Jared's foot slipped on the blood-covered floor. He steadied himself on the wall and closed his eyes. "Don't go green, Jay," Donovan said. "You look like you're going to puke." Jared shook his head in reply, it was a bald-faced lie. He did feel like he would puke. He could taste the bile in the back of his throat. Feel the butterflies in his stomach and the watering of his mouth. He did his best to bring it under control. He led Donovan through into the gore-decorated dining room. At another time, the place might have been beautiful. Art showing gorgeous vistas hung on the walls, overlooking a hardwood, six-seater dining table, and ceramic tiled floors. A chandelier tied the room together with a feeling of grandeur. The entrails hanging from that crystal light fixture ruined the effect. "It looks like someone left the lid off the human blender," Jared murmured. "Just like the other scenes," one of the crime scene technicians said-- Jared thought his name was Kent, but it was hard to tell with the face shields they wore. The man waved a hand at the dining room, then back to the living room. "I think at least three bodies in this room and two in the other. Jared nodded and bent to look closer at something reflective on the big table. He pointed to it and the technician picked it up with a gloved hand. It was a thick sliver of glass or crystal, twinkling with rainbow color as it refracted the chandelier's light. It felt wrong. The color was diluted-- fogged-- though the chunk looked clean and clear. Donovan leaned over his shoulder, then glanced up at the light fixture. "Chandelier doesn't look damaged." Jared glanced up. "Doesn't look right for that, either." "Right for what, Detective?" the forensic technician asked. "Part of the weapon, maybe? Or a piece of jewelry?" Donovan asked in a whisper. "Doubtful, but we should bag it anyway." The technician frowned at Jared for a few moments, then shook his head and put the chunk of glass in an evidence bag. Jared stalked toward a door leading to the hallway. The house made for the second gore-smeared crime scene in as many days, just like the previous three months. Each lunar cycle went the same. A gruesome murder the day before, the of, and the day following the new moon. That meant they were due for one more bloodbath before this month was over. The real problem was that they had zero leads to follow. "We need something from this one," Jared murmured, "or we'll be stuck waiting for next month's horror show." Donovan didn't reply, but the technicians they passed in the hallway stared hard at Jared with furrowed brows. The bathroom was another common denominator for all of the crime scenes, and this one was no exception. Other rooms were often covered in blood-- sometimes the living rooms, or the bedrooms, or the dining rooms-- but never the same rooms at different murder sites. Except for the bathroom. At every scene, there was a mess that exploded out in a fan from the mirror. As if the mirror had burst outward to cut someone standing in front of it to ribbons. Yet, the mirror was always intact. Jared stepped into the epicenter of the blood fan and turned in a slow circle. There were no signs of more glass chunks. No indication that anyone else had been there. Nothing that-- His eyes found the mirror. This one was different from the previous scenes. It was clouded-- fogged-- in places. He stretched a hand out to wipe it away, but it wouldn't. The fog wasn't on the outside but inside the glass. He leaned close, looking to see if the dining room chunk had originated there. Something moved in the fog. He stumbled and fell backward into slippery, bloody mess. The reflection-- what should have been his reflection-- was not right. It looked crystalline, the angles sharp and eyes glowing a dull green. Jared blinked, and it was gone. "You okay down there?" Donovan asked. "Did you see that?" Jared asked. His dry throat clicked as he swallowed. "What?" Jared pointed a trembling finger at the mirror. "The man-- the thing-- in the mirror. And-- and--it's clouded, like the chunk..." Donovan looked from the mirror to his partner, and back, but didn't answer. A technician appeared in the doorway. "You okay in here, Detective?" "Uh-- yeah-- all good. I just slipped." Jared got to his feet shakily. "All good." The technician looked unimpressed, but nodded and went back to his work in the hallway. Jared glanced at the mirror, then fled from the house. The chill night air and flashing emergency lights greeted him outside. He hugged his overcoat to him and blinked away spots as he stumbled through the snow to the car. The cold leather of his cavalier's driver seat embraced him and he sat shivering, considering, as the car warmed up. "It really rattled you, didn't it?" Donovan asked. Jared looked up into the rearview mirror and saw his partner in the backseat. For a brief second, the man's skin was gray and spotted with red splotches. His eyes were sunken and milky. His lips here dark blue. Jared blinked and Donovan looked how he remembered. "Yeah," Jared said. It was all he could think to say. "They say that real change starts with the man in the mirror," Donovan said. Jared swallowed. "And what do I do with the ghost in the mirror?" Donovan stared back at him, their eyes locked in the rearview, but he didn't reply. Jared slammed the Chevy in reverse and pulled out onto the street. The drive home was short and silent. The radio played only white noise, and the streets were clear of traffic-- although slippery-- after the howler of a snowstorm that rolled through the night before. His mind wandered as he drove. To things unsaid between friends and partners. To better avenues taken and better choices made. When he reached his apartment he trudged inside, his mind mulling not on his own past, but the strange crime scene. As he passed through the front door and into the living room of his small apartment, he found Donovan sitting in the recliner. "Something killed those people." "Obviously," Jared muttered. "I doubt they did it to themselves. Someone else had to be there." "I didn't say, 'someone,' Jay," Donovan said. Jared frowned and continued to the kitchen. It stank of unwashed dishes and leftover food gone to waste. He crinkled his nose and pulled a cup of ramen noodles from the cabinet. "You know better than anybody that not everything is easily explained," Donovan said from the kitchen table. Jared didn't reply as he put water in the cup and shoved it into the microwave. "It might be lucky you're on this case, partner." "Why? You think one of them had to gun down their crooked partner, too? Think a rogue ghost cop is hiding in mirrors and jumping out to murder people?" Jared asked. His lip curled as he turned to look at Donovan. His old partner kept his deadpan expression. "This isn't something ordinary." Jared scoffed and turned toward the dinging microwave. "Ordinary? What the hell is that?" He retreated back to the living room with the warm cup in hand and sank into his recliner. He scooped up the television remote and hit the power button, then froze. The kitchen light cast eerie reflections in the glass of the screen. A vision of himself in the chair, of Donovan in the living room-kitchen doorway, of another-- more sharply angled figure-- in the hallway that led back to the bathroom and bedroom. Then the television sprang to life and the reflections were gone. Jared set the cup on the small table beside him and turned slowly, a hand sliding into his overcoat-- which he'd forgotten to take off-- to his holstered gun. The hallway stood empty. Jared's eyes flicked to Donovan. "Did you see something?" Donovan only stared back at him, unable or unwilling to answer. Jared didn't know which. Jared stared at the hallway for a long moment. In the gloom, he could see the bathroom door was open. Had he left it that way? Possibly. If he had, would he have noticed when he first entered the apartment? Probably. He rose from the chair and shed his overcoat and suit jacket, letting them fall to the floor before drawing his revolver. Hands trembling and body tense, Jared stepped carefully down the hallway. He avoided the creak on the left and stepped over the small hump on the floor. He paused outside the bathroom door. The air felt cold and tense-- hostile as if it wanted to hurt him. The steady drumbeat of his pulse tried to drown out every other sound, but he focused, listening for signs of movement in the pitch black. It was too quiet. If someone was inside, they didn't move or breathe in the dark. Jared steeled himself and stretched out a hand, feeling for the light switch on the inside wall. Something hard and sharp grabbed his wrist and jerked him inside as his finger flipped the switch. He stumbled through the door, tense hands almost firing a surprised shot as his feet tangled. He fell hard against the tiled wall, gun held out, practiced eyes and hand searching for a target-- for anything-- that had grabbed him. There was nothing. Nothing, save for an empty bathroom with a clouded, foggy mirror. He felt liquid move on his arm and looked down to see gashes on his wrist. The cuts were deep and-- once noticed-- painful. He winced and clambered to his feet. He wiped at the mirror, but the fog remained. He retreated to the doorway of the bathroom, his gun pointed at the mirror. "Do you think it will work if you shoot it?" Donovan asked, his voice barely more them a whisper. Jared backed up a step to stand in the hallway and slammed the bathroom door closed. "No. But whatever the hell that was, it didn't seem to like the light." "So you're going to leave the light on and the door closed?" Donovan asked. Jared nodded and turned toward the kitchen. "I guess you'll just pee in the sink tonight?" Jared didn't answer. He found a thick, mostly clean dishtowel and wrapped his bleeding wrist. "You can't just compartmentalize and forget problems, Jay," Donovan said from the couch as Jared returned to the living room. He settled back into the recliner with the pistol in his lap. "Been working so far." Donovan's deadpan expression changed to one of sarcastic agreement. "Oh, sure. You're a vision of mental health." Jared held up his middle finger to Donovan before reaching for his cup of noodles. Feeling secure that the thing-- whatever it was-- was trapped in the bathroom mirror, and driven to exhaustion by the long day, he fell asleep before the cup was empty. Jared woke in his recliner sometime later. The room was lit only by the fuzzy snow of the television screen. The half-eaten noodles sat on the table, and the revolver still rested in a hand on his lap. Donovan was nowhere to be found. Jared smacked his lips at the bad taste in his mouth-- must have fallen asleep with a bite of noodles in there-- and flicked off the television. The room plunged into black. The creek in the floor sounded from the hallway. "LIGHTS!" cried Donovan. Jared stumbled across the room and flicked out a hand to catch the switch for the living room light. The room illuminated, and Jared fell backward, yelling in terror. A figure made in Jared's image but entirely of crystal or glass raced at him from the darkness. Its face contorted with rage. The angles looked sharp, the fingers ended in deadly points. When the light touched it, it disappeared with a rainbow flash. As if the light had refracted it away. Jared crawled backward until his back was against the door, gun pointed down the hallway in a trembling fist. His pounding pulse and gasping breaths held a steady rhythm as all noise seemed to die in the wake of the creature's disappearance. "I told you that you couldn't trap your problems in the backroom," Donovan said. He sat on the loveseat across the room. Jared took a deep breath, but his pulse refused to slow. The old pendulum clock on the wall chimed one 'o'clock, and he jerked at the sound. "You have to deal with it, or it's going to come back," Donovan insisted. "What happened to the lights?" Donovan just stared at him. Jared heaved himself up to trembling legs. His old partner was right. There was no way to trap that thing if it could turn lights out. He had to find a way to kill it. He inched forward, gun clenched tight and outstretched. Would a bullet hurt it? The first time he'd seen Donovan after-- well, recently-- he'd taken a shot at the man. All that earned him was a hole in the wall. But this thing was corporeal. Physically present in the waking world. Donovan couldn't touch or be touched. He wasn't really here. He didn't know anything that Jared didn't know. He chewed his lip. The living room light flickered, as if on a power surge. He glanced through the kitchen doorway and saw glass on the floor. It didn't turn off the lights, it blew them out. The light flickered again. "You gotta do something, pal," Donovan said. "Clock is ticking." Jared swallowed. He took a step toward the dark hallway, then backed up again. The light flickered again and fear turned to frustration. "What do you want?" Jared screamed, shaking the barrel of the gun at the darkened hallway. The thing answered. The sound was like glass scraping and clinking against the glass, and down the hall appeared two green orbs. They glowed with a dull inner light. The sounds came again. "I can't understand you!" Jared said. The sounds came again, more frantic, and he thought he made out its shape moving back and forth in the gloom just beyond the edge of the light. Jared fired the gun. The flash illuminated the hallway for the briefest second, and the thing disintegrated in another rainbow flash. The bullet smashed impotently against the bedroom door at the far end of the hall. The lights flickered again. Jared sobbed and fell against the wall. "I can't do this. I don't even know what this is." "Giving up?" Donovan asked. "That's not going to work this time." "Then what will?" Jared screamed. Donovan didn't answer. He sank to the floor. The revolver slipped from his fingers and he cradled his head in his hands as he rocked back and forth. He was alone. He had no weapon to fight this creature. He had no hope. The lights would go out. Tomorrow or the next day, they would come to check on him when he didn't come to work. They would find him in chunks, like the other crime scenes. Just another unsolved mystery. The lights went out, then sputtered back to life. Donovan's voice was barely more than a whisper. "If you do nothing, you're going to die." "If I try to fight it and lose, I'll die." "Yeah," Donovan agreed, "but you might win. You just gotta face it, man. Face reality." Jared shuddered but looked up. His old partner still sat on the couch, but he didn't wear his typical slacks, button-down, and sport coat. He wore a raid jacket smeared with blood. A badge hung around his neck from a steel-bead chain. His empty gun holster was unsnapped and somehow lonely-looking. Donovan looked like he did on the night he died. "The night I killed you," Jared whispered. He swallowed down the lump rising in his throat. "I'm sorry. It was you or me. I wish it could have been me." Donovan nodded. "I know, pal." The lights went out. The floor creaked. Hard footsteps sounded next to him. Jared covered his head with his arms and cold, sharp fingers closed around his wrist. His skin parted and blood ran freely down his arm. If there was any time to act, it was then. He pulled his feet under him and exploded upward to stand straight. The top of his head impacted something cold and very hard, and he saw spots. Somewhere, distantly, he heard the sound of glass scraping on glass again. The sharp edge on his wrist was gone. He had hit the thing. It hurt like hell, but he finally hit the thing. He sensed movement in the darkness to his left and he sprang forward. Something-- the thing's hand, maybe-- sliced across his back, opening gashes over his shoulder blades. He rolled, ramming into the television stand and careening to the side. The creature was hot on his heels, smashing into the stand and rebounding backward with more of the glass-on-glass scraping sounds. Jared backpedaled blindly, groping for anything he could put between himself and the creature. His hand came down on a throw pillow. He held it up and felt the far side shred under a vicious blow. He rolled to the right, trying to get away, feeling his body roll over his overcoat. The creature cut his arm, then his leg, as he rolled. The pillow took another slash, the stuffing flying out to scatter across the room. Jared could feel the searing pain, feel the blood fleeing from his body, but he also felt realization dawn. This thing could be blocked, it could be hit, but it disappeared-- fled-- from light. He scrambled backward, using his dwindling pillow shield to half-block more blows and groping with his free hand. He found the gun where he'd dropped it, then the pillow was gone. The creature's next blow fell directly on his palm and his hand shredded to nothing. Jared screamed and threw himself forward. His shoulder burst open as he bowled the creature over. He groped on the floor and found his overcoat, hooked it with a finger, and held it up with his stump of a hand. The coat as his curtain, knowing he only had one chance, he leveled the revolver and fired. The flash illuminated the coat. The bullet tore through and hit the creature. The sound of glass on glass was constant and urgent. Jared fired again, then again, using the scraping noise as a guide to track the thing's retreat. He fired once more, and he heard it fall. Jared stumbled toward it, and let the coat fall off his stump to cover its form, huddled in the fetal position beside the recliner. He aimed and emptied the revolver into it. The scraping sounds were gone. Jared stumbled to the side, fell against the wall, and slid to the floor. His breath came ragged. Consciousness faded. Donovan whispered in his ear, "Now you get it. Way to go, pal." Jared woke the next day in a hospital bed. He blinked twice in confusion, then remembered what had happened. The room was empty and he was attached to more tubes than he could count. His left arm ached at the wrist, and he trembled and at the thought of looking at the remains of his arm. He groped with his right hand and found the alert button. A nurse appeared. Doctors followed. The captain and chief of detectives came sometime later. "Any idea where that guy came from?" Captain Harridy asked. Jared frowned in confusion, then realized they must have meant the thing that had been glass. He shook his head. "What did he use to cut you up?" Chief Anderson asked. Jared shrugged. "It was dark. He killed the lights, somehow." The chief frowned and glanced at the captain. Harridy said, "Understand, Lieutenant: this is very strange. After the incident with your partner.... Well... A naked man was found in your apartment. You're all cut up. He's gunned down. No other weapon... there's more to this story. Is there anything else you need to tell us?" Jared shrugged. "I don't know more than I told you, sir. It was dark. He attacked me. I fought back. He almost had me." The chief and the captain exchanged another glance. "Well, I'm glad you pulled through. The neighbors heard the gunfire and called it in. Otherwise..." Jared didn't need the man to finish. He nodded. Harridy patted Jared's foot and nodded. "You get well, Lieutenant." Jared inclined his head as they left. He looked to the chair in the corner. The chair was empty. "I know what you do with the ghost in the mirror, Donnie," Jared whispered. "You face it, and hope for the best." Donovan didn't answer, because Donovan was finally gone.
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Day 65 Ghost-Shadow by Melissa Miles
She liked to find these deserted city sites, old shopping malls dressed in Victorian brick, beautiful for a bit, but abandoned now. Here the birds had nested in the upper reaches, and the tiles under her feet were broken. She crept in, so quiet, wearing her sneakers, her leggings and a tee, the modern uniform of city girls. Her phone was tucked into the only pocket, to keep her hands quite free. She ran one of those hands along the wall, her mask dangled from the other. She hankered for what she imagined life had been like when this place was built. ‘Why can’t I have been there, in the past?’ She thought. She imagined that she heard the laughter of long-gone children, and she could almost smell high tea. “What I wouldn’t give to be safe in the past,” she whispered to the walls, and added in her mind, ‘away from this constant fear.’ She continued exploring the old building, stopping to watch the dust dancing in the air. Her shadow was a pale thing dragging behind her, like a mugger. It caught on a corner, but she didn’t know. The ghost that had been hiding from the daylight, clawed the helpless shadow toward him in the shelter of a crack in the wall. The ghost had been hiding in the old broken elevator playing in the metal cage to ease the boredom of its days. Out of the crack in the wall it jumped upon the shadow, rolled it up, and lugged it to its lair. The ghost then imprisoned the shadow in its play- cage of the elevator doors, and crept out along the dusty corridors, to the dreaming girl, now without her shadow. She hadn’t noticed that a piece of her was gone, that piece that kept her anchored in the sunlit world, nor did she hear the ghost pattering behind her like a wispy painting of a person. The girl paused for a moment, ‘I had better get to the bus-stop,’ she thought, for the edges of evening were licking the light away. The ghost pounced, in silent ecstasy it attached itself to the heels of her trainers, that so sweetly mirrored the colour of her teeshirt. The girl had turned in the dusk, and readied herself to return to the street. The mask went on, and she girded her mind to keep other people at bay. But as she walked up the hill of the Main Street of the city, she didn’t look at her reflection. She didn’t notice her trainers turn to hard heeled boots. ‘What is that noise?’ she thought as heel struck pavement. But she was a dreamy girl, always longing for the other, it was a danger, but she never knew. Her shadow was screaming in its prison, it wanted to warn her, but it never could, for shadows are anchored by the real. The girl went past the movie theatre where she could lose herself to celluloid, but she didn’t see warnings running in her mind, frame by tiny frame. She gazed into the bookstore where the words called to her to see their tiny tumblings as they crumbled in confusion trying to spell out some readable warning. If she had not been looking at the lovely books in the window would she have noticed she was wearing pantaloons? People were looking at her oddly, but she was used to that, that’s why she retreated into dreams, and fantasies, and longed for the romantic past. The past was not romantic, the past was a creature with brutal jaws that would devour the unwary, spitting out their lonely souls. The souls became lost ghosts and waited, as they themselves had been waited for. They longed for their rebirth, and were waiting to set in motion their own brutality. No-one looked at the odd hippy girl in her lacey dress, and when the old fashioned child walked by a church of stone from long ago, not one person saw her disappear among the headstones set firmly in the past, nor did they here the shadow of a scream from an old abandoned mall. All that was left was a mask, a broken cell phone and a shadow, left to become a ghost, hunting for a girl.
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Day 66 The Red Ball by Ghiselle Camacho
The child was barely three when her uncle moved in with her family. He was a young man in his early twenties and when you saw him for the first time, you instantly knew that there was something different about him. It was the way his eyes were looking - or not looking at you. His head was always cocked at an angle that reminds one of a little puppy listening to new sounds. His uniqueness was confirmed when he spoke. He always sounded like he was asking a question and laughter always followed. The family knew from the day he was born that he could never be part of normal society but he was much loved and cared for at home. The little girl, however, was too young to understand these things. She was only beginning to understand the concept of “uncle” and there was no way to know if he understood what a “niece” was. But to each other, for those brief months that year, they were treasured playmates. The girl’s father was the third child of nine children and the second oldest son. To this day, however, she does not know where her uncle fit in the hierarchy after the fourth oldest sibling. In the late ’60s, the oldest siblings moved to America and became doctors. Another sister soon followed and became a nurse. The girl’s father stayed in the country, went to military school where, upon graduation, his intellectual and analytical brilliance quickly earned him a position closest to those with political and military power in the government. It was expected that the four oldest siblings would be responsible for the younger ones. Her father, being the oldest sibling remaining in the country, was the point man for distributing financial assistance sent by those living abroad. The five younger siblings were in school. One brother was studying to become a lawyer, another was in the seminary, and another was being groomed to carry on the political torch as mayor of their small, ancestral town in the southern islands. The youngest sister, still in her late teens, would also eventually become a nurse. And there was the special brother whose sole purpose in life was to provide them all with unconditional love. The year the girl’s uncle moved in with her family, was the year he was diagnosed with cancer. The ancestral home was in the provinces where medical care was non-existent. When they discovered the lump in his throat, they went to the big city where the child’s family lived. It was there that they discovered that it was too late to do anything about the tumour. The older siblings had come back from America where they gave him the best palliative care anyone could get. They had even applied and appealed several times with the US embassy that he be granted a visa so he could go to Disneyland before he died. The visa was never approved. But before things got really bad for him, his days were spent playing with the little girl. The favourite was a game of catch. He would sit on one end of the living room floor legs spread out and she on the opposite side doing the same. They would roll a red ball between them using the V-shape of their legs as goalposts for the game. Sometimes he would purposefully roll the ball fast and at an angle so that it would miss her legs and she would have to get up to get the ball. Contagious laughter from the two bubbled up whenever this happened. She doesn’t remember any of this now, of course, but it was a favourite memory of two young women tasked with babysitting them: her uncle’s youngest sister/her aunt and the child’s nanny. The two girls were best friends and loved their charges very much. The child, now an adult looking back, can’t remember when things got bad for her uncle but she has vague memories of watching one of her aunts from America talking to him as she dressed the wound from the exposed tumour on his throat. Her grandmother would be there too, singing him a song, or sometimes one of the other siblings would be there telling him a joke or asking him questions. She understood now that they were there to distract him from the pain and discomfort of getting his wound cleaned and dressings changed. Then one day he died. Her father’s connections availed of a military cargo plane that would transport the entire family and her uncle’s body back to the island where he would be buried in the family plot. Before this, his body was taken to the morgue where he would be readied for the trip. The wake was observed at the hospital chapel. There, as dictated by custom, the family took turns keeping watch for three days and three nights. On the last night, the child’s parents returned home so that her father could oversee the logistics of transporting his brother’s body and his family back to their ancestral home. His youngest sister had also come home with him. That night, before everyone was to leave, the girl’s nanny, who slept in the same room as the child, woke up in the middle of the night and found the child missing from her side. The child had never done this before and she woke the child’s aunt sleeping beside her and told her that the child was gone. In a panic, they both got out of bed and heard the sound of chairs in the living room sliding around being moved. Following the sound, they found the child, eyes open yet, still asleep, sitting on the floor where she would usually sit when playing with her uncle. In the dim light, they had seen the child roll the ball towards the darkness but from where they were standing, they couldn’t see where the ball had gone. To their surprise, the ball had rolled back to her and the child started laughing. As she continued to laugh, she rolled the ball back to the darkness and that’s when her aunt spoke out in a commanding voice, “It’s time to go, big brother. Time to go home!”. The nanny rushed towards the laughing child and picked her up where she immediately closed her eyes and fell back to sleep. The commotion had woken the child’s parents and the story recounted to them. The next morning, the entire family got on the plane with their beloved brother, son, uncle, and friend and made the trip back to their ancestral home where he could be finally laid to rest. Hazy images of that day stay with the child. There’s a memory of sitting on her nanny’s lap with large headphones on to block the deafening sound of the rumbling C-130 plane. There are also memories of the sad faces of her grandparents, aunts, and uncles sitting opposite her in the belly of the cargo plane, her uncle’s coffin occupying the space between them. But that is all. As the story was told to her, vehicles were waiting at the airport, to take them for the 2-hour drive to the cemetery. Her uncle’s tomb was prepared weeks in advance in anticipation of the inevitable. A speedy entombment was of the utmost importance as the body was not embalmed. At the cemetery, a mass was said and the last partings were made amidst tears, wailing, beating of chests, and tearing out of hair, befitting a traditional Filipino funeral. In the chaos of grief that followed the last hurried opening and closing of the casket for the ultimate farewells, it was only the nanny and the young aunt who noticed. They were the last ones to say goodbye before the coffin was quickly shut. Tucked away, by his elbows, almost hidden by the flowers and billowy white satin lining the coffin, was the red ball.
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Day 67 The Daily Special by Sandra D. Simmer
It was around six o’clock when Tom saw the first faded sign for the diner. There hadn’t been much traffic on the narrow two-lane highway he was traveling. Tom was beginning to wonder if he had taken a wrong turn. His paper road map said he should have reached a town by now. He was planning to make one more sales call before stopping for the night, but, he seemed to be going further away from civilization. Tom was just about to turn around, when he saw the sign advertising food and gas in five miles. The sign was weathered and grey but otherwise looked in good repair, so he decided to keep driving. He could fill up his gas tank and eat a real meal; maybe even get directions to the nearest motel. The idea of food and rest perked up his spirts. He sat up straight to watch for the turn-off ahead. When Tom saw the next faded sign for food and gas, it was pointing to an exit off the highway. As he slowed to make the turn, he got a strong whiff of dead animal and quickly rolled up his car window. Someone must have run over one of the abundant wildlife in this remote setting. But the putrid scent did not deter Tom from his destination. He took the exit onto a narrow gravel road. In the dim evening light, Tom could see an ancient looking gas station with two pumps out front about a half mile up the road. A sign swinging from a pole overhead said “Marathon” next to a logo of a running man. Tom had heard of Marathon Oil Company, but had never seen one of their gas stations. He thought they were all closed. It must be a Tennessee thing, he thought. The tires on his car made a satisfying crunching sound as he pulled off the main highway. Next to the station was a quaint roadside diner. “Josie’s Home Cooking “was painted in bold letters on the once colorful sign above the door. The sign was now badly faded and hard to read, but the picture of the big apple pie with steam rising through the cutouts in the crust, still promised good food. This looked like the kind of place that catered to hungry travelers looking for a hearty meal, thought Tom. He decided to eat first, and fill up the car later. There were only a few cars out front of the diner. A part of his brain noticed they were mostly old model cars that would have been around in the 1930’s. But they weren’t shiny, repainted, refurbished models like those you might see in a car club. They all looked like they‘d seen better days and might be barely running. The only exception was a late model, light-blue convertible. The setting seemed odd, but Tom’s stomach overruled his natural cautious instincts. Delicious odors were wafting through the screen door entrance, and Tom followed his nose into the diner. Pungent smells of pot roast, apple pie, and fresh brewed coffee filled his senses. He closed his eyes to better enjoy the enticing smells around him. He imagined he would have a lovely meal, but was quite surprised when he opened his eyes to view his surroundings. Instead of finding a busy restaurant at dinner time, there were only four customers. The place was silent of any conversation or sounds of eating. When the screen door slammed shut behind Tom, everyone turned to stare at him. An older man in a wrinkled brown suit sat on one of rickety bar stools set in front of a rusty stainless steel counter. Two of the 10 bar stools were missing their seats, and another three were leaning to one side at a precarious angle. The once jaunty yellow vinyl seats were cracked and torn. Their appearance discouraged any but the brave to risk sitting there. The man had grey hair and a white scruffy beard. He frowned at Tom, as he peered at him through old fashioned wire rim glasses. The couple seated in one of the dilapidated booths appeared to be middle -aged. The man had on a well-worn suit and tie. His hair was cut short and slicked back from his forehead with a shiny gel, in the style popular decades earlier. The woman was in a pale blue, almost grey paisley dress, with a yellowed white collar. Her fine grey hair was twisted into a bun and she wore a small straw hat with artificial lilacs on the brim. The last fellow was younger, more Tom’s age, and was dressed in a tailored short sleeve shirt and a pair of slacks. His sports coat was slung over the back of the booth. Tom guessed he was the driver of the convertible outside. All four customers were pale and silent. No one greeted Tom but merely continued to stare. Just then the swinging door behind the counter was pushed open by the backside of a waitress. She swung around to reveal her arms stacked with plates of the tantalizing smelling food. Her hair was a bright bleached blond color. The sides were twisted up into curls on the top of her head and the rest hung in waves to her shoulders. She had on lots of eye make-up and her lips were painted a bright red. She had a little white cap attached to her head and a white apron tied around her waist. Her pink uniform had half sleeves with white trim and the skirt flared to cover her ample hips. The name tag pinned to her dress said “Doris” in big black letters Tom could read from across the room. Doris sat one of the warm plates in front of the man at the counter. “Enjoy your meal, Mr. Johnson. It’s nice and hot just the way you like it.” When Doris turned to walk to the booths, she saw Tom standing in the doorway. Her eyes lit up and a big smile crossed her face. “Mel, we’ve got a live one!” she called back through the swinging kitchen door. “Come on in, young man,” Doris encouraged. “You’re just in time to try our daily special. Take a seat at the counter, and I will be right with you.” Tom looked askance at the broken-down stools, but headed in that direction anyway. There appeared to be an intact stool near the old man. Once he was seated he looked over at his companion. The man had not taken a bite of the food. He was leaning over his plate and deeply inhaling the wonderful aroma drifting up from the dish. Maybe the waitress forgot his silverware, Tom thought, not seeing any eating utensils on the counter. He decided to ignore the man, and looked around for a menu. There was neither a paper menu in sight, nor a menu board posted on the wall. When his stomach gave out a noisy rumble, Tom hoped Doris would be over soon to take his order. His wish came true when she popped into his line of vision. How did she move so fast, he wondered? It must be all that time she spends on her feet every day. Doris smiled her big broad smile at him again and asked, “What are you doing in this part of the country? We don’t get many new visitors around here.” “Well,” replied Tom, “actually, I’m a pipe and tobacco salesman. “I’ve been driving all day and needed a break. I think I’m a bit lost. Maybe, you can point out this location on my map after dinner?” "Sure thing,” said Doris. “There are lots of folks around here who like the smell of pipe tobacco. We might even set up a display here for our customers.” “Wonderful!” replied Tom “We usually set up in bigger outlets, but I’m sure we can create a display to fit your needs.” Doris looked at him with a gleam in her eye. “So, you’re traveling alone and are lost. That is a shame. We’ll be happy to give you directions. It is easy to lose your way in the back country. Isn’t that right Mr. Johnson?” The old man next to him, did not reply. But, he looked up for a second and gave Tom a long, slow nod. Then he went back to smelling his food. “Are you going to give him a fork?” asked Tom. “The food smells great and he must want to dive in.” “Oh, he never actually eats the food,” replied Doris. “He’s got some digestive problems. Mr. Johnson just likes to come here to enjoy the ambiance, so to speak.” She followed the last comment with a high pitched laugh. “Are you ready to try the Special?” Tom turned to look over his shoulder at the customers in the run-down booths behind him. He was startled to see the couple also had their noses hovered over the food. Neither one appeared to be eating it. The younger man was still staring at him. When he caught Tom’s eye he mouthed a single word. When Doris looked his way, he dropped his gaze, and began smelling his food as well. Tom shuddered slightly at the brief connection. He thought he’d seen the guy silently say the word “run”! His sense of danger now shot to the top of his awareness. There was definitely something creepy about this diner. His hungry stomach would have to wait. “Gosh, Doris,” croaked Tom. “I forgot all about an appointment I have early tomorrow morning in Knoxville. I better get back on the road and drive there now. My boss will be angry if I’m late. Is the gas station open? “ “No need to rush off, son. Mr. Johnson runs the gas station. You need to wait until he finishes his meal. Why don’t I bring you out a plate of our Daily Special while you wait for him?” Tom was about to object, but Doris had already sped back into the kitchen. When he looked over at Mr. Johnson, he no longer had his face close over his plate. He sat upright on the stool with a satisfied look on his face, then slowly stood up and walked to the front door. “Wait,” called out Tom, “I need some gas. Can you open up the pumps?” Mr. Johnson still did not speak, but merely motioned for Tom to follow him. Tom jumped off his stool and hurried to the door. Doris and the Daily Special would have to wait. Tom vowed it would be a cold day in hell before he stopped to eat here again. He was almost to the front door, when Doris and a big burly man appeared in the kitchen doorway. The guy was dressed in a dirty tank top with a red bandana tied around his neck. His bald head was partially covered by a small cook’s cap. One of his huge hands gripped a large meat cleaver. “Don’t go,” pleaded Doris. “Don’t you want to meet Mel? He’d love to show you around the kitchen. He so rarely gets a customer who will actually eat his cooking. It ‘d be a real treat for him to cook for you!” Tom had gotten a clear view of the look in Mel’s eyes. He was pretty sure the cook had other plans for him besides sharing recipes. As he ran for his car, Tom fumbled for the keys in his pocket. The last rays of the sun were dipping behind the mountain ridge, but he could see clearly enough to get his car door open. Praying he had enough gas to get down off the mountain, Tom shoved the gearshift into drive and peeled out of the gravel parking lot. A spray of gravel followed him all the way back to the highway. When Tom reached the paved road, he stopped to glance in the rearview mirror to be sure he wasn’t being followed. He didn’t see any car behind him, not that any of those old clunkers could catch him. In fact, he couldn’t even see the buildings in the quickly fading light. He turned to look over his shoulder, and squinted for a better look. The gas station and the diner were gone. Only the faded road sign could be seen by the side of the road. There must be a glare in my eyes from the setting sun, mused Tom. But he shivered with a sudden chill, and quickly pulled onto the highway. As Tom raced his car down the curvy road, he began to pick up speed. When he pumped the brakes to slow the vehicle, his foot slammed to the floor board. He had no braking action. His car went faster and faster. It took all of Tom’s strength and driving skill to keep his car from flying off the road and down the steep ravine. He thought he might survive, until he saw a very sharp curve ahead. Tom desperately pulled on the parking brake, but it couldn’t hold the car. The car hit the curve at a sideways slide, and flew off the road. It sailed in the air for a few seconds before crashing down the heavily treed embankment and landed in a twisted pile of metal. Tom wasn’t sure how he had arrived back at the diner. Had he walked all the way back from the crash? He remembered flying off the road, but then it was all a blur. He must have bumped his head. He was lucky he wasn’t badly hurt. For some reason he didn’t feel afraid to be back at the diner. This time when he walked in, no one turned to stare. Only the younger guy seemed to recognize him. He looked at Tom and shook his head as if to show sympathy. They were all sitting in their same locations with another plate of hot food in front of them. Doris appeared out of the kitchen and said “Welcome Back! We knew you’d be joinin’ us real soon. Take a seat. You’ll want to try Mel’s latest dish. He calls it the Traveling Salesman Special. Of course, you won’t be able to taste it in your present condition.” She took one of her arms and swiped it through the middle of his chest, and laughed hysterically. “Sit down, hon’, before the crowd shows up. Everybody always wants to smell Mel’s latest stew. Make yourself at home, you’re going to be here a while.”
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Day 68 The Lonely Man's Companion by Daniel C. De Guzman
Arthur could use a friend right now; the loneliness of being stuck in his apartment with his PC and his bed is the only thing that runs his mundane life cycle. The quarantine period imposed by the city because of the viral plague took an unexpected turn. Now, the promise that everything would be back to normal disappeared when the quarantine was extended from weeks to months, then months became years. Now he has nothing but his dingy room and a job that requires him to spend almost an entire week punching his keyboards and listening to irate people. Of course, he could always hop on to the internet and hook up virtually with strangers who, like him, are starving for a companion. Yet, it's not the same when you can only hear and see them. He needs to touch someone or something that has a life, something that is not as complicated as those scantily clad girls that swarm every part of social media. He hooked up with those types of girls a few times, only to realize how demanding it is to have a human relationship. Humans are generally scum, regardless of gender. They will suck you dry and still want more. Physically, mentally, and worse of all, emotionally. The women he dated are proof. But no matter how he hates relationships, Arthur, like every human, yearns for something, someone, to fight his crippling loneliness. "A pet will do…maybe," he says to himself while looking at the bottle on his desk that contains a strange herb he never heard of soaked in oil. There is an equally strange scent of overripe fruit already verging on its first taste of rot. "So...the directions say I just need to let it bask under the full moon’s light and...." Arthur stops mid-sentence. His eyes are drawn to the herb, twitching and moving inside the bottle. The soft light of a waxing moon enters the open window of his apartment and illuminates a metamorphosis unheard of by science. A plant evolving into a flesh-made organism by unfurling its leaves and stalk and turning them into limbs, a body, tails, and ears. The result is an organism that only Frankenstein would love. "I'll be damned..." Arthur mutters, his jaw agape as the "thing" slips outside the bottle and looks at him with beady, yellow, puppy eyes. But its appearance is nothing like a normal dog’s. Its face and body looks like a goat, but with enlarged, flap-like ears and claws. Its tail is similar to a rat’s, although much thinner and longer. Its teeth are razor-like. A chimera that immediately recognizes his master and gives him a warm lick on his face with its long, thin tongue. Most people would piss their pants and scream in horror by such a gesture, but Arthur, who's been eager for any touch, welcomes the tongue. And he doesn’t mind the saliva that rolls on his cheek, just like other pet owners don’t mind their pets licking their faces, regardless of that stinky pet breath. "Oh shit! I have to feed you!" Arthur quickly goes to his PC and re-reads the message sent him by the seller of the bottle that once held herbs: "Once the herb is exposed to the rays of light from the full moon, you will witness it transform into a "Sigbin", a creature that rivals the loyalty of domesticated dogs. The first person it sees after its transformation will become its master. DO NOT FORGET THAT SIGBIN FEED ON THE BLOOD OF A CHICKEN ONCE A WEEK." "The hell with this! Where can I get the blood of a chicken at this moment?" But Arthur's panic quickly turns into a smile when he remembers a good alternative to chicken. Something that will be a grandiose feast for his Sigbin. Like milk to a newborn. He takes his new companion outside, and they walk toward a neighboring unit where the entrance has a flap door just the right size for his Sigbin to get through. "Inside, your food is waiting. Just look for anything furry, ok?” Arthur caresses the Sigbin’s head and gives it a gentle push through the door flap. He doesn't hear any sounds or footsteps; he imagines the Sigbin is like a ghost that haunts in silence and shadows. Arthur patiently waits outside until he hears the squeal of a cat in a one-sided fight for its life. The squeal grows louder until it is cut off abruptly. “Finally!” he says to himself as he pumps his fist in the air, pleased to finally get his revenge on that stupid cat that shit and pissed in his apartment one day when he accidentally left his door open. He earns slave wages at the logistics company, and the last thing he needs when working at home is a cat making his life more miserable. But after a short pause, Arthur's blood runs cold. He hears another squeal: this one isn’t from the cat. When the Sigbin exits the apartment through the pet flap, it’s covered in blood and white fur. In its mouth, something else is coated in fresh blood. A finger.
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Day 69 The Landlord's Girlfriend by Lorna O'Connell
House sharing in London is full of surprises. Even though I always look very carefully at the online ads with a sceptical eye; moving from text (shared living room) to photograph (two kitchen stools in a hallway) and balancing the number of house mates (seven) with the number of bathrooms (one), I still get blindsided by the reality. There was the sleepwalker who rearranged the furniture during the night, tidying the chairs away in a cupboard. The ex soldier who would habitually break in through the kitchen window instead of using his front door key. The cousin of a housemate who came for a weekend and stayed for six months. Nobody ever explains themselves. I’ve got used to puzzles without solutions and stories without punchlines. To live with strangers, you have to be able to tolerate confusion and ambiguity and I thought I was good at this. Adept. Blasé, even. Until the events of last autumn. I’d had to move out quickly from my friend’s apartment when she moved her boyfriend in and I didn’t really have time to scrutinise all my options. So, I rather glided over the ads on the online portal and thought I would take the first decent thing available. It was a bland sort of house in a bland sort of neighbourhood. That was fine by me. I’d long learned not to look for ‘atmosphere’ in case it was the wrong kind. It was conveniently near to the café I worked in. There were only three other housemates: a pair of Italian students called Franco and Marina who were both at home on my first evening and who seemed perfectly friendly and welcoming. The other resident was the landlord. Hmm. I wasn’t so keen on this. You can never feel really at home with a live-in landlord. But Marina assured me he was hardly ever there as he mostly stayed at his girlfriend’s place on the other side of town. “In any case,” she said. “You’ll rarely see him when he is here. He’s always out running or playing tennis or dry slope skiing.” Skiing in London? I was bemused. “He’s from Norway”, she explained. “He misses it.” The first month in the house passed quite peacefully. I only came across the landlord a couple of times although I often saw the top of his blond head bobbing along under the bathroom window in the morning. Marina and Franco and I bonded quickly and pretty soon we started to meet up in our local pub on a Friday evening to gossip and drink red wine. On one particular evening, when the wind was getting sharper and leaves were falling past the window like golden snow, Franco suddenly announced that the landlord was getting married. “What!” said Marina. “How do you know?” I asked. “He told me this morning, “ said Franco. “on the way to the station.” I was shocked. Did that mean that he would sell the house? Would we all have to move out? I couldn’t face the thought of it. “No. I got the impression that the girlfriend would be moving in…” Marina and I both said “No!” at once. Franco laughed. “She might be ok,” he said. “Have you met her?” I asked. “I haven’t seen her myself but I heard her voice once.” “I haven’t seen her either,” said Marina. “The landlord says she’s shy. I guess he’ll have to introduce her to us now though.” Then we’ll definitely have to move out, I thought. She won’t want three strangers on her new turf. I decided to start looking for another place as soon as possible. I didn’t want to be driven out slowly by subtle acts of aggression and possessiveness. But on the other hand, I had to admit, I was curious to meet her. A busy week passed in which we all managed to somehow miss each other in the evenings till the Friday when one bottle of Beaujolais merged into another… So early the next morning I awoke suddenly, dry mouthed and brutally hung over, with my heart thudding. I took a gulp of water, then lay back and looked into nothing. I badly needed sleep but now, feeling restless and alert, it seemed impossible. I decided I might have a shower to wake myself up properly and then go for a run. The blue lights of the router watched me steadily as I put on my sandals and stumbled to the bathroom. I peered through the open door. The room was dark but for one pool of light on the yellow tiles. It could have come from the dawning sun or the fading moon. It was impossible to tell. The glass in the window was opaque and crinkled like skin. Then I saw it and froze. I’d just pulled the shower curtain round without looking and I nearly stepped straight onto it. I stared for a moment, horrified. You might think one strand of black hair is very like another but it’s not so. Franco and Marina both had black hair but it was short and wavy, bouncing above their shoulders. But this thick dark strand was about a metre long and as thick as a snake. It seemed to undulate along the whole length of the bath. In the dim light it looked slimy, like a frond of marooned seaweed in a pool of fading foam. I couldn’t bring myself to pick it up with my bare hands so, shuddering, I got out quickly and dressed. But when I turned to leave, something brushed against my face. I screamed. It was a dressing gown, hanging on the back of the door - dark and silky with wide sleeves and a delicate, elusive scent of something animal. My heart was racing as I took deep breaths. I sat on the edge of the bath to steady myself as Marina came running out to see what had happened. “I’m just being silly,” I said. “I brushed against this and panicked. I haven’t seen it before. Is it yours?” “No,” she said. “I’ve never seen it before. It’s beautiful!” She held it up against herself. Her reflection half in shadow, half sickly white , seemed to float and shimmer in the mirror. “But look at this!” I cried, pointing to the bath. “Oh my God! That’s disgusting!” said Marina, backing away in revulsion. “Who could do such a thing?” And then creeping forward again.” It’s so long. It must reach to below her waist. But who…” We both looked at each other. “The landlord’s girlfriend?” I asked. “Is she moving in already?” Marina stared at me, horrified. “Well, I’m not touching it,” she said. “She can get rid of it herself. Or he can. The cheek of it!” Somehow I fell back into bed exhausted and it was nearly eleven when I woke up again starving hungry and called in sick to work. I dragged myself into the kitchen for a bowl of cornflakes. Franco grunted good morning and went back to bed. He didn’t mention the thing in the bath and I didn’t either. But on reaching up for the cereal packet I noticed an unfamiliar tea cup on the shelf. It was white china; rather delicate, with the pattern of a blue hare running round it. More like a bowl than a cup, shallow and curved. A damp heap of tea nestled in the bottom. “And now she’s leaving her dirty cups in the kitchen,” I thought. “She really is claiming her territory – and they’re not even married yet!” I was furious. I could hear the landlord talking but I couldn’t hear any answering voice or giggling even though I held my breath and crept to the top of the stairs. The landlord’s bedroom door was open and I shouldn’t have looked in – but I couldn’t resist it. The mirror above the bed reflected his purple satin duvet and his bathrobe crumpled on it. But there was no sign of any feminine underwear or an overnight bag or another phone. But just then I heard some rustling and tiptoed quickly back to my room. Just before I shut the door, I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a long red nightdress moving slowly up the stairs with a drape of long black hair moving with it. The bathroom door closed very quietly and I sat on my bed, holding my breath, waiting for it to open again. Right, I thought. I’ll catch her when she comes out. Meet her face to face. I listened to the faint sound of taps being turned on and water running and soft footsteps. I lay back on the bed and allowed my eyes to close and the sounds to drift over me. They seemed muffled – as if from farther away than the end of the passage. I wondered idly why. And then I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I heard was the cheep of my phone next to me. It was a text from Marina asking if I’d seen her electric toothbrush. Could I have borrowed it? It wasn’t in the bathroom that morning. She’d looked everywhere. If not, could I please have a quick search for her and let her know? She could get out at lunchtime and buy a cheap one from the pharmacy. Not to worry. Strange though. I suddenly remembered the girl with the robe. More than an hour had passed since she went into the bathroom. I must have missed her. The door was open now and I went in to look. The first thing I saw was the toothbrush in its usual place amongst the others on the window sill. The sink was dry as if it hadn’t been used for a while. I slowly turned to look at the bath, The hair was gone. The robe also. The bathroom was clean and innocent and normal, but for the same faint animal smell I’d noticed the night before. The house was silent. The landlord’s bedroom door was still open but nothing had changed. I crept around, looking for luggage; riffling through the coats at the front door, counting the pairs of shoes on the shoe rack; even checking for a strange umbrella in the hall cupboard. There was nothing. They must have left together in his car. Life in the bland house was uneventful then for a couple of weeks. The landlord went back to Norway for a short skiing trip and Franco and Marina were mostly at the library studying for end of term exams so we hardly saw each other. I made some tentative enquiries about rooms in other houses; even going to look at a studio nearby but nothing came of it. As the weather became colder, I found myself alone in the house more often, having baths and drinking tea in the evenings as the wind whirled the leaves around in a golden storm outside. I often found myself using and reusing the cup with the blue hare pattern which had been left behind. I’d become strangely fond of it. Then one Saturday morning in November, we all got up to find the first gentle snowfall settling on the garden path. A track of prints leading away from the house showed that little night animals had scurried away quietly. Moments later, I heard the sound of a car parking up and then the sound of boots being pulled off in the hall downstairs and people laughing. Then the landlord running up the stairs saying “Don’t be shy darling. You have to meet them sooner or later. Come on!”. The kitchen door opened and the couple came in. The landlord said “This is Greta, my fiancée, everyone.” A red mittened hand grabbed mine and I looked up into a friendly freckled face with cropped blonde hair. The landlord’s girlfriend. As I said, house sharing in London is full of surprises.
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Day 70 Ajar by HervéSuys
“Time sure flies. Tomorrow is already his Big Truthful Day.” “I’m glad we won’t have to lie to him anymore.” “It wasn’t really lying – rather hiding the truth.” “What shall we tell him first? About Santa or the Easter Bunny?” “Wouldn’t you think he already knows this stuff? Probably a few of his classmates must have told.” “Then we’ll tell him we’re not his real parents and that he’s hereditarily predestined to be offered to the gods.” Both giggle inaudibly. “Sssst… wait… did you hear that?” “No. You are imagining things.” “Perhaps. Are you sure you closed his bedroom door?”
What the Eyes Holdby Michael Fineran
I know she’s back when I hear the closet creak open, clothes hangers getting pushed aside, Bobby’s cleats clanging on the ground. He’s dead asleep, like the other times she has come. I peek out from under the covers, but she must sense this, since she stops. She turns, takes tentative steps. That voice—those odd words—will haunt me for life. “I need a right stuck place,” she says, approaching, now a mere arm’s length away. She could reach out and snatch the blanket away, but I lower it just enough before she makes her move. “Is it here?” she asks, in a voice that almost makes me pity her. We lock eyes. All the horrors in the world are contained within those two black holes. I want to scream but my throat burns like I’ve swallowed hot coal. We lock eyes until her form breaks apart and disappears (later, I will learn the word disintegrate). My crying wakes Bobby. He’ll tell on me in the morning. I know he thinks I’ve only been dreaming. I won’t argue. Some night he will wake up, and then he will learn the truth. Until then, I will spare him for as long as I can. Spare him, because saving him is not possible. That is the message that flashed in those cold, dead eyes. No one here gets saved. On the Playground by John Lane It started with a tear in Nellie's skin from a rusty chain link hanging from a swing set within her neighborhood. Then, the tear expanded into an open festering wound. The wound kept spreading until it covered every inch of her body. Layers of skin melted away, exposing blood vessels tied into muscle. Eventually, the blood vessels burst and the muscles disintegrated until a fragile skeleton remained. One by one, each bone turned brittle, crumbling into dust that buried within the blades of grass below. The entire transformation lasted just a few minutes, but the nearby poltergeist in the form of a little girl just stood there with a ghostly grin, watching the entire affair. The swing set was again hers and hers alone.