Nothing but a Nuisance. Short Story.

Gemma walked through the crowd, weaving her way through, that one always one of the things she hated about the weekends, so many people just milling around. She dodged to the left as the group of old women in front of her stopped suddenly, they were arguing over something while one of them dug around in her purse. Gemma rolled her eyes and kept going. Behind her the man still followed, about fifteen feet back. They always tried to blend in with crowds of people, but they never fooled Gemma. She moved over to the side of the street and ducked into a small shop, Doug was coming over for dinner later and she needed to pick up a few things. She wanted to impress him with dinner, without being too over the top. She had gone to his place last week and he had cooked absolutely delicious steaks with potato gratin and a side salad, and she needed to make something just as good. She still hadn’t decided yet, but then she had all day to decide. As she walked through the aisles, steadily filling basket in one hand, the man followed, though he tried to keep one or two aisles away from her. Already she had run into him twice in the shop, Gemma took some amusement from the almost imperceptible widening of his eyes both times they ended up on the sames aisle. Obviously she was a bit more slippery than he had first thought, and he didn’t seem to realise that he was in danger. Perfect.

Gemma left the shops carrying two bags, the man followed behind with nothing. Gemma wanted to grab the man and shake him, could he be any more obvious? Ducking into the shop after her when there was only one way in and out, not actually buying anything once inside. She figured that by now they’d know not to send anyone after her and if they did, well she expected the big guns. It was a little insulting, when she thought about it. How many bodies had she racked up in her life time? Sixty? Seventy? She had stopped keeping track a few years back. Of course it wasn’t like she could control it all the time and not all of the deaths were intentional, but that was beside the point.

Gemma picked out a dress and held it against her body, she really liked the shape of the dress, and the colour, but it just didn’t suit her. Sighing she placed it back onto the rack and moved on to the next one. She wanted to pick up something nice to wear while she was out but it was looking less and less likely. The man hovered at a clothes rack about twenty feet away, repetitively pawing his way through the same rack of t-shirts. If Gemma didn’t know any better she’d think he wanted to be caught, he was practically gawping at her. If anything it was making her feel a bit uncomfortable now, the longer he followed her the less sure she became that he had been sent by anyone. He didn’t have that walk they all had, he seemed to be nervous too. If he had been trained he would have known she had spotted him, but he showed no sign of that. She had originally discounted the idea that he was just run of the mill violent perv, after all they knew better than to go after her, but now she wasn’t so sure. Those people were like predators, usually going after weaker, vulnerable prey and she was anything but.

As she stepped outside of the clothes shop Gemma, reassessed the man. He wasn’t experienced, that much was certain, and he most likely hadn’t been trained, if it was an act to make him seem bumbling then it was done very well. Was he a stalker then? Someone obsessed with her? There had been no signs of a stalker, she would have picked up on that relatively quickly. As she walked home she debated over stopping him or leaving him off. If she left him he could interrupt later, someone that inept wouldn’t worry too much about witnesses, they’d just kill everyone in the room. She sighed, might as well just get this over with.

The man ducked into the alley a moment later, it was empty for now but that wouldn’t last much longer, people used it as a short cut all the time. She stepped out from a doorway, the man jumped, his face was pale and he had beads of sweat coating his upper lip and forehead. “What do you want?”
“What? Nothing. I’m just out for a uh walk. That’s all. Getting some air.” He chuckled nervously
“you’ve been following me, badly, for the last two hours. What do you want?”
“Nothing I don’t want anything . I’m just out for a walk.”
Gemma sighed, “Ok. We both know you’re not going to kill me, so either tell me what this is about or piss off.”
“What? Why would I kill you? I’m just out for a walk on this nice day.”
“At least try to sound believable. Jesus Christ dude. Ok, so here’s what’s going to happen you’re going to tell me what you’re doing or you’re going to leave, if I see you again, ever, I will kill you. Got it?”
the man nodded, then lunged at her, Gemma jumped backwards, the man toppled forward landing on the ground with a heavy thud, knife clattering as it spun away from his open hand. Gemma turned from the body and kept walking. As she exited the alley a young mother entered pushing a pram, Gemma didn’t stop her or warn her away. She felt a pang of guilt, but it quickly passed, after all someone had to find the body and it was better that she wasn’t seen nearby. Sure the man died of a heart attack, or an aneurysm, or a stroke, it was never really consistent, but Gemma liked to keep herself to the shadows. Away from publicity. As she walked she kept an eye on the people around her, there was always the danger that it was a team and the first man was just a distraction.

Gemma relaxed a little as she entered her building, no one else had been following her, it seemed like the man was working alone. Someone had probably just sent him after her so she’d be the one to deal with him. She rode the elevator up to her floor and stepped out into the hallway, as she unlocked her door she decided what she’d make for dinner tonight. She closed the door behind herself and threw her keys into the small bowl by the door, it really had been a productive trip.

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Road Trip. Short Story.

Hope everyone had a good weekend. Mine was ok, didn’t get up to a whole lot.

I’m mostly back to normal now, woo! Had some really, really bad stomach cramps on Thursday but they’ve died off thankfully. Was a bit worried that I’d have to go to the hospital, but luckily everything seems to have fixed itself. Yay Crohn’s. I’m going in for a procedure soon that should prevent anything similar from happening in the near future, not really looking forward to it but as far as procedures go, it’s pretty minor and basically just another colonoscopy, so it definitely could be worse!

________________________________________________

Road Trip.

Lily slowed the car, “Fuck.” A large orange detour sign was blocking the road, she barely knew where she was going as it was. She took a deep breath, it will be ok, once she got back to the main road, as generous a term as that was, she could find somewhere to pull in and ask for directions. She hadn’t seen a petrol station in a while and there was supposed to be one around here. She followed the sign to the left and started down the new road, which seemed to be little more than a dirt track. It wouldn’t be the first time rain had washed out the main roads, every few months Mary and Frank would complain about it. Lily checked her phone quickly, still no signal, she shook her head, Lily hadn’t even thought that was possible in this day and age, she always just assumed it was an excuse from Mary to avoid her.

Lily wrestled the car to a stop, one of the tires had blown, at least that’s what it felt like. Lily groaned and leaned forward, resting her head on the steering wheel. Cursed. She was cursed, that was the only rational explanation. Obviously she just wasn’t meant to visit Mary and Frank. She grabbed her phone and checked again, she was still in a dead zone. She groaned then got out of the car. As she stepped out wind whipped past her, blowing her hair and jacket, she shivered in the cold and moved around to look at the tires. Great, it wasn’t just one, it was both of the front wheels. How the hell does stuff like that even happen? She walked around to the boot and opened it, she searched for a second, then slammed the boot closed, “FUCK!” she hit the car, there was no goddamned spare. When she got home she was going to kill Jacob, he told her he would replace her spare tire after he “borrowed” hers. Lily sat back into the car and closed the door, at least it was still warm in the car, and she had some blankets and water in the boot, and a few chocolate bars in her bag, she would be fine until someone eventually came down the road. She took a slow, deep breath, she’d probably only have to wait half an hour at most. The roads around here weren’t too busy, but she was on a main road, someone would come along sooner or later.  Someone knocked on her window, Lily jumped, she hadn’t seen him approach. The man looked young enough, maybe mid-twenties, he wore a dark windbreaker with the hood down, his dirty blonde hair blowing in the breeze. She wound down the window a little, “Car trouble?”
“Yeah, I need new tires. The front two blew, can you believe it?”
He smiled at her, “Oh I would, you wouldn’t be the first it’s happened too. We all think it’s Bob, one of the locals, he’s a handy man and just throws everything in the back of his truck, there have been a few times where he’s left a trail of nails behind himself. I don’t have any spares, but I can give you a lift somewhere if you like? There’s a café nearby, I’m sure you could use their landline.”
“Thanks, that’d be great actually. I’m down visiting some friends and I don’t know the area too well.”
“Definitely not your day, especially with that detour, the roads around here are confusing to visitors at the best of times. C’mon, grab your stuff and I’ll give you a lift.”
Lily got out of the car, “Thank you so much for this, I’m Lily by the way.”
He stuck out his hand, “Billy, nice to meet you.”
Lily opened the backdoor and grabbed her purse out of the foot well.
“C’mon my car is just this way.”
They started to walk, they got a few feet before lily felt a flicker of fear, she tried to push it away, it was just paranoia. After all who wouldn’t be freaked out in this kind of situation? She took a deep breath and released it slowly, beside her Billy was talking away, she felt a flush of shame, he had been nothing but kind to her and here she was thinking bad things. She paused, “Where is your car?”
“What? Oh, it’s just up ahead a little.”
There was something wrong about that. “I didn’t see you drive past me?”
“Yeah, I was coming the opposite way.”
“But why would you get out to walk?”
“I saw that you were having some car trouble.”
Lily stopped walking, “How though? I can’t see my car anymore and I can’t see yours either.”
Billy chuckled, “I hate it when this happens.”
“When what happens?”
“When they figure it out.” He lunged forward, lily jumped back, his fingers grazing her jacket, Lily turned and ran.

Lily paused, gasping for breath, she had been running for what seemed like hours and there was no sign of Billy, or his car. She had run past her own car without stopping, reasoning that she hadn’t been driving for too long before the flats and her car was useless as it was. Her legs were feeling sore and shaky, Billy didn’t seem to be chasing her, but the road was far longer than she had thought and with no real landmarks, she wasn’t sure how much further she had to go. Rain started to fall heavily and after a moment she was soaked. The fear was beginning to die down, it didn’t look like Billy was going to come after her, maybe the road was too busy, she had started to suspect that it was Billy that had set a trap, but if that was true, he would have come after her. Up ahead she could see head lights, Lily moved to the side of the road and waited.

The man slowed his car and lowered his window, “Please, you have to help me, my car broke down and some guy tried to grab me.”
“Of course, get in out of the rain, are you ok?”
Lily got into the car, she was shivering, “Yeah, I’m ok, he didn’t hurt me or anything…sorry about the seats.” It was the only thing she could think to say. The man chuckled as he turned up the heating, “Don’t worry about that, it’s just a bit of water. My phone isn’t getting signal out here and I’m afraid I don’t know the area too well, but I’m sure we’ll find somewhere to stop and get help.”
“Thank you so much, seriously.”

“My car is just up here, be careful, my two front tires blew out, maybe the guy put something out on the road.” Stephen slowed the car down, then stopped. “Ok, I’m going to get out to see if the road it clear, make sure there’s nothing there. Lock the doors when I get out ok? I won’t be a second.”
Before Lily could say anything he was out of the car and in the rain, Lily quickly locked the door. A moment later he was back, “it doesn’t look like there’s anything on the road, maybe you were just unlucky? A crime of opportunity maybe?”
“Yeah, maybe.”
“It’s getting dark, your friends must be getting worried, we’ll find somewhere with a phone we can call the them and the police, ok?”
Lily nodded, “thank you so much for this.”
“Oh don’t worry at all, I’d hope if I was in your situation someone would do the same for me. We all have to look out for one another in this world.”

“Which way? Left or right?”
“I don’t know. What do you think?”
“I think if they’re going to send people off on a detour they should have some goddamned signs.”
“Ok, let’s say left, it looks a little bit less of a dirt trail.”
“They both look like dirt trails.”
“Well, we’re going to have to get somewhere eventually. I’d turn the car around if there was room for it. I thought for sure there’d be a place to do it by now.”
Stephen started driving down the left fork, “Are you feeling ok? Still cold?”
“Yeah, but I’ll manage, thanks again for your jacket.”
“You’re welcome, figured you needed it more than me.”
“I had a blanket in my car, I should have grabbed it when we were going by.”
“We were better off leaving it, we still don’t know where that guy is. I kinda want to keep moving, I don’t really want to run into him.”
Lily looked out the window, “Yeah, me neither.”

“Is that a house?”
“I think so.”
“Great, we’ll be able to get directions, they might even let us use the phone.”
“Are you sure? What if the guy lives there?”
“We’re lost, we can’t keep driving around like this. How about this, you can hop into the driver’s seat, I’ll go knock on the door, if it’s him I’ll run back to the car and you can drive like hell.”
“Ok deal.” Lily didn’t like it, but there wasn’t a whole lot else they could do. It was almost fully dark out and she didn’t want to be stuck on these backroads at night.
Stephen stopped the car in the driveway, “Hey, look on the bright side, even if they can’t help we can always just turn around here and retrace our steps.”
Lily nodded and smiled weakly.
“I’ll be back in a second.”

Lily watched intently as Stephen knocked on the door, a moment later it opened, it wasn’t bright enough to see who ever it was fully, but Lily could see it was a woman, she felt herself relaxing a little. Stephen came jogging back to the car, he hopped into the passenger seat. “We can use her phone and she’ll give us directions, really nice woman. She said she has some dry clothes you can borrow too.”
Together they got out of the car and went inside. The house was bright and warm, Lily turned to the woman, “Thank you so much for this.”
The woman smiled “it’s no trouble at all.” she grabbed a blanket, “Here, this will keep you warm while you make your calls, then if you like you can get yourself cleaned up.” Lily smiled as the woman draped a blanket across her shoulders and pulled it tight, someone stepped out from the kitchen, Lily looked at him and froze. Stephen smiled, “You were right Billy, worked like a charm.”
Billy chuckled “It always does.”
The blanket tightened, becoming almost smothering, Lily couldn’t move, “There’s no point in struggling honey, it’s already too late.”

 

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No short story today. 

Unfortunately I’m not well at the moment so there won’t be a short story today.

I’ll be back on Monday with another short story, hope everyone has a good weekend!

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The Edge of the Universe. Short Story.

Jane stared out the window, it really wasn’t that impressive and it was nothing like she imagined. Really, the edge of the universe just looked like any other part of it. It was such a lie! How could there be an edge when she could see all those stars in the distance. Hell, you wouldn’t know it was the edge of the universe without the sign. There was no wall of darkness, no barricade, just the large observation deck and the ridiculously large gift shop and restaurant. Jane sighed, she didn’t want to be here on this stupid trip, she wanted to be at home. Her dad turned to her and smiled, “See, it didn’t take long at all, did it?”
Jane shrugged, “I guess not. I still think it’s a dumb place to go. I mean there’s so much more to see in the universe.”

“Yeah, but this is the edge of the universe! The actual edge! Man, there was some hubbub happening when this was discovered, I’ll tell ya that much, completely changed the game.”
“Well, how do they know it’s the actual edge and not just like some kind of force field?”
“Well, I don’t know exactly how they did it, I’m sure they’ll explain on the tour.”
“Oh god there’s a tour too? What the hell is there to say about this place? And here we have the edge of the universe, don’t get too close, please enjoy the gift shop on the way out.”
“C’mon don’t be like that. It’ll be great!”
Her mother turned around in her seat, “How about we stop off on that botany planet on the way home? They’ve some really nice looking plants, and a rainbow waterfall. Besides I hear that all of the food is amazing, you can get these things that look kind of like apples, but they’ve the taste and texture of chocolate!”
Jane shrugged, “Sure, why not.”

Jane reached out, her heart thudding heavily, her fingers hit something, though there was nothing visible. It felt kind of spongy, with a little give, she had expected something more solid, like glass. She cupped her hands around her eyes and placed them against the barrier, trying to see if she could see through it, but the stars were still there.

“Excuse me? If it’s the edge of the universe, how come there are stars on the other side?”
The tour guide smiled at her, “Well, they’re not actually on the other side, they’re a reflection of another part of the universe, though we have yet to discover it, the universe is a big place after all.”
“How are you so sure it’s a reflection?”
“Well, top scientists have been working on it for years, and they’ve done a lot of very complicated and expensive tests.”
Jane looked back out at the stars, “if they’re a reflection, how come nothing is blocking any of it?” she took a step back from the barrier.
“They’re sure that what ever that thing is, it isn’t going to collapse, right?”
“Oh, more than sure, don’t you worry, there hasn’t been a death here since that first ship crashed into the edge. You can learn more about that at the memorial, it’s on deck thirty six.”
“So if it’s an edge, what’s on the other side?”
“Well, we don’t know yet, but top scientists are busy trying to figure it out!”
The tour guide wandered off and a moment later Jane’s mother joined her, “Pretty cool, right?”
“Not really, they don’t seem to know anything about this.”
Her mother shrugged, “It screwed with a lot of scientific theories. A lot of people are content to just ignore all this. Then there are the fringe theories.”
“Ugh, not that again. If dad hears you he’ll go off on his stories again. What was his favourite one? That we’re in what amounts to a giant fish tank and this is the glass holding us in?”
“Yeah, that’s the one. I’m partial to the “It’s all a simulation and the computers aren’t powerful enough to expand it further.” Theory myself.”
“I have to say though, seeing it here, in real life, it’s very underwhelming.”
“Yeah, a lot of people say that. It should really be their tag line, “Edge of the universe! Prepare to be disappointed.”
Jane laughed, “don’t let dad hear you, he’s been talking about this place for weeks.”
“Ah it’s fine, he cornered one of the tour guides and will not stop asking them questions, he’s having a blast. It’s been his dream to come out and see this since it was first discovered.”
“Well, it is kinda cool, in a boring way. You just expect something more impressive when you hear edge of the universe. Like there’d be something on the other side, or even nothing. Like a vast emptiness stretching as far as you can see.”
Her mother shook her head, “There are places like that in the universe, it really screws with your head when you see it. Drives some people mad.”
“Have you seen it?”
“Once, when I was younger. It was an accident though, your granddad got us a bit lost. We all got back in the end, though it’s not something I’d like to see ever again. Just pure blackness wherever you looked, it felt like you were the only person in the entire universe and that everything else had just vanished.”
Her mother shuddered, she turned from the view, “C’mon, lets go see if the restaurant has any ice cream, I’m in the mood for a Sunday while we wait for your dad.”
Jane turned and looked out, “did you see that?”
“See what?”
She shook her head, “nothing, must have just been my mind playing tricks.”
“What did you think you saw?”
“I dunno, it was like a giant shadow, blocking out the stars, it was only for a second.”
“I think I read about that happening to a lot of people, something to do with the barrier I think. Least there was a bit of excitement, even if it was only for a second. C’mon, lets go get that ice cream and after we’ll can go rescue that poor tour guide from all your dads questions.”

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Seeing is Believing. Short Story.

Greg looked at the cigarette on the table, it looked so innocuous. He picked it up and after a few calming breaths, lit it and took a drag. He started coughing almost immediately, he grabbed his glass of water and took a sip, after the coughing had eased a bit he took another puff. He exhaled slowly, this time it didn’t burn as much. The taste of the smoke was pleasant, it brought a sweet tang with it and a smooth after taste. She had told him it was an easy smoke, but he hadn’t quite believed it. His friend Denise had managed to score it for him and she refused to say exactly where or how she had gotten it, only saying that it was intense.

Greg looked around the room, he didn’t feel different and everything looked the same. He had finished off the joint about ten minutes ago, surely he’d be feeling something by now? He stood from the couch and went over to the window, he looked down at the crowded street. Was there something going on today? Normally at this time the street was empty. Maybe a festival or a protest? There had been a lot of protests lately and he had never bothered to keep track of them. After a moment Greg grabbed his jacket and headed out the door. Denise had told him it would be fairly fast acting, maybe he just needed a bit of exercise and fresh air to get things going. There was a park nearby, large and open, it was always a good place to sit around in for a few hours.

Greg paused in the lobby, the crowds looked even denser from here. They didn’t seem to be protesting anything, in fact they didn’t seem to be making much noise at all. The people outside trudged past the windows, there was no sense of direction to the crowd, it was like everyone was just milling about. One of the people looked in and Greg froze. The mans eyes were blank, his mouth slack, it looked as though something was pulling the skin of his entire face downward, making it saggy. His eyes moved over Greg without seeing him and the man continued on. Greg’s heart began to beat faster, they all looked like that, dead, soulless eyes staring at nothing. He took a step backwards, then yelped as his back hit the cold doors of the elevator. He released a slow breath, it was just in his head, that was all. The drugs were kicking in and things were just a little freaky. The people outside were probably just on their way to lunch or something and his mind was filling in the rest.

Greg stepped outside into the cool air. None of the people seemed to notice him, they continued in their aimless walking. Greg started walking, he wanted to get to the park now, it was a nice, sunny day and the open space of the park was exactly what he needed. He started to duck and weave his way through the crowd, he got about fifty feet before he noticed that he hadn’t bumped into anyone. Everyone was moving about aimlessly, but they all seemed to avoid him, no matter how close they got, they never actually touched him. He began to walk in a straight line, the crowd subtly parting for him. As he walked he began to notice that they were all wearing odd clothes. Some were in business suits, others were in short and t-shirts, while others still were wearing pyjamas and hospital gowns and a few even looked to be dressed up in old timey costumes. Maybe there was a convention going on somewhere, wouldn’t be the first time he’d seen people in some crazy costumes walking about the place.

The park was just as busy as the street, the crowd seemed to have doubled in size, despite the park being large it seemed as if it was completely full. As he entered the gate there was a woman stretching, she looked like she was getting ready for a jog, “Man, busy day here isn’t it?”
The woman glanced around, “Uh yeah, I guess. I thought it was the same as always.” She turned away from him and continued her stretching. Greg moved deeper into the park.

He found a clear bench and sat down, the people around him were tightly packed, but he noticed no one seemed to be bumping into each other. He heard a bunch of ducks take flight from the pond, he watched them climb into the sky for a moment, then looked around again. How could he have heard them? The pond was about fifty feet away and with this many people the dull roar of the crowd should have been deafening, but it wasn’t. He couldn’t hear any of them, they moved silently and he had yet to see or hear one talk. He felt a chill race through his body. It was just the drugs, that was all. He studied the faces of those closest to him, now that he was sure they were just a hallucination he felt no guilt in staring. The only thing these people had in common were that they all seemed incredibly miserable. Not one of them smiled, they all just plodded along. Whenever he made eye contact with one he felt his stomach sink. There was something awful about those eyes, like every bad thought and feeling he had ever had were radiating from them. Nearby one of the people stumbled and seemed to fall, she wore an old style dress, it made him think of Victorian London, the crowd as a whole stopped for a brief second before they all turned as one and they attacked her. Her mouth opened in a silent scream as those closest began to tear at her dress, at her flesh. Before he had time to react the woman had been torn apart, those closest to her were coated in her blood. They closed their eyes for a moment and seemed to sigh, the blood slowly faded from their skin and then it was all over. The crowd went back to their aimless wandering. Shaking, Greg stood, he couldn’t deal with this, it was too much, far far too much. He started walking quickly, head down and looking at the pavement. He didn’t want to see anything like that again.

Greg sat on his couch, arms wrapped around a cushion. He just wanted things to go back to normal, for this to end. Every so often he would stand and peek out the window to see if the crowd was still there, they were.

When the drugs had finally worn off and the people vanished he picked up his phone and rang Denise.
“What the hell?”
“You’ve smoked it then?”
“Yeah, I did, what the hell was that stuff? It was so weird.”
“You saw them too? The people?”
“Yeah and that was all I saw, there was nothing else, didn’t even feel giggly or anything. I saw them tear a woman apart out there. It was disgusting. What the hell was it?”
“I’m sorry. I needed to know that I wasn’t crazy, that it wasn’t a lie.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The people that you saw, what were they like?”
“I don’t know, they just kind of wandered, they’d blank faces and dead eyes.”
Denise sighed, “The guy who gave it to me told me it would allow me to see the dead, what was in store for us once we died.”
“Wait what?”
“I’m sorry. I had to know if those things were real. That they weren’t just a hallucination. Those people out there, they’re always there we just cant see them. That’s what is waiting for us on the other side.”
Denise hung up, Greg lowered his phone. He looked out the window, down at the empty street that hours ago had been filled to capacity and he felt a cold pit of dread from in his stomach.

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The Flesh. Flash Fiction.

“I feel sick.”
“Just focus on walking, keep your head down and don’t look.”
Carl stared at the pavement as he walked, Becky was slightly ahead of him, he focused on her red high heels, the steady click clack as they hit the pavement. To their left was a writhing mass of groaning bodies, a hand reached out towards Carl, he thought he heard someone say his name, he didn’t look. Who ever it was they were dead now, dead and gone. The temptation to look was too great, his eyes flicked over to the jumbled flesh, his eyes followed the arm that reached for him, towards the persons face. Two dark eyes started at him, below them was a gaping maw, who ever it was they no longer looked human. He felt his stomach clench, he hurried to the edge of the pavement before he started throwing up. Becky was suddenly beside him, her hand soothingly rubbing his back. She passed him a tissue which he used to blow his nose, he coughed, then groaned. “Sorry I don’t have anything you can use to rinse out your mouth.”
“That’s ok. Thanks.” The words were difficult to get out, the smell and taste of the vomit hung heavily in his mouth and nostrils.
“Well, if it makes you feel any better you weren’t the only one to blow chunks.”
Pools of vomit lined the road, “Though I think most of them saw it happen.”
Carl stood upright, “C’mon, lets get out of here, I don’t want to barf again.”
They started walking. The smell of vomit overpowered the smell of the flesh, which was a small mercy. The flesh always smelled like stale sweat and shit.
As they moved past it squad cars started arriving, the officers stepped out of their cars carrying heavy rolls of yellow tape, a few started pulling large plastic sheeting from the trunks.

“Feeling better?”
“A little, now that the taste is gone. Did they say who did it?”
“Not yet, no one is taking credit for this one. I think it was that Animal Liberation group.”
“Could be the anti-science nuts again.”
“Yeah maybe. Could be someone new either.”
Carl shook his head, “I don’t get how someone could do that to another human being.”
Becky looked down at her hands, “Well, at least they won’t be suffering for too much longer.”
“Yeah.”
Carl winced inwardly, he had forgotten Becky’s dad had been caught up in a blast about five years back. Awful way to go, the only way to kill them properly was incineration, nothing else seemed to work. The only relief was knowing that who ever had been caught in the blast were no longer themselves, that person died the moment the blast hit. What was left was a mockery of the person, their bodies and minds melded into one giant mass, screaming with the voices of the dead, begging for people to try to help them, to pull them free. Carl had seen some of the early footage, he had watched as those that were trying to help were dragged screaming and struggling into the mass of flesh, never to be seen again.
“All those groups calmed down for a while, I thought maybe it’d finally stopped.”
Carl shrugged, “Something like that, I don’t think they’d ever stop using it. If it wasn’t them it’d be someone else. I heard that it was being used in warzones now.”
“They couldn’t do that, could they? It’d be against human rights or the Geneva convention or something.”
“I dunno, that’s just what I heard. Could have been a rumour.”
Becky wrapped her arms around herself, “if it’s true that’s awful.”

They sat in silence for a moment, Carl tried to think of something to say, but all he could picture was that mass of flesh. His stomach clenched. Carl grimaced and took a sip of his water, he just needed to push it out of his mind. It was over now, by the time they were walking back it would all be cleared up, or at the very least blocked off so they wouldn’t have to see it.

Becky opened her mouth to speak, then paused, “Did you find out who it was?”
Carl nodded, “yeah, it was a guy I used to work with. He always was a bit of a dick. Still, wouldn’t want that to happen to anyone.”
She reached out and gently squeezed his hand.

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The Daily Grind. Short Story.

“How many did we get today?”
“Eight.”
“Only eight?”
Frank shrugged, “They’re getting nervous out there, noticing people are going missing. They’re not as trusting as they were. Besides, there’s only so many homeless people in one area.”
“Not the point. Bus them in from elsewhere if you have to. We need these bodies and we need them fast.”
“We’re doing the best we can.”
“Well, that isn’t good enough. If you don’t get production up before Thursday we’re going to have to find someone else.”
“What? I’ve done an amazing job here considering what I’ve been given. The numbers have always fluctuated slightly but we’ve never fallen under our production needs.”
“And we never will. Get those numbers up or else.”
Samantha turned and left the room, Frank glared at her back as she left.
“Goddamned bitch. The fuck is her problem? Why should she care, once we have the bodies, she’s just a power hungry cunt.”
Frank shot a glare at Scott, “Don’t say those kind of things. Not here.”
“Why? It’s not like they can hear…” Scott stopped speaking, his face going a little pale, Frank nodded.
“Doesn’t matter what you think of her, it only matters what she thinks of us. If we disappoint her we’re out and once we’re out there’s no coming back from that. They won’t kill us, nothing so simple and easy. No they’ll destroy our lives. Jacob, the guy you replaced? They found child porn on his computer within hours after he was fired. His entire family disowned him and he’s currently rotting in a jail cell. Last I heard he was getting daily beatings from the guards. They found some sick, sick shit on his computer.”
“And you think?”
Frank shrugged, “he’s not the only one I’ve heard about, I don’t want to risk it personally, do you?”

Scott took a sip of his coffee, “Ok, then what are we going to do to get the numbers up again?”
“Well, the food isn’t a great incentive anymore, nor are the free blankets and shit, we could try and lure them with drugs, but I don’t know how effective that would be and we’d probably get only the truly desperate. People out there are getting paranoid, they don’t trust people.”
“Maybe she’s right, maybe we should get them bussed in from elsewhere.”
Frank shook his head, “No, that isn’t really in our budget, besides who the fuck would get on a random bus?”
“Well, we could just start grabbing them.”
“Yeah, looks like we might have to. I’ve a few contacts at one of the local churches, we might be able to use them as a front. Snatching people works but there’s an added layer of danger, especially if someone spots it.”
Frank looked down at his hands for a few seconds. “Right, we’ll keep getting people in the usual ways, then we’ll have Terry do the snatch and grab thing to bulk up the numbers if they dip.”
“OK, but that’ll only work for the short term. What will happen when we start running out, there’s only so many homeless people hanging around.”
“Don’t worry about it. We’ll be done long before then. The project only has another month left.”
“That’s still almost three hundred people if we get the numbers she wants.”
“If we have to we can always make up the numbers in other ways. They’ve done it before. It’s not as easy as the homeless, but it isn’t that difficult.”
There was a knock on the door, a tall woman walked in, her red hair tied up in a bun, “Hey Fran, how’s things?”
“Ah can’t complain. Needed a bit of a break from intake. There’s only so many of those people you can see before it becomes too much. I mean at some point you’ve to question if some of them are even people, the way they behave. Few if any of them bathe and their social skills are awful. It’s so difficult to get anything out of them. Plus that stench of theirs always lingers, I can never seem to get it out of my hair.”
Frank nodded, “Yeah, I hated intake when I was there. After this project is over you’ll be moved up to somewhere else.”
“I know but I don’t know if I can stand if for another month. I mean we had one guy in today, I don’t know how he was even still alive, massive infection in his arm, he took off his jacket and I almost threw up. It was rank.”
Frank smiled at her, “Bit of Vicks under the nose, blocks the smell.”
“Oh believe me, I use it every goddamned day. It’s the only way to get through it. How are you guys doing? Heard the Bitch was in with you.”
“Yeah, she was pissed, not enough numbers. I tried telling her we’re doing the best we can but she was having none of it.”
“Yeah, I’m surprised that you’re getting as many as you are. One woman asked us yesterday if we were working for the aliens taking people. They know something is up. Though they always figure it out sooner or later.”
“Yeah, I think next time around I’m going to ask to be somewhere other than acquisition. Too much stress ya know? Like processing is a little easier, you just do what you’re supposed to do with what you’re given. None of this hitting the numbers crap.”
“I hear processing is intense, I mean know what they do to them, I certainly don’t want to have to do it.”
Frank shrugged, “I’ve seen it done a few times. It’s nothing too shocking. Besides they’re unconscious for it all so there’s no screams or anything like that.”
Scott shook his head, “She’s right man, I don’t think I could do it, have you seen some of the workers? Their eyes look dead like, all the time. It’s some creepy-ass shit.”
“It’s not that bad, my brother did it for a while, said you get used to it quick enough.”
“I wouldn’t go for it. It’s not for me, all that blood and gore. I can barely handle horror movies.”
Scott laughed, “Then why the hell do you work in horror movie central?”
Fran shrugged, “You don’t see it here. Everything is clean and the worst I have to deal with is the smells and the mentally ill. I don’t actually have to see any of the blood and guts or hear screams, that’s what gets me. Well, the screaming is more annoying that scary, but I feel a bit faint at the sight of blood.”
“You’re in the wrong line of work then sister.”
“Well, it’s worked out pretty well for me for the last ten years. Another five and I get to retire, it’s well worth it. How many thirty five year olds do you know of that never need to work again?”
“Good point.”
“Right, well, I better get back to it. I’ll see you guys at lunch?”
“Yeah, see you then.”
Scott watched Fran leave. “I don’t care what she says, she has to be into some freaky shit to work here.”
Frank rolled his eyes, “You say everyone is into freaky shit.”
“Well, that’s because usually they are.”
“So what kind of freaky shit are you into then? After all you work here too.”
Scott shrugged and grinned, “I’m one of the normal ones I guess. C’mon, lets get started on bumping those numbers up, I definitely don’t want to be dealing with management again any time soon.”
“Yeah, wouldn’t want that at all.”

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