Checkout

Two bags of chips, onion dip, a collection of those cheap mixed gummies – the ones that are kind of sour, and tin foil (just because she was out). Eden started placing her items on the counter, self-consciously. She didn’t always eat like that. Or, at least, she didn’t think she did. It wasn’t as though she kept a food journal. She began moving quicker, eager to get her impromptu, late-night drug-store transaction over with. As she handled the foil, she caught sight of her chipped nail polish and felt suddenly as though it was evidence of the fact that she hadn’t figured out life yet. Not even the simple, daily mechanics.

“Hello, how are you?” the cashier asked without looking up.

There it was. The dreaded question. Eden held her breath. What could she say, really? ‘Two weeks ago I miscarried and I’ve been having night terrors ever since. Though, I must be exaggerating because I also don’t believe I’ve gotten any sleep at all. I don’t think it’s healthy. And everyday now I’m afraid to look in the mirror because I no longer look like me. I’m not me. Not that I’m terribly well acquainted with me. I’ve got a million faces. It’s hard to keep track. And, no, I’m probably not as fucked up as I think I am. But I’m definitely not as together as I pretend to be. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m lost. I can’t find me. And it’s not just the miscarriage. It started before that. Long before that. I’m just… lost. So, overall, not well. I’m not well.’ 

“9.75.”

Eden snapped out of her daze and mechanically handed a bill over to the cashier, awkwardly hiding her nails. Her hand was shaking but she gave a pleasant nod when she received her change, before hurrying out the automatic door.

‘Fuck,’ Mia thought, staring down at her till. ‘Did I give that lady the right change? Shit – did I even greet her? A simple: hi how are you?’ She sighed and checked the time. Three more hours to go. ‘Get it together,’ she thought, promising herself to be attentive with the next one.

© Shyla Fairfax-Owen

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Child’s Play

Delilah could feel them gaining on her. She wanted to look back, gauge their distance, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the ground. What if she tripped on a branch, or stepped on a chipmunk? It would squeal under her foot, it’s back crunching, it’s body writhing. She’d scream, and lose her balance. No; she couldn’t afford any mistakes.

“Heeeeereee piggy piggy!” she heard them squeal.

Hoards of maniacal laughter followed from the eager, unrelenting, crowd behind her. Delilah gasped, her air supply falling short now. She dared a glance beside her and tried to calculate whether she could hide behind the tree to steal a breath. Maybe she could change directions and lose them completely. But, that would be cheating; Delilah knew the rules better than anyone. In fact, she had made the rules.

“Hey Piggy Piggy Piggy!”

Delilah swiftly brought her attention back to her feet. Her eyes widened when she saw they were caked in mud – when had that happened? She had only looked away for a second! Grunting and panting in displeasure and desperation, Delilah kept moving. But now she could hear the stampede right on her heels. She could feel their sticky hands clamouring for her, smell their anxious breath being carried by the autumn breeze.

It was now or never, so Delilah chanced another glance up. Hopefully she wouldn’t get stuck in a knee-high mud pond. But it was worth the gamble, because just ahead, within her reach, she could see it. Safety. She was going to make it. She was going to be fine. She leapt, just the way her phys-ed teacher had taught her.

“HA!” she yelped as her feet slipped into the centre of the giant leaf pile they had compiled for this very moment.

She cackled obnoxiously, throwing leaves at the boys who looked distraught and unnerved. Max rolled his eyes and insisted they start over; he’d be the pig this time and Delilah would be a wolf. But no one was paying much attention to him. They were all in the leaf pile now, so he put his sulking aside and joined in.

“I told you I was faster!” Delilah screeched at him, sticking out her tongue and scrunching up her face. He smashed a handful of crisp yellow leaves into her face, laughing as she spat and whined.

“Sore loser!” she accused.

Delilah scrambled free of the group and looked down at her shoes. Her mother was going to have a fit. They were brand new and Delilah had heard daddy complain about the price. She looked at her watch and felt a cold sweat overtake her. 6:48! The trouble had just doubled. She was late for dinner – again. Delilah could hear the scolding now, ‘you and those boys Delilah I swear, you’re like a wild animal out there! No sense, I tell ya, no sense!’

“I gotta go!” Delilah yelled passingly behind her as she made her way back through the woods. If she was as fast as a piggy, she’d make it just in time to not get dessert.

© Shyla Fairfax-Owen

 

 

The Un-End

It started out like any other day – a lot of stories do. I was walking my dog, Patsy, at the usual time in the usual place. But there was something distinctly unusual about the air. It was cooler than the average autumn morning (if you can really call it morning when the sun has barely yet committed to rising). More to the point though, the air was heavy, as if it should have been thick with fog or humidity. Instead, it just seemed to weigh on Patsy and me.

After urinating on her favourite tree, Patsy bellowed a deep gurgled cry and began digging. Any other day I’d have left her to it, anxious to see what all the fuss was about. But not that day. On that particular morning, the cumbrous chill was burying itself in my pores and nesting an uneasiness all through me. I felt uncomfortable; irritated. I tugged on her fraying leash to hurry her along and had half a mind to bark back when she vocally resisted. I crouched down and plucked her off the soft grass, wetted by the fresh morning dew. She struggled to free herself from my grip – and that’s when I saw it. Her paws were caked with blood. I know you see that sort of thing in the movies all the time, but somehow I hadn’t been prepared for the absoluteness of having a stranger’s viscous, rancid, heart-juice pawed onto my chest.

So that’s the story of how Patsy found poor Bailey Marcus; a plain-jane, straight B student majoring in nothing, holding no special achievements with which to mark her gravestone. I know that sounds pretty harsh, but it’s true, and I’m sure she knew it. What the unremarkable Bailey could not have known on the night that she got done in, though, was that she was finally about to have a profound effect on someone’s life – mine.

See, it was right about then (the moment with the viscera and the barking) that I started obsessing about Bailey. Her blood was on me, and it doesn’t get much more weirdly intimate than that. I felt like I owed it to both of us to seal that bond. The problem, of course, is figuring out how one goes about sealing a bond with a dead girl. Thinking about it made my head blur and swirl, the way cream does when it hits the dark abyss of coffee in a black mug. Spinning in circles seemed appropriate, though, since I had no starting point and no idea what the end point would be.

After the police questioning, the bagging and tagging, and the four hour diner shift that managed to feel like 16 rather than the typical 8, I headed home intending to crash land on my bed. During the walk I let my head blur and swirl as it pleased until I looked up and realized I was no where near my bed. I’d wound up at the university. It was as if I had been drawn to it by a magnetic force. At the scene of the crime, I had overheard the detectives going through Bailey’s wallet. It’s how I had learned her name, and that she was a student. I guess I was curious. I never applied to university; never stepped foot on a campus until then, which seemed as good a time as ever. As did the next day, and the day after that. I had no idea what I was looking for, or what I was getting out of the experience; but somehow walking those same grounds that Bailey had walked brought me peace of mind. It felt natural; right, even. I hadn’t considered how strange it might be until a detective questioning some of her classmates noticed me.

October was just closing in and the air was dry and rough against the skin. I was sitting on a rock in front of the entrance to the Film Studies department. I suppose it looked as though I was people-watching, but really I was just in my own head. I had recently taken to making up stories about Bailey that would take place wherever I happened to be on campus. On this particular occasion, I was imagining she had sat on this very rock skipping class, reading The Bell Jar, when a fire alarm hurried everyone outside. She would have dropped her book in the crowd and had to crawl over people’s feet to find it. I’m not sure where that story was going, because it was abruptly interrupted by a stern man looming over me, his badge catching the only bit of sunlight peeking through the dense mid-morning clouds.

He obviously had no leads on Bailey’s murder yet, and asked me why I was sitting outside of her World Cinema class, and whom I was waiting for. I explained that I had no idea that it would have been one of Bailey’s classes, and that I just liked the scenery there. His inquisitive nature led to a few more questions, to which I gave snarky remarks. But when he left, my heart began to pound. I had managed to find Bailey, a real piece of her. World Cinema.

That day, I sat in on a lecture about the ephemeral nature of Italian Neorealism; how it has no beginning, and no end. How it is independent of rules, of law, and of death. The room was surprisingly warm for its size. With an amphitheatre structure, it was easy to just become another face in the crowd – Bailey’s, even. So as the days grew colder, and shorter, I was comforted by following the day-to-day of Bailey (or what I had created of her, anyways). And then it happened. It always happens when you least expect it, I guess. Death.

I was walking home from an evening lecture on Gothic Architecture (I had branched out my stolen studies), when I caught a glimpse of a shadow behind me. You always like to think that when it happens, you’ll do all the right things, and put shame to those scream queens on the silver screen. But you don’t. He came upon me with such force, such intent, I almost admired his gumption. I fought back of course, but it didn’t matter. Seeing his face became immeasurably important. I snatched off his hood, and pulled down the scarf. Lyle Jones. An obnoxiously well-spoken front-row student in Bailey’s World Cinema class. He’d been eyeing me, but not in a way that put me on edge. Actually, it was flattering. When he looked at me, it was as if a familiarity shot between us. But now, there was nothing between us except blood.

And that’s when I realized it. The story was never about Patsy finding Bailey, or my obsession with Bailey – hell, it wasn’t even about me. All along it’s been about this guy; Bailey’s killer. And now, I won’t get to see how it ends.

 © Shyla Fairfax-Owen

The Vision

You know that expression women like to throw about unwittingly? “Not if you were the last man on Earth”- we say. But can it ever really be true? What if someone really was the last man on Earth. Could you hate him? Could you love him? Are we all heterosexist enough to think this is a fair question? See? It’s complicated.

The thing about Yan is, he is the last man on Earth. Well, as far as I can tell anyway. You see, I have a gift. You’ve heard of omens and signs. Most of us think that’s just people assigning meaning to arbitrary things to give them purpose, and to make the world seem more logical, more rational. But they’re real. And I’m one of the few people in the world who can read them. It’s almost like a vision. I see a crow or the number 13, and I’m hit with a sudden knowledge that I can’t ignore. And last week, I saw Yan.

I guess I should start from the beginning. Last year, an illness – no, a plague – attacked us. It spread like wildfire, or more accurately, like biological warfare. It was meant to wipe out the world’s entire population, and it nearly did. But there was one unexpected quirk. The Y chromosome was far more susceptible to it. Females were by no means safe, but we weren’t exactly doomed. Not like the males. Month after month passed us by, and none of the survivors had been able to find any men. I don’t think anyone was really looking. Mostly, we were concerned with figuring out what happened, and why.

But then I had a vision. I saw him. Alive, and well. In hiding, of course. We like to believe that people are basically good, and yet we know enough to hide when there’s something… special… about us. And there is something beyond special about Yan.

“Ophelia?”

I roll my eyes and shudder. “I know,” I mutter, “my parents were, uh, romantics – I guess.”

“I like it.”

He smiles and my heart flutters a little. I hate that, but I don’t seem to have any control over it at the moment. It’s been far too long since I’ve seen a man. I guess I’m a bit of a romantic, too. I honestly can’t tell if he’s attractive, but I know it could be a lot worse. He’s even about my age.

“And how did you find me again?” He removes his hood, finally letting his guard down a little, and pats the empty spot next to him on the park bench.

“Well, I know it sounds kind of nuts, but it was kind of like a vision. I have them sometimes.”

Yan nods suspiciously, but seems overall willing to accept my answer. I guess when 75% of the world crashes and burns before your eyes, it ups your threshold for believability.

“I know of a facility. You’ll be safe there, I promise.”

He snorts a little. Maybe he’s not as trusting as I’d hoped.

“So they can do a bunch of tests on me? Steal my sperm?” He spits the word sperm and I know it’s personal, so I don’t ask.

“Well, some tests, definitely. But nothing to be afraid of. We’re not trying to re-populate. Cloning facilities are working on that.”

“So what’s your facility working on?”

I think on it for a moment and realize we don’t really know. “We just wanna figure this thing out.”

“That’s promising.”

He turns away from me. I can see his jaw clenching and I know he’s fighting back tears. I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t really thought about how emotional this must all be for him. He’s scruffy, dirty, a little underweight. I’ve lost fifteen pounds since all of this, and I’m not even hiding.

“Are you hungry?” I ask, snuggling into him a little more. I do it to make me seem inviting; friendly, but I do enjoy the sensation of his leg against mine. Not that it matters. I learn pretty quickly that he has no intention of reciprocating my desires.

Six days and four meals later and I’ve got him on a train. He insists on wearing a hood and a scarf to cover most of his face, even though spring is coming on fast and hard. I can still tell he’s a man, and I think most people would if they bothered to look at him. But no one really does. Self-absorbency, no plague can kill that.

“What’s that?” Yan asks as Dr. Ving brings the machine towards his face. He’s in a panic, and all the unfamiliar tools aren’t helping.

“It’s just going to scan your eyes.”

“My eyes are fine.”

“Well, I guess we’ll know in a minute.” She holds the device up to his eyes and waits for a DING before jotting down the results.

“So?” Yan asks, his voice shaking.

“Your eyes are fine.”

Dr. Ving is losing patience with him, but I’m not. The twitchier he gets, the cuter I find him. I almost want to tell him about the secret alliance we’ve made with a neighbouring cloning facility. Almost. But not quite. In my latest vision, there was a little Yan, and he was happy. I know better than to mess with a vision.

© Shyla Fairfax-Owen

 

 

 

Welcome to HellHaven

“Welcome to HellHaven. Where innocence comes to die, and gratuitous desire comes to thrive.”

Catchy, Gina thought to herself as she watched the hostess give her rehearsed speech about the unique sexiness of an R-rated New Gothic Horror Theme Park. She still couldn’t believe she had signed up for this  gig – but she was about two steps away from desperation, and two steps past virtue. Sure, she hadn’t shelled out $20,000 dollars of art school tuition to take photos of tattooed thrill-seekers and Goth Lolitas – but maybe it would grow on her, with the right attitude. Gina sighed at the thought, and tried to tune back in to the hostess’ closing arguments. Although, it was difficult to concentrate on anything other than the getup she donned. Red fishnets, pink leather mini, breasts popping out like they were planning an escape. A little farther north her purple do sat atop her head like a beehive, and the black eye shadow and fake lashes pulled it all together. Gina wondered what she’d have to sink into to fit in.

“Ahem”

Shit. Gina had tuned out again, and it hadn’t gone unnoticed. While the other new hires had scampered off she had lingered, staring at the hostess who was now staring back.

“Gina, is it?”

“Yes, ma’am.” The “ma’am” was unintentionally tacked on to the end of her sentence like an afterthought which drained it of its respectful nature.

“Well, Gina. I see your hesitance. Resistance even. Now, if I cared I might ask you what’s on your mind and help you pro and con the scenario. But I don’t. Get to wardrobe.”

She pointed down the hall in the direction the others had left in. Ashamed, Gina nodded and launched forward, but a firm yet feminine hand on her shoulder stopped her. “And Gina?”

“Yes?”

“Smile, or growl. But don’t look indifferent. It’ll get you canned.”

By Gina’s fourth day, she had gotten just comfortable enough to not see it coming. She had succumbed to a pink pig-tailed wig and purple eye-shadow. She’d even tied up her blouse and undid the top button. But she had kept her jeans and runners – that somehow made her feel better. A quiet revolt.

It happened in the Tunnel of Horrors. She was perched between a few fake rocks that lined the blood river that “lovers” would row through in their canoes, passing bobbing heads and other appendages likely manufactured in China. Gina had propped one leg up which looked silly but gave her one hell of a shot. The objective was to get the screams of delight when the wrapped up plastic body (with a brick chained to it) unexpectedly fell into the water. The last three couples had cheered, but Gina was aching for a scream to capture. She would have stayed there all night if she had to. But, of course, she didn’t. The scream came – just not from any of the patrons.

Where the hell are they? Gina wondered impatiently as she checked her watch. The ride wasn’t on a schedule, but as one of the most popular, it usually ran twice an hour. Her body was beginning to cramp and she knew it was time to radio in a ride out, but she didn’t. That was her second mistake, the first being accepting the job at HellHaven.

When the boat finally came, Gina was so eager that she poked her head out farther than usual to catch a glimpse of who she’d be snapping. The person was alone in the boat, which was against policy. Immediately Gina grew alert. At that point, the figure was still only a shadow, but she was quite certain it was hooded. She thought to radio in for an explanation but knew it was too late. Her voice would echo and ruin the magic for this patron if it was indeed nothing to worry about.

But it was something to worry about. As his boat approached, Gina sunk back, gripping her camera, finger on the trigger. But when the body splashed down at them, the figure launched at her. He (as it turned out to be), knew exactly where she was, and had timed his own attack.

In an instance he was on top of her. Her camera dropped, crushed against the fake rocks, and finally lodged between two. Red dyed water lapped over its cracked lens as Gina fought for her life – grunting, growling, biting. The tunnel captured the sounds of her struggle, of the attacker’s laughter, and of his eerily shallow whispers: “Lets make this a real blood river, shall we?”

“Welcome to HellHaven. Where innocence comes to die, and gratuitous desire comes to thrive. Thrill seekers from far and wide travel here to lose themselves in just a few hours of monstrous glory, and it’s up to every single one of you to ensure they get every mile and penny’s worth of it. Why? You might ask. Why would people pay to experience a horror? The thing about horror is that it asks us to confront social boundaries, and to push them. Some people like to be pushed, so they come here. Others, struggle with their desire to be pushed, so they work here.”

The hostess smiled, and waited for her final statement to settle upon the crowd of new hires. A hand rose.

“Didn’t some photographer chick die working here last summer? That’s why I’m here.”

The hostess slumped, annoyance flashing behind cold eyes. “Are you a journalist? An investigator of some sort?”

The girl smirked. “No. Just a freak.”

© Shyla Fairfax-Owen

 

 

 

Birds Are So Obnoxious

Birds are so obnoxious. It’s always my first thought in the morning. Not the damp mouldy air that settles in my cot; not the slop I will be served for breakfast; not the painful loneliness that reaches depths of me I once didn’t know existed – just the birds.

The window – barred, of course – is high above my head, leaving me with the impression that even the squawking nuisances are looking down on me. They certainly have more freedom. Maybe that’s why I hate them.

The door knocks an entrance warning and I pull myself upright, hardly surprised anymore at the weight of the chains. He enters and wordlessly hands me a bowl of pale sludge. I imagine pulling a knife from behind my back and planting it in his forehead, but I have no knife. Knives may no longer exist for me outside of my fantasies. The world itself may not exist for me outside of my fantasies – except for those damned birds.

I glare at my captor. It’s been a long time since I’ve asked questions, tried to reason, or begged for mercy. Acceptance? Not quite. Exhaustion. Yes; that seems more accurate. Go figure, it’s the end of my world and all I want anymore is to sleep in, one morning, and not hear those fucking birds.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

Christmas Night of Horrors

“Why is decorating a Christmas tree never as romantic as you remember it from childhood?”

“Because you’re killing the magic by complaining about it. Here, put some more bulbs on your side. Mine’s getting crowded.”

“I’m sorry. This was a good idea. I’m just…”

“A Grinch.”

“Damaged. It’s an awesome cottage though. How long have you had it?”

“It’s been in the family for a while. I used to spend Christmas eves here as a kid, but I haven’t been back in years. You’re the first person I’ve brought.”

“Well, I’m honored. Even if I don’t seem it.”

“Haha. Ok, I’ll make our next egg nogs stronger. That’ll cheer you up.”

“It will. You know me so well.”

“Hey! It’s snowing!”

“OK! Now it feels like Christmas.

“A Merry Christmas toast then.”

Clink.

******

“Jaime? Jaime, did you hear that?”

“Mm?”

“Jaime! Wake up. Did you hear that?”

“W-What? No. Go back to sleep.”

“Fuck. Useless.”

“Hey, where are you going?”

“I heard something. I’m going to check it out.”

“It’s just the house. It’s old, I told you.”

“No. I HEARD something. Stay here if you want.”

Creeeak

“Careful! The bed is old too. … Aubrey? Aubrey!? Oh for fuck sakes.”

Creeeak

 

“There you are”

“Shhhhhh!”

Seriously? Ok fine. I’m whispering, but it’s four thirty in the morning and I’m not indulging this shit until sun up.”

“What happened to all your Christmas spirit crap?”

“I left it in bed; where I should be.”

“Knock it off. You’re the one who dragged me up to the mountains for some stupid Christmas rendez-vous. The least you can do is not let us die here.”

“Well it seems you have it perfectly under control. .. [sigh] Okay, I’m sorry. Don’t look at me like that. I’m just tired. It’s fine. Let’s check it out.”

“Thank you. It came from over there, I think.”

Tink tink tack

“There it is again!”

“Yeah – ok, that is weird. I think it came from the attic, though. Pass me the flashlight.”

“Don’t you have another one?”

“No.”

“Why did you bring me to a cabin with no electricity and one freaking flashlight?”

“Because I want to see you squirm, obviously. Follow me.”

 

“Jaime? Wait up, please. Ouch. Dammit. “

“You okay?”

“Yeah, stubbed my – AHHHHHH!”

“Aubrey! Run!”

“Let go! Ah – No! JAMIE!”

snap.

******

“Aubrey? Can you please describe the incident, again?”

“[sniffle] Mmhm. Jaime just wanted us to have a nice Christmas, you know? Not have to deal with our families and stuff. Let it be about us for once, not about our choices.”

“So, once again, You and Jaime arrived at what time?”

“Noon. No one was in the house. I mean… [sniffle]… I don’t think. I guess we didn’t check it out until I heard it in the night.”

“And what time was that?”

“Uhh.. shit, I don’t know. Four, Four thirty. I should call someone… Yeah, can I call someone?”

“You did. You called your brother. He’s on his way.”

“Right.”

“Aubrey?”

“Yeah, sorry. Uhh, like four thirty. And we were trying to follow the sound. Fuck. That sounds so dumb now…”

“Go on.”

“Yeah, so we were checking it out, and Jaime got really far ahead of me so I was rushing. I stubbed my toe and when I bent over something grabbed me from behind.”

“Go on.”

“I should call someone.”

“Your brother is on his way. Tell us what happened next.”

“I-I can’t. I mean, I don’t know. It fucking grabbed me, [sniffle], it fucking grabbed me! And Jaime lunged and – ahh. I don’t know. But it killed Jaime. Just like that. I don’t even know how it happened, really. Can I call someone now?”

******

“So I guess they made the naughty list.”

“Haha. Looks like it. Or the more obvious – lover’s quarrel?”

“Maybe. Kid seems pretty traumatized though.”

“All we have from the crime scene is the glove. Covered in blood. That doesn’t scream evil Saint Nick.”

“True.”

RIIIING

“Detective Carson… Another one?… Okay, we’re on our way.”

“Same description?”

“Yup. Fat guy in a red suit with a hell of a right hook.”

“Eyes scooped out of the vic?”

“Yup.”

“I’ll drive. Oh, and someone get our witness a phone.”

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©