Thirteen Week Streak – Week Eleven: Entomophagy and Other Pastimes

Thirteen Week Streak – Week Eleven: Entomophagy and Other Pastimes

There’s a girl I know from high school who likes to eat bugs. No, that’s not true. She LOVES to eat bugs. Doesn’t matter what kind — spiders, flies, scorpions — she’ll eat them until they’re coming out of her nose (sometimes literally. I should know, I’ve seen it).

She said she got a taste for them after a rather vicious game of Truth or Dare. She’d chosen Truth initially but changed to Dare when Sadie Jonson (you remember Sadie? The girl who was carried away by fire ants in senior year?) asked if she’d let Davey Savage peek up her skirt during recess.

Anyway, this girl was dared to eat bugs, but not just any bugs. Sadie wanted them to be fresh and bountiful and had her little posse hunt the garden, rounding up every last creepy crawly they could find. None of them thought for a minute the girl would go through with it, thought she’d just admit to flashing her panties at Davey so they could call her names and make her life hell through the next year.

The girl, she looked down into that tub at the squirming, crawling, scuttling mass within, and her stomach growled with a hunger so intense it was as though the organ would tear itself out of her abdomen and gorge on the chitinous flesh. And so she ate.

Shoving handful after handful of insects into her maw, she felt their tiny legs crawl down her throat, over her lips and tongue. Their bodies popped between her teeth, filling her mouth with moist, succulent juices. Her eyes rolled back in their sockets in unbridled ecstasy. Sadie and her miscreant friends, worried that this expression of sheer delight was a sign of poisoning, fled, not wanting to get in trouble. From what I hear, they never spoke of it again (except for Sadie, and we know what happened to her).

Of course, I didn’t know the girl then. Our paths wouldn’t cross for another year when I found her down by the creek, licking ants from a stick the way the chimpanzees do on Discovery. She didn’t seem bothered that I’d stumbled upon what would have been a shameful and private act for anyone else. In fact, she offered me the stick the way you might allow someone to taste an ice cream and I can’t deny that I was tempted. Who am I to judge someone with bizarre gastronomic tastes when my own aren’t exactly kosher?

We got to talking and I hinted that I knew a place where bugs were plentiful if that was your guilty pleasure, confessed it was where I enjoyed a nibble or two. I can’t remember which of us suggested we meet there the following day but I do know we’ve never looked back since.

She loves the worms and the maggots down at the graveyard. It’s safe to say they’re her favourites.

And when she’s done with them, that leaves the withering flesh all for me.

Thirteen Week Streak – Week Ten: The Wheel

Thirteen Week Streak – Week Ten: The Wheel

The dirty, blonde girl pushed her way down the line of people waiting to embark the ferris wheel. Insults and protests slid off her as he hefted the heavy rucksack higher up her shoulder.

“Joleen!” an equally dirty, older man with features buried beneath curls of unkempt grey hair called to her, waved. “Joleen!”

She nodded once, made up the ground separating them, and dumped the bag at his feet. Metal clinked against metal deep in the folds of the canvas sack. The man she’d just elbowed aside looked as though he might say something but one narrow-eyed gaze from her shut his mouth again.

“That the stuff?” The older man tucked his hands inside the front of his greasy overalls, nudged the bag with a booted foot.

“Yes, Pa,” Joleen said. She gave the looming structure of the wheel an appraising look. “This ain’t gonna work.”

“Don’t you be sassing me, girl.”

“I ain’t sassing you, Pa. I just don’t think this is the right place.”

Pa dug around in his overalls, produced a small, dog-eared tome with a papery-leather cover held closed with heavy metal clasps. He undid the clasps, licked his thumb, and flicked through the pages.

“Says here all we need is this book-” he lifted it into her eye-line “-candles, three, black; bell, one, stolen at midnight from the Church of the Living Mist; and…read it.” He turned the book to face her.

Joleen rolled her eyes, recited: “A wheel of iron.”

“A wheel of iron,” Pa repeated.

Joleen blinked once, twice. She opened her mouth, closed it. Eventually, with a nod of her head towards the giant ride, she said, “Pa, it’s a Ferris Wheel. Ferris.”

“Exactly,” Pa said. His hands pulled items (bell, one, stolen; candles, three, black) from the bag. “Ferrous wheel just like it says in the dang book. Here, catch.”

She fumbled for the bell, missed. It hit the floor and its haunting ring caused many in the crowd to grab their ears, one or two to vomit, and all turn and see what was happening.

Pa didn’t notice. He was busy setting the candles into the sod around the base of the operator’s booth. When they were lit, he took a step back and retrieved the tome from beneath his stained armpit.

“Pa?” Joleen tried again, but Pa was beyond reasoning.

“You just be sure to ring the bell at the time,” he said. “I ain’t gonna look a fool in front of The Black Goat.”

Joleen nodded.

Pa chanted.

Joleen rang the bell.

Nothing happened…

Still nothing happened…

Pa checked the bell.

Then there was screaming. Lighting arched from the sky, carved a path back and forth along the spokes of the great wheel. A furious wind whipped at the swaying cars. People fell, people died.

A single black hoof slipped into the world through the vortex at the centre of the wheel.

“See,” Pa said. “Ferrous wheel.”

Thirteen Week Streak – Week Nine: My Heartbeat Is The Tick And Tock Of An Ever-Slowing Clock

Thirteen Week Streak – Week Nine: My Heartbeat Is The Tick And Tock Of An Ever-Slowing Clock

My life started with the watch. I’ve acquired many more pieces since — like parts to a larger, unknown puzzle — but it was the watch that started it all.

I awoke with the first tick, drew a breath with the tock. Those soft notes whispered to me like the golem’s shem, called me into being. I don’t believe there was anything of me in the world before that moment. There’s nothing to convince me there will be anything quite like me in the world ever again.

In the beginning, I had no sense of self. With no eyes to see, no hands to feel, and no mouth to speak (all of that came much later), I simply was; alone in my existence save for the steady relaxation of the tightened spring and the tick tock tick tock pulse of my heart. And now I’m whole, or as whole as a found thing can be.

The second and third pieces of the tapestry of me arrived together: a rubber tongue and a brass ear. I have not the slightest idea how I came by them, but the Fates favoured me that day and, before long, I was able to make and understand simple words.

“Wind me,” I would say to any who would listen, but few obliged. Of those, I think nearly all believed me to be a novelty item, some strange and twisted sculpture. I don’t know what conclusions the rest drew, but I doubt many of them returned after.

Before long, I’d acquired the necessary limbs and digits to carry out the winding alone. These between times were hard for me. While self-winding promised independence from that fickle beast humanity, my half-formed body and mind craved the stimulation of you all.

As is often the case, a part-creature is rarely made welcome in a world of whole lives. I was no exception. Rejected by those I encountered, I was beaten and spat on by a world I only wished to experience.

That was before I found you.

That was before you saw past the “work in progress” and straight to the ticking core of my being.

With your care and your strength, you forged a half me into a whole me. I became more than just the sum of my scavenged parts.

The watch still beats at my centre and the winding key may be long lost, but I have never felt closer to my creator, to mankind, than I do now. In truth, I know I draw ever closer to that final tock and the empty, forever silence. Yet, now I have you and this life is no longer empty. I wish the timing had been better, but what can one expect from old and brittle springs.

The Fates have shined upon me before and who knows how many more beats are left in this clockwork heart. I say you take my hand and we run out my last together.

Shall we?

Thirteen Week Streak – Week Eight: Dr Baldwin, I Presume

Thirteen Week Streak – Week Eight: Dr Baldwin, I Presume

Kurt met Jenny’s eyes through the lenses of her thick glasses.“I can’t believe it’s taken us so long to do this,” he said. She smiled and raised her coffee. They clinked mugs.

“I know. I’ve wanted to meet with you for some time.”

The bell above the diner’s door chimed, drawing the pair’s attention. The slender woman in the entrance looked out of context for the setting. Her copper hair swished this way and that while she searched the booths for someone.

Kurt met her gaze then quickly looked away; it was already too late.

He heard the click, click, click of her heels on the linoleum floor as she picked her way towards them. The noise stopped beside their table.

“Dr Baldwin?” She said, her voice breathy.

He looked up. “Yes?”

She slid into the booth opposite him, not waiting for an invitation. Kurt looked at Jenny who shrugged.

The red-head reached for Kurt’s hand. He wasn’t fast enough to move away before she wrapped delicate fingers around it, pulling him toward her. She leaned forward, barely-constrained breasts squashed against the wooden table top. Jenny made to say something, but the red-head spoke first. “You must help me. The curse…”

Kurt rolled his eyes, held up his free hand. “Sorry, not interested.”

“Kurt!” Jenny gasped.

The red-head frowned and sat back, releasing his hand. Her mouth opened and closed a few times, like a fish out of water. She looked like she struggled to line up the words behind those full, wet lips. “What do you mean ‘not interested’?”

“Exactly that. I’m. Not. Interested.”

“I don’t—”

Kurt cut her off. “Look, I’ve had four of your lot after me this week alone. Like I told them, I don’t care if there’s hidden treasure in the amazon, it doesn’t concern me that a Siberian shaman is searching for a spell to destroy Russia, I sleep better not knowing whether the lost pharaoh is still alive in an Egyptian hookah bar, and I’m certainly not interested in any bloody curse.”

“Oh,” the red-head pouted. “But, you’re the only man who—”

“Stop it. Stop it now. Do I look like a storybook knight to you? Am I what you think of when someone says ‘the novel’s protagonist’?” He waved his hands up and down indicating an abject lack of “hero physique”. “What about me screams ‘flash fiction main character’?”

The red-head thought a moment “Erm…”

“I rest my case. Now, would you kindly leave us be.”

“You’re sure you won’t—?”

“Certain of it,” he said and wondered as she left if the dismissive wave was too much. He turned back to Jenny. “Where were we?”

Jenny stared at him for a moment then took off her glasses and reached to pull the clip from her hair. It fell around her shoulders in soft curls sweeping away the academia-chic and replacing it with unbridled sex appeal.

“Dr Baldwin…”

”Oh, for heaven’s sake! Not you too.”

Thirteen Week Streak – Week Seven: Jigsaw Puzzle

Thirteen Week Streak – Week Seven: Jigsaw Puzzle

Jayden Dwyer should have been surprised when a human tooth fell out of the gumball machine instead of candy. But still, it was far from the worst thing that’d happened to him that week.

Billy William — what kind of stupid name was that? — had already torn the sleeve of Jayden’s Doctor Who tee, had put a dog turd in his rucksack, and had poured something that smelled like cat pee over his head. And it was only Tuesday.

Jayden was sick to his back teeth.

Ha! Back teeth, he thought and turned the molar over in his hand. It was perfectly clean save for a thin line of red tissue which clung to the root. Jayden shrugged, pushed it deep into his pocket, and promptly forgot all about it.

* * *

By Thursday, Jayden had found another four teeth, a lower mandible, three large fragments of skull, and a long bone he was certain was a femur. He also found himself sporting a black eye and six cigarette burns curtesy of Billy. Those had been decidedly harder to keep hidden from his mom than the bones.

Jayden had often thought about telling his mom about Billy, but he knew she’d only worry. Even worse, she might go down to school and tell the Principal and then he’d be in for it — Billy would kill him.

At least this way all his mom had to sort out was her next paycheck, or getting the alimony from dad. She had enough to deal with and he didn’t need her to fight for him anymore.

* * *

Inside seven weeks, Jayden had gathered enough pieces from around town to make almost a complete skeleton. He’d wired them together like an elaborate jigsaw while his mom had worked the night shift at a motel out on I90. It’d been harder than he’d expected and Jayden had needed an anatomy book from the library to help. All he’d been missing was an upper left canine, until Billy William knocked his out with an “accidental” swing during baseball.

Coach had panicked, asked if he was all right, told him to sit down and take a minute, even promised him that their star player (Billy, of course) hadn’t meant for it to happen. Jayden had just smiled a bloodied smile and, retrieving his lost tooth from home plate, left the field without a word.

He’d told his mom it was an accident, but that hadn’t stopped her from calling Coach. When she’d calmed down a little, she told him to put it under his pillow. He had other ideas.

The hours passed so slowly while he waited for her to leave for work. He’d waited another hour on top of that to make sure she wouldn’t come back.

His tooth fit the skeleton’s jaw as though it were made for it and Jayden almost wept when he heard the creak of flexing bone and his creation’s first ragged breath.

The look on Billy’s face tomorrow morning would be epic.

Thirteen Week Streak – Week Six: Words of Joy and Regret in an Age of Monsters

Thirteen Week Streak – Week Six: Words of Joy and Regret in an Age of Monsters

I almost broke your nose that day on the pier when you grabbed my shoulder. We weren’t really acquainted then and the shock of your hand on me, urging me forward, caused my hackles to rise — at least until I glimpsed what spurred you on. I’d turned to confront you, cocked a fist ready to strike, and the first one of those things I ever saw loomed up over you. I didn’t doubt your motives again after that.

All around us, people ran, screamed, fell. There was so much blood covering the sea-sprayed deck and I slipped more than once trying to find purchase on the slick boards. The blood’s metallic scent fought back the brine of the seawater that dripped from their dark, scaled bodies. It clung to my clothes, clung to the back of my throat. I thought I was going to vomit, but you kept me moving.

I lost my iPod during the rush — something I haven’t completely forgiven you for, more now than ever. Yes, I know it was petty,  all things considered, a triviality, but that was my last connection to a life now lost, that we’ve both lost. It seems so moronic now, all the arguments we had about that music player, had I known what you…

Well, anyway…

In the grand scheme of things, we hadn’t known each other long. Under other circumstances, I doubt we’d have even met, let alone allowed our feelings to grow and blossom. In such a short time, you gave everything for me: you gave me faith in the kindness of strangers, you gave me food and water and shelter, you gave your life.

I begged you, pleaded with you not to go outside. We didn’t know that they weren’t still in the neighbourhood, but you insisted you’d be fine. You told me we needed food, fresh water, but I’d checked the stock that morning and we had more than enough, especially now that Mr and Mrs Alvarez were gone. I was so angry at you for lying to me. How was I supposed to know you were going out to find an iPod? How was I supposed to know it was a surprise?

You’re too sweet for your own good. You’re too dumb for your own good. I didn’t need a stupid iPod, I needed a stupid YOU.

It took me nearly an hour to pull the spines from your skin. Fifty-nine minutes too late to have done anything that might’ve saved you. By then, the poison was already racing through your veins, leaving pathways of black spiderwebs on your pale flesh as it surged towards your heart. I cried watching you writhe and scream as your organs withered and died. You begged me to take away your pain.

I almost broke your nose that day on the pier. Sometimes, I wish I had — it would have been much easier than what you made me do.

Thirteen Week Streak – Week Five: Most Haunted Attractions

Thirteen Week Streak – Week Five: Most Haunted Attractions

“It’s in here,” Michael called to his brother.

Robert looked distastefully at the field, then down at his polished boots. “Just so you know, these are new,” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me it was in the middle of a field? I would have worn something more appropriate.”

“Stop bitching and get a move on. I can’t believe we’ve found it,” Michael said, and disappeared through the doors into the barn.

“Are you picking up anything?” the producer asked. Robert hadn’t bothered learning her name. They’d been filming Most Haunted Attractions for seven years and had a new producer every couple of weeks. Names seemed pointless things to remember.

Robert shook his head and, with a sigh, stepped carefully onto the churned grass.

“What’s the story here?” Jason, the cameraman, said. The harsh lamp shone in Robert’s eyes and, distracted, he lost his footing, new boots sliding into wet cow droppings.

“Goddammit!”

The producer waved Jason away “Leave the questions for inside. Concentrate on the establishing shots, yeah?”

Jason grunted and looked like he was going to say something until the producer fixed him with a hard stare. He wandered off to do as asked. When the producer handed Robert some wet wipes, he felt a little ashamed at not remembering her name after all.

“Thanks,” he said.

“Will you be able to do this?” she asked.

“It’s only cow shit—”

“I meant the ride. I know the history.”

Robert asked himself the same question every time they filmed one of the “Mansion of Horror” rides, but as with all the others, he doubted this would be the one.

“Hey, I’m a professional,” he said and almost believed himself. “Let’s see what we find inside.”

“Hurry up,” Michael called.

“Supposed we should hurry,” Robert smiled. “Don’t know how long we’ve got until we lose the light.”

Jason was already at the doors by the time they reached the barn, the camera in front of his face, lamp cutting through the dust and darkness. A pair of the crew held open the doors to allow filming, hugging the wall to remain out of shot. Jason beckoned Robert forward and Robert obliged, starting his usual opening monologue.

He stopped when he saw inside.

The interior of the barn was far larger than Robert had been expecting. At its centre sat the attraction they’d driven hours along half-formed roads to see. It rose up from the scattered hay like the mansion of its namesake. Its metal frame painted to look like broken, wooden awnings. Crude ghosts and witches peered out through crumbling windows. The whole ride was remarkably well preserved and Robert felt vindicated to have remembered every detail with such clarity considering he’d last seen it back in ’69. It even sported the same Help Wanted poster Michael had replied to all those years before.

The last time Robert had seen his brother alive.

“You took your time,” Michael said. He pointed to the ride’s double entrance. “I’m in here.”

Thirteen Week Streak – Week Four: Exodus

Thirteen Week Streak – Week Four: Exodus

The car had been harder to hotwire than the pods suggested. Understandable when Brendan thought about it, it’s not like there’s a wealth of information just lying around about seventy-year-old cars. Not anymore, anyway.

The engine coughed once, then roared to life. The noise much louder than anticipated in the enclosed space. Brendan expected his uncle’s appearance in the doorway of workshop, weapon in hand, before he’d manage to get the vehicle outside. But that had been two hours ago and nearly 150 miles behind them. Now, the first orange rays of sun yawned over the scorched horizon and the nuclear winds blew through the broken windscreen to whip the remaining strands of Marcy’s bleached hair. She howled with delight and Brendan reached out a sore-pocked hand towards her.

She took it and give it a gentle squeeze. “How much further?” She asked.

“Another half-hour maybe,” he said and steered slowly around the upended husk of an abandoned ‘Less.

Since leaving the city proper, Brendan had seen more and more Pre-Burn detritus. Fewer people meant less need for salvage, he guessed, and more remained out on the open road than would have survived in the narrow urban streets. He’d even seen an actual ‘Less Truck. They were things of legend, hinted at by his late father, but never really believed in until one had risen up into view from the blistered tarmac. If they hadn’t been in such a hurry, he’d have stopped for a closer look.

“Have you ever been to the beach?” Marcy said. He’d noticed the dreamy, sing-song quality creeping into her voice, had known its meaning but tried to ignore it. Even so, he pressed his foot down a little harder on the pedal.

“Oh yeah,” he teased. “I go all the time. You’re gonna love it.”

Marcy gave him a weak, toothless smile and he risked taking his eyes off the road for a moment to plant a kiss on the corner of her sweet mouth.

“Thank you,” she said and he nodded his reply, not trusting the strength of his voice.

* * *

She was asleep when Brendan rolled the car to a halt at the foot of the cliff. He contemplated waking her, but let her be while he dragged a worn blanket and a shovel from the back seat.

The heat from the blast had turned the sand to glass in places and the motion of the sea had buffed it to a dull shine. Despite this and with careful steps, he managed to find a large enough patch of loose sand with relative ease.

He’d laid out the blanket and dug the hole to the dimensions the pods had said (she didn’t want to be burnt as everything else had burnt) before he’d returned to lift her gently from the seat.

They sat together in the morning sun, Marcy’s head rested heavy upon his shoulder, and stared out across the fathomless sea.

“You’re welcome,” he finally whispered.

Thirteen Week Streak – Week Three: Belly Rotters

Thirteen Week Streak – Week Three: Belly Rotters

Peter’s stomach gave an audible gurgle. He clutched at his sides and moaned.

“Seriously, why you insist on eating those things?” Wendy, his wife, said. “Food stand dogs are probably the worst thing ever. They always make you sick.”

“I’m not sick,” he insisted. “I just need to…” He swallowed hard and jerked a thumb toward a row of green Portaloos running the edge of the festival area. The gurgling gave way to the first ripple of cramps and Peter was moving, not even pausing to catch his wife’s reply.

While he’d never admit that Wendy was right, it was true festival hot dogs never failed to give him a terrible stomach, though it hadn’t been as bad as this before.

But they’re so goddamn tasty.

He crossed the field at close to a sprint, rounded the side of the chemical toilet…and ran straight into the biggest line he’d seen in all his years of attending the event. How had he not noticed it before? Sixteen deep at its shortest point and every face in it as creased and contorted with pain as his.

Another groan — half in exasperation, half in response to the twisting pain — escaped him. Doubting his ability to hold himself together long enough to take his turn, he checked around for ‘alternatives’. The closest option, some distance away to his right, was a small copse of trees just inside the perimeter fence. The next set of toilets, however, were back at the gate where he’d entered nearly an hour earlier.

Why did I eat that dog?

His stomach muscles tightened like someone had flicked him hard in the gut with a gigantic rubber band. He wouldn’t make it anywhere else, better to wait in line and hope it moved quickly.

Trying to ignore the sharp pains growing in intensity and frequency, he joined the queue behind a teenage girl. The girl — nineteen, blonde, and wearing a pair of Daisy Dukes — fidgeted awkwardly in place, swaying gently side-to-side. Like Peter, she too held her stomach.

“Did you…did you have the hot dogs too?” he asked her, trying to keep his voice light and his mind off the growing dread at the seemingly stalled line.

She nodded her head but didn’t face him. Peter could hear the churning contents in her guts. She gave a little sob.

“Not sure they were all that fresh this year,” he continued, playing down the sudden, rotting smell that filled the air between them.

She whirled around as though struck. Her eyes streaked with bloodshot veins. Black blood oozed over thin parted lips and down the front of her t-shirt.

Behind the girl, others turned to face his way. Teeth bared, eyes dark with ruptured capillaries. Peter saw one, a guy with a top knot, snatch at a young woman passing by and bite her cheek, tearing away a lump of flesh.

Christ, what was in those dogs? he thought…and felt blood rise up his throat.

Thirteen Week Streak – Week Two: The Route to the Path to the Way of Requited Love

Thirteen Week Streak – Week Two: The Route to the Path to the Way of Requited Love

I know exactly why you are here. You are a seeker of meaning, a seeker of The Answer. Well, just down that path, no more than an hour’s walk from here, you will encounter a fork in the road that does not appear on any map. You will know it by the gentle fragrance of jasmine petals and the attentive stares of three black cats (if you reach the standing stone, you’ve gone too far).

While I strongly caution against taking the right fork, I know I will be ignored. So tread carefully, and ensure you take three flowers with you (I cannot help you to choose which three, but choose wisely).

Once you are committed in this endeavour, stick tight to the trail. Do not hesitate in your step for more than a moment, do not slip, trip, or stumble on any stone or errant branch you may find in your way, and never EVER stray from the path.

At the Man of Leaves, you must take seven short steps to your left and whisper the name of your mother’s eldest sibling into the North Wind’s coat tails. The departing wind will howl back in anguish the exact hour of your death, but take care not listen, or you will be permitted no further.

Present your first flower to the Man of Leaves and he will point you in the direction of the second leg of your journey. He is full of lies and not to be trusted. Still, take the route he indicates, but do so only with backwards steps. Do not allow your gaze to stray from his variegated face until the protective shadow of the Great Oak dulls the hue of your fine clothes.

From high in the branches above you, you will hear the laughter of squirrels (ignore their mocking tones for who frets over the opinions of rodents). It is to them you must offer your second tribute. If they approve of your choice of flower, they will call forth the Rooted Worm to bear you to the edge of the forest upon its elasticated spine. If they do not…well, you will soon find that out for yourself.

Should your nerve hold strong and your desire remain unwavering, you will find yourself on the edge of a wildflower meadow and at the centre, a house — your own house. This is not the time for idling for the person within is the one you have sought from your very first step, the sole purpose of this voyage. They will stand, eager, in the doorway, awaiting your return and your decision. It is to this person, and this person alone, you should make your final tribute: the last plucked flower, and your unconditional devotion.