A Day Late!!

Bah! I totally meant to post this yesterday, but a Saturday Halloween party more or less threw off my whole weekend, and I didn’t get home until Sunday afternoon. Needless to say I feel bad about being late, so instead of a Short Story Sunday, this will be a Short Story Monday. My bad….

At any rate, I’m trying to challenge myself more, especially on weeks where I’m just find spending a lot of time on my main WIP. As both a ‘punishment’ and a way to keep writing, I’d like to pump out a short story for those weeks. Nothing over 5,000 words, but always over 1,000, and for inspiration I’ve made a sort of ‘prompt’ sheet.

The prompt sheet as 4 categories/columns: person, action, location, object. Using an online dice roller I’ll pick one randomly from each category and use the four of those to create a story. Today I’ll share the first attempt with this method, and hopefully it’s entertaining.

Here are the words for this short story:

Astronaut | Sing | Jungle | Shovel

     Marty felt the stress of his morning melt away as he opened the door ahead of him with the press of a button. The corridors behind him were an endless stretch of gray metals and white plastics, but across this threshold was a living, breathing mass of every green shade imaginable; a perfect man-made jungle created to save the world. He stepped through, and the door slid shut with a quiet whoosh of air behind him. Humidity wrapped around him, and for the next minute he just stood there and listened. He closed his eyes and took in a deep breath of warm air.

     Insects and camouflaged AL-Amazona chirped and sang, their tinny voices filling the space with a song never heard before on Earth. It was a fusion of nature and the unnatural, something all too familiar and yet strangely alien. He smiled, and a moment later their noises were drowned out by the sudden mechanical rumble of thunder, one of the hidden speakers crackling with a burst of static as its broken parts shook.

     Marty sighed and opened his eyes. He grabbed one of the ponchos hanging by the door and slipped it on just as another rumble filled the room. The soft patter of water against leaves quickly followed. The drizzle fast turned into a deluge, and with a growing smile, Marty grabbed a shovel from the nearby tool rack. He pulled his hood up and headed into the downpour, the jungle foliage enveloping him with a whispering rustle.

     With a spring in his step and the sweet smell of damp earth and decaying vegetation filling his every inhalation, he felt the sudden urge to sing. His smile grew into a grin and he lifted the shovel, holding the handle near to his mouth as he waved his imaginary audience to silence.

“You’re just too good to be true,” he spoke softly at first, only the slightest hint of a musical lilt to his words. “Can’t take my eyes off of you—”

     He caressed the space around the handle of his shovel as if it were the back of a lover’s head, his voice steadily getting louder and more rhythmic.

“You feel like heaven to touch.” He bopped the handle on its imaginary nose. “I want to hold you so much. At long last love has arrived, and I thank God I’m alive. You’re just too good to be true, can’t take my eyes off of you—”

     Marty spun the shovel in a circle then continued his trek forward at a faster pace as he sang more loudly than before.

“Pardon the way that I stare. There’s nothing else to compare. The sight of you makes me weak. There are no words left to speak. But if you feel like a feel, please let me know that it’s real. You’re just too good to be true; can’t take my eyes off of you.”

     As he reached the chorus, Marty jumped on top of a large root that stuck up from the soft ground, his arms spread wide as if to embrace the jungle in return. As loud as he could, he sang the words out to the trees with all the passion he could muster.

“I love you baby! And if it’s quite all right, I need you baby, to warm the lonely nights. I love you baby, trust in me when I say—” he stretched the last word out, but before he could continue further a voice called out to him.

“Jesus Christ Marty, what the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

     The voice appeared out from behind some underbrush, and Marty grinned at Jim before jumping down from the root. He shrugged, giving the man a quick once over. Jim’s fingers and uniform were dirty, but otherwise there was nothing else to note.

“Just felt like singing is all.”

“Yeah well, you know damn well that extra noise is gonna piss Marie off when she checks through the video later. She—wait, wasn’t she supposed to be on shift with you? Where is she?”

     Marty’s grin damped a little, and he shrugged again.

“She wasn’t feeling well. I told her I’d handle everything. Where’s Kate?”

“She’s just packing up the samples.”

“Well let’s not keep her waiting.” He motioned for his colleague to lead the way. “I’ll help.”

     Jim nodded and turned, and when he took a single step forward Marty’s grin bounced back onto his face. Before his friend could take one more stride he lifted the shovel and swung it forward as hard as he could.

     Metal smashed into the back of Jim’s skull with a sickening crack, and the man fell forward before he even knew what had happened. His face landed into wet soil, and Marty pulled the shovel close to his mouth again.

“Oh pretty baby, don’t bring me down I pray. Oh pretty baby, now that I’ve found you stay—” he walked forward as he sang softly, stepping across Jim’s back as he headed towards Kate. “And let me love you, baby; let me love you…”

     Marty hummed the next bit as he closed in on the woman. Her back was turned to him, and her hands were buried in a box as she sorted small biological samples. When his feet crunched against a branch she looked over her shoulder. Kate gave him a quick acknowledging nod before facing her work again.

“Heard you howling from all the way over here,” she commented as glass clinked at her fingertips, a small piece of tarp supported on poles keeping her hands, and the samples, dry. “I’m surprised Marie didn’t tackle you down and shove a ball-gag right in.”

“Oh,” Marty stepped up behind her and lifted the shovel to rest against his shoulder, his grin so large and constant it was beginning to hurt his cheeks. “Marie didn’t come with. She’s in bed right now; wasn’t feeling too good.”

“She’ll be giving you hell later then. Better get ready for it.”

“I don’t think she’ll mind so much,” He argued, bursting back into song a second later. “And I love you baby—!”

     Kate jumped and turned in surprise at the sudden outburst, but she only managed to open her eyes wide in surprise just before the shovel slammed across the side of her head. The metallic thunk rang out in time with her grunt of pain, but unlike Jim she didn’t fall. In shock, Kate stumbled to the side and grabbed her head as a line of blood appeared on her brow, the rain quickly washing it down the side of her face in a steady pink stream. She swayed and looked up at Marty in horror, but he merely sang and walked closer.

“—and if it’s quite all right, I need you baby—” he swung again.

     Kate’s hand was quick to block him, but as he made contact with her fingers they folded backwards and a strained shriek escaped her mouth. She staggered backwards and clutched her broken hand to her chest, her head shaking in furious denial as she blinked rain and tears and blood from her eyes.

“Marty, no—please, no—what are you—”

“—to warm the lonely nights. I love you baby—”

     He sang over her words and pulled the shovel handle to his mouth again as winked at her.

“—Trust in me when I say—”

“You crazy son of a bitch!” Kate looked up to the cameras on the ceiling as she continued to backtrack. “Fucking help me goddamn it!”

“—Oh pretty baby—!” Marty rushed her then, leaping forward as he stabbed the shovel straight at her chest.

     The tool’s head sunk into her torso with a wet crunch, and his song stopped as abruptly as her pleas. Kate’s head dropped to stare at him in surprise. Mouth gaping, her unbroken hand lifted to feel the new wound as if she couldn’t’ believe it was real. They stared at one another, the clink of rain on metal louder than the wheezing that escaped with Kate’s every labored breath.

“B—B—I—Why?” It was the only full word she managed, her tears disappearing into the reddened rainwater on her cheeks.

     Marty’s grin wavered, and he licked his lips. Why indeed, he thought. He looked up at the cameras, then back down and past Kate’s tortured face, out to the beautiful green that surrounded them on every side. He sighed.

“They just don’t deserve this.” He answered, thinking of the dying planet below them.

     Kate tried to speak again, but as her mouth worked wordlessly, Marty decided that he was done with the conversation. He still had work to do. His grin returned, and as he held the shovel tightly, he planted a boot against his colleague’s stomach and pushed. Her body fell into the mud their feet had trampled up, and with his weapon free, he held the handle back at his mouth and sang softly.

“Oh pretty baby, don’t bring me down I pray. Oh pretty baby, now that I’ve found you stay. And let me love you, baby; let me love you…”

     Kate let out her last gurgling breath, and once again Marty was alone with the beautiful sound of rain and the quiet lull of insects and their aluminum hunters. All he had left to do now was head for the airlock. He didn’t deserve anything either, and with the entire crew of the space station resting peacefully, his work would finally be finished.

     Marty smiled and headed for the door, humming all the way.

The Carousel

     The metronome ticked off forty beats per minute.

     David knew this because he’d counted them each; every soft tock and tick that filled the space between the silence. They were softened further by thick carpet and book-lined shelves that absorbed the tinny clicks. Doctor Stein cleared her throat.

     It was the first new sound in sixty beats.

“Do you really believe this David?”

     Her tone was one of chiding condescension. His last remark had brought on their extended quiet. He liked the quiet.

“I don’t need to believe anything Dr. Stein. I can show you my work if you think I’m delusional.”

     His work.

     Now there was a subject of pure passion, a project he’d poured his very soul into. It was David’s only drop of amusement in an otherwise endless, boring ocean of existence. It was also the reason for his visits here. What others called crazy he knew to be genius, but he wanted a doctor’s opinion. There had never been one to experience his genius before.

     He was interested in the reaction.

“That’s okay David. If you believe it’s real, that’s good enough for me.”

     She scribbled something in her notebook, likely a comment about whatever delusions she thought he might have. David smiled.

“But you don’t believe it doctor.”

     He licked his lips and let his eyes wander up the length of her leg as he spoke, starting from the ankle and sliding up a contour of smooth calf. It was easy to imagine the appendage raised up in mid-motion, the muscle taunt and flexed and frozen forever in place in just that perfect pose.

“Do you believe in any kind of magic,” he went on, “or only the ones with an organized religion to back up their claims?”

     The doctor smiled too now, but while his held secrets, hers only held disapproval and a lack of imagination. That was alright though. He had imagination enough for the both of them.

“We’re not here to talk about my beliefs David,” she paused, eyes flicking down to view her own notes from earlier in their discussions. “Tell me more about this carousel.”

“Ah, the carousel.”

     The words escaped with a musical lilt, the very topic teasing his blood into a rushing torrent. It pounded in his ears and flood into the loins. It was inspiration. It was exaltation. It was carnality captured and corrupted. He readjusted himself and crossed his legs.

“It’s the pinnacle of my work,” he continued, “my magnum opus.”

“Then why would you say that it makes people suffer?”

     At this question, David had to chuckle. Of course she couldn’t understand his work, not without seeing it first. She would though, soon enough. He would show her, and she would have no choice but to concede.

“Because that’s the very purpose of the thing.” He wet his lips again. “Everything has to have a purpose Dr. Stein. Don’t you agree?”

“Actually, David I…”

     He couldn’t focus anymore, not with the ticking tap of moments playing backdrop to her words, and not with the image of his beautiful carousel spinning in his mind. The metronome’s beating deepened into a heartbeat; into twenty-three heartbeats, each one pumping blood and keeping life alive. He could smell the sweet sweat in the air. Gaping eyes and mouths chomping at bits, frothing with fear or fury; hooves unable to stamp, hanging two feet too high and—

“—David are you listening to me?”

     His eyes refocused on the good doctor’s and he smiled.

“Apologies. My mind must have wandered.”

“I was just saying that—” but her words were cut short as their timer chimed. “Oh, I’m sorry David. We’ll need to pick this up on our next session.”

“Of course.” He stood and smoothed his shirt before offering the doctor a handshake. “I always enjoy our talks.”

     That night David spent time on the carousel.

     He couldn’t resist the allure after talking about it, after teasing himself with thoughts of bringing Doctor Angela Stein to experience the magic. As he ran his fingers across the flank of a horse he imagined the expression on her face. Shock first, then horror. He’d seen it before.

     She’d be speechless no doubt, so very unlike the professional facade he was forced to see her through now. After witnessing his work those emotions she tried so hard to keep in check would come bubbling to the surface. If he kept a metronome here he could count out how many beats it took before she screamed.

     It took one more month for him to chisel her resolve down, each lick of his lips bringing her closer to his wants, bending her further to his will. She may not have believed in magic, but that made no difference to the effect of it. Magic, much like Gods, cared little for the thoughts and feelings of those who worshipped at their altars. David did not worship at the altar of any God, not when they proved so much less responsive than that old unbridled magic more ancient than the Earth itself. He didn’t even mind the price that needed to be paid.

“I shouldn’t be doing this.” Dr. Stein breathed with a wine scented giggle as she climbed from the passenger seat of his car, out into the heavy night air.

     Clouds pregnant with a storm rumbled overhead, threatening rain. David joined her outside and flashed a smile over the car as he shut his door.

“Well then doctor, I’m sad to say that I’ll need to take my business elsewhere.” It was all but purred before he licked his lips and threw her a wink. “I think that means you’re fired Angela.”

     Her laughter followed them down the quiet sidewalk and into the warehouse where he kept his work, the dark interior drowning them in shadow once he shut the door behind them.

“Oh god it’s so dark.” She laughed, the sound of her heels on the concrete echoing through the large space.

“I’ll have that fixed in just a moment,” he promised, and true to his word the lights snapped on one beat later.

     She couldn’t hear the machine yet, not with the barrier of silence placed ahead, but he could.

“Oh my god.” Angela exhaled.

     In the center of the warehouse stood the carousel. From the door it looked like nothing more than a carnival merry-go-round, all bright paint and mirrors, with fanciful horses in the middle of some jubilant parade put to pause. The bulbs on the ride were dark, but in the florescent glow overhead they were unnecessary to illuminate the detailed woodwork or lacquered paint.

“Is this it?” The doctor asked, although the answer was obvious.

     Her excitement shined through her lips as she admired his masterpiece, taking steps to close the distance between her and it.

“It’s not at all like you described. This is beautiful.”

“Wait until you see it close up.”

     Angela couldn’t see his grin and its hungry anticipation as he followed behind her, the two of them diminishing the gap between what was real and what was an illusion of normalcy.

     It took ten beats to cross the threshold. Once she did, the smile on her face was static for only one beat more, the corner twitching with sudden confusion. A shock of emotional shivered across her features.

     The once silent warehouse was full of sound now, the metronome ticking off the time as Angela tried to convince herself that what she saw couldn’t possibly be real. Her feet even carried her a few steps further before something in her brain ordered them to stop. One hand lifted to her chest, the other to cover her mouth.

     Covering most of the gentle ticks and tocks were an array of sounds, displeasing to most but music to David. The loudest noise was the ever present, an undulating cry of agony, rising and falling as the ride itself, the lights lit, and the platform making its lazy spin. There were snorts and whinnies, many of them thrown high as heads tossed in a fruitless attempt at freedom.

     The carousel that had looked so fanciful from the doorway was shown for what it truly was, the exact opposite of childish frivolities. The mares and stallions that had been brightly painted and frozen in place were instead living and breathing and writhing in inescapable torture. Muscles quivered  from exhausting torment, each horse impaled through the middle upon a sturdy pole while lesser rods pierced each appendage to hold their legs in a carefully chosen position. Every glazed eye was wide and wild and jerking in all directions, looking for a path to relief and finding none.

     The metronome counted out twelve beats before Angela let loose her scream, her backward trek to the door cut short when she bumped against David’s chest. Feeling his solid warmth she twirled and buried her face against him, knotting her hands into his jacket as she shied away from the horror. It hadn’t yet dawned on her that it was all his doing, that he’d promised a carousel of screams and suffering.

“This—this can’t be—” her head shook and her body quaked with powerful shivers.

     David ran his fingers through her hair, his eyes staring at the work of art; his living, breathing carousel, carried on the backs of immortal steeds and eternal mares. Blood, a never ending supply of it, dribbled down the poles that held them fast, pooling across the floor of the platform in waves so old and plentiful that the wood had been permanently stained. It glistened in the blinking lights, the stench somewhere between an acrid scent of metallic sweat and pungent saliva.

     Notes of whimsical calliope music stirred to life, the machine sensing his presence.

“This isn’t real.” She looked up at him, tears rimming her eyes and staining her cheeks. “This is some kind of sick joke right?”

     Angela winced as one of the horses let out a long shriek.

“I told you what it was,” his voice carried above the other noise.

“This is sick,” she suddenly snarled, ripping herself away to put a foot of space between. “Those are living animals, and you’re a goddamn sick son of a bitch!”

“I’m an artist Angela, not sick.”

“Oh no, you are fucking sick and I’m fucking—” her trembling hands fumbled with her purse, “I’m calling the cops right now.”

     She pulled the phone out, backing further away from him, clearly worried he might hurt her now that she’d made her threat. David only chuckled as her unsteady fingers aimed for the digits.

     He snapped a finger.

     With a finger hovering over the final number, Angela stood completely paralyzed. Her eyes, the only thing left unfrozen, leapt to his and dampened with renewed terror. He closed the distance between them, and with each step her eyes grew in panic. Savoring the moment, David reached out and touched her hair again, running a handful of it between his fingers. It was soft and smooth, freshly washed in some earlier hope that this night might lead to something more intimate. Angela’s hope hadn’t been entirely misplaced. The coming experience they would share was quite intimate, only not as enjoyable for her as it would be for him.

     David let the hair fall from his fingers.

“You entered of your own volition Angela,” he began, walking past to stand between her and the carousel. “And I’m afraid that leaves you at my mercy. I could have warned you but well, you see I needed you to complete my collection.”

     The carousel spun and the metronome counted, the music merrily whistling as the only empty pole on the ride came and went. His beautiful machine was meant to hold twenty-four, and now he’d finally complete the set. David turned and walked back into Angela’s sight. He cupped her cheek and ran a thumb across her lips before licking his own. The spell of seduction was no longer necessary, but a habit had formed nonetheless.

“You’ll love it here,” David whispered the words, his excitement mounting as the time for her transmogrification grew ever more imminent.

     Those twisting muscles and bending bones always thrilled him to the core, the power to change a shape and mold it to his darkest desires so delicious he could almost find completion at the thought alone.

“And you’ll be among your peers,” he added, leaning closer to the doctor so that she’d hear his soft promises above the music and the screaming. “You’ll be mounted right between Bill, my lawyer, and Jessica, my favorite hair-dresser.”

     David gave Angela’s cheek one last kiss.

“And best of all Dr. Stein,” he looked into her tear-filled eyes before giving her the final words she’d hear from human ears. “You will never die.”