Story 365

17th May
written by amber

Running Away

Allie darted through the woods, as fast as she could go. Dusk was descending, making shadows stretch across the path, as solid-seeming as fallen branches. She leapt over each one. She could not afford to trip.

The Undead were close behind her. She didn’t dare look, but she could hear their panting breath, smell their sweat. Their thudding footsteps pounded, as once her heart had pounded when she was one of them. Undead.

But now she was one of the Dead. And the Undead feared and hated her and tried to drive her from their midst.

This was not what she’d expected being dead to be like. She thought she’d be someplace else, or no place at all, or if still around, at least insubstantial. But she still had her body and it worked the way it always had, except that she couldn’t hear her heart beat and she didn’t seem to need to eat.

She didn’t think she looked all gross like a zombie, but she hadn’t had a chance to look in a mirror. Her hands, her feet, her torso – they all looked fine to her, the brief glances she’d had of them ever since she’d found herself lying in the ditch in broad daylight, in the very spot she remembered flying from her car after hitting that moose. There was no sign of her car, so she’d started walking toward town, only to have a carload of kids – kids she went to school with – stop and scream and throw rocks at her.

They threw wadded up pieces of paper too and yelled, “Go back to the graveyard!” Then they drove away.

Allie didn’t remember being at the graveyard, but the paper turned out to be a funeral notice. Her own funeral notice. And it said she was to be buried at Hilltop Cemetery.

So she headed there, and found a field of yawning holes. No wonder people were upset. Had all the dead come back to life?

She heard a commotion in the trees at the edge of the graveyard and saw a group of people beating something with sticks and shovels and baseball bats. Then someone shouted, “There’s another one!”

She ducked down, certain that they meant her, but they stampeded toward an old woman walking slowly along in the older part of the cemetery, weeping. Allie recognized her as a retired teacher from the high school who had died the year before.

Aside from her clothes, which were too dressy for anything but a party and a bit dirty, and her lack of shoes, Mrs. Gladstone looked exactly like the living. At that moment, Allie realized that she too was wearing one of her nicest dresses, not what she’d been wearing when she hit the moose, and no shoes.

She ran out of the graveyard, noticing the limp body which had been pummelled by the mob. It was a young boy who’d been killed on the train track when Allie was in junior high. There was no blood, but Allie was pretty sure he was now deader than dead.

She didn’t want to be dead again.

If she could find some shoes and make her way to another town where no one knew her to be among the deceased, she might be able to stay alive long enough to understand what was going on.

She’d felt a sense of freedom when she smashed the window of the shoe store and grabbed a pair of Nikes. I’m dead, she thought, I can do whatever I want.

But now, wearing the running shoes and running for her refound life, Allie doesn’t feel free, she feels desperate, and hunted. This is the third town she’s tried to infiltrate, but the Undead don’t trust anyone.

And then it happens – she trips. Her feet fly out behind her and the ground rushes toward her face, then a hand grabs her upper arm and a running figure yanks her along beside him.

“Keep running!” he shouts. “My friends will be here soon and we’ll chase those Undead back to their town. What were you doing, trying to stay in that town anyway?”

She gasps out, “I didn’t want to be alone.”

He pulls her down beside a stone wall. She can hear the Undead shout as a large group of the Dead come pounding toward them. Her rescuer says, “Alone? There’s more of us than them. You’ve got friends forever, girl.”

Today’s assignment was to write about someone fleeing something.

16th May
written by amber

Prom Night

He’s so handsome with his little horns.

And he’s polished his hooves and put on his best jacket. His hair and beard are neatly combed. The corsage for his date is in his pocket.

My son, the goat boy, ready for his prom. And favouring me with a mild look, not quite a smile, but not a glare.

These last few years haven’t been easy. We thought things were bad when he was a baby. All the publicity, the outcry when we refused surgery, his first day of kindergarten and the way the other children mocked him. But puberty has been a whole new ball game.

Probably all parents of teenagers go through something like this. Probably we’re kidding ourselves (pun inevitable) that our experience is the worst possible.

Sometimes I wish the other children at school still ostracized him, instead of this popularity he has now. Of course, he’s not the only hybrid human any longer – he’s just the first.

No one believes us when we say that all we were trying to do was fiddle with the human digestive system a little, biohack a way for us to be able to eat more things, ideally to eat our own garbage instead of filling the land with landfills. I didn’t know I was pregnant. I certainly didn’t know the modification would affect my son the way it did.

Billy (we didn’t name him that – we named him Bradley – he chose that for himself) lost his driving license last week and he says he’d be mortified to have us drive him, so Ashleigh, his date, is picking him up in her car.

And here she is and the few moments of unaccustomed peace in our house end as he yells across the yard “I’ll be right out, Ash!” and turns to us with a scowl, “I suppose you think that even tonight I should come home by a certain time.”

“No, son,” my husband says, “You go out and have a good time. This is a special night for you and we’re really proud of you for graduating.”

“Surprised you, hey?” he says, hovering in the doorway. “Maybe you should have been tinkering with a way to make people smarter all those years ago instead of aiming for a human trash compactor.”

He’s off then, trotting across the yard, and I am filled with so much love for him. He never shows us how much his differences have brought him pain. He always seems to revel in his individuality. I’ll cherish this night for many reasons, but most of all for this rare moment of candor.

I wasn’t able to get on the internet earlier today, and so I wasn’t able to find out StoryADay’s prompt, therefore I didn’t have a chance to think about it prior to logging on this evening and discovering I was to write a love story. And I totally went blank on it. Then I looked out the window and saw a deer stroll by in the pasture, with short little horns. So I wrote the first line and carried on from there. And I was able to put in something about biohacking, which I heard about on CBC this morning and thought would work well in a story.

15th May
written by amber

Brother Dog

In the beginning there were two tribes of men – short, fast men and large, slow men. But they did not live at peace with each other.

The short, fast men were always thinking of new ways to catch animals to eat but the large, slow men would just wander into their camp and take what they wanted. They would leave pretty stones in exchange for the meat and berries that they took, but what good were pretty stones?

Sometimes, if all the short, fast men were off chasing animals and the large, slow men came into the camp and the women were struggling to carry water in baskets or reach fruit down from the tall trees, the large, slow men would help them, but this only made the short, fast men angry. They did not like the idea of the large, slow men spending time with their women and doing jobs the women ought to be doing themselves.

The large, slow men built sturdy woven houses out of large leaves and vines. The women of the short, fast men saw these woven houses one time when they were foraging far from the camp and soon they began to clamour for their men to build such fine houses for them. But the short, fast men had no free time left after chasing down animals and lying around the fire while they ate, so they refused to build woven houses. Caves and depressions in the dirt were good enough for them.

The large, slow men collected snail shells from the lake and made small holes in them and strung them together on vines and wore them around their neck. When they came by the camp of the short, fast men to take food, the women pointed to these strings of shells and indicated that they wanted to have them in exchange for the meat and berries. So they had strings of shells around their necks when their men returned from hunting. And the short, fast men were angered.

The men threw the bodies of the animals they had killed to the ground and the women skinned and gutted the animals and threw the meat into the fire. While the men ate their meat, the women danced and the shells made a pleasing sound but still the men were angered by the large, slow men.

As the night descended, the men’s stomachs were full of meat and they allowed the women to eat and when the women’s stomachs were full, they threw the scraps to the bold wolves who hovered just outside the perimeter of the fire’s flickering light.

“How can we stop the large, slow men from coming into our camp while we are off chasing animals?” one of the men asked.

They asked this question of each other every night, but not one of them ever had an answer.

However, on this night, the youngest of the short, fast men, who only recently had been a boy to be left behind in the camp and not invited on the hunt, answered the question.

“I think the large, slow men are afraid of wolves. I saw them running once, when wolves were chasing them.”

“You saw the large, slow men running?” The other short, fast men were very surprised by this.

“We should make the wolves stay here during the day so that the large, slow men will be afraid to come into our camp.”

“But how can we make the wolves stay here?”

The young man answered, “We must give them more meat and make them come close to us to take the meat right from our hands. And when they are no longer afraid of us, we should put a vine around their necks and bind them to a tree near our camp.”

And this is how Brother Wolf became Brother Dog, and how the short, fast men overcame the large, slow men who vanished from the face of the earth and were never seen again.

StoryADay suggested that we write a fairy tale today. I wrote a fable inspired by a headline about dogs helping homo sapiens overcome the neandrethals.

14th May
written by amber

The Get-O

I took a wrong turn and ended up in the Get-O, surrounded by Get&Fetchits.

Or, to be more politically correct, surrounded by Digicerians. But who calls them that?

I’d been around them before, but usually at a distance. In an eatery, for example, where they would be wearing aprons and clearing tables, or at some wealthy person’s estate where they would be wearing coveralls and raking up leaves.

I’d never been afraid of them before, but I was now. For one thing, they were naked. I should have expected this. I know they wear clothing for our sensibilities, not for theirs. Their home planet is quite cold, so they find our preferred temperature oppressive.

For another thing, they seemed taller. I realized that they are always slumped when serving us, and I guess I’d thought that was their regular posture, but in their part of the city, they stood much straighter. In fact, most of them were taller than I am.

They didn’t act threatening toward me, but they bunched together and jabbered in their strange-sounding language and looked at me with their odd eyes and I couldn’t help but recall the circumstance of their being among us.

The first intelligent species we encountered when we began to colonize other planets, and we destroyed their home world. It’s no excuse that we didn’t know they were there, that we didn’t know harvesting oxygen would destabilize the atmosphere; we turned a green forest world into an airless wasteland. And so we brought them to live on our planets.

Our biggest fear when we set forth into the universe was that we’d meet a race superior to us. Some hoped such advanced beings would elevate us, but most expected them to despise us and enslave us. And now we have done that to the Digecerians. That we’ve done it more through accident than intent does not excuse it.

And coming face-to-face with them in the Get-O, confronting my fear which arose from my guilt and not from their loud outcries which might have been anger, I ultimately felt sorry for them. They were in the wrong place through no fault of their own, and no right place for them existed among the known planets. We had ruined the world they call Earth in their tongue, and halted the progress which may have brought them a future as bright in knowledge and technology as our own.

StoryADay gave us the suggestion to write about someone in the wrong place at the wrong time.

13th May
written by amber

The Trek

All she wanted to do was stop walking.

“No, Mom,” her son said, pulling her by the wrist. “We have to keep walking.”

They’d spent half an hour deciding what to take, twenty minutes driving until the highway snarled into a standstill, another five minutes deciding what to carry, and now they’d been walking for five hours. The only ones who’d stopped walking were the very old or the sick. No one else felt they were far enough away to be safe.

Safe from what she didn’t know, nor did anyone else. There had been explosions, that was undeniable. There were planes in the sky. The power had gone off, halting the radio announcements of ‘possible terrorist activities’ and ‘potential contamination of the water system.” She hadn’t seen anything that looked like the mushroom cloud she associated with a nuclear bomb, but some people walking near them had spoken of ‘suitcase bombs’ and ‘dirty bombs’ which might not make such a huge blast but were just as dangerous, maybe more.

She remembers when people had bomb shelters. Downtown there are still some buildings with the radiation sign indicating that a safe haven is found someplace within, presumably in the basement or subway. But out in the suburbs, the only potential safety was found in distance.

She stopped walking. “I’m tired and really thirsty,” she told her son. They had finished the water they were carrying over an hour ago.

“Just wait a minute.”

He tried the doors of several of the nearby abandoned cars, finding them all locked, just as they’d left their car locked, as if the world was still a place where people had possessions they protected. He found a rock beside the highway and hurled it through a window, then reached inside and grabbed one of the bottles of water those strangers had planned to take with them as they drove to their sanctuary.

She drank and after that, her son expected her to start walking again. She did, thinking sourly that ‘I’m tired,’ had been the first and most important fact she spoken.

They walked through the night, taking only short breaks which were not restful due to the constant speculation fermenting among their fellow travellers. Some imagined that they felt ill with symptoms of radiation poisoning, others fretted that it was all a hoax perpetrated by master thieves who were even now stripping entire neighbourhoods of all their valuables, others spoke of strategic targets in the direction they were moving, proclaiming that no place was free of whatever contamination had been visited upon them.

They took food from cars, they took water. When the night became cold, they took blankets and sweaters. Her son broke the window of one car and opened a pet carrier to set a small dog free. She couldn’t imagine why the owners had left it in there.

And still they walked.

Her son walked and every hour he tried his cell phone again, but there was no signal.

Dawn was a faint blush behind them, studded with bright explosions as the night had been, when she told him she would not go one step further. He allowed her to rest, sleeping fitfully in the front seat of a truck which had been left unlocked. After a time which seemed very brief to her, he returned with a cane.

“Surely someone didn’t leave their cane in their vehicle,” she told him.

“No, they didn’t,” he replied, and wouldn’t discuss it further. “We have to get to Aunt Sally’s house. It’s an older house and I think it has a bomb shelter.”

She thought it actually was a root cellar, but she said nothing. It was a goal. When they got there, she could stop walking.

StoryADay suggested today that we write a story in which the protagonist wants something. The long hike I took today was inspiration, though hardly a forced march.