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 Morning After

The sound of his heaving envelops you; your heart rate syncs itself to the chase. At some point you start to pant and realize your sweating – slippery, sticky, terrified. Your legs go numb. Your thoughts start to jumble. You try to plan your next move and the one after that. The only signal your brain seems to compute anymore is GO.

So you go. It’s all instinct, now. You go, go, go. You know you can’t keep going, and yet – you do. There’s a desire you never knew you had; a desire so strong it fuels you when you have nothing left to give. It’s the desire to live.

He catches your arm and in an instant it might be all over. Might be – but it’s not. Because you drive the knife right through him. And the skin is tougher than you imagined; everything under it, softer. Physically, it’s a difficult thing to do, but you do it. He drops. The blood seeps out of him and crawls towards you; disappears under your feet and surrounds you.

You did it. You survived. Now what?

Song and Salacity

It had begun as a typical night.  There was a light howl in the wind, whispering desires through the air; a flutter to the crisp leaves that hung from the branches above, plotting their descent; a flap of wings, eager to dance to the sirens’ song.

Percie had just completed a tiresome novel by the fire.  The sun had just begun to set and she decided to ease her eyes by letting the night pour in.  She smothered the fire and breathed deeply, allowing the scent of char to wash through her.  In the kitchen, Percie prepared herself a cup of warm milk on the gas stove.  The crickets had begun their annoying symphony, but she knew her songstress’ would put an end to it soon.  Anything that bothered Percie was considered a threat in the eyes of her winged protectors.

As she sipped her milk, Percie gazed at the blackness outside of her back window.  It was not unusual for her to do this; it calmed her to affix her sights on something non-specific.  Otherwise, they grew weary, and she became utterly aware of her aching body.  But tonight, something felt different.  There was an eeriness about the night that seemed to be staring right back at her.  Believing it to mean her subconscious was warning her that she had forgotten to tend to her garden, Percie placed her cup down and reluctantly walked over to the sink.  The crickets had hushed and a low rhythmic humming was in the air now.  Her songstress’ had fed, but only a little.

Outside, she flitted about the garden, swiping her dainty fingertips against petals to check for dampness.  It did seem as though all of her plants had been watered, which all the more confused her.  Something was making her uneasy.  As her heart rate sped up, the humming grew louder.  Her songstress’ could sense her distress and were growing anxious by it.  She was happy to have their protection, but also needed to assure them that, for the moment, everything seemed alright.  If she did not, they may become undisciplined.  Temperamental as they were, she loved them.  She offered a reassuring whistle, lacing it with a familiar cadence that they returned before falling back to their quiet, watchful, humming.

Back inside, Percie let the rest of her milk flow down the drain.  She watched it spiral away, tickled by the image of disappearance, until she was jarred back to reality by a squawk so violently intrusive that she had to bring both hands to her ears.  Losing her balance, she fell over and cried out gently.

It was her songstress’; their worry and tension had suddenly turned to erratic vexation.

Percie scrabbled about until she was on all fours, simultaneously basking in the pain and trying to detach herself from it.  That was the thing about sirens, their pain was inviting. Even Percie, a keeper and beloved friend, was not immune.

The squawking continued to rise.  The pitch seemed impossible, and yet, there it was forcing its way into her.  The songstress’ had found a real threat.  Something terrible was out there.  Against her better instincts, Percie began the tedious task of crawling out to the garden.  For this, she had to rely upon her forearms and fingertips, for, her legs were incapacitated by the invasive song.  Her hair was in her eyes now, and she grunted in a high pitch, almost matching her songstress’ emphatic levels.

When she finally made it to the back door the squawking had begun to lull. Sensation tingled a return up Percie’s legs, making their throb more apparent.  Every muscle in her body screamed.  It was always like this when they fed – always.  Percie staggered through the gardens and around to the back of their tree.  She knew she would find them there, and she did.

As she came upon her protectors she squinted impotently through the dark, but their shadows were immediately apparent.  Three heads bobbed up and down excitedly.  Their song was now reduced to a croon, backed by a ruffle as their wings flapped with appeasement.

Although he made no sound, Percie could see their slender arms pulling and tugging at their victim.  A man who thought he could creep about, unnoticed – watching, lurking.  A man who thought he was a predator when in fact he was merely prey.

One feeder sensed Percie’s presence and rose from the earth, elongating her crouched legs.  Percie caught a glimpse of her bouncing breasts in the moonlight as she turned to face her.  She smiled graciously, knowing the songstress could see her well.  The other two continued to feast, though there could not have been much of the man left. The thrilling obscenity of the picture caused Percie’s heart to pound against her chest.

The standing songstress soon curled herself back to a perched position, guarding the others.  She let her wide bronze wings fold over one another so that only one eye would remain exposed.  Percie could not see this exactly, but knew the posture well enough to imagine it distinctly.  Drained from the ordeal, she let herself drop to the cold ground, and then lied flat against it.  All she felt now was an exhaustive satisfaction.

When the songstress’ had had their fill, they took flight over Percie’s amative body, offering a resuscitating breeze.  It was as welcomed as the bright moon.  Their eyes twinkled until they disappeared again into the treetops, while Percie slept deeply, and fully.

© 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 ©

And then the Feeders Came

Jeanette stared at the sunrise as it melted its glow over the city’s smog. The smell of jet fuel and sweat mingled through the air and carried up her nasal passage, making it tickle and itch. It was amazing to her that as the population shrunk, the stench of labor grew.

“Going hunting today?” Abe asked.

Jeanette shrugged. The question seemed superfluous. She couldn’t remember the last day she hadn’t hunted. She also couldn’t remember the last day one of the feeders hadn’t hunted her. The hunt was all that existed anymore.

“Listen,” Abe continued, his tone suddenly stark. “We gotta head north. I know how you feel about it but -”

Jeanette snarled dismissively. It was the closest she’d come to a laugh in a long time. A week ago she would have shot words as sharp as darts at Abe. Head north for what? It’s a bullshit lie. The feeders are there too, you know. They’re everywhere. You know that. But today, today she didn’t have the fight in her. So she just snarled, and kept her eyes facing forward. From her peripherals, she could see Abe huffing, his heart aching at her coldness.

“What’s left for us here, Jeanette? Vicki and I have thought it through. Even Garret says -”

“I don’t care what Garret says.” There they were, the darts. Laced with poison at the mention of Garret; an amateur who couldn’t last a day on his own. They had taken him in for his eidetic memory thinking he’d be  an asset – until a few days ago when he had almost gotten them all killed.

Abe stepped back as a show of faith. He knew he had taken the wrong approach and was surveying his mind eagerly for the right one. Jeanette faced him and let out a slow, frustrated, sigh. Her resistance to heading north was purely based on logic. Travelling ill-equipped and malnourished was a bad idea. It was best to stay put, where the grounds were familiar. But she had to admit, Abe’s logic was sound too.

The malnourishment would not be solved by staying put. They had depleted their food sources. The Hudson was their best bet now. As for Garret, he might be a coward and a poor shot, but he was a human map. He’d get them there. That was true.

“I agree, Jeanette. The theory that these things can’t survive the cold is just that, a theory. But how do we prove it if we sit here, rotting in the sun, shooting feeders from afar until we run out of squirrels and ammo?”

Abe smiled at Jeanette in that warm way that always settled her. By sundown the four of them were headed north, with Garret leading the way and Vicki by his side, gun-drawn at all times. She was one of the few soldiers who had stayed behind with the civilians when the military pulled out of their zone. Jeanette had prodded her for answers: Where was the military going? What was the plan? She never answered a single question. Within hours of the abandonment, the fences had been torn down and most of the population made a run for it – most right into the arms of feeders.

“It’s a good time for it,” Abe assured Jeanette who couldn’t help but look unsure of each step she took. He continued, “by the time we get there, we should still have a month or two before the snow.”

“And then?”

“And then, we acquire winter survival skills.”

“If we make it that long,” Jeanette mumbled.

“We will.”

On the third night, Jeanette scratched a seventh slash in her rock. She liked the idea of keeping track of how many feeders they encountered. It was a hangover from being a records keeper in a past life. She had to admit, the trek had not been quite as dangerous as she had expected, and it gave everyone a reason to keep going. Goals were healthy.

She sat by the fire, quietly thinking about how glad she was that they were all doing this together. Hell, she and Garrett were even being civil again. The fog was thick, a blanket that made everything seem a little unreal; a little magical, even. The air had a sweetness to it she couldn’t place, and even though they were still eating rodents, she was excited for the fish. The Hudson was known to have had over 200 species at one point.

As she lay under the heavy sky, Jeanette drifted off to all the best thoughts and let good dreams take her over. For once, things seemed to be falling into place.

And then the feeders came. A hoard of them greater than any other they had ever encountered. Jeanette was thrust awake by inarticulate screams. Vicki was probably giving orders to the others; Garret was probably babbling through tears; Abe was likely hollering for ammo. He was kicking wood from the fire towards the coming monsters. But they were still coming, and it was over before it began.

A small group leapt on Abe, taking him down in one swift motion. His screams became garbled as his wide eyes stared into Jeanette’s from across the way. She sat, frozen, only partially upright where she had been sleeping so peacefully just moments before. Simultaneously, a larger group descended upon Garret. He tried to run but fell, inviting the feeders down onto him. Vicki ran towards Jeanette, hand extended, wanting to pull her out of her shock. But Jeanette just stared at the hand, trying to process how her dream had so quickly turned into a nightmare. And how the world had so quickly become this Hell.

The feeders got Vicki from behind. The blood splattered across Jeanette’s face, bringing her back to life. She scrambled up and ran. She ran faster than humanly possible. She ran further than humanly possible. And not once did she look back.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

 

 

Duplicitous

Someone else lives inside my head now. Or, I am a shell for someone else’s mind. I can’t decide; but I prefer the former. It implies I still exist, however true or untrue that may be.

“No big deal,” I was told after the accident. “Just a snip here, a snip there. A replacement or two inside there. Good as new.”

And here I am, a shared space.

In all fairness though, I’m mostly me; but every once in a while – like a switch – I’m incalculable.

Dangerous, mysterious, out of my mind.

And here I am, blood on my face.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©