Kierk

It was well after first moonset when Kierk hauled himself onto the craggy plateau and looked down at the sleeping city. Borysi III was small. The smallest place in the multiverse, Kierk thought, and the more he’d grown, the smaller it had gotten. Now, from above, it looked like a metal pock on the face of the landscape.

                A few hours earlier, he had woken in a cold sweat after dreaming that the constricting walls had closed in and sealed him up like a can of Garvian Mash. Most nights he would’ve sighed mournfully into the dark, rolled over, and gone back to sleep. But not tonight.

                Kierk got up and snuck out, past the mineral grinders and prism bays, to the base of the Borysinnian walls. He shuffled his heels back against the cold metal, looked down at his feet, took a step, and started counting. Other Borysinnians were milling around. The night shift. Kierk ignored them. He had as much distaste for the people as the place. Every year their brains seemed to shrink until he wasn’t sure anything filled their curly-horned heads.

                Borysi III was known for its prism shaping. Each of the bays Kierk passed, counting softly as he went, were mounted with several carefully sculpted prisms, mined from beneath the city. When powered by lunar light, they sent whatever was inside the bay hurtling through the cosmos to the destination indicated by their alignment.

                (This might sound like magic. It’s not. It’s highly scientific and explained in great detail in Regival’s Prismatic Potency in Relation to Cosmic Disruption and Traversion. Magic is just science that isn’t understood yet, and any Borysinnian who heard mention of the arcane would think the speaker had been snorting too much prism dust.)

                Cans of mash and metal crates packed with raw crystals were stacked up and dropped through the infinity of space to the strange locales across the multiverse that needed such things. Borysi III was a hub of comings and goings. But they hadn’t yet solved the problem of space being very cold. Whatever was sent arrived frozen solid, and if handled improperly, crumbled into dust.

                If Kierk’s dream did come true, at least he would be zapped off to an unknown destination, pried open there, and have one last, grand adventure sliding down some foreign gullet. But it was just a dream. Flesh and fluids couldn’t travel the way of the Garvian Mash.

                When Kierk reached the opposite wall, he sighed and sagged. Every planetary cycle he paced the diameter of the city to measure it, and as he suspected, every year it had shrunk.

                If his brain was as remarkable as he fancied, he would’ve realized this was because every year his legs and feet had grown. However, it could be argued that the place did get relatively smaller since he took up more of it. Either way, the number he had totaled left him discontent.

                An idea was forming in his pubescent brain, and on that night, under the light of the first moon, he found the angst to execute it.

                He left Borysi III with a filtration mask anchored to his horns and climbed the surrounding rugged cliffs. When he reached the top, the second moon had risen and the third glowed on the horizon. The prisms in the pack on his back clanked as he adjusted the straps. He intended to open a portal to the Forbidden Zone, and then… well, he hadn’t thought that far ahead. But forbidden with a capital F was a tempting thing indeed.

                Kierk crossed the plateau and crept into a small, dark cave. He drew a circle in the dust on the stone floor and set prisms at each focal point. Without the stability of a prism bay, he could only hope for a shaky and temporary portal, but it would be enough to peek through.

                The light of the third moon crept across the floor, licking at the edges of the farthest prism. Kierk rearranged, realigned, reconfigured until a web of light stretched between the prisms and they shook and danced in their places around the circle.

                The lunar light glowed, refracted a thousand times onto and into and through itself. Then it flashed and disappeared.

                Kierk peered into the circle. It was dark. The third moon had moved on, and only by squinting could he see that the circle was slightly darker than the darkness around it.

                In actuality, it couldn’t be dark because it was nothing. Not the nothingness people refer to when they mean the absence of something, but true nothingness. The absence of everything.

                The night was still and silent, and so was the puddle of nothing. Then a shift and a slight change in color. The nothingness had become something. Something big trying to crawl through. A mammoth foot appeared first, anchoring claws in the rock. Then the tips of two tufted ears. When the head squeezed through, Kierk thought there was no way the rest of it could follow, but it kept wriggling and writhing and twisting until another foot and a long furry body and two more feet and finally a long tail slid through.

                The prisms scattered, and the portal snapped shut.

                The creature that had crawled out of nothingness shook itself, raining Kierk with ice crystals. It stretched its back and yawned, razor claws arching out of its paws. Then it sat up and curled its tail around its feet. But the cave was shorter than it was, so it had to hunch under the stone ceiling and its head slid down between its massive shoulders.

                Unblinking yellow eyes stared at Kierk, who was standing welded to the floor.

                The creature’s appearance had startled him. Until that moment, a living thing passing through a prism portal had seemed an impossibility. He probably should’ve run away screaming. He didn’t. Anything might happen when dabbling with the Forbidden, and the cocktail of hormones in his brain granted him a certain crazed immunity to common sense.

                “Salutations,” he said nervously, quieter than he intended.

                The creature stared, one ear twitching as it brushed the rock ceiling. Its pupils dilated until the yellow eyes turned jet black.

                “What are you, if you don’t mind?” Kierk asked, unsure the thing could talk and wondering if he was making a fool of himself.

                “I am existence,” the creature said promptly. “The universe. The cosmos. The whole of life embodied, contained, turned in upon itself. Where it is made whole and nothing. Complete and separate. Possible and impossible. Yes and no.”

                “Oh,” Kierk said.

                “I suppose I’m here now,” the creature said. “So, if there’s something you want, hurry up and say it. Infinity passes one moment at a time.”

                “I’d like to leave this place,” Kierk said cheerfully. “I’d like to go somewhere else.”

                “Where?”

                “Somewhere… else.” Kierk faltered.

                “I suggest specificity,” the creature said. “I believe you organic organisms require certain conditions to survive.”

                Kierk considered this. His knowledge of other places was limited. They were there, somewhere, and he wasn’t. “Well, where did you come from?”

                “The void,” the creature said, casually flexing a paw.

                “Oh. Is it nice there?”

                The yellow eyes pinned him. “It’s a void. It’s nothing.”

                “Oh.”

                The creature sighed. Apparently, existence was impatient. “What if I showed you the universe and you selected a place? Can you do that?” It looked as if it wasn’t sure he could, but Kierk nodded eagerly.

                The creature lay so that Kierk stood between its massive front paws and opened its mouth. There were no teeth or tongues or throat, just a warm breeze from a dark, empty cave. Something flickered deep within. A light. A flare. The expansion of nothingness into everything. Nova imploding and exploding. Stars flaming and dying. The crash of cosmic waves against strange, ethereal shores. Planets of every shape and size wheeling through the endless dance. Some clamoring with life; others wastelands of dust and raging storms. Life surging to its peak and falling into decay.

                A tear ran down Kierk’s cheek. His eyes stung, but he couldn’t blink, couldn’t look away from the horror and beauty. The creature’s mouth stretched into a cavernous yawn, then shut.

                “See anything you like?”

                But Kierk was already scribbling scrambling down the rocky mountainside. He only stopped when he’d pounded back inside the metal walls and leaned his hands on his knees to catch his breath.

                He had seen only glimpses of other worlds through the holes the prisms made. In his mind, the whole of the multiverse couldn’t be that much bigger than Borysi III. Maybe a little, but not by much. He bent over and panted and thought about throwing up. It was a rude shock to go from being a relatively large person in a relatively small space to a tiny, insignificant speck.

                He straightened up and patted the stiff metal wall next to him. At third moonrise, Kierk would’ve said those unforgiving boundaries kept him in. As the third moon set and he crawled back into bed, he knew they were keeping the rest of the world out.

                Borysi III eventually solved the cold problem. But when given the chance to leave his metal cocoon, Kierk stubbornly shook his head and said he was fine where he was. The bigger his world became, the smaller it made him. So, he kept his world small. He never saw the magenta shores of Rysian IV shining with the spume of green waves or the endless torfa fields of Yyrian II. He never knew the thrill and terror of stepping from one world to another and glimpsing infinity in between. He lived hemmed in by walls, walls he wouldn’t look past for fear of seeing two black eyes of nothingness staring back at him.

                He did become the finest prism shaper in Borysi III, so that’s something… I guess.

Foreign Correspondence

Her oxfords had been laced, her lips rouged, and after a final peep in the mirror, she flung open the door.

“I’m terribly sorry,” said the man in the hallway, hand poised to knock and a bewildered look on his face.

“For what?”

“I…” He smoothed his hair and tugged his tie straight. “I’m terribly sorry to disturb you, but it seems our mail was misdelivered. Poor record keeping. I’ve yet to stay at a hotel without appalling records.”

There was a pause, each watching the other expectantly, until the man in the hallway cleared his throat and continued.

“I was awaiting some letters, but I received this instead.” He tugged a rumpled envelope from his suit pocket. “Is it yours?”


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

~ R. E. Rule

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.

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.

Tiny Tales: An Announcement, A Contest & A Teeny Tiny Tale

Writers! There’s an important announcement in here for you!

The latest episode of Tiny Tales is now live on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, Buzzsprout, and the Tiny Tales webpage.

Tiny Tales is a weekly podcast of short stories spanning horror, fantasy, comedy, and everything in between. Written and narrated by R. E. Rule. Music and production by Frank Nawrot (www.franknawrot.com).

This Week’s Episode:

Episode 57: Are We There Yet? Tiny Tales

“Humans are strange creatures. Death is the only certain thing you have, yet you’re so terrified of it. I don’t think you like certainty as much as you say you do.” Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/rerule)

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.**