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Saturday Shorts: Country Roads

Country Roads

Even with the heater going full blast, Susan could barely feel her fingers for the cold. Her thick mittens did little to take the bone deep chill of the truck cabin away. The snow fell thickly outside, reflecting the headlights of the truck in odd ways, making the road more treacherous than it already was, the wipers working furiously. The snow danced like ghosts across the stretch of abandoned back road.

Susan hated early mornings, when the sun was still hours away from rising, and absolutely loathed the cold. Despite these certainties, she loved the snow, as it was beautiful in its own way. It was part of the reason she had stayed in North Dakota, despite her hatred of winter. The other reason she had stayed for so many years was why she was up at such an ungodly hour in the first place, driving when it was likely that every weather and news station in the county was advising against even going out your front door.

The trailer she was towing behind the truck pulled along, following in the ruts created by the full ton trucks winter tires. For all Susan knew, she wasn’t even driving on the actual road, since the only markers that made the stretch a road in this weather was her ingrained memory from having come this way countless times before. Hell, she almost missed the turn off indicator as she came up to it, though in reality it was not an official demarcation of destination, just an old oak tree, branches now heavy with snow, the indicated she had reached her turn. With a hard jerk on the wheel, she managed to make the cut, the chains on her tires gripping the snow and the gravel below it to keep her from sliding; the trailer bounces along behind. In this storm, the tree was her only indication that she was at the pasture. The snow was so uniformly white and even that it was all muscle memory and reflex at this point, keeping her calm and steady behind the wheel.

Another five minutes of steady travel into the pasture, and she was actually beginning to be able to feel her fingers, though it could just as easily been the beginnings of frostbite, as she had had a brush or two with that in the past. It would have been glorious to be able to sit in the cabin of the truck, as the warmth began to slowly leach away the battering cold, but she was at her destination and there was no time to dawdle. She was not the only thing that was likely feeling cold, as it was  ‘ not fit for man nor beast out there’, as her dad had been want to say when he was alive.

With a deft twist, Susan cut the lights on the truck, and shifted to neutral, letting the truck and trailer roll forward to a slow and steady stop. Reaching up, she made sure her knit cap was pulled down tight over her ears, meeting the edge of the heavy scarf she had wound round and round her neck. Quickly, as if she were removing a band-aid, she threw the truck door open and jumped down, trudging through the near knee-high snow towards the back of the trailer. From inside, these was the distinctive sound of hooves on metal, and puffs of steam rose from the small ventilation windows. The bleating of a handful or tired and upset sheep echoed off the bare trailer walls, as the flock made its protest known. The smell of wet wool and lanolin was just strong enough to cut over the cold and crisp air of the storm, which numbed the nose almost to the point of being useless.

Susan could hardly blame the sheep for being disagreeable, their foul mood was something she could relate to, given the circumstances. Being pulled from warm stocks at herded into a semi warm trailer at 3;00 AM would have that effect on anyone, though some would be able to protest in much more horrendous fashions. Susan lowered her scarf ever so slightly and let loose two short, shrill whistles that cut over the wind, and the sheep settled somewhat in the trailer, letting out a few soft baa’s as back talk.

Despite the thickness of her gloves, the little bit of warmth she had begun to feel was already bleeding away, so Susan made quick work of removing the dual lock and pins that held the back ramp in place. The ramp sank down into the snow, not resting fully level, but angling enough that it would be a short transition of trailer to ground for her charges. The latch that held the rolling door secure was a little bit more tricky, especially as the snow continued to fall and quickly cover every surface it could, but years of repetition made quick work of the obstacle. As the door rolled up the sheep, who had been huddled together near the back of the trailer, began moving forward toward the ramp, more out of habit than from any command, given that this was not their first time being transported. Susan moved away from the back of the trailer, the sheep descending the ramp into the snow one after the other in some bizarre game of follow the leader. Once the last of the flock, seven in total, had founds its way down the ramp and did not look like it would be retreating back into the trailer, Susan made quick work of closing the rolling door and locking the ramp back up, before she slowly worked her way back to the open door of the cabin, making sure none of the sheep tried to follow her. They stayed where the were, huddling together in the snow-covered field, their wool blending in with the snow while their black faces stood in stark contrast, even in the relative darkness.

Putting one foot back into the cabin and hoisting herself up with the door, Susan let loose another shrill series of whistles, which set the sheep into a nervous stomping. Taking a deep breath, the cold cutting her lungs like knives, she raised her voice over the storm, shouting into the darkness;

“Come out and get them, they’re all yours!”

With a quick pull and a dive across the seats, her  head down with her arms over it, Susan slammed the door behind her, just as the whoosh of something larger and heavier than a jet engine overtook the pasture, hidden by the snow. Susan did not dare look up, did not dare even breath, until there was nothing left but silence.

-Megan

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Saturday Shorts: The Doctor Is In

The Doctor Is In

With surgical precision, she peeled the skin back from the muscle. With practices and slow motions, she positioned the flaps of skin down on the mounting blocks, and pinned it in place, the latex of her gloves offering a sure grip, despite the blood which covered the fingers.

Now that the skin was taken care of, moved and held away from the forearm, she could begin her work. It had been hard going, but this was not her first try. It had helped immensely that the chosen patient was in optimal condition, with no other health complications or previous work to put her into more difficult territory.

Now, her gloves were slick with blood, having taken the time to carefully deal with the subject, she knew it could not have been avoided, only made minimal so as not to become a larger concern. The inside of the gloves were even more uncomfortable, coated now with sweat that caused the material to lose a bit of its purchase. She would have rather not had to use the clingy latex gloves, but they were a necessary precaution, and the only thing that had been in stock. That shortage was something she was going to have to see about in the future.

Setting her scalpel down, she picked up her small scissors and got down to the truly challenging work. With the forearm muscles exposed, Flexor Carpi Radialis and  Brachioradialis she reminded herself,  and in such fine condition, it made it very easy to determine where the tendons lay. There was o excess fat to get in the way. Very carefully, with great concentration to keep her hands from shaking even the most imperceptible micron, she snipped the tendons cleaning, watching the tension leave it like a snapped bowstring. Setting aside the scissors, and wiping her bloody hands on her scrub pants, she smile. Carefully, as if touching china, she reached in and took hold of the  tendons, using both hands to take two between her fingers on each hand.

With a triumphant exhalation, she manipulated the tendon as if she was dealing with a human puppet, carefully pulling back on and releasing the tension slowly in order to watch the fingers on the hand open and close. The fingers responded, less smoothly at first, but soon fluidly as she learned the correct amount of force to use, Eventually the fingers waved back in a macabre semblance jazz fingers.

“See,” the girl grinned broadly, glancing up the table at the man, gagged and restrained firmly to the table, eyes wide in fear and pain not fully dulled by the sleeping pill she had slipped him earlier in the evening when she had suggested their next activity, ” I told you it would be fun if we played doctor.”

-Megan

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Saturday Short: Just Like Granny Annie

Granny Annie’s apple pies!

Nothing like a heaping helping of delicious apple pie to chase away a busy day.

Try Granny Annie’s and you’ll be surprised at how the worries just melt away.

You haven’t had a pie until you’ve tried Granny Annie’s Granny Apple Pie!

The radio switched back to the afternoon’s smooth jazz, its sounds filling the small kitchen as Alice worked. Alice had always prided herself on her pie making ability, and her crusts were simply the flakiest in the neighbourhood. She  made apple pies that made judges cry, and she had the county and state faire ribbons to prove it. She had even been in the Great Northwest Exposition Finals, beaten only by the creations of Granny Annie herself. That was nothing to bat an eye at, since Granny Annie had been winning first place ribbons for her pie since before Alice had even been born.

Of course, now that Granny Annie had gone to meet the Almighty Pie Man in the sky, Alice saw nothing between her and complete victory in the upcoming Country and State Fair competition. She would even be so bold as to go beyond and say that there was no one left in the whole Midwest region who could come close to her skill with a crust. of course, she would only ever think that in the privacy of her own home kitchen; best to be humble and gracious in the public eye, don’t you know.

Alice had been practicing all winter, adding new twists to her crust, and tweaking the flavours just so. She had redoubled her efforts since the news had announced the passing of Annie, knowing that there would be housewives and gastronomy aficionados coming out of the woodwork to try to snatch up the accolades and sponsorships that had once belonged to the old women. A gap had been created at the very to of the massive pyramid of pie backers, and there would be stiff competition ahead. But Alice had something that none of the others had, something that she had ventured far afield to get, and secret back to her home.

Now, Alice had that ace of her proverbial dress sleeve, and a sprinkle of new magic on her apron. Delicately, she cut herself a piece from the pie she had just removed from the oven, letting the savoury scent cascade through the small room, curling her toes at the warmth of it. She hoped that it would taste as good as it smelled, this was her first savoury pie, and she could not afford to have it not be delicious down to the last bite. Alice smiled as she carefully pressed her fork through the golden crust, the gravy leaking out across the plate. With measured steps, she brought the fork up, being sure that no drops fell on her apron. Raising it in salute to the other side of her kitchen counter, she took a bite, closing her eyes to enjoy as the flavour slipped over her palate. She found it delicate, the texture not that much unlike chopped roast beef, but the flavour more mellow, like a slow roasted pork loin. She ate the bite and exhaled slowly before smiling, all in all, it could use more spice, but it was edible, and that was what Alice needed most

” Oh, Granny Annie, for all your prizes, your pies lack a little in the kick department. Still, you certainly make a very nice pie.”

Alice smiled again and winked at the skull set at the other end of the counter, over seeing the oven. It provided no comeback, no quip. Granny Annie had always been humble and very soft spoken.

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Wanted: Avid Listener

 

He could hear her voice, even with his ears full of screams. Despite his efforts, the voice was no louder or clearer than what he had first begun to hear it speak. Some words echoed, and if he listened hard enough he was able to decipher some of the words, to begin to make sense what t was she was asking of him. However, most of her words were still too faint, still beyond his ability to comprehend. Sometimes he wanted to cry, to scream so long and so loud that it hurt. Until his throat was raw and bloody. All in the hopes the somehow, his own suffering would make the words come more clearly.

Shakily, he ran his hands down his unkempt face, over coarse whiskers and craggy skin, leaving trails of filth in the wake of his fingers. He repeated the actions over and over, until his face was just as dirty as his hands, just as imperfect and flawed. He did it without seeming to take notice, sweat from his brown joining in to the mess.

The room where he lived and did most of his work was barely lit, the merger light emanating from the crude braziers and a single lantern which hung from the lower timber rafters cast more shadows than illumination. Despite the small space, it was by no means a hovel. He strived to keep it clean especially when he had guests. They were the ones who ended up making a mess of the place, who abused his generous hospitality. It wasn’t as if he asked for much from his guests in exchange for all that he did for from. He was a humble man, and his requests were no sort of imposition. He didn’t ask them for money, or favours exchange for his generosity. He would give anything that was asked of him, his possessions were of little consequence to him, and he would offer every last piece of himself and all that was his to anyone who asked, provided they did not seek it out of personal greed.

Truthfully speaking, he felt that was he asked from his guests, his only request in return for all that he could possibly give, was small and of little consequence. What he asked was so small intact, that he found it absolutely astounding the amount of times his request was refused. All his guests had to do to fully benefit from all he had to offer, was to sit quietly for a time and listen to his stories. He did admit that some of his stories could be considered boring and sad, as some were tales of miseries and sadness long passed.

But those stories were just the beginning. Everything had changed for him, and for his stories, when she had started to speak to him. She was his fire, his muse, his very reason to continue living, and if only they would listen to his stories of her, they would see how inspiring and awe-inspiring she truly was. He just needed his guests to under what she meant to him.

All of his guests so far seemed to get excited, elated, and hopeful when he told them about how sh had some to save him. For a brief, shining moment, they would forget about themselves, empathize with him, and he was certain that there was nothing better in the whole world than seeing how she inspired that wide-eyed glee in others, just as she had in him.

He loved to watch those eyes light up, and fill with tears of pure joy when he told them, no, when he asked them to help him understand what it was she whispered into his ear now, in the dark of night when no one else was around. Her voice had long begun to fade beyond his hearing. whether this was due to age, or some other ailment, he did not know, but it burned at his very soul, and sent waves of sadness over him when he thought that one day soon, he would no longer even be able to hear her whispers.

He rejoiced, danced as much as his cold bones would allow him, when his guests, like him, cried out for her to come and save them, just as she had saved him. They begged her to save them from their own suffering. It was a new miracle, each and every time, and he felt as if hope returned to him when they agreed to help him, when they dropped to their knees and begged for him to let them help.

But, as with so many times in his life, hope and joy were short-lived. without fail, it seemed, each of his guests would prove to be incapable of keeping their word. Liars and thieves were prolific, and they sought to take even what little he had left in the world. So far, every one of his guests had proven incapable, unable to hear the full glory of her voice, unable to hear what she was saying with any clarity, some even proving more hard of hearing than him was. Some guests had even thrown his hospitality in his face, trying their backs on their promises and their pleas. They would lie to him about her words; he was never certain why. Some, he thought, simply were going deaf, while others like hard her voice and wanted to keep the joy and comfort all to themselves.

It was always the liars, he had come to discover, that could hearth voice of his saviour clearly. Liars were never to be tolerated, they spat in both his face and her face, trying to take everything the were offered without fulfilling their promises and his request in any meaningful way. She knew who the liars were as well, and it was when they were present that he voice surged most clearly to him these days, like a bell in the fog off the sea. She advised him not to trust the liars, they were going to destroy him and steal all that he had fought so long and so hard for. They would steal her away as well, if he gave them the chance.

Eventually, when the lairs and the deaf knew that he could tell they were not being truthful, they would turn violently against him, breaking hospitality. They would try to weasel out of their agreements, out of their promises. They would try to sway him with offerings, bribing him with things that he did not want, that he had no need of. Those guests always left before the sun rose the morning after they came to visit. They would go, and leave him with their mess.

The screams that evening were almost completely silenced when he finally felt her presence, her voice at his ear as her words ghosted past his conscious mind. It was elusive and ephemeral, and her touch as she spoke in his ear was quickly fading, words cutting in and out, half -formed. They told him that he had been right, these guests had been unable to hear her as well, unable to take her words and bring them to the light where he wold be able to fully understand them once again. They had left a speculator mess behind as well, strewn and splashed across the floor with no regard for that fact that it would take him hours to clean.

Picking up the broken ladle he had used to serve that nights fare, he returned to his task, guided ever neared to the realization that her voice might now be forever beyond his grasp. Perhaps, once he had really tidied up, tomorrow’s guest would be different, would prove to finally be able to help him discover her words, to find out what it was she was asking off him now. How best to serve his lady. Perhaps, they would finally be able to hear her as well, if he opened their ears a little further.  As he began the task piling the broken bits of meat together, he ran his hand over his face, trying to clear some of the thick blood from his whiskers. The liars were always the ones who left him with the biggest mess, and even less of his hard-won sanity.

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Last Thursday Review: Locke & Key Small World

SPOILER WARNING: Be mindful, there may be spoilers here. Turn back if you are as eager to read this graphic novel without and poor knowledge of the content,

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Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

When I first stumbled on Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s Locke & Key in my local comic store, I wasn’t sure what to think, aside from the fact that the first couple of pages were interesting enough to warrant that I would spend my hard-earned money on it. At the time, going to school full-time for an undergraduate degree and working in a video store, I was rather tight about how I spent my little bit of cash.

But that day, I went home with a winner that would quite literally become one of the few collections that I was hooked on enough, at the time, to go out and buy immediately, no matter what was in my bank account or where I was working.

Now, in 2017, Hill and Rodriquez have tempted those who fell in love with the twisted history of Key House and Lovecraft, with another shiny hardcover, Locke and Key: Small World. As far as size goes, this column does feel quite short, clocking in at under 25 pages of comic. So, rather than a full size story, the reader is greater with what feels like a single issue of a comic, sweetened with a few extras (art, original script, adaptation views, and interviews). All in all, it barely sates the appetite for new content that fans of the series (such as myself) have been craving since the end of the original series. However, in the contained interview, Hill and Rodriguez promise that there are more stories to come entering around these characters, Key House, and Lovecraft. So far, this seems limited to some short stories and collections, with the speculation of another six arc story (no commitment to that as of yet, it seems to just be an idea.) They also promise that the long-awaited television series with IDW Entertainment is still on the table.

The story itself is currently self-contained, taking you through a single experience by some of the Locke ancestors. The art, as always, is beautifully rendered, the detail excellent and the colour vivid.

Despite this, I found that the story itself was somewhat lacking. As a current ‘stand alone’ tale, Small World is just that, small. Where previously readers were drawn in to Bode, Tyler, and Kinsey, and thrown right into the darkness within the first 5 pages of Welcome to LovecraftSmall World does not seem to lend itself to the same connection of character to reader. The Locke children seem quite cookie cutter. It seems as if a bit of connection was sacrificed in order to keep the story short and sweet. They are mapped on the page with care, but there seems to be pieces missing where the reader is supposed to feel for them. Each is most definitely individual, but aside from the stereotypical archetypes (the little lady, the trouble maker, the sage, and the fighter), there wasn’t much that seemed to make them a part of Locke and Key save for the fact that they are cast as part of the long line of Lockes to live in Keyhouse. At times, aside from the name and a double page decimated to introducing the readers to the new (or older) Locke family, it seems as if it could have been anyone waltzing across the page in the rolls.

The story, as said earlier, is linear. There are no flash backs, no flash forwards, and the whole tale seems to take place over perhaps the entirety of 3 hours, with very little fanfare, and even less exploitation of the previous dark atmosphere created by Hill and Rodriguez. The threat is quite mundane, only made a threat by the mishandling of a key. There is very little anxiety created by the monster that shows up, and the end is abrupt (though personally, I definitely grinned just a bit, because it was totally something that felt in tune with the level of threat created). Maybe this is because the family is not dealing , or has not yet dealt, with the true nature and breadth of what lies buried under Keyhouse, and as such the level of threat cannot reasonably be presented on the same scale.

There is one bit of the story that did have me perplexed, and that had to do with the previously established idea that one someone grows up in Keyhouse, they forget the magic of the keys, because the adult mind simply can’t handle what those keys mean. In this volume, three adults, all Locke’s, actively and knowingly engage in episodes with they key items. We know that Randell Locke, and even Ellie Whedon, forgot about the keys once they became adults (Ellie being a bit of an exception later on, as we learn that she has been manipulated). However, in this short story, not only do the adults know about the keys, but one actively created a new key as a ‘birthday present’ to teach his daughter how to manage a house, but another actively utilizes the Shadow Crown to tell stories. Now, there could be a reason for that, but I felt that the establishment that only the young could understand, use, and see the power of the keys was an integral part of those whole story, and that going back on it seems a little heavy-handed for such a finely crafted story.

All in all, Locke and Key Small World was a decent return to the world that Hill and Rodriguez built, and it could be a promising connection to another series in that same world. However, it does have its pitfalls. Value wise, it seemed a bit much to through such a small story into hardcover. I know it has been done before, but it seems like they are leaving the world and the story out there to float on its own, without any truly secure mooring. The beauty of the art fills in where the story falls flat, but there are holes that were overlooked. I hope that when Hill and Rodriguez return again to this generation of Locke’s, they will be able to bring back more of the thrill and imagination that existed in the original series.

3.5/5 for me, all things considered. Still feels right to have in on the shelf next to the other hardcover editions of the series. but, for something that was announced with a fair bit of hype in June 2016, it seems fairly scanty on the delivery.

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Veil of Shadows (A work in progress)

I have been researching and writing academically rather exclusively, yet I felt that it would set a bad precedent for dedication to my blog if I did not create a post of some substance. What I present in the following short paragraphs is a work-in-progress, something that I wrote on an urge and the beginnings of an idea. As such, it is not fully realized yet, and the idea and plot are still in their infancy. If a story could have an explanatory preamble to shape it, this would be it. I encourage feedback, as this is a little bit different then my previous posts, as it is not a fully thought story nor an analytical reflection or insight. Likely, until I am finished the current research paper I am writing, I will post snippets of my writing in progress or poetry. In addition,

 Veil of Shadows

There are things in the dark. It is generally laughed at past childhood, but it is still true. In the corners filled with shadows everything exists simultaneously; from the smallest sigh to the largest nightmare, here they can be found. Even those things which we are no longer afraid of. I was eight when I stopped believing in the things that go bump in the night. I was fifteen when I went to New Orleans and left my mark on the Tomb of the Bayou Queen, as a joke. When I was twenty-one I started to believe in those moving shadows once more. Those shadows have more physical presence than any other being in reality.

The first time I began to question the existence of ghosts and the supernatural was after I had turned nineteen; this was also the time that my father died of lymphoma. Sitting there, in the hospital room next to the shell of a man who I hardly recognized, I began to see the shadows of the world again. Maybe it was punishment for so foolishly calling on the Bayou Queen; after all, what woman, even one long dead, would want to inflict such suffering on a child? That night, as my fathers breathing grew shallow, and the pall of death overshadowed the room, I saw them.

At first I was convinced that they were just hallucinations, brought on by the stress and grief I was experiencing for the first time in my life; but as the hours passed, they grew more solid. My mother didn’t notice them, climbing over his body, their long fingers running over his smooth scalp, pulling at the paper-thin skin covering nothing more than bone. I could only sit and watch as they shifted from wisps of shadow to full formed beings, sitting on his chest and making it more difficult for him to breathe. They paid the rest of us no attention, probably because we were not the reason for their foray into the physical realm. The more solid they grew the more my father’s vitals faded, until he was nothing but a lifeless shadow and they were finished with their task.

From that point on, I saw the world differently. The Bayou Queen has rewarded my foolish wish, giving me the ability to see those things that would rather keep themselves hidden. I could see perfectly, without need of the glasses I had detested as a child, but sometimes I saw far too much. In every shadow there were hands, in each secretive face a sinister shifting of skin. I could see everyone for who they truly were.

After my father’s funeral I moved away from home; my mother was inconsolable, and I couldn’t take it on top of learning to deal with this new, unwanted facet of my life. So I packed my bags and transferred out-of-state, out of country even. But even then, the shadows followed me. They sought me out, in acknowledging my own ability to see them, they began to see me in turn. Sometimes I was only there to be an ear to the voices in the night, to hear what held them to the coils of the human realm, what they had desired, or how they had come to be. Other times, well those could get to be much less pleasant than hearing about the fires of creation and the monsters that one only thinks of as being part of children’s fantasy.

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