Category: short stories

Dead Man’s Grasp

The key is kept in the dead man’s grasp.

That was it. That was all I had. A clue whispered to me through breaks in a fever dream. I held on to it tightly. I repeated it to myself over and over so it would not slip away.

I had been aware of someone in my room- a dark figure that I immediately knew was not a nurse. He came closer. He smelled of the sea. He made no noise when he walked. I did not see his face, but I did hear him whisper. The key is kept in the dead man’s grasp. I remember the moment of clarity in hearing those words. I knew exactly what he meant. I remember nodding, or at least trying to.

And then he was gone and the room was painfully bright. Monitors beeped beside me. A nurse had just finished opening my curtains. I remembered the man. I remembered his words. But I did not remember the meaning. I tried to sit up. If I could just get to the man. If I could just get him back I could ask him what he meant. The nurse gently pushed me back down. “Good to have you back with us,” he beamed at me.  He did not sound like the man. “We thought that fever might never break. It’s best if you lie still for a while, so we can keep an eye on you.”

He poured some water in to a plastic cup and handed it to me.  As I drank, I looked around. The room was familiar. I knew where I was. I’d flitted in and out of consciousness in this bed and taken some of it in. It had felt like I’d had one foot here and one foot… somewhere else. Perhaps not so much flitting in and out of consciousness, as flitting between consciousness’s. I was crushed that this reality was the one which I was now confined to.

That thought arrived in my head and, as if on some kind of cue, my family arrived in my room. We talked and they seemed happy. The talked to the doctors about keeping me in for a few more days until they were sure the fever had passed. I couldn’t really focus on any of them. They had layers they kept hidden from me and I hadn’t been able to see it until now. There were secrets in their smiles, lies hidden in their hugs and in between us there was discord between who we are and who we all thought each other to be. We were all strangers on a first name basis. I was restless until they left.

They key is kept in the dead man’s grasp.

I whispered it over and over again until the sun set. Until the main lights went out. Then I got up and put on some of the clothes on that my mother had brought me and left on a chair by my bed. I took a nurse’s pass from behind reception and walked down the stairs and through the door marked ‘Morgue.’

I checked the hands of every corpse. No keys. Nothing. The closest I came to finding anything was a scalpel blade that had been left lying beside the hand of a dead man. I picked it up anyway and held it tight.

Maybe a bit too tight. The blade cut my palm.

The pain was another moment of clarity. The first I’d felt since I woke up. All of my former grogginess was gone. I grasped it tighter. My blood ran on to the floor.

I hear it drip, drip, drip. I heard it gush. I smelled the sea.

A dark figure that I knew was not a nurse stood by the doorway. “Come home,” he whispered.

 

Via Daily Post: Grasp

Fortune Teller

The fairground is nearly empty when you arrive. You pass tired children, drooped in their parents’ arms and insisting (between yawns) that they’re not tired and they can do just five more minutes. You step over candyfloss wrappers and coffee cups. It smells like burnt popcorn and roasted almonds. Some of the rides have shut down already and you can hear the rest slowing down around you.

The neon lights on the carnival rides and around the tented roofs of game stalls and food stands show you the way, like a convoy of fireflies. They lead you to the door of the Fortune Teller’s tent.

The door is, of course, already open and he has stood to greet you.

“I need-” you begin.

“I know,” he nods and the tent door swings shut, silently. He puts a gentle hand on either side of your face. He tells you this will hurt, but not for long and then he reaches in to the back of your throat, down in to your chest and scoops out your heart.

It is excruciating. But not for long.

When he puts it down on the table you feel so much lighter. You sit across from him and you both stare at your heavy heart on the table.

It does not look the way that you thought it would. You were prepared for something heart-shaped, or at worst some blood and gore, but what sits in front of you is more like a large, matted bundle of string. It’s like when you pull a clump of hair from a shower drain, except every strand is a different colour. You had no idea there were so many colours.

The Fortune Teller tuts. “My, my,” he says. “I haven’t seen a heart in this much of a tangle for a while. You’ve tied yourself in knots.”

He spends some time untangling them and shows you every one. Each heartstring is tied to a different person- a friend, a family member, an acquaintance, a colleague- people you’d known your whole life and people you’d only met for a day. The strings are all different thicknesses, different lengths.

You see the threads of your life laid out in front of you with perfect clarity. You can see the people who love you. You can see the ones who don’t. And you can see how significant each thread is.

“Now,” the Fortune Teller smiles a small smile. “Now that you can see it all, you have a choice. You can piece yourself back together. Or you can restart.”

Restart.

It sounds so easy. Like a reboot. A chance to do better the next time round. To fix all the things that went wrong now, but you know that’s not true. You know that restarting means a new life. New people. New ways to mess up. You know that it means the end of this life. Goodbyes. Tears. And funeral costs.

You look back up at the Fortune Teller. He smiles because he already knew what you would say and then you start to weave your life back together.

Via Daily Prompt: Restart

Lighthouse Keeper

At night the sea matches the sky. Clear midnight skies mean calm inky waters, a still blanket of stars beneath the heavens. Stormy skies mean turbulent seas, high winds tussling with high waves.

The Lighthouse Keeper sees it all.

She lives in circular walls. In the evenings she sets a mug down on her round kitchen table and pours herself a cup of tea. She then carries it up the long staircase that spirals up the inside of her lighthouse. On the side closest to the wall she has chipped away at the brickwork and now a small alcove runs parallel to the banister. She has partially filled it with hand-written notebooks.

It is her library.

Every now and then the sea and the sky will present her with a lost soul. She takes them in and make them cocoa. In return, they will give her their stories and she will write them down. Then, as they sleep, she would use the stories to judge where they should go- to the depths or to the heavens.

As she runs past them, she hears the pages whisper secrets and it sends a shiver up her spine.

She reaches the top, where her bed sits underneath a round trap-door. She stands on it and pushes it open with her free hand. Her other hand reaches up and sets the mug down on the floor above her. Then she pulls herself through. The glass dome opens up the world around her- sky, sea and land. They all circle her. They are all stormy, but the inside of the lighthouse is still.

The light spins in the centre. It is dim tonight. She knows this means the sea and sky will giver her a new soul and her spine tingles again. She is ready for more stories.

She watches the waves until she sees a ship being tossed in the swell. She sets down her cup of tea and makes her way back down the staircase. By the time she has reached the bottom and run barefoot into storm, a woman has washed up on her shore. She is cold. She is soaked through and slipping in and out of consciousness. The Lighthouse Keeper picks her up.

The woman’s eyes flicker open as she is carried back to the shelter of the Lighthouse. The Lighthouse Keeper smiles down at the woman in her and feels her soul flutter in her chest.

The light in the lighthouse burns brighter.

Via Daily Prompt: Dim

The Middle of a Vanishing Act

A wisp of smoke in the pitch black. It rises up from the ground and curls, like a incandescent snake climbing towards the moonlight. From its base, cracks of crimson shoot out towards you.

You stop… in case the ground is about to fall apart. You know you should run, but your hammering, awe-filled heart keeps you to rooted to the ground.

A sound in the silence. A faint, melodic hum and a perfectly in-time drum. It grows so loud that the cracks in ground pulse. They widen.

You can smell caramel apples. And freshly-made popcorn.

The wisp of smoke starts to move like a drawing on a chalkboard. The outline of a person in a top hat and a slightly billowing jacket. Applause leaks through the cracks in the ground. The dark space between the outline grows more solid and then there she is.

The applause is gone. The music stops. The cracks are sealed without a trace. The smoke disperses in to the night. And her surprised face stares at you from under her top hat. Her suit is midnight black. Her eyes a bright and piercing green.

“Where the hell did you come from?” she asks. And you almost laugh because you feel like you could ask her the same thing.

In stead, you ask, “Who are you?” Because that feels more polite.

“I’m a conjurer,” she says, conjuring up a caramel apple and handing it to you. “I usually disappear for a break during my vanishing act… I’ve never vanished to in front of a person before.”

“Don’t they notice you’re gone?” you ask.

“I can chose the moment of time I re-appear to. It’ll be seconds to them, but I could spend a few hours here. If you wouldn’t mind?”

You don’t know what to say, so you take a bite of the apple. Warm, sweet and delicious. It has a caramel core too.

She watches you and smiles so brightly it puts stars in the sky.

via Daily Prompt: Conjure

Lunar Express

She got to the station at 11.58 PM. She realised as she blinked at the electronic clock on the wall that she hadn’t even considered the possibility that there wouldn’t be any trains running at this time of night. She’d just packed up and stormed out. There was nobody around for her to ask, the station was empty- too small and too rural to bother staffing at this time of night.The station was poorly light and darker than usual, due to tonight’s Blood Moon that had turned the full moon red and stolen it’s light.

She sat down on a cold bench and considered going back to her boyfriend’s. She checked her phone. No call. No text. She wasn’t going back to him without at least one of those. Perhaps she’d have to sleep here. At least there was a vending machine nearby if she got peckish.

The clock ticked closer to midnight and she heard the sound of wheels on the track. A bright light in the darkness grew bigger as the train approached the station platform. She stood and picked up her bags. The train came to a stop as somewhere, deep in the village, a clock began to strike midnight. It was dark grey, with tinted windows that meant she couldn’t see inside. Perhaps because it was a night train? On the side the words “Lunar Express” were written in silver. It puzzled her that an express train would come to somewhere so remote.

She opened the door and stepped up in to the carriage, the gap between the train and the platform was higher than she was used to. The light inside the carriage inside was low, with a slightly orange hue. It was surprisingly full, but incredibly quiet. She sat down in the first seat she came to at the back and rummaged in her bag for her money.

The train pulled out of the station as the last of the clock chimes faded to nothing.

She didn’t know where she wanted to go- or even where the train was heading, but she hoped she had enough for at least one stop. That would be far enough to prove her point. She checked her phone again. Still nothing.

No call.

No text.

Oh wait – no signal. No Wi-Fi.

Maybe he was trying to call her and couldn’t get through. Were they in a tunnel?

She looked up. She could still see the full moon in the sky. It caught her off guard. It looked bigger, closer… and no longer red…?

She could no longer feel the judder of the trains on the track. It was too dark outside to see anything but the moon. Something felt wrong. She sat up a little straighter. The interior of this train was older than she had expected. and turned her attention to her fellow passengers. They all faced away from her in silence. She opened her mouth to clear her throat, but before she could make a sound they all turned to look at her at once. Old, faded faces with blank, dead eyes.

“I need to get off the train,” she heard herself say, standing up.

“You can’t do that, dear,” a voice behind her made her jump. “Not for a few hundred years at least. We only stop once in a Blood Red Moon.”

The clock in the village struck 12.01. A man arrived at the station to look for his girlfriend. In the distance he heard a train whistle that sounded like a scream.

via Daily Prompt: Express


 

Author: Clara Ross

The Lost City

There is a city that can only be found by those who are truly lost.

It starts in your soul, a tiny pin-prick of pain that you don’t notice until it spreads through your veins into your heart. Your body feels wrong and your thoughts are heavy, numb. Everything around you is hazy- like a dream- and you start to walk.

There is a tugging in your chest, an invisible thread has grown from that pin-prick and it’s pulling you somewhere.

You don’t know how you get there, but you stand on the shore of a city that’s shrouded in mist. This is where the lost things are. Buildings tower above you. When you look more closely you see that they are made from old hairpins and forgotten car keys. They have umbrella roofs. Worn glasses surround the windows and as you peer through you see that the room beyond is carpeted with odd socks. Misplaced watches hang on the walls, still ticking in different time zones. There are many phones- and even more phone chargers.

A cat runs past you. You think it looks familiar- one that lived on your street when you were a child, perhaps?

Deeper in to the City you walk past boats and planes, too rusty to leave here now. An engagement ring lies in a gutter and you feel too sad to pick it up. You start to forget which direction you came from. The tops of the buildings are now lost in the thick mist.

A cloaked figure at the end of a dark alleyway hands you a playing card. They walk past. You try to get a better look at them and think you see your own eyes glance back at you, but you can’t be sure.

On the card is written the date you die.

You now have two options- you go home and forget, or you play cards against those who live here. You win- you get more time on Earth and the date on the card changes. You lose- you gain an eternity, but you stay lost forever.


(Vaguely influence by Cecelia Ahern’s “A Place Called Here.”- which is a much more beautiful story about where missing things go and it’s not as weird or creepy.)

via Daily Prompt: Cloaked

The Reflection of You

There’s a parasite that lives behind mirrors. A detailed shadow that stares back at you when you clean your teeth or get caught in the dark screen between episodes of a Netflix show. It watches the way you walk past shop windows. It studies you from reflective surfaces at times when you think nobody is watching. It knows you better than anyone.

If you get too close it will climb through the image of itself in the reflection of your eye.

It won’t kill you right away. It will paralyse your first and take control. You will watch it live your life. Watch it do things you never wanted to. Watch destroy your relationships with people who don’t know it’s not really you. Because why would they?

It looks like you. It talks like you, walks like you. It fixes your hair like you do.

You will die and nobody will know there is a fraud living on in your skin.

via Daily Prompt: Fraud