Tag Archives: short story

She Lied To Me

Crystal lied to me. I know she did. I don’t know why I feel that way, but I do. I don’t actually have proof that she lied, but I know she did. It’s one of those things you just know. You can feel it through your entire body. Even the marrow in my bones knows she lied to me. It’s pretty sure anyway. At least eighty percent sure. That’s good enough when it comes to lying. That’s what my mother always used to say. That’s why I got a wooden spoon across my backside so often. God, I hated that spoon.

Thing is she was wrong more than she was right. At least in the beginning. By the time it ended, I knew she wouldn’t believe me anyway, so I lied out my ass. Each one was larger and more elaborate than the last. They were the kinds of stories that could only be lies, but if I was going to get hit anyway why not make it interesting, right?

That’s how it was with Crystal. She had to be lying. At least I think so. I’m at least sixty percent sure she was lying. There’s no other explanation, really. She had to be lying.
Her story just didn’t jibe with reality. That’s how you get caught. That’s what
my mother always said. Thing is, my stories jibed perfectly in the beginning.
How couldn’t they have? I was telling the truth.

Crystal had to be lying. She knew that guy and something was definitely weird with their dynamic. I’m at least forty percent sure she was lying. There’s no way that was the first time they’d ever met. They knew each other. They got what they deserved.

But what if she didn’t know him? What if she wasn’t lying? No. She was lying. I’m at least twenty percent sure, and twenty percent is good enough, right?

I probably should have given her the benefit of the doubt. I should give her a call. I want to. I want her back. I shouldn’t have snapped like that.

I can’t call her though. She wouldn’t answer. How could she? She’s at the bottom of a lake with that piece of shit who tried to take her from me. Besides, she lied to me. I’m at least eighty percent sure. I think.

Just a quick, barely edited story for you today. What say you, Minion?

Also, If you aren’t aware: the newest volume of 100 Tiny Tales of Terror, Rotten Little Things, just hit the digital shelves. You should pick up a copy. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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The Last Line

Jackson walked the streets where he’d grown up. He’d been gone a long time. When he’d returned, he expected to find everything different. Sadly, very little had changed. Even the penny Jimmy Smitts had pushed into wet concrete back when the city had spent a rare dime on that part of town to give the sidewalks a facelift was still there. Now, the sidewalks were cracked and uneven. Some parts were nothing more than patches of dirt, but the penny remained.

The other kids in the neighborhood had made Jackson’s life hell back then. Jimmy was the only exception. Jimmy wasn’t exactly a friend, but he wasn’t a bully either, not like the rest of them. Jimmy usually just did his own thing, but he’d gone missing when he was fourteen. At the time, Jackson had assumed Jimmy had just wised up and finally run away from the wrong side of town to make a name for himself somewhere. But now, Jackson didn’t even dare hazard a guess as to where the closest thing he had to a friend in his youth had ended up, probably nowhere good.

Jackson turned the corner of Pine Avenue and Sycamore Street. He never understood why they used trees for street names instead of numbers, it only served to complicate things and get people lost. Lost is something no one wants to be on the wrong side of the tracks. He looked through the window of McKinley’s barber shop and saw a few familiar faces. Old man McKinley was long gone, but it appeared his grandson, an unfriendly acquaintance from Jackson’s youth, had taken over the family business. Jackson didn’t bother going inside. Instead, he walked on.

For several minutes he walked slowly past the tightly packed houses. It was a wonder they hadn’t all gone up in flames when Vincent Daniels blew himself up building a pipe bomb to celebrate Independence Day.

Jackson stopped in front of the house that he’d grown up in. He’d thought it was run down then, but now it was downright decrepit. The entire structure was cocked so far to the left that a strong gust of wind from the right direction could probably blow it over. He took in the sight of his old home and sighed.

He was twelve when Jimmy disappeared. Inspired, he’d packed a bag and split in the middle of the night less than two weeks later. It wasn’t until he hit twenty-five that he started considering returning to explain why he’d left to his mother. Now that he was there, he didn’t know if he could go through with it.

He swallowed the desire to keep walking and stepped through the opening in the rusted chain link fence where the off kilter gate used to hang. A few steps up the walk he spotted the gate lying on the unkempt lawn–mostly weeds, really–between the fence and the house.

The stairs groaned under his weight as he climbed to the porch. He stood before the door and hesitated with his hand raised. The knot in his stomach clenched so tight the he nearly doubled over. He took a deep breath and slammed his balled fist against the broken storm door–three times in quick succession. No turning back.

A woman, nearly as time and weather worn as the house opened the door. Her eyes narrowed.

“Hi, Ma,” Jackson said.

“You should have stayed away,” she replied, but opened the door and nodded for him to enter. “You was right to leave. This place is poison. It’ll kill anyone stupid enough to stay,” she added as she walked back the hall to the kitchen.

“I was hoping it might have changed,” he said, following her.

“Yeah, well, get used to disappointment if you plan on staying.” She sat at the table and took a sip of her tea.

He sat across from her and tried to smile. She looked like hell, and he felt responsible. “I’m not staying, Ma. Just felt I owed you an explanation is all.”

She shook her head. “No need to explain. Running away from this God forsaken place was the best decision you ever made.”

“Maybe you should leave too,” he suggested.

“This is my home, Jackson. For better or worse, this is where I’m staying. It was nice to see you though. Good to know you’re still breathing.” She swallowed another sip of tea. “I believe you know the way out.”

Jackson stood up and turned for the hallway. Just before he took a step he looked back. “For what it’s worth: I’m sorry, Ma, for putting you through that.”

“Dead or runned away, either way you was better off than living through the hell those boys you hung around with put you through. Nothing to apologize for, boy.” She gripped her teacup with both hands. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to drink my tea before it gets cold.”

Jackson nodded. “Goodbye, Ma.” He let himself out and headed back around the corner of Sycamore and Pine.

The familiar bell on the door of McKinley’s barber shop chimed after he rounded the corner. A voice rose behind him. “Hey, Jackson, is that you, man?”

He didn’t respond, lacking the desire to talk to Danny McKinley, though he probably goes by Dan now.

“Yeah, that’s right, keep walking, pussy,” the voice chided.

Jackson just shook his head and kept walking. He made his way back to the penny–the only thing worth saving in his old neighborhood–and pried it from the cracked concrete with the screwdriver he’d had in his pocket. He left the screwdriver on the ground and slipped the penny in his pocket in the screwdriver’s place, after kissing it for luck.

When he’d finished, he headed back to his rusted, white, windowless van. The key slipped into the lock on the back, and he pulled on the handle. The rusted hinges whined in protest, but the door opened. He climbed into the back and sat on the bench he’d built from scavenged scraps of lumber. After pulling the angry door closed, he turned on the overhead light and slid the bench up to the small table on the other side of the van. For a moment he stared at himself in the jagged shard of mirror taped to the wall with duct tape.

After allowing Danny’s insult to sink in, he nodded and opened the makeup case on the table. First, he applied white over his entire face. Next, he created a huge, crooked smile and diamonds over his eyes with black paint. For the final touch, he added a single teardrop on his left cheek. A grin crept up his face as he stared at the demented clown looking back at him. He couldn’t help but laugh at the hideous creature.

He lit a cigarette and took a long drag before slipping the lighter into his pocket with the penny–just in case he ended up needing it–and shouldering the bag on the hook beside the table. He didn’t bother turning the overhead light off. He wouldn’t be coming back. With a heavy kick, the door flew open, and he hopped out into the afternoon sun.

His laughter flooded the street as he picked up where Vincent had left off all those years ago. It was time to celebrate. By the time the police showed up he’d gone through the entire bag of pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails–six of each–lighting all but one with the cigarette dangling from his mouth. He had to resort to the lighter in his pocket for the final one.

He was still laughing, and sucking down a fresh cigarette, when the officers shot him.

The old neighborhood was nearly unrecognizable.

This story was written for The Short Story and Flash Fiction Society’s Short Story Contest #6.

He’s Not Listening

He’s not listening. He never listens. The voices speak, but he ignores them. At least, he tries to. He goes about his days as if the voices in his head weren’t urging him to do things—terrible things. It started when he was six. Back then it was just a single whisper. Now, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of distinct voices. Some still whisper, but most shout their words above the crowd to be heard. They yell at him and pick him apart. They tell him he isn’t good enough. That he’ll never amount to anything. For the most part he ignores them, but sometimes their words cut deep. They are relentless.

He hasn’t slept for more than fifteen minutes at a time for almost six days now. The voices won’t allow it. Soon, he will collapse from exhaustion and sleep for nearly thirty solid hours, and then the cycle will begin again. It has been that way for as long as he can remember.

He walks the streets of his city. He knows the streets in that part of town aren’t safe at night. They never have been, but he doesn’t care. He walks them anyway as the voices continue with their inane chatter. He doesn’t know what they’re saying. He’s not listening.

He momentarily passes beneath the glow of a street lamp and stops to look at his reflection in the glass of a storefront window. There are bars over the window that remind him of a prison cell. All the shops in this part of town have them, even though most of the buildings haven’t been occupied his entire life. He looks haggard and the heavy bags under his eyes do little to reassure him that he is still sane. He scratches the stubble on his chin and moves on, back into the shadows of the night.

He stops and sits on a graffiti covered bench, under another light, and waits for the bus that isn’t scheduled to arrive until morning–a full six hours off yet. He sighs and drops his head into his hands. The weight of it surprises him. The wave of exhaustion threatens to begin his long sleep right there on the bench, and he almost doesn’t care.

He closes his eyes. He doesn’t know for how long, but it’s still dark when he opens them again, so not long enough. Somebody clears their throat. He looks left, expecting to see a mugger, or maybe a crooked cop, but there is only a woman sitting on the bench beside him. She looks familiar, but he can’t place the face. He assumes she is a prostitute.

“I don’t have any money,” he says. His mouth is dry and the words scratch his throat as they come out.

She laughs. “I ain’t a hooker, darling,” she says. “But I’m flattered.”

“You shouldn’t be.” He looks away. She’s wearing too much makeup. It hurts his eyes.

She says something else but the words are a jumble in his head.

The voices beg him to do things to her. Horrible things. Things that would make her regret leaving her home that night, if she was still around to regret anything. The voices demand he acts on the urges., but he’s not listening–to them or her.

He stares across the street. The crumbling building there used to be a Chinese restaurant. He misses it. They had the best lo mein he’s ever tasted.

He looks back toward the woman, surprised to find her still sitting there. “If you’re looking for a friend, I’m a bad choice,” he says.

“Don’t I know it,” she says. He doesn’t know what that means.

He stands up and crosses the deserted street. He stands in front of the former restaurant and looks up at the broken sign above the door. He shakes his head. He could really go for some lo mein. The woman with too much makeup joins him. She looks up at the sign and laughs at the vulgar graffiti.

He turns away from her. “Leave me alone,” he says and starts walking again.

She follows him, but he isn’t sure why. She doesn’t say a word. When he stops, she stops beside him. When he walks, she follows a few steps behind. She laughs sometimes, but he doesn’t know why. Nothing about the night in this part of the city is funny. It never has been. They go on this way for ten minutes.

He stops in front of his house. It is broken, worn out, and on its last leg. It is just as accurate a reflection of himself as the one he’d stared at in the glass of the storefront, maybe even more so.

“This is where we part ways,” he says and climbs the porch steps. She laughs again, but doesn’t follow this time.

He slips his key into the lock, leans his head on the door, and closes his eyes. He wonders if he should offer her a place to stay for the night. The streets aren’t safe.

When he opens his eyes again he is back on the bench. For a moment he is confused as the haze of the dream wears off.

The run down Chinese restaurant stares at him from across the street. Its blacked out windows and off kilter door look remarkably like a face, one that he doesn’t trust. He looks to his left. The woman isn’t there, but the image of her face is burned in his mind. He knows her from somewhere. He’s seen that face before. He wonders why she wears so much makeup.

He stands up and crosses the deserted street. He stands in front of the former restaurant and looks up at the broken sign above the door. He shakes his head. He could really go for some lo mein.

For the first time in a long time, the voices go silent. He doesn’t know whether to celebrate or be afraid, so he does neither. He closes his eyes and tries to clear his head.

A moment later, when he opens his eyes, he finds himself inside the building, but he doesn’t know how he got there. He doesn’t remember entering. He wonders if he is still asleep on the bench across the street, but he has a feeling he isn’t. The voices are back, but they are more hushed than usual, nothing more than whispers. He doesn’t know what they are saying, but not because he’s not listening. He wants to know the secret they’re keeping from him. He wants them to speak louder. He wants to hear their words.

He moves further into the restaurant and steps around a table that has been toppled over. The whole restaurant is trashed, but somehow this one table feels out of place. Nothing about the table says it shouldn’t be there. It blends in perfectly, but something about it rubs him the wrong way.

A naked foot is sticking out from behind the counter. He assumes it belongs to one of the many homeless in the area. He doesn’t know why, but he is drawn to that foot. He moves around the counter. A corpse with too much makeup and glazed over eyes stares at him. There are bruises on her neck.

He remembers her. Her name was Claire. He brought her here. He gave in to the constant urging of the voices. He remembers the feeling of his hands around her throat, and he wants to vomit. The voices in his head roar with approval.

Yes, he remembers her, and all of the others who made the mistake of getting close near the end of his broken sleep cycle. All of the names and the faces come flooding back, and he cries for them. He sobs harsh, heavy tears for the awful things he’s done to them. He remembers them all, and one by one he asks for forgiveness they can no longer grant.

Soon, he will sleep. He promises himself he won’t forget them, but sleep will steal his memories again. It always does. And he’ll go on pretending he doesn’t listen to the voices, pretending he doesn’t give in to the awful things they ask him to do, pretending he isn’t a monster.

This story was written for The Short Story and Flash Fiction Society’s Short Story Contest #5, using prompt #5.

The Diary of Walter Jakobsen

If you read my Friday Fictioneers stories Invasion – Step 1 and Alone and were left wanting more, you’re in the right place. They are actually two pieces of the same story. The following is a longer piece (roughly 2700 words) that goes into a bit more detail, but may still elave many unanswered questions. It doesn’t delve a lot into the story of the hunter in the first story, only hints at the involvement of his kind in the world of the character in the second story, who is a minor character in this longer piece.

The Diary of Walter Jakobsen

file000384664403The diary of one Walter Jakobsen, as noted on the interior cover, was found in the fall of 2183, sheltered from the elements in a rusted metal chest beneath a pile of rubble within the remains of one of the great cities of the past. Historians refer to the ancient city as Los Angeles. The following excerpt was the first and only entry in the largely empty journal. What happened to the writer and the others mentioned within the few brief pages remains a mystery that may never be solved.

January 1st, 2019

Life is funny. Just when things are going great a wrench gets thrown into the mix and stops up the gears nice and tight. For me, that wrench came on June 14th, 2018. That was the day they decimated us. We weren’t prepared. How could we have been? Most of us didn’t even believe they existed.

They didn’t go all War of the Worlds on us like one would expect. They didn’t come in peace either. Why would they? They didn’t travel all this way to say hello. Nearest I can tell, they came to colonize our world. Thing is, our world posed a bit of an issue. The air composition wasn’t quite right- almost, but not quite. Even worse, the planet was infested with a virus: humans.

We never even knew what hit us. I’m only going on theory here from the things I’ve seen during my travels and the few others I’ve encountered since everything went to hell, but it seems they used some sort of airborne poison. I woke up on June 14th, but most of the world didn’t. I don’t know whether to say I was one of the lucky few or one of the lucky few. Sure, I woke up, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot when all of our major accomplishments are failing and there isn’t anyone to maintain the infrastructure. Maybe the lucky ones are the ones who didn’t have to wake up to this world. Most of the world simply went quietly into the night without a fight. That’s not technically true. Can’t be. I’d just rather think the folks on the other side of the planet went in their sleep rather than imagine everyone dropping where they stood in broad daylight. Might not be true, but it’s easier on all of us to picture it that way. From what I can gather I’m immune to their poison. So are Otto and Melissa.

I got up that morning and went to work, same as every other Thursday of my adult life. I noticed the deserted roads, but I had no idea what they signified until I hit the empty parking lot at the office. Even then it didn’t completely hit me that everyone else was dead. Normally I’m one of the last through the door. That day it wasn’t even unlocked. I tried to call a few people to ask what was happening, but no one answered. I left a couple messages asking for them to call me back. I never did hear back from Jeff or Vicky.

It wasn’t until I went further into the city that I caught my first glimpse of the true horror that had befallen. The streets were partially clogged with stagnant traffic. I threw my car into park at the back of the pack and walked among the accidents and traffic jams, some cars still idled but most had run out of gas and stalled. Every car had at least one person inside- all dead. At that point I still couldn’t piece together what had happened, but at least it told me why no one was at work.

For the next three days I sat locked in my apparent, scared out of my mind and no idea what to do. I left town on the fourth day. I got in my car and drove south. I didn’t know where I was going, but I knew that I wanted to be far away from anywhere snow might start falling in the coming months. Trapped in the cold after the electricity inevitably failed, surrounded by dead bodies, was not an ideal prospect, so I left. I packed up a sack of food and a garbage bag full of clothes and I walked out the door. I always felt bad that I left town without burying my mother. At the time I only wanted to be away from the hell that had overtaken my world. I had no idea everywhere else had the same problems. If I could go back and change it I would have buried her before I left. I’d like to say under the apple tree in her back yard, but having dug my fair share of holes in the yard over the years I know how difficult it is to get through that many roots. Odds are it would have been beneath the flower bed, but that’s neither here nor there.

The first time I ran out of gas on my journey south, I walked two miles before it occurred to me that I had my choice of pretty much any car I wanted. Lord knows there were plenty of them just sitting there. Most of them even came with keys. All I had to do was pull out the dead guy behind the wheel and I was set for a ride, assuming the car still had gas.

Turns out pulling a dead guy out of a car isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially when he’s been sitting cooped up in the heat for almost a week. I vomited six times getting him out of there. The stench that hit me when I opened the door brought about the first two rounds. The next three came after my hand brushed against skin that was loosely attached to his wrist and easily tore free. I went down over the shoulder and puked my guts out. Twice I tried to come back up, but lost it when I spied his torn, decaying flesh. The final bout was just a round of dry heaves as I drove down the road thinking about what I’d done. I made a mental note to be more respectful to anyone else I carjacked after that. I let that guy drop to the ground in a twisted heap after that clump of skin broken free, and I just left him like that. I also made a mental note to check how much fuel was in the tank before I went through the trouble of removing the driver. I’d gone through the ordeal for less than an eighth of a tank.

It was during that drive that I noticed the changes in the sky. First it was just during sunrise and sunset. Instead of fiery reds and pinks, the sky started taking on green hues. After the first few weeks the blue was slowly replaced by a dull green across the entire sky. That’s when my alien theory really started to pick up steam in my mind. They solved two problems with one genius move. Change our atmosphere and kill the competition. No notable loses on their end, just an issue of waiting out the metamorphosis.

Sixteen cars- hard to find one with much gas- and two days later I came across Melissa. I spotted a fire just outside of Paris, Tennessee. I hadn’t seen any signs of life since the evening of the June 13th. When I first saw the fire I thought maybe it was just the remnants of a house fire or something that had gone unchecked in the un-chaos. Chaos isn’t really the right word. There was no chaos, just a bunch of dead people inhabiting a mostly lifeless world. A good many of the plants had even started dying off by that point. I approached with the intention of cooking a can of beans I’d taken from a grocery store I’d passed. I don’t know why I didn’t just take them. I left money on the counter for the few dozen cans I’d taken, as if money is still any good. I was sick of eating them cold by that point. I try to stick with the canned stuff. The fresh didn’t stay fresh very long. Occasionally I’d happen upon a freezer that still worked with some ice cream or a bit of meat in there, but those finds become more and more rare with each passing day. So did my subconscious need to pay for the things I’d scavenged.

It never even occurred to me to build a fire to cook them. That’s how out of touch I was with reality in those days. Let me tell you, you’ve never experienced hunger until you’re willing to eat a raw chunk of steak. I was just drifting through life, alone with my thoughts and a deep sense of survivor’s guilt. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about ending my own life at least once before I met Melissa.

Turns out Melissa had built the fire. She hugged me when I came walking up. Didn’t say a word, just hugged me and cried her eyes out. I didn’t stop her- hugged her right back in fact. To know that we weren’t alone, that made things a bit more bearable. It kind of gave life meaning again. I don’t know how long our hug lasted, but the fire had nearly died out by the time we let go of each other.

We talked all night long. She confirmed my fear. She’d actually seen one of the devices go off. It was in the back of an eighteen wheeler. The thing just started spewing green smoke from vent holes all over the trailer. The handful of friends she was with at the time dropped in an instant. She looked up and down the street while everyone around her dropped like dominoes. She had the presence of mind to call 911. Not sure I can say the same for myself if our roles had been reversed. I was a raving lunatic once I figured out what was happening.

Kicker is an operator answered, asked what her emergency was then just stopped talking in the middle of the next sentence. After that, Melissa hadn’t heard another voice or seen anther living person until I came across her at that fire. If I’d taken a different route, just one single turn more or less and we never would have crossed paths. I’m not sure what to make of that. How can two people in a world so large and so devoid of other life find each other like that? Was it God looking out for us? I don’t know, but I’d like to think so. Being an atheist, I’m sure Melissa would disagree, and I can’t say I don’t see where she is coming from, because I do. Though, I’m not ready to give up my faith yet. I hope I’m never ready to make that sacrifice, but that’s not a bet I’d be willing to take at this point.

She said she saw six other trucks over the span of the twenty or so miles she’d covered since our mutual wrench had found its way into the gears of our lives. She chose to go by foot. The bodies in the cars were too much for her stomach. I probably passed by countless other death trucks not knowing what they were, assuming they were just like any other trucks on the road. That is to say, full of both the necessities and excesses of the American people. She never considered the possibility of aliens until I pointed the sky out to her. She had seen it, but she’d also see the green gas. She assumed it had been some sort of terrorist attack, but even the most well funded terrorist organization couldn’t pull off an attack on such a large scale, could they?

We continued south together. I always pictured myself as a bit of a ladies’ man, but she wasn’t having any of it, and for the first time in my life I was okay with that. I was happy just to have someone to talk to. I didn’t need any more than that.

We crossed the border into Florida three days and eighteen vehicles later. I tried filling up at a gas station once, but the pumps wouldn’t accept my card and I didn’t know how to turn them on- if I even could have. Power in most places had already started failing by that point. It was just easier to switch cars and hope I picked one with a mostly full tank. I’d like to say I was getting used to the smells coming out of those cars by that point, but that’s a smell you just never get used to. At least I can say I was more respectful with their bodies. I didn’t go as far as burying them, but at least I didn’t leave them in a twisted heap on the side of the road.

The key when switching vehicles is to give the new one a few hours to air out and always travel with the windows down, even if it’s raining. Pick one with the windows already down if you have the option. Those ones tend not to be tombs for the noxious odors. Sometimes the option doesn’t present itself and you just have to suck it up until you can find a store stocked with an inordinate supply of Febreeze.

We picked Otto up outside Pensacola. I have no idea how that blind S.O.B. (and I use that term as a brother would, not as an insult) survived for nearly two weeks on his own. From his description, it was nothing short of hell. He didn’t have the benefit of seeing what had happened. He only had the sudden absence of the sounds and smells of a once bustling world to go on and it scared him. He was lost and confused. He ate so much that he puked when we first picked him up. He was so hungry and weak. Logically speaking, he should have been dead. Somehow, he’d managed to find some food along the way, but after he ventured past his comfort zone he couldn’t find his way back and hadn’t eaten since. How exactly does a blind man manage to survive in a dead world for that long on his own? He didn’t even know he was headed north. I took it as another sign from God when we found him. Melissa chalked it up as another coincidence. I guess we just see the world differently, but then, we likely always have, even before things changed. Chances are we’ll never see eye to eye and the subject. Perhaps that’ll be enough to keep us sane in this wasteland of a world.

We don’t know if there are others like us. There almost has to be. We’ve taken it upon ourselves to seek out other survivors even though we have no way of finding them. If we’re even a mile away from them we could drive by without even knowing they were ever there. Even still, we will continue searching. Perhaps one day there will be enough of us to put up a fight against whatever threat is coming.

I’m not optimistic about our odds, but I won’t admit that to the others. They look up to me like I’m some kind of leader. Really, I have no idea what I’m doing and that terrifies me. They’re depending on me and I don’t want to let them down, but I’m just as scared of this new world as they are.

May God have mercy on our souls.