The door

Annie didn’t know where the door came from or where it led to. It was just there, arriving overnight, somehow, in her living room.

It wasn’t always there. It, in fact, had never been there. Annie had lived in this house her whole life. Nothing unusual had ever happened in the spacious two-bedroom in all those thirty-odd years. Until the door popped up.

The lime green of the door didn’t exactly clash with the pale blues and yellows of her living room, but it didn’t look quite right, either. It was nothing at all like the front door, in all its pristine whiteness. The door handle was all wrong, too. The garish brassiness of the large, obtruding knob stood in stark contrast to the sleek, burnished flow of the curved handle on the main door.

Annie stood next to the coffee table, staring at the uninvited door. Her alarm was going off in her bedroom, reminding her that she needed to go to work. But the door, in all of its stoicism, pulled at her. She wanted to know where it came from. Where it led. But she was afraid to find out.

Annie decided to work from the living room, instead of her home office, so she could keep an eye on the lime green intruder. The small woman rushed to her office, grabbing up her laptop and her cup of coffee, gone cold in her absence.

When the petite Annie returned to her living room, ready for the workday to begin, her eyes darted to the mysterious door. Something had changed, though, during her short trip to her office.

The door was standing open.

Diary at the end of the world

Day 436:
I’ve been all over the place. From up north, where they used to make cars, down south where they used to make oil for those cars. West, where they used to grow oranges and olives; east, where they used to grow towers. Not once have I found a living, breathing person. I’ve seen lots of places where people used to be. Most of those are also where people died by the hundreds. I suppose there could be other wanderers, a mere handful so spread out we don’t ever run across each other. But it seems, more and more, that I’m the only one left alive in the whole country. Maybe the whole world.

Day 467:
Plants and critters didn’t seem to get hit as hard as people did. Whatever bio-engineered weapon we got hit with killed humans so fast, the Feds couldn’t contain it. Or explain it. The disease must’ve started in a bunch of cities, all at the same time. That’s the only way it could’ve spread so fast. D.C. was one of the first, of course. Only natural to want to eliminate the government pretty quick. I’ve been to a few cities that I suspect were “first-strike” places. Places with big populations, packed in pretty tight. Nearly all of them have been overgrown with vegetation and animals. Especially the ones that started out with a lot of parks and natural-growth areas. Places like Nashville. Lots of heat and rain and no winter to speak of really took a toll on the southern cities.

Day 482:
Trekking my way back out west. Figure with all the plant life growing overtime, I might find a good place to hole up and stay for a while. Maybe some other wanderer will find me and I won’t be alone anymore. It gets to be a little weird after a while, not having someone to talk to. The critters don’t talk back. Of course, it’d probably be weirder still if they did. I’m thinking around Bakersfield. Last pass through there, the orchards were overgrown, but the food was still growing strong. If anyone has managed to survive this long, they’ll be smart enough to figure on getting somewhere with food.

Day 500:
Somewhere in southern Cali, now. I think. Seen oranges already, still growing in their groves like they’re just waiting for a nation’s call for citrus. Don’t want to stop in the middle of a big town, too much possibility for something sneaking up on me from cover. Maybe an old farmhouse in the middle of an orchard or something. Maybe I’ll get lucky and find something close to food, even closer to water, and on a hill. Or maybe I’m just dreaming.

Day 513:
No hills. I forgot SoCal is flat. At least around where the food is. Did find an old silo sort of thing that looked like it had been in the middle of a remodel when the end hit. Stairs up to the top, a couple of windows put in and a sturdy floor. Makes for a decent hideout. At least I can see anything coming for miles. So far, nothing’s come along but some deer, a few smaller animals, and a pack of coyotes. I found some fun electronics in a nearby farmhouse. A couple of radios, old types, no mp3 players, including what I think is a ham radio. Figured I’d play around some, see if I can’t stop being bored and lonely for a day or three.

Day 525:
I’ve been alone too long. Started hearing voices. First, it was on the ham radio. Figured I’d just messed it up and was getting some stray interference from an old satellite or something. Then I started hearing it on the regular radio, on the antenna airwaves. Scratchy and intermittent, so it was just a little weird. At first. Then I started hearing voices at night, floating in through the windows. All speaking English. All saying my name. Still haven’t seen anyone, though. Guess I’ll go looking tomorrow.

Day 528:
Didn’t find anyone on my walk-about. Still hearing the voices, though. They’re coming through all the radios and in the night air. Sun’s going down now, but I think I’ll be heading back east when th… I hear footsteps. Coming up the stairs. The voices have all stopped. All but the one at the door…

 

Daniel Webster’s deal

“So, yeah, I called the hotline and I’m waiting for a callback,” Daniel told his friend.

Nate shook his head, incredulous his friend would take the risk. “So, are you really going to go through with it? I mean, yeah, you don’t use it, but what if you need it, someday?”

Daniel laughed. “What do I need it for? If I can get something for it now, why wait? It only makes sense if you think about it.”

Still Nate was unimpressed with Daniel’s logic. There was nothing in the world he wanted enough to sell his soul. He wasn’t all that religious, but he was pragmatic. What if, one day, he did have a need for a soul? Maybe one of the crazy religions of the world was right and he’d need a soul to get into a good afterlife.

“Where’d you find the hotline? It’s not like it’s advertised, right? Or did I miss something somewhere?”

Daniel pulled a tattered magazine from his backpack. It had wildly made-up rockers with super expensive guitars on the front. He thumbed it open, flipping pages until he found a full-page ad near the back of the magazine.

“Here,” he showed Nate. “This ad. It’s about music and such, but I figured if the Devil’s buying up souls, he doesn’t much care what he’s giving in return. So I called.”

“I dunno, Daniel,” Nate shook his head again. “I still don’t think it’s a good idea. I mean, even if you get what you want for your soul, it’s still your soul!”

“I’m not going to get something puny, Nate. I’m smarter than that.” Daniel told his friend. His phone started ringing, so he held up a hand to forestall Nate’s continued argument.

“Hello? Yes, Daniel Webster….Oh, are you sure?”

Nate watched his friend’s face lose all its excitement, transforming into despair.

“Alright….Yeah, thanks. G’bye.”

Daniel ended his call, his face crumpling, tears beginning to pool in his eyes. He looked up at Nate.

“Everything okay, Daniel?” Nate’s voice was hesitant. He didn’t want those tears to spill out of his friend’s eyes.

“No,” Daniel wailed. “He doesn’t want my soul. Says it’s not up to the exchange rate. Something like that. I didn’t even get to talk to him, just some secretary or whatever.”

Nate was relieved but also disappointed for his friend. Curious about what Daniel wanted for his soul, he asked, “So…what did you want to get? I mean, for selling your soul, if he’d wanted it?”

“I just…just wanted to be a writer…”

Nate didn’t think that sounded so bad. Definitely not so bad that the Devil would refuse to take the deal

Until Daniel continued, “like Stephen King, but better and more famous.”

Camera girl

“Who’s that?”

The question catches Jennifer off-guard. She looks at her sister who is looking through the recently developed pictures from Jennifer’s garage sale find.

Amy hands over the pictures, pointing to a sad looking little girl in a flowered dress.

“Huh? I don’t remember her,” Jennifer says. “Must be some double exposure thing or something, from the film that was already in the camera.”

“If you say so,” Amy mutters, “you’re the expert, here.”

Jennifer glares at her sister before they both burst into laughter. Jennifer absently rifles through the remainder of the developed pictures.

“Hmm, there she is again. And again. She’s in nearly all these pictures,” she tells Amy.

Amy shrugs, repeating Jennifer’s thought, “It’s gotta be double exposure. Let’s shoot some more film, leaving out any girls we see, and go from there. Alright?”

Jennifer nods, thrusting the handful of pictures into her backpack. She pulls out a new roll of film and proceeds to thread it into the antique camera.

“I’ve got an idea,” Amy squeals, “let’s go take some pictures of the lake. I saw sailboats out earlier. I think they’re practicing for the race on Saturday.”

Jennifer follows Amy to their car to stow their backpacks then the pair strolls through the park to the shore of Lake Presston. Amy was right, there were many sailboats on the water, their multi-colored sails brilliant on the grey-blue of the lake.

Jennifer snapped a few pictures of the boats, a few shots of a pair of roller-bladers, and finished off the roll with dogs and their owners walking the path around the lake.

Dusk was settling over the park when the girls made it back to their car. Jennifer dropped Amy off at her dorm room then she went home to develop the new set of pictures.

In the darkroom, Jennifer again noticed the girl in the flowered dress. The mysterious girl was in every picture! Jennifer finished developing her pictures and left the darkroom. She picked up the bargain camera and examined it carefully. Nothing appeared out of place. Nothing extra was added to the camera. She cleaned the lenses and body and set the camera on her coffee table.

She called Amy to tell her sister about the strange girl on the film. When Amy answered the phone, Jennifer could tell something was wrong.

“H…he…helloooo?”

“Amy? What’s wrong? Amy, I need to talk to you. It’s about…”

Jennifer was interrupted by Amy’s wail.

“Amy!” Jennifer screamed into the phone.

“The girl,” Amy cried, “she’s here! She’s real. Jennifer, help!”

Jennifer dropped the phone, whirling to grab her car keys from the coffee table. But something standing in the corner stopped her cold. It was a sad looking girl in a flowered dress.

**************

The old film camera on the bargain table seemed to be in good shape. Leslie picked it up and asked the woman about it.

“That was my oldest daughter’s,” she said. “Jennifer loved to take pictures. I…I don’t want to sell it, but I need the money, you see. Headstones don’t come cheap, even with the ‘group’ discount.”

Sound in the silence

I don’t remember when the buzzing started. It seems like it’s always been there. Low and constant. Never changing.

I’ve asked others about it; whether they’ve heard it, if they know what it is, or where it comes from. Most everyone agrees it’s there and it’s always been there. But no one knows what it is, exactly, or where it comes from.

Now that I think about it, even the old folks hear it, no matter how poor the hearing. I wonder if a deaf person would hear it? I don’t know anyone who can’t hear, so I have no one to ask. But if they could, would that still make it a sound? Or would it be a feeling?

Too many questions with no answers.

Behind every thought, every sound, the buzzing continues. I tried going camping once, way out in the middle of nowhere, beyond all civilized boundaries, trying to find a place without the buzzing. But it was still there. I thought for sure it was something to do with the electricity we all use every day. But out in the boonies, no lights, no cars, nothing with any kind of electric power, the buzz persisted, playing on my eardrums and echoing in my brain.

It’s so common, no one questions it. The people I asked, they all had to stop and think about it. Listen for it, even. So that makes me question if they really hear it or if they were all just influenced by my inquiring about it.

I never wanted to be a philosopher, but it seems that’s what I am now. Questioning everything. I don’t remember when that started, either. Maybe once I grew up and recognized the sound in my silence

Or maybe it was always there, just like the buzzing.

 

All in a day’s work

The metal breastplate gleamed dully in the midday sun. The arrow protruding from the center was broken in half, as if someone had weakly tried to pull it free.

Jerre peered at the plate, waiting for any sign of movement from the body it covered. But there was nothing. Crouching, she scanned the clearing, wary of being discovered. The only sound was the whirring of insects. In this heat, not even the birds were out and about.

Slowly the girl crept forward, her eyes roving, her instincts on high alert. The two dozen or so yards to the metal-clad body could’ve been two leagues, if the ache in her tensed muscles was any kind of indicator.

Jerre’s hand stretched forth, her fingers searching for the leather ties of the armor. The heat from the silver metal was nearly unbearable. The smell wafting upward from the decaying body made her stomach lurch. Good thing she’d had only a small midday meal.

Once she found the ties, getting the armor from atop the dead knight was an easy enough task. To keep her mind from dwelling on the grisliness of her deed, Jerre spoke softly to the aged man, feigning conversation between a page and his lord.

“Here, my lord, let me just… Oh, sorry, sir, didn’t mean to pinch. If you could just…?”

She pushed the body over, rolling him onto his side.

“Thank you, muchly, m’lord. That was well done, indeed. Almost there. Just about time for you to be finding yourself a lovely lady for the feast. Yes, m’lord, you’re welcome.”

Jerre slipped the last of the metal bits from the heavy man’s body. With all the pieces free, she piled the armor up and tied it into an awkward bundle. Scanning the tree line once again and finding no observers, she lugged her burden into the dim light of the forest.

About a hundred yards into the thickening trees was her temporary lair. Once she managed to stuff her booty into the hut, she set to work, patching holes and polishing the bulky armor.

The work was tiring, but Jerre had hopes of a large payout when it was finished. She hummed while she worked, passing the time the best way she could.

Finally, satisfied that she’d done her best, she set the armor aside and pulled out her bedroll. She needed a good night’s rest before stage two of her plan.

The next morning, Jerre tied her ill-gotten armor into a bundle once more, being significantly more gentle and proper in her packing. Hoisting the weight onto her back, she began the trek into the nearest large village, a good half day’s walk.

After several short rests, and one long duck-and-hide stop, Jerre arrived in Marrowton. Marrowton was bustling. Merchants, travelers, knights, and townsfolk milled about. The overcrowded town was alive with a melodic buzz. Jerre made her way to the south side of the town, where the county fair was happening.

Once there, Jerre set her armor out on the grass, gleaming metal generating much talk of its own. She began her hawking, “Armor for sale! Sirs? Please, come look at the fine armor I have for sale.”

A gawky young man wandered over, peering at her wares. She started to shoo him away, but stopped when he beckoned to an older man, a knight by his clothing.

“Armor for sale,” Jerre shouted again, pretending not to see the interested knight.

The knight approached her, curiosity evident on his rugged face. “Where did you get such armor, girl?”

“Oh, sir, ’twas my father’s. He was a tinker. He died just this spring, left me only this. I need the money to care for my mam.”

The knight looked unconvinced. “And how did a tinker come by such fine armor?”

Jerre dropped her head, trying her best to look downtrodden and ashamed. “Sir, he sometimes took trade for his work. He was the best tinker for leagues. And one day, he did the lord a service. The lord tried to pay father, but all father wanted was a chance to work on armor. So the lord gave my father an old set of armor, this armor. Father tinkered and tinkered until he made the finest, shiniest, prettiest set of armor in the land.”

The knight laughed. “A tinker so well-thought of? Well, and how much do you think your father’s armor worth?”

Jerre shrugged her slim shoulders, “I dunno, lord. I’m…I’m just a girl. I only know it’s pretty. And I need to care for my mam. Would…would 20 gold be a good price?”

The knight slapped his squire on the shoulder. “I s’pose I could do you the favor of buying your armor for my squire. He needs a bit of practice with a set. Boy, pay the child.”

The squire glared at Jerre, but he gave her 20 gold pieces and hefted the armor onto his shoulders.

As they walked away, Jerre tucked the pouch of gold into her tunic and muttered, “Enjoy your armor-of-missle-attraction. M’lord.”

Young love

“The girls are whispering again,” Joran said to Aiden. “Why do girls do that?”

Aiden shrugged, not paying much attention to his love-struck friend. Joran had been in love with Lessa for ages, but he was far too shy to say anything to the petite blonde.

Joran punched Aiden’s shoulder. “Listen, see if you can tell what they’re talking about.”

Aiden rolled his green eyes, but leaned in as his friend asked. He tried to listen without giving anything away. The girls must have figured out his trick, though, because all he could hear was gibberish.

When the three girls giggled and turned their heads to look at the boys, Aiden knew he’d been caught. He blushed furiously as the blonde Lessa, brunette Arla, and red-headed Genna sashayed past.

“Well? What did you hear,” Joran demanded.

“Nothing. It was all gobbledy-gook. I think they knew I was listening, Joran. Why don’t you just talk to Lessa?”

This time, it was Joran who shrugged. “Eh, I … I don’t know. I just don’t think she even notices me.”

The boys turned away from the park bench where the girls had been gathered and strolled into the skate park. Neither one had any intentions of boarding, but they wanted to be seen in the area.

They lingered near the bowl, watching the younger kids just learning how to control boards and skates, talking quietly about girls, school, and home.

A tap at Joran’s shoulder startled both boys. The golden-haired object of Joran’s affection stood behind them, tapping a small foot.

“Joran?”

The dark boy gulped, uncertain when or why his luck had changed but grateful it had. “Lessa. Umm, I mean, yeah, I’m Joran.”

Blue eyes sparkled with laughter. “I know. We have biology together. I was wondering if you could come to my house and help me with the homework Mr. Lonnigan assigned. I’m not quite sure I get it.”

Joran swallowed hard once more. His voice cracked, “Sure. I can help.”

Lessa smiled a small, satisfied smile and turned away, striding out of the skate park. Joran followed, forgetting his best friend altogether.

“Hey!” Aiden was irritated. But he shrugged it off, knowing he’d never be able to pull his love-dumb friend away.

The next day at school, Aiden tried to find Joran but his friend seemed to be avoiding him. It wasn’t until study hall at the end of the day that Aiden found his love-struck friend, sitting at a small table with Lessa and her friends.

“Joran! What happened yesterday and where have you been all day?”

The girls all giggled, covering their faces with their hands and peering at Aiden through delicate fingers.

Joran stood up, moving to meet his friend. Behind him, the girls began whispering to each other.

“Aiden, what’s wrong? I’ve been here all day. Are you alright?” Even though his questions seemed concerned, the tone of his voice seemed uninterested, almost bored, with whatever Aiden had to say.

“I…I’m fine. But, Joran, I think there’s something weird going on with those three,” Aiden’s voice shook with outrage and frustration.

Lessa’s voice grew louder and the other girls’ laughter seemed to echo her rise in volume. Joran smiled and patted Aiden’s shoulder.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “I’m fine, Aiden.”

Then the dark boy returned to his seat beside Lessa.

Aiden’s ears burned with anger. He started to walk over to confront the still-giggling girls when he saw Joran lean into the group and whisper. The giggles erupted, louder than ever, and the whispering continued.

Aiden clenched his teeth, intending to insult his friend enough to make Joran chase him down, but the whispers intruded. This time, the gibberish was in Joran’s voice and it seemed menacing. Aiden was sure it was about him when all four turned to stare at him.

Aiden ran.