Archive for April, 2012

19th April
2012
written by amber

Heaven on Earth

I used to love my sailboat. It took me at least five years to save the money to buy her, and I was ecstatic when I signed the papers and made her mine. I changed her name immediately, from Popsie’s Sloopsie to Heaven on Earth.

Our first trip on her was like a second honeymoon, and I’m pretty sure that both our son and daughter were conceived on board.

Everything about being on the water was exciting to my wife and me then. And everything about each other. Until it suddenly wasn’t, two years ago. Suddenly I was a monster who’d stifled her every opportunity and rained on all her parades. Suddenly I was living on the boat.

Living on a boat. What could be better than being a newly minted bachelor, living on a boat? I convinced myself that my ex-wife had done me a big favour.

But it wasn’t long before the romance of the nautical life was over. Used to be that the rhythm of my boat on the water was the most soothing thing I could imagine. I always slept like a baby on board, but now I feel slightly queasy all the time. Everything is harder – cooking is harder, you have less room to store things and I keep banging my head because everything’s too low in there. Doing laundry, taking out the garbage – those are trips to other buildings. Yeah, I have no yard to worry about now, but instead I have barnacles, rust, seagull poop.

And the kids hate to visit. They say it’s too cramped in their bunks; they complain about the lack of TV and other electronics since I had the trouble with the wiring due to the infernal dampness.

Lately, we’ve been staying at motels on my weekends with them.

And if I can convince a girlfriend to spend the night with me, I usually spring for a fancy hotel. They might say they think the boat is sexy, but I can’t believe they aren’t put off by the musty stink, the fraying ropes, the chipped paint, the minuscule mildewed bathroom.

I lie in my berth the nights when I’m alone on the boat, listening to the water lapping against the sides and it seems that the thinnest of walls stand between me and descent to the dark, cold, bottomless depths.

The Story 365 project is a year-long marathon of short story writing, with a new story for every day of the year and posted on this website from May 1, 2011 – April 30, 2012. Stories must be a minimum of 200 words. Please help me by adding first line or topic suggestions in the Comment section of any story.

18th April
2012
written by amber

The Dogs of Night

It was night, and the dogs came through the trees, unleashed and howling with the joy of unfettered freedom. They didn’t know why their owners had turned them loose, they were house dogs, pampered, protected, yet their blood sang with a desire for pack activities, for pursuit and savage capture. They were all hungry, having been fed far less recently than they were accustomed to.

They ran for miles, the smaller and weaker dogs tiring and falling behind, to be left alone and frightened in the black forest, beyond any sound or smell to guide them homewards.

The woods were rife with odours and tracks – squirrels, deer, rabbits, coyotes. The pack veered from one scent path to another, easily distracted by this richness of stimulation. After several hours of random, fruitless chasing, two larger dogs emerged as the leaders. One took the fore and the other ran behind, snapping at any dog who veered from the spoor of the chosen prey.

And so, in the first light of dawn, they brought down a doe and fawn, and they feasted. Not all the dogs enjoyed the taste of raw flesh, and not all the dogs were given an equal share, the dominant pair defending the carcasses and dividing the pack members into a pecking order of their own choosing.

The dogs dug in the dirt and formed sleeping hollows, they lay down and slept. Some dogs cried for their soft beds, some tried to slink away, but the leaders snapped at them and forced them back into the group.

One cunning terrier waited until sleep was well-established, then he wormed his way quietly and slowly away from the others. He trotted off and soon found a trail that he recognized from walks with his master. He ran homewards, tired and aching, longing for nothing more than the collar and a biscuit.

The house was quiet and empty when he arrived, the outside doors open, the cupboards stripped of any foodstuffs. His bed lay in the yard, his toys were in a pile next to some bulging garbage bags.

A pack of dogs ran down the lane. It was a different pack than the one he’d run with during the night. He crouched down behind his dog house, trembling and whining. He began to bark, sharply, insistently, but no one came to shout at him and bring him inside to his family and home.

The Story 365 project is a year-long marathon of short story writing, with a new story for every day of the year and posted on this website from May 1, 2011 – April 30, 2012. Stories must be a minimum of 200 words. Please help me by adding first line or topic suggestions in the Comment section of any story.

I began this story with the first line from Gil Adamson’s The Outlander, an incredible novel.

17th April
2012
written by amber

Spectral Angel

Above the town, on the hill brow, the stone angel used to stand. Wings rampant, brow furrowed, one arm raised as though to strike down damnation upon all and sundry. Yet very few people had ever seen her.

My friend and I had. The first time we saw her, we’d snuck up to the old graveyard; we were nine years old and venturing far beyond the parts of town permitted to us. So as not to be seen going into the graveyard from the prominent front gateway, we came in from the back, from the hillside above.

Immediately, I was attracted to a small stone grave with a cherub atop – the grave of a child.

“Let’s go look at that,” I said to Emily.

“No, I want to see the crypt.” We’d been told about a large family crypt, disused for decades, with broken walls and bones visible through the breaks. It stood like a gothic monument on the other side of the graveyard. I was afraid to look at it, but Emily was bolder.

“Okay, let’s meet at the front gate.” I’d glimpsed the magnificent stone angel there and wanted to see her up close, but was content to leave her for a final treat after we’d explored everything else.

I wandered through the newer part of the graveyard, weathered stones from the early 1900’s, the writing nearly erased by time, barely readable. On Emily’s side, the stones were much older, worn to nubs, sculpted lambs or urns or pedestals now like melted candles, mere suggestions of their former shapes.

When I saw that she’d left the haunted crypt behind, I joined her in the ancient avenues of death. I wasn’t enjoying this as much as I’d thought I would, so I was relieved when she said, “Let’s go see the stone angel, and then leave.”

“Okay,” I answered and we headed toward the front gate.

And found no sign of the angel. Yet we both were certain we’d seen it earlier.

Frightened, we ran out of the graveyard and back down to town, not caring if anyone saw us. And later, when I woke in the middle of the night from a terrible dream, I confessed to my mother where I’d been and what I thought I’d seen.

“It is there,” she told me, which reassured me until she added, “But not everyone can see it. People might tell you that if you see it, you’re going to die.”

Now I was even more terrified, but she went on, “However, I’ve seen it many times, and I’m still alive, so don’t you worry. I’ve heard it was built as a memorial to a woman who was burned as a witch, and that no sooner was it erected than the church officials had it torn down, but women of unusual sensitivity can see it still, if they don’t look at it directly. So I suppose you are going to be a woman of unusual sensitivity, but for now, you’re still a girl and I don’t want you going up there any more, you hear?”

It was not a difficult promise for me to keep.

For two or three years, anyhow.

The Story 365 project is a year-long marathon of short story writing, with a new story for every day of the year and posted on this website from May 1, 2011 – April 30, 2012. Stories must be a minimum of 200 words. Please help me by adding first line or topic suggestions in the Comment section of any story.

The first line of this story came, of course, from Margaret Lawrence’s The Stone Angel, with a nod to an experience my friend, Darlene Dyck, and I had in a graveyard in Wales.

16th April
2012
written by amber

In a Taxi

The taxi driver thought he had offended me. I could tell by the way he stopped staring at me in the rearview mirror. For the first half of my journey, he’d been watching me without embarrassment, the way men in those countries always look at women, as if we were simultaneously invisible and red-flagged.

I’d tried to dress modestly, but the long skirt and the scarf swaddling my head and hair obviously weren’t enough. The women I saw as we drove from the airport to the hotel were totally encased in paper – pages of their holy books sewn together into an impregnable fortress of text, the ‘thou shalt not’ rules virtually ensuring obedience through a barrier of religious script.

I’d visited the country frequently during the change – from t-shirts with p.c. logos and buttons with patriotic or religious sayings to brands of clothing bearing popular sentiments, followed by political parties issuing approved outfits with velcro strips for adding Bible verses and facile slogans about loyalty and patriotism.

Of course, clothing was just a manifestation of the deeper changes – the fears of common people exploited by an increasingly power-hungry economic and ideologic elite. I’d written about all these changes in the free press of another country, using a name that was not the same as the name I travelled under.

I returned, ten years later, to a county stable due to extreme repression. And the taxi driver remarked that I must be some kind of journalist.

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

“Because only journalists travel without their husband,” he told me.

“My husband is dead,” I replied, the answer I’d been counselled to give to such questions. “I’ve brought his ashes back.” And the man was embarrassed for casting aspersions, by labelling me a journalist, when I really was a grieving widow.

Of course, as he wheeled his great gas guzzling vehicle along, I could see his face in the mirror, ruminating on the obvious questions – why wasn’t I properly dressed, why was my husband living in another country at the time of his death, was he not a faithful Canadian?

The Story 365 project is a year-long marathon of short story writing, with a new story for every day of the year and posted on this website from May 1, 2011 – April 30, 2012. Stories must be a minimum of 200 words. Please help me by adding first line or topic suggestions in the Comment section of any story.

The first line of this story was suggested by my mother, Mary Bond, and is the first line of The House of Stairs, a novel by Barbara Vine.

15th April
2012
written by amber

The Vampire’s Widow

Died on me finally. He had to. Immortality is all fine and good, but when you’re vulnerable to so many things, it’s ridiculous to call yourself immortal.

I mean, any one of us is immortal unless something kills us, aren’t we?

Oh, we had fun at first. I met him and I was smitten; I would have done anything he asked me. I thought he’d ask me to have sex on the first date or run away from home to be with him. I didn’t expect what he did ask of me.

I wasn’t a believer, then. I just thought he had a strange fetish, and a well-hidden one. Because he didn’t have one of those lean pale faces, he didn’t dress entirely in black. He looked like a football jock, muscular, ruddy-cheeked, robustly healthy. But when he sank his teeth into my neck and I felt the twin punctures followed by utter bliss, I knew he was exactly what he said he was.

We had many wonderful years together.

It was an open-relationship. It had to be – the lust for blood is the most powerful aphrodisiac of all. Jealousy isn’t why I wanted to kill him. It was boredom.

Three hundred twenty nine years is a long time.

At first, things were exciting. I was young and suddenly very powerful and the world was my oyster. But you go through phases. The first, I suppose, could be called psychopath. I killed with impunity. With enjoyment.

Later, I killed for what I convinced myself were moral reasons – I killed people who needed to be killed. Killers and rapists. Being a creature of the night, I saw what other creatures of the night were up to and I punished those who deserved it.

Next, I became a connoisseur. Like a mortal wine drinker, I convinced myself that different blood tasted differently. We thought the blood of a young virgin was best of all.

Meanwhile, the world became grey and hopeless. Resource shortages, a hostile climate, ravaging diseases meant that people stayed home, did little, had no fun. The dizzying rate of progress – technological changes almost daily – ceased. Things were the same, year after year, decade after decade.

I started trying to kill myself 44 years ago, and he’s stopped me every time. We don’t die immediately, but lie dormant for an hour or two, time enough for the silver bullet to be removed, the wooden stake extricated, the holy cross moved to a safe distance, or the sun-bathed body to be rolled into a dim crypt.

The blood we get these days does not seem as nourishing, and each attempt left me weaker and more determined to end this pointless existence.

For ten days now, I’ve risen from my coffin and dragged him into the daylight before lying down in the deadly illumination myself. And for ten days, his constitution has been stronger than mine and I’ve woken at dusk once again in my coffin, once again ‘alive.’

He should have left me, but I guess he loves me in his way. Today I woke with feeble strength flowing back into my body as the garish sunset faded, and I found him next to me, now as pale and emaciated as the fashion vampires of my youth. I stumbled away and found a deserted neighbourhood and the remnant of a picket fence.

It was surprisingly easy to plunge the stake into his chest. I didn’t bother with a cross or bullets, too weak to go in search of such things.

Now it’s time for my own stake, which I will fall upon like an ancient warrior.

The Story 365 project is a year-long marathon of short story writing, with a new story for every day of the year and posted on this website from May 1, 2011 – April 30, 2012. Stories must be a minimum of 200 words. Please help me by adding first line or topic suggestions in the Comment section of any story.

The first line of this story was suggested by my mother, Mary Bond, and is the first line of The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, a novel by Allan Gurganus.

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