Curious Things, Rotten Places

Janice thumped the wall beneath the flickering light with a black hand and curled her lips into a half smile when it stopped spluttering. She turned her face back to the mirror and probed the new cut down the left side with one finger. It stung. In fact her whole face ached and throbbed hotly as the flesh began to swell.

Bloody idiots with their baseball bats, she thought. What were they even doing with baseball bats, didn’t they realise they were in England? Here they had cricket and rounders, not baseball!

She hissed as she dug a nail into the wound and flicked a piece of tarmac into the petrol station sink. In the mirror was a backwards image of two toilet stalls, one with its door completely missing, the other still clinging on by one hinge. The whole room stank. A mixture of floral air freshener, sweat, shit and piss. Despite the smell Janice was reluctant to leave and as she deposited the last fleck of road into the cracked ceramic beneath her, she glanced at the lock on the door, double checking that it read engaged.

It didn’t actually read engaged. The little white letters on the wheel inside the lock had long since gone, but there was just enough red left on the background to give the right impression. Engaged, Occupied, In Use, KEEP OUT! That was what this all boiled down to in the end, people not keeping out of places they should do.

Janice brought her hand to her mouth and ran her tongue across the pads of her fingers. She swiped them across the cut, hissing as her saliva touched the open wound. The cut hissed and smoked. Janice’s grip tightened on the sink, new cracks skittering away from her. It lasted a moment and then it was gone, both the pain and the cut. In its place was perfect skin mottled copper and silver, glittering in the florescent light around her.

She sighed quietly and checked her work to see if there were any bumps to indicated missed debris from cleaning the wound. There was nothing. Moving away from the cut she examined the rest of her swollen features, sealing smaller gashes and scrapes one by one.

The door rattled, the lock jumping and flashing to green before Janice could move.

‘Bloody door, jammed like always I- oh shit, sorry, I didn’t think anyone was in here, I-‘

The old man froze in the doorway, one hand still on the door, the other reaching from his cap, the folds of flesh around his neck stained yellow by the floodlights outside. He licked his lips and glanced back towards the car park, no doubt wondering if he could make a run for it.

‘It’s fine, I’m done anyway,’ said Janice, holding her palms up so she could see she wasn’t holding a weapon. It wouldn’t matter, her teeth, her nails, her body, that was the weapon and people knew it. Everyone knew it since her kind had been forced out of the shadows. ‘I don’t want any trouble,’ she said quietly. ‘Just let me get back to my car.’

‘They let your kind drive?’ asked the old man. He inched forward, his eyes hungry rather than fearful. She watched him reaching behind for the waistband of his trousers.

She moved fast, the bones in his forearm splintering where she caught hold.

The hunting knife hit the floor. It smelled of blood, animal, not Janice’s kind. The old man howled and she let go, panic suddenly fizzing through her veins, it didn’t help, the visions still came.

Twenty-five, a leaner, fitter version of the old man clung to the rigging in the back of jeep somewhere deep in Africa. She could feel his heart pounding in her own chest, the dryness in his mouth as the guide yelled and pointed to the horizon. Zebra scattered, their shrill cries sending birds scattering into the air from the long grass. The jeep still rattled forward but he let go and bent to retrieve the rifle at his feet, checking the sights before he took aim, the trigger smooth and firm beneath his finger. 

The remaining hinge on the broken toilet stall snapped as Janice’s form staggered into it and her knees buckled. The peeling linoleum was sticky but she pressed her cheek against it regardless, grateful for its coolness. The old man continued to sob and howl, his broken arm cradled against his chest.

Run, said the sensible part of her brain, working despite the shadows of the old man’s past still running rampant inside her head. She could dim the memories a little but that was all. It was all there, his birth, his childhood, the day he met his wife, the day he left her, the day his eighteen year old daughter turned up on the doorstep of his house angry, resentful and desperate from him to explain why he hadn’t loved her enough to stay. Janice felt it all. She wanted to wrap that girl up in her arms, hold her closer than humanly possible and promise the world. She couldn’t though. That girl wasn’t her daughter, she belonged to the old man crying by the door, the open door that led out to the car park, where people might be walking by, where they might spot him and come to investigate. Run, repeated the sensible part of her brain.

Forcing her knees beneath her, Janice clung to the toilet stall and dragged herself upward. Her steps were shaky and she tumbled from one wall to the next, forcing herself not to look down as she edged around the old man. Outside the smell of petrol overpowered the stink of the toilets and she gagged on it.

‘Help me, please,’ moaned the old man, his voice broken and raw.

No, she told herself. If she stayed it would be the same story, boys with their baseball bats, old men with their knives, and they had the nerve to call her a monster. A voice called out from the car park for her to stop, another screamed.

She’d been seen.

Fear kicked her in the gut like an old friend. The old man’s memories cleared for a second and she dived for the alley that ran alongside the petrol station toilets. Set aside from the main petrol station the little building backed up against a small pocket of concrete where they stored the bins and various broken things. The chain link fence bit into Janice’s finger for only a moment before it sizzled and melted.

It was dark she told herself. They’d put the colour of her skin down to weird lighting.

The voices from the car park didn’t follow her through into the wasteland on the other side and once the darkness was deep enough to hide her Janice fell again. The ground caught her, thrumming with life it wrapped itself around her shivering frame and held her close. For a moment she hoped that it might swallow her, keep her safe from the boys and the old men, but it didn’t.

‘Janice? Janice wake up.’ A hand shook her shoulder but she didn’t rise. The adrenaline from earlier had gone and now the old man’s memories were running their course. He’d tried to be a good father, he even tried to be a good grandfather when his daughter finally found it in herself to forgive him, but for some reason he always ended up making a mistake and finding himself alone.

‘She’s here! I found her!’

She moaned as the ground fell away and the cold night air swept around her. There was warmth but it was muted, kept from her by cloth and leather.

‘Time to get you out of here old girl. I told you this wasn’t a place for us.’

She was moving, leaving the place she had fallen with great striding steps.

‘Dan?’ she peeled her eyes open, the image of grey wrinkled figure inside a small mahogany box still etched on her retinas.

‘I’m here, don’t you worry.’

She closed her eyes again, relieved to find the memory of walking toward a set of petrol station toilets, the paint peeling from the door. He didn’t check the lock, the handle was stiff and unwieldy so he put his shoulder into the door, believing the recent rain to have swelled it shut.

She saw her own eyes, black and shining staring back at her.

She screamed when her arm broke.

She screamed when the monster came for her.

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Written for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge. This week he has challenged his readers to write a piece of fiction where we make up a monster of our own. It can’t exist already, it has to be completely original. I’m hoping I managed to full-fill the challenge in this piece. Let me know what you think in the comments below and if you want to read more of my fiction, check out my Solitary Creatures series for more monster and magic filled writing.

Thank you for reading.

Crash Landing

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Jekker’s was a small time night club with sticky floors, 1940s’ bathrooms, and polystyrene ceiling tiles that were stained a manky yellow before Eddie had even been born. In another thirty years it would be a retro-funk cafe, frequented by those in their late teens and early twenties, not yet ready to tackle to adult world, but convinced they would do a better job of running it than the people before. Another ten years and it would become an underground venue for anti-establishment rock bands, the windows would still be blacked out and Eddie would be twenty-four years old, stood on the stage with his mates ready to show the world what they were made of. A fix foot six he wasn’t overly tall, but the lime green hair that he’d gelled to stand on end added added a few more inches.

Of course Eddie and his band hadn’t counted on a terrorist attack three streets away, and a military base two streets closer conducting time vortex manipulation research just as they started up with the first ear splitting chord.  As a result, Eddie was now lying on his back, jacket seemingly glued to the floor and feet in the air, wondering why the ceiling was the colour it was. He blinked repeatedly but it didn’t help.

She was watching him of course. Halfway down the stairs, lipstick smeared, mascara running and blood on her hands.

Eddie peeled himself off the floor and sat up straight. He looked at her and she stared back, mouth slightly open, hands definitely covered in blood. It coated her fingers, her palms and even went some of the way past her wrists before turning to a splatter near the elbow. Whoever she’d done in, she’d gone for it.

‘Hi,’ Eddie croaked, his voice was hoarse and he struggled to put together his surroundings. He carefully kept his hands from touching the ground. ‘Could you tell me where I am please?’ he asked.

She continued to stare at him, mouth open, no words coming out. She wasn’t wearing much, a tight skirt, fish net tights, chunky heels and a low cropped top that threatened to spill more than it covered.

‘Um…’ Eddie chewed on his bottom lip and scanned the dingy little room. The mirrored walls behind the bar was tarnished and the white leather settees that ran along the sides of the room behind a series of low tables were worn and cracked. The sign above the door stated Jitters’ in fizzing neon light, spluttering in and out of existence sporadically.

Somewhere upstairs a door banged open. Eddie heard it hit a wall and ricochet back before thudding open again. The girl on the stairs moved, she took the railing between her hands and flipped herself over, landing on her heels with a slight wobble.

‘Effin’ civilians,’ she spat. She righted herself and crossed the room in quick, long strides. She grabbed Eddie by the arm and hauled him to his feet before manhandling him towards the bar and the exit situated next to it. Emergency Exit Only stood out in bright red letters but her hand shot past him and slammed the lever, opening the door. She hurried Eddie through it.

‘Move, move, move!’ She punctuated each word with a shove. ‘Do you want to get shot?’

Eddie was now aware that the blood on her hands was fresh and it was leaving prints across his jacket.There was a lump in his throat now and he could feel something rising in his stomach, something dark and twisty.

‘Um,’ he stumbled on his words, ‘I didn’t see anything, I promise. You can just leave me here if you want, I want mention that I saw you.’  The girl scowled and gave him another, firmer shove. They spilled out of the club and into the street outside, sunlight bursting onto Eddie’s retinas as he stumbled down the steps.

He froze and blinked rapidly, green splodges quickly taking up position in a kaleidoscope of confusion as he tried to adjust. There was another bang and then a yell and then she was back and they were running.

She kept her fingers locked around his wrist as they dived for side streets and cut-throughs, loosing themselves in the city.

It looked, Eddie decided, a lot like his own home city. In fact he kept picking out buildings he recognised, but then there were others he didn’t recognise.

‘Where am I?’ he asked again, his breath coming in ragged pants and he struggled to keep up.

‘What?’ She didn’t glance back but he could hear the disbelief in her voice. ‘What do you mean? Now really isn’t the time for sightseeing, unless you didn’t notice we’ve got people trying to kill us.’

Eddie wasn’t sure people were actually trying to kill them, all he had heard was a couple of bangs and someone shouting.

‘I- I just wanted to know what city this we,’ he spluttered. ‘And if you know how I got here?’

He saw her shake her head but she didn’t slow up.

They hit a road and she  hailed a taxi, bundled him into the back of it and leant forward to bark a series of short, harsh instructions at the driver. He grumbled back but punched the button for the light and pulled off from the curb.

‘London,’ she said. ‘You’re in London.’

‘Oh.’ Eddie focused on the little red numbers ticking upwards on the meter. ‘Erm? What year exactly?’

She let out a long groan.

‘No, no, no.’ She dragged her hand down her face and slumped back into her seat. ‘You’re one of them.’ She shook her head and started to laugh. ‘I should have bloody well known you would be.’

She let out another sigh and kicked off her shoes. Eddie watched as she worked a nail under a small flap in the sole of the left one and eased open a tiny compartment which held a tiny sphere no bigger than the tip of his little finger. She  pressed this into her ear and began jiggling it around until she was apparently happy with the positioning.

‘Unit six reporting it,’ she said, not looking at Eddie. ‘Unit six reporting to Control, Control can you hear me?’

There was  slight hum and then the brittle crackle of someone speaking back to her through the bud in her ear.

‘We’ve had something of a hiccup but I’ll tell you when I get home. Put the kettle on would you?’

The ear bud crackled again and then went quiet. She turned to Eddie.

‘You feeling okay? Any sickness? I’m told getting thrown through time can knock you through a loop when you’re not expecting it.’

‘Urm…’

‘Articulate one aren’t we,’ she smiled. ‘Oh well, medical will check you out.’ She put the bud back into her shoe and closed the compartment. Once the straps were buckled back up she knocked on the window between them and the driver and issued a new set of instructions. The man swore but charged course as asked.

‘Better take the long way,’ she explained. ‘Don’t want any of those guys following us back to the base.’

Eddie nodded, but he wasn’t quite sure what he was nodding out.

‘Yeah, I suppose.’ He’d time travelled, he turned the information over in his head, surprised that it wasn’t having more of an impact. He turned his head and found her trying to wipe the blood from her hands. The taxi driver didn’t seem particularly disturbed.

‘You some sort of performance artists?’ he asked from the front seat. He was watching them in the rear view mirror and Eddie had to admit that they looked like an odd couple.

The girl’s face broke into a dangerous grin and she leant forward.

‘No mate, just a hooker. Don’t ask though, I’m far more than you could afford.’

The driver’s face soured and he sank into silence. He cornered sharply and the girl fell back into her seat laughing.

When they pulled up next to a short, grey building next to the docklands she pulled Eddie from the taxi and fished a roll of twenties from her top which she threw into the passenger seat.’Keep the change.’

She nudged Eddie forward and ushered him through a set of glass doors and into an open foyer with marble floors and harsh florescent lighting.

‘Are you really a-‘ Eddie broke off as she levelled a glare at him.

‘Used to be,’ she said. ‘Not any more. It can be a useful part to play though.’

‘Useful how?’

‘People tend to believe in what they first see. For example today, the gentleman I was sent to see thought I was a hooker he’d hired for a bit a fun. When I turned up he expected me to exactly that, just a hooker, pretty and pliable, without much between my ears.’

‘Did you kill him?’ Eddie asked, he glanced at the blood on her hands.

‘No, I killed the bodyguard, the old bastard got away before I’d finished dealing with Butch McButch but there’s always next time. We don’t let the bad guys stay on the run for too long around here.’

They passed a reception desk and moved into the elevator. She hit the button for level three and the doors slid closed in front of them.

‘How about you?’ she asked. ‘What do you do apart from time travel?’

‘I-‘ Eddie scratched the back of his neck. ‘I’m in a band.’

She nodded. ‘Of course you are. You any good?

Eddie thought about the groups of fans crowding into Jekkers, the posters with his fast plastered across the city and his manager listing the performers that wanted the band on their next album.

‘No bad,’ he said.

‘So, what made you want to come to this delightful point in time?’

‘I didn’t,’ said Eddie, he felt warm now and his skin seemed to tight. ‘I don’t know how I got here?’

She frowned.

‘If you don’t know how you got here, how do you intend to get home?’ she asked.

The tight feeling increased and for a moment Eddie thought he might be about to explode out of his own skin. The elevator pinged and the doors swung open onto level three and a long, grey corridor.

‘You do know how to get home don’t you?’ she pressed.

‘No,’ said Eddie. He couldn’t breath, he was drowning and he couldn’t breath.

‘Well bollocks.’ The girl punched another number on the elevator and it started moving again. ‘I suppose we best go see the Captain. It looks like you might be staying with us for a while.’

The elevator climbed again, taking them to the top of the building. This time it spat them out into a great glass office with a view of the city.

‘Eryn.’ A tall man in a crisp suit stood from behind the desk on the far side of the room. Apart from two armchairs and a small coffee table, it was the only furniture in the office. The man who Eddie assumed was the Captain moved towards them, he grasped Eryn by her shoulders and yanked her forwards, dragging her into a hug that she didn’t seem all that keen to participate in. ‘I heard there was trouble. You got out safe?’

‘Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.’ She batted him away from her and pushed past towards the armchairs where she dropped herself into one and kicked her feet up onto the table. A memory stick appeared between her fingers and she tossed it to the Capitan.

‘I was going to take it straight to tech but since we’ve had to divert here, you can take it instead.’

The Captain looked at the memory stick and the looked at Eddie who was still standing by the elevator.

‘Bollocks,’ he said quietly. ‘Another one?’

‘Third one this year,’ said Eryn, almost sounding chirpy. ‘They just keep popping up, no idea how they got here, no idea how to get back.’

‘You would think that by now someone would have worked out that messing with time is not worth the hassle,’ the Captain sighed. ‘What shall we do with this one?’

‘Wait!’ Eddie’s mouth moved before he could stop it. ‘There are other time travellers? I’m not the only one here that’s not from this time?’

‘You’re the only one at this moment,’ said Erin. ‘All the others are dead.’

Eddie’s heart sank.

‘Oh,’ he said. ‘How?’

‘Murdered,’ she shrugged. ‘We’ve been trying to work out why.’

The Captain marched back over the his desk and scooped the phone up off the desk. ‘I’ve got work that needs seeing to. I’m going to suggest that we don’t mention this to anyone and both of us get on with our days.’

‘What about him?’ Erin asked.

‘Take him with you. Tell them he’s your new partner, that way you can keep an eye on him and maybe you might find a hint as to why all the others turned up dead. Make sure you have him checked out in medical first though, ensure he is who he says he is.’

‘Do I get a say in this?’ asked Eddie.

‘No,’ said the Captain, he began punching numbers into his phone. ‘Not if you want to stay alive.’ The phone began ringing out. ‘Off you go now if you don’t mind, the people here have a country to save.’

The person on the other end of the phone picked up and the Captain began talking. Erin rolled her eyes and pulled herself to her feet.’Time to go.’

They climbed back into the elevator and she hit the number for floor three again.

‘Do you like scones?’ she asked.

‘As in the baked good?’

‘Yeah, those one.’ She examined the ceiling as the doors shut and they started moving. ‘I thought I might make some.’

‘Okay… Why?’

‘In case you were hungry.’

Eddie’s stomach growled at the comment.

‘I guess I am a bit.’ His stomach gurgled again.

‘Scones it is then.’ They lulled into silence.

‘Just one thing.’ She turned her body to face him. ‘Do you have cream first and then the jam or the other way around?’

‘Erm… Jam first?’

Erin tutted. ‘Poor baby. I have so much to teach you.’ The elevator dinged. ‘So, very much to teach you.’


 

Flash Fiction Friday and Chuck Wendig’s Challenge: They Fight Crime. The word limit for this was 1,500 but I seem to have gone a bit over and I could have kept as well. I tried to treat this like a free write so I wasn’t worrying to much about length.

For the prompt we had to go to theyfightcrime.net and find a prompt that we liked. I got:

He’s a time-travelling rock star fleeing from a satanic cult. She’s a bloodthirsty troubled escort with a backpack full of scones. Together they fight crime.’

Do not ask me what is going on in this piece. I think I might have lost my mind.