The Right Place

Lichen-covered slabs surround him; their once-crisp inscriptions have weathered away like the memories of those buried beneath them. If he died here, no one would find his corpse. The thought soothes him.

The smell of damp moss and rotten leaves embraces him like a shroud, calming him. Here, behind a tangle of thorny thickets, pricking anyone daring to intrude, is his hiding spot. The crumbling crypt within, entirely overgrown, obscures him from the eyes of the living.

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Do you have a song that instantly teleports you back in time? For me, that song is “With You” by Linkin Park. It reminds me of that perfect summer day when Mike, Jesse, and I were speeding down the highway in Mike’s blue Sunbird. When we were blasting our new favorite album Hybrid Theory from the rattling car speakers.

Mike was the first of us with a driver’s license. He had saved up enough money to buy himself a used 1992 Pontiac Sunbird. It was a bright-blue convertible, decorated with a thin red stripe along its sides, the inside smelling of vanilla and old smoke. I remember Mike spending hours polishing the car, despite it being scuffed up and having been rear-ended; Mike insisted that if you squinted your eyes hard enough, the football-sized dent was imperceptible. We didn’t care one way or the other: the car gave us the freedom we had been craving; its CD player provided the soundtrack. Nothing else seemed to matter. Quite unlike us, we weren’t self-conscious as we shouted along with Chester Bennington. That day, we were the cool kids, no doubt about it. Two weeks later, Mike was dead.

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No Memories

Vladimir didn’t know what it was about graveyards that freaked him out so much. He had plenty of experience around dead bodies and the fact that hundreds of not thousands, of bodies were buried 6 feet in the ground wasn’t something that bothered him. Maybe it was just the somber atmosphere of this place, now late autumn, when the trees were without leaves and, just like the rotting bodies below, were lacking the life force he desperately needed and craved. The sun had gone down early once again and he stood in the cold glow of one of the pathway lights ahead. He glanced at his chronometer and saw that it was almost time for his date with Mariah.

Maybe that was the reason for his nervousness. Mariah and he had met in much darker and more odd locales, but there was something about the way she had talked on the phone when she had set it up with him yesterday. He rubbed his neck and straightened his collar. He breathed in the cold air, closed his eyes and realized that he was quite hungry. When was the last time he had seen Mariah? It must have been over a week. Sometimes he lost track when the nights became longer and longer, too long, even for his liking. In the summer, people spent their nights outside. In the winter, the streets were abandoned at night like this stretch of graveyard.

He looked down at his watch and when he looked back up, he could see Mariah’s shape appear from the dark underneath the lights. He could feel his heart quicken and he had to swallow. Mariah had her hands in her pockets and the collar of her coat was pulled up as high as it went. The few blond strands of hair not contained by the kitted beanie swayed in the wind. Vladimir walked towards her, meeting her under the next buzzing fluorescent lamp.

“Hey, babe,” Vladimir extended his arms and when he hugged her, he noticed she had kept her hands in her coat pockets. He held one for another awkward moment and then took a small step back.

“Hello, Vlad,“ Mariah looked at him. Even with her eyes cast in deep shadows, Vladimir could see her bright blue eyes full of life. He swallowed.

“So, you want to go grab a drink?” Vladimir said, and put his hand around her shoulder.

“Listen, Vlad”

“Or do you have something else planned for us here?” Vladimir said with as much charm as he could muster, but he wasn’t feeling in control of his voice and it came out weak and broken.

“I need to talk to you.” Mariah took a step aside and freed herself from Vladimir’s embrace. “Or… I need you to at least listen, okay?”


Vladimir cocked an eyebrow and looked at Mariah, “Did something happen?”

“No, nothing happened, it’s just…,” Mariah trailed off.

“You know you can tell me anything, right?”

Mariah seemed to search for the right words. “You know, you’re a really cool guy and I really enjoyed our time together, —“

“Hey, don’t —“ Vladimir interrupted.

“No, Vlad, please.” Mariah spoke up louder, “Let me finish!”

They both stood still for a moment before Mariah continued, “Like it was really a lot of fun at first and even though it was super exhausting, I really looked forward to our dates. It’s just that…”

“What? What is it?”

“My mother has seen the bruises and started asking questions.”

“Don’t let you mother tell you how to live your life!”

“It’s not just my mother. I’ve had other people come up to me and ask me. I can’t keep wearing long turtlenecks all the time or scarves,” Mariah’s voice trembled. “I miss swimming!”

“Just say it, you’re ashamed to be with me!”

“It’s just so exhausting to hide.”

“Then why don’t you just live with me?” Vladimir held Mariah by her arms. “You don’t have to hide anything there!”

“You know I can’t do that.” Mariah pulled away, “It’s just too dark.”

“You know that I have a condition.”

“I know, I know, and at first I really liked our nightly dates,” Mariah was crying now, “but now I am always so tired at my job. Vlad, listen–”

“If you stay with me, you don’t even have to work!”

“You know I can’t do that. I love my job!”

“What if I don’t go for the neck anymore?” Vladimir said quickly, almost stumbling over his words “We could do the legs or maybe under your arm.”

“We tried that, and you hated it. I wouldn’t feel right asking you to do that.”

She was right, it just wasn’t the same, but he didn’t want to accept the idea that their relationship was ending just like that. With one hand, he gently took her chin and lifted her face up towards his.

“You don’t really want to do this,” he said as he was looking straight into her tear-filled eyes. 

For a moment she stood in place, then her hand shot up and she slapped Vladimir across the face. He let go touching his cheek where she had hit him.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” The sorrow on her face was replaced by anger. “Did you seriously try to control me?”

“No, I wouldn’t —“

“What is wrong with you?” She punched him in the shoulder and turned to walk away. “I can’t believe this.”

He tried to reach for her shoulder, but when he touched her, she spun around “Get away from me!”

He had never seen her so angry and he took a step back, lifting both his hands defensively in the air. 

She turned around and wordlessly walked away. He could hear her crying as she walked away. 

Vladimir just stood in the dark, watching her disappear as she left the cemetery. Once she was out of sight, he punched a statue sitting atop an old, breaking its head off. If he could, he would have punched off his own head.

What was he thinking, trying to gain control of her? He had panicked and didn’t know what else to do, but what would have been his plan? By the morning she would have realized what he had done anyway and now he had ruined whatever chance he might have had to repair their relationship. He picked up the statue’s head and placed it on top of the grave.

Vladimir sat down on a bench in front of to the large centerpiece of the cemetery, letting his head hang low. He wanted to run after Mariah, but he knew that there was nothing right now he could say to make it up to her, maybe never.

He hated how bad he felt and how vulnerable he was. He needed something to drink.


Once Vladimir regained consciousness, it took him a few moments to realize that the headache wasn’t just from being hungover. A beam of light that was hitting the right side of his face. He heard his own flesh sizzle and instinctively rolled out of the way of the beam of light, scrambling into a dark corner of the tiled room he found himself in. He tried to make sense of his surroundings and when he saw the urinals on the wall; he realized he must have passed out in a men’s restroom last night and nobody had come to check if everyone had been gone.

The beam of light that had burnt his face came through the dirty, shoe-box-sized window at the top of the room. He could hear the sounds of someone cleaning through the door and knew that he was stuck. There was no way he would be able to make his way back to his home with the sun already being up. His only hope was to hide away in here until it was dark enough for him to leave and hope that nobody would find him in the meantime. He quietly staggered towards one of the stalls, careful to avoid the rays of light shining into the room. He lowered the lid of the toilet. It looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in a while. The walls were plastered with crude messages written and scratched onto the walls from the bar’s many patrons. He sat on the toilet and rested his head in his hands. He just wanted to sleep, but he couldn’t afford to be caught, so instead he tried his best to remember the events of last night.

The last thing he could clearly remember was Mariah’s angry, tear-stained face, that she had broken up with him and he had made an ass of himself by trying to sway her with his gaze. If he wasn’t already having a massive headache at that moment, he would have punched himself in the head. 

At one point during the night, he must have gone to this bar and consumed an unholy amount of alcohol. You didn’t need to be a detective to figure that one out. He looked down at himself and saw that his pants had a tear on his right knee. At least he was still wearing his black coat. That one was one of his favorites. Then he saw that dried drops of blood on his sleeve, leading all the way up to his collar. Had he gone hunting last night and had been sloppy? He could not recall even a single moment from last night. His heart skipped a beat, and he hoped he had not compromised himself. Whatever he had done, he must have gotten away with it. For now, he had to focus on staying hidden until nightfall. 

He hoped that the current state of the bathroom was an indication that nobody would come in here to clean today. It was tempting to try to sleep off the hangover here, but he needed to stay awake, should someone come in.

A loud, upbeat melody pierced the relative quiet. Vladimir’s hand shot down into his coat pocket and quickly grabbed his phone and in his moment of panic, picked up the call, rather than just mute the ringing. With his heart beating fast in his chest, he pressed the phone against himself and listened carefully if someone outside had heard the phone ring.

Vladimir heard footsteps approach the bathroom door. He could feel the quiet voice of the caller coming from the headset. The restroom door swung open. He lifted his feet and stayed quiet, wondering what he could say or do if he was discovered.

After a few agonizing seconds, the door closed. The footsteps were now moving away. The person on the other end of the line was still calling out, and Vladimir slowly lifted the phone to his ear. Maybe it was Mariah, calling and telling him she had made a mistake, that their relationship wasn’t over. He glanced at the screen and saw that he did not recognize the number, and his hopes evaporated.

“Yes, hello?” Vladimir whispered quietly into the phone.

“Hello, am I speaking to… Vladimir Chuck Afanas?” the male voice on the other end said. 

“Yes?” Vlad said, not sure who would call him and how they had gotten his full name, but it made him nervous.

“Hello Mr. Afanas, we found you phone number listed as an emergency contact in Mariah Wolfe.”

Vladimir’s heart skipped a beat, followed by a rush of adrenaline shot through his body. He couldn’t say anything in reply.

“Sir, I am Detective Gambino. Are you related to Mariah Wolfe?”

His hands and feet were numb.

“I’m the boyfriend. Why? W-What happened? Is she okay?” Vlad tried to keep his voice low and from trembling.

“I am afraid I have some bad news. Miss Wolfe’s body has been found dead in her apartment this morning.”

Vladimir heard little after that. For a while, he just sat in the bathroom stall, trying to make sense of the words.

He felt he had just seen her moments ago and now she was supposed to be gone?

“Are you certain it’s her?” Vladimir asked, clinging to the last bit of hope.

“Yes, we could confirm her identity.” Detective Gambino said. “Mr. Afanas, are you in Blackside right now?”

Vladimir couldn’t be certain, but he had no reason to think otherwise.


“I know this is a difficult time, but would you be willing to come down to the station to make a statement?”

“A statement? For what?”

“As of right now, we are just making inquiries.”

Vladimir felt as if someone had punched him into the stomach.

“What happened?”

“We are not entirely certain at this point, but we are trying to figure that out. That’s why we would like to talk to you,” the detective said. “I can give you more information in person. Could you come by today?”

Vladimir stared at the dried blood on his coat in horror.

“I’ll be… I’ll be there tonight, I am…” Vladimir tried to focus and took a deep breath. “I’ll just need a moment.”

“Of course, I understand. I’ll be here until later in the day. If I am not around, you can speak to my partner Detective Phillips.”

After telling Detective Gambino that he was going to be okay, and that no, he didn’t need him to call anyone on his behalf, Vladimir hung up. 

Vlad’s head was spinning. What had happened last night and could he have killed Mariah? 

Note: This First Draft was part of NaNoWriMo 2021 – 30 First Drafts in 30 Days

Better Late Than Never

Jake was racing down the interstate, trying to get to his own wedding, which, according to his dashboard clock, was to start in 5 minutes. His silver ’93 Toyota Camry sputtered in protest. ‘No, not now!’ Jake slammed his fist onto the steering wheel when the engine died off and the dashboard lights went out. “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Jake kept repeating as he made his way over to the right shoulder, where he brought the car to a full stop. He turned his key in the ignition, but the car wouldn’t come back alive. He thought about Kelly, his bride-to-be, and when she reminded him to not overdo it with his buddies Tom and Christian, which was exactly what had happened last night. He hadn’t even been able to shake them both awake when he woke hungover just 15 minutes earlier, not that anyone would object to them not being there, especially not his wife or his mother-in-law. Fuzzy images from last night resurfaced as Jake frantically tried to get his car to start up again, but to no avail. He saw his clock tick even closer towards the deadline.

The expensive organ player they had hired would play some elegant songs until they were ready to march down the aisle. His massive fiancée’s family was probably all seated and ready to go, waiting for the groom to show up. Jake had no family what to speak of apart from Tom and Christian, his best friends since high-school. He had a few friends from work, who weren’t close enough for his in-laws’ liking, which meant they weren’t willing to pay to have more guests at the lavish event. Kelly’s father Charles (Chip for his friends) had made sure to constantly remind him how much he was spending for his daughter and told Jake to better appreciate it.

Jake couldn’t help but imagine the looks of disdain and Charles’ red face when he’d finally arrive. He turned the key once more and now the clicking sound of a drained, dead battery was the only sound coming from his engine. He’d have to call road-side help. He dropped his head on the steering wheel, then felt around the pockets of his suit. No phone. He must have left it at Christian’s place. He shouted another few expletives when a knock on the window to his left startled him. A bearded man with a baseball cap waved at him and Jake turned down the window. Jake must have not noticed that the man had stopped with his truck behind him.

“Hey, man, you doing alright?” the man asked. He looked to be about Jake’s age, but the beard made it hard to tell.
“I gotta be at my own wedding in,” Jake glanced at the dashboard clock “well, right about now and my car just died on me, I think last time I had her in the shop the mechanic said it’s the fuel pump. Now the battery is dead too. ”
“Oh damn, dude. How far is it?”
“It’s at Hill’s chapel.” Jake rubbed his forehead. His head felt like exploding. “Uh, maybe 10 minutes from here.”
“I got you man, I can give you a ride.” The man said and waved at Jake to follow him to his car. Jake grabbed his suit jacket from the passenger seat, got out, and followed the man into the truck.

Jake got in and the bearded man put his hand towards Jake.
“Nice to meet you Jake,” Bryan put his truck into gear, looked over his shoulder and accelerated onto the interstate.
“Thank you, I really appreciate it,” Jake said as he folded the visor down to quickly check out himself in the mirror.
“It’s cool, it’s kinda on my way anyway and I can’t let someone miss their own wedding.” Bryan smiled as he carefully navigated around an old station wagon. “Looks like you had a good time last night.”
“I think so,” Jake tried to force a laugh. Even with this lucky break, he was going to be in trouble. His stomach was in knots, just thinking about how Kelly would react.
Jake looked at himself in the mirror. He hadn’t shaved, and there was a pretty substantial bruise on his right cheek. He winced when he touched it and could not remember how he had gotten it.
Jake folded the mirror back up and let himself fall into the back of the seat. Playing on the radio was his favorite band. When he had suggested it for the playlist for the reception, Kelly had shot him down and had called it inappropriate. He loved the song.
“Would you mind dropping me off at the next exit?” Jake asked.
“Exit 25?” Bryan was confused. “That won’t get you to Hill’s Chapel. That’s two more exits away.”
Jake leaned back and closed his eyes.
“I know.”

Note: This First Draft was part of NaNoWriMo 2021 – 30 First Drafts in 30 Days

📷 Hungover Stuffed Animals by Miguel Tejada-Flores

🎼 B E N N – Synesthesya by kepasaparadoks.

🎼 Tekisse Music by Nammy Wams

Amateur Grave Digger

Have you ever dug your own grave? I don’t mean when you say something wrong and instead of correcting your mistake, you keep making it worse and worse. No, I am talking about literally digging your own grave.

Chances are if you are reading this you haven’t dug a 6 feet deep hole in the ground for yourself. Let me ask you: if you had to dig your own grave, would you do it wide and long enough to comfortably fit or would you be okay to be squeezed and bent a bit to fit? Of course you wouldn’t worry about doing an amazing job. What’s the point, after all? You’ll be dead. Why would you care, right?

Let me tell you why. There is a better than average chance, if you find yourself in the process of digging your own grave, someone is making you do it. Rarely we just wake up one day just, itching to dig for hours on end and then lay in that hole until we rot away. No, someone is forcing you and once you are done digging, they will want to make sure you’re not crawling out of there anytime soon. 

Let me tell you, digging a grave is a daunting task. After the first few hours you’ll be sore and your hands will bleed, because you lack the callous. In that moment, some part of you will wish for an untimely death, just so you don’t have to keep digging. Maybe that is part of the plan: Let the victim dig its own grave and then they will be too tired and worn out to put up much of a fight.

But we tend to cling to our fragile lives, so if digging with bleeding hands will keep you alive, you will dig the grave as big as it could be, hoping that the longer you keep this up, the more likely something will save you from your doom. At least that was my thinking, when I had been digging for quite some time in the brutal Arizona sun.

My captors had been kind enough to bring water, otherwise I would have probably died within an hour, leaving them to shovel away at the sandy soil themselves. Judging by the state the shovel and pickaxe were in, I was not the first person to dig a grave with these tools. Judging by the looks of the two men who had forced me at gunpoint into their car early this morning, this wasn’t their first rodeo, either.

The dynamic duo was sitting in the shade of their car, observing me. The larger of the two was cleanly shaven and completely bald. He was also quite rotund, sweating almost as much as me in the brutal heat. Wearing a black, ill-fitted suit was an awful choice as well. Let’s call him Mr. Magoo. And no, I am not that old. I just like old cartoons. 

Let’s call the smaller of the two Schnauzer. Because he looked like one. He was the opposite of clean-shaven and, just like the Schnauzer my parents used to own, he was missing a few of his teeth. He looked as old and almost as dessicated as a mummy, which would explain why, unlike his partner, he was barely sweating.

I couldn’t tell how long I had been digging, but I was and almost two feet down when they let me have a break. If I would not get killed by them, the sunburn would probably take care of that. 

“You know you don’t have to do any of this this, right?” I said, between gulps from a gallon jug of warm water.

Mr. Magoo huffed, “Is that your way of trying to weasel out of this?”

“Fair enough,” I said taking another deep gulp. “That wasn’t my best foot forward, but I can be quite persuasive when I need to be.”

“You’re not going to talk yourself out of this one.” Schnauzer said. 

“What if I bought myself out of it?” I said.

“We’re professionals, Clint.” Schnauzer said “You’re wasting your breath.”

“Well what are you going to do?” the heat and my impending death were getting to me. “Report me to the police?”

Schnauzer chuckled at that.

“Could you at least explain to me why you are doing this to me?”

“That’s not for us to disclose.”

“But what if you’ve mistaken me for someone else?”

Mr. Magoo chimed in “Unless there is another man named Clint Beacon, who also lives in 84 Upper Westwood Street, and looks just like you, we are pretty confident you’re the right guy.”

“Okay, enough water cooler chit-chat,” Mr. Schnauzer pointed his revolver at my face. “Lets get back to work.”

I grabbed the shovel from the ground and went back to my half-dug grave. “I know you plan to shoot me anyway, but would you mind not waving that thing in my face?”

Mr. Magoo chuckled at that “Sorry, force of habit.” 


The sun was setting and my hands had long-since passed the blister-stage. I was about four feet deep and I worried that Mr. Magoo and Schnauzer would decide that this was sufficient and just put a bullet in my head. Time was running out for me and I needed to make a move. I couldn’t just run. Even on a day where I had a nutritious breakfast and didn’t have to dig my own grave, I wouldn’t be able to outrun anyone, much less bullets. Using the shovel as a weapon seemed similarly pointless. Even if I knocked out one of the two, the other would happily shoot me. I could always try begging, but I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be able to sway these two, and even I had my principles.

I had an idea. If I could get Schnauzer to come close to the grave, I might be able to drag him down here with me, maybe even get my hands on his gun. I didn’t say it was a good idea, but when you’ve been digging for the past few hours and you are about to be shot, your brain doesn’t necessarily on all cylinders.

I dropped the shovel and grabbed my leg, loudly groaning in pain. I let myself fall onto the ground, out of sight.

“Cut it out,” Schnauzer called over.

I pressed myself against the side of the grave facing away from them, ready to grab for Schnauzer’s leg when he leaned over to look into the grave.

“Go check on him,” Schnauzer said to Mr. Magoo. 

Okay, this was less than ideal, but I wouldn’t describe any of this as desirable. If this is what I had to work it, so be it.

I could hear the footsteps getting closer. My heart felt like it was ready to leap out of my chest and I got ready to leap myself.

As I stared up into the orange sky, I saw movement in the corner of my eye and my heart dropped. I hadn’t realized that Mr. Magoo had walked around onto the other side and was now pointing his gun at my hunched form. I clenched my teeth, expecting to be shot, but what I heard instead was a guttural laugh. 

“You think we’re amateurs?” he chuckled. “Did you really think this was going to work?” 

At least he didn’t seem to take it personally.

“Actually yes, I thought it might.” I said, still crouched against the grave’s wall.

Schnauzer appeared next to Mr. Magoo. “Well, I don’t really blame you, at least you didn’t try to run.”

“I guess could still try that.” I said.

“Do you think that’d be a good idea?”

“No, I don’t,” I said, “but I’m open to suggestions.”

“What do you think?” Schnauzer turned to Mr. Magoo. “Looks deep enough to me.”

I slumped against the wall. I didn’t see a way out of this, but I wouldn’t sink as low as to beg for my life. I was too tired for that, anyway. I closed my eyes, hoping they’d get it over with quick. Then to my surprise, the next thing I heard were the car doors, followed by the engine sputtering alive. I slowly stood up, half-expecting to meet the barrel of one of their guns, but instead I saw the red rear lights of their rust bucket drive slowly disappear into the distance. 

I stood there in my grave for another minute until I carefully climbed out. Where they had parked their car, they had left something behind.

The last red of the sun behind the horizon melted into the dark sky, revealing the first bright stars of the night. What had just happened?


I felt I was missing an important piece of information. Why had they just driven off? Had they suddenly grown a conscience? Was my attempt at tricking them so pathetic they had pity on me and let me go? Neither of these seemed likely. Perhaps they were just playing a cruel joke on me?

I walked up to the thing they had left behind. It was a red backpack. I slowly opened it, somehow expecting it to blow up. 

Once I felt confident that the backpack would not blow me to pieces, I decided I should probably check its contents. The first thing that caught my attention was a closed envelope. Inside it was a letter, but it was already too dark to read it. 

I pulled out a canteen with water, a box with energy bars, a set of fresh clothes, and a sleeping bag. In the front pocket I found a compass, a small flashlight and a box of bandaids.

I shivered. My clothes were sweat-soaked, and the temperature quickly dropped. I turned on the flashlight and held it in my mouth as I changed my clothes as quickly as I could. Every single muscles hurt and my raw palms stung with every move. I unrolled the sleeping back and crawled inside, hoping it would keep me warm enough. I knew the night would get cold. 

I was starving, so I ate a few energy bars before I read the letter. I didn’t think it would make a difference, unless, of course, the letter would tell me that the energy bars were poisoned. Then again, I was so hungry, I would have probably still eaten them. Once I had shoved enough energy bars into me, I unfolded the letter and read.

Note: This First Draft was part of NaNoWriMo 2021 – 30 First Drafts in 30 Days

📷 Sunset Dream by ARt DiTommaso

🎵 Fresh Air by juniorGRAFX

🎵 se faner by Smoke On The Horizon

Not Alone In The Woods

I still remember the day we move into our little forest home in 1983. I remember drinking my coffee when I heard on the radio of the Challenger’s successful maiden voyage to space before my wife Laura and I headed out for the hour-long drive to our new home. For a while, it was the happiest we both had ever been, especially coming from the city. The doctors had recommended a less stressful environment for her and while she loved the city life, we both agreed it would be the best for both of us.

Three years later, Laura disappeared. One morning, her car was gone. Troopers soon found it half an hour away at her favorite beach of Lake Michigan, a single set of clothes neatly folded on the passenger seat, the car key resting on top of it. Laura had battled most of her life and our entire marriage with depression and schizophrenia. To this day, she is still technically missing, but I have no hope that she might actually be alive.

When she disappeared, I was briefly investigated, but once the detectives learned of my wife’s medical history, they quickly concluded that it was a shut and close case of suicide. They assume that one morning she drove out to the beach, undressed in the fresh morning air, walked into the surf and swam out into the ocean, where she inevitably drowned. To this day, her body has not been found, possibly still laying in the dark cold depths of Lake Michigan.

It has been over five years since I made the phone call to the police to report my wife missing. I maintain the house to the best of my abilities. The silence can be oppressive at times, but it also helps me write for long stretches of time. I didn’t maintain any contact with her family. I’ve been unable to shake the feeling that they hold me responsible for what happened. To this day, I still maintain her little garden in the back of our house.

I probably would have spent the next ten years, maybe even the rest of my life, in this house, surrounded by the woods if it hadn’t been for the events of the past few months.

It all started in early fall of last year when I was tending to Laura’s garden in the back, pulling the last weeds of the season. I can’t be sure anymore, but I think I remember seeing movement in the corner of my eye, further back in the woods. I expected to see some of the local deer or other critter, yet when I looked I could not detect any movement. Then my eye caught what looked to be a person, sitting on the ground. It looked like they were wrapped up in something. They were not facing me and my first instinct was to dismiss it as an odd looking tree stump, just in the right light. The high grasses were obscuring some of it. I dismissed it as a case of pareidolia, like when people first saw the ‘Face On Mars’ in 76 and lost their collective minds. I returned to pulling weeds and when I looked back up, I wasn’t able to see it again.

Over the course of the next few days, I seemed to notice it occasionally again, often when looking out the window from my study. I was certain that now that I knew it was there, I’d naturally see it more often. But something still seemed off to me. For one, I felt that it was never quite in the same spot. Once I began to notice this, I made a note of where I had seen it, even making a little sketch using the nearby trees as reference points. After that, it didn’t seem to change its place, allaying my worries. I decided that I had been working too much on my latest manuscript and decided to pay my editor a visit for a change of scenery.

Once I had returned a week later, I had almost forgotten about the shape in the woods, until I came across the note I had taken before I had left. I scanned the tree line for the shape, only to realize that it was nowhere to be seen. Part of me was relieved to not see it, chalking it up to a stump falling over or any other natural cause that might have moved it. Another, more primal part of me, was convinced that it had moved away, but was still there.

As much as I tried to put the thought out of my head, as much as I tried to distract myself with work and projects, the seed had been planted in my head that someone or something was moving around in the woods outside my house. For many weeks, I did not see the shape again, searching the tree line almost obsessively. The more time passed, the more certain I was that whatever I had seen was hiding itself from sight. My work slowed to a crawl, and I began to rely on sleep-aids to help me to at least find at least a fitful kind of sleep full.

One late afternoon, I saw it again. My heart raced, part fear, part excitement. This time I decided I would go out and find out what has been tormenting ever since I first saw it.

The sun had already begun to set, and the trees had lost most of their foliage, the wind blowing the last remaining leaves through the yard as I approached the gray, dark shape. As I got closer, I made certain to not keep my eyes off of it. As I was within 50 feet, I felt almost frozen in place once I was able make out the distinct features of a person.

I could make out that they were wrapped up in a grey, dirty blanket. Long dark and thick strands spilled out from their head over the fabric, their face was hidden under the tangle of their hair. I couldn’t tell if they were facing towards me or away from me.

I called out to them, let them know I could see them, asking who they were and what they were doing here. There was no reaction. The wind had picked up noticeably. The dirt fabric fluttered, strands of hair were carried by the wind. I called out again, but this time I had to start shouting over the howling wind. I felt like I was frozen to the spot, shielding my eyes against the wind and the last dead leaves were blown against me. I tried to take a few more steps towards the figure as I kept calling out to them until the figure started to raise itself from the ground. I still could not make out any of their features, just that they were tall. The wind pulled on their blanket and revealed the outline of a thin shape. Then the figure began to walk away from me. I tried to hurry after them, shouting at them, hoping for them to stop.

As I tried to keep my balance in the strong winds, I slipped on the wet leaves. As I looked up, I had lost sight of the figure. What if they had lured me out here? After all, they had shown themselves and then retreated into the woods when I came closer. Panic gripped me as I feared that they might have circled around and were going to ambush me. As fast as I could, I ran back to my house, experiencing a fear I have not felt since I was a child. A fear of what might be lurking in the dark. I reached the door and locked it behind me. I made sure that all windows were closed. The woods were dark and night would soon engulf the house completely. I locked myself in my study, curtains drawn. I was unable to sleep.

I decided that I needed to do something else and I called the police. I haven’t had any interactions with any police ever since their investigation into my wife’s disappearance. I reported a trespasser on my property and when the police officers arrived, I did my best to fill them in on what I had seen. I recapped my experience from last night and they asked me to show them where I saw the figure. I brought them to the last place I had seen the figure, but there were no signs that anyone had been here, with the floor being covered in leaves. They spend a few more minutes looking in the surrounding woods, but neither them could find any sign that anyone was here. They suggested that I might have seen a hiker or maybe a wild animal. I insisted that I hadn’t just see a wild animal, but when they asked me for specifics about the person, I couldn’t provide any details apart from the black hair and gray cloth it had wrapped itself in.

The senior officer told me that folks would see all kinds of weird things in these woods and that they had been called to three Bigfoot sightings this year alone. They could cleary tell how distraught I was and tried to reassure me how our mind can play tricks on us and how I shouldn’t feel too bad for calling them out here.

As they left I tried to replay the events of last night and weeks in my head, looking for anything to disprove to myself that I haven’t seen what I thought I had seen, that it had just been some sort of optical illusion, maybe even just high levels of stress. But I couldn’t. My memories weren’t hazy, I remembered every moment clear and detailed and every time I replayed it in my head, fear tightened its hold on me more and more.

What if the figure was watching me right now from within the woods? I closed the curtains, afraid to see it, but when they were closed, I began to fear that the figure might be waiting right on the other side of the curtain; waiting for me to pull them back. That night, I decided that getting a drink was the only way I’d be able to calm myself down. I had bought a bottle of Scotch the day Laura had disappeared, but only had one drink since then. I never liked the way it made me feel and how it numbed my pain. This time I embraced the numbness and after drinking most of the bottle, I managed to fall into a dreamless sleep.

When I woke hungover in the morning, I started to feel angry. Angry that I was afraid in my own home, the place Laura and I had spent our last few years together.

This was probably the moment I should have just gotten into my car and left this place behind, but anger makes you not think straight. Instead, I got into my car and headed into town, constantly keeping my eyes in the the tree line in case I saw the figure again. I couldn’t possibly spend another night feeling scared and defenseless.

That afternoon, I bought a small handgun for my self-defense. Laura and I had agreed to never have a gun in our home, and if it hadn’t been for the recent events, I would have been perfectly content to keep it that way.

It was as if they knew what I had brought back home on that day. No matter how often I went from window to wind and stared out into the tree line, I didn’t see the figure again for several weeks. I relied more and more on heavy drinking to help me fall asleep at night, fighting with myself to work on my manuscript.

Winter arrived one night, covering the house and woods in several inches of thick snow. I supplemented my heating with an almost constantly burning fireplace, regularly bringing stacks of wood in during the day. As the winter progressed, I looked less and less for the figure, allowing myself once again to let my guard down. Maybe whoever had been living in the woods near my home had to seek shelter some place else. I still carried my gun with me every time I left the house.

One night a particularly strong storm was raging outside, making the old wooden house groan and creak with every strong gust. I had nestled up next to the fire after having a few drinks, when I heard multiple loud bangs coming from the roof above me, like something being dropped on it over and over again. I thought tree branches were falling onto the roof, but as the loud bangs continued, I noticed the regular interval between them.

My mind imagined all the different things that could create such a regular thudding noise and as I tried to make sense of it, I seemed as if the gust of wind carried with it not only a howl but a piercing scream. It seemed as if it went on for several long minutes. Then with one more loud thud, the house shook, dropping my empty drink glass onto the floor. The wind had suddenly died off and I found myself sitting sweat-soaked next to the crackling fire as if nothing was amiss. Had I just had a nightmare and knocked the glass off the shelf?

Maybe I had even heard something fall onto the roof as I was sleeping and in my dream, it had taken a form of its own. I was unable to get any more sleep that night.

Once I could see the sun creep in from behind the blinds, I pulled them open to reveal the snowy landscape outside. I could see that multiple trees had fallen in the woods. I stepped outside to inspect the roof, expecting to find it damaged. To my surprise, nothing seemed to be wrong and I couldn’t make out any damages. Just as I had dismissed last night as nothing more than I nightmare, my heart stopped as I could clearly see a trail of footsteps leading from the back of the house leading all the way into the woods.

It was as if seeing evidence of something, anything really, sent me into some sort of righteous rage. All my stress and anxiety came crawling out to the light at once and without any further thought, I decided to confront whoever had been trespassing on my property and made my life of the past couple of months a waking nightmare. I was furious.

Having the trail to follow, I felt confident that I could confront the person and with the clear sky and the sun being high up, I could see clearly where I was going. To my surprise, the trail led fairly deep into the woods to a point where I wasn’t quite sure if it was still part of my property. Even if it wasn’t, the fact that they had come close to my home and I had seen them many times meant they had trespassed.

Soon my house was out of sight and I found myself deep into the woods, but soon after my eyes caught a structure in the woods in what looked to be an old stone foundation. It was half buried in snow, but I could still make out remnants of an old chimney. The trail was leading to what seemed to be a staircase leading below the foundation.

I had considered calling the police, but I wanted to make sure that whoever I had trailed was still here. The first few steps were covered in snow, but I saw that the footsteps were leading down into what I thought to be a former root cellar. I called down, asking whoever was hiding down there to come out and talk to me. There was no reply, and I tried a few more times. There was only silence coming from below. I decided I would confront whoever was hiding down there.

Looking back, it must have been the adrenaline coursing through my veins that compelled me to go down into the damp, dark space on a narrow staircase barely tall enough to stand. As I stepped down, my eyes began to adjust to the darkness.

As I stepped down into the small room of about 10 by 10 feet, I quickly realized that nobody was down here and that there was no sign of anyone camping. A curtain of roots was hanging down from the low ceiling, reaching down further like long knobby fingers.

As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I realized that I stood in front of a small wooden door, inset at an odd angle into the dirt wall across from me. I quickly raised my gun, expecting the door open at any moment. For another minute I stood frozen in place, before I stepped towards it. Then I heard it: A hushed conversation was coming from behind the old wooden door. I could only make out a single voice, but I was unable to understand what they were saying, too quiet for me to make out any single word.

This was it. Whoever had been hiding in these woods was behind this door. For a moment, I hesitated and looked around on the floor. If I could block the door, I could call the police and bring them here. My eye found an old wooden plank leaning against the wall next to the staircase. I holstered my gun and carefully took the board. I stuck it in the dry soil, making sure it found purchase, leaning the other end against the wooden door. In this moment, I almost felt triumphant. I quickly made my way out of the cellar.

I followed the path in the deep snow back to my home. I hoped that with the trespasser gone, I might be able to leave all of this behind me, reclaim some normalcy in my life.
I picked up the receiver, but there was no signal. The phone line must have had gone down in last night’s storm. I had no time to lose, so I decided to get into my truck and made my way into town.

Once I arrived at the sheriff’s office, only one of the officers was there. As I explained my situation to him, he seemed to be genuinely concerned. He radioed another deputy, and we decided to head back to the house. I showed them the path in the snow, which would lead them to the old foundation and the root cellar. I followed behind them and after a few minutes of walking through the snow we arrived.

They decided to send one of them down while his partner was waiting with me, in case whoever I had locked in had managed to get out. As the deputy walked down the stairs with his gun drawn, he made himself known. He kept calling out for whoever might have been down there. After he reached the bottom of the stairs, he stays quiet for a while and then eventually calls up with an ‘All clear.’ When the deputy returned, he was carrying the wooden plank I had used to block the door.

The deputy told us that there was no sign of anyone down there or a door. At first I thought I had misheard him. I was certain he had missed it. When I insisted that he check again, he asked me to follow him down into the cellar.

Once down in the dark cellar, I could immediately see that the door I’ve seen only a short while ago was gone. The deputy even showed me where he had found the board propped up against the soil. I felt along the cold dirt wall, hoping that whatever door I saw was just covered with a layer of dirt. But the door was gone. When he asked me if I was certain that I saw a door, I couldn’t help myself. The frustration and stress of the past few days had caught up with me and I shouted at him. He was taken aback and took a slow step back. I immediately apologized, but the deputy directed me up the stairs. As we reached the top, he asked me if I had been drinking and while I wanted to say no, I was aware that I probably still smelt like the half bottle of Scotch I had drank the night before. The two men exchanged a knowing glance, and all I wanted to do was to cry at that moment from frustration and anger.

That night, I decided I have had enough to drink and poured out any alcohol I had left down the drain. Once the night engulfed my house again, I knew I would not be able to sleep. I had forgotten to bring in more firewood during the day and since I would not want to go outside, I had to keep the fire low if I wanted it to burn continuously throughout the night. In the dark of the flames, I thought back to the voice that I heard in the cellar. Had I just imagined it? Was I just imagining it in that moment? I could almost hear it coming from within the house that night. I pressed my hands over my ears, closed my eyes and I started to hum to myself. I can’t recall now for how long I did this, but when I opened my eyes again, daylight was streaming in from behind the curtains. I realized then that I could not stay here, no matter how many memories tied me to this place.

I grabbed my unfinished manuscript, notes, and a few important documents from my study. I packed up a suitcase of clothes and brought it to the car.

I felt defeated. What was wrong with me? Had I really just imagined a door? Everything about that experience had felt so real. After all, I had seen and all I had heard, I had nothing to show for it, just doubts. I felt exhausted, but I needed to make sure that what I had seen in the cellar had just been my imagination. The trail leading away from my house was still there, the snow frozen solid by the cold temperatures from last night. I decided I would go back one more time, making sure I was not losing my mind. On my way through the woods, I was questioning everything I had seen. Had this all been in my head?

I reached the foundation and, standing atop the stairs, I listened. I was almost certain I could hear a voice come from below, but I dismissed it as my mind playing tricks on me once again. I slowly walked down the steps into the narrow catastrophic space below the old foundation.

There it was. The door. I must have watched it for several minutes. I just stared at it, unwilling to go any closer. It couldn’t be there. What I saw must have been just be in my head. I wondered what would happen if I tried to open it. Would it just disappear when I touch it or could I feel it’s cold, damp wood. As I got closer, I heard a voice again. This time it was clearer, yet I was still unable to make out distinct words. My hands reached for the door and as I felt the grain of the wood, I could feel tears run down my face. Then I realize that the voice was familiar to me. It was Laura’s voice. I could hear the fear in it mirror my own.

I reached for the handle and as my hand touched the cold metal, a head-splitting scream threw me back onto the ground. I scramble backwards away from the door as I heard Laura scream. Long, painful howls. The roots vibrated and dirt fell on me. I heard the screams as I was running up the stairs and back to my truck, all the way, as if she stood next to me.

It has been a few years since I experienced this and I have not returned to the house, nor do I plan to. Sometimes when I look out onto the street, I sometimes see a person walk by wearing grey clothes with long black hair and my heart stops for a split second. To this day, I still don’t know if any of the things I’ve experienced were real, but I won’t sell the house in case the figure still lives in the woods. Whatever they are, I hope nobody will ever come across them.

Note: This First Draft was part of NaNoWriMo 2021 – 30 First Drafts in 30 Days

📷 mood v3 by Hannes Flo

Class Struggle

“You wouldn’t get it, it’s a wizard thing”, Hestor said, dismissively waving his hand in the air, not even looking at Brutus.

“Hey, just because I am not trained in all of this magic stuffs doesn’t mean I’m dumb.”

“Well, I didn’t say that, it’s just that to explain what I am doing, I’d have to go through the basics of Thaumaturgy and for that I’d have to bring you up to speed on some of the basic guiding principles of magic energy which, frankly, not even Clyde would grasp.”

“Hey, why are you dragging me into this?”, Clyde asked. “Wait, did you just insult me?”

“I think he complimented you,” Adria quickly interjected. “He said if anyone would be smart enough to understand all this stuff, it would be you, but you’re still too dumb.”

“I’m not saying anyone is dumb,” Hestor lifted his hands defensively “All I am saying is that I spent a lot of time learning this and I don’t get paid enough to teach you how to do magic.”

“I just want to know how it works.” Brutus said.

“Give it up Brutus, let Hestor do his thing,” Adria put a hand on Brutus thick shoulder “You guys have other talents that Hestor doesn’t have.”

“Being strong or fast isn’t a talent,” Hestor mumbled as he made several complicated motions with his hand in front of the locked wooden door.

“I’m the one who’s not getting paid enough to be insulted by a beanstalk in a robe,” Clyde bit back and started to climb the stone wall of the mansion.

“What are you doing?” Adria asked. “Hestor is going to open the door.”

“I don’t need some second-rate magician to get into a locked house,” Clyde said as he reached the second floor window. “I’ve been breaking into places long before we had some kid with a pointy hat doing his fancy tricks.”

“They’re not tricks, they are spells!” Hestor replied without keeping his eyes off the lock. A few tiny sparks shot from his hands towards the keyhole. Hestor carefully turned both his hands sideways and an audible click emanated from the lock. “And the door is open!”

“I’ll get in on my own, thank you very much,” Clyde said as he pulled a small tool from his belt and jammed it under the window frame and wriggled it back and forth.

“Suit yourself,” Hestor said, and pushed open the wooden door with an audible creak.

Brutus pushed past Hestor. “You’re too fragile, chicken neck, let me go in first.”

“I’ll turn you into a chicken if you keep insulting me,” Hestor hissed back

“I’d like to see you try,” Brutus gave Hestor a big, challenging grin, turned and entered the mansion.

“Come on down, Clyde,” Adria called. “You don’t need to prove anything.”

“It’s about the principle of the matter,” Clyde said. He wriggled his tool back and forth a few more times and then pushed open the window. “See? No need for some fancy thaumaturkey,” Clyde grinned at Adria and disappeared through the open window.

Adria sighed and followed Hestor and Brutus through the now open entry door into the dark lobby of the mansion.

“We could use some light, professor,” Brutus said, standing in the dark. “Don’t you guys have torches?” Hestor asked.

“Why waste a perfectly fine torch, if we have such a capable and highly intelligent wizard with us?”

“My magic isn’t meant to be used for every inconvenience, you know?”

“Didn’t you use magic to float your drink from the bar your table just last night?” Adria asked.

For a moment, all of them stood silently in the lobby.

“Fine,” Hestor said, and a little flame appeared in his hand and floated above him. 

The flame illuminated most of the lobby. To their left and right were two doorways each, all of them closed. Between the doorways to the left and the right stood two large statues depicting the Baron and the Baroness of Wilderfell. The high up flame cast their faces into deep dramatic shadows. The walls were decorated with dozen of portraits of generations of Wilderfells, one uglieer than the next.

The doors leading to the four rooms were closed and the

At the end of the lobby stood a large, carpeted staircase leading to the second floor.

“My money is that they keep it in their bedrooms upstairs.” Adria said as she inspected the statue of the Baroness. 

“You’re probably right.” Hestor agreed. “Let’s find it and get out of here quick.”

“I say we look through all the rooms. I am sure they have all kinds of valuable stuff lying around.” Brutus said “You know, like rich people do.”

“We’re not being paid to rob them!” Hestor argued.

“Yes, we are!”

“Well, technically, but only the one artifact, not their silverware.”

“I was thinking more about gold and jewels.”

“It’s the same thing, you big ape!”

“Not even remotely,” Brutus explained “silverware is rarely worth anything at our fence.”

“That’s not what I meant.” Hestor said, exasperation in his voice.

“You said silverware.”

“I was just making—“

“Would you two stop arguing for a moment so we can get this job done?” Adria snapped at both of them, her voice echoing through the house. “Let’s go upstairs first and see if we can the damn thing and then we can decide what we’ll do next.”

She strode ahead of both of them, her hand reflexively resting on her dagger hilt. 

As they had almost reached the top of the staircase, they heard a commotion coming from of of the rooms down the hallway to their right. 

“I thought nobody was home?” Hector hissed.

“Nobody is.” Adria replied in a hushed tone, “We watched the place for an entire week.”

“Then what in the name of—“ Hector began as Clyde broke through a door into the hallway to their right. Adrian pulled out her gleaming dagger and Brutus, one of his hand-axes drawn, stepped past Hestor. 

The very next moment, Clyde was running towards them, but once he got closer, they realized that Clyde’s upper body and head were wrapped up in some sort of ornate, giving it the appearance of a rolled up carpet with legs.

“We got a magic carpet!” Adria called out and got ready to strike.

“I hate Mimics!” Brutus said.

“It’s a Rug Of Smothering,” Hector corrected.

“It’s eating Clyde!” Brutus argued back

“It’s smothering him.”

“Same th—”

“Let’s just get him out of it.” Adria ran forward just as Clyde had reached the top of the staircase and, with a single swing, cut a large gash along the entire width of the rug. Clyde’s forward momentum carried him over the edge and down the staircase. Brutus shot one of his muscular arms outward and grabbed the frayed ends of the rug, trying to stop Clyde’s fall. 

As the rug unrolled, Clyde spun around multiple times until he was free of the suffocating fabric and continued his fall down the staircase, screaming and at full speed

Clyde crashed into Hestor and both of the men rolled down the entire length of the staircase until they came to a stop with a groan at the marble floor of the lobby. Hector’s glowing orb of fire disappeared at once. 

Adria pulled out a torch and with a quick, practiced motion, lit it with a fire starter. She and Brutus quickly hurried down the stairs to check on the two men, who were laying across each other, with Clyde resting his head face down on Hector’s lap. Brutus took Clyde by the collar of his leather jacket and pulled him up. Adria helped Hector to his feet.

“I’m so glad you split the party Clyde,” Adria said. “how did that work out for you?”

“I didn’t think they’d have magic carpets trying to eat me,” Clyde said, rubbing his elbow.

“They’re rugs of smothering and they don’t eat you.” Hector groaned and wiped down his robe. “They try to smother you until you pass out.” 

“Same thing.” Clyde replied.

“Shhh!” Adria hushed both of them. “Listen!”

They could hear voices. People were approaching the mansion.

“Who’s that?” Hector asked.

“I don’t know, can’t be the Windfells, they’re nowhere near here.” Clyde said.

“Wilderfells,” Hector correct.

“Same thing,” Clyde bit back.

“Sounds like it could be guards?” Brutus suggested.

As if to confirm it, someone tried to open the front door and then banged his fist against the door several times, followed by a muffled, but commanding voice: “This is the Brockton Guard speaking. Whoever you are, we know you are inside. We have surrounded the building. There is no way you’ll get out of here, so may I suggest you surrender yourself.”

In the light of the flickering torch, the group looked at each other. “Great, thanks a lot Clyde.” Hector said, while staring at the rogue.

“Why me? I did nothing!”

“You just had to go through the window and then make a ton of noise!”

“If you wouldn’t have been such a massive pain in the ass, I wouldn’t have had to.”

Adria quickly jogged up the staircase and looked out the window near the top.

“Okay, so now it’s my fault now that we got the entire local guard coming after us?” Hector spat back. “Maybe it is,” Clyde stepped towards Hector, glaring at him, “maybe someone ratted us out?”

“Maybe it was you?” 

Brutus grabbed Hector and Clyde by the neck and lifted them both off the ground. “Could you two shut up for a second? I’m getting a headache!”

“Hrrngl” was the best Clyde or Hector had to say in their defense. “Let’s stop bickering like old ladies and get out of here, alright?” he looked at Clyde and Hector. Both their heads were turning red, and Brutus dropped the two on the ground.

“He’s not lying,” Adria called down to them. “They are in the front and back. At least 20 of them.”

The commanding voice echoed through the door, “If you are not cooperating, we will have to use force to get you to comply!” 

“Maybe there is a hidden path leading out from the cellar?” Brutus suggested to Adria with hopeful eyes, while Clyde and Hector were coughing on the floor in front of him. “We don’t even know where the Cellar is.” Adria reminded him.

“I am not paid enough to kill a bunch of guards,” Hector managed to finally say with a raspy voice.

Clyde coughed his reply “Yes, you are.”

“Nobody is killing anyone,” Adria reminded them. “We just have to find a way out of here.”

“Maybe we can get out through the roof?” Adria suggested.

“Worth a shot,” Clyde replied as he pulled himself up to his feet.

Before either of them could take another step, they heard several windows shatter all around them. Several small packages landed on the floor near the group. They were small wooden boxes of various shapes and forms, some more ornate than others. The smallest chest was about the size of an apple, while the largest one was about the size of a watermelon. There were now about 20 of these little boxes strewn across the large room.

“Are they throwing loot at us?” Clyde raised an eyebrow.

“I don’t think this is loot,” Adria bent towards one of the boxes, getting a closer look.

“Don’t say we didn’t warn you,” the commanding voice now boomed through the broken windows into the lobby. A shrill whistle followed. For a moment, no one in the group dared to move.

Suddenly, all the boxes wiggled. The little ornate box Adria had observed closeup, snapped open and revealed dozens of sharp little teeth. All the little boxes suddenly sprouted little appendages and began to close in towards the group.

“Now,” Hector said as inched backwards. “Those are mimics.”

Note: This First Draft was part of NaNoWriMo 2021 – 30 First Drafts in 30 Days

🎵 Achievement by pilotredsun

🎵 2033 by Roex

📷 Sharp point dagger by Kayaran

Black Betty

Betty was a special child. Before she could even speak a fully formed sentence, she had murdered her father. In all fairness, she barely did any of the actual work: a push was all that it took and the forces of gravity took care of the rest. In retrospect, it hadn’t been Joe’s best idea to roll up close to the cliff’s edge to peer over it. It only took a gentle push from his daughter to literally send him over the edge. The unfortunate fisherman who had been close enough to see her father fall to his untimely death, described the event in a surprising amount and detail to Officer Brinesworth, who had the good sense to exclude from his report the exact amount of rotations that the wheelchair and its occupant completed before they both crashed down into the rocky shoreline below. 

Betty’s mother blamed herself for not stopping Joe in the first place and then for letting go of her daughter to take a picture like her husband had asked her. While her composition was spot on, the panicked face of Joe already halfway off the cliff and a cheerful Betty watching him make his way down to his untimely death wouldn’t make a good Christmas card, it had cleared Betty’s mother of any wrongdoing during the following investigation.

Their relationship became even more complicated the day Betty’s second grade teacher Larissa Woolworth died in an unfortunate and tragic accident during a class trip to a museum. 

According to several eyewitness reports, upon seeing a large mammoth skeleton, Betty excitedly ran up to the display and ended up stumbling into the large skeleton. Later investigation revealed that the exhibit was installed incorrectly, leading to the collapse of the entire structure onto the 36-year old teacher. All Betty had to do was push ever so slighty in the right spot. Everyone agreed it was a miracle that Betty was not harmed.

While Betty was cleared of any wrongdoing, other than maybe being a child that got a bit too excited about old bones, Betty’s mother couldn’t help but be reminded of the past. It also did not help that PTA meetings became suddenly much more awkward. Word travels quickly when your child accidentally kills a teacher.

While many of the children in Betty’s class were shaken up by seeing their teacher being crushed to death by the bones of an extinct creature, they still treated Betty like most other children their age. That changed on Betty’s first week of high school, when she had inadvertently killed the schools principal Carl Hamfjord with her backpack. The rumor amongst her grade was that in a fit of rage she had beaten the poor man with her backpack and then thrown him through the window of the third floor.

The reality was much more mundane than that. While making copies, Betty had left her backpack on the floor behind her and, as the principal left, his feet caught in the straps. He stumbled head first out of the room into one of the large glass windows across the hallway. While the glass did not break, the entire window, including frame, just broke out of the wall, taking the principal and Betty’s backpack down with it. Luckily for Betty, Mr. Hamford’s secretary Mrs. Whistler witnessed the entire tragic event, for which she is still attending weekly therapy sessions.

Initially Betty’s mother insisted that Betty see a therapist of her own, but after the practice burned to the ground with the therapist barely escaping alive, Betty’s mother decided that there was no need to risk any more lives than absolutely necessary, when her daughter was spending most of her time alone in her room, kept mostly to herself, had good grades and didn’t do any drugs. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t all bad.

Betty’s mother didn’t use to be a superstitious person, but after your child is involved in three accidents resulting in the death of equally many people, you stop and readjust your view of the universe. Betty tried her best not to let her mother’s worry about inadvertently murdering another person rub off on her, but at school her new nickname Black Betty stuck for the rest of her time there.

To Betty’s relief (and that of her mother’s and the rest of the staff at the high school), she wasn’t involved in any more freak accidents or accidental deaths. The day she graduated high school, Betty even allowed herself to be hopeful that she could put all of this behind her.

A few months after graduation, Betty had been working the night shifts at their local Blockbusters. She had no intention of going to college or pursue any specific career. For now she was just glad to not be surrounded by kids her own age that whispered to each other when she was nearby and to finally earn some money. Most of her classmates had went off to college and Betty had settled into a steady rhythm of sleep and work.

One night she was looking through the classifieds of the local newspaper, keeping an eye open for any places to rent on her pretty measly salary. She had just circled an advert for a room for rent when she heard the screech of tires in front of the store. Since it was the end of her shift, she was the only person in the store when three masked people pushed into the store. The smallest of the three was clearly in charge and pointed a gun at Betty, while the others pushed video tapes into big canvas bags they had brought with them.

She did not realize she was being robbed until the mask gunman shouted his command again: “The cash! Come on, Missy. We don’t have all evening! Open the register!”

Betty had never considered that someone might rob a Blockbusters, especially not in their small town, so she was caught off guard, to say the least. 

“Do you want a bullet in your pretty head? Lets go!” the man shouted. 

Betty had no intention of dying a hero’s death for a video rental store, even if her manager was a pretty cool guy. She pressed a few buttons on the cash register and a drawer flew open. The man walked behind her counter and pushed her aside. Betty sput her hands on the desk behind her while keeping an eye on the robber who was now shoving the earnings of the day into his coat pockets. 

“Is that all? Where’s the rest?” the man asked once he had emptied the drawer.

“I’m sorry, but this is all.” Betty replied “We empty it every night and Tuesdays nights are super slow.”

 The robber lifted his gun to her head, the barrel pushed against her forehead “Don’t mess with me! Where’s the money?”

“I told you,” Betty felt behind her and her hand found the stapler “Tuesday’s are slow!” 

She had no intention of dying a hero’s death, but she also had no interest in dying because her robber was bad at planning and anger issues. Betty closed her eyes and clenched her teeth as she swung the stapler at the robber’s head. The hefty piece of office equipment connected with the robber’s temple with a satisfying thud and the man fell sideways, his head hitting the corner of the yellow countertop, leaving behind a red spot as he crumbled. As the man hit the floor, a shot went off and for a horrifying moment, Betty thought the man had shot her. When she heard a groan and gurgle she turned around and saw one of the other men grasping for his throat, stumbling sideways into the shelves, spraying blood from his throat all over the shelves next to him, before he sank to his knees and ultimately crumbled onto the dark beige carpet where he laid motionless. The third of the group had just seen his colleague crumble to the floor in a fountain of blood after hearing a shot and decided that no amount of video tapes was worth whatever had just happened. Betty watched the robber run out of the store only to be hit full force by a speeding pickup truck, who then proceeded to crash into the robber’s getaway vehicle. 

Standing next to the lifeless body in the middle of a Blockbusters at the end of her shift, holding a stapler in her right hand and looking at the burning wreck across the street, Betty realized that something might be wrong with her.

Note: This First Draft was part of NaNoWriMo 2021 – 30 First Drafts in 30 Days

🎼 Achievement by pilotredsun

📷 Chartbusters – Please Rewind by M i r u

The Monarch

Leoric hadn’t sold a tombstone in over a month. There have been weeks before where he could work uninterrupted on his intricate tombstone designs, but those times had long since passed. Despite or because of the often sad nature of his work, he had built himself a reputation as an artist who could carve the most beautiful tombstones, turning the grave into a place worth visiting for the beauty of the inscribed and carved stone alone. Given how unpopular dying was amongst humans, he had become quite popular himself.

Knowing that they would admire his work for decades, if not centuries, filled him with a deep satisfaction. But satisfaction was not enough to pay the bills and put food on his table. Leoric lived a frugal life in a small two-story home with an old, mossy roof right next to his substantial workshop, filled with a large variety of stone slabs and worn down tools. The only real expenses he had aside his little shop were his animal friends, who he at most times treated better than himself. Leoric would have rather starved himself than to deny one of his furry and feathered friends to go hungry.

Maybe someone would come to his workshop tomorrow. Maybe a widow or a daughter, wearing the customary black clothes that would inevitably be covered in the white dust of his other sad projects.

They would spend some time talking about the loved ones they had lost. The people that came to him had cared deeply about the recently passed, he knew. If you did not care about the person when they were alive, you certainly didn’t start caring once they were dead. Commissioning a custom project to adorn a grave is not something you bother with if you have no interest in visiting the grave in the first place.

Sometimes their clients had young children with them. Leoric couldn’t help but nervously watch them as they touched his tools and stones. He wouldn’t reprimand him unless the child was about to hurt themselves. Kindness and understanding were part of his success and his heart ached for the children, too. 

As Leoric hung up his apron and stepped out of the workshop into the chilly autumn evening. When he heard Hermes’ wings flap, he put out an arm, and a moment later, a black shadow settled on it. “Hello?” a large crow asked.

“Good evening, Hermes!” Leoric said, put his arm towards his body and the crow eagerly stepped up onto his shoulder. “What have you been up to all day?”

“Hello?” the black crow repeated.

“Oh really? Well, you’ll have to tell me all about it!”

Leoric continued his walk towards his little hut. His bones were chilled from the cold air in his workshop. Tomorrow he would fire up the stove in the corner, but for now he was looking forward to warming up in front of his wood cooking stove, while Hermes would cause mischief. His mouth watered at the thought of the fresh bread and salami that were waiting for him,

Leoric stepped under the small awning in front of the door and took off his dirty boots, while Hermes tried to keep his balance. Then he carefully opened the heavy wooden entry door, careful to not squeeze in one of his cat’s tails. Tobias, the oldest of the feline trio, poked his head through the crack and purred loudly, circling around Leoric’s feet. 

“Yes, yes, you can’t wait for your food.” Leoric said, carefully stepping into his dark home, “Give me a second, will you?”

Hermes loudly meowed into Leoric’s ear and Tobias meowed back loudly, followed by a hiss when he laid eyes on the black corvid.

“Hey, you two, no fighting tonight!” Leoric said, closed the door behind him and flicked on the hallway-light on. In the dim incandescent glow from the ceiling lamp, Leoric’s eye immediately fell onto the large insect resting on the handrail of the staircase: a gorgeous Monarch butterfly was slowly moving its wings up and down. 

Tobias stared up at the insect, his teeth rhythmically chattering in frustration.

“What are you doing here?” Leoric stepped towards the Monarch and gently put his calloused hands towards the butterfly. It was way too cold and late in the season for a monarch butterfly to be anywhere in this region, much less inside his house. How had it gotten in? The butterfly put one leg after the other onto Leoric’s warm hand. 

“This one’s not for dinner,” Leoric said and quickly added, “That goes for both of you.”

He carefully stepped through the hallway into his kitchen, making sure to not startle his unexpected visitor. He had no doubts that once the butterfly fluttered through the rooms, none of his other house mates would share his concern for the well-being of the insect. With the past few weeks being drab and sunless, Leoric himself couldn’t help but just stare at the bright orange colors of the wings. 

Hermes hopped off of Leoric’s shoulder onto an old mahogany coat rack, which had been re-purposed by Hermes. The crow fluffed up and started preening itself, clearly not interested in the new small guest. Leoric put the butterfly on a shelf above the sink and put kindling and fire starter into the wood stove. 

“Let’s get us all warmed up, shall we?” Leoric said, as he carefully lit the fire-starter with a match. The miniscule flames slowly trailed along the firestarters, slowly making their way onto the kindling, releasing a comforting crackle and smell of burnt pine into the small kitchen. Leoric rubbed his stiff hands in front of the open flame before he tossed a larger piece from the small woodpile next to the stove. He almost smothered the budding fire, but then it roared back to life as it feasted on the carefully dried wood. Satisfied with the progress, he took the salami and bread and set his place at the small kitchen table in the middle of the small room, all the while Tobias was loudly meowing for food. Since Hector and Troubadour weren’t here to join, the discordant cries for food meant that they were still prowling around outside. They were excellent hunters and had probably stuffed themselves with the mice and critters that lived all over Leoric’s property.

Leoric grabbed a small tin can from the shelf and opened it into a small clay bowl on the floor. Tobias was already hastily chewing away the wet cat food with a happy growling purr before Leoric emptied the entire can. Some of the falling wet food stuck onto Tobias’ nose. 

“You’re not much of a hunter, hm?” Leoric said as he stroked Tobias’ fur as the cat kept greedily wolfing down its food.

Hermes sat content on his coat rack perch, closing his eyes and letting the warmth from the fire soak into his skin under his iridescent plumage. Finally, Leoric sat himself down at the table and cut the salami and bread into thick slices. He hadn’t realized how hungry he had been and downed several pieces before he slowed down. All the while he watched the Monarch butterfly on sitting high on the shelf, folding up and out his wings. It seemed a little more lively as the temperature in the small kitchen rose. Then suddenly, the butterfly took off. “Oh no,” Leoric said with his mouth full of bread as he tried to get up out of his chair.

Hermes had nodded off and Tobias was licking on of his paws, satisfied by the meal, so luckily they paid no attention to the flying insect. Then the butterfly landed on Leoric’s knee, closest to the fire and spread its wings again, yellow light of the flames made the monarch’s wings look like they were made of fire themselves. Leoric leaned closer to get a better look at the butterfly, maybe seeing something that would explain why it had not migrated with his species weeks prior. 

It almost looked to him that the butterfly was glowing on its own. At first, Leoric didn’t quite understand what he saw, but the butterfly glowed even brighter by the second. Leoric found himself unable to look away from the glowing insect on his knee. Then the light quickly filled the entire room and became unbearably bright. Leoric shielded his eyes and Hermes gave an alarmed, high-pitched scream and flapping his wings.

As quickly as the light had come, it disappeared again, leaving Leoric temporarily blinded. His eyes adjusted back to the dim darkness of the gently burning fire from the woodstove and he could see a large shape sitting on the ground. A few of Hermes’ downy feathers sailed through the air and one of them gently landed on it. A small cry escaped Leoric when he realized that there was now another person sitting on the floor of his kitchen.

Note: This First Draft was part of NaNoWriMo 2021 – 30 First Drafts in 30 Days

🎼 Blank Fashion Mystical by Acetantina

🎼 Time And Place by Adel Akram

📷 Monarch by shell game

My First Time

I know that starting a story with an excuse isn’t the best foot forward and that the events should speak for themselves. The problem with these events is that they don’t put me in a good light. Sure, I could pretend that I didn’t need a stranger’s approval, that I am more emotionally mature than that, but the truth is, that I am not. I am not asking for forgiveness, but I am hoping for at least some sort of understanding to why I did what you are about to read.

I know that I have done plenty of scummy, even downright bad things to people, and I am not proud of it. 

I could also give you the whole spiel about my fucked up upbringing, but to be honest, my parents are pretty stellar people and try as hard as I might, I can’t pin any of my dumb life choices on them.

Yet, it is important for me to put the record straight before you read what’s coming up ahead: I chose none of this and if I knew about what would happen, I would have done anything to avoid it.

I didn’t use to believe in fate, but it has become increasingly hard for me to believe that these things I’ve experienced and written are just coincidences. 

I won’t bore you with my childhood, my rebellious teenager phase, or even my early twenties. There are some good stories in there, but compared to what happened on the day after my 29th birthday, they will seem like your distant relatives vacation photos with Aunt Mae you have to sit through, while you are completely sober, secretly wishing you could give yourself alcohol poisoning, just so you can out of there. I know this analogy sucks, but it happened to me and I like it. Anyway, I am rambling, so let me get back on track.

I was still hungover from the bar crawl (involving the only two three bars in town) with my two buddies, Jessie and Tumble. (No, I don’t can’t tell you why we call him Tumble. He somehow ended up with the nickname and nobody can remember why, which is good enough of a reason to keep it.) Getting blackout drunk only seemed like the only appropriate way for me to celebrate the fact that this would be my last year in my 20s, before I inevitably turned 30, still single with no dating prospects and stuck in a dead-end job. I’ve thought long and hard about the reason for that, but I think Jessie had put it succinctly: 

“You’re an asshole, Pete.”

I tend to argue with him about his evaluation of my character, but after a few drinks, I usually end up wholeheartedly agreeing with him. I am an asshole. 

Let me give you an example: I once broke up with a girl by sending her pictures of me and my new flame fucking. While I thought the pictures were actually quite tasteful, I can see why it was a shitty thing to do, even if the girl I sent them to was kind of an asshole, too. Problem is, I am often too impulsive and get carried away, because the day after I sent the picture, the entire town had seen it and known about what a massive dick I was.

Not that this is something particularly impressive in of its own, since Chesterton is a small shit hole somewhere in the bumble-fuck of the Midwest. You know, one of these places where dating your cousin isn’t quite so frowned upon, since at least it isn’t your sibling. People have low standards and somehow I managed to not even clear that bar. I should let you know I don’t have any siblings or cousins, just in case you thought I was implying any of that.

The town now also knew about my less than average equipment between my legs, which probably won’t surprise you, but doesn’t improve your dating prospects in the slightest.

Since my birthday fell on a Tuesday, I had to drag myself with bloodshot eyes and a formidable blood alcohol level to my day job.

You probably think that I must work on some farm or some pit stop garage or whatever else the good people of Chesterton would consider honest work for a “real man”. It might surprise you to know, that I work in a minor branch of a national insurance agency. I certainly am when I sit at my small desk, overflowing with papers that still need but most likely will never be filed away. 

The office itself is located in the former living room of a small two-story house. Pete, my supervisor, lives on the upper floor, which leads to several instances of him prancing half-naked through the office, while I had one of our clients argue with me over what is and isn’t covered by their insurance. This stuff really hurts the thin veneer of professionalism we try to put on.

Maybe you’re wondering why a tiny shit hole town like Chesterton needs an insurance agency. Or you’re not. I’ll tell you, anyway. Everyone here knows someone who has lost a finger, a hand or some other part of their body in some sort of gruesome accident involving power tools, combine harvesters (which is just a enormous power tool, if you think about it) or other limb-destroying machinery. So selling injury insurance is surprisingly easy and as Dave explained to me once while chewing his morning bagel, sitting on his desk without a shirt: “Once you get them scared about one thing, you can scare them about all sort of other stuff.”

Essentially, we exist because we are good at up-selling insurance that nobody here will ever need. 

Just last week, Pete convinced his neighbor Mabel that she absolutely needs flood insurance. Mind you, this town sits atop a steep hill in one of the driest regions in the country. 

Once Mabel had left the office, Dave had said with his most genuine expression of concern, “At least she can now sleep comfortably, knowing we insure her property should her house be washed away.”

“That’s because you scared that woman almost into a heart attack,” I said, while filling in the policy details for Dave’s newest policy in my ancient office computer.

“You know killing our customers isn’t good for business.” Dave said as if he was quoting a passage from the employee manual and with a big grin added, “You should know that from your training!”

“What training?” I said, and grinned back.

I never said I was the only asshole here. Dave was just better at keeping up appearances.

I didn’t like Dave, but at least he wasn’t giving me any grief, and this job was a fairly decent way to pay my rent.

I don’t know who or what put a nest of wasp up his ass that particular day, but when I arrived a few minutes too late for my shift, Dave gave me a lot of shit. He dumped an entire wagonload of horse manure on me. My lax attitude, my lack of organization, even how my suit looked that morning – everything was on the menu.

Dave’s been in bad moods before, often when some claim comes through that corporate can’t wriggle their way out of. The fat cat above him them shits on him, he then shits on me and I drown my frustration in alcohol. Circle of life.

While I can endure my boss giving me shit as much as any worker with bills to pay and no other useful skills on their resume, my head was already ready to implode from the bar crawl last night. Every plosive coming from Dave’s mouth was like a tiny dagger being jammed into whatever brain matter I hadn’t killed off the previous night with alcohol. If it wasn’t for Dave’s awful breath, I might have been able to keep my stomach contents inside myself, but as the ragout of beer, onion and cold smoke hit my nostrils, all bets were off.

I managed to projectile vomit directly onto Dave’s laptop, which would have been bad enough, but when he tried to push me away from his desk, another large swell of stomach burst forth, directly aimed at Dave’s face and chest. If I wasn’t feeling like death, I might have been able to appreciate my aim. Dave wasn’t quite seeing it that way, and I don’t blame him. I covered him it what I can only describe as a concoction of half-digested chili and various liquors. You don’t need to experience this yourself, to know that it would really, really suck.

Not sure how long we both stood in the room like this, vomit dropping from Dave’s chest and dripping from my chin, but as soon as Dave snapped out of his shocked stupor, he threw a mean punch, throwing me against the wall. Fair enough, I thought, that man has a point. The shit really hit the fan though as continued to charge at me, decking me in the face again and again. It all happened quick and I said before I was still pretty dazed, so I don’t know how many punches he landed into me, but I found myself laying on the floor with him kneeling on my chest and me shielding my face from his blows. I am pretty sure I felt something break in my face and my mouth seemed to fill with my blood.

Then I distinctly remember I felt something akin to a jolt of electricity shooting through my entire body. My mind suddenly cleared up, and the pain disappeared as if wiped away in an instant. I caught Dave’s fist coming towards my face with my hand and kept it in place. Then, without thinking about it, I brought my hand up towards Dave’s face, pushing my palm against his cheek. Dave froze up immediately. I saw see the vessels in his eyes bursting at once, turning his eyeballs instantly into bright red marbles. A small trickle of blood flowed down his face and onto my chest. Then he slumped forward, pinning me down with the weight of his limp body.

I quickly rolled him off of me onto his back. I sat back against the wall, partially covered in my vomit and either mine or Dave’s blood. 

I flunked biology class, but I could immediately tell that Dave was dead. I had just killed my first person.

Note: This First Draft was part of NaNoWriMo 2021 – 30 First Drafts in 30 Days

I wrote this first draft for NaNoWriMo 2021 – 30 First Drafts