Childhood Memory. Flash Fiction.

Dana cocked her head to the side, she could still hear that music, so very faint, just on the edge of her hearing. She looked around for a source, but could see none, no one else on the street seemed to hear it, but there was just something about it. It felt warm, inviting, familiar. Somewhere in the back of her mind a memory struggled to come to the surface, she had heard it before, when she was a young girl. She had been standing at the lights with her grandfather, waiting to cross, his warm, rough hand holding hers tightly, he was always a little worried she’d just dash into the street. While they were waiting she noticed a young man, looking around, she tried to figure out what he was looking at and then she heard it. It sounded like a violin, she looked around for whoever was playing it, sometimes her grandfather would let her stand and watch the buskers for a few minutes, he’d even give her a few coins to give them if they were good. She wanted to see whoever was playing, the image of the musician already appearing in her head, a young girl, with smooth skin and a beautiful smile, she would be playing with her eyes closed, feeling the music. She was pulled from her thoughts as the lights changed and her grandfather stepped forward, hand still tightly holding hers. The young man crossed the road with them, then with a small smile on his face he slipped between two buildings into an alley. The music was definitely coming from there but she couldn’t see anyone and then they were past the alley and the music faded to nothing.

Dana looked around, it was definitely the same song and some part of her knew it was the same musician, that girl in her head, still young and beautiful. She crossed the road, the music was getting louder as she went. There, between a sweet shop and a burger place, a small alley, the music was coming from there. She paused at the entrance to it, the alley itself was empty and it didn’t look like a short cut to anywhere, it seemed like it just dead ended after about two hundred feet. She couldn’t see the violinist, maybe they were standing in one of the recessed doorways, getting a bit of practise in before they started busking properly on the street. She couldn’t just let that kind of wonderful music pass by unnoticed, even if she could just find out the name of that song, it reminded her so much of her grandfather for some reason. Suddenly she could smell him, the warm tang of cigarette smoke, the faint whiff of peppermint and the deep rich smell of his leather jacket. She found herself moving forward, she needed to know what song it was, she needed to see it being played. She moved down the alley, not looking into the alcoves as she passed, the music was getting louder.

Dana stood in the middle of the alley, staring at the violinist, she was exactly as Dana had pictured, young, with a small smile, her eyes were closed as she played the music, long black hair swaying gently back and forth with the woman’s movements. Dana listened with tears in her eyes. She took a step forward, the woman opened her eyes and smiled at Dana, though she didn’t stop playing. Her eyes were a deep and rich hazel, Dana felt as though she was falling into them, nothing mattered but the sound of the music and those beautiful eyes. Without hesitation the woman stopped playing, her bow sweeping out and swiftly slicing into Dana’s neck, only missing a beat the woman resumed playing, Dana stood there with a small smile on her face as blood flowed freely down her body, after a moment Dana collapsed to the ground. The woman stopped playing, she reached out with her hands, the violin and bow shifting and changing into long claws. She drove them deep into Dana’s chest and she began to drag the body backwards into her lair.

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In the Name of Safety. Short Story.

Brandon looked out the window again, where was she? Curfew started in ten minutes and there was still no sign of Alice. Sure, she could be late sometimes, but she’d never been this late before. He checked his phone again, still nothing from her. She still had time, she’d make it.

Lights filled the window, Brandon felt himself relax a little as he went to the door, she was cutting it close, very close. Alice grabbed her things from the car and quickly jogged into the house, Brandon closed the door behind her and a few seconds later the auto locks engaged. She gave Brandon a hug, “Sorry, I got held up at the office, I didn’t notice the time. I flew back, thank god there was no traffic.” She gave him a quick kiss, “I’m sorry, I know how much you hate it when I cut it close. I’ve already set an alarm on my phone so it won’t happen again.”
Brandon shook his head, “Its ok, I’m just glad you’re safe.”
Outside the sirens started, it was a low, steady sound, one that always filled Brandon with dread. “C’mon, lets get a start on dinner.”

“I was thinking we could get the shutters installed too.”
“I don’t know, seems like a bit of a waste of money, besides I like being able to look out at night.”
“I don’t like the idea of those things looking in at us.”
“They don’t, they’re just animals, they just go about their business. Once we keep the doors and windows locked we’re safe. Besides, we can’t even open them after curfew, even if we wanted to.”
“I know, I just worry. I mean they haven’t started breaking windows yet, but it’s only a matter of time isn’t it? Once they realise they can get in.”
“They haven’t realised yet. They’re not the brightest things in the world if you haven’t noticed.”
Brandon ate another forkful of his spaghetti, “I know, but there’s no harm in having the extra layer of security.”
Alice sighed, “I think it’s too much really. I hate the locks on the doors and windows as is. I think I’d go insane if we had the shutters too. If it makes you feel better we can keep all the downstairs curtains closed at night.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Alice glanced at the window, “how much longer do you think this’ll go on?”
“Well, they said it would only last a few months.”
“Yeah, but that was over a year ago. The numbers don’t seem to be dwindling at all, if anything I think there’s more of them.”
“Well, the government are trying to exterminate them, they had the safety squads doing rounds at night and going into nests during the day.”
“I know, it just seems like it’s all for show though. Kill one every now and then and parade it around, they keep things under control but that seems to be all they’re willing to do.”
Brandon shrugged, “they’re hard to kill, remember the first night they appeared? How many people died?”
Alice looked down at her food, “Yeah, I remember.”
“They’re doing their best.”
“Well their best isn’t good enough. God I hate being trapped inside my own home, I want to be able to go out and just go for a walk or look at the stars. Remember that? Driving out to the middle of nowhere, laying out a blanket and lying underneath the stars? Do you think our kids will be able to do that someday? Or is it just gone forever.”
“Well, they said they hope to have all the Outsiders exterminated by next year.”
Alice winced, “Sorry. I shouldn’t have said that, it just sort of slipped out.”
“No, it’s ok. I have to get used to it sooner or later. It’s just, naming them seems wrong, like it makes them more real, like they’re always going to be a problem or a worry.”
“It’s only for another few months, that’s all.”
“That’s what they said about the curfew, that it would only be for a few weeks, that was five months ago. Who exactly does it benefit if I’m locked out of my house because I was ten seconds late getting home?”
Brandon sighed, “I know honey, it’s ridiculous but we have to put up with it for a little while. It’s the law.”
Alice shook her head, “Its an unjust law. Installing all their automatic deadbolts in peoples homes. It’s criminal is what it is. They need to be held accountable for it.”
“People are just frightened. After this ends it’ll go back to normal. You’ll see.”
Alice shook her head, “That’s the thing. If it isn’t the outsiders it’ll be something else. There’s always something else.”
“Not this again. We know how the Outsiders got here, it wasn’t planned.”
“They might not have planned it but they certainly took advantage of it, didn’t they? We’re all locked up like prisoners in our own homes and we all just stood around and let it happen.”
Brandon took a deep breath, “Can we not have this fight again? Please.”
“I’m sorry. It gets me so worked up, I just hate what they’re doing in the name of safety.”
“I know but once the outsiders are dealt with they won’t have any reason to keep this going, people wouldn’t stand for it. They only do now because they’re terrified.”

Alice looked out the window, there were a lot of those things out there, skulking around in the dark, she couldn’t see them clearly though occasionally she would catch a glimpse of the white, pale flesh of a human face, staring out from its dark bulging flesh, Alice shuddered whenever she saw that. The outsiders like to steal the faces of humans, no one had figured out why yet. After a few minutes she turned from the window, feeling faintly nauseous. They were extremely difficult to kill but not the brightest. Maybe Brandon was right, maybe things would go back to normal once they were gone, though she couldn’t see how, after all they knew alien life existed, how could everything just go back to normal after that?

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You and Improved. Short Story.

Jerry looked at the building, he had expected it to be taller, with large glass panels gleaming in the afternoon light. Instead it was a squat building dotted with small windows. Above the entrance was a large sign, written in pink and in a font that was probably intended to be elegant, “You and Improved” he shook his head, who could really trust a business that used a bad pun for a name? The lights turned green and he crossed the road, they did come highly recommended, and it was cheaper than therapy. He paused at the glass doors, then pulled one open, what was the harm really? Jerry stepped into a wide lobby, the floor was covered in a plush dark blue carpet, there was a small waiting area to his left and right, he went straight to the large reception desk.
“Hi, welcome to You and Improved, how can I help you today?”
“Uh Hi, I have an appointment, I’m Jerry Madden.”
“Ok, I see you here, for 3.15 with Abby, right?”
“Yeah, that’s the one.”
“Great, if you wouldn’t mind taking a seat, Abby will be with you in a moment.”
“Yeah, thanks.”

Jerry went to the seating area and sat down, the couches were more comfortable than he had expected, he looked around expecting to see a pile of magazines but there was nothing. He could feel the familiar heat building in his face, his heart was thudding heavily and he felt jittery. Jerry took a slow breath, “It’s fine. Everything will be fine.” He released the breath. He could feel beads of sweat building on his forehead, quickly he swiped his hand across it, hoping that no one else had seen, even though he knew they had. The other people in the waiting area were probably wondering what was wrong with him, after all normal people didn’t sweat so much. He wiped his hand across his upper lip, knowing everyone was looking at him wasn’t helping, he kept his eyes trained on the glass table, he tried his breathing but it wasn’t helping either. He felt on edge, jittery, he wanted to go home, he shouldn’t be here anyway, this was all just some stupid self help mumbo jumbo. There was nothing that could just instantly fix people. It was probably some kind of scam. Though he couldn’t leave now, everyone would stare at him, they’d realise what a weirdo he was. It’d be over soon, another hour, maybe two and he’d be back home, he could unwind, watch some TV. He just had to look ahead, that was the way to do it. He just needed to- “Jerry Madden?”
Jerry jumped, “Huh, oh, yeah, that’s me.” He stood and gave a weak smile to the woman standing before him, she had a clip board in one hand, her blond hair was tied up in a bun and she wore bright pink hospital scrubs, she stuck out one hand “Hi, I’m Abby” Jerry shook her hand, “If you’ll just follow me we can get you started.”

She led him through the building until they stopped at an office, during it she had made some banal conversation, but Jerry couldn’t keep track of it, everything was happening so fast, maybe it wasn’t a good idea.
“Ok, so what brings you to us today Jerry?”
“Well uh, I’ve been having some problems lately with anxiety. It’s been getting worse so I went to my doctor about it because I wanted to get the name of someone to talk to, and he recommended you guys. Well, actually I think his exact phrasing was “They’re amazing, they’ll change your life.”
Abby smiled at him, “Yes, a lot of our clients feel that way afterwards. Do you know what exactly it is that we do here?”
“Um, not really to be honest. My doctor didn’t say much and I tried to do some research online but it wasn’t very clear.”
Abby nodded, “I’ve been at management to clear up the website, it’s awful isn’t it?”
Jerry smiled, “yeah, a little.”
“When I found out about this place I didn’t know what it was for either. We offer an alternative solution to therapy and offer a cutting edge life enhancing program. We implant a few small chips into your brain, you’ll be given a local anaesthetic, you won’t feel a thing, those chips come pre-programmed with what ever improvements you choose. Once installed they act as a kind cognitive behaviour therapy. It works with you to overcome issues. Now this doesn’t just fix anxiety, it does all sorts of things, we’ve had success treating those with bipolar, schizophrenia, and even those who just want to start leading a healthier lifestyle.”
“Um brain surgery?”
“It’s not nearly as scary as it sounds. The area will be numbed and the implants will be inserted through the nose, once inside they’ll position themselves where they need to go. There is minimal risk, in fact of our over one hundred thousand patients, the only side effects are nausea, sometimes a feeling of being light headed and that’s really it, even then those side effects come from the anaesthetic and not the procedure itself.”
“I’m sorry, but is this a proper treatment? Like approved and everything?”
“Completely approved, we haven’t expanded as much as we’d like yet, we’re working on some deals with larger corporations that will give us more funding and access to larger markets. Dr. Richard Spencer is amazing, but he isn’t the most savvy business man, at the moment we’re only a small, local operation.”
“And you’re sure it’s safe? I mean things going into my brain?”
“Oh entirely, I’ve had it done myself. Before I came here I was severely depressed, I was actually on the verge of suicide. I took the offer of the surgery because it seemed like an easy way to end it all and everyone would think it was just a surgery gone wrong. I’m not ashamed or embarrassed to admit that, I like to tell people to show them that the treatment really works, I went from being unable to get out of bed at all, to being a fully functional, happy person. Since the surgery my entire life had changed for the better and I can honestly say without You and Improved, I don’t think I would be here today.”

“It all seems so dangerous though.”
“Look, I get it, I really do, it’s a scary thing to have done to you and the choice is completely up to you. I can introduce you to more people who are happy with the results, hell I’d even introduce you to those who were unhappy if we had anyone like that.”
“So everyone working here has gotten it done?”
“No, not everyone, but a lot of people take advantage of the fact that we can get it for free. Look, obviously I’m biased, I came to work here simply because I was so grateful that this company basically gave me my life back. We can do a trial run if you like, no pressure, no cost. If at the end of a week you do not like the results we can remove them, free of charge and you can go on to seek alternative treatments. If you do like it, you will be charged the usual fee, which is four hundred in total, including any and all aftercare.”
“How does it work?”
Well, the chips synthesize and release some chemicals that will keep your brain in balance, then well, it’s hard to describe properly, but it’s almost like a little voice inside. It helps talk you through your problems, it’s like on demand therapy. It’s very effective and you’ll notice results almost immediately.”
Jerry let out a slow breath, it seemed almost too good to be true. Ok sure they were going to be messing with his brain but isn’t that what therapy was anyway? Besides any drugs they’d give him would have way worse side effects than some nausea. It was cheaper than therapy too.
“If you want you can always come back another day, have a think about it. As I said there’s absolutely no pressure. At the end of the day we just want our clients to get better.”
“And it won’t change me?”
Abby laughed, “well that’s the point isn’t it? No, I’m kidding, you will still be you, it will just help you modify behaviours and thoughts. For example with your anxiety it will help you confront the thoughts that are causing it and help you navigate your way through them. With people who want to eat healthier it will track the calories of the food you’re eating and make suggestions for things that will satisfy cravings for less calories. It won’t make you do anything you don’t want to, hell you can even just ignore it all if you want, though it kind of defeats the purpose.”
Jerry’s heart thudded heavily, was he really going to do this?
“Ok. I guess I’ll give it a shot.”
“Great! We can have the procedure done now or you can schedule another appointment if you like.”
“Um, now I guess?”
“Ok, perfect. Now just as a warning, you will be tired for the rest of the day, we recommend that you avoid operating any heavy machinery or drinking alcohol until tomorrow morning. If you don’t feel up for getting yourself home, or if you drove, we have a complimentary taxi service and we can have your car delivered to your home this evening.”
“I walked, but I lift home might not be a bad idea.”
“Ok, great.”
Abby started typing quickly, “Ok, I have the machine all set up” behind her the printer whirred to life and started spitting out pages, she gathered them all and passed them to Jerry, “Ok, these are consent forms and after care instructions. It lists any potential complications, how to look after yourself afterwards, basically what we’ve discussed though we do ask that clients read through it all themselves and if you’ve any questions let me know.”

Jerry read through the forms and signed them all, he felt good, this really was a good idea. Hell, his own doctor had gone through this so it must be safe. He passed the forms back to Abby. “Ok, great. Now, just relax and it will be over in a few minutes.”
She stood and moved around the desk, arm and chest restraints unfurled from the chair, “I’m going to strap you in, this is just to prevent any sudden movements.” She pressed a buzzer into his hand, “If you feel overwhelmed or like it’s too much press the buzzer and the procedure will stop instantly.”

a machine slowly lowered itself from the ceiling with a dull whirr, Abby moved a small caged headpiece over Jerry’s head. “Now the machine will start, it’s automated and completely safe. If there is even a hint of a problem the machine will shut itself down and I’ll be monitoring it the entire time”
Jerry felt a light prick on the bridge of his nose, “That was the numbing agent” The machine began to hum gently, “Ok, now the procedure is about to begin, did you feel that?”
“Feel what?”
“Ok, perfect. Now you’re going to feel a little pressure around your sinuses, it will last for the count of three, then it will be over.”
The pressure was sudden and uncomfortable, but not unbearable. Jerry slowly counted to three.
“Ok and we’re done.”
The machine slowly rose back into the ceiling and Abby was undoing the restraints.
“How do you feel?”
“Ok I guess. A little off.”
“That’s to be expected.” She pressed a cup of juice into his hand, “Drink this, it will help.
Jerry sipped his juice, “and here’s a cookie”
“Just sit for a moment, I’ll ring down and have a car ready for you. See, it really isn’t that bad, is it?”
“No, not at all.”
Jerry shuddered, Abby nodded, “Ok, that’s everything online and it should all be working.”

Jerry sat in the back of the taxi, looking out at the road passing by. He didn’t feel particularly different, but he could tell something had changed. The way he viewed the world was different and there was something off, though he couldn’t quite tell what.

His anxiety was gone.

The deep, gnawing pit of worry that would normally fill his stomach was completely gone. He felt calm, relaxed. He looked around himself, he was in a taxi, when was the last time he’d gotten a taxi? Even the thoughts of getting one filled him with dread, stuck in a small enclosed space with an overly chatty stranger? It would have been a nightmare just an hour or two before but now it was nothing. Grinning, he went back to looking out the window, occasionally asking the driver questions just for the novelty of it.

Jerry woke the next day feeling a little tired but otherwise ok. He still wasn’t looking forward to the day, but the anxiety of having to give his presentation was gone. He got out of bed and quickly showered and dressed. As he brushed his teeth he heard a small voice in the back of his head, it was instructing him on how to brush correctly. On some level it unnerved him slightly, but he had to admit it did make it easier, it took away the fear that he was doing it wrong or that he hadn’t spent long enough doing it. The voice itself was flat with no real inflections.

“Morning Jerry, how’s things?”
“Oh I’m great, how are you?”
Jerry paused, the words had just popped out, was he really feeling that good?
“I’m good, feeling better after yesterday?”
“Oh yeah, just great. I went down to that place You and Improved, don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but they work wonders.”
“No, I haven’t, but I’m glad to hear it. You didn’t miss much yesterday really, I think the highlight was Tess breaking another mug.”
Jerry chuckled, “That’s what? The fifth one this year?”
“Seventh.” Rob frowned, “You do seem a bit different. I dunno, happier or something?”
Jerry nodded, “I really do feel great. I was having some issues with anxiety, but they’re just completely gone. Just poof. It’s the damnedest thing.”
“Wow, well congratulations, I’m happy for you.”
“Thanks, well look I’ve to get going, need to get set up for this presentation, totally going to crush it!”
“I’ll talk to you later Jerry, good luck!”
Jerry continued on to his office smiling. Once there he put down his briefcase, then froze. Why had he said those things to Rob? It was like word vomit, it just kept going. He shook his head, probably just still riding high on the lack of anxiety. It was like being a whole new person. He put his briefcase down then reached for his coffee, Sarah must have already dropped it in for him, what would he do with out her? As the cup reached his lips his hand stopped, “coffee is bad for you.” He put the cup down slowly, the voice was right, coffee was bad for him. He shook his head, the forms had said something about the “Self Improvement Suite” but he hadn’t paid too much attention, something about healthy eating and exercise. That must be it, he shrugged, he could always ask them to remove that aspect at his follow up appointment next week.

Jerry sat in his office, feeling completely content. The presentation had gone amazingly well, if anything it was the best presentation he had ever given. He felt himself sitting up straight, was he slouching? He shook his head, good posture was always important. What? Where did that come from? It sounded like himself but it wasn’t. Jerry frowned, then shrugged. Obviously the implants were doing what they were supposed to do. Good habits were a good idea for good living.

Jerry chewed his forkful of lettuce, it had been so long since he had a salad and they were so tasty and good for you. He had promised himself earlier in the week he’d get a burger after his presentation, but the thoughts of lumps of meat, dripping with grease just seemed off putting more than anything else. “I’m telling you Jerry, you seem completely different, brighter, happier.”
“It was that place Rob. They completely took away my anxiety, it’s amazing and it isn’t just for that kind of thing either, they help people who want to start exercising or just be a bit healthier all around. It’s so easy, there’s absolutely no effort at all.”
“Wow, how much was it?”
“Only four hundred all in, though they give you a free weeks trial first.”
“Huh. That doesn’t sound like a bad deal.”
“Yeah, though I’m going to keep them after the week is up, already I can’t imagine my life going back to the way it was.”
Jerry tried to stop the words, but they just kept going. It wasn’t him talking, he felt a brief flare of panic but as soon as it started it was gone.
Rob took a sip of his beer, Jerry had decided on ordering a beer, but when the waitress asked he got water. Good hydration is the foundation to a better life.
“Yeah there’s no harm in giving it a go.”
Jerry took another sip of his water. He didn’t want water, he wanted a beer, but beer is bad, it’s unhealthy, he was better off without it.

Jerry watched himself as he made a cup of herbal tea, he hated herbal tea, everything about it. The weak, watery taste, the weird oily coating that always seemed to cover his tongue, the bitter after taste that always seemed to dry out his mouth. He tried to stop himself but he couldn’t. He could hear himself humming, why was he humming? He didn’t want this, he didn’t want any of this. He tried to reach for the phone but his body didn’t respond. Something was wrong, this wasn’t what it was supposed to do. He couldn’t control anything, his body moved and spoke he couldn’t stop it. All he could do was watch as what ever was controlling him moved him about his life. Talking to friends and family, telling them how great he felt, how much he owed it all to You and Improved. He wanted to scream and shout, to tell them not to listen, but he couldn’t. Why couldn’t they tell it wasn’t him? Couldn’t them see the desperation? The panic in his eyes? He drank the tea, internally Jerry winced at the taste, his body sighed in satisfaction. Once the tea cup was empty Jerry walked into his room, he needed to get changed for a run, a healthy body meant a healthy mind. He didn’t want to run, he wanted to relax, to sit in front of the TV and unwind after the day. He tried to stop himself, but his body just continued on.

Jerry stepped outside into the fresh air, he breathed deeply and smiled, then he turned and started to jog. Inside Jerry screamed, over and over again, he was trapped and no one else could see it. He had no control over anything, he couldn’t stop himself, all he could do was watch as his body moved through the world, telling people how great the procedure was, how it changed his life for the better, how he wouldn’t be the man he was today, if not for You and Improved.

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One In, One Out. Flash Fiction.

Joan looked down at her blood soaked hands and started giggling, she could hear it echoing off the walls around her, she could hear the edge of panic in her voice, but she couldn’t stop herself. The laughter became deeper, the giggles turning into cackles, her body shaking with the force of them. Tears began to run down her face, without thinking she reached out and wiped one away with her hand then froze, the laughter dying instantly. She could feel it, the cool but all too warm blood on her face. Her breathing slowed and steadied, she held her hands carefully in front of her, making sure she wouldn’t touch herself again. Terry’s lifeless eyes stared up at her, his jaw was slack, but she remembered the surprised O his lips had formed as he collapsed. It had happened quickly and Joan hoped that meant there was little pain. He hadn’t spoken to her as he died, he just kept looking around the room, like he was trying to figure out where he was or when he would wake up. Joan reached out one hand and carefully closed his eyes lids, shuddering as she took her hand away. He was getting cold already, he had only been dead for a few minutes. The attacker had left the small room, Joan didn’t have a chance to get a good look at him, it had happened so fast. It had all happened so fast. One moment she was out for a walk and the next thing she knew she was being shoved into a van, she wasn’t even sure if she had screamed. They had thrown her into this room a few hours before and Terry had told her what it meant. What it always meant. One in, one out. That was the rule.

Terry didn’t know how long they had kept him in this room, or why. In one corner there was a sink and a small toilet, a metal cot was shoved against one wall, it had a thin mattress and no sheets or blankets. The rest of the concrete walls were bare. As the door opened Joan scrambled backwards towards the bed, a single man entered, he wasn’t wearing a mask, Joan kept her eyes on the ground, she didn’t want to look at him, maybe if she didn’t see what they looked like they’d let her go. The man dragged Terry’s body outside and he closed the door after himself. After a few minutes Joan stood and went to the sink, the water was almost unbearably cold and by the time she was done scrubbing her hands clean they were numb and a bright, angry red.

It was her third day in the room, or was it fourth? It was hard to keep track, there were no windows and the food schedule was erratic. No one had spoken to her and the few questions she managed to ask were ignored entirely. There was no explanation, no reason as to why they would want to keep her here. She was just a nobody and no matter how much she thought on it she couldn’t think of any reason why someone might want to lock her up.

The door opened suddenly, a man stumbled in, he was shouting something. He fell to the floor and scrambled to his feet, turning just as the door closed. He banged his fists off it, screaming. Joan stayed on the bed, she couldn’t move, couldn’t think. The man turned around and paused when he saw her, “What’s going on? Why have they locked us in here?”
Joan opened her mouth but no words would come out, all she could think of was the first words Terry had said to her, his eyes wide with fear, “One in, one out.”

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Noisy Neighbours. Flash Fiction.

It seemed like the very room itself was vibrating with music, Jenny threw her legs over the side of the bed and stood up, this was ridiculous, how did they expect her or anyone else to sleep when they had their music so loud. Grumbling to herself she threw on a dressing gown and put on her slippers, then headed towards the door, just as it was about to close behind her she remembered her key and quickly went back in to grab them off the hook. The halls were deserted, which wasn’t too surprising considering it was 1 A.M., but she had expected to see one or two neighbours out talking to each other or huddled by their doors and looking at the ceiling angrily. Surely she couldn’t be the only one who was pissed off with the noise? It wasn’t as loud out in the hallway, but she could still hear it quite clearly. Jenny moved past the elevator and into the stairwell, she was too angry to be standing still for however long it would take for the elevator to arrive and bring her to the floor above.

She marched into the hallway, slightly surprised that there was no one there, the music was even louder on this floor, how could anyone else stand it? Maybe they’d been banging on the door already, or they had already called the police. She marched up to number 56 and banged on the door three times, then she folded her arms and waited. After a few seconds she hammered her hand against the door. Still nothing. Jenny gritted her teeth, this was their last chance, if they didn’t answer this time she was calling the cops no matter what. She hammered on the door, “Turn down your goddamned music!” The door opened suddenly, Jenny took a step back, the music blared from the apartment behind him. He looked at her for a second, then shrugged and closed the door again. Jenny stood for a few seconds, “what the fuck?” the music seemed to get slightly louder. Jenny gave the door one last angry bang then turned and stalked back down the hall, as she pushed open the door to the stairwell the music suddenly stopped. Jenny paused and looked back down the hall, well at least they’d listened to her.

Back in her apartment she got into bed, as she settled herself she heard one or two bangs from upstairs, she sighed and waited for a moment, but there were no more sounds. Smiling to herself she rolled over and closed her eyes. The music started playing again, not as loudly this time, Jenny reached around for her phone, fuck this and fuck them, if they couldn’t be decent people the police would just have to sort it out.

Jenny groaned as her alarm blared, she reached out blindly and turned it off. She threw the covers off herself and got out of bed, coffee first, everything else could wait. She plodded into the kitchen and turned on the machine, the smell of coffee filled her kitchen. It took another half an hour before that damned music had stopped and she had passed out shortly afterwards. After a shower and her coffee she began to feel semi-alert, enough to get through the day at least. She grabbed her things and headed out.

Jenny stepped out of the elevator and stopped, the lobby was full of people, she recognised some from around the building, the rest were wearing uniforms, police, paramedics. She sidled over to a woman she recognised, “What’s going on?”
“Someone was murdered last night, up on the fifth floor.”
Jenny felt her stomach drop, “What? When?”
“They haven’t said, though I did hear from Gertie that they’d gotten noise complaints about loud music, but they couldn’t send anyone. By the time they did it was too late, whoever did it was long gone.”

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Another Rainy Day. Short Story.

Ted sat at the window, looking out at the black rain.
“Will you get away from there and just close the blinds or something?”
“That stuff freaks me out. I don’t want to have to see it.”
“They said it was safe if we don’t go outside, when else are we gonna see something like this? It’ll be something to tell the grandkids.”
“It happens at least once a week, you’ve seen it plenty.”
Marsha looked back at her book, the news anchors on the TV talked softly in the background and above it all was the steady drumming of rain on the conservatory roof. Ted moved from the window and sat down beside Marsha, she looked at him for a second, then he pulled her into a hug, “It’s all right, they said so on the news. We just need to stay indoors while its raining and it clears away after an hour or so. We’ll be fine.”
“How can you say we’ll be fine? When has there ever been black rain? Something isn’t right and they’re not telling us something.”
Ted chuckled, “I never thought you of all people would buy into those conspiracy theories.”
“Maybe I wouldn’t if they were more open about it. They still haven’t told everyone what’s in the stuff, it’s all just don’t go outside until we give the all clear. But what about those who do get caught outside? Surely it had to have happened to someone but there’s nothing. No hospitalisations, no news reports of injuries. How do they know it’s dangerous if they don’t know what’s in it?”
“I’m sure they do, it’s probably just volcanic dust from that eruption a few weeks ago.”

Marsha shook her head, “I’m telling you there’s something more going on here. Either way I don’t want to have to look at that stuff. It makes my skin crawl.”
Ted stood from the couch and closed the blinds, blocking out the rain. The room was cast into deep gloom, he switched on a light, “Better?”
“I’ll be in the kitchen, do you want anything while I’m in there?”
“No, I’m ok, thanks.”

Ted stood at the kitchen sink, staring out the window into the back garden. Marsha had to be wrong, all the plants were doing fine, if the rain was dangerous surely it would be affecting them. The animals didn’t seem to be suffering too badly either. Ted paused, when was the last time he saw a bird in the garden? Normally he’d see at least three or four a day, but he couldn’t remember if he’d seen any in the last week. He shook his head, no that was silly, larger animals would be affected, and insects too, there’d be dead things everywhere. Marsha was just making him paranoid. He moved from the sink to the back door, there he stood, looking out at it all.

Two hours later and there was no sign of the black rain, everything had cleared away and dried, there were no stains, no residue, nothing to note the falling of the rain. “Right, I’m going to go out and do the shopping, do you want to come with?”
“No, I’ve only a few chapters left and I want to finish them off today.”
“Ok, I have the list, I’ll be back in a bit, if you think of anything else let me know.”
Marsha looked up from her book, “Maybe you should leave it for today? Go tomorrow?”
“Well, just with the rain and all, that was the longest one yet. What if it comes back?”
“We’ve never had more than one black rain in a day, besides I’ll be in the car and only getting out to go inside the shops, I’ll be fine.”
“Well, if you’re sure then.”
“Of course I am.” Ted leaned over and gave her a quick kiss, “I’ll be back soon, love you!”

Ted drove slowly though the roads were empty, he always was a nervous driver.
He flicked through the radio stations, looking for something interesting, but everyone seemed to be playing pop songs and the talk shows were droning on about some loon who’d been arrested a few days before. As Ted pulled into a parking spot he felt a familiar pang of anxiety. He finished parking, then took his hands off the steering wheel and started breathing. After a moment the anxiety faded and he smiled, even a few months ago his stomach would be in knots at the thought of shopping by himself, let alone having to actually do it. Still grinning he got out of the car, grabbed some bags from the back and went inside.

The supermarket seemed strangely empty for the time of day, there were the workers and one or two other shoppers. Ted preferred when stores were like this, made it easier to shop without having to duck and weave out of peoples way constantly. At the till he made idle chit chat with the cashier, more for the thrill of it, having these small meaningless interactions without nausea inducing anxiety was still a novelty for him. At the exit he stopped, three people were crowded around the door looking out.
“It looks like it’ll rain again.”
“Yeah but it’s just going to be regular rain, right?”
“Yeah it should be.”
“I’m getting the bus, don’t want to be caught out in it.”
Ted looked out at the clouds, they did seem dark and ominous, “Sorry, can I just get by there? Thanks”

Ted walked quickly to his car, he didn’t want to be caught in the rain, normal or otherwise. Quickly he packed his car and returned the trolley to the bay, he got into his car and pull out of his spot. As he passed the exit he glanced inside to see that the people had dispersed, a bored looking security guard was standing where they had been.

The first rain drop hit his windshield, “ah shit!” he flicked on the windshield wipers as more drops of black rain fell. If anything the wipers made it worse, smearing the black liquid across the windshield. Ted pulled over and turned off the car. He tried clearing the windshield with the washer, but the rain was falling too quickly now for it to make a difference. He looked around, at least he seemed to be the only one on the road so there was no one to crash into him. Ted flicked on the radio and sighed, Marsha had been right. He grabbed out his phone and sent her a quick text, then he settled in for the wait.

A strange smell was filling the car, he couldn’t pinpoint what it was, something sweet with an underlying tang of chemical disinfectant. Was that the smell of the rain? He’d been indoors the first time it happened and since they didn’t know what it was neither he nor Marsha went outside or opened windows until the news gave the all clear. He froze, if the smell was getting in was the rain getting in too? Was the air he was breathing safe? He looked around at the windows, all the rain seemed to be outside but it was hard to tell, the rain was blacking out all the windows. He grabbed his phone and turned on the flashlight, carefully he shone it around the windows, looking for a glimmer inside the car. Seeing none he turned off the flashlight and let out a slow breath. He was allowing his anxiety to get the better of him, that was all. He was as safe inside here as he would be in a house. Besides, the smell was probably just coming in through the vents in the car. It was fine, he would be fine.

Ted stretched, his hand brushing against the window. He frowned, his hand felt wet. Probably condensation, he looked down and froze. There was a thick smear of black on the back of his hand. Frantically he grabbed a handful of his jacket and started wiping it off. Despite it being gone he could still feel it on his hand, greasy and almost uncomfortably cold. He looked at the window, black rain was flowing steadily down the inside of the window, oozing it’s way onto the door and floor. Ted let out a yelp and struggled out of his seatbelt, once he was free he moved over the other side of the car, he checked the window here but it still seemed fine. The black rain seemed to be flowing faster down the other window, pooling in the foot well. Ted could feel his heart beating heavily in his chest, there had to be a leak in the car. That was all. It was just volcano ash mixed with the rain or something. The puddle in the foot well seemed to shudder, then it suddenly lurched forward. Ted let out a scream and scrambled into the back seat. The blob kept growing, steadily filling the foot well until it was able to move itself onto the seat. It moved over the centre console, Ted was huddled against the door, there was no where to go, outside the rain was coming down as heavily as ever. The blob lurched forward again, landing squarely in his lap, his body felt cold, greasy, then there was a sudden sharp pain and Ted started to scream.

Marsha stood at the window, looking out. The rain had stopped almost an hour ago but there was no sign of Ted. She had tried ringing him and texting, but she got no response. Marsha turned away from the window, he was probably just having some car troubles and it wouldn’t be a shock if his phone had died, he never charged the damn thing. There was a knock at the door, smiling Marsha went open it, that had to be him. As she reached out and gripped the door handle she stopped, Ted had keys with him, why would he knock? As she pulled the door open she saw two policemen. Marsha’s heart sped up, “Can I help you?”
“Are you Marsha Hayward?”
“Yes. What’s this about?”
“I’m sorry to have to inform you of this, but there was an accident, you’re husband was in a car crash and he didn’t make it.” The police officer was still talking but Marsha couldn’t hear anything, individually the words all made sense but together there was nothing. It was wrong, it had to be. He was a careful driver, he wouldn’t do this to her, Ted wouldn’t have left her alone like this. Her hand reached out blindly towards the wall, she needed to sit down, she needed the policeman to stop talking, she needed everything to just stop. She looked back at the policeman, words were filtering through now, “it was very quick”
“No pain…car spun out…no one else involved…someone you could call?”
There was silence again, they were looking at her, she needed to respond, say something but the words just wouldn’t come.
Finally one word, small and frightened, “What?”
“Would you like me to call someone? Maybe a friend or a family member?”
“I…No. Thank you. I think I need a moment. I’m sorry.”
“Would you like one of us to stay with you, until someone arrives?”
“No. that’s ok, Thank you. I just, I just need to sit.”
“I’m very sorry for your loss.”
Marsha nodded, the words were meaningless. She closed the door and walked into the sitting room, she sat onto the couch, her breathing was slow and steady. It was the wrong Ted. That was all, they got him mixed up with someone else and he’d come through that door any second now. Marsha looked out the window, at the blank spot where his car should be, at the backs of the police officers as they walked away and a sob tore itself free from her chest.

“God I hate giving death notices.”
“Me too, Jesus I need a drink. I don’t even think it really registered with her. Maybe we should go back, make sure she’s all right?”
“No. We should give her some privacy. She deserves that much. Besides, I don’t want to get stuck there for the rest of the day.”
They walked in silence for a moment, “Was it wrong? To lie to her like that?”
“No. Better she think it was quick, just a few seconds of panic and darkness. Do you want to go back and tell her he died in agonizing pain? That it took at least half an hour before it was finally done with him?”
“Yeah. Didn’t think so. God, what time is it?”
“Just past four.”
“Close enough. C’mon, lets go get that drink.”

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Protector. Flash Fiction.

Jacob stopped walking, he put his hand on his stomach and shuddered,
“Let’s go back, I don’t feel well.”
“You always say that. You’re fine it’s just nerves.”
“I know but I really don’t want to be here. I think I’m going to throw up.”
Danny sighed, “you do this almost every time, why do you even bother coming?”
“I’m sorry look you can go on if you like, I’ll just hang out at the car, keep a look out.”
“No, c’mon we’ll head back. I can always come back here later myself.”
“Yeah. I am sorry though. I thought it would be good, that’d help me get over some of this anxiety. Like I know we’re not gonna get caught, we’ve never been caught, hell we haven’t even had a close call really but I don’t know. It was getting better for a while though.”
“I know. I’m sorry, it’s just been so long since we’ve had to bail and I really thought you’d gotten over the worst of it.”
“So did I. I don’t know what it is about this place, I just really don’t want to be here.”
“Ok, we’ll head back to the car.”
Together they turned and started walking, torches illuminating the ground. Around them tall hulking buildings loomed in the shadows. The factory had been abandoned twenty years ago, declining production and a string of avoidable accidents had send it under, at least according to everything Danny could find.
“I did get some cool photos at least. Probably better off I didn’t climb one the buildings.”
“ugh yeah, I always hate when you do that.”
“It’s not a big deal, I’ve been climbing stuff since I was a kid, it isn’t that hard.”
“Yeah, but these places are old, rotting, what if you slipped or something broke off in your hand?”
“Well it hasn’t happened yet.”
Jacob rolled his eyes, knowing Danny wouldn’t see it in that darkness, “one of these days it’s going to happen.”
“Wait, stop for a second, did you hear that?”
Danny dropped his voice to a whisper, “I thought I heard footsteps.”
Jacob looked around nervously, his torch beam sweeping across the area revealing nothing but shadows and chunks of machinery. “That isn’t funny dude, I’m already freaked out.”
“I’m not joking. I swear to god.”
After a second Jacob turned to him, “It’s not the echo of us walking, is it?”
“No. At least I don’t think so.”
Danny shook his head, “You’re getting paranoid, all this metal, it’s probably just us. C’mon no point in standing around. The faster we get out of here the better.”
They started walking again.

Danny listened carefully as they went, but the sound of footsteps didn’t come again. As they approached the car he dismissed it, probably just echo’s or maybe a homeless person checking to see if the cops were here. At the car Danny checked his camera, he didn’t get a whole lot of shots, but it was a start, he’d have to come back out here without Jacob sometime, allow him to really explore. From somewhere within the maze of buildings came a high pitched whine followed by a deep, grinding noise.
“The fuck was that?”
“I don’t know. C’mon lets get out of here.”
They got into the car, as Danny turned on the engine the lights around them turned on, flooding the old car park with light, then one by one the lights started to explode in a shower of sparks. Danny took off in the car, his heart thudding in his chest. “What the hell just happened?”
“I don’t know, power surge maybe?”
“Would that place even still be connected?”
“What was that?”
“What was what?”
“I don’t know. I thought I saw something.”
“What kind of something?”
“I don’t know, it was just a glimpse in the wing mirror. It looked like a person or something, running after the car.”
“Probably some homeless guy running for his life.”
“Yeah. Probably.”
Danny let out a deep breath and forced his fingers to relax a little, they were gripping the steering wheel so tight they were beginning to hurt.
“Well, it doesn’t matter, we’re miles from who ever it was now. We’re safe.”
“Yeah I gu-look out!”
A man was standing in the middle of the road, Danny swerved out of the way, he struggled with the wheel, trying to regain control of the car, beside him Jacob screamed, the last thing Danny saw were the trees.

The man stood in the middle of the road, looking sadly at the wrecked car, the mangled metal wrapped around a tree trunk. He didn’t want to do this, he never wanted to do it, but it was the only way to keep everyone safe. A dark, swirling shadow rose from the car, it hissed at the man then with a shriek it vanished. The old man allowed himself to relax, his face looked haggard, his eyes were sunken and his skin was pale. The man turned and looked back towards the factory, then he slowly faded away.

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