A Balance Restored

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Summer holds her hands tight against her ears, but it’s impossible to block out the roaring, world-ending static. It rages through the Earth like an ocean. Dwarfs conscious thought. Threatens to sweep her soul away in its endless tides. Only by the most infinitesimal thread does she manage to hang on, and that’s only a holding pattern, a temporary stalemate that precedes annihilation.

She should have listened to her mother.

“All things have their place,” she’d said before passing on. “All things must maintain a proper balance. Upset that balance with your own designs, and the whole world might come undone.”

The exhortation had been her last.

Summer tried not to interfere in the human world. She took her mother’s advice to heart, and she strove to allow nature its due course. But so many people suffered, so many people died, and what was she supposed to do, abandon them to a dark, uncaring universe?

At first it was just little helps, small gestures to soothe the aches and pains of a village or a town. An inch of rain here, a calming of the winds there. So many lives saved. So many disasters averted. Soon she styled herself a savior, a superhero as Earth’s comic books and movies would have understood her. A goddess, righteous, noble, someone to be worshiped and revered.

Then the storms came.

Violent, ocean-sized gales, tearing through whole continents at chaotic speeds. A backlash to her meddling, a correcting force as the universe attempted to reassert balance.

If Summer had let the storms rage, perhaps some remnant of humanity would have survived. But she saw the hurricanes and tornadoes buffet the world, and she pushed back like a frightened child. She knew in the rational corners of her mind that doing so would summon a larger correcting force, yet she was too stubborn and invested to admit that she should stop.

Then came the static.

An all-consuming sound—a lightless void that tore the sky—a mounting pocket of vacuum that swallowed the world whole.

Now only Summer is left. She holds for the moment—she survives—but for how long? If only she could wait time enough for the breach to heal, for the universe to grow still once more.

But she knows the truth.

She’s the cause of the damage, and her destruction is a necessary part of that correcting force. For now she’ll hold, but no matter how long she survives, her fate has already been decided.

Everything has its place, and balance will be restored.

I’ll send you Stephen and Owen King’s “Sleeping Beauties”

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Disclaimer: This promotion is not in any way affiliated with Stephen King, Owen King or Scribner.

Every so often, I raise support for my Patreon campaign by giving away a free hardcover book. This time, I’ve decided to send Sleeping Beauties, written by Stephen King and his son Owen.

Here’s the deal.

I want to write full time, but I need help building a self-sustaining platform for my books. You guys have given me so much support and encouragement already, and I don’t want to ask for money without offering something fun in return.

If you pledge to my Patreon campaign at the $2 level or above, I’ll send you a free hardcover copy of Sleeping Beauties. If you change your mind after I’ve sent the book, you’re free to cancel your pledge, no questions asked. I believe most people are honest and won’t take advantage.

By pledging, you’re also entitled to other perks. The $2 level gives you access to free copies of every e-book I’ve released, plus rough drafts of every novel, novella and short story I write (I’ve already shared a ton of drafts that haven’t yet been published, including a novel based on my flash fiction piece The Tunnel.) The $5 level lets you decide which of my flash fiction pieces I should turn into a longer short story. If you give at the $10 level, I’ll send you a hardcover copy of one of my favorite books every three months. Whatever you can give, it will help me immensely on my journey toward becoming a full time writer.

Please note that Patreon pledges are recurring monthly charges. I post four paid pieces of flash fiction on the platform per month, which means a $2 pledge amounts to $8 per month. If that’s too much, you can make a $2 pledge, then set a lower monthly limit so you won’t go over your budget.

There are only three rules.

1. You have to have a shipping address in the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom to be eligible.

2. You must become a patron at or above the $2 level on or before Saturday, December 9, 11:59 PM Pacific Standard Time.

3. You must be a new patron. Unfortunately, former patrons aren’t eligible.

That’s it.

Once you become a patron, I’ll send you an email to request your shipping address, and once I get it I’ll order the book through Amazon and have it shipped to you as a gift.

To become a patron and get your free hardcover copy of Sleeping Beauties, click the “Become a patron” button below.

Adam and Eve

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A tear.

Sparkling. Pristine. Pure.

Another follows, then another.

Like rain, those first bitter drops precipitate into a storm. Soon, dual rivers flow along the age worn contours of Adam’s and Eve’s windswept cheeks.

A village once stood where Adam and Eve now kneel, but a village stands no more. For before the water from their eyes, there came a fire, a monster forged in the crucible of hate and destruction. It started abroad, caught like kindling in the hearts of their people, and spread, until their small civilization collapsed, until the people picked up their grievances along with their weapons and bled into the dry, dusty ground.

Magic.

It was a menace, some had argued. It had to be suppressed. It was dangerous to wield, and what good it could effect was far outweighed by the devastation that resulted whenever it was summoned by wicked hands.

It was an important tool, others had countered. Not only could it summon the rains to water the fields or heal those who were beyond the aid of a doctor, it could be used to defend against those who chose to pursue a darker path.

They argued.

Whenever magic was used for evil, those who were against it would point to what had been done as an example of why it should be suppressed. Whenever magic was used for good, those who were for it would point to what had been done as an example of why it must be saved.

And they argued.

In their hearts, a transformation had begun. Their love for each other died; their hatred for each other grew. Each side argued that their only interest was the common good, and each side used what means they had to destroy the other, until the drums of war could be heard over the horizon. Until someone started the fire. Until the world began to burn.

The Adams and Eves of the world did their best to broker peace. “Sit,” they said. “Let us settle our differences as brothers and sisters, not enemies.”

But those who were for magic and those who were against denounced them as one. “How can you remain neutral while the enemies of humanity would destroy us?”

And they argued.

The Adams and Eves looked on with mute horror as the lights went out in their neighbors’s eyes, and they watched, helpless, as their people went to war with themselves, as they killed those they’d broken bread with only months before.

In the name of love and peace, both sides had slaughtered with reckless abandon.

Now, this particular Adam and this particular Eve kneel before the ground, a world sized altar whose constant thirst for sacrifice has been slaked once more. They’ve buried the bodies. They’ve prayed for peace.

A tear falls.

Another follows, then another.

They water the ground. They make the barren earth fertile. Adam and Eve have faith that the fields will grow once more, that humanity will rise from the ashes of its ancestors to love and thrive again.

There are none left in whom the fire still burns, for only the Adams and the Eves remain.

Exile

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The road Jeremy traveled crested a steep, sandy hill, and he stopped for a moment to look around. Not that there was anything to see. The landscape had remained unchanged since his arrival some five hundred years ago.

He didn’t know where the road began, only that it was long, that as far as he knew, it had no end. It stretched toward a horizon that never got any closer, surrounded by dry, desolate desert.

A hot convection oven breeze kicked sand into his blistered, sunburned face, and he slitted his eyes, praying it wasn’t the start of yet another sandstorm, from which he’d never enjoyed any protection.

He was immortal now. He hadn’t always been, but his captors had made him so before exiling him. An unexpected gift, he’d thought at the time, a miscalculation on the part of his enemies. Now, centuries later, he knew better.

The wind died down, and with it the momentary blast of sand. The world came gradually into focus.

Jeremy recoiled.

In the distance, perhaps a thousand feet ahead, perhaps two, a lone figure stood, feet planted in the middle of the road. This far away, he couldn’t make out much, only a dark speck against the blinding backdrop of the desert.

Hadn’t they said the never-ending journey was his alone? Then why would they come to him now, after so many years? It had to be one of them. Nobody else could have found him.

Cautiously he continued, a thousand possible scenarios streaming through his head like film. An assassin? A messenger? Maybe they just wanted to taunt him. He wouldn’t have thought them capable of such cruelty, but he didn’t put it past them either.

Each step forward, each rise and fall of the sandy terrain, brought the two closer to whatever inevitable interaction awaited. Jeremy could make out more details now, the ink black robes that covered the figure from head to toe, the canteen that hung from a strap at the figure’s side.

A canteen. That meant water.

If Jeremy had been allowed a drink, his mouth would have watered. But there was no water in this place, nor had there ever been, as far as he could tell. With a single spell, they’d given his body all it needed to survive the unrelenting heat, but not an iota more. Part of his punishment, they’d said. It was a wonder he hadn’t gone mad.

If they’d decided to kill him, it would be a mercy. Clinging to sanity was a daily struggle, and with each passing year he could feel himself slip a little further, feel himself succumb to despair a little more completely.

Another step. Then another. The figure was close now, but whether they were a man or a woman it was impossible for Jeremy to say, the black robes obscuring their face and hair.

A second blast of wind took him by surprise, and a spray of sand zapped him in the eyes before he could turn away. The burning was enough to make him stagger.

“What do you want?” he growled. “Have you come to delight in my suffering?”

No reply.

Slowly he opened his eyes. Tears welled at the corners, blurring his vision.

They stood face to face now. The figure, untouched by the sand, stared at him with bright electric blue eyes.

Didn’t he know those eyes from someplace? The ghost of a memory danced at the periphery of his mind’s vision, but he couldn’t bring it into focus.

“Hello.”

At last, the figure spoke. Their voice was deep, husky, like gravel sliding across the sand, but the sound was unmistakably female. More memories, sharp now, but disjointed and inconsistent, like shards of glass, sparkling haphazardly beneath the sun.

“You’ll remember.”

And sure enough, the pieces realigned, fused, formed a cohesive whole. At last, he saw the vision his mind had tried so hard to reveal.

Six robed figures, silent, still as marble statues. Three men, three women, representatives of humanity, as they called themselves, though their function was judicial rather than diplomatic.

“How do you plead?” they asked in unison, breaking the silence. The sound rolled through the vast underground court, and the torches in the stone walls wavered, as if their words had the power to summon wind.

Jeremy looked up, beaten, broken, feeling as if the wind had been knocked from his lungs.

The six nodded, as if they hadn’t expected him to say anything else.

“You condemned millions to a life without hope. We sentence you to the same.”

And they had exiled him, sent him to this hell of endless sun and sand. The woman with the electric blue eyes, she’d been there too, hadn’t she? Looking him up and down, appraising him, sizing him up.

“You will wander alone,” she’d said in the same gravely voice. “On and on, without respite or reprieve. The horizon’s end will be forever out of reach. You will know despair, as your victims knew despair.”

She and two others carried him, kicking and screaming, through a gate, depositing him in the world he cursed today with every exhalation of breath.

Only here she was again.

“You,” Jeremy croaked, rubbing red, swollen eyes. “You were the one who sent me here. Is this part of my punishment, to taunt me at my lowest point? Then do it, and be on your way!”

The woman’s eyes sparkled. Stunned, Jeremy realized after a moment she was crying.

“Your sentence,” she said, voice lowered almost to a whisper, “has been commuted. You’re free to go.”

Free to go. He knew the meaning of the words, could understand how they fit together in a sentence. But he couldn’t understand what they meant in relation to himself.

“What do you mean, free to go?”

“I mean, your exile is over and I’ve come to take you home.”

“But—” He sunk to his knees, salty, bitter tears cascading down cracked, sun baked cheeks.

“Your punishment was to taste the despair of your victims, to understand on a visceral level what you did to them. But it was never truly a life sentence. Our function is to rehabilitate, not to destroy.”

She said this with such unexpected care, like a mother opening her arms to a wayward child.

“You had to know what your victims went through in order to understand the gravity of your crime. Now that you’ve been broken, we can make you into something new.”

Anger. Incredulity. Absurdity. These emotions and more flashed through his heart, one after the other, chasing each other around in his head until all he could feel was numb.

The woman stepped forward, took him by the shoulder.

“Come,” she said, and at her touch, the desert around them faded to black.

Donna

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I had a lot on my plate this week and wasn’t able to write a new piece, so I’ve reposted one of my Patreon shorts from last year. It should be new for most of you. I’ll have an original story for you guys next week 🙂

Her human name was Donna. She had a husband named Bill, a son named Rob. Donna lived in the desert in a house she and Bill had built when they were young.

Her humanity was an integral part of who she was. But it was not the only part, nor even the largest part.

In a realm beyond the stars, beyond even empty space, she had been a queen, was still a queen, for in that place there was no time, so that when she eventually returned it would be as if she’d never left. She had ruled, and continued to rule, with wisdom and strength. But something was missing. Something important. Something necessary.

So she’d descended, subjected herself to the internal workings of the cosmos, taken on flesh and blood. She experienced the fullness of humanity, the highs and the lows, the joys and the sorrows. She plumbed the depths of human emotion, divined its arcane secrets. She learned what it was like to live. To breathe. To feel. Sometimes there was pain, but she found that it was always followed by relief. And sometimes there was sadness, but she found that it was always followed by joy.

Love.

That had been the most important lesson. She’d lived many happy years with her husband, her family and her friends, and she’d loved every one of them. Love sustained her. Guided her. Fulfilled her. It quickly became the source and summit of her human existence. It was what human poets wrote about, what human musicians sang about, what human philosophers dreamed about. It was the one thing that set the species apart from all the other creatures in the universe.

The linearity of time ensured that just as her life had begun, so too would it end. She suspected she had a number of good years left, but when it was time for her Earthly pilgrimage to conclude, she would let the sting of death take her, would let that last pang of loss teach her its final lesson. Then she would ascend once more to her incorporeal throne in the stars, and would carry the memory of her humanity with her.

It was part of her now, and would be evermore.

The Voice

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“You can’t do this,” whispered a malevolent voice in the dark, a sound Amanda hadn’t heard in years.

She gritted her teeth, dug in her heels and tried to stand her ground. But it was persuasive, and Amanda didn’t know if she was strong enough to defy it.

The voice had been with her from birth, a dry hollow rattle that only she could hear. Its jealous strains had always tempted her to doubt, but the successes of her youth had made her confident, perhaps overly so, and for decades, the voice was little more than a nuisance, a background static in a constellation of accomplishments and accolades.

She’d conjured whole worlds ex nihilo, populated an entire cosmos in the realm where reality and conscious thought were one. Still, the voice was persistent, pointing out the flaws, the imperfections in her work.

“That world over there,” it would say, “Look how it wobbles and tilts on its axis.”

And Amanda would see it as if for the first time and realize the voice was right.

“And that world over there,” the voice would continue, “Look at its bulbous, oblong shape. How can you call yourself a professional?”

And Amanda would look again and once more realize the voice was right.

On and on the voice argued, and no matter how long Amanda honed the finer details, no matter how long she strove to satisfy the exacting requirements of perfection, she always fell short, and the voice was always there to remind her.

Amanda’s final attempt had been almost ten years ago, a tiny desert world that had come to her in a dream. In her eyes, it was a possibility for redemption, an opportunity to reduce that awful voice to silence at last, and she labored for the better part of a year, drawing on every resource left at her disposal.

When at last she was finished, sweaty and short of breath, the voice offered a terse appraisal.

“A good idea that suffers from a lackluster implementation.”

Amanda withered. A few weeks later, she retired.

But the urge to create had proved too strong to ignore. She’d tried, of course. For years she’d tried. She’d worked other jobs, and when she got home she would occupy her off hours with various unrelated hobbies, all in the vain hope of drowning a desire that had only ever lead to heartbreak and frustration. But the old dreams refused to die, and though Amanda had found some temporary respite from the voice, she knew it wouldn’t be long before she would have to try again.

When that time finally came, when the need to create grew into an all-consuming fire that threatened to scour her soul to the bone, she locked herself in her basement, where she’d covered over her old workshop with a faded dusty tarp. Now, taking a deep breath, she swept the tarp aside.

“What are you doing?” asked a familiar voice. “You’ve been out of practice for years. What makes you think you’ll succeed now?”

Amanda trembled. She knew it spoke the truth. Even during her peak, the voice had found plenty of flaws in her work. What made her think she could do better now?

Still, the desire to create overwhelmed her. It was an ocean of power held back by only a single floodgate, a force of nature that would destroy her if she didn’t channel it properly. So she ignored the voice. She picked up her old tools, dusted them off beneath the dim illumination of a nearby desk lamp, and after a shuddering, rattling breath, she got to work.

“Didn’t you hear me?” asked the voice, incredulous at her determination. “You’re going to fail. You’re going to fuck this up just like you fuck up everything.”

Amanda hesitated. She tried to focus on the nascent world in front of her, tried to shut out the voice’s spiteful remarks, but it was hard, it was so hard. The tools slipped in her fingers, and she wondered, not for the first time, if she was making a mistake.

But that urge, that need to create, it burned, it burned so much, and every moment she spent second guessing instead of working was a moment of torture and almost unbearable agony. So in spite of the voice’s constant rebukes, in spite of her own crippling doubts, she kept at it.

On and on she toiled, for hours or days, she couldn’t say, and as the rusty hinges and squealing iron gears began to turn as they once had so many years ago, the pent up magic burst inside her like a grenade, a shower of bright, coruscating sparks that filled Amanda with almost euphoric joy.

When at last she’d finished, the voice offered a scathing critique.

“That world,” it mocked, “Look how crude and simple it is. Hardly your best.”

Amanda considered its remarks. “You’re right,” she said, but after having released a decade of frustration, after having poured her soul into the project, she discovered that was okay. She’d learned that through the lens of imperfection, beauty could only be magnified.

The voice sputtered and could offer no reply. For so long, it had used the truth as a weapon. Now, that weapon was useless. Deflated, it fled into the darkness and was silent at last.

Amanda knew it would return, that in the fullness of time it would make her doubt again. But instead of shrinking away from the inevitability, instead of hanging up her tools for another ten years, she decided she would face it head on.

October 31

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It started on October 31 with a hole.

It wasn’t large at the time, only a minor abrasion on the surface of the Earth. But it grew, first in fits and starts, then at an increasingly alarming pace, swallowing cities and highways, forests and hills, rivers and mountains. Entire continents plunged to their deaths before the shaking and the sinking slowed, and by then, the Earth had been so radically transformed that nobody would have recognized it had anyone been left alive.

The only ones to see were the astronauts, safe for a time in their manmade haven among the stars, before they ran out of food, before their sensors went dark.

A grinning toothy maw, topped by two sharp eyes and a dagger for a nose, carved into the surface of the world as if with a knife.

In their dying breaths, they remembered the childhood smells of pumpkin pulp and roasting seeds, then surrendered their souls in the dark of space to an unknown god.

Happy Halloween!

A Proposal, Part 3

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This is the third installment of a seven part series.

If you’re looking for part 1, you can find it here.
If you’re looking for part 2, you can find it here.

“Hurt you, Miss? Now, whatever gave you that idea?”

“Please,” she repeated. “Don’t hurt me.”

Jill wanted to screw her eyes shut, but she couldn’t look away from his terrifying visage. Lit by the lantern that stood between them, she thought back to carving jack-o-lanterns with her daughter for Halloween, to the jagged teeth and the wicked smile, and the smoldering light behind the eyes.

“I already told you, Miss, I only want to talk. I never said anything about hurting you.”

On his knees, Mr. Jacobs reached for her. But Jill yelped and he pulled back.

“Leave me alone.”

“Okay,” said Mr. Jacobs, settling now into a sitting position. “Then how about we talk from here.”

All the muscles in Jill’s body had bunched up tight, and sweat poured down her neck and back. She thought if her heart didn’t slow down soon, it might explode.

He held her there with his eyes, a steady level gaze that spoke of patience and need. The look was calm, almost weary, yet it possessed an urgency that Jill didn’t trust. She said nothing, only waited for Mr. Jacobs to make his next move.

“Well,” he announced at last, “This is awkward.” He shifted in the flickering light, shadows writhing like snakes, contorting into strange shapes on the stone walls. “You spend a few hundred years thinking about what you’re going to say, and then the time finally comes and you make a mess of it.” He shook his head and Jill thought he looked genuinely abashed.

A few hundred years? So he was crazy. Jill tried not to think about how he’d appeared inside her house after she’d closed the door behind him.

“Well, Miss, I suppose the only way to go is forward. I know you don’t trust me. I wouldn’t if our situations were reversed. All I ask is that you listen.”

Jill didn’t see what choice she had.

“I’ve lived a long life, Miss. A wondrous life, an exotic life, an adventurous life, but nevertheless a long life. Too long. I’ve witnessed history first hand, and if you don’t mind me saying so, quite the spectacle it’s been. But I’m tired, Miss. This mortal mind of mine wasn’t made for immortality.”

Mr. Jacobs sighed, a slow dusty rattle that stirred strange visions and haunting notions. Nobody could live forever, thought Jill, that was a fact, but what he’d said had moved her just the same. Perhaps it was the way the light had gone out of his eyes when he started to tell his story. Jill didn’t know how or why his words effected her, but despite the fantastical nature of his claim, she had the chilling feeling they held the ring of truth.

“That can’t be,” she said in a creaky whisper.

“I assure you,” said Mr. Jacobs, “It is.”

And God help her, Jill believed him.

Silence filled the space between them, until finally Jill asked, “What does this have to do with me?”

The light blazed in his eyes once more. Mr. Jacobs smiled, and Jill didn’t think the gesture was particularly friendly.

“As to that, Miss, I have a proposal.”

Once again, that atavistic shiver surged down the length of Jill’s spine. A proposal. A dreadful word, coming from his mouth. What sort of dark agreement would Mr. Jacobs try to wring out of her?

“Don’t you want to hear about it?”

Jill was silent.

“What if I told you I could offer you everlasting life? Would that pique your interest?”

The question hit her hard. It was a strange hope, the sort she’d never dared to consider. In Sunday school, she’d learned this life was temporary, that humans were made for communion with God in the life to come and nothing else. She’d always accepted that, and when she grew old she hadn’t complained. She’d said her daily prayers, done her best to make peace with her creator and resolved to wait patiently for the day Death would draw her number. But to hear someone say that they could change this ultimate fate, that perhaps immortality was possible after all, that changed her perspective. Now she doubted the beliefs of her childhood. Now, she pondered what the concept of eternal life could mean in the context of an otherwise mortal existence.

Yes, she thought, Mr. Jacobs had piqued her interest, all right.

“I thought it might,” said the man, staring as if he’d read her mind. The flame of the lantern reflected back at her in the pupils of his dark, wet eyes.

Jill tried to clear her throat along with her mind. “You said you were tired, Mr. Jacobs. And didn’t you also say…” She licked her lips. “…didn’t you also say, This mortal mind of mine wasn’t made for immortality? If you’re trying to sell me something, you’re doing a poor job.”

Mr. Jacobs chuckled. “You’re sharp, Miss. Sharp as a tack. Yes, I suppose my words don’t make for a ringing endorsement. But what in life is ever perfect? Are there not drawbacks to every reward?”

Jill considered.

“It’s not such a bad deal, you know, all things considered. Think of all the things you’ll witness. You’ll get to watch your daughter grow old. You’ll get to watch your grandchildren grow old. Your great grandchildren. On and on, down through the generations. You’ll get to see how history unfolds, how the decisions you made in life rippled out through time, magnifying, how they shaped society, nations, the world. So much to see. So much to learn. No longer will you feel the burden of time weighing down on your shoulders. Think of it, Miss. Think of it!”

Jill pondered the way the light played upon his face and wondered if he really believed that.

“What about the weariness? How do you live with that? How does it weigh on your shoulders, Mr. Jacobs?”

“It’s a heavy burden,” he conceded. “At times, unbearable. But you can live with it for as long as you’d like, and when the burden becomes too great you can pass it on to someone else, just as I’m offering to pass it on to you.”

“So that’s it,” said Jill. “That’s your proposal. You want to die, and somehow, by passing immortality on to me, that becomes possible for you.”

“Right as rain, Miss. Right as rain. Everlasting life for you, and in exchange I can finally end my own. We both get what we want. Everyone wins.”

But Jill wasn’t sure she wanted it. Even now, as that forbidden hope churned within, she thought of the faith that had sustained her for so many years, the faith that had seen her through so many excruciating trials.

“I don’t know,” said Jill from her hiding place beneath the bed. “Honestly, Mr. Jacobs, I don’t know what I want.”

“All I ask is that you think about it.”

“And what if I decide not to accept your offer? Will you force me to take it anyway?”

“That’s not how it works, Miss. If I could imprison you here until you said yes, if I could force your consent by kidnapping your daughter, by torturing her, by killing her, I would. But that’s not how it works, Miss, that’s not how it’s ever worked. It’s a state that must be freely given and freely accepted. All I want is for you to consider my offer.”

The man’s words horrified her, not only for their cruel and inhuman honesty, but for the fact that, as terrible as making a deal with Mr. Jacobs might be, she was still, after everything that had passed between them, tempted by the offer.

“Go home,” said Mr. Jacobs. “Live what life you have left. Enjoy it to the fullest. I’ll send you reminders from time to time, and when your life draws to a close, I’ll be around again.”

And in the very next breath she was in her kitchen once again, laying on her mattress with the TV on, just as she’d left it when she got up to answer the door. Late afternoon light burst through the sliding glass door, piercing her eyes.

A dream? How fortunate that would be, to get off so easy. But when she looked down at her hands, when she noted the scrapes and bruises that ran along her palms and forearms, souvenirs from her futile attempt to flee that mysterious room and the man who’d brought her there, she knew the rest of her life wouldn’t be so simple.

Someday, she was certain, Mr. Jacobs would return.

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A Proposal, Part 2

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This is the second installment in a seven part series. Parts 1–3 will be posted for free on the blog. Parts 4–7 will be posted exclusively on Patreon in exchange for a small monthly pledge.

If you’re looking for part 1, you can find it here.

It was dark when Jill opened her eyes. What time was it? The lights were off. She must have fallen asleep, only when her eyes started to adjust, she found the shapes in the room to be unfamiliar. Instead of the simple cubic dimensions of her kitchen, she was faced with broad high-reaching curves, with columns and formations that resembled stone and masonry rather than drywall and wood.

Her heart seized in a bright flare of panic, and for one terrifying moment she thought it would stop for good. The man at the door had been in her house (how was that even possible when she’d just closed the door on him?) and then she’d passed out. Where had he taken her while she was unconscious?

She was still lying on the bed from her kitchen, but now it stood against a wall, with a large Gothic window that let in the flat monochromatic light of the moon. Like a castle, thought Jill, like something she would have seen in a black and white vampire movie when she was much younger. Only this was real, this was actually happening.

The room was quiet, dead, like a tomb, which was why, even with her hearing as bad as it was, she picked out the dusty sound of distant footsteps.

The man, Mr. Jacobs, was coming for her. She had to hide.

She tried to get up, but all too quickly she remembered her rapidly deteriorating body. She had to work herself to the point of exhaustion just to reach a sitting position, and a quick test of shifting her weight onto her legs told her she wouldn’t get anywhere without her walker. When had she gotten so old, so feeble? In her head, she was still that nineteen year old girl she’d once spied in the mirror almost a quarter of a century ago.

Nevermind. Her body might be failing her, but she still had a few tricks up her sleeve, and determination if nothing else would see her through this nightmare. There was no way her legs were going to save her. Instead, she tipped forward, leaning out until she was caught by gravity’s jealous grip. Falling toward the ground, Jill held her hands out, praying with fervent devotion that she could catch herself when she hit the floor, that she wouldn’t break an arm or a hip.

The ground was stone, and the landing hurt more than she’d anticipated. But she’d braced herself, and the mattress wasn’t so high that the fall was catastrophic. She rested for a moment, waiting for the pain to subside, and all the while those footsteps grew closer, louder, echoing now in spaces as of yet unseen.

“You can do this, old girl,” she whispered to herself as she reached forward with one shaking hand at a time, dragging herself across the floor, looking for a place to hide.

Left. Right. On her belly, like the serpent in the Garden of Eden (“On your belly you will go, and dust will you eat all the days of your life.”) She crawled across the stone in small incremental stretches. Mr. Jacobs was close now; surely it was he who approached. A rational interior voice warned that fleeing was no use, that hiding was impossible, that there was no way she could outrun him once he saw her. But while her body might have succumbed to age, her spirit and her determination to survive had not. She was happy to die in the Good Lord’s time, but not Mr. Jacobs’s.

The room was barren, with only an empty high backed chair propped beside the bed. Nowhere to go, so she did the only thing she could think to do. She crawled back, clawing at the cold stone beneath her fingertips, brittle bones creaking, dry joints cracking. Sweat beaded across her forehead like tiny moonlit diamonds. She grabbed the smooth black poles beneath the bed, hid herself beneath its looming shadow and took several moments to catch her breath before falling silent.

The view under the mattress was all at once familiar and strange, a bizarre vantage overlooking life from a more preternatural angle. How odd that so many ordinary events in an otherwise normal life should ultimately converge on a moment so otherworldly and terrifying.

The footsteps came to a thundering crescendo, like gunshots, or the pounding of primeval drums, then stopped. Perhaps he would move on. Perhaps he would give her time enough to find a way out.

No such luck.

Another sound, a booming metallic rattle, then a crack. A moment later, a door swung open. She peered into the dark. There, standing on the threshold, the dim light of a lantern seeming to set his features on fire, was Mr. Jacobs.

Dracula, she thought, thinking back to her old movies once more, and Jill suppressed a shudder. The man lifted his feeble wellspring of light into the dark, revealing more of the elaborate Gothic architecture.

He started toward the bed.

“Miss?”

Farther he pressed into the dark, the circle of light coming closer, eager to announce her presence. She’s over there! she could almost hear it scream. Over there, beneath the bed!

“Miss?”

Mr. Jacobs stood beside her now. He saw that the mattress was empty, and that was when he lowered the lantern to the floor, where the treacherous light betrayed her at last.

“What are you doing under there, Miss?”

No answer.

Jill had never known such paralyzing fear. The same electric shock she’d felt the first time she saw him standing on her doorstep shot through her again. This was how she would die, not in her sleep in front of the TV, a painless exhalation of her spirit that would propel her into the arms of her Lord at last, but in feral, abject terror.

“Please,” she croaked, and then she started to cry. “Please, don’t hurt me.”

Mr. Jacobs stared at her, and the moment was reduced to a timeless pocket of eternity. Then he knelt before her and grinned.

Click here to read Part 3.

A Proposal, Part 1

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This is the first installment in a seven part series. Parts 1–3 will be posted for free on the blog. Parts 4–7 will be posted exclusively on Patreon in exchange for a small monthly pledge.

It was the day the axis of Jill’s life forever shifted, the day she was swept away by the gravity of sinister forces, compelled to walk a dark and inexorable path. If only she hadn’t answered the door, she thought later, if only she’d stayed in the kitchen and watched TV. If only, she would think forever after, looking over her shoulder for the man hiding in the shadows, if only…

There were three things they didn’t tell you about getting old, as far as Jill was concerned. The first were the frequent bouts of insomnia, as if the mind, terrified of death looming on the horizon, had decided to stay awake and make up for lost time. The second was that most of your friends and family were dead, with more dying each year. Live long enough, and you might discover you’re the only one left, the unlucky winner of life’s wicked lottery. The third, and arguably the worst, was the lack of mobility. Everyone always said they couldn’t wait to retire, that they’d travel the world, build a workshop, or sit down to write that memoir. Trouble was the body refused to cooperate. It gave a sad new meaning to the expression, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Jill herself had had enough, and she’d be happy to go when the Good Lord called her home.

That last thought had just occurred to her when someone knocked on the door. Jill started. She wasn’t expecting company. Maybe it was the electricity man come to chase after another unpaid bill. It had happened last month, and her caretaker Rosalyn had warned her to be more careful (that was the fourth thing they didn’t tell you about getting old: your head had more holes than a pasta strainer.) She prayed even now that her daughter in Chicago wouldn’t find out. She’d already threatened to put Jill in a home, and only after hours of pleading for her independence had Jill secured the alternative of a part-time caretaker.

But as it happened, her visitor turned out to be someone else entirely.

Jill pushed herself up by her arms, body quivering. She grabbed the walker beside her bed, then shuffled toward the door.

She was greeted by a portly man in a black suit and a matching fedora hat. Odd, thought Jill, the summer being so hot.

“May I help you?”

“Actually,” said the man, removing his hat and inclining his head, “I was hoping I could help you.”

An atavistic shiver spasmed through her. Something about his eyes, she thought, and the way he talked. In some way she didn’t understand, the man represented all that was wrong with the world, a shining avatar of evil so bright, she wanted to slam the door and spend the next hour and a half on her knees in prayer.

“May I come in?” he asked. “It’s hot and I haven’t had anything to drink.”

Jill was always hospitable, even to strangers. She hadn’t been a part of the generation that was taught to fear the vagrant on the doorstep, and turning someone away without a good reason was rude. But this man was dangerous, she could feel it in her bones, and instinct trumped manners any day of the week.

“I’m sorry. My daughter’s sleeping on the couch and I don’t want to wake her.” She felt her face flush with the lie, but she didn’t want him to know she was alone.

The man smiled wide, revealing bone white teeth, and a strange thing occurred to her.

He knows I’m lying.

“I understand,” he said. “I don’t want to be a bother.”

If you don’t want to be a bother, why are you still here?

“I’ll come back at a more convenient time.”

“Thank you, Mr…”

“Jacobs, Miss. Mr. Jacobs. Good day.”

Jill shut the door behind him, shivering once more. Why had he triggered such a visceral reaction? Anyway, he was gone now, and she could return to her makeshift bed in the kitchen.

“Hello again, Miss,” said Mr. Jacobs when she’d turned back toward the living room. He was lounging on a cloth covered couch, looking as if he’d been relaxing there all afternoon.

Jill shrieked.

“Curious. I came back around for a second try and discovered your daughter wasn’t in.”

“She’s in the bathroom,” babbled Jill. “How did you—”

“A minor technicality. But I’m afraid I really must speak with you.”

“I’ll call the police.”

“There’s no need for that, Miss.” Mr. Jacobs was no longer on the couch, but standing right before her, obstructing her path to the kitchen. “I only want to talk.”

Jill’s pulse quickened and her heart pounded to an irregular rhythm. She tried to turn again, only she felt lightheaded. Like a ghost, she thought as the world blurred, as she tried to reach for the stairs beside her with insubstantial hands and lost her balance.

The world tilted. Slowed. Stopped.

Jill remained alert long enough to feel the man’s hand press into the small of her back. Then her vision faded to white and she saw no more.

Click here to read part 2.