Monster Hunter. Flash Fiction.

Gavin poured hot water into the mug, “if you don’t want to talk about it, it’s fine.”
“No, it’s good for me to talk about it I think. Lets me get it all out.”
Gavin nodded and placed the mug in front of her, “If you need to stop, or take a break at any time-”

“Don’t worry, I’ll say.”
Stacy wrapped her hands around the mug, “I’m not really sure where to begin. There was never a moment that really started it, it was always there. By the time I realised what was happening I was already in too deep. It seemed so normal then, that it was just the way the world worked.”
She took a sip of her tea, “I was doing everything, working all day, coming home to a filthy house, cleaning, then cooking dinner. I don’t know how the house always managed to get into such a state. Plates would be piled in the sink, dirty clothes were everywhere. I could never understand it. Now I think he purposely did it, went through the dirty clothes and scattered them around. It always made me think I was going crazy. I’d tell him that I just cleaned the room yesterday and he’d frown and look at me with these slightly sad eyes and tell me that I had done that days ago.” She shivered slightly. “I questioned everything I did, always terrified that I was forgetting something else.”

It was hours later when she was finally done, she felt tired, drained, but better. Gavin had said little as she talked, only occasionally interrupting to ask a question or two. After he had hugged her and she had cried. She couldn’t remember the last time someone just held her, where there were no worries, no fears, just the warmth of another person.

That night she lay in bed, she had told Gavin most of it, but not the worst. She couldn’t bring herself to tell him that, she didn’t think she’d be able to tell anyone that. Even if she did no one would believe her. As it was everyone thought Tony had just packed his bags and left her, the poor battered, abandoned wife. But that wasn’t what happened.

It appeared soon after it all started, Stacy never said anything, she was too afraid. The hulking shadow that prowled their home, always near Tony, hovering around him. She knew she was seeing things, she had to be. Tony had always told her that he could get her locked away in some mental hospital if he told people what she was really like, so she kept her mouth shut. The thing wasn’t that big at first, maybe five feet, but at the end it was hunched over, its head still brushing against the ceiling as it walked.

The night it happened had been just like the others, home, clean, cook, sit in silence, bed. Sometimes Tony would make his fumbling advances, hands that grabbed and pinched and moved in all the wrong ways. Sex was never something she enjoyed, it was always just a duty, like the cooking and cleaning. It was easier to just get it over with. He had been handsy that evening, she expected him to roll over and start pawing at her, but it didn’t happen. She had laid in bed, staring into the darkness waiting for the hands that never came. Sometimes during the night she rolled over, she couldn’t sleep, the room felt hot, stuffy. Tony was wheezing in his sleep again. She reminded herself to tell him, but she knew she wouldn’t. A part of her, a secret part, hoped that maybe he’d just stop breathing and then he’d go away for good.

Stacy had gotten out of bed and went to the bathroom, squinting in the harsh light of the hallway. She pushed the door open when she returned and there it was, lying on top of him, mouth pressed firmly against his, its long hands were holding his arms down. Tony’s eyes were wide and frightened and looking directly at her. Stacy didn’t know what to do, she didn’t know if she even could do anything. She closed the door and moved away. It was just in her head, that was all, just a dream. Everything would be fine in the morning.

But it wasn’t. Tony wasn’t in bed the next morning, she hadn’t slept that night and knew she didn’t hear him leave. The thing was gone too, that hulking shadow. She didn’t know what to do, how to explain. It had been a blur then. A rush to pack some clothes in a black bag, which was thrown into a donation bin. After that was done she had started ringing people, asking them if they’d seen Tony. It wasn’t long before the news had spread that Tony had left her.

Stacy rolled over and closed her eyes, she wasn’t afraid of the monster coming back, she knew it was gone for good. She closed her eyes and saw it again, the thing hunched over Tony, his wide, panicked eyes. She smiled slightly and drifted off into a peaceful sleep.

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Another Job. Short Story.

“Can you do it?”
“Yes, it shouldn’t be a problem.”
She slid an envelope of money across the table, “It’s all there. Feel free to count it yourself.”
He nodded and took out the money, he counted it quickly more out of habit, “When do you want it done?”
“As soon as possible. The sooner the better really.”
“Tonight? Tomorrow?”
“I don’t want to know about it. Whenever you get the chance.”
He nodded, Jacob had always pinned her as someone who’d want to know, someone who’d want pictures. The way her eyes lit up when he talked about it, the kind of questions she had asked, but she always shied away from the intimate details.
“You’re sure you don’t want any proof?”
“No, I trust you. Besides, I’ll know soon enough anyway.”
Jacob nodded.
“Well, this will be the last time we speak about this job.” He stood and offered his hand, she grasped it, her long, manicured nails digging into his skin slightly. “Thank you.”

Once she was gone Jacob sat down again, he would do it tomorrow morning, nice and early so he’d have a free day. He looked down at the photo again, poor sod. He looked like a nice enough kid, just turned twenty. He had sandy hair, clear skin and a muscular body. He had no way of knowing what he had gotten himself into, but then Mrs. Carmichael was disarming. All charm and softness one moment, cold and hard the next. The affair had begun a year before, when her husband had hired him to do some odd jobs around the house. Mrs. Carmichael didn’t go into too much detail, but apparently the kid had fallen in love. All this talk about being together and running away. She thought he would do something stupid like tell someone. Jacob suspected the kid had, after all Mrs. Carmichael was an extremely attractive woman, bright blue eyes, long black hair, clear skin and an ass to kill for.

Jacob put the photo down, at this rate he should start giving her a discount, this was the third man she had come to him about and Jacob knew it wouldn’t be the last. It was always the same story. Reasonably attractive man, they’d have an affair, he would start talking about them being together and she would go out to find someone to pull the trigger. In a way it made perfect sense. Jacob supplied her with the full package, once he was done there was no evidence that an affair had taken place, no one would suspect a thing. Usually she would wait until there was a bit of distance between her and her lover, that they no longer worked for or around her husband, but this poor kid was getting too worked up.

The deed itself was simple. Wait until the kid was walking to work, intimidate him down some dark alley, stab him, grab his stuff and run. The police would think it was a mugging, Jacob would dump the phone in the river, after wiping it of course, and life would go on.

Jacob liked Mrs. Carmichael, she was always polite and to the point, there was no bullshit with her. She always told him what she wanted, there was no coy batting of the eyelashes, or giggles. Just a simple “here’s the photo” and they were off. Jacob always asked for the background details, it made it easier to plan his clean up.

The job was as easy as he had expected, the only question that was left was how long it would take her to return. The shortest time had been only two months, that was the second guy she had been involved with. Jacob didn’t mind getting rid of him, he was an all around bad guy, stalking, threatening letters. The others did give him pause though. He was used to getting rid of people, he had made a career of it after all, but mostly they were bad people, or people who had done bad things. He didn’t know much about them and he liked it that way. Mrs. Carmichael always seemed to pepper her stories with little details. That he enjoyed cooking for her, that he would surprise her with thoughtful little gifts. Details that Jacob didn’t need, or want, to know. But she was good money and repeat business, so he let it slide. He knew that he was doing something bad, that there was nothing noble or honourable about his profession, but it made it easier when he was doing bad things to bad people.

His disposed of the knife, after wiping it down with bleach. The rag was burned and the knife was tossed into a bag of trash and thrown into a trashcan near a fast food place. Simple, easy, efficient.

As always he had a drink afterwards, never anything fancy, just a bottle of beer. It was a ritual he had adopted from his own father who would always abstain from alcohol unless he had just completed a job, and then never more than one. His first beer had been after he and his father completed a job together, he remembered that one well. A prostitute who was blackmailing her clients, unfortunately for her she chose the wrong guy to try and blackmail. It was an easy job and went down as an overdose. Of course no one looked too hard at it, but even if they had they wouldn’t have found anything. He had been fifteen at the time and it was another two years before he had his first solo kill, an apparent hunting accident. That one had been a freebie, Mr. Reynolds had been molesting several young girls in the school, including the little sister of one of Jacobs few friends.

Jacob drained the last few drops from his beer and let out a sigh of satisfaction, he didn’t quite enjoy the work that he did, but he knew that he was making the world a better place, at least most of the time. He gave them dignity and tried to make it quick, he wasn’t one of those people who dragged it out. He put the beer bottle down on the table and flicked on the TV, he earned the rest of the day off.

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A Day at the Beach. Flash Fiction.

Mary stood in the ocean, the cold water lapping at her feet, the hot sun beating down on her back. She took a step forward, feeling the delicious coldness rising. She always loved the water, ever since she was a little girl. Behind her she could hear two kids playing, the family were there when she arrived. The beach was emptier than she expected for such a nice day, but that suited her fine. Mary didn’t like crowds and it meant that she didn’t have to walk to an empty spot on the beach. Her arms were getting tired, the small bundle she carried was heavier than it looked. She closed her eyes and lifted her head towards the sun, absentmindedly bouncing the bundle.

It had been hot the last few days, too hot. When she woke this morning she lay in bed for a few moments, trying to muster the energy to get up and open the doors and windows. The heat was heavy and oppressive, holding her down. As she felt the cool air across her skin she was reminded of days at the sea when she was a child. The cold water, the tang of the salt air, the steady, soothing sound of the waves crashing against the sand. She knew then what she had to do. Getting ready for the beach was an easy affair. Just gather a few things in a bag and go. The drive itself wasn’t too long, only a half an hour.

She was waist deep now, the waters coolness took on a darker edge. The heat was being sapped from her body slowly. After all she wasn’t swimming, just standing. The chill of the water made her feel awake, alive. For the first time in years she felt like she was actually living and not just a shell of a person waiting to be filled. She made a shushing sound as the bundle gave a little cry, “don’t worry, I’ve got you, you’re safe.” She looked down at the bundle, the little scrunched face. She said the words she was supposed to say and the crying stopped. She knew on some level it wasn’t right, that she was supposed to feel something, but she didn’t. There was no love or hatred, just ambivalence. Sometimes it made her feel bad, like she was a failure, but most of the time she just got on with things. It was easier to move around in a fog, to let the events of the world wash over and past her.

Mary moved deeper into the water, the blanket was getting wet now and the cries were coming steadily. She didn’t listen to them, they washed over her and around her. She wanted to keep going, move ever deeper. Someone shouted something behind her, she didn’t turn around. She lifted the bundle a little higher, making sure it was dry. If she didn’t have it with her she would be able to go deeper, out into the vast ocean where there was nothing. No one to worry about, no one else to think of. Just her and her thoughts and the coldness of the water pulling her down. A sudden wave pushed against her, soaking the blanket which gave a surprised squawk and the cries become louder, harsher. More shouting from the beach. Mary slowly turned and waded out of the water. She didn’t hurry, there was no urgency. On the sand again people were talking to her, at her. She brushed away their concern. She was in a swim suit after all. She was just enjoying the cooling water after being in the sun and had wandered a little further than she realised. She was fine, everyone was fine.

In the car on the way home all the windows were down, the air was nice, though she missed the water. It would have been so easy. She could have just let go when the wave came.

The heat hit her when she opened the door, heavier than before. She moved around the house, opening the windows and hoping for a cooling breeze, but none came. Somewhere in the house it was crying, she didn’t want to deal with it, she didn’t want to deal with anything. After awhile the noise became all encompassing. There was nothing else, no other sound just that constant wail. She pulled herself from the couch and checked on it. Doing all the things she was supposed to do. As she finished up she wondered if someday something would click and she would feel it, love flowing over her, filling up that vast emptiness inside, but she knew that it wouldn’t. Nothing was ever that simple, or that easy. Once she had done her duty she put it down again and went back to what she was doing before. Tom, her husband, would be home soon. He would take care of it then and it would be better off. Tom always knew what to do, what it wanted. Like they shared a secret language together, one that would always shut her out.

 

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Lost. Short Story.

Joe had been lost in the blackness for so long.

It all started with a party in the woods. He had been looking forward to it after a stressful week of college. Amanda was organising it on her parents property, which was almost unimaginably large. The plan was simple, set up a few tents, start a fire, then get drunk. The plan was working pretty well too, People were having a good time, someone had brought speakers with them so they had some music. Joe moved away from the flickering fire light to go take a piss in the woods. It took him a minute to find a good spot, every time he thought he found one a gentle breeze would blow, shifting the branches or bushes, revealing the party. He knew he was getting turned around in the dark, after all he had walked away from the party to find somewhere to go. He wasn’t nervous about getting lost, after all he could still hear the music and people talking.

Finally he found a good spot, an outcropping of rocks, behind him someone yelled something, he felt his bladder tense. “C’mon. It’s fine. No one can see.” He released a breath slowly, but nothing was happening. He could feel his cheeks burning in the darkness. He moved around the rocks and saw a small opening. He smiled to himself, it was perfect. He slipped inside and got to work. Once he was finished he zipped up and turned around, the light was faint but he could just make out the crack of the entrance. He moved towards it but after a moment stopped. He had only gone a few feet into the cave, there was no way it would have taken this long to walk out. He turned, frowning. There was a faint light all around the cave.

He had walked for what felt like hours, hands on the walls, trying to find the opening. At some point the light had faded, then vanished. He had tried to find it again, but it was just gone. He didn’t know how long ago it was, it felt like hours, but it could have only been minutes. He stopped and sat down to rest for a moment, he was feeling quite thirsty, but there was no water. He had been slightly drunk before, but now he felt sober. He knew that in situations like this you were supposed to stay where you were until someone found you, but god only knew how far he had wandered, or how many tunnels and branches he had obliviously walked past.

Once he had calmed himself he stood, turned around and started walking. He had to get himself out of this, no one would find him here, they’d think he was lost in the woods, not some weird cave. He was pretty sure he was going in the right direction, after all he hadn’t gotten too mixed up, he had been walking with his hands on the wall of the caves for the most part.

It was maddening, moving so slowly in the dark, one had sliding along the rough, cold wall, the other waving blindly, sliding his feet along the ground so he wouldn’t trip. He started counting slowly in his head to help pass the time a little, and to track it. After about twenty minutes of walking he stopped again. There was still no light, what if he had gotten mixed up and started going the wrong way. He hadn’t gone that far in the total darkness, had he? He noticed how quiet the cave was. There was no sounds of water dripping, no animals scraping against the rocks, no bugs skittering from his feet. Just his breathing and his steady heartbeat. He strained to hear something else, but there was only silence.

Joe searched through his pockets again, looking for his phone. He knew it wasn’t there but he still had to look. It had probably fallen out of his pocket when he stood up from the campfire. He didn’t know if it would get signal in the caves, but at least he’d have a light to follow. He was starting to get panicky, he was lost in some caves, with no light, no food and no water. There wasn’t even a stream or puddles that he could drink from.

He took a deep, slow breath, waiting around wasn’t going to help, walking could make things worse, but then so could staying still. He sat down against the rock wall, this is what you were supposed to do. He’d sit and listen and if he heard people he’d start screaming. He felt around the ground for a rock, after a minute he found a sturdy one just larger than his fist. He banged it against the wall a few times, it made a good, loud sound.

Joe stood, he couldn’t sit any longer, he just couldn’t. He had been banging that damn rock against the ground every ten seconds for what felt like hours. He didn’t even know if the sound was carrying through the cave system. He had no idea what direction he had been walking in. He thought that he had come from the right, but he wasn’t sure. It was hard to tell in the darkness, and hard to remember if he had just sat against the wall or if he had moved around a little first. He could feel panic bubbling up in his chest, he tried to fight it down, he could do this. He would be fine. He had his hand on the wall when he sat down, he had been walking with his right hand against the wall, therefore if he put his right hand against the wall he would be going in the right direction. He smiled to himself, this was good, he knew what way he had been going, he just had to keep walking and he’d get out. No one talked about large cave systems in this area, he had probably just gotten himself all turned around.

Joe was tired, he didn’t know how long he had been in the place but he knew he couldn’t stop. Every time he paused for a rest he felt his head dipping and sleep edging ever closer. He knew he couldn’t sleep, if he did he could get all turned around again. He just had to keep going, that was all. Just a few more steps and he knew he’d see light soon. Just a few more steps.

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The Text. Short Story.

I groaned and rolled over as my phone went off. Already I knew who it was, Alexis had been freaking out the night before due to another break up with Brad. My alarm hadn’t gone off yet, that meant it was before 7.30, usually she was good about holding off until at least 9 before the barrage started. I rubbed my eyes, then started to summon the energy to deal with her. It would only be a few days until things had blown over and they were back together, I could do it.

I picked up my phone and it started vibrating, the alarm was going off. I swiped it from the screen and went to my messages. It was an unknown number, frowning I clicked in, “Don’t take the bus today.” I looked at the message for a minute, reading it over and over again, trying to make sense of it. Sure, it was clear, but who would send me something like that? I typed out a quick response, “Hey, who’s this?” And put my phone down, time to get ready for the day.

When I had gotten out of the shower I hadn’t received a response. The message stayed with me in the back of my mind. It was such a strange thing to send to someone and why? I briefly thought about contacting someone, but then discarded the idea. Who would you even ring about something like that? Besides, I didn’t want them thinking I was crazy. Probably just some idiot mistyping a number, trying to let someone know they’d get a lift that morning.

I was drinking my coffee when the phone buzzed again, this time it was Alexis, asking me if I thought she was right to kick Brad out. I took a drink from my coffee and replied. It was going to be a long day with her. It was the second time she had kicked him out, the last time she made it less than a day before he was back in the house with her. As I pressed send another message from her arrived. I glanced at the clock, I was ahead of schedule, I replied then threw my phone into my bag. If I didn’t hear the texts I wouldn’t feel bad about ignoring them. Besides, there was nothing urgent in them, I could safely wait until lunch, when she would no doubt ring to cry at me. I grabbed my keys, my bag and I was out the door.

The morning was brighter than I expected, despite the sun the air was still chilly. I only had a short distance to walk to the bus stop, then it would be a few minutes wait. Normally I arrived a moment or two before the bus, but today I’d have to wait a little longer. As I sat on the bench to wait I heard my phone beeping in my bag. I rolled my eyes, no doubt more texts from Alexis, though I could have sworn I put it on silent. I dug around in my bag, grabbed out my phone and looked at the screen. 4 new messages. That wasn’t as bad as I expected. 3 were from Alexis, another was from the unknown number. I opened that first, expecting a “sorry, wrong number” response. I stared at the screen, “Don’t take the bus.” I looked up from my phone and at the people either side of me, it had to be some kind of joke. No one was looking at me, everyone was too engrossed in their papers or their own phones. I put my phone back on silent and put it into my bag.

The bus pulled up a moment later, I felt a pang of anxiety when I first saw it. I stayed sitting as those around me filed onto the bus, running it over in my head. As the last person stepped onto the bus the doors closed and it pulled out, I let out a breath, the decision was made. I’d be late if I waited for the next one, but it was only a half an hour walk.

I arrived in work only a little late, when I got the bus I normally arrived at least twenty minutes early. Everyone was still chatting and getting settled in, so I wasn’t too worried. Angela, my boss, wouldn’t be in for another half hour anyway, she was always late on a Monday.

By the time lunch rolled around I’d forgotten about the messages that morning, at least until I checked my phone. There was one new message from the number, “Thank you.” That was it. I had several from Alexis, but before I could read them my phone was ringing. I answered and was immediately greeted with the sound of sobbing. “I’ve made a mistake, I shouldn’t have done it, it was a mistake.”
“Alexis, honey, take a deep breath, ok? I can barely understand you.”
“I shouldn’t have kicked him out, I”
I tuned out as she went on and on, she didn’t want advice, she just wanted someone to talk at. Occasionally I made sounds of interest as I ate my lunch. By the time she had wound herself down it was almost time to get back to work.
“Thanks for listening, you give really good advice you know?”
“Uh, thanks. I’ll talk to you later ok?”
I hung up and shook my head, she had come to her own conclusions, I’d barely said anything. I looked at the text again and brought up the news on my phone, there was nothing about buses, nothing interesting seemed to be happening at all. I dialled the number, hesitated for a second, then pressed ring. Who ever it was wasn’t going to tell me who they were and I wanted to find out. I started clearing away my lunch stuff as I waited for an answer, but none came. I hung up and put my phone back into my bag, telling myself it was probably just someone playing a prank. After all if you texted a few people the same thing you were bound to get it right with someone.

I stood outside work, the weather had gotten worse and it was steadily raining. I was huddled under the bus shelter with everyone else when my phone beeped. Same message again, “Don’t get the bus.” I shook my head and put my phone away. I was not walking in the rain again and nothing had happened the last time. I was sure it was a prank. When the bus pulled up I filed on with everyone else and paid my fair. I found a seat and settled in for the short journey. My phone beeped a few times but I ignored it, no doubt Alexis giving me status reports on her relationship. I’d be home soon enough and I could deal with it then, once I was in my pyjamas with a cup of tea in my hand.

I let myself into my apartment and put down my bag. I changed out of my work clothes and threw on something comfortable, then I put on the kettle while I looked in the fridge. I was in no mood to cook anything, so I chose some left over spaghetti to heat in the microwave. As I set the timer I remembered the texts I’d gotten earlier. Sighing I went to my bag and grabbed out my phone, the faster I dealt with it the easier it would be.

There were five messages, all from the unknown number.
“Don’t get the bus.”
“You shouldn’t have done that.”

“I enjoyed watching you walk this morning, I wanted to see it again.”
“You should have listened to me.”
“I’ll see you soon ;-)”

My heart was thudding heavily in my chest, the sound of blood rushing through my ears. I jumped as someone knocked on the door. I moved away, trying to be quiet. It was probably nothing, once they were gone I’d ring Alexis, she’d come around and then together we could go to the police and get this all sorted. My phone beeped in my hands. Cursing myself for not silencing it I looked at the screen, another message, “Open the door.”

I closed out of the message and started dialling the police. I let out a shriek as a hand fell on my shoulder. “I told you to open the door. You should have followed my advice.”

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Fire and Faith. Flash Fiction.

Charlotte sat in the middle of the fire, eyes closed and a small smile on her lips. She could feel the flames licking across her skin, moving through her body, chasing out the darkness and the evil that had infected her throughout the week. Below her the congregation chanted and prayed as they watched her, she could feel the power of their words, their faith, feeding the flames drawing them ever hotter and ever higher. The flames slipped through her nose and down to her lungs, Charlotte inhaled deeply, then exhaled, sending a geyser of flame into the air. The flames grew hotter and until they were burning blue, they rippled, a darkness travelling through them as it attempted to escape, the flames reached higher and higher until they vanished. Charlotte breathed out slowly, a thin wisp of flame flowing from her mouth and twisting in to the air, it shifted and moved like a snake, looking as though it was scanning the congregation. The flame ended, the remains flowed upwards until there was a small, floating ball of fire before winking out of existence. Charlotte could see that many of the parishioners were sweating heavily, despite the doors and windows being open and the summer breeze that blew through the building. Charlotte herself felt fresh and cool, she always did after a cleansing. She stood and held out her arms, two attendants moved forward and covered her nakedness with a robe, she smiled her thanks to them both, then stepped up to the pulpit.

“If you are pure and true the flames are your friend, they will cleanse your body of your sins, make you as innocent as a newborn babe, fresh from its mother. Fire is not from darkness, for how could it be when it brings light? Fire protects us, fire guides us, fire will free us.”
She paused and let her gaze travel over the people before her, already she could spot three who didn’t belong, more than usual. She smiled to herself, she wasn’t worried about them, they would be brought to justice soon enough.

As usual after her mass people came to her, asking her for blessings, for protection, for cleansing. She found the entire thing both tiring and invigorating. She always left mass with her body tired and her mind racing. For God was in the people themselves and only through understanding the people could she begin to understand God.

The three people had been gathered together in her rooms, they came willingly, they always did. Lured with promises of blessings and promotions within the church. They never realised they were in danger until it was too late. Charlotte didn’t toy with them, she found that tedious. She didn’t care who they were or what they were after. God would keep her safe, would keep them all safe. He watched through every fire, every flame, every light. He knew all and he would guide her to safety.

The burnt corpses were thrown onto the eternal fire, with every body it flared, the flames growing hotter, before dimming again, leaving nothing of the bodies but ash. The flames never rejected those who sought to bring it harm.

Charlotte had started the church only three years before, but they were growing steadily. She had been caught in a house fire, one that killed her abusive husband and their three children. But she had survived and as the flames licked and kissed her skin they brought with them visions, great flaming vistas, a great god, a task that only she could complete. Every day the church grew stronger with more and more coming from all around the world. She could feel it happening, they were reaching the tipping point, soon the entire world would know of her. Local stations had been trying to get interviews with her, but she had turned them down. Already bigger people were taking notice. Videos of her sermons were online, though many believed it was all special effects, those who could see the truth came to her.

Soon the world would hear her and Gods fight would truly begin.

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A Small Price to Pay. Short Story.

Darren lifted up the food bucket and started down the corridor. He walked quickly, focusing on keeping the bucket steady. The bucket was filled with food, maggots and grubs, they writhed over one another, the sight of it still made him a little unsteady. He didn’t have to touch the things, which was a bonus. The corridor was mostly empty, it was still early, or late depending on your view. Darren had been up for almost an hour at this point, finishing off his chores.

When he first began chores he resented it, after all they were rich, they had servants, surely some of them could pick up the slack, but his father was insistent. He needed to know how to do everything himself and earn his keep. Most of the jobs were simple enough, feed some of the animals, a little tidying around the stables. This job though, this was the worst. He was the only person permitted to do this job, but he was just thankful he wasn’t in charge of collecting the food.

He was sure that the servants knew about the secret tunnel, but his father was adamant it be kept a secret from everyone. At the very least who ever gathered the food must have wondered where it all went day after day. The secret tunnel was in the wine cellar, behind some old, heavy looking wooden casks. Once you knew the trick they were easy enough to move out of the way, revealing a stone staircase that twisted down. Darren was still nervous on the stairs, worried that he’d fall down the endless spiral and bounce right into the creatures lair, broken and battered and ready for eating. At some point there had been handrails, probably made of rope, but they had long since rotted away and no one had bothered to replace them. Darren had floated the idea to his father once or twice and received a condescending look in reply.

The stair case was well lit, which was something. Electric lights had been strung from the ceiling. Darren and his father were the only ones who came down here, so he suspected it was his father who replaced the bulbs. His mother and sisters were forbidden from entering the staircase. Apparently the monster didn’t like women, or liked them too much. Darren was never quite clear on that, nor did he ever want to find out.

The large metal door wasn’t locked, not really. It had a latch that could be opened from the outside and that was all. His father had told him the first time he had come down here that real locks would enrage the beast. He placed his hand on the cold metal handle, took one last deep breath of clean air and opened the door.

The stench hit him first, as it always did, a solid wall of nauseating air. He started with quick, shallow breaths, trying to keep as much of the tainted air as possible out of his body. He entered the gloomy room, there were no lights in here, but it was never dark. It was left in this perpetual gloom. He stepped inside, tense as always. He could hear it snuffling and snorting, it was getting restless, it wanted its food. Darren grabbed the end of the bucket and flung the contents across the floor. As the first bits of food hit there was a pig like squeal and the creature came barrelling forward. Darren looked away, once the bucket was empty he left.

He saw the creature for the first time when he was five and that was more than enough to last him a lifetime. The thing had white, pallid skin, with weird bulges that oozed pus and wriggling maggots. Its eyes were a milky white, its nose was long and wide, its mouth a black hole filled with crooked and sharp teeth. Its hands had long and delicate looking fingers with sharp nails, it could walk and when standing it had towered over his father, but mostly it crawled along the ground.

He had been told the story afterwards, about why they kept the creature, why they fed it. The creature had been captured by one of his ancestors, no one quite knew how long ago, and a deal was struck. Apparently the creature had been quite intelligent when it was first captured, insisting on tables and chairs and food served on plates, but overtime it devolved into that thing. It was responsible for the wealth and prosperity of the family and would continue to be until either it died or was released. The creature, like others of its kind, were hunted until there were only a few left. The one they held was one of only a few scattered across the world. Darren feared that someday the intelligence would reappear, that it would be offended by the food it was given, by the treatment. He closed the door behind himself and resecured the latch.

The walk up the stairs seemed endless, there were no markings to tell him how much further he had to go. When he was younger he sometimes feared that he had gotten stuck here, that the creature had done something and now he would just walk up forever, never finding the door. Sometimes he would hear a skittering noise from below, when he was younger he would bolt, running up the stairs before sealing them off and collapsing outside the casks, gasping for air. Now he just ignored it. The creature moved quickly, he knew that he wouldn’t be able to outrun it, besides, he would have heard the door opening below.

Darren placed the bucket back in its usual spot then went back to his room, ready for a shower to wash off the stink of the creature that always seemed to cling to his skin and clothes. Once he had showered he felt well enough to eat breakfast, which was always something small and light. After eating he grabbed his bag and went outside. He stood on the steps outside, eyes closed and feeling the sun on his skin. It always made him feel better after seeing that thing. The air was fresh and carried the scents of flowers from the immaculately tended gardens. Behind him he could hear his sisters approaching, Angela, the eldest, would drop him and Karen, the youngest, to school on her way to work. Karen burst from the hall door, “C’mon, I don’t want to be late!”
“You’re never late!”
“No, we were late last week!”
“For the first time ever.”
Karen was already getting into the car.
“C’mon, hurry up, she won’t relax until we’re on the road.”
Darren opened his eyes and walked down the steps. He took another deep breath of the air before getting into the car, really, it was a small price to pay for all of this.

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