Month: October 2017

October 31

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

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!

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A Proposal, Part 3

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

This is the third installment of a seven part series. Parts 1–3 are available for free on my blog, while parts 4–7 are available exclusively on Patreon.

Part 1 | Part 2

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

Jill wanted to screw her eyes shut, but she couldn’t look away. 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, 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,” he said, 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 pinned her with his eyes, a steady, level gaze that spoke of infinite patience. 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, and the shadows on the wall writhed like snakes. “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 extract from her?

“Well, don’t you want to hear 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, had 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, suddenly, she doubted the beliefs instilled in her during childhood, and instead she pondered what the concept of eternal life could mean in the context of an otherwise mortal existence.

Yes, she thought, Mr. Jacobs had indeed piqued her interest.

“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 for every reward?”

Jill considered.

“It’s not such a bad deal, all things considered. Think of all 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 make ripple through time, how they shape 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, death for me. 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, even 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 tempted by his 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 come around again.”

And in the very next breath she was in her kitchen once more, laying on her mattress with the TV on, just as she’d left it when she’d gotten 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

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

This is the second installment of a seven part series. Parts 1–3 are available for free on my blog, while parts 4–7 are available exclusively on Patreon. If you’re looking for part 1, you can read it by clicking here.

It was dark when Jill opened her eyes.

What time is it?

The lights were off. She must have fallen asleep, only when her eyes started to adjust, she found the shapes in the room were 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 solar 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 the kitchen, but it now 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 young. 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 at once.

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

She tried to get up, but all too quickly she thought of her deteriorating body. She had to work herself to the point of exhaustion just to attain 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 half a century ago.

Never mind. 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. Then, falling to the ground, Jill thrust her hands out, praying with fervent devotion that she could catch herself when she hit the floor and that she wouldn’t break an arm or a hip in the process.

The ground was stone, and the landing hurt more than she 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, while the entire time, those footsteps grew closer, louder, echoing in spaces as of yet unseen.

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

Left. Right. On her belly, like the serpent from 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 in Mr. Jacobs’s.

The room was barren, with only an empty high backed chair propped beside the bed. With nowhere else to go, so she did the only thing she could. She crawled backward, 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 point overlooking life from a 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 for the bed.

“Miss?”

Farther he pressed into the dark, the circle of light closing in, 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 body 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 beside her and grinned.

Read part 3 by clicking here.

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