Short Story – The Egg 🥚

The Egg

A short Easter story

by Cameron Brtnik

*Kid’s Easter Eggtivity: Your kids can read or listen along to find the hidden “Easter eggs” throughout the story – circle any words besides egg with the word “egg” in it – and win a sweet Easter prize! (*Send answers to Cameron at cbrtnik@gmail.com by Monday April 18, ‘22. Prize will be awarded in person or via post!)*

The Egg

Proleggue:

…and as the boy went to put it in his basket he had the nagging feeling that this egg was special, and so he paused for just the briefest moment, then put it in his pocket…

The hiding spots were good, but not so good as to be unfindable; the hunt was for the children after all. Hiding places included a bowl of fruit, the corner of a picture frame, underneath the couch, concealed in the cushions, under the brass dinner bell, resting on a window sill, hiding in the drapes, resting next to a chair legg or conspicuously behind a door. Some were even in plain sight, though I suspect those were for the adults. Many were in groups of four, five or six, depending on how many of us kids took part. The unbreggable rule was to: “Only take one and leave the rest for the others.” (Though I am certain that rule was broken once or twice. It was also common practice to “lift” some eggs from someone else’s basket, if not just to even out the odds. At least I believe it was common practice…)

The Egg
August 3, 2021

Agnus found it while she was vacuuming – she felt a conspicuous bump bump as the old Hoover struggled to pass over it. She looked down at the tiny obstacle but she instinctively knew what it was…

Agnus eleggantly bent down – not an easy task for someone her age, yet for her a manoeuvre as effortless as breathing, doubtlessly from all her years of gardening and tending to her beloved flowers. There was at least a month to go before the cool, briskness of fall would promise to wipe away all of her hard work. She reached under the radiator, her hand passing through cobwebs of long ago-sucked up spiders, and felt it: a hard, rounded, metallic object. She pulled it out and nimbly grasped it in her spindly fingers, “Where have you been hiding little guy?” Agnus delicately fondled the silvery egg in her hand checking for any ireggularities or signs it had been nibbled at by a sweet-toothed critter. Despite being faintly discoloured with age and hard as a stone, it had survived eggsentially unscathed during its time in hiding (what looked to be an era). She turned the egg looking for any markings revealing some tiny print on the bottom – what she could make out as a date: 1981. “Oh my,” she gasped. “That would make this egg..as old as my eldest grandson!” Memories suddenly flooded her mind like an ocean tide of Easters past…

The Hunt

The grandkids had arrived – the word of another eggciting Easter hunt in the air, eggerly bouncing about in anticipation like bunnies hopped up on chocolate, no time for family formalities, Let the hunt begin! With baskets assigned, the day’s winner would find and retrieve more eggs than their fellow candy hunters, their own basket full to the brim, the prize of showing off their shining achievement to the others with the knowledge that they were special and obviously had a talent for this sort of thing, and could then revel in their rabbit’s share of the chocolate.

Eggnus shook her head and let out a giggle. My time flies… Her attention was drawn back to the tiny object in her hand. The strange thing was that the egg hadn’t been in any particular hiding place – under the radiator where many other eggs like it had been hidden – yet it somehow managed to dodge every foraging and scavenging hand, or ultimately being melted to death. This egg was special, Agnus felt sure of it. Perhaps not upon first inspeggtion. One must first peel off the wrapper to get to the chocolatey goodness after all. The egg had finally been captured from its cave where it had comfortably been in hiding all these years; plucked from the safety of darkness now eggsposed in all its golden glory; had all but forgotten that once long ago it had been delivered by the Easter Bunny, its purpose to bring joy and happiness to a child. Sure it had some wear and tear: its wrapper was torn in one spot; the gold tint slightly discoloured; its insides now hardened like chocolate lava rock (hard enough you’d chip your tooth if you bit into it!), but an egg just as good as the rest. Perhaps there was nothing special about this curious little egg after all.

The children would always search the place more thoroughly than an FBI inveggstigation, scouring every nook and cranny, upstairs and downstairs, making sure every last darn Easter egg was found. A childish challenge of wits, “Children vs the Easter Bunny,” the ultimate game of hide and seek. Thinking that they had snatched up every last chocolate egg that could be found, every year Agnus would inevitably find some lone stregglers cleaning up and snicker to herself, The Easter Bunny has outsmarted you kids eggain!, something she’d bring up “in passing” at the next family gathering: “Guess what I found vacuuming the other day?” The children would be egghast, each certain they had checked every possible hiding place, There could be no eggs left, IMPOSSIBLE! It must’ve fallen out of one of our baskets by eggsident. Agnus giggled at the thought, and reasoned that one thoughtful Higirl or boy, staring down at his own basket overflowing with chocolate goodies, realized that he already had enough and that this singular, inconsequential egg would not make a difference in his life but it might to another less fortunate child, desperately clinging to a much emptier basket – and so in a moment of glucose-induced generosity, willfully put it back in its original hiding spot. I suppose anything is possible.

Agnus wistfully chuckled out loud, shaking her head as she lovingly caressed the egg as if it contained a live chick. Her hands cupped around it, her skin resembling the thin, delicate membrane of an embryonic egg. No, she now felt certain this egg was somehow chosen, purposely, to make the ultimate sacrifice: spending the remainder of its days alone, hoping to be found yet every time evading detection, as Easters and seasons passed, year in and year out, steadily growing colder and harder yet always maintaining its inherent sweetness; for at its core it was still chocolate after all.

Agnus rolled the egg around in her hand, the foil still clinging on to its hardened core protecting it like a metallic skin. She continued to ponder, What made this egg so special? Nothing in particular, she supposed. Sure it had survived longer than the average Easter egg, and this egg had made it eggainst all odds. But it was, in the end, just an ordinary egg, but for one difference: it had persevered. This egg had defied all eggspectations. Of course, it was not conscious. That would be silly, Agnus reasoned. (Although she had to admit that her current predicament – talking aloud to a chocolate egg – was not much less). Yet somehow the egg seemed to be aware of its own eggsistence… Indifferent to Agnus’ thoughts, the egg rolled around comfortably in her palm.

As Agnus stood there enjoying the stillness of late afternoon, the sun’s rays penetrated the living room window forming a perfect patch of sunlight she could feel like a warm hug. She contemplated what to do with the egg: Throw it away? Keep it as proof to show her grandkids? Or put it back to see if this tenacious little guy might stick around a while longer? Or…eat it? No, better not take any chances. Agnus worried: If she put the egg back would it ever be found again? Or would it live out the rest of its days eggsisting yet never really coming out of its..shell?

The Egg was solid – its crystalline structure gave it a natural protection that prevented it from melting and becoming soft (as long as it avoided the heat like that secret nook under the radiator). Being entirely smooth meant that it remained motionless, never venturing out beyond that sliver of light, which kept it safe from the outside world of booming footsteps and rush hour traffic. It could live on peacefully egging out its days uneaten in obscurity… Naturally, this meant that The Egg would never fulfill its true purpose and bring joy to a child, and would never be truly appreciated for all its sweet, chocolatey goodness.

While contemplating over the fate of the remarkable little egg, a question came to Agnus’ mind, and the same one she posed to her grandchildren every year: “What is the real meaning of Easter?” She reminded them of the importance of asking oneself this question – somewhere between inhaling a basket of choccy eggs and devouring the ears off a hapless, chocolate rabbit of course. Just then, it was as if the little angels were right there in the room with her. Agnus could see all their happy little faces with chocolate-smudged cheeks beaming up at her so she stretched out her left hand and started listing them: “The resurreggtion of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for us.” Agnus felt a warmth well up inside her and she raised her index, the first and foremost finger. She continued: “Being with loved ones and family,” and she cautiously unfurled her middle finger, the one she normally reserved for special occasions. The childrens’ faces were beaming even brighter, and so she moved on: “Bringing joy to my grandchildren,” and with tears in her eyes she delicately outstretched her ring finger, her silvery wedding band a symbol of love. There was still one more finger to go, but Agnus struggled to think of another reason… She rubbed her pinky for just a moment, then it came to her: “Easter is…a celebration of rejoicing in life!” Satisfied, she grasped her fingers in the crux of her right hand and squeezed onto them, thinking of those moments in time that go by so quickly if you blink you’d miss them, and held on for just a moment longer…

Agnus made up her mind; she took the egg, now slightly warm and soft from her hands, and put it back in its rightful spot where it would remain, tucked away for years to come as generations passed, until one day it would be found by a child on Easter morning, eyes lit up at the precious relic, and as the boy went to put it in his basket he had the negging feeling that this egg was special, and so he paused for just the briefest moment, then put it in his pocket where he forgot about it and the egg melted into blissful oblivion.

The Egg.


Epileggue:

Dear Reader,

Do not feel sad, for you see this tenacious little egg was not lost but finally found.

– Dedicated to my wonderful family, each of you as unique and special as The Egg –

Thesaurus of Easter Eggs:
Proleggue
Legg
Unbreggable
Eleggantly
Ireggularities
Eggsentially
Eggciting
Eggnus
Inspeggtion
Eggsposed
Eggerly
Inveggstigation
Stregglers
Eggain
Egghast
Eggsident
Eggainst
Eggspectations
Eggsistence
Eggsisting
Egging
Resurreggtion
Negging
Epileggue
The Egg

Franky The Christmas Elf – A “Short” Christmas Story

Franky The Christmas Elf

A “Short” Christmas Story

by Cameron Brtnik

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Franky wasn’t like the other elves: joyful, happy, full of “Christmas spirit” all year round. He was more of a realist, and had a sense of how the world really was – apathetic and uncaring. Even if you dedicated your whole life to giving and helping others, the world owed you nothing. It was a cruel, unforgiving world that didn’t care if your were good or bad, naughty or nice.

He didn’t mind his job; making toys was a decent gig these days considering most of the assembly lines were automated now, putting thirty percent of elves out on the snow. And he was proud to say he was pretty good at it. Franky had come from a long line of toy makers – from his great-great-elf father all the way down to his father – and now him. He learned the art of toy making from his father who was, at one time, Santa’s right-hand elf. But Franky didn’t share the same fondness for the fat guy. Sure it was true – Santa was a kind, old, jolly man the same way he’d been portrayed in Christmas movies, greeting cards and shopping malls. But the big guy just wouldn’t update, get with the times, still stuck in the glory days of old when toys were still appreciated by kids around the world. Now you could simply download Elf Run on your smartphone for free. Who needs toys anymore? Franky wondered out loud as he put the finishing touches on a train set for Timmy (he knew for a fact Timmy had been a naughty boy this year, but Santa would nonetheless fly down his chimney and stick the train set wrapped in blue wrapping paper – blue for trains, red for trucks – under the undeserving little shit’s tree). Santa always repeated the same mantra which, behind his back, we called a Santra: “All children, naughty or nice, deserve a gift on Christmas morning. Only in this way can we teach the true meaning of Christmas,” followed by the mandatory, “Ho Ho Ho!” I didn’t buy it. How does giving a gift to a rotten child like Timmy teach him anything except that he can get away with murder and be rewarded for it? I knew it was a futile argument to have with the jolly guy, plus it’s never a good idea to argue with your boss.

It was two o’clock – three hours till work ended – and Franky was getting his usual wave of itis (he overdid it on the roast reindeer at lunch) so he went to the elf-room to do a line of snow. This always put some pep in his step, and he went back to the assembly line full of renewed energy. He was pumping out train sets double-time now, and realized he’d finish early today; he could finally catch up on Season 3 of Breaking Toys. As Franky went to clock out he ran into the merry man himself. “Ho Ho Ho, hello Franky! Clocking out early, I see?,” he said with just a hint of suspicion. “Um, yes sir, I finished my work early today…” He was hoping Santa didn’t notice his nervous facial twitch that always manifested after a line or two of quality snow. “Ho Ho Ho, good work! You are a hardworking little elf, just like your father.” Then another, even louder (if unnecessary) “Ho Ho Ho!” Franky smiled and quickly made his way out the back door.

On his way home Franky ran into Susie, a sexy little elf he’d been checking out since she’d started a month ago. She was the new secretary. “Hiii Frankyyy,” she purred innocently, her cheeks blushing scarlet red against her angelic white skin. He could tell she liked him, but Franky wasn’t sure if he should pursue her or not. She was still an elfin (or virgin in humanspeak) as far as he could tell, and so much more attractive than all the other slutty elves who worked at the shop. She smiled her bright, snow white smile and he felt himself melting into his boots. “Where are you off to so early?,” she teasingly interrogated. “Um, I finished my work early so I was just gonna catch up on some Elflix.” “Ooh Elflix and chill…I’d be down to join, if you don’t mind.” “Uh, I just wanted to go home and relax. Maybe another time?” Fuck, he thought. “Looking forward to ‘Elflix and chilling’ with you Franky,” and she winked and skipped back to the shop. Franky knew he’d have to stripe the ol’ candy cane when he got back home.

   The next day at the shop was like any other. Jack got in shit for using superglue instead of wood glue, and the wings of his airplanes kept falling off. He was sent home for a week with no play. There were only ten days left till Christmas and production had ramped up to full speed! Most elves were working double shifts, and some even pulled all-nighters meeting their quotas of train sets, teddy bears, Barbies, snowboards and board games (Candy Canes & Liquorice was Franky’s favourite as a kid, a Shoots & Ladders knockoff). He heard Santa had finally opened a smartphone division, but that he had built the assembly line out in the East Pole because of the cheaper labor. He also heard the conditions there weren’t cold enough, and the elves were overworked and under-played. It was run by relentless managers, and one guy even attempted elficide but was saved by a hammock they had hung outside the window (apparently it had happened before). It may not be perfect but Santa treats his elves pretty well, Franky thought. Plus he received a good elf plan.

  …sprawled out on his polar bear rug, her glistening white skin hot by the crackling fire posing for an elfie, her perky breasts innocently exposed through her green, furry blouse, her long legs stretched out and her delicate hand placed on her thigh, arched high enough to just cover her trimmed…

 “Franky!” He heard a voice snap him back to life. “Looks like you didn’t show up for work today, he he he. Wanna join us for lunch?” It was Carl. What a way to end his daytime fantasy. “Um, yeah, I guess.” What he really wanted though was to sit with Susie. “The roast reindeer with a side of baby carrots, please.” Franky usually had the same thing. It was either that or the vegetarian option (Gross! Franky never ate the cold dogs either – he heard they used all parts of the reindeer to make them). He sat with Carl and the rest of the gang, shooting the shit, with the usual gossip: Who’s fallen behind on their quota, who’s dating who, Santa’s tour route this year, the usual dull conversations that made Franky wish he could ride away on Santa’s sleigh and never return to this dull little town in the North Pole. But then, Susie… 

    …There was red splashed everywhere: red on white. The reindeers shuffled in their reins. Santa lay motionless in his suit, tuffs of his beard speckled with his own blood. The last thing Franky and the reindeer heard was Santa’s bells hitting the ground, and one final “Ho” escaping his rouge, pouty lips. Franky looked down and didn’t recognize his own hands holding the bloody snowbar. Franky realized something: He’d killed Santa…

    After lunch, Franky was on his way back to the shop when he noticed Santa out in the shed feeding the reindeer. He walked over and said, “Hey Santa, hows’s, um, it going?” “Ho ho ho Franky, no need to be shy around me. You know, your father was always my right-hand elf before he became ill, and I fully expect you to take over his post one day. Now, come help me feed the reindeer, Ho Ho Ho!” Suddenly Franky’s vision went blurry, he felt dizzy and he blacked out… When he finally came too, he jumped back… There was red splashed everywhere…

 Franky found himself staring up at the giant sleigh. It looked empty and ominous. A void Santa’s corpse left, would leave, Franky realized, for eternity. He also immediately realized someone would have to take his place. Without a third thought, he threw the snowbar in the back of the sleigh, climbed up the stairs and sat in Santa’s seat. He must’ve looked like a child in the driver’s seat of a car. He reached for the reigns and thought they felt quite heavy; it took all of his elf strength to lift them. Prancer – or Dancer, he could never tell the difference – shuffled his hooves impatiently. Franky looked behind him: Santa’s sack full to the brim with toys that he had made: trucks and train sets, doll houses and dinosaurs, robots and radio controlled cars – who would deliver them all? He would, he thought. To all the good girls and boys. What about the bad ones? Santa would have delivered toys to every girl and boy, naughty or nice, good or bad. But Santa wasn’t here anymore, Franky reminded himself. Santa was laying stiff in the snow: he was reindeer food. Which reminded him, he’d have to find food for the reindeers. What did they eat again? Carrots, apples, bird eggs…and something for the naughty kids. He suddenly had some ideas.

    …Franky had spent the day looking for things for the bad girls and boys to fill Santa’s sleigh with. He looked everywhere: the shed, the toy shop, and even visited the city dump. There he found treasures: gifts for all ages, and the perfect stocking stuffers. He spent all night carefully wrapping them in the shop; no one noticed the light on. When he finished, he never felt more satisfied with his work. He pictured all the little brats waking up excited, running down to their sparkling tree, only to be disappointed once they opened their gifts. “This year you’ll get what you deserve,” Franky said to himself.

 Franky was on his way back from the shed with a bucket of carrots and fresh chicken eggs to feed the reindeer with when he ran into Susie who just finished work. “Hiii Franky!” she said in that sultry voice of hers, a voice that could melt snow. “Oh hi Susie, how was, um, work?” “Franky, are you okay? You look, um, a little pale.” “I’m fine! I’m, uh, just feeding the reindeer.” “Oh, can I help?” Franky felt his little heart beating out of his chest. He hoped the fresh powder snow had covered Santa’s stiff body by now. “Hmm, maybe, just um, help me feed the reindeer.”  He walked – Susie skipped – over to the sleigh. Franky could see a sliver of red peaking through the fresh snow – perhaps one of the arms of Santa’s housecoat. (That’s really what his suit was, wasn’t it? A colourful bathrobe.) “C’mon Susie, this way!” he quickly directed Susie toward the reindeer. She held out a carrot for Dasher, or Dancer, who ravishingly munched it out of her hand. Susie said, “Did you hear about the new reindeer that was born with a red nose?” “Yeah, uh, I heard something about it. Like, his nose lights up or something. Weird.” “I think it’s cool! Would sure help Santa guide his sleigh at night, what with all the bad snow storms around Christmas… Say, where is Santa anyway? Shouldn’t he be getting ready to fly already?” “Uh, yeah, actually, Mrs. Claus told me he came down with a cold, and he’s feeling under the weather, and she, um, asked me to take over tonight.” Susie blinked at him in disbelief. “No fucking waaay..that’s amazing! Can I come?” Franky had to think quick. For what he had planned there was no way he wanted her getting involved. Then again, she would be good company on the long journey, and she didn’t have to know what he put in the boxes for all the naughty kids. And who knows, maybe even a little sleigh sex. Franky had heard of other elves joining the mile-fly club.

    …Susie was already loading the last of the gifts into the giant sack. He watched her as she stepped up on the sleigh’s ladder and reached upward with all her might, her sparkly blue elf skirt lifting just above her thighs, exposing just a peak of her pink apple bottom, and he was beginning to think this was a good idea. “Okay!” He said a little too excitedly. “Okay, what Franky?” “Um, I mean yes, you can join me!” “Duh, I already know that.” “Oh,” was all Franky said.

  They were both seated in the sleigh – Franky holding the reins, Susie comfortably sitting on his left (the North Pole followed UK driving regulations to leave Santa’s whip-hand free). She felt warm next to him, like a living, breathing blanket, one he could snuggle in all year round. At that moment, Franky had never been happier in his life. Santa was gone, but it didn’t matter. It was his time. The world needed a new, updated Santa, one who was fair and just, who cared that the good kids were good and the bad kids were bad, a Santa who would teach proper beliefs and values based on the real world! Life didn’t reward you for being mean, dumb or lazy. You had to be smart and hardworking like his father – like him – he thought. The bad kids would soon find out that being bad had consequences. The worn out empty threat of, “Santa only delivers coal to the bad kids,” from every mom desperately disciplining their child was a sham. It was time for these pitiful parents to follow up on their word and stop giving in to their rotten child’s every whim just so, in their and society’s eyes, they seem like a “good parent.” Franky inhaled a big breath of fresh air, and everything was right with the world.

   “So Franky, you actually know how to fly this thing?,” Susie broke his trance. “Uh, yeah sure, I’ve seen Santa do it hundreds of times! Plus, when he would go to the local tavern he took me along sometimes so I could fly him home after, you know, one too many eggnogs (Santa’s favourite). I got the hang of it. Just gotta steer the reindeer in the direction you want to go and whip’em every once in a while, but only if they’re slowing down,” and quickly added, “Don’t worry, reindeer don’t feel pain.” He wasn’t sure if that was true, but he could see it put her at ease. Franky gave the reins a slight shake and suddenly remembered how heavy they were – Santa was a big guy after all – and felt a little embarrassed. Susie reached over and took one of the reins and they shook them together. This jostled the reindeer out of their satiated state and they stepped forward. They shook the reins a little harder and the reindeer started moving forward in unison, an exciting feeling because they were doing it together. Franky got the whip out of the glove compartment, but Susie quickly stopped him declaring, “No, Franky. I don’t want to hurt these poor animals.” Franky relented and instead said, “On Dasher, on David..” – Susie quickly intervened – “On Dancer, on Prancer, on Vixen!” Franky continued, “On Comet on Q-tip..” – “Cupid silly! On Donner and Blixem!,” and she let out a squeal of joy. What kind of name is Blixem anyway? Franky thought. Must be German. Now they were picking up speed, dashing towards the edge of North Pole Valley… Suddenly both their hearts dropped like the sleigh itself off the cliff, and they were airborne now, flying through the cool, snowy air, snowflakes landing freshly on their rosy cheeks, and Susie grabbed Franky’s hand, and he could now die a happy elf, and his green tights grew even tighter.

…Franky didn’t have time to rub one out before leaving on his long journey, and he imagined Susie getting wet under her velvety dress, leading his hand down the inside of her thighs, her juices warm on this freezing night, glistening in the moonlight…

  “Look out!” Franky quickly jerked the reigns out of reflex, narrowly avoiding a flock of geese honking wildly as they flew past. He had to get his mind out of the gutter and focus. He took out his elPhone and connected to the Sleigh Bell network. He turned on the GPS, or Global Positioning Sleigh, and they were off, into the night together, to deliver joy to all the good girls and boys and, unbeknownst to Susie, misery to all the bad ones. Franky, I gotta pee,”Susie complained. He pictured her squatting over the side of the sleigh, pulling her panties dow– “Franky! I can’t hold it any longer!” He knew there was a Porta Potty on board, but he needed to stretch his legs anyway. He tugged hard on the reins, indicating to the reindeer to slow down and start descending.

    They landed on a rooftop in a snowy suburban town somewhere in middle of buck fuck nowhere, Canada. Susie hopped off onto the roof and pulled down her pants right in front of him, squatting, the fresh rooftop snow stained light yellow, like syrup taffy on ice. “Don’t look!,” she teasingly squealed. “Unless you like it…” Did he just hear her right? Or were his fantasies starting to blur with real life? Franky attempted to be a gentleman and half-looked at his list. A kid named Lucas lived here, and he saw he was a naughty boy this year, as well as every previous year to this one. (Weren’t all boys named Lucas naughty? It’s funny how you can tell so much about someone just by their name. Tylers were also bad, Jordans, Ryans and Brads. Franky wasn’t exactly a common name, but he imagined all Frankies were good boys, studious and hardworking.) He grabbed the appropriate parcel and threw it down the chimney. It bounced off the bottom of the fireplace and landed under the tree, a trick his dad taught him, who in turn had learned it from Santa. “What did you give him Franky?” “Oh, uh, just a train set he asked for..I made it too!” She would never know it was actually a box fill with petrified reindeer droppings, his own version of coal, wrapped nicely in shiny, blue paper along with the obligatory Christmas card reading: “Dear Lucas, make sure to be good to your mother next year! Ho Ho Ho! Love, Santa.”

By eleven pm Franky and Susie were making good ground, already covering half the U.S. in less than an hour. (Of course this was only possible on Santa’s sleigh, a kind of time machine if you will, using the principles of space-time Einstein laid out in his special theory of relativity, effectively slowing time down for them but ticking the same for everyone else in the world something Franky had learned in grade 3.) The children were tucked away in their warm beds dressed in their cotton PJs, or perhaps curled up by a warm fire, some already in dreamland imagining all the nice things they’d find under the tree in the morning, their tired parents draining the last glassful of eggnog, putting milk and cookies out for Santa and carrots for the reindeer, and all the other banalities that parents do to give the whole event a touch of theatrics because, Father Christmas forbid, the little rascals didn’t believe in a fat guy dressed in a red bathrobe coming down their chimney full of soot, late at night while they were sleeping, carrying awkwardly-shaped parcels down the narrow passage, somehow not waking anybody in the house, not even mom who’s a light sleeper who wakes up at the sound of a light switching on, placing them under the tree ever so delicately, wash back some stale cookies with nine day-old milk, then somehow manage to pull his fat ass back up the chimney (Does he fly, use some sort of hook fashioned to a rope or a grappling hook?) back to the roof, then do that another 7 million times in the same night! The milk and busquits were a desperate attempt at keeping that far-fetched fantasy alive as long as possible before the little brats became teenagers, experimenting with drugs, alcohol and casual sex….

    So far Franky had delivered a box of tacks to Kyle (another terrible kid’s name) with the card: “Stick’em up cowboy! You were bad this year…maybe next year you won’t be such a prick” (Franky always had a way with words); a pack of dirty socks and skid-marked undies with the accompanying note: Just wash once and they’ll be like brand new!; a dozen rotten eggs to Sam with the sentiment: A dirty rotten gift for a dirty rotten child. Another box was empty with the card reading: Dear Billy, this is exactly what you deserve. Love, Santa. “Hey, next on the list is Sarah!” Excited to be bringing joy to all the girls and boys, Susie peaked inside. “Franky, why is this box full of tampons? Eww and they’re bloody…” “Uh, weird, that must be a mistake.. maybe one of the elves thought it was the garbage sleigh and, um, accidentally threw the trash inside.” Susie had opened more boxes, disgusted at what she found: reindeer dung, used condoms, a dead mouse, moldy cheese, old socks, a rotten fish, live worms…”Franky, what the fuck is goin on?” Shit he had to think fast. He could just tell her – maybe she’d actually go along with it – but what if she didn’t? That would certainly ruin their trip, and he’d have to turn all the way back to drop her off and that would mean no more sleigh sex for him… But he had no choice – he had to tell her now. “Um, see those are only for the bad kids. The good kids get the train sets, the bad ones, well, they get bad things. It’s only fair. The naughty children don’t deserve nice things. They deserve nothing, or reindeer droppings, or dirty socks, and the worst possible things imaginable so they actually learn their lesson! Santa was too nice, but he shouldn’t have been nice to all those undeserving little shits, they didn’t deserve it!” Franky was yelling now and was worried to think he may have frightened her. He could tell by the appalled look on her face that she wasn’t convinced. He decided to let it all out. “Those kids deserved what they got! They were rotten, spoiled, naughty children and somebody needed to teach them a lesson! Santa didn’t understand that you can’t be nice to everyone, that there are just some people who are born evil, and they need to be put in line! If not, who’s going to discipline them? Their mothers? No, they think their child is ‘special, or ‘it’s just a faze, they’ll grow out of it.’ They think their child deserves to be loved. No they don’t! They deserve to be disciplined and beaten with a wooden spoon. They don’t deserve gifts, they deserve garbage! They need to be taught that it isn’t okay to be rotten!” Franky realized he’d been screaming. What would Susie think of him now? He suddenly felt ashamed. “S-Sorry, I didn’t mean to get angry.” “Franky, it’s okay.” He realized Susie was embracing him now, and he was actually crying, sobbing into her warm chest, her arms wrapped around him like a warm blanket. “It’s okay Franky, I understand, it’s okay…”

…Susie liked Franky. She often thought about him at work, and watched as he expertly put together train sets, a master at his craft, his adept, strong, sculptor-like hands… She was wondering what else those hands would be good at. She’d fantasize being at his place, watching some Game of Gnomes (her favourite show), their hands accidentally meeting in the bowl of chocolate covered almonds, then slowly turning toward each other, their eyes meeting, both knowing what the other wanted, going through the motions, Franky’s elfly hands spanking her tight bottom, she tells him to hit harder, asking him to call her one of Santa’s hos, felt herself getting wet as she sat at her desk…

    “Franky, did you…kill Santa?” The words didn’t seem real, like he was in another one of his daydreams. “No, of course not! He’s just.. taking a day off. You’ll see, he’ll be happy we helped him, maybe even give us a promotion!” Franky could feel his body getting hot underneath his parka even in the bitter cold. He wanted to tell her, tell her everything, but not yet… “Franky, I know you’re lying! I had a weird feeling when we were back at the North Pole, but I just didn’t say anything because, well, I wanted to come on an adventure! I’ve never left the North Pole – I’ve never even left Toy Town – and I wanted to join you because, well, I liked you too Franky, until I saw what you did to those children, to, to Santa! How could you?” Tears were rolling down her cheeks, freezing to her angelic skin. “Franky, take me home, now!” The thought briefly entered his mind.. but he knew it was too late now. If it ever came to elf court he would say she was his accomplice. He felt bad for her, but she was already in too deep. They were both guilty now. 

    “Susie wait, listen, I gotta tell you something… First, I really like you. I mean, I think you’re special, not like the other elves, and I think I, um, love you.” But he knew it was too late. He wanted to confess to her about what he did, killing Santa, his whole plan, but he was afraid she’d never talk to him again, as if she was ever going to now. “Franky, turn around now, or I’m calling the police.” Susie reached for her phone, but he quickly snatched it out of her hand and smashed it on the dashboard. Franky made up his mind: he put the sleigh on autopilot, picked Susie up, hopped in the back and dumped her inside the big red sack. She flailed her little arms and kicked her legs, but she was no match for Franky’s strength. Franky felt bad, of course, but he knew it had to be done. Evil thoughts crept over him… He would just tell the other elves she didn’t have her sleigh belt buckled up and she fell out of the sleigh, or maybe that she committed elficide because, uh, because Franky turned her down.. Yeah, she asked him out, he said no, she felt depressed so she took her own life by jumping out of the sleigh at high speed and landed on a rooftop, her tiny guts spilled out all over the snow covered shingles… He would miss her on his journey home. Her skin was a warm retreat from the frigid air, her icy blue eyes cooler than the snow. 

    Susie screamed and kicked, but it was useless. She slumped back in the sack. Her mind was whirling now… How could Franky have done these horrible things! And..he…did Franky really kill Santa? She didn’t want to think about it. It all didn’t seem real.. Just this morning they were flirting on their way home from work, and she remembered thinking how cute Franky looked in his green tights… Blah! She tried to shake the thought from her mind, but couldn’t. One minute Franky was this sweet, happy-go-lucky elf that she was falling for. Now she didn’t even recognize him; he had turned into a monster. What happened? He must be taking drugs. Her Franky would never act like this. Her Franky was kind, caring and generous. At least that’s what she thought.. Maybe he had developed a serious kind of mental illness. We’ll get him help when we’re back in the North Pole, she thought. She found a loose candy cane and started sucking on it.

    After what seemed like ages, Susie suddenly heard the sack unzip, and a breath of fresh air blasted in through the opening. The foul odour from inside the sack was starting to make her feel nauseous. Slowly, she climbed out. Franky was still flying the sleigh. His comparably tiny elf hands were squeezing the large reigns in a death grip, eyes fiercely faced forward, his head clearly somewhere else. Just then Susie noticed something laying behind his seat. It was covered in blood. She grabbed the snowbar and… Now! she thought. It was her only chance to knock him out and get safely home – but she hesitated for just a second and Franky suddenly turned around, easily grabbing the bloody snowbar from her hands. He threw it over the side of the sleigh and her only weapon disappeared into the snowy void… “Sorry I had to put you in the bag. I just, I just couldn’t risk it. I’m sorry you had to be a part of this. I didn’t mean for you to get involved.” Susie remained silent. Franky didn’t know if he should fly back the North Pole, or keep going till the reindeer ran out of steam and just let the sleigh plummet into the icy ocean, floating calmly to the bottom of the abyss, never to be seen or heard from again… His thoughts were muddled, unclear, unfocused. He thought he had a plan, but didn’t much think about the repercussions he’d face later on. He’d stupidly planned out this toyorist attack without thinking of the consequences… He would be strung up on a candy cane and publicly hung. “Gnomicide!,” they’d angrily shout knowing that he had murdered the fat jolly man in cold blood. Why go home? Maybe I could start a new life with Susie in the South Pole… Raise elfants together, go ice fishing on weekends, make a living building igloos…

    Susie suddenly lunged at him with a sharp object – this time Franky didn’t see it coming –  but he ducked out of the way at the last minute, just barely getting stuck with the sharpened end of a candy cane. Even though they were roughly the same size, Franky easily overpowered her and was able to pin her down… The reindeer veered sharply upward, sending them flailing backward. Susie quickly reached out and grabbed onto one of the reins and clung for deer life. Franky fell backwards, thwacking against the bulky sack, then cascading over it. At the last second he grabbed onto the top of the sack… Susie was reaching to try and grab him. “Franky! Hold on!” Now everything ran through his mind like a movie reel. All the bad things he had ever done: beating up Gordie in third grade, stealing five elf dollars from his mom’s purse, getting Carl to clock him out late even though he’d left work early, having a wank in Santa’s office, and how the elves would react if he did make it back alive, what would happen to him, more importantly what would happen to him and Susie… “I’m sorry,” Franky said. “I..I love you.” Then he let go… Franky felt himself falling, falling, through the crisp, snowy air, and suddenly felt much lighter, no more feelings of hate or anger, just pure and perfect bliss, and he felt happy. “I’m coming Santa,” he said, although his voice easily got lost in the wind…. 

    …thoughts and images flashed in front of his eyes… Slaving in the toy shop making toys for all the undeserving girls and boys, his father telling him he’s not good enough and beating him with a candy cane, his mother drunk on Christmas Eve, Santa touching him on his bits as a young boy, Susie naked, oh Susie, how he longed for her embrace… He never loved someone like that his whole life… They’re married now, with little elfkins, one of them looks like him! Susie looks so beautiful, baking in the kitchen wearing her apron, only her apron, and she’s such a wonderful mother, and now Franky felt happiness like he’d never felt in his  entire life… Then, splat.

   Susie was in shock – Franky was gone. But she had to get control of the sleigh again. Quickly she tugged on the reigns and pulled as hard as her little hands could…and the reindeer quickly corrected course and flew back into formation. She checked the GPS and saw she was a bit off course. Since it was a long way back, she made a decision. She made a sharp turn and headed back in the direction they were going. I’m gonna make this right, she decided.

Since she was on elf time it was only 2 AM and she calculated she’d still be able to hit all the stops on Santa’s route and be back by morning. She read the list of all the “naughty children” and returned to all the homes they’d already been to, making sure to replace all the bad gifts with toys and teddy bears and train sets and skateboards and doll houses and robots and Barbies…. She knew, deep down, these kids weren’t bad, or if they were they wouldn’t stay like that forever. These kids would grow up to be the students and teachers, firemen and police officers, bankers and lawyers, secretaries and salesmen of tomorrow. She believed they deserved love and gifts, just like the good children did. Franky was wrong, she told herself and now tears rolled down her cheeks, glistening and sparkling like the stars.

   When Susie got home, she curled up on her couch from Ikelf, threw on some Elflix and watched House of Toys, her second favourite show. “I love this show,” Carl said, even though he’d never seen it. He’s no Franky, Susie thought, but Franky was gone and she wouldn’t let that spoil her evening as their hands met in the bowl of nuts.

The End.

Cameron Brtnik is a Canadian short story writer and educator. He admittedly still believes in Santa Claus.
(original post Dec. 31, 2019)

Short Story – House of 1000 Cockroaches

House of 1000 Cockroaches
A Squirmy Short Story – By Cameron Brtnik
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WARNING: This is a true story
  • Intro: The Cockroach
     They’ve lived almost since the beginning of time; since life began on our planet, fish first walked out of the oceans onto land and grew limbs; through the Permian period, surviving the largest mass extinction the Earth has seen; the Jurassic period, living among the great prehistoric giants, and numerous ice ages, earthquakes, floods, and two world wars: cockroaches. Unquestionably the most disgusting, revolting and horrific of God’s creatures (although people delectably devour lobster, often referred to as “the cockroach of the sea” because of their bottom-dwelling nature; what’s the difference?).
     What makes them so hard to kill? Perhaps it’s their crustacean-like exoskeleton that you can whack ten times with your shoe, causing nothing but minor scratches, merely teasing it, its flailing antennae mocking you at your pathetic attempt (they survived dinosaurs stomping on them for Christ’s sake!). Or maybe it’s their unwitting persistence, regardless of its environment, unnerved by human threat or shoes being hurled at them. Or it could just be their sheer number – 4600 species of roach in all – that ensures their survival. They can also, it seemed, survive any climate, hot or cold, dirty or clean, hostile or tame. Whatever the reason, I keep a healthy fear of roaches no matter how many unwelcome run-ins I’ve had with them. I still scream like a little girl when I see them. And I’ve seen cockroaches. A lot of fucking cockroaches.
  • Waiter There’s a Cockroach In My Soup
    For years I worked at my father’s restaurant – a hub for cockroaches no matter how clean we kept it – and my father was a stickler when it came to sanitation and cleanliness. If there was even a crumb lying on the floor he would yell at the poor busboy that he wasn’t capable of doing his job properly. Yet everyday, for some reason, there would be multiple cockroach sightings. They usually ended up on the glue traps, meeting their sticky end. But sometimes they ended up in peoples’ soups. Even as the shocked and apologetic “this has never happened before” waiter, you can’t win that argument with the customer, and you just get’em a new one and hope they forget and don’t tell their friends. Word of mouth is 90% of your advertising; cockroaches in soups is usually not seen as a positive review. We scoured the kitchen clean till you could eat off every surface. My dad couldn’t figure out why or how they were getting into the restaurant, or the customers’ mouths. So one day, we took hammers to the walls and went to town. What we found was horrific…
  • They’re In The Walls
     What looked more like termites in a rotted log, there were hundreds, probably thousands of cockroaches 1-2mm long swarming, a school of roaches, just behind the old wooden planks that hung on as a wall for 40 years. It was absolutely disgusting, far more horrific than anything I’d ever seen… So we did what anyone would’ve done in that situation: unloaded an armoury of Raid canisters into the walls like mustard gas in WW1. Clumps of cockroach carcasses fell to the floor, never to end up in a customer’s soup again. Thinking the problem done with, we patched up the walls and moved on with our lives. There was only one problem: the cockroaches kept coming. We couldn’t figure out where in bloody hell they were coming from! We finally came to a conclusion: they must be coming from the residents’ apartments upstairs. It was an old building with cheap apartments and it tended to attract shady tenants. But there was one in particular: Patricia, an old bag lady that was living on the dole, who we suspected was causing our cockroach problem. Part of her daily routine was to walk down to the local McDonald’s and collect discarded bags and drinking cups like they were Happy Meal toys. I remember feeling sorry for her. Anytime I “accidentally” ran into her in the parking lot, she’d go on about how she was waiting for her husband, who apparently played a mean trumpet, to return home…I only found out later that she’d been waiting for twenty years. Another peculiarity: she wrapped her legs in toilet paper to keep warm, even in the summer.
  • McDonald’s Bag Lady
     We determined the reason for the cockroaches was not us, but in fact the filthy bag lady living just above our restaurant. There was an issue though: if we told her to clean up her flat she wouldn’t oblige, and would either act in or feign craziness (each indecipherable from the other I suppose). We were able to get the “sheriff” to lock her out of her own apartment, and obtained the legal right to enter her apartment. One day we broke the lock on her door, pushed it in, and what we found exceeds even the darkest recesses of imagination…
     You couldn’t see the walls for the cockroaches…
    A NIGHTMARE: a million cockroaches covering literally every square inch of walls and ceiling… It appeared as though the walls were moving, like a mushroom trip gone wrong. I had to look away, squeeze my eyes shut and open them again to make sure I wasn’t imagining it. Just as horrific: she had literally built a “garbage city” in her apartment. To get to the kitchen you had to walk through labyrinthine walls of garbage piled right to the ceiling, traces of McDonald’s bags used as part of the foundation. It was a scene from a movie; the next scene would inevitably be us getting attacked by an army of angry roaches, crippling under their sheer number, roaches getting in our ears, nostrils and mouths, suffocating, dying the worst imagined death. We all stared in awe (and sheer terror) for a long time. Then we went back downstairs, back to reality.
  • Fare Thee Well, My Cockroach
     The next day Patricia came home (had she slept in McDonald’s?) to find herself locked out of her apartment. She started shouting and banging the door to get back in – I don’t know what she would’ve missed. The ambulance came and picked her up to take her to a “mental health facility.”I’ve never seen nor heard of Patricia since. I think of her from time to time, and hope she got proper help. The following day the landlord came and demolished the inside of her apartment. It took them a couple days just to get rid of the junk inside. By the end of he week it looked brand new: walls freshly drywalled, air acrid with the smell fresh paint, all ready for the new tenants to move in, never to have known the truth: their apartment once housed a million cockroaches.
End
Cameron is a writer based in Toronto and hater of all things creepy and crawly, big and small cbrtnik.com

BLOGasides: The Big Comeback

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BLOGasides

The Big Comeback

Sep 22, 2016

     I’ve never had a comeback per se. Sure, I’ve bounced back from adversity, challenges, struggles, and disappointments. We all do. But to be honest, I always imagined a BIG comeback. Not from any one thing in particular, but from life itself. I am waiting on the day I turn it all around: My Big Comeback.

     What would I come back from? you silently ask. Well since you asked…

I would come back from all my mistakes, mess-ups, failures, and fuck-ups I’ve made – and I’ve made plenty – along the way. First, lets take a trip back to Junior High… An awkward time where I was shy, uncomfortable, and consequently an outcast. I was teased for being gay – perhaps because of my fashionable taste in clothes and boyband looks – and endured a daily onslaught of insults hurled at me in the hallways. And I was bullied because, well, I was an easy target. The bullies would slam me up against the lockers for no reason at all, embarrassing me in front of any onlookers. My mom used to have to wait for me outside after-school so that I wouldn’t be pummelled. I had low self esteem, and no confidence in myself. The pathetic part is I never fought back. I was too much of a pussy. I was scared, but looking back, I’m not sure what I was scared of….

I can see all the faces of those who bullied me now, and I picture My Comeback: Me, kicking in the doors to the entrance of the school, Backstreet’s Back playing on some boombox in the background while everything is moving in slow motion. The Bully, seeing me confidently walk in with my white Levis jean jacket, cracking his knuckles and getting ready for another beat down. As I approach him, I look him dead in the eye and say, “You’re a real dick.” As the initial shock wears off, both hands fling out to grab me…but I counteract by pulling his arms toward me, using his own strength against him, and watch, giddily, as he falls to the floor…all this taking place of course in front of every student in the school. As they point and laugh, Cory (I don’t actually remember his name but Cory seems like a pretty generic bully’s name) gets to his feet to throw a punch…but I catch his fist, midair, and uppercut his jaw, watching him stumble back on his ass in humiliation and the realization that I AM THE STRONGEST OPPONENT HE’S EVER FACED AND AM NEVER TO BE FUCKED WITH AGAIN. He even thinks he’d like to invite me to his birthday party, but I’d never accept, I’d never hang out with losers like him! And all the while everybody’s chanting my name “Cameron! Cameron! Cameron!”

As I snap out of this sycophantic fantasy, I realize this comeback comes twenty years too late, but only if I could go back….

Next came High School… A slightly, though not much better experience. I was used to the bullying by then, and didn’t pay them much attention. I made friends and had my own clique: “The Loners.” We certainly weren’t cool, but we had out own plebes we made fun of, like a natural food chain, everyone having their place, never to be messed with. I was a good student. I just hung out with the wrong crowd. I studied, did my homework, handed in assignments on time… That all changed when I met my best friend. He showed me a whole new world: A world of not studying history, but of studying ass. In the library, while everyone was checking out books, we checked out Sonya’s ass. They both had overdue fees. I’m sorry, that metaphor made no sense. Instead of doing homework, we shot pool in the local bar, never being checked for ID, and early on discovered our enjoyment of alcohol and the underbellies of society. Instead of handing in assignments, we rarely went to class, instead skipping to hang out in the lunchroom and watch movies on our smartphones. I’m just kidding, we didn’t have smartphones then, pagers were about be in vogue… I don’t know what we did in the lunchroom. But I know it didn’t help me with my final marks or report cards.

I can see all the faces of those teachers who failed me now, and I picture My Comeback: Me, strutting into class at 7:59 one minute before the cut-off deadline, and tossing my A+ project on top of the pile. Mr. Pelic’s eyes widening in surprise as he reads my above-grade level report on “Nature versus Nurture.” The bell rings at the end of class, and as the average students scamper toward the door to leave he calls out my name “Cameron, why don’t you stay behind for a minute,” and I do. “You know, I’ve read a lot of reports in my day and never have I read something with such..brilliance.” As I smugly reply that I was up all night writing it, Mr P, not believing I could’ve written such a masterpiece in only one night, shakes his head with pride. We both share a smile. I start studying and acing my tests, quickly becoming the top student in all my classes. Suddenly the word “genius” is thrown around and the other students are in awe of me. It’s clear that I have a bright future: doctor, lawyer, or even a writer… As I come to, daydreaming on the toilet again, I realize none of these things ever came true, but there’s still hope I tell myself, I can always make a comeback….

The girl I was crazy over chose another, more muscular guy There’s still a chance for a comeback a voice in the back of my head assures me. Another bomb at standup night – I pictured it going so well – We’ll get’em next timeI tell myself. I didn’t get the job I was sure I had in the bag. When I’m working for myself and making enough money to walk in, buy the company, and fire the manager, then I’ll show’em who’s boss!

     There will always be time, I tell myself. I can always make a COMEBACK.

By Cameron Brtnik

Cameron is a freelance writer based in Toronto who’s still looking to make that “big comeback”

Short Story – The Magician’s Assistant

The Magician’s Assistant

A Magical Fiction by Cameron Brtnik

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The Magician’s Assistant

    There was a thunderous applause reverberating throughout the room, coming from the audience as the lady stepped out of the box, fully intact and alive to be sure! The Sawing a Lady In Half trick never ceased to amaze audiences, even in this day and age of smartphones and catching Pokemon. The magician took the beautiful lady’s hand and bowed with her at the front of the stage, the applause always music to the magician’s ears. He lived by the audience’s feedback, and their applause was proof of their adoration. Amanda, the beautiful assistant, could care less. Her job wasn’t glamorous; she was a glorified contortionist. But she was really a talented escape artist, almost as good as Houdini – she could escape from locks, free herself from a straight jacket while hanging upside down, free her shackled hands while floating in a tank of water, and even break out of jails – but no one cared. They only cared about the magician, the “man who made the magic happen.” She didn’t hate Peter (The Magnificent Julio was his stage name, a moniker that neither resembled ‘Peter’ nor had anything to do with his ethnicity considering he wasn’t even a quarter Spanish), in fact they had a romantic fling time to time that she quite enjoyed. She especially liked when they did it after a successful show in the wooden box where she was usually accustomed to being alone in such a tight space. Amanda realized she enjoyed the claustrophobic-ness of it, especially with no audience to please but herself, where the trick was to come inside the box rather than out if it. She also enjoyed fucking on the the magic prop table, silks, locks and chains flying everywhere in the heat of passion.
 
     Amanda was fine with it. She had a goal: she would be “discovered” and move to Vegas where’d she’d have her own magic spectacle; this was just temporary. So she smiled in her skimpy dress, swallowed her pride and got on with the show, seven nights a week. After all, Julios was the best in the business, and without her the show would be nothing. If Peter replaced her with another girl – probably younger, attractive obviously, but with no experience – the show would go to shit! She was a modern-day Houdini, with a set of long legs to boot! She knew she was irreplaceable. She pushed the thought from her mind and ran backstage for a costume change; she would do the Metamorphosis illusion next and she needed to change into her skimpiest outfit: the glittery blue dress, its dangling frills hanging over her upper thighs. In the blink of an eye she would change places with the magician after being shackled and tied up in a large sack. It was Houdini’s first illusion, and one that was still performed today. It was all about “who performed the illusion the fastest” now, the record currently held by The Pendragons (damn those bloody Pendragons). The audience was always amazed like it was their first time seeing the illusion (hadn’t they seen that stupid masked magician expose this trick a decade ago? On a side note that guy actually improved business by making the “secret art of magic” more accessible to the lay person.)
 
     After a hugely successful show, the theatre manager came backstage to congratulate them and invite them out for celebratory drinks. “We’ll be there after teardown,” Peter said. “Mandy, I’d like you to meet someone. She’ll be helping out in the show from now on. Julia, come here.” This young, beautiful blonde came out of the change room (had she been there all night?) “Hi,” she said shyly, “I’m Julia.” “Amanda,” she said in return, although in a much colder tone of voice. “So…you’re a dancer?” Amanda managed in a clearly condescending tone. “Yes, well kinda, I’m..” “She’s an assistant,” Peter thankfully cut in. “Mandy, you’ll be training her over the next month. Just think of it as, “Double the beauty, double the entertainment!'” he announced excitedly. Amanda didn’t feel so excited. “Oh, okay..” she said more to herself than anyone in particular. “C’mon, let’s go celebrate!” Peter said, wanting to put an end to the obvious awkwardness.
 
     The next morning they were on the road visiting the next middle-of-who-gives-a-shit-nowhere town on their American tour. Amanda was teaching Julia how to to pick locks in the back of the trailer. Julia’s hand slipped and the bobby pin fell to the floor. Dumb blonde, Amanda thought to herself. Where does he get off hiring such untalented girls? Not including herself of course. “I got it!” Julia squealed and threw the shackles to the floor. “Great..” Amanda feigned. “What’s next?” the overly enthusiastic new assistant asked. How about seeing how long I can hold your head under water before air bubbles start floating up to the surface? “Let’s get to the rope ties I guess.” When they arrived at the theatre, Peter started unloading the props, while Amanda led Julia to the stage to go through all the choreography. Magic was as much about showmanship as as the trick itself, and what better showmanship than having two sexy ladies on stage misdirecting the audience’s eyes at all times (or at least Peter thought so anyway).
 
     After an hour of practice it was time to rehearse the Sawing A Lady In Half illusion, an audience favorite. First, she showed Julia how to step into the box like a lady, and where to position her hands, and the secret compartment for her feet. Amanda could contort her body into extremely tight spaces, and she was waiting for Julia to look at her like she was crazy. But suddenly Julia contorted her body into a pretzel, easily fitting into the claustrophobic space underneath. “Like this?” she asked innocently. “Yeah..you ditzy whore..perfect!” She suddenly had the disturbing image of Peter fucking her in this box, this same box at her audition: “Did I get the job?” Oh you got the job alright! “Where does the saw go?” snapping her back to reality. Amanda picked the saw up off the ledge of the table. It glinted in the stage spotlights. Usually Julio was the one who sawed her in half, but she knew how to do it; she’d watched him do it hundreds of times. She held it for a moment, feeling powerful at that moment, that she was in control for once. She expertly swung the saw into its grooves in the box and pushed downward, sawing her body in half, half-smiling at the thought of Julia missing the lower half of her body, her young gorgeous legs no longer attached to the… “Now look frightened,” she said as she removed the saw and pushed the box apart, splitting her right down the middle. “Now you can smile and wiggle your toes..but not really.” The mechanical feet did all that for her; even up close they looked real. She pushed the box back together, unlocked the latches, popped open the lid, and helped her “lovely assistant” out.
 
     Four weeks passed and it was Julia’s turn to get in the box. She had rehearsed it to the point where she was just as agile as Amanda, better even, and Peter felt it was time to give Julia her time in the spotlight. Amanda didn’t really care what Peter thought anymore. She was in the change room doing her makeup, daydreaming about…there was a knock at door. “Thirty minutes to show time!” She could hear the music echoing into the room as the audience shuffled in to find their seats. She put on the final touches and left the change room. As she made her way backstage, she passed by the box.. The box that was no longer hers, like she had been evicted and thrown out on the street. She paused there for long time… She had no idea how long because when she came to the stage manager was yelling at her, “You’re on!” She smiled Thank you you moron I’ve done this more times than you’ve been with women and she stepped out onto the stage to a welcoming roar. The music began, and she performed a flashy dance with Julio while the stagehands wheeled out the mysterious box. Julia appeared from stage left to an even more (to Amanda’s ears) welcoming applause – her young legs glistening in the bright lights, her perky tits perfectly buoyant in her glittery outfit and her white, shiny teeth glimmering intensely, seducing the audience, almost making them forget they were there to observe a magic… The Magnificent Julio and Amanda helped her into the box, her petite body agile and vibrant; no one wanted to see her precious body get maimed. Julia lay down inside the box, forcing her body into a human pretzel. They latched the straps together, locking the lid and trapping her inside… She looked out at the audience in feigned terror. The women in the audience felt anxious; the men were on the edge of their seats. Julio picked the saw up off the ledge of the table and banged on it with fist, causing it to wobble, its sharp teeth glistening under the spotlight – yes it was a real saw. He deftly waved the saw in the air, then expertly swung it down it into its grooves on the box. Now Julia looked frantic, her face twisted into a grimace, her toes frantically tapping at air, wishing she could escape at the last minute… He wasn’t sure, but he could’ve sworn he felt the box jiggle once he stuck the saw in…
 
     The Magnificent Julio pushed the saw downward….and it got stuck. Fifteen years performing this trick and it never got stuck. He felt a large bead of sweat roll down his forehead. He looked at Amanda, who was smiling wide at the audience, professional as always. He grabbed the handle and pushed down harder…still it seemed to be jammed. He couldn’t see Julia’s face from where he was standing – Amanda was blocking his view – but he assumed she was fine as he didn’t hear anything… So, with all his might, he pushed the blade down…and with some difficulty it struggled through, straight to the bottom. There was a palpable nervousness rising from the crowd; a normal reaction, but more than usual. Julio felt another large bead of sweat run down the other side of his forehead. He smiled, stealing a glimpse at the box out of the corner of his eye…and his heart sank. He could see tiny droplets of blood dripping off the saw’s teeth. He first prayed that the audience didn’t notice..then that Julia was alright – he hadn’t heard her scream. I’m sure it’s just a cut, nothing serious, she can contort her body better than any assistant I’ve ever had, the show must go on… Julio and his assistant walked to the ends of the box and pulled them apart, Julio praying there would be no more blood… He had to really put effort into pulling the halves apart, and when they finally separated, it felt like he was tearing a piece of meat off a bone… and then he realized the true horror of what had happened: He could now see (the audience could too) that Julia’s legs had been separated just above the kneecaps. A woman screamed in the audience; some others fainted. Julia’s head had gone limp; either a terrific actress or… Amanda had been calm this whole time. She realized she needed to take over at this point; she calmly pushed both ends of the box back together, a horrible squishing sound created from the collision. Julio was in a daze. Amanda walked to the front of the box, removed the saw (with some difficulty), and unbuckled the latches… She reached in to help the beautiful assistant out…but no one emerged. She grabbed Julia’s arm and pulled – her limp body popped up, head hanging to one side, her hair still done up in a bun. People in the audience were shouting now, many too uncomfortable to watch, many already leaving the theatre… “Ladies and gentlemen, there’s nothing to worry about, it’s all just a joke!” Julio attempted to calm the audience, to save his career… It wasn’t working and people were shouting frantically now: “Call an ambulance!” “He murdered her!” Boos rang out through the theatre, and Julio motioned for the stagehands to come quick and wheel the gurney away. “Ah, we will now take a short intermission, drinks will be served in the lobby…” Julio said in a shaky voice. Amanda was still smiling, through the entire ordeal, imagining her start in Vegas, in the spotlight, and the glamour…it would all be hers soon.
 

The End

Cameron is an English teacher, fiction writer, and professional magician living in Taiwan cbrtnik

Short Story – The Ants

The Ants

o0O O0o

^^^

A Short Fiction by Cameron Brtnik

The Ants

Part 1

     It was a well known fact that ants could lift up to a thousand times their own weight (actual research puts that at around a hundred times which is still an astonishing amount!) I’ve always had a slight unsettling feeling toward ants, not quite fear, but close to it. It was their hive mentality, similar to that of bees (God I hate bees). I live in a home with a backyard, which means that they invariably broke into my home daily in search of food and shelter. And everyday I could see them marching across the floor with crumbs of food dancing deftly above their tiny heads, the larger morsels being dragged behind them like luggage wheeled by a passenger at an airport. Imagine lifting a hamburger a hundred times your body weight – for me that would be a cheeseburger weighing in at an obese 18,000 pounds! I would typically stamp them out with my finger or toe, ending their short, hard life in a hundredth of a second; as if the finger of God suddenly appeared out of the clouds and stamped you out as you exited a McDonald’s, no time to reflect on your life, your decisions, or steal one last tasty bite of that delectable Big Mac.

     One hot day (I had the aircon blasting in my one room studio apartment) I was eating lunch: a scrumptious ham and cheese sandwich I had made at home with a fresh loaf of 12 grain bread, and the ants were having their own feast at my feet. A miniature feast to my eyes, but then again what is the world but how every individual and living being views it? To the ants it must’ve been early Thanksgiving! It was like watching construction men at work; they were hoisting, lugging, carrying and transporting food back to their anthill to feed their gluttonous queen ant. Did you know she is the mother of every ant in her colony?! (What a succubus!) Watching these tiny workers, slaves, perform their labor always reminded me of Aesop’s famous fable The Ant and The Grasshopper – The ants busy from spring to fall foraging for food, whilst the grasshopper enjoys his life. When winter comes he has no food, yet the ants welcome him to feast with them, the lesson being, “work hard play hard” or something like that. I always looked up to the grasshopper, and his free-spirited, laid back view on life; the ants didn’t really experience life in my opinion.

     Like the proverbial child burning ants with a magnifying glass, I enjoyed squishing them as they tiptoed by me, Jack trying to sneak by the giant, a costly mistake on their part. Some I would torture by dropping crumbs next to them, waiting till they pilfered their prize, then moving the crumb an inch away so they’d have to repeat the same exhausting routine again.. Ow! I dropped my sandwich on its plate and looked down – my left big toe started bleeding. What the fuck! I said out loud. I looked for the critter that could’ve caused such big bite – there! A large ant, clearly much larger than the rest, she did it, she looks like the queen (I thought the queen never left her dirt palace, which is why they lived up to ten years): her bulbous body was much bigger than her workers – it had to be for the breeding she did; one queen could produce up to a hundred million workers! I wondered if she could tell them apart… I stopped the bleeding with my napkin and used the same napkin to squish the queen before she could get away back to the safety of her sandcastle. I lifted the napkin to see if she was still moving – one of the bulbous sections of her body had exploded, ant guts smeared on the tissue, and I snickered to myself, satisfied I had my revenge. But she was still moving, thrusting her remaining upper abdomen forward, legs skidding left and right like she’d had too much ant wine (she was a queen and I imagined her loyal guards fanning her with grass and pouring sugar water into little goblets made out of clay). I had to give it to her; she was a tough little bitch, and I decided to let her hobble back to her hole and live out the rest of her days paralyzed, a crippled ruler, never again desired by any of her winged suitors or envied by her slave daughters, ha!

     I went back to my sandwich and episode 4 of Game of Thrones (Season 6) and forgot all about the bite on my foot (do black ants bite? I filed away the thought for now). After about five minutes I could feel a throbbing in my foot. My left big toe had swollen up quite a bit, so I put some Neosporin on it and cursed aloud at that queen bitch. I lay on the couch, just getting into episode 7 (the joys of binge-watching on a lazy Sunday) and at some point I must’ve passed out because I awoke to the familiar theme song – daaa daaa da-da-da daaa da-da-da but I felt strange for some reason. It felt like something was crawling on me… I went to swat my legs and pressed down on something squishy. I was still half-asleep and imagined it being Jello, a cool, jelly-like texture…I slowly came to and suddenly my heart sank– it couldn’t be Jello! I was eating a ham sandwich– I looked down at my legs and almost spewed – my whole left leg was black like I had gangrene, but the blackness was moving… in a way that looked eerie, like hundreds of nano-bugs crawling, surging together as one… I let out an unnatural scream.. Jumping off the couch, swatting at them, just wanting to get them OFF OF ME!!! It seemed like hundreds (it seemed like a nightmare) of ants were on me, crawling over my leg like a stump, covering every inch of skin like molasses….

     Swatting at them was doing nothing, so I had a thought: I could pour boiling water on them–no that would take too long to boil the water–I wanted them off me NOW!!! I ran to the cupboard, opened it and reached up to the top shelf to grab the Raid. I unleashed what must’ve been half the bottle and ants started falling off me like miniature rock climbers on an ill-fated mountain climbing expedition, trapped in an avalanche of poisonous fumes… One by one they fell away, and as I ran toward the porch door they left a trail behind me like breadcrumbs in the fairytale Hansel and Gretel. I leapt outside toward the garden hose, turned the handle and blasted them with forty pounds of pressure, the equivalent of what must’ve been a tsunami and typhoon rolled into one for those teensy fuckers. Almost all of the ants were off me now, though I could feel a few crawling around in my pants.. I stuck the hose down my crotch and blasted the remaining gnats off my skin. I started to feel better, but could now feel a throbbing pain across my entire leg. It felt like I was stung a hundred times and I could see scads of red bites with red swelling encircling each bite, each its own micro anthill, tiny active volcanoes….

                                                                                Part 2

     I needed to cover my leg in ice immediately. I ran back into the house to the freezer, took out the ice cube tray, and popped every cube out into a plastic bag, quickly rubbing it all over my leg to soothe the (by now) excruciating pain, it’s cold temperature an ecstatic relief. I limped back to the door and bent down to see how the hell they were getting in. I noticed a small slit under the door, barley noticeable, but to an ant it must’ve been like a highway underpass. I got some tape and sealed it shut. The remaining ants indoors I took my revenge on, squeezing the life out of their black bodies, popping each ant like a blackhead on your forehead. That night I rubbed aloe vera on my body, usually used for burns, soothing the burn up my leg, cursing at those fuckers loud enough so they could hear me outside in their shanty hills. I had popped a couple painkillers and felt euphoric as I lied back on my bed, covers off, enjoying the cool air on my moist skin. I must’ve passed out quickly cause I didn’t remember falling asleep…but I awoke suddenly from a nightmare. I dreamed that I stepped into a giant anthill and starting sinking, ants slowly covering my whole body… I opened my eyes, but the room remained dark like the moon had fallen out of the sky. In my half-dream state, I thought I could feel my skin tingling, almost like my body had goosebumps, goosebumps that were spreading… Suddenly I had the horrifying thought that I didn’t just dream I was covered in ants– that I actually was covered in ants! I swat at my eyes and brushed them off so I could see…. I wished I had kept them closed…I started screaming like I was in an ocean being attacked by a shark. It was the only natural response to what I saw: my blanket had turned black, except it wasn’t my blanket – it was a living thing, writhing sheet of black ink, teeming with a thousand ants crawling over each other, seemingly unaware of each other’s presence… 

     At first I felt frozen, unable to move or even attempt to brush them off my body. Then the real world returned and I jumped up and started dancing frantically like my body was on fire (stop, drop and roll! my brain was telling me). I dropped to the floor and started rolling wildly around but I wasn’t actually contacting the surface, the ants acting as a buffer between me and the hardwood floor – it wasn’t working. It was like trying to remove an ever-tightening straight jacket that even Houdini would’ve struggled to get out if. I got the can of Raid and blasted myself. That was working; ants started falling off me me like dead skin. I was starting to get dizzy, inhaling the noxious fumes, but it was working. When enough had fallen off that I could see my clothes, I tore off my t-shirt and jumped in the shower..I’d deal with the pile of ant corpses afterward. The remaining ants on me were scalded by the hot water, like acid rain, causing them to writhe in pain as they plummeted a thousand feet into the pool of water at my feet, swirling around till they disappeared down the black holes in the drain…

     By the time I got out of the shower, the survivors had made their way back outside. The remaining carcasses I swept up into a dustbin and flushed them down the toilet. I decided I was going to have to get an exterminator to rid of these fuckers. In the mean time, I would start the the extermination myself – I went out in the yard and spotted the anthill. I picked up a branch that had fallen off the tree and stuck it in the the hole, shoving it as deep down as possible, then tore up through the dirt until I had destroyed what was once a formidable sandcastle. I knew that there were labyrinthine tunnels below, so I went and got the bottle of bleach. I poured it down into the hole, imagining every ant getting bleached white till it dissolved their tiny fragile bodies, disintegrating into nothing… I could see a few ants emerging from the top, stumbling out of the hole like drunken sailors out of a tavern. I felt like a ten year old again, feeling a sense of pleasure torturing these motherfuckers. They deserved it! They attacked me firs– I stopped what I was doing. One ant struggled out of the hole (or what remained of it) and it was missing it’s lower abdomen… Damn she’s a tough lady! I thought. It was that damn queen bitch ant, somehow she was still alive… I could see how she was walking and it was horrific; there were two worker ants beneath her propping her up being used as legs, transporting her, keeping her mobile even with her disability… Although they were staggering now, losing balance, the bleach already dissolving their black guts like sulfuric acid poured on steel, melting them from the inside out… She lost her prosthetic legs but continued crawling, struggling over the top of the mound, trying to save herself…How is she still alive?? is all I could think to myself. I had an idea – I went and got my pliers, again feeling an overwhelming sense of delight that surprised even me (maybe all men felt the same, never losing their adolescence, their inner boy, harboring the same curious, sick, surprisingly evil tendencies… ). I found her halfway down the melted hill, struggling at every step, at every last breath… I trapped her in the plier’s prongs and said, out loud: I have the ant-idote for you (I know, a little over-the-top) and squeezed easily; her head popped, leaving just the upper half of her body, still jerking, until it too finally came to a standstill, the end of her reign, her kingdom overthrown by a man-boy, a violent coup…. What I couldn’t have known is that she had already laid a hundred million eggs just below my feet, all embodied with her genes, each encoded with one mission: To attack when ready.

End

o0O O0o

^^^

Cameron is a fiction writer living in Taiwan, and lover of all things weird and creepy cbrtnik.com

Short Story – The Butcher

The Butcher

A Sharp Fiction by Cameron Brtnik

butcher_by_michelle84-d3ipoom

The Butcher

There was an awful, revolting smell, like decaying flesh mixed with meat that had gone sour…

    The butcher was hard at work slicing meat – purple and sinewy, like slicing into fresh veins. Sometimes I couldn’t believe we put that stuff in our mouths. “We’re no better than cannibals”, I always told myself. I had a respect for vegetarians – I had recently gone on a health binge myself and invested in a juicer, juicing fresh fruits and veggies every morning and feeling better than usual – and felt that they had made a respectable choice; “Save the animals, save the earth,” all that stuff. The only problem was all the usual hippie crap that went along with it, “washing” their hair with olive oil leaving their hair looking “healthier”, although I thought “greasier” was a more fitting description.

    The butcher (I never got his real name) was a nice enough fellow, quiet and dedicated to his meat. “Good morning”, “Three pounds of beef, three pounds of bacon,” and “Have a good day,” were the only words I ever exchanged with him. He had impressive skills with his butcher’s knife – I had the feeling he could slice through anything like those informercials you see: “Sharpest blade on the market! Can cut through vegetables! (SLICE!) shoes! (SLICE!) and even tires!!” (SLICE!!) Like anyone would ever be slicing off a sole of shoe with a side of tire for Thanksgiving dinner. He offered a variety of meats: beef, pork, lamb, ham, pastrami, pepperoni, chicken, duck, goose, and had freshly hung pig, sausage, and all the innards you could desire: liver, heart, kidneys, lung, gizzards, and entrails galore. I couldn’t stomach looking at most of it, let alone imagine eating these strange things. I liked sausage, but knew the ingredients were a mystery to most of us…

    He plowed his knife into the slabs of beef, blood splashing his apron like he’d just sacrificed a cow to the butcher gods. He wrapped the twelve ounce slabs with pieces of brown paper, the juice immediately being soaked up by the semi-absorbent paper. Next his thick knife sliced through the chunks of frozen peameal bacon like a hot sword through ice. I was already in heaven just thinking of the bacon entering my mouth when we got home (a Sunday tradition in our family, bacon and God). We had already been to church, and we always stopped by the food market on our way home. “Tommy! What are you doing?!” I heard myself automatically yelling. As usual he had wandered off, and was prodding the door to the “meat shed” to get a glimpse of the frozen animal carcasses inside. He was immediately by my side, “Nothing daddy”, the butcher not even batting an eyelash, his unwavering focus on slicing the perfect slab of peameal like that of a scientist researching some unknown matter through a microscope. The door was left open just a crack, and I was hoping he wouldn’t notice.

    Tommy pulled me down – well as much as a twelve year old kid of his strength can, but somehow manages to do – to whisper in my ear, “There’s a kids in there daddy.” My heart stopped, but for just a second. I realized the meat man must have a children too, and probably has to bring them to the market on Sundays cause, well I guess he’s divorced (who could stand the stench of a husband, crusted by blood and sweat, bloody apron, coming home to his untainted wife and making love in their clean bed), and he’s probably showing his kid the ropes so he can proudly take over his father’s successful meat business one day. “Did you you say hello?”, and for a moment, I couldn’t be sure, I think I saw the butcher glance up, then go right back to weighing the meat on the scale like it was an exact science, measuring the atomic weight of a bacon atom. He pulled me down again to whisper at a close distance, “No dad, I think he’s frozen!” and this time a felt a chill up my spine. I stood up and attempted a conversation with the quiet butcher, a single droplet of cold sweat running down my forehead. “So, you keep all the frozen animals, or carcasses back there?” I managed uneasily, trying to sound like it was a normal question (“So did you catch the Yankees game?”) The butcher raised his eyes to meet mine – they were slightly bloodshot, probably from waking up early in the morning to get a head start on the all the prep work – but didn’t answer. “$55.49”, he finally said. I reached into my wallet, paid the man, thanked him, then grabbed Tommy to go. We walked around back to leave, and to stifle my curiosity, I peaked in through the crack in the door. I was suddenly frozen, and found my feet glued to the floor. There, like Tommy said, was a boy of about nine, hanging, upside down, completely frozen… At first I thought my eyes must be playing a trick on me me, that it must be a calf that, through our childish imaginations, resembled a human boy. But, through the frost, you could clearly make out a blue jacket, brown corduroys, and a human face. I felt for the first time in my life what could only be described as horror…

    I panicked. I felt literally frozen to the floor, unsure what to do. Tommy was trying to pull me away, but I didn’t budge. “We gotta do something” I whispered, more to myself than anything. I told Tommy to go wait in the car, and he apprehensively scampered off. I decided to go in to see if there were any other bodies. I went in, slowly shutting the door behind me so the butcher wouldn’t see me. There was an awful, revolting smell, like decaying flesh mixed with meat that had gone sour, and I had to hold my gloved hand to my nose. I turned on my phone’s flashlight, and suddenly the world fell from under me…. Bodies, frozen bodies, all young boys, hanging from hooks, dangling by their feet, all with frozen faces of horror, like they saw something coming at them…Shump! I heard this sound like a knife piercing flesh, and at the same time felt something cold and metallic enter my back. I tried to scream, but a calloused, bloody hand wrapped around my face like a bear’s paw and I couldn’t even croak. I felt the hook (was it a hook??) shove deeper into my spine, and all I could think of was Tommy, and Sarah, my beautiful- Riiip! the sound of torn flesh as I felt the frigid air hit my spine, the skin of my back dangling, like velcro hanging off a shoe. I felt this bear of a man pick me up easily off me feet, and pierce me onto a sharp, rusty hook. I saw the tip of it penetrate the front of my shoulder blade, dripping with blood, consciousness starting to fade, and I was convinced this was all a horrible nightmare, that I’d wake up safe and sound in church while the priest extrapolated on what the bible means, how the Lord is looking after us, how God is good….

End

Cameron is a Toronto-born writer of short stories and lover of all things gory cbrtnik.com

Short Story – The Beggar Woman

The Beggar Woman

A Short Fiction by Cameron Brtnik

3rd-open-a-gwen-paton-rome-beggar-woman

The Beggar Woman

     The beggar woman brushed briskly by us with her shopping cart: trash, empty Taiwan Beer bottles, old, stained t-shirts, water-damaged books, magazines with their covers torn and corners curled in, tin cans rattling around inside like they were thrown in a dryer. This, even though it’s a common sight in Taiwan, this woman made me feel uneasy as she passed us; I felt she looked right at me even though her head faced forward and her eyes remained on the prize (I’m assuming a junkyard to exchange her hard-earned junk for some coin), I feel like her eyes, like a frog’s eyes, were multidirectional, like her vision was 360′. I really felt like she stared straight into my face as she passed… And then she turned the corner and she was gone. I felt a surprising sense of relief – I didn’t mention this to my girlfriend who was walking independently, unaware of the woman’s intrusive (or imagined?) gaze. As we walked another block, on our way to a local cafe to while away our Sunday, suddenly she appeared again from a side street (damn she must’ve been hustling!) Her cart was still full – maybe she had veered off to pick up some other junk, a discarded tire, pieces of a broken chair – and she was staring straight ahead (to our left). I looked over and my girlfriend, who was texting away, either letting her BFF know how exciting her day was going be sipping coffee and playing Candy Crush, or already playing Candy Crush, didn’t notice the lady, and I decided to point her out this time. “Hey baby, doesn’t that old lady look weird?” I asked, trying to sound oblivious and unconcerned. She looked up, saw the lady, shrugged, and went back to crushing candies. We were nearing her again, and I could sense the lady somehow observing us without looking directly at us, like one of those new 360′ cameras that were becoming all the rage. I started to slow my pace, reaching my hand out and grabbing Julia’s, feeling safer like putting on a seatbelt in a taxi, when the lady suddenly bolted forward, cutting off a car who had to slam on the breaks to avoid hitting her – she didn’t flinch. She made it across and disappeared down another side street. I knew the cafe was coming up on our right, and was looking forward to sitting down with a warm cuppa coffee and reading my new Stephen King novel Under The Dome. We arrived – I’ll admit I looked over my shoulder to make sure the lady hadn’t suddenly crept up behind us – and we got our usual table on the patio. We ordered our drinks, opened up our book and Candy Crush respectively, and fell into our lazy Sunday routine. Our drinks arrived, and I nearly forgot about that creepy old woman when suddenly she appeared in front of the cafe… (Wasn’t she on the opposite side of the road?) She reached over the railing, towards our table, and my heart jumped into my throat – my girlfriend didn’t even look up from her candy-filled screen – and grabbed the receipt off our table. I breathed a silent breath of relief. The woman shoved the receipt into her pocket, but didn’t move. I tried opening my book to give her the hint (“Hey lady, we’re trying to enjoy our Sunday here, leave us alone okay?” I could hear myself saying in my head, but because I didn’t speak Chinese I kept silent). I peeked over the pages and she was still standing there, like in a trance, or waiting for something…”Can you tell her to go away?” I asked my girlfriend. “Zou kai!” she replied, without looking up from the colorful candy sprites. The woman didn’t budge. “Zou kai!” I attempted, but it sounded even weird to my ears. Suddenly my girlfriend put her phone down, stood up and yelled at her in what I can only imagine consisted of insults, expletives and curses. And the woman (I’m not sure if she could even understand any of it) slowly started pushing her cart away, wheels screech screech screeching from not being oiled in years, her tired, bruised, atrophied legs following behind like the cart was her master, her body its slave. Now she was muttering something, to herself it seemed, in neither English nor Chinese, just unintelligible gibberish. And just as soon as she had appeared, she was gone, on to her next plunder of trash and treasures. I turned to thank my girlfriend– but she was gone. “Baby?” I said, loud enough to hear on the patio. No response. I waited a few minutes, assuming she had gone to pee or complain her latte wasn’t frothy enough. When a few minutes passed I started to worry (why??), so I got up and went inside. “Have you seen my girlfriend?” I asked in my broken Chinese, horrendous but passable. “Mei you”, the waitress replied. I knocked on the bathroom door and received a knock back. “Baby, is that you?” I asked, slightly embarrassed. No answer. I went back outside but she wasn’t on the patio. I walked to the sidewalk and looked up and down the street. I couldn’t see her, but out of the corner of my eye I saw the old woman parked at the end of the block, her back facing me. Almost like she could sense my eyes, she turned, her cart leading her body in tow almost like they were one; a human centipede. And I could make something out in her cart, something that hadn’t been there before: a large, dark shape, almost large enough to be a…human.. her hair….Julia…….and she was gone, turned down another side street like a million before, to fill her cart and survive another day.

End

Cameron is a fiction writer living in Taiwan, and lover of all things macabre cbrtnik.com

Short Story – It’s Magic!

It’s Magic!

A (very) Short Fiction

by Cameron Brtnik

It’s Magic!

    “Magic! It’s magic!!” He said again. I didn’t believe him, nor did anyone else in the room. Mike had borrowed my pencil, held it between his fingers, shook it and – as if my magic – it “turned into rubber.” “It’s just a stupid illusion!” yelled David. “You’re not fooling anybody!” “But it’s real, I swear…” but by then nobody was listening, and had moved on to the next item of interest, in this case Gordy happily picking his nose and eating the boogers, enjoying the grossed out reactions from all his classmates. “Eww! Disgusting!!” Everyone exclaimed in unison, but I knew deep down they enjoyed watching it. The same way people enjoy watching some poor kid fall into a tiger cage and get mauled, all while the cameraman stands there filming rather than helping.

    Mike (“Mike The Magnificent” his full name) remained at his desk, uninterested in the childish antics of the other “less-developed” (in his opinion) kids. He was on to his next feat of the impossible: floating a straw in a bottle. All the kids knew it was done with a string – you simply tape a string to the centre of the straw, attach the other end to your body, and pull the bottle outward so the straw “floats” magically out of the bottle (this was 101 in any kids’ magic book). But as usual, Mike proclaimed this illusion “real” and some of the kids threw paper balls at his head. Although I never actually caught a glimpse of the string myself, I went along with the other kids (isn’t that what all kids do?) and made fun of him. “Weirdo!” “Loser!” “Freak!” all the kids taunted in unison. Even though I went along with it, I never actually said the words, but rather mouthed them (which I suppose was just as bad).

    Suddenly, Mike stood up, not visibly shaken (although I believe, deep down, all the insults bothered him) and walked defiantly to the corner of the class room. He clasped both his feet together, raised his arms in the air and…rose into the air!…about three centimeters. I was dumbfounded. But once again I joined in the jeers of my classmates: “He just stood up on his tippi toes!” “What a faker!” “My fish can fly higher than that!” But I wasn’t so sure he was faking… All of a sudden Mike started shaking, his whole body turning red, and an angry grumbling sound escaped from his lips…”Arghhhhh!!!” and he started rising into the air, a good three feet this time, and yet still some kids dismissed it as “a stupid illusion” but I wasn’t so sure this time it- Mike was a full six feet off the ground now! Some kids stood under him and grabbed his feet, attempting to yank him down. “It’s just a string!” Kevin, the little asshole, yelled. “A string attached to what, the ceiling you idiot?!” Liz retorted, and suddenly Mike fell from heaven, into her arms, with a big grin on his face and smiled up at her: “You believe me! Magic! It’s magic!!” No one ever made fun of him again.

The End

Cameron is a Toronto-based short story writer and professional children’s magician cbrtnik.com

Short Story – The Bees

The Bees
A Short Fiction by Cameron Brtnik
Inspired by a trip to the Honey Museum in Yunlin county, Taiwan July 31, 2016

 

The bees….the bees were everywhere…and the Venus flytraps…
The trip started out innocently enough.
 
    We went to the Honey Museum for our grade 5 class trip, led by Mrs. Shea. I brought my favorite Jose Canseco bat (at least it was signed by Canseco. I didn’t care either way; I could hit consistent homers with it over the schoolyard fence). I would randomly swing it in the air, pretending to hit balls out of the park, and sometimes – I always felt bad about this later – I hit butterflies as they lazily flew by me, unaware of their impending, disorientating death. We knew that an “educational field trip” really meant “another boring museum”, but it was always a welcome opportunity to miss school. As soon as the “bee keeper” (pfft yeah right, more like an overzealous honey saleswoman) led us on the sure-to-be-a-snore tour of the beehives, Jason snuck off down the hallway, and like loyal servants we followed: me and Robby, all the troublemakers in class, no doubt. Even though Mrs Shea had a watchful eye on us, she couldn’t possibly watch every kid in the whole class, 32 students in total.
 
    We darted down another hallway. The first thing Jason did was open the fire exit – you know the kind that say ALARM WILL SOUND: Only open in case of emergency. Of course, Jason pushed it open with little affair. It led into another shorter hallway, and to another door that read WARNING: Employees only. “Jason, are you sure we should go in there?” “What are you, a pussy?” That always worked. We headed in after him. The first thing that hit us was the overwhelming noise of buzzing: a million tiny wings flapping at once, causing the air to fill up with an almost solid, palpable (even malleable) noise, and if you were to wave your hand in the air you could somehow control it, affect its path. I had to cover my ears for a moment. When my ears adjusted, we moved slowly into the hive – or hives in this case – deafened by the angry buzzing surrounding us from every angle like a perpetual falsetto choir singing with their lips pursed tightly together; A thousand – no a million remote control helicopters buzzing around in the air. I wasn’t afraid– okay I was a bit nervous is all, but you would be too if you heard what I heard at such close range. The bees looked like they were feeding on something (isn’t that what Mrs Shea called pollinating?). I could see these flowers in their glass-enclosed fish tanks – that’s really what they were, the bees a thousand flying minnows – but they certainly didn’t look like any kind of flower I’d ever seen, not in real life. “What are those things?” Robby asked in a curious, but cautious tone of voice. “They’re not flowers, they’re called Venus flytraps,” Jason confidently stated. “I saw’em in a National Geographic once. They eat flies..or anything they can fit in their mouths (is that what they were, mouths?!). “Oh yeah,” I said, pretending to be cool, but suddenly feeling nervous and scared being in this off-limits room for staff only. I’d seen them too in movies, but I always thought they were fictional, like some baddie out of a Super Mario Bros video game. We certainly didn’t learn about them in Mrs. O Brian’s biology class. I just realized something: The bees definitely weren’t eating – they were pollenating. But I thought they only pollenated flowers… Suddenly I heard a loud SMASH! and looked in time to see Jason pulling off the lid (in his guilty pleasure kind of way) to the glass hive, letting it fall to the floor. “What’d you do that for?!” I exclaimed in shock, probably letting on a little too much how scared I really felt. “What are you, a girl??” That usually worked. Not this time. “That was real smart brainiac! Now the bees are gonna get out…–but it already happened. In what seemed to be no more than ten seconds, Jason’s entire right arm was covered with bees. The rest were swarming him…. I suddenly thought of that scene from My Girl where the kid (played by then child superstar McCully Culkin) gets stung by a hundred bees and was allergic to them and died. It was the first time I cried in a movie.

 

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    I snapped out of it. We could hear Jason screaming, just barely, above the insane buzzing. “Get Mrs. Shea!!” he screamed. He was crying now, something I had never seen Jason do before. I was mortified..but a part of me, deep down, perhaps not that deep, enjoyed seeing Jason suffer.. It was a fleeting comfort. Robby and I ran to get help. Before we got to the exit, something inexplicable happened: another lid smashed to the floor, shattering into splinters of glass at our feet. How is that possible?? I didn’t knock it over, Robby neither (bees can’t be that strong can they?!). Then we saw it: one of those Venus flytraps had pushed the lid over the ledge, rising up what seemed like three feet into the air! Bees were everywhere now, and it was hard to see… We swiped at them, getting stung a few times, but not feeling any pain because of the adrenalin coursing through our veins… We were able to find the exit, but it wouldn’t open from the inside…It was a PUSH door from the opposite side and it must’ve locked when we entered stupid stupid STUPID!!! We screamed at the top of our lungs OPEN THE DOOR!!! but inside I knew nobody would hear us. The tour was probably in another building by now! And then I felt terror unlike I’d experienced ever before… I looked back to get a glimpse of Jason – Robby was still frantically pounding on the door – and couldn’t locate him, not through the sheet of bees in front of my eyes. Then I spotted him – well it resembled Jason, but only from the shape of his spiky hair – he was completely covered in stings, and his body had swollen to almost double the size… “Help me…” he whimpered, and I felt tears stream down my cheeks, sobbing for him and I think also for myself. Just then the Venus flytrap – it looked like a green taco with teeth – the one that had somehow nudged open the lid darted out of its hive, still rooted to the earth, and struck Jason on top of his head; it started sprouting blood, like the school’s water fountain, and I could see a look in Jason’s eyes, even though they were nearly swollen shut, that communicated one word: HELP. But it was too late. The carnivorous taco was tearing soft flesh – it must have been brain tissue – from the top of his skull and Jason suddenly teetered over, knocking over the glass hive, this time toppling the whole thing to the floor… The Venus flytrap started writhing on the floor – it must’ve been six feet in length! – snapping at the air around it. And all the time, the bees. I jumped back and helped Robby to pound on the door again. We were being stung more often now, and I could see Robby slowly losing his strength.. I was starting to give up.. my body was weak, my mind getting tired…
 
Like that time I went snorkelling with my bigger brother and the waves started getting choppy, pulling me into the surf, under the water, throwing me ever closer to the coral reef, no air, panicking, starting to lose consciousness, accepting the end, then suddenly….
 
    The door flung open! Mrs. Shea was standing there in sheer shock, or terror, or both and quickly pulled us in. She went to shut the door, but not before a green tentacle-like arm shot through the narrow gap and grabbed her ankle. She screamed, loud. (Louder than she’d ever screamed at us in class.) Robby and I grabbed her arm and held it tight. We tried to break her free from the vice-like grip of the thorny tentacle, but it felt like arm wrestling my older brother – impossible. Her pantyhose started staining red, the result of the thorns digging into her leg. Other kids from our class showed up, but they weren’t any help; they just stood there, immobile, helpless to do anything… “Help us!!” Robby screamed in a voice I didn’t recognize. Suddenly Mrs. Shea was yanked back, breaking our grip on her arm. She was on her hands and knees now, pleading with us to run… She seemed not concerned with her own life but rather in saving our own, a noble gesture that I didn’t get until I myself became a teacher all those years later, understanding the bond you share with your students, almost like they were your own children… We slowly backed up, not sure if we should leave her, then suddenly turned and ran (something I feel guilty about to this day). We ran into the beekeeper in the hallway and she shouted, “This way kids!” We followed her out the corridor, nearly colliding with the security guards running in the opposite direction. The bees followed us, at first a slow trickling, then eventually a “funnel” of them buzzing ahead, faster than us, in the open space above our heads. We made it to the exit, but we all stopped dead in our tracks – the surface outside of the glass door was completely covered by bees, crawling on top of one another, seemingly feeling for a way in, at the same time blocking out the sun. “We’re trapped!” screamed Mike, a kid I was never particularly fond of. “Follow me!!” shouted the fake beekeeper (I didn’t care if she was a real beekeeper or not, just as long as she knew another way out). The alarm was blasting now – one of the security guards must’ve switched it on – and full-out panic set in. There was a sharp tapping sound on the door now (could bees’ legs be that strong?) and a scratching sound, and I didn’t want to wait to find out if the glass would hold. But it didn’t matter; bees were coming in all directions now, from the hallway, and now I could seem them when I looked up coming in through the vent… We ran upstairs to another fire exit. She threw it open with the force of her brawny shoulders and we all scampered through. We were in a glass corridor – like our own human hive – that connected two buildings with a view to the outside. “Where’s Jason?” one of the kids finally noticed. Robby and I stole glances at each other, and both of us guiltily looked down at our feet. “He’s gone,” I said. “Whaddya mean gone?!” Mike piped up sounding accusatory, like a jerk as usual. “He was stung to death by those damn bees! And, and another thing..” “Whaddya mean, other things??” he cut me off sounding like he didn’t believe a word I was saying. “Never mind!” Robby thankfully interjected. “Look!” he pointed. “They’re coming!!!” Now a swarm of what looked like a tornado of locusts was flying toward the corridor… It was all very much like a dream, but knowing I would’ve woken up in a sweat the first time I was stung… We didn’t stay long. We bolted for the opposite end, bursting through the other door just as we heard a loud splat! followed by a splintering sound – the sound of a large glass window being broken by a renegade baseball except this baseball was alive. The glass cubicle connecting the two buildings all but fell away just as Timmy, the slow kid, made it through the door. “Oh my God,” I heard the lady beekeeper mutter too loudly to herself. “How did this happen?” she asked no one in particular. “I think it’s because of those Venus flytrap thingies,” I said. “Impossible! They were supposed to be working together in a symbiotic relationship.. Each benefiting, and benefiting from, the other. The bees, we realized they were pollinating the flytraps, and in return the fly traps provided nourishment for the bees from all the digested plant and animal matter it consumes (so bees ate meat?!). They couldn’t affect the bees’ behavior or flight patterns, impossible! But, ahahah, look at at me, why am I explaining this to a ten year old?? C’mon, let’s go!” I wasn’t sure, but I think she was starting to lose her cool. We followed her down two flights of stairs, then out the door..outside. “Head for the bus in the parking lot!! We sprinted across a small field, but we could hear the buzzing sound in the distance getting closer, louder…
 
    We ran into the closed-off street where the Chinese market was busy and bustling as ever. The bees..I thought. All these people..the bees are..- I turned to look over my shoulder- coming. All of a sudden I could hear screaming, coming from..- over there! A lady was being swarmed and her husband was trying desperately, not succeeding, to swat them away.. This going on while everyone else seemed oblivious – the woman’s screams being drown out by the noise of the usual activity: shop merchants selling honey water and fresh mangoes, tourists bargaining with them, street performers plying their trade in the beating sun, kids running everywhere chasing bubbles, like dogs chasing butterflies, Buddhist monks clanging together symbols and recanting citations to their God(s), enlightened by a fat man with a perpetual, cheeky grin… Over the chaos of bubbles and people now trampling over each other, the sound of that darned annoying bell the oblivious nun kept ringing DING DING DING and the low, guttural sound of the incessant incantations being chanted by the Buddhist monks Whoa ai hey ai eh whoa ai… I could hear, no feel the buzzing sound all around us. The bees had escaped their cages and the last thing on their mind was honey. They were agitated by all the commotion, and one more thing I noticed: they almost seemed hungry. Then the first of the victims was stung, on the leg. Stings aren’t so bad – we’ve all been stung at least once in our lives, usually as a stupid kid playing in the backyard thinking it would be a fun idea to whack a bee hive hanging, defiantly, in a tree and run away, finding out the hard way that it wasn’t so fun after all. I noticed there was a red mark on her leg that was quickly swelling up, much faster, and bigger than it should have. Did it inject her with some kind of poison? Perhaps contracted from those crazy Venus flytraps?? (Where were they indigenous to anyway? South America?? Certainly not from around here.) Is that what was making them so insane? I didn’t wait to find out. I grabbed my Canseco bat (I somehow managed to hold on to it this whole time) and started swinging like a wild man. They were fast buggers (no pun intended) and I couldn’t connect with any; the bat end was too narrow. Then I remembered the shop down the road selling electric rackets, the kind normally used for zapping pesky mosquitos. I ran to the shop, grabbed one, the lady yelling at me in some foreign language, turned it on. “Come and get me motherfuckers,” I heard myself say, thinking I said it out loud, but I can’t be sure now.
 
    I swung like it was my birthday and my parents got me a bee shaped piñata – I must have zapped twenty bees at once. They fell from orbit like miniature meteors with with stinger-shaped trails. They became more agitated – but so did I. The other kids saw me and followed suit, even the beekeeper. By now the old lady selling the rackets joined in and helped zapping those mad bees with the precision of someone who had years of practice swatting pesky intruders. We made our way toward our school bus, swatting and flailing helplessly, the bees seemingly spawning in the air as we fruitlessly tried to diminish their numbers. The bus driver had already seen us panically running from across the parking lot and swung open the door, kids disappearing into its safe, yellow confines, a haven with the torn, green leather seats with stale gum stuck underneath. “Close the doors!!” I could hear someone scream – it was the pretend beekeeper. She was lagging behind, running lethargically, attempting to swat at the bees but barely striking the wind. It looked like she had been stung a few too many times, and suddenly she toppled forward, sending the racket flying out of her hands… She was being stung from every direction now. By now the bus driver had shut the doors and kids’ faces were planted against the windows, looking out in awe and terror. Robby and I stood next to each other, thankful we were inside again, but feeling guilty again as we stood and watched, for the third time that day, as another, poor soul fell victim to the bees….
 
    The bees covered her entire body now…we could see her moving, struggling, to get out from under the tarp of bees, flowing and oozing over her body like black and yellow honey… We felt a jolt as the driver put the school bus into drive and hastily pulled out of the parking lot, bees splatting against the windshield, drawn to the big yellow bus like it was their mother bee… Robby and I looked out the window as the honey museum faded into the distance, like a a half-remembered dream, and as if he were reading my mind exclaimed, “I’m never eating honey again.”
 
THE END…
 
Cameron is a fiction writer living in Taiwan, and lover of all things weird and creepy cbrtnik.com