General Forum

General Forum

  1. SubscriberPonderable
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    08 Jul '19 08:17
    So hello and welcome to the Voting thread for the 2019 RHP Prose Competition.

    I will now post the entries (please do only post after the message indicating that all eleven contributions have been posted).

    Please read the stories and vote by posting here. If you do want to vote anonymously as not to give hints about authorship, please send me a PM, I will put in the voting as anonymous and post the voter after voting will have finished.

    Please do not discuss the merit of the stories as long as the voting goes on. Just cast your votes. There will be room for Feedback after voring has finished.

    Please vote the first three places as is tradition. First place gets 5 Point, second place gets 3 Points, third place gets one Point.

    Enjoy!

    Note: If any author detects a problem on my side (formatting issues and such) I reserve the possibility that I will repost a contribution and delete the original as to be as near to the authors intend as possible.
  2. SubscriberPonderable
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    08 Jul '19 08:18
    #1 Apartment 4420

    On moving day his brother said, "At least the numbers don't add up to thirteen."

    Cameron said, "That is correct." He had passed up another apartment with a view of the harbor precisely because of that superstition.

    "A priest, a rabbi, and a witch doctor walk into an apartment . . . Did you check with management to make sure no one was murdered here?" Clement asked.

    Their friends Gabe and Rajeev were somewhat amused but stayed out of it. There wasn't much to carry up because Cam was trying to break with the past and make a fresh start.

    After Gabe and Rajeev left with their compensation of imported beer, the brothers had a private moment and Clem was more serious. "Too bad about you and Sandy."

    "Yeah . . . but I had to get out of that. Too much weirdness going on in that old house and I needed a break from the new-age stuff. Sandy and I had a couple of good years but life with her took me way off course and I need to get back to the world of reason and rationality."

    Clem looked around at the apartment. "Looks like a good start. Very modern, minimalist, sterile -- completely unnatural. I can't imagine any ghost being interested in this place."

    Maybe he realized he sounded more mocking than supportive. Clem added, "If it's any consolation, we do have a ghost cat that jumps on our bed every now and then. I'm pretty sure it's Marvin from the weight and where it lands."

    "If only it were just ghost cats."

    ***

    The view of the city was still pretty nice on this side of the tower, especially at twilight. Cameron had Saturday night and all of Sunday to settle in and get used to the new place. He hoped to finally get a good night's rest or two before work on Monday.

    He went down to the street to get some eats and walk around the neighborhood but came back early and just vegged out in his recliner, listening to the ambient sounds of the city and his neighbors.

    The sound of silverware rattling woke him, followed by a faint rumbling. Then he realized it was just the neighbors loading their dishwasher. Kind of homey and comforting. This will be all right, he thought.

    He got up to check the locks, turned off some lights, and headed for bed. Luckily the bedroom seemed more soundproof. Which reminded him of the really noisy sex he and Sandy used to have. He started sobbing, not about the sex, but about the loss and the relief.

    Cameron slept soundly, too soundly to notice the hazy gray figure that watched him through the night. He woke feeling better than he had in a while. In contrast to his recent era of chronic exhaustion, he actually felt like going for a run.

    It took him a while to find his Road Phantom running shoes, though. He was sure they were still in the box of shoes in his closet, but they weren't. He decided to get coffee going and have a look at the city in the early morning light.

    His running shoes were on the balcony. He unlocked the door and went out to get them. He yawned and stretched in the fresh air, but only stayed a moment because a few other tenants were out and he was only wearing boxers.

    Good thing he went back inside, because he was suddenly overcome by a nauseous feeling of falling. Not this again, he thought. He only had vertigo once before and that was more than enough.

    In a cold sweat he made it to the kitchen counter and grabbed it with both hands. There were exercises to clear the crystals out of the inner ear, but luckily the sickening feeling went away after a long moment of just waiting. Cautiously he moved his head around and seemed to be okay.

    He checked the coffee, but there was none. The plug was plugged, the switch was on, it had water, but still no coffee. He moved the coffee maker to a different outlet but left it unplugged and went for his run while the air was still cool.

    A run and a quick rinse later, he opened his laptop to check his mail. Now his laptop would not turn on. Very frustrating.

    Luckily his phone still worked. He texted Sandy: "Is this your doing?" A few minutes later she texted back: "Is what my doing?" Then: "We agreed no contact." True, true, that was what they had agreed.

    That night he slept a little less soundly, but still did not notice the hazy figure that watched him, so glad it was just the two of them now.
  3. SubscriberPonderable
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    08 Jul '19 08:19
    #2 Are you in there?

    The forum was unusually quiet. Twenty-three minutes had passed since she’d made her last post and still it sat there, unanswered. A little annoyed, Dusty got up to stretch her short hairy legs and placed her laptop on the brown wooden coffee table, careful to avoid the sticky patch and half eaten packet of home brand digestives. The heavy drapes had been closed hours ago, the small bedsit spared twilight by an eclectic array of small lamps dotted around on the cupboards and floor. The old record player was on its third spin of Ricky Martin’s greatest hits and the air still pungent with the microwave meal consumed earlier that evening.
    “Where is everybody?” She returned sombrely to her flowery armchair, worn and permanently laced with the hair from multiple cats. Retrieving the laptop, she refreshed the page. “Finally!” Scrolling down, an unhealthy ripple of delight came across her, as she saw her intended target had taken the bait. She smiled wickedly as she read his words, certain she had gotten under his skin and yanked his chain.
    Phantom of a Marquis had responded – “Why do you always take things so literally. God knows how you survived puberty.”
    Dusty considered her reply, though her short fat fingers were already eagerly typing while the cogs were turning. “God knows how you survived puberty Phantom. Although you’re probably still going through it.” She chuckled to herself as she clicked ‘send.’
    “The question is,” came the Phantom’s immediate reply, “Will you survive adulthood?”
    Dusty scoffed aloud at his post, secure and emboldened by her anonymity. Alone in her dingy bedsit it was her who was the malevolent spirit, it was her who had the power, the swagger. “That sounds like a threat Phantom”, she typed. ‘You realise that is against the TOS and can get you banned from the forums? I think from now on I will call you Silly Phantom!!!’ - Minutes passed, Dusty revelling in the thought of having him on the back foot, running scarred. But with his next post, everything changed.
    “Why do you have so many lamps?”
    A cold chill went quickly up her spine. Why would he say that? Instinctively she checked that the sticker, on the camera of her laptop, was firmly in place. Reassured, she responded boldly. “What are you on about? Look at you trying to change the subject.”
    Again, the Phantom’s reply came quickly. “So many lamps are a fire hazard. Especially the ones on the floor.”
    A little freaked, Dusty’s eyes darted around the room. Lucky guess she thought, as she tapped superstitiously the wood of the coffee table, wary not to tempt fate. The Phantom posted again.
    “I nearly tripped over one of them.”
    “Yeah right,” she typed back. “Next you’ll be telling me you’re hiding under my bed.”
    The pause was palpable. “I’m not under your bed,…..I’m inside your wardrobe.”
    The cold chill returned, this time making its way down into the very pits of her stomach causing it to churn. The very idea that he was hiding in her wardrobe was simultaneously ludicrous and terrifying. She wanted to tell him that he didn’t frighten her, but her fingers no longer typed with their usual relish. Instead she slid the laptop onto the chair and cautiously got to her feet. Her eyes fixed on the large dark wardrobe and fuelled by a sudden wave of defiance, she strode confidently and noisily across the room towards it to call his bluff, a defiant confidence that completely abandoned her when she arrived at her destination. She listened for a moment, half expecting, half fearing, to hear the sinister tapping of a keyboard. All was quiet, even the record player seemingly, at that very instant, to have withdrawn into fearful silence. Frozen where she stood, Dusty simply couldn’t bring herself to open the wardrobe door, deciding instead to whisper through the gap in the panels.
    “…Are you in there?”

    Three weeks later a new thread appeared in the forums, ‘Whatever happened to Dusty?’ The OP remarked how strange it was that such an active poster would disappear so suddenly. Only the Phantom was minded to respond, a response that received 12 thumbs up from his fellow posters. It read simply, “Oh, I ate her liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”
  4. SubscriberPonderable
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    08 Jul '19 08:19
    #3 Here be Unicorns

    Fire shoots through the skyline, burning a trail through the clear evening. Lowering, as gravity takes hold, the shape coalesces into a dark grey mass, speeding through the atmosphere before slamming into the ground. The impact creates an enormous crater, the outer grey mass shattering, throwing up plumes of smoke and dust, darkening the twilight. Parts of the enormous asteroid lodge deep into the crater, before being buried by falling rocks, left untouched for millions of years.



    As they had for generations, the tribes avoid the crater site. The phantom lights emanating from the crater in the early evenings intensifying their fears. The wild stories of dragons and other beasts grow scarier each time they are retold.

    Drak listens to the stories with mounting excitement, the elders enthralling his young mind with the superstition and wild fantasy. Stories that become fiction in the future bring him into a state of excitement, making sleep utterly impossible. As he hears the sleeping sounds around him, he sits up quietly, his powerfully built young body naked except for cleaned animal skins covering his waist.

    Drak creeps silently through the clearing, into the rocks surrounding the small camp. Avoiding the eyes of the lookouts, he heads towards the dancing lights. They glimmer ahead of him, moving towards the ground before shooting high, repeating the pattern, appearing to Drak as an arrow, indicating where he must go.

    The crater walls are no longer steep, eroding over the millennia since the asteroid annihilated the dinosaurs, and he reaches the apex easily. Looking over the rim, Drak sees smoke steaming from a crack in the lowest portion of the crater, the phantom lights pointing towards it. He scrambles over the edge, finding a solid grip he descends rapidly, rocks and dust kicked down by his hardened feet.

    The crater is so deep that it takes 15 minutes to reach the bottom, the temperature rising as he comes closer to the steam. Drak peers into the cracked earth, seeing a light source trapped below the ground he takes his five-foot-long walking staff in both hands and breaks the edges of the hole, enlarging it.

    The phantom lights cease, yet the brightness within the mini cavern shines vividly. Drak’s face glistens with sweat, and as he works, he visualises different mystical creatures. What could be in here, a dragon? Something worse? Suddenly the rim splinters beneath his feet causing him to fall six feet into the pit, landing hard, near a solid metallic sphere, knocking him unconscious for several hours.

    The sun rises, light splashes across Drak’s face, bringing him out of his stupor. He sits up, hand rubbing his temples as his brain clears. The sphere no longer glowing appears seamless to his young eyes. He uses his staff to stand, reaching out, fingers stretching to the reflective orb, feeling strong vibrations. A magnetic force grabs him forwards, his hand touching the near freezing sphere, an orange light maps his hand, before spreading outwards, making the cavern glow.

    Drak watches enraptured, as the sphere splits in half, and out steps a beautiful white unicorn. Nearly 2 metres in height, with a foot-long horn piercing his head. Its jet-black eyes search for the lifeform responsible for his release. Finding Drak, the unicorn ensnares him with its dark eyes, transfixing the young man. It stares into him. Drak feels the communication, images of a universe bigger than the valleys he knows, filling his mind with knowledge of science, mathematics, languages old and new, the history of the universe, and of a future for him that could become eternal if he accepts both the gift and the curse offered.

    The unicorn looks at him, waiting on Drak’s response. His mind twists and turns with growth, Drak stands taller, his eyes aging before his time with the knowledge of the Universe. He weighs up the options, a short life with the knowledge but no restrictions, or an eternity of life, but purely nocturnal, a powerful monster of the night.

    Drak nods once, and the unicorn springs forward, spearing him with its horn through his chest, twisting sharply the horn snaps off, embedded in Drak’s chest. Now a horse-like shape, the alien races out of the cavern, to join the earth-based horses, speeding up their evolution.

    Drak falls to his knees inside the sphere, as it seals around him. Powers engulfs him, strengthening his body, his senses, and giving him a thirst for human blood. The sphere opens 2 months later, at the dead of night, and Drak steps out, taller than before, his eyes now jet black, and two longer, sharper, brilliant white teeth glimmer in the moonlight. Power ripples through his body, as he jumps easily from the hole, standing at the bottom of the crater, Dracula roars with hunger…
  5. SubscriberPonderable
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    08 Jul '19 08:20
    #4 HOLLYWOOD ENDING

    When I first saw it, I thought it was a pile of linen thrown from the window of a flop house, a gray-green wrinkly thing at twilight over an L.A. skid row park. It wasn’t – it was a ghost!

    Ghosts. L.A. is full of them. Becoming a ghost is one thing. Remaining a ghost quite another. Where’s the off ramp? Obviously this ghost couldn’t find it.

    Since this was L.A. home of the movies. I figured that the ghost on skid row was a product of that environment and I wasn’t wrong. This particular ghost was created by Hollywood and then abandoned by his creators. I found this out after getting him to his feet. His ectoplasm was quite good and he was more like a starched sheet than a wet one. He wasn’t a drunk as ghosts don’t drink because they are dead and it would do no good. He was extremely depressed however for good reason. He was Casper “The Friendly Ghost” in a world not so friendly.

    I was surprised but not horrified. I’ve seen lots of actors go to seed in this town and one more was not going to shock me. Most were on their way to becoming dead but this phantom already was.

    As a ghost he had aged poorly. His demeanor was still childlike unable bring himself to frighten but frightening because of his appearance. He had been under a bench in one of the bum parks and was in his 77th year as a ghost. I’d never seen anything as forlorn as Casper.

    For those not knowing Casper – he was the ghost of a child created in the late 1930’s by Hollywood script writers. His nature dictated that he refuse to scare people a humorous counterpoint to stereotypical ghosts whose roles in death were to scare the living. He always seemed to find young children and animals to love him back. This helped him get by as a young ghost. Sadly, now he could only scare everyone. Most people found him more disgusting than scarey however. Superstitions about ghosts had been fading away when ghosts were almost totally replaced by zombies who were as undead as ghosts but a lot hungrier. Roles for ghosts became almost nonexistent in the sixties but Casper’s star had burned out a few years prior when he appeared in a movie about “spooks” starring the Bowery Boys. Any actor living or dead knew that the Bowery Boys of the late 50’s were the anchor around the neck of your career – the black hole from which no reputation could escape. Casper was no exception. By then he was in his 30’s and like the children he first appealed to he had grown up physically but not mentally. He was still a loving child because that was how he was created.

    He was trapped. Where could he go? He was already dead. He had lost his plump, round look topped off by a beautiful near perfectly circular head. Now his head looked like an old pillow case with eyeholes – an elderly Halloween ghost. I wanted to help him get out of the human society that was indifferent to his suffering.

    I left him that day knowing that I would find him again in that area and went to the film archives at UCLA. I looked up a couple of ghosts – contemporaries of Casper – George and Marion Kerby of “Topper” and Daniel Gregg and Eleanor Muir from “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir”. What happens to ghosts at the end of their movies?

    The Kerby’s were “condemned” to ghosthood until they did something nice for Topper. The Mrs. Muir’s ghost went with Capt. Gregg’s ghost, the owner of the house Mrs. Muir inhabited at her death. Those ghosts, it is assumed, went to heaven upon completion of their ghostly duties. Casper’s ghostly duties were long since completed yet he was still around because Hollywood failed to write the completion of his story.

    A spectral like a solution appeared in the LA Times in the form of an ad:

    “Whether you are nine or 99, you have had the fear of ghosts at some point. Ghosts are images of dead people that take a place among the living. A ghost can be good or evil, depending on who it is around. If you discover you are among ghosts there is only one weapon that can save you, your Oreck vacuum cleaner. “

    I’d say this was a sign.

    He went fast and without a whimper. I could sense his relief as he disappeared up the Oreck hose attachment. I took the vacuum cleaner to a dumpster. It was no Patrick Swayze “Ghost” heavenly exit scene but I knew Casper had finally found his heaven.
  6. SubscriberPonderable
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    08 Jul '19 08:23
    #5 The Last Metro

    Startled awake, incoherent shards of dreams dissipate like smoke rings. Fallen asleep at the desk, again, project unfinished, deadline looming ever nearer. Look at the time! Dash! might catch the last metro. Throw on a jacket, run for the elevator. Race down to the ground floor, rush past George, the old security guard. He half-opens one eye. "G'night George." "G'night, Sir." The night outside is crisp, shocks me unpleasantly awake. The theater will be out, restaurants and clubs will be closing. The metro will be crowded, last trains home. Run for it. Elbow past people on the sidewalk, chattering mindlessly, giggling half-drunkenly. Damn them! their frivolities, work's to be done! Stumble, catch myself, sweating. Panting. See! the metro-station is right here. Dash down stairs, bee-line for the escalator. Panting. Jostling. Voices cacophonous in my ears, jumbled, incoherent rudeness, drunkenness, silliness, laughter. The escalator, down, down. Edge past people standing, loitering. Panting, sweating. Air here is heavy, sticky, sweaty. Heart pounding in my neck and ears. Air! Air! Gasping. Bump into people. Out of the way! Must catch the last metro! Gasping. Sudden pain, sharp. Gasp. More pain, blinding pain! Hammer blows in the chest. Pounding! Pain annihilating thought. Crumple. Falling. Falling.... Falling.... Dragging, leaden weight. Thought arrested, frozen.

    Ripping, shredding, shrieking noise, like metal sawing. Deafening. Will it never end? Unbearable, overwhelming, everlasting. Blindness. Heavy, leaden weight, falling. Falling .... Ripping asunder. Pounding in the chest, hammer blows. Hammer blows. Blackness. Stillness.

    At last, blessed silence. Dim, gray light. Slowly sinking, floating, gently. Escalator empty. Where have the people gone? Must catch the last metro. Descend. Arrive at the platform. Gray light. Where are the others?

    Stillness. Not a sound. No voice speaks. The train glides out of the tunnel, pulls up to the platform. Noiselessly. No wind preceeds it. Doors open, no one gets out. I step into the carriage. Doors close noiselessly behind.

    I have caught the last metro.

    Glance along the carriage. Two others are seated, not together. One faces me, one not. I move to a seat, not near them, sit down. The train does not move.

    The metro is strange. Not like yesterday. Nor any day. No colors. Metro seats are upholstered in shiny, red plastic. Not these; these are gray. I reach out to touch. It feels ... numb. Not smooth, not rough, no texture, just ... there.

    The station is strange. Not like yesterday. Nor any day. The platform is awash with sticky, gray light, oozing from nowhere. No plaque, no sign, no name. This is no platform I ever saw. But, surely, this is the Central Line? The one I always take. Am I not ... going ... home?

    Doors open again. Noiselessly. No one gets out. See! a new figure standing on the platform, waiting, outside the door. The figure is of small stature. I cannot see the face. The figure hesitates, looks along the platform, furtively. "Why does the figure hesitate?" I want to beckon, "come in," but do not.

    Turn my gaze to one of the figures seated inside. In the gray light, the figure is indistinct. I can barely make out a face, shoulders hunched as if bowed by age, years of toil, desires both unacknowledged and unfulfilled. The figure does not look at me. The face is manly, otherwise expressionless, ... numb. The eyes do not so much stare into space, as blankly open onto space. As if they did not look out at all, as if an abyss looked in through empty holes in the face.

    Look at the other figure, not facing me. I see only the back of the head and shoulders. Unlike the other, this one moves. The shoulders tremble uncontrollably, as if sobbing, silently.

    Look again at the figure outside on the platform, hesitating before the open door. "why does this one hesitate?" I want to beckon, but do not.

    At last, the figure takes a faltering step, enters, makes a gesture -- a superstition, learnt by rote, to ward off some phantom. The figure comes closer, I see its face. The face of a child, no more than 5 or 6. It bears an expression. Frozen. I know this expression: it is fear.

    "Where is this child's mother?" "Why is this child alone, so late, in the last metro?" "This child is lost. Why does no one help?" "Anyone can see that this child is afraid. Why does no one help?" I want to help, but do not.

    Doors close. The train pulls noiselessly away from the platform and pierces the darkness of the tunnel at the far end of the platform.

    I turn to the window and see my reflection, my own expression. Frozen in twilight. Yes, ... the last metro.


    fin
  7. SubscriberPonderable
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    08 Jul '19 08:23
    #6 GHOST DOG

    They always enjoyed the drive home, it was a long straight road that assured them a forced but welcome intimacy. This evening was particularly pleasant with the late summer twilight painting the now wilting leaves a calm russet.
    Richard complained about office politics , Jennifer listened with a sympathetic look on her face whilst thinking how relaxed the work load must be at His Architectural firm compared to the hectic working day of a Doctor in a busy city hospital.
    The busy city was receding into the distance and they were more than halve way to their ‘Dream House’. They called it that because Richard was adamant that the design came to him in a dream, even down to its location nestled between a silver lake and an emerald forest. Jennifer loved, and was often amused by
    Richards tendency toward the supernatural even though she was the archetypal sceptic. Jenifer sat back and smiled to herself when ‘Stevie Wonders’ ‘Superstition’ funked itself out of the radio.
    They reached the dream house and parked at the end of the drive, they both saw the Dog at the same time and frowned at each other in confirmation. It was definitely a Dog, more precisely a big Dog, and even more precisely a Rottweiler. However there was something very odd about this Hound. It’s bark was more like the far off echo of a bark, it somehow lacked the intensity you would expect from a dog this size and apparently this angry. They remained in the car as it approached, Jennifer wondered how it had got this far from any possible owner or kennel facility.
    As it got closer they realised that like it’s bark, it’s body was somehow unsubstantial, like the fading film of someones Pet. Once again they looked at each other for confirmation but instead of a frown they saw fear staring back at them.
    When it reached them it’s ephemeral nature was stark. For the next five minutes they sat in the car trying to decide what was happening. Richards first instinct was that the dog had got hit by a car when it ran out of the forest in pursuit of some local wildlife, and was now haunting the local area possibly looking for its family.
    Richard speculated :-
    “Perhaps it came upon the only house for miles and decided that it was where his family would eventually come looking for him”
    Jenifer wanted to counter with a more scientific answer, maybe a mutual delusion, or a mirage created by the lake and the forest reflecting images from somewhere nearby. However the fact that the dog was looking right at them made the second option very unlikely and the first was always non starter, she was not given to delusions.
    Suddenly the dog stopped barking and ran into the house. After sitting in the car for another couple of minutes they decided to follow hoping that the phenomenon had played itself out. Once inside they saw He was now sitting by the living room sofa, on their arrival He stood up and began emitting a low threatening growl.
    Wherever they went in the house, the ‘phantom pooch’, a name Richard had settled on for the dog, stalked them growling as He went. The only time He got really angry was when they went near the two smaller bedrooms, then the barking would start until they moved away or something else caught his attention and he ran back down the stairs. After a few hours of this they decided to sleep in the third largest room due to fact that the dog seemed the least concerned about their presence here. They would sleep the night there and consider their options in the morning.
    Steve, Kurt’s owner, along with his wife and two daughters could not understand this perpetual early evening ritual. The dog was fine the rest of the time. They could never sell or give Kurt away, he was part of the family. Steve and His wife Isobel bought him at the same time as the house.
    It seemed an ideal setting for a big Dog and it settled their nerves concerning the fate of the homes original owners who were brutally murdered when they returned from work and surprised a gang of house breakers that were targeting isolated homes in the area. Steve decided this morbid history was offset by the greatly reduced asking price for a house of this quality and location. It only took a fraction of the savings to install a monitored alarm system and dead locks.
    They always enjoyed the drive home, it was a long straight road that assured them a forced but welcome intimacy. This evening was particularly pleasant with the late summer twilight painting the now wilting leaves…..
  8. SubscriberPonderable
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    08 Jul '19 08:24
    #7 Stray Cat
    My sister, Julia, was always frail and reticent. I do not think she spoke before she was two. She was never adventurous, but shy and disinclined to climb trees or skip rope or do any of the usual outdoorsy things girls do. But she was alert and observant. She read avidly, and, from 'Nursey,' she learnt Viennese as a second language. Her life changed suddenly, though subtly, with the diagnosis. She was 13. Where she had been reticent before, now she was withdrawn, timid, frightened even. Hardly surprising, given the prognosis. We knew something was wrong because she would get violently ill after drinking milk. She would also refuse red meat. The doctors ordered bland food, vegetables steamed only, and porridge made with water for breakfast. She hated draughts and would not sit at the bay window, although she loved to look out at the garden. She would sit on the divan, at the back wall of the salon, and look out across the garden from there. She would sit there until twilight, sometimes reading, sometimes just staring into her own thoughts. For a time, I feared for her, that she would become morose.

    This changed one day in spring. She had ventured out into the garden, which was quite unusual in itself. When she returned, she was cradling a stray cat. It had injured itself, and Julia would on no account part with it. The veterinarian was summoned. He surmised that it had gone feral, lived wild for the better part of its adult life, but, having injured itself, could no longer hunt and would starve if left alone. He bandaged the injured paw, pronounced that it would recover, and advised that it was probably on its ninth life already.

    "He shall have ten!" Julia announced with such strange vehemence that we stared at her in surprise. "He needs me," she offered in sheepish apology for her outburst.

    The cat had indeed taken to her, and she to it. Hildegaard, 'Nursey,' however, conceived an implacable and superstitious aversion to "the little beast," and the feeling was obviously mutual.

    "It'll have to have a name," Papa insisted.

    "Zehn," Julia said. "That's German for ten." Except that she pronounced it more softly than Hilda did, so that it nearly rhymed with "zen."

    "Mr. Zen," Julia repeated. "Mr. Ten."

    Julia doted upon Mr. Zen, feeding him bowls of warm milk and sausages from the dining table. He would sit on her lap for hours and let himself be petted. Otherwise, he planted himself on the window seat overlooking the garden, gazing out longingly on his former life of liberty. Julia would on no account join him there at the draughty window seat.

    Julia avoided eye contact with everyone, except me. She looked down, and could not bear to be gazed upon, not even by Papa, who adored her. But she would allow herself to be gazed upon by Mr. Zen, and she returned his gaze. He would lie on her lap in such repose that he could fix his yellow-green eyes upon hers, with her deep brown eyes upon his.

    Julia became gradually more relaxed in his company, and I no longer feared for her mental state. But her physique continued to deteriorate. The doctors could do nothing; palliative care was all that remained.

    A season passed with little to report but a very gradual physical decline, until, towards the end, even my dear sister's mental resilience began to falter. She was failing, there was no mistaking it. The creeping advance of it was heart-rending, especially for Papa. She became a pale phantom of her former self. It seemed that Mr. Zen was all that stood between her and death's door.

    Then came that fateful evening, with its inscrutable aftermath. Julia was uncommonly agitated, and she would on no account allow the cat to sleep on her bed, as was his wont. Hilda came away with a multitude of scratches and bites as she ejected him from Julia's bedroom and shut the door in his indignant face. He resolutely bedded in front of Julia's door and would not be budged.

    Next morning, Julia arose and came downstairs with alacrity and color in her cheeks. She sat down on the window seat, overlooking the garden.

    "Shall I make your tea now, Miss?" Cook asked, solicitously.

    "No," Julia answered, curtly. "Warm milk." No 'please,' no 'thank you,' as was her habit.

    "Oh," said Cook, startled by this change of tone and diet. She studied Julia, their eyes meeting for a long moment. Cook saw that Julia's eyes had changed from deep brown to hazel.

    "I'll have sausages for breakfast," Julia said, imperiously.

    Cook was astonished.

    "The cat's died," she added, matter-of-factly, "Have the gardner get rid of it."

    fin
  9. SubscriberPonderable
    chemist
    Linkenheim
    Joined
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    Moves
    561885
    08 Jul '19 08:24
    #8 The crayon


    The wooden floorboards creaked and groaned as the boy Pierre walked the hall to the door of his new bedroom. This was his first visit to the family's new home in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane. His father had joked the house was haunted by a local phantom, and recited an old spell that would keep it at bay. Pierre had thought it just a silly superstition, but with only the twilight of the summer sun to illuminate the house, he wasn't so sure anymore.

    The door swung open, Pierre entered the room and looked around. On the nearest wall there was a drawing, The picture was astonishingly realistic. Pierre had never seen a drawing this realistic and had to look close to see the drawing was not a photograph. The drawing depicted a horrific scene: houses on fire, riflemen shooting at people fleeing from burning houses. Men were thrown into a blazing barn; women and children, trying to escape from the village church, already on fire, were also shot. It looked as if the gruesome images could come to life at any moment. Pierre shuddered.

    At first the boy hadn't heared the voice, being fully drawn into the spectacle of the scenes on the wall. When he did and looked around, expecting somebody had entered the room, there was nobody there. Then he heared it again, this time he clearly heared somebody call.
    “Hey boy... yes, you. Come closer so you can see me.”
    “Where are you?” Pierre asked.
    “Here on the wall, next to the church,” Pierre heared the voice say as he moved closer to the wall. In front of the church a man in uniform and wearing a long black coat waved at him!
    The boy took a step back, his mouth fell open and his eyes large with surprise. “It is the phantom!” Pierre shouted and he started to mumble the old spell his father had taught him.
    “Don't be silly boy. Come here and talk to me.”
    Pierre blinked his eyes a few times, then looked at the picture.
    “Good. What's your name boy?” the man asked.
    “I'm Pierre,” he replied, still wavering a bit.
    “Hello Pierre... finally somebody to talk to again.”
    “Who are you?” Pierre asked.
    The man smiled “My mother calls me Adi. Isn't this a wonderful picture Pierre?” He said, outstretching his arm towards the gruesome scenes.
    Pierre shook his head: “It's horrible! All those poor people dieing!”
    “Yes, it is horrible indeed. And I need you to save them Pierre!”
    The boy raised his eyebrows, “what do you mean... save them?”
    “I'll tell you,” Adi said. “Near the window a floorboard has come loose. Reach under the floor, stretch your arm really far and you'll find a crayon; a very special crayon. It draws life.”
    “It draws life?”
    Adi continued, “Uhuh, it does. Use the crayon and help me change the scene to end all this suffering.”
    The boy shook his head, “I can't draw.”
    “That is not necessary, the crayon will guide your hand. Just fetch it and try.”
    “Well, I can at least try,” Pierre agreed.

    The boy looked around and found the loose floorboard. He knelt, reached underneath the floor and surely his fingers found something.
    “You got it!” Pierre heared Adi call out as he held the pencil up. “Now come back here. It is important you start drawing at the precisely right spot,” Adi told him. “Place the point exactly on my right hand. Yes... there!”

    As Pierre held the pencil to the wall he suddenly felt intense cold flow from the crayon into him. He immediatley tried to take the pencil from the wall, but his hand wouldn't coöperate. He tried to open his hand and drop the pencil, but to no avail. He had lost control of his whole body and became a mere spectator as the pencil started to draw a large door on the wall.

    When the drawing was finished his hand stopped moving. The door slowly opened. Pierre looked at the massacre unfolding in front of him, then he noticed the man in the black uniform, his cap sporting a dead-head's insignia. Before Pierre could utter a word the man reached through the door and grabbed his arm. Pierre screamed when his body filled with burning bright white light blinding his eyes.

    And just as quick the light was gone again.

    Pierre opened his eyes and stared... at his own face, his own body and he heared himself say: “Now you are me and responsible one for this massacre. Enjoy my life boy!” And with a bang the door was closed.

    He realized: I am not Pierre anymore. My name is Adolf Diekmann.
  10. SubscriberPonderable
    chemist
    Linkenheim
    Joined
    22 Apr '05
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    561885
    08 Jul '19 08:25
    #9 Transcendence

    “Hi there. My name is Nathaniel, and… erm.. if you are watching this YouTube video then I’m dead, or transcended. And there is a great possibility that the former caused the latter. Hmmm, what might interest you? Well, for a start, this phantom image you are watching is unlikely to be the last you hear of me!”

    “The press. Hmm, well now they have my human name, will no doubt furnish you with the monotony of my upbringing. I didn’t come from a broken home. I wasn’t addicted to anything,. And, other than my ‘God-Complex’ I lived a remarkably ordinary 33 years on the Earth.”

    “So now you checked the date I recorded this, over 2 and a half years ago! In the twilight period of my monotony. How could I predict, so accurately, that I’d die on my 33rd birthday? And no, it wasn’t suicide! It is part of my god issues (note the small ‘g’, rather than the capital ‘G’, I am not The God, just have godlike powers).”

    “Anyway, 33 years feels right to me. It ties in perfectly with the age that Jesus is said to have returned to Heaven. I’m no prophet for God, but I do have powers that science cannot explain. I’ve tried looking for rational explanations, believe me, being so unique is troublesome!”

    “My powers didn’t slowly materialise. No, they just hit me last Saturday morning. I’d been out with a friend, a few beers at the local pub, a takeout and a crappy film on Netflix (ha ha, no advertising here, other television providers exist, though Netflix are pretty damn good) to end the night. Woke up, no hang over, a surprise, but a pleasant one. I heard my friend snoring, so focused on him, and then damn if I wasn’t inside his head. Not physically, I’m not AntMan! No, it was crazy, like my body was in bed, but my mind was inside him.”

    “Yeah, I know, you’re thinking I’ve had a stroke, but no, my body was fine, as my mind flipped back into my own body, I took all of him with me. Literally! Every thought, dream, idea that he had ever had, were mine. And so too his skills, I just knew that I could play the guitar, something I was really jealous of. But the reverse was true. I knew all his neurosis, his fears, every superstition, and his loneliness, his overpowering self-doubt, his worries about work, money, debt… I had it all.”

    “Concerned, I went and spoke to him, he seemed his normal self, but… but now I could read him like a book. I knew every thought, not like Mel Gibson in “What Women Want”, but all underlying currents, all his pent-up frustrations. I quickly agreed to meet him later in the week, and I felt his soul lift a little. See why I say god-like, rather than God-like.”

    “I’ve had this power a week now, and every person I encounter zaps into my mind. And there is something in common. Nobody is happy. If they are ill, then they are unhappy about that illness – I get it. If they aren’t ill then they worry about money, if they’ve got money and health, then they worry about their job, or their looks, or their car, or their relationship, or about a billion other tiny insignificant things. It is all negative, the whole bloody lot of them.”

    “I saw a beautiful, young, physically fit, smiling man climb out of his Ferrari, yesterday. He had a tailored suit, was meeting and greeting people, warm smile and quick quips. Yeah, before my powers I’d have hated him too! But inside his head, he was a bundle of twisted nerves, of twitching issues. He felt he was fat, ugly, not rich enough. What the flying f… oop, keep it suitable for all, can’t get banned off here, it’s hard to reinstate it from the afterlife.”

    “I focused a little closer on his brain. He was comparing himself to multiple near-impossible standards, he wanted to be as handsome as a famous movie star, as rich as Bill Gates, as slender as some YouTube celebrity that manipulated their online image… He had no hope. So, I tried something new. I reached into his head, and turned him around, making him run into the road in front of a oncoming bus. SPLAT!!!! Ha ha ha, dead as a dodo!”

    “I know. I’m a monster. But in these next two years I’m going to execute a lot of people. Those who do not deserve to live as they fail to live their own expectations, trying to live up to impossible heroes. At some point someone will stop me, but, until then, I have been Nathaniel, and now I am more.”
  11. SubscriberPonderable
    chemist
    Linkenheim
    Joined
    22 Apr '05
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    561885
    08 Jul '19 08:25
    #10 You remember?
    It was dark. Not just dark, but pitch dark, nothing to see, total blackness. It was silent, absolute. It felt like floating. Nothing touched the body.
    What had happened? Memory came back: the street, the velocity the feeling of freedom on the bike, the sunset in the west, seen in the mirror. The twilight ahead. Then the shadow. Like a phantom coming out of nowhere. The loud bang and the feeling of the impact.
    „Welcome to hell“.
    It wasn’t a sound somehow the words just materialized in the conscience. Never having been superstitious, the ratio tried to ignore the words. There has to be some rational explanation. Most probably being on an intensive care unit.
    „Fool yourself as much as you want to“
    That thought are not helpful. The coach always had said, that there was influences of the past which should not been allowed to reign the here and now.
    “You remember?”
    Was this the voice of Grandma? Why was it now a discernible voice?
    “The day, you promised not to forget?”
    Memory came unbitten. The fifth birthday. The shiny new bike. The helmet, unloved and uncool.
    ‘Always carry your helmet.’
    It felt better without it. All the others rode without. Well maybe not ALL, but the cool kids.
    The hospital. The concussion. The laceration. Grandma.
    ‘Promise me. No more riding without helmet.’
    - I promise.
    “You remember?”
    The voice of Clarabelle not heard since a long time. The talking about their partnership, their joint project, which would make them rich.
    - We will do this together nothing will come in between us. We will make this idea into a success.
    Well there was this irresistible offer of the big player. The company for which everybody of the class has wanted to work. The alternative: a small start-up with the misty promise to get to the same income only after years and years of toil…
    “You remember?”
    John, he all people. He had been the one who liked to further talent.
    - I will always be grateful to you.
    The look John gave when leaving the office for good, leaving room for promotion. Well-deserved promotion.
    “Really?”
    Well after all it was good for the company and Susan the VP had said so and gave out the promised reward.
    “You remember?”
    Charles and Charlene, the couple from next door.
    - I will be there for you if you need me as you have been there for me.
    The depressive diagnosis. The nauseating smell. Her white face and her constant need “for just a minute”. It had been okay not to visit in hospital. Nobody could demand that. To confront oneself with death and decay.
    “You remember?”
    Father Jules. He had been there when father left the family, he had cared when grandma died. He had been fun and he had organized a lot for the young people.
    - I will be a good Christian all the days of my life
    That moralizing person, that promise at least should not count, should it? Being very young and saddled with a burden of centuries of moralizing old men…
    “You remember?”
    The day on the summit. The view, the air, the feeling of freedom.
    - I will do this more often and be more grateful
    “You remember?”
    The first love. The feeling of belonging.
    - I will never leave
    “You remember?”
    The first motorcycle, a new dimension of speed and freedom.
    “You remember?”
    The kaleidoscope of emotions. Faster and faster. Then absolute darkness.
    Darkness, silence, no feeling of the body, no taste no smell.
    “Welcome to hell”
    What? This again….
    No just nothing to see, nothing to hear, nothing to touch, nothing to taste nothing to smell.
    No more memories. Just being aware of being there and nothing more….
  12. SubscriberPonderable
    chemist
    Linkenheim
    Joined
    22 Apr '05
    Moves
    561885
    08 Jul '19 08:26
    #11 YOUNG MAN WITH ROSES


    Harold Chambers remembered to breathe, then opened the door.

    Margo Wintour herself of Wintour Galleries stood outside. "Do you need to smudge me with sage or sprinkle some salt before I enter?"

    Harold bowed slightly and waved her in with a grin. "Unfortunately I have no such superstitions. But thank you for asking!"

    Margo complimented him on the loft, which served as both studio and living space. They conversed pleasantly as she looked through his current series of paintings and sketches.

    "Such a range of mood and style," she said. "Very evocative."

    Harold's joy was tinged with apprehension when Margo approached another stack of canvases leaning against the wall. "Some of those are darker than the rest." Margo replied that she could handle it, and continued with her appraisal.

    "This young man -- will he attend the reception? I'd love to meet him." A moment passed. "But only if that wouldn't disturb your process. Maybe that's a threshold we shouldn't cross."

    "Well . . ." Harold wondered how Margo would react to the more extreme works, full of horror and pity and violence. She flipped slowly through the stack.

    "Harold, I'm sorry if . . . I hope he isn't . . ."

    "Oh! No, nothing like that. He only lives in my imagination. My muse, my angel of desire."

    About the more distressing pieces Harold said, "When working I try to approach with an empty bowl, without expectations or filters. It seems important to respect the full range of images that come."

    ***

    The gallery opening was a great success, with an atmosphere as light and sparkling as the champagne. After the event, Margo confided they could have priced some items higher. There was already a bidding war for the centerpiece of the exhibit, "Young Man with Roses XIII," even though it was clearly marked "not for sale" per Harold.

    ***

    Two days later Margo called him. "There are some people here who would very much like to meet you. Are you free to come over?"

    ***

    Harold managed to contain his excitement as he entered Margo's office. A well-dressed man and woman in their 40s were also there. "You took your time," the man muttered.

    "Harold Chambers, I'd like to introduce Arlene and John Sheridan."

    Arlene Sheridan gave her husband a look and stepped forward. "Hello, Mr. Chambers. We hope you might have some information about our son Roland."

    Harold glanced at Margo for some sort of clue. "I'm sorry, but I don't . . ."

    "The hell you don't," said John Sheridan. "You've been sleeping with our son, haven't you. How did you lure him? Drugs? Money?"

    Arlene interjected, "We don't want to cause trouble. We just want to know that Roland is alive and well. He has been missing since last fall. Did he leave town? Are you still in touch with him?"

    Harold started to explain but John cut him off. "Imaginary my eye. We'll get the truth out of you if I have to beat it out." At that point, Margo advised the Sheridans to leave before she called the police. John Sheridan was still shouting threats as they left.

    Margo turned. "I can't thank you enough for this, Harold. The Sheridans say that's their son in your paintings, down to the shape of his ears and the moles on his chest. Something you're not telling me?"

    ***

    Shortly after twilight the police showed up at his loft to detain him for questioning. The next day they obtained a search warrant and he was booked into the county jail.

    ***

    At their fifth meeting in the interrogation room, the senior detective said, "We appreciate your cooperation. Even though some of your artwork led us to the remains of Roland Sheridan and some significant clues, we have found no DNA or other evidence linking you to the victim or placing you at the scene. Strange. But we now have two other suspects in custody. The prosecutor's office suggests we treat your contribution as anonymous citizen tips. At the moment you are free to go, but don't leave town."

    ***

    After his release, Harold was lost and adrift, a phantom just going through the motions. In a daze he agreed to let Margo sell "Young Man with Roses XIII" to the highest bidder. Might as well let go of the whole collection, he thought, maybe even the studio.

    Eventually he forced himself to go for walks and get some sun. One day on his way out, a young voice clearly said, "Thank you, Mister Chambers." He turned to look, but the loft was empty.

    The news that night reported that two local men had been found guilty of the abduction and murder of Roland Sheridan.
  13. SubscriberPonderable
    chemist
    Linkenheim
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    561885
    08 Jul '19 08:28

    Removed by poster

  14. SubscriberPatzering
    is getting old...
    Joined
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    17546
    08 Jul '19 09:061 edit

    Removed by poster

  15. SubscriberPonderable
    chemist
    Linkenheim
    Joined
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    561885
    08 Jul '19 11:301 edit
    Actually I forgot one entry (hopefully the only mistake).

    I will post it now and offer @Patzering to reevaluate.
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