No Story This Month

Sincerest apologies, folks. normally, I would have a delightful story geared up for you, but this month featured a somewhat major life event.

At the end of October, I passed out while grocery shopping, hitting my head and suffering what I was later told was a “subarachnoid hemorrhage”.

(While this did bring to mind my story Parlor Games, I was assured that my brain is not, in fact full of spiders. Not any more than usual at least.)

It turns out that subarachnoid hemorrhage is a fancy way of saying that my brain was bleeding. Thankfully, not enough to require surgery, but more than enough to make writing an impossibility.

I apologize again for missing this month, and hopefully we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming soon.

 

 

 

 

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Jimmy

Jimmy stumbled across the street, trying to ignore the pain in his stomach. The people passing did their best to ignore him. He knew that he smelled bad. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a shower, or even seen soap. Still, a small part of him died a little when the faces of the people around him scrunched up as he got close.

The smell of pizza lingered on the air. Just up the street he spotted a man staring at a cell phone, holding a white box in one hand. The man was dressed nicely enough. Clean clothes, certainly. A blue shirt with a collar and jeans that weren’t faded and thin from everyday use.

Jimmy wrapped his heavy green coat around himself, hoping to hide the smell, and approached the man carefully. People did not like to be surprised. Ducking his head a little, he moved up next to the man, who took an involuntary step back.

“Excuse me,” he said. “Do you have a dollar? Or maybe some food?”

The man looked at him for a second, before sliding his phone into the front pocket of his jeans. “No, sorry, I don’t have anything.”

The lie hung in the air, and Jimmy’s eyes drifted down towards the box. Steam drifted up from it, and the smell was making his mouth water. He looked back up at the man’s face.

“Come on, man. Please. I’m starving here.”

“I really don’t have anything.” The man’s hand shook, rattling the pizza in the box. If anything, the smell was making Jimmy’s stomach hurt even more. He took a step forward, his eyes focused on the box. The man pulled it back against his body, pressing it against his chest with the free hand.

“Fuck you!” Jimmy shouted, lunging forward. He slammed the man up against the wall, the box falling to the ground in between them with a loud slap. The man flailed in his arms, his cries for help coming out as a low whimper.

A few people walked past, keeping their eyes focused on the streets in front of them. It was all Jimmy could do not to scream at them. He was tired of people looking through him every day.

When the punch came, he wasn’t expecting it. For a brief moment, he’d forgotten the man with the pizza. The hit didn’t even hurt, really. The man was swinging wildly as Jimmy backed away. People were watching now, recording with their phones, laughing to their friends.

Jimmy ducked under a punch and darted past the man who was now red-faced and screaming obscenities. He tried to push through the crowd, and get as far away as he could. The shouts of the man mixed in with the crowd around him, a surprising roar of noise.

When the weight of the police officer’s bicycle slammed into him, Jimmy hit the concrete hard, feeling a tooth break in his mouth. He watched from the ground as the crowd began to shuffle away, the pizza box kicked open and the food scattered. He tried to pull himself forward, crawling towards the food that was being mashed into the pavement.

Tears welled up in his eyes as he was pulled to his feet. The officer tried to talk to him, to get his side of the story, but all Jimmy could say was, “I just wanted some food.” The words tumbled out of his mouth over and over. “I just wanted some food.”

©2016 Chris Page. All rights reserved.

Thoughts and Changes to the Site

In February of 2015, I set out with the goal of doing two short stories a month for twelve months, and with Petrichor, I was able to accomplish that goal. There were definitely a lot of challenges on the way, including a broken collar bone in October that had me writing at least one story one-handed.

But I did it! I accomplished the goal that I set out to, and I think as a whole, it’s made me a better writer.Not only that, but one of the stories, Phantom Limb, won first place in the Horror category of the Writer’s Digest’s Popular Fiction Award.

My original idea was to continue on doing two stories a month for the foreseeable future, but I don’t know that this is necessarily feasible. I don’t want to stop doing the short stories, but I will need time to work on other projects.

So, going forward, I’ll be doing one short story a month on the site. This will hopefully leave me more time to work on novels, and short stories that can be submitted to other publications.

In other words, I intend to be very busy.

For now, I have a whole lot of people to thank.

First and foremost, to my amazing editor Kat O’Farrell: You kept me motivated to finish this, and without your notes, none of these stories would be half as good as they turned out to be. You continue to inspire me every day.

To my parents, thank you for instilling in me a love of reading and for encouraging me as a writer.

To Adam Witt, thank you for inspiring this idea way back when, and for being an awesome co-writer on comics. Working with helped me learn to be a better writer.

To Travis Holyfield, thank you for giving me cool stories to draw back in the day. You have have the best ideas.

To Ron “AAlgar” Watt, thank you for sharing the links, for the discussions on ways to continue to promote this, and for the podcast that gave me the focus to finish this thing.

Finally, to the readers, thank you for sticking with me through this. I’m incredibly proud of the work that I’ve done, and every view of the page means a lot to me. Thank you for sharing links and providing feedback on stories. Hopefully you’ll stick with me in the future. If you haven’t already, please follow me on Twitter, which is the easiest way to get updates on the stories as they post.

 

 

The Lost and the Lonely

Harmony Baxter hated it in the city. She hated the way people ignored each other as they hurried on their way, and the constant noise and light that made it impossible to think. She’d lived here her whole life, always being afraid, although she never knew what it was that she was so scared of.

Ronnie had picked another fight with her after school, something stupid about how short her hair was. Rather than get a ride home from him, she decided to walk. She was about to turn up the street towards her house when she felt a small vibration in her bones. It felt almost like something was calling to her.

She kept walking, feeling it get stronger until she stopped across the street from the bridge. It ran over the park, and had been there long before Harmony had been born. The sidewalk led under it, running off to a dirt path. It looked like a normal sidewalk: even paving, a small bit of grass growing to one side. Even the chain link fence on the one side shone just right in the fading afternoon sun. Most people passed by with, their eyes focused on cell phones or the ground two feet in front of them.

Harmony was the only person to notice the woman step out from under the bridge. Something about it felt off. Maybe it was the woman’s hair style, or her peasant blouse and long flowing skirt, that stood out. Maybe it was how she seemed to appear out of nowhere.

“That’s ridiculous,” Harmony said to herself. “Probably just didn’t see her in the dark.” The vibration had returned and seemed to move with the woman. For a moment, Harmony considered just heading back home, but she felt a sudden urge to know what it was about the woman that made this happen.

The woman walked down the street ahead of her, staring up at the buildings in the area and muttering quietly to herself. Harmony did her best to keep up with her through the bustling streets. When the woman stopped in front of a window to stare at her reflection, Harmony was forced to walk past her.

The woman muttered to her reflection, “Just need one. If I can find one, I’ll be okay.”

Harmony frowned. The woman looked older up close. Small lines appeared around her eyes, and her hair was shot through with streaks of gray. When she’d walked out from under the bridge, she’d looked like a young woman in her prime.

Forced to walk into the crowd, Harmony lost the woman. She tried to circle back around the block, but by the time she’d returned the woman was gone. Harmony walked back to the bridge, and waited to see if she’d return.

Twenty minutes passed, then thirty. Harmony sat across the street from the bridge, staring into the darkness underneath it. The shadows pulsed like a heartbeat. Her eyelids grew heavy and she rubbed her palms against her eyes in an effort to stay awake.

She’d just decided to head home when the woman appeared. She looked older now, having aged very quickly in the hour or so since Harmony had last seen her. Hobbling towards the bridge, the now old woman carried a baby in her arms. Harmony watched as she disappeared into the darkness under the bridge, the baby’s cries echoing in the night.

She waited outside of the bridge the next day, and the day after hoping to see some sign of the woman or the baby. She spent a whole Saturday watching the darkness under the bridge, but nothing happened. When she’d try to sleep at night, the darkness behind her eyelids would pulse like the shadows under the bridge.

After a week or so of waiting, she saw the woman again, following her down the same path through the streets. She stayed behind the woman easily enough. The woman stopped at the window again, and this time Harmony refused to move. She waited just up the block where she could easily see her. After a few minutes, the woman blinked and then hurried off into the crowd. She moved so quickly this time that Harmony lost her.

With no way to find her, Harmony once again went back to the bridge and waited. This time, the woman returned with a drunk man. He leaned heavily against her, running his hands over body and leaving sloppy kisses on her neck. Half-dragging him into the darkness below the bridge, the woman’s expression never changed from a look of grim determination as they disappeared into the shadows.

Harmony waited for several seconds, then walked across the street towards the path. The shadows under the bridge stayed dark, and the path seemed to run off into nothingness. She stopped at the sidewalk’s edge, and stared into the darkness. She still couldn’t see anything, although she felt the pull of the shadows from where she stood. They called to her, begging her to take that last step inside.

No matter how hard she wanted to step forward, her legs wouldn’t move. The darkness pulsed in rhythm with her heart, faster every second. A man shoved past her, and for a moment she thought she was going to fall in. Fear and longing mixed in her mind right before she hit the pavement hard.

Harmony limped away from the bridge, checking herself for injuries. The further away from the bridge she got, the more her head began to clear. She sat down across the street in her usual spot, staring into the darkness. She felt it laughing at her, mocking her. She wanted to hate it. More than she had ever wanted anything.

She was about to give up when the woman stepped back out of the shadows. If it hadn’t been for the same clothes, Harmony wouldn’t have recognized her. The once gray hair was now a dark, chestnut brown and her skin practically glowed. She stared at Harmony for a second, their eyes locking. Then, with a faint smile, she wandered off into the crowd.

Getting to her feet, Harmony followed after the woman. It didn’t take long to realize that they were following the same route as before. This time, the woman drew all of her attention. It felt like there was a warm, clean bubble that surrounded her, and Harmony wanted nothing more than to be a part of it.

When the woman stopped at the window, Harmony stood next to her. She felt the woman watching her in the reflection, but couldn’t find the words she wanted. Every time she opened her mouth, nothing came out.

“What’s your name, girl?” the woman asked, although Harmony didn’t see her mouth move.

“Harmony.”

There was brief nod. “Why are you following me?”

“I don’t know,” Harmony said. She felt the moment slipping away. She wanted to beg this woman to take her away from this world. She didn’t want to have to think anymore, or to worry. “I think I’m supposed to go with you.”

“Under the bridge.” It was a statement of fact, with no judgment behind the words.

“Yes,” Harmony said. The woman was aging again, the beauty and light already beginning to fade around them. “Can you take me there?”

The woman turned on her heels, and began walking back the way they came. She moved so suddenly that it took Harmony a second to follow her. The small bubble of warmth she felt slid away, and she shivered in the afternoon breeze.

Hurrying after her, Harmony shouted, “Wait!”

The woman slowed a bit, and Harmony was able to catch her. “I don’t even know your name,” Harmony said. “Who are you?”

“Evelyn,” the woman replied, as though it were obvious. Her hair was a dark gray now, and her skin had become wrinkled.

“It’s always been Evelyn,” Harmony said, although she didn’t know where the words came from. Evelyn was walking slower now, and Harmony took her arm to help her along. The older woman’s bones shifted under Harmony’s hand.

The bridge loomed over them now, but with Evelyn, there was no pain. Harmony knew that if she could just stay with the now elderly woman, everything would be fine. They stopped just outside the path that led into the shadows when Evelyn collapsed.

And just like that, everything collapsed. The world rushed back in around them. Harmony’s head began to throb, the pressure building inside her skull. She wanted to scream. The smells of the city filled the air around her. The sweat and piss and spit of the people around her. The sounds of their bodies digesting the decaying matter in their stomachs.

It was too much.

She crawled towards the shadows, leaving Evelyn behind. Somewhere, under the bridge, she knew that she could find peace. She hesitated at the sidewalk’s edge. Evelyn was aging faster now. People stepped over her body, ignoring her as they went on their own way. Nobody stopped to help.

Harmony dragged herself forward, into the cool darkness. The air smelled cleaner here. Glancing back at Evelyn, she watched the old woman smile before crumbling to dust. Cold arms wrapped themselves around her. Her body floated into the darkness, and she watched as the entrance to the path drifted farther and farther behind her.

A thin voice echoed out of the shadows around her.

Do you come of your own free will?

Harmony nodded and glanced back at the city street fading further into the distance.

We can help you. You can be like her. Nothing will ever hurt you again.

“What do I have to do?” Harmony asked.

All you have to do is let us in.

The entrance was just a pinprick on the horizon. A lonely star that twinkled in the darkness. Harmony blinked back tears and sighed. “And you’ll let me come back out again?”

Of course.

Harmony heard the smug satisfaction in the voice. She closed her eyes and felt the arms tighten around her. “What if I don’t want to stay?” she asked.

The arms around her loosened a bit. Gravity tugged her back down, and the darkness faded a little.

What do you have to go back to?

Harmony stared back out at the world she came from. She watched the people stumble past the bridge, never looking at anything but the ground ahead of them. She closed her eyes and floated for a second. She thought of her parents, who always yelled at her, and that asshole Ronnie who talked to her like she was an idiot.

You could be beautiful forever.

“Forever is a long time,” she said.

Yes, it is.

“It would be so easy to stay here,” she whispered.

You would never be alone or unappreciated.

There was an urgency to the voice now. A faint, pleading edge to something that had sounded so perfect. She could see the sidewalk from here. A bus rumbled by in the fading afternoon light, so close she could practically touch it.

“It’s not supposed to be easy,” Harmony said, feeling the darkness fade a little. She thought about her friends at school, and her little sister. For a moment, she even thought about pizza. Something roared behind her, and a cold hand brushed against her shoulder.

Harmony stepped out into the light and blinked. Taking a deep breath, she stepped out onto the sidewalk. She smiled up at the last bit of sunlight that warmed her skin, and then turned to go home. She did her best to ignore the smell of the city, and just

Across the street, a girl stood in shock as she watched Harmony emerge from the shadows. Staring into the darkness below the bridge, she watched in silent fascination as they pulsed with the rhythm of her heartbeat.

©2015 Chris Page. All rights reserved.

Back of the Bus

Jimmy Mullen waited at the bus stop, fingering the frayed sleeve of his over-sized t-shirt. The bus rumbled in the distance, his heart pounding as it got closer. He bent down and re-tied the frayed shoelace that refused to stay tied. A sharp pain flared up in his stomach, like it did every morning. He shouldered his backpack, set his jaw, and stepped up to the curb as the bus lumbered to a stop in front of him.

Jimmy was small for his age, and hopelessly skinny. He wasn’t particularly strong or athletic, although he wasn’t horrible at sports. He could run faster than any other kid in school. Faster, by far, than any of Eddie Martin’s friends, that was for certain.

Eddie and his friends sat in the back of the bus, away from the eyes and ears of the bus driver. Jimmy always sat at the front, where it was safer. At the front of the bus, people noticed things. The further back you went, though, the more the rules changed. Jimmy’s stop was the first on the road, so it was easy to get a good seat right by the door. He tugged down the brim of his dad’s baseball cap, and leaned against the window, watching his breath fog the glass.

A few other kids got on the bus, but none of them sat with Jimmy. Nobody wanted to invite that kind of trouble into their lives. Eddie Martin was incredibly persuasive. A few of the younger kids used to sit with Jimmy, thinking that Eddie would leave them alone. They learned the error of this thinking fast enough.

He never knew what he had done to deserve this. Maybe it was the hand-me-downs from his brother, or the way that his mother cut his hair. He looked at the backpack that he was sure weighed almost as much as he did and sighed. Maybe it was because he brought his lunch to school, or because he carefully folded the paper bag to bring back home at the end of the school day.

Charlie Davis, Eddie’s best friend, got on at the next stop. Jimmy hunched down in his seat, hoping that Charlie would ignore him. He felt the slap on the back of his head as Charlie walked past, though, and knew that today wasn’t going to be any different. Tears stung his eyes as he looked up at the bus driver, hoping she had seen something, but she was too busy, yelling at a dawdler who was taking too long to get on the bus.

Several more stops went by, and Jimmy watched as more kids got on the bus. They laughed and joked and made certain to avoid sitting next to him. Every so often, Jimmy would catch the eye of someone who had been a friend the year before. He had grown to hate the occasional look of guilt that would cross the face of his former friends as they turned away.

The bus continued down the street, turning past the wide driveway that signaled Eddie’s stop. Jimmy felt the bile rise in his throat as the bus stop door opened, and Eddie stepped on. He was a tall boy, with a mop of shaggy black hair that he often had to brush from his eyes. Eddie smiled with a crooked grin as he surveyed the bus, and his eyes narrowed as he focused on Jimmy alone in the front.

It was that exact moment that a car ran the bus’s stop sign. The bus driver swore and yelled at the man right as Eddie passed Jimmy. Jimmy had braced for the usual slap to the back of his head, and instead felt a sudden yank as Eddie pulled his dad’s red baseball cap from the top of his head, and calmly walked to the back of the bus.

It took a second for Jimmy to realize what had happened. His cheeks flushed with embarrassment. It wasn’t fair. The cap was all that he had left of his dad. He felt the flush spread to the back of his neck, as tears slid down his face. Some of the other kids noticed, and the ones closest to him at least had the decency to look ashamed. Word spread back through the bus, though, and he heard laughter that he was certain was directed at him.

Jimmy’s father was a distant memory, at best. A large man, although he couldn’t exactly remember his face. His father smelled of cigarette smoke and Old Spice, and had one of the best laughs Jimmy had ever heard. It always came out as a loud boom that couldn’t help but make you smile. He remembered his father wearing the baseball cap as he worked on the family car in the garage.

He found the cap, a year ago, in a battered box in the attic. Most nights he slept with it firmly on his head. His father had long since passed away. The heart attack had been sudden, and now the man was nothing more than a picture held in dusty frames in the hallway at home.

And yet, when he held the red, oil-stained cap in his hands, he still smelled his father on it. He felt that the man was still with him in some way. He had taken the box that he found it in up to his room, and hidden it in his closet. Aside from the cap, the box had a pack of cigarettes, some dirty magazines and a few pens that had no ink. Jimmy had worn that cap every day since.

A quick glance over his shoulder revealed that Eddie was wearing it, his greasy hair bunched up under the hat. Eddie smiled a toothy grin as Jimmy ducked back down in his seat. He had to get that cap back. He didn’t know how, but if it took him the rest of the day, he’d find a way. The bus screeched to a stop at the school, and the doors swung open. Jimmy lifted his heavy backpack and set off into the schoolyard to come up with a plan.

As he settled down with his back against the building, Jimmy watched Eddie and his friends. He thought about his step-father, Mike. Mike was big on sticking up for yourself. “Don’t let the other kids push you around, Jim” was a regular thing in their house. But Jimmy also knew that Mike was never the small kid. Mike was never really pushed around, or chased home after school. He knew that Mike never woke up with that pit of fear in his stomach every morning that he had to go to school. He knew that Mike was full of shit.

He thought about it all through class. Mr Miller even yelled at him for being distracted in Algebra. Jimmy knew that Algebra wasn’t going to help him in this situation. Mike had told him once that if you thought your way through a problem enough, a solution would present itself. They had more people, and were bigger and stronger. The only thing Jimmy had was his speed.

Jimmy walked out of school to the bus, fingering the frayed sleeve of his over-sized t-shirt. His heart pounded as he lined up to get on board. Ahead of him, Eddie was still wearing the cap. He bent down and re-tied the shoelace that had come undone yet again. His stomach gurgled and he could feel a small trickle of sweat trace the curve of his spine. He focused on the cap, sitting loosely on Eddie’s head.

Jimmy shot like an arrow down the line, leaping and snatching the cap off of Eddie’s head. He ran hard and fast, his feet pounding on the pavement and carrying him through the parking lot. Behind him, he could hear shouts from Eddie and his friends, but he knew they couldn’t catch him. Nobody could when he was running, and today he was practically flying.

He ran for miles, until his lungs burned and his legs began to shake. He was going to be late getting home, but he didn’t care. He had the cap. He didn’t need to wear it anymore, he would keep it in his bag where nobody would touch it.

He had slowed to a walk by the time he reached the unpaved road near his house. A few more blocks, and he was free. He felt his Dad smiling down at him as he turned the corner. And there, waiting on the side of the road were Eddie and his friends.

Jimmy felt the air leave his lungs in an instant. It wasn’t fair! Not when he was so close. He looked to the right of the kids in front of him and saw the driveway leading back to his house. He turned to cut through the tall grass, but the weight of his backpack slowed him down. He could hear the bigger kids getting closer. The grass tangled around his feet, tripping him up.

Nobody was able to properly explain to Jimmy’s parents how things had gone so wrong. The school told them that Jimmy had apparently stolen something from Eddie Martin. They heard that their son was “troubled”. The Martin boy had shown the administrators where Jimmy had kicked him repeatedly when he tried to retrieve what was stolen, and his friends all agreed that Jimmy had stolen something from them, that Eddie was just defending himself.

What nobody could figure out was what precisely had been stolen. Nothing belonging to the other boys was ever found on him. When questioned separately, everyone had a different story about what he had taken.

After that, the school district washed their hands of the whole thing. The incident had happened off of their property. They weren’t legally bound to do anything. A few kids noticed Jimmy’s absence, those that had known him longest. But the others sat in the back of the bus, and smiled as they discussed the way his head bounced off the ground. Eddie couldn’t help but laugh when he described the way the kid pissed himself as they kicked him.

Some of them would not sleep well, certainly. A few of Eddie’s friends drifted away, dismayed at his actions. They had even made an attempt to walk up the long drive and apologize to Mrs. Mullen. In the end, they left flowers, picked a little further up the road. The sad bouquet remained as a memorial for several weeks, sitting a few hundred feet from the tall grass where they found his body.

But none of them slept as poorly as Jimmy’s mother, who buried her son wearing the red cap of his father’s that he loved so well. The only blessing was that they had left him that. The Medical Examiner said that the red cap was clutched so tightly in Jimmy’s small hands that it had been almost impossible to remove. The Mullens left town shortly thereafter. Nobody knows where they went, or what happened to them.

Jimmy Mullen ran through a large green meadow. The air was clean and fresh, and he could barely feel his feet touching the ground. In the distance, he saw a tall man wearing a red cap, and smoking a cigarette. A loud booming laugh echoed in his ears, as the man pulled off the cap, and pushed his hair back with his free hand. Jimmy laughed as he launched himself into the man’s arms, smelling the cigarettes and Old Spice, and knowing that nothing would ever hurt him again.

©2015 Chris Page. All rights reserved.