Day 8: Frail

When Blake woke up, he found he could not move.

No, that wasn’t exactly right. He could move a little, but not well. His limbs felt unbearably stiff, and his whole body ached with effort. Was he sick? The thought struck him as absurd – illness was a weakness meant for lesser men, and Blake was never weak. But what else could it be? His joints were locked, and the whole room seemed distorted. He heard a sound like grinding glass in his neck as he strained to look around. “Are you awake?” Her voice broke through his confusion. But that timid chirping now sounded omnipresent, and the wall of the dim bedroom opened as if on hinges to a flood of light and a massive figure. Blake tried to scream but his jaw resisted, saving him the indignity. Surely he was dreaming this impossible hand lifting him into the light. The looming titan that was his once diminutive wife.

Lily had been warned against marrying him. He was brutally handsome, but brutal in other ways, too. He could neither pass up a drink nor a losing hand of cards. She had been told that she was just the kind of wife he wanted: wealthy and weak. But she didn’t care. He would be hers. She was told that she couldn’t change him, but she knew otherwise. Yes, there were doubtful moments. Yes, he was free with his hands but never his fists. And the tumble down the stairs was just as much her fault; she was cursed with weak ankles and brittle bones. Surely, he stayed away from home because of the guilt that came from seeing her in her chair. She just needed to find a way to help him temper his strength. To live a dollhouse-perfect life. The solution was arcane, the formula…unsavory. But not impossible, and it blended well with bourbon.

Blake summoned his rage and took a swipe at his wife. But his awkward new body resisted, and his porcelain arm knocked against the wheelchair and snapped off with a horrifying crack. Lily clucked quietly and examined the break. “Oh, you must take care, darling. This will take some adjustment, surely. But don’t worry, you’ll always be my big, strong man. Now you just wait here while I go fetch the glue.

Day 4: Freeze

Eddie was violently wrenched from his sleep by a crash of thunder. He was sweaty, but that wasn’t unusual. His sleep had been plagued with terrible dreams that skittered away into the shadows of his memory upon waking. So for the past eight months, and he was accustomed to waking up more exhausted and spent than he was when his head hit the pillow. Sometimes he slept for a few minutes, sometimes for 12 hours at a time. This was one of the latter occasions. But this wasn’t the sweat of anxiety and night terrors.

He was hot. It had to be well over 80 degrees in the house. He’d have to check the air conditioning, and hope it was something he could fix with the help of YouTube. It’s not like he could let a workman into the basement. What if he heard something stir in the suspiciously chained freezer? What if he looked inside?

Eddie reaches for the lamp, and only got a dead ‘click’ for his trouble. He tried again. “Oh, no...”

The storm had knocked out the power. That meant no AC. No lights. And if things got too warm in the freezer...

He knew he should get out of bed. He knew he should run, as fast and as far as he could. He knew he should have bought a damn generator when they were on sale at Lowe’s last month. But all he could do is lay pressed to the sweaty sheets as he heard the hard jingle of chains hitting a distant concrete floor.

All he could do is listen to the rain, and wait for The-Thing-That-Once-Was-Sarah to come upstairs.

Day 3: Bait

For over 30 years, fishermen have come from near and far for a shot at landing “Big Daddy”, the large and legendary catfish of Lake Olmstead. But now they’re going to have to cast for another trophy, because a local fisherwoman has claimed victory. And folks may be surprised to learn that Ginny Greaves, 68, only been fishing for about a week. “My husband, Bart, lays claim to being the real fisherman in the family,” she shared with us. “Spent nearly every day on that lake for decades, trying to catch Big Daddy. You might say he got obsessed with the idea. Real possessive, even. Sometimes, downright mean about it. Well finally, I had just about enough of that. So I figured maybe I’d give it a go myself.” When asked what she used to bait the colossal catfish, she replied with a grin, “Well, that’s a family secret, but I suppose Bart can take some credit for that. He always said that ‘only Bartholomew Amos Greaves can catch that fish’, and in a way, he’s absolutely right.” When asked if this marked the start of a new hobby, she replied, “Well it was an awful lot more fun than I thought it would be. Who knows what I might catch next?”

Bart Greaves was unavailable for comment.

Day 6: Husky

When the old woman had called about a raccoon in her basement, Raoul suspected he was dealing with another hoarder. If he had a nickel for every hoarder house he had to fumigate...well he wouldn’t be rich. After all, he did it often, and the company charged a lot more than a nickel, but his wallet was light nonetheless. He should refer her over to animal control; anything larger than a Norwegian rat was not his problem. But a little extra scratch in his pocket, without the company or Uncle Sam in the loop never hurt anyone. He named his off-the-books price. She accepted.

He was relieved when he discovered that the house itself was surprisingly spare. Musty, sure. Definitely could use the love of a honest vacuum cleaner. The owner matched the home perfectly- a short, old bungalow of a woman with the driest skin Raoul had ever seen. She smiled when she answered the door, and he swore he could see her skin flake and crack. For a guy who worked in a pretty filthy business, he was surprised when disgust shook him. For a moment, he humored turning down the job, but the woman had turned away down the hall, shuffling and beckoning him to follow, and he turned that disgust towards his own nerves. He was here for a quick buck, not to suggest a skincare routine.

The basement was soaked in gloomy shadows, and a sickly sweet smell rose up that Raoul recognized immediately. Maybe the raccoon problem had taken care of itself.

"I'm sorry, but the light's burnt out. I'm afraid I can't reach to change it." Her voice had an odd tremble, not the shaky timbre of the elderly, but a sort of trill that made his ears itch. He grunted and switched on his flashlight.

The source of the smell was obvious. Sure, maybe a raccoon could hurt a housepet, but why didn't the lady mention a dog? As he played the pool of light around, it was obvious this was no animal attack. At least, no animal he knew. The dog was no more than a husk - splayed open, dried out, and hollow.

"I...I gotta go get some equipment from the van." he said in a small voice. But the only response was a sound like an egg cracking, somehow brittle and meaty at the same time, as the basement door closed behind him.

Day 1: Ring

Danny Dauphin
October 6, 2019 ·
It may have been Ezra’s farm, but it was his wife, Marta, who made all of the rules. Practical, yet irritating rules, like boots off in the house. Absurd rules, like never hang a mirror facing south, lest you see the devil standing behind you. And inscrutable rules, like never open the pale yellow cupboard that she hung in the barn herself. Ezra stood before the open cupboard now. All that he had encountered were three handfuls of dry dirt, and a lungful of stale air. As he coughed, he heard the dinner bell ring. Another of Marta’s rules: when the dinner bell rang, he was to stop everything he was doing and come inside. The children shouldn’t be kept waiting. Except Marta and the children have been dead for a year. It’s why he finally felt bold enough to defy her and open the cupboard. And now, as though his body had no choice but to turn toward the house. It was time for dinner. And the children should not be kept waiting.

Day 9: Swing

Luis’ feet padded softly across the rubberized asphalt. The spongy silence always made him feel like a ninja, until he left the newer part of the playground to the older part, where the steel frame of the swing set lurked in the moonlight like a large, spindly insect. This is where he went to get away from the raised voices and hateful slurs that his parents hurled at one another.

He sank into the rubber sling, fists tight around old chains, and pushed off from the dusty ground. The metronomic repetition calmed him, taking him higher until each arc was met with a protesting squeak of metal, and a thump as one of the set’s feet lifted and thudded back to earth. Here he could tune out the anger, lose himself in the childhood fantasy of being the first kid to actually swing all the way around in a perfect loop. With every pump of his legs, he could imagine it. The moon hung large and low, and at the peak of every swing, he felt his face further illuminated by its enigmatic light, only to dash backwards into shadow.

Except this time, there was a hand at his back. Small, but strong, rushing him forward and casting him out like a bobber on a line. He kept going forward. Kept going up. The moon grew impossibly large, filling his vision as the chains stretched. The arc grew larger, and by god he was going to do it. He was swinging all the way over, and he was terrified, and the moon, the moon, the MOON.

He was out of the swing, but the hard drop to the ground never happened. He was standing on a narrow metal pole, like a high wire under his sneakers. He could see someone skittering off into the shadows, away from the swingset as fast as it could move on old, starved limbs and lunacy in its eyes. Moonlight flooded the park, but Luis knew he didn’t need it. It would always look like this to him now. He wanted to walk home, but he also knew that if he stepped off this frame, he would fall upwards into an endless night sky. And there were shapes up there, flowing and whispering.

No, he would have to wait. Wait for someone to come, when the moon was right. He would be here. And he would give them a push.