Archive for: August, 2017

PHOTO ESSAY ON THE HUMAN RACE (with footnotes) by Jeanine Marie Vaughn

Aug 27 2017 Published by under The WiFiles

“Welcome to the Intergalactic Photographers’ Convention,” is what the banner over the hotel’s entrance read. Henrietta, the first human from Earth to ever be invited to attend the convention, stared at it for a full two minutes before dropping to her knees and opening her camera bag.

“Henri, what are you doing?” Came a squeal from her left. The squealer, a spotted brown six foot tall worm-like being, known as an Oblieque who insisted Henrietta call him Ted, was wiggling all around her[1]. He tried to nudge her bag closed with his tail, but she pushed him off.

As she looked into his beady black eyes, her blue rimmed glasses slid down a freckled nose. “I’m gonna take a picture of that banner.”

Ted whined. “You can’t! That picture next to the quote is of Smegmyllion, the most renowned photographer in the known Universe, and he has a policy of never being photographed except for publicity shoots like the one for that banner[2]. He doesn’t even allow pictures taken of his pictures.” Ted pointed with his tail. “You see how green his skin is and those red bumps along the three arms he’s using to motion to the quote? That’s a skin condition called photosynthesis.”

Henrietta nodded. “Yes, we have that on Earth.”

Ted eyed her cocoa colored skin skeptically. Henrietta snorted.

“Not humans, silly!” She hefted a large camera out of her bag with the telephoto lense already attached. “The plants on our planet do it. But that doesn’t explain why I can’t take a picture of his picture on a banner.”

Ted’s head wavered back and forth. “You just can’t! It isn’t done.” His whine turning desperate. “And don’t you remember? You signed a contract!”

“Yes. I signed a contract not to take pictures INSIDE the convention. If you hadn’t noticed, we’re still outside.” She looked up at the purple sky and wondered if she should get her flash out. Probably not for an outside shot.

“Well, yeah, ummm…” Ted stammered, feeling panicked. His skin began to take on the grayish hue of the wavy path they were standing on. “It’s just, you don’t understand. It’s not done!”

She turned to face him. “Look Ted. I’ve been taking pictures the whole way here, through three different galaxies, a wormhole, and a space port. You uttered not a peep. I even have a few pictures of you! What makes taking a picture of a banner so utterly wrong?”

“He’ll sue!” Ted wailed.

Henrietta thought about that for a minute. “Really? Well I’ve never seen the inside of a Space Station Court House so it might be worth it.” She snapped the picture and packed the camera back up. “Shall we go in?”

If Ted had been able to sweat, he would have been a dripping mess. As it was, he felt like he was going to shed his skin and it wasn’t even molting season. Fortunately, no one had been around to see the human’s faux pas, so he thought they might be okay. He nodded, motioning for her to lead the way.

There were booths all around the floor of the convention. Some were still in the process of setting up, but the majority were set and the photographers were lounging, with bored looks on their faces.

“We really are late,” Henrietta mumbled half to herself and half to Ted. Ted was already slithering ahead of her, so she had to scurry to catch up, pulling her cart of supplies behind her. Even though she was hurrying, she noticed all the odd looks she was getting. He led her to a booth all the way in the back of the convention hall. Once she had all her pictures on their stands, Ted started to slither off, but she caught him by his lapel. She quickly found that she couldn’t hold him[3].

“Do you mind?” He huffed, coming back to slide back into the fabric. “I have other obligations besides babysitting the newbie.”

Henrietta cocked an eyebrow. “Sorry to waste your time. I just have a question. That’s all.”

Ted sighed. Of course she had a question. The new ones always did. He was actually surprised that she hadn’t been pelting him with questions their entire trip “Yes, yes, of course. Go ahead.”

“Two questions, actually. Why is everyone staring at me? I mean, I’m not the oddest looking creature here. And, will I be able to understand anyone other than you?”

Ted grinned. “Oh that. Well, you know how I told you there’d never been a human at the Photographers’ Convention?” Henrietta nodded. “While that’s true, it’s just not the whole truth. The thing is, there has never been a human at any of the Intergalactic Conventions because the Consortium of Planets have never before believed that humans had anything to offer. I disagreed and petitioned for the opportunity to be one of the Earth scouts. Then I found you.” His face was very smug. “As far as understanding goes, you won’t be able to understand any of them unless Peeve is attached to you[4]. Fortunately, Peeve has taken to you and wants nothing more than to stay with you. She especially loves your cashmere sweater.”

Henrietta looked down at what she had thought was a pendant that Ted had pinned onto her sweater and realized it was Peeve. Henrietta grinned and gently stroked her little companion with a finger. Peeve made a trilling, purring sound.

“Aw, see? She really likes you!” Ted wiggled away, humming to himself.

Henrietta stood at her booth feeling nervous and out of place. She knew this was a big step for her photography, but was still not quite sure how she was the first human to ever be where she was. After all, she’d only ever won one award. True, it was first place, but it was through her community college. Ted had been her instructor, so when he told her she had been selected for a photographer’s convention near his home and that he wanted to drive her, she thought they were going to be traveling to New York and had been very excited. She made the error of signing the contract without reading it closely and hadn’t even thought twice when Ted insisted she see his doctor for a blood test and retina scan.

“Excuse me.” A pompous sounding voice jolted her out of her revery. She looked up and up and found herself looking at an eight-foot tall creature with golden hair all over it’s face and neck and hands[5]. The rest of the body was covered in what looked like a purple suit, but moved like a robe. “You’re the Earthean, right?”

Henrietta nodded, unable to stop staring. The face pulled into what she could only presume was a smile but two large fangs protruded from the lower jaw that gave the smile a menacing look. The being then bowed and held a hand twice as large as Henrietta’s head. It had three monster fingers that were covered on both sides with golden fur. “My name is Gamoblyxitooniym, but you can call me Ga.”

After a second, Henrietta clasped Ga’s enormous hand between her two hands. “My name is Henrietta, but you can call me Henri.”

If it was at all possible, Ga’s smile widened even further as they shook hands. “Did I do it right?” Ga’s question pulled the I out like taffy.

Lowering her hand, Henrietta was trying not to tremble since Ga’s smile made her think of being eaten. She blinked. “Pardon?”

Ga’s smile slipped a bit. “Did I do it right?”

Henrietta gave Ga a perplexed look. “Do what right?”

“The hand-shake thing.” Ga’s hands fluttered as they talked[6]. “So, I’ve been studying primitive worldlings in my Other World Analysis class at University and we just got to the chapter on Earthenoids. I wanted to try out that weird greeting your kind does so I did that bowing thing then shook your hand.”

Plastering a smile on her face, Henrietta tried not to be offended by the term primitive worldling or the snide sound to Earthenoid. Ted had cautioned her not to take any condescension personally. “You did it perfectly.”

“Oh, that is so delightful!” Ga beamed, stamping and clasping their hands to their chest. The floor of the convention hall shook and several of the other photographers glared over at Henrietta’s booth as they straightened their displays.

“So where’s your booth?” Henrietta asked.

“Oh, I don’t have a booth.” Ga looked down then pulled at a cord from around their neck. Hanging from the lanyard was a long ID badge that looked a lot like almost any convention badge that Henrietta had seen when she was on earth. The big difference was that this one was littered with a bunch of different tiny squiggles and symbols. Ga held it up and pointed to one of the middle squiggles. After staring at it for a moment, Henrietta realized it was a language, a human language to be precise. She took it into her hands and squinted at it. She gave a bark of laughter when it became clear. She was looking at the word “volunteer” in Mandarin[7].

“Wait, how did I know that this says volunteer and that it’s in Chinese?”

Ga chortled. “Oh silly, all Earthanoids speak Chinese.”

Henrietta was about to contradict them, but then Peeve purred and nudged Henrietta’s chin. She looked down to see that the little one had crawled up onto her collar. She petted her gently. “Well aren’t you the sweetest! I didn’t know you did written words too.” Peeve preened.

“Oh!” Ga gasped. “You aren’t speaking Chinese? What are you speaking?”

“English.”

Ga nodded, though they had no clue what English was. “You must be from one of the more remote areas on Earth. I do apologize.”

Henrietta was too perplexed to do anything but nod.

Ga bowed. “I must leave, my new friend Henri. I have to help the Martians.” They motioned with their chin to a table just three feet away from Henrietta’s. There were four creatures that were all red, naked, and shaped like rocks. Ga leaned in close. “I don’t like them. I know they come from the same Galaxy as you, but those Martians are a pretty exclusive clique of photographers.” Ga shook their head sadly and walked over to the Martian’s booth.

Henrietta wasn’t certain, but the Martians seemed to be snubbing her on purpose. Their rocky bodies had eyes that protruded from the tops of their heads that looked like smaller rocks on a swivel. But every time their eyes reached her booth, they gazed over her head[8].

“Ah, pray tell, what is this Human Race?” The creature addressing Henrietta had five eyes, three heads, and a body shaped like a basketball though colored green instead of orange and with six skinny tentacular appendages[9]. They were holding what looked like a clipboard and making marks on it with its yellow tongue that leaked a grayish ink-like substance from the tip. Three of the tiny tentacles were tasked with moving the creature as well as keeping it balanced, something the appendages seemed uneasy with since the creature was constantly swaying, giving it an almost drunk appearance. The motion was making Henrietta dizzy, so she looked away as the octopus like creature was waving a tentacle in the air while pressing the clipboard to their chest.

“Oh, my apologies, dear one! I seemed to have made a cultural faux pas. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Lord Raymond Halstead the third[10].” He did something that looked like it might have been a bow or him trying not to fall over.

Bowing back, Henrietta cleared her throat. “My name is Henrietta Bobinstock the first.” She didn’t know why she added the first to her name, but was satisfied with it once it came out.

“A pleasure. Now to my question, what is the human race?”

“Well, the human race is the dominant species on planet Earth[11]. I have photographed humans from all over the world.” She indicated one picture after another as Sir Raymond took notes.

“I see,” he said finally. “But what are they racing for or against?”

Henrietta blinked. “Oh, it’s not a race like that.” She glanced down at Peeve. “It’s the same word, but it has a different meaning in my language. The way I was using it meant species.”

“Then why didn’t you just say that?” He chuckled. “These are very good. Unusual techniques, but well executed. I’m going to nominate you myself. You might just win.”

“Win?” Henrietta asked. “What do you mean win?”

“Why the contest, dear human of Earth. Gotta go now. Ta-ta!”

Henrietta stared after him. Ga came stumbling back over waving their large hands in excitement. “Oh isn’t that wonderful? Lord Raymond Halsted the third rarely ever goes over to the newest booth unless something spectacular catches at least three of his eyes!”

Henrietta smiled. “Oh! Well, that’s good. Can you tell me about the contest?”

All the excitement and energy seemed to drain out of Ga. “Wh-what? He told you that you were in the contest?”

Henrietta nodded. “He said he’d nominate me. That’s a good thing, right?”

“Weeeeell…” Ga gulped. “So it’s a good thing to be noticed, but the contest isn’t usually open to newbies, but I guess Lord Raymond is making an exception… which is, in fact, bad.”

Henrietta tilted her head. “I don’t get it. I mean, wouldn’t it be good to be in a contest?”

Ga sighed. “The thing is, the winner gets to choose who the loser is and the rumor has been that the Martian Consortium will most likely be winning this year. They really hate that you’re here, that’s all they talked about while I was over there helping them, so they’ll definitely make you the loser.”

“Okay. What happens to the loser?”

“Oh, just a moment.” Ga hurried over to a stack of chairs against the wall and dragged the largest one over to Henrietta’s booth to mirror her sitting position. Once settled, Ga’s long and pointed tongue flicked in and out of their mouth[12].

“Well, the loser can’t enter, or be entered, into the contest for the next, what is it… Five hundred years, I think? Plus, they’re banned from doing any photography for a year. The last part of the punishment is that all the pictures entered into the contest get burned.”

Henrietta’s eyes were wide as saucers. “No!”

Ga nodded slowly. “I know, it’s kind of… Oh, there’s one more thing… What was it?” Ga tapped a finger against their large lip. “Oh yeah! The losing photographer is forced to space walk, nude[13].”

Henrietta fainted.

#

“Hello?” A green tentacle was waving in front of her face. She followed the movement with her eyes. There were tracers of slightly lighter green in the air behind the arm. It was very pretty. “Are you alright?”

Henrietta stopped tracking the movement. She saw that she was in a small corner of the larger room. Behind her was an orange wall and a large window that showed a red and stormy sky. She was on something like a couch, but it seemed to move and adjust to her whenever she shifted. She focused on the face in front of her own. It was yellow, with a hint of green. The eyes, there were four of them, were golden and blinked in a slow succession as the large purple mouth frowned. Just below the chin, she thought it must be a chin, was a black and white polkadotted ascot. Below that, was a cluster of tentacles.

Henrietta sat up a little straighter. “Hey, you look like that Smegmyllion on the banner!”

The creature gave a low chuckle. He straightened, all three feet of him, and nodded. “That would be because I am he, or he is me!”

“Oh!” Henrietta gasped. “Ted says you’re famous.” At that moment, Ted slithered into the room, adjusting his tie with his tongue.

Smegmyllion turned to Ted. “Ted, I presume?”

Ted dipped his head in a bow. “It is an honor and a privilege to…”

At this point, Henrietta heard a high pitched squealing instead of words. She covered her ears and glanced down, noticing that Peeve was no longer on her sweater. Looking quickly towards Smegmyllion, she saw that Peeve was mid-launch from her sweater to Smegmyllion’s ascot. Henrietta reached out, cringing at the squealing, and caught her. As soon as her fingers touched Peeve, the squeals stopped.

“…nominated despite being new!” Ted said. Smegmyllion was nodding and looking over at Henrietta’s pictures.

Cupping her palm to hold Peeve, Henrietta looked down at the little one. “Peeve, why did you try to leave me?”

Peeve sat cross-legged in the center of her palm. “This is the first time you ever talked to me. Smegmyllion would talk to me all the time after Ted found him. I missed that.”

“Oh Peeve, I’m so sorry! I will talk to you. So you know Smegmyllion?”

“Of course! I was his translator for three decades[14]. But then he went and got famous, requiring a fancier Clusterinian and my cousin Eddie got the job. I hate Eddie so much! He’s the reason why I jumped off of you. I was going to go fight him. I’m glad you caught me! He’s so much bigger than me and would’ve pummeled me. But since I jumped, it’ll look like I was going to smash him, and you stopped me.” Peeve stood up, leaned over and hugged Henrietta’s thumb.

She glanced over at Smegmyllion’s ascot and saw a bigger Clusterinian making faces at Peeve and shaking a tiny fist.

Henrietta looked back down and smiled. “Glad I could help.”

Peeve kissed Henrietta’s thumb then launched herself back onto Henrietta’s sweater.

“And I promise,” Henrietta whispered. “I’ll talk to you more.” Peeve purred.

Looking up, Henrietta noticed that the entire place had gone silent. Smegmyllion was on a platform in the middle of the room that hovered about five feet in the air and was talking.

“My fellow photographers! It is with great honor that I am here today to announce the winner of the Intergalactic Photographers’ Convention 1,056,003 Best Photo Series Contest. After winning it for the last three decades, I am delighted to pass it on to…” At this point he held out a tentacle and a round orb sitting on his utmost suction cup lit up, giving off a purplish glow. Smegmyllion’s four eyes blinked one after the other in rapid succession. He shook the orb, it whistled at him, he shook it again.

“Get on with it!”

Henrietta couldn’t see where the deep voice came from, but it rumbled the very floor.

Smegmyllion nodded. “This is quite a surprise! The winner is Henrietta Bobinstock the first!”

After a second of silence, the word WHO shouted from every corner of the hall. But no one was as surprised as Henrietta. She stood up from the couch and looked around. She saw Ga clapping, the Martians glaring, Ted preening with pride, and Lord Raymond Halstead the third winking at her.

“Peeve,” she whispered, “what’s going on?”

“I think Lord Raymond Halstead the third pulled some strings.”

“Why?”

Peeve made a trilling sound. “I think he likes you, or at least your photography.”

“So he bribed the judges?”

“Not really. He is the judges, or rather, the judge. You really must’ve impressed him.”

Ted had wrapped his tail around Henrietta’s wrist and was pulling her over to where the platform was lowering. She stepped up on it and allowed Smegmyllion to put something like a ribbon around her neck. A heavy plate-sized hunk of metal hung from it. She held it up so she could see it better. It was silverish and ugly.

“Thank you,” she said, shaking Smegmyllion’s extended tentacle. The room filled with clicks and flashes as each photographer snapped a picture. She was just looking around to see if Ted was taking a picture when three mouths with wings flew at each photographer and swallowed their cameras.

Smegmyllion smiled, stepping off the platform. “No pictures, remember, it’s in my contract.”

Lord Raymond Halstead the third, who had climbed up as Smegmyllion stepped down, nodded his furthest head. The one closest to her whispered, “Now comes the best part.”

The middle head smiled out at the crowd then spoke, “As is custom, the winner gets to nominate the loser.”

Henrietta shook her head, thinking that she hadn’t even had a chance to walk around and look at all the pictures. As she was just about to say that she had no desire to nominate anyone, Ga spoke up from the floor. “She nominates the Martian Consortium.”

“No!” Henrietta shouted as she saw all four rock-like creature turn to glare at her. “I nominate no one!”

“Hey!” Came a small voice from the floor. “We’re not all trash! That’s just mean! You didn’t even stop by my booth. I know I’m small but…”

“Peeve!” Henrietta breathed through clenched teeth.

“Oh sorry,” Peeve said and farted out a better translation of what she said.

“You can’t do that,” said Lord Raymond Halstead the third. “You have to nominate someone. It’s tradition.”

All the other creatures murmured in agreement.

“Fine!” She said. “I nominate myself.” She took off the ribbon and handed it to Lord Raymond Halstead the third. “But since I won, I believe my winning cancels out my losing. Now I want to go home.”

She jumped off the platform and pushed through the crowd towards her booth. As the voices around her rose to a fevered pitch of confusion, she saw Ted. He and Ga were hurriedly packing her staff. Ga motioned her over then quickly led them through a curtain to a door leading out the back of the Convention center.

“We’ll take my ship!” Ga called over their shoulder as the wind was whipping red sand all around them. “It’s the closest!”

Henrietta could just barely see Ted, but was able to follow him. She pulled her wagon, leaning into the wind. The air crackled, sending little electric shocks along her flesh, causing all her hair to stand on end. She reached the ship just as the first raindrops hit her skin. This water was thicker and stickier than Earth’s water so she was happy to be inside the ship when it started pouring. Ga gave her a towel to dry off with, showed her to a couch identical to the one they had lain her on when she fainted, and strapped her in.

“This was the best convention ever! And now, we go to Earth!”

Peeve trilled, she had loved being a mastiff. Ted groaned. While he had enjoyed being human, he had been looking forward to taking on another form. He was also concerned about bringing Ga to Earth. Since the Tryklorians cannot change shape, some humans were sure to notice the massive, golden haired creature trying to imitate them. But the more he thought about it, the more the thought entertained him.

“I’m so excited!” Ga squealed, starting up their ship. “To Earth!”

“To Earth,” Henrietta echoed. A brief smile touching her lips.

 

THE END

 

Bio: Jeanine Marie Vaughn lives in a town with more dead people than living just outside of Chicago. She runs the webzine cemeteryguardians.com and a library based open mic called the No Shush Salon. She will soon be going back to school to become a teen librarian and works in two libraries. She also fosters cats, walks dogs for a shelter, and has cats and bunnies. Check her out at j9vaughn.blogspot.com

 

 

[1] Oblieques, from the planet Oblong of the Galaxy Tridon, have no distinguishing sex or gender and indeed, as a whole, eschew such linguistic delineations. But having lived among humans for three years in a human disguise, Ted was used to using the male pronoun and having a name. He had come to prefer that over the common Obliequean method of calling everyone squish as unto, “Have you seen squish?” “Why yes! Squish is with squish’s squishfriend, squish told me.”

 

[2] Smegmyllion’s planet of origin and species are unknown.

[3] Oblieques rarely wear clothes. Their serpentine bodies are not suited for clothing. Yet again, this was an area in which Ted had become more human while he was living on Earth. Once he went back to his natural form, he still wanted to wear clothes. Unfortunately, he was constantly coming out of his coat.

 

[4] Peeve is Ted’s pet Clusterina. While living on Earth Peeve looked like a mastiff, similar to how Ted passed for an old Jewish man from the Bronx, and was Ted’s service dog. Peeve was actually no bigger than a butterfly and just as brightly colored when in her natural form. No wings though, just six very sticky arms. Clusterinas have a gliding capability similar to flying squirrels, plus they can launch themselves upwards. They are parasites from the planet Custros. No one really minds their parasitic tendencies as they eat words and fart out translations.

[5] One of the Tryklors from the planet Tryladok. They love observing and imitating other species, especially if said specie comes from another planet. A popular Tryladokian proverb is: “Find someone to imitate and your life will resonate. Never be yourself.” Unfortunately, they have no chameleon like skills, so they always look like Trykladokians no matter how they act.

 

[6] This narrator has opted for the usage of the plural pronoun of they, them, and their when the preference is unknown rather than squish since said narrator thinks squish is silly. (Please, don’t tell the Obliequeans this as it could mean the firing of your humble narrator.)

 

[7] A common misconception among the Intergalactic community is that all Earthling Humans speak Chinese. Ga had actually been practicing their Mandarin on their way over to Henrietta’s booth, but grew shy upon seeing the human and, noticing that she had her very own Clusterina, Ga opted to speak in Tryklorian. This was good since Ga only knew how to ask for potatoes and brandy and how to get out the front door as she was being pursued by thugs in Chinese.

[8] The Martians were, in fact, snubbing her. They were pissed that another lifeform from their galaxy, much less their solar system, was invited to the convention and had argued with the Counsel for Intergalactic Photographers against Henrietta being admitted since all of her photographs were limited to Earth. In the end, it wasn’t a strong enough reason not to admit her since the Garlargians had only ever submitted pictures of one crater from one of their moons. Granted, it was a pretty spectacular crater and every Garlargian Religion was based on the beauty of that crater.

 

[9] A Florian from Custros, the same planet Peeve’s species hailed from.

[10] This was in fact not his name but the language of Florian is so far from human speech that Peeve’s farted translation merely gave him the closest title, Lord, and a name that Peeve was fond of in English. The only part that was a literal translation was him being the third of his name.

 

[11] This is untrue, though Henrietta is not to be blamed since that is what humans teach themselves. The dominant species on Earth is Whales.

[12] This is a nervous tick that Ga had since they were but a pup, not a trait they particularly liked.

 

[13] This is not always a death sentence since some of the species at the convention are fine out in space with or without clothing.

[14] The length of time is not accurate, but it was the closest translation from Clusterian to English.

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The Tracker by Jason K. Smith

Aug 20 2017 Published by under The WiFiles

Jared Sutton stood there and was the most frightened he’d ever been in his life. While he jogged along old route 68, Jared stopped instantly. He saw a large grayish green person that hurdled the guard rail and vanished into the woods. Whatever it was, was very muscular, fast and naked. It had red hair on its head that bounced up and down as it sprinted. In the winter cold, big, brittle tree branches cracked loudly. But the noises to this extent, meant the damage severe. The sounds were big and powerful, it reminded Jared of when a buck in rut would storm through the forest to pursue a doe. Usually, when he encountered an animal or a big dog in his path, he had short burst of panic, but this was a much different sensation—his body shut down in an effort to avoid imminent death.

When he settled down and felt a bit safer, he walked closer to the clearing the creature had made with its abrupt exit. As Jared approached the space gingerly, he noticed his left foot lost traction and slid. Unsteady in more ways than one, he looked at the bottom of his running shoe while he stared at the bluish jelly that was smeared all over the sole. The jelly was cold, and as it slipped in between his index finger and thumb, he was overwhelmed with the smelled cat urine. It trailed the monster, so it was pretty clear it was injured; at least that’s what he’d put together. Jared involuntarily said Schwarzenegger’s famous line in the film Predator, “If it bleeds, we can kill it,” in his head. As he raised his chin up to the sky, a cool wind swayed the trees nearby. He glanced behind him and saw that the road was clear on both sides of the dual yellow lines. It was silent. Due to the reduction of leaves for suitable camouflage, there was adequate space between the limbs to see a decent distance. There was an embankment just off the side the road and opened up to massive ravine. There was a spring that gradually led to a pond where Jared and his sister, Josephine occasionally visited. As he inched closer to the edge and inconspicuously ducked down, he was stunned pale.

Jared watched the artichoke tinted hominid bound on the floor of the hollow and heard the faded thumps from the force of its feet. As it pounded the earth, the freakish hulk looked back for a brief second. But it didn’t seem to notice Jared’s hidden location. Then again, Jared wasn’t sure if the beast hadn’t seen him as he approached earlier. As Jared stayed hidden, the being eventually galloped too far out of sight. But Jared knew the topography of the area and decided he could follow the thing if he headed toward an intersection about a quarter of a mile up. The real question was did he have the guts to do it. As he snapped out of a trance encouraged by terror and fascination, he said aloud, “No freaking way am I going to chase that.” His chest still pulsed abstemiously from his heart’s frightened reaction. The pumping organ tried to run the hell away from the scene fifteen minutes ago, but acquiesced.  As he started to make his way back home, Jared moved from a brisk walk that steadily sped up. Each step thumped the realization into his mind he might be in serious danger. He thought to himself, “I gotta be in shock.” The twenty-nine year-old was the son of a nurse and psychiatrist and though Jared didn’t work healthcare, he was confident that’s what he experienced. With parents like his, it made him more attuned to changes in his mind and body. He and his sister had always assumed that they’d become medical professionals by osmosis from such a careful and literate upbringing.

The sun’s light disappeared at the rate of someone that slowly turned down the dimmer switch in a dining room for a dramatic effect.  Jared was grateful for being at the mouth of this parent’s long driveway because by now it was dark. He had worn expensive athletic gear that was designed for runners to go out in extreme winter weather. But he was overheated from all of that neoprene, fleece and synthetic material he wore; it covered him from head to toe. He quickly scampered up the hill toward the sandstone colonial with a Navajo colored trim. The lanterns that flanked the garage door weren’t visible until he was with about thirty yards away. This was because the distance from the house to the road was so great, it felt like he’d emerged from a tunnel. The pinhole sized sparkles shone through the thick pine trees only about half way up the incline.

It was around seven, and Jared’s mom had just finished up with the dishes as he slammed the farmer’s porch door and ambled toward the kitchen. Then, he peeled off his thin gloves and knitted skull cap. He said, “Hey, Mom. You’re aren’t going to believe what just happened.” Jared’s mother, Yvette, was a short woman in her early sixties. With short cropped blonde hair, she was cute and religiously adhered to a diet that helped her maintain such a petite figure. “Yeah, what?” Jared apprehensively stuttered, “I, uh, uh, saw a guy.” He realized what he was about to say and suddenly had reservations because he was sure his mom would worry. Yvette responded, “Okay. What was such a big deal about that? Did he try to rob you or something? You know I hate that you run this late; not to mention the fact that cars can’t see you very well.” Jared replied, “No, no, mom, it was a creature of some kind; like an alien or something.” His mother’s pause was plenty of reason to sheepishly retreat with a laugh and say, “I’m just kidding.” Yvette quietly spoke, “What? You’re joking, right? This is a joke.” Jared panicked but knew he had to commit, there was no way he could play off such a weird statement. He remembered the blue stuff on his shoe and lifted up his foot. He said to his mother, “No, mom. Look at this.” Jared showed her, but the goo had tried into a neon crust. Nevertheless, he scraped some off with his nails and put it up to her nose. “Yuck, stop it,” Mrs. Sutton jerked her head back and blurted out, “Eww, it smells horrendous, what is that? It looks like Miracle Gro.”

All of a sudden, there were a series of loud “Bangs,” outside that sounded like the front door was struck by a bunch of heavy objects. The storm door rattled so intensely, Jared and his mother thought the glass had come loose and would fall out of the frame. They were motionless and Yvette sparked, “Oh my God, Jared what was that?” Jared whispered, “I have no idea.” The two of them walked towards the front door, turned on the halogen lights and carefully examined the yard. “My God!!” Yvette screamed. Jared felt sick. A static electricity of emotional terror originated from beneath his cranium, and momentarily settled on his shoulders. Next, it dispersed through his chest and torso, and then zip lined its descent through his hamstrings, and squeezed his balls on the way down.

A bi-pedal behemoth with rusty eyebrows that rested above squinted eyes. It glared directly through Jared and Yvette. The nose was crunched and three fangs descended from the upper lip. Its shoulders violently heaved as if it was prepared to charge. The hands were conspicuously extended to its knees. The pectorals were huge lima beans that overlapped a rippled abdomen. It was so surreal Jared thought it might be fake. It was as more realistic Harryhausen Claymation figure, and could have been a phenomenal Jim Henson puppet, or an excellent costume. It definitely wasn’t a hologram or a C.G.I projection. Jared had heard that the human can detect something artificial very quickly, especially when the audience sees something as cheap as Jar Jar Binks in “Star Wars Episode I.”  This did not come from Industrial Light and Magic, it was a four dimensional entity that was poised to attack.

Suddenly, the monster turned to the right and booked it around the house. As Jared’s friend Bill used to say what made the remake of the “Dawn of the Dead” so frightening wasn’t the better special effects, it was the fact that the zombies were fast! The surge of endorphins motivated Jared and his mom to scurry around and lock everything they could think of, the windows, the door to the screened in porch, the farmers’ porch door, and even the balcony door in the living room.  As Yvette went downstairs to close the French door inspired sliders she hit the switch for the outside lights right after she locked the latch to the door and screamed, “Jared!” With its face pressed against the glass, the monster’s smeared lips revealed awful teeth partially broken but had perfectly intact incisors that made a “tick” and “tack” sound against the glass. It was hunched over in order to position its head low enough to look through the door. It easily cleared eight feet, the long hands attempted to push on sill of the frame to open it.  Jared ran down the stairs, and joined his mother that gawked that the thing that was separated by a pitifully equipped shock proof pane of glass.

Then, the being started to hammer the set of doors with its hands, the glass shook and started to crack. Yvette and Jared stood in awe while totally powerless to stop it. The huge monster bashed through the doors like they consisted of material no more resilient as a roll of outstretched wrapping paper. The creature lunged at Yvette and snapped her torso in half. As Jared turned, the massive fingers sought out to grab his waist but only knocked him over. The monster dropped Jared’s mother on the floor, and darted after Jared with its head that clumped the ceiling as it pursued the petrified human. Jared made it up the stairs, ran through the living room and outside. He got to the driveway, paused for an instant, and saw the creature plodding from around the corner of the house.

From above bright lights shone a spotlight on Jared. He looked up to hear the flapping of what appeared to be the fans of a helicopter. Several sharp clacking sounds flew over his head toward the ghoul that was determined to tear Jared apart. The creature fell to the ground and writhed in agony with intermitted howls. But was the most eerie was that Jared heard it growl the phrase, “Things as black as sin will return from above before a century to come and to eat the angel’s children of the son.” Then, a few armed soldiers clad in special-forces military uniforms descended on ropes and asked Jared if he was okay. A large black escalade pulled up, the soldier led Jared to the direction of SUV and down to the rear passenger side window. A gentlemen in black ray bans, and suit with a black tie instructed him to get in. Jared complied with the request, got in without a word. As he sat there, the man turned toward him and spoke, “Mr. Sutton, we are here help you; we had attempted to neutralize the assailant earlier this afternoon but only injured him; I’m sorry you were involved.” Wide eyed and dizzy with shock, Jared nodded his head. The vehicle turned around in the driveway and headed down the hill while the swat team attended to the lifeless body strewn on the Sutton’s lawn.

 

Bio: Jason K. Smith, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Communication & Media at a small college. His interests include fiction writing in the genres of fantasy, speculative realism, and sci-fi. And is also published in an academic capacity on the issue of conspiracy theory and counter culture in digital discourse. He enjoys teaching digital production, journalism, media effects, and new media. He lives with his wife and Son in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia.

 

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Old Faithful by Ty Noel

Aug 13 2017 Published by under The WiFiles

She was tired of seeing that damn dot flickering in the camera that was stationed in the corner of her house. In fact, she was tired of seeing it in every room of her house. She wished, more than anything, to buy some spray paint and just cover them for good. What the hell do they need to see from an old bag like me? she often wondered.

Her house was as ancient as she felt. At 95, there wasn’t much that Mimi wanted from the world and felt that it shouldn’t want anything from her either. Her wooden floors creaked as much as her joints did when she walked. Most of the furniture was shredded apart from when the stray cats would take refuge in the home, something Walter had absolutely hated.  Outside, the appearance of the house showed its age as much as she did. The shingles were missing in places, the gutters were either clogged or hanging badly from the roof, ready to fall off on any good gust of wind. Most of the siding was weather worn or broken, compliments of the cheap shit they called vinyl. Not that the wardrobe she had was much better. Most of her clothes were either sewn together with patches or were worn from several washes.

Mimi let out a sigh before lowering herself onto the flower patterned couch. In front of her was a big television, compliments of the GGE so everyone globally could keep up to date on the latest news. Not like she cared any for it.

“On!” she said to the television. Nothing happened.

“I said on!” this time she said it louder and with more conviction.

“Oh come on, don’t make me use the damn phone to do this,” she said, looking directly at the camera. Still nothing happened. With another loud sigh and a flip of her middle finger to the corner of the room she grabbed her phone and opened the lock screen. It took her a better part of a month to realize the damned thing had to look at your eye in order to let you do anything around the house. When the phone popped open she nearly dropped it from the light that seared her old eyes through her glasses.

“For fuck’s sake,” she mumbled picking it up. The next five minutes were spent with various things turning on and off around the house. First the lights turned off in the living room, and then went from dim, to completely on. Next, different sinks throughout the house began spouting out water and before she had a chance to stop them, she had managed to flush both toilets in the home. From outside, any neighbors that were watching would have probably been enjoying the light show from Mimi’s home. Finally, the television roared to life in a deafening cry of triumph with the volume being set to 80. For anyone else, it would have been way too loud, but with her hearing close to gone, it was just right.

The weather channel was the first thing on and so she sat and watched with horror as she saw a storm was rolling in from the northeast.

“Well that explains the damn aches pretty much throughout my body,” she said, and just then a boom of thunder shook the house, as if mother nature was responding. Mimi played with the gadgets on her phone a bit more before finally being able to get the television on the game show network, one of her favorites. On the screen there was a man/woman/who knows hosting a show that involved some sort of thing with a computer. There was another clap of thunder before some other noise entered the home, a rapping at the door.

“Who the hell could that be?” Mimi pondered out loud. She let out a loud groan as she stood and reached down to grab her 20 gauge off the floor. The GGE had forbidden anyone from having a gun that didn’t have a hunting license but Mimi just wanted to try and see them take hers away. She moved slowly forward, holding the Old Faithful between her arthritic hands, while she struggled to tighten her faded pink robe. It took her a few minutes to get to the door and during which time the rapping at the door only happened once more. She unlocked two of the three bolts, leaving the chain still there. Cautiously, she poked the barrel of the gun out into the gale that was beginning to form before peaking her head out as well. The front patio was empty.

“Damned kids.” She closed the door and as she locked it, another clap of thunder reverberated through the house. Again there was a rapping at the door, but this time it came from the rear of the home. Mimi’s brow began to sweat and it slowly slid from her recently permed hair down to her face. She wasn’t sure if it was because she was becoming afraid that it may not be the neighborhood kids or if it was because it took a lot of work to get from the living room to the front door. Mimi decided maybe she would call her grandson Walter to come over. Half the house was up to no good because of the phone anyway, it’d be a good reason for him to come over.

She was making her way through the foyer when again she heard a rapping from the back of the house, and this time she was sure it on the glass of her back door.

“Go away!” she let out in a croak. Her voice, much like the rest of her body, had slowly been going and getting loud was always a struggle. Once again in the living room she picked up the phone after guiding her body to the couch and resting Old Faithful on her lap. How she wished she had a dog to deal with hooligans.

“Hello Walter?” she said after three rings.

“Hello grandma, what can I do you for tonight?” he replied, his voice sounding so strong and reassuring to Mimi.

“I was wanting you to come over and help me with this blasted stuff the GGE is making me use,” she said. “Everything is on in my house and no matter how hard I try I just can’t get it to turn off!”

“Grandma,” there was a sigh and she could hear it in his voice, no matter how bad her hearing got. “I’ve shown you plenty of times how to turn those things on and off. Do you want me to text you the video again?” No, I want you to come here and scare away these damn hooligans is what I really want, she thought to herself. But her pride would not allow for it.

“No, that’s okay,” she said. “I’ll just struggle through the damned thing until I figure it out. Don’t worry about your old grandma. Or the money that would go with helping her out.” She knew money was always a good incentive of getting her grandchildren over. That and baked desserts. Another sigh came forth from the other end of the phone.

“Alright Grandma Mimi,” he said. She knew he never used her name unless he felt annoyed or defeated. This time it was both. “I’m currently visiting with the parents but I can be over in twenty. Does that work for you?” She wanted him there sooner, but couldn’t say so.

“Absolutely,” she replied. As she said it another clap of thunder shook her home. “Love you and drive safely.” He responded the same and hung up. She turned her attention back to the game show.

Within a few minutes she could hear the pattern of rain on her roof and the claps of thunder to accompany the sound. She was already starting to feel better when she heard the rapping on wood once again. This time, it was from somewhere in the house. She looked quickly to the camera, nerves beginning to fray her already elderly face.

“Well,” she said, “are you good for nothings going to do something to help me or are those things useless?” Her body was now quavering and she moved to stand up with her gun back in her hand. She stood and listened again for the rapping on some door or wall. A clap of thunder pounded through the rain and for a moment nothing happened. She began to assume that it may just be something that was coming loose from the home, until she heard it again. This time, it came from what the door leading out to the garage.

“If they’re not going to help an old woman like myself,” she said aloud, “then the blood that’s about to follow is on their hands.” She began to hobble down the hallway that lead to the kitchen now. She passed the stairs that were carpeted a bright red, but were now closer to burgundy from years of mud and greasy footsteps. Past the white walls she went, with pictures of her family surviving after the war. She looked with leaky eyes at the picture of her husband, a man that passed a few years too soon. She wasn’t sure if her eyes were leaking in seeing the picture or from fear of what she’d find when she reached the kitchen. Another clap of thunder reverberated through the house and now, yes now she was certain, the rapping was coming from the door leading to the garage.

She hefted her gun up more and prepared to fire as she passed like a ghost through the kitchen and to the door. When she reached for the lock to let herself in where her old jeep lied dead in it’s grave, the rapping at the door stopped. No more rapping, no more tapping, no more wapping at the door. It was if whatever waited on the other side knew she was approaching and stopped its effort.

She flung the door open as quick as she could muster, wanting to have her gun ready for whatever was waiting. The door blew at her quickly and she lost her balance, nearly spilling to the floor and surely ready to break a hip like those dreaded commercials that played on the oldies station always warned of. She used Old Faithful to catch herself and did her best to get into a position to point it at an intruder once again. But there was no one.

Instead, she saw that her garage door was completely open. She assumed the worst at first, someone had managed to gain the code to the outside and had let themselves in. She felt around for a light switch before remembering that they were no longer required with the tech upgrade to the entire house.

“Damnit!” she said under her breath and waited for a round of lightning to show her the assailant lurking in the shadows. And the lightning did come, bright and flashy, like a camera going off in the garage but accompanied by another roll of thunder. She took it all in at once. Her old rusted jeep sitting idly in the middle. Her husband’s old work bench covered with tools. The grandkids old toys scattered through the rest of the area. Everything seemed in order at first, except her old jeep. She looked at it again and saw to her horror a shadowy figure sitting atop of it.

She took a step back and aimed Old Faithful at the figure. Soon enough, another light burst through the air and as she pulled the trigger there was a screech from the thing sitting perched on the jeep. It flopped and shook before hitting the ground. It made grotesque noises as it crawled towards Mimi. She had fallen further back into the kitchen, the recoil from the gun being more than she remembered. As it crawled into her home, smearing blood across her white tiled floors, she was dumbstruck by the creature before her.

The creature, or monster as the blasted reporters called them, seemed to be some sort of hybrid between a squirrel and god only knew what else. Its eyes were slitted like a cat’s and yellow. Its face was longer and looked closer to that of a rat, with a long jaw and two buck teeth in the front. It was completely white from its head down to its body, although the body seemed greatly disfigured, and not just from the gunshot wound it took. The whole thing was swollen to three times its size, as if it managed to inherit the body of a possum as well. There was only the stub of a tail, like that of a boxer, and it slowly wiggled back and forth. It looked up at Mimi with what seemed like some form of intelligence, but she failed to see it.

Mimi hefted up Old Faithful again and as the thunder clashed she brought the butt of the gun down on it’s head. A sickening crunch sound echoed through the kitchen and for one last time, the sound of rapping came into Mimi’s ears. The paws, which were no bigger than that of any other squirrel’s tapped the ground a few times, before the intelligence and life left the slitted yellow eyes. Yellow beams of light quickly began to flood the garage as Mimi stared at her kill, out of breath and tiring greatly. Walter’s door open and slammed shut as he ran into the garage and stared at the dead thing on the floor.

“Don’t worry Walt, I got it,” Mimi said before letting herself slide to the floor. Her head fell to a rest against the wooden island in the middle of the kitchen and everything went black.

When Mimi awoke, she was lying on her couch and Walter was sitting in the chair nearby her. Nearby a flurry of people from the GGE were hard at work. She slowly worked her way up, noticing the afghan that was helping conceal her and her robe, the only clothes she had on.

“What the hell are THEY doing in my home,” Mimi spat towards Walter. She hated them.

“Grandma, you know I work with the GGE,” he said. “What came into your home last night, the thing you managed to kill, is new to us.” He looked at her with sympathy, trying to understand why she was upset.

“I still don’t understand why the hell they have to be in my home,” she said.

“It’s because after you went down, I found a few more of the monsters,” he said. “They had a nest in your attic, basement, and garage. How you had not managed to find one until now is beyond me.”

“So what, are they just exterminating them now?” she replied. She began to cool down a bit. As much as she hated them, if they were clearing those creatures out, good on them.

“They’re collecting them,” Walter said. “The organization I work for is relatively new but we’ve been assigned to capturing these things for study. The nests that you’ve found are helping us to better understand them.” Mimi looked at him with little interest. She didn’t care what the GGE was doing with them, she just wanted them out of her house.

“Alright, well don’t leave until they’re done,” she said. “I don’t want any of them in my home without you. Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to try and get some more rest. Maybe next time you’ll come visit just to visit and not just because I needed help.” She gave him a smile that made him wince before snuggling back into her couch.

She awoke that evening feeling refreshed. She looked around and saw that Walter had turned on the television for, despite the volume being far too low, along with several of the lights. She worked her way up to a sitting position and began to look for Old Faithful. That gun was more than just her protector, it also helped with her standing and sometimes walking. It was nowhere to be found. The GGE must have taken it. Damn them. Mimi began to reach for her phone when she heard it. There was a rapping at her door. She froze. It started at the same place as last night, towards the front. The rapping upon the door continued. She tried to stand but found she couldn’t. The absence of Old Faithful made her woozy.

She grabbed her phone and tried to dial out but the “charge battery” icon was flashing at her. She looked at the camera and yelled for help. This time the rapping didn’t stop on the door, but settled in on the backdoor as well. She swung her head in that direction but as she did, she began hearing a rapping on the garage door as well. The tiny thrum of paws smacking on each door made her eyes well up in tears. Soon it began in on the windows. Then it was above her from the attic. It started to come from the basement too, a rapping on that door as well. She sunk into the couch and pulled the afghan over her head. She laid there and cried, tears of fear and sorrow. She listened as the rapping came closer. The windows burst and glass rained down, rapping gently on the wooden floor. She heard things splinter, one at each door. One from above and one from below. The rapping and tapping came pulsating through to her ears over the wooden floors. Soon it would be in the living room and there was nothing she could do. She closed her eyes and embraced the darkness. The rapping continued. She prayed to see daylight, a daylight she knew would never come.

 

Bio

I am from Peru, Illinois and a graduate student at Eastern Illinois University. I am currently working on a collection of short stories that analyzes the horrors of neglecting the environment while critiquing ideas of extreme patriotism. My work is all based in the future and mixes elements of science fiction in with horror. This piece is just one that is going into the collection. I am a new writer and have yet to be published.

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Unlife by Raven McAllister

Aug 06 2017 Published by under The WiFiles

My work was done in secret, in autumn, on a chill-bitten landscape of leaves. It was done alone. It was only me, the man with the pocked scars along his cheek, clockwork bits scattered across his altar, and wife and child in the ground.

But I was still known in what I did. The people who have been funding my toils for almost six years, up until this day of lord November 30, 1907, have handled the raw materials of my labors since the inception of my efforts. They provided the bodies, after which I did my work of that clandestine nature I’ve spoken of. Then it was finished for another year, until the summer days receded, and the air was again cool and dry, ideal for my task.

And my work was painstaking, yet dreadfully simple in summation: circle, star, diamond.

I am a horologist by trade, a craftsman of all things fine and precise in operation. I had apprenticed in and was eventually contracted by the same shop over the course of my adult life. A simple ‘watchmaker’ I am not, though. My tinkering went far beyond time pieces. It went where it was never supposed to go. But the challenge, and the personal stakes, compelled me to immerse myself in proceedings most arcane.

It was the man who represented the group (out of Eastern Europe is all they’ve ever revealed to me, which as much I could surmise by his accent anyhow) who introduced me to a fundamental working knowledge of the human heart. The organ’s functioning is not terribly removed from clockwork itself; I took to manipulating cadaver hearts rather quickly. There was nothing particularly extraordinary about this.

Rather, the extraordinary element was the material from which he had requested of me to forge the brass hearts. I knew immediately that this was not ‘brass’ in the truest sense, as he had informed me. It was slightly less malleable, and its properties allowed for the impossible. With the proper alignment, the metal allows for the existence of perpetual motion, a bastardization of natural laws that opens the door for…well, my work of that secretive nature. But my time for harboring secrets of any kind is over.

Each brass heart was two and half inches wide by two inches long (‘top’ to ‘bottom’), and took me two months each to forge. The movement (inner workings) demanded the longest attention to properly create, set, and calibrate. The case itself, honestly, was little more than an aesthetic touch. This is my profession, after all, and I do take pride in creating a pleasing, symmetrical shape; in this instance, it was the popular St. Valentine’s Day representation of the heart. This was the work that was done leading up to the three consecutive autumn days on which I backpacked from town, and headed north into the woods between civilization and the Atlantic coast.

Here was the place I was taken once and only once by another, by the man with the accent representing his esoteric group, and shown the altar in the clearing. The altar itself looked very old and worn, chiseled from stone, yet it did not seem to have sat in the clearing for all of its days. I guessed that his group had had it moved here, and he never answered my question about from where it originated (my accented friend mostly ignored inquiries not directly related to the performance of my work). The altar is sized just wide and long enough to accommodate a human being on their back, which may well have been key to denoting a past purpose equally macabre to its present. It stood at waist level to me. Well enough to allow me to do what I came to do.

Most certainly I never expected anyone to happen upon me during the process. The spot was well tucked away between a rocky coastline a little over a mile out, and several miles of forest on all other sides. And if anyone had ever seen me in this place, I would have simply called them mad. Who would believe the horologist, the ‘watchmaker’, was squirreling about the woods performing seemingly occult acts? That poor man, that watchmaker, who’d lost his family ten years ago when they were on that balcony at the Barberry Club in Nolhaft, posing for a photograph, when the whole damn thing collapsed. The whole, shoddy, aged, damned excuse for craftsmanship of a balcony.

I digress. That tends to happen when I ruminate on imperfection. There is little room for that in what I do. But it saturates everything else. Life itself is one imperfect decision after another. That truth I have attempted to embrace, and I feel with commendable commitment.

On the first day, left for me on the altar downwind from where I camped some few hundred yards away, was the first body. Usually I could just smell it.

I did not go to it immediately. Rather, I would wait until the sun had begun to lower behind the skeletal treetops. The coloring of the leaves that crinkled beneath my footsteps was still present, but muted; silhouettes would start to dominate on the western side of the clearing. This was the time I had been instructed to perform the work, and I did not deviate even at the very end.

The growing shadows always made the meticulous operation rushed. There were a few times I had to work by lantern light, with the cold numbing my fingers to the point of their feeling like useless icicles dangling from my palms. This made things challenging to say the least, with an already non-existent margin for error.

When I arrived to the bodies, they were already on the table, on their backs, bare. Beside them were two small satchels. One was a coin purse with my compensation inside. The other contained the final piece to the brass heart. Three days, three bodies, one body per day. It was a solitary, grim half-week to be certain.

Each corpse was not too far removed from their deaths. The bodies were typically in a very preserved fashion, the cause of mortality not ostensibly traumatic to the flesh. Branded upon each chest, at what would become my incision site, was a mark: a circle, a star, or a diamond. There was always just one of each, but their order was always randomly presented to me. I opened up the chest cavity, inserted the brass heart, and carefully clamped the valves into their proper places in the device. The last piece, the gear which was of a particular shape and material different from the pseudo-brass, inserted atop the heart once it was set. I wound this with two clicks, and my movement began to tick imperceptibly away (I could tell only by the slight vibration of the case against the back of my hand).

Then the body was sutured shut (as best as I could manage), and I let it lie in repose. With my tools in tow, I departed back for my makeshift camp. The group then would come in the dead of that night. They would take the corpse away as they left the next subject upon the altar, along with another coin purse and another winding piece. I supposed I was never meant to see the final results of my work, but a true craftsman always finds a way to check in on what he’s done.

I’ve had the most luck (or misfortune) in locating the whereabouts of the circles. Once they had wandered mysteriously, inexplicably, back into the lives of their loved ones, there seemed to be a modest window of normalcy. They returned to work, to grammar school. Then the repetitive behaviors came; they were reported to have paced around their own homes, to have disassembled and reassembled objects around their estates repeatedly, to have said the same phrases over and over for a set number of refrains. These behaviors started as mere eccentricities.

What made them easiest to locate were the newspapers. The headline was typically something to the effect of “GIRL THOUGHT DEAD MURDERS FAMILY IN SLEEP,” or “DRIFTER WITH CADAVER SCARS STABS SEVEN.” The ones brought back by the circle gears spiraled towards homicide. I’ve come across five of them. They’ve all snapped at some point, and began killing indiscriminately. They carried no rhyme or reason. Their repetitive acts simply escalate into the compulsion to kill repetitively. They’ve all been caught and either executed, or stashed into an asylum somewhere.

The stars are very difficult to locate—I’ve only found one. This was the first young man of about twenty I had operated on in my work. His head had been shaved to the scalp, and he looked to have been thin and sickly in life. The following spring, a man came in to my shop with the boy accompanying him. He was dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and beige vest, all tucked and neat. However, he had a simple way about him. The boy’s hair was growing out some, but in matted, unkempt curls. He seemed half-present, half-preoccupied with something happening within himself. Naïve to the world would be the best way to put it. He smiled at me briefly, though I’m sure he did not recognize me.

When I asked him what his name was, his father spoke up for him. “He doesn’t talk much. Not anymore. He…had a horrible accident. It left him touched. The most he ever talks about are his dreams. But his mother and I are just happy to have him with us.” He hugged the boy tightly with one arm as he regarded him with appreciation. The boy smiled again shortly, but still seemed distracted. Not once did he speak. The father’s gratitude warmed me, but…I had never been confronted by my own work at that point. I did not sleep well that night. I mostly wondered who the boy was truly before he had died.

The diamonds sometimes found me. I knew them first by their knowing looks and slim, sinister grins. There is a dark novelty to them, one I can’t put a specific label to. I can only speculate that something inhuman has been introduced into them through their resurrection process.

It was an encounter with one that led me to the precipice of what I am about to do.

It was a snowy January night this year when she came. I was the last out of the shop, locking up the cabinets inside and quelling the hearth before I left out and locked the main entrance. When I reached the door to leave, two sharp knocks before me stilled my motion. I opened the shop door, and on the street in the snow stood the woman cloaked in a navy blue scarf and furs head to toe. She had been probably thirty when I last saw her. I recognized the nature of her expression immediately. It stung me as harshly as the winter breeze I’d let through the entrance.

“I know what you’ve been thinking, watchmaker,” the woman with the disdainful smile said without introducing herself.

She was familiar in a way I could not place, and the expression, as I’ve said, gave it away. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but we’re just closing up,” I played off.

“You’re right. You know you are,” she went on, just standing there without a step forward. “Go on. How long are you going to make them wait?”

At that point, with a swallow, I decided to skip the charade and ask her what I’d been wondering for some time about the diamond gear recipients. “What are you now?”

She offered neither a verbal response nor a change in expression. I stepped out of the shop, locked the door quickly behind me, and pulled my coat tighter as I faced her in provocation.

“Come on now, out with it! You live and breathe because of me. You owe me an explanation at the very least.”

The woman folded her hands, looked to contemplate, then offered the only insight I’ve ever gotten into the existence of a person who should no longer be alive. “The others like me understand it, even if not completely. They feel it. They know that we are outside of the dead now. Outside of ghosts, and gods. We feel the strings of fate fastening to something else entirely. We feel their every pluck and wane, and we move with them despite you all who are numb to it.”

Her fingers waggled in illustration.

“I am here to urge you to feel it as well, watchmaker.”

Her smile broadened before she turned and walked away abruptly into the snowfall. Yes, she had known what I was thinking, in her black, unknowable way. It was her argument that seduced me to this final decision, to come to this moment where I sit now and chronicle the series of events that led here. I did feel the strings move me in this direction, and I stopped resisting. I let them move me toward what felt like was a natural, terribly imperfect choice.

Bradley was thirteen when he passed. Between his head hitting the cobblestone path below, and the larger timbers impacting atop him from the splintering balcony ledge, his death most likely came from the multiple fractures of his young skull. Had I been conscious directly after the fall myself, I would have most likely cradled him, regardless of the gore and blood I had been told of, and plead for him to wake up despite how obvious his state may have been. I’ve imagined that scene unendingly, at day, at night, no matter where I was or at what I toiled. I was not awake at that time. I was not there for him, or her. I wanted one last chance to apologize for that, to show him how much I loved him. He needed me, and fate didn’t allow that. I was going to be there now.

I spent half of my savings toward my family’s unearthing. You might be surprised how easy it is to hire a graverobber; the expense, really, is the only issue.

Upon their secret delivery to me at a predetermined spot in the woods, I braced for the worse as I examined both the bodies of my wife and my son. Athelia, I feared, was too far gone. Decomposition had left little semblance of proper humanity. But, for whatever imperfect reason, the same embalmer who had prepared my wife had executed his craft well enough with my son as to leave only hints of decay after a decade. His cheeks were shallow, much of his muscle mass was gone, but his skeleton was still covered with skin and some hair. I decided I would take him with me. Bradley would be the last of my secret work.

The operation would have to happen on the first day, when I had access to all three final winding gears. My strongest intuition told me that the altar played a more important part in the process than it would seem, which meant I had to perform the heart insertion where I always had. There would be no residual blood in the body, or perhaps even intact veins and arteries to carry it were it there to begin with. I had many doubts about my objective, but one sentiment was certain: this would be my last trip to the clearing.

I made the journey as I had been doing, year after year, come the autumn cold. I carried my son on my shoulder the entire way, swaddled in off-white linens with burlap tied around him. I did not bother setting up camp when I arrived, late, to my usual nesting ground. Instead, I sat alone with him, on an olive blanket spread out on the ground, holding and rocking him in the dark. I spent hours picturing that horrific day again, hoping this would be the last time that it gnawed at my being.

When the proper hour finally broke the next day, I picked Bradley up, and carried him the rest of the way to the altar. There sat what I had expected: two bags, one body.

This subject was an older man with a horseshoe of grey hair running around his scalp. He had a pointed nose and narrow visage; he looked to have been a rather dire man during his normal life. Atop his chest was branded a diamond. That seemed fitting. I could easily picture being accosted by this stranger unexpectedly one day, with a grim message to bear and a near-malicious smile on his thin, pallid face. I removed his body from the altar. I replaced it with Bradley.

Here it was, then. My light was dying by the minute. I wanted to finish my work, and leave with Bradley back toward town all on that same eve. Once the brass heart was in place, clamped by faith alone into my son’s desiccated chest, I was left with that one last, simple, imperfect choice.

The truth, of course, is that I had made the choice at least a year prior to that moment.

It’s been a few months since my final trip to the clearing. I assume I am done with my secret work. I have neither heard nor seen anything in the way of repercussion from the group which had employed my talents in that time. I spend fewer hours at the shop now, especially now that I am not forging brass hearts behind the scenes. Instead, I spend that time at home, with my son. It is well-known in this town that he is deceased, hence this bars me from allowing him out of the home. This is much to ask of a thirteen year-old boy who, every day, becomes more and more like the Bradley I knew over a decade ago.

I watch him carefully, both out of adoration and appreciation, and for other reasons. I’ve asked how much he remembers of the accident, and what he recounts of the ten years after. Nothing, he says. He seems to forget the accident often, asking now and then when his mother is coming home.

But time has grown short. That is the reason we moved into this cabin, in these very same woods where I played god as if tinkering on a timepiece.

I attempt to train him a little in my craft every day. In particular, I have explained the mechanism of the brass heart which keeps him alive. I explained this to him very clearly, very carefully, and have shown him the place within our home where the very last brass heart is kept. It sits in the satchel with the two unused winding gears.

The old clocks I have him work on for practice he disassembles several times a day, and puts all three back together the exact same way every time. When I tell him to stop practicing, he seems to only ignore the idea. He seems obsessed. He’s breaking one of them down once again, with machine-like precision, even as I write this by candlelight.

This correspondence will soon be left nailed to the exterior of our front door. The door is locked (very well), and windows are about to be nailed shut. I ask much of you, stranger. But I want you to come find my son within, but I do not want you to hurt him. Understand that he, too, will have an imperfect decision to make. Whatever choice he settles with may appear stiflingly unfair. But that is the nature of this mechanism that moves against the natural laws of life. We move with its coarse grooves, or we suffer under the weight of its unforgiving cycle.

You may turn away now, scoffing. But my hypothesis is that you are far too intrigued to do so at this point. Get Bradley in front of my body then, and he will know what to do. He is compelled to do it, after all. The stars have already dreamt it, and of you. The diamonds have already sent you, most likely without your knowing, towards my door. And if I understand the movement of this damnable clockwork properly, the circle will do the rest. I have helped forge this machine, this cycle of unlife, and in so starting it, it may well run forever.

Perfect.

 

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Bio: Raven McAllister is a psychotherapist hailing from southwest Louisiana. His stories have been featured on a number of eZine sites such as Dark Energy Speculative Fiction, Macabre Cadaver, and Flashes in the Dark, and in the print anthology Hindered Souls. His latest story, “The Language of the World,” is part of the Frith Books ghost anthology Restless, and his story “4 Turns” will be featured in the upcoming Between the Tracks collection put out by Oz Horror Con.

 

 

 

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