Hope you enjoyed last week’s stories. Here are the next seven.
“I’m afraid you do not get any choice in the decision.”
When the Assessor spoke it was with a nasal whine that made Carla’s head hurt. A buzz in the top of her spine.
She leant over to pick a grape from the fruit bowl, saw the Assessor’s expression and cradled her hands on her lap.
“Do I not get any say in the matter?” She asked, already knowing the answer. He plucked the fruit that she had been going to eat only moments before. Slowly, he used his tongue to pop it against the roof of his mouth. A small amount of juice seeped between his thin lips and down his chin.
“Of course, you could have chosen not to attend this morning,” he said, grinning. She saw bits of skin between his yellowed teeth, but couldn’t tell if they were fruit or flesh.
“And if I hadn’t?”
He smiled wider.
“Please, Miss,” he said, the title spoken like an infection. “The door is open. Your only choice now is whether you go through voluntarily.” There was a moment’s pause. “Or not.”
Carla pushed the chair back, straightened her dress and placed her cloche upon her head, adjusting it until it sat just right. Slowly, she slid her gloves on. With one more look of defiance toward the Assessor she walked toward the open door, already feeling the heat blistering her skin.
There was nothing funky about the nightclub any more. Damp had rotted all the cheap cardboard decorations and curled the floorboards like rotten petals.
Hannah wrapped her arms around her knees and tried to keep track of the shadows, but they kept shifting and twisting.
Around her were fifteen heaters, the only noise the diesel generator shuddering in the entrance. Beyond the circle of warmth were pools of water, floating in each one was a scarf, a hat, and blood clots from their victims.
Soon the generator would run out of fuel. Soon the circle would cool. Soon the snowmen would find their form again. Soon there would be nowhere warm left for her to hide.
The Captain stands delighted in the middle of the playground. Above him the moon is full and though he feels the cold he does not choose to acknowledge the way it chills his muscles.
There are scars in the Tarmac below his feet that he put there many years ago. He lets his feet scuff the lines to wake them up. The scent of bitumen rises into the air. He inhales the taste of cough sweets and burnt skin.
The pile of papers barely reaches his knees; old exams and school reports. The breeze flutters the pages and he catches sight of scuffed ink.
Starting quiet he begins to speak the words. Some he learnt in the playground where he stands, others in shadowed temples that smelt of copper and charred bone.
Below his feet the Tarmac glistens the green of compass pricked tattoos. He scuffs the ground again, feeling it start to bulge, reaching out to his words.
Turning his head to the sky, the Captain watches the stars brush the dark as they fall, delighted to hear the words they thought long forgotten. He does not tell the night what he has planned. The night will find out soon enough
Council garages always had a feeling of loss to Marty, as if those corrugated steel doors held back grief as well as forgotten engines and mummified rats.
He walked down one side, then back up the other, running his hand over the metal and prefabricated concrete, searching for something that could not be seen or touched, but he felt as a prickle inside his teeth.
At the end of the row there were three units converted into premises for a shadow garage, repairing cars for those who could not afford to pay men in matching overalls. Two ghosts lurked inside. The first was the shadow of something that had hidden here long before people cleared forests from the land, the second a child whose body had turned to yellowed bones between the pebbledash walls and grass bank that rose toward the distant towers.
The latter spirit did not want to be there. There was no vengeance or message to be carried, just confusion and fear. No one had found the body. No one had even noticed the child missing, apart from Marty, looking for one thing and finding something completely different lurking amongst the spilt oil and diesel stains.
Kneeling down on the floor between the two rows of garages, Marty closed his eyes and searched in the shadows for the fear clustered in upon itself, and when he found that bundle of confusion he did what needed to be done; wept and mourned a life lost and a child forgotten until the ghost that still lingered could see the cord and drag itself away from the council garages to somewhere better.
Faith spent weeks watching the gallery. Scouted out the guards, changing her appearance every day with wigs clothes and padding to alter her body shape. By the end of her preparation she knew where every painting hung, how often it was patrolled and when she could exploit the best window of opportunity to fulfil her client’s order; steal The Condemned Witch, a painting long lost and only recently restored.
On Tuesdays they spent the day on maintenance. Chose one piece of art to reframe. That way there was always a nearly full collection for the visiting public. If she got in before they removed that week’s painting to take it to their workshop, no-one would notice. Administration error would be blamed for long enough that she would be long gone.
On the next Tuesday she lurked around the entrance, Stanley knife hidden in her coat. The painting to be repaired that week wasn’t due to be taken from the wall until after lunch time. She waited and watched.
The opportunity came early, the exact pattern of the curators in the gallery just right to allow her to approach the canvas. She lifted the knife to cut free the painting, reached out, and on the wall the witch’s scarred hand reached out in turn and grabbed Faith’s wrist.
The blade fell from her numb hand, dropping to the floor. With more strength than paper and paint should possess the painting lifted Faith into the air, dragged her over the gold frame and slowly but surely her skin shivered to pigment until there was no sign of Faith expect on unused blade clattering upon the tiles.
They caught him by the town ditch, pinning his arms against the crushed grass and thistles.
He tried struggling but there were too many of them, two or three to a limb with far more standing in the shadows.
With bubbles they sealed his eyes, blowing globes of shimmering translucency straight into his sight, then plucked sodden grass from the ground and stitched his mouth to silence.
Reaching into his coat they emptied his pockets until they found proof of his theft, several days clustered against each other, the hours scuffed and barely usable. They stretched them out, laying them on the ground in the hope the heat of the sun would fix them. Return the days to their pristine condition.
After seeing his vandalism compounding his theft, with many hands they carried him into the fields, staked him to the soil using his own bones to hold him in place, and with words first spoken by the now long dead they left him to the crows.
The valley had never been pretty. This was not a place tourists came to take photos, balancing selfie sticks with one hand, their other grasping their loved one’s side. Instead it was a place of concrete and pollution, where any plants that could grow browned and wilted by the effort.
Nathan would try and take any other route into the airport that lay several miles further on, but that morning the choice had not been given to him, the instructions from Air Traffic Control clear, the navigation directions precise.
Flying over the ridge, he dropped the plane down a little, watching plumes rising from grates rusted into the slopes.
An eruption of fumes reached the starboard wing, and instead of just flowing around the engine the gas began to grind its way through the fuselage.
Nathan watched one side of the plane disintegrate, and no matter how much he tried to gain control the plane twisted as it fell downward into the valley where nothing grew.