07:55:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 819 words  
Categories: Announcements, Old Ventures: Refuge

ANNOUNCEMENT: NaNoWriMo 2018, Old Venture: Refuge

I'm sorry. I know, no man is an island, but I've had trouble even being one drop of rain in a river. It's difficult, these days, not to feel like the very foundations of sanity are shaking loose. And I have struggled under my burdens, as I know many of you do. I only yesterday finished last year's NaNo (which I'll be uploading soon to the blog) and I'm going to try and publish one chapter a day this NaNo. It's going to be a rough election cycle this year, and I'm hoping we can get through it together. But if you retain none of the words before or after this, remember these: you are not alone. Amidst all the chaos, and pain, and dehumanizing horror, you are known, you are cared about, you are loved. And so long as we continue to have each other, and to hold one another in our hearts, we have hope. Below is an excerpt, a preview of a chapter I realized was important enough to write and publish out of order, where it might still have some impact. As always, check back daily for updates, on this as well as on older projects that I got behind in posting publicly. And in the meantime, may you and yours stay safe and close in these trying times.

* * *

Jack stepped out onto the stage, and for a moment was blinded by the house lights, and then the chorus of flashbulbs from the media. "I'm happier than I can say to welcome a true American hero onto this stage," the man said, flashing a wide smile.

Jack shook his hand stiffly, then waited for him to clear the stage before speaking. "I'm not comfortable being here," Jack said, "and I'm sure that shows."

The audience chuckled nervously. "That's okay. You're laughing with me," he paused, "I think."

"But I've never been comfortable using my... celebrity, I guess, like this. I've marched, with John Lewis, Martin Luther King, for many varied human rights on many different occasions. You could say I've never been apolitical... but I've always attempted to keep who I am as a man separate from who I was as a symbol. I never wanted to trade on the good I've done, and even today, that's not my goal.

"But I can no longer abide my prior silence. This is not the usual push and pull of politics. This is the rise of something far more sinister, an enemy we fought a world war against, an enemy I hoped we vanquished for good. Maybe that was nave of me. Maybe my generation failed to keep the flames of vigilance lit.

"I didn't decide to speak until last week. I waited, hoping that sanity would return, that someone, anyone, would be able to show the Republican candidate that he's not just trying to be the leader of conservative America, or scared America, that he'll need to lead all of us. He'll need to represent the will of all of us. He'll need to represent the hopes, as well as the fears, of all of us. And their convention convinced me that realization will forever evade him. At his core, he is a divisive and spiteful man. He doesn't like the idea of an America united, unless he can force us to unite behind him, not as a good and changed man, but as he is, angry, scared and lashing out.

"And with each passing day, the parallels with the fascist rise- a rise that cost our world millions of lives- become stronger, and harder to ignore. Every day, more language about how everyone but America is the problem is used, while more narrowly defining what counts as America. I have seen this ugliness before, I have seen what it does to good men and women caught up in its throes, and I have seen what they in turn do to those they deem unworthy of sharing soil with. I wish I could be here for any other reason, truly. But we do not get to choose our burdens, only how we rise to meet them.


"So please, vote. Not just for Democrats, but for democracy itself, for a return to normalcy, to respecting our differences, and the rights of others. For returning this country to an ideal for the rest of the world to envy. For a world where our most vulnerable are cared for, protected, and safe. For America as we want her to be, and need her to be, not what she was. Because viewing who she was through rose-tinted glasses can't erase those who were left behind or excluded in that past, and we know better, now, and we have to do better. The only hope I have to leave you with is this: we can do better. I've seen it. And I pray I'll live to see it again. Thank you."

Pages: << 1 ... 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 ... 43 >>

11/25/13

  05:38:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 2833 words  
Categories: Twist

Twist: Chapter 24

I didn't sleep, so I can't say Gram woke me the next morning banging pots around in the kitchen. I knew better than to even think it could be Hanah as I descended the stairs.

?I'm leaving,? I told her.

?Oh?? she asked, sounding dubious, but not turning away from the cabinet she was staring into. ?Just like that??

?I don't know what's going on. But I'm going to head out on foot. I'll carry as much of my gear as I can. If I can get near the freeway, I might even be able to hitchhike.?

?Hmm,? she said. ?So you're running away. That's unfortunate.?

?I'm not running. I just can't stay. I... I think I killed someone.?

?Hanah?? she asked, almost sounding hopeful.

The horror of that thought turned my knees to tapioca, and I pictured her, coming back after seeing one of my posters, and seeing, and chasing after me when I ran, confused. But it wasn't her. It couldn't have been. That was crazy- of course, it made about as much as sense as anything. ?No,? I said, ?I don't think so. Someone followed me home, and into the park, and...?

She wrapped her arms around me, and guided my head against her chest. I needed the connection enough that I wasn't bothered by her nipple poking into my jaw.

But I couldn't stay in her arms forever. ?You're running out of food,? she said, as I stood up.

?I know. And that's one reason I have to go. The other is that I'm losing my mind, here. Maybe I lost it the moment you showed up. But I'm pretty sure I hurt someone- maybe some thing- last night- and I'm pretty sure I'll do it again if I stay. And I still can't shake the thought that I might have done the same to Hanah.?

?Maybe walking isn't such a bad plan,? she said.

?You don't know?? I asked.

?I don't know everything.? That seemed like a strange admission from someone who admitted to being a know-it-all. ?I mean, I doubt it will work. But I'm sure you do, too- if you've been paying any attention at all. But...? she turned her head slowly, deliberately, to the basement stairs, ?wouldn't it be better, to go wherever you're going, knowing you weren't running from the truth??

?I don't know,? I admitted.

I dressed, packed a bag with a blanket, and some of my less dirty, warmer clothes. Then I came back to the kitchen, and rooted through the cabinets for food. I found a couple granola bars, a fruit snack, a can of peaches with a pull-top. I didn't much like peaches- they tickled my throat and set off my gag reflex- but I wasn't really in any position to turn them away.

And then a terrible smell hit me. If Leroy was here, I would have assumed he had runny Taco Bell diarrhea- not that we would have ever fed him Taco Bell, but if we had. But this was smell was new- at least in its intensity. But it seemed to be coming from the freezer.

It seemed early for whatever was in the freezer to have turned- particularly this badly. I tried to remember what could have stunk that bad. But I couldn't even recall the last time I'd opened the freezer for anything.

My heart skipped a beat, and I wondered if I would have- no, if I could have- put a body in there. Certainly not without some... adjustments. But that description Gram gave me. That was new. I was fairly certain that I hadn't seen her butcher my grandfather. So either she was the ghost of my grandmother, or I came on that knowledge from some place else- and both seemed pretty damn crazy.

Gram shook her head at me. ?You're chasing shadows,? she said, ?when we both already know where the monster's hiding.? I ignored her, and pulled the freezer wide open. A melted can of juice concentrate, cranberry grape, spilled out over the floor. For an instant I thought it was blood, but the freezer, aside from being thawed, looked completely normal.

I swore, and mopped up the concentrate. It left the floor sticky, but at least I stopped it before it spread to the carpet at the edge of the kitchen.

But that left the smell unaccounted for. There was a cabinet beside the fridge. I looked at Gram, hoping for some indication of what I might find. After all, she maybe didn't know everything, but she sure as hell seemed to know more than me. And she'd been spending more time in the kitchen than I had. But she wasn't betraying anything- or she genuinely didn't know.

I pulled the cabinet open. There was a hefty brown sack laying in the far corner, leaking. I swallowed. Was it large enough for a person? Maybe not all of one, but if you stripped away parts of the body- say, the ones that would fit in the garbage disposal, like the organs...

I reached and tugged on the sack. It slid across the cabinet like a slug. When it reached the edge of the cabinet, I could see that it had been a sack of potatoes. I lifted it, and brown fluid poured out of it like there was a faucet inside. But the bag was light; before the rot, it probably had only fifteen pounds. I ran for the back door, trying not to retch at the horrible smell pouring over my hands and shoes.

I made it as far as the back door and just threw the bag onto the patio. ?The fuck was that?? I asked Gram.

?Have you never had a sack of potatoes go bad before?? she asked.

?They usually just grow eyes,? I told her, and pantomimed big alien eye stalks. I got my hands as clean as I could, but I knew that reek was going to be with me for a while.

I left the house. I stopped at the car. I knew that if I could get into the trunk around the willow, I would have access to better than the supplies I'd managed to cobble together from inside the house.

But once I got to the car, I couldn't help myself. I had to go to the park. I set my bag down by the car, and crossed the street. I told myself that I just wanted to walk through, make sure the body was hidden, maybe move the log to a more discreet location. I knew somewhere in my head that I was returning to the scene of the crime. But I couldn't not go.

Well, I couldn't prevent myself from trying. But actually getting there proved more difficult than I imagined- despite the fact that I could usually see the park from my front porch. I wandered for an hour, and only ever saw the fronts of houses I didn't recognize, and fog- so much fog I couldn't see a dozen feet in front of me. Each street I crossed was a harrowing experience, because I couldn't tell where there might be a sidewalk, or if there was a car approaching- and I knew that meant they wouldn't be able to see me.

Eventually, I found my way back to the car. I made a half-hearted attempted to get into the trunk, but it was jammed, and after one good pull I gave up. Because it didn't matter if I had more and better supplies. I wasn't going to get anywhere I might be able to use them. I was boxed in, trapped.

Gram was waiting for me at the front door. ?The cage closing in?? she asked. I was angry, at her for being right, at myself for getting my hopes up. ?I could chastise you for being stubborn, but it would make me a jackass, blaming a mule for growing up to be a mule like the woman who raised him.? She tussled her fingers in my hair.

?But there comes a point where stubbornness gives way to foolishness. We both know where the door is- where it's always been. You've just got to be man enough to go through it.?

?Man enough?? I asked.

?Your grandfather wasn't a man, despite having the proper tackle. And since he died, I've never brooked another soul telling me I wasn't enough of a man for anything. And you're stalling.?

She could have said courage, or called it maturity; but correctness to the side, I think her phrasing made the most sense. I was stalling. Just thinking of that place brought the ache backed into my brain, so heavy I could barely stand under its weight.

I walked down the stairs, to the laundry room. The stink had gotten worse. But that it could just be the mold and mildew continuing unabated.

After the power went out, I left a candle and matches next to the fuse box, back when I thought the power would come back on- when I still had hope.

It was my last candle, and there were no windows in the laundry room. I let the candle, and stepped inside. The floor was wet, and my shoes made a slapping sound as I stepped.

I remembered we had a small LED flashlight above the dryer, and I used the candle to find it. It was high up enough I had to lean on the tips of my toes to get it, and when I came back down, I splashed, sending the fluid on the floor splashing into my shoes. It was warm. Blood? That didn't make sense.

Hanah had been missing a week, and you can't bleed that much for that long. Unless Hanah had been there, alive, but dying, and now she was starting to decompose on the floor. I furrowed my brow. That didn't seem right, either. I didn't think a body could decompose while it was still warm- the process took long enough that a body was cold by the time the guts poured out.

I blew out the candle. I wanted not to know the truth, to run out of the room and never come back. As if she knew what I was thinking, Gram stepped into the doorway, not blocking my way out, but making it so I'd have to brush past her. I took it for her supporting me- though I knew there was the clear potential for menace, too.

I flicked on the flashlight, and the first thing I saw was my missing screwdriver sitting on top of the washer. Then it came back to me. Hanah had broken the dial on the washer, so we'd been using my flathead screwdriver to turn the dial in the meantime.

The wetness was disturbing me the most, so I scanned the floor for a body. I stepped on something, and it squished, and gave, but it was all just clothes, wet, warm clothes, moldering.

But why were they wet? I knelt down, and touched the floor. It was warm. I traced the water back to the pipe going into the washer. It was leaking into the clothes on the floor, then into the drain in the center of the room.

I sighed, and then smiled. I'd been terrified of the room for no reason. I saw the door to a small cabinet slightly ajar- and didn't remember it ever being ajar before. I slunk over to it, taking a moment to steel himself for whatever I might find.

I couldn't remember what we stored there, but I couldn't shake the conviction, no matter how many times it had been proven wrong, that I'd folded up Hanah and shoved her inside. But it was only sheets.

I laughed out loud. All this time, I'd been worried about the room, because of some vague sense of menace. But I'd been jumping at shadows.

Something was off. The screwdriver looked... rusted. But I knew that the screwdriver was in good shape. I walked closer. It wasn't rust. It was blood, and dried on flecks of flesh.

I picked it up. I could hear, somewhere, in the back of my addled mind, the rational part of me screaming that I was contaminating evidence, or incriminating myself or whatever, but he seemed comically far away, and his protests fell on thoroughly disinterested ears.

The migraine was back, though I already knew that it wasn't a migraine- my brain wasn't working properly, so it had already read the ending even before it got to the beginning.

I was numb, but I managed to stumble out of the laundry room, and sit on the couch. I collapsed my head against the couch, and noticed, in the exact spot where I lay, pasta sauce. Except I wasn't able to convince myself it was that this time.

Holding the screwdriver, while sitting on the couch, I remembered.

We were fighting. About Leroy. Hanah blamed me. She loved Leroy, and losing him, she lost a part of herself from before we met that she wanted to cling to.

I could see that, and I felt for her. But I couldn't focus on that. I wanted to defend myself. I felt guilty over the dog, but the way she said, it felt like she was accusing me of more than just slovenliness. I wished I could take on all the blame for Leroy- but I couldn't- I couldn't handle it, and having her heap it all on me made me angry.

I started towards her, aggressively. She was yelling at me from inside the laundry room, and I stalked towards her. It put me in mind of that the thing in the park, moving with an ominous but ill-defined menace.

I didn't recognize it then, but thinking back on it now, I knew she was terrified. She'd been in bad relationships in the past, been beaten. Instinctively, her fingers closed around the screwdriver she had, seconds before, been planning to use start the washing machine.

I stumbled on a pile of clothes, causing me to lurch towards her. And she stabbed me in the head.

I stopped remembering, or really, recognized the odd parallels, with this moment and when I first woke up. The thundering in my head was overwhelming, but it had never been a migraine- it was a combination of pain from a massive head wound and a good clip of brain damage.

When I woke up the first time, lying on the floor of the laundry room, I grabbed the screwdriver and ripped it out. I dropped it on top of the washer, and only then vaguely recalled that you were supposed to leave a puncturing object where you found it. I knew I needed an ambulance, but only managed to make it to the couch to pass out.

I laid back against the couch, and stared at the screwdriver in my hand. I realized that everything after my head injury had been a literal mindscrew- and I was the one holding the driver.

But I recognized something else. What Hanah did had trapped me, locked me somewhere I couldn't escape from. Running out of food, and every day running more and more out of space.

Maybe I was in a coma, with my brain dying, or maybe she unlocked something in my head, this terrible nightmare of a world.

But I couldn't stay here, running from monsters every second of every day. And fighting back was worse, because I knew there was the possibility that I was just murdering innocent people.

Holding the screwdriver, I knew what I had to do. She unlocked something in my head. And I had to lock it back up.

I positioned the screwdriver over the spot where Hanah stuck it in my skull. I had to push past dried blood in my hair, and through a scab knitting together my scalp. But the hole in my skull was still there. The screwdriver made a sound like keys dragged across a wooden desk as it slid home.

Every rational instinct screamed at me that I'd just jabbed a foreign object into my brain, and that I needed to tear it out. But my rational instincts hadn't helped me one but- and they didn't have any answers for a world that seemed to be progressively my existence whole. It made a crazy kind of sense, that in an irrational world, only irrational solutions worked.

Gram sat down on the couch, and took my hand. At least my brain damage was on board- even if we couldn't drag my sane part with us. I winced as I grabbed the handle, but it didn't hurt.

I didn't know what to expect, what was going to happen, but I knew that wasn't the point. I wasn't going to hurt anyone, anymore. I wasn't going to have to be afraid.

My hand tightened around the handle, and twisted.

  03:46:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 2833 words  
Categories: Twist

Twist: Chapter 24

I didn't sleep, so I can't say Gram woke me the next morning banging pots around in the kitchen. I knew better than to even think it could be Hanah as I descended the stairs.

?I'm leaving,? I told her.

?Oh?? she asked, sounding dubious, but not turning away from the cabinet she was staring into. ?Just like that??

?I don't know what's going on. But I'm going to head out on foot. I'll carry as much of my gear as I can. If I can get near the freeway, I might even be able to hitchhike.?

?Hmm,? she said. ?So you're running away. That's unfortunate.?

?I'm not running. I just can't stay. I... I think I killed someone.?

?Hanah?? she asked, almost sounding hopeful.

The horror of that thought turned my knees to tapioca, and I pictured her, coming back after seeing one of my posters, and seeing, and chasing after me when I ran, confused. But it wasn't her. It couldn't have been. That was crazy- of course, it made about as much as sense as anything. ?No,? I said, ?I don't think so. Someone followed me home, and into the park, and...?

She wrapped her arms around me, and guided my head against her chest. I needed the connection enough that I wasn't bothered by her nipple poking into my jaw.

But I couldn't stay in her arms forever. ?You're running out of food,? she said, as I stood up.

?I know. And that's one reason I have to go. The other is that I'm losing my mind, here. Maybe I lost it the moment you showed up. But I'm pretty sure I hurt someone- maybe some thing- last night- and I'm pretty sure I'll do it again if I stay. And I still can't shake the thought that I might have done the same to Hanah.?

?Maybe walking isn't such a bad plan,? she said.

?You don't know?? I asked.

?I don't know everything.? That seemed like a strange admission from someone who admitted to being a know-it-all. ?I mean, I doubt it will work. But I'm sure you do, too- if you've been paying any attention at all. But...? she turned her head slowly, deliberately, to the basement stairs, ?wouldn't it be better, to go wherever you're going, knowing you weren't running from the truth??

?I don't know,? I admitted.

I dressed, packed a bag with a blanket, and some of my less dirty, warmer clothes. Then I came back to the kitchen, and rooted through the cabinets for food. I found a couple granola bars, a fruit snack, a can of peaches with a pull-top. I didn't much like peaches- they tickled my throat and set off my gag reflex- but I wasn't really in any position to turn them away.

And then a terrible smell hit me. If Leroy was here, I would have assumed he had runny Taco Bell diarrhea- not that we would have ever fed him Taco Bell, but if we had. But this was smell was new- at least in its intensity. But it seemed to be coming from the freezer.

It seemed early for whatever was in the freezer to have turned- particularly this badly. I tried to remember what could have stunk that bad. But I couldn't even recall the last time I'd opened the freezer for anything.

My heart skipped a beat, and I wondered if I would have- no, if I could have- put a body in there. Certainly not without some... adjustments. But that description Gram gave me. That was new. I was fairly certain that I hadn't seen her butcher my grandfather. So either she was the ghost of my grandmother, or I came on that knowledge from some place else- and both seemed pretty damn crazy.

Gram shook her head at me. ?You're chasing shadows,? she said, ?when we both already know where the monster's hiding.? I ignored her, and pulled the freezer wide open. A melted can of juice concentrate, cranberry grape, spilled out over the floor. For an instant I thought it was blood, but the freezer, aside from being thawed, looked completely normal.

I swore, and mopped up the concentrate. It left the floor sticky, but at least I stopped it before it spread to the carpet at the edge of the kitchen.

But that left the smell unaccounted for. There was a cabinet beside the fridge. I looked at Gram, hoping for some indication of what I might find. After all, she maybe didn't know everything, but she sure as hell seemed to know more than me. And she'd been spending more time in the kitchen than I had. But she wasn't betraying anything- or she genuinely didn't know.

I pulled the cabinet open. There was a hefty brown sack laying in the far corner, leaking. I swallowed. Was it large enough for a person? Maybe not all of one, but if you stripped away parts of the body- say, the ones that would fit in the garbage disposal, like the organs...

I reached and tugged on the sack. It slid across the cabinet like a slug. When it reached the edge of the cabinet, I could see that it had been a sack of potatoes. I lifted it, and brown fluid poured out of it like there was a faucet inside. But the bag was light; before the rot, it probably had only fifteen pounds. I ran for the back door, trying not to retch at the horrible smell pouring over my hands and shoes.

I made it as far as the back door and just threw the bag onto the patio. ?The fuck was that?? I asked Gram.

?Have you never had a sack of potatoes go bad before?? she asked.

?They usually just grow eyes,? I told her, and pantomimed big alien eye stalks. I got my hands as clean as I could, but I knew that reek was going to be with me for a while.

I left the house. I stopped at the car. I knew that if I could get into the trunk around the willow, I would have access to better than the supplies I'd managed to cobble together from inside the house.

But once I got to the car, I couldn't help myself. I had to go to the park. I set my bag down by the car, and crossed the street. I told myself that I just wanted to walk through, make sure the body was hidden, maybe move the log to a more discreet location. I knew somewhere in my head that I was returning to the scene of the crime. But I couldn't not go.

Well, I couldn't prevent myself from trying. But actually getting there proved more difficult than I imagined- despite the fact that I could usually see the park from my front porch. I wandered for an hour, and only ever saw the fronts of houses I didn't recognize, and fog- so much fog I couldn't see a dozen feet in front of me. Each street I crossed was a harrowing experience, because I couldn't tell where there might be a sidewalk, or if there was a car approaching- and I knew that meant they wouldn't be able to see me.

Eventually, I found my way back to the car. I made a half-hearted attempted to get into the trunk, but it was jammed, and after one good pull I gave up. Because it didn't matter if I had more and better supplies. I wasn't going to get anywhere I might be able to use them. I was boxed in, trapped.

Gram was waiting for me at the front door. ?The cage closing in?? she asked. I was angry, at her for being right, at myself for getting my hopes up. ?I could chastise you for being stubborn, but it would make me a jackass, blaming a mule for growing up to be a mule like the woman who raised him.? She tussled her fingers in my hair.

?But there comes a point where stubbornness gives way to foolishness. We both know where the door is- where it's always been. You've just got to be man enough to go through it.?

?Man enough?? I asked.

?Your grandfather wasn't a man, despite having the proper tackle. And since he died, I've never brooked another soul telling me I wasn't enough of a man for anything. And you're stalling.?

She could have said courage, or called it maturity; but correctness to the side, I think her phrasing made the most sense. I was stalling. Just thinking of that place brought the ache backed into my brain, so heavy I could barely stand under its weight.

I walked down the stairs, to the laundry room. The stink had gotten worse. But that it could just be the mold and mildew continuing unabated.

After the power went out, I left a candle and matches next to the fuse box, back when I thought the power would come back on- when I still had hope.

It was my last candle, and there were no windows in the laundry room. I let the candle, and stepped inside. The floor was wet, and my shoes made a slapping sound as I stepped.

I remembered we had a small LED flashlight above the dryer, and I used the candle to find it. It was high up enough I had to lean on the tips of my toes to get it, and when I came back down, I splashed, sending the fluid on the floor splashing into my shoes. It was warm. Blood? That didn't make sense.

Hanah had been missing a week, and you can't bleed that much for that long. Unless Hanah had been there, alive, but dying, and now she was starting to decompose on the floor. I furrowed my brow. That didn't seem right, either. I didn't think a body could decompose while it was still warm- the process took long enough that a body was cold by the time the guts poured out.

I blew out the candle. I wanted not to know the truth, to run out of the room and never come back. As if she knew what I was thinking, Gram stepped into the doorway, not blocking my way out, but making it so I'd have to brush past her. I took it for her supporting me- though I knew there was the clear potential for menace, too.

I flicked on the flashlight, and the first thing I saw was my missing screwdriver sitting on top of the washer. Then it came back to me. Hanah had broken the dial on the washer, so we'd been using my flathead screwdriver to turn the dial in the meantime.

The wetness was disturbing the most, so I scanned the floor for a body. I stepped on something, and it squished, and gave, but it was all just clothes, wet, warm clothes, moldering.

But why were they wet? I knelt down, and touched the floor. It was warm. I traced the water back to the pipe going into the washer. It was leaking into the clothes on the floor, then into the drain in the center of the room.

I sighed, and then smiled. I'd been terrified of the room for no reason. I saw the door to a small cabinet slightly ajar- and didn't remember it ever being ajar before. I slunk over to it, taking a moment to steel himself for whatever I might find.

I couldn't remember what we stored there, but I couldn't shake the conviction, no matter how many times it had been proven wrong, that I'd folded up Hanah and shoved her inside. But it was only sheets.

I laughed out loud. All this time, I'd been worried about the room, because of some vague sense of menace. But I'd been jumping at shadows.

But something was off. The screwdriver looked... rusted. But I knew that the screwdriver was in good shape. I walked closer. It wasn't rust. It was blood, and dried on flecks of flesh.

I picked it up. I could hear, somewhere, in the back of my addled mind, the rational part of me screaming that I was contaminating evidence, or incriminating myself or whatever, but he seemed comically far away, and his protests fell on thoroughly disinterested ears.

The migraine was back, though I already knew that it wasn't a migraine- my brain wasn't working properly, so it had already read the ending even before it got to the beginning.

I was numb, but I managed to stumble out of the laundry room, and sit on the couch. I collapsed my head against the couch, and noticed, in the exact spot where I lay, pasta sauce. Except I wasn't able to convince myself it was that this time.

Holding the screwdriver, while sitting on the couch, I remembered.

We were fighting. About Leroy. Hanah blamed me. She loved Leroy, and losing him, she lost a part of herself from before we met that she wanted to cling to.

I could see that, and I felt for her. But I couldn't focus on that. I wanted to defend myself. I felt guilty over the dog, but the way she said, it felt like she was accusing me of more than just slovenliness. I wished I could take on all the blame for Leroy- but I couldn't- I couldn't handle it, and having her heap it all on me made me angry.

I started towards her, aggressively. She was yelling at me from inside the laundry room, and I stalked towards her. It put me in mind of that the thing in the park, moving with an ominous but ill-defined menace.

I didn't recognize it then, but thinking back on it now, I knew she was terrified. She'd been in bad relationships in the past, been beaten. Instinctively, her fingers closed around the screwdriver she had, seconds before, been planning to use start the washing machine.

I stumbled on a pile of clothes, causing me to lurch towards her. And she stabbed me in the head.

I stopped remembering, or really, recognized the odd parallels, with this moment and when I first woke up. The thundering in my head was overwhelming, but it had never been a migraine- it was a combination of pain from a massive head wound and a good clip of brain damage.

When I woke up the first time, lying on the floor of the laundry room, I grabbed the screwdriver and ripped it out. I dropped it on top of the washer, and only then vaguely recalled that you were supposed to leave a puncturing object where you found it. I knew I needed an ambulance, but only managed to make it to the couch to pass out.

I laid back against the couch, and stared at the screwdriver in my hand. I realized that everything after my head injury has been a literal mindscrew- and I was the one holding the driver.

But I recognized something else. What Hanah did had trapped me, locked me somewhere I couldn't escape from. Running out of food, and every day running more and more out of space.

Maybe I was in a coma, with my brain dying, or maybe she unlocked something in my head, this terrible nightmare of a world.

But I couldn't stay here, running from monsters every second of every day. And fighting back was worse, because I knew there was the possibility that I was just murdering innocent people.

Holding the screwdriver, I knew what I had to do. She unlocked something in my head. And I had to lock it back up.

I positioned the screwdriver over the spot where Hanah stuck it in my skull. I had to push past dried blood in my hair, and through a scab knitting together my scalp. But the hole in my skull was still there. The screwdriver made a sound like keys dragged across a wooden desk as it slid home.

Every rational instinct screamed at me that I'd just jabbed a foreign object into my brain, and that I needed to tear it out. But my rational instincts hadn't helped me one but- and they didn't have any answers for a world that seemed to be progressively my existence whole. It made a crazy kind of sense, that in an irrational world, only irrational solutions worked.

Gram sat down on the couch, and took my hand. At least my brain damage was on board- even if we couldn't drag my sane part with us. I winced as I grabbed the handle, but it didn't hurt.

I didn't know what to expect, what was going to happen, but I knew that wasn't the point. I wasn't going to hurt anyone, anymore. I wasn't going to have to be afraid.

My hand tightened around the handle, and twisted.

11/24/13

  03:45:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 2207 words  
Categories: Twist

Twist: Chapter 23

I never found the gas station. I wandered around down town for hours.

My wanderlust turned to dread once it started to get dark. My destination shifted manically. I didn't really care, anymore, if I ended up at home, or the station, or even at work- I just needed to get somewhere, to try and get safe.

Finally, I decided to try walking in a spiral, going one block in one direction, then left one block, then left two blocks, and left two blocks, then left three, and so on, so that my net was slowly, but managebly, extending. It meant a lot of doubling back- a lot of it- the same exact buildings passed on street corners, just one block removed. But it meant that even in this fog, which I now understood was complemented by the mental fog I'd initially taken for a headache, I kept my bearings.

And eventually I found home- or at least the road I lived on.

I felt a breeze, warmer than it had been all day. And somehow I knew. It wasn't the wind. It was breath, perhaps mixed with the heat permeating off a body. I looked behind me, and saw the shadowy silhouette, hunched down, like a cat or a distance runner, ready to blast off the blocks.

I ran. I was in awful shape, for the amount of running I'd been doing, and it had taken its toll. I was heavier, this time, too. I fished the brick out of my pocket as I went, and threw it to the side, like jettisoning ballast. I realized as it struck the moist earth that perhaps I should have thrown it at my pursuer- but something told me that one brick wasn't going to do it. I pictured immense fangs, and claws as long as my arms, and knew that if I was going to fight it, I wanted a bit more reach than a brick was going to afford me.

I could feel myself slowing this time, knew instinctively that I wasn't going to make it inside like before.

I passed the car I stole the starter out of. The hood still looked like I left it, not completely shut. That gave me a renewed sense of purpose. There was some continuity to the world. Maybe that meant that I could leave it- on foot.

But hope could only spur me on so much faster, and eventually my stamina flagged. I heard the thing behind me, panting like a dog, its breath warm and wet against my ear.

I was twenty feet before my cross street, and then a set of stairs before safety. But I could feel fingers reaching out to me, tangled in the edges of the shirt billowing behind me. I was so close. But I wasn't going to make it.

I flung myself at full velocity against the stop sign in front of my neighbor's house, shoulder first, and sprung off it, kicking behind me with all the force I could.

I hit something. It was terrifying and exhilarating- because I wasn't crazy, just madly kicking air. But that meant the thing chasing after me was real.

My shoulder ached, though it wasn't quite broken, and I needed to move. I ran across the street, planning to sidestep the somewhat cumbersome stairs by running up the hill on the side of the yard. But it meant running around the tree. The thing recovered faster than I hoped, and went straight up the steps, and cut me off.

I knelt down as I ran, and snagged a branch snapped off the falling willow tree. It was a part of the trunk, so thicker like a normal tree, not thin and whip-like.

When I didn't round the tree and head up for the porch, the creature had to climb through the branches to get to me. That bought me time, and I used it to turn and run for the park.

I ran for the fence, by the freeway, across the field, and hid in the brush beneath the trees. I was far enough ahead of whatever the hell was chasing me that I watched, from my hiding spot, as it entered the park.

It lumbered along the path, so it took longer, to get to the trees; whatever it was, it wasn't tracking me by scent. That gave me some modicum of hope, but I was glad to also have my branch.

At the fork in the path, it stopped and stared. No- it was weighing my options, as it figured I had. The path to the left would have taken me near the back of the house. If I could hope the fence, I would have been home free- assuming that I didn't run smack dab into it trying to cut me off. The right path looped around, and from there there were exits to the southeast, the southwest through an alley, and the entrance I'd come in.

He took the right fork.

A thinking monster. That made me grip my branch tighter; that was the kind of wording Gram would have mocked me for. I wished she was with me, for comfort. Unless that thing could hurt her, like the mower had. Even if she was dead, I didn't want her to get mauled on my account.

The thing walked slowly towards me, staring beneath the trees, though occasionally glancing up at the stars. If I hadn't known better, I might have thought it was just a man on a late night walk through the park. But he moved wrong, jerkily, like he had a bad case of Parkinsons, MS and was having a seizure, and the only thing keeping him upright was a massive dose of adrenaline.

I still couldn't see him well, even though the light from the moon in the park was probably the most illumination I'd seen one of them in. But the fog was denser than I'd ever seen it, more pervasive- and I'd never known it to last for so long.

The fog, the power outage, the car, Gram, these things- none of it seemed real. Maybe it wasn't. Maybe I was insane, crouched in a park waiting for a shadow to pass me by, or an opossum.

The only thing I could be certain of was that that thing was still coming. It prowled along the path, moving like a drunk vet with a metal shin in the throes of a meth high- if he was pretending to be a velociraptor.

I hunkered down, hoping that it wouldn't find me. But it was taking its time, systematically checking under benches and in trees. Eventually it came to the bush I was hiding behind. I thought my way through a bit of a prayer, but wherever the hell I was, I was pretty sure I was going to have the same trouble getting hold of God as I'd had getting hold of anybody else.

I held my breath, hoping it would pass me by. But somehow he knows that it isn't going.

The fog was so dense that even as near as it was, I couldn't entirely see it- only that its silhouette didn't seem human. A sliver of moonlight cuts across it, and I could see that in its hand it was clutching one of my ?Missing? fliers. That had to be a hallucination.

I waited until I was nearly certain it had seen me, and leapt from the bushes, brandishing my willow branch. I smashed the thing in the head, and it went down, wailing horribly. It was a piercing, inhuman sound, so cruel in my ears that I felt I had to keep hitting it to shut it up. By the time I stopped, it wasn't wriggling anymore. I dropped the log, and no longer had the strength to stay on my feet, and fell to my knees.

I could feel its blood soaking into my knees. No, it was cold, I was in the grass beside the path. But I looked down at the body, and the pool of blood, less than I anticipated, but growing still.

Then I panicked. What if I was hallucinating? What if this 'monster' was just some guy- unless I was hallucinating his body shape- strolling in the moonlight. What if I'd just murdered a person?

I rolled the body over, and felt around its neck, trying to find a pulse. There wasn't one. A dark cloud crossed the moon, and I lost what little light I had. So I had to touch its face to try and find its mouth. Its entire head was a wound, like a grab burst underfoot. How many times had I hit it?

But I found two holes, holes that I thought might be the nostrils. I held my hand in front of them. Nothing. No air being sucked in or out.

I wrapped my lips around the holes, ignoring the taste of blood or the fact that my tongue slapped against its raw flesh, and blew in two lungfuls of air. My hand, holding its chin, glanced on lips swollen beyond recognition, and I wondered with horror if he'd been black; for some reason, the thought that I'd perhaps murdered a black man filled me with shame.

I traced my way down the body's neck in the dark, and found the middle of its chest. I remembered you were supposed to keep your body straight, and deliver the thrusts with your shoulders. I pushed down several times. I knew that if you did it right you probably would break someone's ribs. But the ribs were already shards of bone; it felt like I was giving compressions to a garbage bag full of uncooked rigatoni noodles.

I have no idea how long I tried to resuscitate it, other than to say that I only stopped when I collapsed from exhaustion, trying to scream at the corpse to live. But I was so tired, that it came out more a whimpered plea. I was crying, covered in snot and tears. I couldn't have left more physical evidence behind if I tried.

Evidence. The word echoed in my head. I was killer. Goddamn me. I wondered if Gram would be thrilled, if she'd feel closer to me- or if she was going to feel worse, because she'd raised a monster.

One thing I knew she hadn't raised was a fool. Maybe it was a person. Or maybe I had killed something most people were fortunate enough never to see. But I sure as hell wasn't going to make it easy.

I rolled the body into the bushes and ivy beneath the tree. Then I snuck out of the park, going the long way and tossed the murder wood over a fence.

Every step, I expected someone, a neighbor, a policeman, to stop me, and ask if I needed help. I made it to the basketball court at the park entrance. There was a metal trashcan in a little circular fence enclosure, like it was wearing a wooden skirt. I could feel my heartbeat in my ears. It seemed like, if I had wanted to dispose of a body- Hanah's body- like it was almost an ideal place, the kind of place that would at last redirect suspicion to the homeless people I knew slept on the edges of the park.

I glanced over my shoulder, but I didn't see any of them on the benches. It was possible one of them was lying in the trench by the alley, but I knew that from that distance I would have been a speck to them.

But I was preoccupied with the can. I had just enough of my wits with me that I rolled off my shirt, and used that to touch as a glove. I tore the metal lid off, and looked inside. I moved the garbage at the top to the side, soaking myself in Christ knows what, but it was sticky, and had a horrible sweet stink. There was nothing but trash. I screamed like an animal, and tried to shove the can over. Wisely, someone had chained it to its wooden enclosure, and without tearing that out of the ground, the can was staying upright.

I wiped what I could of the blood off my hands, and balled the shirt up, to hide as much of it as I could. Then I jogged. I made it to my front door unscathed. I knew that it was only a matter of time before the police, or more of those tings- and I wasn't sure which I dreaded more- came to the door. I tried desperately to get the front door lock unstuck, but to no avail.

I couldn't shower, but I used some dirty clothes to at least wipe the blood off my hands and face.

I tried to sleep, but I knew that was never going to happen. During the night, I saw lights flashing from the park. But they weren't the red and blue of cop cars. And there sounds, too, like a distant cacophony, though I couldn't make any of it, or make any of it make sense.

11/23/13

  03:43:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 2972 words  
Categories: Twist

Twist: Chapter 22

Timidly, I opened the front door. I checked the dented mailbox, and scoured the porch for a package. It hadn't come. But I wasn't sure what time it was- other than that I was getting hungry.

There still wasn't any power. That cut out anything that needed to be microwaved or heated. It did mean I should try and finish off anything that was going to go bad from the fridge. There was a half-eaten plastic jar of grapefruit, and a sack of carrots. I nibbled on them until I hoped I'd never have to eat anything else with vitamin c in it, ever again. I washed it down with chocolate milk- not that I though the combination would be anything other than disgusting, I just wanted to waste as little food as possible.

When I couldn't eat anymore, only partially because of how bad the flavors clashed, I put everything I hadn't finished back. The fridge was still retaining its temperature decently well, and if the power came back on in the next day or so, maybe some of it could be salvaged.

It was getting harder to even pretend to believe that kind of shit.

I checked the porch again for the starter. It was getting dark. Even this time of year, the mail never came after dark. But the postal service wasn't the only carrier in town. There was UPS, and Fed Ex, and DHL and I'm sure I have boxes lying around that had come from others, still. But so far as I could remember, none of them came this late.

But lateness wasn't really what concerned me anymore. It wasn't coming at all. I doubted that, even if I waited forever, it would ever come.

No, today I'd walked to the edges of the world as it existed, now. I didn't doubt that there was more, beyond that, but I'd sketched the boundaries of my own reality.

The more that thought sunk in- the more claustrophobic I felt- the more I felt like I needed to get out of town. Not the way people need adventure and excitement- the way they need oxygen and blood.

It felt desperate, and crazy- but I'd been doing crazy things for days, now- stealing the starter out of that car I'd passed almost seemed like the logical next step.

I didn't have a flashlight, so I knew I needed to act quickly. It was already starting to get darker out. I packed up that blue plastic tool case. I couldn't find the flathead; the last time I'd seen it was when I tried to fix the broken dial on the washing machine.

I grabbed a butter knife, instead, and wire frame hangers.

None of the houses near the car had their lights on. It meant it was darker still than it might have been, but hopefully also meant that I wasn't going to draw any attention. Or get arrested- though I had my doubts that the cops were any more keen to take someone else's calls.

I unwound the hanger. It hurt my fingers, but I was getting the fuck out of here, if I had to smash the window in the my bare hand.

Next, I managed to get enough give in the window with the butter knife, that I got the hanger inside. The lock had a dent for a thumb, which made it easy, relatively speaking, to hook with the hanger. The door opened.

I glanced around, first at the still-dark houses, then at the streets. I was alone, and for the first time in quite a while, that made me feel safer.

I popped open the trunk. I was through the worst of it. From this point on, the only people who wouldn't know I wasn't supposed to have my head under this hood were the car's owners.

There were a few flathead screws between me and walking home with the starter, but with a little extra effort, the butter knife got them out.

I was annoyed my phone was dead, because I would have taken a couple of pictures of the way the starter was hooked up. Instead I just stared at it for thirty seconds, trying to memorize it.

I took as many of the cables with me as I possibly could- I think surgeons call that in-situ- then I closed up the case. I felt bad, that whatever likely elderly person lived there was going to lose the use of their car. But I was fairly certain I was going to lose my goddamn mind- if I hadn't already.

I closed the car door gently, enough that the overhead light turned off; I didn't want to be as big a jerk as the people who broke into my car. Then I lowered the hood. I didn't press it down until it latched all the way- that would have made too much noise, but it was closed enough that it wouldn't go flying up if they got it on the freeway. I laughed at myself for that- how exactly were they going to get the car onto the freeway without first installing a new starter? But at least in principle I was trying to minimize the damage I did them.

I thought about writing them a note. But on the less-than-an-off-chance I was just crazy, it seemed like a bad idea. And I had brought neither pen nor paper with me, so it was moot.

The walk back to my car was nerve-wracking. I'd never stolen anything. I still felt bad about that one little lego piece I found on the playground in my elementary school and forgot to return to the classroom like I meant to- and I wasn't even the one who took it outside class in the first damn place.

I couldn't remember how to walk like someone who wasn't concealing a stolen car part in their jacket. But I didn't get passed by a car- or a person- let alone either with a police association.

It was easy enough putting the second starter into my car, since my original was still in place- so it wasn't hard to disconnect a wire from the one, and immediately hook it into the new starter.

It made the going faster, which was good, because it was now completely dark. I had the perched on the engine block, but it only provided so much light.

I was fading quickly. My long walk had all but finished me, and more than once I teetered, and had to catch myself on the edge of the car.

I was nearly done when my candle hissed and went out. I hadn't felt a breeze, and my skin crawled as I imagined one of those things hovering behind me, having blown my candle out. But I was alone, alone save for a big, fat blob of rain that shot down the back of my shirt. I shivered.

The rain woke me up enough to finish, but the second I closed up the plastic case, the rain started to pound down on my with a strange urgency. I decided to leave in the morning, after I'd had some rest, and hopefully after the weather calmed just a bit.

I was so tired I passed out in my clothes.

Overnight, the rain was joined by a vengeful wind, and shortly after by thunder and lightning. I wondered if it made sense to worry about a lightning strike on the house, but it was cold without the heater- and I wasn't getting out of bed.

I slept badly, but that seemed like a given, anymore; the tiny part of me that still believed I was getting out of town was bemused that even sleeping on the lumpy, uneven and cold ground I was going to be better rested than here. But the important thing was I slept. I was at least well rested enough to drive without trying to merge into a trees-only lane.

As soon as there was a hint of light peeking through the bedroom curtain, I got up.

I packed the supplies I knew I'd need, matches, an extra pair of socks, those kinds of things. A lot of the food had probably already turned with the power out, and it had been long enough since I'd been to the store that it was slim pickings in the kitchen- the smell of rot had already settled in. But I figured if I got out- when, I tried to tell myself- I'd be able to get groceries at a convenience store someplace where they still had people to run them.

I kept most of my camping gear in the trunk. That always pissed Hanah off. She likened it to keeping a packed suitcase. I tried to reason that it was more like keeping a bathing suit in your briefcase- just in case you happened upon a spot to swim. But it made her feel insecure, that I was going to up stakes and leave- which was strange, in that it was my camping gear that had stakes in it.

I was anxious, so I didn't try to eat anything. Just right now, a gas station taquito sounded like Heaven- which was maybe the craziest thought I'd ever had.

I didn't bother looking for new clothes- I didn't care that I was slathered in motor oil. I tied my shoes, spread some deodorant on and went outside.

I was still bleary-eyed, still waiting for all the sleep to leave my eyes, but something about the view from the porch felt wrong. The porch had four large faux columns- not like Roman- but big, box, mostly concrete. I seemed to recall that they weren't load-bearing, but they obscured a lot of the view- most of it, really, if you counted what was obscured by the willow.

Only, the sightline usually blocked by the willow wasn't. I could clearly see the neighbor's car and house diagonally across the street.

The willow had fallen over in the storm the previous night. And I knew, even from the porch, where it had fallen. ?No, goddamnit,? I muttered, as I ran down the porch steps.

The full force of the willow had smashed down on my car, smashing the top in to a point where I knew I'd never get inside it again. ?Fuck,? I muttered. The tree was just tall enough, from where it had fallen, to crush my car, but there was no overhang. I could tell I wasn't even going to be able to get into the trunk without a chainsaw.

I sighed, and dropped my back of supplies where I stood. ?I'm going back to bed,? I muttered.

I was startled by a presence inside the house. ?Some things you expect to be there forever, you know?? Gram asked, staring past me, at the fallen tree.

It was an odd sentiment, coming from my dead grandmother. ?I know,? I said, softly.

?That tree was here since before I bought the house,? she said.

?I'm maybe a little more concerned in where it fall, rather than that it did.?

?You should have more respect for the dead.?

?Maybe if they were more willing not to fall on my car, or follow me around naked.? I immediately regretted saying it.

?I understand,? she said. ?You're frustrated. I'd feel about the same, in your shoes.?

?I think I'm just tired. I'm going to try and get a little more sleep.?

?Want me to come with you??

?Somehow, I think I sleep better without my naked grandmother spooning me.?

?Prude,? she said. But I don't think she wanted to come with me. She was transfixed by the tree. I guess that made some sense; she'd been around the tree more than twice as long as I had, and for her, it represented a different, better time. For me, it represented an inescapable present- the end of any hope for a future.

I was in enough of a mood that I didn't sleep well, though I was perhaps less dour when I woke up.

I needed to hear someone- anyone- any voice that I wasn't 85% sure was coming from my own head. But my phone was dead.

I was pretty sure I'd seen a phone booth at the gas station a little past my work. At some point. Crap. Living in the same neighborhood for three decades meant that I remembered seeing lots of phone booths- but not if I'd seen any of them recently.

But it seemed worth the walk. So I gathered up a handful of change from the counter. I found a slightly less stained shirt, this time, though I couldn't stop staring at the pasta sauce on the shirt from before.

I realized it had been a couple of days since I'd gotten anything done at work. And maybe they had their power back- they were far enough away it was possible they were on a different transformer.

I walked the usual few blocks over, then headed south several more blocks. The further I got, the less anything was familiar. I should have been there, and yet, I couldn't have felt less there than if I hit the Mexican border.

I found the gas station, a few blocks down. There wasn't a phone anymore, but there was still a square scar in the pavement where it had been. I realized the main reason I wanted to go into the office was the vague hope that someone else would be there- someone who could tell me I'm not crazy- or who could at least confirm that I am.

But maybe there was someone at the gas station- or at least a paper to tell me the last time there had been.

My hopes were dashed even before I hit the door. The lights inside weren't on, it was just the glow of a television showing the last winning lotto numbers- but it was faced away from me, and its reflection off the fridge cases too faint to read, so I couldn't even try to get any information out of that.

My stomach growled. It was getting to be about lunchtime. I couldn't remember if I had any more granola bars in my desk- not that it mattered, since I couldn't find it. There was food inside the gas station, candy bars and onion ring chips. It wasn't a feast, but it might mean surviving a few more days- if you could count spending most of your time on a toilet that wouldn't flush, just praying that you didn't fill it while you were on it because the shower also didn't work.

I looked around for something heavy- a rock or anything, really, just strong enough to break through the window. The parking lot was clean. Oh well, I was going to have to move up from petty auto-parts theft to breaking and entering some other time. I decided to try to walk up to the store.

I passed the strip mall, though it was now just empty lots and empty windows. All three shops had closed down in rapid succession. If that hadn't become the norm, it might have worried me.

But I was beginning to understand the rules of the world, and the fact that logic and reason weren't among them.

As an example. I didn't expect to find the store anymore. It wasn't like I'd get to the parking lot, and it would be gone, or that a thick, impenetrable layer of fog would somehow prevent me from moving forward. It was subtler than that. I would simply get lost along the way, and find myself someplace else, with virtually no idea of how A linked to D.

It would have been comforting, if I let it- understanding for the first time how things would play out. But there was an unmistakable malevolence to it- not that there was necessarily some thing orchestrating my circumstances, but that whatever was the root cause didn't have my best interests in mind.

I passed the old school, once a school for the blind, I think, then a high school, then an arts school. Or maybe it hadn't been any of those things- I couldn't quite remember. The fog collected around it, and combined with the distinct gray of the sky, to lend the building a menacing aura. There was a sign, in front, that would have cleared up at least some of my confusion, but I didn't dare get close enough to read it.

It didn't surprise me when I somehow didn't make it to the store. I really had tried, not to let my mind wander, not to sniff any roses, or otherwise let down my guard. But I was beginning to suspect that my guard wasn't to be trusted- and who's watching the watchmen?

At first I viewed it as a diversion, something to take my mind off the very real possibility that I was going to starve in this odd little island the fog had carved out for me.

I passed a little old lady's home, with a brick walkway. I could tell one of the bricks was loose on sight. I used my car key to pry it up, then slipped it in my pocket.

I walked funnier, with the brick rubbing against my leg, and it quickly started to chafe. It wasn't long before my hip started to ache, too.

My plan, ill-conceived though it almost certainly was, was to make my way back to the gas station, break in the window, and take what I could. It sounded like subsistence, of terrible, and pointless kind. But I wasn't ready to just accept that I was trapped here, to accept that there was nothing to do but lay down and die.

11/22/13

  04:04:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1762 words  
Categories: Twist

Twist: Chapter 21

Feeling unsafe probably wasn't sensible. It didn't matter who I had called- no one ever picked up. But I guess it eliminated even the possibility of anyone responding.

'Clean' was becoming more and more of a relative term in my wardrobe, and while I think I'd maybe overcome my fears about venturing places that scared me, I had more important things to do than laundry- ignoring the fact that I didn't have any power with which to do said laundry. There was nothing to do, save for fill a garbage bag and walk to the nearest laundromat. I wasn't even sure where that would be, and without the internet to consult for directions I didn't want to chance wandering around town for hours with a sack of clothes, like a hobo Santa Clause.

I found a shirt with a red stain on the shoulder. It looked like tomato sauce. When was the last time I had pasta? It smelled better than the last two shirts I wore combined- or divided- or however that would make sense.

I decided to go into work, red stain be damned. I tried to remain upbeat on the walk, even though all the houses I passed seemed to also be out of power.

I hesitated, at the house on the opposite side of the block from our office. That same blue pickup truck was parked outside- with the leaves filling up the bed, and a tarp bungied over them. I wanted to steer clear of the truck, like I had the last time. But I found myself thinking about what Gram had said to me- that my world was shrinking, and I could either let it or fight it.

I climbed into the bed of the truck. I used the edge of the tarp, and was hoping that it would pull lose as I did, but instead it tore, and I lost my balance, and nearly fell back down onto the sidewalk. I dropped the torn edge of the tarp, and climbed into the bed. There weren't many places I could have hidden a body, but I I dove under the tarp, and crawled beneath it.

This was crazy- crazier even than playing in the leaf dumpster earlier that morning. It was hard not feeling claustrophobic, surrounded by leaves on all sides, and penned in with an only slightly torn tarp. I sniffed at the air. A body doesn't take long to stink left out in the open air, but I couldn't smell anything over the taint of rotting leaves.

I felt like a pig, snuffling through the leaves for truffles. Then my hand brushed against something cold, something flesh. I cupped it, definitely a thigh, a human thigh, a woman's thigh. I started to shake violently, and I felt faint, and I knew that if I fainted I was going to lose control of myself entirely- my bowels included.

Then the body moved. I gasped, and tried to scream, but no sound escaped my lips, as the figure moved towards me.

I swallowed, imagining that I was moments away from the body of the woman I love, animated only by my guilt, attacking me.

But it wasn't her. I caught a glimpse of a breast, a breast I'd come to know all too well, so by the time her face found me through the leaves, grinning, I was no longer surprised to see her.

?Gram? That's not funny.?

She shrugged, and continued to smile as she waded through the leaves, and then climbed out of the back of the truck.

I crawled through the last few feet of the truck's bed, but didn't find anything.

I saw movement from the corner of my eye, and hear a bark- though it definitely wasn't a dog's, and didn't sound particularly human, either. I ran, and whatever I'd seen, whatever made the noise, didn't give chase, because by the time I was midway across the parking lot, the sound was gone.

The office door was still open, and this time I didn't even need my alarm code, because the alarm was off. I frowned, though, because it wasn't just disarmed- all the lights on the alarm panel were off. I tried to flick on the light going up the stairs to our offices, but it didn't respond to the switch. I hoped maybe it was just a burnt out bulb, though I knew that was a long shot.

The office was empty. A spider's webs had overtaken my monitors, but that didn't matter, because there wasn't any power. There was a little work I could do without power, but I couldn't even clock in, so I said screw it.

But when I made it outside, the fog and cold hit me at the same time. I didn't want to be out in that nastiness, but I couldn't stand the thought of waiting around in the dark at work.

Wanderlust won out, so I started walking, despite having nowhere to go. I'd lived in this place my whole life, grown up in this neighborhood. But nothing looked familiar.

I knew some of that was because I'd spent the last several years barely scraping by, so I hadn't been able to eat out very often, or go shopping. Hanah hated that. She said it made her feel like we were trapped. I had never understood what she meant- but I was starting to.

Main street was a ghost town. Every other window was empty, save for cobwebs. And every other business still in business had tell-tale signs of desperation: clearance sale signs that had been up in the window long enough to gather a halo of dust and fade in the weak autumn sun, hours that had been repeatedly slashed, making the sign look like an alien game of tic-tac-toe.

The fog made it tough to see the storefronts until I was standing right in front of them, so it was hard to get or even keep my bearings. I realized I was deeper into down town, near to the library. It was early enough it was hard to tell if businesses around here- the few there still were- had power, or just hadn't opened yet. Several of them didn't even have posted hours- they just opened when they opened.

I figured the library might have power, and more importantly, they had internet. Public internet. I could check on my starter, check on what day of the damn week it was.

I had only been there once since they opened the big new library downtown, meeting with an internet startup magazine; that hadn't gone anywhere. But I thought I was nearby. I'd passed it in my car often enough that I thought I could find it. It was right by the movie theatre, or really, kind of between two theaters, the new, modern one, and the old vintage one that mostly stuck to second run stuff.

But I couldn't find either theater. In fact, every time that I thought I knew where I was, I got even more lost. And it seemed like the further from home I got, the thicker the fog was, and the harder it became to navigate or even see.

I thought for sure I was near the school. That was important, in that it was on my way home, so it was a landmark- but it was also possible? if a particularly long shot- that my old network password might work to get me onto their computers. I knew they hadn't disabled my school email- so it was at least a possibility.

But the school wasn't there. I knew the way to the college. I went there for years. But somehow I couldn't find it. I found the public pool that, were it not for the fog, would have been in sight of the school, and walked to where it should have been. But somehow, in the fog, I got turned around, and it took me an hour to get back to the pool.

By then I was cold, and I was miserable. The pool was closer to the house than the school, just down the road from the office. And maybe enough time had passed that the mailman had come.

My chest tightened. What if he already had? What if I missed it, and for whatever reason, this was one of those times when the mailman refused to leave a package on the porch. The post office where they had me pick up packages was all the way across town- there was no way I was getting there without the car- and no way my car was getting me anywhere without the starter.

I panicked even more at the thought of having to fill out that stupid little ?We missed you? card, only to have to wait two more days for the part. I wasn't going to last two more days. Those things- things I knew in the rational part of my head probably couldn't exist- but they were getting closer, more aggressive. Two more days was forever.

But maybe he hadn't come. The fog was too thick to tell where the sun was, what time of day it might be. I tried to check my watch, but I must not have put it back on after my last shower. I pulled out my phone, and stared at the screen for half of a second before I remembered it was dead.

I started to walk briskly. I was maybe a mile from home. Maybe.

Then I noticed movement, down the block. I wasn't alone. I glanced behind me. They were there, too. I ran.

I felt like I could hear their breathing, getting closer, but it was possibly just the wind at my ears.

I hadn't walked this way in some time- not since my last classes at the college. I did a double-take at a car that I nearly swore was mine, just a half mile from where it should have been, parked by an old blue Skylark. But as I ran past it I could tell the interior was a light shade of gray, and the seats were leather. It looked like it was probably a slightly newer model.

I felt warmth on my neck, from a breath that I told myself couldn't be there. I managed to get inside the front door, and get it closed behind me, then I spun around. The streets were empty, barren. Another hallucination? Or was it just something that my rational mind was incapable of seeing.

  09:34:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 468 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Post

?How's our patient?? Paul asked groggily, sitting up from his bed in the med lab.

?Which one?? Clod asked, glancing over at the two extra beds extended out of the wall.

?I've been pretty out of it, but I heard something about a gunshot.?

?Alisa. She'll live. And Rica seems fine.? Clod said. ?Though much to my fucking surprise, my other patient just woke up.?

?It's funny how they do that,? Paul said, trying not to let it show how much effort smiling took. ?Help me up.? She got under his shoulder, and helped support him as he slid his feet onto the floor.

He grabbed one of the tablets off the wall, and started scanning through the medical data. He stopped at Clod's report of Alisa's admittance. He read through it quickly, then looked up and hobbled over to Alisa's bed. He lifted the sheet, checked the wound site. Then he flipped through a few still images from the surgery cameras. ?You did a good job, Clod.?

?Gunshots I can handle,? she said.

?Don't short yourself. This is good, clean work. I've known ER surgeons- veterans in their field- who would be proud to claim this as their work. And it's not that routine. How many laser wounds have you cleaned??

?None.?

?As in zero??

?As in less than one but greater than negative one.?

?That figures. These kinds of weapons aren't legal in conventional warfare. There are a few law enforcement agencies fielding similar tech- though most of those would burst a hole right out through the other side of the spacecraft. Anyway, I've seen a few. They cauterize, which is nice- people don't bleed out from them. But you correctly guessed that that doesn't necessarily remove any risk of internal bleeding.?

?Her kidney was burned but the wound was still bleeding, and oozing kidney juice into her body.?

?She'd have become septic. Which would have used up a ton of our antiseptics- presuming we could have saved her.?

?She shouldn't be here,? Clod said.

?What??

?Levy shot her.?

?He had reason to.?

?Not this shit. Not you, too.?

?Clod, it's real. It's fucked up, and I don't claim to understand it- any of it, really. But Alisa attacked him, the same as when I attacked her- or when I tried to hurt myself. She attacked him, and he was defending himself. Of that I have no doubt.?

?I'm not ready to believe in, in werewolves,? Clod said.

?Then don't. But you know us. You know we've been acting more aggressive- even to the point of violence. Something's happened, here. But that'll keep for now. Today, you should focus on the fact that because of you this is a post-op, not a post-mortem. You should take some comfort in that. It's a victory. We're about due.?

11/21/13

  04:03:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1059 words  
Categories: Twist

Twist: Chapter 20

I woke up deeply depressive. My life was spiraling out of control- out of even any kind of recognizable reality. I was at best culpable in the death of my dog, and accessory to the death of my grandfather. And it was becoming hard not to assume that I'd hurt Hanah. That in a moment where I was at my lower, where I needed tenderness above all else, she spat on me, heaped more guilt than I could bear onto my shoulders and...

I was damned. I knew it. This was purgatory, and I was being hunted, because I deserved to be hunted. But now that I was certain that what itches was a scab, I needed to pick at it.

That bin out front. I put on a dirty set of clothes, because I knew I wasn't going to stay clean doing this.

I marched across the street with renewed purpose. I almost hoped one of those things would come after me. I'd spent so much time running, so much time crippled by my own fear, I felt strong, recklessly so.

I scoffed at the sign posted on the bin, that said it was only supposed to be used for leaves, because I was fairly certain I had violated that rule.

I entered the bin, and the smell hit me almost immediately. The leaves near the entrance were fluffy and crunchy, the newest-fallen. But beneath them was a soggy, decomposing mess, halfway to be soil. The leaves fell so thick, here, that many of the residents gave up, at a certain point, and just let them decay in the street. Because of the bin, people had scraped these already putrid leaves up with snow shovels, and poured them inside.

The further back I got, the heavier the leaves were, the wetter, the more decayed. It was almost like wading through a swamp, and I felt the putrid runoff from molten leaves pour into my shoe, plastering my sock to my ankle. I was halfway through the bin, but it was still too shallow.

I had to start throwing leaves by the handful behind me, digging as I went to make enough room to go further. At two-thirds of the way in, the leaves and in particular the wet leaves, were deep enough to hide a body.

That thought seemed insane, but... it had been a while since my thoughts hadn't. I wished I'd brought gloves for an instant, but the muck would ruin them, and I told myself that I didn't deserve the protection. If I found what I was looking for- since I was so damned I would that I was out here just after the sunrise- I need to do this with my own, bare hands.

I started methodically. I wanted to rush, to find it and be done. But I knew that if, on that remote chance that I wasn't going to find her here, that I was ever going to be satisfied, that I needed to know that I'd checked every inch, that she wasn't here, and I couldn't have missed her.

I shoveled the leaves between my legs, over my shoulder, anywhere to clear space so that I could proceed. I was digging like a dog, but praying I wouldn't find any bones.

And I didn't. I made it all the way to the last little section of the dumpster. Hanah was too big to fit, even crumpled in a ball. I swallowed, and turned, to leave, oddly not feeling any better for knowing that I hadn't violated the sanctity of the leaf bin.

Then I stepped on something, and I knew from its sickly sweet snap that it had to be a bone. I turned back towards that last corner and dug, frantically, scraping my fingers against the rusted metal at the bottom of it, but not finding anything, until it stabbed me.

It was a stick, a little thing, really, not wide enough around to even be mistaken for an arm or a leg bone. I want to laugh, but I couldn't find it funny. Because I was losing my damned mind.

I wasn't strong. Christ. Hallucinations were leading me around by the nose- I was doing what my brain damage wanted. And that was crazy. I was crazy. I couldn't trust myself. And there seemed to be no one else in the world left to trust.

I stomped across the street, irrationally angry that someone had let a single stick fall inside the leaf bin- though, given that it was sitting under the neighbor's trees, it easily could have just fallen in there on its own.

I checked the porch for my starter, and when it wasn't there I punched the mailbox, a cheap little thing my grandmother hung there. It dented, slightly, but the pain in my hand throbbed. It didn't make me feel any better.

Once I was inside, I realized that if I was going to hurt my hand, now was a good time for it, because there would still be some ice in the fridge. I took out a handful, and put it into a plastic bag. I wanted to call the auto parts supplier to find out where my starter was. But I hadn't thought to memorize the number, and with the power out it seemed like I had limited options.

That reminded me. I wasn't going to be able to charge my phone. I checked it, and sure enough, I was down to my last sliver of battery life- maybe enough for one call. One call. I knew Hanah wasn't going to answer. One call. It was easy to decide who to call.

I dialed 911. It rang through to voicemail immediately. There was no message. I tried to keep calm, but I was still agitated about the starter, about everything, really, and knowing that my phone was going to die at any moment only made me more anxious, so I rambled like a lunatic. My phone started to beep, to tell me it was almost dead, so I tried to wind down. ?I'm getting very concerned that something terrible is happened, and I really need to know that the police are looking into it. My name's Harvey, and I can be reached at 5-? the phone died.

It made me feel more alone, and vulnerable.

11/20/13

  04:02:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 2057 words  
Categories: Twist

Twist: Chapter 19

I showered. The mud was harder to rinse clear because it had caked to my skin, and even after it softened under the water, I needed a wash cloth?s extra roughness to break through it.

I hadn?t realized how cold I was until the water hit my scalp. I started to shiver, and sniffle.

But it wasn?t only the cold. I remembered what happened to Leroy.

He had fleas. It seemed like we?d been fighting his fleas for a whole year. I knew some of that was my fault. First I thought they were something else- a parasitic fly of some kind- so the medication we bought him wasn?t right. And then we tried some flea stuff- but it was the cheap shit they carried in Walmart. We had a whole mountain of different shampoos and sprays and medications by the end of it.

And Leroy got into it. We kept it under the sink, with lots of other poisons and horrible things- so many that the cabinet door didn?t fully close unless you made a concerted effort to push it in.

And one day, we didn?t. I don?t know if it was me, or if it was Hanah- I know she sure as hell blamed me.

But he went right for the flea stuff. Chewed the hell out of the tubes, and the bottles. When I came home from work he was lying in a puddle of the stuff, with the fur around his face slicked and foamy. I tried to see if he was breathing, or to find a pulse. I knew enough first aid that I tried to give him compression, and mouth to snout. After a few minutes I couldn't go on any longer. I tried to call Hanah, to see if she knew what to do. I was shaking so bed, and crying so hard, I couldn?t even read the backs of the boxes. I managed, after a few failed dials, to get a hold of poison control. It took several minutes before they could figure out what was going on; to the lady on the other end?s credit, she didn?t hang up on me.

That was when Hanah ran in, with her phone to her ear; I noticed on my phone that I had a call waiting, and hung up. She shoved past me to get to him. She shook him, and tried to find a pulse. ?He?s cold,? she told me.

I tried to hold her, but she shoved me away. She mumbled something, I couldn?t catch all of it, but she blamed me. Blamed me for how messy the house was- that two bug bombings hadn?t killed them- blamed me for the fact that there were fleas in our yard for him to catch at all. And blamed me for all the poison he was able to get into.

Then she told me I had to dig the hole, and bury him. She said it was because she couldn?t stand to do it, or even to be there when I did. But I knew it was a punishment. She blamed me for his death. I wasn?t sure I didn?t. But I hated her a little for it, anyway.

I realized I was crying again, and the water was cold when I shut it off. My eyes burned, and I was so tired from everything today. My grandmother was there, waiting, when I got out.

?I understand,? I told her, as I dried off my head, ?what you meant about wishing I could understand you. And I do, at least a little. But I need to know, and if you know I need you to tell me the truth- did I hurt Hanah??

She smiled weakly. ?I don?t know any more than you do.?

?You?re not really my grandmother, are you??

?Would it matter?? she asked. ?I could be a ghost, or a devil, or even your guilty, confused conscience.?

?It does matter. Because it means I can?t believe you- as much as I wish I could. Because what I want to believe, is that I didn?t hurt Grampa Jim, and that I didn?t hurt Hanah; I didn?t even want to admit my culpability in what happened to Leroy. But maybe you?re full of shit. Maybe I shot Jim. Maybe I hu- hurt Hanah.?

?You can?t even say the word.?

?Shut up. I can?t trust you. Because you could just be my subconscious, trying to protect me from the terrible things I?ve done.?

She pondered a moment. ?You?re right. There?s nothing saying I couldn?t be, at that.?

?I know. I need some time. Alone.?

?That might good for you. I?ll let you rest, in peace.? That phrasing made me nervous, but I realized, with everything that had happened, it didn't make a hell of a lot of sense being paranoid over syntax when there were very real things to be worried over- and the fact that I was becoming uncertain over whether or not my hallucinated grandmother was one of them.

That was where I used to draw the line. It isn't crazy to see things that aren't there. Crazy is accepting things that can't be there.

I slept badly. I couldn't shut my mind off, couldn't shut out the possibilities. I didn't think I killed Jim. But I knew I couldn't convince myself, either.

Then I heard a quick buzz, almost like the snap of a static shock, followed by that- it's almost not a sound, it's so faint- but that noise, when you turn off a TV or a monitor, and the electricity dissipates.

The sound had come from my alarm clock. I swore, because I needed the stupid thing to make sure I didn't oversleep in the morning. I was going to need some light to figure it out, so I picked up the TV remote, and tried to turn it on. Nothing. But the remote always seemed on the cusp of running out of batteries. Maybe it didn't mean anything. I found my way to the lamp in the dark, and tried to turn it on. Nothing. Damnit. That meant the power was out.

I had remembered to pay the electric bill, right? I thought so, but I had no idea how much time had passed since then- and I couldn't check my balance online with the power out. Either way, it didn't matter. I was going to have to get up to figure any of this out.

I stumbled to the doorway in the dark. We hadn't lived here long, in the grand scheme of things. So we didn't have flashlights and candles strategically placed around the house. I knew we had some of those things. I found a flashlight with some of my camping gear in the hall closet, but the batteries were dead.

I stumbled my way to the kitchen. I remembered, a few weeks before, using the little LED flashlight out of my car. It was on a shelf, there, and I turned it on. I could tell already that it was fading, but it gave me a little bit of light, enough that I found the drawer in the kitchen where we kept the matches.

I remembered Hanah put a candle in the bathroom. She didn't burn it- just liked the ambient smell it lent the bathroom. I lit a match, and used its light to get back up the stairs. I had to blow it out when I reached the hall. I put the stick between my teeth, and lit another. I made it into the bathroom, and found the candle on a shelf on the wall. I tried to light it, but it was stubborn, and the match was almost out. I blew it out, and stuck it in my teeth beside the first, and lit another. This time the candle lit without any fuss, and I blew out the match. I put all three sticks in the sink.

I knew I'd seen the fuse box downstairs, but I couldn't remember. Was it in the laundry room? The thought made me shiver. When I reached the basement, I glanced inside. In the candlelight I could see piles of clothes, and I was assaulted by the stench of decay.

I decided to check the storage closet beside the laundry. I knew the box was in one of those two rooms. And now that I thought about it, it didn't make much sense to keep the fuses in what was guaranteed to be the second moistest kind of room in the house, after the bathrooms.

My heart sunk inside the closet. It was harder for the light to reach the walls, because of how cluttered it was, but I couldn't see a metal box in the wall that I knew would house the fuses. Just as I started to turn, to face whatever the hell so terrified me in the laundry room, the light caught the edge of something on the wall. There was a cardboard box with paper towels and toilet paper, sitting in the way. I tossed that to the floor, and sure enough, there was the fuse box.

I set the candle on a metal shelf beside the box. I couldn't tell if any of the breakers were tripped or not- it looked like maybe they were, but the alignment on several of them seemed off, so it was hard to tell. I flipped those first, and nothing happened. I flipped everything other breaker in turn, and didn't hear a single sound of an electronic powering back up. I reached for the closet light, and flicked the switch. Nothing.

I walked up the stairs, to the front door. Peering through the window, I could see that the street light was out. And so, too, was the neighbor's porch light, and they never dimmed it. It almost made me feel better, though, knowing I wasn't the only one bathed in darkness.

Until I saw something move in that darkness.

The fog was heavier tonight- it seemed to be heavier every night, every day, every second, choking away what little perception I had left.

But through it I saw something, with a shape like a man, but I knew it wasn't. It also wasn't any particular shape. It looked like a it was covered in jagged, almost saw-toothed fur, like a werewolf, perhaps, but then its body was thin, creepily thin, and tall, its movements jerky and disjointed. It seemed like there were a dozen, though half of them- all of them- could have just been the way that the moisture blew through the air, my mind filling details half-seen- a mind, I knew, I couldn't believe.

Several of them were gathered around the leaf bin, rooting around in it like rats in a dumpster, or just sitting on top of it. It panicked me more than that I was seeing them; what was so I terrified that they'd find?

I couldn't trust my eyes- but I knew I was seeing something, even if I couldn't comprehend what. Then, something changed, they heard something, or sensed it. They were at attention, then ran. Not toward me at the door- that, that would have been less frightening, because at least I could have seen them, could have known what was haunting me. They ran for the side of the house, and I heard them at the windows, hair brushing against them, fingers dragged along them. I heard the sounds of them climbing the fence into the back yard, running across the patio.

I panicked. Had I locked the back door? I ran through the house, and sure enough, the knob was turning. I grabbed it, and twisted it back, with all of my strength held it in place, expecting that to be the difference between my safety and my death. But no twist of the knob came. I stood on my toes, to look out through the window in the door, but there was nothing.

From the corner of my eye, I saw movement at another window, and another, but every time I focused, it was gone. As I turned to the back door, its knob still strangled in my grip, the same happened, and I started, but when I peered again through the window, I could see I was alone.

11/19/13

  03:17:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 3371 words  
Categories: Twist

Twist: Chapter 18

A memory flooded back to me, a rain just like this one, soaking through me, as I dug the hole for our dog. I remembered looking around me, wishing Hanah was here. But she wasn't.

So I dug, in silence, crying as the rain pummeled me. A harsh word would have felled me in that moment- I would have welcomed the excuse to crumple into nothingness.

Instead I had to kneel down, and unwrap Leroy from the blanket. I remember my Bible stories enough that I worried he was still alive, in some kind of doggy coma. I checked him for a pulse, checked far longer than was rational or probably even sane, and began to sob. I held his fur to my face and cried against him, my tears and snot and the rain slicked his coat against his little body.

?It's okay,? I heard her say behind me, and I felt her hand on my shoulder. ?To let him go.? My lips trembled as I set him gingerly into the hole, then I pushed dirt a handful at a time over him. It reminded me of every time I bathed him, and had to dry him off with a towel so he wouldn't catch cold, or smoothing out a place in the blankets for him to sleep next to us at night. It was soothing, being able to take that kind of care for him, one last time.

But as the memory faded, I recognized what I hadn't then. The voice, beside me in the rain the day I buried him, it wasn?t Hanah's. It was Gram's. And suddenly she was beside me again. ?You knew?? I said.

?And you needed to,? she said, but there was something else in her expression.

?But why didn't you just tell me??

?You needed to see it yourself,? she lied. ?Do you really think you'd just accept what you were told by your imaginary friend??

?You aren't imaginary, though, are you?? She didn't answer. ?But what does it mean?? I asked.

?It means Leroy's dead,? she said.

?And Hanah??

?I didn't see her in the hole. Did you??

I didn?t understand why she was being combative. ?Did I do this to him?? I asked.

?That sort of depends on the contours of the question, doesn't it?? she asked.

I narrowed my eyes, but I knew better than to think I was going to get her to make any kind of sense. ?Why was Leroy so determined to dig here?? I asked, and made sure she knew it wasn't rhetorical. I wasn't for a second insane enough to believe that past Leroy was digging where now Leroy was buried. It didn't make any sense. Unless Gram had lied to me. If there'd been another dead body there, that might explain his fascination.

?Don't you know?? she asked. But she swallowed, nervously. ?You dug the hole.?

?And you know I've had trouble remembering.? I sighed. A corpse wasn't the only possible reason. Dogs dug- it might have even been where their name came from. But he was certainly very... motivated to dig in that one spot.

The clouds in the sky were turning the whole world prematurely dark. I heard noises, that sounded like animals. I jerked my head toward them, and saw movements between the slats in the fence. Then the boards shook, and I saw movement in the leaves of the overgrown kiwi tree. Something was coming, fast.

I didn't wait for it- I bolted for the back door, never turning to look, never stopping to ask if it might be a cat, or a squirrel. It wasn't- I knew it wasn't. I slammed the back door behind myself and braces against it, prepared to have to keep pressure on it to keep the thing from shoving its way inside. But the push never came. I glanced through the window, and could see most of the back yard. There was nothing there, nothing but the mud-covered hole where I buried my poor, dead dog, soaking up the rain.

I realized I was dripping mud all over the floor, and stripped bare. I hated losing another set of clothes, but I knew there was no redeeming them without a wash, and I wasn?t willing to carry them through the house still dripping with mud, so I left them on the front porch- wary of the thing in the back yard.

I could feel eyes on me, and something absorbing sound where I couldn?t see it. I couldn?t remember locking the back door. God, was that thing inside with me? I slammed the door, and tried to bolt it in that same motion as I turned. I yelped, surprised to see my grandmother there.

?This is awkward,? she told me, trying to avert her eyes from my mud-slathered nudity.

?Now you know how I?ve felt this entire time,? I said.

?No,? she said, ?about the dog. I didn?t realize it was him back there. I thought.? She bit her lip. ?I thought you could finally understand me. That I could finally be honest with you.? Her lip quavered. She was nearly in tears.

?You can be,? I told her. ?I want you to be.?

She swallowed. ?I thought Hanah was back there under the bamboo.?

I furrowed my brow at her. ?I don't know why that would make me understand you,? I said, but I wasn?t sure that was completely honest, either.

She knew it, too. But she continued, anyway. ?The night Jim left us,? she started.

?The night he beat you,? I corrected her.

?Yes. You would know,? she said. ?But you ought to remember all of it- you were there.?

?All of it?? I asked.

?You dragged in my shotgun. You couldn?t even lift the barrel off the floor. I was crying, covered in a porridge of blood, snot and tears, and I?m still not sure which of the two of us was more pitiful. And Jim laughed. Laughed and laughed and laughed. But then, through the fog of booze and the haze of his rage, you got him thinking. Sure, you were just a little boy, too small to even hold the gun, let alone aim it. But you wouldn?t always be. It was a challenge, to Jim?s authority. And unless he wanted to go the way of Oedipus' dad, he needed to nip it in the bud.?

I went to cover my mouth, but in my shaking touched my cheek, instead. ?He backhanded you, broke your cheek.? She paused, sobbing uncontrollably. I didn?t have it in me to hold back from comforting her, even if doing it was admitting that I nuttier than I wanted to be. She cried to my shoulder for minutes. I felt the warmth of it, and the fresh moisture. I was getting worse, wasn?t I?

She forced herself to stop crying, though her face protested, and her lips trembled. ?He hit you. In the stomach,? she touched my abdomen, and I let her, without even pretending to suck in my gut. ?You were so small as a boy, so tiny and fragile. That one punch broke several ribs, and made it difficult for you to breathe. But he didn?t stop. I didn?t know if he ever would. But I begged him. Pleaded. Still he hit you.?

?In those moments, I pictured hold you, dead, in my arms, the life drained away into a puddle beneath you, and I crawled across that floor to the gun. I tried to tell him to stop, but I couldn't get enough air into my own unpunctured lung, couldn't stop shaking enough to form the words. So I shot him.?

?You were catatonic. You didn't react to him hitting the floor- other than to flinch, as if the noise was him hitting you again. Then you looked at me, and you tried to limp to me, but you couldn?t stand anymore, so you fell. You pulled yourself across the floor to me, and up into my arms. We held each other. And you cried and you cried until you fell asleep in my lap.?

?I knew I should have called the police, and turned myself in. There probably was enough evidence that I wouldn?t be convicted, but even that chance was too much to risk. I wasn?t going to let you end up in a foster home. I knew Alan wouldn?t take you- I knew that without even having to ask. No. Jim needed to disappear. So I was going to disappear him.?

?First, I laid you in bed. I sponged the blood from your nose off your lip, and thanked God you were asleep. Then I dragged Jim to the bathroom in the hall, cursing every time I hadn?t cut the fat off his steak, every time I fetched him another beer. I don?t know where I found the strength even to drag him- other than that I knew I had to, for you.?

?I got him into the tub, and closed the shower curtain. Then I cleaned up all the blood on your floor, and in the hall. My dad never would take me hunting. It wasn?t ladylike. So it was Jim who taught me how to field dress my first kill. He was a prick about it, too. He didn?t get to snark at me, this time.? She paused, maybe waiting for something from me. But I was paralyzed by the horror of it, and she took my silence for permission to proceed.

?I couldn?t hoist him up, so I had to do it with him laying, splayed, in the tub. I opened up his carotid artery, his wrists and the femoral artery, going down the leg. I wasn?t going to have time to let him bleed all the way out, but it meant less blood in the way while I dressed the carcass.?

?I put a bucket between his legs, and split him from groin to sternum- just the tip of my knife, to keep from piercing his stomach. A portion of his intestines spilled out, and into the bucket- though they required a little shoveling to get them all inside. Several other organs I pulled out by hand, and stuffed into the bucket. I had to sever the supporting tissue to get out his liver and kidneys.?

?Since he was in the tub, and I wasn?t planning on eating any of the meat, I didn?t take any extra care with the intestines or bladder while I cut them loose. Jim was an old-fashioned kind of drunk so it wasn?t the first time I had to clean up his piss and shit. I cored out his genitals and rectum, and that got the bucket most of the way to full. Then I used a saw on his sternum, and made enough of a hole to get at his heart, and lungs, and set the bucket to the side.?

?I thought I?d cry, when I reached his hands, that I?d think about every time he touched me, every time he held me. But the only thoughts that came were the times he hit me, slapped me, and the one time he put his fingers around my throat. I saw his hands on you, and I didn?t hesitate, didn?t feel an ounce of remorse.?

?I didn?t want to have to sever the elbow; it was an extra step, a few minutes longer I?d be at the gristly task, risking getting caught. But I pulled on his arm, distended his shoulder as far as it would go- I wasn?t getting it out of the socket with the forearm still attached.?

?So I made an incision at the joint of the elbow of his right arm. Then I moved the knife around the joint with the flat of the blade, sawing through the ligaments as carefully as I could. Without a surgeon?s training and tools, it isn?t possible to cleanly cut off a forearm like that- you just have to cut away as much connecting tissue as you can, and then pull.?

?With the forearm severed, I got some more mobility out of the upper arm. That let me get my knife into the socket- under the ball. Jim dislocated his right shoulder in high school, so there was little more give to it, too. I scrapped the knife around in a circle inside the joint, until I got it all the way back around. Tearing his arm from the socket was harder than pulling off his forearm, but it came loose, and I dropped it on the other end of the tub.?

?His left arm took more work. I?d learned enough from severing the right that I left the forearm intact; it was harder going, especially since this shoulder didn?t give as far to let me get the knife inside. But eventually, the arm came loose, and I dropped it in the pile.?

?I thought maybe I?d learnt enough from his arms that I could forego removing the leg below the knee. I tried propping him against the shower wall and the faucet, to get the angle right on his right leg. I got about a quarter of the way through before I realized it was too difficult going, and while I was cutting up the meat in his thigh and his pelvis, the leg wasn?t getting any looser.?

?So I moved back down to his knee. It was easiest to slide the blade back in behind his leg, opposite the cap. I worked the knife between the two bones, and hollowed the space out, before cutting the rest of the way around. His knee was already loose, so it wasn?t hard to slide it out of the way and cut beneath it.?

?It pulled off, with a pop that reminded me of pulling a head off a Barbie doll. Then I went back to his hip and the leg joint. And what I learned after another minute?s worth of jabbing the knife into the socket, was it was too deep, too buried. It wasn?t as easy to get at as a deer?s. So I used Jim?s hacksaw to sheer away some of the skin and bone, and give myself more room to work. Then it was about as hard as the shoulders to cut loose. But when I dropped it onto the pile, the sound reminded me how much heavier his leg was.?

?I was panting by then, when I looked at his other leg. His legs were heavy enough, that with all the maneuvering getting the leg off the torso took, it was less work cutting the shin loose, first. So I did that. Then I cut his left leg from his hip. I figured maybe I had enough of him cut up that I could carry him. I set the bucket full of organs inside the shower beside the torso, and closed the curtain.?

?Then I stacked his limbs in my arms, like firewood, and managed to get the bathroom door shut behind me. I was surprised I managed to keep them all balanced as I carried them through the house, then outside. I buried them, far back on the property, way past the fence.?

?I was tired, after that. A beating like the one he gave me, then emotional smashing from shooting him, hadn?t left much in my tank. But cutting a body up like that took stamina, and I was fading fast.?

?But I was almost done. I had two trips, the torso and organs. I thought maybe if I could get his torso onto my shoulder I could manage him, in a fireman?s carry. But he was slicked from blood and God knows what other fluids. And even without limbs or organs, he was still a heavy bastard. I didn?t get him up more than a few inches before I had to lay him back down in the tub. I used my knife to sever the ligaments and loosen the connective tissue around his neck. Then I had to climb inside the tub with him, plant a foot in front and behind his body. I steadied one hand on his jaw- that sharp jaw being perhaps the thing that made me fall in love with Jim- and the other on the back of his skull. I twisted. It took a good four, five jerks, before the neck snapped. I must not have got everything cut, because it still took a lot of pulling to get the head off his shoulders. I set it on top of the bucket- no sense taking an extra trip if I didn?t need to.?

?I closed the curtain, then the door behind me. I buried the torso just past the fence; I didn?t have the strength left to carry it any farther.?

?When I got back, I didn?t think I could lift the bucket. I thought about leaving them there, just locking the door and resting. But I knew it was going to attract insects, and stink. So I procrastinated- did the other thing I knew I needed to before I could rest. I got on my hands and knees and scrubbed that floor- mopped up every spare fleck of viscera, skin or bone, and mopped with some lemon-scented cleaner.?

?And when there wasn?t a thing else to be done, I picked up the bucket of entrails, and turned for the door. I swung myself to get the door closing behind me. But Jim?s head, sitting on top of that bucket of organs, rolled. It smacked against the open seat lid, knocked off the rim, and plopped down into the toilet. Jim had left the damn seat up. One last little shit thing he could do.?

?The bucket was heavy, and slicked with blood. My arms were tired. And my hands, feet and the floor were slippery from the cleaning. I knew that if I stopped to pick up Jim?s head, I was going to end up spilling myself and Jim?s guts all over the floor, and needing to clean it all over again- if I didn?t manage to brain myself on the edge of the tub. So I left it, resolving to just dump the guts where the coyotes could get them and come running back.?

?And I did, but? you got up, to go to the bathroom. I got inside in time to hear you scream, and you screamed and screamed and I thought- I thought the horror of what had happened had finally gotten through to you. I got there just in time to catch you as you fell, unconscious all over again. I always thanked God that you lost so much of that night- and cursed myself that the one part you kept hold of tight was because of me.?

?Gram,? I said. ?It wasn?t your fault.?

?On some level, it sort of has to be. I married an abuser. I tolerated it for too long. I understand that Jim was a? horror visited on both of us. But I prolonged it.?

?No,? I said, my voice ragged. ?You saved me from it.?

She wiped tears from her eyes. ?Sweet of you to say, though I doubt I?ll ever believe it. But that spot, where you buried Leroy was where I dumped the entrails. We had more issues with coyotes and wild dogs in those days. They didn?t last until the morning when I woke up.?

?God,? I whispered. ?And nobody called the cops??

?Don?t you remember what this place was like then? That was twenty years ago. We didn?t live on the edge of a suburb - this was the sticks. There wasn?t another house for a quarter mile- and in those days, you fired a gun and your neighbors assumed you had good reason- likely the coyotes. I?m sorry I never told you. I just knew? I knew there was no way I could, without you looking at me- the way you are, now, actually.?

?Sorry.?

?It?s not your fault. And God damn me for letting you think otherwise- even for an instant.?

?It?s okay, Gram,? I said.

?No, Harvey, it?s not. It never was. And I?m not optimistic it ever could be.?

11/18/13

  11:41:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1972 words  
Categories: Twist

Twist: Chapter 17

I was sad that my grandmother wasn't there when I woke up in the morning. It made the kitchen, and by extension, the entire house, more lonesome. I heard Hanah's voice, chastising me for being co-dependent, without I think having any actual understanding of what that really was.

But I did feel clingier. And that made me wonder if maybe Hanah had just left me. We'd been happy, but more and more that felt like a past tense, replaced by our tense present. We'd been fighting more, mostly because Hanah was less willing to cut me any slack- and I wasn't able to keep up with everything she wanted from me.

That would probably made more sense than her disappearing. People left each other every day. Disappearances were less common. I had mixed feelings over that. It made it easier to believe Hanah was okay, that she was refusing to talk to me because she wanted things to be over. But it also made me feel like she hadn't even cared enough to tell me she was going.

That left me with two choices for the day: sit around feeling sorry for myself, or go to work and try to distract myself from my misery.

The decision was easy. I started to search the house for the cleanest possible shirt. Most of them were developing a funk from several of days wear. But the cleanest I could find was wrinkled from being underneath a pile of dirtier clothes on the back of a chair in the front room. It even smelled a little like our fabric softener, rather than either BO or my BO-retardant.

I decided to toss it into the dryer for a few minutes to smooth the wrinkles out. I got as far as the doorway of the laundry room when the terrible smell hit me. I knew that smell- laundry put into the dryer but not fully dried, getting musty or maybe even moldy. If I put my ?clean? shirt in there it was going to come out smelling worse than the dirty ones. So I decided to just wear it wrinkly.

Standing on the threshold of the darkened laundry room, I shivered. Hanah would flip out if she came back and there was something alive in our dryer. It was everything we'd been fighting over, butting up against her own OCD.

I sighed. That exposed the flaw in my 'Hanah's okay, she just left me' explanation. Her clothes. She might abandon the dog's food, her toiletries, even leave behind some DVDs and books, that she could always pick up some other day, once she found a place of her own or got some storage.

But she'd been gone a while, now. If she'd had any inkling she was going to remain gone, she would have taken clothes, several changes worth.

I felt like I was violating her privacy, but I went to the bedroom and opened up her dresser drawers. Sure enough, they were packed just as tightly, the clothes folded just as exactingly, as they always were. The stuff on hangers in the closet was admittedly harder to gauge, but at a glance I could tell no more than a day or two worth of clothes were gone- far less than a woman I'd known to change clothes midway if she felt she'd sweated through her deodorant would want along.

That same, suffocating anxiety crept back through my being. Going to work wasn't just a matter of protecting my wounded ego- it was about freeing myself of crippling dread. I dressed, quickly.

I checked the mail on my way out. It was probably ridiculously optimistic, given how recently I ordered the part- and there was even a good chance it was Sunday, so it couldn't have been delivered today. But I needed it. I was starting to feel like the only chance I had to preserve my sanity was getting out of town.

I walked briskly to work. I decided I needed to at least know what day of the week it was. So I decided to check as soon as I got in.

I pulled up the weather in my browser, and just as the page started to load, with the day of the week and date, the page stopped loading. It froze, with the page loaded so I could just see the top of the letters and numbers, but not enough to make them out. I hit reload, and the page went blank.

I opened up a new window, and tried to open Google. Blank white space. I checked my network connection. Our internal network was fine. But I couldn't connect to the internet. Crap.

I spent the rest of the morning trying to trouble-shoot that. I thought I heard grumbling in the rest of the office, but I never saw anyone else there. Our usual administrator, who was also the office manager, and had also decided to start spending more time with his kids, wasn't in. I didn't have the number of our IT person- which probably didn't matter, since I didn't think I had the authority to authorize his crazy fee to get the office up and running again. So I worked harder than I usual did, testing connections and crawling around on the dusty floor- but less productively.

I took my lunch a little early, because I was frustrated, and because I was starting to sweat from the exertion.

Back at home, I checked the mailbox again. Still nothing.

I was alone at home. I was getting used to the fact I was just alone, period. I made myself some toast and oatmeal, because I was cold from the walk home, and because expending any more effort than that to just feed me seemed stupid. I also made a cup of cocoa to wash it down, and was standing over the kitchen sink, looking out the window at the backyard when I heard a voice behind me.

?You know you can't keep avoiding things forever,? Gram said.

I was getting used to her sneaking up behind me, so this time I didn't jump- though my mug did quiver a bit in my hands. I told myself it was because I was still cold from the chill during my walk home. Instinctively, my eyes drifted towards the bamboo, and I caught myself a moment too late.

When I turned back around, to face her, she knew that I had, too. ?I don't have time for a treasure hunt.?

?You haven't had an actual, full day off in, what, a week? And the network's down, anyway- there's nothing for you to do at work right now.?

?How would you know that??

?Are you really trying to trip me up?? She asked with a grin. ?I'm either a figment of your imagination, brain damage or mental illness, in which case I'd know everything you know. Or I'm a ghost, demon, extra-dimensional whatever, in which case I wouldn't really be all that limited anyway. Put another way: I know; do you really want to have to re-explain it, or have a conversation about how I know, or are you more interested in what's out there? The way I see it, your world is getting smaller. You can either continue to wall off whole sections of it, and accept that they're lost. Or you can face what terrifies you- face what's really there.?

?So says the hallucination of my dead grandmother.?

?Maybe I'm here because you couldn't face them alone.?

?But why am I alone?? I asked, desperation cracking my voice.

?Isn't that one of the questions your so worried about answering?? I was still hesitant. ?I'm not going to leave you. I'll keep you company.?

I changed into the filthiest I had on tap, the one I used to mow the lawn days earlier.

I couldn't explain it, but I didn't want to go in the backyard. It didn't make any sense, but just thinking about that spot in the backyard made me tremble. I'd been avoiding the question- the possibility, really, that something did happen to Hanah- that I was responsible.

I could tell without even going near it that the earth has been disturbed under the bamboo, and the grass and moss hadn't yet grown back. Someone had been digging- someone using something more sophisticated than Leroy's paws.

I grabbed the shovel I kept under the eave of the house, and started across the lawn. Days of unrelenting fog kept the grass slicked and moist; it made the grass nearly as slippery as ice. I stepped on a half-decayed mound of dog turd, and lost all grip on the world.

I came to a few minutes later, with my head resting against the shovel, now slicked with my blood. Just past the hairline at my temple, I had a fresh impact wound; the pressure of my head smacking the shovel cause my skin to burst. It felt, and I'm sure looked, horrific, but it wasn't a deep wound. I knew I would need to bandage it, because head wounds liked to bleed, but one look at my grandmother, and towards the bamboo, and I knew I wasn't going inside until this was settled. It had become far more important to me than a bleeding head wound- and there was a significant part of me that worried if I went inside, and gave myself an excuse to put it off another day or more, I'd take and run.

So I marched the rest of the way towards the bamboo.

It started to rain, big, fat, water balloons of the stuff soaking through my shirt in seconds. ?Fuck off,? I growled at the sky. Even through the rain I knew I was crying before I put the shovel in the dirt.

I kicked the shovel all the way into the dirt, probably from frustration, and lifted the first pile from the hole. Then I stabbed the shovel back in the earth, like it was a spear. I hit something, softer than dirt, with smoother give to it. Flesh. Not that I'd ever stabbed a shovel through flesh before, but I knew it, even if I didn't know how.

I pulled the shovel back out of the hole, enough that I could remove that shovelful. Then I knelt down and raked the dirt with my fingers. I felt like Leroy, clawing at the earth to reveal something, something that terrified me, but something that I now felt I needed to know.

The blood and the rain ran into my eyes, and the water made it harder going, made clumps of mud dribble back into the hole I was trying to dig. It got wet enough that I was scooping the mud out in my hands.

Then I saw hair, caked in mood, and started digging more frantically, like an animal. I felt like I couldn't breathe, but I couldn't stop, either. The mud at the edge of the shallow pit slid inward, dragging me down into the hole, so I was kneeling in the mud. I could feel hair beneath my fingers, and I wrapped my arms around the body, or God, a part of a body, because it was too small- and pulled.

It was a struggle to get both of us out of the hole, because the mud was too soft, and I ended up crawling on my belly like a soldier to get free of the mud.

I set the corpse down beside the significantly widened hole, panting. Gram was gone. I hated her for that- she said she wouldn't leave me, and now that I knew, now that I needed her, she was gone.

I was crying, and I didn't give a goddamn about pretending otherwise. I recognized the body. It was Leroy.

11/17/13

  11:39:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1170 words  
Categories: Twist

Twist Chapter 16

I didn't sleep. I tried, mind you. But I could hear them moving outside the house, and scratching at the windows. I saw shapes, blurry, but humanoid, casting impossible shadows across the wall. I told myself I was hallucinating- that he?s seen far, far worse in my time, but I couldn?t quite make myself believe it; I never really could.

The door still wouldn't lock, and that meant that every subtle creak of the old house made my eyes burst open, and my muscles tense. I slept with an old tee ball bat next to me. Hanah hated when I did that- she said me sleeping with the bat made her feel less safe, because we might need it. Under these circumstances, I could maybe see her point.

I checked the mail when I woke up. I knew it was ridiculously optimistic to think that my part would show, but as much as anything I was looking for an excuse not to have to go into work. So I got myself ready and went to work, largely because I had nothing else to do with myself.

The morning passed uneventfully, and then it was lunch time.

I started walking back home. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation. Or maybe I'd just come round the bend- been so deeply, deeply depressive, that when the last shoe fell it bumped me back into being able to be hopeful. Whatever the cause, I started to wonder if Hanah might be home. Maybe she'd had a trip, gone home to see some of her family, or even maybe some late-year equivalent to Spring Break.

It was certainly possible. I'd never had a good memory. And even young as I still felt like I was, I knew it had only gotten worse. So maybe.

But that maybe was enough that I started to run. But not like I'd run home the night before, this was running like Leroy did in the snow. Running made the air feel cooler, but that wasn't enough to make me slow down.

My heart raced when I saw lights on in the house. I ran through the house, towards the kitchen, without even slowing down. ?You?re late,? a woman said as I rounded the corner. It took my brain a moment to process, and I saw her at the same moment I recognized my grandmother's voice.

?Didn't know we had a standing engagement,? I said, trying to hide my disappointment.

?Then I guess I've no choice but to forgive you,? she said, trying to hide that she saw it, anyway. I sighed, too heavily for her to just ignore. ?What's wrong?? she asked.

?Something's happened with Hanah. I just know it. She's been gone too long. And no one I've tried to get ahold of can help, either. And perhaps what's worst is, because of what happened to Jim, it's hard for me not to assume that I might have had a hand in whatever happened to her.?

?You?? she asked at first. ?What do you think happened with Jim?? I couldn't meet her gaze. ?You didn't have anything to do with what happened. Jim left us.? Effie smiled. ?That night, it became clear that we were a family- a family he was no longer a part of. You didn?t hurt him. You could barely drag that gun along. How would you have fired it??

When she said, ?He left,? I got the sneaking suspicion she meant she told him that she owned guns, and had more than enough land that no one would ever find the body- not that anyone would come looking for him.

I felt better after that. Maybe Hanah was still missing, but now so was my conviction that I had anything to do with her disappearance. It lifted a weight from my shoulders, at least that creeping certainty- for the moment. I knew that that the absence of evidence wasn't evidence of absence- just because I hadn't killed Jim, didn't mean Hanah was safe.

I felt lighter on the walk back to work. And despite the conversation with Gram, I was actually early- though I realized it was because I hadn't eaten anything. But I did remember to grab a granola bar and a carrot, so at least I wasn't going to starve.

I had enough time, I decided to take a detour. I knew that the courthouse was only a few blocks down from my office. And I thought that the police station was somewhere in that same area, too. I still hadn't heard back from them, which felt strange to me. It was way past the dumb 24 hour waiting period, so they had to be interested in her case. And I'm sure I didn't know the process well enough to have given them all the information they needed.

Sure enough, a large sign pointed me in the direction of the station. It was a humble-looking building, not terribly different from the office my work shared with a dentist, only it was just one floor. I tried the front door, and it didn't budge. I looked inside, but it was dark, and empty. I didn't see anything about posted hours- but it was strange to me that the station would ever be closed.

But that didn't matter. I didn't have time to stand around contemplating. I had to get back to work.

I somewhat overestimated the rest of the walk, so I ended up at work ten minutes before my lunch was supposed to end. That meant I got to leave early. So it was a ways before nightfall when I got back home. She wasn't there- neither Gram nor Hanah. But that was okay.

I checked my phone. It was odd that I hadn't gotten any messages- not from Minnie, not from the police.

But it made me happier, that wherever Hanah was, at least she had Leroy to take care of her. She loved the hell out of that dog. I wasn't even much of a dog person, but I did, too. Everyone did. Even Alan- and he hated dogs, particularly dogs living in his house.

I slept all right, thinking of Hanah and Leroy at least having each other- and maybe aided by the fact that I wasn't a murderer.

At least, until I heard movement outside the house. It started subtle, the scraping of the willow branches along the edge of the roof, jostled by the wind. Then I saw shaped, blurry, but humanoid, casting impossible shadows across the wall. I heard tapping and scratching at the windows. Some of the locks were too old, or too painted-over to latch- one swift tug and they could be inside. Which ignored the fact that I hadn't been able to get the front door locked in days- I hadn't even tried when I got home tonight.

I told myself I was hallucinating. I'd seen far, far worse in my time; but I couldn?t quite make myself believe that- I never really could.

11/16/13

  11:38:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1092 words  
Categories: Twist

Twist Chapter 15

The place was empty- but I expected that.

I knew our purchasing officer had been floating out resumes to find another gig. We laid off some of our support staff, and then another of the CSRs got called back to the army- and I think more than one of them had discovered that they could forward the calls to a cell phone and handle most of them remotely.

We laid off a developer, and even the one we didn't was only working part time, now, and most of that out of the office. The office manager was taking more time with his family. Our one-woman accounting department got another job and only came in once in a while to handle payroll- and even then at weird hours. And Ben was always on vacation, or one of his sabbaticals.

Not that it made sense that all of those things were lining up so perfectly; it was kind of like having a lunar eclipse every time I went into the office. But it was a gift horse- I wasn't really worried about it having crap teeth, because worst case scenario, horses could be good eating.

I ordered the starter from a supply company a county over. It was supposed to have decently fast shipping, and because of the proximity, I knew I'd get it quicker than if I ordered from the cheaper distributor on the other coast.

Then I decided that since things were quiet, I could do a little more work; it might have had something to do with my reluctance to walk back home, or to be near that truck again. I built out some wire frames for the responsive versions of the websites, and worked on some social media promos.

Then I built a flier and printed out a few dozen copies. It had a picture of Hanah and Leroy on it, along with their names and my number. I borrowed our accountant's stapler- she probably wasn't coming in tonight, so she likely wouldn't notice it was gone.

On the way home I put a flier on every pole I saw, and I made a wide arc through the neighborhood, taking me past the closed-down auto parts store. It was darker than on my usual walk home. That made me even more aware of the fact that there were no dogs barking. In the dark, dogs got squirrelier, and more likely to bark at whatever came within even a block of their home and family.

I walked about a third of the way to the big box, up as far as the old Burgerville, the one without a drive-thru. To compensate for their lack of this kind of necessary modern feature, they offered to let people call their orders in ahead. That staved off collapse a few more months, maybe. But I could tell as I was walking that it hadn't been enough. They were closed down, the store looted of most of its distinctive design elements, leaving just the outline of its old sign. I stapled my poster to a tree in the parking lot, since there weren't any poles nearby.

And that was when I noticed movement through the fog. It wasn't just the phantom of a shape. It was walking.

But I needed to finish. G street curled around, from the Burgerville, all the way back to Gram's. It also didn't have any cross-streets that whole way. It was the fastest way home, but I also knew it was the worst place in the world to be trapped, because there was nowhere to run.

I weighed feeling safe but also like a coward against my fear, and the possibility, however remote, that someone along that route might know something about Hanah.

I bounced the stapler in my head. It was heavier than a modern stapler, but still small and light enough to make for a pretty crappy weapon. But like the Churchill quote, it implied I'd already made my decision- just that I was trying to figure out just how vulnerable I was going to end up being on my walk.

It was oddly slow-going. These 'blocks' took up the same distance as five blocks just a street up or down. Because of that, there was no easy way to divide up the sides of the street, so I ended up doing a few light posts on one side, then a few power line poles on the other- back and forth, back and forth.

With each poster I stapled up, I felt whatever was in the fog get closer. I could see silhouettes, dark shadows getting closer and coalescing into more human forms. But the more human they became, the more inhuman the result- always little things, in their jerky movements, slight overextension of jaws, distended limbs. They were wrong, I could tell that much.

I held off my terror until the last normal block's worth of houses. They were close enough I thought I could smell them- and I didn't think I'd ever hallucinated a smell before. So I ran.

I didn't wait at Fourth Plain for the walk signal, just ran across. If the world was still working beyond my perceptions, that was probably insane; even late at night that road was always busy, but I didn't see a single car in either direction- granted, I was looking from the middle of the intersection as I ran, so seeing wouldn't have helped me if there had been a car barreling towards me.

I tripped on the curb on the other side, and scraped my knees on the sidewalk before landing face-first in a neighbor's grass. Home was on the other side of the block. I got up, and glanced behind myself. I couldn't tell if there was an army of insane things marching towards me, or just more fog. I ran, and ran, sliding on the decaying spike balls falling from that horrible tree, then slipping in the mud on the side of the front lawn as I ran for the steps. I was fumbling with the keys in my pocket when I remembered I hadn't been able to bolt the front door for days.

I crashed through it loudly. My grandmother was standing there, with a cup of tea in her hand.

?You look like you've seen a ghost,? she said dryly.

?That's not funny,? I said, afraid to lean away from the door, lest something horrible try to claw its way in.

?I kind of thought it was,? she said, and sipped her tea.

11/15/13

  11:37:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1535 words  
Categories: Twist

Twist: Chapter 14

How long is it appropriate to wait for monsters to leave? I didn't have my Emily Post handy- and my computer was down. So I waited a long time.

Not that- not that I was convinced there was actually anything there, mind you. That would have been truly crazy. But it didn't really help, knowing that were figments. It's hard to explain to someone who doesn't hallucinate. But it isn't rational- and you can't fight against it with reason. Acknowledging that an oiled and muscled Abe Lincoln with Fredrick Douglas for a penis probably isn't real doesn't make the rail splitter threateningly swinging his ax (or Fredrick Douglas) any less menacing- not that I've ever hallucinated that.

At least Gram laid off me. We drank cocoa in silence. When I did finally get up the courage to go out, I brought along my crowbar. ?What's that for?? she asked.

?I like to be thorough,? I said.

It was difficult, carrying the blue case of tools, the battery and the bar. But if one of those things was out there, I wanted to be ready. ?You, uh, want to come out with me??

?It's cold,? she said, ?but I'm used to that.?

I thought, perhaps, I could use her as an early warning. Unless she really was just my figment, and then she probably didn't have any extra sensory perception- but maybe my subconscious might notice things my distracted mind couldn't. Maybe that was her whole reason for being here- pointing out things I couldn't see yet.

She followed me out to the car. I tried not to pay attention to the fact that it was cold out here, and especially without clothes on, Gram's skin responded.

I leaned into the car and popped the hood. I lifted the old battery out, and set the new on in its place. Then I attached the cables without tightening them.

?Fingers crossed,? I told Gram.

She held up her fingers for me, crossed.

I turned the key. Nothing. I tried it again, to be sure it wasn't a fluke, and this time it made an annoyed cat noise, but didn't get further than that. ?Crap.? That meant that the hundred bucks I spent on the battery was basically wasted, because once the battery had been 'used,' they wouldn't take it back. It also meant I needed a starter- and my internet was busted, so I couldn't search for a local shop or just order the part online.

I remembered Hanah getting pissed at me for hoarding phone books. ?When was the last time you even used one?? she asked. So I threw them out- all of them.

Probably most annoying was that I had to spend the next several minutes bolting in that unnecessary battery. ?How are we doing?? I asked her once I had the clamps tightened around the battery; I still needed to bolt it in place.

?Shouldn't you be telling me?? she asked.

?I meant...? I pondered a moment if there was a non-lunatic way of putting it. ?I get paranoid, when I'm working like this. I feel vulnerable. I just wanted to know if anyone was coming this way, so I didn't get startled.?

?Have you seen anyone?? she asked. I was glad it was rhetorical; though I didn't know why I felt self-conscious about one of my hallucinations finding out about the others. Then a horrible thought crossed my mind. What if she couldn't see them.

?Done,? I said. The bolt wasn't as tight as I knew it should be, but my dread got the better of me, and the battery was in a little metal tray, so it wasn't like it was going anywhere, anyway.

When I stood up, she was watching down the street. Her hair looked more tousled, than usual. And I wondered if maybe it wasn't just that she couldn't see them, what if she was ignoring them, because she was one, too. My muscles tensed, as I prepared to have to fight off whatever it was that she'd become.

But when she turned back around, she was just my grandmother. ?You okay?? she asked. ?You look like you're trying really hard to shit yourself.? I relaxed.

?Just thought I saw something.? She stifled a laugh. ?You know what I mean.?

I packed up my tools, and my new (old), spare battery, and carried them inside. ?Do you want to talk?? she asked when she caught me trying to lock the door behind us.

?About?? I asked, and swallowed. It wasn't going to lock, anyway, so what was the point?

?You might not be as handy as your father, but I'm sure you knew you weren't going to need a crowbar to change out a battery.?

?I thought somebody followed me home from the store. So I wanted to be careful.?

She frowned. She could tell I was lying, though she probably couldn't have imagined the particulars.

?But I need to go into work,? I said.

?I thought you'd taken the day off.?

?Yeah, well, our internet is dead, and I need to order a part.? She frowned. She was from an older generation, and I imagined she disapproved of me using a work 'resource' for my own personal needs.

?Have a nice walk, in this,? she said, and looked out the front door window. The fog was nasty looking, and it obscured enough of the street that my mind played tricks on me, and told me there were people in the street.

I bundled up, taking my new jacket, and left. Down the block, where I temporarily left the car when it wouldn't start, I remembered that I could use directory assistance on my cell phone. I weighed the exorbitant fee against continuing through the fog, jumping at every shadow, convinced something horrible was waiting for me to drop my guard.

I dialed assistance. It rang, and rang, and rang, and eventually played a message that they were at capacity, and could I please call back later. ?Off to work I go,? I muttered, and kept moving.

One thing struck me on the way in- the silence. There were no fewer (and possibly many more) than 3 dogs on my way into work. One was a chestnut dog, that looked like a retriever but smaller, who I called after the color of her fur. Another was black, a Labrador; I suspected there were actually two of them sharing that same yard, but that they never both came out where I could see them at the same time, one male and one female. I called them Midnight. I called the last one- though technically she was first, starting from my house- Flax, because of her golden fur. At least, I thought flax was golden; now I couldn't remember.

They always barked at me. Not much. I think they'd gotten used to me. But they barked at least once, if only to excitedly say hello. But I couldn't remember the last time I'd heard them. Thinking back, I think the last dog I heard bark was Leroy.

The offices we shared with Dr. Payne, who irony had apparently dictated become a dentist, didn't take up the whole block. On the opposite side of it were a row of houses. The house on the corner was dilapidated and brown.

A truck was always parked outside it. Both the house and the truck were in that peculiar state of disrepair that set off my horror movie radar; it was clear that someone kept them functional, but the little social niceties like a new coat of paint, or fixing broken embellishments just never happened.

I realized how stupid that was- paranoia based off of what amounted to little more than neighborhood association propaganda, a collective anxiety over property values manifesting itself in an intolerance of anything short of suburban perfection. The place I lived, and my own car, were in a similar state- if my car was a few years younger.

That yard was where Chestnut lived, though I hadn't seen him for days at least.

The back of the truck was filled with fallen leaves, covered in a tarp. As I approached, I wondered what might by lying in wait beneath it. I wished I'd thought to bring my crowbar. I wanted to give the truck a wide berth, but the office entrance was thirty feet away, and my options at this point were to circle the entire block, or to cross the street twice- both of which were likely to raise flags if any of my coworkers were out on a smoke break and noticed me.

So I soldiered ahead, gritting my teeth the entire way. I was in such a hurry to put distance between myself and the truck, that I overshot my usual entrance, and ended up at the front door. That outer door, the one we shared with the dentist's office, was locked, and I didn't have a key for that one. But I could tell from where I was standing that the back door was still bolted open. My eyes darted to the truck, and its tarp, quickly, it hadn't moved, hadn't been disturbed. So I hurried inside.

  09:33:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1235 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Trauma

?Oh God, oh God oh fuck oh God,? Levy said, though he was so out of breath it came out a whisper. His lungs burned, and his muscles ached. But he kept pumping his legs. Her body was heavy, but it felt like a part of himself in his arms.

He knew he should call out over the comms for Clod to meet him in the med lab, but he also knew nothing was going to come out if he queued it up. And she and Martin were supposed to be there already, holed up and waiting.

He was so out of breath he was dizzy, and nearly ran the both of them into the wall by the med lab, just to the side of the door. He leaned against the doorway to push them inside. Paul was occupying the permanent bed. The moment Clod saw him she leapt to her feet, and pulled a second bed out of the wall. Martin helped him lower Alisa down onto the bed.

?What's her injury?? Clod asked, moving Alisa's clothing around trying to find the site.

?Torso,? Levy said quietly. ?A burn.?

?What happened, Levy?? Martin asked, but there was no mistaking the accusation in his tone.

?I, I,? he closed his eyes, and forced himself to say the words, ?I shot her,? quietly.

?Jesus,? Martin said. Clod was ignoring him. She used a pair of shears to cut away her uniform.

?Rica was there, too,? Levy said.

?The Bradbury?? Martin asked, his patience thin.

Levy made a show of patting his pockets. His shoulders shrunk. ?I dropped it.?

?Fucking hell, Levy,? Martin said. ?You were worried I'd fuck things up??

?I,? he wanted to defend himself, but he recognized there wasn't anything he could say, and that he needed to man up. ?I'll show you where they are.?

?First fucking thing you've done right,? Martin said.

Martin grabbed a tablet off the wall as they were walking. He hit a few buttons. ?Fuck,? he said, when his check of the locators turned up empty.

?The storage areas don't all have sensors,? Levy told him. ?That's where I figured Alisa and Rica had to be. That or... well, I guess you already know about the excess botanical storage, don't you?? Martin nodded. ?All the secrecy seems like more than it's been worth.?

?Well, in all fairness, this is the first mission to be, I don't know, haunted? Invaded??

?Secrecy creates the potential for these kinds of conflicts. Need to know creates this possibility that those who decide who needs to know won't know who all really needed to know.?

They reached the entrance into the storage area. ?You stay here,? Martin said.

?No. You stay. This was my thing,? Levy said. ?I dropped the weapon. I shot our crewmate. Let me undo my fuck-up.?

?You aren't trained to fight. If there's anything in there-?

?Come in swinging; with any luck it'll be preoccupied with me to see the haymaker coming. And turned on your light, point it down the center of the room. That'll help, too.?

The extra light didn't help as much as he'd hoped, because his back blocked most of what would have been more useful. But he remembered where he'd been attacked- or at least, where he'd thought he was being attacked.

He played through the moment in his mind, turning his head. He noted that the place on the floor he'd seen a body earlier was empty. He pivoted his body, and for an instant in the darkness he saw the beast, fur, and moist breath, and eyes that caught the reflection off his light and threw it back at him. And teeth- so many teeth- it was like looking into a shark's mouth. But it was only darkness, playing with his mind.

He lifted his empty hand, and pretended to fire the Bradbury.

The body hit him, hard. He worried he'd fired too late, that he'd missed, and that beast of hair and fangs knocked him to the ground, and he was going to be helpless.

Only it wasn't moving. It was just laying on top of him, motionless. Bodies are heavy things. He struggled for a moment to move it off of him. Then he saw, rather than fur, the slightly torn and bloodied uniform of one of his crewmates.

He didn't waste any time pushing himself off the ground and picking her up. Then he was running.

But the Bradbury. He had it in his hand when he was knocked down. He dropped it before he hit, a partially-conscious decision, intended to keep him from smashing it with his weight. He threw himself at the ground.

?You okay?? Martin asked from the door.

?Recreating the moment,? Levy called from the floor. He reached out his right hand, and found it, still warm and sweaty from his palm. ?Got it,? he said.

And then he had that same feeling, eyes on him. He wanted to point the Bradbury into the shadows, at whatever was watching him. But he no longer trusted himself. ?You should come down here. I'm too jumpy to be using a pistol.?

Martin jogged the length of the storage pod. Levy thought he caught a glimpse of movement at the end.

?Here,? he said, handing Martin the Bradbury. He put his thumb on the safety, and his finger to the trigger, then initialized the weapon with his other hand. There was a practiced efficiency to his movements, and Levy envied him, just a little.

?Where's Rica??

?She was there,? Levy said, pointing to the empty spot on the ground. ?But that's why I want you to have the pistol. I think she might be here, moving around.?

?Rica?? Martin yelled out.

?Why didn't I think of that?? There wasn't a response. ?Okay, so now that the obvious has failed, I don't feel so stupid for neglecting it.? He leaned in closer, and whispered, ?But I thought I saw something, beyond that last palette.?

?Put your hand on my back,? Martin said, ?so you know how far ahead I am, and don't run into me. You're in charge of our sides.?

?But there's two of them, and only one of me.?

?Improvise,? Martin said.

They passed the beginning of the last row of crates. A figure ran from their left, through Martin's light, then disappeared behind the crates on their right. He raised the Bradbury and nearly fired. ?Jesus. Maybe you should have kept it.?

?The only difference between you and me is you're a little bit faster,? Levy said.

?Exactly; that last half-second could be the difference.?

?Unless the half-second is the part where you realize you shouldn't fire,? Levy said.

?Point taken. You ready??

?Got my fists balled and my bladder ready to empty itself.?

Martin stepped around the container. He didn't see anything, but moved his light over. He saw boots, that looked to be the kind crewmembers wore. He tilted his body up, so that the light shown over the woman's face. It was Rica.

She was terrified, and sweating. A small lightning bolt of blood struck down from her hairline. Martin tensed. He'd seen that frenzied look before, shell-shocked civilians as likely to attack you as be grateful for a rescue. She sighed, and a calm returned in her eyes. ?Thank God, it's you two.? She started to fall over, but Martin caught her.

11/14/13

  12:27:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 2298 words  
Categories: Twist

Twist: Chapter 13

I locked the door behind myself. I hadn't seen any details of the things I thought had I'd seen following at the edges of the fog, but somehow, that only made my heart beat faster- only strengthened my resolve that they were real. I looked through the front door window, but there wasn't anything on the sidewalk, or beyond.

I slept fitfully- though I did feel safer after I dragged an old camping knife to bed with me. I'd lost track of how many days I'd worked in a row, but I knew it had to be my weekend, if not past it. I booted up my home computer to check. Or at least I tried. It hung up on the windows boot screen. I tried booting into Ubuntu, instead, but the monitor went black. After that, it wouldn't start at all.

Hanah and I didn't have cable. We kept odd enough hours that we just watched Netflix or Hulu or whatever streaming service seemed to have more stuff we wanted at any given moment. It meant I couldn't watch the news.

I tried using the radio on our alarm clock. I was fairly certain I wasn't going to get anything. We were just far enough past the suburbs that the only station we got was an AM station that played only a rotation of historical Billy Graham and Rush Limbaugh.

Next I attempted the TV, but got only static. I vaguely recalled something about broadcast channel moving to a digital signal- that it had required some kind of attachment- an attachment we skipped on buying, since it wasn't like we watched broadcast TV, anyway.

I called work, and put in Ben's extension. He didn't answer. He never did. So I left him a voicemail. I told him I was pretty sure I was up to my 40, so I was taking the day off- unless he needed me, and then I was happy to come in.

That left me with time on my hands. I knew I wanted to spend a little time on the car. Walking to work right now was kind of an inconvenience. But eventually it was going to get cold and wet enough that it wasn't really possible to walk anymore.

I remembered I still had my Uncle Alan's battery charger. He used it once every four or five years. I used it every few weeks, when the crackheads rotated back through this neighborhood, looking for anything that wasn't nailed down.

I went out to the car. The fog was thicker this morning, and made it tougher to even see my hands in front of me. I took a blue plastic briefcase full of cheap tools out to the car. Or at least, I took them to where the car was supposed to be.

It wasn't. I panicked. It was a piece of crap, and at least for the last week seemed almost determined not to work right. But I didn't know what I was going to do if my car had been stolen.

Then I remembered, it was parked down the street. The fog was heavy enough I couldn't see it, but it had to be there. After all, it wouldn't start. I was pretty sure car thieves didn't steal broken cars- and sure as hell didn't fix them to steal them.

I set the case down on the sidewalk, and crossed the street. I found my car where I'd left it- well, other than the driver's side door. That was ajar. ?Fucking crackheads,? I muttered. I put the car in neutral, and took off the emergency brake, then I pushed the car back to my side of the street, and got it to rest gently against the curb.

I put the ebrake on, and put it in park, then popped the hood.

Back on the sidewalk, I discovered the blue case had fallen over, and spilled open. One of the screwdrivers was missing. It was possible it hit the mild incline of the street, and rolled far enough away I couldn't see it. I didn't like leaving a potential weapon lying around behind me when I was going to be hunched over with my back turned, and an entire car slash home to loot. It made me paranoid. Then again, what didn't, these days?

I didn't need the screwdriver. The battery was bolted in, with nuts keeping the cables attached. I found that when I leaned in to loosen them, from the corner of my eye I could just barely see the leaf dumpster. It looked alien- not like extraterrestrial- but like it didn't belong there- like some artifact from some long-dead but mysteriously advanced culture. Just being near it made me uncomfortable.

I felt vulnerable with my head under the hood, and the dumpster provided a whole mess of hiding place. But this needed to get down, and fully aware of how much it was like burying my head in the sand, I leaned in with a wrench to loosen the cables.

?Your father was always very good with tools,? came a voice beside my face. I jumped so hard I smashed my head on the hood, and would have knocked it off the stand if the surprise of hitting my head didn't give me the momentary clarity to grab it. And then all at once the pain of the impact coalesced with the ever-present migraine, and I screamed out.

?Sorry,? Gram said. ?Didn't meant to startle you.?

?I suppose that puts us even, since I didn't mean to brain myself on my hood.?

She ignored me. ?But he was. Jim liked to puff out his chest, and pretend that he was a man in that John Wayne mold, capable of handling all the things in man's domain. But the tires so much as needed air, and he took our old Sidewinder to the mechanic. And around the house, I couldn't trust him to pound a nail in straight. Your dad taught himself- had to. Jim didn't know enough to teach, and was too damned disinterested to even if he'd been able. But your dad was handy. It was a shame you didn't get to spend more time with him. You would have liked him; he liked you.?

?I'd stopped crapping myself. Made me instantly more likable.?

?He loved you. But I think you two would have got along, as adults. If you'd gotten the chance.? She sighed. Losing dad had been hard on her- probably harder than it was on me. I was a young enough kid that by the time I could really get what had happened, the impact of it was gone; by then Jim and Effie had been my parents longer than my parents had.

?Why are you here?? I asked, more harshly than I intended. I was interested in the existential answer, but I was still a little sore- literally- from her scaring me like that.

?I thought you might need me.?

?What I need is for the car to start,? I said, and finally finished with the last of the nuts. I put them in my pocket with my wrenches, and lifted the battery out of its cradle.

?So you can leave?? she asked knowingly.

I ignored her, and shut the hood. I closed up the blue case, and walked in a long arc around the street corner, trying not to let on that I was looking for something. I didn't want to talk to my dead grandmother about how paranoid I was getting.

I got the battery on the charger, and decided to to cook something. I knew I should make something quick. If Ben called he was likely to be pissed off. He didn't like being told anything- so the fact that I left him a message telling him what I was going to do, rather than asking him if I could take the day off- was going to set him off. Presuming he even got the message anytime soon.

I couldn't muster enough of a response to care, and charging the battery was going to take a while, so I decided to make some potatoes in a beer-flavored cheese sauce. It was a long, and involved enough process that if Ben did call, I was going to have to tell him it would be a while before I could make it in. It was a recipe Hanah taught me. Its name sounded like a cartoon hillbilly saying ?rabbit,? like, ?I'm goin' catch me a rarebit, and boil me up a rarebit stew.?

?Smells delicious,? Gram said, walking in from the front room.

?It's the beer,? I told her.

?Hmm,? she said. She had a complicated relationship with beer. She loved it for herself; she met Grampa Jim when they were both working at a bar in Wyoming. But beer had also made her husband abusive- or extra abusive, and more prone to violence. I think she wanted some of my potatoes- though I had no idea if she could actually eat. And I was reluctant to get into a Slimer situation- I didn't want to have to clean potatoes off the floor if they fell right through her.

So I took my food over to the couch. The DVD player seemed to still be able to connect to Netflix, so I watched old episodes of Regular Show.

Then I took the battery off the charger, and carried it outside. I got into my pocket for the wrenches, before I thought better. I didn't want to secure it in place, only to find out it was dead. It was an older battery- came with the car when I bought it used. And I knew that constantly being run down by inconsiderate crackheads put extra stresses on it- there was a chance that the battery was toasted.

So I climbed inside, and put the key into the ignition. I closed my eyes, not exactly to pray, but to focus any hope I had towards this working. I turned the key. The engine growled, but didn't turn over. I tried again, pumping the gas pedal. Nothing. ?Damnit.?

There were two parts likely to keep a car from starting like that. One was a dead battery. My uncle's charger was a cheap one, so it didn't have a gauge to tell you whether or not the battery was charging- so that was definitely a possibility. The other was the starter. But you couldn't just pick up a starter at your local big box- those you had to get from an auto supply store- and since the only one of those I knew about within walking distance had closed, I opted to try the battery first.

Not that the big box was strictly within walking distance. It was nearly an hour on foot- probably more when hauling a battery back. I knew you could get a small discount for turning in your old battery for recycling, but there was no way I'd make it there and back carrying a battery by hand. I figured once I got the car started, I could drive the old battery back.

It was slow going getting there, because the fog made it impossible to tell if I was going the right way. Several times I thought I was lost, and wandered in a spiral for several blocks, only to end up back in the same spot, convinced I'd been going the right way the first time.

Stranger, I didn't pass a single car. This was a busy road, four lanes, two going each direction. But I didn't see a single car. I didn't see a single human being walking around the liberal arts campus- though if classes were in session at that moment it maybe made sense.

When I finally reached the store I was shivering. I went to the men's wear section, and picked out a heavier jacket for the walk back- a cheap little thing, probably stitched together in China for what it would have cost in gas to drive here to pick it up.

Then I headed over to the auto section. I didn't see a single employee on my way, and the counter was empty. That didn't shock me. More times than I could count I remembered passing of a store's employees gathered in some far-flung corner of a big box, having a meeting. It made more sense than the derelict auto parts store, anyway.

With a little difficulty, I managed to find the right battery. Stupidly, I hadn't thought to grab a cart, so I hefted it all the way to the front. The registers were all closed, save for a single one in the self-service aisles. I knew they were supposed to have an attendant there, to make sure customers were scanning everything, and to help them if they got stuck. I remembered to scan the jacket, then the battery, paid, and left.

My stomach gurgled as soon as I hit the nearly empty parking lot. I remembered there was a Pizza place, a cheap little mom and pop. I was hungry enough that I ignored the logistics of trying to carry a pizza box and a battery. The fog was thick enough that I couldn't make it out, even though it was just across the street. So I crossed over.

Halfway through the intersection, I noticed the windows were bare- none of the stickers or painted on pizza slices. And I as I got closer, I could tell they'd gone out of business, too. I swore. I could practically taste their pizza- but I never would again.

I turned back towards home. I had to stop every couple of blocks to rest. Hauling the battery was taking more out of me than I'd realized.

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