Posts Tagged ‘fear’

Inch by Inch

Posted: January 26, 2015 by writingsprint in Writing
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ruler

Last night I spent two hours doing research on the geography of the Milky Way galaxy and another 30 minutes on theories of faster-than-light travel. I really wanted to read a book on train robberies in the Old West that I picked up on eBay, to get a feel for criminal life on the frontier.

I was scared of the blank page. I didn’t know where to start. How long would it take me get what I needed from the book? Would it take me farther down the rabbit hole? What if I headed in the completely wrong direction? At least with the Milky Way and FTL travel, the problem was well-defined: I don’t know anything, so hit Google and see what I come up with. Sift through the results.

Being scared is one thing. Being chicken is another. The story needs me to get into the heads of my characters. The map and the tech won’t take care of themselves — I will need to handle them sooner or later — but they aren’t what I need now right now to move the story.

I need to remember that even if I only move an inch a day, in a year I’ll have moved 12 yards. I need to be honest with myself when I write. No more avoiding. Each day, minimum, I’ll work on the story for 30 minutes, even if it’s nothing more than conceptual scenes I’ll probably change later. I’ll write the scenes as best I know them so that I get inside my characters’ heads and rough out the story.

Today I wrote the beginning of an argument between the two main characters, and I’m going to read from the train robbery book before I go to bed.

Inch by inch.

Image credit: “Ruler” by Scott Akerman at Flickr
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Painted in Shades of Blood

Posted: June 8, 2014 by writingsprint in Fantasy
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See the face in the fire?

See the face in the fire?

Before today’s sample from Shadow and Shade, I wanted to remind everyone that it’s available as a free download for Kindle as a special promotion ending today. Over a hundred people have gotten a copy in the past 24 hours!

I hope you love it. If you do, leave a cool review, and spread the word! THANK YOU!


He crisscrossed his hands over the fire, slowly, moving them back and forth through the wisps of flame. A feathery tickle ran over his palms. Logan sucked in the heated air. He drifted his thoughts in pools of heat, washing out from the fire. Almost without thinking, he began to whisper a stream of verses that spoke of sunset and resting. With every move back and forth the flames retreated into the pile of twigs and leaves.

By the fifth time he repeated the gesture, the flames had swallowed themselves into the wood. No smoke rose from the pile. It still would have felt warm if they touched it, but not enough to start burning again. His eyes opened. Just a touch, on the corners of his mouth, he allowed himself a smile. By the gentle moonlight he could see the expectation in Laik’s eyes, the wonder in Marissa’s.

“Not bad,” she breathed.

“It’s not done yet,” he heard Laik say.

Logan passed his hand over the pile again. He drew his fingers across the twigs, and a low fire followed them like trails in sand. He opened and closed his fingers to spread the fire and light it fully.

He breathed in relief as he finally let go. There was a dull ache in the base of his neck. He felt cold. He smiled and dropped back against the tree again to give himself a rest. He looked at Laik. “Now, I’m tired,” he said. As the fire grew their faces became distinct in the glow. Laik was nodding mute but beaming approval. Marissa looked breathless.

“What were those words you were saying?” Marissa asked.

Logan wiped his forehead with the heel of his palm. “Uh,” he managed, embarrassingly. “It helps me think. Sort of a prayer, but you’re not praying to anyone. It helps me to think the right way, so that I can do it.” He shrugged amiably to finish answering Marissa’s question. It really was the best answer he could give.

Laik leaned over the rising fire. He shook back his hair to let the heat wash into his face. The dim light from the fire cast his face in bloody shades of crimson and scarlet. Something about it bothered Logan. He pulled his knees closer to his chest, then put them back the way they were. He became conscious of the tight pull of the strap that bound his hunting knife to his leg, and the pressing of its grip against the top of his thigh. The whirring sound of the crickets and the sour, harsh popping of the flames haunted the clearing. Marissa asked Laik for the wine. Laik handed it to her and moved back from the fire. His face was thrown back into softer shades of red, but the bad feeling didn’t go away.

Logan tilted his head back until it rested against the tree behind him. He closed his eyes, feigning a little wine-induced restfulness, and let himself feel what was happening more deeply. He wandered through memories of bad feelings, the ones that people would rather forget: being lost, a scolding from his mother, fights with other children.

When he was little, there had been nights when he would lay in bed on his stomach. He had been afraid to turn over because he thought there would be something standing there. On some of those nights he forced himself to turn over anyway. Then he would lay there, staring at the entrance to the burrow, afraid that it was really outside. He would gather up his blankets over his neck so that it couldn’t strangle him after he fell asleep.

A new thought melted into the forefront of his mind. He could almost see another face painted in shades of blood. Close. Near. He could almost hear a hissing, sweating voice. Real blood stained the ground. Logan’s breath began to catch in his throat.

Photo credit: “Face in the Flames” by randeeryan at Flickr
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Shared under Creative Commons license

“Today’s lesson is judgment,” Master said. He walked over to Kit. He wore the red robe today, threaded with shadows and fear. Kit trembled. Master knelt down so that he was eye to eye with Kit. His eyes felt like they looked into Kit’s soul. “You’re old enough to leave the tower. I believe you’re also old enough to pass judgment on someone who’s wronged you.” He gestured at the changeling. “Were it not for this creature, you could have spoken to your family last night. Told them you were safe. Lady, what happens when we do something wrong?”

“We’re punished,” Lady said.

Master nodded. He continued, “That’s right. Kit, you have the power within you. Judgment is issued from the powerful against those who do wrong.”

Kit’s magic swirled. Master wasn’t lying. Still, this didn’t feel right.

Lady started to say something. Master held up his hand and she quieted. He continued, “The changeling is a thief. It stole your reunion with your family. Punish him.”

The changeling and Kit stared at each other. “I don’t know how. What would I do?”

“Did you know, some punish thieves by cutting off their hands?”

Kit’s heart screamed. That felt wrong, in the worst possible way. “I don’t want to cut off his hand!”

The changeling couldn’t hear what was happening, but it could sense that something awful was happening. It started screaming. It pounded on the glass like the fairies in the hall.

Master looked at Lady. Lady asked, “What do you do to spiders?”

“I kill them.” This wasn’t right.

Kit grabbed fistfuls of his hair. He squinted his eyes shut. He had walked upstairs wanting to do something that felt normal. Now it felt like his life was going out of control again.

“Leave him alone,” he heard Lady whisper. The words died at the end. Kit opened his eyes. The scene hadn’t changed, except Master was giving her a look far less gentle than the one he’d given Kit this morning.

He let go of his hair. Kit knew exactly what he had to do. He reached toward the jar, closed a fist, and broke the glass. It rained to the floor in bits the size of sand grains.

“What is this?” Vrajitor roared.

“Mastery,” Kit said. He waved his hands. The changeling vanished. Kit had imagined, “Somewhere far away,” and “back where you came from.” He didn’t know what that looked like, but magic would know.

Charge!

Posted: December 11, 2013 by writingsprint in The Line of Duty
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

trench warfareCorporal Bill Criston looked down at the mud and realized that he was somewhere that made him miss boot camp. He’d hadn’t bothered to try cleaning out the dirt under his fingernails for over a week, and his dirty-blond hair really was dirty with mud, sweat, gunpowder, smoke, and a near miss with mustard gas. Hygiene? What was hygiene? Boot camp had been fun in its own demented way, and at least you showered once in a while.

They were near St. Mihiel, which was somewhere the hell in France. The rest of the Expeditionary Force was spread out around him for a few miles, and the Brits were just past where he could see when he stood up. He sat on the muddy firestep of the trench, and didn’t care that the mud soaked through his pants anymore.

Three months to Christmas, he thought. A week until he was rotated back to the rear, but that wasn’t going to happen now. Artillery whooshed overhead. The bass, multiple pops joined the echoes of the last volley. They’d been barraging the Germans all day. That was going to end once the offensive started. Criston spat into the muck.

“Don’t you think you’ll need that?” Jack Watson sat next to him. Criston turned his eyes and shrugged. Jack was almost over his dysentery. He got it when he was thirsty and didn’t wait until the water he’d collected was done boiling. If there was anyone who knew anything about conserving pure water, even spit, it was Jack. They’d met when they’d first signed up for the army, a year before the war. Jack needed a shave, but then he’d looked that way since the day they’d met.

“I can practically drink out of the air,” Criston said. He heard a deep buzzing overhead and looked up, along with the rest of the line nearby. The couldn’t see more than fifty yards, into a gray airy wall. The Huns could’ve been coming through the wire and they wouldn’t see them. The planes sounded like they were Allied. The fog started last night and it hadn’t let up since. It was good because it kept the snipers from getting busy.

Criston’s heart pounded. He swallowed and wished he knew where he wished he was. Home was a good start, but that was where everybody wanted to be. He wasn’t a coward–he was for damn sure he wasn’t a coward. Figure he’d spent the last couple months going up and back to the line and shooting and being shot at without seeing one damned German. That had been duty. He wanted to do something besides shoot at something he could barely see. But he’d also heard what happened at the Somme, and it bugged him. Thank God for the fog. Criston let his head rest against the wall of the trench and pictured running through it and what it’d be like to make it across no-man’s-land. He squeezed the rifle hard between his hands. God. He closed his eyes and prayed that he didn’t lose his cool once they started running.

The popping of artillery shells on the closest lines started shift down a notch. The fog also kept the Germans from seeing where they’d cut the wire for the attack. “All right, boys, get ready!” the sergeant cried. “Fix bayonets!”

Criston latched the eighteen-inch blade to the end of his rifle. They used to have a crack that you could probably skewer two Germans at once if they were close enough to each other. He turned around and faced the earth wall. Jack winked at him and said, “See ya in the new line.”

“You can dig it for me,” Criston said. He grinned a little, then looked away as his heart sank again and the grin disappeared from his face. Damn it, let’s go….

“Set!” the sergeant cried. Everyone touched their bayonets to the top of the trench, to keep from stabbing anyone else on the way up. The sergeant put a whistle to his lips.

The artillery hit the Germans one last, long, hard volley, then shifted off. The sergeant blew the whistle.

Everyone screamed as loud as they could. Criston heaved himself off the firestep, over the trench line, and sprinted for the holes in the wire. Charging towards an entrenched enemy isn’t something you do with your head together–that was half of why they all yelled. There were at least two German machineguns near their area. They had a couple seconds to move before they opened up.

The Black Reached Inside Me

Posted: December 4, 2013 by writingsprint in Drama
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black oceanThe ferry hit a light rainstorm on the way back to Liverpool. Nothing that it couldn’t handle, but the rising and falling of the ship made me seasick. I walked out on deck, because I couldn’t handle laying on the bench in the common room anymore.

The stars were beautiful. Concentrate on the stars, I forced myself. Even with the floodlights from the ship to my back, Orion was clearly visible, its stars bluer, redder, and more warm and living than they had been back home. Here, in this blackness, you could almost hear the universe breathe. The miraculous part was that as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, the dimmer stars appeared. It was like compressing the beauty of twilight into a twinkling moment. I wished they could shut off the floodlights so that I could see what the Milky Way really looked like.

The ferry was racing a fog. You could actually see it coming up behind us, where the black of night met the fog’s gray. The air was so saturated with water that the stars seemed to ripple, as if we were looking at them on the bottom of a wishing well.

The ocean stretched into darkness so thick I couldn’t see the horizon. I could see the wake running away from the ferry at a V-angle, tiny waves that disintegrated into trickles against the larger ones that slapped against the hull. Everywhere I heard the undulated roar of the foam. The black, overcast sky absorbed the ferry’s floodlights. The sea was black, too. The black reached inside me.

I couldn’t walk down the slick, spray-sheened deck without shaking. I either hugged the side of the hull or held a death grip on the railing. I couldn’t escape the certainty that at any second I could slip on the deck, fly off the ship, and be lost under those black waves. Who was I kidding? I could barely swim. They wouldn’t know I was gone except for my classmates knowing I slipped off. They wouldn’t find me in this dark. I’d be dead by morning, for sure.

The ship rose…fell…rose…fell…. Every time the ship fell I could imagine the stomach-fluttering sensation of falling, of stepping out over nothingness and… The breath caught in my throat. My knuckles whitened on the rail. I could feel the nothingness I was falling into tickling my feet and catching in my stomach.

I imagined the oily, sludgy, dragging sensation on my legs from soaked pants, that would tire me before I should be tired. My shoulders burning, then sleeping, and my mind screaming No!!! before I should be tired. And finally, surrender of the body. Drowning in terror, the will would fight until my lungs bloated with water and blood loss to the brain rolled back my eyes. The sea was so huge, so impenetrably dark. Nothing could ever fight it.

Time to go back inside. Those benches were looking pretty cozy right now.

What Strength Feels Like

Posted: November 29, 2013 by writingsprint in Essay
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tiredThis morning’s yoga felt different from all the other practices I’ve done over the past month. Normally when I worry during a workout –- will I ever be flexible, will I ever have balance –- I focus on the practice and keep going. It happens pretty often. At 44 years old and a desk job, my tools for yoga start with the flexibility of a brick and balance of next to zero. I still consider myself a beginner. Daily practice over the past two months has improved this by light years, but I’m a long, long way from doing a forward bend that touches my head to my knees.

Today I had enough with ignoring my thoughts. I don’t like shutting away the doubts and powering through it. The race is hard enough without fighting myself. In yoga, you breathe, and I may be wrong, but it feel like my mind needed to breathe for a while.

I let my mind do what it wanted, while I kept another part of it focused on the practice. My thoughts wandered around. It went to things that were making me mad and things that I was happy about. Eventually I let go of some of the things it was thinking about and went back to practice. By the time I was done, I felt like a kid sitting in a room with blocks but not knowing what he wants to build. I took it as a positive. I think some of the stretches were easier, too.

I saw a motivational picture online that said something like, “At the moments when you want to give up, that’s when change happens. Don’t give up.” I think that’s true. When you’re working on something, even if it’s small steps of progress day after day, sooner or later you reach a point where the you who you’ve been needs to change into the you who you’re becoming. If you felt the same, you’d be there already. The hard part is the doubt. Wondering if it’s worth it. Questioning if you have the strength. You like yourself the way you are, and maybe you won’t like yourself as much if you change. Chew on this: by the time you finish reading this sentence, fifty million of the cells in your body have died and been replaced by new ones. You are literally in a constant state of change every moment in your life. You are not who you were, even from five minutes ago.

You might not make it. If you don’t try, though, you won’t know. If you fail, you can try again tomorrow. You can also back off today, build up your strength some more, then try again tomorrow. Progress is a road of ups and downs headed overall in the “up” direction over time.

You can also change, decide that you don’t like the view, and go back. Nobody ever thinks of that one.

If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that weakness is what strength feels like, that fear is what courage feels like, and doubt is what confidence feels like. When you’re in that moment, trust, and take the next step. It’s terrifying. It’s also amazing when you stand on the other side.

“A sensible man will remember that the eyes may be confused in two ways – by a change from light to darkness or from darkness to light – and he will recognize that the same thing happens to the soul.” Plato

Sometimes Your Answer Is Inside Your Problem

Posted: November 12, 2013 by writingsprint in Adrift
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sea stormA cloudy morning gave way to an afternoon rain storm. John tied himself to the raft with bungee cords and his belt. Waves tossed the raft in every direction, but by some miracle it never tipped over. He couldn’t imagine how. Again and again he would get thrown forward, backward, and the raft would tip upward until he was face to face with a spinning horizon. Then the raft would drop, the wave would crash on top of him, and he would see sky again.

Sheets of lightning ripped overhead. Thunder hammers pounded his eardrums. John screamed back at it. He thought his ears bled. The world split into black and white flashes, world positive and photo negative. He wanted to go home. He cried for his mother and for God.

“Do you remember?” his mother asked him.

John saw her in the sky, behind the lightning. She was holding his favorite bedtime story books. A wall of water slapped him. John gagged.

“What did I tell you?” she asked patiently.

“It isn’t real,” he shouted. The lightning tried to drown him out. He still heard the words.

She nodded. “That’s right. Count to ten. It’ll go away.”

He asked her the same thing he’d asked then: “What if it doesn’t go away?”

“Count to ten again. Only stronger.”

John started counting. Lightning blinded him. Thunder cracked the world. He got angry and counted louder.

“Good job, honey. Keep counting.”

He reached ten.

Mother Nature refused to be outdone. The raft went up on the biggest wave yet. John thought he could see his house from here. When the wave came down, the raft went flying, and so did John. The pathetic knot he tied with his belt didn’t hold. Neither did the one he tied with his tie. The bungees did, but the clips were bending.

He was too weak. Three days with almost no food and water.

“Don’t panic, honey. What did I tell you?” she asked.

He couldn’t remember. The raft was flipped over. How would he get it back up in this mess?

He started counting.

“That’s good. Think. When nothing’s working…”

Thunder struck him again. John shook his fist at the sky and got a mouthful of water for his trouble.

“Getting angry doesn’t help,” she said firmly. “Look at me!”

He looked up. He had one hand on the handhold of capsized raft, two bungees tied around his arm that were dragging him under the waves, and clothes that were dragging him under. Behind the flashes of lightning, in between the clouds, he saw her patient face. She’d always been good that way.

He said, “Sometimes your answer is inside your problem.”

“Give it a try.”

John dove under the water. He couldn’t see. Everything was muffled. He groped around, swimming in ink, and came up inside the raft. He could only see slivers of light when the raft hopped off the water. At least now he was next to where he had tied off, and the bungees weren’t dragging him under.

He grabbed hold of one side of the raft and hopped into it. He tried to pull it under. Like before, the raft fought back and popped back up. It landed flat. John’s mother clapped her hands with the sound of softer thunder.

“Good, Johnny! Good!”

“Thanks, mom,” he mumbled.

Lightning flashed. The thunder rolled again. Softer, again. He had a long way to go, but the storm was leaving.

John held on. He drank rain water while he could. The food was gone. All the supplies. Tomorrow would be a hard day.

Tomorrow.

Dueling Cold Turkeys

Posted: November 2, 2013 by writingsprint in Drama
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jackalopeI set foot on the plane. When my other foot came down, I turned sideways, held my hands up, and shuffled left and right MC-Hammer-style. I bumped into a businessman who looked more like Bill Gates than I wanted to think about, and into my young son, who rolled his eyes and wished he wasn’t there. The pilot and head stewardess chuckled.

“Don’t mind my dad. He always dances when he gets on planes,” Jimmy said.

“We see it all the time,” the pilot said. He looked at me. “It works every time.”

“I’m sorry,” I said to the businessman. He really did look like Bill Gates. But why would Bill Gates travel on anything other than his private jet? I smiled gratefully at the pilot. “Thank you. See, Jimmy? The mojo’s working.”

“Mojo jo-jo-jo,” Jimmy said. I wasn’t cool. I hadn’t been cool since he’d turn ten.

We made our way to our seats. We were flying to Disney World to meet up with my wife Cindy, Jimmy’s mother. Cindy had to go there on business and we were going to meet her for a long weekend. It was a rough gig but someone had to do it.

Jimmy took out his tablet computer and got back to playing some tower-defense–strategy game. I laid out a mini travel gnome, a mini jackalope, a pair of small red dice that I brought home from Las Vegas, and a ten-year-old postcard that I received on my first business trip to Idaho.

The postcard was the oldest piece. It was wrinkled, white creases running through it like old age lines, and bits of it wearing in the corners. Cindy had sent it to meet me at my hotel. I’d been holding it when my plane took a bird strike on takeoff on the way home. When the plane landed again and the whole mess was over, I still held tight onto the postcard. That was when I started collecting tchotchkes and doing a dance when I boarded planes. It kept me from needing valium or alcohol to handle the stress.

“I’m going to break you of your fear,” Jimmy said.

“Really? How are you doing that?” I asked.

He grabbed the postcard. “I’m going to put this one away.”

I almost peed my pants. I grabbed his tablet. “That’s fine. But fair’s fair. You break me of my addiction, I break you of yours.”

“Oh, come on. I’m not addicted!”

“Prove it.”

He slumped in his chair. I was sooo not cool. I wanted him to give me back the card. I was terrified we wouldn’t make it to Orlando now. My rational mind told me I could do this, and so could he.

“I didn’t bring anything to read.”

“There’s a magazine. I brought the paper and two books.”

“Here. Take the card back.”

“No. Come on, let’s do this.”

“Ugh!”

“It’s a four-hour flight. You’ll be fine.”

Jimmy twitched like a junkie. He was competitive enough that he wanted to prove to me he could do it. I was lucky he didn’t have a cell phone yet. “All right. But I get back as soon as we land.”

“That’s fair.”

I put all the stuff back in the bag I used to carry them on the plane and handed them to him. I was trembling. I felt myself sweat. We hadn’t even begun to taxi yet. It was going to be a long, long flight. I felt like every shiver of my soul, every drop of sweat coming out of my body, was going to be key to keeping us in the air.

This post was brought to you by the prompt “brilliant superstition” from Inspiration Monday at Be Kind Rewrite.

Writing Fear

Posted: September 17, 2013 by writingsprint in Essay, Writing
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fearA long time ago, I was having a hard time coming up with an ending to a story I was writing about a dragon. I got so fed up that I said to myself, “All right. Give me three endings, now.” I wrote the Top Gun ending, the Stephen King ending, and the comedy ending. After I wrote the Stephen King ending, my writers’ block broke and I came up with the ending I eventually used.

Fear is probably one of the hardest emotions to write. It’s not something we want to experience. Fear tells us to run away, to save ourselves, to GET OUT of the situation that’s threatening us. When you think about it, fear is probably one of the first emotions that primitive humans ever felt. When the fire was getting lower and they settled down to sleep, what strange things did they imagine crept towards them in the darkness? You can bet they weren’t cute and cuddly.

People feel fear when they see danger coming and there’s nothing they can do about it. You have a threat, and you have to have helplessness. Bees aren’t scary if you can keep your distance (low threat) and you’re armed with a fly swatter (not helpless). It’s pretty scary if you see the bee landing on your best friend’s shoulder (some threat) and they’re not aware (helpless). It’s really scary if you’re tied to a chair (helpless), smeared with jelly (really helpless) and you’re allergic to bee stings (super in danger).

To set up a scary scene, admit that sometimes bad things just happen to good people. If you’re like me, you see all the angles in your plot as you write it, and you try to skate your characters through them. To write a scary scene, you set the angles up to create the literary equivalent of a car accident. It’s not a natural act, but you can do it if you set your mind to it.

That’s how you incorporate fear into your plot. I’ve found three basic elements to incorporating it into characters: be a little mean; physical description; a little gore is good.

Writers like their characters, even the villains. It’s hard to be mean to them. To write fear you have to take the gloves off. Imagine what it’s like for a parent to stand back and let their child ride a bike down the street without training wheels. Now imagine that the child is riding on a tightrope over a canyon. That’s writing fear.

This is where the drawn knife and the blood stain on the kitchen floor come in. A little gore is good, but use it with an eyedropper, as a hint for something far, far worse. The scene stops being scary when the knife gets used or we see a pile of guts. Then it’s just excruciating. In my dragon story, one of the characters barely escaped getting eaten by the dragon. Instead of getting bitten in half, he lost his foot. Through the haze of shock, he saw his shoe go inside the creature’s mouth. I let him get halfway inside a building that would have protected him… if only he’d made it all the way inside.

Vivid physical details will bring your scene to life. When you’re scared, your adrenaline’s pumping, and you’re more aware of everything in your environment. You aren’t thinking deep, thoughtful thoughts. You tend to obsess, focusing on the scary tree outside your window or the funny-shaped cane that you’re sure just moved by itself. Keep it tactile; people are afraid of being injured. Keep it visual; people are using their eyes. Keep the sounds quiet, stretching the character’s senses to their limit. Smell is better for setting up the situation, and taste tends to go dead with dry-mouthed terror.

Fear is fundamental. Write it into your stories, and you’ll have readers who can’t look away, even if they wanted to. Muhuhahahaha…

Breathe Deep and Shudder

Posted: August 20, 2013 by writingsprint in Horror
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silk

“Spider Cocoon” by Natalia Drepina at DeviantArt.com

There were four bodies that looked like me hanging from the ceiling. They didn’t just look like me. They were me.

The first two were husks, dessicated weight sagging down the webs. Those just looked like sticks. The third was distinctively skinny, and he knew what my mouth looked like if it was open in a scream and plugged with spiderweb. The fourth still had plastic-looking eyes, one that was half gone.

“What the… what…”

I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t scream. I tried to turn around, but everything seemed to be moving slowly. I was in one of those dreams where your feet nail themselves to the ground.

From behind me, I heard Henry talking.

“What a shame. I did try to warn you not to come up here. Now what will I do with you?”

He put his hand on my shoulder. I let out a sound that was a cross between a cry and a gurgle. It hadn’t been strong enough to make it out of my throat. I jumped, but not far. His hand stayed on my shoulder like an old friend’s. I counted every one of his fingers. His ring scratched my shirt. The one with the black family crest on it.

I couldn’t stop shaking. Please, God, let me just stop shaking.

“Today is Thursday, Tim. Not Sunday. You’ve been here four times. Each time I try to tell you not to go in.” Henry lifted his hand off my shoulder, reached past me and shut the door. Tears fell down my face. “That’s why you can’t remember.”

He stood in between me and the door. I finally saw him as he was. Uncle Tim, with the salt and pepper hair and the beard. The kind wrinkles. The details had changed, but he hadn’t become less, aged, in ten years. That was when my seizures started.

“Uncle Henry,” I said.

“You never talked before.”

“Mom? Dad?”

“Only in your mind, Tim. It’s just been you and me. Forever.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You aren’t supposed to understand.”

Hit him. Stop him. Do something. I couldn’t move.

Uncle Henry started rubbing his hands together. I could feel the warmth between them from here. A haze covered them, that became like wooly gloves. He pulled his hands apart. Silk stretched between them.

“That’s what they were hanging from.”

“It’s an old family secret. An old, old secret.” He smiled. “It’s time to go in.”

The word of the day is “fear.” How did I do?

“Breathe deep and shudder” is a phrase that I coined a long time ago after watching a movie that disturbed the heck out of me. I remember take a deep breath — they’re supposed to be cleansing — and shuddering when it came out. Being scared is one thing, but for me, shuddering goes all the way to the bone.