Short Story – The Flight Attendant

The Flight Attendant

A Short Fiction by Cameron Brtnik

The Flight Attendant


Part 1

    She wore too much makeup; too much red lipstick that gave her a likeness to The Joker, already dry and cracked from the airplane’s dry, recirculated air, and too much foundation, giving her skin the veneer of a vampire. Her faded, slightly dirty blue flight attendant uniform matched her pale visage, and the lipstick smudge on her collar “complimented” her tacky red lips. Her fake smile was very sincere, fooling even the most frequent of flyers, men nodding back at her as they boarded the plane, in the back of their mind their inner voice saying, That smile was just for you, stud. She was probably thinking, Hurry and get the fuck on board fatty, you’re holding up the line.

    The non-smoking signs flickered on to remind people there’s no smoking in the cabin. Really?! Are people still lighting up on these flights? Do they still need a reminder after smoking was banned in the 90s? Is this really still a thing! My God humans must be stupid. (The real reason of course was for the Chinese; they would light up a cigarette in the middle of a gas leak at a power plant if there weren’t a million signs everywhere warning of the obvious dangers.) Now on to the familiar, yet forgettable life vest demonstration. You know the one: you’ve seen it a million times, yet haven’t quite committed it to memory. If the plane were to ever actually crash, there would be chaos, calamity, and confusion, people hastily scrambling for the pocket on the back of the seat in front of them, life jacket instruction manuals darting through the air, whipping around the cabin, slapping people’s faces, ironically posing more of a danger than an actual “life-saving” manual. I half paid attention as I pretended to switch off my phone, not quite understanding what all the fuss was about – “Please turn off all electronic equipment before takeoff,” like my runway text message to my Tinder match somehow tampered with the plane’s sensitive instruments, the news captions reading: “Tinder Tragedy as plane lands in nearby field.” After my seatbelt was fastened, seat pushed up, all electronic equipment was “off” and the window blind rolled up (why, to get a good view of the engine during takeoff?) we were up in the air, the initial queasiness slowly fading into an easy calm, a forlorn acceptance that my fate was now in the pilot’s hands, no way to know if he had had a “late nighter” at the rippers the previous night or the line of cocaine he just did in the bathroom was affecting his judgement. We were now a human-filled bird, cutting through clouds, on our way to our destination in Southeast Asia.

    The announcement came on that it was okay to unfasten our seatbelts (half the passengers had done so already without the captain’s consent). The red-lipped stewardess – the same one who artificially welcomed us aboard – came by to offer “coffee, tea or wine.” I went with beer; this was going to be a long flight. She opened the can, poured it into a small plastic cup, and flashed her fake smile, a bit of red lipstick smudged on her front teeth giving the comical impression she just ate a Pink Sherbet Crayon for a quick, light snack, and set the tiny cup on my personal plastic table placing the half-empty can next to it. I was thinking You might as well save time and open three more while you’re at it, then mandatorily thanked her and flashed her my own fake smile, lips pursed together, cheeks creased into a Grinch-like grin, hoping it looked genuine enough. I opened my magazine – the one I’d been planning to read since May – to an article entitled “Genghis Khan: New evidence of his twenty-one year reign,” and sank back into my chair, leaning back enough that I was comfortable, but not far enough that my rotund rear neighbor would complain.

    The robotic voice of one of the bored airline stewards came over the speakers offering “discounted merchandise” – T-shirts, perfume, and Prada purses (who has enough money to burn that they buy this crap? If they really needed it, wouldn’t they have purchased it on the ground? It was all unnecessary and useless and a waste of money in my poor opinion.) Eventually, the welcome scent of chicken smothered in tomato sauce filled the cabin with its delectable aroma. Our deceitful stewardess came by to offer the airline meal: chicken or lasagna. Most people complained about airline meals but I actually enjoyed them; I went with the lasagna. She smiled that fake smile of hers and leaned over the isle seat, the first passenger getting the full blast of her fake Chanel No. 5 perfume, the remaining aroma wafting up our nostrils like freshly baked perfume pie. Her siren red nail polish clashed with the bland colors of the yellow and orange lasagna. As she placed the lasagna on my tiny tray, I felt something strange – I think it was the way she looked at me – but it was also something more, just a feeling I had as she hovered above me, balancing our glorified Hungry-man meals over our heads. I could almost swear she had some kind of intentions, however silly that sounds. She finished serving our cuisine, attempted to say, “Enjoy,” and moved on to the other famished passengers (it had, after all, been at least an hour since they gobbled down that fried chicken at the airport KFC). That odd feeling quickly dissipated and I enjoyed my clammy lasagna (don’t people always complain about the food being too dry?) and asked for my neighbor’s bread roll when he didn’t eat his. I was satisfied – I guess my only complaint was that you can never get full from an airplane meal – and washed it all down with a glass of red wine I had ordered with the meal; I was already ready for another.

    I was into my second glass of wine, and 20 pages into my new Michael Crichton book, but I couldn’t stop thinking of the Janus-faced stewardess and that weird feeling she had given me. I watched her as she served the other passengers, and they all smiled back at her seemingly fine with her “friendly” service. Was it just me who was feeling this way? Maybe I was just tired, or the notes of fake jasmine from her perfume were rubbing me the wrong way. I decided to drop the thought and went back to my book, something about the “airplane engine having malfunctions” (I know, probably a poor choice for flying.) I liked Crichton’s books because they always seemed so realistic, like they could really happen with just enough science and bad luck. I must’ve dozed off because I woke up feeling like my head just hit a brick wall. I made it to page 39 and a half. I guessed it was evening because everyone was dozing off, watching movies, or already dead to the world. I decided to check the in-flight movies available on the personal screen in front of my seat. Coincidentally, they had the movie adaptation of Turbulence, the book I was reading. I decided I would wait to watch it, wanting to finish the book first (besides, the books were always better than the movies, with a few exceptions where the movie was as good as the book). I decided to go with ID4 2 – it was on my list – even though I knew it’d be terrible. I suppose that’s why they kept making terrible movies; because studios know we keep shelling out our hard-earned money to see them! If I see another mindless Transformers movie trailer, I might forgo movies altogether.

    At some point nature was calling, so I got up to go to the bathroom. I hated the arduous process of getting up to go to the bathroom: asking your neighbor to move his legs and awkwardly shuffling between his knees and the adjacent seat, making a scene of it, almost like holding a sign saying, “Look at me, I have to pee!” But when nature calls, answer you must (they really should design a tube that drops from the ceiling like an oxygen mask for emergency bladder-emptying). I strolled down the carpeted isle toward the back of the plane and waited behind the large gentleman in front of me. I glanced back into the staff area of the plane, mainly where they kept all the hot food and coffee, and suddenly locked eyes with the red-lipped stewardess. I could feel my heart actually stop for a moment – why? – but I returned her fake smile with one of my own, minus the uneven lipstick. The obese guy in front of me – American – went into the tiny cubicle and I was left open and vulnerable to her somewhat psychotic stare. “Where are you from, sugar?”, she suddenly asked. “Um, here, Canada,” I managed but left out the city for some reason. “Ooh, that’s great! Where are ya headed, hun?” “Uh, Vietnam?” (Wasn’t everyone headed to Vietnam?) I suppose this was typical attendant-passenger small talk. But her trying to be nice to me was making me feel uneasy. I hoped that lard ass would finish up in there. “You know, I had a son, he’d be about your age by now…” Did she just say had a son? I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I just nodded and smiled, adopting her fake technique to a tee. “But he disappeared some years back…never found out what happened to him.” Probably ran away from his psycho mother, I thought to myself. Finally what seemed like hours later, the fatty opened the cryogenically sealed bathroom door and squeezed by me back to his seat. I nodded and escaped into the bathroom.

        

                                                                                     Part 2

    The bright lights inside gave a feeling of sterility, like waiting inside a doctor’s office. I felt a sense of freedom inside, from the other passengers, from the rest of the world, a momentary blue-white bliss… A moment later I heard a knock at the door – can’t the stupid idiot see it’s occupied! – so I knocked back, alerting them to the occupant inside since they so clearly missed the red “occupied” sign above the door handle. As I was washing my face, repeatedly pressing down the tap handle and quickly gathering as much water in my cupped hands as I could before it shut off again, I heard a knock at the door again. I guessed whoever it was really had to go, so I said, “Just a minute,” and suddenly heard the lock unlatching… I saw five siren red nails come through the opening like each finger could see, slithering and guiding their way inside… I recoiled and froze, not sure what was happening or what the Hell I should do about it. Maybe she was just refilling the soap, was the first thought I had. “Hey sugar, do you need any help in there?” “No, I’m fine,” I nervously replied. She was now halfway inside… “I’ll just be a moment,” I convinced her. I could see something in her hand, glinting in the bright fluorescent light..scissors? A kni– Suddenly I could see her hand with whatever was inside swoop down…I moved out of the way just in time. I had to think fast. I kicked up and knocked the sharp object out of her hand; the fingers attached to her arm withdrew fast. I slammed the door shut and locked it again, trying to catch my breath… What the Hell just happened? Was she trying to kill me? Maybe I was just being paranoid, frightened of her fiery red nails, imagining they had a life of their own… Maybe she was just refilling the tissue dispenser. I composed myself as best I could, and slowly unlocked and opened the door… There was a little old lady waiting to use the bathroom, and she looked pissed. I looked around, but Freddy Fingernails was nowhere to be seen. I calmly walked back to my seat, having to wake up my dozing neighbor, a look of annoyance escaping his face as he shifted his legs to let me through again. I plopped back into my seat and took a few deep breaths…

    For much of the rest of the flight, I didn’t see the maniacal flight attendant – maybe she was seeking shelter from the breaking dawn shimmering in through the cabin windows – and I was glad. We had a friendly Asian male attendant serve us. When I asked him about our previous attendant, he said he wasn’t sure whom I was referring to. I shrugged, and fell into a deep sleep…and awoke to terrible turbulence. The captain’s reassuring voice came over the PA system: “Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seatbelts and remain seated as we’re going through an area of turbulence. Ah, thank you–.” Then, I couldn’t be certain, but I was sure I heard a lady’s voice..it almost sounded like a moan. No one else seemed to notice. The turbulence rocked and jerked us, up and down, side to side like an old rickety wooden coaster. Everyone had woken up, and their faces were tense now, the pallor of the vampire attendant’s makeup. No matter how many times you experience turbulence, it always feels like the plane just blew out an engine and is going down…Malaysian Airlines all over again. I always calmed myself by watching a comedy; I found The Simpsons on the selection screen and put it on. But even Homer’s antics couldn’t ease the queasiness I felt in the pit of my stomach. It wasn’t so much the turbulence – I had felt turbulence lots of times and knew it was par for the course when flying over the Pacific – as the voice I thought I heard at the end of the captain’s announcement. Why would there be a woman in the cockpit? I mean, unless she was the copilot, but even then why was she moaning?

    I reached up and pressed the service button. A minute later our friendly Asian steward walked shakily toward our seats. “I’m sorry sir, at this time there’s no service.” I nodded, and then added, “Is there a lady in the cockpit?” He gave me a weird look, then turned to go back to his seat. Ten minutes of intense jumping and churning went by.. then the plane felt like it was in free fall… I instinctively reached out to grab the armrests on either side of me – my neighbors had beaten me to it, and I awkwardly clung to their arms. I could hear audible screams coming from the other passengers. My heart was in my throat..then just as suddenly, the plane evened out. An inaudible sigh of relief could be felt like a wave through the cabin. I heard a crackle over the PA system, then the clear sound of the captain screaming…then deafening silence. Then, surprisingly, a pleasantly fake, female’s voice: “Would the passenger seated in J22 kindly make your way to the..cockpit. I have a message for him.” My heart suddenly sank…and my mouth instantly went dry. That was my seat. I looked around awkwardly; everybody nearby was staring. I dutifully unbuckled my seatbelt and slowly got up, aware of a hundred pairs of piercing eyes boring a hole through me. I ignored them, focused on my martyrly mission, and the hell-colored nails awaiting me in the cockpit…

    I slowly marched to the front of the plane, everyone looking expectant, placing the entire air pressure of the cabin on my shoulders. I had no idea what to expect… Did she kill the captain? But the plane was still in control. Was the captain in on it? What did she want with me? To kill me? To rape me! I was frightened, but what choice did I have? The jeopardy of the entire plane was in my hands… I made it all the way, through Business class, past First class (damn First class and their private pods and champagne flutes) to the cockpit. I remembered when I was a child I was allowed into the cockpit to meet the captain, watch him fly the plane, and even take the wheel..I felt so powerful; 416 passengers at my mercy (although now I realize it must’ve been in autopilot), everyone’s life in my tiny hands.. This was pre-9/11 of course. I looked at the airline attendants for help, but they all looked in shock. I decided just to knock on the cockpit door… “Who is it?”, I could faintly hear from inside. “Um, it’s me, you called me..to come…to the, uh, cockpit.”There was a momentary silence, then I could hear the heavy lock unlatch from the inside (it could only be opened from the inside, apres-9/11)…I peered in. I had a momentary feeling of relief as I saw the captain at the wheel. I couldn’t see her. I stepped inside, and the door quickly slammed shut behind me. (Why didn’t the other attendants force their way in? Useless!) “Hey sugar,” I heard her say in her falsetto voice. I didn’t want to look, afraid what I might find. “Don’t be shy, it’s comfy up here,” she said with feigned friendliness. I slowly turned my head toward the disembodied voice…all I could see was red. Not red from her lipstick or fingernails – there were stains of red across her uniform, dark red on light blue, red droplets splashed across her face, and the copilot looked like he was sleeping… Although I knew he wasn’t sleeping; he was dead. She had killed him with her sharp, deadly fingernails. But why? I had all these questions hitting me at once – mainly, what was she going to do to me? I started thinking of way out – but we were on a plane – there was no way out. “What did you do to the copilot?”, was all that escaped. “Ooh, don’t worry about him sugar, he wasn’t really that helpful, right cap’?” I waited for the captain to respond…but he said nothing, kept his eyes straight ahead. Thank God. (Why did God always come up in life-threatening situations? I hadn’t used God’s name since, I couldn’t remember..) “Why don’t ya come sit up here with me?”, she patted the seat next to her. I hesitantly obliged, not seeing any other way out of this. She pulled the limp copilot’s body off the chair and let it slump to the floor, and pat the seat for me. I sat down, the tension in the cockpit excruciating.. I glanced over at the captain, who looked extremely uncomfortable, sweat stains pooling in his blue shirt, eyes focused ahead, doing his job, flying the plane…

    The red woman put her hand on my lap. Normally that would be an exciting prospect, but in this circumstance, it was not. “How are you enjoying your flight?,” she demanded. “Did you enjoy the nuts?” As she said this she squeezed down hard on my crotch… “What do you want!”, I blurted out. She leaned in closer…”You remind me of my son,” and she planted her big, red lips onto mine, giving me an unexpected and unwelcome kiss. “Maybe if he didn’t treat me so poorly, I wouldn’t have had to kill him.” Those words hung in the air like an acrid smell…”I’m, uh, sorry that happened,” I feebly managed. “You see,” she continued, “I was in flight school. My dream was to fly a plane one day…not be a stupid flight attendant. But then he came along. I didn’t have the time to finish flight school, I had to take care of him. So I dropped out… His deadbeat father left, and I had to take care of him, me, me!” I didn’t know where she was going with this rant, but I had to take advantage of her stalling… “And he took care of his stupid twenty-one year old bimbo of a girlfriend, probably ex-girlfriend by now, probably thinks he left her for a younger woman…” Then she let out a laugh, more like a shrill, and I had to cringe as I couldn’t cover my ears. Thankfully she continued, “So I had to make do with being a flight attendant. Nobody respects a flight attendant! Flight in, flight out I have to smile at these idiots and their disgusting children, ‘Welcome aboard Cardinal Airlines,’ ‘Please take your seat,’ ‘Please put your carry-on luggage in the overhead storage,’ ‘Please buckle up your fuckin’ seatbelt!’ These morons need to be treated like children to understand anything! I hate my job, I fuckin’ ha–” I quickly grabbed her and put her in a chokehold. I was scared, but I couldn’t just sit there and listen to her pitiful whining. The captain didn’t budge; I guess he witnessed what she did to his comrade. I shouted, “It’s okay, you’re gonna come with me, out of the cockpit, and sit still till we can land this plane. You’ll be escorted by security once we land..” She was flailing now, trying to loosen my grip on her neck, when suddenly I felt a pain in the left side of my abdomen; I looked down to see a shiny object protruding out of it: her silver Cardinal Airlines pen. I felt my grip loosen… “I’m sorry sugar, I didn’t want to have to do that.” I was on the floor now, backing up, in extreme pain. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the lever to open the cockpit door..I quickly reached up to grab it, and used all my body weight to pull it down..and the door hissed open. I winced and fell back to the floor. Nobody in the cabin moved, and she quickly pulled the door closed again, pushed the lever back up, closing off my only escape… As she did this, I could see movement coming from the captain’s direction. He threw something to me, and I quickly shoved it under my head; the psychopath didn’t notice. She came back over and straddled me. “Now that wasn’t very nice,” she said, and started unbuckling my pants. “Somebody’s gonna have to learn their lesson…” She yanked my pants down below my knees, and hiked her uniform’s skirt up. “You’ve been a bad boy, just like my son was a bad..bad..boy.” She hopped onto my groin and reached down…just as I threw the life jacket – the one the captain tossed me – over her head and tugged the strings on both sides. The jacket inflated quickly, catching her by surprise. I squeezed both sides together, cutting off her air supply… The captain then made a bold move: he sharply veered the plane to the left – effectively knocking her to the floor – and probably giving every passenger on board a heart attack. I jumped on top of her, adrenalin surpassing the pain I felt in my side. I kept squeezing the life jacket, ironically using it to end her life. She slowly stopped grappling, her lifeless red fingernails falling to the floor like extinguished flames, a moribund menorah.

    Finally, the flight attendant with the blood red lipstick, firetruck fingernails, and bloody uniform lay sprawled out on the cockpit floor. I was breathing heavily, feeling like I might pass out… The captain finally asked, “Is she dead?” “I think so,” I said in a tireless breath. “Sorry I couldn’t help, she disabled the autopilot.” After a moment I asked, “Who is she?” “My ex-wife,” he calmly replied, and steered the plane towards our destination, first stopping for an emergency landing in Taiwan. “She was always a real bitch.”

End

            

 

Cameron is a fiction author living Taiwan, and is not part of the mile high club…yet cbrtnk.com

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

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 – 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

Short Story – The Dollhouse Cafe

The Dollhouse Cafe
A Short fiction? by Cameron Brtnik
7.30.16 Gukeng, Yunlin
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Before reading WATCH VIDEO!!! https://youtu.be/FgEr1fXU6xI

WARNING: This is 90% true

The doll…the goddamned doll….

Why the hell would there be a doll in a cafe in the first place? What happened to this place??

    I walked in – a kind of unease came over me that you only feel in haunted houses (that’s what this place felt like – haunted): dusty, horribly weathered floorboards, dilapidated umbrellas lying carelessly on the floor (was there a storm in the cafe? Is that why everyone left??) and piles of random supplies – cups, receipts, flyers, garbage bags – were scattered everywhere. I let my curiosity get the better of me. It reminded me of the time I was about ten, swimming in the ocean in the beautiful waters of the Turks and Caicos, swimming out as far as I could, knowing there was a storm coming…
    I continued on my exploration, documenting my surroundings as I went. Atop the dusty, worn, bar countertop there was an old model of a windmill resembling the still-standing one just outside the entrance, rusty coffee spoons, a chipped ceramic trumpet, and a dusty bottle of plum wine (which I put in my backpack. I figured it must’ve aged quite well). I took stock of my surroundings, looked around the room: a creepy sight, and what made it more so were all these signs that had these comforting mantras like Fall In Love With Coffee and Love Coffee, Love Yourself – the complete opposite of the feeling this cafe was giving me at the moment. This was not a place of love – this was a forgotten place, where any semblance of love had left years ago… This was more like a nightmare from the far-reaches of your darkest dreams….
    There were piles of rubble strewn everywhere made up of trash, peoples’ belongings, a girls shoe?? (Yep, it was a child’s shoe, only one.) One room had a broken TV, DVD player and internet modem thrown on the floor haphazardly like the place had been looted by thieves, but they had left all the expensive electronics behind as if they were in rush to get out of there… Come to think of it, it seemed like everyone was in a rush when they left this place, nothing left in its original spot. I moved past a garbage bag exploding at the top and saw…I had to stop in my tracks. My heart was beating louder now – I was looking at what I was sure was a dead dog; it’s limp furry face facedown on the cold, dirty floor. It’s clean white fur looked a little too clean..so I used an umbrella and prodded it… Thank God – at times like this I am sure He does not exist – it was just a stuffed toy bear. I turned it over, peering into its black, button-like eyes, one of them dangling by a black thread barely hanging on to its pupil like an optic nerve, thanking God again it wasn’t a dead dog but rather some carnival prize left behind by a young boy (like he was in a rush…).
    I moved behind the bar, where it looked like most of the tragedy happened (whatever “it” was). There were paper cups, newspapers, business cards, playing cards strewn everywhere. But something strange caught my eye, smack-dab at my feet…. (after seeing the stuffed bear I didn’t think I could take much more) – it was a Goddamned doll. Every stereotype from every horror movie ever made lay inches form my feet. I stood there, motionless, no longer sure if this was reality or a cheesy nightmare… It, like the bear, was lying facedown. I slowly bent to pick it up… I held it in my hand – I think I was checking to make sure it was real – turned it around, and felt my heart sink.. (it’s just a doll!) It’s hair, crusty and full of cobwebs; its head, so lightweight it felt limp in my hand, a styrofoam ball wrapped in cloth; its face, stained with coffee and dirt, had an almost forlorn quality to it like its owner, undoubtedly a young girl no older than 5 at the time, after loving and caring for it for years decided it wasn’t worth saving from the…(saving from the what??)… I turned it back over and discovered a windup handle attached to her back – another cliche, I know. I wound it up, and the slow trickling of a familiar melody..barely recognizable..too slow to piece together…twinkle..Twinkle Twinkle! It was like the forgotten doll struggled at the strenuous effort to spit out a single note of the children’s classic nursery rhyme (originally a French melody titled Ah, most people mistakingly believe Mozart to be the original composer). I placed it on the countertop and continued exploring, all whilst listening to the haunting melody.. twin-kle..twin–kle…li–ttle—star. Sifting through the trash on the floor, avoiding broken floorboards and potholes as I crept behind the bar. I kept walking into cobwebs, the size of which made me not want to imagine the size of the spider that spun them… Then I saw the most sickening image yet: amid the chaos that was the surface of the bar, next to a lady’s (fake?) sapphire necklace and dusty bottle of perfume, like an aroma from the past, there lay photos – frayed at the edges and faded from light, which gave the impression they were damaged in a fire – of a father and his child, a baby boy. I stared at them for a long while, imagining this father and his son the day the photos were taken (what happened to them? Why did they leave these, only these photos behind?? Again, it seemed like everyone was in a rush to leave this place…). Were they alive? If so, where were they now?? Why didn’t they return for their belongings? The stuffed bear? The doll? The photos??
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    All of a sudden I had a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach, and my inner voice (or is it our inner voice, shared by every human in times of danger, we call it instinct) said GET OUT OF HERE! I picked up the doll, stuffed it in my bag, and turned to leave…but didn’t move an inch. I felt light-headed for an instant, shook it off, then tried to leave again, but my feet wouldn’t budge… I started having a minor panic attack, like a blend of discovering you left the door open and the dog ran out, and the realization that you’re vulnerable, just a human living on a rock controlled by Mother Nature, a pitiful ant struggling everyday just to survive, and tried to shake that off too. I grabbed the edge of the counter to pull myself forward and one foot managed to come loose from – what?? There was only moldy floorboards beneath me, but it simply got stuck again. All of a sudden a sinkhole (in a wood floor?!) started opening up, and I heard a sound that didn’t quite compute at first, not in the secluded mountain region where this abandoned cafe was located: screaming. The screaming of a man, and the unmistakable cries of a young boy…and I started sinking. I was able to get both feet loose, but had to literally hang off the counter and edge my way along, lifting my feet off the ground to the exit of the bar. Just then a hand (WTF!!?) came out of the ominous sinkhole (was the hand attached to anything? It felt like it). It was small, but had the power of a fully-grown man yanking at my foot. I closed my eyes, squeezing them tight…all of a sudden I went back to that moment….

Out in the ocean, wanting to go further (always further, why do you always have to go further you idiot!), the storm on the horizon, and the fear that a great white shark would come out of the depths and snatch my foot….

    ….My sandal came loose in its hand – then I saw something and had an idea, a strange idea (though what was happening right now was strange – maybe desperate idea is a better way to describe it): to grab the stuffed bear and…I reached and grabbed it and threw it into the ever-widening hole…and the hand snatched it and disappeared…along with the hole….I was still holding onto the counter edge, gripping it in a death grip. I realized my knuckles were bleeding, but didn’t even wince. I was on my knees, missing a sandal, which I never saw again. I cautiously limped out the exit, wary of any potholes, and made it into the still-bright sunshine (I had lost track of time a while ago), blinding me momentarily, and headed for the fence I had hopped over not forty minutes earlier (right by a large DO NOT ENTER sign). I finally felt I was in the clear… I continued walking toward the main dirt road, if you can call it that, finally feeling a sense of relief and vowing, speaking to my inner voice again, never to disobey a DO NOT ENTER sign again. And all the while hearing a tring tringing tring sound (that’s the only way to describe it) coming from my backpack, which unnerved me because I completely forgot I had put that doll – that Goddamned doll – in my backpack.
THE END?

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