Sympathetic Ears (A Short Story)

“There ya go. First one’s on the house … you look like you could use it”.

The haggard man blinked and shook his head, as if coming up for air from somewhere deep within himself. After looking at the beer for a long time as if it was the most welcome thing he’d ever seen, he looked up at Earl.

Earl was an innocuous sight at a little under five feet, though weighing in at nearly three hundred pounds. Santa Clause hair spilled out of his face and ran up to hide under a worn, woolen beanie. Like jolly old Saint Nick, Earl also had a kind twinkle in his eye.

“What’s the problem, stranger?”

The haggard man leaned back on his stool as if to get his brain around just why this man was being so kind to him. After all that had happened to him lately, he wondered what possible interest the bartender could have in …

… but then he managed a half-hearted smile and realized he was in the place to talk about his problems. Hell, the man behind the bar probably did nothing but listen to people’s problems, day in, day out; strangers pouring out their sorry tales to him.

It maybe even helped a little.

So the haggard man began, thankful the bar was empty, with the exception of himself and Earl; thankful it was so far off the main road that nobody was likely to come in while he let it all out, for that matter.

During it all, Earl merely listened, nodding occasionally as if he had, indeed, heard it all before. The haggard man took solace in this: If his problems weren’t as unique as he thought, he didn’t feel quite so alone with ‘em.

The beer flowed for a good hour or so, and the haggard man – though still haggard – felt at least a little less burdened, having unloaded his woes; no closer to a solution, but a little better.

The beer was obviously going some way towards that. And it awoke a hunger in the haggard man.

“Say, Earl”, for they were now on a first-name basis, “you got anything stronger than beer?”

The corner of Earl’s mouth moved towards the twinkle in his eye, and he began nodding again.

“Yep … I reckon there’s something stronger out the back …

… you wanna come out and help me look for it?”

As if it were the best offer he’d had in a long while, the haggard man climbed down none-too-steadily from his stool and headed for the doorway Earl was gesturing towards.

“Through here?”

Earl just nodded, moving towards the door himself, though pausing until the haggard man had gone through.

The room was dark – a pokey little storeroom – and Earl made no effort to find a light switch. What little light fell through from the bar illuminated only kegs of beer, shelves of something in glass bottles and wooden boxes …

… wooden boxes of something possibly better than beer … ?

“Look over the back there”.

Earl’s voice seemed close.

“What am I looking for?”

In a movie, the haggard man would have heard Earl say something like, “You’ll know it when you see it”, before he saw what he saw. Truth be told, even if Earl had shouted something like that at him, the haggard man wouldn’t have heard it: Blood was pounding in his ears in time to his heartbeat like some sort of wet bass drum.

A sudden inhalation stopped the tattoo as something stabbed into the space between the haggard man’s third and fourth vertebrae. An instant later, he was on the floor.

Knowing nobody would be by, Earl set to work. As he began cutting away, he looked up at the bottles, to the last thing the haggard man had seen …

… and spoke.

“Yep … another Sad Sack tonight. Whining to me like he’s the only one in the world with problems. As if I’m supposed to listen to everyone else’s problems when there’s nobody to listen to mine … ”

As he settled in for a long night of talking about his problems to the only ones who would listen, Earl finished his grisly job and rinsed his trophies under the sink, before adding the haggard man’s ears to his collection.

Copyright © 2008 by David Scott Aubrey
All Rights Reserved
723 Words

This short story is a work of fiction. Any and all names, characters and/or incidents are either products of my imagination or are used fictitiously. Where any such resemblance may exist to actual persons (living or dead), actual events or locales, it is purely coincidental.

Please don’t assume that my characters speak for me or carry my own opinions on various matters in any way, shape or form (though some might – you never can tell).

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A Close Shave (A Short Story)

In the quiet of the bathroom, the packet seemed to crinkle like overhead thunder as Peter opened it. As can happen with such things, though, the disposable razor fell out and clattered onto the small tiles of the bathroom floor, accompanied by Peter’s muted curse.

As he bent to pick it up, the now discarded plastic packet swept itself off the edge of the sink and followed Peter down, falling past his eyes.

“While I’m down here … ”, he thought, picking it up as well.

As he put it down on the edge of the sink and rinsed the inevitable dust from the razor, Peter once again noticed the attention-getting lettering which had made him buy the razor in the first place, despite the fact that it had come from a company he’d never heard of;

“A new type of shaving experience!”

“Let’s hope so”, he thought, continuing his preparations.

He mused on the fact that the packet had contained only one disposable razor as he rinsed a face-washer under the hot water then put it over the lower half of his face. Most packets of disposable razors contained more than one – sometimes as many as ten! But not this one. In fact, under the attention-getting lettering, Peter remembered reading, “You’ll never need another razor!”

He wondered at the curious copy the company had decided to use as a slogan as he shook the can of low-irritant, specially-formulated moisturizing foaming shaving gel.

“You guys”, he addressed the packet, “are doing yourselves out of further profits, aren’t you?”

Of course, the packet – even though it did represent the company – said nothing. Not even while Peter lathered the foam into his face.

When he lifted the razor and swept its edge down the side of his face, though …

… Peter wasn’t quiet.

“God damn that’s sharp!”

He looked down at the razor in his hand. Along the quadruple blades sat a bright smearing of blood from the sudden gash on the side of his face.

Peter was about to rinse the blood off and continue shaving (with a good deal more care, this time), when he noticed the impossible …

… a little tongue coming out from between the middle of the four blades and licking the blood away, as quickly as a man might lick milk off his moustache.

For a second, he just stood there, wondering what the hell he’d just seen …

… and then the razor burped.

Peter’s eyes flew open even as he dropped the razor …

Well, even as he thought about dropping the razor; because – even though – he’d commanded his hand to let go of the razor …

… it hadn’t.

“Surely”, he thought, “any second now, the signal from my brain will reach my fingers … ”

But it didn’t happen.

What did happen was that his hand froze, still gripping the handle of the razor … even when the four blades inexplicably lifted ninety degrees of their own volition until their very edges were facing Peter’s throat …

… before launching themselves out of the razor’s plastic housing and into Peter’s jugular vein with a speed that nearly severed his head from his neck.

As he gurgled to the floor, his life spurting away in front of him and running down the walls, Peter had a ridiculous thought;

“The packet had been right …

… I won’t be needing another razor”.

Copyright © 2008 by David Scott Aubrey
All Rights Reserved
570 Words

This short story is a work of fiction. Any and all names, characters and/or incidents are either products of my imagination or are used fictitiously. Where any such resemblance may exist to actual persons (living or dead), actual events or locales, it is purely coincidental.

Please don’t assume that my characters speak for me or carry my own opinions on various matters in any way, shape or form (though some might – you never can tell).

A Little Pressure (A Short Story)

“Now … you’re just going to feel a little pressure”.

But it was worse than that.

My jaw was forced open further than I thought it could go. The crunching of popping tendons competed with the crunching of the tooth being torn out. Both lost out over the sound of my screams …

Parts of my moustache were caught in the pliers, so – as the tooth was being wrenched back and forth – clumps of hair were being wrenched out of my face.

The heat of my own blood was more surprising than the taste, though – because of the sheer amount of it – it tasted different than it ever had before.

“Oh, hold your head still!”

I wasn’t even aware I’d moved it; my only focus was on the horrible crunching reverberating throughout my skull, the vicious aches slamming out from my jaw to cover the entire right side of my head.

I felt the side of my mouth split as the pliers gave one final wrench to the right. The split felt wider than the one in my bottom lip. Curiously, I expected the pain to at least lessen once the final ‘pop’ occurred as the tooth came free.

If anything, it got worse.

By this point, my mouth felt like it had been stretched out to the size of a dinner plate. Blood and drool seemed to fight each other for sheer volume, flooding over my bottom lip and dripping down onto my chest.

I think I went a little cross-eyed. Certainly, my vision was blurry. But I couldn’t say what I saw, because I was just staring off into the distance at nothing. If I say I was probably going into shock, that might give the impression that I was somehow becoming numb to everything.

I wasn’t.

I did manage to catch a glimpse of my tooth as it was pulled away. Strips of bloody gum hung from the roots, trailing threads of red saliva.

But the tooth itself looked fine.

“That wasn’t so bad, now, was it?”

My mouth was so full of blood and spit I didn’t answer. Hell, I wasn’t even breathing through it, despite the fact it was still hanging open (and felt like it’d never close properly again). I didn’t want to risk letting the back of my throat open to speak, in case I drowned in the stuff.

Still, the voice reverberated throughout my head, coming through loud and clear.

“Time for the next one … lots more to get through before we’re done … !”

Part of me sighed in resignation.

Part of me screamed.

Part of me picked up the pliers to continue the job … 

Copyright © 2007 by David Scott Aubrey
All Rights Reserved
446 Words

This short story is a work of fiction. Any and all names, characters and/or incidents are either products of my imagination or are used fictitiously. Where any such resemblance may exist to actual persons (living or dead), actual events or locales, it is purely coincidental.

Please don’t assume that my characters speak for me or carry my own opinions on various matters in any way, shape or form (though some might … you never can tell).

Roaches (A Short Story)

God. Hot in the house today.

Too hot.

Figure it would have cooled down now that the sun’s gone down, though.

Some hope.

Patio.

Hey, yeah … why didn’t I think of that before?

Ahh … !

Smoke.

Yeah.

What’s … ?

Itchy bloody thing.

Ahh … ‘bloody’ being the operative word.

Wonder where I picked that up?

Mosquito bite I scratched in my sleep, probably.

Keep scratching at it, it’ll never heal …

Ah, well …

… just something on my leg.

Bleeding a little, though.

Bugger it. It’ll stop soon enough.

Can barely see out here.

Should’ve turned the light on.

Oh, well.

What the hell … ?

Lighter’ll show me …

… cockroach!

Get away from it ya bloody disgusting …

Oh, eww!

Right on my leg where it was bleeding …

There ya are, ya bastard …

Oh.

Waste of a perfectly good potplant.

Mmm …

… actually … now I feel kind of …

… sorry for it.

I mean, cockroaches are living creatures, too. It’s not their fault they’re considered filthy and disgusting.

Probably very clean insects, really.

I’ve seen insects cleaning themselves.

Cockroaches are probably the same …

Damn.

Now I am officially weird.

Feeling sorry for a cockroach …

Still …

… poor thing was probably only looking for some food.

But the scab on my leg … ?

Well, no … the blood that came from the scab on my leg after I scratched it attracted it, I suppose …

I am such a sap.

But …

… I really feel bad for that poor little thing now.

Blood’s probably very nutrient-rich for it.

I wonder …

I wonder if it’ll come back …

… what?!

Lighter’ll show me …

… there you are!

Aw … y’know …

… sorry I tried to kill you with that potplant.

Okay … this is a little disgusting.

Right up to the scab on my leg, eh?

Not going to take much, though, are you?

No …

… ow!

Actually took a tiny little chunk out of me! Right at the edge of the scab, too … !

All right … my first instinct is still to kill you …

… but I won’t.

Not your fault you’re considered disgusting.

Just after a feed, aren’t you.

Poor little thing.

Actually, you’re kind of nice-looking …

… the way the light from my lighter shines off your wings …

… amazing little creature.

Ow!

Okay … that’s okay.

He won’t eat much.

Hey … there’s another one …

… amazing! A completely different species and it crawls right up on my leg.

Just like your mate, eh?

Ow!

All right, fair enough.

I can spare it.

I can …

… I can …

… another one.

What’s wrong with me … ?

Sitting here like a sap feeling sorry for ‘em when they’re taking bites out of …

… I should be …

… I should be …

… sitting too long …

… how long have I been …

… legs …

… numb …

… can’t move!

Another one … !

Ow!

Biting me …

Another one …

… right up my leg …

Ow!

Another one …

… and another …

… where are they all coming from … ?

Ow!

Agh!

Oh, God …

… hundreds of ‘em … !

Copyright © 2007 by David Scott Aubrey
All Rights Reserved
558 Words

This short story is a work of fiction. Any and all names, characters and/or incidents are either products of my imagination or are used fictitiously. Where any such resemblance may exist to actual persons (living or dead), actual events or locales, it is purely coincidental.

Please don’t assume that my characters speak for me or carry my own opinions on various matters in any way, shape or form (though some might … you never can tell).

Zoo (A Short Story)

It was only meant to be a quick stopover on his way up north, really. But the snap strike by the Transport Worker’s Union meant that the bus wouldn’t be in until well after six.

Which meant that Don had a little over seven hours to kill.

He moaned about it all a little, but soon decided that – since he was in town, anyway – he’d make his way to the Zoo.

After all, it was virtually an icon, and at least the taxi drivers were still on the job.

It wasn’t more than five minutes by cab from the station in any case, and he soon found himself lining up at the huge gates.

He’d seen the place loads of times on TV. You couldn’t miss the host if you tried. Still, after following the group on some of the tours, it seemed he had. There was no sign of him.

Don figured that he must’ve been in America, filming another one of his series.

Still, it wasn’t like he was a major fan, or anything.

It just would’ve been interesting to have seen him.

All the series and the ads made you think he was there, after all.

In any case, he couldn’t complain about the Zoo itself.

It was magnificent!

No expense had been spared to provide the animals with environments perfectly suited to them. And he couldn’t believe the size of some of the habitats! The Zoo itself was on hundreds of acres, with over fifty separate habitats – some housing only three or four animals!

There was a huge staff there, each team specializing in the care of the particular animals they were looking after. There were on-site vets trained in the treatment of each type of animal, too. Regular health checks. And the best food was provided for them …

Even the animals’ emotional needs were provided for. The carers said in their presentations that mental stimuli was vital for the animals.

Take the lions, for instance. When the carers would put food out for them (food which – apparently – cost prodigious amounts per year) it was in a different place in the habitat each time. Sometimes inside a log, or under some overhanging rocks. Other times up a tree. It wasn’t just hurled into the same part of their enclosures. The animals would grow fat and lazy. They had to work for it a little, which kept them from getting bored.

Don learned about the atrocious conditions in which animals used to be kept in zoos of the past. Little concrete cages and bars, where the poor things could only pace up and down all day. A lot of them ultimately died of madness, essentially.

Don tried to imagine what it would have been like for them – how people used to treat them. Trapping them. Confining them. How the poor beasts would have felt – stuck in a concrete cage for the rest of their lives, never able to touch the ground again, or run through the grass of their homelands.

It made him almost feel ashamed to be human.

But a look around at the incredible job that had been done at the Zoo – at how far people’s understanding and treatment of animals had come, at the compassion and genuine concern for the welfare and wellbeing of the animals shown by the dedicated people who worked there – filled him with a sense of hope and pride.

Even though the big man himself wasn’t there, Don still learned a lot from the people delivering the presentations. He had thought that he knew a fair bit about the wildlife in this country, and a reasonable amount about some of the animals outside it, but he felt that he’d learnt more in the couple of hours since he’d walked through the front gate than he had in a long time.

For instance, he’d learned that the animals that scientists knew about weren’t all that could exist. New species were being found all the time, all over the world. Even locally. It was extreme hubris to think that people had discovered every type of creature on the planet.

The Zoo was an amazing place … and a magnificent experience.

After a mouth-watering (but late) lunch, Don felt like breaking away from the main group, and so – as the crowd headed off for other presentations – he found himself following a tidy walkway into a beautiful rainforest.

The canopy grew thicker and thicker and the path changed from neatly-raked pebbles to bare dirt track as he strolled, and it was a good hour or so before he noticed that he was alone.

Figuring that he’d wandered onto a private path somewhere – perhaps for staff use only (he must have missed seeing the signs, or something, while looking at the rainforest) – Don stopped and checked his watch.

It was a bit later than he’d thought.

He thought he’d better start finding his way back so that he could get his stuff from the hotel and get down to the station to be ready for when the bus showed up.

He started back along the path the way he’d come, but soon realized that none of it looked at all familiar.

He shook his head in bewilderment.

He must have been looking up at the rainforest and just enjoying it so much that he hadn’t even noticed where his feet were taking him.

Still, he envisioned that – if he just stuck to the path (and kept his eyes on it, this time) – he’d find his way back to the main parts of the Zoo sooner or later.

So … he started walking.

The gentle trilling of birds accompanied him as he walked. Shafts of sunlight fell through the trees from low on the horizon. The heavy canopy made it difficult to see, and Don was a bit concerned about how late it was getting.

But not too concerned.

The environment was very soothing.

Which made it all the more jarring when he saw the leg sticking out of the bushes up ahead.

He stopped and shook his head.

It couldn’t be.

But it sure looked like it.

leg. A woman’s bare leg – about thirty metres ahead of him – sticking out of the low bushes that ran alongside the path. The heel of her foot was just lying on the dirt of the track.

Head tilted back a bit as though something were going to bite him, Don nevertheless moved forward, wondering if it was – perhaps – someone who’d had a turn of some kind. Perhaps an epileptic. Or someone who’d had a stroke, or something.

He noticed that the canopy was darker than at any other part of the track he’d been on.

He looked around.

Nobody was around to help him.

Even calling out – first to anyone that might be around who could come running to help, then to the woman herself – didn’t help.

There was definitely nobody around.

The leg was barely ten metres away now, and Don was surprised that he still couldn’t see the rest of the woman’s body. He put it down to th fact that the bushes were so thick where her leg was pushing through them, and hoped that she was still alive.

He had to blink a few times because it was getting so dark. Either the canopy of the rainforest was cutting off really large parts of the light, or it was closer to sunset that he’d thought.

Or both.

The path narrowed a lot as he got closer, the bushes on either side seeming to reach out to hem him in.

But he pressed on.

When he was about a metre away, Don crouched down and reached out a hand. The combination of bushes and canopy and fading sunlight was really making it difficult for him to make out any detail, so he couldn’t be one hundred percent sure when he thought he detected something strange-looking about the woman’s leg.

He reached out, just to try to tap her on the shoe, to see if he could wake her up that way. If he couldn’t, he figured that he’d have to try to get under the bushes and maybe drag her out.

But … what if she had internal injuries, somehow? He knew he wouldn’t be able to move her, then. It’d just make things worse.

Then … her foot twitched.

Sweating – despite the fact that the afternoon was cooling down considerably – Don backed up a little.

The woman’s foot …

When it twitched … it didn’t look quite … right … somehow.

“Hello … ?”, he said, reaching out for her once again …

… as something reached out for him.

The woman’s leg had been some sort of tail – camouflaged to resemble a woman’s leg and lying out on the path to attract him, like a rattlesnake would use the rattle of its tail to attract prey.

As whatever it was came for him – all teeth and claws – Don thought of something he’d heard during one of the presentations.

It was about lions.

About people who’d been attacked by them and lived to tell of it.

He’d learned that – somehow – these people reported a feeling of extraordinary calm as the lion attacked them. They also reported a lack of pain as the lions inflicted heinous injuries.

Don hoped for that.

Prayed for it.

But it didn’t happen.

Without even the ability to scream because whatever it was had savaged his vocal chords by digging either its claws or teeth into his throat, Don felt every slice and laceration – every puncture and wound as they happened.

He could feel great strips of himself being torn off and cast to either side of his body as whatever it was sought his insides. His own blood sprayed into his face with the pressure of a garden hose.

“Artery”, he figured …

… before his wounds became too much for his mind – his life – to bear …

… and he gave up the ghost.

The creature – having killed its prey – began its meal in earnest. Unbelievably powerful jaws split bone and sought out first the liver and then the kidneys. A rough tongue lapped the blood that had all but covered Don’s body. Deadly incisors gouged strips from his torso, his neck.

Sitting in what those in the business call a ‘high hide’ – a secure platform high in a tree where watchers can observe animals without interfering with their behaviour – two people moved.

The man’s eyes were wide open and the look on his face was one of pure rapture.

His wife’s voice – as strongly accented as his, though as different from it as chalk and cheese – was hushed as she leaned over to speak to him.

“It’s amazing! I’ve never seen anything like it! And you first saw it yesterday? Where did it come from?”

Pushing his blonde hair out of his face and adjusting his khaki shorts so he could change position and get a closer look at the beast, the man – who hadn’t been at any of the Zoo’s public displays that day, but had been there (in the high-hide all day) – shook his head in wonderment.

Crikey! I dunno, darlin’ … ”

” … but I do know that it’s gonna be real cheap t’ feed the little beauty!”

Copyright © 2007 by David Scott Aubrey
All Rights Reserved
1,887 Words

This short story is a work of fiction. Any and all names, characters and/or incidents are either products of my imagination or are used fictitiously. Where any such resemblance may exist to actual persons (living or dead), actual events or locales, it is purely coincidental.

Please don’t assume that my characters speak for me or carry my own opinions on various matters in any way, shape or form (though some might … you never can tell).

The Message (A Short Story)

I CAN’T …

Oh, God … where do I … ?

If it wasn’t for my voice software, I wouldn’t be able to even post this. I can’t … I can’t type anymore …

All right.

Focus.

This is it.

My last blog posting.

How long has it been, now?

Is it three days?

Four?

I can’t remember.

It’s all such a blur …

I’ve been … I’ve been in a … I’ve been having this constant anxiety attack!

For three days!

Haven’t slept.

Haven’t been able to sleep!

They won’t let me!

They won’t let me do anything but get the message out!

I can’t believe that I forgot all about my own blog!

I’ve been so tired!

It’s horrible how exhausted constant panic makes you feel …

My blog …

It’s only just occurred to me!

I’ve only just remembered it!

It’s not a very big blog … it’s not very important.

Still … to the few hundred of you who visit regularly … well, I know you’re expecting me to talk about chrysanthemums or gladioli or roses …

It’s why you’re here.

But … you’re a few hundred more people I can get the message out to.

When I … when it first happened …

When it first happened, I tried posting on whatever forums I could get to. Whatever forums I could find.

I started trolling for them … on Google? Trying to find lists of forums.

I applied for membership to as many as I could … it didn’t matter what they were about, I posted the message there, anyway!

But … the forums were too slow … the constant application process … waiting for an email back before I could log on to them and post the message …

… too slow …

And then it hit me!

Email!

I mean, this all started with email, right?

So, I hit Google again and tried to scrounge up as many email addresses as I possibly could!

Oh, God … ! I just thought … !

My ISP … !

Oh, God … please let me have enough time …!

What if they cut off my access?

They must think I’m a spammer, or something! I mean, I’ve been sending thousands of the things in the last couple of days! That’s gotta be a violation of their Terms of Service, or something! If they …

There’s always the library, I suppose.

Though … not at this time of night …

What about an Internet Café? They might …

… no.

Not in my condition.

They’d want to call an ambulance and I couldn’t let them. Then they’d call the police! Then there’d be no way I could …

But I’ve got to get the message out!

What was I … ?

Oh …

Email.

It all started with email.

I looked on the Internet for email addresses and found some sites with lists! Thousands of them!

Still … even that only took me so far.

I started looking for freeware … open source … programs that would harvest email addresses for me! I had to find as many as I could!

And I did.

But … then I had …

… problems …

I tried copying and pasting this huge list of addresses en masse once I found them, but my computer seized so many times once I hit ‘send’ that I had to resort to copying an individual address and pasting it into the ‘to’ field then sending the message … copying an individual address and pasting it into the ‘to’ field then sending the message …

… copying an individual address and pasting it into the ‘to’ field then sending the message …

Three days I’ve been doing that!

I don’t know …

I don’t remember even getting up from the computer!

Not in three days!

I mean, I must’ve gotten a drink or gone to the toilet, or something. But I can’t remember …

It’s just been panic! Panic and …

… and pain …

Oh, God …

I have to get the message out!

I don’t know why I’m explaining all this … I mean, I’ve got to get the message out … but …
I guess I just thought that … well, since this is my last post …

I’ve got nothing left. No more ideas on where to post.

My blog is it!

I figure that … if … if people knew the story … the story behind the story … I guess they might find it more believable, somehow. I mean …

You’ll all find out soon enough …!

I just … I just wanted people to know that I’d done as much as I could.

I …

I don’t remember where I …

Oh …

See, I’d never tried finding masses of email addresses before! I’d never needed to! I mean, when I started having to do all this, I just tried typing random words into Google, clicking the link on whatever result came up. Then I just looked on the page for an email address! After all, searching on the page for ‘@’ was easy enough …

It … it occurred to me to try some hacking sites, too.

Surely, I thought, surely they’d have a way of harvesting email addresses! That way I could get the message out to as many people as possible!

But … I don’t know … I couldn’t figure them out.

There was mention of some programs, but I couldn’t find them. And I didn’t know how to go looking for them.

I guess I wasn’t ‘in‘ enough to the ‘culture‘, or something.

I thought there’d just be some easy links, you know … ?

I remember this massive panic attack just hitting me, though, because I suddenly thought, ‘Oh, God … what if I pick up a virus from one of these sites?’

What if it ruined my computer?

I couldn’t afford that!

I had to get the message out!

I went … I mean, initially … I tried ringing the media!

But none of them were interested!

Can you believe it?

Not talkback radio, not the TV stations … the newspapers wouldn’t even put me through to someone to talk to! Just the secretary, or whatever, on the front desk!

I even tried some of the magazines that would have been used to this kind of stuff, but even they weren’t interested! I thought sure the conspiracy one would be, but the guy I talked to treated me like I was a lunatic!

Can you believe that I actually tried calling the police?

They just told me to stop wasting their time!

Fine, I thought …

I’ve got the Internet.

This all started with the Internet.

That’s the way I’ll do it …

That didn’t make sense … I’m sorry.

I’m just … it’s just … I’m so tired!

But, God … my heart’s racing, I haven’t stopped sweating … and I can’t slow down my breathing! Three days …

And then there’s the … the r-reason I … the reason I cuh-can’t … tuh-type …

And the …

… the other stuff …

Sorry … I just …

Sorry.

It’s just …

… the pain …

They contacted me, you see?

know …

I sound like a lunatic …

But it’s true!

I don’t know why it was me! Don’t have any idea!

I mean, I’m not important! I’m just an ordinary guy! No wife … no girlfriend, for that matter. No kids. I live alone! I mean, I only even know a handful of people … and I don’t even talk to them all that often.

I’m … quiet!

I’m a clerk, for crying out loud!

I don’t know why they contacted me …

But they did.

And the way they did it … !

I don’t know how …

Hang on …

I’ve gotta calm down. I sound like …

God … I just thought …

How can people believe me if I don’t have some sort of … of evidence …

This isn’t making sense.

And it won’t make any sense!

have no evidence!

Well … aside from what’s …

… what’s happened to …

… muh … me …

I can’t show the original emails.

I can’t show the original emails because they deleted them!

They’re gone!

There’s no trace that they were ever there!

I mean, I’ve gone and looked! Each time, it was just there long enough for me to read it, then …

… gone!

And why do they want us to know, anyway? What kind of sadists let us know they’re coming and don’t care because they know we can’t stop them?!

God …

So tired …

Aaahhhh!!!

Oh, God …

God …

That hurt so much …

I shouldn’t have done that …

But …

… it woke me up …

I just pushed my fingers … clawed my face with my fingers …

I figured the pain would wake me up …

I never knew there could be such pain from having no fingernails …

God … I have to tell …

Okay, then.

Okay …

From the beginning …

It was … it must’ve been …

It must’ve been about three days ago …

I was … contacted.

By computer …

It was an email … an email where the ‘From’ field was blank …

I remember wondering why my anti-spam program hadn’t picked it up – hadn’t filtered it – until I took a closer look at it.

Of course it wouldn’t pick it up.

Like I said, the ‘From’ field was blank.

There was nothing in the ‘Subject’ field, either.

Without anything in either field, my spam-blocker probably couldn’t have registered that there was even an email on my system.

But … it was there.

The date and time were clear as a bell.

Even though the message is gone now – even if I don’t remember exactly when all this started … I do remember that the date and the time were there …

I remember thinking, ‘How could anyone send an email without a return address, let alone anything in the subject line?’ Because there was no return address, either. I mean, didn’t email programs disallow that kind of thing?

I don’t know.

How would I know?

I’d never even tried sending an email with a blank subject line, let alone tried figuring out how I could mask my return address.

I figured it was just some new way the spammers had figured out of getting around spam-blockers, or something.

Anyway …

I opened it …

Now, I’ve gotten some spam in my time. I mean, who hasn’t? And most of ’em were the same kind of thing. Porn. Drugs. Finance tips.

The usual crap.

But I’ve also gotten ones that had nothing but weird text in ’em. Just words strung together. The words were recognizable enough, but they didn’t make any sense. They weren’t a coherent sentence.

At first, I thought this was one of those …

I skimmed over it. I remember wondering what the hell it was all about. I remember thinking that it wasn’t one of those ‘weird text’ messages, after all. There were sentences, but what they were saying was just …

Anyway … I deleted it.

Whatever it was, I wanted to make sure it was gone, so I clicked on my ‘Trash’ folder and emptied that.

It’s funny … although I can’t remember exactly how long ago this all started (three days or four), I do remember all these little details.

I remember swearing because I emptied my trash before I’d had the presence of mind to see if there was anything in the email I could have used to add to my spam filter.

Still … too late.

It was gone.

I was all set to go back to what I was doing (updating my blog), when I heard the chime again.

New email.

And there it was again …

The same message.

The same lack of ‘Subject’ or ‘From’.

Okay … so … I knew there was a message there. And this time I decided to add it to my spam filter.

But the computer wouldn’t let me.

It kept asking me to ‘Please Select a Message’.

I remember getting a little annoyed at it all. I mean, it was taking me away from updating my blog. I’d spent the week in the library studying up on the latest in valid propagation techniques for chrysanthemums and was all set to write it up and post it. Whatever this email business was, it was stopping me from doing that.

Then I thought about my spam filter’s blacklist. I figured, ‘If I can’t automatically add it to my filter … I’ll manually add it’.

But that didn’t work, either.

I didn’t really know what I was doing.

Then it occurred to me that I might have a virus. I mean, my computer was acting weird. Emails with nothing in the ‘From’ or ‘Subject’ fields. The same email popping back up after I’d deleted it. I’d knew enough about computers to know that if my machine was acting weird, then it could be a virus.

So I looked on Google.

But, no matter how many search terms I typed in, though, no matter what pages they took me to, I just couldn’t find anything even remotely similar to the email I’d received.

There was no mention of it on virus alert Websites, nothing in hoax alert Websites …

… just … nothing.

I’d finally gotten curious enough about it all that I decided to forego my blog entry for a while. I mean, this email business was annoying, sure. But it was also intriguing … in an annoying sort of way.

So … I looked on Google to try and see if I could figure out how to determine where an email came from.

I found some interesting articles about ‘spam headers’. Apparently, spammers can fake ‘From’ addresses, so that people can’t track them down (which is actually pretty gutless).

I learned that I could get my email program to display the message headers of an email. I mean, I’d probably know that already if I’d bothered to read the manual.

But I hadn’t.

Anyway, I clicked around a bit and my email program was now showing headers.

I learned that – apparently – the ‘Received’ lines could tell me where a message came from.

‘Apparently’ being the operative word, because there was nothing in the ‘Received’ lines.

My own email address was in the ‘To’ section, but there was absolutely nothing in any line underneath that. All that was there was ‘Received’ … and the rest was a blank. Not even any information about what ‘routers’ the email may have passed through (whatever they were).

Just a blank.

And … when I looked a little closer … even most of the sections after that were all blank.

The ‘Message ID’.

The ‘X-Mailer’.

The ‘Date’ was correct.

And so was the ‘Time’.

But the ‘From’ section was (of course) empty.

The ‘To’ section had my email address (like I said) … but the ‘Subject’ line was blank.

There was information in the ‘Type’ section, but this looked to me like nothing more than information to the computer on how to display the message, because it had the word ‘text’ buried among everything else there.

And I didn’t even know what ‘Content-Transfer-Encoding’ was all about.

I remember getting tired of the whole thing, then. Curious or not, I really just wanted to work on my blog entry.

So (once again) I deleted the message and emptied the trash.

I decided to run a virus scan, too. And I figured I could do that while I went down the road to get some tea.

When I got back, the test had finished.

No Virus Has Been Detected.

‘Good’, I thought, and sat back down to get to work.

And the email was back.

growled at it and deleted it, same as before.

emptied the trash and sat back to look at the screen …

… and it returned.

So I deleted it again.

Then emptied the trash.

Again.

And again the chime informed me that I had email!

‘God’, I thought.

‘Fine … I’ll just print the thing out and show it to the tech guys at work. See what they think of it’.

Which was good in theory, except for the fact that nothing printed.

The computer said it was printing the message. And I looked in the ‘Printer Properties’ information, which told me that there was a document printing …

… but nothing was coming through the printer but blank paper.

‘Fine’, I thought.

‘I’ll reply‘.

Now, all the Websites I’d looked at about spam and emails and such said to never reply to spam, because it only lets the spammer know that your email address is active. But this was really starting to annoy me, and a sarcastic reply to whoever it was might just make me feel better. If nothing else.

Of course, I didn’t think that it would send (what, with no return address and suchlike).

Still, I fired off a quick, sarcastic reply, and was surprised when the computer told me that it had been sent successfully!

Nevertheless, I expected to later get an email back from my ISP’s mail ‘daemon’ saying that the mail could not be delivered.

In any case, I felt a little better because of my act of petty revenge.

Even if it probably wouldn’t work.

And then …

… and then the fish happened …

That doesn’t make sense …

What happened was …

I remember this sound …

This small hissing noise.

I was trying to work out where it was coming from …

It was only this small hissing noise … but it was getting louder.

And then there were these … bubbling sounds.

Just a few at first, but then really getting going. Like water boiling in a saucepan … but louder …

… like more water than would fit in a saucepan …

Then the smell hit me …

I knew then that it was something to do with the fish tank. It was this smell of … of salt, somehow (even though it wasn’t a saltwater tank) … of boiled plant-matter and rocks …

… and something else.

I got up and went into the lounge room, but I stopped before I managed to get too near the fish tank …

There was no reason for it … there was no heater in the tank (goldfish don’t really need one).

But still …

… my goldfish was being boiled alive right in front of me.

I didn’t relate the two events – the spam and my goldfish being boiled alive – until later.

My feet started shuffling forward again, even though I could see just fine what was happening without the need to get any closer, really. The water was outright boiling in front of me as I approached, and I knew that it wasn’t some sort of malfunction with the air stone (not that that could account for the mass of bubbles in the tank), because I could feel the heat growing as I moved closer.

When I’d nearly reached the tank, the boiling suddenly stopped. Not petered out. Just stopped. As though someone had lifted a pot of boiling water from the stove.

The water was full of … particulate matter … whirling about in the eddies caused by the boiling. But through it I could see something else …

Scales floating around the tank and sinking …

… and what was left of my goldfish.

Waterlogged flesh that seemed somehow whiter than before.

I recognized cooked fish when I saw it.

I was reasonably upset. I mean, Rex was just a goldfish, but I’d had him for nearly ten years.

Gingerly, I reached down to poke at Rex’s remains, but I stopped just before I could touch the still-steaming water.

Thinking there had been some sort of electrical problem with the light above the tank somehow, I turned it off at the wall.

There was this huge bang as the tank cracked with the heat all of a sudden and boiling water, the remains of Rex, cooked aquarium plants and hot sand all burst onto the floor, sending this steaming wave of heat and smell throughout the house.

If I hadn’t been off to the side turning off the switch at the wall …

For … I don’t know … half a minute, or something … I just stood there, looking at it all. The heat and the smell and the humidity all pushed up at me. My eyes were watering from it. But also because I was looking at this little boiled lump on the carpet that used to be Rex.

And then I heard the computer.

The chime again.

More email.

But this one was different.

Oh … same lack of information about who it was from …

… but the content was different.

Do as we say.

“I’ve got neither the time nor the inclination to deal with this crap”, I told the sender (well, the computer screen, anyway), and turned around to head back into the lounge to see what I could do about cleaning up …

… see what I could do about figuring out just why it happened, too. How …

I hadn’t gone more than two steps when the computer chimed again.

The water was an example.

Do as we say.

Spread the message.

Of course, now I saw a connection. I didn’t understand it, but I saw a connection. Somehow, the email and what had just happened with Rex …

I felt the first twinge of fear …

But I felt angry, too. Was this some sort of some sort of hoax?

But … how could anyone do that? How could anyone …

It was like one of those movies where there’s a person on the phone and he knows what the girl in the house is doing because he’s in there with her …

I started looking through my house …

The lounge and dining room and kitchen are all open plan, so it was easy to see there was nobody there. I looked in one bedroom, then the other, then the laundry and the bathroom. Then the toilet.

Nothing.

My only clue was the email …

The water was an example.

Do as we say.

Spread the message.

I got a response before, despite the fact that there was no return address. So I send a reply back again. And this time, my language was a bit more … colourful.

I don’t normally use such heavy language, but I was beginning to feel a bit stressed.

Almost instantly, whoever it was sent a reply back …

Spread the message!

I replied with two words that weren’t very nice …

… and every houseplant I owned burst into flame.

I don’t know how it happened, but I had more than a few, in most of the rooms in the house. Fortunately, I’ve also got a fire extinguisher, and I grabbed it and ran around madly putting them all out.

With smoke and steam and clouds of foam or dust or whatever from the extinguisher all over the place, I stood there wondering just what the hell was happening.

It wasn’t some sort of electrical fault. It wasn’t some sort of spontaneous combustion. I mean, I’ve heard of potting mix that can do that, but I didn’t use that kind. There simply wasn’t any logical reason why every single plant I owned would just …

An email chime …

Spread the message.

I dropped the extinguisher and stepped over to the computer. I’d read descriptions in novels before about people walking with ‘wooden steps’ because they were afraid.

Now I knew what the writers had meant.

I reached over and started tapping the keys with shaking hands.

“Please … who is this?”

I hit send.

You have been toldOur message must be sent out.

I spoke at the monitor, then – at the computer.

Of course, I didn’t expect an answer …

… but I got one.

“But … why pick me? Why … “

And I felt … I felt my insides heat up …

The pain …

I’d never felt anything like it.

I fell on the floor and just shook with the pain. I was convulsingFrothy spit was throwing itself out of my mouth.

I couldn’t even scream.

And then …

… just as suddenly as it had happened …

… it stopped.

Now, this was all happening so fast – everything was such a blur – that I was … well, I was overwhelmed.

But I’m not a fool.

I could see the connection for sure now. The connection between … between the … the worsening events …and the demand for me to get their message out.

So …

… I tried to leave.

Dreading another attack of whatever it was that had caused that agony, I shuffled over to the front door.

I reached out …

… and the door handle melted just as my hand touched it.

I can’t describe just how much …

… just how much it hurt …

In a panic – without knowing what I was doing – I headed for the front window, looking as I did so at the bubbling globs of flesh being flung from my hand to the carpet by the shaking of my hand that the pain caused.

With my other hand, I tried to open the window …

… but the lock didn’t seem to work.

I didn’t know what I was doing – I was moving on autopilot – as I picked up the small side-table near my recliner in one hand and tried to smash the window with it.

The table bounced off the window and smashed me right in the mouth, instead.

And there was nothing – not so much as a mark – on the window.

It wasn’t ‘special’ glass. I knew that. I’d paid for it.

It was just glass.

It should have broken and I should have been able to get out.

But it hadn’t …

… and I couldn’t.

The police …

I tried to call the police.

When I picked up the phone, there was a normal dial tone once I’d held the receiver up to my ear …

… for about a second and a half.

Then the most ear-splitting (I realize how that sounds but it’s true) sound I’d ever heard came through the line.

I fell to the floor, shaking.

What was happening?!

My ear felt wet.

With the hand that wasn’t burned, I reached up to my ear …

My fingers came away covered with blood.

I wasn’t game to use my mobile.

But I did know that I could send out a call for help with email …

I ran over to the computer and typed as fast as the pain would let me …

As soon as I touched the mouse to hit ‘send’ I found myself flat on my back.

I’d felt jolts of electricity before. In school there was some sort of generator that you could wind that produced electricity. I’d also touched an electric fence (for cattle) back when I was young and stupid.

knew what electricity felt like.

I remember I just lay there, whimpering. I was looking around wildly …

… waiting for something else to happen.

I was racked with more pain than I’d ever known, and it had come in less that two or three minutes …!

But I noticed above it all the aches in my fingers …

And in my mouth.

With the hand that wasn’t burnt, I dry washed my face, running it up into my hair in fear and exasperation …

… and pulled out some clumps.

It was while I was looking at these that I noticed my fingernails …

They were coming off.

When I started to speak – to say, “What the … ?” – I could feel …

… I could feel a looseness in my mouth …

Wisps of bloody hair between my shaking fingers, fingernails dropping off before my eyes, I nevertheless reached up to my mouth …

… and when I pushed against it …

… I felt some of my teeth plop back onto my tongue.

I opened my mouth to scream …

… but all that came out was a wheeze …

… and blood …

… and teeth.

I don’t remember standing up and running to the bathroom, but I do remember suddenly seeing myself in the mirror.

Blood was coming from my mouth, my ears, my nose.

From the corners of my eyes.

Instinctively, I reached out to turn on the tap. Somehow, some part of me figured that water would cool the pain …

… but all I got for my trouble was another email chime.

Spread the message.

Or it will grow worse for you.

Worse?”, I screamed at the computer. “How can it possible get any worse?!”

And it answered me … by email … without me having sent a reply email.

Truly scared now in the face of the unknown – more frightened that I’d ever felt in my life, actually – like a robot, I sat at the computer …

and did as they told me to.

And now – three days later … three days of mopping blood from every orifice when I had to go to the toilet – three days of swallowing blood along with the few sips of water I’d somehow managed to keep down – three days of vomiting blood, losing all my hair, feeling blood cake on me, watching my fingernails completely drop off and the remainder of my teeth fall out – three days of panic and terror and anxiety and fear and desperation and …

I came to the last thing I could think of to do …

My blog.

And now … now I can barely speak, my throat’s so raw.

Now … now I’m having trouble even seeing the screen …

Now … I’m having trouble even breathing …

The message:

They said that they were the original creators of humanity.

That mankind began as an experiment.

But enough time had gone by.

And now the experiment was over.

And it was time to collect the results.

They’d arrive in a little over three days, they said, to collect such specimens of humanity as they deemed fit.

Thousands – perhaps millions – would be collected from all over the planet for vivisection.

There would be no pattern to the collections – mothers would be taken from children, husbands from wives, sisters from brothers, children from parents – at random – from all corners of the globe.

Those chosen would simply appear to disappear.

I don’t know why they told me to spread the message. I don’t know why they decided to even send a message in the first place. I don’t even know who they are.

But I do know that they must be more sadistic that I can possibly imagine …

… and more powerful.

They’re telling us this … they’re letting us know …

… and they don’t care if we’re prepared for them or not …

… because they know that nothing we can do will stop them.

God …

I’m amazed that I can still think now … now that my body – my mind – is failing me … like it’s been steadily doing – I realize now – since I’d received the first email …

Nevertheless, now that the message is finally out …

… I can try and figure out just how long it’s been since everything started …

… but …

… but now I can hear …

… distantly …

… through my impossibly unbreakable windows and my inexplicably sealed doors …

… the screaming begin outside.

Copyright © 2007 by David Scott Aubrey
All Rights Reserved
5,336 Words

This short story is a work of fiction. Any and all names, characters and/or incidents are either products of my imagination or are used fictitiously. Where any such resemblance may exist to actual persons (living or dead), actual events or locales, it is purely coincidental.

Please don’t assume that my characters speak for me or carry my own opinions on various matters in any way, shape or form (though some might … you never can tell).

Reading by Red Light (A Short Story)

IT’S BEEN NEARLY a year to the day since I died.

Nevertheless, over that time I’ve grown to accept my … condition.

This acceptance, however, is something rarely portrayed in the vagaries of the available information relating to my state of affairs. In the books and films on the subject (the only reference I had been able to actually find pertaining to my kind, and of these sources of reference there are many, although so few of them are within even spitting-distance of the reality), the protagonist/s are often portrayed as if they’ve been – in a ‘developmental’ sense – frozen in time.

It’s almost as though they’ve been trapped at exactly the stage of physical, mental, spiritual and emotional development that they’d attained when their lives had ended. Gifted with the curse of the night, these characters had traded their potential to learn, to advance, to mature (as any being – living or dead – must) for the advantages which the darkness can bring.

The sometimes great age these figures had reached, their unguessable life-experiences – these things seemed of no help to them whatsoever in maturing any further. The ‘lives’ of these people – cold, now, under their new shadow – were constrained, it seemed, by whatever pettiness or generosity of spirit, by whatever maturity or immaturity they carried within them … when their number came up.

As I say … I had grown, evolving (deliberate word-usage, there) to accept my condition. It had taken a while – and accepting it and liking it were still two different things – but I could function again. And (believe it or not), I had actually managed to regain some semblance of my previous, past life.

In a way, it could be said that – despite my condition, whatever the future holds for me – I’m just like anybody else (so to speak), insofar as I am simply trying to do whatever I can, to live the life that I want.

No easy task, that – being dead ‘n’ all.

I possess, however, an advantage over the characters in the books and the films. When alive, I’d always been a person who tried to seek out whatever aspects of good might present themselves in any situation I found myself – no matter how terrible the circumstance.

Not that it was a conscious thing I was doing at the time; more an instinct, something ingrained, which enabled me to survive. Often, the only thing I gained with this subconscious point-of-view was experience – be it good or bad.

kind of wisdom, I suppose.

Thus, something of value was usually taken from even the worst of times.

My ‘sunny, positive disposition’ aside … there are, in fact, advantages to my situation. Stunning ones, to say the least. Things seemingly totally unimaginable to the writers I’d briefly considered my ersatz guides into this afterlife.

Somehow, a new freedom came with my condition.

This advantage presented itself in the guise of my being forced to walk on the dark outskirts of society. I was a law unto myself, it seemed – for whom could police one such as I? I, a now anonymous power.

‘Power corrupts’, it’s been said, but I wasn’t too worried. The few old scores I settled not long after gaining my newfound power were eminently deserving of their fates.

And so very satisfying besides!

Soon enough, other positive aspects to my situation presented themselves.

Like my current activity.

I’d always loved the Australian bush – especially at night, from the moment old camping trips with school friends had evolved from mere social gatherings, into grand adventures.

I remember being fourteen years old (not that long ago, but it feels like forever), and feeling alive in such a way as I’d never been (nowhere near imagining what my future held)!

With friends from school, on weekends and holidays, I’d found myself running through often perilous tracks and gullies by the light of the moon; breathing the cool damp air of the night deep into my lungs, invigorated by the glow of the moonlight on the clouds and the aura it gave to the trees.

During these adventures, I did manage to hurt myself, more than once – lest I’m accused of remembering my past life through only rose-coloured glasses. A full spectrum of hindsight reminds me of the time that I badly twisted an ankle; and of other times when I received cuts and scrapes from snagging my foot on unseen tree roots and being forced to meet the ground under less than ideal circumstances; painful lashes from barbed-wire fences; blisters; leeches.

And much more.

These things, however, were more than made up for by the sense of awe I gained from the scenery, as my friends and I cavorted through the bush on our search for even greater experience and adventure.

More than a few times I watched the steady progress of an old freight train in the distance, labouring steadfastly along its unyielding, inexorable path – the regular whistle wailing mournfully as through it were alive, calling all who heard it to consider its endless toil.

‘The driver must have had the greatest job in the world’, I’d thought then; travelling through such countryside at a time when most other people were asleep – the fresh air; the night sounds; the steady pace; no people bothering him – along with him being responsible for such a machine. ‘As soon as I finish school’, I told myself, ‘I’ll join the railways for the same work’.

My plans altered somewhat since then, of course.

But that’s life, I suppose.

So to speak.

Other times in the bush, there was the complete opposite. No noise at all, as my friends and I dared plunge into the freezing waters of a country dam – the mud sliding up between our toes; the reflection of the moon breaking up as splashes and ripples ruptured the calm surface. There was a curious sense of vulnerability from plunging into that most necessary of elements wearing only a pair of flimsy shorts, in the middle of the night, in the middle of the bush.

It didn’t last long, however, as we would soon leave our attempts at night swimming when the realization finally penetrated our adventure-addled brains that the temperature of the water was near to freezing. Madly scrambling to the bank – there to continue our adventures – mud from our toes would be drawn along the inside-seams of jeans once we’d dressed, making the remainder of the night’s undertakings most uncomfortable, yet no less enjoyable.

Coming out of the water, the silence was as all-enveloping as the darkness. With nothing but the trees and the night around us, it was like we were in another world, some bizarre Earth belonging to an alternate reality, where all the people were gone.

Mysteries presented themselves on these sojourns, also.

We spent some time trying to figure out why – out in the ‘middle of nowhere’ – there had been a sheep carcass stuffed inside a plastic bag. Or why there’d been a cow’s head pushed inside an old hessian sack and left lying in a dry gully. What caused a whole stand of trees to drop their leaves and abide, brittle and white, as though under some terrible weight – ghosts of themselves, with their bark coated in dry, grey dust – while all around them, the rest of the bush continued to grow?

No doubt, common answers could be found for such things. The remains of the animals were traps, baited with poison for livestock-worrying dingoes or foxes. The trees suffered nothing more sinister than a virus peculiar to their species.

Nevertheless, at the time, the sense of mystery was what we enjoyed.

So many memories. They’d fill a book of their own, with me hopefully managing to put an endearing love of this country between the pages.

Especially for the bush at night.

In my life after death, I had rediscovered a spot that was very common for the pursuit of knowledge, relaxation, entertainment and social gathering – situated in the small country town of my youthful adventures.

The Library.

A simple country library, yes – set amongst the wonderful scenery of the bushland I so loved.

But The Library, nonetheless.

Oh, of course, I knew that as far as knowledge was concerned, the sum total contained where I sat in peaceful contemplation would not have made up a fiftieth of that in some of the greater libraries of the world – libraries which I would also visit … in time.

But this place would always be prefixed with, ‘The”, for me.

I had not been at all studious when younger. But The Library had always afforded me a place of silence; an oasis of calm amid the clamour of the country town where I then lived, small though it was.

Many a time, it also provided sanctuary from an occasional, and, I suppose, inevitable bully (see the above-mentioned paragraph mentioning the settling of scores).

Once, it provided the setting for the beginning of a long-ago relationship, which started with a fleeting kiss and a promise she would phone that night, as my first ‘real’ girlfriend quickly left to meet her train.

Despite my non-scholarly leanings, many a time The Library had also been (again, inevitably, I suppose), a place of learning – outside the ostensibly enforced brand of erudition provided me by school; one wherein I could find information on subjects which actually interested me, instead of repetitive factoids concerning people and places, times and events, that I would surely have no practical need to know in the so-called ‘real’ world.

Science fiction, naturally, was a staple of my reading diet as a young man, as well as just a touch of the esoteric – although it was not much more beyond a supernatural thriller or two that I was searching for then.

Wholeheartedly embracing the conviction that learning is its own reward, my tastes evolved over time, and reading – upon most any topic, any subject, for the sheer sake of learning – blossomed into an activity that granted me ever-greater pleasure as the years went by.

Shortly after my ‘condition’ manifested itself, I realized that there was no reason at all to be denied this pleasure! Just because I could no longer be counted among the living, still could I ‘lose myself’ amid the pages of a book – if only for a short time – and this was a wonderful thing indeed.

I considered this as I gazed through the big picture window of The Library, seeing the creek that ran behind the old building, and the dense bushland beyond. Were I to look out the other side of the structure, I’d see nothing but more trees, and – in the sky overhead – the clouds lit by the moonlight into spectral shapes.

And that suited me just fine.

The Library was at least fifteen kilometres away from the nearest houses and bush properties, and they, themselves were hidden behind the small hills that pushed their way across the land nearby.

Obviously, I’m partial to isolation.

Not that I don’t ever speak to people. I’m not a complete hermit!

Occasionally, I’d meet someone in a 24-hour Café, or Convenience Store, in one of the various cities I’ve travelled to since I died, and have fine conversations. There are other intelligent people out there who also know the allure of the night.
However, they made their choices to be among it deliberately. Should they so choose, they could stay to watch the sun rise at the breaking of the day.

I could not.

In any case, most of the time, I preferred my own company.

This propensity for isolation is something I’ve learned over the years, so it is another of the advantages that my condition grants me – living on the outside of society as I now do.

But … even before my death, I’d known that the best time for solitude was at night.

And the best place …

… always, always, a library.

I hadn’t been to this particular library in some time. Certainly, not since my life ended. But – aside from some new computers out near the front desk, new cataloguing systems, a reasonably wide range of new books and periodicals grafted onto the existing stock, and the addition of the Internet for the public – it hadn’t changed all that much from when I was growing up, poring through the seemingly endless volumes contained in its shelves, and soaking up the information therein.

I was surrounded by thousands of books, and they always left me with a feeling of … security.

Memories in this place weren’t only in the hearts and minds of the people who’d come and gone here throughout the years, but also in the words and pages of the books themselves, which lined the walls and filled the shelves almost to overflowing … if you knew how to read between the lines.

Knowledge, wisdom, experience … and the feeling of security and safety these concepts granted me – all packaged together in one building, which stood now under the canopy of night, surrounded by the Australian bush I so loved. And now, I had the opportunity to browse through The Library of my younger days to my heart’s content. And, with an added incentive to a person definitely preferable of solitude …

… it was empty.

I must amend the above statement somewhat, and say that I had the opportunity to browse to my heart’s content throughout The Library – bereft of people as it was – but only for a limited time per twenty-four hours.

As you can surmise, sunlight and I do not mix well any more.

Nevertheless, this was no limitation to me. Seeking the positive, I’ve discovered that – in the quiet hours when everyone had gone home, when the air was bereft of the outside bustle of humanity – my own company in this cocoon of peace was all that I required. A silence presented itself there in the dark hours, comparable to the kind that must have provided the origin of the passage, ‘Silence is golden’. A silence found and realized only in comparison to the memories I possessed of the sounds of people moving about The Library when I had known it previously.

This library from my youth, on the outskirts of the small country town where I grew up, had always provided me (when I lived) with the same sense of sanctuary some derive from a Cathedral.

And it did the same for me now.

It was an opportunity I availed myself of eagerly.

At first, it was the sheer delight of finding that I could simply walk in – moving through the aisles and along the walls, the shelves – as undetectable as mist, and take my time looking over the titles. Searching out a book without anyone else there filled me with a strange, serene pleasure.

Then, an added freedom presented itself – that of having no limit to the number of titles I could absorb if I so desired. Why take a knapsack to carry my previously limited ‘allowance’ of books to borrow (as I did in my past life), when I could easily move one of the conveniently-placed trolleys and collect fifty, or a hundred books … and have them all back on the shelves by the end of the night, read and memorized with a speed and alacrity possessed by not even the most skilled proponents of so-called ‘speed comprehension’ courses?

Security systems posed no difficulty for me. Nor did the locked doors. And the lack of internal lighting was less of a problem than any of the above. Indeed, it was almost a blessing, for even the tiniest sliver of light coming from a lone street lamp set hundreds of metres further down the road illuminated the interior of The Library to my eyes as though a thousand candles burned therein.

Sitting in The Library, ‘poring over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore?’

Not quite.

Rather, luxuriating in a sense of serenity I’d so rarely known.

True, The Library had been a place of sanctuary for me on occasion in the past, and I suppose this puts the lie somewhat to my earlier statement about being Reborn to the Night without being held by previous habits and desires.

This, then, I suppose, I do have in common with my fictitious counterparts. I have one unchanging facet carried over from my previous existence.

My love of solitude.

In any case, night after night, I’ve found myself drawn here – for months, now. Scarce had I awakened than I fed and rushed to The Library, secure in the peace I found here, magnified to a degree I could never have imagined in my time before.

The smells of the night flowed through my body as I breathed in the deliciously crisp air, and noted with a gentle pleasure the sound of a tiny cricket, calling for a mate in an outside garden.

I was, of course, also aware of the residents in the town, barely a couple of kilometres away, but I paid them no mind. All were asleep, except those toiling through the night – with whom I felt a vague (if unreciprocable) sense of kinship.

Bakers were creating their wares, and nurses in the nearby Hospital I visited so often to feed (a pint or two from unconscious patients in private rooms making for unobtrusive dining) worked diligently. An occasional security guard drove by the sole bank of the town. The shuffling of paper, the rich aroma of coffee (which smelled wonderful despite the fact I could no longer sup mortal food), and the curious harmony provided by the almost rhythmic striking of computer keys by a good typist echoed throughout the small Police Station kilometres further down the main road.

Of course, other occasional nocturnal residents were in their homes, watching television, or listening to music. Some pursued their household chores, while others continued their work of the day. And still others ate, or made love, played with their pets, listened to talkback radio, or worked on hobbies.

But the majority of the townspeople were asleep, and all of the residents were easy to ignore from my, ‘Fortress of Solitude’.

I was seated in a comfortable chair, of the type with long wooden arms and plush foam padding, covered by a very soft imitation leather, situated right at the back of The Library, behind the non-fiction shelving to the left of the main aisle. I had recently found a most entertaining ‘fringe-science’ work supposing alternative origins to the Ancient Egyptian civilization, a theory tying it to a possible connection with Atlantean lore …

… when The Gnawing made itself known.

It had been building in me for some time – however, I had been ignoring it tonight, preferring to get to The Library as soon as I possibly could. There was a book I’d wanted to finish last night, but sunrise had prevented me, and I had been eager to return to its pages.

Nevertheless, I knew that surcease from my Hunger was close at hand, should I become sufficiently needy.

In fact, it was the footsteps of the man, as he finally moved out of the small alley-way a few kilometers further down the road – between the old hotel and the small army disposal store – which had sent the pang moving within me with a steadily-building ferocity.

I tried to continue with my reading, but eventually it reached the stage where it was no good. Something within me (and didn’t I know what) told me that I would have no more rest, no more peace, until my need was satisfied – just as it told me that this man who had been waiting in the alley-way, slowly smoking cigarette after cigarette and draining beer after beer for the last two hours, was up to no good.

And, as further disruption to my peace …

… he was heading here!

It was obvious that he was coming to steal something from what he perceived to be an ‘easy target’. But what? Such a man would not appreciate the pricelessness of the knowledge that abounded herein, so it was obviously not the books he wanted. There was no actual cash on the premises (that I could smell), and the computer systems were a good year or so out-of-date, surely unable to fetch much of a price in a Pawnshop.

Ahh … but some of us are compelled to give in to our baser desires, I suppose. Too often, our compulsions can’t be defeated, however hard we battle.

Then again – this man had obviously fought no such inner conflict against his desires, and so I was likely attributing characteristics that would not sit comfortably with him.

This irritated me somewhat, and I knew why; for I had fought against my difficulty, my combination of blessing and curse, constantly since my Rebirth to the Night. And herein lay the difference between my acceptance of – and liking of – my condition. My inner battles were lost, more often than not – but I fought them, just the same! The battle – the attempt at retaining even a semblance of morality under my circumstances – there was the reason I engaged in my interior struggle, heedless of the outcome.

But when such temptation is placed right in front of me … !

The sour, salty stench of sweat sheened the exposed skin of his arms and grew slick across his forehead as he moved closer to his intended target, his heavy tread crunching noisily on the gravel of the pathway leading to The Library.

No doubt he’d been caught before, breaking and entering, petty theft dotting his Police Record like pebbles on a beach in the moonlight – but he had obviously not learned his lesson.

I felt a kind of proprietorial anger simmering just below my surface as he (finally – it took him nearly half an hour to get from the alley to the Library grounds) made his way to the main door, then merely stood, staring through the glass of it for a full minute (his mortal eyes completely unable to penetrate the darkness), before noisily shifting away in search of easier access. The Library was my place, I felt, my sanctuary!

I was slowly growing silently incensed at his intent to despoil its tranquility.

The back window connected to the internal toilets proved easier for him to move through, for all he had to do was remove the louvres, which he accomplished with a screwdriver that he carried with him.

Forcing the thin metal back that held the glass, he then removed the panes with a grating sound that very nearly set my teeth on edge!

He struggled to force his bulk through the small space he’d made, and fell in an untidy heap near the male urinal – the antiseptic blocks scattered therein making his eyes sting and water.

Increased lachrymal gland secretions have a distinct smell.

All this I could tell, sitting silently in my chair in the depths of The Library. With my senses as enhanced as they are from the Curse of the Night, I could sense the progress of this wretched individual all too easily.

At this moment, though, whether my enhanced senses were a blessing or a curse, I was hard-put to discern.

Quickly (for a mortal in such pitiful physical condition) he picked himself up off the floor and moved to the door of the toilets, heading for The Library proper. I could tell by the way he momentarily stopped short – hand outstretched and immobile mere inches from the handle – that he had considered the possibility that the door may have been locked.

Suddenly, and with no further planning or contemplation of any kind (a state of mind which surely must have permeated his entire life), he reached forward and grabbed the handle, harshly shoving it downwards, while simultaneously pulling back.

It relieved him when the door opened.

Don’t be too relieved, asshole.

With what – apparently – must have been a great deal of care on his part, he attempted a ‘stealthy’ entrance to main part of The Library. He stretched out his arms in a fumbling attempt to find a wall to guide him, while he took sporadic, tentative steps in the darkness.

The shelves thus ‘showed’ him to the front of The Library, where – yes – he was planning to remove the computers.

I gritted my teeth as he began unplugging the cords by feel, lifting (with some difficulty) an old CPU and wrapping them around it. Several difficult seconds passed for him as he attempted to discern just why the monitor cords would not disconnect, before he realized they were screwed into the back of the CPU.

“Fuck it”, I heard him mumble under his breath, and he yanked hard on the cord, reefing the cable free, the torn screws dropping to the carpet with muted tapping sounds.

You could almost hear the resale value of the equipment drop with them.

The monitor was pulled to the front of the desk on which it sat, but did not overbalance enough to fall off, despite his ineptitude.

With the CPU in one hand, and hoisting the monitor into the other, he groped around blindly in the night with his full hands, in order to ‘see’ if there was more that he could take.

Obviously, he hadn’t given much thought to just how he was going to actually carry any further plunder. Nor had he considered just how he was going to make his getaway with that which he already had.

Walking through town – the only possible pathway accessible to him (the bush itself being far too dense) was his only option – and carrying a CPU and monitor with him at this time of night … well! It could surely around the suspicions of the local law.

Suddenly, he stiffened with a sudden spurt of fear, realizing that – without a hand on the wall, or shelves, to guide him, both his hands full as they now were with his loot – he had no way of knowing which direction to go to leave!

He blinked pathetically in the darkness.

As if that would help him to see better.

Moron.

“Shit”, he bit out through the disturbed silence of the night, his fear subsiding into anger.

He placed the monitor on the floor, then half-straightened before deciding to do the same with the CPU.

As he stood upright once more, he raised his hand to his forehead, and wiped away some of the sweat there.

His thick, sausage-like fingers returned to his brow then, to worry restlessly at a scab there; the crust of a pimple, perhaps, or a sore that had begun its life as an insect bite until scratched into weeping.

It was this, I knew, which would push me over the edge.

All at once, The Scent invaded me, sending a small shudder throughout my entire body as his questing fingernail broke the crust of the scab, releasing a pinhead-sized drop of the blood within him.

The Instinct that I almost constantly fought against awakened hungrily within me then, like the old freight train I had watched in my previous life – with a steady progress, unyielding, inexorable. It built and built in me, rising as if it were a sleeping snake in a cave; slowly at first, then with a deadly suddenness, infusing me with The Desire which slammed through my body with every beat of my cold, dead heart.

When I could stand it no longer – this internal conflict fought on my private tableau (which had taken only seconds to view, but seemed eternal), I silently closed my book, and, warming to the thrill that the next few minutes would bring, placed it on the small table beside my seating.

Aw, buddy … are you gonna get it!

I rose from my chair, and moved right up beside him.

In the darkness he had no clue whatsoever – as he further scraped at the lightly-bleeding mark on his skin – that I was there, that death stood beside him.

With some consternation, he attempted to figure out his next move. But – as previously mentioned – foresight is not something he was very good at.

Dickhead.

He could not have seen me there had he tried, so total was the night, and it was all that I could do to stop myself moving in on him there and then!

But, no – the anticipation was as much the bliss for me as the outcome.

Gonna make you sweat, asshole!

Remarkably, he seemed to have actually decided upon his next move, and bent again to take up the roughly-disconnected computer wares.

Hands once more laden with his ill-gotten gains, he squinted into the darkness, fixing in his mind the location he’d chosen as the likely exit.

I brushed my index finger against the tiny, bloody dot on his brow.

Whoooo!

It was as though lightning had struck him!

Ohh, man – how cool is this?!

I know I shouldn’t be amazed, but such reactions on the part of my prey always both delight and horrify me. It is the reason for my internal conflict – not so much The Act which inevitably follows such a scene, but my helpless enjoyment of it; the guilt I feel at the ecstasy the moment provides as I cause such terror in a living being.

Heh, heh, heh!

As had happened so often before, my morality seemed flung out the window – bereft of all influence upon me – able only to look out through my eyes, as though viewing the world like a helpless observer peering powerlessly through a window laced with muck and scum. Though, in truth, I never saw more clearly than at such times.

Almost instinctively, I moved around behind him, as easily as fog, before the equipment he dropped in his shock at my touch had hit the floor with a clatter which echoed throughout The Library.

I leaned closer so that he was in a position to feel my breath upon his neck, which struck him with a terror that was, it seemed, growing exponentially!

Trespassing son of a bitch! Teach you to invade my property!

While a dimly-rational part of my mind – the small piece of myself which was not running on The Instinct – was attempting to push thoughts of absolute power corrupting absolutely through to the rest of my brain (which was able to ignore it absolutely, as it had surrendered to The Need within me), I heard him curse as I pierced the skin of his neck over the delicious, heady rhythm of the artery.

Tear your fuckin’ throat out!

The indescribable pleasure which welled throughout my being as I drew his life into me – wave after wave of it crashing against the shores of my soul – was always, always, almost too much to bear!

The Blood! The Blood! The Blood!

Only the strength that The Act itself gave me allowed me to tear myself away, and I was across the room, hands raised as though in supplication to either side of my eyes …

… Better than … oh, fuck … ! Nothing like it … can’t handle it … ohh … the Blood …

… as the ecstasy flowed through me, before he could even raise his arm – indeed, before he even realized that half his throat was naught now but a gaping wound, and that he was missing the better part of eight pints!

“Ahh”, he wailed, a small, tinny voice giving vent to his shock, his terror. Such a short exhalation of breath, this bleat, but speaking as many volumes as the longest, loudest scream of terror and anguish ever would. Even this wretch of a man – deep down – wanted his life, and was beyond aghast at the concept that he was suddenly to lose it to the unseen.

I let him stagger … three tottering steps … and allowed him to trip over the abandoned computer wares. He crashed to the carpet, by this time a shivering, writhing wreck of a thing, hands firmly clamped to what remained of his neck in a vain attempt to retain the blood which was no longer there. Terror pulsated from his dying form in sharp, wet gasps.

The ignored part of me could only stare in mute horror, appalled, as I toyed with him in this manner, and could only cry as I moved in for the kill.

He had come to ground in a curious place – near a single reading-lamp placed on a shelf near the computer tables. As I grabbed him by the shirt – lifting him from the ground as though he weighed no more than a pillow – I turned on this small artificial light, that he might better see the death that had come for him.

His blood had spattered earlier as he fell, coating part of the lampshade, and the light which pushed through this screen was tinged red with the colour of his life. I was happy about this, for it added an even more spectacular aspect to this horrific death scene.

I watched his face carefully as I slowly drew him closer.

Whiter than the most pale sheet, eyes so wide they were almost leaving his head, breath coming reluctantly, now, in harsh, choking sobs, as I opened wide my maw, baring my razor-sharp teeth!

Oh, yes … oh, yes.

As I slowly bit into the opposite side of his neck, he could only part his lips, letting his last breath steam faintly into the cold, cold night.

His last heart-full of blood dribbled its way feebly into my mouth.

And then, like he was nothing more than a sack of the most despised rubbish, I let his lifeless form fall to the carpet.

His final position was ironic, amusing to me. His hand had come to rest draped on the CPU he’d dropped, as though his sole goal in death was still to steal it.

Ohhhhh … God … that … that was … !

I rose up in the flush of sudden emotion which followed, my toes barely touching the ground as I stretched out fully – every fibre of my being extended until I was almost wholly rigid, though defying gravity, with my body arced at a nearly forty-five degree angle to the floor.

I settled back languidly then, arms outstretched as though suspended upon the Cross, floating down so gently that I might have been exhaling underwater, then lay so still that an observer might have thought us both dead.

After seeming hours, I stirred, knowing that only minutes had passed in reality.

The rush of emotion that always follows The Act was under control, and the elation and ecstasy I had felt through my deed had permeated me with a serenity I could never match through any other means. The contentment within me was beyond description, as ever, unmatched at any time other than these.

As I lay there, the lamp casting its ghastly blood-hued glow on the shelves, I off-handedly read out the titles of some of the books I saw there.

Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons.

‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King.

The Golden by Lucius Shepard.

The Stake by Richard Laymon.

Necroscope by Brian Lumley.

Dracula by … well, you get the idea.

I chuckled, lying there on the carpeting on the floor of The Library in the middle of the bush, as the blood dried to a sticky crust on my face (which I found somehow comfortable).

I was reading by red light, and wasn’t that appropriate!

My heightened senses revealed to me that no one in town had stirred, or even knew that anything untoward had happened here.

There were hours yet to come this night, and I rose, eager to make use of them.

I was certain that I would not come back this way – to my favourite sanctuary, The Library – for some time after this. Indeed, perhaps this part of the country itself was out of the question for me for the foreseeable future. Police represent no real threat to me (no jail cell could hold someone with my strength), but such exposure as being arrested might bring could be … annoying.

A twinge of regret almost surfaced within me at the thought of leaving The Library behind, but was suppressed with the knowledge that I would return at some point in the future – when the inevitable investigations had ceased, the attentions of the townspeople had turned elsewhere, and I could read in peace once more.

In the meantime, I told myself, it would be nice to have a memento of my time here, something that I could see again and again, to remind me of the tranquility which this place had granted me.

It was obviously a book that I was going to find sooner or later.

And, besides, it was the latest of The Vampire Chronicles, and I was eager to read this next installment.

As I moved towards the shelf, the notion struck me, harsh as a physical blow, yet wickedly funny, and so, so entertaining.

Perhaps later I would think twice upon this course of action, when the ecstasy I still felt from my recent feeding had passed. So it was all the more necessary to follow it through now … !

There would be little difficulty, so long as I followed the path and direction of the sun but never caught up to it as I moved across the face of the world.

And it would not be long before I would come to find myself in New Orleans.

I was so looking forward to meeting Anne Rice.

Copyright © 2007 by David Scott Aubrey
All Rights Reserved
6,268 Words

This short story is a work of fiction. Any and all names, characters and/or incidents are either products of my imagination or are used fictitiously. Where any such resemblance may exist to actual persons (living or dead), actual events or locales, it is purely coincidental.

Please don’t assume that my characters speak for me or carry my own opinions on various matters in any way, shape or form (though some might … you never can tell).