One Little Pill. Short Story.

Martin looked at the pill sitting in front of him, it looked so innocuous. One little white pill, that was all. He had carefully extracted it from the baggy, pulling it from several of its friends. As he looked at it warnings rang through his mind, “Highly addictive.” “Ruins lives.” Flashes of faces appeared, gaunt, pockmarked, missing teeth, images of skeletal bodies, curled up for warmth or from pain. He’d seen plenty of it through his life, he’d seen all the warnings, all the documentaries. He had scoffed at those who took it, but here he was. Was it really so awful? He wasn’t hurting anyone after all, just himself and he knew it would make him happy again, that was guaranteed. He took a deep breath and picked up the pill, before he could second guess himself he popped it into his mouth and quickly swallowed, wincing at the taste. He picked up a bottle of Coke and quickly swished some around his mouth, it helped a little but the harsh, bitter chemical tang was still stuck to his tongue. He took another mouthful of drink and looked at his watch. Ten minutes, that’s how long it would take before it kicked in. He quickly chugged the rest of the Coke and settled himself into the couch. The high would last for six to eight hours, sometimes as long as twelve but unusually no longer. There was a two litre bottle of water nearby in case he got thirsty. He was told he wouldn’t need to drink, or to eat, but still, he wanted to be sure. He looked around his dull apartment, he lived here for almost a year now and it still didn’t feel like home. It was dark and gloomy, even when the blinds were open, there was no happiness here. He blinked and his apartment was gone.

He was sitting on his couch at home, his real home. The TV was playing morning cartoons, Jessie was lying on the ground on her stomach, head propped up on her hands. Martin’s breath caught in his throat.
“Guys, breakfast is ready!”
Jessie’s head whipped around and she launched herself from the floor, a smile plastered across her face, she bounded from the sitting room. Martin stood, feeling as though he couldn’t control his body, he moved through the house, from the sitting room and down the hall. The door to the kitchen was ajar and he pushed it open, squinting slightly at the light. Maryanne was standing at the kitchen island, adding another crepe to the pile. “C’mon, get them while their still hot.” Martin stepped forward and kissed her gently on the cheek, she laughed as she moved the pan further from him. He could feel her skin beneath his lips, so soft and gentle and warm. He could smell her, not her perfume, but her. He breathed in deeply as his hands moved of their own accord. They picked up the plate and he carried it to the table, Jessie was already sitting in her seat, her favourite Peter Pan plate in front of her. Her small knife and fork was carefully set on either side but Martin knew she wouldn’t use them. As he placed the plate down she pulled a crepe from the pile and started sprinkling sugar on top. Martin sat down, then looked around, “Do you need a hand honey?”
“No, I’m just done.”
She stepped around the island and came to the table carrying a carton of orange juice. She poured them both a glass then grabbed a crepe for herself, spreading Nutella across it and placing strawberry slices on top. Martin looked down to find that his hands had been busy while he had been distracted, they rolled up his crepe, carefully folding it over the keep both the bacon and the maple syrup inside. He brought it to his lips and tasted the burst of sweet and salty flavour. Everything faded for a second, blurring, Martin wanted to speak, say something, anything but his mouth was too full of food, he couldn’t get the words out, couldn’t breathe. He sat up and started coughing, already feeling the food disappear and the gloom settled over the room again. He felt hot, sweaty, he could feel the tears pouring down his face. It was true, everything they said about it was true. He took a slow, deep breath. It wasn’t real, it was just a memory, he couldn’t have stopped it. He was shivering uncontrollably, he throat was dry and sore, he picked up the bottle and took a few gulps. As he swallowed he realised he needed a piss. He stood and paused for a moment, his legs felt weak. He made his way to the bathroom, once he had finished there he felt his stomach grumbling. He went back to the kitchen. He could have sworn he just ate, he could still feel the crepes sitting in his stomach. He opened the fridge, there wasn’t much there. He grabbed out the ham and cheese and quickly made himself a sandwich. When that was done he scarfed it down quickly and went back to the lumpy, overstuffed couch.

He sat down and picked up the small baggie, he wanted to go back, no he needed to go back, but how long would these last? He looked at his watch, he had been out of it for about seven hours. The more you used them the longer they worked. He had one more day before he had to be in work, he could definitely have another pill, but then what? Could he really wait a week to see them again? He fished out another pill, they were expensive, but it was definitely worth it. He would have to take it easy though, he couldn’t use too much too fast, he didn’t want to get addicted after all. He looked at the white pill and resisted the urge to pop it into his mouth. He had to be careful about all this, clinical. He had proven it worked, he had seen them. It was the few hours they had spent together before the accident. He shuddered again, he had seen them lying on the road, mangled and bloodied, the officers had tried to stop him from seeing but they had been too late. He had avoided these pills, these little miracles for so long because he was terrified that was what he would see, he didn’t think he’d be able to stand seeing it again. He looked at his watch, then at the pill in his hand, he popped it into his mouth, “Fuck it.” He settled back in the couch, his heart thudding heavily in his chest, it wouldn’t be long now.

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Open House. Short Story.

James opened the cupboard and sighed, already nearly half the food was gone and he had only gone shopping the two days before. He closed it, “Damn fairies.” He saw something flit by in the corner of his eye, he struck out already knowing he wouldn’t hit the thing. He turned back to the kitchen and grabbed his cup of coffee, he took a sip. He knew if his mother was here she’d be loving this, if the old bat was still alive he would have more than welcomed her to take over this place.

His mother had him at thirty, feeding him stories of fairies and goblins and mother nature and all that other bullshit he believed until he had access to a computer at twelve. He saw that everything she had told him was a lie, not just about the fairies, but everything else too. There was no proof, no real record, nothing. As it was he counted himself lucky she actually taught him things like math’s and English while she homeschooled him. Of course a real school would have been better, he might have had a chance to alleviate some of the suffering she caused. Doctors were a myth, something people made up to make them feel better, downing potions and concoctions that were so far removed from their natural counterparts that they didn’t actually do anything. He had suffered through illnesses, given salves and bits of green leaves to chew on to dull a fever or pain. Once he had known what all those things were called, had known what they were supposed to actually achieve, but not anymore, most of it had been blocked out.  His mother was not pleased with him when he shared his newfound knowledge with her, claiming she, of course, knew best. She was his mother after all, his protector and nature didn’t allow those who were not ready to have a child, have one. When he turned eighteen she sold the house and the land for a tidy sum, gave him a grand, kissed his forehead and wished him all the best. He still remembered what she said to him. “I love you son, but it’s time you found your own path in life, I’m afraid I can no longer sit by and watch you destroy yourself.” And then she was gone. Off to join one hippy commune or another. It had been the last time he had seen her, or heard from her, until two years ago, when he received a letter from a man calling himself Father Sun, to tell him that his mother, or Mother Moon as she had come to be known, had passed away. He didn’t know the cause but James was certain that had a hospital intervened his mother would still be alive. He was told that she had been buried according to her wishes, under an apple tree in the orchard that gave them all the nourishment they required, her body going back to the true mother who created her. There was no address, no chance of him visiting. Of course if there was a heaven she was sitting up there and looking down at him, laughing delightedly as she was proven once and for all to be right about something.

He had moved in a few months before and at first things were normal enough. Occasionally he would lose something, misplace it, but who didn’t? He would put his keys down on the kitchen counter then find them, after hours of searching, in the freezer, his shoe, and on one memorable occasion, the cistern of the toilet. Then the food started to go missing. Memories started to creep up on him, stories of fairies and fey folk playing tricks. So, feeling silly, he started trying to do what the stories said. Leaving out bits of bread and milk to appease them, lining the doors and windows with iron so they couldn’t enter. If anything the bread and milk only seemed to encourage the little bastards. It was soon after he started putting them out that he actually saw one for the first time. He thought he was going mad, or had some kind of stroke. There it was, a small, lightly glowing humanoid insect, flittering about. He had yelled in surprise and the thing took off. James tried to chalk it up to a weird dream, or sleep deprivation, but soon he saw more and more until they seemed to be everywhere. He tried everything he could to rid himself of them, but nothing seemed to work.

He had caught one or two, though if it was because he was getting faster or they were getting slower he wasn’t sure. He kept them in jars for a brief period while he studied them. They had little faces, eyes, ears, noses and mouths, though their tiny teeth looked sharp. It was hard to tell as they never stayed still long enough when he was examining them with the magnifying glass. They would bang against the glass, either with their shoulders or their tiny fists. They were about four inches high at the smallest, six for the tallest. He wasn’t sure if that was due to natural variation or age. Their wings were like that of butterflies, large and soft. They glowed lightly, some kind of bioluminescence. He never kept them for long for fear of angering the others, he wasn’t sure how smart they actually were. He never saw them speak to each other, nor did they try to communicate with him. He wasn’t sure if that was because he simply couldn’t understand or pick up on their cues, or because they didn’t have any kind of conscious communication.

So he was stuck with them, sometimes when he was particularly stressed he considered doing something awful just to get them to leave him alone. It would be simple, capture one, kill it, tear off its wings and then leave it somewhere for the others to see. He always pushed those thoughts away, but it was only after thinking about them. He knew he would feel guilty for doing it, but how long would that guilt last? Besides, it could bring him peace and quiet for once. Still, there was always the danger of it backfiring, they came in and out of his house with ease, there was every chance that wouldn’t change and that they’d start to take revenge. Most of the things they did were annoying, but ultimately harmless. He was never late anywhere, he always found his keys in the nick of time, he didn’t starve, in times when he bought less food the fairies ate less of it. He shook his head as something flitted around his eyes, brushing absently at the air, he was stuck with them for now, maybe someday he’d figure out how to get rid of them, or how to communicate with them, turn them from pests into something a little bit helpful. A small one landed on his hand, only an inch tall, it stumbled across his skin, each step like a tiny, gentle kiss. He smiled down at it, it seemed as though it was only a child. James sighed, he couldn’t kill one of them, it would be too cruel. Carefully he moved his hand to the table and watched as the little one walked off his hand. A second later a larger one appeared and grabbed the little one, it peered at James for a moment then they both seemed to vanish. An instant later there was a coin on the table, James picked it up and smiled, at least they were starting to pull their weight around here.

 

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A Mother’s Love. Short Story.

Cindy looked at the plate of food and felt her stomach clench. There was nothing wrong with the food itself, nothing was gone off and it was food that she liked to eat, French toast with bacon, but still. The smell of it was too much, too strong, the greasy, salty smell of the bacon, the thick heady scent of the egg. The way the light shone on it, the puddles of grease. Her stomach clenched again. Cindy closed her eyes and took a slow breath, she needed to eat, it was a necessary evil. She picked up her knife and fork and began to cut into it. She could do this. She could. It was food she had eaten hundreds of times before, food she always enjoyed, it was only a mouthful. That was all she had to eat, just one mouthful and she’d start feeling better. She put the food in her mouth and started to chew slowly, methodically, trying to ignore the flavours and textures. She could feel the bile rising in the back of her throat, her mouth flooding with saliva. She scrunched her face and swallowed, the food moved down her throat slowly, almost sliding down against its will. Finally it hit her stomach and she opened her eyes, already the nausea was starting to recede. She sighed, it had been like this every morning for the past week and if anything it seemed to be getting worse rather than better. She continued to eat, doing so slowly, despite the ravenous hunger that the first bite had woken. She had learned from previous days that eating too quickly would only lead to vomiting. Every few bites she paused to sip from her glass of water, staying hydrated was important and seemed to help keep the nausea from returning while she ate.

When she finished her meal she cleaned up the dishes and went upstairs for a bath. She had never been a fan of baths before but now they were essential. She made the water as hot as she could stand, then sat in, sighing as she did so. The hot water started working immediately and she could feel the aches and pains in her muscles and joints receding. She lay back, closed her eyes and breathed deeply. The bath would keep all those pains at bay for at least five hours. When the time came she could always have another one. Showers were less than ideal, they worked, but the pain always returned much faster. She moved her hands over her stomach, feeling the bulge, she could feel it moving beneath her hands. She smiled and gently cradled her stomach.

Cindy stood from the bath and carefully stepped out, she dried herself off then started applying lotion to her stomach. The stretch marks were bad, but she had been warned that would be the case, after all she was the size of a beach ball already and it had only been three months. Her stomach grumbled sullenly as she applied the lotion, once she was done she dressed and went back to the kitchen, there she started on her mid morning snack. When she had finished assembling her sandwich she sat down at the table and started to eat, it was less of a snack and more of a meal, the sandwich itself had three slices of bread with plenty of meat, cheese, lettuce and sauce in between them, served with a large pickle and a bag of crisps. The pregnancy was taking a lot out of her, but that too was the be expected. Reducing the length of pregnancy from nine months to four would be exceedingly hard on the body, but those were the risks she accepted. Even though the child was not hers genetically she still felt a strong connection to it, she would never get to meet the child, not really. Once she gave birth it would be whisked away, off to wherever it was going to be raised. They didn’t tell her those things when she signed up, but now she wondered. She wanted to know that her child would be safe, that they would be raised by loving parents. She had suspicions as to where the child would be raised and none of them were pleasant. She tried to ignore those thoughts and instead imagine a bright, happy future.

She had been on the streets when they came to her. Cindy had been kicked out by Steven, her abusive ex husband. He had found someone else to latch onto, someone better than her and so she had been cast aside. She wasn’t surprised really, it was expected and he had warned her about it for years. It was her own fault for not listening. She had been on the streets for three weeks, too scared to go to shelters and not knowing where to even look for help when she was approached by a woman in a suit. The woman had been friendly and kind, had bought Cindy a hot meal and even a hotel room for a week, all just for talking to her. Cindy was useless, she knew that, she had no real skills after all, but she was healthy and still young and that’s all they were looking for. She didn’t know how they found her, or why they chose her, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was what they were going to give her, more money than she’d be able to spend in a lifetime, a house to live in. Once she had herself on her feet she could get a life again, maybe even go to college or learn enough to get a job somewhere. All they required was six months of her time. Two months for testing and preparation and four to carry the child to term, with the guarantee that if they pregnancy didn’t take she would still be paid handsomely for her efforts. It was the obvious choice.

After Cindy ate her snack it was time for another doctors visit. They were taking a sample of blood today, and then there were ultrasounds and a few other tests she could never remember. The ultrasounds were done daily, the blood tests were done weekly. They never gave her pictures from the ultrasounds, or let her see the TV, but she had caught a glimpse once, saw the tiny thing that was growing inside her, she held that image in her mind and every day she got to hear the babies heart beat, a strong, steady rhythm. She felt a sudden, jabbing pain in her side and sighed, perhaps if she was keeping the child all this pain would be worth it, but sometimes she did wonder. Cindy shook her head, no she wouldn’t think of that. She was doing something wonderful, something that would help all of mankind. She was the linchpin, without her their studies couldn’t continue, her name would be remembered for hundreds of years to come. Cindy placed her hands over her stomach protectively, what ever happened to the baby, she loved them, and she knew that that love would transcend distance, wherever the child ended up they would know that their mother loved them.

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Jacob’s River. Short Story.

It was a mild morning, the sun was shining and there was a faint breeze. The city came to life as people began to wake and get ready for the day. People rushed through showers and breakfast, still groggy from the nights sleep. They poured coffee into mugs, cups and thermoses while scarfing down a quick breakfast. They hopped in the car or ran to the bus. It was a small town, some ten thousand people in all. It wasn’t a well known place, few, if any could have pointed it out on a map. Today was the day that Jacob’s River would become famous. One moment it was there, then at 9.15 A.M. it was not.

The media descended on the area not long after the Army, who had already started to fence it off. A few lucky photographers got photos of where the town used to be, photos that would be broadcast all across the world. Where the town had been there appeared a smooth, gray surface. It curved and twisted, rose and fell as it followed the natural landscape. There were no pipes sticking out of it, no trees or bushes, nothing at all, stretching into the distance. The world watched with bated breath for weeks as everyone worked on figuring out what the hell had happened. Theories sprang up one after another, aliens, nuclear blasts, government conspiracy, advanced technology. Slowly it began to fade from public consciousness, the terror that it could happen somewhere else began to diminish. Occasionally people would talk about it over drinks, asking what ever happened to that town? You know the one? The River place. The story faded from the news as it was stagnant and that was boring. There were plenty of other exciting things happening out in the world. People still went on pilgrimages, visiting the site where the town once was, sometimes they left flowers or teddies for friends or family members who were gone.

Elizabeth hated driving and these long, winding roads weren’t helping. She was out here in the middle of nowhere going to where that godforsaken town was and for what? A pointless piece that would be trotted out to fill some space. Sure in an overall sense it was interesting, but nothing had changed in three years. The “Where are they now?” story her editor wanted wouldn’t make a lick of difference. They’d just give her the tour and the standard lines. “We’re working round the clock to figure out what happened and ensure it won’t happen again.” “There is no danger to the surrounding area.” “We will not rest until we have answers.” Blah blah blah. Elizabeth was enchanted with the entire thing when it first happened, but now the only ones who really thought about it were conspiracy theory nut jobs. Most people just tried to forget the whole thing and Elizabeth didn’t blame them. It was creepy and weird, if it happened here what was to stop it happening elsewhere? A thought that kept more than a few people up at night in the beginning. Elizabeth flicked on a CD, there were no radio stations out here, well, no good ones at least. She turned the music up and hummed along, she’d be there soon enough and then she could get out of this damned car.

“How’re things this morning?”
“Fine, the usual. Nothing to report.”
Matt sighed, “I suspected as much. Anything important on for the day?”
“Yeah, we have a reporter coming out for a tour of the place.”
Matt sighed, “Who got the short straw?”
Debra grinned at him, “We all voted and you weren’t here so…”
“Damn. Well, I’ll try and make it a short one.”
“Why? It’s not like we’ve anything to do today.”
“I’m supposed to do a fence check.”
“I can cover for you if you like.”
“Really?”
“Yeah, I mean I’m not doing anything here, might as well use up some of the day. Besides it’s an easy enough job and you can owe me one.”
Matt smiled, “deal.”

Matt stood in the parking lot and glanced at his watch, she was late. He didn’t mind too much, it was a nice day out, but it was still rude. He heard a car approaching and nodded to himself, that would be her. It had been a few weeks since anyone had tried to drive up here. Most of the time it was just the regulars saying hi, they had their own spots they parked in. Security didn’t mind them too much, they were respectful, didn’t litter and kept to themselves. It was the teenagers and the gawpers that pissed them off. Loud and yelling, always dumping their shit around the place. A blue car pulled into the lot and parked in one of the few free spaces. A woman stood out of the car a moment later, she was tall and blonde, she wore a pair of jeans, a t-shirt and runners. Matt had expected her to be wearing a suit of some sort. She had her hair pulled back in a loose ponytail, it also appeared as though she wasn’t wearing any make up. He had thought she’d be caked in the stuff, like a TV anchor. She approached him, squinting in the sun, “Hi, I’m Elizabeth Short, from The Evening Star?”
“Hello Ms. Short, I’m Matt Cooper, one of the security guards here. Welcome to our little outpost.” They shook hands, her grip was strong.
“I hope your trip out here was pleasant.”
“As it could be. The roads were in good condition at least.”
“Yeah, they’re better than there were a few years back. They were all redone after the town disappeared.”
“Where should we get started?”
“Well, I suppose I’ll show you the edge, C’mon, it’s this way.”

It was a short enough walk though a gate in the chain link fence. It was different seeing it in person, the vast expanse of gray. Elizabeth looked at the fence as they walked by, it wasn’t as tall or as tough as she thought it would be.
“Does the fence enclose the entire space where the town was?”
“Yeah, pretty much. I know, I know, you thought it’d be bigger. We don’t need to bother with it all that much really, between you and me it’s just to make us look good.”
“Oh? Why’s that?”
“Do you want to talk a walk out there?”
“No. Not really. Is it safe?”
“Oh, perfectly safe. I can go with you if you like.”
“No. That’s all right.”
Matt smiled, “See? Everyone has an aversion to it. We haven’t met anyone who wanted to stroll across it once they got up close and personal.”
“But it is safe?”
“Oh totally, look.”
Matt took a few steps and was standing on the grey ground. His face started twisting, his mouth clenching.
“See? Perfectly safe.”
He stepped back and shivered.
“What was that?”
“It’s hard to explain. Try it.”
Elizabeth looked at him, then at the ground. “It’s not going to fuck up my phone or anything, is it?”
“Nope, but I can hold your bag if it makes you feel better.”
Elizabeth passed it over to him then took a step forward. Immediately she stepped back. “Jesus Christ” She shivered.

“I know, awful isn’t it?”
“It’s like biting a popsicle stick, but all over your body.”
Matt nodded, “Yup, I’ve also heard touching cotton wool or writing on a chalkboard.”

“What causes it?”
“I don’t really know to be honest. I’m sure someone has figured it out and just hasn’t bothered to tell us yet. But it works on everyone, humans, animals. No one wants to go onto it.”

“So what kind of progress has been made in finding out what caused it, or what it is?”
Matt sighed, “Very little to be honest, though we’re just security so we don’t get told much.”
“Would I be able to talk to one of the scientists?”
“They’ve been told you were visiting, and we did ask around, but none of them wanted to take the time. Sorry.”
Elizabeth shook her head, “No, don’t worry about it. I wouldn’t want to talk to me either. I’d say there’s a lot of people bugging them to find something, anything.”
“Yeah, at this point they’re going to start losing funding in another year or two.”
“Really? Why?”
“Well, they haven’t found anything, nothing concrete anyway. The people, well, I don’t know about you but I think they’re gone and they’re not coming back. Some people live with the hope of it happening but I think it’s a little naïve.”
“Oh?”
“Yeah, well, look at it. It isn’t right. You felt it yourself, what ever happened there did something to the land itself. There’s nothing out there, no trees or plants, no animals, nothing man-made. Just this gray stuff.”
“What is the gray stuff?”
“That they do know, it seems to be just concrete.”
“Concrete.”
“Yup. All the tests done on it come back with that, just plain old concrete.”

Elizabeth looked out at it, it did look like ordinary, smooth concrete, but it couldn’t be that.

Matt lead her down a short path for a few different views of the area, chatting as they walked. Elizabeth took a few photos on her phone, mostly for herself, they had already decided on the photo for the piece, a Welcome to Jacob’s River sign, behind it was nothing but that empty expanse, she had to admit it was a chilling picture. Once the tour was finished she thanked him and went back to her car. The tour itself was a little interesting, though she wasn’t sure if it was the subject or Matt himself. She got into her car and checked her watch, it only took half an hour, Elizabeth sighed, she really could have just done the entire thing on the phone and saved herself a five hour round trip. Sure it was interesting to see it all, but she had expected something more. She turned on the car and pulled out of her space.

Matt watched Elizabeth drive off, “She’s leaving, keep an eye out just in case but I don’t expect her to return.” They’d had problems in the past with reporters coming for the tour then trying to hop the barrier a few miles away. They had one guy manage to get himself a whole hundred feet onto the concrete before they’d caught up to him, took him almost an hour to get that far and only a few seconds to sprint back. Matt still didn’t know what the hell the reporter was trying to accomplish. Matt turned and went back into the small building, least it was over with now, all that was left to do was to sit around, keep a bit of an eye on things and wait until his shift was done.

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Through the Looking Glass. Short Story.

“Is the line secure?”
“Yes.”
“Ok, are you ready?”
“Yeah. I think so.”
“Ok, take a deep breath.”

John felt as though the air was being ripped from his lungs, a horrible cold fell over him and then it was over. He stood where he was, he felt warm but he was shivering uncontrollably. A second later Tom appeared beside him, “It’s bracing, isn’t it?”
John nodded, his teeth were chattering.
“It fades quickly, the first time is the worst, after that it gets a little easier each time.”
Already Johns shivering was fading, Tom studied their surroundings. They were in what appeared to be a meadow, green grass stretched off into the distance, the sky was a light blue, the sun shone down on them and a few trees were dotted about the place. Despite the beauty and colour of the area everything seemed off, flat. The colours weren’t bright enough and it looked as though you could reach out and touch anything, from one of the trees to the very sun itself. John squinted up at it, despite the brightness of it there wasn’t much heat. “Why isn’t it hot here?”
Tom shrugged, “We don’t know. It’s only ever warm or cool. Never hot or cold.”
John tried not to wince, words sounded strange here, fragile and sharp.
“We’re not going to do anything too crazy because it’s your first time here, I want you to do a bit of exploring, then come back.”

John nodded and started walking, the grass underneath his shoes felt strange, it yielded easily as he walked, but there were faint crunching sounds, like he was stepping on glass. He squinted his eyes, trying to get a better idea of distances. A second later he walked into a tree. The tree shook, its leaves jingling faintly, John rubbed at his forehead while Tom chuckled. John continued moving, keeping his arms out in front of his this time. The more he explored the easier it became to discern distance until he was able to walk freely. He returned to Tom, “Ok, you seem to have depth perception down, I want you to tell me what you see here.”
John looked around, “some trees, grass, a few flowers, the sky.”
“Anything else?”
John looked again, feeling like he was missing something obvious.
“No?”
“Where are the birds? The insects?”
John realised he was right. The silence was all encompassing, even their words didn’t seem to travel far. “There’s nothing living in this meadow. Not the grass or the trees. They’ll grow and shift and change, but there is no rain here, nothing to fertilise the trees, the leaves will never fall, no insects to pollinate.”

“So how does it keep going?”
“We don’t know. We can’t bring equipment across to do any proper tests. I want you to take some samples though. What ever you want.”
John turned back and plucked a few leaves from the tree, he took out a knife to take a sample of bark when Tom called out behind him, “I wouldn’t do that. It won’t end well.” John put the knife away and plucked a flower instead, “How so?”
“Taking something small like a leaf or flower or blade of grass is fine, but there is a limit to how much damage is caused. Once that limit is reached something alerts the people here to our presence and then they attack.”
“People? People live here?”
“Of course, why wouldn’t they?”
“How could they live here, like this?”
Already the sound of speaking was starting to hurt John’s ears.
“They would ask the same thing of us. It’s difficult, they’re hostile and speak a language that we haven’t been able to decipher. It sounds like a mixture of speaking and the sounds of glass breaking.”

“But if they speak they must be intelligent, they could be reasoned with.”
“We look similar on the surface but beneath that we are nothing alike, we are completely alien to them as they are to us. It’s not just language, it’s movement, social queues, clothing and an overall sense of wrongness. You’ll understand if you ever meet one of them.”

“Will that happen?”
“I hope not. We try our best to avoid them, sometimes it happens despite our precautions. Have you taken enough samples?”
“Yep.”
“Ok, then we will return, after you.”
John looked down at the box on his hip then carefully pressed three buttons, twice on the first, once on the second and twice more on the third. The world seem to turn upside down for a moment, then he was back in the room they had started in. Already he was shivering, but Tom was right, it wasn’t as nearly as bad as last time. He reached into his small pouch to take out the sample, “Ow!” Tom appeared beside him as he was putting his finger to his mouth, there was a small cut.
“I probably should have warned you. Those samples you took are razor sharp here. Hang on, I’ll get some gloves.”
Tom grabbed two pairs from a shelf and passed one to John, “Ok, take them out very carefully and put them on the desk.”
John donned the gloves and reached into his pouch again, muttering to himself as he did, he removed the flower first, then stared at it in wonder. It was completely clear, as though made of glass, it was as though someone had made a perfect replica of a flower. The leaves were the same. “The edges are razor sharp and they are all exceedingly delicate. I’m surprised you didn’t break one.”
“What happens if they break?”
“Well, when they break they kind of disintegrate and just fall through your hands like dust, but each mote of dust is sharp. It won’t cut you too badly, but you’d be grazed.”
John shook his head, “thanks for the warning.”
“I thought you’d wait until I got back before taking anything out.”

Tom approached and picked up a leaf, he held it above the table and snapped it in two, it broke cleanly and a ringing tone filled the room for a brief second, the leaves crumbled, the glass landing on the table with a musical tinkling.
“What are they made of?”
“All our tests just come back with glass, ordinary glass. We still don’t know why it falls apart like that.”
“Why is the stuff we bring over ok?”
“We don’t know that either. People from their side stay the same when they come here, but any kind of injury and they can shatter. Sometimes it can be a small nick, other times nothing will happen.”
“How do you know that?”
“The people before us, the ones who discovered it didn’t think they were real people, and so felt no compunction in examining and testing them.”
“Have you considered that is why they’re hostile?”
“Yes, I have thought of that before. We try to be friendly in all our encounters and we make sure to disengage as soon as possible. Most of the time we immediately leave.”

John turned and looked at the large piece of glass on the wall, “All that though, inside there?”
“I know, it’s very strange, isn’t it?”
“Who would have thought an entire world could find inside a mirror?”

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A Thing of Beauty. Short Story.

Ted put down the pencil and looked at his doodle, it was the same as the others, a rough sketch of a sideways triangle, which was supposed to be a cliff, a splotch of darkness above a thin line for a tree, then a few curling lines at the base of it all for water. He didn’t know why he kept drawing it, but something about it seemed incredibly soothing. Of course it had none of the details that he had in his mind, it didn’t have the other, distance cliffs, the birds flying above, the flowers that surrounded the tree and carpeted the cliff top. Besides, he wanted to share it with others, for them to feel the relaxing power of it. So far he hadn’t succeeded in that part, but Ted knew that was only because he wasn’t drawing it right. All those flourishes and colours needed to be there, to intermingle and combine to create something greater than the sum of its parts. For the first time in his life Ted wished he could draw, that he was able to pick up any kind of instrument and transfer what was on his mind onto the page. Sure he had looked at other drawings that people had done and vaguely thought it would be nice to be able to do something like that, but this was different. This was like a need, a need to explain, to share.

The image had come to him in a dream the week before, he had been walking up to the tree, but he woke up before he could reach it. Every night since he had the same dream and every night he got a little closer, but so far he hadn’t made it to the tree. Ted knew once he did something amazing would be revealed below, that the beauty and majesty of it would be breath taking and unlike anything he had ever seen, or ever would see again. Part of what was so frustrating about it was that he couldn’t seem to explain it correctly. When ever he tried he got weird looks from people, Andy had told him that it sounded like a nice dream, but she just didn’t want to hear about it any more and she was the one who insisted he start telling her about his dreams. He knew he sounded intense when he spoke of it, but it was an intense feeling and he wanted to get that across to people. Back in his room he had started trying to paint it. Mostly there were just crumpled balls of coloured paper but he knew he was getting closer with each stroke of the brush. If it took years he would capture it on paper and then he’d be able to show everyone.

As class ended he gathered up his things and filed out with everyone else, the others were going to the pub, but he didn’t want to go drinking, he never slept well after a few drinks and he never dreamed. He didn’t want to do anything that would slow him down, even if it was just by a day. He waved them off and left, claiming he felt a little under the weather. Normally that wouldn’t stop him but they didn’t seem to really mind, they knew he’d talk about the dream obsessively once he had a drink or two.

Back in his room he dumped his bag onto his bed and took out the paints. The colours he was using were wrong, the greens and greys, but they were the closest he could get. Besides, these were just practise ones, the real one would be done later, when everything else was perfect. He picked up a brush and started to paint.

When he was done his arm was sore and his hand was cramping from gripping the brush too tightly. He flexed his hand slowly and massaged it until it felt better. Once that was done he looked over his work. It was better than it had been the night before, but it was still shitty. He sighed to himself, at least it didn’t look like a ten year old was doing it anymore, though at the rate he was going it could take him another four months before he was even close. Ted yawned, then stretched before plodding down the hall to the bathroom, there he quickly brushed his teeth and splashed some water on his face, with that done he headed back to his room.

Ted lay in bed and closed his eyes, he started to breathe deeply. He had never had a problem falling asleep before but he had some difficulties since he started having the dream. It was all he could think about and when he thought about it his heart started beating faster. After a while his mind started to calm and he nodded off.

Ted opened his eyes and took a deep breath of the orange scented air. All around him were flowers, thousands and thousands of them, all different colours, up ahead was the tree. He stood and looked up, the sky was a deep blue, a few clouds drifted by, blindingly white. He started to make his way up the hill, but everything was moving in slow motion, his legs didn’t seem to want to go forward, it was like trying to wade through mud. He could see the path he had started to wear into the ground ahead of him. The tree was getting steadily bigger, despite it being so close he couldn’t make out the details, everything about it seemed blurry and off but he knew once he touched it it would all become crystal clear and beautiful. He took another step, then another, midway during the next he woke up. Ted groaned in frustration and rolled over, he closed his eyes, hoping he’d fall asleep again, but he couldn’t. after a few minutes he got out of bed and stretched. Oh well, he was closer again and tonight he would be even closer.

The dreams continued on for a week, every night he would get just a little bit further, but so far he had yet to reach the tree. The dreams had started to change too, different colours were starting to bleed through, the sky was no longer the deep, clear blue it had always been, now there were streaks of purple and yellow. The grass, which had been a bright green now had splotches and patches of red. As he neared the tree he began to glimpse the ocean, a mixture of greens and blues, but now there were spots of black. Sometimes the colours were there from the beginning, other times everything would be fine, then things would seem to shift, the colours changing for a brief second before returning to their natural state. Ted found these colour shifts distressing, they were wrong and they ruined the beauty of the dream. He started finding it harder to paint the scene accurately, he would zone out in front of the canvas and when he had finished he would look at his work to find the colours had infected that too, like an old, water stained photo. Usually he would take a few minutes to try and correct the mistakes, but they were still there, underneath the paint and he could never change that.

Ted had locked himself away from everyone, he didn’t have time for classes or friends, he was so close to completing the painting and it needed to be finished. He was almost at the tree, another night or two and he would finally be there. The tree itself was still blurry and he knew it would be until he touched it, then he would see it properly. He could see the ocean stretching out into the horizon, a beautiful, calming mix of colours. The other colours still bled through, but he was able to ignore them now, like marks or blemishes on an apple, they were ugly, but they didn’t take away from the overall feeling of the place. If anything they helped enhance the beauty of the proper colours.

Ted reached out, his hand so close to the trunk. He paused, hand hovering mere inches from the bark. Did he really want to touch it now? After all this build up? Would it really be as beautiful as he expected? He moved his hand closer, the tree emanated a soothing heat, Ted took a deep breath and laid his palm against the bark. He could feel it, the heartbeat of the tree, slowly thumping. The tree became clear, he could see every detail of it, it was magnificent. Its leaves were interspersed with bright red flowers, its bark was grey and brown, ancient and new. The colour shift came again, Ted snatched back his hand. The flowers were no longer flowers, they were hearts, beating as one and dripping blood, the trunk was no longer gnarled bark, instead it was faces, elongated and screaming in pain. The colours shifted back and he was staring at the tree. Dark, ominous clouds appeared in the sky above, instantly blanketing it, Ted shivered in the sudden cold. This wasn’t right, this wasn’t what the dream was like. He started to turn, moving so incredibly slowly. He would wake up, any second he’d wake up and the nightmare would be over. He could figure out what had corrupted his perfect, beautiful dream. A heavy wind picked up, the branches of the tree started whipping about, lashing at his back and sides. Ted screamed with each strike, he could feel blood welling at each cut, hot and thick. Ted tried to run, but he was still stuck in his turn as the tree lashed out at him again and again. A cold rain started, suddenly it was warm and thick, around him was blood, the smell of it heavy in the air, he could taste the coppery tang on his tongue. There was a final gust of wind, incredibly strong, it send one of the branches diving into Teds back, he shrieked in agony as the branch burst through his chest, his heart speared on the tip of it. The branch began to rise, dragging him upwards, he writhed and screamed in pain. He slid down the branch, the wound widening until his back hit the trunk. His screams became part of the chorus as the faces on the trunk joined him in agony.

When it was over the sky cleared and the breeze became light and pleasant, the tree stayed on its perch, overlooking the sea. Ted’s face had joined the others, he screamed and screamed as he saw someone in the distance, trying to warn them away, but they couldn’t hear him, nor could they see him. He could only watch in horror as day after day they made the same trek he had, each step bringing them further into the trap.

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Too Good to be True. Short Story.

Susan gagged, then coughed. That damn smell was back again. She ran to the sink and turned on the tap, after letting it run for a few seconds she shoved the plug into the hole and turned off the tap. Susan left the kitchen, went to the downstairs bathroom and did the same, flushing the toilet for good measure. Once downstairs was done she went upstairs and did the same to the sinks and toilets up there. When she was finished Susan went around the house lighting candles before finally opening some windows. A cool breeze came in causing her to shiver. The day was a cold one and the rain wasn’t helping. The smell faded quickly at least, after about ten minutes she closed the windows and threw on a hoodie. The smell went quickly, but it was strong and foul when it first appeared, it smelt like rotting seaweed and dead animals, salty and putrid. It only seemed to come when it rained, which was far too often for Susan’s liking. They had warned her of the smell, that they had plumbers out to look for the source, had everything cleaned, even had the entire system replaced, but the smell always returned. Before moving in she reasoned that it didn’t rain all that often and the reduced rent was well worth it, after all she was able to get a huge house in a fancy area for dirt cheap, all by herself too. The rent on this place was the same as her old one bedroom apartment, even now, once the smell was gone, she still felt that it was an okay trade off. Still, if she could just get rid of it the place would be perfect. She had tried a few things herself, filling the sinks and toilets with bleach when there was rain forecast then letting the bleach down the drains once the rain started, using baking soda and vinegar. Nothing worked, if anything it seemed to make the smell worse.

The pipes gurgled and rattled as it continued to rain. Susan had learned to mostly ignore the sounds, even though they sometimes sounded like someone thundering back and forth up stairs. To her it seemed as though there was a leak somewhere in the piping, the rain was getting in somewhere, setting it off. Probably a backlog of leaves and other gross, rotting things were providing the smell. She knew she’d likely never know what the problem was, but it still provided a nice distraction when she wasn’t in the mood to do any work, and today was one of those days. She doodled aimlessly on the writing pad in front of her, a few words had been scribbled down at various points but now she forgot the ideas that were behind most of them. Susan blamed the weather, at least when it was vaguely sunny out she could go sit in the garden and do some work out there. It was well maintained, the owners had someone come in every few weeks to tidy it up making it a nice place to go out and sit around in. There was a gazebo outside with a table in it, but the wind and the rain would be too much, she’d be soaking wet and freezing in no time. She sighed and stood from the table, she’d make herself a cup of tea, then she would get to work.

As the kettle boiled she made a mental list of what she needed to do, it wasn’t a whole lot, finish off the few remaining bits of a project, but that wasn’t due until next week, she had to get a start on an essay for college, then her boss wanted everyone to come up with five ways to make the store more customer friendly. That one was the easiest and she had already written down a few ideas, they were probably a bit shitty and no doubt everyone else would say the same things, but it was something. Susan figured if they wanted good ideas they should be paying for them, she had enough homework from college. The kettle clicked and she filled her mug, then brought it back to the table. Outside the rain was just getting heavier.

When the rain started to die off, Susan stood from the table and began to get things out for dinner. She was feeling too lazy to cook and if the rain started again she wouldn’t be able to wash anything so she decided on oven pizza and chips. Nice and easy, no real clean up, everyone wins. The dishwasher worked fine when it rained, but the smell came out of it too, despite what the owners said she still didn’t trust it. It never smelled after a cleaning cycle but god only knew what was washed through the pipes and onto her plates. Susan dropped the bag of frozen chips and let out a shriek, spinning around to look out the window, something had banged into it, she moved towards the window, half expecting to see a bird lying on the ground outside but there was nothing. Looking closer she saw what looked like a handprint, the outline was greasy and waxy. She moved close to the window and peered around the back garden, she didn’t see anyone. The space was wide and empty enough that had someone been there she would have spotted them running away. Still, just to be safe she checked the locks on the windows and doors. Feeling a little silly she picked up the bag of chips and continued making dinner. It was probably nothing, a sudden gust of wind.

She was just sitting down at the table when she noticed the smell. Susan sighed, sometimes it happened, the smell would come through despite the plugs but that usually only happened in extremely heavy rain. She double checked that the sinks were still full of water and then flushed the toilets again. The pipes juddered and rattled, and if anything the smell seemed to get stronger. Susan went back to the kitchen and opened up a small window to help clear out the smell. It improved for a moment or two, but again it started getting stronger. The oven timer started beeping, Susan jumped, then hurried over to turn if off. She took the food out of the oven and put it onto a plate, though her appetite was rapidly fading. She picked up the food and turned, she froze and dropped the plate. A large, slimy creature filled the doorway, the smell hit her like a wall, she opened her mouth to scream but before she could she started to throw up. The great, hulking thing moved into the room.

Barbara put down her bags and sighed, home sweet home. Patrick came in behind her, “how is it?”
“Perfect.”
“Good, we’ll get another few years before it comes back.”
“Well, we would have had longer if you let that family move in.”
Patrick shook his head, “They had young kids, that would have been suspicious. Much easier for a college kid to go missing. They go missing all the time. Don’t worry, we’ll deal with it when it comes back, even then it’s only two months or so for a few years worth of peace.”
He pulled her against him and kissed her, “I know honey, I know. It’s worth it.”

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