Aftermath

Leaves skittered across the cabin floor, caught in the whirl and eddy of a night-time breeze. The door creaked on broken hinges. On the hearth, graying embers hissed and spat as cooling tea crept from the shattered mug into the red glow.

A chair lay on its side, one leg mangled. The end of the heavy bed jutted out into the room, lines in the dust where it had reluctantly moved from its place. Blankets lay crumpled over deep grooves carved into the heart of the wooden floor.

A scarlet drop ran along the jagged glass in the windowsill. With a soft moan, the tattered curtains gave way and fluttered to the floor. A red splash was painted there, leading out into the darkness, across the soft dirt, disappearing among the brooding trees.

Through the oppressive night shuddered a mournful cry.


Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

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.

31. Writing Prompt – The Wind Knows

The wind knows where the truck was parked on that dark, deserted road. Trees tried to stifle her cries, so the wind bore them instead. It stirs the flowers where she sleeps, and when the rest of the world forgets, the wind remembers and weeps.


This prompt was not originally supposed to be a ‘poem,’ but as I was writing it, I noticed the cadence of the first line and tried to shape the rest to match. Part of the joy and struggle of writing is finding the exact wording to create the desired tone, whether it be a rhythm, an image, a feeling. Word choice makes a huge difference, and I go crazy, even on a short piece like this, running through all the synonym and sentence structure options.

More and more, I am focusing on editing, on searching for the best wording, the most succinct descriptions, the clearest actions. That is the work that will drive you crazy but is the most rewarding. That is where your writing comes to life.

More soon.

~ R. E. Rule

Run

My feet pounded on the dirt road. Silent rows of trees under the face of an impassive moon flew by as I struggled onward, my breathing ragged, my lungs aching. Forest and road stretched on endlessly, but I could only run, driven on by icy fear on the back of my neck. A light glimmered faintly through the dark trunks, and I redoubled my efforts, forcing myself toward it. A single light bulb illuminated the worn siding of an old farmhouse. Its windows were dark and silent, and I beat on the door wildly, hoping, praying.

“Let me in! Please!” 

The shadowy road loomed behind me, every moment threatening to unveil the shadowy figure of my attacker.

“Please! He’s going to kill me!”

But the house remained still and indifferent. I leaned against the rough wood, all hope disappearing, tears of relief turning to despair.

“Please,” I begged the silent door.

It flew open, and I crashed to the floor at the feet of my rescuer, a middle-aged woman wearing a bathrobe and the bleary look of one just roused from sleep. I scrambled inside.

“Car broke down,” I gasped, the fatigue of my wild dash finally catching up with me. “Man on the road… I ran…”

“Oh, you poor thing,” she murmured, locking the door behind me. “Let’s get you warmed up.”

My shaking legs barely held my weight, and she had to help me into the kitchen, depositing me at a heavy wooden table. A sweet warmth and the clinking of a spoon on china filled the room as she bustled about, making me a cup of tea.

“Here,” she said, setting it in front of me. “Drink up, and everything will be all right.”

It was sickeningly sweet, but I gulped it down without hesitation. My throat was parched, and I was trembling from exertion. Exhaustion flooded over me, my limbs growing heavy, my head sagging, my body ignoring my desperate pleas to move as she set the cup in the sink and tied my wrists to the chair.

“Everything will be all right.”


I was lying in bed last night thinking, “You know what would be more terrifying than running from something? Finding a house, thinking you’re safe, and then discovering what was waiting for you inside was even worse.”

Ironically, I dislike horror movies or TV shows because they freak me out too much, but with writing or reading, I love it. I just finished The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. If you enjoy horror or psychological thrillers, I would recommend checking it out. It’s a quick read, and while not particularly frightening or gruesome, following the main character’s strange thoughts and behavior through the story is captivating.

Jackson is infuriatingly vague sometimes, but I wonder if that was an intentional depiction of the fallibility of her characters and our fallibility as readers. Our version of truth is built with what we can see, but we can’t see everything. We interpret the events around us based on the information presented, and what may seem utterly and undeniably real, may be nothing more than the manifestation of our belief that it is. What may be unwaveringly true for one person may be ludicrous to another.

After finishing Hill House, I started reading The Elements of Style, another book I would recommend. It’s a great refresher on basic grammar and the fundamental goals to keep in mind while writing. I also started The Scarlet Pimpernel and hated it… so still looking for another fiction book to dive into.

Happy weekend all! Hope you are staying safe and healthy.

~ R. E. Rule

Survival

The chemical attacks started when I was five. Every source of water or food we found was poison. Even the rain was contaminated. Eventually my parents succumbed, choking on their blood, their skin blistering and cracking. Those of us who were young enough to adapt, to survive if you can call it that, were changed. Our bodies were stripped of any ability to fight infection, to produce the very things we needed to survive.

“Kira!” Damien was standing in the doorway, the hood of his sweater yanked down to hide his pale eyes. “They brought in a fresh one.”

I trailed behind him through the dirty hallways to the dingy medical center. Clear tarps hung from the ceiling to make ghostly walls. A corpse lay pale and stiffening on the examination table, a deep contusion on his skull.

“What happened to him?” I asked quietly.

“Car accident.”

I wondered if he was somebody’s father…husband… The medic jammed a needle into a finger, releasing a bright red drop. He pressed it to the sensor waiting for the metallic beep.

“A-positive.”

“Damn it!” Vix yelled, kicking a metal barrel before storming out of the room.

It had been weeks since she’d been able to drink. She wouldn’t last much longer. Damien nudged me, handing me a metal bowl. We didn’t have long before the blood started coagulating. The room had filled up with the others, bowls clenched in their pale hands. The body was flipped, a scalpel drawn across the still-warm jugular, and we all took our rations.

I followed Damien back into the dark warehouse, pulling myself up to sit on a crate next to him and staring at the bowl of black liquid in my hands. He had already chugged his share, tilting his head back to get the last drops.

“It’s only going to get worse the longer you wait,” he sighed, wiping his mouth on his sleeve.

I choked down a mouthful of the sickeningly warm liquid.

“We weren’t meant to live like this,” I murmured, fighting the urge to vomit.

Damien shook his head, holding his bowl at an angle to let the last remnants settle into a puddle.

“We weren’t meant to live.”


I’ve been thinking about vampires lately and what might drive the average human to consume blood other than a supernatural intervention. This wasn’t based on a writing prompt…just an idea rattling around in my brain.

~ R. E. Rule

Leaving Town

The first time I left town was in a fit of childish rage. I shoved my stuffed rabbit into a tattered backpack adorned with patches and trekked off down the road, vaulting from one yellow line to the next on the sun-worn asphalt. When my tantrum, but not my stubbornness, had faded in the bright daylight, I sat down on the side of the road to wait for whichever panicked parent chased after me first. I fell asleep with my head resting on my backpack and woke up terrified. The sun was setting, and no one had come to get me. Worried I’d been forgotten, I sprinted back down the road to our small town.

The whole experience must have left me unsettled…


To keep reading, join my Patreon (https://patreon.com/rerule). This story is available to the Fledgling and Bookwyrm tiers.

~ R. E. Rule

Originally Posted: Mar. 6, 2020
Updated: Dec. 14, 2020

10. Writing Prompt – It Seemed Like a Threat

Her shift at the all-night diner had run late, and it was well past midnight when she finally yanked off her apron and jogged down the steps into the shadowy streets. The reflection from the neon sign on the side of the thin metal building wavered wildly on the damp pavement underneath her feet and threw ghastly shadows of the single car parked in the lot in front of the diner. The buses had stopped running hours ago, and she trudged through the darkness toward her apartment on the other side of town. She was halfway home when someone grabbed her arm and dragged her into an alley. She struggled wildly, trying to reach the pepper spray in her back pocket, but her assaulter slammed her against the wall, clamping a hand over her mouth.

“Be quiet and keep still,” he hissed, his face inches from hers.

Terrified of the alternative, she obeyed. She waited for his next command, but his eyes were fixed on the dark street she had just been yanked from. His words seemed like a threat until she saw two shadowy figures pass by the mouth of the alley. They stopped and looked around before splitting up, one crossing the street and the other continuing on ahead. She had been alone in the darkness, or so she had thought. These dark figures seemed to be looking for something, and she had a sickening feeling it was her.

“They’ll be back,” her abductor whispered, dropping his hand from her mouth. “We need to go.”

She yanked her pepper spray out of her pocket and pointed it at him with a shaking hand, demanding, “Who the hell are you?!”

“Keep your voice down!” he hissed. “We don’t have time for this.”

One of the shadowy figures reappeared in the mouth of the alley and spotting them, letting out an unintelligible cry for their companion before sprinting toward them. She found herself being dragged down the alley by her rescuer or kidnapper, she wasn’t sure which. Their feet pounded on the damp pavement as they burst out of the alley and sprinted down the street, two dark figures racing along behind. The man grabbed her hand in a vice-like grip and dragged her through a dizzying maze of streets and alleys, doubling back on themselves until they finally stopped in the middle of an empty street.

Fog was descending, and the air was heavy with moisture. The street was lined with shops, faint lights glowing within, but the signs in the windows were darkened for the night. He yanked on the doors as they passed, but they were all locked tight. She glanced anxiously behind them, but the dark figures had disappeared.

“Looks like we lost them,” she panted, out of breath. “Now tell me what the hell is going on!”

“No such luck, I’m afraid,” he laughed bitterly, tugging uselessly at a café door. “They’ll catch up. They always do.”

“Who?! What do they want from me?!” she asked, terror clutching at her throat.

“You were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Take a taxi next time!”

He straightened up and stared into the shadowy street, alerted by something she couldn’t hear, before grabbing her and dragging her into an alley. He shoved her down behind a clump of garbage cans and crouched next to her. The sound of claws scraping on cement approached then paused, and a guttural sniffing filled the air. Her heart was pounding so loudly, she swore it echoed off the damp brick wall her back was pressed against. Her companion lifted a finger to his lips, and she nodded, swallowing hard. Deafening silence fell, pulsing in her eardrums, until the scrapping of claws resumed, slowly receding down the street.

“Who are you?” she whispered when she was finally sure they were alone.

“I’m…like you. Somebody with the worst luck imaginable,” he sighed, pressing his back to the edge of the alley to gaze around the corner into the street. “I was all cozy in the diner, safely out of the dark for the night when I saw them hunting you. You really should have taken a taxi.”

“You followed me from the diner?!” she exclaimed angrily. “Wait… What do you mean hunting?”

A shrill cry rang out down the street.

“Time to go,” he yelled, grabbing her hand. They sprinted out into the street on the other side of the row buildings they had hidden against.

“There!” he yelled, pointing at a bus stop illuminated by a single streetlight, and they darted toward it. The two black figures burst out of the alley behind them, skidding on the wet pavement, claws scratching. She tried to keep running, but the man yanked her hand, and they slid to a stop in the circle of light pooling beneath the streetlight. He grinned as the shadowy figures prowled along the edge, hissing at them. She stared in horror as the grotesque human forms tilted their heads unnaturally, hissing to reveal darker maws within the wavering black forms, gnarled fingers of darkness clawing at the edge of the light.

“What…. What are they?” she asked, trembling.

“Harmless,” he laughed. “As long as the light shines.”

He settled on the ground, resting his back against the lamppost.

“Might as well get comfortable,” he sighed, lacing his fingers behind his head. “We’re going to be here a while.”

She extended a trembling hand still clutching her pepper spray toward the black figures.

“That’s not going to do you any good,” he commented. “It won’t hurt them. Nothing does.”

She dropped her arm to her side, still gripping the can tightly. The figures had stopped clawing and crouched at the edge of the circle of light, black holes where eyes should be fixed on the two figures in the lamplight.

“What do they want?”

“I don’t know,” he sighed. “They’ve been hunting me for weeks. Waiting in the dark, the shadows, everywhere I go. I guess they got my scent, and they aren’t giving up.”

The night was silent except for the clicking of a flashing traffic light down the street, its pulse throwing yellow stains across the wet pavement. The fog slowly thickened and settled over the town until the buildings were obscured by its pale mask. The light above them began to flicker as the bulb protested the moisture that had enveloped it. He stared up at it.

“Oh sh—“

The light flickered out, and darkness fell. There was an unearthly shriek then silence as the light flickered back on, revealing empty sidewalk and a spinning can of pepper spray.


I had two goals for this prompt. First, I wanted to try a different style; something more serious or dark. I hadn’t attempted horror before. I’m not sure how frightening it ended up being, but I’ll keep working on it. Second, I wanted to write something longer. Most of the competitions/writing submissions I’ve seen require a minimum of 1,000 words. My previous prompts have mostly been micro-fiction. Ultimately I would like to submit some of these, so I need to increase the length of my stories.

I tried to create a very vivid picture of the scene: dark streets, wet pavement, the lights shining on the damp concrete, and the settling fog. How effective did you find it? Is there anything I could improve?

More soon.