A New Beginning. Flash Fiction.

Hope everyone had a good weekend, mine was pretty sedate, watched some movies with a friend, all fairly relaxing. Beyond that haven’t been up to too much. Found a really simple brownie recipe I quite like, which is both good and bad. Good, it’s easy, Bad, I’ll have brownies super quick and therefore more temptation to bake them.

On with the show!

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It wasn’t just the betrayal that pissed her off so much, it was the sheer scale and organisation of it all. Could she have been a better friend at times? Sure, but the same could be said of pretty much anyone, she had never done anything awful to them, never treated them badly, yet they all turned on her for no apparent reason. They just froze her out, no explanation, no contact. Hell, she didn’t know anything was wrong until she turned up to their weekly girls night and found no one was there. Apparently they decided to go somewhere else, somewhere they wouldn’t have to see her. She could see Diane and Franny doing this, but not Becca, they’d been friends since they were children. It just didn’t make sense. Of course, had that been the end of it she could have dealt with it all, sure it would be painful and the next few months would be awkward, but no, they had to go around spreading lies, rumours and even her secrets. Things she had told them and only them. And why wouldn’t people believe them? She had known them all for years, but even casual friends seemed to be freezing her out. Like, ok, there might have been a few things, but hardly stuff that warranted her dismissal from the group, least of all that thing with the cat. That hadn’t been her fault at all. How was she supposed to know it wasn’t an outdoor cat, no one had thought to tell her that. Not her problem the stupid thing managed to get itself run over while outside. She felt bad for it, she really did, she even apologised for crying out loud.

Then there was the thing with Frank, but that wasn’t her fault either, after all he came onto her and she had turned him down. It might have taken a little longer to do it then it should have, but she was just being thorough, gathering proof. That was all. Hell, the pictures she sent him weren’t even of her! It was just ridiculous and there was no way that Franny could be angry with her, she had stopped Franny from making a horrible mistake. It was all just so ridiculous. They were lucky she wasn’t into the whole revenge thing. She could definitely drag them all through the mud. All those little things that were shared with her added up. She could tear the remains of her friend group apart with a few well placed phonecalls. She would be the bigger person.
When it first happened, she was worried that they suspected something, but that didn’t seem to be the case at least. If they had suspected she would have had to pull up her roots, move her entire life. It would have just been too messy. She was good at what she did and she enjoyed it, so she wasn’t ashamed, but it didn’t mean she wanted people to know. Besides, it wasn’t exactly legal and she didn’t want to get onto the wrong side of the police. It had been a temporary job that had expanded. It gave her an entire extra income. It was brilliant really. Her friends wouldn’t understand though, they’d think she was being abused or forced into it or something . Of course there were still dangers, but she was as careful as possible.
Why did they all seem to hate her so suddenly? It wasn’t like her behaviour changed or she did anything to any of them. It was just so sudden! Even her bosses seemed colder towards her. They must have done or said something but no one would tell her what, it was infuriating. It was all well and good trying to convince herself it was just some form of jealousy, but that didn’t really hold up, after all they wouldn’t be jealous of her, she had a lot going on in her life, but no more than any of them. She hadn’t gone after any guys they wanted, hadn’t flaunted any of her money, she was generous when she could be. Hell, just a few weeks before she picked up the tab for an entire night out. Did she even get a thank you? No. And then they just go ahead and cut her out?

It was downright cruel is what it was.
She looked at the small bottle, so full of promise. Would she continue? Could she? She had to though, she didn’t have a choice. It was part of the conditions. She didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye. She took out three then swallowed them with a glass of water. They said she’d be on a lower dose in a few months, that things would level out. That was something to look forward to. At least there were no side effects yet. At least none that weren’t intended. Still, it was cruel, even if it was her fault, it was easier, nicer, to blame them. It had to be done.

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New Town. Part 4

Part 1, Part 3

Max smiled as Doug opened the door, “Hey, are you all set to go?”
“Yeah, sure. Where are we going?”
“That depends, how are you feeling now?”
“Much better. I had a nap and a shower, I don’t feel all that sick or anything.”
“Good, I was hoping as much, in that case I think we’ll give Rosie’s a try, if it’s too much for you we can leave, but I think you’ll enjoy it, besides there’s someone I want you to meet.”
“Who?”

“I thought I’d introduce you to Maggie.”
“Didn’t you say she was dangerous?”
“Well, yes and no. She’s powerful, like, crazy powerful, also, don’t take any gifts from her, rarely is anything from her free. Don’t make any deals or agreements either. I don’t expect her to be like that tonight, but I just wanted to give a warning. She promised me she wouldn’t hurt you when you met, but that’s not much use. She wouldn’t agree to anything more.”
“This just sounds better and better.”
“She really isn’t all that scary. I’m just trying to prepare you. Just in case. It’ll be fine though, it really will.”

They left the apartment building, “so, who were you, before?”
“Me? I was no one. Really, I mean that. I had no family, no friends, worked in a crappy job I hated.”
“Then how did you get to be a part of the council?”
“Well, when the wall came down people panicked, I mean freaked the fuck out, understandably of course, but it was mayhem, absolute and complete. Riots, robbery, attacks. I helped calm things down, saved a few people here and there. Talked some other people down. It wasn’t any kind of power grab or anything, things just seemed to fall into my lap, people liked me, trusted me to help them, keep them safe. Some of the people I fought against now are my closest friends. I don’t really hold how people behaved back then against them.”
“But surely you should, I mean, when something like that happens you get to see what people are really like, don’t you?”
“I don’t believe that. I believe I got to see what people were like when they were terrified, when they were afraid that they, or their family were going to die. I mean, we didn’t know what was going on, lots of people thought it was some kind of terrorist attack and with all the new powers floating around that didn’t seem implausible, I mean it made more sense than magic wall. No one knew who they could or should trust. It took a lot for people to come back from that and I respect them for it. We’ve come a long way in three years. When those walls came down it was anarchy, and now we’ve a society, we’re functioning, we have law and order. People are happy to walk through the streets, nobody starves or freezes to death. That is what people are really like. They care, but they have to fight through a thousand instincts screaming self preservation in order to show it and that takes a lot of guts. It’s easy to stab someone in the back and steal their food, it’s harder to share it knowing it might be the last food you hold in your hands for a long, long time.”
They walked in silence for a few minutes. As they walked, Doug looked around the street, at the working streetlights, at the few cars that were parked up. It looked like a regular city, if not one with much less traffic. He could see lights in the windows the buildings, occasionally glimpsing an occupant as they walked by. The streets were not deserted, but there were only a few people out, rather than feeling creepy, it felt safe. There were well maintained trees planted regularly along the sidewalk, it all added up to make it a pretty nice place, even if it was a kind of prison for the people inside.

After a little while, Max broke the silence.

“They probably told you that they came in, sorted us out and we went back to being civilised. It was six months before they came in, eight before they offered any aid whatsoever. We already had the council at that point, it was new and a little shaky, sure, but we had it. They came in, thinking we were already dead or under attack by aliens or something. They didn’t expect to find us alive, functioning and recovering. If we hadn’t pulled together, they’d have been right. We fixed the problems ourselves, sure the government helped, but we did most of it.”
“I thought the government came in immediately, sent in teams for observation, brought food and aid, they said there were all sorts of diseases going around.”
Max smiled slightly, “yeah, I’ll bet. They sent in a group for observation. They lasted an hour before they fled. There was no aid, no help. Sure some of us were sick, but not that bad. There was no epidemic. They probably said that as a cover, could claim that we all just died out if they had to kill us all. Of course now they’ll say differently, say they thought the change was a sickness. That’s bull. The change isn’t pleasant, it lasts a few days, but it wasn’t communicable, we figured that out pretty quick. It would have been obvious to any outside source looking in.”
“You sound bitter.”
Max smiled again, this time wider. “It’s all in the past. No point in dwelling on it now. You’ll find some bitter people in here, no doubt about it, they think that the government failed them. I don’t think that, I think they made a pisspoor effort with what they had, but at least they tried. I think some of them are just still angry that people they knew and loved died. I mean we didn’t lose nearly as many as we could, or should have, but we still lost a lot. I don’t hold anything against your government. I don’t particularly trust them all that much, but I don’t blame them for what we went through. I think it was necessary. A kind of chrysalis. We could throw away what we didn’t need, keep what we did. We try to run things with the best intentions, but it doesn’t always work out. That’s something we learned pretty quick. Intentions count for shit when it comes down to it all.”

Rosie’s was bristling with people, Doug felt slightly off when he scanned the crowd, but nothing was close to how he felt before. The place was dotted with tables, most were completely filled, staff weaved their way through carrying trays of food and drinks, the walls were lined with booths and in the centre was a square bar lined with stools. The bartenders in the centre of the room were a bit more sedate than the rest of the servers, but were still moving quickly. Max led Doug through the crowd to the back, where there was an empty table.
“I didn’t expect it to be so busy. I would have chosen somewhere a bit quieter if I’d have known.”
“It’s fine.”
They sat and a second later a waiter appeared, hanging them both menus before pulling a small pad from his pocket, he flipped to a new page, “Hi guys, welcome to Rosie’s, would you like a drink while you peruse the menu?”

The waiter was of average height, but it looked like he had been made out of gold, his skin shone faintly, as did his hair, his eyes were a bright, almost impossible, sky blue. Doug tried not to stare.
“Could I have a coke?”
“Make it two.”
The waiter jotted it down, nodded then disappeared. They looked at the menus in silence, it was pretty standard restaurant fare. The waiter appeared again with their drinks, “are you ready to order or do you need a minute?”
“No, I’m ready, you?”
Doug nodded. They placed their orders, the waiter scribbled it down, then taking the menus, left them again. They sat in comfortable silence while Doug surveyed the room, he felt a little bad staring at people, but no one seemed to notice all that much. After a moment, his head started to feel a bit swimmy, he redirected his gaze to the table, “are you feeling ok?”
“Yeah, little head rush.”
“Have a drink, the sugar will help.”
Doug picked up his coke and took a sip without looking up. When he started to feel better he looked at Max again.
“Was it like this in the beginning? When people started to change?”
“Yes and no, we didn’t get it nearly as bad as you or the army guys, though good news, once you go through it all that’s it, you’re set for life. I think because there were less of us at the time we got used to it a lot more easily. It lasted about the same amount of time for us, probably a bit longer as we were all feeling shitty anyway. Then when the change happened, if you were still feeling it, it went away completely.”
Doug scanned the room again. “it’s pretty intense. I’d never thought I’d see something like this. I mean, even knowing it’s real, it’s hard not to think some of them are just wearing make up or costumes.”
“There’s some people out there that are still a bit hard to look at, unless their your own kind, makes your head hurt a little. It can be a bit hard to understand them too, the words sound all garbled. Takes a while to get used to it.”
“Are there many like that?”
“A couple, we’re not sure how many, they all keep to themselves really. They’ve a few representatives we meet with every few weeks or so depending on any issues they have and the severity of them. Mostly they’re able to look after themselves.”
“Would it be possible for me to meet one of them too?”
Max frowned, “I’m honestly not sure. I don’t think I’ve seen a pure human meet them before, I don’t know what’ll happen. We could give it a shot if you like, though it might be a little dangerous. If you’re comfortable with it we could set it up so you can’t see them, just hear. I don’t know, I’ll ask the others, they might be able to come up with an easy solution to it.”
Doug looked around once more, wondering what it would be like to meet something that screwed with these people. It was almost like a normal restaurant, he could see friends chatting, couples holding hands, but everyone looked, simply put, wrong. Sure, a few looked human, but Doug was sure that none of them were. Some had simple things, like strange and brightly coloured skin or hair, others were tall, towering at high tables and chairs at the back. Others were large, unbelievably so, taking up the space where three or four people could easily sit. Despite the size of some of the patrons, the place didn’t seem overly full. Whoever had changed everything around had done a good job, making sure that there was enough space for everyone.

The food arrived a moment later, the waiter placed their food down and with a smile asked if there was anything else. Assuring him they were fine, he left to check on another table.
Doug took a bite of his food, lasagne. It was perfect. Just the right balance of meat, sauce, pasta and cheese.
“Oh my god. This is the best lasagne I’ve ever eaten.”
“Rosie’ll be delighted when she hears that. She makes it herself.” Max was steadily cutting off pieces of steak and popping them into his mouth, occasionally pausing to eat a chip or take a sip of coke.

 

After the plates had been cleared, the waiter returned again, bearing two plates of cheesecake, “Rosie sends this with her compliments and she wanted me to thank you for what you said, it meant a lot to her,” the waiter grinned, “She said it wasn’t like you had to lie about it so she’d keep feeding you.”
“How did she know?”
Max looked amused, “don’t worry about it. Tell her thanks.”
The waiter nodded and left them. Doug looked around, the ambient noise meant no one was close enough to have been eavesdropping. He frowned at the cheesecake, then picked up a fork, it, like the lasagne, was perfect. light and creamy. Doug ate slowly, savouring each bite. When he was finished, he found himself absolutely stuffed and wishing he had room for more.

“This is one of the more popular places, I’m sure you see why. In a bit they’ll stop serving food, sometimes they have bands in too. Everyone is pretty friendly. C’mon, we’ll go say hi to Maggie now. She’s over there at the back.”
Doug looked to where Max was pointing but couldn’t see who he was talking about, there was an empty booth against the back wall. Doug stood and followed Max around the tables, Max would occasionally wave or call out to someone, but he never slowed too much.

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Guardian of the Temple. Short Story.

 

“And you shall protect this place for the rest of time.”

Pretty grand words for the first ones I’d ever heard. Sent a tingle up my spine they did, I mean, I was something now, I was somebody. I’d managed to claw my way up the shit heap and get first in line for assignments and here I was, immortal. No grant me three wishes then piss off bullshit for me. No, I was in charge, I had power. Sure the power wasn’t technically supposed to be used outside of my job description, but it wasn’t like there was anyone to stop me after a while.

For all the fancy talk of protecting, it was really quite boring. I basically sat around and watched people come along to worship what ever god was in the temple, watching for threats. Then there was a brief holy war, war, more of a skirmish really. These people didn’t know war, hell, once they were down, that was it, they were done. I’ve been in wars where I’ve been killed multiple times and they still expect me to keep going. Not so easy when someone’s armour clad foot is standing on your severed head. The war never made it to my temple, but I’d heard whispers, mental updates from those like me protecting the same god. The battle ended about six miles from here, can you believe it? I was so close to getting some action, then nothing. I assume we won, though no one thought to tell me anything about it. So I was just left sitting and waiting.

 

Sure, it was boring, but at least I had the people to look at, they can be mighty funny looking at times. Not that I ever pointed and laughed, that would be unprofessional. I held my tongue, didn’t even crack a smirk. It was about four hundred years after I was created that I finally got to show off my moves. The crowds had been dwindling for the last while, but there were still a few monks scurrying around. A group of bandits came along to ransack the temple. Man, you should have heard the noise of my joints when I stood up, great booming cracks. I think one of them shit themselves from the sound alone. Now that was a fun battle. It was over in a few minutes, each one torn limb from limb, I even included a handy clean up by hurling their bodies a few miles away. The priests were all pleased by what I’d done, but I think they might have gotten a bit of a shock because they started to leave offerings for me. Me! Like I even needed to eat. It was hard to find a good quality religious leader them days. There was a brief upswing in attendance after that episode, people travelling for miles to come see the temple. Then, attendance fell away again. Slowly but surely, soon we’d be lucky if we saw one outside worshipper a year. Then the monks stopped coming, one by one. It was starting to get a little lonely. I mean sure, I didn’t exactly talk to anyone, but I could listen in. The god was getting a little bored too. He popped up to see me sometimes. Or was it a she? It’s always hard to tell with divine beings. We had some nice chats about the strategic protection of the temple, but I could tell that he was put out, feeling a little unwanted. A few hundred years after that he came up to me one day, half assedly thanked me for my service than shot off. Didn’t even give me a chance to tell him that it wasn’t enough to get me out of sitting around here.

So here I am, stuck, alone. Trees started growing over everything, vines too. Occasionally I’d stand up and stretch myself out, clean myself up a little. I mean technically I wasn’t supposed to, but there was no one around to see, who was going to tell? Everyone else had buggered off. It’s been a long, long time. I think most of them are gone, at least those who’d remember me. They’d a pretty high opinion of themselves though. Now I’m stuck here for ever. I’m considering doing a bit of light travelling. I mean, if I’m to protect this place, I need to scout the area right? See what the lie of the land is. Hell, there could be an army camped over the hill and as long as they were quiet I’d never even know! It’s just good tactical sense really. I’m a bit iffy about these joints though, they are getting stiff. Dunno if I’d be able to pick up some oil somewhere. I mean, if I’m supposed to live forever you’d think they’d have thought of that kind of thing. I could just destroy this place myself. That would free me. It wouldn’t be pretty or fun and I’d be in a lot of pain, but I wouldn’t have to worry. Hell, if I leave and someone destroys it anyway I’ll have a ton of grief coming my way. In my early years I was happy for the cushy job, no more infighting or backstabbing. Man, there was a lot of backstabbing. It was sort of my thing. Easiest way to climb the pile really, there’s a tip for you there, a knife in the back makes a surprisingly good hand hold, even if they are writhing around on the tip of it. Now though, now I’m bored. It’s just the same thing. Watch the tree grow and die, oh look, there’s a new one. Big shock. Make bets with myself over which way the river was gonna start going, closer or further away. Spoiler alert: It dried up. So now I just get to sit and wait and wait some more.

 

You know what? Fuck it. I’m going for a walk.

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A Wonderful Place to Live. Short Story.

It was a wonderful place to live, if you followed the rules.

The rules were easy to follow, so easy in fact, that no one had ever really needed to be told about them. Being at home before ten was best, though it didn’t get really dangerous until after one a.m. This seemed to suit everyone. Children had a clear and delineated curfew, and the adults had to be home to enforce it. Date nights could go on late if one had a car, then it was much, much safer. The only bar in town opened until twelve and they were happy to sell cans and bottles of booze to those who wanted to continue drinking one they arrived, safely, home. There was nothing stopping you from staying outside of course, everyone just drifted home and closed the curtains. It always seemed to be just a bit too chilly to enjoy staying out any longer, a bit too dark, a bit too spooky.

No one really knew what happened if you stayed out, it had been a long, long time since anyone had tried. Every few years there is some talk around the school, that someone’s going to break curfew, but no one ever does. It’s that easy kind of rumour that springs up and dies on it’s own every once and a while.

Then of course, there was the house on Lexi. It was best avoided if possible. There was nothing wrong with it, it didn’t look abandoned, it was, in fact, well maintained. The lawn was always bright green and the perfect length, all year round in fact. The windows were always clean, though curtains blocked any view of inside. The flowers were perfectly placed in their beds, cycling through the seasons. Lights came on and went off, but no one ever actually entered or exited. Occasionally you could hear a garage door opening and the dull rumble of an engine, but if you were to look out at the house, you’d see nothing at all. The neighbours either side treated it as though it wasn’t there and the postman unthinkingly skipped over it on his morning rounds, there was never anything for that house. Sometimes neighbours would talk to one another in hushed whispers, with glances thrown back over their shoulders, about a strange noise they heard during the night. Of course no one ever saw anything.

Let’s not forget about Meadow Hill, which should never be travelled alone. Only if you’re carpooling. It was never acknowledged by anyone, but people would always find themselves distracted and they’d miss the turn, adding on a few minutes to their journey with a shrug and “oh well, too late now.” Or they find they suddenly remember they needed to pick up milk, so they drive to the convenience store just a little further up the road. There are of course, other roads, ones that must never be travelled under any circumstances, but those roads have long since been forgotten. If anyone asked about the road that connected east street and Silverwood, the one that ran besides Nan’s Bakery and came out at Stanley’s Supplies, they’d be looked at as though they were insane, after all, everyone knew those roads were never and had never been connected.

The public buildings all had at least one room, a room which no one ever entered. Everyone assumed that the door was locked and the key was misplaced long ago and of course, there is no reason on earth that anyone would want to go into a dusty old storage room that was probably just full of broken junk. Had anyone ever tried the door they’d find that it was, in fact, unlocked and the things inside were far greater and immeasurably terrible than previously thought.

There were these things and more, simple rules, ones that were easy to follow. If you obeyed the rules, as most people did, then everything was good. Very good in fact. Illnesses were few and far between, as was alcoholism, though any alcoholics either quickly found their way to an AA meeting, or they’d disappear from the town with no note or forwarding address. People in the town seemed slightly luckier than those outside it too, winning prizes and raffles, sometimes never even knowing that they had entered. The water was sweet and pure, the fruit was always delicious, there were many benefits to living there, if you knew the right way to do it. Families would move to the town with some regularity, but most moved on soon after. Those that stayed would flourish, settling down and growing roots in the community. Those that moved on would just smile at the mention of the towns name and tell you that they lived there, however briefly, and that it really was a wonderful place, then they’d quickly and adeptly change the subject. They wouldn’t tell you about the unease at night, or the houses that gave you chills or the roads that were always, always empty. They wouldn’t tell you of how late at night they would lie in their bed, listening as something gently scratch scratch scratched against the window, seeking to be let in. They wouldn’t tell you of the uneasy sleep and unpleasant dreams, that would always come later, at night when they were lying in bed, listening for that sound at the window, waiting for the faint unearthly shrieks that sometimes echoed through the town, but those noises never came. The town had rules and if a family left, the town would leave them alone, it no longer had claim over them after all, you were free to come and go as you please, as long as you followed the rules.

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New Town. Part 3

Part 1, Part 2

They left Annie’s and stood outside for a moment, “I’m sure you’re tired after what’s happened so far, I’m also guessing you didn’t sleep well last night. I was thinking perhaps I’d show you to where you’re staying, you can have a rest, freshen up, then we can meet up again later.”
“That would be great actually, thanks.”
“There was some discussion made about where you should stay, so we decided to give you an option. You can either stay in the hotel or in an apartment. The hotel has a restaurant attached, but it’s filled with us. In the apartment you’ll have freedom, you can cook for yourself, or you can have food delivered. I personally would recommend the apartment. It will give you a better feel for how we all live on a day to day basis and it’ll be easier for you to acclimatise.”

“I guess I’ll use the apartment then.”
“Great, it’s already set up. We’ll swing by the office and grab your things.”
“I’m surprised that you have a running hotel set up.”
“It isn’t quite a hotel in the traditional way. We found that we needed more space than we had, so it was an easy solution. People moved in, they pay rent which covers everything. They get food coupons each week, they use those in the restaurants that are either attached to the hotel or ones that have been designated. We can stop by tomorrow so you can have a chat with some of the residents.”
“That would be great, thanks. I would have thought there would be plenty of space.”
“Not everyone owned a place here, some of them came in just for work, a lot of people commuted from the suburbs, then found themselves trapped. We did the best we could. There isn’t a lot of land that we could build on, and we don’t really have the materials or the space to start large scale construction work.”
“It must have been difficult for those who were trapped.”
“Yes, it still is. Many haven’t spoken to their families since the wall went up. You’re actually a minor celebrity already. You’re bringing a lot of hope to people they’ll get to meet their loves ones again, others think it might be the start of a tourism trade.”
Doug nodded, “I had a bit of that before I went in. People asking me to take letters and keepsakes in or out, everyone who applied went through the same. I wasn’t allowed bring anything like that in with me though.”
“The guys in the army would complain about that in the beginning. They weren’t allowed take anything out, still aren’t, but people would approach them anyway. We had to put laws in place to prevent scuffles. It was messy.”
“I’d like to interview some of the people who were trapped in here alone.”
“Of course. We’ll have lists of people willing and ready to talk to you, there’s a bit of background info on each so you can choose who you think will be best suited. Of course you’re also free to talk to anyone you wish, we thought this might speed things up a little for you, some of people didn’t want to talk to you.

“Oh? Why?”

“They didn’t really say, but I get the feeling they’re being pessimistic, think it’ll just be false hope. Others just don’t want to think about their old lives, worried about how their families will react when they see them again, that sort of thing.”
Doug nodded, making a mental note to try slip away at some point, to meet people without Max looking over his shoulder. As they walked back to the office, Doug was relieved that this time the streets weren’t entirely empty. He still felt uncomfortable and he found it difficult to look at anyone for too long without feeling nauseas, but it felt safer knowing that there were other people still around. Could they still be called people? That’s what they were called in the news reports, but did they still call themselves people? They were so different. Doug thought for a moment, then asked, “So, with the different people and different classifications, do they go by their new classification, or do they still identify as human?”
“Well, that depends. People shifted around after the wall came up, they group together. We’ve no problem with it and most people are happy to trade places until they get to where they want. I don’t know if most of them have thought about it all that much, they feel safer amongst their own kind. The change brought with it some instinctual stuff, people you just want to avoid, like you with most of the people here. Once you’re senses calm down you’ll get something similar, but it will be less severe, just a faint unease around some, or an inexplicable attraction around others. Out of everyone though, there is a group that strictly identifies as regular humans, so far they have not changed, though we suspected it’s only a matter of time. There’s maybe two hundred of them left, there was more when they first banded together. There is maybe a thousand people in their group. I dislike calling it a church, though it has extremely religious overtones. They aren’t a threat, and haven’t indicated otherwise, but personally, they make me a little uneasy. Those who changes later were a little…distraught over it. It hit them much, much harder than those who hadn’t been prepared.”
“Could I meet them?”
“Yes, of course, I’ll contact them to arrange for you to go to one of their services. They’re completely welcoming, but I don’t know how they’d feel about you dropping by. They might be afraid you’ll paint them as some kind of suicidal cult to those outside, there were some rabble rousers who claimed that in the beginning. There was a lot of mystery and suspicion about them. They dealt with a lot.”

“So if you think they’re going to change, do you think that could happen to visitors?”
“No one that has come from the outside has changed, not one. So far they’re the only ones who are still entirely human, the last change we had was about two weeks ago, so it’s not a stretch to think everyone that was here will eventually go through it.”

At the office building they retrieved Doug’s things, then started towards the apartment where Doug was staying. The more time they spent outside, the more people there seemed to be. Doug privately wondered if they were told to stay away from him, or if they were frightened by Max.
“You’re up here on the 5th floor, apartment 505, you’re neighbours are pretty friendly, but we’ve asked that they leave you for the night, if you want to knock and introduce yourself to them feel free, but they won’t bother you. I guess I’ll leave you here, if you need anything there’s a list of numbers by the phone that you can ring. If you need anything don’t be afraid to ask, it won’t be a problem. I’ll be back in a bit to collect you for dinner, lets say four hours? Or is that too long?”
“No, that’s perfect, thanks.”
“No problem.”
They shook hands and Doug let himself into the apartment. It was larger than he expected. He closed the door behind him and locked it, then he slid the chain across it. He put down his bag in the short hallway and stepped into the sitting room. It held a large, comfortable looking couch, end tables and shelves full of books and knickknacks. It almost felt as though someone was already living in the place, despite its cleanliness and order. He went into the small kitchen and took down a glass. He turned on the tap and filled the glass with water, he looked at it critically, it was clear and didn’t smell bad. He took a small experimental sip, it tasted fine too. They hadn’t told him to avoid the water, but perhaps it just didn’t occur to them as it was already common knowledge, like when going to a foreign country. He looked at the fridge, that would answer it. He opened it and, despite it being full of food, there was no bottled water. He took another mouthful. Doug went back into the sitting room, carrying his water. There was a large table, just to the side of a small balcony, that was where he’d set up his stuff. The door to the balcony opened easily, he stepped outside and leaned against the railing. Glancing either side he could just see the edges of the other balconies, there were privacies screens set up either side. Down below he watched a few people walking along the roads. After a moment, he stood and went back inside. It was strange how normal everything felt here, particularly after his earlier reactions. Max was right, he was adapting. He finished the water and left the glass on the table, then he went to explore the rest of the apartment. The exploration didn’t last too long. The bedroom was again, larger than he expected, containing a double bed, a wardrobe, a chest of drawers and a television. He opened the wardrobe out of curiosity, there were clothes inside, all new. The drawers were the same. He had brought some clothes, but not much, he figured he’d be travelling a lot and would need to keep things light. They really had given him little information to go on. The bathroom held a shower and bath combo, a toilet and a sink, above the sink hung a mirror. He looked at himself for a moment, pale, bags under his eyes. He shook his head then went back to the sitting room.
It didn’t take him long to unpack and when he was done, he sat at his work station and began to type on his laptop, writing down all the thoughts and impressions of the day so far. When that was done he went to the bedroom and stripped off to his boxers and practically collapsed onto the bed.

He had set an alarm for two hours and all too soon it was going off. It took Doug a moment to wake and get his head together and, still tired, he dragged himself into the bathroom where he had a shower. After, he felt refreshed and much better than he had before the nap. He dried and dressed quickly, checking the time he saw he still had about twenty minutes before Max came to collect him, he sat at the desk again, intending to do some more work, but instead he scribbled a few notes and stared off into space. The knock on the door startled him from his day dreams.

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Hunger. Flash Fiction.

Hunger.

Deep, clawing, needful hunger.

It had been like this for days. Ever since the accident. Nothing would get rid of the empty hole in his stomach. The fridge and freezer had been emptied of food in the first day, the food was supposed to last for two weeks, but the hunger just kept growing and growing. He was tired, sluggish despite the constant need. His body felt sore and achey, almost like coming down with the flu. It seemed that if he wasn’t eating he was drinking, the thirst was there and it was terrible, but the hunger overrode it all. He had tried to buy more food and when he ran out of money he broke into a small grocery store, eating as much as he could. That was two days ago and he hadn’t eaten since. His body was emaciated now. He had been fat before, probably bordering on obese, if not well into that category already. He knew he was big, he didn’t need a scale to tell him that, but he was busy and there were so many other things to worry about. Now his skin hung from his body and the hunger was still there. He was weak, so very weak. It hurt to move. Unless someone found him soon he knew he’d be dead. He hoped Bruno was safe, the dog had slipped through the door and ran away days ago, he wasn’t sure exactly when. He hoped someone would find Bruno, take him in. There was no one else for him, he had no family, no real friends. He had been a loner by choice and while he was content before, now it troubled him. He didn’t want to die here, lying on the floor too weak to get up, just waiting for it to happen.

Pain.

Sudden, sharp. Curving through his stomach, down through his guts, he tried to breathe through it, it seemed never ending then, it stopped almost as quickly as it had begun. Somehow his body still managed to cover itself in a thin sheen of sweat. He panted heavily, glad it was over. He knew now that he was definitely dying, there would be no coming back from this.

Pain. His insides clenching, churning. Oh god, he couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t. Darkness tinged his vision, his entire world became that pain, sharp and burning.
He spasmed, legs and arms flailing. He couldn’t control it, or himself. The pain changed, became hot, wet, dimly he thought he soiled himself. The warmth spread slowly around him as his body jerked, he could see it now, a dark red puddle, smeared by his face and limbs. A faint moan escaped his lips, the last sound he would make. There was a final, mercifully brief, flare of white hot pain, then it ended and he knew nothing.
The creature writhed in the blood, it’s too white body turning crimson. It let out a shriek, the hunger, it was intense, it needed to eat, it needed food. It slid through the puddle, towards the door, towards food.

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Stuck. Short Story.

It didn’t seem like that big of a deal when it first started. After all it wasn’t like he broke something important, Sam just dropped a coffee mug when he took it out of the cupboard, it wasn’t even full. It was easy to dismiss, after all why would you think anything of that? Obviously he was just a little tired and that tiredness lended itself to being clumsy. People drop mugs every day after all. He cleaned it up and, late for work, ended up skipping his coffee until he arrived. Once there he noticed nothing wrong, he took down a mug without any problems, then he just forgot about it, as you do with all those little things that are unimportant.

The next time it was a glass, slipped right through his fingers even though Sam could have sworn he was holding onto it tightly. He frowned at his fingers once, in a distracted way, then cleaned it up and got another glass. His fingers felt a little strange, but he had been busy yesterday, doing all sorts of things so he probably just did something weird to his hand without realising. That had to be it. He didn’t link it with the broken mug, that incident was mostly gone from his memory. When asked when things first stared, he would point to the glass, after all it was a much more dramatic memory than the mug, and he had spent a long time making sure there were no glass shards left on the floor.

A few days after it was his fork, slid from his grasp and clattered off the table and onto the floor. With a sigh, he picked it up, unconsciously using his left hand this time, and put it into the sink, then he fetched a new one. In his moment of frustration he didn’t notice that his fingers had gone temporarily numb, or that that didn’t move all that much either.

It was a month after this that he realised he was being quite clumsy lately. It had progressed from glasses and cutlery to plates and bowls, even the chopping board as he moved it from the counter to the sink. He had begun to notice a strangeness to his hand, not quite a tingle, but not quite a numbness. His writing had been deteriorating too, becoming messier and hard to read.

It took him two weeks after noticing to convince himself that it wasn’t nothing and that he should go to the doctor. The doctor was little help. During the examination there appeared to be nothing wrong with the hand, maybe a little muscle weakness. The doctor recommended some stretching and perhaps a visit to a physiotherapist.

Sam did the stretches and the hand exercises that the physiotherapist had given him, but it didn’t seem to improve. If anything, things were just getting worse. Soon the strange not-tingling had moved from his hand up to his forearm.
Tests were done again and again, but there was no visible cause for the problem. His fingers would respond to things, but the grip was weak and the movements sluggish. The more things that were crossed off the list, the more the doctor began to gently hint that perhaps it wasn’t a physical problem after all.

The psychologist wasn’t much help, he wasn’t nervous about anything, he didn’t have any hidden secrets that were eating away at him and he was perfectly content with his life. The medications didn’t work either. Muscle relaxants that did nothing but make the response slower. Things that made him feel numb and uninterested in anything and all the while the numbness spread.

Then one day he woke and moved his fingers as he did everyday, to reassure himself he still could, but this day his fingers didn’t move. They stayed exactly as they were. He concentrated, willing them to even twitch, but nothing happened. He reached out with his other hand and felt the skin, it was warm, but it felt like touching someone else’s hand. There was no sense of being touched, only touching. He gently bent a finger forward, worried that if he hurt himself he wouldn’t feel pain.

The doctor seemed unsurprised to see him again. He looked at the hand, pronounced there was nothing he could do and suggested that Sam seek treatment elsewhere.

And he did.

Countless doctors, countless tests and still it spread. Up to his shoulder, down once side of his chest, into one leg, then the other. He spent his life going back and forth from specialist to specialist, seeking a cure, an answer, anything.

Finally it happened.

One morning he woke up and he couldn’t move his left arm. The only part of him that still worked. He could feel a small patch of blanket on his chest, but that was it. He was stuck.

It was another two hours before the nurse stopped by for her daily visit and found him like that. She called for help, without Sam’s assistance she would be unable to move him into the chair. While they waited she checked his pulse and made notes. He knew they believed him, they had done so ever since one of the doctors had tried to make Sam stand, lifting him up by the armpits and practically pitched him forward. That had not been a good day.

Still it spread, slowly and inexorably upwards, first his neck, then his mouth, finally his eyes. His chest still rose and fall, but breathing seemed to be all he could do without assistance. He couldn’t eat, couldn’t drink or go to the bathroom. Couldn’t even goddamned blink. That was the worst day. The day that his eyelids stopped responding and they taped them closed. He could still hear, still think but how were they to know that? He couldn’t call out. He stopped being a person to them. Some of the nurses still talked to him, told him about their day but others didn’t. They ignored him entirely. Moving him around, taking blood and not explaining what test was to be carried out. Sometimes they’d open his eyes gently so he could look out but as time went on they stopped doing that. He began to live in darkness, unable to move, unable to feel.
Just waiting for the day he’d be free.

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