The Cat’s Eyes

I slid through the open window, dropping to a crouch in the darkness. A dying fire hissed on the hearth and the wind whispered against the stone walls of the tower, but the room lay still. I pulled myself to my feet, pushing back my dark hood as my eyes adjusted from the bright moonlight outside.  

                The room was half-circular, the straight wall dividing the tower in half. Bunches of drying herbs and roots hung from the heavy beams running across the ceiling. Rough wooden chairs sat before the fire, draped with woven blankets, and shelves lined the walls, piled with books and plants and other objects I couldn’t even begin to identify. Among them, a deep blue sphere on a metal stand was glowing softly. I examined it curiously, rubbing my rough jaw. When I poked it, the light shuddered to green, and I yanked my hand back. I quickly poked it again, sighing in relief when it returned to glowing blue. A skull with enormous fangs sat next to it, but I dragged my attention away. I was getting distracted.

                Across the room, something stirred, thumping to the floor, and I whirled, yanking my dagger from my belt. I fumbled behind me for the sphere, holding it up to flood the room in faint light. Pulsating blue and green shimmered between the shadow of my fingers.

                I crept to the far wall where a heavy curtain obscured half of the thin bed and yanked it back. Nothing. But the blankets felt warm under my hand, and I hadn’t imagined the sounds. I wasn’t alone.

                “Show yourself,” I hissed.

               There was a solid thump on the table behind me, and I whirled to see two luminous green eyes and a pink nose set in a fluffy face. With a sigh, I shoved my dagger back into my belt.

                “Hi, kitty.” I scratched behind the ginger ears with my forefinger. It stared at me, unblinking.  

                I put the sphere on the table, turning my attention to the door set into the straight stone wall. There was no mechanism, just a latch and a keyhole, and the resident hadn’t left a key. I dropped to one knee, fiddling at the lock with the picks I’d slipped out of my boot.

                “I’ll only be a minute,” I said to the cat, who was still watching me from its perch.

                With a soft click, the lock released and the door creaked open into a thin hall falling away at one end to the stairwell that wound down through the tower. Across the hall, another door led to a smaller room, but it was just as locked. Balancing the sphere on my knees, I set to work again. A single emerald eye was peering around the doorjamb at me.

                “I thought witches had black cats.”

                I closed my eyes, letting my fingers do the work, one hand on the latch, the other working the mechanism. “It’s very hard to concentrate with you staring like that,” I mumbled through the pick in my teeth.

                The latch shifted, and the door opened into a black maw. For a moment, I thought the floor had given way and a bottomless pit swallowed me whole, but as I lost my balance, the sphere shifted on my lap and blue light shimmered across a stone floor and windowless walls. Inside stood more shelves piled with sacks and crates and chests. I fumbled in my pocket for my instructions, smoothing the wrinkled note against my chest before squinting at my client’s neat hand.

                “Storage room. Black chest.” I glanced around at the indistinguishable containers. “Any ideas?” I asked the cat.

               It was sitting in the doorway, tail curled around its feet, the tip idly twitching. It had no answer, and I began perusing the shelves, making my way from one end of the room to the other.

                “Your mistress is a clever one, isn’t she? No doors, no windows except for the one I came through. So tell me, is the door hidden or can she walk through solid walls? Gods, I hope not.” I glanced nervously over my shoulder, half expecting to see an angry, wrinkled face sneering at me, but there was only the cat. I nudged a sack aside with the tip of my dagger. “Do I want to know what’s in these? Probably not. I’ve seen worse, sadly. I was hired to steal someone’s brother back from a body snatcher. The stench, puss! You wouldn’t believe it. This is a vast improvement.” I sniffed the air. “Lavender? Your mistress has good taste for a vile, insidious— Ah! Here it is.”

                A solid, black chest was tucked away in the furthest corner of the farthest shelf. I carefully lifted it down to the floor with my cloak, settling cross-legged in front of it. Further inspection with the dim light revealed no lock, no hinges, no marks of any kind, not even a line where the cover should lift away.

                “This is a puzzle,” I sighed. “You wouldn’t happen to know the trick would you.”

                The cat had joined me, sitting by my knee, its green eyes fixed on the box. I tapped the blank surface with my dagger but was rewarded with only a dull clink. A tentative paw reached forward to bat at it, but I snatched the cat up.

                “Careful, puss,” I whispered, kissing its soft head before setting it in my lap and absently scratching its ears. “No telling what your mistress has up her sleeve. I suppose I could toss it out the window and pick up the pieces at the bott— Ow!”

                I winced as the cat dug its claws through my breeches into my leg.

                “No? Fine. No guarantee that would work anyway.”

                I cautiously laid my hand on the surface, hoping the leather of my gloves would protect me from any curses. The fingertips had been cut away for climbing and lockpicking, and the cool metal pulsed under my skin. I tugged off my glove with a sigh.

                “Here goes nothing.”

                The cat meowed softly in response. To my amazement, my hand sank through the black surface. When I pulled it back, my fingers had closed around the thin chain of an amulet. I held it up in front of my grinning face, the wrinkled black stone glinting in the green light.

                “Found you. Who’s the clever one now?”

                I tucked it into my pocket and shoved the chest back where I’d found it.

                “I’m tempted to take you with me, kit,” I said when both doors were locked, the sphere had been returned to its proper place, and all that was left was to scale back down the slick walls.

                With a soft chirp, the cat trotted to the hearth and leapt into a chair, wrapping its ginger tail around its feet. My foot was halfway to the sill when a soft voice spoke behind me.

                “Stay for a cup of tea?”

                I froze, my fingers gripping the edge of the window until my knuckles whitened. When I turned, the cat was gone. In its place sat a woman, watching me with the same green eyes, a ginger braid wrapped around her waist. She lifted a kettle from the hearth, kept warm by the dying coals, and the heavy smell of hydrating leaves filled the room.

                I looked longingly over my shoulder to the open window, the cool air seeping through taunting me. I could throw myself into the night and undoubtedly break my neck. If I took the time to climb down properly, there was no telling what she would do to me before I reached the ground.

                “Tea?” she asked again, holding out a chipped cup to me.

                “Is it poisoned?”

                She laughed but gave no answer, and the cup stayed stubbornly extended. I cautiously took it, lowering myself into the chair across from her, my eyes locked on her. She had a sharply pointed chin, high cheekbones, and soft freckles that had taken the place of whiskers. The cat seemed to still hover there, just below the skin. She didn’t look how I expected a witch to look, but this could be a trick too, putting on the façade of a pretty face to make men who had weaknesses for such things let their guard down. I had no intention of being one of those men. Her gaze flickered down to where my hand was nervously playing with the hilt of my dagger.

                “I frighten you.”

                “You’re a witch.”

                “You’re a thief,” she retorted.

               “You turned into a cat,” I said darkly, leaning forward, and she mirrored my movement.

                “You climbed a tower with sheer walls.”

                I had done that, but no matter how proud I was of that fact, I wasn’t going to let her distract me.

                “You live in a tower with sheer walls.”

                “I like the view,” she said with a dismissive shrug.

                “If you’re so harmless, why did my client send me to steal your amulet? An amulet he said he needed to protect himself from you.”

                “Do you know what that amulet does?” She sat back, taking a sip of tea. “It wards off warts.”

                There was no hint of a lie in her green eyes, and I yanked it out of my pocket, staring at it. “Warts?! I risked my life for this thing! Why by all the Gods would he need that?”

                “Because I gave them to him,” she said, laughing into her cup.

                That was hardly reassuring, and she sighed as I narrowed my eyes at her.

               “He said he was tired of looking at his wife, she was getting old and could I please do something about it. So I did. I made it so he couldn’t see her. The poor dear, I think she actually enjoyed it. As long as she didn’t make a sound, she could creep out of the house while he rambled on thinking she was there all the while. I expect she was just as tired of listening to him as he was of looking at her. Well, he was rather peeved and told me he wouldn’t pay until I fixed it, and I said I had done exactly as he asked. He called me a hag, and I may have been rather petty.” She twitched the end of her braid between her fingers. “I covered his feet in warts, the insufferable old pig. Told him I’d give him the cure when he paid. But I suppose he decided it was easier to hire you.”

               “Then why turn into a cat?” I demanded.

               “I was scared! It’s rather alarming to wake to a strange man crawling through your window!”

               All in a moment, I realized her feet were bare, she wore only a nightdress, and that I was not the victim in this situation but rather an armed man creeping through darkened windows.

               “I… I’m sorry I frightened you,” I muttered, rubbing the back of my neck.

               “No harm done. I realized you weren’t here for me. And I suppose I like being called clever, even if it is a thief doing the calling.”

               Everything I’d done with the cat beside me came flooding back, and I stared wide-eyed into the fire, excruciatingly aware she’d heard everything and there was no way to hide the kiss I’d placed on her ginger head. Her smirk told me she had guessed my thoughts, and I quickly cleared my throat.

               “That’s quite a trick. Think you could teach me?”

               She narrowed her eyes. “You’re already much too adept at getting into places you shouldn’t. I’m not helping you along.”

               She took another sip of her tea, her nose twitching slightly as she stared into the fire. I set my own untouched cup aside, pulling myself to my feet.

               “Well, I suppose I should be off then before the sun rises.”

               I still wasn’t sure she was going to let me leave, and my heart sank as she jumped to her feet and yanked a key from her pocket.

               “Wait,” she told me before vanishing through the door into the dark hallway.

               I could hear her rummaging around and was contemplating making a break for it when she reappeared with a vial in her hand. “Give this to the wife and tell her she can drink it whenever she wants him to see her again, though I wouldn’t blame her if she never did.”

               I tucked it into my belt, breathing a sigh of relief as I finally made it back to the window and the night air seeping in.

               “How did you get up here?” she asked, leaning over the windowsill to stare down at the sheer walls.

               “Maybe I have a little magic of my own.” I grinned, winking at her.

               Wise or not, my fear had vanished, or maybe whatever charms her thin face held were working on me. I had always had an unhealthy penchant for danger. She pursed her lips at me, but the corner of her mouth twisted into a rueful smile. “I don’t get many visitors. Witch and all that.”

               I gazed out the window, looping my thumb through my belt. “I suppose I could stop by again, if I’m in the area. Just to make sure you haven’t fallen down the stairs and broken your neck.”

               Her laugh followed me as I climbed into the darkness, feeling for holds on the slick surface as I slowly descended.

               “You could use the door next time,” she called, leaning out the window.

               I grinned up at her. “Where’s the fun in that?”

               When I looked again, a ginger cat sat on the sill, watching me, idly flicking its tail, its green eyes glowing in the moonlight.

Kaput

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And now, as promised, today’s short story
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                Ruined. Doomed. Kaput. That was the state of my day after wading through the chaos of work, cramming myself like a sardine onto the crowded bus, and fighting my way through driving rain to the grocery store, only to discover that my lifeline, my reason for living, had been replaced with empty shelves. I stared blankly at the chipped metal, errant droplets pattering from the hem of my coat onto the dingy tile. I didn’t ask much from the universe. The usual really: not getting hit by a bus, my apartment not burning down, my hair and teeth not inexplicably falling out. But this? This was a low blow, even for the distant and indifferent cosmos.

                “Excuse me.” I flagged down the bleary-eyed teen in a green vest wheeling a cart of bread down the aisle.

                He slumped forward to lean on the cart, his head swinging to face me, which I assumed was as close as I was going to get to ‘can I help you?’

                “Do you have any Oreos?”

                He stared past me to the empty shelves.

                “We’re out.”

                “Could you look in the back?”

                “We’re out,” he repeated, resuming his agonizing trudge down the aisle, one of the wheels on the cart wailing with each rotation.

                Maybe a packet nestled somewhere out of sight, waiting for me. I shoved aside the other, lesser cookies, hoping for a glimpse of cheery blue and the chocolate delights within. Not just any Oreos either, the double stuff. All I wanted was to slouch on the couch with a packet of Oreos on my stomach, twisting those little disks apart, numbing my mind with some pointless TV, and pretending nothing else in the world existed. That wasn’t too much to ask, was it?

                The slouching teen reappeared, a blue packet in his hands.

                “Here.”

                My savior! But my hopes were dashed as he extended it to me, and I tried to keep the disgust from my face, willing the corners of my mouth into a friendly smile instead of a sneer. These weren’t Oreos. They were abominations, cream sandwiched between two deceitful yellow wafers. Anyone who thought they were even in the same genus was an idiot.

                “Thanks,” I said, taking the packet of little Judases. If they had mouths, I’m sure they’d be laughing at me.

                When he disappeared around the corner, I shoved them between the chocolate chip cookies and Swiss rolls. Having no Oreos was better than having yellow Oreos. Chocolate Oreos were soothing, nostalgic, comforting. Yellow Oreos taunted you, made you embrace your own mortality and tasted bland while doing it.

                I cast a last glance at the shelves, still refusing to accept that they were empty, before trudging to the front of the store, hoping I could drown my sorrows in a few travel-sized packets from the register. Maybe the world knew something I didn’t. Maybe the apocalypse was upon us. What other explanation was there for a store in the twenty-first century being completely and utterly out of Oreos? Tomorrow the world would end, and some lucky bastard out there would at least have a pack of Oreos when it all went up in smoke. If society did hurtle back to the stone age, I knew who I was hunting down first.

               My search by the registers, accompanied by the relentless beeping of scanned items, like an erratic EKG, was just as fruitless. A cart rattled by, limping on a stuck wheel, and a blue packet perched on top of the pile of lunch meat and chips and broccoli blazed out like a beacon. “Milk’s Favorite Cookie.” Forget milk. They were my favorite cookie. Milk could get its own.

                “Excuse me, where did you find those?”

                This was what I was reduced to, scavenging from carts like someone bumming for cigarettes. If I wasn’t careful, someone might think I had a problem, like I was standing there scratching at myself and looking for my next hit. But I did have a problem, dammit. Forty-five little creamed-filled problems.

                “The candy aisle,” she said, nodding down the row of nondescript aisles toward the one I had just emerged from.

                I stared sadly at the passive blue packet. I could grab them and run, fly out the door, my raincoat streaming out behind me like a cape while all the bleary-eyed attendants stared after me, murmuring to themselves, “who was that?”

                But no, I only stood there, at least no longer dripping, watching the cart slowly roll away with a rumble as its lame front-wheel shuddered, leaving straggled black streaks across the dingy tile. From the sheer volume in her cart, I guessed she was a mother just trying to feed her ravenous children. Those Oreos were destined for school lunches and grubby little hands, not my pajama-covered tummy.

               I stood forlornly at the end of a closed register, gazing out at my fellow shoppers weaving in and out of the aisles, their wet shoes squeaking on the floors. The world wasn’t ending. It would turn just as reliably and relentlessly as always, and in time, my distress over a solitary pack of Oreo’s would be nothing more than a faded memory, sparks of electricity that vanished into the ether instead of working its way into the web of experiences that came together to form me. In a year’s time, it wouldn’t matter one bit whether the shelves had been empty or full. It was just another day, like so many others, so many other identical, indistinguishable trips to this same store. If anything, this should be a wake-up call, a reminder that the real things in life weren’t sold in packs on store shelves. Those things faded into a lost haze of existence. The real things, the real memories were out there, waiting to be taken, waiting for me to go and take them.

               With a sigh, I trudged toward frozen foods. Maybe they had Oreo ice cream.

The Monkey

                Oranges were the only thing that damn monkey would eat. The lettuce and apples were flung away, but the orange he’d take in his wrinkled feet, retreating to the highest perch he could find. There he’d sit, ripping off hunks of the rind with his fangs and spitting them onto the floor, his piercing gaze fixed on me.

                The dealer had parked in the dusty parking lot of an abandoned building and was lounging against the side of his unmarked van when I pulled in. It was the kind of van you thought twice about parking next to, with dark curtains pulled over its barred windows, but a friend of a friend told me he could get you any pet you wanted, no questions asked. Calm and low maintenance, the dealer assured me, pulling a cat carrier out of the back of the van. Through the mesh door, I could see a small mass of brown fur curled up in the corner, the thin ribs etched into its fur heaving. He looked so fragile, so frightened, so vulnerable. I handed over my envelope of cash without another thought.

                I set my TV to play jungle sounds and talked to him whenever I was home, acclimating him to the sound of my voice, but I was given little reward. He refused to play or groom. His fur grew matted and frayed. He only sat and stared at me, lurking in the highest corners he could find, and as the weeks went on, it began to drive me crazy. Everywhere I went, he eventually appeared: on top of bookshelves, huddled under furniture, always staring, until I felt like I was being hunted in my own home. If I tried to get near him, I was greeted with glistening fangs, and bristling fur, and that black gaze prickling up the back of my neck.

                I tried taking the oranges away, to force it to eat something else or better yet to take its precious oranges from my hand, but it would only angrily fling away the undesirable food before retreating to its perch. It would rather starve to death than come near me. I shut the oranges away in the refrigerator with a slam. I had given it food, water, toys, ropes to climb, and a place in my home, but the ungrateful thing wanted nothing to do with me. It left claw marks in the refrigerator while I slept.

                The dealer said it needed time to adjust, like all animals put into a new environment. He laughed when I said it was staring at me, whispering into the phone as I met the black gaze. He wouldn’t take it back. He even had the gall to suggest I get another one of the vile creatures. ‘Company,’ he called it.

                The thing moved closer now. I hurled slices of apple at it, screaming at it to stop staring, jumping, thrashing my arms, trying to chase it away. But it never flinched. It gazed blackly, unwavering, its tiny fists clenching.

                Tomorrow. Tomorrow it would stop staring. A black trash bag would see to that. And I shut my bedroom door to keep the creature out.

                I woke to the light from the hallway spilling through the open door, illuminating the face of the monkey perched on my chest. Black lips curled back to reveal glistening fangs. It peeled my neck like an orange.

The Fog: Revisited

I thought we’d dip into the archives this week. Please enjoy The Fog, first published in March 2020. For more stories, visit my archives here.


The tiny village nestled in a valley carved between two rugged mountains. Forest blanketed the rocky slopes stretching endlessly away from the small clump of huts. For as long as she could remember, a heavy fog had laid over the land. The residents of the village moved always in a hazy mist, their clothing and hair wet and limp from its cloudy blanket. White sheets hid the tops of trees, and she moved through the forest as if through a great hall, with a ceiling of cloud, pillars of wood and bark, and a soft carpet of moss, damp and silent, beneath her feet.

She tugged her furs more tightly around her shoulders and readjusted her grip on the leather-wrapped handle of her bow. Since the first gray light of dawn had filtered down through the mist, she had been out in the forest hunting. With any luck, she would return with a few hares or grouse, their downy and feathery coats dark and slick with moisture.

The sound of steps on leaves floated through the trees, and she froze, crouching in the underbrush. The steps stopped, and she held her breath in the silence as neither hunter nor prey moved. A soft chuffing floated through the trees. Deer. Her grip tightened on her bow. Scents hung heavy in the mists, and deer usually avoided the forests near the village, but a harvest like that could feed them for days. The chuffing stopped, and the steps resumed. Through the mist hanging between the trees, she could see a dark form moving slowly up the slope. Antlers glistened white in the occasional flicker of light that filtered down to the forest floor.

Her arrow would never reach its target through the thick undergrowth, so she quietly followed, drawn forward by the occasional chuffing and the sound of hooves on damp leaves. A soft breeze brushed her cheeks as it floated down the slope toward her, carrying her scent away from her prey. The stag moved slowly onward, occasionally stopping to lift its great head to the wind and inhale, its grunting breaths making her hold her own until their journey resumed.

The ground became slick and the air heavy the further up the slope they went. The fog grew thicker until she could barely see the wet leaves beneath her leather shoes. An occasional snort and the sound of shifting undergrowth through the fog led her forward with timid steps. The heat in the air grew stifling, and the mists swirled around her like phantoms. She was about to turn back, giving up all hope of bringing down the stag, when the rushing roar of water caught her attention.

Curious, she fought her way onward through the mist, the roar growing to an earth-shaking thunder. A loud snort rang out behind her, and she whirled to see the stag watching her. He turned and darted back into the fog. A gust of wind sent the mist swirling away from her revealing a deep chasm carved into the earth, the edge inches from her feet. A rush of water cascaded into it. She grabbed a nearby tree branch and leaned out to gaze down into the pit, the scorching mist burning her face. At the bottom, dizzyingly far below, a red mass heaved and spat as the water poured into it. Billows of steam belched up toward her. She stared into the heart of the earth until her eyes ached with the heat.

The stag had seen her, and the morning had long since passed, so she turned her steps back toward the village, searching for the steady decline of the ground under her feet. Her hair hung loosely around her face, and her furs were drenched. She shivered as the air began to cool around her, chilling her damp clothing. The trees grew tall around her again, but she recognized none of them. She fought her way onward, more and more disoriented, until she had little hope of finding her way back to the village.

She stopped to free a pebble from her shoe, and when she looked up, the stag was standing at the edge of the swirling mists, staring at her. With a loud snort, he spun, rushing into the fog. She stumbled onward drawing up short when she saw the stag again standing at the edge of the fog. With another snort, he retreated into the white mist, and she found herself led onward by its ethereal form, the ground gradually sloping away beneath her feet.

The trees suddenly ended, and she stumbled into a familiar clearing. It was the spreading field of browning grasses around the village, their blades wilted beneath the heavy fog. The stag stood at the edge of the trees, watching her, the tall undergrowth brushing the wet fur of his belly. Dropping to one knee, she notched an arrow and drew back her bow with cold fingers, the tip trained over the creature’s heart. For a moment, they stared at each other before she let the string loosen and dropped the bow to her side. With a snort and a toss of his head, the stag galloped back into the forest.

Day 65

Day 65

The wind uncovered another bunker today, and Elder Simon found some paper inside. He gave it to me and showed me how to use it. I’m supposed to write down what I see so we won’t forget, but I don’t know what there is to forget. There’s only sky and sun and sand. I keep it wrapped up in my blanket when I’m not using it so the wind doesn’t try to take it. Isaiah wanted some, but the Elder said he’s too young.

There was food in the bunker too, the kind wrapped in metal, and Xav has to break it open so we can eat. I asked the Elder how it was done, but he didn’t know. Someday I’ll find the edge of the sky and maybe the answer will be there. Xav says there is no end to the sands. He remembers more than I do of wandering through them, so maybe he’s right, but sometimes I think I see shimmers of purple on the horizon.

It’s been 65 days near as I can tell since we came to the camp. We wandered through the sands for I don’t know how long before they found us, half-dead and burned from the sun. They say Isaiah must be my brother since our eyes are the same color, but they don’t know about Xav. We don’t remember either.

Day 67

They gave the new bunker to Xav, Isaiah, and I so we don’t have to sleep out on the sands. They put sand over it to block it from the sun, and it stays a little cooler inside. Every day Xav has to push the drifts away from the door so we don’t get buried inside.

Day 70

There was a cloud in the sky today. I stared at it for so long that giant spots hovered in front of me the rest of the day, and I wondered if I would have to wear a cloth tied around my eyes like Old Marga. I don’t think she’s that old, but the sun made her all dry and wrinkled. Last week Xav told me my face was going dry like hers. It didn’t feel any different! But I couldn’t see to tell, and I started crying. Elder Simon yelled at Xav for making me waste my moisture on the sands instead of putting it in the filtrator. He made him haul all the buckets out to the edge of camp. Xav didn’t say he was sorry, but he brought me a rock he’d found and said I could use it to hold my papers down so they didn’t fly away.

Day 74

The filtrator broke down today. Elder Simon is teaching Xav how to repair it. He’s the youngest man in the camp next to Isaiah, but Isaiah is just a kid.

Day 78

Vita walked into the sands today and didn’t come back. Elder said it was selfish, taking her moisture with her. I can’t blame her. Maybe she wanted to know what the purple haze was too. Xav got angry when I told him I wanted to go and said he’d shut me in the bunker if he had to.

Day 79

They found her. They wouldn’t tell us what they did after they brought her body back to camp, but that night Xav told me they emptied her moisture into the filtrator. I’m glad. It was a good thing to die for: keeping us alive. It’ll be easier with fewer of us needing water. They took her back out into the sands and burned her body. I hadn’t seen fire before. I watched the flames flickering late into the night until they died away. We can’t bury our dead. The wind refuses to let them rest. Isaiah found a skull half-buried in the sand once, and it scared him so badly he wouldn’t leave my side the rest of the week. Xav finally hauled him, kicking and screaming, back to the bones to show him it was nothing to be afraid of.

Day 81

Xav kissed me today. He brought me some water and said he hated it when I cried and that my face wasn’t dry. I forgot what he was talking about at first and had just remembered when he grabbed my face and shoved his lips against mine. I stood there with my mouth hanging open, and he ran out the door. I told Old Marga when I was helping her beat sand off the tents. She laughed and said I should let him, that the camp would die with me if I didn’t. I didn’t know what that meant, but it scared me. I told Xav what she said later that night. His face turned red, and he said he wouldn’t do it again if I didn’t want him to. I told him I guess I didn’t mind as long as he didn’t run away afterward. I liked it a lot more the second time.

Day 84

The filtrator broke down again. It took them most of the day to get it working. Xav looked pale when he came back from helping, but he won’t tell me what’s wrong.

Day 85

Xav woke me in the middle of the night last night and said we were leaving. He won’t tell me why, just that I had to be quiet. We took Isaiah and started walking.

Day 86

Xav stole the water from the camp. I was furious and told him we had to go back, but he won’t. He dragged me until I realized I wouldn’t know how to get back even if he let me go.

Day 87

The wind stole most of my pages. I only have this one left. We’re hiding under the blankets from the sun. The wind covers us with sand and that keeps it cooler. Xav makes us walk through the night, no breaks. Isaiah started crying, and Xav slapped him. I wish he hadn’t, but it made Isaiah stop crying. Xav won’t tell me where we’re going. I don’t think he knows.

Day 90

Isaiah won’t wake up. Xav keeps carrying him anyway.

Day 92

We left Isaiah in the sands. I wrapped him up in my shawl. Xav yelled at me, saying I would need it against the sun, but I won’t leave him to become the bones that scared him.

Day 93

The purple haze is back on the horizon. I saw Xav cry today. He was looking down at a little green spiral in the sand and fell to his knees, sobbing. I don’t know what it was. He took my hand and made me walk until the sun started to creep over the horizon.

Day 95

Water. There’s so much water. It stretches out like the sands that lay behind us. But it’s all salty. Xav curled up in the sand for a long time after we tasted it. He won’t speak. He doesn’t have to. Our water is gone. Tomorrow we’ll try to follow the coast, but for now, I’ll give this page to the wind then sit with Xav and watch the sun come up. It’ll be time to sleep soon.


The writing prompt for “Day 65” was provided by Reedsy.com: write about another day in a heat wave.

Butter & Honey

Butter and honey spread thick on a flaky biscuit. It tasted like memories. Like gingham table clothes and the smell of an old house. Like legs swinging furiously against the rungs of heavy wooden chairs. Like mysterious cupboards and closets filled with a lifetime of memories to be peered into and poked with sticky fingertips.

Childhood was always so sticky. Sticky hands. Sticky faces. Sticky, like the golden rivers of honey running down onto hands and wrists, shredding paper napkins, and we had to scrunch up our faces while she scrubbed at them with damp towels. Floral towels. Towels always cradled those biscuits in their basket, and we unwrapped them like a present, crushing them in the overeager grip of children.

It was some sort of magic the way she threw ingredients into a bowl and biscuits appeared, steaming and edged golden brown. Only an explosion of flour on the counter with a few clumps of forgotten dough remained from whatever spell she’d used. Biscuit recipes now were arduous, and they didn’t come out of the oven smelling like innocence or the sleepiness after play on a summer afternoon. They were lopsided and dry, crumbling away to nothing. Even honey couldn’t hold them together.

So the basket sits empty on the table, a towel crumpled up inside. Empty. But maybe if one spent the day trouping through the forest and ran through the door with muddy shoes and carefully pulled back the corner of the towel with sticky fingers, one last biscuit might be found nestled inside.

Date Night

            “God, my hand still smells like s**t!” I scrubbed violently at it with lavender-scented soap for what felt like the hundredth time.

            “I said I was sorry,” Veronica sniffled. “I don’t understand! The website said it was fun!”

            “Don’t cry,” I sighed, drying my hands on a dishtowel. “It’s not your fault.”

            She started crying anyway, and I tugged her into a hug, making sure to keep my soiled hand well down-wind of both of us.

            “I’m horrible at planning dates,” she moaned, burying her face in my shirt.

Four Hours Earlier

            “Is this it?” I asked skeptically, gazing up at what seemed to be an abandoned factory. The brick walls were crumbling, the windows had been boarded up, and a giant condemned poster was plastered across the gate. “This doesn’t look right.”

            “It’s supposed to be spoooooky,” she crowed, holding her flashlight to her chin to throw grotesque shadows across her face, and I smiled reluctantly.

            She confidently led me through the squeaky gate to one of the vacant doors. Her flashlight beam illuminated dark and silent hallways, moisture stains creeping across the cement floors.

            “Hello?” Her voice echoed through the empty rooms.

            “Are you sure this is the right place?” I asked, edging closer to her. “Shouldn’t there be… staff or something?”

            “There’s like a billion doors. We probably just came in a side entrance.”

            She took my hand, and we started down one of the halls, peering through dark doorways into darker rooms as we went. That hallway soon branched into others lined with more doorways or shattered windows. Our footsteps shuddered against the cement walls as we walked.

            “Whoa, they really went for realism,” Veronica laughed.

            A giant X of faded police tape hung across a doorway, and inside a dark stain had soaked into the floor.

            “Are you sure this is the right place?” I asked, glancing around nervously. “Why haven’t we seen anyone else?”

            Veronica shrugged. “It’s a big building. What’s wrong?” Her face twisted into an infuriating grin. “Scared?”

            “No,” I snapped.

            “Ooooooooh,” she moaned, tickling the back of my neck.

           “Stop!” I writhed away from her, swatting her hand away.

            She burst out laughing, but I quickly shushed her.

            “What was that?”

            A faint rustle floated down the hall.

            “Finally,” she sighed, dragging me toward the sound.

            We stopped at the end of the hall, but there was only darkness in every direction. The rustling had stopped.

           “Huh,” she sighed, turning around. “We must have taken a wrong turn, but I swore it came from in he—”

           A black figure lurched out of the doorway, and she let out a bloodcurdling scream. I grabbed her hand and sprinted down the hall, dragging her behind me. Empty doorways flew by as I ran blindly through the maze of hallways. We burst through one of the side doors into a bathroom, rows of stalls lining one wall, and I slammed the door shut behind us. Veronica started laughing hysterically.

            “What’s so funny?” I demanded, sagging back against the door.

            “Oh my god! I nearly peed my pants,” she gasped between peals of laughter.

            “How is that funny?! I thought you were about to be murdered!”

            She fell against the stalls, a crazed look on her face. I was starting to wonder if adrenaline and fear had caused her wild laughter, not amusement, but the hair on the back of my neck stood up as a muffled sound floated through the door.

            “Do you hear footsteps?” I hissed.

            Someone was making their way down the hall. She sighed in relief.

            “Finally! We should—“

I frantically held my finger to my lips. Scraping joined the heavy footsteps, pausing and restarting, pausing and restarting, like metal dragging against the cement walls, silenced by each open doorway. I dragged Veronica into the farthest stall, locking the door behind us, and we huddled into the far corner. I valiantly placed myself in front of her, though it might be more merciful to let her die first. The footsteps paused for a moment then continued down the hall. Scrape. Pause. Scrape. Pause. It slowly faded to silence, and I let out the breath I’d been holding. A violent crash reverberated through the building, echoed by a soft splish behind me. I turned to see Veronica staring in horror at the toilet.

            “What happened?”

            “I… I jumped and I… I dropped the keys.”

            We both stared into the murky depths of the porcelain vat filled with what looked like vomit from the depths of hell. With a resigned sigh, I handed her my flashlight and rolled up my sleeve.

~~

            She’d finally cried herself out against my chest and was sitting miserably, her shoulders shaking with tiny hiccups.

           “I’m leaving them a horrible review,” I sighed. “They should be shut down.”

           She pulled up the website and slid her phone to me. I stared down at the screen.

            “This is the place?”

            She nodded miserably, blowing her nose.

            “This place? Right here?”

            “Yes!” she snapped.

            “52 W. 16th Street?”

            “No, it’s W. 60th Street.”

            “That’s… not what the website says.”

            “What?” she snatched her phone and stared down at it, horror growing on her face. “Oh my god! OH MY GOD! Where did we go?! Wait, where are you going?!”

            “To disinfect my arm.”


The prompt I used said to write a story based on the last text I sent. Any guesses what it was?? I use it verbatim in the story.

More soon!

~R. E. Rule

Missed Connections

           Green waves of corn with golden spume blurred by as the bus rumbled down the country road. Through dusty windows edged with fog from the cool air within laboring against heavy summer heat, a lone telephone wire undulated across a drab sky. A curly head leaned against the glass, his sneakered foot tapping in time with the tinny pulse of music escaping his headphones. The reclining figure in bright florals beside him snored softly, mouth agape. A fly wandered over her bare shoulder, rubbing its spiny legs together.

           The bus dove into a pothole, rattling the rows of empty seats, and the sleeper jerked awake with a snort, blinking groggily at the verdant sea around them.

           “Where are we?” she asked, leaning out into the aisle to address the man sitting diagonally from her.

           Polite shoes peeped from under stiffly cuffed trousers, the angular lines of his suit mirroring the severe mustache perched under his nose. He placed a forefinger on the page of his book to mark his spot before turning over his shoulder.

           “’bout two hours out, I believe. The driver said we should arrive by sunset.”

           She leaned back in her seat to squint at the cloudy sky, and he turned back to his book. Her hand landed on the back of the seat in front of her, pulling her closer again.

           “You visiting family?”

           “No, no family,” he replied absently, eyes flickering across the page.

           She scooted to the edge of her seat, precariously bracing one leg in the aisle to balance herself.

           “What brings you this way?”

           He deliberately shut the book, running a thin hand over the cover, before setting it aside and twisting around in his seat to face her.

           “I’m a code inspector for factories,” he said, straightening his tie. “Make sure they’re following the guidelines and safety standards before they open for production. Normally, they fly me out, but the date was pushed up, and there were no open flights, if you can believe it.”

           Her eyebrows raised in appreciation before she quickly added, “My son’s had a baby.”

           “Congra—”

           “The poor man, bless him, told me not to bother, but I couldn’t not what with him working and her so thin. I told him I’d be on the next bus, and he shouldn’t mind a bit. I know he was trying to put on a brave face, but I heard the relief in his voice. She always was a frail thing.” She shook her head gravely.

           “Is she—”

           “Oh, she’s fine, but I had three myself, and we never had help like they do today.”

           He nodded in agreement.

           “One of the factories I visited just last week instituted family leave for all employees with their first. It just goes to show that factory work isn’t so bad. You hear stories about deplorable conditions and such, but my job proves how mistaken that bad reputation is.”

           “My son’s an accountant. We were proud as punch when he decided to go to college. Blue-collar work is all well and good, but finances… Well, that’s where the money is!” she exclaimed with a laugh.

           He responded with a tight smile.

           “What about you, young man?” she said, turning to the curly-headed figure beside her. “Where are you headed?”

           His head continued bobbing, his mouth moving to unheard lyrics as he gazed out the window.

           “Young man!”

           He jumped as she smacked his arm and yanked a headphone out of his ear.

           “Where are you headed?” she repeated loudly.

            “Oh, I’m going to see my dad,” he said, grinning widely at them. “He had to move for work, but he bought me a bus ticket to come see him. It’s pretty great. I know he misses my—”

            “You’ll go deaf.”

            “…what?”

            “You’ll go deaf,” she repeated, nodding to the headphone in his hand.

            His smile faded, and he jammed it back in his ear, turning back to the window. She shared a bemused smile with her aisle mate over the attitudes of the younger generation. The bus jerked, slowing as it drifted onto the shoulder. The driver snagged a receiver off the wall, bending down to hear the garbled speech blaring through the speaker.

            “Well, folks,” he sighed, pulling himself up and planting his hands on the back of the seats on either side of the aisle. “Bridge’s out ahead, so we’re being rerouted. Looks like you’ll be missing your connections.”

            “Isn’t that just the way?” she sighed.

           The inspector had turned back to his book. She sank back into her seat with a sigh as the bus jerked back onto the road. The fields blurred by, the sneakered foot tapping and pages occasionally flipping. Her head soon sagged onto her floral chest, and a soft snoring again filled the bus.


Today’s fiction was a writing assignment from Joyce Carol Oates’ Masterclass: write a scene taking place in a single location over a unified period of time.

Since the prompt was basic, I added simple metaphors to the plot and scenery. I tend to write genre fiction simply because that is my preference, but stripping away the allure of non-realism requires a more intense focus be placed on detail and characterization… i.e., making a good story that doesn’t need a fantastical bandaid to hold it together. Definitely a work in progress, but it was an educational experience. I see more exercises like this in my future.

More soon!

~ R. E. Rule

After Dark

They never talked about what they did in the shadows, after dark when the house was still. Their quiet voices would float through my slightly open door, but it was only a wordless murmur. Once I tried to follow them, but my mother saw me and whisked me back to bed. I knew it must be something important, something forbidden, maybe even something sinister. After their door closed, I would sneak out of bed, creeping on bare feet to inspect where they had been, but they were too sly to leave any evidence.

So, one night I pulled the blankets up to my chin and pretended to be asleep. My parents whispered beside my bed, my mother feeling my forehead and cheek with the back of her hand, but I kept my eyes tight shut and waited. The next thing I knew, my father was kissing my forehead to wake me up, and I realized I had done my job too well.

The next night, I tried again, only this time I pinched my arm to stay awake. Finally, my door creaked shut, and their voices faded down the hall. I slid out of bed and crept after them. They were sitting together in the shadows, faces close, my mother’s hand on my father’s cheek. She lifted herself over him, bending her face to his neck. He grabbed a handful of her hair and tugged at her clothing, but she didn’t let him go.

I had read a book once I wasn’t supposed to about creatures of the night and what they did in the dark. It had given me nightmares, but now I understood why my mother had been so upset when she caught me with it. She was trying to hide the evidence. I backed away in horror. The floor creaked under my feet, and she straightened up, whirling to face the shadows.

I sprinted back to my room, diving into bed. Footsteps followed me, and my heart pounded as my door creaked open. Whoever it was eventually left, and I lay there, terrified, until I fell asleep from sheer exhaustion.

I woke to my mother bending over me and scrambled away with a shriek. My father burst through the door a moment later. I tried to tell him, tried to let him know that I knew my mother was a monster, but he just laughed and said I had a nightmare.

“But she bit you!” I wailed. “I can see the bruise.”

He whirled on my mother, eyes wide, clutching a hand to his neck, and she burst out laughing. I wrapped my arms around his waist, hiding behind him. Now he knew the truth. He sighed, his shoulders sagging, before shaking his head at my mother who was still laughing.

“Well…” he said, sitting on the edge of the bed and holding out a hand to her. “We were going to have to do this eventually.”

I learned several things that day, but surprisingly, none of them involved vampires.


The writing prompt for today’s story was from www.writerswrite.com: “They never talked about what they did in the shadows.”

~R. E. Rule

**All writing on this blog is the exclusive property of R. E. Rule and is not to be reproduced or retransmitted without permission from R. E. Rule. Link and email sharing is welcome as long as proper owner/authorship is attributed to R. E. Rule.**

What Butterflies Wonder

The prompt for today’s story was, “She was on her way home when it happened. She knew she could never see her family again.”

I decided to set a timer for 15 minutes and write whatever came to mind. I edited a few things for readability, but this was the result.


           She was on her way home when it happened, when she knew she could never see her family again. They wouldn’t understand the transformation. She hadn’t noticed it herself until she caught a glimpse of a stranger in a rain puddle and stared down at the wavering reflection, finally realizing when she reached up to scratch her nose that it was her own. Even if she did go home, they wouldn’t realize it was her. Or maybe she wasn’t her anymore and had somehow become someone else when she wasn’t paying attention. It could happen. Sometimes other people said they weren’t quite feeling themselves. The problem was, she was feeling more herself today than she’d ever felt.

            She stared down at the reflection and wondered what she was supposed to do if she wasn’t quite herself but wasn’t quite anyone else either. She decided to follow a street she’d always wanted to go down—the brick walls looked so inviting—but never had. The windows she passed were full of interesting wares, but her reflection fascinated her more.

            She waved at passersby. Normally she was shy, but she wasn’t herself today, and she hadn’t decided if who she had become was shy or not. There was no reason she had to be. This her had never been told she talked too much or been anxious in a room with strangers, so why wouldn’t she wave cheerily to them in the street? A few waved back, but most just cast a glance in her direction before passing by. It didn’t bother her. Why should it? This her wasn’t worried about what they thought of her.

            The buildings fell away, and the shore stretched out in front of her. She walked onto the pier, the water growing dark and frothy between the boards under her feet. At the end, she gazed down at the face looking back up at her. That face seemed to know who it was even if it wasn’t her face. It didn’t seem distressed by how different it looked despite being attached to her personage or frightened by the dark water churning over her. Maybe that person knew something she didn’t, since it wasn’t her but also had to be her.

            She wondered where she was supposed to go since she couldn’t go home. She could try to go home, try to convince them she was still who she was. Maybe if she adjusted her hair just right, maybe slouched a little, they wouldn’t notice. But then she wouldn’t be her anymore, or whoever this her was she was looking at. She’d just be someone pretending to be her, and that didn’t seem very appealing. She could leave and go far away and then she could be her. They would wonder where she’d gone, what had happened to her, why she had stopped being who she was, but she hadn’t. Staying would have meant not being who she was. They wouldn’t understand she had to leave so she could be who she was.

            She sat on the edge of the pier, swinging her feet lazily, leaning her chin on her folded arms resting on the railing. Maybe caterpillars felt this way, and that was why they locked themselves up in their cocoons, trying to look as much like a caterpillar as possible, but inside they were ripping apart and reforming, breaking and mending until everything was inside out, and when they emerged, all the other caterpillars said, “You’ve changed. You’re not you anymore. We don’t like this new you.”

           And if the caterpillar-turned-butterfly listened to them, it would never spread its wings and fly but spend the rest of its life trying to chew leaves and crawl over twigs. But butterflies didn’t do that. They spread their wings, and soared on the wind, and drank from flowers. Maybe they worried they’d made a mistake, if they thought of their caterpillar families and wondered, but surely, she thought, it must be better to fly.


I’ve been reading Alice in Wonderland. Can you tell?

~ R. E. Rule