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).

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).

It Shouldn’t Have Happened to a Vet (A Short Story)

With Apologies to James Herriot.

“Ahh … the new bloke. Murphy, wasn’t it? Come on in”.

“Tea … ?”

“Yeah, I don’t take sugar, either. The milk hereabouts makes it sweet enough”.

“Through here … take a seat … ”

“You’ll have to excuse the mess. I know the place looks like a tornado’s hit it, but I haven’t felt much like cleaning up since … ”

“Ahh … it’s all right … no need to walk on eggshells about it. This is just an informal chat, I know; the new bloke seeing if the previous guy has anything to tell him about the job, the region … the people. But I figured we’d get around to that subject, sooner or later. Might as well be sooner … ”

“I figure you’ve probably read all in the papers about it. ‘Journalists’. Huh … ! Couldn’t spell the word ‘truth’, let alone write about it. All sorts of rumours flying around at the college, too, I’ll bet, hmm … ?”

“Ah, well … bear with me …

… and I’ll tell you what really happened”.

“She’s strugglin’”.

“Yeah, mate … I knew you wouldn’t have called me if it was just a normal birth”.

And I did know. For Jim McGrove – and every other farmer in the area – a cow giving birth was nothing to ring the vet about. Even if the cow was having trouble – the unborn calf not having turned properly, for instance – most farmers (and I’m talking third- and fourth-generation folks, out here) think nothing of getting in there and turning it themselves.
I was only called out when there was something they couldn’t handle … and that was rare enough that I hadn’t done an outcall since I first moved here and started my practice, going around to introduce myself to everyone; a fair while previous …

Anyway … as I knelt down beside the cow, for some strange reason my mind flashed back to when I was first learning my skills. Our job for an entire semester was to dissect a horse.

(You’d remember that … wasn’t that long ago for you, was it?)

Funny thing … in the cold of the dissection room, the horse’s coat always looked wet, somehow. And McGrove’s cow had that same sheen to her.

I put my bag down with my 100 watt lamp so I could glove up. It was late enough (or early enough depending on how you looked at it) that the field we were in had already started to dew up, and stray blades of grass used that moisture to stick to the sides of my bag.

I don’t know why I notice little things like that. The way my mind works, I suppose. Still, times like this – even when I’m about to stuff my arm up a cow – I’m glad I do. It was about ten past two in the morning, the sky was so black the stars almost seemed to provide more than enough light on their own. The Milky Way was more than a dusting of stars above us – it was a storm of them. The air was crisp and hard in my lungs, but I like it brisk.

We were so far out from McGrove’s farmhouse I couldn’t even see the light he still had on back in the kitchen, where he’d sat waiting for me after he’d called. When I arrived, he’d been standing outside the door, though, so – even if he hadn’t told me anything about how hard a time his cow was having trying to give birth – I could’ve guessed, because he didn’t even offer me a cuppa.

(You’re from the city, originally, right? Anyone living in the country would know that – unless something is really wrong – you offer a guest a cuppa before anything else).

Anyway, all this went through my mind as I gloved up and got into it.

My hand was about halfway up when I felt the calf …

… or so I thought.

Normally, you find the head, check the umbilical hasn’t wrapped around its neck, then work your way back from there and find the back legs. You know the rest: You grab ‘em and muscle the calf around so it’s turned properly. Watch the hooves don’t tear the placenta … all that. And then you let nature take care of the rest.

But when I tried to identify the head – feeling for the umbilical – I couldn’t feel what I was expecting …

Even through the gloves, you get a sense of the animal waiting to be born. You can feel the shape through the placenta of the ears, the nose …

I felt …

… I felt this …

… dome …

If McGrove’s cow hadn’t been on her side, nearly exhausted, with low vitals, she might’ve bolted – calving or not – when I jumped back.

At first I thought, “This must be something artificial … !” Thoughts bounced around making me wonder if some other vet had been doing some sort of experiment – implanting some sort of sensor, or something. But three things chased those thoughts away:

One, I knew that McGrove wouldn’t have allowed any such thing.

Two, I knew I was the only vet in the area.

And, Three, I’d never heard of any such thing! Implants in cows … ?

But … that’s what it felt like to me … something …

… artificial … !

I should mention that – yes – there’s often times when unborn calves are deformed – you’ll feel odd bumps and lumps. But … you can identify them …

… I had no idea what this was.

McGrove couldn’t see my face from his angle – he was just behind and to my left, holding the lantern. And he must have figured that my ‘jump’ when I touched the thing was probably just me trying to turn the calf.

Still … his presence served to remind me … in front of these lifelong farmers, you don’t show any sense that you don’t know what’s going on. Even if you’re the only vet around, if you make a mistake, or seem as though you don’t know what’s going on … word gets around. Some farmers in the area would rather lose stock than subject their animals to a vet they didn’t think was what they deserved.

So …

… I didn’t withdraw my hand.

By this time, the cow was moaning. Yes, it’s normal …

… but not like this.

In the couple of seconds that I was there trying to figure out what to do next, the cow’s moans grew louder and louder …

… and turned into screams.

I don’t know if anyone else had heard a cow scream, but I’ve … I mean … I was a vet for over a decade, and I’ve never heard anything like it. Couple that with the fact that it was just me and McGrove out there – seemingly in the middle of nowhere – and you can understand why the hairs on the back of my neck stood up straight enough to push against my collar.

“Jesus Christ!”

“Just hold the lamp still … there’s … ”

I was about to say, “Something … ”, but I didn’t have to.

McGrove got to see it all for himself …

That poor cow …

Sorry …

It’s just …

… nothing should have to suffer like that …

Anyway …

… I fell back. All in one go, my arm was out and I was suddenly on my arse. And just as well, too, because that’s what saved my life.

That poor cow kicked like she was having a seizure. I’d never seen anything as violent, though. I remember seeing McGrove out of the corner of my eye jumping as I scrambled back, too, fast as I could.

Didn’t save him, though. But it did save me.

The … legs, I guess you’d call ‘em … the legs tore out through that poor cow’s side, instead of coming out through the birth canal. McGrove was nearest that side, and I was where I was expecting a calf to be delivered, so that’s why he got …

… sorry …

… all right … I’m all right …

… it’s just … I’ve never seen anything like …

… sip o’ me tea, here …

… anyway …

… those … legs … they tore her open like … like meat going through a grinder … ! You know those hand-winding meat grinders … ? Just like that. Only this was bone, tendons … flesh! And it all happened instantly. It was like whatever was inside her just … flexed.

Chunks of that poor cow hit me and I ended up flat on my back. I was trying to wipe the blood and meat out of my eyes when I saw this shadow … six or eight legs … some sort of dome shape for a head … rise up out of what was left of that poor cow …

… next thing I know, McGrove was screaming.

I thought the cow’s screams were bad …

It didn’t last long, and when I finally wiped enough bits of the Bessie out of my face to see properly, that … thing … had disappeared. And all that was left of McGrove was … ribbons, I guess. Ribbons of meat. Ribbons of bone.

The blood … the bits … the cow’s and McGrove’s … on me, it felt like they were as warm as if I’d poured kerosine on myself.

I don’t know what it was. I can’t even remember what happened in the next couple of hours, actually. Doctors said shock. Police said a neighbour had heard the screams even from a couple of hundred acres away! Thought them chilling enough to ring the coppers. Coppers found me and what was left of McGrove … and that poor cow … up on that hill. I was in shock, or something, like I said …

Took a couple of days before the coroner determined that I couldn’t have done what had been done to McGrove. No … human could have …

During that time, I was in custody in the hospital … doped up on something for the shock.

But … like I said … I don’t know what it was. I do know it was enough to make me retire. Even though I’ve got a good couple of decades ahead of me in this job, I don’t want it anymore … not if there’s ever the chance I’ll see anything like what I saw that night …

Of course, I’ve done some research since then. Trying to figure out what was going on. What the hell was in that poor cow. How it got there. I’ve got some loose theories. You know those stories about cattle mutilations? What if they really were caused by aliens? But what if the aliens weren’t trying to kill the cows, but study them … work out how to breed with ‘em, or something … ?

Anyway …

“Huh … ! Lookin’ a bit pale, there, Murphy. Drink yer tea … “

… plenty of good cow’s milk in it … !”

Copyright © 2007 by David Scott Aubrey
All Rights Reserved
1,872 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).

By the Chimney with Care (A Short Story)

Janine had loved her great-grandfather, even though their time together had been far too short. A lifetime of experience had made Earl James Bowart wise, and that wisdom had manifested itself into a considered kindness. Moreover, he always listened to her when nobody else she knew seemed to.

The fact that she now owned the house he had built said something about how much the feeling had been reciprocated.

Earl James Bowart had always known the importance of looking after family. Even after his death, he knew it was important they be cared for. And Janine was one example of that.

They’d only met on Janine’s sixteenth birthday. Earl had been – until then – living in another part of the country. Still, age catching up to him, Earl had found that he couldn’t maintain his independence as much as he would have liked, and outback Australia was an unforgiving locale.

Janine had been amazed to hear that she even had a great grandfather, let alone her mother’s news that he’d be coming to stay with them.

Ellen had been writing to Earl on and off for years. Naturally, when she heard about his situation, she asked him to come and stay with them.

Earl agreed, on the proviso that he was able to still contribute – to provide – however he could.

And when Janine and Earl had first met, they’d become inseparable.

Earl had been there for Janine when his grand-daughter (her mother) had died from the cancer just after Janine had turned seventeen. Ellen still had nearly a year’s contract on their place, and wise investments had meant that it was easy for Earl to continue paying the rent after she was gone, so they both had somewhere to live.

Still, Earl was concerned about Janine. He knew that – before too long – she was going to be put into a position where she would have to forego her studies in order to find whatever work she could, just to make ends meet, which was an intolerable situation to him, because he could see her potential.

Yes, he could pay the rent now – and did, happily, brooking no argument from Janine – but he knew that he wouldn’t be around himself for very much longer.

So he organized his will a little more, adding a strange request.

Plans were drawn up and land was bought. Upon his death, construction would begin on a house for Janine to be solely owned by her. He arranged to have any rent required on the old palce continue to be paid until either the contract on the rental expired, or until construction of the house was completed (whereupon the contract in the rental could be broken, since Earl had also arranged that any future rent through to the end of the contract be paid). He also arranged a stipend so that Janine wouldn’t need to find even a part-time job to make ends meet, and could completely devote herself to her studies.

When he told Janine about the strange request in the will, she reacted better than he thought she might. A lot of people might have thought it macabre – and some in the council even considered trying to block it (but didn’t) – but Janine liked the idea, in an Angelina Jolie/Billy-Bob Thornton wear-a-drop-of-each-other’s-blood-in-a-pendant-around-the-neck kind of way (back when they’d been together, at least). Although not as obvious as the celebrities’ notion, Earl’s idea guaranteed that he’d always be near her.

And the thought was never more comforting than on the evening of the day she first moved in.

Mark could tell just by looking at the chimney that it was the perfect way in. For a start, it was huge, taking up nearly a third of the side of the house it was on. Because of this, the flue cap was easily large enough to get through. In addition, there were plenty of good, sturdy places to get a grip (from what he could see as he drove past casing the place that morning). And it was obviously large enough that he wouldn’t get stuck at the damper halfway down.

Still, he took a few tools with him when he came back that night (just in case). As it was, though, things turned out better than he’d hoped.

At around two o’clock, he quietly exited the car he’d parked behind the large bushes on the council reserve up the street earlier that evening. Although it had been a good place for a ‘stakeout’ – both out of the way of any neighbours who might see him, and where, through the gaps in the bushes, he could keep an eye on his intended target – Mark was still glad to stretch his legs.

Shaking his head in wonder at just how good a target the place was (a single lamp down at the other end of the street meant nobody could see him), Mark made his way to the chimney.

A couple of little niggling doubts tickled the back of his mind as he found some quick handholds (a drainpipe, some lattice). One was the usual – if he knew how to get into a house through a door or window without making noise, this sort of thing would be much easier. But he didn’t, and was saddled with having to find houses with chimneys for his attempted B & Es.

The second one was that – despite having watched the place all night and not seen any sign of people (no lights, no cars, no automatic sprinklers) – he still realized he couldn’t see every angle of the place from where he’d sat in his car.

It was obvious that the place wasn’t empty, given the modest Christmas decorations in the yard and over the windows and door. But Mark didn’t think anyone was there …

“Maybe they’ve gone away for the holidays”, he thought to himself.

Unable to hold a thought for too long, Mark stepped onto the roof, focusing only on what came next.

A strong grip had allowed him to get to the roof without a problem. The lattice had been firmly fixed to the beams which were firmly fixed to the house, and the spaces between them were easily large enough for the toes of his sneakers to fit through, meaning that his climb had been silent. With the same dearth of sound, Mark made his way across the tiles until he came to the chimney itself.

He nodded silent approval as he noticed that – up close – the chimney was exactly as he’d hoped. Even better, from the absolute lack of soot it had either been cleaned recently, or had never been used.

He poked his head through the ample space of the flue liner and looked down, shining a pocket torch as he did so.

Just as he’d hoped – enough space at the damper that he could get through. In fact, it looked as though it was open!

Mark chuckled to himself as he squeezed past the flue cap and into the chimney proper. Powerful muscles on a lithe frame pushed out against the sides, holding him in place. By allowing himself to sink down crosswise to the width of the chimney, then pushing out sideways with his feet against the sides, Mark silently descended. The lack of soot meant that nothing fell down ahead of him to alert anyone who might be inside.

And it wasn’t long before Mark found himself looking out from the empty fireplace onto a well-furnished lounge room …

As always happened when she woke up in the middle of the night, Janine spent a good few minutes wondering what the time was. She refused to have an alarm clock near her bed, and the only clock in this part of the house was out in the hall – her great-grandfather’s wonderful antique … grandfather clock.

She smiled to herself as she thought of her beloved great-grandfather again. He’d done so much for her. She …

… what was that noise … ?

Somewhere else in the house, something had fallen. She knew it. It wasn’t the house settling, or anything like that. She hadn’t been there long, but she knew the sounds of the place. A sound like that could only have come if …

… someone was in the house … !

“Shit”, Mark thought, trying to put the painting of some old guy down in one piece. For some reason, it had fallen out of its frame and the canvas had first hit the wall, then fallen to the tiled floor.

And Mark looked disdainfully at the clean, smooth wall where it once had hung.

“Okay … no safe behind the painting for these folks … ”

Setting the whole mess down, Mark listened carefully for a minute or so until – sure he hadn’t been heard by anyone …

“ … I still don’t know if anyone’s in this house … ”

… he continued.

There were some nice crystal Christmas decorations over the fireplace. On the floor-to-ceiling shelves opposite rested some nice-looking odds and ends. Some looked silver, some gold. There was a widescreen TV in the corner of the room with a DVD recorder which might fetch a couple of bucks at the hock shop, if he could convince the manager to give him money for ‘em without ID.

Given the general look of the room, Mark figured that whomever owned the place was fairly well off. If he was careful, he could do very well out of this.

Chuckling to himself, Mark took the rolled-up sack out of his pocket. An image had come to mind of himself as a ‘Bizarro’ Santa … taking things in his sack instead of giving.

“Me am here for Christmas presents … ”

Figuring to move to the next room, Mark reached for the handle of the closed door …

… just as it opened … !

Janine was looking to the left when she opened the door, and didn’t see Mark until it was too late. All that alerted her to his presence was the whispered, “Shit” …

… and then something hit her.

The woman slammed back into the door jamb and bounced forward. Her head struck the tiles before Mark – operating on instinct – could jump forward to stop her.

“Shit!”

He hadn’t wanted to kill the woman … just stop her before she saw him and screamed, or something.

Shaking, Mark reached forward and tried to move her into a recovery position. It was a while since he’d been taught first aid in high school, but he remembered something about checking airways, and moved her head back where she lay.

“Damn!”

Knowing there was nothing more he could do for her, Mark knew he had to either leave or check the rest of the house for other people.

“And what the hell happened when I hit her … ? The whole house seemed to shudder … !”

Frozen with indecision, Mark looked down at the woman’s unconscious form, knowing that a lot of B & E people would try to take advantage of such a moment. She was helpless, after all.

But not him.

He was no rapist.

He just didn’t want her in his hair while he sacked the joint.

Finally coming to a decision, Mark knew he’d better check the house for anyone else before he got out of there. If he had time to grab some loot, fine. If not, it was still better than getting done for assault.

With one quick look back at the unconscious woman, Mark headed into the other parts of the house. He wasn’t too worried about being quiet now. Time was of the essence. However, he soon found that the woman had been alone.

Breathing a huge sign of relief, he headed back to the lounge. Maybe he could tie her up or something, give an anonymous call to the police later so they could come rescue her.

These and more thoughts raced through his mind. What had started out as such a good target for a quick break-in had degenerated into a nightmare.

And it was a nightmare which was only getting worse, because – when he got back to the lounge, Mark found that the woman …

… was gone … !

“ … off to call the coppers, no doubt. Must’ve dragged herself into the kitchen”.

And that decided it. Loot or no, Mark was getting out of there.

He made his way into the hallway and over to the front door. Grabbing the handle and expecting it to open, his momentum nearly ran him into the door when …

… it didn’t.

Panic set in. He shook the handle furiously, looking for some sort of latch. But there was none, and the door resolutely refused to open.
“Fine … I’ll break a window”.

Right next to the door was a large picture window of thin, frosted glass. Knowing he’d be picking glass out of his clothes for hours, he nevertheless kicked out. A kick, a step back to let it fall, and he could easily step through and be gone …

… except …

… the glass didn’t break …

“What the hell is going on around here … ?”

At a run, Mark tried the other windows in the nearby rooms, keeping a quick lookout for the woman (who was nowhere to be seen). He didn’t know how long it had been since she’d woken up and moved, but he knew she’d had ample time to call the coppers …

Kicking out furiously – even grabbing a chair at one stage and throwing it at a window – Mark nevertheless found himself in an impossible situation …

“None of the doors work! None of the windows break! The woman’s disappeared … ”

“What the hell is going on around this place?”

Then he saw it …

… the chimney.

“Fine … I’ll go back out the way I came in … !”

Sweat dripping from his face and arms, Mark found climbing it harder than descending it. Nevertheless, he was almost halfway up …

… when he began to smell the wisp of smoke.

He hadn’t heard her come back into the room – he couldn’t hear much of anything from inside the chimney – but he knew …

“The bitch is trying to start a fire!”

He almost laughed out loud with relief as he continued to climb, knowing he’d have plenty of time to get out of the chimney before she got it going.

Still, he looked down to see if he could see her looking up at him. He wanted to show her his laughing face so she could realize just how ineffectual she was …

… but she wasn’t there.

“But …

… where’s the smoke coming from?”

Because it was plain – even in the dim lighting – that there was no fire starting below.

And no evidence that there ever had been …

“What the … ?”

And then Mark inexplicably knew that the woman had not, in fact, come back into the lounge room.

He also knew (somehow, and with more certainty than he’d ever known anything in his life) …

… that something beyond his understanding …

… was wrong.

The temperature inside the chimney suddenly plummeted – impossibly fast and impossibly low for summer in this part of the country. In an instant, Mark could swear that it was so cold, he should be seeing his breath.

But he wasn’t.

Because he then knew that the cold wasn’t something he could feel physically …

And he knew …

… knew …

… that something was in the chimney with him.

Something that assaulted the flue with an incomprehensible eruption of terrible, flameless heat. For the brief moment of its existence, it was – impossibly – hotter than the surface of the sun, yet – inexplicably – completely contained within the chimney.

The only concession to the unspeakable ignition was a microsecond burst of illumination that flashed furniture shadows into the walls. Despite this – once it was gone – the shadows rapidly faded away, almost as if the walls had … healed.

And of Mark, not a particle remained.

Not even ash.

Janine woke in her bedroom, knowing everything was well. There was a bump on the back of her head where she’d hit the door jamb, and a cut and bruise on her cheek where the thief had struck her …

… but she knew those things would heal.

And that everything was fine.

She smiled to herself, thinking about her great-grandfather, and the unusual request he’d placed in his will.

She remembered that many considered it an unorthodox request at the time, to be sure, but the local council had ultimately granted permission for it due to Earl’s contributions to the community, and, thus, it was done.

And so it eventuated that anywhere there was masonry, Earl’s ashes had been mixed into the mortar. Earl became – quite literally – part of the house.

After all, Earl knew the importance of protecting his family …

… even after his death.

Janine drifted back into sleep, knowing her great-grandfather he was still there, looking after her, whenever she needed it.

“Thank you”, she whispered as she drifted off.

The house exuded a feeling of love.

Copyright © 2008 by David Scott Aubrey
All Rights Reserved
2,870 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).

MC_Garland_In_Da_House

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Pukka Tukka (A Short Story)

Right … today I’m gonna show yer ‘ow t’ cook one o’ the simplest things yer can ever learn ‘ow t’ cook, yeah?

Believe it or not, I’ve seen people look at recipes like this an’ turn white … literally. Their teef cha’er, they sweat, they feel physically ill at the fought o’ it, an’ I can’t figure out why.

‘See, I promise … I swear to yer, right? It’s nowhere near as ‘ard as it looks, yeah? An’ if yer follow what I show yer ‘ere, yer’ll find out that a roast like this is dead easy.

Right … first off, yer can see that the skin is a bit tougher than it looks, yeah? It looks all soft an’ smooth, but it isn’t. Yer can stretch it, yer can try an’ tear it … nothin’ works, right? But the fing I found out … if yer haven’t got chef-quality knives like this, yeah? Nip down the High Street an’ pick yerself up a Stanley Knife. Cheap as chips, an’ it’ll last yer a long, long time. An’ it’s perfect for scorin’ the skin, yeah?

Now, yer need t’ score the skin like this, right? About free-qua’ers of an inch, or about two cen’imetres, yeah? The fing is, get some o’ this cookin’ salt, then, an’ rub it in. Not too much, but yer don’t wanna be too delicate about it, ‘cause then yer end up losin’ all the flavour.

Now, durin’ all this, make sure yer oven ‘as been pre-’eated to about two-sixty. Five ‘undred faren’eight, or gas ten, yeah?

When it’s ready, get yer roast with the rind side on top an’ whack it in a bakin’ dish, yeah? Then put that on a roastin’ rack. Pour in a bit o’ water an’ cook it for firty minutes. Until the skin begins cracklin’ an’ bubblin’, yeah?

Now, at this point, yer wanna reduce the heat t’ one-eighty, or free-fifty faren’eight or gas four an’ bake it f’ about two or free hours, yeah? About twenny minutes for ev’ry five ‘undred grams.

Ev’ry so often, take it out an’ baste it with the pan juices, yeah? But don’t cover th’ cracklin’ whatever yer do, ovverwise it’ll go soft, an’ yer don’t want that to ‘appen, do yer?

Anyway, when it’s all done, take it out an’ leave it in a warm place for about ten minutes, covered in foil, right? Leave it for that amount o’ time to sit and let it settle before slicin’, yeah? Then yer serve it wiv that apple sauce an’ gravy we made before.

An’ that’s ‘ow yer cook a baby …

Copyright © 2007 by David Scott Aubrey
All Rights Reserved
439 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).

Sidestep (A Short Story)

Nearly out of milk …

First time since moving into the new place.

Better head up to the shop.

Corner store’s only about three blocks away.

Long blocks, though.

Nice walk, though.

Figure it’ll cost an arm and a leg there, but there you go. When you need milk, you need milk. Coffee’s no good without it … gives me heartburn.

Bit hot this morning, even though it’s early.

Yup, I was rightDamn … four dollars … !

Still … nice enough shop.

This walk back’s all right, too. Bit of a breeze. Not too much traffic …

What the hell is that … ?

God damn … ! Sun’s right in my eyes … !

Hang on … how’s that possi … ?

Did the sun just … shift?

Can’t see …

What the hell was all that about … ?

Sun’s … normal … now.

Now I can see.

What the hell just happened, then … ?

Weird.

Aw, fuck it. Too tired to care.

Actually … something like that … think it’d bother me more …

The sun doesn’t just …

… some kinda weird light in my eyes …

Ah, well …

Yeah …

Yeah … that’s it …

Still recovering from the move …

Although …

… ahh! Forget it.

Home.

What the … ?

Wh … where’s my table an’ chairs … ?

Son. Of. A. Bitch!

Someone stole ‘em!

Aw, for fuck’s sake!

Quick … back out to the footpath … look up and down the street … !

Nothing.

Typical.

How someone steals an outdoor table and chair setting and gets away so quickly is beyond me … !

Worthless asking if the neighbours saw anything, too. Large properties out here. Lots of trees …

… more that I remembered, actually …

Aw, I dunno.

Must be that I haven’t settled in yet.

Only been here about three weeks.

Yeah …

Still recovering from the move and haven’t had time to really look around the neighbourhood.

Feel so … fuzzy in the head …

Exhausted.

Coffee!

Milk’s getting heavy, anyway … better get inside.

Hey … door’s a little harder to open than I remember. Key’s a bit stiff …

Ah, well. Maybe the lock needs oil.

Okay, put the milk …

What. The. Fuck … ?

Have I … have I got the right house … ?

I got …

Everything’s …

… different …

… yeah … this is my house …

… but … how’s my furniture all different?

What’s my ‘fridge doin’ over th … ?

An’ my table … my …

… it’s all been … moved … !

But … I’ve only been gone – what – fifteen minutes?

How can … ?

What was that … ?

Someone’s in the bathroom!

Comin’ out … !

Who the fuck are you … ?

What the hell are you doin’ in my house … ?

You what … ? Your house? This is my bloody house! I just moved in … !

You what … ? You’ve been here for the last ten years … ? I’ve been here for three weeks and haven’t seen …

Just who the hell … ?”

Oh, shit … !

Okay! Okay … !

I’m goin’!

Fuckin’ psycho!

Point that fuckin’ knife at me … !

I’m goin’ … !

My bloody house, ya bastard … !

Fuck’s sake … !

Runnin’ away from my own bloody house!

Who the fuck does that bastard … ?!

Shit!

He’s not … he’s not followin’ me … !

Left my phone … my keys …

Fine.

Shop has a phone.

Head back there an’ call the police … fuckin’ sort this out … !

Knife or no knife … !

Ahh … !

That … light … !

That light again … !

What … is … this … ?!

Huh?

I can … see again … !

I can …

… fuck it! Don’t care!

Forget it! Forget the shop and the police, too! I’m goin’ back there! That’s my fuckin’ house … !

There … !

Brandish a knife at me, ya bastard … ! Let’s see if you …

… what the … ?

Outdoor setting … ?

But … it was … gone before … ?

Fuck it. Sort it out later …

Door’s locked … fuck the keys … left ‘em inside, anyway … !

Kick the … !

All right, ya bastard! Try an’ wave a fuckin’ knife at me now, ya … !

Hey … !

Hey … !

Where are … ?

What … the … ?

My … my stuff … my … furniture …

… it’s all back where …

… I’ve been gone less than a minute … !

How does someone move every piece of furniture in my house in less than a minute … ?

An’ where’s …

… not here …

… he’s not …

… where, then … ?

Nobody’s here but me … !

Everything’s … like it was before …

Hang on …

… did this really … ?

That …

… light …

Comin’ back from the shop and headin’ up there again …

… that light …

… where did it take me … ? 

Copyright © 2007 by David Scott Aubrey
All Rights Reserved
880 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).

Sway (A Short Story)

It has to be said, when I heard Sway start … talkin’ to me, it was bit bloody weird, y’know?

I was on the bus, right? Heading into town … ? An’ I was sittin’ up the back. I mean … right up the back, y’know?

Uhh … fuck, eh?

Bit bloody stupid of me. Why am I tellin’ you that?

Of course … you know.

But, see … that’s how I knew that I was the only one there.

Besides you, I mean.

And … you were up the other end of the bus.

Anyway … I knew it wasn’t you, ‘cause of how close the bloody voice was. I mean, it was right in my fuckin’ ear …

Well … actually it was kinda …

… it was kind of in the back of my head, really.

Between my ears. But …

… back a bit …

know …

… there’s a lot of people out there who say they got some little voice in the back of their heads …

But that wasn’t it. That wasn’t it at all.

See, this voice was clear. Clear as if it came from someone sitting right behind me.

Which was bullshit, of course, because the only thing that was behind me was the back window of the bus!

Which didn’t stop me from lookin’ around, of course.

But …

… there was nothin’ there!

I mean, no cars. Nobody … bloody … behind the bus.

An’ the road was empty …

I mean, you fuckin’ know that … we’d been goin’ along for about, what … forty minutes? An’ there was no sign of anyone!

But … even if there was, right? Even if there’d been a car there and some prick in it’d been yelling, or something, right? That couldn’t have been it. Because the voice I heard wasn’t yelling.

It was speaking.

It was speaking loud and clear. Like …

… like one of those bloody actors, or somethin’, y’know? Who knows how to … project his voice? From the pit of his stomach?

Strong …

… commanding!

That’s the bloody word I was looking for … commanding!

I’m surprised you didn’t hear it.

Well … not really surprised.

Not now.

I was kind of surprised then, I remember. I was like, “Why can’t this prick hear it?”

But now, of course …

… well, now I know that nobody can hear Sway but me.

That’s right.

He only talks to me.

He told me.

I bet you’re wondering what sort of … life … that’d be for him, eh? Like … how would he be able to … uh … interact with the world, if all he is is a bloody voice in my head, eh?

Well … well, I dunno, mate.

I only started hearin’ ‘im about half-an-hour ago …

But … nah … it’s all right.

No need to worry about that.

He can interact with the world just fine.

Through me, y’know … ?

I mean, like I said, he hasn’t been talkin’ to me for very long, but …

… yeah … he can get his point across just fine.

Hah!

Heh, heh …

… I guess I don’t need to tell you that, though.

Do I?

Heh.

No, you figured that out already …

Uh …

… what was I … ?

Kinda hard t’ think.

Uhhhh ….

Ah!

Yeah.

Questions!

I bet you’ve still got some bloody questions though, eh?

Well … well, okay.

We’ve got a bit of time.

And … it’s not like nobody’s gonna interrupt us, eh?

Hah hah hah!

Ahhh …

Sorry.

Guess you don’t see the humour in it.

Ah, well …

An’ … look, sorry about that smack on the back of the head, too. But it was the only way I could get control of the bus to drive it into the paddock, y’know?

Are me … are me socks too tight?

It’s all I could find to tie you up with …

Uhh …

Shit. Where was I … ?

Oh!

Yeah.

That was it …

Sway …

Y’know, I reckon you’re wonderin’ some things. Like …

… like …

… like why’s he called Sway, for a start.

Well … I wondered that myself, y’know? I mean, I knew it wasn’t his real bloody name, or nothin’.

He told me, but … he said there was this … this quote, y’know? Kinda famous if you’re into that kind of shit. Me, I’d never fuckin’ heard of it before.

It was …

… it was, “Pause awhile, And let my counsel sway you in this case” 1.

Something like that. Some … some bloody guy with a spear. ‘Shake’ fuckin’ somethin’. Could’ve been ‘Shakin’ fuckin’ Stevens’ for all I bloody know.

Anyway …

What was … ?

Oh!

Yeah …

… next question!

bet I know … ! Eh?

Eh?

What did Sway say to me?

Well …

… well …

… like I said … his voice was …

… commanding.

I mean, I couldn’t bloody help myself, y’know?

And …

… an’ I’m pretty bloody sure you can figure out exactly what he fuckin’ said, Driver …

… considerin’ I just ate your bloody eyeballs.

Copyright © 2007 by David Scott Aubrey
All Rights Reserved
877 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).

1 “Pause awhile,
And let my counsel sway you in this case”.

– William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616); British dramatist and poet. Spoken by the character of Friar Francis, in Much Ado About Nothing, Act 4, Scene 1, l. Trying to help the distraught Leonato.

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).