Celine, Queen of Cats

Celine, Queen of Cats

Celine was queen of the cats. She held her head high wherever she went — be it the dark alleyways of the city, the lighted sidewalks that the humans traveled, or through the secret roads only known by cats. No fear swayed her — how sharp her fangs and claws, ready to bite and tear at any foolish enough to confront her. The fiercest Toms and the meanest Mollies were nothing compared to her, and shirked away when she flicked her tail down their alleys. She ate whatever she wanted — the freshest refuse thrown away by the wasteful humans, and hunted only when the fancy took her. Though she was queen, she held a love for most cats.

There was one type of cat, however, that she could not abide: those cats that required the help of a human to live. Humans were fickle things — mean and petty, and any cat worth their salt would do better without them, or so she had been told and raised by her mother to learn, and any cat that consorted with their kind was hardly a cat at all. A few naive humans had occasionally tried to run their coarse hands over her calico fur, but it wasn’t long before they found out that those weren’t there for show. She had never been touched by a human, and she intended to live the remainder of her life that way.

Proudly that summer evening — when the sun was blazing orange, she strolled down her favorite alleyway. It always had the best foods: warm pork and beef, chicken and fish. It was a smorgasbord for an alley cat, and it was all hers as the cats that had gathered there scattered away, like usual. A broken cardboard can of salt had fallen free as they did so, and she lapped up the few grains, and hopped onto the tin garbage pail.

Ah…her favorite. Raw pork, with a bit of sugar from a split paper bag on top. She tore into it, and ate. So immersed in the flavors and smells of everything around her that she didn’t take notice of the four pair of paw pads coming down her alleyway. And it wasn’t until she heard a rumbling growl that she turned her head, and perked her ears.

Two dogs: black with brown accents on their mouths and chest, and two pointed ears on the top of their head, and snarling teeth, as long as her legs, made their way to her. She raised her tail and hissed, shaking her body. It was a display of aggression that was enough to scare off any cat, but it was laughable to the approaching doberman. As they approached the garbage pail, she leapt off and backed away, hissing all the while. Behind her, a redbrick wall rose to the top of the sky. There was no secret road. No fence to scramble over. Nothing. She was stuck.

They approached, and her tail brushed against the brick wall. Cornered. Her heart thumped and the first snapped at her. She leapt back and struck out with her sharpened claw, cutting thin red ribbons across the dog’s face. It yelped and pulled backwards. The other snapped as well, but Celine was faster: her fangs sinking into it’s throat, the coppery liquid flowed down her throat like fresh water.

She clung desperately, as it shook it’s head to try to throw her off. Not for long, however, as the other one took hold of the back of her neck and clamped down. The warm August air left her lungs in a pained hiss. It was only by a lucky claw connecting to the dog’s eye that it let go, and threw her against the red wall.

Her body smacked the brick, and her body went limp. The dogs inched closer and closer, red stained teeth flashing as her consciousness faded. This was it. She’d die in this alley, and the dogs will eat her flesh, and the crows will get what’s left. Such was the way of life for street cat. How cruel.

Rubber met concrete before her eyes closed, and the sound of dull thuds and pained whimpers and snarls broke the rising silence in her ears. The two dogs ran from the alleyway, and left her limp body on the concrete: warmth spilling from the tears in her neck. Ah, how cold.

His hands pressed against a cloth, stymied the flow of blood. But it was too late. She opened her eyes — oh, how hard it was: a human man, brown hair, down to his forehead, and a brown beard encircling his face. A human had touched her. How disgusting. She tried to hiss, to warn him off but all that came out was a faint whisper.

“It’ll be alright, baby.” He said, as wind rushed the two of them.

Ah, but it was too late…her eyes closed and all she knew was darkness.

She awoke in a bright room, humans in white clothes surrounding her, pulling at her skin. She tried to scramble away, but her leg burst in pain: broken? A needle entered the back of her neck and a coolness rushed over her again, putting her to sleep. Next time she awoke in a metal cage, surrounded by darkness and other animals, pawing at the latches. Captured. By humans, no less. There was a bowl of water near her head, and it was only then that she realized how swollen her throat was with thirst. She lapped up the water, and then some, then curled up as far away from the opening as she could.

Morning came, and she was pulled free from her slumber. She tried to scratch at them, but she found her claws gone. She tried to bite at them, but they stuck a cone around her neck, and she couldn’t reach. They washed her with a cloth, and she never felt so clean: the only itching she felt was where the dogs had bitten, as if it had scabbed over already. But that was impossible. She wanted to scratch at it, to explore it, but the cone stopped her.

The human man who rescued her came later in the day and picked her up, and gave the human female a plastic card, and she gave him an orange bottle that rattled with every step. She tried to bite at him, but she couldn’t. He carried her in his arms for blocks, into a small, cramped apartment, and placed her on a pillow on the ground, covered by a warm blanket. She hated to admit it, but it was comfortable. The most comfortable thing she ever felt, but it wasn’t enough to sway her — she was going to escape. Or at least she thought. As soon as she stepped forward, her front paw burst in pain. Broken, definitely. There was a white plaster around it.

The human would try to scratch her, but a sharp hiss from her was usually enough to shoo him away from her pillow. She wanted to scramble for

Everyday the human would put out food: the freshest fish, and coldest pork she ever tasted. Sometimes it had some of the small stones in the orange bottles in with it. They were bitter tasting, but if she didn’t eat it, he’d force to dissolve in her mouth. That resulted in more than a few scars on his arms. After a week or so of the bitter stones, her stomach stopped hurting, and she no longer felt the constant hunger she had for years, and a little while after that her heart never felt like it was running too fast. The bitter stones only lasted a month or so, but the effects were permanent.

It took more than that to earn her trust, though. The cone came off in that month, but the cast on her leg stayed, and she still couldn’t run. Every night when she fell asleep she could feel him scratching the spot she could never quite reach behind her ears and pretend she’d be asleep until it lulled her to it.

Another month and the cast came off, but her leg was still tender. Instead of the pillow, now she had a bed: enclosed on all sides except the top. It blocked out the wind from his fan, so she took it. It was winter before the tenderness started, and she decided that she’d run away when the cold left, and the white left the earth. She’d enjoy this warmth while it lasted. She felt the best she had since she was a kit.

Every day she feasted on the best foods, and slept in comforting warmth. Halfway through the winter she took to crawling in bed next to the human. No more would she bite at him. And her claws were gone. She wouldn’t be royalty anymore when she left, but at least she’d be free. He was warm, her rescuer, and she came to enjoy curling up in his lap whenever he’d sit and read, or watch the moving pictures.

The next winter came, and then the next. She saw him while he was angry, she saw him when he was sad. She saw him when he got the news that his mother had passed, and comforted him. She grew to love him, more than she loved any cat. More than she loved herself. She was with him when he brought other humans home, and with him when he made smaller ones and moved to a bigger house. She watched his family grow, and soon the scars on her neck were a reminder of when she was foolish.

Now the smaller humans were larger, and the kind young man who had taken her in and saved her life had strands of gray in his hair, and yet she loved him. How much better of a life was this? She curled up to him as he sit beside a blazing fire. Oh, the warmth and love she experience. The fullness of a life not spent scraping over garbage pails. She smiled…and awoke no more.

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First Page of Valk’s End.

First Page of Valk’s End.

Valk’s End will be the next book I release on Amazon, in a little over two weeks. Here is a sneak peak at it, though it’s just a peak I hope you enjoy!

 

 

The green grass bowed to the wind as it blew northward over the knoll where the couple lay, side by side. It swept over the crest, carrying with it the aroma of wildflowers — daffodils, lilacs and other early spring blooming flowers, and into the Valkenweald below the other side, rustling the branches and shaking off the newly growing leaves of the oak and sycamores that lay at the treeline, and rattling the limbs like bones. The chill of winter still held in the air, but the sun beat down in warm golden rays, that embraced the two like long lost friends. It was a beautiful day: one of the most beautiful in recent history, in fact, and the first day that spring had begun to show it’s face to the people of the valley of the year.

But he didn’t notice these things. No. He didn’t notice the natural perfumes of spring swelling around him, enticing him, or the wind spirit that stopped on it’s way northward to watch the two on the hill. No. All he noticed was her.

Serenity lay on the grass, the red tinge of her auburn locks, contrasted with the green of the blades of grass all around. Oh, how he could wrap those locks between his fingers. Her hand was extended upwards, and her finger was tracing pictures that he would never be able to see in the clouds. Oh, how long and elegant they were, like the reaching twig of a pine tree, or the frosty fingers of winter stretching off an awning. How he longed to entwine them in his.

“There’s its ears,” she said, drawing two long oblong triangles at the top of the fluffy cloud that was just now floating overhead, “it’s head,” a smaller oval, “it’s body,” a much larger one just beneath that, “and it’s tail,” a stunted rounded thing at the bottom of its ‘body.’

But he didn’t pay attention to that, no. Instead he paid attention to the way her lips danced one her face like a pair of rose petals afloat in an alabaster sea. Oh, how he wished he could clasp them in his.

And her eyes, oh her eyes. How the clouds were like ships with white, billowy sails on the horizon over a fathomless sea. Oh, how he could get lost in them for the rest of his life.

“Do you see?” She turned her head to face him.

He turned his neck as quickly as he can to face back up at the sky: an ember must have been set just beneath the skin of his cheeks. Oh how they burned!

“Y-yeah.” He lied.

She lay quietly, watching his eyes dart from the sky back to his peripheries.

“Liar.” She said, her voice lilting with a harrumph. “You weren’t paying attention.”

“I was,” he said.

“Prove it. What was the last thing I saw?” ”

 

Blue Light

Blue Light

Everything started two months ago, I think. The days, after a while, began to bleed together. It’s funny, I Had always had this daydream of running out of my job and making a living writing on the road and here I am, far away from my home in Missouri, overlooking the vastness of the Mojave desert in a run down motel on a stolen laptop typing this out..

As I was saying, this all started about two months ago. I woke up a Tuesday morning the feeling of my brain pounding on the walls of my skull: a feeling that I had grown accustomed to over the last couple of months, a hangover. I had no clue how I made it back home last night, nor what time. I still wore my work attire from the previous day and the strong smell of beer and wine permeated from the collar and pattern of reddish stains dotted the front of my white shirt, wine, I remember telling myself. I pulled off the shirt and went to my medicine cabinet for a couple of painkillers so I could make it through the day without a migraine pounding away the inside of my noggin.

I opened the cabinet and took out three white pills, drinking them quickly and closed it just as quickly. I looked at myself for a bit in the mirror: I had just turned forty, but looked twenty years older. Black circles sagged around my eyes and my hair was thinning and whitening and I had gotten a rather respectable beer gut over the last few years…I sighed, how did my life end up here, I remember thinking to myself. I yawned and rubbed the tiredness from my eyes. When I moved my hand from my face I noticed something in the corner of my mirror: a faint blue light peeping through the curtains in my living room. I kept looking at it for a while longer and decided to go check it out. I turned around and walked towards the curtains where it was peering out through. I opened the large, woolen curtains, and slid open the glass door and stepped out onto my balcony. I looked down onto the parking lot of my apartment complex: people were walking here and there, but nothing that seemed to exhume that bright blue light. I looked across the street to see if some kids perhaps were, in fact, shining a laser into my window, but I could see no one.

I walked back into my house and shrugged and went to get ready for work. I showered and put on cleaner clothes that what I had on and went down the stairs and through the front door.  As I stepped into my car I noticed a small ding on my bumper, I groaned. Had I run into a pole or another car last night? I tried to take good care of my car: a really nice BMW. I’d have to get this fixed…oh well, I thought to myself, another reason to drink tonight, and that made me happy. I clamored into my car and adjusted my mirrors. And there it was again. The blue light. This time it was shining out the window of my apartment. The light seemed to…flicker, I remember telling myself. Like someone holding up a small candle, or as if the light itself blink. But that was ridiculous, I told myself. Must have been a symptom of my migraine. I told myself this thrice and pulled away from my apartment complex and to work.

Now, you see, I lived in a different town that I worked: divided about thirty miles of highway that cut through a forest. It was cheaper to live in the town I lived in, and the job I was at was pretty lucrative. I didn’t mind the thirty minute or so drive. I found that it was helpful to get over any migraines that I might have because of the night before. The drive continued as normal until about halfway through the highway: there was a small commotion up ahead. I saw the red, flashing lights of an ambulance, and the blue and red lights of the police cars before, the blue unsettled me, even though I knew where it was coming from. I shook my head, pushing the unsettling feeling to the back of my mind and was stopped by a man in the middle of the road: a police officer directing traffic to ensure the safety of those working.

When I slowed down and stopped I rolled down my window to ask the officer what was going on.

“Some sick fuck dropped a kids body out here. We got a call about an hour ago about it: some driver by spotted him but he was already dead by the time we got here.” He answered. “Looks like he got hit by a car and was dropped off here later, well that’s my theory.” I remember at that moment that the officer’s voice seemed to bounce off the inside of my skull so I cut the conversation short

“Well, I hope you catch that sicko.” I told him and rolled up my window and went on my way. Probably some reckless driver that killed the kid, I remember thinking to myself.

I rounded the next bend until the accident site was out of sight and checked my rearview and I could have sworn I saw the blue light flickering through the oaks and the pines of the surrounding the area…once again a feeling of unease took over me and I pulled over to vomit on the side of the road. After I got back into the car I checked my rearview and the light was gone. I sighed, it must have been a side effect of my nausea, I told myself. That calmed me a bit, and I felt a bit better after throwing up. It took about twenty more minutes to reach my office building: the offices of a small start up tech company who I won’t mention here, they’re good people and a good business and don’t deserve any trouble my mentioning of them would cause. I went in and took a seat at my desk to begin work.

My job consisted of mainly taking calls from people who were having problems with our program and troubleshooting for them. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t like it either. Again, I had a dream of packing up and moving and writing for a living, but I never pursued it. Most of my calls were relatively easy that day, with simple solutions like a reinstall, or having them restart the program. Simple things like that. Right after lunch I got a particularly hard call. Nothing I told him seem to work, it seemed to be an actual bug in the program so I had to have him reinstall the program entirely and delete some cookies that would be left on his system . It took about thirty minutes to do overall and I sat in my chair sighing after it was done, waiting for another call. In the meantime my mind wandered to what I was going to do after work: back to the bar, more than likely. The lingering taste of alcohol on my tongue had me savoring it and before I knew it I was craving a drink. My cravings were interrupted by the ringing of my phone. I groaned and sat up straight and put the headphones on and placed the mic next to my mouth and pushed the button to answer the call and…

Nothing. There was nothing. No noise, no one speaking. I had thought that they had accidentally hung up – it happened from time to time  – so I hung up and waited for them to call once again, and sure enough the phone rang almost as soon as I had. I answered once again and this time there was sound…static. It was soft and distant, but it was static, like the white noise you’d hear on those particularly old television sets that had no signal. I shook my head, once more the unsettling feeling from earlier coming back. I wasn’t a believer in the paranormal, however that’s where my mind almost immediately migrated. Perhaps it’s a primal knowledge in humans? I wouldn’t know, nor will I ever.

After this I hung up, and once again the phone immediately started ringing once again. I answered, and static once again. This went on and off for ten more times. Each time the static on the receiver grew louder and louder until I heard a voice on the other end breaking through the white noise with a whisper.

“Hate…Hate…” It repeated itself over and over again. “Hate…Hate….Hate…” It chanted like some dark incantation again and again. I couldn’t bring myself to put down the phone until the chanting had ended and the static was replaced with, “If you like to make a call please hang up and try again…”

I remember feeling the cold sweat drench my collar and my teeth chatter. I wouldn’t doubt if I had whimpered after I had hung up. At this point I could feel the eyes of everyone on the room on me. I put down my headphones and stood up to go to the restroom to calm myself away from my desk when the phone rang once again and I froze.

I froze. That’s all I can say, like a deer caught in a headlight. It took several seconds before I regained my senses and retook my seat. I slid on my headphones and felt a knot rise in my throat I clicked the answer call button once more…and regretted it.

A loud squealing sound: somewhere between a scream and the sound of rubber burning on asphalt shot through the headphones It stunned me momentarily and it, once again, took me several seconds before I ripped off my headphones and threw them to the desk. I’m sure it made some noise but I couldn’t hear it. All I could hear was the ringing in my ears: my left eardrum had burst, I could tell from the trickling of blood down my temples and cheek. Once my hearing came partially back I could still hear the squealing over my headphones and I hung up the call. I sighed. What was happening? I remember asking myself. One last time.

I calmed myself once again, the knot in my stomach growing tighter and tighter. I sighed and sat back up straight. I looked to my computer screen desperately, hoping for no more incoming calls when it went black…And there it was, the blue light. It burned brighter than ever, no longer a candle, no longer a flickering light but now a blue blaze, closer than ever. It shone just outside the office window, hovering several feet above the ground with no discernible source. I could feel the blood rush from my face, from my whole body. I blinked, rubbing my eyes and fell out of my chair…there was the source.

He was young, he didn’t seem to have reach pubescence, the boy in the reflection staring at me with such a hate filled glare, with  his burning blue eye. His hair hung from his pale green scalp like strands of frayed rope. His eyes were as sunken as the dead and his skin was a slight shade of green: the green of rot. The smell of rotting flesh began to permeate from him and filled my nostrils even as I lay down looking at the reflection from the floor, once more the deer in the headlights. And…he began reaching out towards me, purposefully though I could only see him through the small mirror of my monitor I could still the air around me bristle with activity: with pure hate.

That’s when I stood and ran, I tripped over myself and almost fell down the stairs on my way out but before I knew it I was at my car starting the ignition. I checked my rearview out of habit more than anything and once again saw the cursed blue light…shining in my office. That’s when I got an idea, I could out run it! And so that’s what I did. I figured I had enough in savings to outrun this…thing.

I drove and drove, I drove westward and southward, stopping only for sleep, food, gas and to answer nature’s call. Every time I stopped to sleep I had nightmares. Nightmares of squealing wheel and searing pain as my body is dragged underneath several tons of steel and iron and across several dozen yards of gravel. The small stones peeling off skin and biting into nerves as the rubber burned my leg…before my consciousness faded the world stopped. I feel relieved for a few brief seconds before I feel a pair of calloused hands yank me from underneath the black car that had me pinned to the ground and toss me harshly into the leather seat next to him. A smell breaks through my gravel and blood filled nose: the smell of alcohol, of wine and beer. I tried desperately, in my dream, to focus on the one who caused me so much pain. The one who hadn’t said a word of apologies and the one who kept his drink at his mouth. As the car stopped and the interior light shone in the car as he stepped out and grabbed me, once more by the shoulders and yanked my small body I caught a glimpse of him: a fat, balding middle aged man with beer staining the front of his shirt. As he tossed me to the earthy loam on the side of the road my working eye followed him until the yellow lights of his car disappeared and so, instead I stared to the sky. And I felt hate. Strong hate. I focused on that hate until the pale light of the moon and stars faded to black…and the black faded to a bright inferno of hate. A burning blue replacing the black…I stopped sleeping in Idaho and continued west… the blue light following all the way, glowing brighter with each passing day…each passing hour.

I reached a town on the edge of the Mojave desert before my car broke down. I pushed my car to the parking lot of a rather run down motel and checked in. A family was unpacking and while they were all in their room I stealthily stole a laptop bag I had spotted on top of the other bags and went to my room to type this out..

I felt that I had to…that I had to write this out in some sort of redemption for that I had done. That I had to get my story out there somehow, as fantastical as it sound and so I have. I will wait, now, in front of the large mirror that inhabits the restroom of my motel room for him…for my revenant.

The Wish Sellsman

“‘Wishes for sell! Wishes for sell!’ A voice called out in my garden. It was a sweet, intoxicating voice and it woke me from my sleep. ‘Wishes for sell, wishes for sell!’ I looked at the clock, it was just past midnight and the voice kept calling from the garden. I pushed myself up from my bed and went to the window, drawing back the curtain and looked down onto my lawn—”

“Ah, this story again, Carlson?” The four people in the bar laughed as the old man’s story was interrupted, “Ain’t nothing happen, Carlson.” The voice belonged to a bald man with dark, aged skin. Carlson himself seemed as a bear: he had a great white beard and a long white mane for hair. I scrawled his words into a journal that I carried with me.

There were four people in the bar, I had jotted down their descriptions. One was Carlson: the bear like man with the long, scruff hair. The other was another man that was referred to as Johnson. He was the black fellow who stopped Carlson’s story and the other was another elderly man: Asian, peppered hair and black, almond eyes. He kept mostly to himself, though, his name, from what I had gathered, was Chu.

“I’m telling ya it happened, Johnson. I heard it and went to go–” The four laughed again.

“Yeah, yeah, Carlson, we know.” The three patrons seemed to be good friends, or at least seemed to know each other, perhaps just from being around each other in this shoddy bar.

The bar itself smelled of stale beer and had wooden plaster walls that were painted to look like wood. It was a cheap bar, but cheap bars are what I frequented. I didn’t mind it at all.

“Lemme continue!” Carlson stated, and the others nodded, still laughing. He cleared his throat and poured an almost empty bottle of beer into his mouth and pushed it aside, “Now where was I?”

“‘Wishes for sell, wishes for sell!’ The voice was still callin’ but I didn’t see anyone. The garden was empty. I closed the curtain and rubbed my head,  I was confused, nothin’ like this has ever happened. ‘Wishes for sell,’ the voice didn’t call from my garden no more..” he paused for dramatic effect, “It came from behind. I saw the glimmer of  light from behind me. ‘Wishes for sell, wishes for sell,’ I turned around and saw a little man: the top of his head reached just under my chin. He held one of those paper lamp things in his hand and had a white mask with two beady eyes and a painted smile where his mouth should have been. ‘Hello, sir, would you like to buy a wish?’ He looked at me with those beady eyes and cocked his head.” Carlson’s face twisted as a look of soft horror as he continued, “ ‘Any wish?’ I asked the little man and he nodded at me…’

“Alright Carlson, you’ve had enough.” The bartender took the bottle from his hand. Carlson nodded, he didn’t seem like he wanted to continue his story anyhow. They stayed around a couple of more hours and I had a few more drinks before I pushed myself from the rickety bar stool and headed towards the two barn doors that acted as the doors to this establishment. Carlson soon followed.

“The wish I made…” Carlson said from behind me, I pivoted on my heel. The flickering neon light was the only thing illuminating otherwise empty parking. “The two of them….Johnson and Chu were..” he stopped for a while, “They were dead before last week.” His voice was choking at this point.

“Dead?” I sounded incredulous. I looked him over, “Are you sure you aren’t drunk, Carlson?” I go over and pat the bear-like man on his shoulder. He swatted my hand away.

“I know they were! I watched them die..we were in Vietnam: I killed Chu with my own hands! I saw Johnson die from a stake pit…I wished them back, from the Wish Sellsman…he gave me a candle and I lit it. The next day they were back…but the memories: I have two sets of lives in my head, one from when they died and from when they didn’t.” His knees banged against the asphalt parking lot: his face contorted in sorrow and in confusion, “Which one is real…” he cried. “Which is a dream?”

Her Name Was Sarah

Her name was Sarah, that’s all that I can really remember. That and she looked lovely in red.” I said.

“Sarah? What else can you tell me about her?” She asked, in her cushioned chair.

I laid back and stared at the ceiling, my voice and mind wandering to the wooden rafters and tiled ceilings.

 

She moved to my hometown in the middle of August: an uncommonly cool August day, as I remember it, because there was a girl I had never seen before sitting in the back wearing her auburn hair neatly in a ponytail that draped down over her shoulder that complimented the deep red dye of the loose shawl that she wore. It was a couple of days after the start of my seventh grade year, she simply stood out from the rest of the class simply because I didn’t know her. I had attended school with every one of the twenty or so students my age who lived in our small town. She was called to introduce herself in front of the class. Her name was Sarah, she said, and she had moved from California to here because of her father’s job had led them here. She stated all of this was a barely audible voice and her green eyes cast down to the ground. Nobody spoke to her that day. Nor the day after. Or the day after that. It wasn’t until the first week of September that I’d hear her speak again.

I was held up in class after school, that day, talking to my teacher or something, it doesn’t really matter anyhow. I ran to catch up to my friend who had definitely started to head to our neighborhood without me. I ran out the door and rounded a corner and ran pushed open the door that led out of the building. I stopped after the door hit someone standing there.And there on the ground, lying face down was that auburn haired girl with the red shawl. There was Sarah.

“Sorry!” I said, lending a hand to help her up. It took her a while to accept it. Her hand was so soft, I remember thinking, I lingered a moment too long even when she was up before dropping up.

“I’m s-sorry.” She stammered out. Those were the last two words I heard her speak. “I’m sorry.” And it was beautiful. As beautiful as the red draped over her shoulders. Her voice pierced through the ambiance of everyday life like an arrow whizzing through the air, and struck my heart at that moment. I must have looked like a fool standing there saying nothing, because she walked away after that, with a slight rouge tint on her cheeks. I remembered the soft touch of her hand, and felt my own cheeks flare up. I walked home with the feeling of her hand in mine. I really must have looked like a fool.

I tried to gather up the courage to speak to her, but ask any young pubescent boy with his first crush how feeble that courage is, and how quickly it falters and falls. I’d gather up the courage overnight while lying in my bed, only to fail the following morning as soon as I saw her. She was always in my peripherals; catching glimpses of her when her head was turned around, or watching from far away. I’d follow the same routine, day after day after day.

While watching her, I noticed something odd. She didn’t seem to get along with the other people in the class, I hadn’t noticed at that point, but it was painfully obvious to me now. No one spoke to her, and she spoke to no one. When classes let out for recesses, or for lunch breaks she’d sit at her desk, her downward gaze cast only on the desktop in front of her. Whenever she did head out she’d sit underneath a large pine tree that sat in the schoolyard. She seemed lonely to me, and realizing that gave me another burst of feeble courage that’d fail just like all the rest. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one who picked up on her loneliness. Loneliness is a festering wound, it hurts you constantly and draws to it diseases and infections of the worst kind, as was the case of Sarah…

It was the middle of September when it started, a couple of girls gathered around her desk and introduced themselves. I still remember their names, burned into my memory. Sabrina, Charlotte, and Claire. They surrounded around her like a swarm of yapping feral dogs. They’d talk to her, asking about her hair, her choice of clothing, her hobbies, her…anything that they could think of! And they’d always through in some cruel barb, so quick quip to lower her self esteem. How they loved how, ‘lived in,’ her clothes look. How they adored her wild hair. How they just had to know where she got her tattered shoes. Each passing day they’d make these comments, and each day they’d grown more frequent and even more harsh. Each day they’d walk away giggling among themselves saying quietly-but-not-too-quietly about how ugly she was, how homely. And, every single day Sarah would take it. She’d never show any sign of sadness, or sorrow. She was resolute. A never-bending tree assailed by a winter storm. A cliff face assaulted by terrible waves. She was strong. Resolute, and all the more beautiful in my eyes.

As the days continued, as the seasons passed from one to the other, as the maple trees that surrounded the town turned from vibrant greens, to deep, beautiful reds, and finally losing its autumn coat, baring their branches to the world, everything fell into routine. The first snow of that winter fell one Monday in late November, and Sarah came to school wearing a long scarf tied loosely around her neck that dragged behind her wherever she walked. To me it seemed like a ball gown worn by an aristocratic lady in waiting. I remember thinking that once we were married -because we would definitely be married, once I gathered the courage to finally speak to her- that I’d buy her a wedding dress with the longest red veil. The gaggle of girls, however, didn’t see it the way that I saw it. They instead, saw it as another wound to attack, another scab to pull at, and like any good disease they struck. They would “accidentally,” step on it while she walked in front of them, usually causing the scarf to tighten around her neck and causing her to fall or yelp in pain. They’d give pseudo apologies and walk past laughing at the joke only they found funny. Yet, each time they did this she never once showed any sign of breaking. Not a lady in waiting, no. A queen, was she.

And so November ended and December began, it was the last day of class and I was finally going to do it, I was going to talk to her. She had a head start on me, and I hurried through the halls for the last time that semester, and rounded the final corner before going to the last stretch of hall to exit the building and catch up with her, but I was stopped.

There in the doorway was Sarah, blocking her way was Sabrina, the leader of this particular attack, shadowed closely by Charlotte and Claire over each shoulder.

“So I heard you called me a ‘bitch.’” Sabrina stated, her hand resting on her hip. She didn’t, I would know, I was watching her all semester long…”Well, are you going to answer me?” She continued, this time followed by a slap. “Answer me!” She screamed, the next slap was harder than the last. And the next harder than the one before it.

Before too long she had Sarah’s hair balled up in her hand as she slammed her face into the concrete over and over again. Her two shadows began jeering and pulling at her auburn locks. When they were finished she laid face down on the ground, even from that distance I could see the strands of pink that covered the snow in front of the girls.

“Let’s go.” Sabrina said, with a final kick to Sarah’s head. Not once during that whole thing did I hear her cry. Not a queen, no, not a queen an empress, I told myself.

I walked up to her to try to help her out, but I stopped short when I heard a soft sound. A quiet sob escaped Sarah’s lips for the first time that semester. She stood up, turned to face the door to make sure that no one was watching. Her now swollen green eyes locked with mine for a moment, and I saw her lip quivering for the briefest of second, and a single, sparkling tear trace down her red, swollen cheek. She turned and ran away, disappearing quickly into the winter… I wanted to go after her, I did, but I didn’t. I wanted to talk to her and try to help…but I was a coward, nothing but a coward. I walked home alone, the quivering of her lip on my mind all the way home. I didn’t eat dinner that night, I just went straight to sleep. I dreamt of her.

It quickly was replaced, however, by thoughts of free time, thoughts of roaming the snowy streets of the town. My friends and I went out when the sun was starting to hang dangerously low in the sky on the first day of the break to play hide and seek. It was one of them that suggested playing at the school, we all agreed. We hopped the fence when the sun had long set, and the moon was shrouded by a thick layer of nimbostratus clouds. We picked who was, “it,” by a quick game of rock, paper scissors and those of us who won split into various directions.

I knew immediately where I was going to hide: behind the giant pine that Sarah sat under some days during the semester. I ran there almost immediately, trying my hardest not to make deep indents on the snow. I got there in a couple of seconds and ducked behind it, trying to stop the puffs of white that escaped my nostrils and mouth. I froze there, however.

Above me I could hear…something. I didn’t know what it was, a steady knocking sound. Knock. Knock. Knock. It sounded. A slight wind blew and rattled the branches, knocking some pine needles onto my head, I brushed them off and there it was again. Knock. Knock. Knock. Three knocks, just like the last time. I stared into the branches and, squinting. I could barely make out something thanks to the strands of light that peeked through the clouds and the thick branches over head…

Knock. Knock. Knock. Another breeze caused it to knock again. Was it a loose branch? Knock. Knock. Knock. There it was again. I strained my hardest to see, and, for the second time that night I froze in place. The moon burst from underneath it’s cloak and illuminated the area. Knock. Knock. Knock. And there she was…there was Sarah. Knock. Knock. Knock. Hanging on the lowest hanging branch, her beautiful red scarf tied around her throat, swinging in the breeze, knocking her feet against the trunk with every cruel breeze that shot through the night…

I broke forth from my frozen terror and clawed at the tree like a madman, the frozen bark digging into the soft flesh of my fingers and sticking underneath my fingernails . Every time I made any amount of progress I’d fall back to the frozen earth. I don’t know how long I did this but I did it again, and again, and again. I could feel that the skin on my fingers had long since torn away, but I didn’t care. I had to help her. This time. I had to get to her this time. Climb. Fall. Climb. Fall. Climb again, fall again.

It ended when a man in blue grabbed my shoulder and put me on the ground. He said that there were reports of a child screaming at the schoolhouse, had I been screaming? I don’t’ remember doing that, but my mouth was open, and all that was coming out now was a garbled mess of sobs and blood…he looked up to where I was looking and spoke into his radio. He dragged me away from the tree as a team of other men climbed an aluminum ladder and cut her down. I broke away from the officer and ran to her.

Her face was blue and bloated: both eyes were swollen beyond recognition: the once emerald orbs now clouded over by the mist of death. A stream of red, now congealed blood stained her chin, and dribbled down her swollen neck, where her beautiful scarf was tied tightly…I screamed again, and was pulled in by one of the officers.

The rest of winter break was a blur,didn’t know where it was being held, nor would I want to see her, my Sarah like that again. On the first class of the new semester Sabrina made a show of sobbing like a child in front of the class, faking grief. I walked out and went home, and I refused to go to school after that. My family moved out of the town shortly after that and I attended a new school…I tried my hardest to forget, but I never did…I never will.

Her name was Sarah. That’s all that I remember. That’s all I want to remember. That and she looked lovely in red.

A Hat

A Hat

A strand of honey hair hugged the straw underneath the inner band. With a softy yet quick tug he pulled it free and out of shadow. It shimmer against the setting sun, like a chain of gold hung ‘round the slender neck of a bright-eyed girl. She’d softly giggled when the cool metal brushed her ivory skin, and turned to kiss him deeply when he’d link the chain together.

With a tepid heart he released it from his grasp, and it flitted away in a breeze.

A loose straw hung on the edge. He pulled it out and held it under his nose. It smelled like sweet summer grass. Of dew laden lovers lying on their backs, and honeyed hair splayed across the verdant. The forests shrouded them in silence. Her lips parted in a smile beneath their kiss, and stood stretching her arms. She was like the moon had come to earth, and shone just for him.

With a trembling sigh he released the yellowed grass and it fluttered to the waves below.

Around the center hung a ribbon, frayed on both ends. It mimicked her eyes, once. Though now gray with age. He held it towards the sea, the wind blowing the frayed edges back towards him. And, try as he might, he could not let it go and stuffed it into his pocket.

He looked over the hat once more: she loved it once, as he loved her. But like so many things: the straw, her honeyed hair, the blue ribbon, she left it behind. “Sorry,” the note said, that sat underneath the hat on the bench in the train station where he worked at. He’d crumbled the note and threw it away. And, like the note, he tossed the hat. It flew out of site and landed on a wave, to be washed away. Somewhere far away. Maybe it’d find her, or maybe it’d wind up in the belly of a sea beast. He didn’t care. As it vanished from sight, he turned away: an arthritic hand wrapped around the end of a cane, and another grasping the ribbon in his pocket.

Dust to Dust

Dust to Dust

It was just past midnight, when I had decided that I’ve done enough typing for the night. I stood, popping my knotted muscles and bones and walked over to the window, sliding it shut: the ambiance had kept me focused on my work, but would keep me from sleeping. I shut off the light, and then crawled underneath my polyester sheets and reached down to turn on my fan: the soft hum lulling me to sleep.

A sudden sense of dread jerked me awake. A primeval fear hung thick in the air: a primal response to something horrid, no doubt. I looked around frantically, but the darkness obscured my sight.What horrid monstrosity had crept into my room, what eldritch…thing had invaded my space this late summer night? I could see nothing: hear nothing save for the humming of my fan, and the soft ambiance of the city below my window.

I sprung out of my bed and rushed to the far wall, flipping on my light. With a soft buzz the fluorescent flickered slowly to life, chasing off the shadows of night, and bringing in the light of modernity. And with the darkness being flushed out of my room, so too was my irrationality. There were no monsters in the dark, of course. The modern era had banished all horrors of our past, with the flame of enlightenment. I chuckled to myself at how silly I had been. I emphasized my internal monologue by walking to the window and throwing open the curtains, allowing the fluorescent light of modernity to flood the outside darkness, if only a little.

The fear, however, crept back into me. Not with any movements, nor with any sound, but with a feeling. The feeling of the brush of a warm, breeze on my forearm. I looked to my left and froze. The window was opened. Just an inch or so, but opened nonetheless. I slammed it shut and turned around, once more, scanning the room: sweat forming on my brow. And, once more, fear slammed into me like a truck: overtaking all of my senses. This time coming in the form of a soft, yet audible, “click.”

With that click the lights flickered off once more, and darkness swarmed into the room. It was only then that I noticed the thick dust that hung precariously in the air: reflecting the ribbons of pale moonlight that now flooded the room. Millions of particles of dust, floating on the night air above, behind and around me. And then, as if disturbed by a strong gust of wind, they began to move. They swirled around the room and into a fearsome vortex in the center. Spinning and spinning until they began to coalesce, not more than a couple of inches from me.

First the particles of dust formed into a head: oblong in shape, and longer than any human or animal that I had ever seen, with not a speck of hair on it. The eyes were nothing more than to sunken ovals that barely penetrated the white, “flesh,” of the being, that took up more than half of its’ terrible, “face.” No mouth formed, yet I could feel it’s horrible grin. Next the dust formed into a body: as misshapen as it’s head, and even more hideous. With sunken pores and holes where moonlight pierced covering it, like some pale pumice stone.

It’s arms were longer than they should have been. Reaching to at least the middle of what could be called its calves. It’s knees were bent backwards and the legs themselves were short, yet it towered above even the tallest man, due to it’s long torso, stretching at least five feet. It craned its neck downward to look down on me, it’s sunken eyes peering into my soul.

I tried to scream, to have some stranger, some passing good Samaritan rush to my aid, and fill my dark apartment with the white fluorescence of the hallway. Yet no sound escaped my lips. Though my larynx strained and tore against the horror forming in front of me, I could not get a single terrible syllable out. And as the last of the swirling vortex of dust stuck to this sordid terror my silent screaming halted. As the being became complete it reached it’s long, gangly arms towards me.

I snapped out of it, slapping it’s arm away: the dust that formed the limb blew across the room and I sprinted for the door, towards safety. A gust of wind shot past me: the creature of dust had disconnected and reformed in front of the door: blocking my escape.

        I backed away…I needed to escape. My legs gave out and I fell on my backside. The creature once again reached out for me, and paralyzed by fear as I was I could only wait.

        It’s large hand grasped my face: it’s digits encircling my head. I kept my mouth closed, it, too, struck still with fear. I could feel a pressure on my occipital lobe as the creature squeezed and I involuntarily opened my mouth in a silent whimper.

        As my mouth opened it stuff something that I was not prepared for: all the dust that formed it’s hand rushed into my narrowly opened mouth. The creature wrenched my jaws open and I could do nothing but stare as each individual particle of dust flooded into my mouth, into my being. The dust scratched at my palettes, and my throat as it seemingly dispersed throughout my entire body, and I could do nothing but choke on the seemingly unending torrent of dust. And then it ended: my consciousness left me as the oxygen was robbed and replaced with dust…

      I woke up in a cold sweat, and looked around…I was under my polyester sheets on top of my spring mattress. It had all been a dream, a horrible nightmare. I sighed and laid down starting at the ceiling before I stood up. My heart sank as I saw the curtains wrenched open and the window opened just an inch…