Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Armageddon It

Week 25
For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Kurt challenged me with "The earth died screaming while I lay dreaming of you. --Tom Waits"; I challenged Sarah Cass with "There's a beak in my sushi."

Armageddon It

He closed the steel front door, slammed the locks into place, and yelled to the back of the house, "It looks like the Thompson's are gone!"


"Yes." He sat back in his recliner and started paging through the leaflets that were scattered on the front lawn. "Doomsday is Here--Do You Need Jesus Now?"; "Needleson's: Security Today So You'll Be Here Tomorrow"; "Elect George McGruber for Town Marshall: He's the One with the Guns."

Susie came out from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a ratty dishtowel. "There's just no telling these days, is there? Guess I won't be getting the Chipmunk Surprise recipe anytime soon."

"Oh, I don't know. Looked like the back of the house may still be intact. Once the fire dies down a little, we'll go over, scrounge up what we can. Perhaps the kitchen is mostly intact?"

"My little optimist!" Susie seemed to brighten at the thought, however, a small smile creeping up at the corners of her perfectly made-up lips. "At least we know what all the noise was last night."

"I told them they should have installed those alarms." Fred tossed the fliers into the burn bucket by the old stone fireplace, then got up from the recliner.

"You men and your alarms," she smiled at him. "I'll take old Rusty over flashing lights and screaming sirens any day. By the way, has he been out yet?"

"Hmm? No, darling. Wasn't he just out yesterday?"

She heaved a sigh, the type that says "I know that you know that I know you were going to say that," and she spun around, heading back toward the kitchen. "I'll let him out. Though I will need you to run out to see if you can find some food."

"I'm on it, darling."

Susie finished rinsing the few dishes left on the counter, then picked up the plastic orange bucket and carried it toward the basement door. Placing it down gently, she took off her "Hello! Kitty" apron and hung it on the peg just so, then reached up to the shelf above and pulled down the revolver. Checking to make sure it was loaded, she stuck it in the waistband of her dress. Unlocking the door to the cellar, she picked up the bucket and started descending the stairs.

"Rusty? You awake, boy?"

As she reached the bottom, she flipped a few switches, shedding a pale sickly light upon the concrete floors and walls. Through the gloomy light, meager even through the gaps in the metal black bars that halved the basement, she could make out the hulking body in the corner on the other side.

"Rusty? Darling, I brought you some fresh water. Are you thirsty? I know it hasn't rained in a few days."

She saw the shape lift its head, and knew she had its attention. "Now you remember what happened last time, don't you? So you stay there, behaving just as you are now, and I'll pour the water into your dish, okay?" She kept her eyes on it for another few seconds, fingers unconsciously caressing the gun at her waistband. Satisfied it wouldn't be moving, she approached the bars, finally spying the water bowl in the opposite corner. After one more glance at the shadow, she tipped the dirty dishwater from the orange bucket through the bars. Some missed, but she was satisfied when the bowl reached the half-full point.

"Now Rusty, darling, try to make this last, all right? You know the longer we don't have rain--"

A loud roar, and almost before she knew it, the creature was across the basement, dirty clawed fingers reaching through the bars, trying to grab at her blouse. Luckily she had been paying attention, and as she jumped back from the bars, she only felt the breeze the hands made, the air wafting softly on her cheeks.

"Rusty! I'm ashamed of you! I was going to open the door so you could run around the yard, too!" She pulled the gun from her waistband, aimed, and fired a shot toward its feet.

"Yooooowwwwwwllllllll!" it screamed, collapsing to the floor, spilling the half-full bowl of water in the process.

"Tsk! Rusty! Didn't you hear me? Now what will you drink?" Giving one last shake of her head, she flipped off the switches, blanketing the cellar once more in darkness. Rusty's silent weeping following her up the stairs until she slammed the door closed.


She turned to see Fred standing in the hall, a look of alarm plastered across his face.

"Everything okay?"

"It's Rusty. He spilled the only bit of water I could spare him. I swear, you may need to pick up another soon. He's a great crime deterrent, but sometimes--sometimes I think a good old-fashioned Doberman can't be beat. That's the third time this week he's tried to get at me through the bars! He may be too feral to train!"

"I'm sure it's just all the excitement from last night," Fred said, pulling her into a hug. "What with the neighbors house being set on fire, the giant cats prowling just outside the fences all night long--it can drive anyone a bit mad, you know."

"Maybe you're right," she sighed into his shoulder. "It's just... I don't know."

"Shh. I know, dear, I know." He kept her embraced a moment longer, then pulled her back to arms' length. "You know what I'm going to do for you today?"

She gave him a quizzical smile.

"Not only will I find the last can of coffee in the greater tri-state area, but I will get you two--yes, now hush--TWO new Rustys! Just the other day Dan down the street was telling me a whole pocket of the things were found under the bridge of old Interstate 95! As he's going down there today to get one, I'll just tag along and get us a few!"

"Oh, really? That sounds lovely, dear, but I'm not sure we need two Rustys... I mean, we need to feed and water them... Two seems like a bit much..." She trailed off.

"Nothing is too god for my Susie." He lifted her chin, forcing her eyes to stare deeply into his. "You hear me, dear. Nothing is too good for you."

He stepped out into the hall, grabbed a few guns and some other miscellaneous weapons that were sitting on the bench, then turned to face her once more. "The world may be dying, honey, but you and me?" He smiled that dazzling smile that she had fallen in love with so many years before, before marriage, before Armageddon, before... Well, before a lot.

"I love you," she said, tearing up quite suddenly.

"And I love you." He slid back the bolts and bars and opened the steel front door with an ease that belied his years. "See you soon."

He turned, and as he began closing the front door behind him, there was an explosion of light and fire...

Previous Challenges I have answered:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Week 25
For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Head Ant challenged me with "You are lost in an abandoned mansion. Doors are locked at every turn and nothing is what it seems."; I challenged Jordan with "You have been made ruler of the UNIVERSE. Not just the Earth, not just our galaxy--the UNIVERSE. In a limerick."


"Just face facts, will you? We're lost!"

"Not lost. Just... The road less traveled. That is the phrase, isn't it?" She paused. "Yes, that is the phrase." She laughed in delight and peered around the next corner. "Oooohhh..."

"Ruth, please, can we just get out of here?" But she wasn't listening. He saw the light of her flashlight fading around the corner. "Dammit!" He raced down the hall, eager to catch up, fleeing the shadows that encroached.

"Oomph!" He ran into her back, dropping his own flashlight.




"Please. There's no one around. It's the middle of the fucking night. Can we just--"

She placed a single finger to his lips, then raised her light to the ceiling.

His eyes followed the path of light, through the floating dust fairies, the beam scattering across a thousand facets of colored glass above them.

He shook his head as if coming out of a trance. "Ruth! Goddammit! You shine a light out the windows, we'll be caught for sure!"

She laughed again, a carefree sound, light and airy in the depressing darkness that surrounded them. "James, I swear, you wouldn't know a good time if it blew you." She started wandering away from him again, her light catching seven hundred other minute mysteries in the depths of the shadows.

He ran a hand through his unkempt hair, thoroughly exasperated. Picking his flashlight up from off the ground, he trailed after her, feeling glum and nervous.

A small breeze wafted through the room, tickling the hairs on the back of his neck. He whipped around--

"James! Oh, James, you just have to see this!"

He rotated his light left and right, eying the pockets of darkness suspiciously before turning back to Ruth. "What now?"

"Look at this chandelier! Isn't it magnificent? All gold and silver, jewel embedded! Can you imagine the beauty when the candles are lit? Oh, I'm swooning, James, simply swooning!"

"I don't know how you talk me into this shit. Seriously, Ruth, who talks like that anyway? Now look, we came, we saw, we got lost--can we just climb out a window and-- Ruth? Ruth? Goddammit! Where are you?"

He swept the beam around, then clicked it off, hoping to catch the faint glow of her own flashlight. "Ruth?" Aw, hell, why am I whispering? "Ruth!"

He flicked his light back on--


"Ach!" He dropped the flashlight, reeling backward, falling into a table.

Her heard her laughter.

"Yeah, very fucking funny, Ruth!"

"You should have seen... Oh my... Your face was priceless!" Her laughter continued to echo above to the great ceilings, down empty hallways, through long-forgotten corridors.

His menacing look was lost on her, in no small part due to the fact that his flashlight had rolled away somewhere and hers was directed at a large wooden door. "I wonder what's in there?" she half-whispered to herself.

"Help me find my light, will ya?"


"My flashlight? I dropped it when you went all Poltergeist on me?"

"We'll just use mine, no big deal."

"No, really, it's my dad's military-issued--"

"Hmm... It's locked. Who locks doors in abandoned mansions?"

"Ruth, seriously, we need to find--"

"Oh! Stairs!"

"What-- Ruth, wait-- Shit! My old man's gonna kill me if I don't--"

But she was already climbing the stairs. Cursing yet again, he quickly caught up--only to stumble into her once again.

"Jesus Christ, James! Watch where you're going!"

"Maybe if I had a flash-- Oh, wait, that's right! Someone made me lose it! What--"


"'Shh!' my ass. Look, I--"

"Shut. Up!"


"Oh, very fucking scary, Ruth. You found a squeaky floorboard."

"No, James, that--"


"--wasn't... Me..."

"Oh, I'm so scared I almost dropped my flashlight-- Oh, wait, that's right, I already did that. Ha-ha, funny, funny, let's go. We're leaving."

"So soon?"

They both jumped, and Ruth's flashlight flew out of her hands, over the banister, shattering on the floor below. They looked up to see a very, very old woman, holding a single candlestick, standing at the top of the stairs.

"I, uh--" James stammered.

"He... Umm..."

"You know, for burglars, you two seem very disorganized."

"No, no, no, we're not--" James started, nervously laughing in spite of himself.

"No, no, not crooks, Ah-ha-ha!" Ruth stammered in reply.

"Oh, I see. Just two teenage hooligans out to explore the great Abbey Mansion, then?" She raised her candle higher, spreading more light on their guilt-ridden faces. "Hmm, yes, I see. And, are we having fun, children?"

Ruth began stammering an excuse, "Well, er, we thought the house was empty, you see..."

"Yes! Right! Empty! Yes!" James chimed in enthusiastically.

Ruth elbowed him. "We meant no harm, honestly! I've just always admired this lovely home from the street, and--"

"And you figured since it was Halloween, you two would take a little 'ghost walk' of your own, eh?" The old woman cackled. "Ah, yes, yes. You two aren't the first, laws, no." She began to take some shuffling steps down toward them, free hand gripping the banister while the other, still clinging to the candle, lifted her nightgown just above her toes to keep from tripping. "Why, if I had a dime for every time some ragamuffins decided to waltz in..."

Ruth smiled tentatively at the old woman while James's frown deepened.

"We honestly are sorry," Ruth said. "We never would have-- I mean, we did think the house was empty--"

"It's all right, dearies. You aren't the first," she said, shuffling past them to continue down the stairs. "Lost, too, I'd bet my knickers," she cackled.

Their cheeks bloomed pink simultaneously as she turned to bring the light of the candle once more to bear upon their faces. She cackled again. "I thought as much." She turned again and shuffled down the last few stairs, Ruth and James hesitantly beginning to follow her down.

Thump! Creeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaak....

"Oh!" Ruth jumped back into James's arms. "Oh, sorry. Is there uh-- Is someone else at home?"

"House goblins, dearies. Nothing but house goblins," she said as she shuffled down one of the halls. She beckoned them to follow. "Come along, come along. Are you hungry? I know I get hungry wandering about..."

Ruth turned to James as they followed the weak glow, whispering, "Do you think she's going to call the police?"

"... get lost myself sometimes..."

He whispered back, "I told you we shouldn't have done this! My old man's gonna kill me!"

"... one hundred seventy-five rooms at last count..."

"She seems nice enough, though. Maybe she'll just laugh it off, let us out the back?" Ruth said quietly.

"... nephew tries to get me to use this electricity thing, but why bother...?"

"I'll never get into a good school now..." James mumbled aloud.

"James, please! She's not even upset about this!"

"Ah! Here we are. Now let's see if we can rustle you two kids up something nice to eat, yes?" She wandered about, lighting candles in different areas of the room, allowing the kitchen--such as it was--to come into sight.

The soft flames revealed a very 1950s looking fridge, a cast iron stove, pots hanging just above. Flower-print curtains fluttered in a slight breeze coming through the cracked windows, which were framed by yellowish cabinets. The wooden floors moaned as Ruth and James entered through the low arched doorway. The old woman was already digging through the insides of the fridge. "Are you kids familiar with pot pie? Of course, what am I thinking? I'll just heat these up on the stove, won't be but a minute." She lifted two tin pans out of the fridge and placed them on the large, heavy oak table that dominated the center of the kitchen, then turned to the stove.

"No, really, although it's very kind of you, we should just--" Ruth started.

"Yes, yes, we've been such a bother!" James jumped in. "We really should just be on our way. If you could just show us the door?"

"And we truly are very, very sorry--"

"Nonsense! You young kids, always in a rush," she said, waving her arms at them. She turned an ancient knob and flames whooshed up from the pilot light. "Won't take but a minute. Sit, sit! Keep a lonely old woman company, won't you? Sit a spell, I'll pour you both some fresh lemonade! Made it just this morning!"

James gave Ruth the evil eye. Ruth shrugged as if to say, "What do you want me to do? She has lemonade!" then made herself comfortable at the table. "That's very kind of you, Mrs...?"

"Oh, it's nothing, dearies. Half the time it spoils before I can even finish it all, so it's nice to have someone else here to drink some." She placed the large glass pitcher on the table, and pointed to James. "You, tall one. Reach up there and grab a few glasses and plates from the cupboard, won't you? Yes, right there. Careful now! That's my wedding china!"

James lifted out two plates and blew the dust off of them, coughed. "Um..."

"Now, now, just place them there. I'll grab some forks. You'll like this pot pie, yes! Used vegetables from my own gardens, I did!"

James placed the dusty plates on the table with a grimace and passed a look to Ruth, who simply shrugged again. The old woman bustled and fussed over the stove, stirring the contents of the tin pans occasionally.

"Oh, dear, I'm out of garlic!" she exclaimed. She shuffled over to a door in one corner of the ancient kitchen.

Thump! Creeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaak... Thump-thump!

"Young man, come here. Can you reach that up there?"

James moved around the table and stood beside her, peering into the blackness beyond.

"I'm not sure I see--"

"Just up there, dearie. You see?" A withered hand pointed beyond the gloom.

He shuffled deeper into the doorway, shrugging around the woman's frail body, eyes squinted. "Where-- Ahh!"

Thump! Crack! Crash! Thump-thump!

The woman gasped, and Ruth raced around to the doorway. "James! James! Oh my god, James!"

"Oh, dear, he seems to have fallen down the stairs!"

"You have to call the police!"

"I don't have a phone!"

"What!? James!"

"Oh, dear, oh, dear... That won't do at all!"

Ruth spun around to face the old woman and--

Was she smiling?

"You're next, dear!"

"Wha-- Ahh!"

The old woman shoved, and Ruth went tumbling down into the blackness.


Darkness. Everywhere.

A groan. She heard a groan. "James?" she whispered frantically. "James, is that you?"

She listened, but heard nothing further. She reached out, feeling, fumbling.

And then light...

She peered up at it, seemingly so distant, at a shadowy figure at the top of the stairs. "Hello?"

"Okay down there, dearie?" the old crone asked.

"Wha--" She turned, spotted James crumpled in a heap just a few feet in front of her in the meager light. "James!" She--pain! pain!--tried to get up, settled for crawling over, turning his limp body over.

"No broken bones, I hope?" came the voice from the top of the stairs.

"You-- You need to get help! He's.... Sweet Jesus, he's breathing! Oh, thank god!"

"Yes, very good. Very good."

Ruth tried once again to stand, but settled for turning her upper torso to face the stairs. "You have to get help! I think I broke my leg, and James is--"


Ruth's brain was fuzzy, a faint humming in her ears. She scrambled to put it all together, but came up empty. "Yes, yes, he's alive, but--"

"Oh, good, very good. Spoiled meat is never good, you know."

"What? Please, you need..."

"Take a look around you, dearie."

"What? No, I need--"

Thump. Thump.

Ruth paused.

Thump. Thump. Slither...

She glanced up the stairs, but the old woman hadn't moved.

Thump. Thump.

No, behind her. The sound was coming from over there, where the light didn't quite reach...

Thump. Thump. Thump-thump-thump.

The figure that came into view...

Empty eye sockets... Blood-stained cheeks... Only one arm... No legs...

She screamed...


The old woman closed the cellar door, smiling to herself. No need to run to the butcher's this week after all.

Clicking the locks into place, she then helped herself to a piping hot tin plate from off her stove.

Previous Challenges I have answered:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Week 24
For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Karla V challenged me with "Her heart broke as she handed the pawn shop owner her remaining glass slipper. How had it come to this?"; I challenged wMe with "Write a story that incorporates death, your favorite pair of underwear, chickens, and avoids the use of the letter 'b' ANYWHERE in your story."

Yeah, it's been a while; I had my hardwood floors being redone (so had to move out for a week and a half) only to finally GET home and have my monitor die, so... Yeah... But that's a different sob story. Here's the one you came to read...


She pulled the hood of her cloak tighter about her face, pulled more of her hair forward. Yes, she could barely see where she was going, but it also kept them from seeing her, from noticing her. She took a whiff of her sleeve, causing her to wrinkle her nose in disgust. Just enough of a stink to make her seem poor, but not too poor. The stolen cloaks' patches helped with the illusion...

But it would only work for so long. As she trudged down the dirty streets, the dim light of dusk hiding the hazards of the odd cobblestone and puddle of mud, she finally spied the sign: Ye Olde Pawn Shoppe.

Taking a deep breath, fingering the contents of her pocket, she went through the door, nearly jumping as a bell jingled near her ear.

Glancing around quickly--Good, empty!--she approached the counter, clearing her throat, even though she already had the owners attention.

She must be careful.

"Miss? You have some business I can help with?" The middle-aged man peered over the rim of his glasses, pen poised above his ledger.

She took a quick glance around the shop once more. "I have something... I need the money. I won't be back for it."

He waited for her to continue.

She knew as soon as she brought forth the slipper, all bets were off. If he was smart, he would wait until he sealed the deal before calling for the guards. If he was a shady-enough businessman, he wouldn't actually care except for what the slipper could bring him. If he was an honorable man...

They don't exist, her mind whispered.


She gingerly--oh, so gingerly!--removed the glass slipper from inside the folds of her cloak and placed it gently on the table between them. She heard him gasp. She quickly placed it back under the safety of her cloak.


He stood, staring, open-mouthed. His jaw began working up and down, yet uttered no words.

"Listen," she hissed, reaching across the table and grabbing him by his collar, "you know who I am, you know what this is, and you know I don't have a lot of time. Are. You. Interested?"

He nodded.

"What can you offer?"

He pointed at her hand, still clutched about his throat.

"Oh, er... Sorry."

He shook his head at her, caressed his throat, then nodded. "Your highness--"

She reached out and slapped him before she even realized she was doing it. She recoiled, clutched her cloak about her and made ready to flee.

"I-- I--"

Realizing he was as shocked as she, she calmed slightly. "None of that talk, fool! Someone may hear you." She inclined her head toward the window to his side.

He nodded, his one hand now rubbing his cheek while the other still rubbed at his sore throat. "I-- I understand, your-- uh, Miss."

"Money. How much?"

"May I-- May I see it once more?"

She reached out again, this time keeping the slipper safely in her hands while he perused the item.

"This is actually it, isn't it? And you're actually her, aren't you?"

Her look, she noted, made him shiver. Perhaps she hadn't quite forgotten her stepmother's old tricks.

"Can I ask--why? Why did you kill the King?"

Why indeed? She had asked herself that many times over the past several nights, fleeing from the guards, the old king, the kingdom itself; sleeping in barns, old sheds, under the stars on cold, rainy nights; stealing clothing, food, shelter wherever she could.

But she knew why--what had started out as a fairy-tale-come-true had just been trading one hell for another: from being her stepmother's maid to being her husband's boxing bag; from sweeping out chimneys to hiding in them; from sewing up clothes so her step-sisters would have nice things to wear to sewing up bruises and cuts so she wouldn't bleed to death by her husband's hand; from the lowliest stone cottage to the highest towers, yet still a prisoner.

And that night, when he started beating their daughter? That was when her glass slippers became a weapon. When it struck the hard, unyielding stone walls and shattered into a thousand tiny knives, when the heel of her priceless footwear became the weapon to end his life, to end his reign of terror, to save her daughter from the hell she had never had a moment's peace from...

Yes. Priceless.

"Uh, your Maj-- Um, miss?" He practically curtsied, unsure of how to break her from her inner thoughts.

"What can you give me?"

"I'm not sure..."

"Look, I realize the type of customer you're used to can't afford something this nice. It may be one slipper, a single, but think of it--you are getting a piece of history! The Killer Queen's Glass Slipper! Pair to the one that killed the King!" She dropped her voice even further, so much so that he had to be nose-to-nose to even hear her. "You play your cards right, you could end up a very... very wealthy man."

When she saw his eyes light up, the same way her stepmother's used to light up at the sight of money, she knew she had him. The rest was negotiable...

Her heart broke as she handed the pawn shop owner her remaining glass slipper. How had it come to this?

How indeed... As much pain as those slippers had brought her, they had also brought freedom from her stepmother, had made her feel beautiful, had made her queen, for goodness sake! The happiest, yet shortest, days of her life...


She slipped out his side door and knew the clock was ticking. He wasn't a stupid man. He may wait an hour, maybe two, but that was all. Now that he had the slipper, now that she had her money, he would make sure she couldn't return for it.

"Ruby? Ruby?"

"Yes, momma." Her daughter crept out of the straw pile in the stable, just where Cinderella had left her.

"Come now, sweetie. We must leave this place at once."

Ruby obediently took her mother's hand, and through the darkness they walked.

Previous Challenges I have answered: