31 Days of Art, Day 14: Chickens

I was going to go with something feathery and terrifying because, if you’ve ever met a chicken, you know they can be feather and terrifying. But somewhere in the past couple of days, I happened to view a PSA about not venturing through a railroad crossing when the warning signs were down, and that became this microfiction piece.

Day 14: Chickens

Come on, do it! Just do it! What are you, a—

“Fuck you, all right?” Cash flipped his friends off, then dropped his hand to the stick shift and yanked the old Jeep into neutral.

Against the backdrop of his friends whooping and getting out their cell phones to stream the moment, Cash looked back and forth.

The red lights flashed back and forth. The bells clanged.

Everything was still empty in both directions. There was just enough of a gap for him to swing the beast around.

He almost hoped would catch a glimpse, give him a reason to slam on the brakes. But no, the coast remained clear.

“Do it, DO it, do IT, DO IT!”

For just a second, he heard his dad’s voice over the din his friends were making.

No, Cash, don—

He pressed the clutch, shifted to first.

Cash.

The Jeep leapt toward the tracks.

* * *

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31 Days of Art, Day 13: Symbiotic

Today is the first day that I don’t have a full beginning-middle-end short story or poem to offer. Part of that was I spent most of the day cleaning and unpacking (still… I’ll be unpacking forever, I feel like). Part of it was the idea that the word “symbiotic” prompted came out… not what I was expecting. And I wanted to both fulfill the challenge of writing a finished piece a day, and also stay close to the idea of letting the words play and come out how they want to.

What started out as an idea that two people shared something that they would die without (the symbiosis in the relationship between the two of them and the thing), eventually decided that it wanted to be a darkly comedic plot about two polyamorous lesbians in a retirement community who share a special kind of luck… that then gets stolen from them. Hijinks ensue–or rather, they will if I ever get back to writing this. Will I finish it? Will Gerry and Linda get back their luck and have their revenge on Arnold, the smiling bandit? Will my kids ever actually go to bed when they’re supposed to? Stick around. Maybe someday I’ll know the answer to at least one of these questions…

Day 13 Symbiotic

It was Gerry’s turn to have the luck. She’d been pretty patient while Linda’d hung on to it for what had ended up being three weeks past her fair share. Gerry hadn’t minded. Linda had a younger man on the hook, Mr. Arnold Jefferson from two units down, and she’d wanted the luck to make sure she caught him.

Again, Gerry didn’t mind. Once she got the luck back, Linda would come home like she always did, like she always had. They’d been together since college, and Gerry had never been the jealous type.

Still, she was heading outside the carefully manicured lawns and had a ton of errands to run, and in this town, you never knew who was going to hack and cough and spit and not wear a mask. She needed the luck. What if she had another experience like the last time she was out, waiting at the drugstore for Linda’s prescription to be filled, and the lady in front of her just started coughing, her lungs going to town, the spray visible in the air—and nope, couldn’t be bothered to even cover her mouth with her elbow, let alone wear a mask like it said in the three or four signs the woman had to walk past just to get to the pharmacy.

Gerry knew she shouldn’t have let Linda talk her into moving out of New Jersey. The weather was better down here, but forget trying to find a good bagel, or just ask people to go out of their way to wear a little piece of cloth over their faces for ten minutes while they got a flu shot.

No, Gerry needed that luck. And her wife had had it a little too long now. If it wasn’t going to help Linda land that hunky fish, she needed to come on home and hand it over.

“Gerry?” Linda’s voice sounded as the screen door to the back porch opened and shut. By the waver in her voice, Gerry knew that she had bad news. Whatever it was, she’d be picking up two bottles of wine at the grocery store and a cheesecake. The kind with the strawberry jam drizzled all over it. Whatever put that waver in Linda’s voice was going to require cheesecake for the telling of the story.

The wine was for Gerry.

“Yes, Lindy Hop, I’m coming.” Gerry pushed herself out of the chair, trying not to think about how that was getting harder and harder these days. She headed into the kitchen.

Linda was already seated at the table, slumped, tears smearing her mascara. It looked like it might be a two cheesecake mess.

“He…”

“What happened?” Gerry asked, sitting down across the table. “Did he show up for your date in a red hat?”

“No.” Linda hiccupped, and now Gerry was really concerned. Linda’s hiccups could last for days. The only thing that could stave them off was—

“Wait, where’s our luck?” Gerry asked.

“He… he stole it!” Linda wailed and put her head down and sobbed.

“He stole the luck?” Gerry was confused. “How did he even—?”

This wasn’t possible. They’d found the luck when they first started dating their freshman year of college, passing it back and forth when each had a test, a paper, their coming out talks with their parents. Gerry’s hadn’t gone so well—they hadn’t really known how it worked back then, and, well, that memory required a third bottle of wine to revisit.

Linda wiped her eyes with one of the paper napkins from the holder shaped like a yellow plastic sunflower, then blew her nose in the napkin with a giant honk.

“Okay, tell me slowly, honey,” Gerry said. “How did Tall, Dark, and Denture-Free steal our luck?”

* * *

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31 Days of Art, Day 12: Tangled

I’m not sure where this creepy little singsong of a poem came from, but again, I’m opening my creative brain here and saying “Yes” to whatever happens to pop along. I was thinking, here, of a story a friend told of a diver searching for abalone in a kelp forest along California’s coast, and well…

Day 12: Tangled

Under the waves, so cold and dark
Drifting along in the brine,
The little fish nudges the cold, blue skin
All wrapped in the soft, green vine.

Under the waves, so cold and dark
The abalones grow
Nestled amid the strange, strong limbs
As the currents shift to and fro.

Under the waves, so cold and dark
With face turned towards the sun,
But no rays can reach beneath the deep
And the kelp is grasping, and tangled, and creeps
Around the legs to hold and to keep,
Its prize so cruelly won.

* * *

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31 Days of Art, Day 11: Hair

I started drawing a blank today, wondering if I had it in me to keep going with the challenge. My brain started in with all the classic symptoms of overthinking my way into stagnating and giving up, and I wondered if what I was doing was even any good. Are these worth anything? Is what I’m putting out there going to show anyone that I’m a writer? Or worthy of editing other people’s horror prose? Yeah, that’s the little voice inside that starts up whenever I start making progress. I used to (still sometimes do) listen to that voice a lot.

But today, I told myself to just go with it. Start typing and see what comes out. It doesn’t HAVE to be polished, perfect, Stoker-worthy–it just has to be. And so, here it is. A little horror microfiction to meet today’s challenge. A chance to play with words and see what comes out, and if it’s “good,” then yay, and if it’s just here, then it’s words I didn’t have before, and so also yay. I hope you enjoy, and if you’ve been feeling the same way about making your particular art, then I say: Go for it!

Day 11: Hair

There was blood on the razor, but it was dry. Little flecks dusted off as she moved it back and forth, back and forth, fluttering down to land, brown spots against the white tile and black strands.

The scissors rested on the side of the sink, the once bright red blood faded and congealed, sticky. She’d pulled it out and used them to chop, chop all the long pieces first, sowing and reaping down to the fuzz that she now scraped away with the razor.

She’d waited a long time.

Maybe she could have waited longer.

She’d been good at following the rules. Her closet full of skirts, no pants, hurrying home every day after school. Not talking to anyone, following their script.

And then school became a computer window, and there was no more hiding. She had followed the rule—don’t turn on your video, don’t move, don’t tell. Don’t tell.

Don’t tell.

She still felt their fingers in her hair, even as the sharp metal smoothed away the last bit from around her ears. They had braided it, curled it, let it hang loose, let it grow until it reached the floor, but they had never, ever, ever let her cut it.

And now it slid across the floor, merging with the red flood, the lake that filled from the streams at their neck, their stomach.

Satisfied, she ran a towel over her head and dropped it to the floor. Nothing they saw now would make them love her. Nothing of hers was theirs to love.

She turned off the lights and flipped the lighter. There was another puddle in the middle of the hall, one that caught the flame and sent it on its merry way.

In the front hall, she gestured to her sister, younger than her, sweeter, obedient.

“Let’s go.”

Holding her hand, she led her outside as their lives and rules and “love” burned behind them.

* * *

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31 Days of Art, Day 10: Spiders

You all may have noticed there was no Day 9 yesterday. That’s pretty much thanks to the migraine I’ve been fighting the past two days. I do have meds I can take, and it makes it almost bearable to get work done, but I gave myself a break and let it go. I was actually not intending to do anything for today, either, but I came down to the office to check an email and a story idea popped up. I can’t promise it’s coherent or edited or free of typos, but I hope you will enjoy it…

Day 10: Spiders

It was just a joke, barely a thought. They were on the playground again—the one they weren’t supposed to play on. The jungle gym was old and rusted out in parts, but it was fine to play on, as long as you didn’t push it on the swings.

There were two metal animals shaped as seats, a tiger and a seahorse, mounted on heavy-duty springs. They were so old you could barely get them to move, and they kept talking about bringing a can of grease or something the next time they snuck out, but no one ever remembered.

Eloise, with the funny, old-fashioned name, had started hanging out with them at the playground. Or rather, they’d decided to defy town ordinance and parental warning and head down to the old park where they could each smoke half of the cigarette Bella’d stolen from her older brother’s pack and play on the sets that were too young for them, and too old for anyone in the town that cared about their children’s wellbeing. Eloise had been waiting there that first day, and they’d just kind of said hi and started including her in their conversations.

This was the old park, after all, as opposed to the New Glen Ridge Activity Field, all plastic and safety and shining off down the road. There was a soccer game going on over there today.

“Hey, Eloise.” Bella nodded to the girl, who was sitting on one of the faded red sections of the red and yellow merry go round. The paint on the railings had worn off long ago, making it hot to the touch on a sunny day, but now the day had clouded over and it wasn’t too warm for Eloise to stretch her arms above her head, holding onto the railing, as she used one foot to push herself along.

“Woohoo!” Genevieve screeched and jumped on the merry go round, hopping up into the center and bending down to grab a railing on each side of the open space. “Let’s see who gets sick first!”

Bella didn’t take the bait. Instead, she sat down across from Eloise, leaning against a railing, mirroring the other girl’s position. “What’s up? You okay?”

Eloise shrugged, rubbing her back against the metal pole.

“UGH.” Gennie flopped dramatically on her stomach between them, letting her head, shoulders and arms hang off the edge. “She always looks…” She trailed off and waved her arm up and down in Eloise’s general direction, as if to indicate what the other girl was wearing.

It was her usual outfit. Black skirt, black tights—not pantyhose, tights—black turtleneck sweater, and saddle shoes. Bella didn’t even know what they were called until she had described them to her mom, who’d seem surprised that they still made them, and that people still wore them. As always, Eloise’s hair was parted in the middle and pulled back into two long, black braids. It wasn’t that unusual of a hairstyle, not that Bella could tell. She wore hers cropped into a pixie cut, and Gennie had had her hair in locs since the seventh grade, so maybe it was what you did with long, straight hair.

Eloise rubbed her back against the metal pole again.

“Ha, you look like a bear in a nature video!” Gennie grinned. “All you need is some honey.”

It would have sounded insulting coming from anyone else, but Gennie had a natural infectious laughter that she turned as easily against herself, and even Eloise cracked a grin at that one.

“Rawr,” she said, making a halfhearted claw swipe with her curled fingers. “I want a nap.”

Now that the ice was broken, as it always did, their conversation picked up. Eloise didn’t talk as much as the others, but she would listen as they discussed kids at the school Eloise didn’t go to, or promise to make a shopping date once their parents started letting them go places with other kids again.

Gennie stayed on her stomach, picking up rocks out of the overgrown weeds and chucking them towards the woods.

“UGH, we need to go somewhere.” Gennie turned over and scootched herself up so she could lay on her back, resting her head on her hand. “I mean, how long is this going to—” She stopped and looked at her other hand. “Gross, what is that?”

The white, spherical object stuck to her hand, even when she turned her palm down.

“Oh, God, oh gross, it’s on me, it won’t get off.” Gennie sat up and started waving her hand around.

“Stop.”

Eloise grabbed Gennie’s arm, arresting it in mid-flail.

“What is it?” Bella asked.

“Be careful.” Eloise’s voice sounded strange.

Gennie scrambled to a sitting position. “Hey, let go.” She wrenched her arm away, but Eloise didn’t let go.

“She is a mother,” Eloise said. “A mother of all.”

“Oh, come on.” Bella rolled her eyes. “It’s just a spider egg sac.”

And without thinking, she leaned forward and plucked it off of Gennie’s palm. Her friend scurried off the merry go round, dusting herself off in case any other unwanted visitors had hitched a ride.

“Ew, ew, ew. Bella, come on, let’s go back to my place.”

Bella wasn’t listening. Instead, she stared at Eloise, who had fixed her gaze on the sac held gently in Bella’s fingertips.

“Give them to me,” she whispered.

Bella didn’t know what she was thinking, it was more like a reflex, a joke that crossed her mind. “Sure, here they are!”

And she tossed the sac straight at Eloise’s face.

It stuck to her cheek. At first, Gennie began to giggle, and Bella smiled, waiting for Eloise’s reaction. But she didn’t jump up and down or get mad or cry.

Instead, the tiniest, thinnest line of black began to trickle out of the sac and make its way up Eloise’s cheek.

“Oh… oh my God, Eloise, I’m sorry.” Bella ducked under the railing and slid off the merry go round, taking a step toward the other girl.

Eloise held up a hand, and Bella stopped in her tracks.

The thin black line was joined by another, and then another, and finally a fourth line, all creeping and flowing up her cheeks. Two branched across her nose, seeking the white orbs of her eyes. White orbs that the black lines crept into. And now, Bella could see the tiny, individual moving dots that made up those lines as they climbed into Eloise’s eyes, creeping, crawling.

The white eyes that gradually filled to dark black pools, congealing, overflowing, seeking.

And now, Bella was backpedaling, Gennie was already running, the girls screaming, crying, stumbling away as Eloise stood, her skin bubbling with its dark carapace, growing, changing, stretching, bleeding.

“The mother…” Her mouth dripping with ichor, drooling around a set of pedipalps that waved, sensing. “I am… the mother…”

And a mother must feed its young.

* * *

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31 Days of Art, Day 8: Eviscerate

The other night, I was sitting up late in my office, trying to finish up some work, when music started filtering through the open window. It was kind of a kicking beat, but the only lyrics I could make out were: Outta my truck,  outta my truck,  outta my truck,  get outta my truck. After a while, I started wondering if whoever it was would ever get out of the dang truck. A few years ago, a friend of mine posted about being someone who got very easily distracted by noise or any auditory stimuli, and how that made it hard to get work done with the windows open. And then somehow, all that mixed and mingled together with today’s prompt, “eviscerate,” and become this story. Enjoy!

Day 8: Eviscerate

“Two, four, six, eight, who do we eviscerate?”

The children had to be a few yards down, their voices ringing together in a ragged chorus. Mella looked up from her desk in annoyance. The window was open to catch the October breeze—one of the first nice days so far in a fall season that had been unusually hot, even for Fayetteville.

“One, three, five, seven, send her soul to search for heaven!”

That was a super creepy nursery rhyme. Not one she remembered from when she was a kid.

She grimaced. The neighborhood they’d moved into had seemed very specifically non-kid friendly. There was a school maybe a mile away, and sometimes late on Friday nights they’d hear the marching band at one of the interminable football rallies, but she and Liza were usually kicking back on the back porch with a cold drink at that point, not trying to merge client files in an Excel spreadsheet that was currently defying everything spreadsheets were supposed to do.

A bloodcurdling shriek, followed by maniacal laughter. Kids really were little sociopaths. Should she close the window? Whose yard was that, anyway? And how old were the kids?

They’d looked at houses on the other side of the neighborhood, ones with wide yards, flat driveways, that came with pre-standing playsets and jungle gyms. But none of those houses had caught their eye, and they’d been in the final stages of deciding that path wasn’t for them, anyway.

This side of the small pond that bisected the neighborhood, they had thought was quieter, the homes larger, the cars more expensive. People who lived here had grandchildren and dogs, not lawns full of screaming children playing weird games.

The giggling devolved into another shriek, and then some shouted back and forth, unintelligible. It sounded like the game had gone the wrong way for some of the players as the laughing and shouting died down, grew angrier, then faded away.

Mella rolled her eyes and whispered, “Thank you!” She pushed back from her desk, briefly wondering if she should go upstairs and make some fresh coffee, take a break, stretch her legs. Come back to the spreadsheet with fresh eyes.

“Two, four, six, eight, who do we EVISCERATE?”

She groaned and slumped forward, resting her elbows on her desk, her forehead in her hands.

“Ten, TWELVE, the Devil’s MATE, Fourteen, SIXTEEN, she’ll meet her FATE.”

Their voices chanted in unison, more together than the music group she and Liza met up with once a month to sing shanteys with. Guess they’d made up and started playing together again. It wasn’t a nice rhyme, whatever it was, but Mella had given up trying to understand kids once they’d passed on the opportunity. She couldn’t remember ever running with large packs of other kids her age even when she was younger, no reason to spend time trying to figure it out now. She hoped that there was at least one parent supervising.

Another scream sounded. This one seemed closer. Were the kids on the move? Now she really should get up and close the window. But even if they did go by the house, it was set up on a hill, back from the street. They wouldn’t even see her, let alone… what would they do if they did? Procrastination was giving her too much time to think about this. They were just kids playing.

She really should get a cup of coffee. As the thought crossed her mind, something thumped upstairs.

“Luna?” She sat up, alert now, and waited. Their cat was constantly jumping up on things and knocking knickknacks around. “You better not be on the table!”

A shuffling sound answered her.

“Liza? You home early?” There were at least four more hours to go on Liza’s shift at the urgent care clinic, but she’d been known to come home for a quick bite when she forgot her lunch. “Hon?”

The normal sounds of the empty house settled back in. Mella held her breath just a few moments more, but the kids’ screaming had vanished. Maybe they’d all gone back inside to watch TV or play video games or whatever. Maybe they’d been on a break from class, and now they were back in front of their computers.

She really did need a break of her own. Sighing, she jiggled her mouse to wake her computer back up. As the computer grudgingly came back to life, Mella looked out the window.

“Dammit!” Mella jumped up from her chair. The kids had gone too far, clustering at the bottom of the hill, gazing up at her. She opened the window wider and raised her voice, pitching it to carry to the street. “What are you kids doing?”

They looked up at her and smiled. She stepped back from the window. They crowded around, inches from the screen, peering at her, in the office, all smiles and teeth and jeans and T-shirts.

“Get back.” Mella stepped back and pointed behind them. “You all are trespassing. What house do you live in?”

And then they were crowded into the little office, pushing aside the files and binders, the books that had not yet been stacked on the shelves, reaching out with almost gentle tenderness, touching her clothes and hair and hands.

Two, four, six, eight, who do we—

* * *

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31 Days of Art, Days 6 & 7: Absorb, Regret

Yesterday, I had a massive push to finish up a client edit (which I did, at around two o’clock this morning), and my daily challenge fell to the wayside. I woke up this morning, ready to pick back up and regain momentum. After, it goes without saying, a whole metric fuck ton of coffee. In fact, I probably could go for another cup right about now…

Anyway, yesterday’s prompt was “absorb”, and today’s was “regret”, and the two of them started swirling around in my head until I started thinking about sin eaters and how once we act on what we think may be what we want, we may realize that we’ll regret it for the rest of our lives… or afterlives. While I originally meant to do one piece for each word, this story idea popped up, and so today’s challenge piece combines two in one.

Days 6 & 7: Absorb, Regret

The little creature squeak-slurped happily, tiny teeth chittering as it gnawed away at its meal. Between every bite, a pale pink tongue licked out, sweeping a few liquid drops from its chin, before diving back in. The black, matter fur glistened as its body trembled with delight.

A noise from the other room froze it in place. The creature waited, jaws half open, listening with its bell-shaped ears.

The moan sighed down the hallway, ecstatic agony that could not give itself full voice. The creature waited until the sound faded away, its small brain dimly wondering if it had been so smart to take advantage of a meal so bountiful. Another moan came, but no footsteps or approaching shadows followed, and the creature bent back to its feast, chittering faster. Something told it, it would not be wise to linger longer than it took to fill its belly.

***

It was everything he’d wanted, planned and executed to the letter, and yet now that he had it, he sat on the floor of his son’s room and cried huge, wrenching, gulping sobs. He’d only come in there to cracking the window a little more, smear a little blood on the frame, the last step of planting the trail that would lead the eventual investigators back out of the house and down the street to where the registered sex offender had moved in three weeks ago.

He’d thought through it many times, always coming up short on that final step. Who would come in to his son’s room, find him gone from his bed, search for him through the house, surprise him in his parents’ bed, his mother asleep—waking to the intruder, who must needs then take care of her before launching his attack, while his father, who’d been having trouble sleeping, it had been documented carefully by the family physician when she prescribed the pills, had lately been passing out on the downstairs couch to avoid being awoken by their son’s midnight trips to their bed. He’d told himself the same story over and over, shed real tears at the thought of it, of them ripped away—his whole world. But he didn’t have that final piece, didn’t know to which house to follow the intruder’s bloody path.

This night, though, this night he had told the story, creeping into his son’s room to place the blood under the window. He’d turned, meaning to go outside, see the path where further spoor could be found, to see where the heavy metal object in his gloved hand should be seen by patrolman on foot.

And yet, as he’d faced away from the colorful cartoon curtains, to look across at the dresser with all the stickers placed on it, the racecar toddler bed with its empty, mussed sheets, he’d sunk to the floor overwhelmed with grief.

And that is when it had crept up behind him, placing gentle claws on his hands, guiding them, whispering to him, the metal still warm on his skin.

“Who… who are you?” he asked in not more than a whimper. His voice sounded very far away to him, his hearing dampened.

The creature hefted itself up, and he felt another set of talons digging deep into the skin of his arms. Leathery wings caught his peripheral vision, and he squeezed his eyes shut “What are you doing here?”

“There isss ssssssin here,” shriveled lips whispered in his ear. “And where there isss ssssin, sssso there am I to abssssssorb it… to eat it…” Its tongue flashed out, licking his ear.

He shuddered, and yet… Regret turned to hope, a desperate flash in the deep, hidden pieces of himself. “Eating my sin?” He opened his eyes. His hands had fallen to his lap, limp, unmoving; the pallor under the skin, waxy and gray, swallowed the light from the hallway. “What does that mean? Will I be absolved? When I die, will I—”

In the darkness above, the shadow’s eyes, burning orange hot in the black against the black, the claws firmly piercing cold skin and shoulderbone.

“Abssssolution, no…” The voice trailed off into a breathy chuckle. “When you die, indeed. Can you not sssssseeeee…?”

No answer, only a dry sob. A child’s toy winked at them from across the room, a bear’s eyes, the glass catching the light.

“You are dead, sssssssinner, and this room shall be your absssolution, and you will be my feassssssst, forever…”

* * *

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31 Days of Art, Day 5: Corrosion

Today’s #31DaysofArt2020 challenge got a little philosophical, even though I, as a rule, am usually not (unless I’ve had a few beers and we’re hanging out around a firepit. I challenge anyone to remain un-philosophical in such a situation.) I started thinking about a theme/narrative I’ve seen pundits repeat multiple times in the past few years, the idea that our system and institutions have somehow “eroded.” And I’ve often thought that framing doesn’t quite hit the mark, so I got all poetical to explain why.

Day 5: Corrosion

Erosion was the word they used, and it was a good one—evocative, eternal, personifying the daily, deadly drip drip drip of the words and thoughts that reached out from the screen to wrap you up, muffle your head. It nagged, as you brewed another cup of coffee. The hot, dark bitterness would slice through the fog for a short while, long enough to get out another sentence, read two more emails.

But it didn’t last as long as it used to, and instead of alert energy, the end of the cup would leave you with granular detritus and the feeling that something could have been done much earlier and now every single action or motion was an uphill battle in a fight in which you were already standing in calf-deep mud on the low ground. Erosion. Like the rain that washed down the denuded hill, piling mud and roots and earth clots against you, burying you deeper and deeper.

Erosion was the beach sand, carted to the shore to make space at the hotel’s edge for those who gathered with bare faces and expensive drinks, not as watered down as they used to be, not as powerful as they could be. The waves would come in, bit by bit, day by day, year by year, eating way bite by sandy bite. Perhaps they would feast one night or two in a larger storm, washing everything away, leaving a narrow strip of dirt until the men came with trucks and loads and sanded over everything, maybe planting a futile strip of ice grass to prevent more erosion.

That’s not this. This is the creeping chemical combination that leaches into the once sturdy framework of the carnival wheel, the abiding onslaught of water and wind as it eats away at iron and steel, subverting the strength of the once indomitable bulwark.

Erosion is a granite rock, a mountain shelf, an encroaching root system, a thousand years of rain, and a final crack and split of a once-mighty boulder. The boulder doesn’t rage against the rain nor the root, nor does the mountain spare a regretful thought for its once-whole profile.

That is erosion.

These are acid pathways of bile that lace themselves through your feed, some of them fed and fractured in the words from one you once called friend. These are images and words ejaculated context-less into the void, landing with sharpened claws and nails into the soft frames, perfectly fertile ground for the grooves and trenches to form between each thread-thin connection. These are soft, stinging whips of hatred and insincere smiles, applied in an afterthought of malice. This is the collection and confusion of pity met with scorn.

Erosion is too soft a word.

* * *

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31 Days of Art, Day 4: Curious

For a word with such potential, “curious” had me wondering if today was the day that was going to break my streak. Maybe because there was too MUCH potential. Maybe because all I could think of was Alice in Wonderland, and while I love Alice, I didn’t have anything unique or interesting to say there. So, I gave myself permission to sit down and just start typing without really having any idea where to go… and this is what oozed out of my brain.

Day 3: Curious

It was a strange habit he had, this picking. Pick, pick, pick at skin, at imperfections, at acne, at the scabs that grew over the bone, pick, pick, pick.

The scratch-itch-scratch over half-formed scars until they parted, revealing the moist redness underneath, until they healed over thick white tissue.

So strange. So curious. So fragile.

When there came no injury to open the elastic skin, he scratch-scratch-scratched until the door opened under his nails, and he held the hole to his arm to lick, lick, lick it closed. Then the scab would form, and he would have his next tic, his next pick, his next trick.

So strange. So curious. So fragile.

For days, he would hold his hands hostage, clip the nails to the quick, flick the little toys that kept his fingers ever moving, ever lickety-spit-quick tap-tapping, and finally, slipping his digits into the mitts that should have kept him from picking. And yet, after a few days, he must needs remove his gloves, his nails grow long again, and he’s back at it—pick, pick, picket-pick.

So strange. So curious. So fragile these creatures who squirmed and cried and twisted and begged with their strange, soft tongues and their curious, delicate bodies.

Whatever would happen if he pick, pick, picked to stick, stick, stick those long, sharp nails just a little further beneath the surface…?

* * *

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31 Days of Art Day 3: Membrane

Today’s story came from an earworm and a dictionary search. When I saw that “membrane” was the prompt, I immediately couldn’t get “insane in the brain/ insane in the membrane” from cycling through my head on repeat. So I went ahead and looked up “membrane” in the dictionary to see if anything popped up. In Merriam-Webster, one of the example sentences referenced the use of an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine, which pumps and oxygenates blood by pumping it out of the patient’s body, through a membrane, and back in, bypassing the heart and lungs. It’s used to give them a rest when they have been overtaxed. That then led me down a rabbit hole and I ended up looking up hospital evacuation procedures and that led me to… well, this story. I even kept in a nod to the original earworm. Hope you enjoy it, and Happy Halloween 3rd!

Day 3: Membrane

The empty hospital was a horror movie cliché, but the sirens had sounded sixteen hours ago, and now the corridors resembled the paper-and-medical-debris strewn halls of Hollywood’s finest set design.

The evacuation plan sat in its pristine binder in the Director’s office. The pages, crisp and unwrinkled, hadn’t been disturbed since they slid smoothly off the printer, three-hole punched by a clerk, stuck in the binder with its distinctive “Cypress Heights General” stamped on the cover, and deposited to the shelf after the annual tabletop exercise.

From their vantage point under the Director’s large, solid-wood desk, Mel could see the white spine of the binder, lined up in a row with other spotless binders full of protocol and standard operating procedures.

Nothing in there had been remotely useful. Nobody had even tried to open them.

Mel was—had been—a week or so into a student nursing internship at Cypress Heights, barely long enough to learn where the good bathrooms were, and which residents to avoid.

They hadn’t been there last year when the hospital staff had earned high marks in the chosen scenario—a pre-evacuation in the face of peaceful protests turned into violent riots and looting. It didn’t matter than the staff had written its own test scenario, one that included an overwhelmed ER and blocked streets with emergency vehicles unable to navigate. The hospital doctors and nurses and internists and actors dressed in moulage all performed at the highest of levels, and the Director got a plaque and a binder of lessons learned that sat, collecting dust, on the shelf.

The desk was a good place to hide. A good place to stay. Mel swallowed back a cough and wiped their cheek with the back of their hand, the stubble on their jaw rough against their skin. They’d been under the desk longer than they thought. Long enough for the lights to flicker and fade, and the daylight to take their place. Long enough for the alarms to run out of battery and die, for their cell phone to lose signal, for the screams and the feet pounding in the corridors to fade into dead silence.

Mel had been assigned to the respiratory ward, with a resident who kept referring to them as “dude,” and who was supposed to show them the finer parts of working with a patient currently undergoing extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. They didn’t expect to ever work with ECMO patients; as the resident explained, it required a specially trained nurse to administer the anticoagulants and monitor for infections and correct sedation levels. But again, they were new, and the senior nurse did not have much time or patience for explaining things, so Mel had been told to observe, and they interpreted as: “Stay quiet and out of trouble until we find a good place for you.”

The first wave of evacuation had been everyone who could walk or run or hurry, led by a group of nurses who shepherded them through the halls and down the stairs. There were supposed to be more groups after that, orderly rows of triaged patients, but after the first wave, when the panic hit and people started shoving and pushing, everything had gotten muddled.

Mel had been left in the chaos, handed a chart and forgotten, sweating under their layers of mask and gloves and face shield and sterile clothing cover. That resident had stared at them, told them: “Keep an eye on the patient,” and left them there when the sirens went off and the announcements started blaring through the loudspeakers. The words had been completely indistinguishable, an unscripted emergency that no one could comprehend until the chaos was too complete.

In the hours that passed in the silence, Mel had waited. The waiting grew harder and harder. They’d stepped away from the patient only for a moment, to find a bathroom, in hallways that for once were full of people to watch which door they chose to use. The entire floor was quiet and empty, even when they came out.

Mel had tried the phone at the nurse’s station, but there was nothing on the other end when she picked it up, not even a busy signal. Their phone was in their locker on the ground floor, and they decided to go down quickly and come back up. No one was around to notice, and their patient was comatose.

They’d shuffled down a few floors, then stopped to look through the fireproof glass at one of the landings. Out in the hall of the oncology department, they’d finally spotted people. Or rather, bodies. Sprawled. In pieces. Painting the hall in macabre shadows.

There, in the middle of the hall, a figure. Short, thin, almost child-like, it stooped over a wheelchair, like a concerned child. At least that’s what Mel thought, until the figure straightened, and they saw the red smears, the matted hair, the way the arms of its victims flopped over the sides of the chair.

Mel had almost screamed. Instead, they pounded back up the stairs in their plain, white Asics and sprinted to their patient. They’d stood beside his bed in indecision, unsure, then had finally switched everything over to battery power, unhooking the various wires and tubes and rearranging them to prep the patient for transport.

They’d pushed the patient out of the room with it’s wide glass windows, meant for easy observation, the small ECMO device tucked into his side, beeping as it pumped blood from one side of the membrane to the other.

On this floor, the only room without those large windows was the Director’s office. It had a door with a small window, but she had papered it over. Mel had headed for it, pushing the patient bed in front of them, only to come up short against the doorjamb. There was no way they were going to fit the bed with its patient through the narrow entrance.

The silence had been deafening as Mel had stared at the conundrum. With the blood rushing in their ears, it seemed as if the empty halls echoed and clamored. It was only when an actual sound broke the silence that Mel realized how still it had become.

The sound was a thump somewhere, and Mel hadn’t stopped to see where it was coming from. They had abandoned their patient there in the hallway and, with a sob, thrown themselves into the room, closing the door and locking it behind them, then hunkering under the desk until their limbs cramped and numbed.

“Hello?” It came out as a croak, as Mel whispered around the saliva that had dried in their throat. They coughed and tried again. “Hello?”

They hadn’t been wrong. They had heard something, out in the hallway. Was it their patient? No. Their patient was… They had abandoned their patient, left him out there with that… thing.

Mel began to cry, deep, gulping, silent sobs. Shaking, they crawled forward, pulling themselves up, supporting themselves as they hunched over their desk, gritting their teeth against the pins and needles as blood flow returned to their lower limbs.

The thump came again. Not a knock, more like something stumbling against the door as it moved past.

Mel was a student nurse, on an internship. That wasn’t their patient out there. It was a patient. Probably a dead patient. Even the little ECMO couldn’t keep them going. The battery had to have run out. The anticoagulant failed. Something. He couldn’t be alive. They muttered that under their breath as they shuffled to the door, putting their ear to the heavy wood. Nothing. Wishing they had more fingernails, they pried at the paper covering the small window. They were still wearing their face shield, which now sat cockeyed on their head.

Finally, the paper, which was more like a thick sticker over the window, peeled away. Instead of giving them a view of the hallway, there was a film of red splatter that obscured their vision.

Was that another thump?

No. Just Mel once again hearing things in the silence.

They’d only seen one of those things. And it was small. Mel wasn’t that tall, but they could out-power a child, they thought. Or something the size of a child.

They placed their hand on the door handle, the other poised to flip the bolt.

From the other side of the door—only more silence.

* * *

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