Breaking Curfew. Short Story.

“Remember, be in before dark.”
“Yeah, yeah I know, you tell me that every time.”
“It’s good to have a reminder.”
Jason nodded and stepped outside, closing the door behind him. They’d been living here for years now and the curfew had never changed yet his mother insisted on reminding him. He felt his heart lurch in his chest, what if she knew? No. that was silly, if she knew she wouldn’t have let him leave the house. She was just being her usual, worrying self. He slowed his pace slightly, he was walking too fast. Wouldn’t want to draw any suspicion. He was just going on a pleasant stroll, that was all. If at some point he happened to run into his friend Rick, well, that would be a very pleasant surprise.

Jason stood at the corner store, waiting. Where the hell was Rick? He was late. God, if he had gotten caught they would both be in so much trouble. A few seconds later Rick ran around the corner, gasping for breath. “Sorry, sorry, I was about to slip out when my mom asked me to do some chores. Couldn’t say no.”
“It’s fine. You’re not that late.”
They walked into the shop and started looking at the sweets. They’d need something for during the night. Not a whole lot, but something. They grabbed a few bars of chocolate and a few bottles of soft drink and, clutching the bag tightly, they left the store. Now they just had to get to the old church. It was starting to get late, so they picked up the pace a little. No one would think it odd that two people were walking so fast. Not this close to dusk. No their only problem was someone spotting them. They both thought it unlikely, but that didn’t stop them from glancing behind themselves every so often. Everyone would most likely be inside by now, their curtains firmly shut. Not that it would make a difference of course, even if they were open you wouldn’t see anything. That wasn’t why people closed them though, they were not scared of what they might see, they were afraid of what might see them.

The church was colder than either expected and neither had brought jackets. Their plan was simple. They were going to say they went for a walk and got themselves turned around in their panic to get back. They slipped into the church as it would be a safe place. Hopefully no one would ask why they didn’t just knock on someone’s door and ask for shelter.

They sat in silence, it was dark now. It wouldn’t be safe to talk. They believed they’d be safe enough on consecrated ground, but neither knew for sure, as far as they were aware that idea had never been tested. Besides, the building was in ruins, but there were still walls and a roof, surely that was enough to make it as safe as a house was.

“Do you hear that?”
“Like a scraping sound.”
They listened, holding their breath. “No, I don’t hear it.”
“Maybe it’s a mouse or something.”
“I’m gonna go have a look.”
“What? Are you crazy?”
“I’m not going to leave the church, I just want to see. That was the whole point of this, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, but just be careful ok?”
“I will.”
Rick stood and carefully started to move around the old bits of rock and debris. Jason slowed his breathing, trying to be as quiet as possible. He could hear Rick moving away, wincing whenever Rick hit something or kicked at a rock. After a minute he heard Rick returning, “Jesus dude, could you have been any louder?”
Rick sat down beside him, “Did you see anything?”
Rick shook his head. “Must have a been a mouse after all.”

Jason was starting to doze. This wasn’t nearly as fun as he had thought it would be. They couldn’t really talk to one another, they were cold and they were hungry. He had imagined it would be much more exciting. He thought they’d see something. Anything at all. Maybe it all was just a legend then. Something told to scare children and then, when they grew up, no one told them it wasn’t real.

Jason’s head snapped up, he heard something. His heart was thudding in his chest, he held his breath, listening. There was nothing. Maybe it had been a dream. His heart started to slow. Yeah, that was all, a dream. He looked over at Rick, he was fast asleep. Jason froze as he heard a rock fall. It sounded like it was inside the church. He reached out and gently shook Rick, Ricks body slumped over. Jason shook him harder, then started searching for a pulse. His body was cold. Jason pulled his hand back, trying to keep calm, he needed to get inside somewhere and he needed to do it now. They weren’t safe in here, it had gotten Rick while Jason had slept beside him. There was no choice, he’d have to run. Slowly Jason stood, his legs feeling weak and cold, he could do it. He’d get to a house and bang on the door until someone let him in. He could make it. He took a deep breath, then took off running. Behind him something launched itself, it didn’t screech, it barely made a sound. As Jason ran he tried to hear it over the sound of his heart and the thudding of his feet, but he couldn’t. He didn’t want to risk looking back, he didn’t think he’d be able to keep going if he actually saw it.

Up ahead he could see houses, a few even had their lights on still. He would get there, he was going to make it, he’d be safe, he- the air was knocked out of him and he was flung forward as something struck the centre of his back. Jason skidded on the ground, too winded to cry out, his palms and arms were covered in cuts. He rolled over onto his back. He didn’t have time to scream.

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End of It All. Short Story.

Tony breathed deeply, the air is so pure and fresh after the rain. Today is the day, the day it was all going to happen. He smiled, his lips stretching as wide as they would go, a hint of laughter on his face. He knew if he started he probably wouldn’t be able to stop. A young mother sped up as she passed by, throwing one or two furtive glances back to make sure he wasn’t following her. She had no reason to fear, he was just sitting on the bench enjoying the sun and the gentle breeze. He had no plans to move on from the bench any time soon. The park was nice, it was sunny and it was safe.

After a few minutes of breathing Tony checked his watch then grabbed his bag, it wouldn’t be too long now. He took out everything he needed, rolling papers, tobacco and of course, the weed. It had been years since he smoked anything at all, but he was confident his fingers would still remember how to roll. He was going to die today, he knew that for certain, and he didn’t want to die sober.

The rolling was more difficult than he remembered, his fingers felt clumsy and a little useless, the wind kept picking up slightly, threatening to blow it all away. God. How had he managed to do it when he was younger? After a few minutes of fiddling he sealed the joint and placed it down onto the bench beside himself, then he packed everything else away.

The first inhale was sharp and bitter, he started coughing immediately. He opened his bag again and pulled out a bottle of water, he took a few sips and waited until the coughing subsided, then he took another drag. This one was a little smoother. The burn was still there, harsh in his lungs, but he managed to hold in the cough.

He finished the joint, alternating coughing with sips of water and inhalations. After a few lungfuls he could feel it and by now he felt almost lighter, like he was about to start floating. Years ago this joint would have only gotten him a little high. Huh. How things have changed.

With the joint gone he focused on his breathing again, taking sips of the water when he needed them. His mouth was unreasonably dry, the water didn’t seem to be doing much to alleviate it. He looked at his watch, only ten minutes had gone by, it felt like much longer. He glanced around, the park was empty, the woman with her pram had long since disappeared from view. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. Maybe it would have been better to go out at home, hell, he could have taken it into his own hands and killed himself. He could have picked up some heroin, he had wanted to try it when he was younger, but he feared the addiction. Now was the time to have tried it, inject just a little too much and ride the high right out of existence. It was too late to pick any up now. Besides, he was always squeamish with needles. A few pills might have been better. Drift off to sleep and just never wake up. He didn’t like this feeling, it was different from how he remembered, it wasn’t soothing or relaxing. There was a tenseness, bundled up around his chest making him feel full and like it was difficult to breathe. Like the air around him was all useless and there just wasn’t enough to get into his lungs.

Somewhere there was screaming. It was starting a little earlier than planned. There would be no getting home now. Now all he could do was wait.

The screams were louder on occasion, but none seemed to be approaching him. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Though the noise wasn’t exactly pleasant. There was always the trees, he could go hide in them. Well, in theory he could, but his legs felt a little too heavy for walking. Besides, that would just prolong it all. He had no survival training, not enough food or water to last more than a day. He would have to survive for at least a week if he had any hope of surviving it until the end.

He would have liked to have said he had done it all for political reasons, because of some great ideological vision, but that would be a lie. He had done it for the money, plain and simple. It probably helped he had been planning to kill himself before they contact him anyway. If he had to suffer, well then everyone else could too. What would be the harm in that? Beth was dead, they had no children, no family, no friends. All they really had was each other. The money was nice, it helped numb the pain for a little while, but then it became a little pointless. Anything he bought or did, all he could think of was how much Beth would have enjoyed it too.

He knew why he didn’t kill himself, the real reason why. He was a coward. This way there was no backing out. He was weak, he knew he was weak. There was no way he could survive something like this. It would scour the earth, cleanse it of all who were unworthy. Tony knew he was unworthy. He would die and perhaps, if an afterlife was real, be reunited with Beth. He probably wouldn’t end up where she did though. She was a good woman. Though Tony could say he had never directly caused anyone to die. After all he was just a cog in a team. They had it all planned out for if they were caught. It was all experimental, theoretical. Even if they managed it, they would destroy the results. It wasn’t his fault that someone released it. Not his fault at all. Though he doubted anyone else would see it like that. Most of the others were safe. They were waiting it out in their bunkers. Tony knew he wouldn’t like that. Being in such a small space, concrete on every side. No fresh air. No open fields.

The screaming was getting louder. Perhaps he should try roll another joint. Maybe if he got high enough he wouldn’t feel it when it happened. He reached down for his bag, when he looked up he could see them coming. He dropped the bag. There wouldn’t be enough time. Tony leaned back and smiling, he closed his eyes.

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Morning Glass of OJ. Short Story.

Orange juice at breakfast, it was a family tradition. Every morning, without fail everyone had a glass of it. If it wasn’t finished you couldn’t leave the table. Everyone drank it, even those who didn’t like orange juice, it was much preferable to the punishment for leaving any in the glass.

They all knew why too, their father telling them at least once a week, even if no one made a face of disgust. “When I was a boy I would have killed for some orange juice at breakfast. We got to have it once a year if we were lucky. I do everything I can to provide for this family, you will take what you are given and you will like it. I did not raise you to be ungrateful. This is my house and” And on and on and on. The speech usually lasted a good five minutes followed by him drinking his juice and maybe doling out some punishment if he perceived any slights during his speech, like making faces or not listening.

It had been a part of Samantha’s morning ritual for so long that even now she occasionally found herself reaching for a glass that wasn’t there. It hadn’t been for almost a year now. That was when she was finally able to escape. The others, they weren’t so lucky. She was the oldest by seven years, they had a long road ahead of them. Before she had visited, trying to keep their spirits up, but then her father banned her from the house. Really, Samantha saw it as a blessing, no more unexplainable bruises, no more screaming in her face. She managed to keep in contact with her brother, he would write letters to her during school and send them whenever he could. Her father kept the computer tightly locked down, anyone using it needed to have someone supervising them at all times. It seemed that since she had been banished the abuse had gotten worse, as though her father was trying to regain his authority over her through her siblings.

She had taken all the steps you were supposed to, telling the school, reporting it herself, but it never did any good. It was too well hidden and everyone seemed to be blinded by it. Her father didn’t usually leave marks, that was only when he was really, really angry and even those were rarely visible. Samantha only received a large portion of her visible bruises after she left and that was because her father was usually trying to get a shot at her while she was running out of the house. She knew it was stupid going back, that it was just asking for trouble, but she couldn’t just abandon all her siblings. Her mother did nothing to help, turning her back on them when they were given beatings, ignoring the crying, the screaming. In Samantha’s eyes her mother was just as bad as her father. Sure, she may not have hit them, but she didn’t stop it. Besides, her mother liked to play her own little games. Getting the children in trouble, twisting things around to make sure she was safe. Samantha remembered when she was nine, her mother told her she could go play next door. When her father arrived home he had been in a dark mood and her mother could see that. When Samantha got home she was beaten for leaving the house without permission. Samantha would never forget what her mother said to her as she cried, “Why would go when I told you not to. Why would you bring this on yourself?” That was when she knew her mother was just as bad as her father. She could see it in some of her younger brothers too. That unrepressed hate and sneaking manipulation. Getting others in trouble to avoid it themselves. Of the six of them, only two were good. Her brother Jacob and her sister Annie. Annie was still young, she was a gentle little girl. Always so quiet. Sometimes Samantha thought she could see it though, the glint of reptilian intelligence as someone else got in trouble for something. She always dismissed that thought, she was only three, she wouldn’t have the capacity for such manipulations. At least not yet.

Of course Samantha knew she hadn’t escaped unharmed. That would have been impossible. She had her issues, her problems. She didn’t bother with therapy, what good would that do when no one believed her now? No. Therapy wasn’t the solution, but that wasn’t a problem. Samantha had her own solution in mind. One that would take care of everything. The cycle of abuse would stop with their generation, it wouldn’t be allowed to continue.

Samantha let herself in through the backdoor, she already knew where the spare key was. Everyone was upstairs, asleep. Her father was a heavy sleeper and the doors were locked at night. If anyone heard her, they’d think it was him. The kitchen was covered in darkness, but she didn’t need light to know where she was going. The layout had not changed since she was a child. The breakfast nook was over in the right corner, the table already set up and prepared for breakfast. She moved around the island in the centre of the kitchen and went straight to the fridge. She opened it, wincing slightly as bright light spilled out. She took out the orange juice bottle and set it on the counter. Then she paused, listening. The house creaked and groaned as it settled. All familiar sounds from her childhood. No one was getting up. Good. She unscrewed the lid quickly and added some powder to it. She closed the orange juice and gave it a gentle shake, letting it dissolve into the juice. When that was done she placed it back into the fridge, closing it gently. When she left she kept her head down and slipped out onto the street. No one would notice her but even if they did it wouldn’t matter, she was just a random woman walking home at night. No one would ever suspect her and if they did, so what? She had worn gloves. There was no way it would be traced back to her.

She made five more stops before she returned home. All people she vaguely knew. Each one was the same, break in, add the powder to the orange juice, leave. No one heard her, no one would ever know. She tried to choose older people, or those who were single, but that would be suspicious, so she had another family too. Three of them, mother, father, little girl. It would appear random and that was what she needed.

It was all over the news a few days afterwards. Poison in orange juice. People, good people, struck down in the prime of their lives. Fifteen people dead at the end of it. They were scouring for clues, looking for leads, but Samantha knew they wouldn’t find any. She had gone into the grocery store and done her shopping, but she had never been near the orange juice. They wouldn’t find anyone on the store cameras, they’d think it must have been someone in the factory. After all, who else could it be? She waited until they came to ask her questions, she played the part of the grieving daughter and sister perfectly. That was something she had gotten from her upbringing at least, she was very good at acting. When they left she set out the pills. Different from the poison she used, obviously, and took them all at once, followed by a few good sized gulps of vodka. When they find her they’d think that the grief was too much, that she couldn’t deal with the death of her family. They would never know. As she felt herself drift out of consciousness she smiled. She had done it, she had stopped the cycle.

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The School. Short Story.

Jake sat down on the hill. The ground was cold and wet, already the water soaked through his pyjamas. It was bright out, so very bright and so very loud. The fire was much louder than he expected. He thought it would be like a regular fire, with crackles and pops. He didn’t expect the roars, the shattering glass, the groaning as great beams collapsed. The screams. Though there weren’t many of those. Jake suspected that was because of the smoke. The loudest was Clarice, he could see her at the broken window, trying to breathe fresh air, screaming for help. She had spotted him, waved, he couldn’t see her face clear enough, but he heard her scream for him. He just watched. It was better for her this way. It was better for all of them. No one would be left. Once he was sure, completely sure that everyone was dead, he would take care of himself. There was no point in going on alone. The bodies would be destroyed, twisted beyond recognition and use, his own would be the same. Everything that happened here would be covered up, he knew that and he accepted it. That wasn’t important. The only important thing was stopping it. Perhaps someday they would try again, Jake suspected they would, but for now that wasn’t important. Perhaps it was selfish of him, but he was so tired of trying, of fighting. He just wanted it all to stop.

They came for him when he was twelve. He didn’t know why, they didn’t say. He had been in bed when they broke in. He hadn’t been asleep, he was up late reading comics. He heard his parents yelling, then there were a few thuds and the screaming stopped. The men came into his room, Jake had hidden under the bed. He knew it was stupid, but there was no where else. The window had a big drop outside it onto brambles and the wardrobe was tiny. He hoped that maybe they’d think he wasn’t even there that night. After all he was supposed to be at his friends for a sleepover, but then Billy got sick. They had dragged him from underneath the bed and carried him out of the house. He didn’t see his parents. They didn’t yell, they didn’t try to go after him. He didn’t know what happened to them.

He didn’t know why he was chosen, why he was taken. There was nothing unusual about him. Average grades, average hobbies. Nothing that stood out. Yet take him they did. Told him he was special, that it was a special school for special people but Jake knew that was a lie. He wasn’t important. It wasn’t until he got there that he fully understood it. He wasn’t special now, but they were going to make him that way.

It had been an agony of test after test, strange things injected into his arms and legs, the screaming, burning pain as it raced through him. During the day was school, in the evening the injections, the training, at night he would pass out from exhaustion and start all over again in the morning. There were sixty kids in the school. Sixty kids going through the same hell as him. The staff pretended that they were friends with him, him and all the other children, but they weren’t. Not really. They would stay away from them, act friendly but if you tried to get too close they’d push you away. They wouldn’t even give a hug to those who cried. No, Jake knew that the adults didn’t care about them, not as people. He could never understand why the others never saw it though. The kids all looked up to them. Jake could barely stand it, watching how they played favourites and got the other kids the fight for meagre scraps of love and affection.

Three years. Three years of torture and stress and pain and for what? Nothing. None of it was worth a damn. One more week, that was all, one more week and they were free. Then that stupid asshole Dominick had to go and ruin it. They could have been free. Jake had heard them talking amongst themselves. The kids would be sent elsewhere, fancy schools, payments from the government. Life would have been sweet, if only Dom had kept his mouth shut. No, instead he ran through the halls screaming that he did it, he made it work. Jake had gone with everyone else to see, not really expecting it to happen, but it did. The small ball bearing floated off the table. It was only a few inches and only for a few seconds at best, but he did it. Everyone was cheering, screaming. Everyone but Jake. He knew what that meant. All that tiny little ball represented. More testing, more injections, more pain. He couldn’t do it. He wouldn’t.

He had been hiding it for years. Exploring it in secret and failing their tests. He could levitate things easily enough. It was one of the first things that manifested. It took him a few months to get the hang of it. After that he was able to build on it, make himself stronger. Then one day he found he could make fire appear. It was an accident, he had been having a nightmare and he woke up to find a small fire on his bed. He had managed to hide the burn mark, it was only small. He had kept it secret, focusing on the day that they’d finally be let go. There had been rumblings about it for a few weeks, suggestions and rumours of cut budgets and closure. Jake knew he just had to outwait them and he’d be free.

Starting the fire was easy. There was no real start point. One second everything was fine, the next everything was on fire. He kept the fires burning bright and hot. He could feel himself getting weaker, he was tired, but he had to continue. There were bunkers under the place, they were on fire too. The guard towers stationed at the walls. Everything. The whole world was burning. He didn’t want this. He didn’t want any of it, but it was the only way.

Jake didn’t know when he passed out. The last thing he remembered was the roar and heat of the flames. Now it was morning. There was nothing left but smouldering rubble. There were no people around. Not yet. He didn’t know where they were, but it wouldn’t be much longer before someone came out. He didn’t know if he destroyed all the data they had recorded, he hoped he had. Wearily Jake got to his feet and started walking, shivering in his cold, wet pyjamas. He was going to walk into the fire, when it reached its highest point, but now the fire was gone and he didn’t think he could make more, not for now at least. Maybe they wouldn’t know, they might think he burned up inside with everyone else. He didn’t know where he was going to go, he didn’t know what he was going to do. All he could focus on was moving, one foot in front of the other. If he stopped, if he was caught, everything the night before would be for nothing. They’d know and they’d make him do it over and over again.

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Partners in Crime. Flash Fiction.

There was never really a question as to how it would end for them, only when.

He had told her many times that he would take the blame for it all, tell everyone she was innocent, that she had been tricked into things. She believed him, of course she did. She trusted him. She was a nice girl, if a bit stupid and naïve. He would still tell everyone that it was his fault, he would take all the credit, but Helen wouldn’t be alive to see that part. Already they were closing in and Helen knew too much, even more than she realised. She was no longer an asset. People were on the look out for a couple, he might have a chance to escape if he was going solo. Helen would never agree to splitting up, not that he would blame her for that. She would be lost with out him, and probably be caught in a matter of days. After that it would be all over for him. He had been too open with Helen, told her too many things. For now they didn’t know who he was and they never would. He changed names easily, creating new back stories every where he went. Helen was the only one who came close to knowing the real him. Most of what he told her were lies, but they were lies that had been based on the truth. They could use what he told her to unravel all the lies and that simply wouldn’t do. He would make it quick for her though. It was the least he could do for her.

It was quick when she went. A few sleeping pills crushed into her drink, a swift slice across her neck and it was done. She never even woke up. She’d just be another one. Some poor victim, killed by some lunatic. He didn’t stick around after he did it, only long enough to put stuff back into the car, then he started driving.

As the sun began to rise he smiled. It was good that Helen was gone. He was free to do exactly as he liked now. Perhaps he would even find a new Helen some day. Someone else to train in the mysteries of his work.

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The Jackson Brothers. Short Story.

Marvin looked at the road as he walked passed the house. That was the easiest way to get by, head down, don’t look. They might yell, they might even throw something at him, but as long as he kept moving he would be fine. They wouldn’t follow him, they wouldn’t come out to him, not unless he stopped or confronted them. There was no yelling today, they ignored him. As he moved past the broken wooden fence he felt his shoulders relax a little. Today was starting out pretty well. He wasn’t running late, he wasn’t harassed. Overall it was a good morning.

He had to pass by them every morning. Well, there were alternate routes, but they added on a good half an hour to the walk and he couldn’t afford to get multiple busses. Maybe they had stopped because another complaint had been made about them. That happened every so often, someone complained and they toned it down for a little while, a week or two, sometimes even three, but then they’d be right back where they were. Personally he thought it was crazy they could get away with it all in this day and age, even as it was he felt like a complete and utter wuss when walking by. He was twenty nine for Christ sake, not some prepubescent schoolchild. He shouldn’t have to hunch his shoulders and scurry past like a frightened mouse. No one had even been seriously harmed, the most they ever dealt with was some shoving. Occasionally a fight would break out, but it was always the person they were harassing that threw the first punch. The fights were brief and over in seconds. They’d leave the passerby, leaning against the fence or on the ground, and return to their porch and their drinks, congratulating each other. They weren’t young idiots either, the youngest of them was about thirty five, the oldest was around fifty. The Jackson brothers. Their parents were dead, done in by the same alcoholism they passed on to their boys. They had a sister, but Marvin didn’t know where she was. She had apparently run off when she was fifteen. She had been a year or two ahead of Marvin when they were in school. She seemed so different from her family. Smart, nice. He hoped that wherever she ended up, it was somewhere good. He had heard rumours that she was a prostitute, selling herself on the streets and her pimp had taken care of her over some money disputes, but Marvin didn’t believe it. She was too shy to do anything like that. She never wore revealing clothing, mostly dressing in loose jeans and baggy, long sleeved sweatshirts.

Though he would never admit it to anyone, he did have a little crush on Melissa, she was pretty, in her own way. He always thought that if she wore some flattering clothes, maybe tied her hair back she would be stunning. No one else could ever see it though. She always had her head down, long hair hanging in front of her face. He pushed the thoughts away from himself. It seemed dangerous to be thinking about Melissa so close to her brothers house. He was never quite sure if they harassed him specifically, or if they had some kind of system for choosing. Nothing ever made a difference, what he carried, the clothes he wore. Nothing seemed to change it. It was no wonder Melissa ran away from that. Her parents had been the same. Up all night screaming at one another. He didn’t know how she or anyone else could stand it.

Marvin kind of pitied the brothers, in a distant sort of way. What sort of life were they living, could they even live? They sat around all day drinking, yelling at people. It was no way to live. They hadn’t really stood a chance with how their parents were. As it was it was a miracle none of the children had any birth defects, though Marvin secretly wondered if that was what was wrong with the brothers. It wouldn’t come as a great shock to him or anyone else. It was astounding that none of them had succumbed to alcohol poisoning or cirrhosis of the liver. At the rate they seemed to drink, they were well on their way to an early grave. He wondered what it would be like with only two of them. Would they still taunt passerby? Would they dial it back or ramp it up in some kind of twisted memorial? Time would tell, but Marvin hoped he would have been able to move someone else by then. As it was he was horrified to be living at home again. His parents didn’t really mind, he suspected they were glad of the extra money and the work he was doing around the house. Still, it was awful. He felt like a child again, like he couldn’t come and go as he pleased. After all, it was their house and it seemed disrespectful to stumble in at 4 in the morning, drunk and possibly with a woman. Not to mention the dating. He could always see it, when he admitted he lived at home, that instant moment of recoil and the contraction of their attraction. Still, he was working and at the rate he was saving he’d be able to move out within the year.

Marvin walked slowly. It had been a long day, a long day with too little breaks and too many people. He just wanted to get home, stretch out on the couch and watch a little TV. Maybe with a beer or two. First though, first he’d have to walk passed that damn house. He hoped that they’d already be inside, or that they were already passed out on the porch. Even if they were there, maybe they’d let him go by. It was the least they could do for him really. Probably better too, they wouldn’t have to expand any effort on him whatsoever. Just let him slink on by like the coward he was. He turned the corner and stopped, there were police cars on the road, bright flashing lights, someone was stringing up yellow tape. Could it be? Did they take it too far with someone? Maybe one of them had killed the other in a drunken rage. He felt a little bit of hope in his chest. He’d be able to pass by easily now. Hell, they might never come back! Casually he walked up the road, a group of people were standing by some of the tape. Feeling more than a little gleeful at the Jackson brothers misfortune, he joined a small group. They were all agreeing how awful it was, how terrible. Marvin tried to hide his grin. It sounded like at least one of them was dead. It might be a little awful to revel in it, but the pricks got what they deserved.

He was starting to get impatient, no one had mentioned what the awful, terrible thing was. Oh, plenty of them thought it, and it was bound to happen sooner or later, but god only knew what exactly it was. He made himself look as sombre and serious as possible, then, “Excuse me, what happened?”
One of the women looked at him, like she was trying to place him. “I live around the corner, I was just on my way home from work.”
“Oh, Martin isn’t it? Julie and Brad’s boy?”
Marvin nodded, the faster he knew, the faster he could get home and have a mini celebration.

“They found her. Melissa. They think the brothers killed her. Apparently she was chained up in that place for years. God only knows what they did to the poor girl. Someone complained of a smell, she died a few days ago.”
Marvin felt his stomach drop, “Oh. That’s awful.” He walked past the group, he felt a little nauseous. How many times had he walked by that house? Hundreds. Possibly thousands. And all that time she had been chained up inside. That sweet, shy girl. He thought back to that morning, had he even noticed a smell? Not really, not above the general smell of old, rotting wood and stale beer.

Marvin let himself in and sat down on the couch. His parents were talking in the kitchen. He could hear them saying how awful it all was. And so close. He shook his head, none of them had known, none. She had been only a five minute walk away this entire time. Chained up, probably in the dark.

He stood from the couch and went into the kitchen he needed some water or something. “Did you hear?”
“It’s awful isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it. It really is.”
“And that poor child. Three years old, spent his entire life in that awful, awful house.”

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Punishments. Short Story.

Grace sank back into her pillows and dabbed at her mouth with some tissue. At least the vomiting was over for a little while. The bucket was half filled with the thick, gelatinous mass and the room stunk of it. Her mother wouldn’t be back to clean it out for another hour or so. Grace was used to the stench by now, sour and strangely sweet, mixed with the heady scent of the flowers her mother filled the room with. The idea behind the flowers was to mask the smell, stop it from spreading through the rest of the house, but it was a pointless idea. Her mother left the buckets and only cleaned them once a day, maybe twice if she was particularly fed up with the smell. Apart from that Grace only saw her mother when she brought breakfast and dinner. Lunch was pointless as Grace was usually picking at her breakfast until then. The nurse usually came around the time that her mother emptied the bucket and the nurse would help her use the bathroom. Her mother was adamant that she wouldn’t do that. It had been a struggle for the nurse to convince her mother to empty the vomit bucket. The nurse would strip the bed of the soiled sheets and replace them with fresh ones. Grace didn’t like the sheets that were used, they were plastic and sticky, she missed fresh cotton sheets, soft against her delicate skin. The nurse would clean her up, usually by hosing her down in the bath, then she would be dried and put back to bed. There were new beds out, ones that would dispose of the waste, but her mother refused to buy one, always saying that there was no point, as Grace would only get a few months use of it.

Grace had books and television to keep her company during the day. The visits from the nurse were a nice break, but the nurse was always a bit distant. Friendly enough but never all that forthcoming with conversation. Grace understood. The nurse was run off her feet, travelling around and looking after people like her. It was so much to do, besides that, people with the disease usually didn’t live too long, so it was probably easier on the nurse if she wasn’t attached. Grace still didn’t know the nurses name. Her mother knew, but her mother wouldn’t tell her. Her mother barely talked to her these days, and Grace was happy about that.

When she first got the sickness her mother ranted and raved, screamed about how it was her punishment, how she went against God. Grace had long since given up trying to explain, her mother didn’t want to listen, didn’t want to know. Her mother had blamed her once she heard of the attack and wouldn’t listen to what anyone else said. So Grace just stayed silent. It didn’t bother her too much now. It did before, when she still believed in god, but the night of the attack she realised that there was no god. If there was how could he let such things happen to someone who always tried their best to be kind and courteous, to follow the words of the bible. She had done nothing to warrant a punishment, she didn’t deserve the sickness, she didn’t deserve to die in her own filth, but that was going to happen, whether or not she deserved it.

She had been on her way home when she was attacked. Grace still didn’t know why she had been singled out. Two men had grabbed her and dragged her into the alley before she even had a chance to scream. They beat her, she didn’t remember that bit. The bruises had lasted for weeks, the broken bones for months. At some point she felt something sharp in her hand, she didn’t remember what she did, but Grace remembered the warm flood of blood that washed over her. She remembered the screams. Someone found her not long after. Covered in blood, both men were dead. The police all agreed she had been extremely lucky to survive the beating, and lucky that they had only managed to make it that far. The men were known to the system, recently released and with records of violent and sexual crimes. Her mother didn’t believe Grace. Her mother had painted her own picture of what happened. Her daughter, dressed proactively, flirting and drinking with men, leading them on and bringing them to the alleyway. Grace had always tuned out at that point, covering her ears and yelling so she wouldn’t have to hear the vile stories her mother had created.

They were both infected, still in the early stages. She caught it through the blood that splashed into her eyes and mouth. There was no treatment. Infection meant death. The only variable was how long it would take. Some people could live for years before finally succumbing, others only months. Grace had it for seven months now, the doctors expected she would only live for one or two more.

The only satisfaction that Grace could find in the last few months was the knowledge that, should god be real, should he be just, then her mother was going straight to hell. When she was a child she had those thoughts occasionally, always fleeting and always leaving her feeling horrified that she could think such things. But now she could see her mother as she really was, a cold, cruel woman who wielded religion and god as a weapon, as a means to dominate and subjugate those around her. There could be no arguments made, no speeches given. Her mother was right, her mother was righteous and anyone that disagreed with her was going against the very word of god and god would punish them. Sometimes at night her mother would sit outside her door and whisper, whisper the things that god was punishing her for. Grace wasn’t worried, now that she could see her woman for what she really was.

Grace smiled. It was time. She knew she did not have long left in the world. Her mother would be in soon to change the bucket. She would only have one chance and if Grace failed, her mother would most likely kill her.

Her mother didn’t look at Grace. She bent over and picked up the bucket. Grace took a deep breath and on the exhale she slit her wrist, as her mother looked up Grace flung her arm outward, splattering her mother in blood. Her mother dropped the bucket, it tipped over sending the black vomit over the floor and her mothers trousers. Her mother started screaming. Grace allowed herself to relax into her pillows. The cut was deep and blood was draining quickly. There was no need to splash more of it onto her mother, she had seen it get into her eyes, her mouth. As darkness closed in Grace welcomed it with a smile. Grace didn’t know if god existed and now it didn’t matter. No matter what happened now, her mother would be punished.

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