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."

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11/13/13

  12:26:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1320 words  
Categories: Twist

Twist: Chapter 12

I was thankful that I was alone in the bed when I woke up. I was more than a little concerned that I would wake up with my head on Gram's chest.

I was out of English muffins. I wondered if it was crazy to think Gram had eaten the last one. I made myself a piece of toast, instead. I wanted a shower- I felt like I could still feel her clammy sweat on my neck, but I didn't have time.

I dressed, quickly, making a show of pretending to find the cleanest remaining clothes, but I was honestly having trouble caring. No one ever got close enough to smell me, anyway.

I was running late by the time I made it out to the car. At least I'd gotten the wiper blades changed out. I knew I was forgetting something, but couldn't quite remember what, so I put the key into the ignition and turned it.

The engine made that same angry cougar noise as before. ?Shit,? I said. I'd forgotten to charge it, or ask the neighbors for a jump. I didn't have time to do it now- but I also didn't have time to walk.

I frowned. The car was on an incline- I don't think I'd exactly call it a hill. I thought that if I could just shove it away from the curb, then turn the wheel, that I'd be able to get it rolling downhill. And that might be enough to get it going.

The first part was simple- the hill wasn't very steep, so getting the car to roll back a few inches so I could turn the wheel away from the curb wasn't tough. I managed to hop into the car as it started to roll, and turned the wheel, towards the open road.

It didn't pick up much speed, but I tried the ignition. The annoyed growl became a petulant groan; still it refused to turn over. The car was losing what little momentum it had, so I guided it to the curb. I'd only gone a few doors down. I smacked the steering wheel, and got out of the car.

I wasn't even sure if it was a day I was supposed to work. And that meant there was a decent enough chance I was going to be into overtime. But I couldn't stay at home, waiting to hear from Hanah- or anyone, really, at this point.

So I jogged into work. My closest already smelled like clam-sweat, so I wasn't worried about making that any worse.

Which didn't matter anyway, because I was the only one in the office. I worked way past when I was supposed to take my lunch. I didn't want to go home- that was the entire point of being there on a day that, more likely than not, was my day off.

And the feeling of dread continued to get stronger. It was like a heartbeat, now, in the back of my head, a throbbing that with every second got louder, and angrier. It had been too long. Hanah was missing- not just in the sense that I didn't know where she was- but in the sense that no one with any kind of good intentions did.

I decided her wrath was less important a concern than her safety. I just wanted her to be okay- even if that meant she decided to leave me for being too clingy.

That got me out of the office. I dialed 911, and walked while it rang. I figured I might be able to make it home for something to eat. It kept ringing, more times than seemed reasonable. I was glad I wasn't being mugged while I waited.

I decided to circle around, take the longer route, and passed by the auto parts store. It was still early, so I was surprised to see the lights were off. When I got closer, I saw they weren't just closed- they were out of business.

Guilt flushed through me, somewhat ridiculously, that somehow the twenty dollars worth of wiper blades they may not have been paid for had somehow been the straw that broke the business' back.

With the car parts place closed, the entire complex was emptier- the other businesses looked to already be struggling to attract customers out this far.

I was staring into the dark store, trying to see if I could make out the note or the money I left on the counter. It was the closest thing I'd ever done to stealing, and I felt bad about it.

But did I see movement in the dark store? It wouldn't surprise me, an employee boxing up the more expensive stuff so it could be sold. But something about the movement...

It was then that the call rang through- or rather, that I was dumped into the police voicemail. It asked me to leave my name, number and a message- unless it was an emergency, in which case I should try again.

I left them my name and number, and Hanah's. I wanted to leave it at that- because if anything had happened to Hanah, I knew I was going to be the first suspect that crossed their minds. Especially with how long it had taken me to report her disappearance. And... I wasn't really sure I didn't have anything to do with it, either.

?I'm her boyfriend. We've lived together for a little less than a year. She hasn't been home in several days. She likes to crash on friend's couches, or at her aunts, so I waited as long as I could to call, but I'm really starting to get concerned. I just want to know she's all right.? I hung up.

I frowned. I wasn't hungry. Leroy wasn't there to let out. And Hanah wasn't there for me to visit. Leaving a rambling message about her missing pretty much confirmed to me that I had no reason to go home. And I wasn't satisfied with just leaving that message, either. So I called the police a second time. Maybe this time I'd have better luck, and turned back towards work.

It rang all the way to the time card. I looked around the empty office. I probably still had time, to take the call downstairs. But they weren't going to pick up. I understood that now. So I hung up and punched in.

I did a little more work- or at least, as much work as I could It seemed like I was sending out a lot more emails than I was getting back in. In fact, thinking about it, I didn't think I'd received any emails all week. That made me worry. I knew Ben liked me well enough, but if he was starting to ignore me, there was a better than decent chance he was thinking of firing me. And that was the last thing I needed.

But I had enough work to keep me occupied through the end of my shift. I clocked out, about on time, and walked home. The sun was starting to set- it was just that time of year. The darkness crept in around me, almost like a second set of fog, but in purple and orange hues.

I got the sense that there were people near, just at the edges of the fog. But something in my brain dissented- they weren't people, though in the dark you could maybe that mistake. That same part of me told me I wasn't safe, that I couldn't be safe out here, exposed, in the dark. It told me to run.

I wanted to resist. Panicking hadn't got me anywhere so far. But it was cold. And even if it was paranoid, I didn't see an upside in waiting to see whether I was really crazy, or if it was the world that was going insane.

I ran.

11/12/13

  12:26:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1250 words  
Categories: Twist

Twist: Chapter 11

I stank. Reeked. That wasn't the guilt talking. It was my nose. Away from the smell of rain, and wet earth, I realized how poorly I did smell. Maybe I forgot my deodorant this morning- it was hard to tell. But I knew I needed to do laundry. I'd needed to for quite a while. So I gathered up the worst-rumpled and filthiest looking clothes in my arms, and took them downstairs to the laundry room. I made it as far as the doorway when the migraine hit, harder than ever before.

I dropped the clothes on the threshold and stumbled backwards. It felt like I'd been drinking all night and the day before. There was no earthly way I was voluntarily getting into a small, confined room with loud machinery with this headache. But I told myself I'd done the heavy lifting part, already The clothes were gathered, if somewhat scattered near the doorway.

I resolved to try to wake up early enough to do laundry before work. I didn't want to leave them there for Hanah to find- she was likely to just turn around and walk back out the door.

Hanah. I wished she was here. She had a way of, helping me find perspective when I felt like I was drowning. But she wasn't.

I dropped into the couch. My head throbbed. It made it harder to remember anything. But I remembered we fought. We fought about my clothes. She didn't like it when I left them lying around. She said it was disrespectful. I imagined us both in my room upstairs, my childhood bedroom. I transposed us with my grandparents, but I wasn't exactly sure who was Jim in this scenario- since Hanah was the one aggressively berating me. I remembered she said, ?I'm not your mother- and I'm not your grandmother. I'm not here so I can clean up after you.?

Despite the fight, I missed her. I'd kind of gotten used to missing her, since one of us was gone all the time. That got me to thinking. There were other places she was likely to be, even if she was avoiding me. Like school. I dragged myself off the couch, to the computer. It took a while, finding the school's number, given that I couldn't open my eyes past a slit without feeling like I would pass out. But eventually I got it. I was tired, but I didn't think it would keep, so I recorded a message.

?Hi. I'm calling about Hanah Gallion. I'm her roommate. And it's been a few days since she's been home. She's kind of a free spirit and whatever, but she usually at least stops back in for a change of clothes and a coat of deodorant. So I'm worried. I don't want to call the cops if I'm mistaken, so I just wanted to know if she's been showing up for her classes. If she has, great, no worries, I'll see her when I see her, but if not... I just want to be able to do right by her.? I left my name and number, and hung up. I said roommate, because boyfriend had all kinds of unrequited love/stalkery connotations.

I felt a little better after that, better enough that I braved the stairs up to bed.

I didn't sleep well. At first, it was because I was alone, and I'd gotten so used to having Hanah and Leroy curled up on either side of me, that it was hard to sleep alone.

Then I dreamed. They were so scattered and broken that I couldn't really make out what the dream was about.

But then, I wasn't alone, and that was even harder to take.

I sensed someone long before my eyes adjusted enough to see. I could hear them- because there was a single spot to my side, where the sound of the overhead fan whirring was muffled in that direction.

My fight or flight kicked in, and I wanted to punch who or whatever had crawled into bed with me and then run.

But I knew that it could be Hanah- or even the dog. It was likely, at this point. But it gave me enough pause not to start talking in fist- I didn't want to for sure be the Jim in our relationship.

My eyes still hadn't gathered more than a shadow's outline beside me, enough to tell it was a woman, and thin. I hated all these reminders that Hanah and my Gram had the same body type. ?Can't sleep?? she asked from the dark. Her voice grated on my skull; the migraine was still grinding on my nerves. It could have been Hanah, if she was tired, and it had gotten into her voice. ?Neither can I,? she said, and this time I knew it was just the way she talked.

From the moonlight coming in through the window, I could make out goosebumps on her areola; the effect was sleazily pornographic enough I shuddered. ?Why are you naked in my bed, Gram? I think this whole situation is Oedipal enough without that.?

?Technically,? she started, ?it's my bed. And I thought you had a theory about my state.?

I swallowed, because it felt extra crazy, explaining myself to my hallucination. ?Alan sold all your clothes. And if you were cremated, no final vestments in place.?

?Hmm. Back to clothes. That's interesting, isn't it??

?What?? I asked.

?Well, since you're awake anyway, didn't you have laundry to do??

I looked towards the doorway leading out to the hall, the stairs, and eventually the laundry room. ?It's cold,? I said, and turned on the light. We kept the heat on only minimally at night, when we were already wrapped up in blankets.

?So it's the cold this time?? she mocked me.

?There must be a reason I?m seeing you- unless I've just finally gone full-on, all the way crazy, and that seems more important than whether or not I smell vaguely funky on the off-chance someone leans over me at work.?

?Crazy... crazy's not the right word.?

?Fruit loops??

?You have problems, Harvey. Difficulties. You're not the first one in our family.?

?Jim??

?We were of a different generation. My dad died of a heart attack because he refused to admit he was having one- and refused to go to the hospital to get it treated. Jim was better, but only so far removed from that. You wouldn't have caught him dead in a therapist's office. But it's clear as day he had issues, too.?

?So I'm just like Jim,? I said sadly.

?You're nothing like your grandfather,? she replied. ?He was callous, hateful, cruel, and violent. You've had your issues, and maybe even lashed out. But there came a point when Jim stopped being someone with an extra heavy cross to bear, and became someone who bludgeoned people with his cross, instead. Now come here,? she beckoned for me to hold her, and it brought me back to that day, in my room. She'd been fully clothed, then.

When I tried to just throw my arm over her at a distance, she rolled towards me. Flaps of skin sliced nearly off by the lawnmower rested against my shoulder, intermingled as if they were just slightly thicker, and moister hairs. Though I tried to ignore it, I knew for a fact that my grandmother's naked breast was resting in the crook of my arm. Ugh. So very, very Oedipal.

11/11/13

  12:25:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1270 words  
Categories: Twist

Twist: Chapter 10

She sighed. ?It was a shame you didn't get to know your Grampa Jim better.?

?He left us,? I said. ?What more was there to know??

?Jim had a fascinating life. And... he didn't exactly leave- not voluntarily, anyway.? I frowned. ?The night I gave the ultimatum, that he'd stop whatever he was doing with that other woman... he flew into a rage. He screamed at me. Called me a whore. Said terrible things- like how she was half my age and twice as a pretty. I didn't care that she was different from me- or even in some ways better- otherwise why would he have strayed? But the fact that he could whittle our relationship down to a list of pros and cons- that affection and loyalty from years together meant nothing.?

She took a deep breath, and continued. ?He beat me worse than he ever had- treated me worse; I'm still not sure if it was his fists or his words I hated more. But I didn't back down. Through the tears, through the blood, I told him he still had a decision to make. You remember what happened afterward?? I shook my head.

?I was,? she swallowed, ?weak. You were only a boy, eight years old. But I crawled into your room, and curled up in your bed. And you held me, and stroked my hair. And cried with me. I was- I shouldn't have put myself through that- but it was wrong of me to drag you through it, too.?

?Gram,? I said. I wasn't sure if I should try and tell her it wasn't her fault, especially since, surprised as I was, I didn't know if I disagreed with her.

?We cried together a long time. I was just starting to drift to sleep in your arms. But your grandfather was a stubborn, old ass. It was his home, and he would God-damned before he let some woman tell him how to manage it. I realized what was about to happen when he kicked our bedroom door in- just a few doors down the hall. He usually opened doors loudly, but this was entirely different, and he roared when I wasn't in the room we shared, or our bathroom. He shoved in the next door, into the guest room, though I think by then he knew where I was. I tried to be brave, not upset you, but you were already shaking- because you were a smart enough boy to know what was coming.?

?He shoved in the bathroom, and I knew from the sound it made that he broke the little spring that was supposed to keep the door from smacking into the wall, and I heard the knob thud against the drywall. There weren't any more doors between him and us- no more reprieve. I held you tightly, and hoped it would hide from you that I was shaking, too. I told you I loved, that no matter what happened, you needed to take care of yourself.?

?Jim shoved the door in with such ferocity that if this house was a newer one, the door would have snapped in half. But it was solid wood. It chipped the edge of your bookcase, and sent books and toys flying.?

?He tore me off the bed by one foot. I kicked and screamed at him to stop. I told him that I'd kill him if he touched either of us, ever again. I was frantic, perhaps even crazy. But I felt like an animal, trapped, desperate, driven by an overwhelming urge to survive at whatever cost.?

?He hit me in the stomach. That took some of the fight out of me; fractured a rib, too. I took a swing at him, and hit him, hard, across the jaw. And if I hadn't spent the first part of the day being abused, and the second weeping, perhaps I'd have had the strength to stop him. But I was weak, drained. I gave as good as I could. But your Grampa Jim... wasn't a person at that moment. He was an element. A storm. A natural forced unleashed on us in your bedroom, and completely unstoppable.?

She turned to me, and her eyes were as sad as I'd ever seen. ?But you tried. You stood between him and me, and told him it was enough. You said whatever bad I did, I'd been punished; you told him anything else would be cruel.?

?Jim backhanded you so hard you smacked your head into the window. It broke your nose.? I touched the crick in the bridge of my nose. ?You didn't know that, did you??

?I knew I didn't get it from my parents,? I said.

?Nope,? she said, ?from your grandparents.? She couldn't look up at me for a moment after that. ?But I became convinced I was going to die. That Jim would beat me to death. I accepted that, because, because it let me plead for you. I begged him to leave you alone. You were only a child, and hadn't known better than to disobey him.?

?He didn't stop hitting me, or screaming. Jim didn't care about children. Maybe that's when he lost interest in me. I only think it's because our sons moved out so early that we didn't divorce years before. But when you came to live with us, the strain was back, only this time... this time he felt divorced from the decision to have a child.?

?So it was my fault.?

She laughed at me. ?No,? she said, but her expression changed. ?Even abusive assholes have reasons for what they do. But it doesn't justify them being abusive assholes- and it never makes it our fault.?

?But while he bellowed all this hate, while he continued to beat me, you slunk away. At first I thought I'd succeeded, that you were going to be safe, be okay. But you weren't trying to escape.? She swallowed. ?You remember my old double-barrel? The one I kept on the mantel place, that I used to hunt deer??

?Yes,? I said, and I realized I was trembling. Because I did remember the gun, but only from before that night. Afterward, it disappeared.

?You pulled it down, I don't know how, high and heavy as it was, and tiny as you were, and sobbing as loudly. But you got it down. And then you dragged it, up the stairs, past my bedroom, and down that hallway.?

?I remember hearing the door creak, and I looked up. Jim was barely paying attention. It was a full second or so before he realized I was looking at something, and realized he should probably wonder what. And when he finally looked, he was staring down both barrels.?

God. I remembered staring down the barrel, I remembered anger burning at a temperature I'd never ever felt. I shot Grampa Jim. That was why I hallucinated his head in a toilet- it was why I kept doing it.

I felt bile rise in my throat. ?I don't want to hear any more,? I told Effie. ? I should go inside.?

?I think I'll stay out here for a bit. I like the smell of the streets after a rain, and right now, it suits my mood.?

?You sure?? I asked. ?I can brew us some tea.?

?No. I'll be fine, out here.?

I hated leaving her, and I considered staying. But I knew that if I did, she was going to want to talk about how I became a murderer at eight years old. And I wasn't ready to handle that.

11/10/13

  12:23:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1254 words  
Categories: Twist

Twist: Chapter 9

I slept in the next day, so when my alarm finally broke through, I didn't have time for breakfast or a shower. I was even in enough of a hurry that I forgot to grab a granola bar to take with me.

I was late enough that I knew I needed to take my car. The driver's side door wasn't locked. That wasn't surprising. I knew I'd been tired when I installed the blades the night before. Also, my car doorlock was going, so all it really took was a firm pull and it opened. It meant the local crackheads used my ashtray as an ATM, not that I ever left change in it anymore.

But the annoying part about car thieves was that they didn't shut the door properly. I think they didn't want the noise of a car door shutting, that might draw attention to them- it was either that or aside from being fucking thieves they were also inconsiderate dicks. But it meant that the overhead light would drain off the battery, and I'd come back to a dead car in the morning. I kept the overhead light off for that very reason. But inevitably, first thing a crackhead breaking into my car did was turn it back on, the better to rob me with, my dear.

The car didn't want to start. It made a groaning noise, but wouldn't turn over. I tried pumping the pedal, to give it a little gas- that used to work with my old Honda- but nothing.

So walked to work. No, I ran. I was pissed, and full of an angry energy. I so wanted someone to try to mug me, to give me the fucking excuse to hurt someone. It didn't happen, so I made it to work slicked with a clammy sweat. But the office space was empty- no one to complain about the smell.

I was useless at work. Anger eventually gave way to the hopelessness of hunger. I spent the whole morning focused on lunch, and it getting there sooner.

It was like stepping into the shower with all of my clothes on walking home- but I didn't have a lot of options- I didn't even have a granola bar today.

I made myself a grilled cheese sandwich, and a pot of tomato soup. I was shivering, so it was nice spending time over the hot stove. In between stirring/flipping, I stripped out of my wet clothes and changed into something drier- though not cleaner. I hung up the clothes, because I realized it might be the closest to having any washed clothes as I was likely to get for a while.

As I finished eating, I checked my phone. No messages, not from Hanah, and none from her aunt, either. I frowned. It seemed like that confirmed Minnie had to know where she was- or at least that she was safe. Minnie was a cold, cruel bitch- to me, at least- but she loved Hanah like a daughter- specifically, as the closest thing to a biodaughter as she was likely to ever have. If she thought for a second that Hanah was in any kind of danger, she'd have called me. Or the police. And since they hadn't busted down my door yet, that meant she had a reason not to file a missing persons report.

But it also gave me another idea. I got online, and navigated to the website of Hanah's work. It was a little coffee and pastry shop downtown, in walking distance, if only just. But I pulled the number off the website and put it in my phone, and started walking back. I remembered to grab an umbrella, though it had stopped raining, anyway.

I spent the first couple of blocks working through the exact phrasing that would make me sound the least like an abusive ex stalking her, and the most like a reasonable boyfriend just trying to make sure she wasn't in a ditch some place. Then I hit send on her work number.

The phone only rang a couple of times, before I was disconnected. That seemed odd. I called again, and got the same. Either the number was wrong on the website, or somebody forgot to pay the phone bill. I decided I'd try to stop in after work, see if her coworkers had seen her in the last week.

Hanah only worked a couple of days on the weekend. Even though I couldn't remember what day it was, I was fairly certain I'd worked the last four days. So I had to be getting close to her weekend shifts.

I was just as useless the second half of my day as the first, because it felt like for the first time in days I had a concrete idea of how to track Hanah down, and that made me both excited and anxious.

I even left a few minutes early. I wasn't used to going to her work on foot, and between that, the fog and the setting sun, I had some issues I got turned around. I doubled-back several blocks, and eventually found it, but by then it had closed. The sign said they were open another fifteen minutes, but the shop was most definitely locked up, and the lights were off. I smacked the door several times, out of frustration, really- but on the off-chance anybody answered, I could have claimed it was a knock.

Hell, I would have taken a stern talking to from her boss, if it meant I could get some reassurance- even if it came in the form of him saying she'd missed her last two shifts. At this point, any news would almost have been better than the nothing I'd been marinating in for days.

I walked back home moody.

The way back from Hanah's work changed the direction I approached home from, so I could see the porch from further away than usual. And what I saw on the porch made me run. It was a cigarette, I was sure of it; someone was smoking on my porch.

Hanah didn't smoke all the time, but when she was anxious, say after a fight that upset her so much she disappeared for days- yeah, she'd probably been a chimney that whole time. I almost slowed up, when I considered the other possibilities, that it was maybe somebody else, like a policeman, here to tell me they needed to ask me questions about her disappearance.

But it felt like no matter who it was, it was going to be better than not knowing any of it.

Just as I got to where my car was parked, my eyes adjusted enough to the light that I could tell who was smoking on my porch. It was Gram.

?Is that safe?? I called, as I walked up the steps to the porch.

?It's a little late for them to kill me,? she said, and chuckled, though the chuckle ended in a fit of coughing.

Gram always kind of reminded me of Hanah, in a lot of the little ways- like how they both did most of their smoking when they were upset. ?How are things?? I asked.

?Oh, you know,? she started.

?What's bothering you?? I asked.

?How much do you remember about the night your grandfather left us??

?Not really anything,? I said. ?He left.?

?So, you don't remember any of it, then,? she said, and something about her tone chilled me to the bone.

11/09/13

  12:23:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1020 words  
Categories: Twist

Twist: Chapter 8

Work was empty when I got there. The door was open, bolted so that it couldn't shut. It seemed like that was probably overemphasizing how unsecured our building was- in lieu of posting a sign that read, ?Door unlocked, please come steal our five year old business machines.? Actually, there probably wasn't anything worth stealing up there, now that I thought about it. But I tried to close the bolt, anyway, because my desk was near enough to the door that this was going to make me colder. It was stuck. I cranked on it until my hand ached, but it wouldn't budge.

I zipped up my sweater the rest of the way- at least I'd brought that.

I settled in and started to work. Working with the internet as much as I do, it can be easy to slide into personal surfing on company time. Without really thinking about it, I kept finding myself surfing websites that might have let me camp. First it was a weather site, checking if it was going to rain this weekend. Next a DoT website, checking to see if there were any roads closed. And finally Parks and Rec, checking for any closures. I resolved that if whatever was happening with Hanah was still happening come the weekend, I'd get out of town, and camp. It wasn't like she could get more pissed at me.

But that made me realize I didn't know what day it was. Was it already the weekend? Was that why the office was so dead?

I shivered. And I realized I didn't really want to go camping- not in this cold, in this fog. I just didn't want to go home. Because home was just as empty as the office- the difference being I liked it when I was alone at the office. Just thinking about camping had been a distraction, to keep me from the very real possibility that she wasn't going to be home tonight, either.

I didn't have it in me to go home for lunch. Hanah wasn't going to be there, and I just couldn't face that empty house. Not yet. Not when I knew I'd have to go through it all over again after work.

Thankfully, I had packed a granola bar and a fruit snack in my jacket. It wasn't filling by any stretch, but it kept me from getting woozy.

My stomach was growling by the end of work. I was glad not to have any coworkers around to hear it.

I didn't want to go home. I thought about stopping at a Burgerville, and my stomach grumbled its agreement. But we were broke. And the last thing I needed was to get home to find Hanah there, maybe even cooking, only to tell her I'd splurged on eating out without her. And maybe, just a little, eating out was one of our things, so doing it without her would have felt even more lonesome than not having her at home.

But it wasn't just loneliness, anymore, either. She'd never been gone this long before. I was worried. Worried enough to call her aunt, though that had never gone well for me. Every ring of the phone I heard Minnie's voice, lecturing louder and louder, about the things she thought I should be doing with my life, always couching them in the phrase, 'if you want to make Hanah happy.'

I was gripping my phone so tight I was surprised it didn't shatter. But it also didn't ring through. Instead, I got dumped into voicemail. ?Minnie,? I started. ?It's Harvey. It's been days since I saw Hanah. Since it's her, you know, that's not terribly surprising, But it's been long enough I'm getting concerned. I'm not asking you to tell me where she is, or if she's there. But it's to the point where I'm not sure if I should be filing a missing persons report. I just... I want to know she's okay. If you can tell me that, great. If not... just call me back, okay?? I hung up.

I was lonelier than I realized, because I actually wanted Minnie to call- even if it was just to berate me. And she would. I felt like I panicked when I mentioned missing persons. Hanah got upset when I called her to make sure she was okay. I couldn't imagine the shit she'd flip if I actually filed a police report. But I was worried.

The sun was still up when I got home, which gave me the opportunity to procrastinate on finding out if Hanah was home. The door wasn't locked, so I didn't have to get out my keys, which was usually what told Leroy I was home. I grabbed the wiper blades from inside the door and carried them to my car.

It was cold enough I was shivering, and it was rapidly getting dark. I also had next to no idea what the hell I was doing. So I knew that I was doing it badly- that, and it was taking me twice as long as when Alan helped me install the last set- and I was pretty sure Alan was an idiot when it came to car stuff. But I got them installed, and turned the key in the ignition far enough to make sure they were working.

I asked myself if I needed anything from the store. I thought we had milk, and that the bread hadn't gone bad yet. I tried making myself crave any number of things, just to have a few minutes more of an excuse not to go inside, not to find out I was still alone. But nothing worked, nothing distracted me enough that I didn't need to know.

I jangled my keys outside the door as I slid them back into my pocket. Leroy didn't respond. I let myself in. ?Hanah?? I called half-heartedly. ?Gram??

Silence still. I microwaved myself a frozen burrito, and only ate half of it. I fell asleep to Ren & Stimpy reruns, trying not to think about how much Hanah loved that show.

11/08/13

  12:21:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 934 words  
Categories: Twist

Twist: Chapter 7

The fog was worse, nearly as hard to see through as the darkness the night before. I looked at the wiper in my hand, and pondered spending fifteen minutes in the cold to avoid a ten minute walk.

Or maybe twelve. Gram talking about the park had me feeling nostalgic, too, and it was only a block out of my way.

I crossed the street, passed my car, and passed the big leaf bin. Curiosity got the better of me, and I circled around it. It was already a third of the way filled with leaves, and the sidewalks were a little clearer.

The houses on the side of the street between the bin and the park were old, if not as old as Gram's house. They hadn't been kept up since my childhood, and were a faded white and dried-blood red. I walked under the pines that lined the concrete basketball court at the park's entrance. Cones crunched underfoot.

I remembered having pinecone fights as a kid in the park. They were just heavy enough to fly straight, but not quite heavy enough to do any real damage. Not like the snowball fights.

I sighed. Because the last snowball fight I had was just last winter, with Hanah. It started with me throwing snow for Leroy to chase. He hated the wet, but loved the snow, and his fur flowed around him as he ran through it.

Then Hanah hit me from behind with a snowball. And when I turned towards her, a second one glanced off my cheek. ?Oh, you're so going to get it,? I said, and packed my snowball harder. She gave me a come-hither motion with her hand, then scooped up more snow to compact.

I let fly, and it hit her in the leg, and Leroy ran to her to try and fetch the snowball that hit her. She threw hers at me, and it went wide, but Leroy still gave chase, and pounced into a pile of snow jaws-first. He got up, and looked at me, grinning and panting, then shook off.

We played for the better part of an hour, then went inside and made cocoa, and huddled together under a blanket for warmth. I don't know if I'd ever loved Hanah more than that day. But there wasn't snow on the ground now, though the fog gave the world the look of a light dusting. Through it, I thought I could make out a woman, laying face-down in the grass.

It wasn't Hanah. I knew it couldn't be. It was probably Gram- but I didn't really want to know. So I took the longer path around the park, to keep my distance. She was naked.

I tried to focus on other things. Like the new playground equipment, surrounded by a sea of bark chips. I missed the old playground equipment. It had been like somebody's kid designed a pirate ship, and the neighborhood did their best to turn that into something physical; it ended up just two platforms, with a chain link net up the back side. And sand, too. Sand absorbed a fall, and was fun to land in. Bark chips stabbed, and left splinters, and weren't much nicer to land on than earth.

At least the swings had survived- although, without sand to break a fall, it wasn't such a great idea to do a kamikaze bomb from the top of a swing arc. I thought about going for a swing, but I had enough issues with my ankles as it was- and it was cold, and I needed to get to work.

When I turned back in the direction of work, I noticed that the body was moving. I could tell it was Gram, and despite myself I started toward her. ?I knew you'd remember,? she said with a smile.

I didn't acknowledge it. Letting my dead grandmother influence the path I walked to work was one thing- letting her gloat about it was another. But she knew, either way. I knew she knew. We walked the rest of the way through the park in silence. I steered us close to the trees, planted strategically along that edge of the park to muffle the sounds of the freeway. I remembered climbing as a kid, to look over the fence, and see the world beyond the one I knew.

It made me miss camping. I hadn't gone since last summer. That was because Hanah hated it. Or really, she hated the way I camped. I used tarps, and rope, a hatchet and digging tools, and whatever I could find outside, tree branches, or logs, whatever, to build my own shelter. The only real, modern amenity I brought was a sleeping bag, but even that was a cheap little $20 one.

Hanah grew up poor in Alaska, so she had her fill of roughing it just making it to adulthood. So when she camped, she wanted to do it in a store-bought tent, with thermal showers, with hot dogs prepared on a propane stove. She didn't like camping my way- refused to go, in fact, but she got pissed if I went camping without her.

So it had been a while. I kept making plans, just to get away for a day- a night, really, and they kept falling through.

Gram was staring at me, thoughtfully, smiling. As the path joined the sidewalk, she turned half towards the house. ?Think I'll head home. But I'll see you there.? I didn't respond but that... made me feel a little less lonely. Extra crazy. But less lonely.

  09:33:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 732 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Peter And The Wolf

Levy tried to whistle. He thought he remembered the music from the little Disney cartoon as a kid, but he was distracted. He couldn't remember the name of the composer. Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, he was pretty certain it was a Russian.

Then he wondered if whatever it was that he was looking for would hear him, and he abruptly stopped. Prokofiev. The composer was Prokofiev.

And what the hell, exactly, was he chasing after? Had Rica been right? Was it a wolf?

Or was she crazy- or at least stressed and seeing things- and Clod was right, there was just a stowaway onboard?

He stopped walking, took a breath, and shut his eyes. He reminded himself that he wasn't hunting anything. He was looking for his lost crewmates, Rica and Alisa. The Bradbury in his hand was only meant as a last line of defense, just in case the stowaway, or wolf or whatever, came after him.

There was another reason he hadn't let Martin go to look. There was an area of the ship that didn't have sensors built into it. A crew member in those areas would drop off the grid. Levy knew that, because he went there, sometimes, to be alone.

That area housed storage for equipment that was going to descend to the Martian surface, that would form the ground crew living quarters, and was scheduled to be left behind as the first sections of a Martian base.

The storage area was on a cylinder, like the bullet housing for a revolver. Only the storage shell that was attached to the Perseus was pressurized and heated. Levy knew there were ducts between the shells- one that theoretically could allow for travel between them. But nothing human could survive in them.

Levy slid his hand over the top of the Bradbury, and it changed color from red to yellow. He put his thumb onto the safety, and it glowed green.

Levy hit the wall panel, trying to activate the lights. Nothing happened. ?Ship, lights,? Levy said, trying the voice commands. Again, nothing. ?Fuck,? he whispered.

The storage area was cold, which meant that area wasn't in direct sunlight at the moment. It also meant Levy could see his breath. That was how he realized he was breathing heavily.

?You know, I kind of volunteered for this to impress Clod, but a thought occurs to me,? he said aloud, ?dead men don't get chicks. They also don't tell tales- but that's mostly because men tell tales to get chicks, and if we can't get chicks anyway, what's the point in tale telling??

He hit a button on his shirt, next to his communicator, and a small light emitting diode fired a cone of visibility in front of him.

The storage area used the same air as the rest of the Perseus, but didn't have any dedicated vents, so the air didn't circulate as well. Because of that, there was a snowstorm of dust. He grimaced, knowing that dust is mostly human skin. He thought about holding his breath, but decided, ?I've been manly all day, so far; might as well suck it up. Heh.?

He heard breathe coming, labored. His eyes scanned the dark floor. ?Crap,? he said, ?we wasn't I born in the future, so the lights would sync with my eye movement?? He angled his torso so his chest pointed where he was trying to look, and the blade of light cut across the floor. He could make out shoes, and feminine legs.

?Ric?? he called out, hopefully. He got two steps into a run towards her, then stopped. There was more breathing, lighter, off to his side. He had that tingling sensation, that he was being watched, and he suspected the moment he turned his body, he was going to be attached. ?Clever girl,? he whispered. He turned his head, and scanned the darkness. His eyes had adjusted enough he could make out a rough outline. It was roughly human size, and he could make out wild hair- far more hair than either Alisa or Rica had ever had. He was staring at the attacker, he knew it.

?Come on, you hairy bitch,? he said, pivoting his body, and bringing up the Bradbury to fire. The light swiveled with him, and he caught a glimpse of fur, and caught sight of the body leaping for him. He fired.

11/07/13

  12:21:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1083 words  
Categories: Twist

Twist: Chapter 6

Because it was raining and dark, I decided it was worth waiting to install the new blades until morning.

I tried to temper my hopes that Hanah might finally be home, and failed. I jangled my keys as I walked up the steps to our porch, trying to get Leroy's attention. I usually didn't like that he barked every time I came home, but I wanted more than anything to hear him.

By the time I got to the knob and turned, I'd given up hope entirely. ?Hanah?? I asked, but it was perfunctory. She wasn't there. She was gone.

I called her phone. It rang through, for probably a dozen rings, before it dumped me in her voicemail. I hated leaving them, since I hated listening to my own. So I texted instead. I typed out, ?I?m sorry. But please let me know that you?re okay.? I frowned. She could be a bit of a free spirit, but she knew how to take care of herself. Of course she was okay, and typing it like that, it only made me sound more clingy, and cloying, or as she insisted, since she seemed incapable of telling the difference between them, controlling, and I just wanted to hear from her. I didn't want to drive her further away, so I changed the ?you're? to ?we're.?

She didn't answer. I told myself it was late, though it wasn't, really. I found something on Netflix I'd been meaning to watch, then managed to pay no attention to it at all, until I fell asleep.

I slept worse tonight, without Hanah or Leroy. Something just felt off- wrong.

I woke to noise in the kitchen- very distinctly the sounds of cabinets opening and pots shuffled around. I ran down the stairs to the kitchen, my heart beating faster as I anticipated Leroy jumping up to greet me, and Hanah, making breakfast.

It wasn?t her.

?Where?s your coffeemaker?? Gram asked. She was still naked. Blood drooled from her head wound, and dripped onto the floor.

?You?re,? I pointed to my forehead. She grabbed the towel off the stove handle and dabbed at it, then kneeled down on all fours to wipe the blood from the faux wood.

She looked up at me, and saw the horrified look on my face. ?Oh grow up; we?ve all got butts. You?ll be lucky if yours looks half this nice when you?re half my age.? I shook my head, still staring at the rag. ?Oh, what are you worried about, me getting an infection?? I shuddered- though fair enough. ?And where?s your goddamn coffee maker? I can?t find it; you kids have got too much clutter in my house.?

?And I?m pretty sure there was nothing in this house when you lived here. But it isn?t your house anymore. You left it to Alan.?

She frowned. ?I did? Hmm.? Then she shrugged. ?It wasn?t empty. It was just less cluttered.? Especially near the end, she barely kept anything in the house. She said it was because she was never hungry, and hated throwing away what had been good food. It annoyed me, because it had made it harder to cook for her.

?And I don?t think we have a coffee pot- though you could make some tea.?

She sighed, and walked to where Hanah kept all of her tea supplies. I didn?t really drink the stuff. She filled a little pot Hanah painted by hand with a friend of hers, and poured it into a pot on the stove and turned it on. While waiting for her pot to boil, she stood on her toes to see out the window into the back yard. ?Looks good,? she said. ?I miss laying in the grass.?

I frowned, because I thought she meant where I?d mowed over her. ?Do you remember picnicking in the park across the street?? she asked. ?You, and Alan?s kids. I think I could have spent my whole life laying in that grass and been happy.?

?My dog pees in that grass,? I said.

?That?s the gamble you take, but that?s life. Sometimes you lay in the warm grass in the sun, and it?s heaven. And sometimes you wind up with a back soaked in piss- but so long as you try to tell yourself it could be dew it isn?t so bad.?

?You remember us playing basketball there? It was only a few years ago. Before I got?? I think she means sick, but it?s hard for me not to put ?dead? into that blank. It?s hard for me to play along. ?Is that silence a ?no???

?I?m just not very enthused about having a conversation with what amounts to the personification of my mental issues.? She shrugs, and turns back towards her boiling water. I?m pretty sure my Gram was feistier than that.

She poured the roiling water into the teapot, and dropped in a bag. ?Sure I can?t persuade you?? she asked.

?No thanks,? I said. ?Think I need to get ready for work.? I?d slept in- though it wasn?t so late I had to get ready, so much as I wanted to not be talking to my dead grandmother this morning.

?Suit yourself,? she said, and sniffed under the teapot lid. ?Smells delicious.?

I knew from experience this morning that none of my clothes were clean. The next shirt on the pile was a little more ripe, but no more ripe than walking to work in what starts out as a chilly morning but ends with the sun blaring down on me- leaving me basking in cold but not terribly stinky sweat for half the morning.

I had a few minutes this morning; maybe it would make sense to at least get a load started. I glanced at the stairs leading down towards the laundry room, and I knew I didn?t want to descend them. Besides, if I stuck around without talking to her, I?d probably hurt Gram?s feelings- not that a hallucination technically had feelings- but at a minimum she certainly could look the emotionally wounded part and make me feel bad.

I skipped an English muffin this morning, if for no other reason than I was sure I wouldn?t be able to not look at Gram?s muffin-top while it toasted- though I don?t know if it really counts as a muffin-top if the muffin isn?t in its wrapper. Following that thought process through to its conclusion did pretty much murder my appetite, at least.

11/06/13

  11:30:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1039 words  
Categories: Twist

Twist: Chapter 5

I didn't want to walk back to work in the rain, so I decided to take the car. I'd been good this week already- I could forego the exercise. I flicked on the wipers, then turned the key in the ignition. The engine didn't turn over, but the wipers started going. They spread what had already fallen on the windshield like it was Vaseline and mayonnaise; they were doing an effective job at smearing, but not so much at wiping. ?Crap,? I said. I was going to need new wipers.

I pulled the key out of the ignition. ?Looks like I'm getting that exercise after all.? I turned and raised my hand where Gram had been standing, and when I realized she wasn't there I felt foolish, and put it down.

The rain stopped after a few blocks, and I was thankful at least for that.

The office was empty, with the lights off. I'd seen that happen before, when the phones were down, and the phone company couldn't make it until the next day.

I worked a few hours, longer than I intended, but not so long I worried Ben would give me a talking to about trying to milk the overtime again.

On the way home I decided stop at the auto supply store. It was a few blocks out of my way, but not too far.

The store was dark, lit by a single fluorescent fixture. I checked my watch. It was five til six, and I checked the sticker beside the door. It said they closed at 6. I shut my eyes as I pushed on the door, expecting it to be locked. But it opened.

There wasn't anybody behind the counter. I didn't know the store well enough to know where the wiper blades would be, so I paced down the aisles, past the engine oil, an aisle filled with other fluids- power steering, brake, wiper fluid- another filled with adhesives, screws. I turned down that aisle, and followed it to the end, and a wall filled with spray paints and primers. A small section of blades was there. I found one for Toyotas in my year range, and jogged it back up to the counter.

The door was still ajar from when I entered, but the counter was still unmanned. ?Hello?? I called. ?I'm ready to pay.?

There was no answer. I waited another minute, then I wandered back down to where I retrieved the blade, checked the price, and turned back towards the register. I added up a rough equivalent of sales tax, overcompensating by a couple of points just in case I had the math wrong.

Still, the counter was empty. ?Is there anybody still here?? Still no response. I checked my watch. It was a full ten minutes after the store was supposed to close. I wondered if some employee had perhaps forgotten to lock the front door- and then I panicked. What if they forgot the lock, but remembered the alarm? What if they police were already on their way. This would look exceedingly bad, especially with me holding a wiper blade.

I swallowed. I could abandon the blade, and just hope it didn't rain the next day, or leave a little over exact change on the counter. My head was pounding, and the migraine had come back hard enough that this felt like the most stressful and difficult decision of my entire life. The only thing I was certain of was that I couldn't stand around all night waiting to make the decision. Thunder crackled off in the distance, and the sky unleashed a torrent of rain on the parking lot. That seemed like a persuasive enough argument to me for buying the blade and going home.

I grabbed a small pad and pen from the counter, which I assumed clerks used to write down the name of a part to retrieve from the stacks on the other side of the counter. I scribbled the brand, price and serial number of the blade I was taking, then stacked the money on top of it.

?Anyone?? I called one last time. Still nothing. ?Okay,? I announced, ?I'm buying a set of wiper blades. I left cash plus tax for it on the counter. I'm not stealing- I just don't think I can wait around while whatever's happening here happens. So.? I turned towards the door, half-expecting to see police standing there with their guns drawn, and their car with its flashing lights right behind them.

But the doorway was empty. I walked out into the wet night alone.

The auto parts store was part of a small strip mall, along with a little convenience store and a gardening tool store. They were still open, their lights still on. I thought about going inside, to get something warm, and see if the rain stopped. But then I worried about someone pointing the police- if they were coming- to the guy sitting stupidly twenty feet from the store he may have entered quasi-legally.

So I marched home, double-timing it. The rain was fatter, and fell heavier than before, and this time there was no reprieve. And I think that's what finally brought me to my senses.

I heaved a thick sigh, and turned back towards the store. I couldn't just leave the store with the blades- even if I left the right amount of cash. I mean, what if some less scrupulous customer tried the door after me- or what if I hadn't got the door shut all the way, practically inviting that type of person inside.

I didn't hesitate this time as I approached the door, just shoved to get inside. But it didn't budge. I tried it again. It was locked. I peered inside. I could see the counter, and the spot where I thought I'd left my note, and the money. It looked empty, but in the low light inside the store, it was hard to be sure.

I frowned, and nudged the door with my foot, just to be certain it was locked, then looked around, to see if I needed to feel embarrassed.

But I was alone. And I was starting to get used to that idea.

11/05/13

  11:24:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1095 words  
Categories: Twist

Twist: Chapter 4

The worst I?d ever hallucinated was an old woman on the street. She was clearly insane, jabbering at me with the rapid fire of a Mamet play, and about as coherent as his latter-day politics, spittle flying everywhere. It freaked me the hell out. It freaked Hanah the hell out, too- because I got into a screaming match with a person who wasn?t there.

But they didn?t talk to me, not in any intelligible way. This was different. It was worse.

?Well?? my grandmother asked again. I remembered that tone of voice. She always thought she knew exactly the right thing, and held that knowledge over your head.

?I?m not apologizing to my brain damage.?

?I?ve always preferred the term ?family;? it?s less immediately insulting.? That was exactly the kind of thing my grandmother would have said. ?But I know you didn't mean it. And I imagine it would have been hard to see me, with the grass this tall.?

?Yeah, speaking of things growing wildly out of control,? I nodded in the direction of her more than 70s bush, ?Why are you naked??

?You seem to think I?m a hallucination. So the better question is why are you picturing me naked??

?Is talking to you going to be as pointless as doing a ?Who?s on First? routine with an owl??

?That depends,? she said with a smile, ?on the owl's comedic timing.?

?Okay,? I said, and rubbed my eyes. I frustrated. ?I can't do this. In fact, I'm not going to.?

She sighed. ?When has that ever helped?? she asked.

?When has embracing insanity and just running with it ever gone well??

?You're not crazy, Harvey,? she reached out to touch my forehead, and I pulled away. ?Oh,? she said quietly; it seemed I hurt her feelings. ?I know this... isn't ideal. But you and I, we're used to coping.? I frowned. ?Your grandfather?? I had no idea what she was getting at. ?Hmm.?

?Jim was... a complicated man. Or maybe he was a very uncomplicated man. He was abusive, physically, and these days, I realize emotionally, too. But we were from a generation where that was, not acceptable, but accepted as something that happened. Divorce, by contrast, wasn't. Good girls didn't get divorced.?

?And it was almost a badge of honor, accepting his abuse- staying with him despite his flaws. But I couldn't accept it when he cheated on me. I'm not sure how many times, how often- because it wasn't until the very end that I caught him, putting a new condom in his wallet. I was long past menopause by that point. I told him calmly that he would end it, or I'd divorce him.?

?Rather than honor his marital vows, or rather than even admit they'd always been a sham, he left us.? The last part I remembered. But I'd been very young when it happened, young enough that I thought my dream about Grampa's head in the toilet meant I was psychic, because I knew their marriage was in the crapper- no pun intended. But all it really meant was that I picked up on them fighting more, even if my young mind couldn't quite process it as anything more than a deranged nightmare.

?I need to mow,? I said, because I did. She nodded, and sat on the edge of the patio.

The mower started easier this time, because the engine was still warm from earlier. I mowed the area around the patio first, then the area near to the fence. When it came time to do the area near the bamboo, I hesitated.

I felt even stranger, avoiding the spot now. I was hallucinating my dead grandmother with her face half mowed off- and conversing with her at that. A vague feeling of uneasiness over a patch of dirt kind of paled in comparison. I told myself that maybe it made sense to indulge my worry; I clearly had other crap on my plate, so I steered the mower around the spot, as if it was intentional.

?You missed a spot,? she told me.

?The bamboo collects moisture,? I lied. ?If I mow under there I'm going to get soaked, and I was planning on wearing these clothes back to work.?

?Hmm,? she said, and I could tell from her pursed lips that she didn't believe me. But at least she let it drop. She didn't follow me when I left the back to mow the front yard next. Near the end, just as I was starting to sweat, it started to rain, lightly enough that I was able to finish with just a light, almost pleasant misting.

The old willow in the front yard was half dead, and had been for ten years. Its trunk forked a few feet off the ground, and one of the forks, the one nearest the house, got an infection, or fungus or something. Its bark came off in chunks, and its wood became almost like cardboard, or Styrofoam. We thought we were going to have to cut the whole thing down. Alan came out, with a chainsaw, and cut down the sick side. Then he started to cut into the other, and found it was entirely healthy.

As I turned the mower towards the back yard, I noticed Effie sitting on the dead stump, with her legs spread around the missing trunk of the tree. ?You remember when we cut this down?? I nodded. She sighed.

?You paid Alan to,? I said. ?And you were so mad, because he just left the branches where they fell.?

?That's right,? she said, and threw her leg over the trunk, like she was dismounting a horse. ?And then you and some of the other neighbor kids snatched them up, and started whipping each other with them.?

?And you stopped us. You said we'd put somebody's eye out.? I inadvertently glanced at her right eye, swollen and darker, now.

?It seems I was right- except about the cause and the timing,? she said, and smiled. ?But didn't you have to get back to work??

?Yeah, probably. Boss wasn't in, earlier, so aside from the time clock, I don't think I'm answering to anyone but myself today. But I do have to cover my hours.? It was hard to understand, but I was reluctant to leave. I knew she wasn't really my Gram, but... it was the closer than I'd had since she died.

As if to make the decision for me, it started to rain. ?You go,? she soothed. ?Don't worry. I'll be around.?

11/04/13

  12:47:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1709 words  
Categories: Twist

Twist: Chapter 3

I slept better than usual. I loved sharing a bed, but it was impossible to ignore the fact that having another person- two, if you counted Leroy- tossing and turning, made it harder to wake up rested. Waking up alone was the crappiest part.

The day started uneventfully. It felt exactly like the last day, only more lonesome. I missed Hanah more acutely, and my dread that something might have happened to her grew in equal proportion. And there was something else.

Hanah had a history of abuse. Sad to say, that isn?t as rare a thing as it ought to be. But it gave her a, maybe vulnerability is the right word. But she was easily threatened. Sometimes just by dint of being taller than her, and broader, if I so much as spoke loudly, I frightened her.

And we were fighting. I remembered that much. God. Had I done something to scare her? I remember once growling at a news story I forget even the vagaries of- and I turned and she was shaking like a dog in a thunder storm.

That made me feel worse- though it gave me something else to dwell on, instead of just the migraine.

On the walk into work, I passed the house that nearly burned down twenty years ago. I remembered it, because Grampa Jim wanted to buy it as a fixer-upper. He figured either it could be an upgrade, or that he could flip it. Then my parents died, and he and Grandma Effie suddenly had another mouth to feed. It sat that way, a burnt-out husk of a home, for nearly a decade, and even now, when I looked at it, all fixed up, I could see the charred patterns around the doors and windows where the fire scarred the building.

I thought I saw something in the bushes behind the house- no, someone- cowering, curling into an inhumanly small ball. I immediately wondered if it was Hanah, but when I tried to focus through my headache, the figure was gone. My mind played that trick a half dozen times on the way in, and each time I became more unnerved that I was seeing someone who clearly wasn?t there- if only for a moment.

The office was dead, but I was used to that. Most of management stopped in only sporadically, and the only people who kept any truly regular hours were the CSRs who worked the phones. And their desks were sectioned off in such a way that all I saw was their divider wall from my desk; if I strained, sometimes I could make out a pair of legs beneath the desk, but more often than not I didn?t. There wasn?t much overlap in our responsibilities.

I worked until just before noon, and took lunch a few minutes early. I called Hanah, and she didn?t pick up, so I texted her that I was heading home for lunch, and I?d make enough of something for both of us. In the back of my mind I wondered if maybe Hanah showed up for lunch yesterday, then got pissed all over again when I didn?t make it.

I knew it was probably paranoid. But Ben didn?t like to pay overtime, so I knew I was going to have to work a shorter day to kill the extra time I stayed over yesterday, and it helped justify taking an extra-long lunch.

I cooked a boxed pasta, and was surprised by how little time that killed. I wasn?t really hungry, and realizing that I was trying to use pasta as bait to get Hanah to come home only made me feel worse. I looked in the back yard. If anything, the grass there was even more unruly than in the front.

I sighed. When Grandma Effie died, Uncle Alan got the house. Since Alan already had a house, he rented it to me for what was relatively cheap. Alan had kids, but they hated him, and he wasn?t a healthy guy. He told me once that if I kept the place up, he planned to leave the house to me. I didn?t believe him- he was the latest in a line of reprobates, and I wouldn?t put it past him to dangle that carrot in my face just so I?d mow the lawn a little more frequently. But I wanted the home. With my student loan debt, at my age, it was probably my only chance to ever own one- my only chance at some degree of financial security. Besides, it needed doing, and at least it wasn?t time I was losing with Hanah, and judging by the plump, dark clouds, it was probably my last chance to before a monsoon.

?Screw it,? I said to myself, and turned off the stove. I wasn?t eating, and it didn?t seem like Hanah, would, either, so there wasn?t any point keeping the pasta warm.

I put on a jacket and went outside. The mower started without any trouble. It was a self-propelled model, and hand-me-down from Uncle Alan- though I wasn?t sure if he?d actually handed it to me or if he gave it to the house, but either way, I wasn?t complaining, because it made it easier on my back.

Even though my uncle owned it now, I still defaulted to thinking of it as my grandmother?s house. That was because I lived here with here for nineteen years, until I moved out to have my own place while I went to school. Then she got sick, so I ended up spending most of my time here, anyway, taking care of her, because Alan ?couldn?t.?

The property was large, several acres of trees. I only ever mowed to the rear fence- trying to mow the underbrush beyond was madness. My first pass, I followed along the sidewalk, and skirted the edge of the patio. Then I circled back around the fence line, until I hit the bamboo, and I stopped the mower.

Grass didn?t grow under the bamboo. For whatever reason, Leroy loved to dig there anytime we left him unattended for long. The bald patch looked larger than usual, and the earth looked recently tilled. Even looking at the spot made me uncomfortable, though I had no idea why.

Eventually, I emptied the mower bag, and turned the mower around, away from the bamboo. And that was when I heard it. A thump, as the mower climbed over something, followed by what sounded like the mower blades smacking against muddy clay, then clattering against a rock. I let the lever go, and the mower stopped.

I felt dizzy. I knew I hit something. A dead animal? That was hoping too much. Leroy?

I started to shake, and pulled the mower back.

I saw pink flesh through the too-high grass. A human. A person. I couldn?t breathe. I doubled over, and caught myself on the mower handle, and retched.

?Oh fuck,? I whispered to myself. ?Fuck fuck fuck.?

They hadn?t moved. They didn?t move at all. Not a whisper, not a whimper. I?d a mowed a corpse.

Oh, God- Hanah. I doubled over again, but this time fought the vomit. I was nearly crying.

What was she doing back here? Why was she naked, face-down in the backyard? She wouldn?t have just wandered out here and laid down like that to die. Had someone done this to her? Had I?

The body twitched, and I jumped back. But bodies did that. As the brain started to decompose, the nervous system flipped out, and bodies would jerk all over the place.

But then it moved its hand, deliberately, and planted it firmly into the grass. And it- no, she, if it was moving it as still a she- used the hand to push herself up off the ground.

It wasn?t Hanah. Her hair was too short, her skin too saggy, and wrinkled. But there was something familiar about her, too. ?Ow,? the woman said, still faced away from me, and I knew the voice, smokey, raspy, with a hint of a Midwestern accent I?d never quite nailed down.

?Gram?? I asked.

She turned, and I saw all the damage the mower had done. Thin strips of bloodied flesh that looked like inexpertly sliced deli meat hung from the side of her face, neck and shoulder. Her head hung at a slight angle, and I wondered if the mower cut something important in her neck, because I didn?t remember her holding her head like that. ?That hurt,? she said.

?Gram?? I asked again, because I couldn?t understand it. I?d hallucinated before, but it was always strangers, acting strangely- something always quite off about them. At least, as far as I knew. I supposed it was possible I hallucinated normal people all the time, and just didn?t notice that no one else saw them.

But I had never hallucinated someone I knew- particularly someone I knew to be dead. By the time Effie died, I was working two jobs while going to school, something like 60 hours a week on top of whatever homework I had to get done.

Alan called me at the start of a double shift, with a six hour turn around to the next and classes the day after. She was gone, cremated, before I could even get free. She didn?t want a funeral- didn?t want to waste money having a ceremony for her corpse. I always wondered if Alan just pocketed the money for her cremation, and buried her somewhere on the property; I don?t think I would have put that past him, either. He sold everything. Her clothes. Her jewelry. Everything she owned in the world. He might have sold the house, too, if the market hadn?t just bottomed out- he knew well enough to hold onto the property. He didn?t have a sentimental bone in his body.

I had never hallucinated anyone I knew. But here my dead grandmother was, staring at me. The mower must have grazed her eye, because it was red and milky.

?Well?? she asked. I didn?t hallucinate people I knew. I didn?t. And I sure as hell never hallucinated them talking to me. ?Are you going to apologize for mowing my face??

11/03/13

  12:46:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1709 words  
Categories: Twist

Twist: Chapter 2

I slept better than usual. I loved sharing a bed, but it was impossible to ignore the fact that having another person- two, if you counted Leroy- tossing and turning, made it harder to wake up rested. Waking up alone was the crappiest part.

The day started uneventfully. It felt exactly like the last day, only more lonesome. I missed Hanah more acutely, and my dread that something might have happened to her grew in equal proportion. And there was something else.

Hanah had a history of abuse. Sad to say, that isn?t as rare a thing as it ought to be. But it gave her a, maybe vulnerability is the right word. But she was easily threatened. Sometimes just by dint of being taller than her, and broader, if I so much as spoke loudly, I frightened her.

And we were fighting. I remembered that much. God. Had I done something to scare her? I remember once growling at a news story I forget even the vagaries of- and I turned and she was shaking like a dog in a thunder storm.

That made me feel worse- though it gave me something else to dwell on, instead of just the migraine.

On the walk into work, I passed the house that nearly burned down twenty years ago. I remembered it, because Grampa Jim wanted to buy it as a fixer-upper. He figured either it could be an upgrade, or that he could flip it. Then my parents died, and he and Grandma Effie suddenly had another mouth to feed. It sat that way, a burnt-out husk of a home, for nearly a decade, and even now, when I looked at it, all fixed up, I could see the charred patterns around the doors and windows where the fire scarred the building.

I thought I saw something in the bushes behind the house- no, someone- cowering, curling into an inhumanly small ball. I immediately wondered if it was Hanah, but when I tried to focus through my headache, the figure was gone. My mind played that trick a half dozen times on the way in, and each time I became more unnerved that I was seeing someone who clearly wasn?t there- if only for a moment.

The office was dead, but I was used to that. Most of management stopped in only sporadically, and the only people who kept any truly regular hours were the CSRs who worked the phones. And their desks were sectioned off in such a way that all I saw was their divider wall from my desk; if I strained, sometimes I could make out a pair of legs beneath the desk, but more often than not I didn?t. There wasn?t much overlap in our responsibilities.

I worked until just before noon, and took lunch a few minutes early. I called Hanah, and she didn?t pick up, so I texted her that I was heading home for lunch, and I?d make enough of something for both of us. In the back of my mind I wondered if maybe Hanah showed up for lunch yesterday, then got pissed all over again when I didn?t make it.

I knew it was probably paranoid. But Ben didn?t like to pay overtime, so I knew I was going to have to work a shorter day to kill the extra time I stayed over yesterday, and it helped justify taking an extra-long lunch.

I cooked a boxed pasta, and was surprised by how little time that killed. I wasn?t really hungry, and realizing that I was trying to use pasta as bait to get Hanah to come home only made me feel worse. I looked in the back yard. If anything, the grass there was even more unruly than in the front.

I sighed. When Grandma Effie died, Uncle Alan got the house. Since Alan already had a house, he rented it to me for what was relatively cheap. Alan had kids, but they hated him, and he wasn?t a healthy guy. He told me once that if I kept the place up, he planned to leave the house to me. I didn?t believe him- he was the latest in a line of reprobates, and I wouldn?t put it past him to dangle that carrot in my face just so I?d mow the lawn a little more frequently. But I wanted the home. With my student loan debt, at my age, it was probably my only chance to ever own one- my only chance at some degree of financial security. Besides, it needed doing, and at least it wasn?t time I was losing with Hanah, and judging by the plump, dark clouds, it was probably my last chance to before a monsoon.

?Screw it,? I said to myself, and turned off the stove. I wasn?t eating, and it didn?t seem like Hanah, would, either, so there wasn?t any point keeping the pasta warm.

I put on a jacket and went outside. The mower started without any trouble. It was a self-propelled model, and hand-me-down from Uncle Alan- though I wasn?t sure if he?d actually handed it to me or if he gave it to the house, but either way, I wasn?t complaining, because it made it easier on my back.

Even though my uncle owned it now, I still defaulted to thinking of it as my grandmother?s house. That was because I lived here with here for nineteen years, until I moved out to have my own place while I went to school. Then she got sick, so I ended up spending most of my time here, anyway, taking care of her, because Alan ?couldn?t.?

The property was large, several acres of trees. I only ever mowed to the rear fence- trying to mow the underbrush beyond was madness. My first pass, I followed along the sidewalk, and skirted the edge of the patio. Then I circled back around the fence line, until I hit the bamboo, and I stopped the mower.

Grass didn?t grow under the bamboo. For whatever reason, Leroy loved to dig there anytime we left him unattended for long. The bald patch looked larger than usual, and the earth looked recently tilled. Even looking at the spot made me uncomfortable, though I had no idea why.

Eventually, I emptied the mower bag, and turned the mower around, away from the bamboo. And that was when I heard it. A thump, as the mower climbed over something, followed by what sounded like the mower blades smacking against muddy clay, then clattering against a rock. I let the lever go, and the mower stopped.

I felt dizzy. I knew I hit something. A dead animal? That was hoping too much. Leroy?

I started to shake, and pulled the mower back.

I saw pink flesh through the too-high grass. A human. A person. I couldn?t breathe. I doubled over, and caught myself on the mower handle, and retched.

?Oh fuck,? I whispered to myself. ?Fuck fuck fuck.?

They hadn?t moved. They didn?t move at all. Not a whisper, not a whimper. I?d a mowed a corpse.

Oh, God- Hanah. I doubled over again, but this time fought the vomit. I was nearly crying.

What was she doing back here? Why was she naked, face-down in the backyard? She wouldn?t have just wandered out here and laid down like that to die. Had someone done this to her? Had I?

The body twitched, and I jumped back. But bodies did that. As the brain started to decompose, the nervous system flipped out, and bodies would jerk all over the place.

But then it moved its hand, deliberately, and planted it firmly into the grass. And it- no, she, if it was moving it as still a she- used the hand to push herself up off the ground.

It wasn?t Hanah. Her hair was too short, her skin too saggy, and wrinkled. But there was something familiar about her, too. ?Ow,? the woman said, still faced away from me, and I knew the voice, smokey, raspy, with a hint of a Midwestern accent I?d never quite nailed down.

?Gram?? I asked.

She turned, and I saw all the damage the mower had done. Thin strips of bloodied flesh that looked like inexpertly sliced deli meat hung from the side of her face, neck and shoulder. Her head hung at a slight angle, and I wondered if the mower cut something important in her neck, because I didn?t remember her holding her head like that. ?That hurt,? she said.

?Gram?? I asked again, because I couldn?t understand it. I?d hallucinated before, but it was always strangers, acting strangely- something always quite off about them. At least, as far as I knew. I supposed it was possible I hallucinated normal people all the time, and just didn?t notice that no one else saw them.

But I had never hallucinated someone I knew- particularly someone I knew to be dead. By the time Effie died, I was working two jobs while going to school, something like 60 hours a week on top of whatever homework I had to get done.

Alan called me at the start of a double shift, with a six hour turn around to the next and classes the day after. She was gone, cremated, before I could even get free. She didn?t want a funeral- didn?t want to waste money having a ceremony for her corpse. I always wondered if Alan just pocketed the money for her cremation, and buried her somewhere on the property; I don?t think I would have put that past him, either. He sold everything. Her clothes. Her jewelry. Everything she owned in the world. He might have sold the house, too, if the market hadn?t just bottomed out- he knew well enough to hold onto the property. He didn?t have a sentimental bone in his body.

I had never hallucinated anyone I knew. But here my dead grandmother was, staring at me. The mower must have grazed her eye, because it was red and milky.

?Well?? she asked. I didn?t hallucinate people I knew. I didn?t. And I sure as hell never hallucinated them talking to me. ?Are you going to apologize for mowing my face??

11/02/13

  11:15:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 2144 words  
Categories: Twist

Twist: Chapter 1

Most people don't worry about finding a head in their toilet, but I'm not most people. It goes back to my childhood, and the realest nightmare I ever had, about finding my Grampa?s head in the toilet.

When I peed- then as now- it didn't sound quite right- no splish splash. I was sitting because I felt like I had more to do, and maybe I did, but the sound stopped me cold. It was my first pee of the morning; sometimes things get kind of mushed to the side, and that maybe explained the sound- but that explanation fell shy of convincing.

I wanted not to look; I?m not crazy, and looking for heads in toilets is crazy. But I couldn?t not know. I tried to look into the bowl through my legs, subtly, like maybe there was a rational explanation for it. But there was too much shadow, and the angle wasn't quite right. A shiver went down my spine when I caught the edge of a square of toilet paper clinging to the side of the porcelain from the corner of my eye, and assumed it was a shadow cast by a head. I forced myself up, and pulled up my underpants; if I was discovering a human head in my toilet, I wasn't going to expose myself to it.

But the toilet was empty. It was always empty. Well, okay. I, I see things. So sometimes it doesn't look empty. Sometimes I see a man in the corner of a room, glaring at me, or yelling at me. Sometimes it's a woman, sitting on the edge of my bed, petting my dog.

?Leroy?? I called for the mutt. He usually couldn't wait for me to go to the bathroom. He had a toilet-licking problem. We kept the seat down, so he couldn't drink from it, but he still liked to lick the edge of the bowl, really jam his tongue between the seat and the porcelain. It wasn't something I encouraged, but without posting a guard on the bathroom at all times, there was no way I'd be able to break him of it. Hell, it was hard to get him to stop when I was sitting on the seat.

Sometimes he stayed in bed with Hanah. She was still in school, finishing up a business administration degree, so she didn't have to be out of the house as early as I did. She wasn't great about letting him outside, but she did usually walk him before leaving, so I wasn't terribly worried.

I woke up on the couch this morning with a massive headache. That probably meant my back was bothering me. Or it maybe meant we had a fight- though usually she went to the couch as a way of punishing me. I strained to remember what we might have fought about, but the harder I tried to remember it, the more piercingly my head hurt; it felt like the onset of another migraine.

I hated fighting with her. Maybe our life wasn't idyllic, but it kind of had been before we moved in together, and even the crap we fought about- it just felt petty and small.

But I didn't have time to worry. I needed to start getting ready for work. I showered, then put an English muffin in the toaster. I didn't want to get dressed, because that meant going into the bedroom, and disturbing Hanah and the dog. On the best of days I hated waking them up, but on a day after we had a fight, there was a decent chance that was going to be heavy in the air. There was a chance the fight might reignite.

I also knew work wasn't going to tolerate me coming into work without clothes on, so I opened the bedroom door. It was empty- no Hanah or Leroy. That confirmed the fight. I sighed, and tried to remember the night before. I thought we watched some TV, and... that was all I could remember. No knock-down drag-out at all.

Maybe she just had an appointment, or even an interview. That thought brightened me up. She was going to school, but she wasn't completely full-time; her working weekends only just made ends meet, and subsistence living put an extra strain on us.

I walked across the room to my dresser, and opened up the drawer. No clean underwear. Or socks. I checked the closet, and there were no clean pants, or even work casual work shirts. My work frowned on clothes that were too dressy, or too casual, so there was a sweet spot. And in my closet, that sweet spot was entirely depleted.

That kick-started my memory- we did fight. She was pissed about me leaving piles of clothes in the laundry room. I shut my eyes, and through the pain haze I heard her, but muffled, like she was talking to me from under the covers.

?I?m not your mother, and I?m not your fucking housewife.? She thought the piles meant I expected her to do my laundry, which set off her feminist alarm, because I was trying to pigeonhole her into doing women's work.

I wanted to defend myself, though I couldn?t remember if I had. I hadn?t actually expected her to wash my clothes - it just made more sense leaving them piled there than our bedroom floor- especially since I suspected Leroy liked to piss in them rather than get his paws wet outside.

It was a continuation, or maybe an escalation of an ongoing fight. It centered mostly around the fact that she wanted the house cleaner than I did- cleaner than I cared to work to make it. It was a vestige of my college days, working full time and going to school. I was just burned out.

And like with the laundry, she seemed to think that I expected her to make up the difference. I think she also felt like I looked down on her, because I worked more when I was taking classes with her than she did now. But I was also several years older. I may not have ever finished school, had I not met her.

We were both past the age where people are supposed to have graduated. But that was because we were working through school, paying bills as best we could. But I had stagnated. I went to school because the only job I could get wasn't good enough, but I didn't have a major- I didn?t have a direction, period.

I met her in a history class. She was so ambitious and hard-working and grown up. It was easy being smitten, and from there, realizing that I wasn?t good enough for her. Not like I was. She deserved someone who could be her equal, her partner. In a way, she gave me direction when I was listless.

So the fact that I was two and a half years further along in my degree didn't mean anything- that was happenstance. I didn?t look down on her; between her school, and her schoolwork, and her weekend job, she was working as often as I was.

But Hanah wasn't here. Reminiscing didn't change that, and it also didn't get me a change of clothes.

I knew there was a pile of clothes in the front room. When I felt like unwinding, like the day was hard enough that I needed to tear away the vestiges (and vestments) of the working world and all of its stresses, that was where my clothes ended up. I hadn't worn a red, long-sleeve shirt from the pile in a week, so I didn't think my coworkers would notice it was dirty. I smelled it; it had probably only been worn once, and only smelled like my deodorant. So I put it on.

I figured my shorts from the day before were clean enough, so I rescued them from the bathroom floor, and covered them with the pair of khakis with the least heinous hiney- I'd learned my lesson about smelling the crotch directly- I got the smell of groin stuck on my upper lip for the better part of a day. It made me feel like I'd been giving mustache rides all night at a truck stop.

The socks were a little dicier, and they certainly smelled it, but so long as no one at work asked me to take off my shoes so they could sniff my feet, they weren't going to notice. And I was pretty sure that constituted some kind of workplace harassment.

My muffin was cold, so I put it the toaster for another cycle. The kitchen was a mess. I didn't like it. But I liked the idea of spending my free time cleaning it- rather than relaxing with Hanah- even less.

The toaster popped up, and I buttered my muffin and put it on a small plate. Then I saw the clock and thought better of it. My work was nearby, and I'd been trying to walk there, to make sure my pants still fit this winter. I wrapped my muffin in a paper towel and put the plate back in the cabinet. If Hanah noticed, she'd probably pick a fight about it, but it was a plate on which I set a buttered muffin- it maybe wasn't pristinely clean, but it felt a stretch to call it dirty.

I paused at the door. I'd been quietly hoping Hanah would burst in with Leroy, and tell me she woke up anxious, and decided to go for a morning run or something. It wasn?t the first time she disappeared like that- especially after a fight. She hated that I wanted to know where she was all the time; she said I was controlling. That wasn?t it. I didn?t want to tell her where she could be, or when; I just wanted to know she was okay.

It was starting to sink in that I wasn?t getting reassured this morning. I put on my sweater, slowly, milking every second I could. But if I waited any longer, I was going to be late for work. So I grabbed my keys, wallet, phone and muffin, and left.

The house was old, and over the years some of the wood had warped. One of the worst offenders was the frame around the front door. I tried to bolt the door, but it wouldn?t slide home. Then I wondered if maybe Hanah had taken an extra long walk to cool off; I didn?t want her locked out of the house. So I shrugged, and left the door shut but unlocked.

The sun outside cut through my brain like a knife- it was definitely a migraine. I squinted, and put on my sunglasses. I thought about taking the car, since it would cut down on my time outside- but the real issue was that my desk faced a shared window. The sun was going to be with me all day.

So I started walking. The grass in the front was getting long. That meant Uncle Alan was going to start pestering me any day about it.

Something across the street caught my eye. Opposite my car, I noticed a long metal dumpster. It was twice as long as my car and just as wide. Signs were posted on it, asking that residents fill it front to back, and only with leaves. I wondered when it had gotten here. I didn?t remember seeing it the day before, and I was surprised I didn?t hear it being delivered.

The glare off a car window I passed felt like I was being stabbed in the eyes. I wished I could call off. But I had only been brought up to full time recently, and I used my one accrued sick day taking care of Hanah after she had her appendix out. Which at least felt like a worthier cause than this. And there was a little part of my head that told me if Hanah was still pissed, I was better off at work. At least I had painkillers in my desk- not that they were going to do much more than sand off some of the pain off the edge.

Despite the brightness, it wasn't exactly a sunny day. A light fog squatted over the streets. It reflected and seemed to amplify what little light there was, turning everything bright gray- which felt like a contradiction. The moisture combined with the chill in the air, and made my joints ache.

It was a particularly quiet morning. No passing cars, no other pedestrians. Not even the odd dog grumbling that I was passing his- or maybe her- yard.

Waking up without Hanah, and now having the entire walk to myself, made it feel like I was the only person on Earth.

11/01/13

  09:32:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 996 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: The Bradbury

?This is fucked,? Clod said. ?We shouldn?t be sitting here in the admin pod hoping Rica will just stumble back in.?

?I don?t know. The way I see it, we were down two crewmembers, and we were willing to wait it out. Well, we got Paul back, Rica went missing- so we?re back to being down by two. No change.?

?Not fucking funny.?

?I thought it was kind of clever.?

?I shouldn?t be waiting. I should be killing that thing.?

?What thing??

?Look, I?m not sure what I saw. It was dark. But it was about the size of a person, and pushed past me.?

?Unless you want to try punching it to death...? Martin trailed off.

?You know that isn't our only option.?

?I just don't know,? he said.

?Really? Because we're missing two crew members, you have another who is grievously wounded, and you've likely got a maniac on board.?

?Maniac??

?I know what Rica thinks she saw- and because of that I think I saw the same thing. But we've got human blood. Fear plus darkness- it was a Hound of the Baskervilles effect. I'd have a hard time believing we have a human stowaway- but if you tell me we also have a giant wolf stowaway, too. Occam's razor says that the theory that requires the fewest assumptions is probably right.?

?But that doesn't explain Paul?s wounds.?

?I don't know how to explain any of it. That's why I think we should break out the Bradbury.?

?The Bradbury?? Levy asked from the doorway.

?How long have you been there?? Martin asked.

?Like a minute and a half, just standing here. You two have a tendency to ignore people who aren't part of your management clique. But what's the Bradbury??

?The Bradbury is supposed to be a secret- and it was, until now,? Martin sighed. ?It's a laser weapon, designed to burn through organics, without being hot enough to puncture the plastics that are used in the walls of the Perseus.?

?Seriously??

?Yeah. And since it was designed for the Martian expedition, it made sense to name it after Ray Bradbury-?

?Who wrote the Martian Chronicles.?

?Right. He also happened to die around the time they started work on it.?

?But you built a laser gun??

Martin nodded his head for them to follow him, towards the bridge. ?It was a joint research project, between NASA and the DoD. We?ve never been to Mars. So we wanted to plan for the contingency. The Bradbury contingency. It?s also the name of the gun they built. Designed to fire even in a zero g environment, even in a vacuum.?

Martin stopped at a monitor and started hitting buttons. It looked just like any number of other panels in the ship, but when he got finished, it opened up like a fridge door.

?Wait.? Clod said. ?If you?re here, then who's watching Paul??

?I've got an alarm on his vitals and locator. Any change and we'll know. But I queried Rica's communicator, and then her vitals. She's dropped off the system, like Paul and Alisa did last time.?

?Shit,? Martin said, reaching into the safe for the Bradbury. It looked like a remote control, but rounded and curved to fit right into the palm.

For a moment, Clod's bravado melted away, but she willed it back into existence. ?Give it to me. I?ll finish this.?

?Unfortunately, no. Paul?s hurt- maybe critically. You?re the next closest thing we have to a doctor. I could cover your piloting, but we don?t have time for somebody to take a crash course in saving people's lives. I?ll go.?

?Wait,? Levy said. ?Haven?t you seen Alien? Do you really want to be Tom Skerritt.?

Martin paused. ?That depends, do I have to be 90-something Tom Skerritt??

?Skull in an overstretched condom Skerritt? No, in Alien, him dying led to the chaos which got the rest of the crew killed. Crap. I just realized. Ric?s missing. Paul's bleeding. Alice we can?t find. She?s a medic, and you?re in charge. So I talked myself into being the one who has to go.?

?Yup. How?s your aim??

?I?m deadly with a light gun.?

?That?s not some kind of regional dialect for a laser, is it? You mean video game weapons.?

?Oh yeah.?

Martin sighed. ?Okay. The button on the thumb is a safety. You need to hold it to activate the trigger. Then you can use your index finger on the bottom, here, right below the barrel. Levy put his fingers in the two slots, and the barrel lit up. ?It's in test mode,? Martin said, then stroked his hand down the length of the barrel.

?Did you just pet the gun?? Levy asked.

?I didn't invent it. I think the gesture's meant to approximate chambering a round in an automatic.?

?Let's head back to the med lab. You two can hole up in there while I look around.?

Levy led the way through the gym, past the kitchen, and into the med lab.

?How about a kiss for luck?? Levy asked. Martin shrugged, and touched his lips to Levy's cheek. ?Well, I had meant her, but, you know, you're a handsome man- so I imagine that's a lot of luck.? Levy gave a salute with the Bradbury, and walked down the dark hall.

?Tell me you?re not actually going to let him go,? Clod said, ?that you just thought it?d be funny if he pissed himself, right??

?I heard that,? Levy said.

?Then just piss yourself and come back,? she told him.

?I can completely do this.?

?Just so you know, Paul?s hurt bad enough I really can?t divert to help you if you get injured.?

?Why would you tell me that??

?That?s not strictly true,? Martin said. ?You?d triage.?

?Right. So don?t come back until you?ve killed the thing, or are worse than maybe dying.?

?Clod, when we get back to Earth, you might want to consider a career in motivational speaking.?

  02:10:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 132 words  
Categories: Twist, Announcements

NaNo 2013!

Welcome to NaNo, the month non-writers usually refer to as November. I'm going to be writing a novel this month, and you're welcome to watch. I'll be posting daily updates, which will be about as polished as fresh fiction can; my editor is even planning on combing over them before we post them. The novel I'm writing is a suspense/thriller called Twist. I don't know if I can say more, without giving the game away, but I'm toying with having the subtitle be ?A Mystery of Mental Illness,? though I'm not sure if that'll feel right by the time I get to 'The End.' But I'm really looking forward to this project, and to getting some new writing done. I think it's going to be a fun month. Oh, and Happy Halloween.

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