[Story] Story a Week 12

[[ Prompt: Signs

Another stab (get it) at a horror story, about something that’s scary to me: Getting lost. ]]

The car hurtled down the road, the dual beams of its headlights shaking whenever it sped over a bump or crack. It was an old country highway, little used now that the major interstates had been put in, and Jack hadn’t passed any other cars since he’d started driving. Of course, it was late at night too, and only a fool would be speeding around these blind corners in the darkness, fog clinging to the road’s flanks. Only a fool, Jack thought, or someone with a death wish. He glanced in the rear-view mirror, but he could see no lights behind him. He was well over the speed limit for the old road, but no one seemed to have noticed yet. Even in the dark woods beyond the road, he saw no glints of houselights nor streetlamps. It was as if the night had swallowed him and his car alive.

Frowning, Jack checked the dashboard. The digital numbers informed him that it was well after two in the morning. Probably still another fifteen minutes to the main highway, at least. He punched on the radio button to help fill the silence, but it was a mangled mess of static with some talk radio mingled in. He couldn’t hear enough of either to make it worthwhile, and trying to discern it made his head hurt. There were probably deer here, too. That would be the last thing he needed, a deer leaping through his front windshield. Jack returned his attention to the road, searching for any hints of movement from the darkness beyond the road.

He sat up straighter when he saw the silhouette of a sign emerge from the shadows. As the car sped closer, the letters came into view: Pierron 5, I-50 7, River Falls 11. Jack exhaled a sigh of relief, it was only seven miles to the highway junction, maybe five minutes. Then everything would be okay. He gripped the wheel and eased the car a little faster.

Jack saw no signs — nor lights — for the town of Pierron, but that wasn’t really unusual way out here in the woods. Many so-called towns were nothing more than dots on a map, not even a gas station or a diner to mark their place. It was odd there wasn’t even a traffic light, though, but maybe there were so few cars this way they didn’t need it. Jack glanced at the clock again. He should be reaching the junction any minute now. But the old highway stretched out for miles before him, it seemed, no sign of a ramp or light anywhere. The signs couldn’t be wrong, could they? That seemed unlikely. He didn’t want to risk pulling over. Jack wrestled his phone out of his jacket pocket and brought up the map application. Though he didn’t know his destination, exactly, the GPS should show his dot moving on the map. He could see the highway crossing on the map, its thick blue line overlapping his thinner purple one. So it was all fine. Everything would work out okay.

But maybe he’d missed it? Was the ramp very small and unmarked. Jack began to worry again when he had driven another ten minutes and still not seen it. The bright green letters on the dash read nearly 3 am. He certainly should have reached it by now. Should he turn around and go back? Jack considered it. He could just turn around on the old highway, there was no one for miles around. But if he hadn’t missed it, he would just be wasting more time. He pressed forward, sure that he would reach it soon. And sure enough, he saw the green square of another road sign up ahead. Pierron 5, I-50 7, River Falls 11, it read. Jack stared at it in disbelief. Why would they put the same sign up twice? Some kind of weird mistake, Jack assured himself. He’d laugh about it with his friends later, maybe post it online. Still, it left him with a feeling of uneasiness. He checked his phone again, and his dot still looked the same distance from the junction. Of course, the map didn’t tell him the scale, so maybe it was just a lot further than he thought. But the sign had said seven miles. According to the clock, and his odometer, he’d definitely gone more than that.

He slumped back in the driver seat, trying the radio again. Maybe it would get his mind off of everything. Drowned by static, he thought he could pick out a song he knew, but he couldn’t really be sure. It was better than the silence, he decided. He veered around a turn, after which opened another long stretch of road. There was another sign here: Pierron 5, I-50 7, River Falls 11. Two was a mistake, Jack didn’t know what three was. A practical joke? He wasn’t laughing. As the miles passed, there were more signs. Every one read the same thing: Pierron 5, I-50 7, River Falls 11. Despite the cold night, Jack felt sweat trickling down the back of his shirt. Had she done this somehow? It seemed impossible, but suddenly the impossible was no longer out of the question. Reluctantly, Jack looked over to the passenger seat.

His date didn’t answer. She stared straight ahead, her eyes fixed in terror, just as she had looked when Jack began to stab her.  

[Art] Photography – Oakland Cemetery

I’m not really a photographer, but I liked these shots I took of a cemetery near me so I’m posting them here. This cemetery is quite old and dates back to the Civil War, but in recent years has fallen into disrepair because its owners lost interest in maintaining it and have moved out of state. Thankfully, there are volunteer groups that regularly help clean it up but there are still some brush and weeds, and many broken stones. But it does have a lot of personality, I took some photos of stones that caught my eye, it’s so neat to see the stories that they tell.

Some of my favorites are the hand-painted ones. I think the saddest are the two children who died two days apart at Christmastime in 1918, most likely from the flu.

[Story] Thorns – Harrier’s Journal

Nash must have had an eventful night a little while back, but he doesn’t want to talk about it. From what little I did get out of him, he drank too much, then somehow ended up falling off a roof. I didn’t scold him for being careless, though maybe I should have. I think I already made my point about that before — not that it seems he’s taken it to heart. Usually he doesn’t drink to excess, so I do wonder what was the reason for that, it’s not like he just lost count or something. And which roof did he fall off of? I sure hope he wasn’t thinking of breaking in while he was drunk, Rose would have a fit for sure. Nash also mentioned that he tried to see Star, but she was busy. I explained that happens a lot, because that particular house is usually popular — I guess humans have a particular taste for elf women. He was sort of curious about that, asking if they hired any men too. I don’t know if they do, I imagine one of them must — there’s a house that serves every sort of interest if you look hard enough. But I don’t know why he’d want to get back into that kind of work, especially after being out of it so long. Maybe he just wants a fallback, but still, it’s a little worrisome. I told him I hadn’t really gone looking so I didn’t know, which is true. But I am certain there are humans in the city who like elf men, too.

More so, we got to talking about the egg holiday coming up, because I’m working on some little figures that can be mounted inside of egg shells, for the shop. Nash seemed really curious about it and asked a lot of questions. Personally, I don’t care that much about eggs, but they do have chocolate in them so that’s nice. Nash wanted to know if there were bunnies inside any of them, I said that I think maybe there were. They’re magical eggs I guess, or maybe you take them and turn them in for prizes. I haven’t actually gone to it since moving to Stormwind. I just remember the chocolate. As far as I know, it’s a human thing started by the nobles but it’s spread out to other places, probably as another excuse to eat chocolate. Nash said he always wanted to go as a kid, but never could. So I suggested that we could go, and suddenly he doesn’t want to anymore. Something about how it wouldn’t live up to his idealized picture of it, I didn’t really understand. Even if it’s not the greatest thing ever, it’ll still probably be okay, and we’ll get to eat chocolate. I would definitely make sure he got a little bunny, though I have no clue where we’d put it and I worry that Pup might try to eat it or something. Or Rose might drop it into a stew. Once again I have no idea if he actually wants to do something and won’t admit it, or doesn’t and would resent me nudging him into it. He’s awfully difficult to read most of the time. I also suggested he use some of the bath salts we have, to make his bruises feel better, and he didn’t seem to want to do that either. Maybe he wants to hurt, I don’t know.

[Story] Fairsong Academy – Sorelle’s Diary

Orledin brought way too much bread. He disappeared into the kitchen again, which is strange because I don’t think Tik is even in there, he’s still looking after Lilithel and the baby. Terellion might be, so I suppose they were talking about cake and flour and baking things. I didn’t know there was so much to discuss about baking. I think I would get frustrated baking things all the time and never being able to taste them, but I guess Orledin doesn’t mind. I do think it’s important for undead people to have a hobby though. We have so much more free time, we have to fill it with something. It’s also my theory that it helps keep your brain from deteriorating.

Salenicus said you can slow it down by taking good care of yourself and not getting too damp, but I already knew that. I always am careful to keep clean, it’s almost important to check regularly for pests and make sure you don’t get too cold because your fingers or toes could freeze off without your even noticing. Thankfully I don’t think it gets that cold inside, but Salenicus goes out into the woods and it’s a lot colder there. He doesn’t seem too worried about it though, maybe they have really thick socks or something. He said he has a hobby but he was really embarrassed about saying what it is. It’s just whittling, like wood carving. He says he’s not good at it, but that doesn’t matter, he has plenty of time to practice. I don’t know why he’d be embarrassed about wood carving. I did promise to look in the library for books about it. I didn’t find any, but the Headmaster said there’s a furniture shop in Silvermoon that sells books about wood carving, and he’d pick one up next time he is there. Also, I asked if he could get some little scraps of wood to try out carving. I’m sure some are better than others, but I don’t know enough about it to know which ones, but I figure if they use it for furniture it’s probably good. And they have to have little scraps laying around from that. It would probably also help if he had some proper tools, except I can’t afford to buy any of those right now. So I’ll have to save up, or maybe I could see about selling some of the things I’ve sewn. I can’t take them into the city though so I don’t know how I would do that. I guess I could ask someone to take them to one of the stalls, it’s a shame I can’t sit there and sell them though. I know which dresses would look good on which people, their frame and colors and such. I don’t know if the Headmaster would know that, I guess he might, he does have a lot of nice robes.

He said something else weird, he says he doesn’t care if alive people like him because they’re just going to die sooner. I mean, that’s true, but by that time a lot of undead people will have lost their brains too. I think it’s better if everyone likes me, but I know that’s not the case. I wish I didn’t care, I think it would be a lot easier. I try to fit in with everyone else but I still get this awkward feeling around them, like they’re trying not to look at me or something. I’d like to think that I wouldn’t be like that, if I were alive, but it’s impossible to know. It’s not something I even thought about before it happened to me.

[Story] Story a Week 11

[[ Prompt: Words we hate

I don’t “hate” any words so I started to think about who might hate words, and which words they would hate. ]]

Paul stepped off the train into the brisk spring wind, deceptively cold despite the evening sunshine. He clutched his coat together and ensured that his briefcase was secure before turning down the street to his apartment. Like Paul, everything about it was tidy and meticulous, no unnecessary clutter, no dust beneath the furniture. Stepping in the door, he removed his shoes and coat and put them in their proper places. He crossed the living room with a few quick strides, laying his briefcase down on the coffee table. It was Friday evening, but he was eager to start working again.

He often brought work home with him, and this weekend was no exception. Paul regarded the possibilities of two whole days of uninterrupted work with something like excitement. No interruptions, no coffee breaks, no bothersome conversation from co-workers. He worked as an editor for a large company, overseeing copy for all of their advertisements and publications. Originally he had worked only in the advertising department, but his diligence and drive had soon earned recognition and he was given extra projects to do. Paul couldn’t have been more happy; each was like a treasure hunt that could be savored over and over. This weekend’s project was a good one, an entire instruction manual. He could only imagine how many mistakes he might uncover and reveal.

He went to the kitchen and started a pot of tea, taking the time to collect his pens and sticky notes. These he arranged neatly beside the manuscript. The water would still take a few more minutes to boil, Paul realized. He went to his computer and opened the browser to the news section. Three grammatical errors before he even scrolled down. Appalling! Paul scoffed to himself. Editing took hardly any time at all, they even had programs to do some of it for you now, though nothing could replace a real person, he thought. His teakettle whistled, and he went to pour it, returning to the desk again with his drink. Embarrassing! Who could attach their name to such sloppy work? Paul clicked down to the comments section of the first article, and he nearly dropped his mug in horror. There ought to be a test, he vowed, in order to be able to post things online. Or at the very least, someone to monitor these things. He began to type furiously, correcting each mistake that he saw — and there were quite a few.

Nearly half an hour had passed by the time he reached the end of the comments section, and realized how much time he had already used. Paul returned to his coffee table and flipped open the manuscript. As this was his first edit, there would be plenty to find, and Paul wielded his red pen eagerly. Each one felt like a small victory, seeing a work emerge from its crude origins to something sleek and polished and perfect.

He worked late into the evening, pausing only for a brief meal reheated in the microwave. The pages were slashed with red ink by the time he was through with them, a literary massacre. Paul looked up at the clock to see that it was well past midnight. Reluctantly, he laid his pen down. As much as he wanted to continue, his concentration would suffer if he did not rest. And then he would make mistakes. He moved to close the blinds, when he saw something sitting there in the window. At first he thought it was a stray cat, for it was the correct size and had luminous yellow eyes. Paul rapped the window to try to startle it away, but the animal instead leapt inside, causing him to utter a cry of alarm and disgust. It wasn’t a cat, at least he didn’t think so. It looked like some unholy combination of a monkey and a lizard; its body was covered in glossy scales and it had long thin claws at the end of bony toes.

It also talked. Well, it shrieked. The noise was awful, and Paul was sure the neighbors would hear it and complain. He was about to complain himself. The creature skittered up on top of his bookshelf.

“Should of closed the window!” it cackled, and Paul cringed.

He fetched the broom from the kitchen and tried to dislodge the thing. What was it? If he’d seen it in a movie, he would brush it off as badly done computer effects, but it was real. Wasn’t it?

“You’re literally killing me!” it howled, leaping from the bookshelf to the top of the mantel, knocking down a clock and a pair of candlesticks with a heavy thud.

“Stop it!” Paul shouted. “You terrible thing, get out.” The mess was bad enough, that could be fixed. But the awful grammar was something else entirely.

“I can’t even,” cackled the thing. Its tail writhed like a snake, knocking more things off the mantel. Though he tried, Paul couldn’t get a hold of the creature; it was simply too agile and too fast. It would have to tire eventually. Maybe he could set a trap of some sort. But what to use for bait? And what would he do with it once it was caught? Killing it would make such a mess. Truthfully, Paul was not certain that he could kill it, either. Even looking at the loathsome thing was difficult. Hearing it was certainly worse, though.

Glancing around the apartment, he saw no means of capturing it, at least not this late at night. He picked up the objects from the floor and replaced them in their proper positions. Through this, the creature continued to chatter nonsense, observing Paul from a safe distance. Perhaps, Paul thought, if I feign disinterest, it will lower its guard. But it didn’t, at least that he saw. At one point, Paul grew too tired to stay awake any longer, and fell asleep in his chair.

He awoke to the clatter of keys at his computer. The creature leapt with abandon back and forth over the keyboard, cackling and shrieking all the while. “Stop that!” Paul shouted, rushing over to the desk. The computer’s screen was filled with a mish-mash of garble, incorrectly used apostrophes, and commas. Worse, it had all been posted under his name. Paul searched frantically for a “delete” button, the creature cackling all the while.

The thing had to go. But to do that, Paul needed to figure out what he was dealing with. It definitely wasn’t talking — well it was, but not in any coherent manner. Was it some sort of monkey? But monkeys couldn’t talk, at least not with human speech. Paul studied the thing, warily. Was it a demon? He didn’t believe in such nonsense, but he supposed that didn’t matter. It was here, whether he believed it or not. And how did one get rid of demons? With exorcism, at least that’s what the movies had led him to believe. But he didn’t know any priests, nor was he eager to start asking for an exorcism, lest he look crazy. He already felt crazy with this thing occupying his home. There had to be another way; a home-made solution, so to speak. He pushed the creature out of his chair and brought up the browser: How to get rid of a demon.

The page was appalling. It looked as if it hadn’t been updated since the 1990s, and it had little spinning graphics, as well as animated pixellated candle flames. But once he got past all of that, it did have instructions to rid a house of demons. Paul looked at the creature again. It was chewing scales from its repulsive little arms. He certainly hoped the ritual would work.

[Story] Fairsong Academy – Menissa’s Journal

I think I’m getting pretty good at this cooking thing. Obviously not as good as Tik, but everything I’ve made has been edible and no one’s died. It’s not as fancy but I think it tastes all right and everyone eats it and no one’s complained. The Headmaster’s sister has been helping me a bit. I don’t know if she’s really that helpful because she’s kind of slow at things, but she is getting better. And it’s nice to have company to talk to, usually I have Tik but of course he’s been gone. I hope he comes back soon, if only so I can catch up on my work again. Preparing all the meals, and the clean-up after, has been taking more time than I’d like and I’m finding it hard to keep up with all of my assignments. I think there’s a break coming up soon, I’ll have to see if I can finish everything then. Or the Headmaster said he’ll talk to my teachers and see if they can assign me less work. I don’t really want special treatment or anything though.

I’m really curious to see what Tik’s baby looks like. I expect that he’ll be taking care of him at least some of the time, while Lilithel is working outside — it’s still a little cold for babies out there. He just has to be really careful not to spill anything on the baby when it’s in the sling. I think I’ll have to do  any dangerous things like frying while he’s here. I kind of wish I’d had little siblings to take care of, it might have been fun, but then I hear stories about siblings from other people and think maybe not. Like Aranae and the Headmaster, it seems they didn’t get along too well back then. She was kind of mean to him, but at least she recognizes it and feels bad now. I don’t know how long she’s staying for, I know she lives in that bear place and has to go back to studying there. I’ve had it explained to me but I still really don’t understand what it is that she’s studying. Magic might be complicated, but at least everybody knows what it is. I was talking to the Headmaster and he said that she might have a bear girlfriend there, he thought not but he did say she brought her to a party one time. So it’s good that she’s not interested in guys, but she’s way older than me. Older than the Headmaster, even. And she’ll be leaving soon. So I don’t know, I’ll just try to talk about normal stuff and not drop any hints. She’s never mentioned this bear so either they’re just friends or she’s keeping it quiet because it’s kind of odd (which it is). I wonder if they have fur everywhere? I mean, everywhere everywhere. It would be pretty weird kissing a bear.

She also doesn’t like dresses. She always wears light leather armor or sometimes just regular shirts, I’ve never seen her wear a dress. But I don’t know if that means she just doesn’t like to wear them or hates other people wearing them too. All I have is robes, I might have to see about getting a pair of pants made. I know that undead girl likes to sew. I just think they’d be really uncomfortable and tight all the time.

I need to meet with Tik and Ter to start the planning for the spring ball. This will be the first ball that I get to help with! I’m really excited. I hope Tik shows me how to make those rolls so I can make them for myself.

[Story] Story a Week 10

[[ Prompt: Obsession ]]

Uldred removed his spectacles and rubbed his eyes. They ached, and the pages in front of him were swimming. Perhaps it was time to turn in for the night. Only a little oil was left in the lamp, and by its struggling light he could see that the hour was well past three. Sighing, he gathered the papers up into a stack on the desk and placed a book on top so they wouldn’t blow away if he opened the window later in the morning. He’d just have to continue then, once he’d slept and had something to eat. The most frustrating thing was that he knew he was close — he had to be — it was only a matter of untangling the complicated web of spells before him. If a spell could be cast, its reverse could also be cast. It was a fundamental principle of magic.

That boy is obsessed, he recalled his father saying, when he first got his hands on magical theory books. Uldred used to read them by a lamp very similar to this one, sitting before the grey window-panes streaked with rain, a warm blanket all around him. He remembered the awe and wonder those books brought to him, the eagerness to learn and experiment for himself. Maybe he had been, Uldred conceded, because he couldn’t go to proper lessons. The books were all he had then, and proved a valuable resource now. Though of course he’d graduated to much more advanced subjects than magical theory.

The Stormwind streets were empty and quiet at this hour, but Uldred knew things still moved there, out of sight. Rats and stray dogs, thieves and cut-purses stalked the shadows, hunting. In Shattrath, Uldred hadn’t had to worry about such things, at least as long as he stayed on the upper tiers, but Stormwind was a much different place. It had taken some time to get accustomed to a city again. His room was on an upper floor, so he could leave the window open for air most of the time, though a truly dedicated thief could get in — if he’d had anything worth stealing. Rumors of elves infused with demonic magic had brought him back here, but thus far he’d been able to learn very little about them. He’d not seen one himself, nor found any books on the subject. Even if he did find one in the flesh, Uldred rather doubted he’d be allowed to conduct the sort of experiments necessary to learn what he needed to know. As they were elves, he might have more luck in one of their cities, but it was more likely they were driven into hiding, as he and his fellow summoners had been. Walking about the city stinking of fel energy was not a wise plan. But he had to find one. All of his years of study had moved him forward, but not far enough. There was a piece of the puzzle still missing, only Uldred wasn’t exactly sure what shape it was, or what it looked like. At this point, he wasn’t entirely sure what the end result was even supposed to look like.

He changed into his sleeping robes, and blew out the lamp. Even if he was able to finish his work, what was it going to accomplish? Would he not be the same person he was now? Would he be hailed as a great scholar and recognized for his achievements? Likely not. Would it bring his homeland and his mother back? Certainly it wouldn’t. But he persisted because he had to, because he had seen it this far and had worked too long to stop now. And partly out of habit. Without his work, what else did he have? On another night, this question might have kept him awake. But Uldred was asleep nearly as soon as he pulled the blankets up over himself.