,” Tammy began. “I’ll just go finish supper and bring it out in a few minutes. I hope plum marinated chicken breast and baked asparagus is ok.”

“Yeah, wow, that sounds great,” Eddie said. He didn’t realize how he couldn’t smell it before—the tangy-sweet marinade, the salt, pepper, and butter that the asparagus was simmering in. He could even hear the faint hissing sound from the next room. His mouth began to water uncontrollably as he realized how hungry he had been.

“All right then,” Tammy said, rising from her chair and starting toward the kitchen. “It should only be a minute,” she finished as she walked through the double doors.

Eddie plucked another cracker off the tray, dressed it with cheddar this time, and sat it on his tongue, savoring it. He chewed and swallowed, and when his was reaching for another, heard, from the kitchen, Tammy.

“Oh my…Eddie, you’re tall, honey, do you want to come in here and reach something in the top cupboard for me?”

Eddie got up and said, “Sure,” as he approached the double, saloon-style doors. He heard the simmering of food, as well as her fumbling with silverware, as he pushed the doors open.

What he saw stopped him.

The last job Eddie had was working at a restaurant as a dishwasher over a year ago. The kitchen where he had worked was a fresh, large room filled with brand new, stainless steel equipment that gleamed under large fluorescent tubes caged in chicken wire. The vast kitchen had smelled stale of bleach and other cleaners. Even when food was being made and carted out by the platefuls, the smell of cleaner never quite left.

The kitchen Eddie walked into as the double doors whined shut behind him was just like the one he worked in as an eighteen-year-old high school senior. No, that wasn’t quite right. It was the kitchen that he worked in, minus the other young cooks and the aged manager with leathery skin that beaded with sweat as the nights stretched longer and longer. Every detail from the large dishwasher in the far corner, to the salad assemble table just at his right, was present. It was all exactly the same. Something was wrong here.

Tammy was nowhere to be seen. All of the ranges were off, their surfaces void of any trace of chicken, asparagus, or any food for that matter. What did I smell then? Eddie thought, alarmed, realizing the wonderful, potent smell of chicken and vegetables was now replaced by the familiar stale cleaner smell he came to know all too well. His heart was now beginning to beat at a fast walking pace as his eyes scanned the room for Tammy, who had literally just walked in the vast room.

“Hey, Tammy?” Eddie called to the empty room. He got no response. “Tammy!” he called a little louder. No response.

Things aren’t adding up here, a voice spoke up in Eddie’s mind; it sounded like his own, but had an air of calmness that Eddie could not quite find at the moment. He stood there for a moment longer, pondering if it was worth the job to stick around: stick around to find out why she had failed to show up in the kitchen, stick around to find out why he had smelled food where there was none, stick around to find out why no one showed up for an interview.

Eddie needed no more convincing. He suddenly found strength in his quivering legs and turned around to run through the double doors, and out of the house, into the fresh, cold winter air. As he twirled around, Eddie saw Tammy standing just before the double doors, which stood silent and still.

Her dress, Eddie noticed, was no longer paisley, but a deep, solid red: the same red color that the flier was printer on, he was sure. Her hands were behind her back as she approached him, her smile still stretched on her plump face, but quivering slightly, as if she was about to cry.

“Oh, Eddie,” Tammy began, her voice shaking. “You weren’t going to leave yet, where you?” Eddie backed up slowly, keeping a five-foot pocket of space between the advancing woman before him. His heart rate had begun to pump to a steady jog, and was rising steadily as his muscles clenched tighter, his fingernails burying themselves into his sweaty palms.

“Listen, I don’t want any trouble, I just want to go home now, okay?” Eddie spoke the words soft and with articulation, as if the sheer volume of his voice would cause her to shatter.

At this, Tammy began to cry, shaking her head back and forth. This woman’s crazy, Eddie thought. Not just a little, either.

“No, Eddie.” She began blubbering. “I made the chicken. I made the squash. I made the rice.” Each statement was accompanied with a gesture of her head in the direction of the range, which gleamed under the row of lights, completely clean.

He began to inch between her and the gleaming salad counter as she blocked his path, pulling her hands from behind her back. In her right hand was a large cast iron pan, which she pulled up to her face, looking at it much like a geologist would look at a rare mineral, but with greed and malice, as well. She stilled her hand and brought her eyes up to meet Eddies, which were growing with every second as he imagined what she would expected to do with the pan. Eddie wasn’t used to dealing with physical encounters, and was beginning what he was sure would develop into a full-fledged panic attack. Wouldn’t that be funny, Eddie thought, news headline: 19-year-old dies of heart attack at job interview. No suspicious activity suspected. Haha.

Tammy began to walk toward him again, faster this time, the grin stretching on her face again. She raised the pan above her head with both hands and swung down, grunting some inhuman scream. Eddie jumped back just in time, allowing the iron pan to clip his fingertips instead of shattering his entire right hand.

A dull, fiery pain swept into his hand. He shook it lightly, biting his lip as if to catch to pain before it reached his head. She raised the pan again with a swiftness that was not usually associated with women her size. She was quick. Eddie turned to run. He wasn’t fast enough, but didn’t feel a thing as Tammy brought the pan down on his head, causing a sickening, dull crack and a tendril of dark blood that Tammy only saw. Eddie’s world swam out of focus as he collapsed into a lifeless pile on the floor.

Tammy looked down on the boy before her with a certain sense of accomplishment: things were falling into place. She supposed she already knew that, but her mind had been so damn foggy lately, and it was getting harder to tell what was what. It had been, what, two months since she ate? She thought so, but again, her mind had not been working properly. The young man was a good start. No that wasn’t right: he was a great start. The thing, which had called itself Tammy to the young man lying on the floor, breathed a deep, drawing breath deep into it’s chest as it picked up the unconscious pile and carried it away, watching the blood trickle from the laceration on the back of his head. She wouldn’t remain hungry for long, she thought.

It was some time before Eddie woke.

Pressure. On what, his wrists? Yes that felt right, and his legs too; and around his chest. Where the hell am I, Eddie thought as he slowly wandered out of the fog that was his unconsciousness like a blind, deaf, and mute man. It all came to him—the walk, the house, Tammy, the pan—as he opened his eyes and took in the room he was in. It was a small, chilly, square space; empty save the wooden chair he was sitting in now. A single light bulb cast a skirt of light that almost reached to the corners of the small room.

He tried to sit up, but couldn’t. Thick wraps of duck tape bound his wrists, ankles, and chest to the chair. The most action he could muster was craning his neck back and forth. The blood had dried on his head and neck, and was beginning to crust and flake onto his shirt and the floor. I’ve been out for a while, maybe even a few hours, Eddie thought. He turned his aching head around to see a single wooden door set into the cement wall. The door had a weathered appearance, as if it had spent a few years floating around as driftwood in the pacific before being fished out and set here. The doorknob, however, seemed brand new. Its deep gold hue glowed like a lighthouse on a foggy autumn night.

His heart sank to sit somewhere in his gut as he saw the gold doorknob turn slowly. Peeking her head through the door, with a smile that made Eddie’s stomach turn over, was Tammy. When she saw him, she breathed a sigh of relief and pushed the door open the rest of the way, stepping through. He followed her with his eyes as she walked to where Eddie could see her without straining his neck. As she stood there, her hands on her hips and her feet shoulder-width apart, a sick thought crept into his mind. It was impossible. She had gotten younger.

The Tammy that stood before him now was at least 40 pounds lighter than the one who had invited him into her house, and the gray strands of hair were gone completely. Her skin, which before had sagged lightly around the corners of her mouth and eyes was now taught and radiant with the glow of a 20 year old whose skin had not yet seen the cruel stresses and realities of the world. He thought for a moment that maybe this could be her daughter. It was possible, he guessed. She was sure young enough to be the daughter of the woman he had met before, but one look at her smile, which had taken on the air of a full-on grimace, shot the idea far away. Nobody could copy that smile, not with all the training in the world. That grimace held all of the bad things in the world between two blood-red lips that turned upward like a scythe. It was the sort of thing to make lush, green grass yellow and die; to make kids run away crying to their mothers; to make young college students worry for more than just their lives. Eddie was sure that he would go insane if he had to look at that grimace for much longer.

“Hello, Eddie,” Tammy pronounced. Her previous voice, which had sounded like some bland mix between a nurse and a chain-smoking lunch lady, was gone. Here was a deep, bold, businesswoman voice: clear and articulate. Her eyes, two black pieces of coal, looked at him with a fresh intensity. “How are you?”

Eddie felt a surge of terror, as well as rage, go through him. He was sure, as those last words left her mouth like a rotten smoke, that he was going to die here, in this chair. She would produce a knife from behind her back and force it through the duck tape where it would find his chest. Why not? She was clearly insane, and could easily do such a thing, probably without remorse. He would scream until his throat was torn into ribbons, but not a peep would escape this room, which, Eddie was sure, was too far underground to help his cause much.

She leaned in, placing her hands on his. Her touch was cold, and felt oddly electric. A wave of terror flooded through him at her touch, and he began to tremor. Her fingers, wrapped around his thin wrists, and she grinned into his face in ecstasy.

As she got within striking distance (if he weren’t taped up), he could feel a dark, cold presence caress his face. The chill that caressed Eddie’s mind like a cold, dead finger was surprisingly followed by a wave of brilliant understanding. It was as if her mind had gotten too close, and began to spill thoughts over into his head. For what was only a moment, but felt like an eternity, Eddie was gone, lost within his own mind.

Here, Eddie sat in a chair, and it felt comfortable, inviting, beneath him. There was no tape binding him here, but he had no desire to get up. The floor was white, and made of a material that Eddie had never seen before. It’s waxy, cloudy surface stretched outward before being swallowed by a thin mist that swirled and twisted through a breeze that was not too warm and not too cold. He was naked. He had never been so comfortable and at ease than he was now.

Out of the mist came a swirling, dark red cloud. The flyer, Eddie thought distantly … and Tammy. He was both engrossed and disgusted by its presence. The cloud stopped roughly ten feet from him, the white mist parting where the dark tendrils twisted ominously.

Out of the white mist came a hearty laughter, small at first, but growing with each bellow of its joyful presence. It resonated from everywhere around him, even the chair and the floor. The dark red cloud began twisting and turning as if in excruciating pain. Eddie began to join in with honest, unforced laughter that swam into him with ease. The cloud, which Eddie knew now, was Tammy, or more, the thing that called itself Tammy. It was shrinking and expanding at rapid pace, its presence twisting and turning inside of itself. It was in pain, probably more than Eddie could comprehend. The sight of it, which would, under any other circumstances, make him want to vomit, caused a new wave of laughter. His laugh along with the others’ grew and grew—tears of joy and humor streamed down his face, onto his naked body and pattered on the odd, swirling floor.

Slowly, the other laughter began to fade. His stayed. He couldn’t stop laughing, in fact, even if he wanted to. The mysterious world began to fade away, the laughter dwindling with it. But it did not matter. He knew everything needed.

The white world dissolved away as the dull orange glow and the grimy cement walls came into focus. Eddie was still laughing, and could find no reason why he should stop, despite the fact that Tammy was right there. Between her lips was a long, bloody patch of his skin. He looked down and was not surprised to see an equal parcel of flesh missing from his forearm. Blood welled up and spilled onto the cement floor. The pain was immense.

Eddie turned his face up to meet Tammy’s. He laughed wildly.

Tammy recoiled, her own smile fleeing her face to be replaced with a look of disgust and pain.

“Stop it,” she yelled in a voice that was more like a cicada than a woman. “JUST FUCKING STOP IT!”

As he continued laughing, the tape binding him began to dissolve and rot, evaporating into a putrid smoke. He pulled free, breaking the few remaining fibers of tape, still chuckling and wiping tears from his face.

He turned and ran for the door, turning around only for a moment to see Tammy.

The thing’s face turned up to meet his own. Its skin looked like yellowed parchment stretched over a bony, humanoid shaped head. Two beady, black eyes sat in two deep, waxy eye sockets. Its nose consisted of two rudimentary holes placed above a vertical mouth stuffed open with too many teeth, all pointing in different directions. A dark red smoke poured out of sores that were split open all over its body. A horrible acrid smell filled his nose as he turned to go for the door. He was no longer laughing. That part had served its purpose and was now done. Eddie flew open the door and ran through.

He felt the overwhelming power begin to fade as he slammed the door behind him and ran left down a hallway. The floorboards flexed beneath him as he pumped his feet

into them, trying to gain speed. The door to the room exploded outward, shattering against the wall opposite it. An inhuman roar bellowed from behind him as he pushed himself to run faster.

He could hear the thing running after him at a limping, but speedy pace. He had hurt it bad, he thought. The magic that had embraced him before was gone, and he was just Eddie, a tall skinny kid who loved to read and hated getting his guts spilled all over the wall.

A humming began. Eddie clenched his hands around his ears, but the deep, mechanical hum persisted. His feet clashed together, and he was an instant away from falling before his right hand shot out and grasped the wall for support. His fingers broke through the soggy wallpaper and sunk into the old, spongy plaster. He ripped his hand out and kept running. The thing was closer.

As he continued running, the humming grew and became more dissonant. He was sure that he was running into the hum, and right to whatever terrible thing was creating it.

The hallway had a turn up ahead, and Eddie feared that there would be a dead end—no door, no more hallway, and no window. He would turn around like an idiot in just enough time to see the yellowed thing with sores all over its body fall on him and tear his face apart with all sixty of it’s teeth.

Eddie approached the hallway and turned as quickly as he could, the hum growing louder than he was able to take, and picked up speed for a moment before he had to stop. The hallway had ended.

Eddie gazed upon a large, wide steel door set into the wall. Wallpaper curled and yellowed where the steel met the wall, and was vibrating just enough to make the space around the door blur. The hum was coming from the door, and as he stood dwarfed before it, Eddie could hear nothing but the deafening blare coming from behind it. His gaze was fixed on the door, which seemed to now sing instead of roar, the dissonance shifting pitches until they matched in perfect harmony. The rest of the world dissolved behind him, leaving himself and the singing door to be the only things in existence. It’s alive, Eddie thought, it’s really alive, and it knows that I know. It’s beautiful.

The thing limped around the corner and advanced toward the young man, who was absorbed in the door. It grabbed him by the shoulders and sunk its teeth into his neck greedily, sending a warm flow of blood into its gaping slit of a mouth. It let out a triumphant roar, sending a spray of Eddie’s blood pattering on the wallpaper.

The world began to form around him again as he felt a burning pain like none other bloom in the area under his right cheek. He let out a bellowing scream. Blood flowed steadily from the huge wound in his neck, and was being lapped up by the thing that had once called itself Tammy.

Eddie gritted his teeth and ripped his head away from the huge parasite’s gaping, tooth filled mouth, leaving behind small chunks of his own flesh hanging from its dagger sharp teeth. Eddie screamed a shallow, hopeless scream as he grasped at the large

polished steel doorknob, feeling its comforting shape and weight under his blood sticky palm. Eddie, beginning to lose touch from the world, put his last effort, and most of his bodyweight for that matter, into turning the heavy knob clockwise where it clicked and drifted open silently without him having to push it.

A cold drift hit him as he stumbled through the door and into winter twilight. If the streets were anything but abandoned on that day, someone would have surely seen a thin young man with a head of short, wavy blond hair stumble out of thin air. One minute nothing, next minute, him. They would see that he was covered in sweat, and was pressing both of his palms to the right side of his neck, where his throat was torn open, blood spouting from in between his fingers. Maybe they would hear him scream, or perhaps a roar, one of anger beyond that of the human comprehension, coming from a blurry, twisted space the size of a door. There was nobody there, though, and so, nobody heard or saw anything. He was alone.

He felt a moment where he seemed to witness a sort of double consciousness, like when one wakes up from a dream and begins sorting out what is reality and what is not. This was no dream, though; what happened was real, Eddie was sure. Then, as if it had never been there, the gaping wound was gone, the sweat and bloodstains were gone; he had his backpack, and his pockets were filled with their normal medley of pencil stubs and pieces of paper. Much like a dream, too, the events of the last twenty hours began to fade away, beckoning him from a lightless lighthouse as he sailed away into the ominous fog. His heart rate dropped to a healthy walking pace as he made his way through the winter twilight.

Eddie recoiled for a moment, looking behind him as if to find someone following him, saw nothing, shrugged it off, and kept walking into the snowy, bitter wind. He pulled out a small scrap of paper from his pocket. Scribbled on it in large, heavy pencil strokes was an address: 360 Harbor Ave. He returned the paper to his pocket and dug in his pants for his phone to check the time. 4:56, his phone read. “Fuck,” Eddie muttered under his breath, “there goes this job.”

Author Bio: Jesse Martin is currently a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin where he is studying as an English Major. His most recent publication was a horror story in 69 Flavors of Paranoia.

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