Intro: Elizabeth Fairchild

Elizabeth Fairchild was not a silly woman. So naturally, she applied makeup before driving herself off a cliff.

Her mascara wand popped out of its tube comically. She was a dead woman, yet heaven help her if she looked horrid when the coroner unzipped her body bag later that night.

One swipe left. Another swipe right. One last on the left (her f*cking eyelashes had a gap in them ever since she’d plucked them out with a tweezers years ago). Her hand did not shake. She was, after all, comfortable with her fate.

Digging through her purse with her free hand, she rummaged around until her fingers brushed a pack of menthols. She flicked the top open, snatched a straight. As the cigarette caught the flame from the lighter, Elizabeth slowly puffed smoke at her reflection over the porcelain bathroom sink.

What a droll time it was, indeed. Her impending doom didn’t dishearten her. She’d never felt so indifferent. Critically, she squinted at the Elizabeth staring back at her, cigarette hanging carelessly between her lips. Her mouth tightened as she took another deep draw.

Deep-set, black eyes. Blunt cut gray hair, too wispy in the front for a lady, her dad always insisted. He also insisted on calling her Lizzie all her life. Didn’t catch on. Ladies should always have their hair in a sleek updo, he willed. Didn’t catch on either.

Elizabeth gave herself one last hard look. Let the cigarette stub teeter out her mouth. She snubbed it out with the toe of her oily black Mary Jane and grabbed a tube of lipstick from the kitchen counter. The television flickered in the front room. An arm flung over the side of the flea-bitten couch, palm up.

Right foot, left foot, over the sh*tty, linoleum floor and through the door Elizabeth carried herself. She unlocked the car door, flipped the top off the lipstick, and warmed up the poisonous red rogue on her middle finger. Smudged the cream on her right cheek, left cheek, then nonchalantly on her lips like an unholy trinity.

She pressed her Mary Jane to the ‘52 Bel Air’s brake pedal and started the engine. Blew a kiss at her reflection in the rearview mirror. The plot was set.

It was show time. And honey, Elizabeth Fairchild thoroughly enjoyed a show.

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Violent Light | Chapter 1: Charlie

Click here to read the prologue to this story.

Charlie woke sweating, as though she had been running. She put a hand up to her clammy forehead, suddenly concerned she had the flu. Blinking away the fuzziness from her eyes, she sat up rigidly.

What had she been dreaming about? Everything seemed so real…from the old man to a strange flash of light. Charlie shook her head in disbelief. And why on earth did she remember a milk jug? That was weird.

Shrugging, she slid her legs over the side of her bed and stretched wearily. She almost expected something unusual to pop out of the recesses of her messy closet. As it were, there were a number of unusual objects inhabiting Charlie’s room. Though Charlie appeared normal in every sense of the word, her room indicated otherwise.

Books filled nearly every vacant space. Stacked ten or fifteen volumes high, most were falling apart at the seams. The musty odor of aged paper filled the air. Nana likened her room to a bombed out World War II bunker. This isn’t to say Charlie was not organized, of course. She knew where to find any book in her collection if she needed it.

Science books stood on her desk, grouped by subject. A plethora of American classics (sorted A-Z by author) lay haphazardly next to her rock polishing kit. Names like Dickens, Hemingway, and Sagan stood out among the piles. A few potted plants drooped lazily against the window sill.  

Only one piece of furniture did not sag tiredly from the weight of dusty, ancient books. A small nightstand bore one novel, the title worn off the cover. It caught Charlie’s eye as she hopped off her bed .

An original copy of The Metamorphosis. She had been sifting through Nana’s old high school textbooks and found it buried underneath a large stuffed bird. Delighted by her find, she began reading the novella a few weeks ago.

Walking gingerly around a few piles of books, Charlie trudged over to the window beside her desk. She opened the blinds and let the watery dawn light cascade into her room. After her eyes adjusted to the sun, she pressed her nose to the glass and peered down the street.

Pruned bushes divided well-manicured lawns into neat sections. She grinned as she noticed a couple of stubborn weeds growing by the mailbox on the front lawn. Her suburban neighbors sniffed at the fact Nana and Charlie did not spend their weekends weeding and clipping the hedges like they did.

Charlie scanned the sidewalk. No one stirred, save for Mr. Peterson and his dog, Pickles. Pickles strained against his leash as Mr. Peterson absentmindedly spilled coffee down his robe. The Beechwood Gazette was jammed under his arm and he appeared blissfully unaware of the hot liquid draining out of his mug. The front door of his house was still flung wide open, letting in the humid summer air.

Charlie shook her head and laughed. Out of all the snobby people on Yorkshire Drive, Mr. Peterson and Pickles were the friendliest.

Mr. Peterson arrived in Beechwood a few years ago with nothing but Pickles, a Volvo, and a hefty down payment on the house two yards across from Charlie and Nana. He was a curious man.

Middle-aged, quirky, and offering no insight into his previous life, he and Charlie instantly bonded over American Transcendentalism one morning before school. His glasses askew, he launched into a tirade on Emerson while letting the tea kettle boil over in the kitchen. Pickles ran around barking desperately as if he were fully aware of his owner’s shortcomings. It was always a madhouse at Mr. Peterson’s house and Charlie loved it.

He never prodded into Charlie’s past life and neither did she into his. It was an unspoken agreement amongst the pair. Though not much was known about Mr. Peterson, the neighbors often gossiped as they trimmed their hedges and picked weeds. Even Nana participated and Charlie knew she hated consorting with the neighbors.

“I heard he was a professor before he moved here to Beechwood,” Nana said one night at dinner.

“Professor of what?” Charlie asked while twirling spaghetti around her fork. She tried masking her curiosity out of respect, but couldn’t resist information that was so readily available.

Nana squinted and looked up at the ceiling.

“Matilda thinks it was history before he was fired. If you ask me, that explains a lot. The man is clearly a genius, but he would lose his head if it wasn’t attached.”

“Matilda lies so often I doubt she even knows what’s real anymore. You know that,” Charlie stopped twirling her fork around in circles to give Nana a look. “It could be completely untrue.”

Nana shrugged and reached for a piece of garlic bread.

“Beats me, hun. Next time you go over, can you please bring him the book on the counter? Heaven knows why he wants to know about fishing practices on the east coast, but I figured I’m not using it anytime soon.”

Mr. Peterson was always wrapped up in some project or another. Before school, Charlie walked past his two-story house on the way to the bus stop. She’d hear classical music blasting one day or see him frantically paging through books on his porch the next.

Neighbors condemned his odd behavior within hours of his arrival. But Charlie knew “odd” was only relative to the hegemony of Yorkshire Drive. Unless your primary concern was bragging about the quality of your rhododendron bushes, you were sniffed at. Charlie welcomed Mr. Peterson and Pickles’ arrival. She didn’t feel so alone.

Charlie pressed the palms of her hands to her sweaty temples and closed her eyes. She could only imagine what her neighbors would say if they knew she’d been having bizarre dreams for the last month. They’d probably encourage Nana to ship her off to boarding school. They had a deep distrust of the public school system for reasons unknown to Charlie.

Side stepping a pile of National Audubon Society guidebooks on mammals and birds, Charlie walked to her closet and changed for the day. School was out for the summer, but she opted for a Jansport backpack and threw in a few wildflower guides. Charlie adjusted her t-shirt and glanced in the mirror on the back of her bedroom door. She stared blankly at her reflection.

Freckles splashed across her arms and bridge of her nose, skin slightly tanned from the time she spent outdoors collecting rocks or swimming at the beach. She tucked a lock of hair behind her ear and cocked her head to the side. The mirror cut off the top half of Charlie’s face. She was taller than most the boys in her eighth grade class but didn’t mind the teasing her height encouraged. Being tall made her feel important.

With a sigh, Charlie turned away from her reflection. She grabbed a sketchbook from her desk, managed to find a pencil under her bed, and tiptoed down the stairs. Nana wouldn’t be up for another hour. Grabbing an apple from the kitchen counter, she slipped out the front door, hopped on her bike, and pedaled down Yorkshire toward the rising sun.  

Violent Light: Prologue

Some of the locals still called it “Fort Manning”, though it had been hundreds of years since the British evacuated the settlement in 1779. The fort, perched strategically on towering granite cliffs, now lie in ruin. Undergrowth enveloped the eight unused concrete gun batteries, choking sunlight from the fort’s innermost corridors. Once a training center for German prisoners during the Second World War, the settlement fell into disrepair and grew more desolate each year that slipped by.

Those who lived nearby concluded the old fort was unusual for several reasons. After the war ended, strange voices seemed to radiate from the bowels of the artillery rooms. Bursts of cruel light illuminated the frigid waters once a month at low tide and couldn’t be explained by passing ships. The villagers avoided idle gossip, but sixty years ago, a local fisherman vanished while leaving the fort’s stronghold on the treacherous coastline.

The police responded to the disappearance as soon as the local milkman noticed three untouched milk bottles in front of the fisherman’s cottage door. Three days missing. They were already thirty-six hours behind.

The case looked exceptionally bleak. No witnesses and no evidence. The authorities assumed the boat washed out to sea.

The entire village held its breath after hearing the news. Within a few hours, the milkman quickly rose to fame. He recounted his testimony that night at the pub to anyone who would listen.

“So I goes up to the door, ya see,” the milkman said to a hushed crowd. “And I see three bottles. Full! Firs’ thing I think is, ‘well, wutta a waste’. This guy n’er leaves ‘is milk out. So I walk up to the window and try ta look inside…but ‘issall dark. I knock and nothin’.”

He took a hearty swig of his pilsner, greedily eyeing the small crowd of villagers.

“What happened next, Bill?” Cried one of the barmaids. Several of the other patrons nodded eagerly and looked back at Bill.

Bill dramatically lowered his glass. It wasn’t often that he captivated audiences like this.

“I says to myself, ‘that’s weird’. So I up and call the police.”

“And…?” The barmaid asked hopefully.   

“Well, they still haven’t found ‘im. But I ‘erd ’is boat washed up on shore las’ night…looked like it took quite a beating, it did. Mighta’ hit a reef er somethin’. Nothin’ found onboard ‘cept a couple ‘a fishhooks.”

The crowd began muttering to one another.

“…never knew the poor soul, did ya, Barry?”

“Saw ‘im once and awhile at most, Marianne,” said Barry as he exchanged a dark look with the barmaid beside him.

After a few weeks, the police had yet to unearth any clues regarding the fisherman’s disappearance.

Months passed and the village slowly forgot about the fisherman.

“It’s hard to justify looking for someone who is missed by no one,” Chief Lutz sighed as he shuffled through the fisherman’s case file. “Something tells me he didn’t want to be found.”

Months passed and turned to years. Years turned into decades. Few villagers remained from the rainy night Bill told his story at the pub. Memories and rumors intertwined to form local lore. No one was quite certain where fact deviated from fiction.

Years later, the milkman was well into his nineties. He still recounted his story many times, but never spoke about the oddest part of the day he stopped by the fisherman’s house:

call him crazy, but he was certain he heard hundreds of whispering voices seeping out of the fort’s inner chambers that morning. Though he still did not know what the voices said or even what language they spoke in, he left a changed man. He couldn’t explain it, but he was unable to shake off an overwhelming feeling of uneasiness in his bones for the remainder of his life.

So when death approached him later that night, he readily collapsed into its arms, able to find peace at last in a burst of cold, violent light.

***

A special thanks goes out to my mom, Karen Hovie, for guest editing this post. Though this is not a finished product, she has helped with the fine tuning of what I’ve written.

Mini Series: Inferno

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He awoke slowly to a searing white heat that stroked the lower half of his body.

He was acutely aware this should cause alarm, but for some reason, he felt no pain.

Frantically, he tried moving his body.

A twitch from his left leg, then nothing. 

Move.

There was no time to relinquish this small victory. His survival instincts kicked into overdrive as he began to regain consciousness. He tried moving his fingers, which lay somewhere beyond the crux of his arms. Another jerk.

He knew his legs were somewhere beyond his torso, but they weren’t in sight. His head lay buried amongst charred leaves and he felt heavy, like his body could press down into the soil around him and sink down, away from all of this…

More heat. The acrid smell of burnt skin filled his nostrils and fire danced beyond his blurred vision.

Desperately, he tried moving his body away from the heat. Nothing. Backpedaling in his mind, he searched for answers to questions that began to pour into his mind at an alarming rate.

Bile filled his throat.

He didn’t know where he was or what happened. Why couldn’t he move?

Flames hungrily licked their way up his torso.

Though he didn’t seem to feel pain, fire crackled around him, on him, on his clothing. Fumbling around like a child, he scrambled to extinguish the flames.

After the last of the blaze had been put out, he managed to sit upright. Moving his gaze from his blackened sneakers, he allowed himself to take in the inferno around him.

The earth glowed violently within every conceivable sight.

Scores of burning logs lay scattered across the forest floor. Red-hot coals gave way to tree trunks, brightly ablaze in the smoke-filled air. His gaze flicked up, past the hungry flames that roared above his head. Smoke rose in plumes, giving way to a dark sky.

A more pressing question developed in his mind.

Shouldn’t he be dead?

There wasn’t time to lay in this hell-bound forest conjuring up such questions, he thought. He knew he had to get moving.

Though the fire hadn’t caused him any pain, it would only be a matter of time until a falling tree branch finished what the flames could not.

He pushed himself up from the ground, trying to hold his body on unsteady legs. As he took a step forward, he tripped over a log and struggled to right himself again. Blood rushed to his head instantly and he blinked away stars that threatened to consume his vision. Sinking back to the ground, he wiped soot onto the remains of his t-shirt.

Which way should he even go?

Hunched over like a beggar, his vision refocused onto the scorched pockets of his pants. Soot had claimed the ragged fabric as its own. He ran his hands over the small holes of his pants pockets methodically, trying to find a talisman from the time before the fire, but there was nothing, no trace of what his life had been.

Beyond the growing feeling of dread that tightened around his throat, he began to realize something he hadn’t before.

His skin wasn’t singed underneath the tattered holes of his pants. In fact, he couldn’t find any angry red welts that should be stretched across his legs and abdomen by now. Hadn’t he just been burning alive a few minutes ago? Nothing made sense.

He blinked away tears that had nothing to do with the thick smoke, which now began to envelop him in a dull haze. Another more pressing question loomed in his mind.

If his skin wasn’t covered in burns, why did he smell burning flesh?

Amidst the roaring fire of the forest, cold dread pooled in his stomach. He wiped away the tears that left clean trails down his cheeks, now horrified.

Slowly, he crawled towards the log he had tripped over a minute ago.

The smell of incinerated flesh overwhelmed him, but he could not look away once he saw its horribly charred face. Eyes met eyes, and suddenly, the body let out a blood-curdling scream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mini Series: “Them”

This is the first of what I hope to be many in a mini-series I’m starting today. Congruent with the name of this site, I’m going to begin publishing short stories that haven’t quite reached the second draft yet (i.e. I’m going to be writing by the “seat of my pants” for pleasure and as a creative exercise).

Many of the stories will be snippets from something larger, many will have various characters and story arcs. As a reminder, they are in their infancy stages and there is much work to be done. If you have suggestions for the editing process, please let me know in the comments below! I’m always open to change and in fact, I encourage it heavily here. Not only can this be an exercise for me, but it can be one for you as an editor.

This said, here is the first in the series, entitled “Them”.

***

He was ten when he started seeing them. Then again, he was ten when he could begin to see anything at all. An unknown disease, the doctors had told his parents. A medical miracle, they proclaimed at his sudden recovery a few years ago.

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Though he knew others must look upon him with pity, he was used to the inky black nothingness his eyes produced during his childhood and it comforted him. It served to shield him from seeing the violent images that pervaded his country through the warring years. His parents protected him from what his eyes could not see, but they could not lie about the sounds that bombarded his ears by night. Surely the world was roaring with discontent, he thought by night as his house shook. Warm hands softly found their way to his face soon after, followed by questions and statements. Are you okay? We should go downstairs. Was the raid over? No.

It would be three years until the cease fire and one year after the doctors pronounced his recovery that the shadows began by appearing around the periphery around his newly-found vision. Faceless shapes, too numerous to count. Every time he flicked his eyes in their direction, they faded quickly. It was like trying to steal a glance at a faraway star or planet. Was it a trick? Did everyone see them?

Seasons passed, the shadows began to fade, forgotten in time.

He was eleven when he could begin to feel their cold, rank breath enveloping him by night. Surely they couldn’t be here, he thought. Something so dark, intertwining with the shadows by night and disappearing with the rising sun could only appear in one’s dreams.

They visited only twice that year, never straying from the fringes of his periphery, but he feared their reappearance every night when his parents quietly flicked out his light.

Many months passed without incident, and he began to dismiss their presence as an effect of the war. It was practical and necessary. But on the night of his thirteenth birthday, the shadows came alive once again.

He awoke to a soft rattling. Coldness gripped his chest and a piercing silence engulfed his room. Tightening his eyes shut, he told himself they couldn’t possibly reach him. He was a kid again, comforted by his blindness during the war raids.

Several moments passed into eternity, each muscle in his body tensed so hard they began to tingle.

Only after several minutes did he dare to relax. Easing the tension on one eye, he relinquished control over his body. A murky outline of his room began to appear as his eye adjusted to the darkness. He scanned his eye across the familiar furniture in his room, hands clutching the bed sheet below him feverishly, afraid of the possibility of their return.

A lamp, open closet door, his desk…

Suddenly, he was aware of a haze forming at the corner of his room. Tendrils wound their way up his wall and began to take shape as a disturbing rattling crescendoed in his ears. He slammed his eye shut, scrambled up from his bed, and pressed his body against the wall farthest away from the shadows.

No, no, no, he moaned to himself. It wasn’t possible. He was dreaming.

He forcefully covered his ears to make the horrible rattling disappear, but the sound only became louder. His eyes snapped wide open with fear.

A ghastly face, bone thin, covered in sallow, rotting skin materialized from the depths of the haze that wound its way to the foot of his bed. Blue veins stretched across its translucent skin and colorful bruises amassing where cheekbones and a nose should’ve been. At least thirty more faces appeared behind the leader in front of them, their shadowy cloaks churning up from the ground.

The creature directly in front of him crawled closer, gripping his bedpost. He was aware of the temperature in his room plunging several degrees. The creature’s mouth lay open, grotesque, dripping with something dark and sticky. It should’ve had eyes, but where they would’ve belonged, skin stretched like a blank canvas over its wretched eye sockets. He tried scrambling away, his scream unable to form. He could not move.

He heard their sickening rattle reverberating around the room, echoing loudest from the depths of the shadow’s throat that crouched inches in front of him. Its head twitched to the left at an impossible angle and the croaking ceased.

The shadow creature lunged.