To Be a Creature

Creatures are real. They live under beds, in basements, wherever they can go unnoticed. They are fearsome, but not cruel. They love small beings, like animals and babes. They want to protect them from monsters who hide behind the faces of humans.

The creatures have claws and hair made of snakes.

The monsters have bright smiles and sparkling eyes.

The creatures live in the dark. Shadows are their shelter.

The monsters live in the light. After all, shadows are full of creatures. They’re where danger lies.

Creatures sing the melodies they learned from the creatures that came before them. Songs of the brightness of the moon, the shining of stars, and falling asleep to the sounds of a forest.

Monsters say not to listen to the singing of creatures. What if you become a creature too?

Sisters

The temple had been given children many times since it was built. Its wardens were used to finding a baby, wrapped in rags, only a note as a clue to their identity. But one morning they were met with twin baskets. No cryptic letter, no rags, no storm the night before. Just two baby girls, quietly dreaming.

The sisters grew to be very different. Atna had a fierce love of animals and distaste for humans. The only person she held love for was her kin. Phro loved humans with fierce devotion. As she grew she had many friends and companions. Her personality was magnetic.

Atna grew more and more withdrawn, wandering into the woods at every opportunity. She returned holding an owl with wings of starlight. Its eyes were almost human.

Phro was elected mayor the moment she reached adulthood. It wasn’t long before the village surrounding the temple grew. It spread out, taking in surrounding villages.

A few years into adulthood, just as silver began to streak their hair, the sisters stopped aging.

The day Phro pulled the Blade of Queens from the sea was more of a technicality than anything. She was already lined up to take the throne. In fact, there were rumours that she had been told where the blade lay… That Atna’s owl had found it the day before.

When asked, Atna would simply smile. She spoke so little now that many believed she had taken a vow of silence. Yet, when she must, she would speak. It was in those moments that listeners discovered why she didn’t speak more. Her voice sounded haunting. It echoed without cause. Any who heard it felt ice sliding beneath their skin.

Standing near Phro was like standing near a fireplace in the winter. Her warmth spread into one’s bones. Her partners would often speak of her ability to make them feel more loved than anyone had before.

Whenever possible, the sisters found each other. They clasped hands: Phro’s body turning cold, Atna’s voice turning warm. Being separated felt wrong, somehow. There was a feeling of unease to the point of pain. Neither could explain it. Atna sometimes wondered if there had only been one child left on the monastery steps. If she and her sister were meant to be a single soul.

The owl watched its daughters from its perch. Only it would ever know the truth.

Water Colours

Rosalind felt restless. She wanted change. Something big. But she had no ideas, beyond another tattoo. She already had several, but couldn’t think of anything else to do to break her ennui.

She decided to add a level of fate into th-56fgve mix. She got on a bus, then the subway, then another bus. She walked down streets at random until she found a shop.

The tattoo parlour that faced her looked like most others she’d seen. A glowing ‘open’ sign. The image of a snake curled around a sword. Entering, there were a few customers milling around. No one seemed to notice her entrance, save one woman.

“Welcome to Dex’s Lab. I’m Dex.” She was all smiles and piercings.

“Rosalind. Do you have any openings?”

“When?”

“Right now.”

Dex looked around at the other artists. They each had a customer already. She put a hand to her chin, studying Rosalind. “I don’t often tattoo people anymore, but you seem like the kind of customer I like.”

“I… do?” Rosalind didn’t stand out in this room. Among some company, her clothing would attract attention. But not here.

“You came here to get something special, right? Something you’ve never seen before.”

Rosalind nodded, dumbfounded.

“Then you’re my kind of customer.” Dex led her to an empty chair. “If you could have any design, what would you have?”

“Watercolours,” she answered automatically. “But I don’t know what image I want.”

“Watercolours are beautiful. They’ll definitely suit you.”

Rosalind raised an eyebrow. “Are you flirting with me?”

“I never flirt with customers,” Dex lied. She pulled out a portfolio of watercolour designs. “If anything catches your eye, let me know.”

Rosalind closed her eyes and flipped to a random page. Her eyes still shut, she traced her finger in circles, finally landing on one image. Her eyes stayed closed. “Give me what I landed on.”

Dex blinked in surprise. “My, my.” She took the book from Rosalind and prepared her tools. The process was surprisingly quick. Rosalind had never gotten one so quickly. Dex asked questions throughout. Odd questions to ask of a stranger:

“Where’s your happy place?”

“Would you rather be a fish or a bird?”

“What’s your zombie apocalypse weapon of choice?”

At first, Rosalind wondered if Dex was an awkward conversationalist. It felt more like they were playing a ‘get to know you’ game than chatting. Yet, as the tattoo took shape, she got the sense that the questions had a different purpose.

She kept her eyes shut the entire time. She didn’t want to see until it was complete. It would be too late to regret her decision then.

“It’s complete.”

Rosalind opened her eyes and looked at where she had felt the pressure of the tool moments before. There was no tattoo there.

Dex smiled slyly and extended a finger. Waiting to make eye contact and get a small nod from Rosalind, Dex traced the length of her arm.

Watercolours appeared as if dripped from a paintbrush held aloft. Blue, pink, purple… They came from beneath her skin to form a body of water. A river that flowed down her arm and onto her hand. Fish began to crest the waves, leaping and dancing.

“How…?” Rosalind trailed off.

“This is you. Your soul. You want to move, to swim somewhere new. But you need to see that,” Dex said. “Now, you’ll never forget.”

“But how?”

Dex didn’t answer, instead she led Rosalind to the cash register. As she left the shop, Rosalind’s eyes were drawn again to the watercolours on her skin. She knew she was restless, but… leaving didn’t feel like the answer then.

Instead, she began thinking of ideas for her next tattoo.

Closets

There’s a ghost in my closet. Every night, it scratches at the wooden door. For hours on end, I hear it. But everyone tells me the ghost isn’t there. It isn’t real. It’s my imagination.

It must be. It must be a nightmare. A half-asleep imagining. But I keep hearing it. I hear it even now. Long fingernails, like stories I heard when I was young. I shut my ears. I crush the pillow to them. But still, the scratching keeps me awake.

I search the internet and find stories of ghosts like mine. I try everything that was suggested: incense, prayer, charms. Still, the scratching continues. You’d think I’d notice it less over time, but there is no getting used to this.

I can’t take it. I’m looking in that closet. I’m asking the ghost what it wants. All that I find are old clothes and photo albums. The ghost has no form, but it scratches with invisible fingers. I still hear it. Can you?

Halloween

Every year on Halloween, after kids are home with their loot, the pumpkin smashers came out. They went from house to house: destroying pumpkins; throwing toilet paper and eggs; scaring any kids who still wander the streets… Most in their neighbourhood were used to them. They had done this ever since they were told they were too old to go trick-or-treating.

But something changed: their neighbour Billy turned 13. Billy’s transition from child to teen was rougher than most. As soon as the sun rose on their birthday, they felt different. They felt powerful. They had become a warlock. Still young, their priorities were different than some: they decided to prank the pranksters.

Toilet paper melted in the pumpkin smashers’ palms. Eggs began to chirp. Children’s shadows growled like bears protecting their cubs. When feet met pumpkin, vines grew from the earth, snaking around the pranksters ankles.

The pumpkin smashers ran home. They were sure it had been a trick of the mind, but with no desire to go out the next year. Beaming proudly as the older teens ran was Billy: the protector of Halloween.

Dead Season

It was ice fishing season, but no one went near the lake. It was solid ice, thick and safe to walk on. Yet, beneath it lay a creature only spoken of in whispers among those who lived nearby.

Year after year, anyone who dared to cross the ice disappeared. Some had attempted to fish in packs. Safety in numbers, after all. It made no difference. No screams were heard, no bodies found. All that remained was an empty boat that floated to shore the next morning.

Fishing in the summer was safe. Something about the cold drew the creature in. Winter became a dead season. Those who lived there stayed indoors, afraid to go near the water. As white snow blanketed the village, red blood filled its peoples’ dreams.

Made of Clay

[TW: abuse]

Ann heard a story once about golems. She was young, and the speaker was her father’s friend. He told her about how his people used golems to protect themselves. Beyond that, Ann knew nothing of them. She decided that she knew enough to make one. For she was lonely… People would have to understand. Not that it was their business. Not that her golem would be known to others.

He was to be her secret. And so she made him, and placed into his mouth a paper reading: ‘Love and friendship.’ When he awoke, in her dingy basement, surrounded by spiderwebs and dust, he felt nothing but fear. “Where am I?” he asked; too afraid to ask ‘Who am I?’

“You’re home!” was all she answered.

But this was no home for the golem. This was a dungeon. His creator and captor would leave for hours and return only when her loneliness grew. “I wish I could spend all day talking to you,” Ann said, “But I need to work.”

“Can I work?” he asked; too afraid to ask ‘Can I leave?’

“You don’t need to! All you have to do is stay with me. That’s why I made you.”

And so he stayed. Day after day, he grew more afraid of the outside. What if other humans were like his creator? What if they, too, believed love was a task to assign him?

After a month, Ann began to visit less. Soon after, he was alone more often than not. “I wish I could see you more,” Ann said on the last day she entered the basement, “But I made some new friends at work. They’ve been keeping me pretty busy.”

He was too afraid to ask ‘What about me?’ The question rang in his head until it was a shriek. Still, his mouth was closed. He would not trust her near the paper that brought him life.

Circle of Stones

“This seems like a bad idea.”

“Just help me, okay?”

Quinta and Zachary each took an end of the large slab of stone. It was much lighter than it should have been. “I thought it took tons of people to set these up,” Zachary said.

“I did, too.” They slid it into place and moved onto the next one.

“What’s the plan here? I can’t make out a picture or anything.”

“This symbol’s been in my head for weeks. I can’t shake it.” She held her fingers up to illustrate, forming an intricate knot.

“How the–”

“I’m double jointed.”

“Oh…” Zachary wandered to the next stone. Before Quinta could pick up her end, he lifted it from the ground. “Are these getting lighter?”

Quinta tried to pick up a stone by herself. She did so easily. “I think they are.”

“Should we stop?”

“I want to say yes… but…”

“But?”

Quinta’s pupils were dilated. They were so small that they vanished into the deep brown of her eyes. “We have to finish. I don’t know why, but we do.”

“Are you okay?”

“No. I shouldn’t have brought you here.” She didn’t seem to be breathing. Zachary reached out to take her hand in comfort, only to find her fingers ice cold.

“If we make your symbol, we can go home?” He asked. Quinta nodded. “Tell me what to do, and I’ll move the pieces.”

She directed him, and soon it was complete. The moment the last block slid into place, Quinta began to breathe. “Thank you.”

Zachary shrugged, linking arms with her. “Whatever that was, it’s over.”

The next day, news spread about how Stonehenge had changed. Most blamed aliens or the fae. Zachary and Quinta ruled out neither.

Words

An old God is gaining strength.

He is a hidden God. In fact, he gains strength from hiding. He has no form, choosing instead to shade himself under words. Written or spoken, he doesn’t mind. As long as the words carry enough weight for him to go unseen.

He goes unfelt by those whose words he inhabits, but not by those who hear them. He confounds them, crushes them, leaves them with a weight upon their soul. But… they don’t know why.

The words seem fine. They seem normal. One cannot see the darkness held beneath.

The Eternal Mr. Oakland

Oakland’s Pawn Shop has existed since the slow divide of Pangea. It changed names over and over; Mr. Oakland changing with it. His face, his age, his body…

“Out with the old and in with the new” is his motto. No one realizes how far this philosophy goes.

It’s said that he can touch an object and feel it’s history. He knows who owned it, who loved it, who gave it up. His shop is a mix of the very old and the very new. Some items aren’t seen unless the right customer enters at the right time.

People believe he’s a time traveller, a shapeshifter, or a fairy. Mr. Oakland insists that he’s just a good businessman.

Creator

The creature looks at me with sunken eyes. I don’t like his beady stare. I see it in my nightmares. In every shadow. In puddles on the street when it rains.

I built his flesh and bone, but I did not fill him with cursed life. I don’t know what did.

He sits in his cage, never eating, never sleeping. The creature — my creature — does not speak when I ask him to. He only speaks when I sleep, crying for me. I hate his screams.

I don’t know why I built him. I think it was curiosity. Could I make life? Or, at least, could I make a vessel for life? Maybe I wasn’t asking the right question.

I didn’t think about whether I wanted to take care of an abomination after it was created.

… I wonder what he thinks of me? I wonder if he can read my mind? Something about those eyes… I think he knows.

Overload

Sound weighed heavily on them. It pressed against their mind like an ever-present migraine. The only moments of peace were found in their room, alone, with the lights turned off. Life would not allow them to remain that way long.

Children would call. Dogs would need to be walked. The sun would stubbornly drill through their closed curtain. They didn’t want life to fall silent. Not really. They had moments of joy, moments where they, too, were loud.

But sometimes, they longed for the quiet of night. For long winters where snow muffled the world.

Atlantis

The city of Atlantis didn’t sink suddenly. The tide came in steadily over the course of generations. No one noticed its ascent as it crept along.

Buildings had discolouration from years of water. White walls were painted yellow by the damp. Mold grew in dark places, and then in broad daylight.

Slowly, quietly, a city sank.