Tag: terribleminds (page 3 of 31)

Flash Fiction: The Gift

It was an anonymous package. Those always raised suspicions. The museum’s security had gone over it several times, and it had been run through all sorts of tests before it landed on the assistant curator’s desk. Amanda came back from Starbucks to find it waiting there, illuminated under the wan light of the lamp that always seemed a little too dim for her tastes. Her requests for stronger lighting continued to fall on deaf ears. She shook her head, put her coffee aside, and turned the package to face her.

Even at that small touch, a chill ran up Amanda’s arm and down her spine. Her hand snapped back from the plain brown wrapping of its own accord. Her mind scrambled for a rational explanation. She stepped away from her desk and towards the thermostat. She found the temperature the same as when she had left.

open it

Slowly, Amanda turned to look at the package. It had not moved, of course, but the chill found her again. Her shaking hand reached out for her coffee, but moved towards the package instead. It took a moment of intense focus for her to pick up the paper cup instead of touching the string tied around the delivery.

open it

It took Amanda a moment to decide on a course of action. She went to the curator’s desk, near her own, and picked up the Rolodex. Frantically, she paged through the notecards, finally finding the right one. Doctor Gibbons often called upon the person in question to discuss more esoteric or obscure fines, always out of the office, always off the record. She didn’t know what else to do, other than obey her lizard-brain instinct to run or the voice telling her to open the package. She shook her head, and used her free hand to pick up the phone.

open it

Amanda drew in a sharp breath. Her hand seized just above the receiver for the phone. She looked up at her desk, at the package under the lamp. Without taking her eyes from it, she picked up the card from the Rolodex, backed away towards the door, and picked up her coat from its hook. She was out the door as quickly as possible, draining the cup in her shaking hand. She tossed it into a garbage can near the exit and looked down at the car. She walked as fast as she was able. The address was a dozen blocks away, but her long legs ate up the distance quickly. She was sweating and her breath was short as she headed up the stairs.

OPEN IT

“How did it follow me?”

As if in response, the door opened in front of her. She was greeted by a man slightly taller than her, with short stylish hair graying at the roots, dressed in a bathrobe and holding a mug of what smelled like tea.

“Um. Can I help you?”

“Yes. I think so. I’m the assistant curator at-”

OPEN IT!

Amanda grabbed hold of her head with both hands and gritted her teeth in pain. The man put his tea aside and put a gentle hand on Amanda’s shoulder. Only slightly aware of what was happening, she let the man lead her into his office. She was eased into a couch or chair. An indeterminate amount of time passed, and Amanda felt her head pounding in an incredibly uncomfortable fashion. Something warm and aromatic was waved under her nose.

“Here. Drink this.”

It took an obscene amount of effort for her to put the mug to her lips and tilt her head so the liquid flowed into her mouth and down her throat. A hand that was not hers eased the mug away from her before she started to choke. The warmth of the tea washed down through the core of her being and the throbbing behind her eyes faded to a dull, distant ache. The voice with its demand began to echo deeper in her mind, still present but nowhere near as overwhelming.

That was when Amanda started crying.

The man took the mug away and returned with a box of tissues. Amanda wiped her eyes and blew her nose. She was horrified when the tissue came away stained red with blood.

“What is happening to me? I don’t understand.”

“You must be Amanda. Doctor Gibbons has mentioned you several times when we’ve had lunch together. Do you know who I am?”

She shook her head. “I know your name. You’re Nathan Deacon. You’re an archaeologist. That’s what the card in Doctor Gibbons’ Rolodex says.”

“He’s a good and private man. He hasn’t mentioned my falling-out with the University administration or how long I’ve been looking for another position. I had to sell my car and house, making sure I have the money to fly to digs and locations. Oh, and pay for this.” He gestured at the somewhat run-down office and the basket of blankets on one side of the futon, topped by a rumpled pillow. “The price I pay for being a ‘crackpot’.”

“I’m not sure I follow.”

Deacon opened a small first-aid kit, removed a penlight, and used it to study Amanda’s eyes. “When did the voices begin?”

Amanda blinked. “How did you-”

“I’ve seen this before. A former colleague of mine came across an artifact that he claims filled his head with voices. He had nosebleeds and migraines for two weeks solid before he eventually wandered, delirious and screaming, into traffic. City bus hit him. There wasn’t much left.”

Amanda shivered. “That’s terrible. What was the artifact?”

“It was part of an ancient cult.” Deacon stood and walked to step behind a privacy screen set up in a corner of the office near the wardrobe. “They believed that god-like beings were angry with the course of human history and the species’ impact on the planet, and were praying for what they describe as ‘a great cleansing’ to wipe out humanity and let the planet heal itself.”

“Almost every culture has an end-of-the-world scenario.” Amanda felt her mind returning to normal. “We’ve had artifacts from those sorts of things before. This is the first time I’ve had this sort of reaction to such a thing. I mean… voices in my head…”

“It’s disconcerting. I know. I’ve been researching the cult for years.” Deacon reappeared in a rumpled button-down shirt, jeans with a hole at his right knee, and a leather jacket he was shrugging into, an item with quite a few zippered and snap-closure pockets. “Like I said – ‘crackpot’ in the eyes of the university administration.” He handed her a handkerchief. “For your nose.”

“Thank you.” She dabbed at her nostrils. They were clear, for now. “You say your friend…”

He held up his hands. “Don’t panic. The tea I blended works as a stopgap, but we need to deal with the source. We need to destroy the artifact, whatever it is.”

“How? This all started when I touched the package. Just the package.” She looked up at him. “How do we do this?”

Deacon smiled, and offered her his hand. “Trust me.”

They walked back to the museum. Along the way, Amanda felt the voice beginning to get stronger. She told Deacon about what it was saying, how it sounded, and the nature of the pain it caused. The older man nodded as they walked, holding the door open for her and following her through the building back into the offices.

To Amanda, the inner office she shared with Gibbons seemed darker. The light on her desk was a single, weak source of resistance to the encroaching gloom.

“What do we do now?”

She looked to Deacon in order to get her answer, but she saw the man was pulling on a pair of white gloves, with circles and odd symbols embroidered into their backs. He reached into another pocket and handed her a small, crystal vial.

“Repeat after me.” Deacon then said a short phrase in a language Amanda didn’t recognize, but she sounded out the words as best as she was able.

“Good.” He pulled the stopper from the vial and handed it to her. “Drip some of the tonic onto my gloves, repeating the phrase as you do it.”

Amanda didn’t say or do anything for moment, then obeyed. Deacon held out his hands, palms up first, then turning them over and holding them under the drops before he nodded.

“Thank you. How do you feel?”

“My head hurts. It still is telling me to open it.”

Deacon knelt by the desk, drawing a circle with a piece of chalk. He gestured for Amanda to approach.

“I want you to put your hands near the circle. Please think about the world you know. Family, friends, good things, bad things. The entirety of the human experience. Fix the image of humanity in your mind. Do NOT break the circle. This is not going to be pleasant.”

Amanda nodded, sitting cross-legged near the chalk and leaning out to lay her hands near it. A low moan began in her mind, and she ground her teeth together, careful not to move. Deacon reached to the desk, pulling the string loose and unwrapping the brown paper. He took a sharp breath, and gently opened the wooden box. The moan became a howl, and Amanda winced.

“What are you thinking about, Amanda?”

“Picnics with my family. A really nice date I had with James.” She winced again. “Breaking up with James. Spending New Years’ alone. Spending New Years’ in the club…”

“Keep going.” Deacon removed the artifact. It was a small stone statue. Amanda couldn’t tell if it was a bust or a full figure, but it was a mass of appendages that were not remotely human, eyes and beaks in odd places. The whole thing turned Amanda’s stomach. But she kept speaking as things came into her mind.

“Getting sideswiped by a bike messenger. Walking with people to protest police corruption after Ferguson. Dropping that vase that I had just dated back to the 3rd century…”

Deacon placed the statue in the middle of the circle. Immediately, the shadows seemed to deepen even further around Amanda. She shrieked, and for a moment, her mind went entirely blank, save for a oily, ineffable feeling of what could only be described as a cold, unfeeling, empty void…

“Don’t stop!”

Deacon’s voice felt like a whipcrack. She repeated herself, her voice rising, adding memories from her childhood and things she hoped for, opening her eyes to see Deacon raising a claw hammer. The statue had begun to glow, emitting seething violet light from somewhere within it. Her eyes widened but, in spite of her fear, did not stop talking.

The archaeologist brought the hammer down hard on the statue. It shattered into stone shards that flew throughout the office, sizzling and spitting as they dissolved. The shadow of the creature rose over the humans, violet points of light reaching for Amanda. Deacon quickly pulled out a handkerchief embroidered with a design similar to those on the back of his gloves. After applying some tonic, he dropped it into the circle on top of something Amanda couldn’t see.

The shadows and noise immediately ceased. Deacon knelt, gathering up the cloth in his hands.

“What was that?”

“An idol to a being that pre-dates mankind and was worshipped by that cult I mentioned. This is a drop of its blood.”

What?” Amanda blinked at Deacon as he removed his gloves, which were still around the cloth. “That thing was real?”

“Not was, is. And it’s looking for for a way into our world to destroy the humanity it sees as a plague.”

Amanda felt another chill slide through her body. “It would have used me.”

“Yes. But now we have its blood.”

She narrowed her eyes. “Are you saying ‘if it bleeds, we can kill it’?”

Nate Deacon shrugged. “I’ve seen movies before. But yes. We can, in fact, kill this thing.”

Flash Fiction: Closed Casket

Chuck challenged us to use one of these stock photos that BuzzFeed claims nobody could ever use. I picked #4, and pulled this out of my brain. Enjoy!


Courtesy BuzzFeed

“I really appreciate you doing this, padre.”

Father Pryce still looked a bit skeptical. He shook the offered hand, for certain, and the money Timothy had given him was a welcome contribution to the church. Still, it was something Pryce had never done before. Tim handed the priest a case containing a syringe, shrugging out of his coat once Pryce took it. As the priest lifted the device, the man in the casket rolled up his left sleeve and turned his arm over. Shaking his head, Pryce watched as Timothy prodded the inner surface of his arm, up by his elbow, and his finger stopped on a prominent vein.

“You know I’m not a doctor or a nurse, Timothy.”

“I’ve had training, and I can walk you through it. Just place the tip of the needle just under my finger.”

Pryce obeyed. “Like this?”

Timothy nodded. “Good. Now, tell me there will be a slight pinch, and gently apply pressure with the needle, without pressing the plunger.”

“Um. There will be a slight pinch.”

Timothy chuckled. “Great bedside manner, Father.” He didn’t wince when the needle pierced his skin, but nodded after a moment. “Okay. It’s in. Push the plunger.”

The translucent, green fluid disappeared down the needle as Pryce pressed the plunger. Once it was gone, Timothy talked him through removing the needle and applying a bandage. He rolled his sleeve back down and put his jacket back on. He relaxed, laying back in the casket, his eyelids already heavy. Pryce gently closed the casket, turned to his pulpit, and went over his notes and words.

Family walked in, paying the respects. Friends kept towards the back. Finally, three men entered. Two were very tall and broad, not removing their sunglasses as they flanked the shorter, older man in the middle. The old man smiled beatifically at Father Pryce.

“I understand that the deceased met with a very violent end,” the newcomer said.

“That’s right,” Father Pryce replied.

“May I see him?”

The priest blinked. “I beg your pardon?”

“Got a hearin’ problem, padre?” This came from one of the older man’s… well, “goons” was the word that came to Father Pryce’s mind.

“Do you know who this is?” The other one took a step towards him. The old man held up his hand.

“I’m Antonio Firenze. This man was one of my employees. He also was endebted to me. I have encountered situations where people in Timothy’s position have done elaborate things to avoid my ire. I can make a significant donation to your church if you just open the casket for a moment. I would rather not make things uncomfortable on the off chance you make the other choice.”

Father Pryce swallowed. He did, indeed, know who Antonio Firenze happened to be. He looked out over the family and friends in the pews, mostly talking to one another and listening to the organist, then turned towards the casket, blocking the view from the pews to the sanctuary. He gently lifted the lid of the casket, turning slightly to let Antonio approach.

“Ah. There you are, Timmy.”

Timothy was completely still, and unnaturally pale. There was an odd, jagged wound on his forehead, over his left eye, stitched shut with what looked to be a fair degree of difficulty. Father Pryce swallowed.

“The undertaker tried to make him presentable. When I showed his mother, she asked for a closed casket.”

“Hmm. I can see why.” Antonio leaned down and pushed on Timothy’s shoulder. When there was no response, he did it again. Finally, after a moment, he reached back and slapped Timothy across the face. Timothy didn’t move, but revealed some blood and gore spattered on the pillow holding his head. The goons stepped back.

“So. He does seem dead.” Pryce lowered the lid as Antonio reached into his suit coat for his handkerchief and wiped his hands. “I apologize, Father. Thank you for indulging me.”

The men retreated from the altar, and Father Pryce got the service going in short order after that. The pallbearers took the casket out of the church and into the hearse. The procession to the graveyard was slow, often interrupted by cross traffic, and it was late afternoon by the time Father Pryce supervised the lowering of the casket into Timothy’s grave, with Antonio Firenze and his goons looking on.

Following the service, Pryce retired to his rooms in the rectory. It was the dead of night, half past midnight, when he took Timothy’s cellular phone out of his desk and used an application to summon a car. He wasn’t entirely sure how it worked, only that there would be no record of his phone or the land line from the rectory calling a taxi service.

From the back of the car, Pryce kept glancing over his shoulder to make sure they weren’t being followed before the car left him at the gate. The grave was far back from the road, and the earth was fresh. Pryce left the car, wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and picked up one of the shovels the groundskeeper had left behind. It was long, grueling work, and he still was on the lookout for anyone approaching. But, knowing what was at stake, he persevered, until his shovel hit wood.

He placed the shove out of the grave and opened it. Timothy removed his oxygen mask and smiled, taking the hand offered to help him out of the casket. He removed the makeup from his head and tossed it into the casket. Pryce did the same with Timothy’s phone. Together, they re-filled the grave.

“Will you be all right?”

Timothy walked with Pryce towards the gate. “Yeah. I have a locker at the train station with a change of clothes, some cash, and documentation. The Feds will be contacted once I’m safely away. What about you?”

Pryce shrugged. “Public transit. I don’t mind riding the bus home.”

They shook hands, and Timothy walked away into the night.

From the Vault: How to Survive Living with a Writer

For the benefit of my new flatmates, here are some tips on living with a writer!


Courtesy floating robes
Courtesy Floating Robes

One of the most popular posts ever over at terribleminds is this one, entitled “Beware of Writer.” He also penned a sequel that’s just as worthwhile to read. But let’s say you’ve ignored his advice. You’re going to fly in the face of common sense and good taste and actually shack up with one of us crackpot writer-types, in spite of the tiny hurricanes of impotent rage and the nigh-constant smell of booze. Here’s a couple things to keep in mind that may help you keep from running screaming into the night.

Writers are Finicky Bitches

In addition to being very easily distracted (if you didn’t know, we are), writers can get new ideas all the time, at the drop of a hat. It’s not uncommon for a writer to have a few projects at work at any given time. Let’s say our subject is working on a novel and some poetry, and all of a sudden gets an idea for a new tv series about puppet detectives. It’s not enough for us to be distracted by video games or movies or pet antics or offspring or bright flashing lights or loud noises. No no, we need to distract ourselves on top of all of that.

Writers either drift in a slight miasma of barely cognizant perceptions as they indulge in their distractions, or they’re frustrated by efforts to reassert their concentration on something they’re righting. It can make a writer seem bipolar. And if they really are bipolar, woo boy you talk about fun times!1

Surviving this as an outsider requires a metric fuckton of patience. Either you will be asked to participate in some sort of odd habit, or you will be all but ignored as something new distracts the writer. You can go along with it or rail against it, but the important thing is to remind the writer that they should, at some point, write. Yes, you may get bitten over it. That’s what the rolled-up newspaper is for. Aim for the nose.

Writers are Masters (and Mistresses) of Excuses

You’re going to catch a writer not writing. This can be like catching a teenager with their pants down and making them explain the nature of the self-examination they seem to be enjoying. You just need to keep in mind that procrastination is perfectly natural and lots of writers do it. There are even some writers who encourage other writers to procrastinate.

Before I stretch that metaphor any more uncomfortably, the important thing to note is that writers will tell you all manner of tall tales in an effort to avoid your scrutiny. Especially if said writer’s bailiwick is fiction. I mean, come on, these people lie for a living. Or at least as a primary hobby. Of course they’re going to tell you space monkeys invaded in the middle of the night and that’s why the lawn hasn’t been mowed or the dishes remain unwashed. Damn dirty space simians!2

Just as writers need and, if they’re responsible and good, want to be told when something they write doesn’t quite work, writers also need to occasionally be called on their bullshit. “Space monkeys? I don’t see any poo on the walls other than your own. It’s time to shut off the Internet and make some more of that word magic happen, pooplord.” Your exact wording may vary, but you get the idea.

Writers Do, In Fact, Want to Write

So let’s say you’re keeping a writer focused on the now. You’re getting them to help out around the house. They’re watching the kids. They’re cooking meals. They’re renovating your siding and keeping you in whatever it is you like to do when you’re not working. Guess what they’re not doing?

If you guessed “writing”, you just won a bigass shiny No-Prize! Congrats!3

Take a look at any writer pontificating on the need to write, and you’ll see something emerge. There’s definitely a deep-seated compulsion there. On top of any other madness or psychosis, a writer needs to write. Yes, the writer may procrastinate, putter around, put off writing because writing can suck a big fat one from time to time, but at the end of the day, writing is at the core of who that person is, otherwise – Anyone? Anyone? Beuller? – they wouldn’t be a writer.

So do them and yourself a favor. Take the kids for an hour. Put the video game down yourself. Mow the lawn or wash a few dishes. Just give them space, and a little bit of time. If it’s been a while since they’ve written, you bet your ass words will happen while you’re tending to chores.

Or you could not, and they’ll resent you in a deeply personal way. Your call.

I think this may be the biggest key to surviving life with a writer. Giving a little measure of time to write, moreso than calling them on excuses or distractions, relieves the pressure in their minds and helps them get closer to their goals. And the writer will love you for it.


1 I can’t say anybody acted all that surprised when I was diagnosed as bipolar. There was plenty of relief that legitimate psychosis wasn’t involved, though. Not that the doctors could detect, at least. Suckers.

2 They’re rude as hell, too. Coming in the middle of the evening and keeping me from finishing a blog post with their howling and poop-slinging and I was researching League of Legends champion builds and got distracted from finishing this last night I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry please don’t bap me with the newspaper again.

3 Actual contents of No-Prize may vary, from “absolutely nothing” to “sweet fuck-all.”

Flash Fiction: Hello Human

So Chuck Wendig coined the phrase Spammerpunk and I thought I’d get down on that.


Hello human,
Greetings from another human. I am human and interested in human things. Your planet which you call Earth has many resources important to humans. An offer generous to humans can be made. Many lucrative offers to other humans have provided human familial units with much material wealth for reasonable replacement demands. Many benefits material wealth can be provided unto your fleshy human carapace especially when alternative is complete annihilation of species. Compliance is preferable to resistance. Please to be considering generous offer.

Flash Fiction: Strong Yet Subtle

Slane Castle

For this week’s Flash Fiction Challenge over at Terribleminds, Picking Uncommon Apples, the random number gods bestowed upon me 28, 18, and 31. Here’s what came out of those choices!


Ravenna slipped through the opened grate with the sort of smooth ease that only comes from years of practice. She heard the soft splashing behind her and closed her eyes for a moment. After a quick check of her surroundings, she turned and knelt by the hole in the floor, reaching down to take the stretching hand. As soon as he could, Barnabus set his other hand on the side of the hole to pull himself up, though he still needed Ravenna’s help. She suspected that, unlike her, he had not spent his childhood running through the forest, climbing trees and rocks, and learning how to hide.

“My apologies,” Barnabus said quietly, trying to kick some of the moisture off of his boots. “I misjudged the height of the run-off tunnel.” The tall, gangly man looked somewhat uncomfortable in the trousers and vest, since Ravenna had insisted his normal attire, a colorful robe decorated with the moon and stars, would be impractical.

Ravenna held a gloved finger to her lips, then took another look around. Coming up in the castle’s dungeon was risky, given that it was patrolled by guards and could contain all sorts of means to betray their position and purpose. However, she had also chosen to come at night. There was soft snoring from a nearby cell, but otherwise no sound. The stone corridor was lit by a torch on either end, and to her left, she saw the stairs spiraling up.

“Come on,” she whispered, walking forward in a deliberately cautious fashion. She glanced over her shoulder as they approached the stairs. Barnabus, for his part, was trying to do the same, his dark eyes wide. He took a few steps closer to Ravenna, making full use of his long legs.

“Are we sure he wouldn’t be down here?”

Ravenna shook her head. “He would have been if that serpent hadn’t slowed us down. Lord Lamborne’s auction has already begun. He’ll be in the grand feasting hall.” Ravenna was going to say more, but she heard a scuff of boots on stone above them. She held up her hand towards Barnabus, then waved him towards the inner wall. The stairwell had no alcoves or decorations, no means to hide. Ravenna set her teeth and braced herself, crouching down even further.

As soon as the slick, polished boots of one of Lamborne’s guards came into view, Ravenna seized it with both hands and pulled as hard as she could. The man, already heading down the stairs, was taken completely by surprise by the loss of balance, and toppled past Ravenna and Barnabus. Both of the intruders looked down at the guard’s crumpled form, and after a moment of ensuring he was not rising to follow, returned to moving up the stairs. Ravenna reached for one of the daggers sheathed at the small of her back, and Barnabus reached up to grab her wrist.

“No killing,” he murmured. “The queen was quite clear.”

“Who said anything about killing?” Ravenna flashed Barnabus a dangerous grin and turned back to the opening into the hall ahead. The small dagger whispered free of its sheath. Another guard was walking on the opposite side of the hall, in their direction. Ravenna began to bounce a bit, timing the steps of the guard, and held out her free hand to Barnabus.

“Wait here.”

Barnabus nodded, folding himself into the wall as best he could. Ravenna sped from the opening to the stairwell, her braid of long red hair coming loose as her boots hit stone. With liquid grace, she seized the guard from behind, the dagger rising to his throat. After a brief moment, Ravenna released him, and then clubbed him with the hilt of the dagger. The guard slumped to the ground.

“The feasting hall has two guards at the door and two walking the perimeter,” she told Barnabus as she sheathed her weapon. “But nothing on the balcony level.”

“Perfect.” Barnabus rested his hands on the pouches hanging from the belt around his waist. “Can we still get there from the wall?”

“If we’re careful and quiet.” She looked at him. “You’re not as clumsy as I thought you’d be.”

He shrugged. “Unlike some others of my profession, I do like to get out and enjoy fresh air now and again.”

With a wry smile, Ravenna lead the way from the hall and along the wall that dominated the outer perimeter of the keep. The feasting hall was set near the southwest corner, and its interior was alight and full of noise. Ravenna and Barnabus avoided the guards on patrol and, with the help of Ravenna’s grappling hook and sturdy rope, scaled the wall to slip in through a window on the second story. The feasting hall’s interior had small balconies on the longer walls, and while there were stairs up at either end, all of the activity was on the floor below.

“There’s Crown Prince Rudolph,” Ravenna whispered, pointing towards the dias at the back of the hall where the high table was set. “Do you have your distraction ready?”

“Yes,” Barnabus told her, reaching into one of his pouches. He produced a small, mottled orb, gray with black spots. “Something strong, yet subtle.”

She blinked at it. “That tiny thing? I thought you were a wizard. You said you’d distract the crowd – can’t you do it with fire or thunder or something?”

Barnabus looked annoyed. “I can, but I’d rather not cook us along with our reward. This, on the other hand?”

He tossed the orb into the crowd. On impact, there was a burst of light and smoke, and out of the sudden fog flew a murder of crows, cawing and flapping at the startled nobles. They clamored and ran for the exits. Barnabus winked at Ravenna.

“The Crow Egg,” he told her. “A specialty of mine.”

“Okay, wizard,” she replied with a grin, “color me impressed. Now, let’s get the Crown Prince and get out of here.”

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