Radio Siren

Static shutters through the song as I hand the customer her change. She nods absentmindedly in tired thanks, and the jingle of bells alerts me to her departure as I go to fiddle with the radio’s dial.

The thing is old, and out in Bumfuck, Mississippi, only one station comes through with minimal static. If not for the shit my provider sells as coverage, I’d be listening to my Spotify playlist, but it is what it is.

The finicky radio is enough to make me want to turn it off some nights, but it’s never long before the kind of silence that only a rural area paired with darkness can create makes me choose static to keep me company. It’s better than the cicadas, muted by the walls, and the occasional rodent scavenging through the bins out back.

There’s always sound, but it’s the wavering white noise kind that can shove my anxiety into overdrive real quick, especially with caffeine replacing sleep – thanks to the shifts of my two jobs meeting to where time for sleep is hard to come by.

But sleep and sanity by damned; the faster I can get out of Mississippi, the better.

Continue reading “Radio Siren”

Infected

Post-apocalyptic films Lyn watched as a kid made the world look like one huge desert, but reality was so much colder.

The building (if it could still be called such, seeing as it was little more than rubble) looked to have once been a mall.

Lyn stood at the foot of the long-broken escalator, pick in one hand and knife in the other. The black steps were white and pale grey from snow and ash. Vines rebelling against the new order by daring to grow looked as though they blocked the escalator off – as though to tell Lyn to turn back and find shelter elsewhere.

There was no elsewhere.

Not with night only a half-hour (at most) away.

Breathing air through the thick, black cloth that covered the lower half of her pale, moon-shaped face, Lyn slashed at the vines and started climbing. The steps were not as slippery as feared, but she still needed to move slowly. An injury could prove serious, especially with it being cold enough that Lyn may not notice the damage right away.

Lyn swallowed. Her throat was dry.

She’d met with a nomad a week back. He’d talked about there supposedly being a settlement somewhere between ten and forty kilometers southwest of what was once Toronto.

The nomad was gone now, his hunting knife now helping Lyn protect herself. She’d been heading towards this supposed settlement since then, having to find shelter during nights to avoid Crawlers.

Shelter meant possibly running into one avoiding sunlight, rather than sleeping underground, but it was better than out in the open. They were more likely to hunt in packs in the open.

The steps were steady as Lyn climbed. She moved slowly, being silent as possible. She didn’t want others that may be nearby finding where she was. She hadn’t seen anyone around, but she had to be careful. There was no one watching her back anymore.

The Crawlers had gotten Axel a little over a month ago, and Lyn’s heart still felt like lead at the bottom of her stomach.

Not now, she thought, keeping her grey eyes ahead. Keep going. No mourning. Just surviving.

The plastic of Lyn’s goggles cast everything in a slight orange light.

Soon, she reached the second floor, built to overlook the first. The glass was shattered, much of it littering the dirty tile. The rest was buried somewhere below. The metal railing was bent and dented in most places, twisted or broken in others.

There was metal grating in the entrances of half the shops, though most were either rusted or sawed-through.

Malls and stores like Wal-Mart or Costco had been the favorite looting places. Nowadays, they offered only shelter. In some once-major cities, survivors held an unwritten code, where they would leave any supplies they could spare in old safes, lock boxes, lockers, et cetera.

Then the Crawlers happened, and it was every man for himself.

A clothing store to the right of the escalator had half the grating rusted and torn away. Lyn ducked and walked sideways through, knife out. Her goggles transitioned at the change of light availability, allowing her to see.

Racks were overturned, hangers by them or the wall. Shelves had been torn from the wall, and everything was covered in a layer of dirt and ash.

Lyn saw no footprints. She was alone.

Exhaling in relief, she went into the corner left of the entrance, by a decapitated mannequin. The glass wall behind her was cracked, a hole in the top corner, and it was opaque from grime.

If anyone came in, she should be able to see them before they saw her.

She took off her backpack set it in the corner. She set her ice pick aside, sheathed her knife on her hip, and curled up on the ground, using her backpack as a pillow.

Sleep was instant and light. No dreams. Never dreams. Dreams were for the few still uninfected by the virus.

The sound of glass breaking and crunching roused Lyn from slumber.

Before her thoughts could catch up, she was on her feet, ice pick in one hand and knife in the other.

The area was much darker than before, Lyn’s goggles adjusting.

Tongue clicks from outside, followed by more steps.

Crawlers were near-blind, relying on their hearing to get around. They used echo location, but there was every possibility that it had already heard her move.

Crawlers used to left the Infected alone, but with unaffected human numbers having dwindled over the past half-century, Crawlers went after anyone and anything.

Blood of the Infected greatly weakened a Crawler, but they were too hungry now to care.

The Crawler was hunched, twiggy arms bent up and hands ready to grasp. Its fingers were long and knobby, reminding Lyn of the Evil Queen’s hag disguise in Disney’s Snow White.

Its claws were dark from blood, same as its long, jagged teeth. Crawlers had two rows of sharp teeth too long for their mouths to close, and their jaws had to dislocate for them to chomp down and feed on prey.

Their bite Turned uninfected humans and killed the Infected. Saliva tinted with bright yellow venom dripped from its grey-blue gums over its fangs.

It let out a long, low hiss, tongue snaking out to taste the air. There as a long, thick scar that went over one of its eyes, making it milky white in color. The other was pale green, pupil spiderwebed with threads of the large iris’s color.

It still had hair, telling Lyn it had Turned recently, maybe a few months ago – the hair was thin and much longer on one side than the other.

Lyn felt a growl rise from the base of her throat, and her thin lips curled back behind the covering of her ski mask. She had only one row of sharp teeth, but they were not nearly as long as the Crawler’s. Her eyes glowed from behind the goggles.

The Crawler dashed forward, and Lyn rolled away and stuck out her left hand to slash at the Crawler’s Achilles heel. She severed the tendon and sent the Crawler tumbling. She then rushed forward, the Crawler shoving itself onto its back as it hissed and spat.

Before it could rise, Lyn buried her pick between its eyes. She then sheathed her knife and unsheathed her machete. It was strapped to her back, hidden by her coat. She decapitated the Crawler with ease, killing it.

Sighing, Lyn went back to her corner and cleaned off her weapons before falling back to sleep. It would be hours before the sun rose, and Lyn needed rest before setting out to find the settlement.

Crawlers weren’t the only ones who had been left hungry.

Night Train

I wait alone on the platform.

I have no luggage. Everyone always said I would not need any. All I have in addition to the clothes on my back is a large coin in one hand. It had been in my mouth when I awoke. It’s the size of my palm and looks like painted iron. Pomegranates are depicted on one side and glyphs I cannot read on the other.

My ebony curls hang loose and almost to my thick waist. My hair is tamer now than it ever was during the time I was alive.

The platform is glass, and each of my steps were careful. The spiky heels my brother chose for me look like they could crack the floor real easy.

Only, I don’t see anything but pale grey below. It looks to have the texture and consistency of smoke, but calling it smoke sounds wrong.

I look up from the shifting grey and catch my translucent reflection on the wall across from the tracks.

My charcoal eyes are no longer ringed with dark moons. My skin is deep copper, and I don’t see any of the injuries I should have from the accident. I’m wearing a red dress that falls to my knees and shows my broad shoulders.

The dress I’d always been too self-conscious to wear.

Of course Bodi had me dressed in this one.

I’m not sure how long I’m standing there before the train arrives. It stops in front of me without a sound, the doors opening.

I take a breath and step in, met by someone that looks more skeleton than flesh.

“Payment,” the person rasps, holding out a bony hand.

I drop the coin, and the person vanishes, doors closing.

Instead of sitting, I hold onto one of the frosted glass rails.

I left my ‘before’ life sitting down. I want to meet the ‘after’ one standing with my shoulders square and chin up.

Thunderstorms

Amelia sprinted up the slope, mason jar clutched to her chest. Her copper bangs were plastered to her high forehead, and her twin braids slapped her shoulders and back as she ran.

The grass was slick from rain, soil soft and shifting underfoot.

Mud sprinkled her tongue and teeth when she fell, sliding down the slope a few feet and mason jar forcing air from her lungs. She kept a close grip on the jar that, just this morning, held the last bit of marmalade. She’d cleaned it with soap and boiling water just for this occasion.

Light skated through dark clouds above, and jagged fingers of white slapped the Earth in the distance.

“Almost there,” Amelia huffed.

Her sneakers were coming untied, but instead of wasting any more time, she simply kicked them off and kept running, no-longer-white cotton socks squishing with every step.

Thunder clapped cymbals in Amelia’s ears, and her wide mouth curved into a grin. She picked up the pace, legs and lungs burning as her heart seemed to skip every other beat.

Finally, she was at the top of the hill, high enough that she could see hers, Momma’s, and Nana’s house down where she’d come. She unscrewed the mason jar’s lid, keeping a tight grip so as to not lose the top or the rim. She then held the glass up and stood on her tip-toes, not breathing.

Light flashed at the same time as the thunder’s scream, and Amelia was knocked back. She slid partway down the hill in a roll, stopping herself so as to close the jar.

Breathing heavily, she smiled wide, not noticing that the storm around her had vanished.

It was now in her jar, the angry, dark clouds screaming with light and sound that made the jar shake in Amelia’s hand.

Still breathing heavily, she ran home with her caught thunderstorm. She was the first in her family to ever finish this part of her initiation on her first try.

I’m going to be the most powerful witch anyone’s ever seen, she thought gleefully, clutching the jar to her chest and feeling the thunder boom in time with her heart.

Lifetimes

“This place doesn’t seem…”

Rae trailed off as she noticed luminescent circles etching themselves in the cement above the scarlet door. There were two, disappearing soon as they came; she knew she was here.

The door yawned open a breath from Rae’s knuckles making contact with the wood. She blinked slowly, hand hanging in the air for a moment before she blew her too-long, pale bangs away from her obsidian eyes.

“Melodramatic,” she muttered, entering the townhouse and not even flinching when the door slammed behind her. “All of them.”

The wooden floor looked warped, like splinters might be the least she should worry about. Ahead was a staircase, starting wide and narrowing as it moved up to curve around the back wall and lead to the balcony above. A long tapestry hung over the balcony’s railing. Rae had to incline her head to see it, but with only candles on ledges and shelves that were built into the wall, the depictions were difficult to decipher.

Switching her bag’s long strap to her left shoulder, Rae brushed back her bangs and looked to the right. It looked like a sitting room, too dark to make out anything but silhouettes of cases and sofas.

To the left were closed French doors, time-yellowed curtains blocking her view through the window panes.

Ahead, the hallway was narrow due to the staircase taking up space, and something hung on the wall – a painting or mirror, Rae did not care to see.

With a huff, she headed up the stairs, picking up her feet to keep from tripping or getting the skinny heels of her boots stuck in any knots or holes.

Boards squeaked under her weight, and dust puffed from the long, narrow carpet in front of the first step. The flames all around the room seemed to dance higher, more excitedly, and buzzing Rae recognized from her years of apprenticeship plucked the hairs along her arms and the back of her neck, forcing them up straight.

The squeaks, first discordant screeches of age and wear, turned to tones, like a mermaid’s screeches turning to song as she dives beneath the waves.

“Of course,” murmured Rae, hackles up as she clutched her bag to her side. “You’re not clever!”

Continue reading “Lifetimes”

Sunlight turned her hair to the shade of burnished copper. The freckles on her face and neck looked like flecks flying off of a bonfire, and nature itself seemed to bow at her feet.

I woke up every sunrise just to watch her dance through the field outside my house. She never looked up at me, but I could tell she knew I watched.

This morning, she wore the fawn-brown dress she always wore, with the swooping collar and a skirt that seemed to float over and around her legs. Her feet were bare, and there was something about her movements, the way the breeze toyed with her shoulder length hair.

She spun in the center of the field, arms out and head back as she smiled.

Heart aflutter, I race down the stairs and out the front door, grabbing the post at the end of the porch once I realized I was even moving. My hair was a mess, falling over my face. The mid-autumn air was cool on my skin, bumps rising along my bare arms.

She stopped spinning and met my eyes. I’d never seen her eyes before. They were deep-set and the kind of blue you could make out from even far away. Pale, haunting, needing, piercing.

Need gnawed at my belly, urging me towards her.

The sun rose higher, and Jake, my German shepherd, bounded from the other side of the house, barking like mad.

She turned and ran for the nearby woods, leaping right into a tree as Jake slid to a stop in the center of the field, still barking in the direction she’d gone.

Legs shaking, I slid down to where I was lying on the porch, still holding onto the post.

Apparently Sirens don’t just live out at sea.

Life is Very Much Like a Faery Tale

Momma used to tell me stories by the bedside when I was a little girl. Her voice, made husky by those cigarettes that perfumed her clothes and the walls of the house, would surround me as she read.

She always made sure to show me the pictures. Momma knew how much I loved ‘em and how much I wanted to learn to paint just like that one day.

“Sweetie,” she said to me
One freezin’ day as summer
Cascaded into dreary Fall
Rather than gliding into
This explosion of reds
And oranges and browns
I always looked forward to.

“Sweetie,” she said again
To catch my wanderin’ mind.
“You are my baby girl,
But you are growin’ up,
Shootin’ like a weed but with
The buddin’ body of the
Prettiest flower in the garden.”

School was starting soon, but I was raised to listen to my momma, no matter how long she rambled somtimes. Mrs. Danzy would understand. She was always telling us to listen to our elders. To respect them.

They had seen the world thrice over before God breathed life into us, so we needed to listen to the stories they had for us.

And I always listened. Momma always told the best stories. Every Show and Tell, I would bring a different book, showing off the pictures more than the words – I had a good bit of trouble reading back then, but Mrs. Danzy said that had no bearing on how bright I was.

Mrs. Danzy and Momma both always knew how to make me smile.

“You’re still young, sweetie,”
Momma said, sounding like
She had no choice but to start
From the beginning of her story.
“But you’re growin’ up, and I see,
Oh I see the way some of
Them boys look at you
As you walk down the hall or walk.”

Have those boys truly been looking?
Can’t say I’ve ever noticed, but
While I was too big to believe
In them cooties we used to get ‘shots’
For during recess as little kids,
But I was still very much too busy
Gettin’ lost in my stories to think
About anything like crushes or love –
That was all grown-up stuff anyway.

“Now don’t get Momma wrong,” she said,
Taking deep breaths and looking like,
As Auntie Susanna was like to say,
‘A whore in church’, sweating and blinkin’
Fast as she looked ready to cry.

“Don’t cry Momma,” I said only as a child
Is wont to do, so innocent and with such
Ignorance of the world, but still young enough
To be forgiven of such a crime.

“I’m okay, sweetie,” Momma promised,
Trying for a big smile. “Just, listen to
Your Momma when she tells you this.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I replied, knowing somehow by instinct that this was a time where saying ‘ma’am’ would be in my best interest.

“Life if not like the stories I read,”
she said. “Life is nowhere near
The faery tale I want you to have.”

Truth be told, I don’t really remember much else after that. I went to class, of course. Late, obviously, but as thought, Mrs. Danzy did not mind a lick once I told her that my momma wanted to talk to me.

I think she asked what about. I think I remember a sad smile and nod from the silver-haired teacher before she ordered all of us to take our seats.

I was ten, maybe, when Momma said that. I’d been the tallest in my class and had begun to wear baggy shirts to hide the body that was starting to get bumps that made the other girls point and snigger.

Prettiest flower my ass.

Not that I would have ever even dreamed of saying such a thing to my Momma’s face.

Seasons changed, as did the girls,
Gaining bumps and curves
To where they now sniggered
At me for being small
Instead of big.

That’s the way life is, I guess –
I started to think Momma was right,
As mommas often are,
About life not being a faery tale.

But then I made my escape
To that dark corner in the library
When the sniggering got too much
And i just could not imagine
Shoving myself through
Even one second of English class
With Debbie Cox, the smartest
And meanest girl of the town,
And her henchman, Anna Leigh,
I think serves as nothing more
Than to bolster Debbie’s
Triple-wide ego.

A book wide as my fist
Stuck out halfway from the others
Calling me like a spellbook
For that girl secretly a spell-weaver
In the novel I’d read so much
I needed a new one, the old
Falling apart at the spine.

The book had a cover of dark blue-grey cloth, and the pages were yellower than a hillbilly’s teeth, getting close to falling out.

I took it gently into my hands and sat in the corner, away from where Ms. Dot could see. She liked having me here, reading more than over half the school combined, but she would not take kindly to me skipping class, especially English. She and Mr. Howe were close friends – how close was none of my business.

The words came alive more
Than those macabre drawings
Could ever dream; they danced
And sang and suffered and killed.

Reading page after page
Never knowing how much time
Could have passed me by,
I realized how much truth
As well as lies had been
In Momma’s words that day:

Life was not like the stories
She read at my bedside,
But life was exactly like
One of these faery tales
I now held in my hands.

People were cruel
They created traps
And would spill blood,
Even their own,
For trickery and treachery.

Debbie and Anna Leigh
Would cut their feet
To fit into a shoe ensuring
This Happily Ever After.

There were girls and boys
Who would sell their souls
To attempt being with those
They fell head over heels for.

There were mothers
So cruel to their children,
I made sure to give thanks
To the one I had every day.

There were people lookin’ harmless,
Having fun in their little rings,
But dare to join, dare to give to
Such a deadly temptation,
And you would dance,
Oh, you would dance,
But you would dance
Until only Death could relieve you.

Life is very much like a faery tale,
Though as bloody as life was,
I could always hope that one day,
Whether with a prince, princess,
Knight or witch,
Or even by myself,
I, one day, may find
Happily Ever After.