The Gate. Short Story.

Percy shouldered his way through the crowd streaming past him. The God-Empress was giving another one of her speeches and he was seemingly the only one who didn’t really care. She would go on about how the city was doing well, how the other Gods were pleased with everyone’s work. Blah blah blah. It was always the same anyway, it wasn’t like he would be missing a whole lot. His parents would be a little pissed, but he was almost a man now and there was no requirement stating that he had to go. No one had to go to her speeches, but it was just the done thing. Besides, he had gone to practically every other one since he had been born so what difference would one make? He could pray later tonight, the God-Empress didn’t need to lead the prayer for the other Gods to hear him.

He ducked around a group of people and into a small alley, deciding to wait a little for the crowds to clear. It was much easier to be standing out of the way like this than in the surging crowd. Less people would shout at him for being in the way too.

Once the road was emptier he stepped back out of the alley and continued on his way. It was a nice day, the sun shining overhead. They said it was going to rain later, but Percy couldn’t see how, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Percy stopped and looked around, he was the only one on the streets. He turned slowly, looking at all the closed doors and windows. It was weird, like being out late at night, but even then there were still people about the place, sitting outside smoking, returning home from a bar. He continued walking, looking all around as he did so. There had to be people still around, the entire city couldn’t have gone to see the speech, could they? As he walked he began to get nervous, what about the criminals? Surely some of them would hang around, break into houses during the speech. If they came across him now they’d easily rob him. He didn’t have much on him and he’d heard stories of people being killed because they didn’t have enough to give to the robbers. Percy looked behind himself, trying to see everywhere at once. He stopped and took a deep breath, of course they would still have guards doing patrols, if that happened he could always run, and besides that he knew where people were. He could get there quickly if he really had to, he was always a fast runner. Feeling a little better Percy continued on. He already knew where he wanted to go, Percy wanted to visit the gates. They had always fascinated him, and with so few people around he could stand and look at them all he wanted. He might even be able to touch them. Normally the guards didn’t allow it, but they might make an exception because he would be practically the only one there.

The gate had been locked and barred hundreds of years ago, everyone knew that. There had been war and sickness ravaging the land. Great raiding parties riding great beasts that attacked and slaughtered without mercy. The only entry point to the city was the gate and if that was sealed no one would be able to get in. The walls of the city were huge, tall and thick. In the cities entire history they had never been scaled. Not even from the inside, where people would be paid to try climb them so the architects could spot any flaws or test new security features. The God-Empress had been in her first year as ruler when the gates were shut, she made the wise decision to protect everyone, they had more than enough to sustain themselves forever. Behind the palace stretched miles and miles of fields that were used to raise animals and grow crops, ensuring there was enough food, and the river supplied them with clean and fresh water.

Percy had always dreamed of seeing the top of the wall, of being one of the defenders. It was unlikely he would ever see it though. No one was entirely sure what the defenders did, after all no one could climb the wall. Percy thought that they were just observers, tracking the wars and diseases through telescopes. One thing was certain and that was once you passed your training and were accepted, you went up, but you never came back down. He didn’t think his parents would allow that and he knew it would kill them if they never saw him again, he was after all their only child. The defenders lived on top of the wall in guard towers. Food and water was sent up on a regular basis and they watched over the world outside, sending reports to the God-Empress. Percy knew that one day, when the land was once again safe, the gates would open and people would be finally allowed to see what was outside. Percy didn’t think that would happen in his lifetime, wars still raged outside, seemingly never ending.

When he reached the square, he found it entirely empty. There were no people and not even any guards. Percy approached the gates slowly, taking them in. They were at least forty feet high and thirty feet across. Every five feet or so a thick, iron bar crossed the doors, preventing them from being opened. Each bar looked immensely heavy, Percy wondered how many men were needed to lift each one. The ends of each of the bars were capped, preventing them from being slid out or lifted, unless the caps were unlocked and removed. The door itself was made of a dark metal that gleamed in the sunlight. Gently, Percy rested a hand against the door, it felt cold to the touch. Even with the sun shining on it all day, it was cold. Just how thick was the door? He thought he could feel it vibrating lightly against his hand, but he knew that had to be just his imagination. What could make something that vast shake without affecting the ground around it? Percy closed his eyes, outside this gate was the rest of the world, a huge, vast place supposedly ten times the size of the city. Percy didn’t know how true that might be, he couldn’t imagine something so large, so vast outside the walls. Maybe five or six times the size of the city, but that could be the absolute limit. And even at that, what in the world could fill all that space? There wouldn’t be any real towns or cities outside, no buildings taking up room. Slowly Percy dropped his hand and looked up at the wall as it stretched into the sky. That was it, he knew it, he had no other choice. He would go up there, stand at the top of the world and look over it all, no matter what it took.

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Endless Distraction. Short Story.

“Do it. Go on. You might as well.”
“No. I’m not going to do it and you can stop asking me. It’d be mean.”
“No, it would be funny.”
“I don’t think so.”
“You would have thought it was funny before.”
“Yeah, well, people change.”
“Not everyone, I haven’t changed.”
“No. That’s true. Not everyone changes. But you don’t count because you’re not a person.”
“How could you say something like that?”
“Like what?”
“That I’m not a person.”
“Because it’s true and you know it. Don’t act all surprised and hurt.”
“Well, I’m not acting.”
“Sure. I know you and I know what you’re doing. You want to make me feel guilty so I’ll do what you want and I’m not going to do it.”
“I can’t believe you think I would do things like that.”
“Why? You’ve done it before.”
“What? Never!”

“You do it all the time and you’re trying to do it again. We talked about this, ok?”
“Yeah, I remember.”
“And didn’t we agree that you’d stop doing it?”
“I didn’t agree to anything because I wasn’t doing anything.”
He sighed, “Look, fine. Ok you weren’t doing it. Either way, I know you’re not really offended.”

“And what if I was?”
“You weren’t though.”
“I could have been.”
“Yeah, well, there’s not much you could have done about it, was there?”
“I could have done plenty, I could have yelled and screamed and distracted you so you couldn’t do any work.”
“But you wouldn’t have done that.”
“I could if I wanted to.”
“I know you could but we discussed this to. Doing that will have a negative effect on my life, which will have a negative effect on your life.”
“I guess. But I’m bored.”
“That isn’t my fault. Find something to entertain yourself. Go watch TV or read a book.”
“I can’t.”
“Why not?”
“Well, the TV is off and I can’t exactly use a book.”
Jacob stood from his desk and walked over to the small TV that hung on the wall, he turned it on and went back to his desk.
“There’s no sound.”
“Yup.”
“How can I watch if there’s no sound.”
“There’s subtitles.”
“I can’t read Spanish.”
“They’re not in Spanish.”
“You didn’t even look! What if they were?”
“look, it’s almost 5 and I’ll be done. Ok? Just a little bit longer, that’s all.”
“Fine. We better do something fun tonight though to make up for it.”
“We will.”
“Can I have ice cream later?”
“Maybe. If you stop talking and stay quiet, then maybe we’ll get ice cream.”
“That means no, doesn’t it?”
“It means maybe, but it will mean no if you don’t be quiet.”
He nodded vigorously at Jacob. Jacob looked back at the computer screen, trying to figure out exactly what he was trying to do before he had been interrupted. Donny had distracted him at the worst moment, as Donny usually did.
They’d been best friends since Jacob was five up until he was ten. Then Donny was downgraded from best friend, to friend. Jacob liked Donny still, but he could be a real nuisance a lot of the time, distracting Jacob, talking to him, trying to get him to do stuff he really shouldn’t. He wasn’t dangerous though, it was always minor things. Things like yell out randomly, or chuck a teddy at someone while out shopping. Donny never really seemed to progress beyond childish pranks for humour. It worked out well in a way for Jacob. He could shove a DVD onto the TV and leave Donny laughing uproariously at kids films until Jacob was finished what ever he was usually doing. Most of the time Donny stayed home, but some days, usually once or twice a month, he insisted on coming into work with him. Of course he would always get bored after an hour or two and start trying to get Jacob to interact with him. Which Jacob always hated. He had a Bluetooth headset in at least, so most of the time it just looked like he was talking on the phone. Donny, besides being annoying, was also imaginary.

Jacob had been to multiple therapists, but nothing seemed to work. His current one, also incidentally the one he had remained with the longest, had suggested trying to just live his life with Donny in the background. Including him in things occasionally, disagreeing with him politely and stopping the conversation from going off the rails. She was the first therapist who gave him tools to deal with Donny rather than giving him an endless list of medicines that were guaranteed to make him better, which never worked and always had side effects. Since he started seeing this therapist three years before he had found his life had become much, much more peaceful. More peaceful than it had been in a long time. Now Jacob was able to see when Donny was trying to manipulate him, or to twist things around to convince Jacob to do something. Even the therapist agreed that Donny wasn’t inherently dangerous. He was the only hallucination that Jacob ever had, he never saw anyone else or heard voices. Donny couldn’t make him do anything either, just try to convince him. As Jacob got older he found Donny’s reasoning stayed at the same childish level, sometimes devolving into a constant stream of “Why?”

 

Few people knew of Donny and Jacob wanted to keep it that way. He didn’t want people looking at him like he was some kind of freak or thinking he was some kind of crazy murderer. He had never been worried something like that would happen though, Donny was far too squeamish for that kind of thing.

 

Jacob signed out and stood from his desk, it was finally time to go. Jacob didn’t bother looking around for Donny, he’d catch up quickly, he always did. Jacob said goodbye to a few people on his way out, as the lift doors closed Donny slipped inside.
“Finally, I’m never come back here again.”
The lift started to descend.
“You say that every single time you come with me.”
“This time I mean it.”
“You say that too.”
“So, are we getting ice cream?”
Jacob thought about it for a second, Donny’s fingers were crossed.
“Ok, why not. We’ll pick some up on the way home.”
“Yes!” Donny jumped up and punched the air, Jacob grinned. The doors to the lift opened and they stepped out, Donny excitedly talking about which ice cream they should get.

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Edge of Collapse. Short Story.

Jason looked up and around the room, it had gone quiet. He didn’t like the quiet. The deep grinding noise that filled the air of the city had stopped, and that made Jason nervous. It wasn’t supposed to stop, it was supposed to always be there, a comforting background noise. Jason hated the silence, he hated oppressive the silence was, his ears started to ring, that annoying high pitched buzz that always accompanied silence. What if something was wrong down there? He didn’t even want to think about what that would mean for the city as a whole. Everything was powered by the Works down below, without them to city would wither and die as so many others had. As it was the city was a technological beacon. The only place that had electricity, water that flowed freely through pipes. Jason didn’t really know how it all worked. Few people did. He had just been a grunt when he worked there. It was mandatory. Ever citizen living in the city had to work there for at least two years. If you died before your two years were up your time was passed to your family. Once they were up you could choose to keep working or to move on. Jason had chosen to move on. He didn’t like it down there in the dark, with the heavy, bitter stink of grease filling the air. The huge behemoth gears spinning slowly, spinning quickly, towering over him, daring him to step just a little bit closer. There were accidents regularly, people sucked into gears or turbines, people having limbs ripped from their body. It wasn’t unusual to see a cripple as you walked the streets of the city. But it was a necessary price to be paid. Their limbs, their sacrifices, helped keep the city alive.

The city had started about fifty years back, when someone discovered the Works beneath the city, they had managed to start it up again, get it going and soon people heard of it. Gangs tried to take over, but they were fought off until there were too many people to be attacked. Jason had come when he was just a boy. His mother seeking a better life for them both after his father died of the wasting at their small farm. They had always managed to get by out there, but with his father gone his mother hadn’t been able to keep things going. She had packed the few meagre belongings, sold off the animals, scrawny though they were, and together they set off. The journey had taken months on foot. Now it seemed like one long, terrible day. He remembered the cold, the hunger, the noises of his mother doing things that helped keep them alive for just a few days longer. They arrived to the city in rags, Jason’s previous life already seeming like a dream, something imagined on their long endless walk. They had been welcomed in, his mother immediately starting her time working in the Works. Jason had been sent to school for a few months, until he was able to prove he was sufficient at math’s and reading. Then he was sent out to find work. He had a few odd jobs here and there, not much but it brought in something. Each morning he would get up early and race off, seeking to beat the other children, the jobs were always first come first serve. His mother died shortly after he started in the Works, sucked into one of the gears.

She had been a kind woman, and always believed in him. His favourite memory of her was when he tried to grown plants in an old pot on their windowsill, he had planted them carefully and made sure to water them every day. His mother had told him not to expect much, if anything, to grow, but he kept at it, making sure that there was enough water and light, as if having enough of both would trick the dead seeds into growing. One morning he woke to find a huge flower in the pot, he had been amazed, elated, he knew that it would work if he tried for long enough. It was several years later before he realized what had really happened. During the night his mother had gone out and dug up the flower and replanted it in the pot to cheer him up. He had been upset the night before, sad that nothing was growing.

His mother had always tried to make the world a little brighter, a little happier. She enjoyed being in the Works, knowing she was making a difference, helping to make everyone’s lives a little easier. He took solace in the fact that her death was quick. She wouldn’t have felt a thing. Sometimes he had to walk passed where she died. Occasionally the pools of dark grease would look like blood in the low light. He had even cleaned it away a few times, but it would always return.

There was a deep groan from below, then the noise started again, Jason released a breath he didn’t know he was holding. The lights flickered briefly then came back on. Jason had always assumed that they knew what they were doing down there, that someone understood all the cogs and gears and what exactly they did, but as time went on he began to doubt it a little. Maybe it was a case that it was just failing by itself, old machinery that couldn’t be replaced, but nothing looked damaged or old from what he remembered. New parts were manufactured all the time, and it was usually a simple matter to replace anything needed. But the brownouts had been getting worse and blackouts were getting more commonplace. Maybe he should leave? Once the power was gone the city would devolve, Jason was sure of it. It would be safer to flee now, while there was still power and light, than to flee when everything was in darkness and rioting started. He took a deep breath, he was panicking, he just needed to stay calm. Besides, where else would he go? He didn’t have enough money to buy land, and land that was unprotected would be worthless anyway. He had to stay, there was no where else he could go.

 

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Potion Master. Short Story.

Mary held no malice for the people she killed. How could she when she didn’t know them and never would? She knew that her actions killed people, but it was abstract knowledge and she took some solace in that. After all she was creating the weapons, but she wasn’t pulling the trigger herself. No, that was all on the people who bought them, the people that used them. She herself could take no blame. She gave no instructions, no commands for what they must do with her weapons, they did it all willingly. If they didn’t use hers, they’d use someone else’s and at least she knew that her stuff was quality. Quick and painless and really, what more could someone ask for in a death? Her weapons could be saving those people from months of agony as disease ravaged their body.

She didn’t want to hear the reasons, not anymore. She had in the beginning, asking each person why. She thought it might give her some closure on the matter, would help her understand. She stopped asking after the first few. She didn’t want to hear about jealousy, inheritance, usurpers and petty disagreements. No, after the first few she realized they would never have a good reason. The mystery was better. She could think that someone of great evil was being killed, someone who would rise to power and kill millions, someone who tortured and killed for fun and pleasure. Those were her targets, the ones she started so someone could stop them.

Mary’s mother had taught her everything she knew, which was ironic, given that her mother was the type of person Mary wanted to stop. An awful, domineering woman ruling their home with pain and an iron rod. A rod that Mary had felt many times across her backside, across her knuckles and once across her face. It had knocked out several teeth, though you wouldn’t know it to look at her now. The bruises and swelling had lasted for months. She still remembered the look in her mothers eyes, as she lay on the floor, hands clutching her face as she screamed. She had seen fear there, fear for the first time. Mary had thought her mother was fearful of what she had done to her only daughter, scared at what her inner demons had made her do. Mary realized that wasn’t why she was fearful. It was the fear of getting caught, of finally causing damage that couldn’t be hidden or explained away. Mary had missed school until the bruises faded. Her mother had forged doctors notes, claiming she had some sickness.

Every day Mary thought of how easy it would be to kill her. Slip something into her tea, her cereal, her wine. Something that would be slurped back with her seventh drink, untasted and unknown. But she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She wasn’t brave enough and for that she hated herself a little. Her father had once been a strong man, kind and proud but her mother beat him down, wore at him until finally he was just a crumpled shell of himself. When she was a child, when her father still tried to protect her, Mary imagined that they would run away together, disappear into the night and start a new life. A life free of Mother and one filled with light and happiness. As the years passed, as her father weakened, she tucked away the dream. Something well worn and comforting to be brought out at the worst of times until finally the image of her and her father slipping away crumbled and blew away with the wind. She knew her father wouldn’t take her away from all the pain and horror, she knew that he could barely keep himself together. She wept at his graveside for hours. Long after the other mourners had gone, until her mother had returned, looking for her. Mary had expected a slap, a kick, instead she received a hug, fierce and tight, her mother held her. It was the only time she could ever remember her mother touching her with love. After what seemed both far too long and far too short her mother let go of her and stood, towering over Mary again, she sniffed, then said, “Pull yourself together. You’re a disgrace.” Her mother turned and wobbled out of the graveyard, high heels sinking into the damp grass. Mary had been disciplined by her mother that night, for not entertaining the people at her fathers funeral.

Mary had planned and plotted, thinking of how exactly she would do it, but she never needed to. Her mother did it to herself first. Mary didn’t know exactly what happened. Her mother was getting old, sloppy, the drinks made her shake, made her clumsy. Perhaps she had given a bit much of this, too little of that. Either way the result was the same. She drank it down and within minutes she was dead. Mary found her the next morning, cold and a thin line of dried vomit crusted to one cheek.

Still, she had to make a living, she didn’t know anything else, not really. She had no hope of going to college, she wasn’t clever enough, she had no hope of finding a man to look after her, she wasn’t pretty enough. She needed money, she needed to survive, so she did the only thing she could. She contacted her mothers old clients and started up the family business. People told her how sorry they were, how her mother was a kind and caring woman. Mary bit her tongue so hard it bled on more than one occasion. She knew if she blew up at them, told them to truth behind the secrets and lies they would flee and never return. Soon she made a name for herself, one that outstripped even her mothers fame. People came from all around for one of hers. There was no comparison. She loved making them, mixing this and that just so, heating it and cooling it. It was magic, but it was also scientific. Everything had to be exact, measured and precise and Mary had a knack for it. She never had to measure, she could just pour and sprinkle and it was always correct. Her potions could fetch a pretty penny too, they were fast, clean and undetectable and no one was better at it than her.

 

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Proximity. Short Story.

Harold sat at his desk, fingers hovering above the keyboard. He scanned over what he had written, then deleted it all. It was too long, too wordy. No one would read that, and no one would believe it even if they did. He started typing again, then he stopped, was there any point to this? It’s not like it worked the last few times he tried it. He deleted everything again and typed out four words, “I didn’t do it” There. Simple, to the point. No bullshit to clog it all up, just the honest truth. They already knew he didn’t do it, but this would just reaffirm it all. Maybe all the assholes that were harassing him would feel bad afterwards. Probably not though, they’d most likely just feel a righteous sense of self satisfaction that they finally did it, that he was finally gone. If there was anyone he would have liked to have killed it was them. They followed him around the country, telling his neighbours, his bosses, even the places where he shopped. He never had a moments peace. He had been judged innocent because he was, not because he had some high class lawyer. His lawyer was shitty anyway, unknown before his trial and bombing several trials after Harold’s. Last Harold had heard the lawyer had quit, deciding to retire somewhere cheap and cheerful with the millions he had made before people realised he was an idiot.

Harold didn’t quite tell the truth during his trial. He denied killing anyone, which was true, he never killed anyone. But he never denied total involvement. He could prove, without a doubt, that he had murdered anyone, that he had people to explain each and every one. Because at the end of the day, even though he was probably responsible, he didn’t actually do anything to them. People around him just seemed to die. Sometimes horrifically and sometimes peacefully, but either way they were dead.

The first one was when he was 17, his English teacher, Mr. Benson. Harold never really liked the man all that much, but he wasn’t necessarily bad, just one of those personality clashes that happens every now and then. They had an unspoken mutual agreement to interact as little as possible, so while Mr. Benson would sit with other students, or go over things on their essays, he would just hand Harold’s back and move along swiftly. Harold was glad that he was good enough with English that he didn’t really need that much help for the year. Mostly skating by with B’s and a C or two. There had been no argument, no event that would signal anything at all was about to occur. One moment Mr. Benson and Harold were alone together in the room, they had both arrived early, and the next Mr. Benson was lying on the ground, a pen was sticking up from his throat, blood gushing from the wound. Harold had tried to stop the blood, yelling and screaming for help, but by the time the ambulance arrived Mr. Benson had bled out. Harold had been asked again and again what happened and he answered truthfully, he didn’t know. He had been grabbing books out of his bag when there was a bang, a thud and a gurgling noise, he looked up and he could see Mr. Bensons feet sticking out from behind the desk. They had suspected him for a while, everyone had. Rumours were flying that Harold had stabbed Mr. Benson in the neck with a pen. They had determined later that Mr. Benson had tripped and fallen onto his desk, someone had put the pen upside down in small, short pen caddy and the pen had punctured his throat and went through his carotid artery. Harold could still remember it all so clearly, the hot sticky blood covering his hands and soaking into his clothes, the way the jumper he had used to try and stop the bleeding had become soaked in a matter of seconds. It had been awful. The next few weeks were even worse. He couldn’t go to school, a few of his friends stopped talking to him, even after they had ruled the death accidental people didn’t trust him. He had gone to therapy afterwards, for several months. It helped, not a lot, but it was better than nothing. At the time Harold thought it was a once off, something like that wouldn’t happen again, couldn’t happen again. Until it did.

It was never people that Harold liked, he thought that was mostly the reason why people always suspected him. Sometimes it had been out and out hatred for one another, others it had been a case of cool politeness for any forced interactions. It was always when they were alone together, or after Harold had just left them alone. Always an accident that was seemingly improbable. One after another. Scarf caught in car door and a fall, a tumble down the stairs with a heavy tray full of cutlery, a slip from a ledge, crushed by falling masonry. The list went on. All in all he had been present, or near thirty six deaths. Averaging one every six months from when he was seventeen. Sometimes there was a flurry, two or three in a few months, other times he could go a year or two without an incident. He usually moved after the second, always after the third. He couldn’t take the suspicious stares, the glares, the family members coming to him, asking over and over what happened to their child, brother, sister, husband, or wife. Then that overzealous cop found out about the deaths and it became his own personal vendetta. He hounded Harold day and night, telling him that he knew, that he would slip up sooner or later and get caught. Grieving families clung to it, told by the cop that Harold had killed them, poking around and asking if anyone had any reason to hurt them, singling out Harold each time. There was no case, no way to hold him accountable because he wasn’t.

Harold never could decide if he was lucky, unlucky or if it was some kind of curse. What if he was the one that was supposed to die each time and he just missed it, what if he was the one causing them, what if something was out to get him? He didn’t know and at this point he didn’t care. He was the common denominator between all these people. If something was trying to kill him it was doing a piss poor job. If he was doing it, he couldn’t control it. There was only one solution and he was going to try again.

He had it all ready. Three sturdy ropes, braided together and tied around the heavy beam. He was taking no chances. He saved the document and left it sitting open on the screen. There was no one to apologise to, no one to ask for forgiveness. His parents were dead, he had never married and he had lost contact with all of his friends. He moved the chair over, wheeling it carefully. He stepped onto it, trying to keep his balance. He moved the noose over his neck and took a deep breath, his last. He leaned forward and kicked out with his feet, sending the chair rolling into the wall. The rope went taut, his body kicking out involuntarily. There was a loud crack, Harold fell to the floor, gasping, the rope landing beside him. No, no no no no. He ran his hands along the rope, it was fine, he looked up, the beam had broken. Harold started to cry, every time something happened to stop it. There was no way out. None at all.

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The Bus. Short Story.

Tabitha looked out the window resolutely, the bus trundled onwards, slowly making its way to her destination. Her neck was starting to feel a little sore, but she didn’t want to turn it. Her headphones were firmly placed over her ears, but she wasn’t really listening to the music anymore. She was just waiting until she could finally get off the bus. She shifted slightly in her seat, moving closer to the window. Beside her the old woman didn’t move.

Tabitha didn’t know why the woman chose that seat of all the others, the bus was practically empty, when the woman got on there were only two others sitting upstairs. She had been surprised when she saw the old woman at the top of the stairs, the woman looked to be at least in her late eighties and seemed to be very unsteady on her feet. If Tabitha had of been her she would have sat downstairs, and at the very front. The woman had scanned the upper floor and started walking down the aisle. Her skin was wrinkled, more deeply than Tabitha had seen of someone outside a care home, thick furrows lining her mouth, eyes and forehead. She didn’t look like a pleasant woman either, the wrinkles looked as though they had come from years of frowning and pursing her lips. The woman had a smell about her too. Not a smell of body odour, it was a smell of old books and dusty rooms. She was bundled in layers of clothes too, thick jackets that seemed to go on and on. If Tabitha had seen the woman on the street, she would have thought she was homeless. The woman had tottered over to Tabitha’s seat and sat down next to her. Pulling her coat around herself a bit tighter and placing her handbag in her lap. Tabitha had moved over when the woman sat down, but she could still feel the coats bushing into her and an elbow that was uncomfortably jabbing into her side every time the bus turned. It was always a short jab though, never long enough that she could reasonably complain. The woman hadn’t spoken to her at least, that was something, she always found bus talkers to be the worst, always going on about people she had never met and would never meet. There was never a polite way to tell them stop talking either. Tabitha hadn’t minded the smell a whole lot when the woman sat down, it wasn’t pleasant but it wasn’t actively bad either but the longer the woman sat beside her the worse it got. There were layers to the smell and the dust and old books were only the top of it. Underneath there were wafts of some old, stale perfume, a the scent of mildew and damp and a low smell of a rotting sea creature. Obviously the woman was old, so she probably wasn’t washing herself all that well, then there were the piles and piles of coats on top which most likely hadn’t seen the inside of a washing machine in decades.

The old woman opened her bag, Tabitha was jostled a little bit as she was opening it. A deep stench of old cigarette smoke emerged from it as the old woman started to dig through it, looking for something. Tabitha took shallow breaths, breathing through her mouth rather than her nose. She wondered why the woman didn’t smell like cigarettes, but the bag did. Maybe she’d stopped smoking and the bag just never got the message. The woman finished rummaging and closed over the bag again, as far as Tabitha could tell she didn’t actually take anything out or put anything in, she seemed to be just having a good look around. Tabitha stared out the window, it would only be another fifteen minutes until it was her stop and who knew, maybe the woman would get off before then too.

Tabitha’s stop was coming up, finally. The woman hadn’t gotten off the bus, but that didn’t matter, soon she’d be free and outside in the fresh air. Though she was worried about the smell of the old woman clinging to her clothes. As the time had passed she had started to feel a little bad for her, after all she was so old, maybe she didn’t have anyone else. Maybe she sat beside Tabitha because it was just a bit of human contact. Of course Tabitha hadn’t tried to start a conversation with the woman, that would be taking things a bit too far for Tabitha’s liking. She shifted slightly in her seat, getting ready to stand, the woman didn’t pay any attention, “Excuse me?” The woman stared ahead. “Sorry, but my stop is coming up and I need to get off here.” The old woman didn’t move and gave no indication that she heard Tabitha. Tabitha sighed, she was probably deaf, as well as mostly blind. She reached down and tapped the woman on the shoulder, trying not to shudder as she did so. The outside jacket didn’t look too clean, but she could find a bathroom and wash her hands once she was off the bus. The old woman didn’t react. Tabitha sighed, trying not to get too angry, if she didn’t get out of here in the next few seconds she would miss her stop, but the woman was too old to just barrel past, what if the old woman fell out of the seat or something. She reached down and gripped the woman’s shoulder and shook it, hard enough to get her attention but gently enough that it shouldn’t cause any problems. The old woman slowly turned her head to look up at her. Tabitha gasped and fell back into the window, she collapsed into her seat. The old woman moved her head back and continued staring forward. Tabitha’s heart was beating wildly, she didn’t notice as the bus pulled out from her stop. She forced herself against the wall, as much as she could to be as far as possible from the woman. The seats were too high to climb over and if she tried she might attract the old woman’s attention again. Tabitha was shivering uncontrollably.

The old woman heaved herself up from her seat about ten minutes later, she made her way down the aisle and finally started going down the stairs. Tabitha didn’t look at her, she stared straight ahead. As the old woman turned for the stairs she looked back at Tabitha. Tabitha could feel the old woman’s eyes on her skin. She didn’t look, didn’t glance. She watched out the window as the old woman stepped off the bus and started walking, as the bus doors closed and the bus pulled away Tabitha shuddered. Her hands were still shaking, her breathing was laboured. Tabitha reached up and opened the windows, hoping, praying it would get rid of the smell that still lingered. Tabitha stayed sitting where she was, waiting until the bus had passed a few more stops. She didn’t feel strong enough to stand and she wanted to put as much distance between herself and that woman before she got off the bus.

Outside in the fresh air she felt a little better, though she was still shaken. She looked around, unsure of exactly where she was. She looked back up the street, where the bus had come from, half expecting to see the old woman toddling towards her. Suppressing another shudder, Tabitha walked to the small shop nearby, there she bought herself a can of coke and a chocolate bar. She was in shock, sugar was supposed to be good for shock. Outside she unwrapped the chocolate, as the smell of it hit her so did a wave of nausea. She quickly threw it into the nearby bin. After a few deep breaths she opened the coke and took a sip. That seemed to help settle her stomach. There had been a few things she wanted to get done today, but there was nothing important. Tabitha crossed the road and hailed a taxi. She would go home, go straight there and lock her doors. Already deciding that she wouldn’t be getting that bus again. She got into the taxi and gave her address, she didn’t look out the windows, she was afraid she might see the old woman. When the taxi pulled up outside her house, Tabitha paid and ran to the door, not worrying about the strange look the taxi man was giving her. She opened the door and locked it behind her, then she slid down it and onto the floor. She was shaking again. She got a flash, a brief flash of the woman’s face when she looked at her. What ever it was it hadn’t just been an old woman, and it had seen her, actually seen her and Tabitha prayed to god it never saw her again.

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Fairytale Life. Short Story.

Jenny groaned as the alarm started blaring. She turned it off without looking and stretched, yawning as she did so. After rubbing her eyes for a second she sat up and felt around her hair, measuring the length of it. It seemed normal. Well, that was one possibility down, at least she wouldn’t have to use the scissors on her bedside locker to start hacking away lumps of it. That was never a pleasant start to the day. She stilled for a moment and listened to the birdsong. Everything seemed normal, no more birds that usual. Good, that was very good. She stood out of bed and plodded into the bathroom, there she turned on the light above the mirror and examined herself. Her skin wasn’t any paler than usual, no surprise there thought, her skin was already pretty pale. Her hair was the same garish purple it was the day before, even better. Her lips were a little plumper looking, no sign of any other changes though. Smiling she stripped out of her pyjamas and got into the shower. She let out a low hiss as the cold water battered her body and felt herself relax a little as it started to warm. She always started with a cold shower, helped wake her up. Cold shower, followed by warm for actual bathing, then a big mug of coffee. When she was done she stepped from the shower and wrapped a towel around herself. So far she had ticked off the main ones, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Snow white. Though Cinders was never a real guarantee. Jenny generally held off on chores until she was certain she hadn’t drawn her for the day.

In the kitchen Jenny made her coffee and drank a few mouthfuls before it had a chance to cool properly. With the coffee happily warming her stomach she started to make herself breakfast, plain cereal with some milk. She was always a bit paranoid about cooking anything complicated, particularly in the mornings. There was the time when she started and came out of a daze a few hours later to find she had practically cooked a banquet and used all the food in the house. Myths took cooking and cleaning very seriously. That day had not been fun. Stuck in cooking and cleaning mode she had deep cleansed the house from top to bottom, one of her fairy godmothers forced her to go to a house party on the bad side of town and she had barely managed to avoid getting arrested in the drug raid. Thank god for that midnight clause. The next day hadn’t been a picnic either. Stiff and full of aches and pains with no food in the house.

She ate her food slowly and once she was done she left the bowl where it was. So far nothing had really happened, so perhaps today would be one of her free ones. She was due one of those any day now too. If it was she might go for a swim, it had been a while since she had the opportunity. She hadn’t experienced any of the water fairytales but she didn’t want to risk it. If she did end up going all mermaid in the pool it would be hard to explain and then god only knows what all the chemicals would do to her. Someone knocked on the door.

Jenny moved towards it slowly, trying to be as quiet as possible. At the door she looked through the peephole. Harry was standing outside, he was tall, good looking, her neighbour and most of all, male. She crept back from the door. What ever it was good things wouldn’t happen if she opened it. He had taken part in three situations so far. Two as a prince and once as a hunter. He always seemed to chalk them up as weird dreams but he had started avoiding her. Either something had happened or he had gotten caught up in the events of the day.

Either way she hoped he would go away. He knocked again, she felt bad for ignoring him. He had saved her before. Twice. The first time some dude kidnapped her, tied her up and planned to set her on fire. Harry had managed to stop him. The place had been full of cash, which Jenny helped herself to, and Harry had taken some as well. Neither of them called the police, neither even considered it. Everything was taken care of and of course that money was theirs now. The second time he had found her just after she went into anaphylactic shock and managed to get her epi pen to her. That had required a trip to the emergency room which was extremely awkward as Harry started to get Handsy and Jenny found herself going along with it. She counted down from twenty and no more knocks came. Good, he had gone off. If he was caught up in things he would be back, if not he would be safe. She ran through things in her head, looking for anything she might have missed. She was pretty sure she was clean for the day, but the appearance of Harry made her a little bit nervous. What if she had missed something? It wouldn’t be the first time. The stories had a way of manipulating her, making her gloss over some things. Jenny took a deep breath. Everything was going to be fine, Harry was gone for now, if he was caught up in something he wouldn’t leave so easily. She crept back towards the door and looked out again, no sign of anyone. She ran up the stairs and had a look out the windows, being careful not to be seen. Again, no one was on the street. Ok, that was good. She spotted Harry across the road, chatting to a neighbour. Jenny felt herself relax. He wasn’t involved, it had never pulled in more than one or two people unless she started going along with things. Of course in the moment they always seemed like innocuous things. Like going for a nap. She and her family had been asleep for two days before things snapped back to normal and everyone woke up. Which was always a little benefit. If the story started and things weren’t working it would undo itself. Though of course it didn’t matter how many she followed through to completion, another one always came along.

Jenny took her bowl to the sink, rinsed it and put it into the dishwasher. She was fairly certain she was safe for the day, there was no point in wasting it. Besides, leaving too much of a mess could always be a trigger. With the dishwasher closed she grabbed her keys and left the house. Harry spotted her and waved, though he didn’t come over. Jenny waved back, it seemed that what ever he was looking for he had already gotten it. Jenny turned on the radio and started to hum along with the song as she reversed out, pleased that she would be able to get a few things done today.

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