Zola held her breath. A puffy, pasty face with crimson widening its too-small mouth hulked over her. When she couldn’t hold her breath any longer, the smell of copper invaded her nostrils. Clowns frightened her, as did the dark. Praying to wake, she pinched her arm. Barely awake, she wandered to the Last Drop Café. The nightmare occupied her mind, and a taste of iron lingered on her tongue. A cup of coffee would jolt life into her. Just before leaving home, she had snatched the umbrella. Who knew when it might rain. The open sign hung on the door of the café, but the interior’s blackness faced her. Despite the early morning sun, the area around the establishment morphed into darkness as empty as the café except for the small bulb above the door that beamed like a spotlight. When a shadow stepped into the beam of light, Zola knew the sight would be repulsive, and she stifled a scream before turning to see the image from her nightmare. With her feet glued to the concrete, a getaway was impossible. The smell of decayed flesh wafted over her, and she gagged at the stench, unable to scream. Similar to her dream, thick red was smeared around the clown’s grinning mouth. Blood dripped from between its gleaming thick lips. When the clown cocked its head and smiled, crimson seeped from toothless gums. The clown sported a garish orange and hot pink ruffle around its neck. Wide sleeves cinched at the wrist camouflaged its outstretched arms. Though too close to see its legs, she felt certain baggy material would be similarly gathered at the ankles. Fluffy red pompoms from the neck ruffle to the waist dangled like loose buttons. The patterned costume displayed every gaudy colour imaginable. Despite the mild temperature, Zola shivered. Click-click, click-click reverberated around her. Jarred to attention, she realized she—Zola—was absently striking the concrete with the umbrella. Without hesitation—without consciously having planned an attack—she stepped back, raised her hand, and rammed the pointed silver end into the clown’s left eye. She pushed as hard as she could until the umbrella reached resistance as if hitting bone. She withdrew the makeshift weapon and stared into the gaping socket where blood slowly pooled and streaked down its cheek. She examined the umbrella’s tip, not surprised to see the eyeball skewered upon it. The speared orb reminded her of the first food item slipped onto a shish kebab stick. The creature swayed but stayed upright. The remaining eye, trying unsuccessfully to view its missing twin, morphed into one-half of a set of crossed eyes. Zola seized the lull and gouged the umbrella into the right eye. When she sensed the eyeball was firmly impaled alongside the first, she withdrew the umbrella from the clown’s face. For a second time, she stared at a dark hole and watched while blood pooled before flowing. She had no reason to scrutinize the umbrella tip again; the rod would be as previously, times two. When the door to the café swung into blackness, she jumped. Her stomach flip-flopped. Her heart raced. What were those odours? Escaping gas? More decaying flesh? More blood? No, her imagination liked to play tricks. Cool air brushed over her. Moisture like slobbering, sweeping kisses assaulted her face. While her eyes acclimatized to the dark, darting sparkles materialized as if a bucket of fireflies had been set free. She entered and flipped the light switch, blinking in the sudden glare. Though the fluorescent lights calmed her, she shuddered and took a deep breath. She saw nothing though sensed the unknown lingered. Realization dawned. The beings were hidden behind the light, and unless the light was turned off, she wouldn’t know where they were. Despite her fears, she’d be better off in the dark. She switched off the light and waited. Before the firefly objects appeared, a familiar click-click, click-click approached. Within seconds, as if swords had pierced her skull, the worst migraine Zola had experienced struck behind her eyes. She fell to her knees. The previous metallic smell invaded her nostrils, and warm liquid spilled to her chest. In vain, she attempted to dry her tears. The distinctive click of the light switch calmed her. A bolt of lightning flared in front of her, reminding her of times when her bedroom light had been flipped on and the sudden glare would seep behind her closed lids to force her awake. Although positive the light had been turned on and she had opened her eyes, she saw endless black. Weak, though without pain, soothing warmth spread through her, and she knew she hadn’t the strength to rise. Nor could she control her dripping tears. She retched. Everything she’d eaten the previous day spewed to the floor: scrambled eggs, hash browns, and ham at breakfast; grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup at lunch; meatballs, peas, and potatoes at dinner. Without sight, senses of smell and hearing intensified, and the café came to life with its daily three meals—the smells that lay before her. She had discerned each food item as she regurgitated—first in, last out. Everything after that played in slow motion until Zola heard a click-click followed by a soggy plop. And then a second click-click. And a second plop. Then she knew. Her fingers splayed, she groped over the floor, searching, taking care to move slowly. She mustn’t damage her eyeballs, for surely when she found them, they could be reinserted. She wouldn’t survive without sight. And then—she touched something. Is this it? No, the object was hard; not slimy. And too large. A shoe? Her fingers inched upward until she latched onto fabric bunched around a thick ankle. The clown laughed, a great guffaw that caused her arm to drop to the floor. Her palm landed on what felt like a skinless grape that too-slowly skidded away. As though a light bulb had exploded, dark shattered the hidden light. Zola breathed her last.
Click here to view contributor bio
Day 30 Sepulcher of Shame by Maggie Brace As his foot hit the bottom step a musty aroma reached his nostrils. The acrid stench permeated the cavernous crypt, yet breathing it in rejuvenated him. Bowing in supplication he acknowledged both his ancestors and the myriad of life forces he sensed flitting beyond the edges of the tomb. A wave of nausea overwhelmed him and he realized it had been days since he had eaten. Prying a marble slab aside, he gazed down into the serene face of his late wife. He grasped her cold hands and wept, “I’m so sorry, my love!” Scooping her brains out, he feasted.
Inner Monster by Linda Gould
There is a monster that lies within each of us. It hibernates. Sometimes just below the surface, Sometimes deep within our soul. It wakes, hungry. It destroys Often things we hate, Sometimes things we love Even our selves. There is a monster that lies within each of us. We are human, after all.
Click here to view contributor bio
Day 31 The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore--
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door--
Only this and nothing more.”
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore--
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore--
Nameless here for evermore.
And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
“’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door--
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;--
This it is and nothing more.”
Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;--
Darkness there and nothing more.
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”--
Merely this and nothing more.
Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore--
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;--
’Tis the wind and nothing more!”
Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door--
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door--
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore--
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door--
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”
But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered--
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before--
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said “Nevermore.”
Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore--
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore--
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”
This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!
Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!--
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted--
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore--
Is there--is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore--
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore--
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting--
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!
Click here to view contributor bio
Day 32 The Countdown by Tim Law
Robert Stevens met the girl 10 days after he’d lost his job. He had been an accountant for well over a decade at the firm and it had come as a shock when they said that they had to let him go. Thus it had seemed like serendipity at first, Irish luck or a wish come true when she entered the bar he had gone to with the purpose of drowning his sorrows. She wore his favorite color and her flaming red hair had instantly caught his attention. She sat down next to him even though there had been many tables vacant at that time of the day. “Are you Robert Stevens?” she had asked him, her voice sweet, friendly. He was 9 beers down already by then so he didn’t trust his voice not to slur. He had nodded instead in reply to her question. He had 8 bucks left in his pocket and nothing in the bank so he was eager as could be to hear her offer. There were 7 pages to the contract she placed before him then and the further down the pages he went the finer the print seemed to get. Regardless it only took him 6 seconds to say yes. 5 droplets of his blood were smeared at the bottom of the final page. He had thought to himself when the door closes you just have to open a window. “Feels like I’m signing my life away,” he laughed as his finger traced his signature from the crimson pool. “You’re doing more than that,” she replied with a gorgeous smile. It took Robert 4 attempts to gather up enough courage to enter the bank she had specified when he’d been promised riches beyond his wildest dreams. When he stepped back out on the street again his arms were full of cash, a smoking gun was in his hand and there were 3 bodies left in his wake. The first had been an off duty cop, then a mother of three and finally a beloved local school teacher. Only 2 of the major news channels covered the story as the manhunt for him began. For only a few days he was on the run. By the end he had spent at least half the dough sneaking across the country. They found him holed up somewhere near the border to Mexico. He was there waiting with his girl at his side. The last thing he heard before the bullets began to fly was her 1 little secret. She was the Devil and his heart and soul both belonged to her.
Click here to view contributor bio
Day 33 Bhoot Bangla by Snigdha Agrawal
Following Dad's transfer from the city to a small industrial township, we found ourselves occupants of a new home. Bungalow number nine, typically Victorian in architecture, had slate roofs, red tiled floors, high ceilings with wooden beams, and verandahs running along the entire house, bordered with carved stone spindles. At nine I was not tall enough to reach the ledge. The gaps between the spindles, provided peepholes to the outside world, so magical. Green fields, tall trees, parrots cavorting, punctuated by loud screams, added to the enchantment.
The living room had a coal-fired fireplace and above it on the mantelpiece stood family photographs. The bookshelves had neatly arranged rows of Dad's book collection, arranged alphabetically, as in a library. Agatha Christie novels, his favourite, far outnumbered other authors. A Burma teak framework sofa set, upholstered in soft wine-colored velvet that matched the curtains, stood out in sharp contrast, against the white painted door wooden frames. One corner of the room was dedicated to musical instruments, lined up neatly.
Harmonium, Tanpura, Tables, and Flute were dusted and propped up against the white washed walls. All were used for Sangeet Sammelans (musical soirees), hosted by Dad and Mum in our home. Evenings saw a gathering of music lovers, enjoying Mother's songs sung to the accompaniment of the Sitar.
We were packed off to bed by 7 pm, drifting off to slumberland with music floating from the living room. But why did the music not cease much after everyone had retired for the night?
'It must be all in your head. An overload from reading Enid Blyton stories,” Ma remarked whenever I so much as mentioned the musical instruments coming alive in the dead of night. Some nights, the sound of dancing reached my ears, anklets with bells keeping beat to the tabla (tableto).
"That must be because of extra helpings of caramel custard that you had at dinner and consequent indigestion, bloating not only your stomach, but your head as well".
No way could I convince her it was real. To allay my fears, she advised me to wake her up the next time my imagined symphony started. You bet I will, I said to myself.
The moon was in its waning phase, the stars were hiding behind storm clouds, and the night was raven black when again the music reached my ears, at first soft and then in a cresendo. I pinched myself. It hurt, and that validated I was wide awake, not in a dream state imagining things. Walking into my parent's bedroom, I shook Ma awake. "Now what's the matter? " she asked slightly irritated. Whispering into her ears that the musical concert was live made her wide awake. So as not to disturb Dad, sleeping peacefully, she rolled off the bed in a slow motion, slipping on her mocassins, then holding my hand said, “C'mon let's find out the mystery musical players in the living room.”
Strangely she still had not heard the symphony. Throwing open the living room door, her facial expression froze in an instant. We both stood transfixed, with dropped jaws, watching the strings of the instrument moving and jerking, depressing, then straightening, as though controlled by a concert conductor. Ma and I shut the door instantly, and gathering our wits about us. We made it to my bedroom, sweat pouring down our faces.
"OK..now you believe me?" I asked with a certain sense of having won. She nodded. "Keep this to yourself. When Dad wakes up, we will let him him know of the paranormal night activities in the living room. Let's see, what he has to say.”
So saying, she tucked me back into bed, and left.
Next morning at the breakfast table, Ma narrated the incident. Without batting an eyelid, Dad dismissed us with "Bah humbug!” Ma saw red!
For the next seven nights, the players took a hiatus from playing. At least that's what occurred to Ma and I. On the next full moon, the orchestra struck up at a little past 2 am, not that I stayed awake in anticipation of the players arrival. This time the music equaled a Zubin Mehta performance. Ma, too, woke up and nudged Dad awake.
Rushing into the living room, we heard the music loud and clear. The black and white harmonium keys depressed and released in a musical sequence, as though invisible fingers were running over them, the bellows opening and closing like a giant fish out of water, gasping for breath. We left, dumbfounded. Dad put a padlock on the door to the living room, declaring it a "no entry" zone. The musical soirees in our living room ended. Next morning we shifted to Bungalow number six.
But the story doesn't end there. Dad went on to check out who were the previous occupants of Bungalow number nine. After going through various documents kept in the Clubhouse, he got what he wanted. It made sense in light of our 'ghostly' experience.
In the year 1947, soon after India got independence from British rule, the Taylor's, an English family, were occupants of that Bungalow. Their five year old son, a musical prodigy, proficient in playing the Piano, died after a cholera outbreak in the community. The grieving parents had to flee without giving a fitting burial for their only child. They hastily buried his body in the backyard. Little William remained in India, his soul roaming the living room of Bungalow number nine.
"Hey! how could you have allotted that Bungalow, fully aware, it was haunted" dad demanded. "Well there were no vacant Bungalows when you arrived, so we had no option,” was the excuse offered.
This is the story of the "Bhoot Bangla" (the haunted house) that I lived in for over six months
Click here to view contributor bio
Day 34 Emilia's Rainbow by Michael Rhys
Little Emily reached up to the round, black iron hoop and twisted it. The latch clicked and she pulled the old door a fraction towards her. She peered through the gap into the garden where small drops of light rain fell like little diamonds in the sharp, new sunlight. She pulled the door wide, stepped back, and looked out over the wet grass and trees. A gravel path twisted down the grassy slope to the gate and then beyond to the little brook that lay at the bottom of the shallow valley. Emily stepped out into the light drizzle. “Find where the sun is, then look in the opposite direction,” her grandfather had said a few minutes before. “If you’re lucky, you might see a rainbow.” The sun was breaking through the decaying clouds. Emily turned to face it. Feeling the warmth on her face, she closed her eyes and said, “Please God, when I turn around I want there to be a rainbow. A big one, with unicorns.” She opened her eyes and turned. There was nothing there. “Oh.” She stuck out her tongue and raised her face to catch the last of the soft rain. Then, she saw it. Towering directly above, as bright and grand and as solid and real as any dream was the shimmering glow of a rainbow. Emily’s eyes traced the curve down to where it touched the ground beyond the wood at the edge of Sheep Field. She turned to see the other end. It lay close, touching land on the bank of the little brook where the water flowed under the stone bridge that led to Grandpa’s house. She skipped down the path to the gate that opened onto River Meadow. Crouching down, she looked between the rusted iron bars of the gate. Beyond, next to the brook, was the end of the rainbow; A curtain of colour that gently ebbed and flowed like the lace at her bedroom window. In front of the rainbow, sitting on a tree stump, was a tiny man in a black suit. He was busy polishing his shoes with an old cloth. Emily gently lifted the catch of the gate and opened it just enough to squeeze through. It squeaked on the rusty hinges, but the tiny man paid no heed and just kept on polishing. Nervously, she walked through the damp grass. She stopped a few paces away. “Hello,” she said. The tiny man looked up. He had a narrow, mouse-like face with a sharp nose and long, black nostrils. His ruby lips were thick and dark, damp and round. Black hair was slicked back over his large ears. His black suit was velvet and tight against a red shirt and narrow black tie. He smiled. Emily stepped back, surprised. His teeth were a deep gold. Bright in the sunshine. “Hello, little one,” he said. Not sure what to say, Emily blurted out, “You’re little!” “The same as you, perhaps.” He stared at Emily. “Are you a leprechaun?” she asked. “A leprechaun? Now why would you be asking me that?” “Because my grandpa said I might see a leprechaun at the end of the rainbow.” “Did he now?” The little man put the old shoe rag into his pocket and adjusted his tie. “No, sorry. I’m just a regular old demon.” “Grandpa said if I find a leprechaun I shouldn’t look away because he will disappear. If I don’t look away, he has to tell me where his gold is hidden.” The demon leaned forward. “And you would steal my gold, would you Emily?” “No….but…you’re not a leprechaun.” “Indeed.” “How do you know my name?” “You told me, last night, while you were sleeping.” “Did I?” she said, giggling. “Yes.” He stood. “There is great power in names little Emilia. Guard your names well.” “What’s your name?” Emily asked. The demon cocked his head slightly and kept Emily’s eyes fixed within his. He reached into his pocket and took out a crumpled paper bag. “Would you like a sweety?” he asked. Emily looked a moment at the bag. “My mummy said I shouldn’t take sweets from strangers.” “Quite right, too.” He put the bag back into his pocket. “A sensible woman, your mother. But, she’s not here is she?” “No, this is my Grandpa’s house, just him and me till Saturday.” “Yes, I know.” Again he fixed Emily in his gaze. Feeling uncomfortable she looked up and along the arc of shimmering colour. “Is there a leprechaun at the other end?” The demon raised a finger to his gold teeth. “Shhhhh. We don’t talk about the other end.” “Why not?” “Yin and Yang, black and white, body and soul, day and night. You know the stories Emilia dear, and now perhaps it’s time to play. Heads or tails?” He took out a little silver coin and flipped it. The sunlight fired off the spinning silver as it rose, then slowed and finally hung, spinning in the air above the demon with the quiet ringing of metal. The demon watched it a moment before looking again at Emily. “Do you have a dog?” he asked. “Yes. Sandy. She’s a beagle.” “Is she now?” He licked his thick red lips. “Is she here?” “No.” “Pity. Now Sandy, the beagle, has a head end and a tail end, yes?” “I suppose so.” “What does Sandy do with her head end?” “She barks…..and….eats….and licks me.” “You like it when she licks you.” “Yes, it tickles.” “It tickles. So, you see, heads is where good things happen. Tell me, what happens at her tail end?” Emily giggled, “She poops.” “Exactly,” said the demon clapping his hands. “Do you like poop, little one?” “No.” “No. So, which end of the rainbow do you think this is, Emilia? heads or tails?” “Er….heads.” The spinning coin dropped into his palm, tails up. “Would you like to see inside?” Without taking his eyes off the girl he raised his left hand. Behind him, the rainbow parted like a curtain. Inside, Emily saw the first few steps of a shining, multicolored staircase. “Are there unicorns?” Emily asked. “Ah, I’m afraid not. But there are other creatures with magic—and horns. They would love to see you.” Mother had warned Emily to never get into a stranger’s car. She never said anything about rainbows. The demon danced slowly backwards before stopping in between the glowing curtains. “Heads or tails, Emilia? Heads or tails?” Emily steps forward, led by the eyes of the demon. “Heads or tails, flesh and blood, dead or alive, Emilia. What’s the story today, my dear?” Emily reached the border of the two worlds. She could hear the rainbow softly humming, the sound of the colours quietly buzzing as they gently flowed back and forth in the breeze. The demon, just inches away, raised his hand. “But, Emilia,” he said. “There is something you must do first.” “Do something?” “Yes.” He leaned forward, his nose almost touching Emily’s. “It’s very important,” he whispered. “What is it?” Emily whispered back. “All you have to do….is say your grandfather's name.” There was a faint shout from up near the house. “Emily!” “Grandpa?” The demon’s smile slipped, but his eyes remained firmly on the girl’s “His name, Emilia. You just have to say your grandfather’s name.” “Emily!” The shout again, louder, closer. “Grandpa’s name?” “Yes, that’s all, then you can come in and play. Quickly now.” “But….” She stumbled backwards. The hum of the rainbow growing as the demons smile began to slip further. “His name, dear Emilia, quickly now or it will be too late.” She staggered back, her head and body twisting as she tried to break from the demon's gaze. “Emily!” She heared the squeak of the old iron gate. She tried again to turn, but her eyes were locked onto those of the demon and he wouldn't let go. “His name!” the demon pleaded. “Just say his fucking name!” The shotgun fired just above Emily’s head. She screamed and dropped to her knees. The echo of the shot faded into the flapping of wings as the birds flew from the trees. The Demon stood perfectly still. Small rivers of red started to run from tiny black holes in his face and hands. He stared a moment more, holding Emily in his dying gaze before he broke and looked up at the grandfather. He raised his bleeding hands and started to clap, slowly, weakly. “Well done, Samuel, well done,” he said. “So close this time, Samuel, yes? So close.” Emily felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked up. Her grandfather stood silhouetted against the sun. “It’s OK, Emilia,” he said, gently. She looked back at the little sunlit river. The rain had stopped and the birds had started to return to the trees along the edge. Lying in the wet grass by the tree stump was a little silver coin and a neat pile of gold teeth.
Click here to view contributor bio
Day 35 Setsubun by Linda Gould
Setsubun is a childrens holiday in Japan celebrated on the eve of the first day of spring (by the Japanese calendar, that’s in early February). Fathers don cute demon masks and prance around their yard or house while their children throw beans at them and shout, “Evil out, good luck in!” Setsubun’s origins, however, are dark and magical. This submission is my re-imagining of the original event.
The knock at the door meant another customer, but she had worked all night and was tired. For a moment, she considered ignoring the call for her services, but a woman of her profession accepted business when it was presented. She cringed at his bulging eyes, bulbous nose and twisted body. He reeked of sweat and dirt, and his matted hair hung in clumps to his shoulders, but his giant hand offered her five gold coins. Who was she to judge a man in need? "It's cold outside, sir,” she kept her disgust to herself and avoided looking at his face as she welcomed him. “Please come in. I'll take care of you." She scooped up the coins that he tossed onto the table, then poured him a cup of warm sake, which he immediately spit out. "You call this sake? It isn't fit for the dirtiest peddler much less a man like me. Bring me your best." "I'm sorry, sir. It is all I have." With that, he pulled a hammer with a face the size of a barrel from his belt. She scrambled to a corner and huddled in a ball, arms over head for protection. The man ignored her and pounded his hammer onto her small table. A barrel of sake appeared. "Serve." She did, pouring cup after cup from the cask that bore a family crest she had never seen before: a black circle bisected by a lightning bolt and rimmed with roiling clouds that she swore shifted after each pour. The more the man drank, the more he laughed at her stories and jokes. When he had finished the snacks she’d prepared, she asked, “Shall I dance for you?” “Not in that kimono. It’s dirty and ragged. What do you do? Clean house in it?” She stood before him, head lowered, fingers toying with a loose thread hanging from a ragged sleeve. “Let me guess, you have nothing else to change into? What poor souls you must service. Stand aside!" He swung the magic hammer and slammed it down, this time on her futon. She held up the midnight blue kimono that appeared. Lightning bolts flickered along its hem and across the back, a full moon peaked out from behind dark clouds, boldly lighting their edges. She was poor and used, but knew finery when she saw it. She ripped away her own kimono and slid on the new one, tying the obi in front to ensure easy removal when the time came. Then she danced and sang, not for the rude man who magically gave her such finery, but for the joy of feeling soft fabric caress her used body, to hear the swooshing silk sing. As she danced, she felt as if the lightning bolts infused her with energy and the moonlit clouds that shifted with her movements lightened her dance. When she had finished, her customer bowed deeply. His eyes shone bright, and he seemed almost melancholy when he stood, his head nearly reaching the ceiling of her hut, and guided her to the futon. It was time to work. Later, she slipped into her own kimono and crept from the bed while he slept, poured out a cup of sake and tossed it down, trying to erase the memory of the man’s bristly hair scraping her skin and the smell of rotting teeth that smothered her each time he grunted in pleasure. She gagged just thinking of it and poured out the final cup of sake in the cask. She sighed when she realized the man had drunk the entire cask. He would sleep hard and long. And considering he’d paid five gold coins, he would likely demand her services again in the morning. She hung the beautiful kimono gently over a room divider that a client had once given her in lieu of payment. That man had been overseeing the clearing out of his ancestral home after his parents had died. He had led her through a house with scrolls hanging on the walls and painted folding screens that divided the rooms. Wooden cornices decorated the doorway lintels, and the figures carved into them scowled at her as she passed through, seeming to judge her for the service she was about to provide. When the man guided her into a tatami room and pointed to a closet, demanding she set out the futon, she had thought he was joking and giggled accordingly. His glare told her otherwise, so rather than sing and pour sake and entertain him with her wit, she set out the futon like a common maidservant. He immediately jumped on her, and when he was satisfied, cleaned himself with the futon sheet, looked around the room, then pointed to a folding screen with plum blossoms and birds painted on the panels. “When you’re finished putting away the futon, you can have that.” “The screen, sir?” she asked. “Yes.” “Sir, a screen is of no use to me. My friends offer me money for my troubles.” She rubbed her breast as she spoke, partly because it still hurt from his bites, but also because she hoped he would notice and be reminded how much he had enjoyed it a few minutes earlier. “I’m no friend of yours,” he said as he dressed, “and I’m sure my attention tonight was no trouble for you. You probably enjoyed it more than I did, right?” Her head, where he had pulled her hair to pin her to the futon, still ached. She pulled her kimono closed. “Of course, sir.” “Then, for your services, take the screen. It’s worth more than you deserve.” He left. Whatever its value, the screen was useless to her. She wouldn’t even be able to sell it; questions would be asked and she would certainly be accused of stealing. And yet, she did as she was told. She put the futon into the closet, folded the dirtied sheets and set them in a basket to be washed, then lugged the screen to the front of the house, not daring to look up and show her humiliation to the jeering characters in the wooden cornices. The screen was heavy and cumbersome, and it took her two hours to carry it through the dark streets to her home at the edge of the forest. She screen was a daily reminder of how vulnerable she was to men’s whims. She wasn’t proud of her profession, but what choice did she have? Besides, she was offering a service they wanted. Why did that mean they could mistreat her, abuse her? Her hand caressed the fine threads of the kimono. Perhaps with this kimono, she could service a finer class of men. The man in her bed groaned and rolled over, his hand banged against the hammer, reminding her that her new kimono had appeared through magic. Her heart beat faster and panic flushed her cheeks. What if, like in the stories her mother had told her as a child, the kimono disappeared when the man left? Or what if he just took it with him? She held the kimono close to her chest and stroked the silky fabric as she would a child’s soft hair. The moon on the kimono was now free of the clouds and cast a soft glow across her room. She would not let this man take away her chance at a better life. She hid the kimono in a closet. The hammer, too big and heavy for her to lift, she dragged to a small shed outside her hut, then set about tidying her house from the night’s revelry, glancing occasionally at the man and wishing him gone. Dawn snuck through the forest and shone its milky light into the house. Shadows receded as the light moved across the floor and rested upon the sleeping man, revealing his deformity—a twisted spine lined with bulbous lumps of knotted muscles. His head lay bent against the wall and his feet peeked out from the blanket, exposing claw-like toenails that had ripped her sheets. And what was that on his head? She crept closer. She carefully lifted a lock of hair. Demon horns! She gasped! He woke! She scuttled away. He reached for his hammer. Gone! He roared and leaped at her. She reached for something, anything, to fend him off. Her hand landed on the basket of dried beans she had bought the day before. She hurled handful after handful at the demon, who, without the protection of his magic hammer, felt a sting from each bean, as if being attacked by a hive of wasps. He crawled away, howling in pain, frustration and fury. She ended her assault. When the demon stopped at the edge of the forest and looked back at her, she threatened him with a fist full of dried beans. He crouched and ran into the safety of the forest. A year later, the silken kimono had been ripped to shreds and lay on the ground next to a folding screen that was as twisted and bent as the father of the monster suckling at her breast.