Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 292)

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 18

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  Making people smile

MINIMUM WAGE

She had a retail job selling food products at a counter for consumption, a bakery-café with baked goods, sandwiches, soups, and salads.  The products had a certain amount of natural romance to them.  The entire shop was perfumed with the scent of baking bread.  You could get coffees and lattes and espresso drinks, chai, smoothies, that sort of thing, cups of tea in porcelain mugs so thick that your tea would stay warm however long you worked on your laptop back in your booth and when you were done you could beat someone over the head with the mug, you know, in case of zombie invasion.  The word “diet” had been eradicated from the menu.  It was comfort carbs with carbs on the side, that kind of place.  And she, like all the girls who worked the counters (only gay guys worked the registers; the rest of the guys worked on the sandwich line or in the back, more macho), she was supposed to smile.

I must always be selling something, she thought, I am always being told to smile. Otherwise she couldn’t get served at bars, men wouldn’t let her pass on the sidewalk without catcalling and trying to trip her, older men on the bus hurr hurr did you hear about the blonde? would harass her, grandmothers with strollers at the mall would swerve into her legs, her mother wouldn’t help her with first-month’s rent after she got dumped and kicked out yet again, and god help her if she was on the rag at the time and lost her temper, ever.

But you know what they say, she thought, the customer is always right.

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 17

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  The smell of sunscreen

THAT WORD FOR WHEN YOU KNOW BUT YOU CAN’T PROVE IT YET

I walked into the room.  The smell of sunscreen lingered, one of those phantom smells that get in your nose and don’t go away.  In Iowa, I spent a year smelling manure and fresh-roasted coffee, even when I was cleaning rich people’s bathrooms with chemicals so strong I wouldn’t be able to smell at all for months afterward.

“When did Jasmine get in?” I asked.  My sister, she lived in another state and we didn’t see her often.  But that was the smell of her, sunscreen and sand.

“What are you talking about? Jasmine hasn’t been here for six months.”

I said, “I must have just been thinking about her.”  Then I made some excuse to go down to the basement fridge, which is where the beer is kept.  Mom said, “I’ll get that for you, I have to get something else anyway.”

It always makes me nervous, seeing her go downstairs; she fell down those stairs once.  She came back up with a six-pack a few minutes later.  The smell grew stronger. I said, “Come on, stop pulling my leg.  Where is she?”

“Who? Jasmine? You must be hallucinating.”

I pushed past her and went down the stairs. The landing at the bottom was still a little bit wet.  “Jas?  Jas?”

Then I heard someone screaming at me.  It was my mom.  The bottle–Jas’s brand, all right–kicked into a corner, a wadded-up shirt half-covering it, dark from the grease.

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 16

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  Bonfires

BONFIRES

…A bronze plate etched with patterns, the kind of big metal platter that you get at a Turkish restaurant, out in the back yard, a pile of letters on it, a box of matches and a slight breeze.  The letters are from your ex.  He says, “I expect you to burn all my letters out of respect.”  What he really means is: The least you could do is let me express one more act of control over you.  But you’ve always been a bit of a pyromaniac. You watch the letters burn and feel nothing but joy for a moment.  Then you spend years trying to believe you’ve actually escaped.

…A bonfire in the woods by the river when you were counting on solitude in the dark; you’re not supposed to go anywhere alone at night because of the rape scares, but you already know that it’s not strangers who you need to be wary of.  The real predators like to sniff around you first, to make sure you won’t resist.  You circle around the frat boys and they go silent. You might be the cops.  You might be bigfoot.  You have to be one or the other.  They joke about it.

…Out in a field under a harvest moon with a boy, the bonfire of the party an orange glow over the hill, your body burns up, you crave nothing more than to be destroyed, used, hurt, anything—you know no words for lust but those of suffering and punishment.  Unfortunately what is summoned is only wet ashes, still smoldering with annoyance the morning after, and a sharp piece of straw inside your pants that you can’t get out, digging into your leg all during class.  “Where did you go last night?” they ask, “What did you do?”

…He calls after midnight on weekends, and you know he made fun of you behind your back in high school and that he’s drunk now, and you say, “When you get the balls to talk to me when it’s daylight and you’re sober, then we’ll see” and he doesn’t. You learn to get used to this, the overexaggerated fear of a woman’s displeasure, this secret, ongoing mockery.  The rape jokes, the jokes about being pussy-whipped, not even a breath between them.  They’re boys with spears around the ritual fire, chanting that bitch, that bitch, who either did or did not give me what I want.

…You remember: burning trash in a barrel out in the gravel driveway, poking it with sticks, inviting it to burn your arm hair, tossing in leaves, pieces of paper, dead grass, live grass, watching the print on advertisements and Christmas wrapping paper flame up green and blue.  But now you don’t trust candles, you don’t trust incense, you never leave anything, no matter how contained, lit at night.  It’ll be fine.  Will it?  Don’t you know what fire is like? One moment it’s your slave, and the next it burns down barns, fields, haystacks, trees, cattle, cats—the water in the rural firetruck is frozen because it’s February—just because it’s cold doesn’t mean it isn’t dry tinder, ready to burn.

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 15

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  Alone time

EXTROVERT

She was out in her driveway again, in the dark, at eight o’clock at night.  This being suburbia, and she being the sort of woman she is, it is impossible for her to understand that it is an imposition to be constantly greeted: to leave the house, to return to the house, to get the mail, to drop off the mail, to go for a walk, to return from a walk, to mow the grass, to pick up bits of trash from the front yard, it is like being constantly barked at by the neighborhood dogs, until one is on the lookout, until one of you (if you are with someone) is chosen as the one who has to throw themselves under the bus of making conversation with someone who is both helplessly likable and hopelessly unable to allow herself to say anything other than what she thinks one ought to have said, at length.

Her husband’s friends were over, playing a game together as they once had in college, and she wished to apologize for the irregular number of cars parked in the street, she was lonely, they only wanted to use her as a hostess but not to speak to her, her child had been sent off with its grandparents, and she wanted nothing more than to be alone, alone, alone in the bath with a glass of wine, and she could not.

“Blow them off,” I said.  “Just lock the door and take a bath upstairs, if you would like to be alone.”

She changed the subject to how we never really talk to each other, nobody does, and I think what she meant to say was: I didn’t know it would be like this, I didn’t know that I would have to stay here, with my kid, working from home, cleaning house, not cleaning house, feeling guilty about not cleaning house, wanting to reach out to other people and grab onto them, to put down roots, feeling everyone around me slip through my fingers and not understanding why, why, wanting to belong, I thought it would be different, that I would feel comfortable and safe here, but no matter how safe it is I can only feel that I am in danger, the kind of danger that cannot be spoken of lest it be laughed at, I am constantly followed, I am haunted by another self, a past, a future, a self that somehow, somewhen, chose something that would have allowed me not to be here, now, forever, one day is so much like another, when will this be over, am I doomed.

I went inside the house; I have learned that there are perfectly pleasant people in this world that are bottomless in their hunger for security, and they will, charmingly, swallow one up.

She was not meant to live here, with her fear of being alone.

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 14

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  Cute journals

THE JOURNAL

Tanya received a journal for her twelfth birthday from her Great-Aunt Vasilisa.  It was an important birthday, her great-aunt told her, in a year you will be a teenager and you will go back to an ordinary sort of life, good or bad or both.  But when you are twelve, it will be the worst year of your life; if it is not the worst year of your life, then you have no soul.  Her mother laughed and said, “I wasn’t miserable until I was sixteen,” and Great-Aunt Vasilisa patted her on the cheek and said, “You were always boy crazy,” and Tanya’s mother fell silent. The cheek that had been patted went a little paler than the other.

“This is a magic journal,” Great-Aunt Vasilisa continued, turning back to you.  “Whatever you write in it, if you write something that is not true inside of it, the ink will disappear.”  Tanya could not have told her great-aunt exactly why that was nonsense, but it was; however, she accepted the journal in all seriousness and promised to write in it every day—or at least she would try, she said with almost a wink, because there was such a terrible amount of lying that she had gotten into the habit of, that the first few weeks might be a struggle.

Great-Aunt Vailisa laughed then, one of her great walloping laughs.  The cover was brightly decorated in the latest fashion, by an artist of that place, and of that time, with brightly colored animals with babyish faces. It hadn’t the slightest bit of magic to it, that was obvious.

Tanya threw the journal away when they moved away from that town, when she was sixteen.  By then Great-Aunt Vasilisa was dead, and Tanya must have purchased a hundred journals, stolen more, been gifted dozens by her family.  But it was always the same.  As quickly as she wrote, her words would vanish.  In college, if she would so much as doodle in the margins of her chemistry notebooks, the entire page’s worth of notes would vanish.  Emails, love letters, Christmas cards: all would go blank.   No one would lend her their books.  She would inevitably have to lose them, for they could not be returned in the blank state that they soon acquired, once she had read them.

It began to comfort her, to be able to write anything down, anything at all, and to watch the words fade away, slowly, inevitably, like the drying of invisible ink.

Truth is beauty, she wrote, and laughed as the words faded.  Love makes the world go ’round.  

Then one day she wrote, “The year I was twelve was the worst year of my life,” and there they stayed, the words, still lingering on the page.

I remember, she thought.  Oh God.  Now I remember.

And then the words came, and would not stop.

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 13

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  Gift cards

THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS

He had been drifting away from people lately: he had left the country of normal gifts and had traveled to the land of gift cards, a gray sort of half-life in which he could never be sure if he was being given a gift or being bribed not to say that he hadn’t received one.

A personal note: gift cards to bookstores are always considered thoughtful. Ahem.

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 11

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  Arts and crafts

THE FOURTH WISH

Tamra Triplett was thinking about what would happen to her, when it finally happened, when she finally snapped. Snapped, I tell you, snapped! The frustrations of the world would become too much, she was already on the edge, and she would have to take up arms against it. And she thought, well, I don’t actually give a damn about climbing up to the top of the building and using a rifle to pick people off below me, like ants. I was never one to kick over anthills just for the pleasure of seeing them scatter.

Power? She would have liked the power to make people stop being complete idiots. That would be her secret superpower, if she could have one: the power to make other people realize when they were being hypocrites. Not the power to prove people wrong—that would have been too easy to abuse—but the power to reveal hypocrisy, yes, that would be lovely, she would love to have that. But that was probably the secret, forbidden wish that even the djinn wouldn’t give you: you couldn’t give yourself an infinite number of wishes, you couldn’t wish anyone dead (but ohhh the possibilities that one might have, if one wished to subvert that sort of thing), you couldn’t or shouldn’t wish yourself to become all-powerful or a god or something, and you couldn’t wish people to see their own hypocrisy; those are the four wishes which are forbidden.

To snap or not to snap? She had a pair of miniature scissors on her keychain, folding and razor-sharp, because she had always been raised not to bite off threads. It’ll wreck your teeth. And she did like cutting things, liked it in the thrilled, breathless way that one hears of pyromaniacs liking fire. And once, one magical day, she had been left to clean up after a work function in which name cards had been involved, and she had cut their names up, one by one, as thoroughly as if they were credit cards. But the scissors she had had to use had been rather useless and dull, mashing the paper fibers apart rather than cutting them with a quick, razor slice. They had gone out drinking without her, and all come down with food poisoning. “It was like my guts had been ripped out,” they said.  Good.

Yarn, she thought. Yarn.

I will take a hair—when I intend to snap, that is—and twist it up with some yarn, and then I will knit something that reminds me of them. Arigurimi, that is, those little crocheted stuffed toys. They’re easy enough to make, if you take the time to think through how all the shapes fit together. And then, on that day which will surely come, I will not have to climb all those stairs, which I did once for a fund-raiser, ran up every stair in the building, all the way from the basement to the top, and they mocked me afterwards because my knees hurt for months; I will not have to learn to shoot; I will only have to line them all up and take my best, my loveliest sharpest scissors, and take their wobbly little heads and—

—Cut.

But that won’t work, she told herself, sympathetic magic is just a woman’s fantasy of being able to change the world when there is no power, no justice, no virtue that will do so.

Better get a dab or two—or three, yes three is a good number—of their blood, too.

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 10

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  Dressing up really fancy for not fancy dinners

TEA PARTY

We didn’t always dress up for the tea parties that we held with our dolls, but when we did, we wore my adult cousins’ prom dresses.  The dolls wore the clothes that you made for them, for the dolls that was, hundreds of hours of fine crochet.  We would drink tea and lemonade and have little cookies and you went to the trouble to buy me a tea set with a teapot with a spout that worked, a real miniature teapot that could fit in the palm of my small, sweaty hand.  I am making this up, by the way; we never had tea parties together, not unless I was two or it was for someone else’s benefit. Instead I remember you brushing my hair and screaming at me for letting me get it tangled one minute, and pleading that it was too pretty to cut the next.  I gave you a tiny, perfect teapot later, so you could have tea parties with your dolls and your granddaughter, whose hair I have also seen you brushing, although because I was there to see you, as you told her that it was right that she suffer in order to become more beautiful, you did not scream.

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 8

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  Free Samples

FREE SAMPLE

Death was at the mall passing out free samples of makeup, she said.  Was the makeup poisoned, I asked, did it contain lead? No and no, said Death, it was just different shades of foundation in paper cups, very hypoallergenic.  All right, sorry for the interruption.  But why were you at the mall anyway?  I was bored so I took a part-time job.  Don’t all the souls keep you busy?  Not really, you only get a certain territory to collect in, and if you’re new it isn’t much.  The big profits aren’t even when you collect souls but when you recruit someone else to be a Death, put on the robes.  You aren’t interested, are you?  Maybe after the kids are out of the house, I said, you know how it is, the empty nester syndrome.  Are there Death parties? I asked. Excuse me? said Death.  Like Tupperware parties, or Amway or LuLaRoe? Avon, I said.  Ever heard of Avon?  Oh, like Avon, Death said.  I think I remember that.  My life is kind of hazy.  Didn’t they have those weird perfume bottles?  Classic cars, I think I had a mermaid, I definitely had one of those white cats where the head comes off and there’s the perfume squirter underneath.  I know, I know! I said, I had one of those, too.  Did your mom sell Avon? No, she was one of those suckers who couldn’t say no, though, not even lingerie parties and she thought those were a sin. Those were fun, said Death. Anyway I was passing out free samples of makeup and someone scared the H-E-double hockey sticks out of me.  Oh, wait, I said, I’ve heard this story, the person saw Death and ran off, only you had an appointment with them somewhere else.  Haha, said Death, that would have been ironic, but no, it was me, I saw myself, I was shopping at the mall.  Wow, I said, just wow.  What happened? I’m not sure.  I knew Death had come for me, but which one of me I wasn’t sure.  One of us fell and one of us hit their head and there was blood and can you see my hands shaking?  Oh I feel sick. One of us got up and one of us was lying on the ground, and we were wearing identical outfits and my purse was spilled out on the ground and the sample tray was just everywhere, trails of blood and foundation all over the place from people walking through the mess.  And my question is, how do I know which one I am? Or even if there’s a difference?

Check your wrist, I said. There would have been a dab of makeup there, from you showing people how to match their shade and test to see if they were sensitive.

Just like with perfume.

So this one was inspired by W. Somerset Maugham’s one-paragraph summary, “The Appointment in Samarra.”  And yeah, I know you’re supposed to test foundation on your jawline.

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

 

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 6

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  Museums (preferably art museums)

POP-UP

The museum appeared suddenly, without notice, in the old sporting-goods store.  At first Clara Achziger thought it was a Halloween store, the kind with the plastic tarp sign strapped to the front of the hollowed-out storefront, fake walls put up inside to block off any unused square footage.  Costumes, plastic masks, makeup, stubby weapons that small children would wack against their parents’ thighs.  Spiderwebs spun out of plastic.  Candy bowls that grabbed back.

But no: The Pritchford Museum of Arts & Sciences, Now Open! The lettering was all wrong for a Halloween store, the sans-serif font self-respecting yet easily read.  The museum’s logo of a Greek temple in a circle clinched it: surely nobody would bother to make their Doric columns properly if the place was only meant to be a joke.

She paid seven dollars and went inside.

The rooms were arranged to make it feel like you were traveling on a time machine through history.  The first room was a cave, where a wax Neanderthal painted shimmering buffalo on the wall.  The major inventions of the era (fifty to ten thousand years ago) were language, art, farming, and culture.  The next room was set in 3200 B.C.E., showing the art and sciences of the Mesopotamians.  Cuneiform script was presented on re-creation clay tablets.  A children’s table—had their been any children on that Wednesday morning—featured a kind of polymer surface in which messages could be written with pointed styluses.  Childishly, Clara wrote “Kilroy was here” and, down in one corner, drew a little bald man with nose and fingers hanging over an edge.  Strange, winged, half-human gods in bas-relief looked at her from niches in the walls.

Time passed as she wandered through the rooms.  In 604 B.C.E. was the birth of Lao-Tzu, the founder of Daoism.  In 500 B.C.E., the caste system of India was established.  In 124 B.C.E., Alexander the Great’s empire reached its furthest extent.  In 408 C.E., Theodosius II became the emperor of Byzantium and contructed his walls around Constantinople.

Slowly, gradually, with increasing tension in her shoulders and a slight ringing in her ears, she worked her way back to the present.  She lingered in the room spanning the lifetime of the Persian poet Abu al-Qasim Firdawsi (940 to 1020 C.E.); she practically set up shop in the Ghenkis Khan room (1206 C.E.), she blew a kiss to Marco Polo (1271 C.E.); she sat on a carved stone throne in the Aztec Room (1502 C.E., lead by Auitzotl, conquerer of the Mixtec) and contemplated the tastefulness of blood sacrifices versus standing in line at Starbucks; across the hall (also 1502) was the memorial room of the first slaves reported in the New World, where she knelt and wept until her knees felt like they were made of stone; she skipped the Columbus room (honestly, who needed it?); she drifted through the room of the Emperor Wanli in China (1572 to 1620 C.E.) wearing a complimentary silk robe that she returned carefully to its hook by the door as she left; she looked through Galileo’s telescope in 1604 to peek at other worlds than these; she invaded Egypt with Napoleon, calling him a syphilitic ass the entire time; she grieved over the Taiping Rebellion; she bled with the Crimean War and then, in short order, saw the bodies stacked like wood in the photographs from the American Civil War and thought, I think I’m getting a migraine; World War I arrived and left her coughing and stumbling to grab one of the gas masks on the wall; in the World War II room the floor was made of bits of something that crunched underfoot and which she didn’t dare look at; the Korean War and the Vietnam War made the back of her throat raw and her joints ache, her eyesight dimming; the Cold War echoed in her ears like a million-voiced punk rock concert; the Second Civil War was a room covered with yesterday’s headlines—she covered her eyes with her arm but walked bravely onweard through the room anyhow; and then she was at a black door marked EXIT in glowing neon letters.

Clara lingered there until two security officers told her it was closing time.  And then when they tried to make her leave she fought; she fought to stay; she fought to return to a room, any room, no matter how terrible, in the past.

They threw her out and nobody has heard from her since.

I couldn’t help but think of The Circus of Dr. Lao, written by Charles G. Finney in 1935, as I wrote this.

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

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