Archive for: July, 2014

The Creeping Complacency by Jamie Lackey

Jul 27 2014 Published by under The WiFiles

Gwen froze in the kitchen doorway. Jeff was singing. And cooking bacon. “Who are you, and what have you done with my husband?” she asked.

Jeff laughed. Gwen hadn’t realized how much she’d missed that sound. He pressed a plate of French toast into her hands. “Here, sleepyhead. Eat up while it’s still warm.”

“Thanks.” Gwen was glad that he’d broken out of the funk that he’d been in since the move. “How did your trip into the mine go?”

Jeff beamed at her. “It was great. They broke through into this huge subterranean cave formation, and think I got some really good shots of both the cave and the mine’s working conditions. I emailed them to Harry, and he got me an interview with a gallery in the city.”

Gwen buried a wave of unease. Jeff usually showed her his photos before he let anyone else see them. “That’s fantastic! I’m so proud of you!”

At least the news explained his mood.
#

“Good morning, Doctor!” Gwen’s first patient of the day practically skipped into her office. His skin stretched parchment-thin over his emaciated frame. He had terminal throat cancer, and he’d been despondent the first time Gwen saw him.

“Hello, Jonah. You seem to be in good spirits this morning,” Gwen said.

“Yes, ma’am. I just woke up feeling more cheerful than I have in years. I even made the wife breakfast.”

Gwen nearly dropped his chart. “Oh?”

“She’s always said that I make the best scrambled eggs in the county.” He scratched his head. “She cried when I took her breakfast in. Can’t quite figure out why.”

“Well, your condition affects her life, too.”

“What, the cancer?” Jonah shrugged. “Everybody dies, Doc. I’m just thankful for today.”
#

Sheriff Dawson scowled as he rolled up his sleeve. “Let’s get this over with.”

His gruff mood steadied Gwen. Whatever was going on, it hadn’t affected everyone. She prepped the sheriff’s rabies vaccine. He stared at the wall while she administered the shot. “I’m going to need to see you again next week.”

“I know the drill,” he growled.
#

Two of Gwen’s next five patients were oddly cheerful. They’d all been in the mine yesterday–three of them working, Jeff taking pictures.

Maybe there was something in that cave they’d discovered.

Whatever it was, it worked better than any antidepressant on the market. Gwen tried to tell herself it might be a good thing. That maybe if she could figure out what it was, she could sell it to a pharmaceutical company for millions.

She told herself it was silly to be so afraid.
#

“Honey, could I get a blood sample?” Gwen asked.

Jeff nodded and rolled up his sleeve. “Of course.”

He’d always hated needles–Gwen usually had to bribe him with a lobster dinner to get any blood out of him. He gazed up at her and smiled like an angel while she prepped him for a quick blood draw.
“So, what’s going on with you?” Gwen asked. “Are you just happy about the gallery interview, or is it something else?”

Jeff brushed the backs of his fingers against her cheek. “I really was being terrible, wasn’t I? I agreed to move here, but I didn’t try to fit in or make friends. I decided I was going to be lonely and miserable, and I wouldn’t let you do anything to help. Well, I’ve changed my mind.”

Gwen stared at his blood as it filled her sample tube. She wished that it really was that simple. Maybe it was. “Did you see anything odd in the cave?” she asked.

“Just rocks.” He tilted his head to one side. “The air did smell a little funny.”

Gwen’s stomach twisted. If it was in the air, that was a very bad thing. She kissed his cheek. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”
#

Gwen spent days in her lab, alone. Tom, her physician’s assistant, went down into the mine to set a broken leg, and the next day he was one of them.

Gwen tried to keep herself from thinking of them that way. Her husband was one of them, for heaven’s sake.

It took her days to figure out what was going on. She found elevated levels of an endorphin-like chemical in Jeff’s blood, and his antibodies reacted to HIV and rabies.

It was a virus.

Her fingers shook as she filled a tube with her own blood. She didn’t think she had it. She wasn’t happy.

She examined her blood for an hour before she was satisfied. She was clean. No extra chemicals, no strange antibody reactions.

It wasn’t contagious.

She started keeping a list, of who had it and who didn’t.
#

“Honey, you assistant called me this afternoon,” Jeff said. He almost looked concerned behind his perpetual good cheer.

Gwen grunted. She just wanted to eat something and to go bed.

“He thinks you’re working too hard. And I’m worried about you, too. You don’t seem happy.”

“I’m fine. Just busy.”

“Busy with what? Tom doesn’t know what you’re working on.”

“It’s none of Tom’s business,” Gwen snapped.

“Is it any of my business?” Jeff asked.

“No,” Gwen said.

“Oh. Well, okay.” Jeff reached over and patted her hand. “Then I won’t ask you about it again. Let’s go to bed. You look tired.”
#

Gwen stared up at the ceiling and listened to Jeff breathe. She couldn’t sleep. She missed her husband.

“I think it’s like mono,” she whispered. “I can’t find a cure. Once you have it, there’s no getting rid of it.”
#

“Would you like to see my latest photos?” Jeff asked over apple cinnamon oatmeal.

Gwen forced a smile. “Sure.”

She paged through the prints he handed her. Landscapes, flowers, and a few shots of a puppy. Technically proficient, but this was the kind of stuff he used to make fun of. “They’re pretty,” she offered.

Jeff beamed at her. “I’m glad you think so. I like them too. It’s too bad that the gallery didn’t feel the same way.”

“You sent them these?” Gwen asked.

“Of course,” Jeff said. “Why wouldn’t I?” He shrugged. “They asked for more pictures after they saw the shots from the mine, so I took these. The phone call was a bit unpleasant. Harry said some unkind things.” Jeff shook his head. “But I suppose some people are just like that.”
#

“Gwen, I think you should come down to the mine,” Jeff said. He squeezed her hand. “A bunch of us have been talking, and we figured out that everyone who’s unhappy hasn’t been down there. I–I want you to be happy, Gwen. I hate seeing you like this.”

“No you don’t,” Gwen said. “You’re too complacent for anything to bother you.”

“Gwen, I love you.”

“Then love me for who I am. Don’t ask me to change.”
#

Strong hands grabbed Gwen’s wrists and ankles and lifted her off the bed. She screamed and struggled, but more hands clutched at her. “It’s okay, Gwen!” Jeff shouted. “We’re doing this for your own good! You’ll see!”

Jeff, Tom, and Jonah shoved her into the backseat of a car. Jeff climbed in beside her and wrapped his arms around her. “Shhh, shhh. It’ll be better soon.”

She trembled and fought not to cry. There had to be something she could do. Some way she could escape. She didn’t want to trade her dreams away for cow-like happiness. “Please don’t do this. Misery is part of the human condition,” she said. “I can’t be a doctor if I can’t understand it.”

Jeff kissed her forehead. “That’s just a lie you tell yourself because you’ve had to deal with unhappiness your whole life.”

Maybe she was crazy to not want what they had.

But she’d rather die than go down into that mine. The car pulled to a stop. “We’re here,” Jeff whispered.

She kicked him as hard as she could, jerked the car door open, and jumped out.

She was barefoot, and wearing just an old t-shirt and a ratty pair of sweatpants. Rocks bit into the bottoms of her feet as she ran. “Honey, come back!” Jeff shouted.

She spotted a truck and sprinted to it. The door was unlocked, and the keys were dangling from the ignition. She drove as fast as she could.

She couldn’t let them force anyone else down that hole, either.

She was going to blow the damn thing up, bury the virus’s source beneath tons of earth.

She had no idea how she was going to do that.
#

Sheriff Dawson hadn’t had any reason to go into the mine, but two of his deputies had, so Gwen avoided the police station. She ditched the truck and hid in the bushes outside the sheriff’s house.

She grabbed his sleeve as he walked out to his car.

“Doc? What the hell?” He took in her bleeding feet, tangled hair, and torn clothes. “Are you okay?”

Gwen shook her head. “There’s a virus down in the mine. It–it changes people. Jeff, Tom, and Jonah tried to drag me down there last night.”

The sheriff scratched his head. “Two of my boys were trying to talk me into coming down into the mine. Said it would cheer me up.”

He believed her. Gwen sagged with relief. “We have to destroy it,” she said. “Blow up the mine, bury it.”

“You sure that blowing up the mine is the only way to keep it from spreading?” he asked. “That’s a whole lot of private property. And the town’s livelihood.”

“They outnumber us. Do you want to get dragged down there?” Gwen asked.

The sheriff shook his head. “Being happy all the time shouldn’t sound all that bad. But no. I don’t.”
#

The sheriff drove her to her house, where she grabbed a pair of shoes and a jacket. Then the drove back to the mine. It looked deserted.

He handed her his handgun. “I’m going into the storage office, where they keep the explosives. You stay out here, keep watch.”

Gwen had never held a gun before. It was heavier than she thought it would be. She took a deep breath.

“Gwen!” Jeff came out of one of the buildings and beamed at her. “You came back!”

Gwen brought the pistol up, just like they did in the movies. “Stay away from me!” she shouted.

Jeff held his hands up, palms out. “Hey, hey. Calm down.”

“Don’t you dare tell me to calm down! You kidnapped me!”

“I’m sorry about that. I see now that it was too pushy. I shouldn’t have tried to force you. I promise I won’t do it again.”

“I don’t trust you,” Gwen said.

“I was hoping you came back to go down into the mine willingly,” Jeff said. “I–I would be very happy if you would.”

“I’d rather die,” Gwen snarled.

“Then what are you doing here?” Jeff asked.

The sheriff came out with a dolly of boxes. They were carefully labeled DYNAMITE in large red letters. Gwen stepped between him and Jeff, and waved the sheriff toward the mine’s service elevator.

Jeff looked at the boxes, then up at Gwen. A tiny frown creased his face. “I don’t understand.”

“We’re going to blow up the mine,” Gwen said.

Jeff blinked. “Oh.” He scratched his head. “I suppose it’s a good thing that there’s nobody down there right now.”

“You’re not going to try to stop us?” Gwen asked.

“You’ve got a gun. And I love you. If you really want to do this, of course I’ll support you. I just want you to be happy.”

“It’s ready,” the sheriff called.

Jeff smiled at her.

“Do it,” Gwen said.

The elevator groaned as it lowered into the earth. After about sixty seconds, there was a muffled boom, and the ground shuddered beneath her feet.

“There. Now, will you put that gun down? Let’s go home,” Jeff said.

The sheriff took his gun back gravely. “Is it really over?” he asked. “Just like that?”

“I hope so,” Gwen said.

“Do you want to go home with–him?” the sheriff asked.

Gwen nodded. “It’s okay, now, I think. It’s not like he wanted to hurt me. And he can’t drag me down there now.”

The sheriff grunted. “Well, keep the gun.”
#

The next morning, Gwen woke up in the best mood. She hummed as she got out of bed. Maybe she’d make breakfast.

END

Jamie Lackey lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and their cat. Her fiction has been published by over a dozen different venues, including The Living Dead 2, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Daily Science Fiction, and she has appeared on the Best Horror of the Year Honorable Mention and Tangent Online Recommended Reading Lists. She reads slush for Clarkesworld Magazine, works as an assistant editor at Electric Velocipede, and helped edit the Triangulation Annual Anthology from 2008 to 2011. Her Kickstarter-funded short story collection, One Revolution, is available on Amazon.com. Find her online at www.jamielackey.com.

No responses yet

ICE FISHING by Iulian Ionescu

Jul 20 2014 Published by under The WiFiles

Why don’t you just leave me alone?

Jake tapped the ice with his foot. Usually he’d hear the lake answer, vibrate back like a violin string, but today the ice was harder than cement. The few inches of snow that landed over night swirled in the wind piling up like sand dunes.

The boy blew hot air in his hands and glanced at his father who was almost done digging the ice hole. There was something about the old man that made him looked vulnerable every time he wasn’t staring. Or talking. Hunched over, grunting as he drove the tool through the ice–

“Jake!” his father shouted, throwing him a sideways look. “Don’t just stand there. This is not a playground, you know? This is food. Remember? What you eat every night.”

Jake exhaled deeply and walked to the toolbox. He kicked the trailer cable’s hook to the side – their only safety measure in case the ice were to break – and sat on a stool.

His father wiped the sweat of his face. “Prepare the lines, we ain’t got all day here!”

Jake opened the different boxes, breathing heavily. There was no reason to answer the old man; he didn’t need any more yelling. He still wasn’t over the talk he had heard a week before – it rang in his head as if it was yesterday.

“He shouldn’t even be here,” his father had said with a grunt, as he threw the empty bottle of whiskey in the sink. “You wanted all of them, now you put food on this damn table.”

Jack sighed and unconsciously waved his hand as though to chase away the memory of that night.

“You done?”

“Almost,” Jake answered, tightening a knot on the line.

His father pulled the cork out of the ice, cracked his back and took out a pack of cigarettes.

“Leave that,” he barked, “come scoop some of this ice out. We need room.”

Jack grabbed the special ladle and walked to the hole. The temperature was so low, the surface of the ice was already freezing. He stared at the tiny ice crystals floating in the water.

His father lit his cigarette and gave him a shove on the shoulder. “Go on, fish ain’t gonna wait till you ready.”

Jake began to scoop out the floating ice and scrape the edges of the hole. He glanced back towards his father walking to the truck, parked by the edge of the lake. The old man was bent forward, hands in his pockets, looking down. Like that, he didn’t even look angry.

“It’s okay,” his mom had told him the other night. “He didn’t mean it. He’s not like that.”

Maybe he wasn’t, Jake thought. When he was sober.

A bubble of air popped on the surface of the water inside the hole, throwing pieces of ice upward. Jake recoiled, startled. He looked closer. The darkness beneath the surface was deeper than the night sky. Another, smaller bubble, popped.

Jake got up and hummed.

“What’s up boy?” his father said, returned with another stool in his hand. “Scared?”

“No,” Jake answered. “I saw–”

“Bring the lines,” his father interrupted him and spat to the side. “Too much talkin’.”

Jake curled his lower lip and trudged toward the lines. From the corner of his eye he saw another bubble burst in the hole.

“But I saw something,” Jack mumbled to himself.

He picked the lines off the ice and got up, but as he turned half way, the ice shuddered. Jake’s blood froze in his legs. The ice shouldn’t shudder, not at this temperature.

But there it was again. It quivered, as though something was pushing it from underneath.

“Dad?”

Jack looked up at his father, who was staring inside the ice hole, hands in his pockets.

“Dad, look out!”

Before his father could turn his head, something burst out of the ice hole – a green, dark column that thrust up towards the sky, enlarging the hole as it rose, throwing ice, snow, and water up in the air.

Jack’s father fell on his back, and Jake dropped to his knees, watching the creature raise higher, spinning. The boy was numb, as though he had become one with the lake. The creature was now up at least twenty feet, a giant eel, its body wider than an oak trunk.

“Dad,” Jake shouted, “run!”

His scream must’ve distracted the beast, because the giant eel turned its head toward them. The beast curled in the air, waving its scaled body, mouth wide open, revealing white, sharp teeth.

Jake’s father was on the ice, facing down, covering his head with his arms.

“Dad!”

Jake ran and slid over the ice, positioning himself between his father and the beast. All the hair on his body stood on ends and a fist clumped in his stomach as he looked up toward the eel monster.

The beast opened a mouth wider than a truck and thrust forward with a bellow.

Jake stood ground. He glanced forward and for a fraction of a second his eye met his father’s eye. The old man peeked under his arm, glued to the ice and shivering.

Before Jake could make a move, the ravenous mouth grabbed his body, and he felt his bones crack and his lungs emptied of air. The stench coming out of the beast’s mouth was sickening, and Jake’s right hands slid on the slippery, wet skin, unable to help him budge. He closed his eyes and clenched his teeth.

The monster rose up again, waving its head left and right in the sky. Jake opened one eye, barely able to breathe, clasped in the close grip of the beast’s mouth.

Somehow up there, stuck inside the eel’s mouth, when everything seemed final, Jake let go. He unclenched his muscles and exhaled the last of his air. For a second, he smiled, imagining that’s how it must feel to be up in a ride at the amusement park.

The mouth tightened around his body and the head shook harder. Feeling his ribs snap, Jake finally cried.

He wanted to say a prayer, just like his mother had taught him, but before he could utter a word, his whole body got jerked forward. He fell from the sky, still in the grip of the monster’s mouth. The ice drew closer, approaching. He closed his eyes as both beast head and human hit the frozen surface of the lake.

The power of the hit made Jake lose consciousness for a quick moment. When he came to the ice kept sliding in front of him, and the grip of the monster’s mouth turned loose. With a grunt, he pulled his left hand out and was able to stretch it forward, touching the ice, as he was sliding over it.

Then the mouth opened more and Jake flew forward, propelled by the momentum, rolling on the ice and smashing into the snow mountains by the edge of the lake. He felt as though every bone in his body had been shattered, but he didn’t feel the pain.

He jumped up and wiped a stream of blood dripping down his face. He watched with wide eyes as his father’s truck pulled the giant eel, the metallic trailer cable coiled around its body, dragging it away from the lake. The truck stopped short a few yards into a nearby field.

“Dad!” Jake shouted.

His father came out of the truck carrying a pick axe.

“Don’t you touch my family,” the old man shouted and threw the harpoon towards the beast’s face.

The weapon ricochet off the creature’s scales without damage.

For a few seconds everything stood still. The eel stared at Jake’s father, mouth wide open, dripping white saliva. Jake shivered, watching his father holding his arms open, no weapon in sight. His father turned his head and their eyes bridged the distance of a few yards. For the first time, it wasn’t an angry glance. It was a scared one and a happy one.

The beast snatched Jake’s father’s body in one bite and slithered out of the cable’s grip. Jake covered his mouth, swallowing his cry, as he watched the eel snake back to the hole, his father’s boots shaking by the side of his mouth.

A moment later the tail of the monster disappeared into the ice hole. Jake ran there and looked down. A few smaller bubbles of air popped at the surface. A few seconds later, the water began to freeze again.

Jake cried and his tears froze over the ice in tiny droplets.

Maybe he wasn’t like that.  

 

<<< >>>

Bio:

 

Iulian was born and raised in Bucharest, Romania, where he earned his Bachelor’s in Finance. He moved to the US in 2001, and became a CPA (oh, the excitement!). Despite his career choice, Iulian’s creative side kept him awake at night. He is an aspiring sci/fi and fantasy writer. He published several short stories and is currently working on two novels. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and son and he blogs at www.fantasyscroll.com and www.iulianionescu.com. He is also the editor of http://fantasyscrollmag.com.

No responses yet

Aces High by Holly Day

Jul 13 2014 Published by under The WiFiles

Holes had been drilled in her arms, strung through with metal threads. Her veins had been drained of blood, the marrow stripped from her bones and replaced with alloy. Her skin had been removed completely. What remained of her organic form had been dipped in metal lighter and more flexible and infinitely stronger than aluminum foil. Sharp claws curled where her hands had been, and her legs terminated in flat, toeless stumps. She wasn’t a human being anymore, by any measure of what could be called a human being by any dictionary on Earth. She was barely a living thing anymore, just a brain and a couple of necessary organs kept alive by a sophisticated life-support system. But she could fly. She could fly higher than any bird ever born, and could hit any target on earth with deadlier accuracy than any weapon previously conceived. She didn’t need bullets, even though she had thousands of them at her disposal. She was a bullet. She was a bomb.

Far below her, on the ground, was her target, and rising up from that tiny building she was going to eliminate, that wafer-sized square she was going to crush into clouds of ash and broken cinderblock, was the enemy’s own weapon of choice, coming up at her like a tiny shimmering spear of light. Valerie squared her shoulders and dove headfirst towards the target, hands together, over her head, as though she was diving into a backyard swimming pool.

*        *          *     *

“You can’t be serious,” protested Martha, eyeing her daughter with great concern. She frowned angrily as another car suddenly cut her off, assuring that their wait to exit the gridlocked freeway would be at least another ten minutes. “You’re so smart and pretty, and you have so many things to do still.” She reached out and touched Valerie’s hand lightly, briefly. “Don’t you want to get married, have a family? You’re too young for children now, of course,” she added hastily, then changed her mind. “No, you’re not too young. Not if you’re contemplating never having children. If having a baby will make you change your mind about this, then I give you permission to have as many babies as you want.” She blinked back sudden tears, squeezed the steering wheel tightly. “Are you pregnant? Is that why you’re even considering this?”

“It’s for a good cause,” Valerie replied calmly. The recruiter at her school had coached her on what to say, easily preparing her for any arguments her mother might present. “I’d be saving lives, right? Thousands of lives. Wouldn’t you be proud knowing your own child saved thousands of other children’s lives? Besides, what’s the point of having my own children if they’re not going to be safe?”

“Then I just won’t allow it.” Tears itched again at the corner of the older woman’s eyes, and she brushed them away angrily. “Dammit, you just can’t do it. I fucking forbid it. You’re fucking grounded just for bringing it up.” She slammed on the brakes as the car in front of her flashed its own brake lights. “I spent too much fucking time and energy and love on you to have you just give it all up like this. You just can’t do this to me.”

Again, Valerie was prepared with an answer. As if she was reading a cue from a card, she calmly recited, “I understand the sacrifices you made to raise me, Mom. This is why I’m dong this, to pay you back for what you’ve done for me. Let me make the sacrifices now. Let me do this for you, for our country. For my country.” She smiled at her mother beatifically, waiting for the next well-rehearsed part of the argument. She was more prepared for this conversation than anything that had ever come before. “And you know, legally, I can do anything I want. I didn’t even have to tell you I signed up for this. I only told you so that you wouldn’t be worried when I left.”

“You fucking zombie,” muttered Martha, shaking her head and staring straight ahead of her. “Jesus Christ.” She regained a bit of her composure, then turned to face her daughter. “You’re not even in there anymore, are you?” she said. “You’ve already left me, and I don’t even get a say here. Fucking seventeen years old,” she continued, turning back to the road ahead. “Seventeen years old, and you’re already dead. Fuck!” she screamed, banging on the horn in frustration. The car in front of her honked back, several times. A boy, around the same age as Valerie, hung his head out the window and jeered, “What’s the problem, grandma?” Martha briefly thought about driving her car straight into the back of his, but knew it wouldn’t do any good. Even if she had a real accident, one that landed them all in the hospital, the military recruits would still come for her daughter’s battered, broken body, would still take her to her assignment.

*          *          *          *

But Mom, I’ll be able to fly, Valerie thought as she spread her gleaming metal gliding wings and began her circular descent. And then the flash of memory was gone, and all she could see was the painful patchwork creature crawling up the sky to meet her. Valerie shuddered inwardly as the thing came closer, a boy, she guessed, a little younger than her. In their attempt to compete with the scientists that had worked on Valerie, whoever had worked on this new thing had completely sacrificed finesse and beauty over speed and function. Where Valerie had been promised that she would be able to lead a life of adventure even after her mission, that the beautiful new body she had been given was hers for the rest of her life, the boy who had volunteered to become this ragdoll of twisted metal and septic-looking patches of exposed organic material obviously knew he was on a one-way trip. He didn’t fly so much as claw his way up through the air, swinging first one arm, then the next, up over his head as he neared Valerie. As he drew closer, Valerie could even see his original face was completely covered with a clear plastic shield, a hose pumping oxygen trailing from one side to a tank mounted on his back. The eyes that stared up at Valerie were bright and angry against a pallor of sagging, dying flesh.

Valerie eyed the boy coolly, automatically willing the projectiles in the palms of her hands to slide into place. It wouldn’t be any big deal to just circumvent the boy completely, but she hadn’t had a chance to try her tiny bombs out on anything yet. She sized up her opponent as he drew nearer, deciding that the large, cumbersome tube grenades strapped to his forearms would be no threat to her.

It was funny, or ironic, how she felt right now—she wasn’t sure which. The short time she had spent in her nearly-adult body as an adolescent, she had been riddled with insecurity about her body, her body language, what she was supposed to talk about with friends and what she was allowed to say to boys, and the whole experience had been just awful. But now, just weeks after officially joining the military as part of their Elite, she felt perfectly in control of everything around her. Everything. The boy below her posed no threat on any level. He could either attack her or try to kiss her, and she would have been able to deal with either situation perfectly.

“Wouldn’t it be strange if he did try to kiss me?” she marveled suddenly, almost giggling aloud, then shuddered. The boy was a brutish pile of sharp metal parts and exposed tubes and wires and flapping pieces of loose flesh. His mouth was an angry snarl of teeth, lips dry and split, gray. He probably would not try to kiss her. Valerie regained her composure, coolly took survey of what she took to be vulnerable areas and aimed accordingly. She paused, not sure if she should just shoot the newcomer and get it over with, or if she should wait until he was within earshot and say something menacing, or brave, or comic-book corny, like “Nice killing you!” or “Next time, make sure your arms match your feet before taking off, Lunkhead!”

It seemed as though her attacker was thinking the same thing. As she watched, the boy tried to shape his malformed mouth into words, finally settling on some sort of gesture which Valerie decided must be insulting. It had to be. She made a gesture of her own in return, then aimed carefully and fired.

Pain raced through her body. The world went pure white, then black, then she could see again, and she was falling. Something was lodged in the spot where her stomach used to be. Pieces of her opponent were falling with her, pieces of her own perfect new body mingling in the wreckage and falling like bits of shiny metal rain. He must have a got a shot off, too, she thought as she spread her arms as wide as she could and tried to go up. “Fly!” she screamed, and her voice sounded tinny and mechanical. “Fly!”

*          *          *

The woman woke up to find her house empty. She wandered from one room to another, not really worried, but curious, calling her son’s name out at the entrance of each doorway. She finally gave up and went into the kitchen. Breakfast dishes were in the sink, and half a pot of coffee was still hot on the stove. “So at least he was here,” she muttered to herself distractedly. The older that boy got, the less she saw of him—and, she had to admit, that was how it was supposed to be.

It wasn’t until she stepped out the front door and saw the children dancing, dancing, in the street in front of her house that panic began to set in.

“He’s a hero!” gushed one girl, barely in her teens, one of her son’s classmates.  She rushed up to meet the woman and threw a wreath of wildflowers around her neck. “Jola’s a hero!”

The woman felt a cold knot of empty growing in her stomach, balling up to become something solid and hard until the weight of it couldn’t be held up any longer. Words like “why” and “how” and especially “no” fell out of her lips, but so quietly only a few of the celebrants nearby could hear her speak.

Bio: Holly Day was born in Hereford, Texas, “The Town Without a Toothache.” She and her family currently live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she teaches writing classes at the Loft Literary Center. Her published books include the nonfiction books Music Theory for Dummies, Music Composition for Dummies, and Guitar All-in-One for Dummies, and the poetry books “Late-Night Reading for Hardworking Construction Men” (The Moon Publishing) and “The Smell of Snow” (ELJ Publications).

No responses yet

Megapixilated by D.A.Cairns

Jul 06 2014 Published by under The WiFiles

The image captures the true essence of the person: as the soul bleeds into the frame, the pixels incarcerate the unwary. Darius Umbete knows this truth. It is both frightening and exhilarating to think of the eternal imprisonment facing all upon whom he focuses his lens. The unsuspecting victims of his art. Another candidate stands before him now.

‘How much is it?’

‘$495,’ replies Darius half heartedly. He is the only salesman in New South Wales, perhaps even in the whole of Australia who does not require a sales pitch or a personality. Darius knows photography. Cameras, lenses, auto exposure, auto flash, backlights, catch lights, APS, CCD, latitude, length, compensation value, pixels and the list goes on. He smiles at himself.

The customer smiles, albeit cautiously and asks ‘Is that negotiable?’

Darius stares at him. The camera is already too cheap and this man clearly too incompetent for such a superb piece of photographic  technology. Too much of a simpleton.

‘Maybe, you’d like to see a less expensive model. This one’s probably more than you need, anyway. Overkill, you know?’

‘Overkill?’

Darius laughs and the man’s bemused look intensifies. ‘You only want to shoot family and friends, don’t you? And capture some scenery when you’re on vacation?’

The man nods, and Darius recalls the first time he shot a friend. He hadn’t known at the time what he was doing or what he was capable of doing, even though he’d seen his father do it. It was terrifying. He gulps hard, feeling  a cricket ball in his throat, and reminds himself that he has, since that awful day, never again photographed anyone he loves or even anyone he likes.

The customer is staring at Darius as though there is something wrong with his face. He resists the urge to take a clumsy swipe across his countenance.

‘I said, okay. Show me another one.’

As he returns the Nikon D5100 to the display case, Darius hopes that he only imagined irritation in the customer’s voice. The crap that he has to endure from Neanderthals like him is more than he can bear at times. He grabs a Panasonic DMC LX5 and summons a quantum of patience.

‘This one is two hundred dollars less and has many of the same features as the Nikon. It only offers 10.1 megapixels though. Whereas the Nikon gives you 16.2.’

With a childlike brightness in his eyes, the customer says, ‘More megapixels means better pictures, right?’

Darius almost calls him a philistine but instead manages a cordial affirmation. ‘Precisely.’

After the man decides to purchase the Panasonic, Darius asks him if he would like a demonstration of some of its features. He declines with abruptness: reeking of arrogance. Darius is offended and insists that a brief tour of the device will stand the customer in better shape for photographic adventure than if he simply goes home, and reads the instructions. ‘They can be a little confusing you know.’

The customer is unconvinced but hasn’t left yet. Darius knows that is because, although he has taken the man’s money, he has not handed over the camera. He presses on, attempting to filter out the urgency from his voice. Why doesn’t anybody properly appreciate what cameras do? Why don’t they understand the power in their hands? A feather touch on a small button kidnaps a moment in time. He has seen it. He has done it. His father showed him how. He spent every spare moment teaching Darius about photography, and not merely instructing him in the mechanics but instilling him an awe of the deep, dark magic of the camera. He remembers the first time his father shot an animal and how he forced him to watch the disintegration of life, piece by piece, cell by cell, pixel by pixel. Darius had felt both mortified and enchanted.

‘Look, I need to get going. Thanks for the offer but I’ll figure it out.’ He reaches for the bag with his camera in it. ‘How hard can it be?’

Darius forces a smile and reluctantly hands it over. ‘If you have any problems, give me a call.’

The pleasantries end, and as soon as the happy customer turns away, Darius’ smile dissolves. He’s sold another camera but he doesn’t give a dingo’s kidney about sales figures. He sells loads of cameras and he earns juicy commissions and bonuses on a regular basis. That much is easy. The problem is he knows that the cameras he sells will not be treated with the respect they deserve. They will be underutilized. Dishonoured. Most of the Cretans to whom he sells cameras do not deserve such high quality equipment.  Darius thumps his fist against his thigh, and glares down at the counter. He sees the coiled sales receipt then glances at the computer where the customer’s details are still on display. His jaw loosens.

Darius offers to stay late and close the shop. This offer is generously accepted by his colleagues who see their job as a means to an end. Darius also sees it that way but his end is dramatically different to theirs. By the time he has rung off the till, secured the shop and activated the alarm, he has already rehearsed his plan dozens of times. He has the address and he has his camera: a custom built model which he started to assemble following his father’s premature death when Darius was fourteen. It had taken more than a year and had caused him incredible frustration. The money had been a problem too especially after his mother caught him stealing from her purse. Other sources of funding presented themselves. Finally, he had completed his project, having employed everything his father had taught him about the power: how to summon it, how to harness it and how to use it. He had shot twelve people before he even started working at the camera shop which was two years ago now. Five more people had since fallen victim to his camera. As his obsession grew, his control waned. The passion which raged in his veins, barked and howled inside his head like a rabid dog. It boils.

He feels it now. His body is humming with the power, struggling for freedom, to fulfill its calling. Darius walks faster. He has the customer’s address and he knows the street. It isn’t far. Soon he’s standing on the lawn, staring at the house, shaking and sweating, reaching for his camera. His thoughts lose coherence. He feels nothing as he walks to the window. He sees the man at the dining table with his family: a picture book cliché. Darius wants to take a photograph.  He knocks on the front door and waits. He doesn’t know who will answer. He doesn’t care. He raises the camera to eye level and feels its energy vibrating through him, rattling his bones. Light appears in the viewfinder as the door swings silently open and Darius stops breathing as he hits the capture button.

The flash illuminates the doorway and temporarily blinds him but then he sees it happening. He’s seen it before but it never becomes less thrilling. Pieces of a woman disconnect from her body and flutter away, like dust beaten out of a pillow. Little bits fall towards the ground but vanish before they reach their destination. Cells break down. Skin melts like cheese in a pizza oven. A woman. Her clothing evaporates thread by thread. It takes so long, Darius feels impatient again, and tired.  It’s a woman. He has shot a woman. Not the man he wanted. He realizes he must leave. The show is almost over. She is nearly gone but if he stays too long he may be seen. He can’t be seen. Darius rushes away into the night clutching his camera in one hand and his head in the other. He feels cold now, and weak. Very weak but still a whisper of triumph blows in his ear: an ecstatic resonance in his twisted mind.

 

D.A. Cairns is married with two teenagers and lives on the south coast of New South Wales where he works as an English language teacher and writes stories in his very limited spare time. He has had around 30 short stories published (but who’s counting right?) He blogs at Square pegs http://dacairns.blogspot.com.au and has authored three novels, Devolution, Loathe Your Neighbor, and his latest, Ashmore Grief which is available from Artema Press at http://dacairns.weebly.com/ashmore-grief

 

 

No responses yet