A Ghostly Excursion

Like I’ve said during my Friday posts: I’ve been busy at work planning for Summer Reading. What does that mean? It means I don’t have a lot of time to write–at least, not write chapters in my current stories that I think are up to the quality they should be. And yet it is story day on the schedule, so… quite a dilemma. But then I thought it might be fun to try my hand at some “flash fiction.” It would be a good writing exercise for me and still (hopefully) provide an enjoyable read. So I found a prompt and challenged myself to write that story in only 500 words or less.

Prompt: A nighttime walk. Where is the destination? And why is your character goin there?

This was the route: through Ridgeview Cemetery, behind the houses on Ross Avenue, and then a sharp left on Buckcreek Road.  That brought Nate right to the Ascher Theater. The houses on Buckcreek Road were perfect. (All small towns have at least ONE street with perfect houses.) Nate’s house certainly wasn’t perfect, so he didn’t live on Buckcreek Road. He lived on Dahlia Drive, with the Ridgeview Cemetery directly behind his house.  Most people wouldn’t have liked the location, but Nate thought it was perfect.

                There were a few things everyone knew about Nate.  First, he was weird. Second, he was the Chief of Police’s son.  Third, he was in the running for valedictorian.  A part from that, however, people didn’t really know Nate.  They didn’t know his favorite color, or biggest fear, or pet peeve (which was, coincidentally, people saying “like” all the time).  And no one–NO ONE–knew Nate’s secret, though people wouldn’t have been surprised that he had one.  Nate was the type of guy who was meant for secrets.

                He was also the type of guy who liked cemeteries.  Not that he hung around tombstones every day after school, but graveyards had never scared him.  The Ridgeview Cemetery had always been his backyard: perfect for hide-and-seek or some quiet thinking.  But now that he was older, Nate  viewed the cemetery differently: It was also his shortcut to the Ascher Theater.

                Nate came to the crumbling stone wall that separated his house from the Ridgeview, hoisted himself over it, and landed squarely in the grass.  His backpack jangled as he hit the ground, and he adjusted it, advancing quickly through the graves. He didn’t stop to look at any of them.  He’d been in the cemetery enough times to know that none of the tombstones were very interesting; all the epitaphs were the similar: Loving Mother, Daughter, and Friend.  Boring. 

                Nate stopped suddenly, remembering that he may have forgotten his tape recorder at home.  He checked his backpack, relieved to find it was there, nestled next to his flashlight and notepad.  Satisfied, he continued on his way, pausing only long enough to smirk at his favorite grave: Philo McDermott. (He was described as being a Loving Father, Brother, and Friend.)  Nate only shook his head: epitaphs tended to simplify everyone six feet below.  He thought Philo’s marker should at least read something more descriptive: Maybe he was a farmer?  Or a teacher?  Anything to make Philo seem like he had once been a real person.

                Nate already knew what he wanted on his grave. (Not that he thought about it much.  He was only eighteen; the worst thing he had to worry about was the ACT.)  His ideal epitaph would read: Nathaneal J. Brenner, Fun Friend, Eccentric Personality, and Curious Scientist.

                The last was especially true on Thursday nights.

                And tonight was Thursday.

                It was little wonder that someone who grew up next to a graveyard would take up ghost-hunting as a hobby. And the Ascher Theater was one of his favorite spots.

                The Ascher Theater was to Ellery, Ohio what the Coliseum was to Rome: It was a landmark, a monument.  It was old, decrepit, and falling apart, but no one dared to tear it down.  It was doomed to sit and rot… until Nate’s uncle bought it.  Manny Brenner was a theater professor in a college twenty miles from Ellery.  He’d bought the theater as a personal project, and for the past six months, he’d allowed Nate to ghost-hunt. 

                Needless to say, Manny was Nate’s favorite uncle. 

                Nate came to the edge of the cemetery, jumped over the other wall, and found himself on Ross Avenue.  It was bright night,  the full moon turned everything blue.  Orange streetlights sent odd shadows across the sidewalk.  In any other town, the effect would have been eerie.  But not in Ellery. 

                He eventually made it to the theater and reached into his pocket for the key. He opened the door only wide enough for him to slip inside; he could smell the renovations: sawdust and paint.  He closed the door behind him with a click, revealing his flashlight like a Samurai brandishing a sword.  The feeble light strayed across newly plastered walls, rolled up rugs, and abandoned tool boxes.  There was an old mirror that was turning black around the edges.  Nate caught his reflection: In the dim light, he looked like a ghost. 

                He  laughed at the irony, then made his way into the main house.  Nate thought he had a decent imagination–not a great one, of course, but it was alright–and he tried to picture what it must have been like to walk these aisles in their prime.  It would have been an experience: The seats were made of velvet, the stage was huge and draped with thick, crimson curtains.  Golden cherubs adorned the stage, all staring  sweetly at the audience.  The balconies were small and rounded, all painted with intricate designs. 

                Nate settled into the front row.  He’d been coming to the theater every Thursday for the past six months, and he still got a rush at the start of every excursion.  After a moment, he reached into his backpack for his tape recorder.  His favorite ghost-hunting method was EVP: Electronic Voice Phenomena.  The idea was that if he spoke out loud, a ghost would answer him.  He wouldn’t be able to hear it with his own ears, but the ghost’s voice could come through on a recording.  He hadn’t heard anything yet, but he was persistent–sometimes to the point of being foolish.

                In a few moments, he had everything set up. He turned on the recorder and settled into a chair.

                “They say that ghost lights were put up in theaters to keep the ghosts at bay,” he started. “This theater hasn’t had one in decades. So…” He paused. “Ghosts, come on out.”


Copyright Sarah Davidson 2021


Note: I’m really bad at keeping stories at 500 words. (It’s so few!) But this was a lot of fun to write, and it was inspired by a time I was able to go ghost-hunting in a nearby theater in college. I feel like there’s a lot more I could write with this, just with my experience alone!

Forthcoming: Past Life

Like I’ve said during my Friday posts: I’ve been busy at work planning for Summer Reading. What does that mean? It means I don’t have a lot of time to write–at least, not write chapters in my current stories that I think are up to the quality they should be. And yet it is story day on the schedule, so… quite a dilemma. But then I thought it might be fun to try my hand at some “flash fiction.” It would be a good writing exercise for me and still (hopefully) provide an enjoyable read. So I found a prompt and challenged myself to write that story in only 500 words or less.


Additional note: This one is a little bit over 500 words. (I think it hits about 555… which is oddly satisfying. In accordance with the prompt, this some backstory for Chay from Forthcoming. Haven’t read that one? It starts here.)

Prompt: A prequel moment from a story you’ve already written.

“Who were you?”

            Chay hadn’t expected his new partner to speak. The previous silence in the apartment had suited him.

But apparently his partner didn’t share the same preference.

            But the apartment’s silence had suited him. 

            His partner moved toward him, sitting beside him on the couch.  Chay instantly tensed.  He wasn’t exactly the “social type,” but it seemed as though The Department had partnered him up with a real talker.

            Great.

            “You’re not very talkative, are you?”

            Chay didn’t respond–that should be answer enough.

            Somehow that didn’t stop the other man from continuing. “If you’re that concerned about rules, you’ve joined the wrong organization.”  Chay felt the other man lean back, as though in contemplation. “I know The Department says we should forget about… before… but who can really forget?”

            “I would like to,” was all Chay replied. He’d hoped his bluntness would send a clear message: No more talking.

            But no–this was the most persistent person Chay had ever met.

            “Well, what’s your name now?” 

            Chay looked up. This question was simpler, safer.  “Chay.”

            His partner considered it, his lips twitching slightly.  “Interesting choice.”  Chay couldn’t help but notice how his eyes seemed to have a permanent sparkle to them.  In fact, this was the closest that Chay had ever been to his partner. Before now, he’d only ever seen him from a distance.  He was a fairly young man, though older than the barely 20-year old Chay.

The Department had insisted upon pairing him with a veteran, but he looked more inexperienced than Chay did.  In fact, his partner had a very adolescent quality.  He had dark hair, which fell slightly below his ears and limbs that seemed to need constant movement in order to be happy.

            “So what was your name before?  It must’ve been something boring for you to pick a name like Chay.”

            Perhaps he was more experienced than Chay had given him credit. He’d worked the conversation back to his initial purpose:  to find out Chay’s past.

            Good luck with that.

            His partner frowned as Chay did nothing more than stare resolutely at him.

            “Fine, keep your secrets,” he shrugged, and in an instant, his frown was replaced with a crooked smile.

            Chay didn’t respond. This good-natured personality was going to get on his nerves quite quickly.

            He was glad when his partner left to begin reading a file that Chay wasn’t permitted to read. (Which was the worst; The Department had sought Chay, and yet they were treating him as though he was a child.) So Chay was more than surprised when his partner returned and held the file under his nose. “Wanna read?”

            Chay knew his eyes had widened.  His partner was ignoring–no, blatantly disobeying–a direct order from The Department.

            And he didn’t seem the least bit worried.

            “I think The Department has the habit of underestimating people,” he explained.  “In fact, I think knowledge is power, and power is what we need against a person like Cyrus Stokes.”
            “Who?” 

            “Well, technically, I can’t say anything.” Another one of those stupid grins.

            “Give me the file,” Chay spat, snatching it and beginning to read greedily.

            His partner laughed. “I think we’re going to get along, Chay.”

            Chay didn’t respond, but he had to admit–his partner, he supposed, could have been worse.


Copyright Sarah Davidson 2021

Some Inspiration

I’m doing something a little different. I haven’t had the time to write (even one of my short 500-word flash fictions), but I thought I’d take some time share some of the stories that have most inspired me–the stories that I got completely lost within and that made me think, “Wow, I want to be able to do what this author has done.”

My Top 10 Favorite Books

(10) Atonement by Ian McEwan

(9) Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

(8) The Perks of Being a Wallflower Stephen Chbosky

(7) Looking for Alaska by John Green

(6) The Help by Kathryn Stockett

(5) Recursion by Blake Crouch

(4) The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

(3) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

(2) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

(1) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

What are your favorite books? I’d love to hear them!

Wanted: One Arch-Nemesis

Like I’ve said during my Friday posts: I’ve been busy at work planning for Summer Reading. What does that mean? It means I don’t have a lot of time to write–at least, not write chapters in my current stories that I think are up to the quality they should be. And yet it is story day on the schedule, so… quite a dilemma. But then I thought it might be fun to try my hand at some “flash fiction.” It would be a good writing exercise for me and still (hopefully) provide an enjoyable read. So I found a prompt and challenged myself to write that story in only 500 words or less.

Prompt: Write a “want ad” for an unusual position.

Wanted: One Arch-Nemesis

Must be maniacal, clever, and ruthless.

Prior experience not necessary.

Maniacal laugh a plus.

Must have working knowledge of any or all of the following: Nuclear fusion, chemical biohazards, abnormal psychology.

Mutation or madness considered equivalent experience.

If interested, please begin diabolical plan and broadcast it. I will meet you at the most opportune moment for heroics.


Copyright Sarah Davidson 2021

An Experiment in Beginnings

Like I’ve said during my Friday posts: I’ve been busy at work planning for Summer Reading. What does that mean? It means I don’t have a lot of time to write–at least, not write chapters in my current stories that I think are up to the quality they should be. And yet it is story day on the schedule, so… quite a dilemma. But then I thought it might be fun to try my hand at some “flash fiction.” It would be a good writing exercise for me and still (hopefully) provide an enjoyable read. So I found a prompt and challenged myself to write that story in only 500 words or less.

Prompt: Write the opening to a story “in medias res.”

Jem was vaguely aware that someone was going to come get him.  He was sitting, hugging himself, fingers digging into his arms so hard that it hurt.  He felt like he should scream; he was wet, not just with the rain but with some other liquid, thick on his clothes and skin. 

A flash of light brought him somewhat to his senses. There were voices, and Jem tried to wave, to let them know that he was here, but his body didn’t want to move.  It wanted to stay there, hunched over, staring at the ground, waiting to wake up.  Because this had to be a dream, right?  Things like this didn’t happen in real life; they happened to characters in books and movies, imagined only by the minds of sadistic writers so that audiences could lap them up like thirsty dogs.  Lest the masses forgo their stories.

The voices were coming closer, and Jem closed his eyes.  What would he say?  More importantly, what would they say?  There was no way he could explain any of this.  He could hardly believe it himself, let alone expect someone else to understand.  They wouldn’t.  They would blame him, say it was all his fault–

Though it was, wasn’t it?  Jem shook his head, blocking memory after memory from his mind.  He didn’t want to think about that, but he knew he would eventually have to recount the tale.  If only it could be better, if only it ended with a “happily ever after” like the stories he’d enjoyed as a child.

But who likes stories like that, anyway?

Copyright Sarah Davidson 2021


Hmm…. this was kind of fun to write. Not sure what would happen next, but it was definitely a good writing exercise. I tend to start stories with a very clear “beginning.” Kind of like, “Hi, I’m the character. Here’s the story starting.” I kind of feel like I need to branch out of my comfort zone and write more stories by just dropping the reader in. The more I think about it, some of my favorite books start that way. So… this seems like a pretty successful writing exercise. It definitely gave some food for thought.

Just Checking In

Like I’ve said during my Friday posts: I’ve been busy at work planning for Summer Reading. What does that mean? It means I don’t have a lot of time to write–at least, not write chapters in my current stories that I think are up to the quality they should be. And yet it is story day on the schedule, so… quite a dilemma. But then I thought it might be fun to try my hand at some “flash fiction.” It would be a good writing exercise for me and still (hopefully) provide an enjoyable read. So I found a prompt and challenged myself to write that story in only 500 words or less.

Prompt: Two very different college roommates.

Jeremy did nothing haphazardly: the suitcase on his bed was filled with neatly folded clothes; his books were neat and organized; his bed was set….  unlike his roommate, who freely tossed everything to the side. 

     Cal was currently out of the room, presumably in class (though the odds were far more likely that he was simply “out”).  Cal’s half of the room was marked by papers, clothes, boxes, and food, all scattered helter-skelter across the floor and desk.  Cal called it “organized chaos” (which was an excuse for lazy people, in Jeremy’s opinion).

     As he rolled up another pair of jeans, Jeremy examined the suitcases contents.  Frowning, he straightened and went to the closet, catching a quick glimpse of his reflection:  tall and skinny, he had never quite lost his sickly appearance:  he was naturally pale with a hollow face and eyes that seemed slightly too large for his face.  His light brown hair was short, but his bangs never failed to get into his eyes. 

     He blew his hair of the way now, searching through his closet: his favorite t-shirt was currently MIA.  Just as he was beginning to get frustrated, his cell rang and he rushed to it, catching it on the third ring.  “Hello?  Oh, hey, Mom.  Yeah, I’m packing now.  Hold on, let me put you on speaker.”   

     “Jeremy?  Jeremy, can you hear me?

     “Just fine, Mom.”

     “Right, well, are you alone?”

     “For the time, Mom.”

     “Good.  Calvin hasn’t been… pressuring you, has he?”

     “No idea what you’re talking about, Mom.”

     “You know exactly what I’m talking about, Jeremy.  Is he in the room with you?”
     “No, Mom,” Cal replied, diving back into his closet.

     “Well, I was just calling to check on… things.” 

Mrs. Bowers was a genuine pessimist, always expecting the worst in people.  But with Cal, her worries were well-founded: Cal looked like a troublemaker: Messy dark hair and eyes that always shone with mischief.  He was loud, reckless, and unpredictable.

But, as Jeremy always said:

“Cal’s not as bad he wants people to think he is, Mom.”

She made a tutting, disbelieving sound.

“Mom, everything is fine.  Don’t worry so much.”

“Well, I think–”

“Hey, Mrs. Bowers!” Cal appeared in the doorway, grinning sardonically.  Jeremy didn’t know if Cal had been listening; if he had, Cal showed no signs of being offended.

“Is that you, Calvin?”  Mrs. Bowers snapped.  “What kind of trouble have you gotten yourself into now?”

“Mrs. Bowers,” Cal replied, clutching his heart, “I’m hurt. I’ll have you know I’m maintaining a 3.5 average.”

“I thought it was a 3.0?” Jeremy interrupted, sticking his head out of the closet.

“Shut-up, Jeremy.  I’m trying to lie to your Mom so she’ll like me more.”

“Get out of here!” Jeremy sniggered, throwing some jeans at Cal’s head. 

Cal ducked out the way, smirking.  “Death by denim?  Really?”

Jeremy rolled his eyes as Cal advanced into the room, plopping onto his bed.

“Anyways,” Jeremy continued, rolling his eyes.  “I’ll be coming down over the weekend for my birthday, Mom.”

     “But,” Cal exclaimed, jumping up and jogging to the phone, “until then, we have him!”

     “Calvin Grayson, you’d better not–”

     “Don’t worry, Mrs. Bowers,” Cal began in tones of mock-condolence.  “We’re just taking him to some strip clubs, maybe a bar or two.  The usual.”

     “CAL!” both Bowers shouted at the same time, but Cal only smiled cheekily, saying, “We have homework, Mrs. Bowers.  Talk to you later.”  He swiped his fingers numbly over the screen, tossing it onto the nearby bed.

     “Did you just hang up on my Mom?”

     Cal shrugged.  “She needs to let her little baby bird fly,” he crooned.  “Honestly, that woman has a tighter grip on you than a freakin’ viper.”

     “I can still hear you!”

     Cal jumped, and Jeremy started laughing.

     “You didn’t hang up the phone, Calvin,” Mrs. Bowers continued, her voice rising in pitch, “And you can bet I am going to tell your mother!”

     “Oh shit,” Cal hissed, nodding to Jeremy.  “I’m headin’ for Canada!” He ran to the door, yelling, “Au revoir!”

     “See ya’ later,” Jeremy shouted after him, shaking his head.  He packed the last of his clothes into his suitcase, saying, “Now, where were we, Mom?”

     “I don’t know about that boy… and I don’t know about you, Jeremy, for hanging around him.”

     Jeremy rolled his eyes, settling onto the bed.  Somehow, his Mom always found a way to make the problem about him.  They were both caught in the constant cycle of “high expectations;” Mrs. Bowers was doomed to be forever disappointed, and Jeremy to be forever frustrated.

     “Cal’s a good guy, Mom.”

     She made a pft sound.  “He’s a long way from the boy in the first grade, Jeremy.  And even then he wasn’t all that ‘good.’”  Mrs. Bowers continued to talk about calls to the principal’s office, notes sent home, and–of course–that stupid frog.

     “Meriwether was the best thing that ever happened all the times I was sick,” Jeremy argued.

     His mom made another one of those odd noises.  “Yes, well, one way or another, I’ve made my point.”

     Jeremy rolled his eyes again.  “Sure thing, Mom.  But Cal was right–I seriously do have homework.”

     “Of course, sweetheart, study hard.”

     “Will do.”

     “Love you, Jeremy.”

     “Love you, too.”  Jeremy hung up the phone (for real), leaning back against the wall.  Across from him, on Cal’s side of the room, was a full length print of Starry, Starry Night

     Jeremy stared at it, becoming lost in the hues of blue and yellow.  He couldn’t help but wonder why someone as rebellious as Cal would hang art on his wall.  Some old punk band would describe him better, like The Clash, or Velvet Underground, or The Ramones, or–

     “Is it safe again?”

     Jeremy jumped.  Cal was at the door, eyes darting from side to side wildly.  Jeremy nodded solemnly, and Cal flung himself on his bed.  He looked evenly at Jeremy.  “What?”

     “You should act better around my Mom.”

     “Oh, please,” Cal said sarcastically, “your mom thinks I’m a saint.”

     Jeremy laughed.  “Yeah right.”

     Cal straightened, as if he’d been jolted with electricity.  “Should I be offended?”

     Jeremy didn’t respond, just shook his head. (Though that was probably response enough.)

     Cal narrowed his eyes at him, thought for a moment, then proclaimed: “I’m late for class!” He grabbed his camera off his desk, spun around and snapped a picture of a surprised and frazzled Jeremy, before darting into the hall.


Copyright Sarah Davidson 2021

————

Yeah, so…. This is obviously more than 500 words. (It’s roughly double.) But I just started writing and kept going. It kind of flowed. I really liked it, and I might just return to this sometime as an actual, novel-length story. I had a lot of fun writing the relationship between Cal and Jeremy, and I’m wondering more about how they became friends and what the future holds for them….

Whenever Tommy Brought Flowers….

Like I’ve said during my Friday posts: I’ve been busy at work planning for Summer Reading. What does that mean? It means I don’t have a lot of time to write–at least, not write chapters in my current stories that I think are up to the quality they should be. And yet it is story day on the schedule, so… quite a dilemma. But then I thought it might be fun to try my hand at some “flash fiction.” It would be a good writing exercise for me and still (hopefully) provide an enjoyable read. So I found a prompt and challenged myself to write that story in only 500 words or less.

Prompt: Describe a childhood playdate.

I used to get flowers from Tommy Ross when I was five years old. They were faux flowers with no scent and they always felt rough under my fingertips.

I’d used the flowers to play house: I would set the table with my mini dishes and tiny cups, placing plastic ears of corn and roast beef on the precious “china.” The flowers would always be the centerpiece–a beautiful dinner for me, and my stuffed elephant Peanut, and my favorite rag doll Pamela Ann.

If I could talk Tommy into it (and I usually could) I would make him be the daddy while I would play the mommy. He would roll his eyes and act like the game was the worst possible thing in the world, but it would never be long before he’d be scolding Pamela Ann for putting her elbows on the table and would be rocking Peanut like he was colicky baby.

But we would only play that game on the days that he would bring me fake flowers.

Tommy Ross lived next to a graveyard.


Copyright Sarah Davidson 2021

Plugged In, Chapter Eight: Business as Usual

Gulup

     That was the sound Armin’s companion was making.  His breaths had turned to soggy coughs, and Armin didn’t know what to do.  It was far too late to call for a Medical Officer… and the stuff at his house was only the basics for first aid.  He didn’t know how to fix a stab wound, especially one that was creating such a sickening mess. 

     “I’m…uh… we’re almost there.”

     “Cut you a deal,” the Bleeding Man groaned between bursts of that terrible choking sound, “you get me inside and I’ll do my darned’est not to die on you.  ‘Kay?”

     “Good.  Good.”

     Armin stopped the Tram, then let it connect to his house.  Never before had he realized how slow the thing was–the gears turning and clunking into their proper place, the sirens in his own house blaring.  For the briefest of seconds Armin was afraid Murf had forgotten to give him the universal keychain that could unlock his door from the outside, but then he found it, tossed underneath the front seat.

     “Not… not like I’m tryin’ to rush ya’….”

     “No, no, I got it.  Let’s go.”

     And then Armin was dragging him again.  The Bleeding Man didn’t complain, just continued to cough and staunch the wound.  With a giant heave that left his arms numb and shaking, Armin lifted him onto his couch (Mom would hate this mess….), and ran into the kitchen for the first aid kit.

     The Bleeding Man was a little quieter when he returned, eyes closed tightly both in pain and in the concentration he needed to just stay alive.  “I–I don’t know–”

     “I’ll w-walk you through it,” the Bleeding Man interrupted.  He was talking in sharp groans, like when a video online became pixilated and choppy.  “Here’s what–what you gotta do.”

     Armin followed the instructions: he cleaned the wound.  He checked to see how deep it was (“Feels deeper… are you sure?” “Ye–yes.”  “Okay… okay… movin’ on.”)  He then, shocked and with a shaky hand, began to repair the wound the way his mother would have darned his jeans.  The Bleeding Man kept his eyes closed as Armin used a needle and thread (“Sterilize it first!  Get a match or something and stick the needle in the–the flame–good, good, now… now get to it.”) to close the wound.  When he was done, there was a very messy scar that would have looked better on a doll than in someone’s flesh.  The area was still stained red, and there was a bloody trail stretching from the door to Armin’s couch.  The Bleeding Man’s breathing had calmed, and his tightly shut eyes and relaxed.

     He was asleep, and Armin was shuddering.

     He stood there, staring down at the nameless Bleeding Man.  His hands were wet and sticky.  Scared tears were prickling at the corners of his wide eyes.

     He lowered himself into a sitting position on one of the few clean spots on the floor, watching as the Bleeding Man’s chest raised and lowered, completely oblivious to the panic that Armin was feeling.  The worst was over for the Bleeding Man… but it had just begun for Armin Fisher.

     He had just witnessed a crime.  That was the first thing that Armin realized.  When was the last time something like that happened?  Not the digital warfare that people (like Thiele) sometimes used to increase their friends list.  This was more than hacking or spam… this was something physical, something that probably hadn’t happened since before the Great Fissure.

     Armin was living in history, but how?

     How was it that two people had been outside?  How was it that they had stood there, with the chemicals surrounding them, and argued until it culminated into a passionate fight?  Hem-V’s adversaries tended to sizzle and peel as soon as they went outside… that’s how the chemicals worked.  They were swift and merciless.

     But there was the Bleeding Man in front of him, perfectly whole save for the stab wound.  It was as though the chemicals hadn’t affected him at all.

     Armin leapt up, running as far away from the Bleeding Man as he could get.  His back hit the wall, and he wished he could climb up it, farther from the scarred mess on his couch.

     He had brought home a Twicken.  Armin was sure of it.  There was no other explanation.  The Bleeding Man and his dead companion must have both been Twickens… and they had turned on each other.  Everyone knew Twickens were bloodthirsty cannibals.  They must have failed to break into an innocent’s house and, in a fit of mad hunger, had turned on each other.  Yes, that was the only answer that made sense.

     Armin moved against the wall as though he was traveling alongside a cliff, keeping the Bleeding Man in sight.  As soon as he woke up, Armin would have a live, ravished man-eater in his own house.

     What had I been thinking?

     Armin ran the last few steps into the kitchen.  He threw open a drawer where a knife was glittering innocently.  A moment’s hesitation–long enough to see his reflection, all blood-speckled and extra pale, staring back at him–and then the hilt of the knife was in his hand and Armin was back at the couch, standing over the Twicken. 

     He didn’t look particularly ferocious when he was sleeping.  His dark brown hair was sprawled over the pillow and his angular face was lost in dreamless sleep.  He had thick eyebrows and a long nose.  There was a little bit of stubble on his chin.  Nothing all that unusual about him, really.

     Armin shook his head.  He couldn’t think like that; the worst thing about Twickens was that they looked like everyone else.  He couldn’t let that lure him into a false sense of security.  Hem-V’s old sidekick had done that once, and he’d paid for it with some of the goriest special effects to ever grace the interweb. 

     He raised the knife, placing the point right over where the Twicken’s heart would be.  He waited, taking in heavy, trembling breaths.  The Twicken didn’t do so much as stir.

     Do it… just do it.

     Isn’t that what the Governance said to do?  They said that Twickens were like wild animals, better to destroy on sight than to give them the opportunity to kill you.  It was survival of the fittest, and, in this moment, Armin had the upper hand.

     Do it!

     He dropped the knife, watching it slide lamely across the Twicken’s chest and fall to the carpet.  Armin just couldn’t bring himself to interrupt a heartbeat when it was midway through its speech; he couldn’t force it to stop. 

     Armin glanced between the knife on the floor and the peacefully sleeping Twicken.  He couldn’t just let him lay there.  After a moment’s consideration, Armin realized what he had to do. 

     He ran into his bedroom, found his spare sheets, and began cutting them into long strips.  Within minutes, he had used them to fasten the Twicken’s hands and feet to the couch.  He returned the knife to the kitchen drawer, and turned his attention to the next task: cleaning up.  The smell was starting to get to him.

#

     “A good guest should clean up after himself.”

     Armin froze.  He was on his knees, arms stretched out in front of him with a bleach-soaked sponge.  He didn’t turn when the Twicken spoke, just listened to see if he would say anything else.

     “I mean, I should, but–” A groan and then sounds of awkward movement.  “Um… any reason why I’m tied up?”

     Armin didn’t answer, just continued cleaning.  Scrub forward, then back, forward then back.

     “Hey, did you hear me?  Why am I tied up?”

     Don’t let him know that you know what he is.  Just ignore him, ignore him….

     “Hey, Cinderfella, what’s with the bondage?”

     “Just a good idea,” Armin muttered.

     “What do you think I’m gonna do?”

     Really don’t answer that.

     “Well, I can’t go anywhere.  I don’t feel up to it.  I mean, if you’re this starved for company–”

     “No! I just don’t want you eating my brains!”

     “Eating your–oh.”  And then the Twicken did something very strange: he started to laugh.  It was a loud chortle, and Armin leapt up, staring at him. 

     “I don’t care for brains,” the Twicken chuckled.  “I prefer livers.”

     Armin clutched his abdomen and backed away; the Twicken laughed even louder. 

     “Joking, joking.  I’m not a Twick–well, I guess I am, but not how you think.”

     “What are you–?”

     “Listen, kid, I’m really tired.  And you look busy.”

     “Yeah, I’m–oh crap!”  Armin stared at the clock.  It was almost 4:00 in the morning.  He’d been up nearly all night cleaning his house.  “I’ve gotta go!”

     “Where ya’ goin’?” the Twicken asked, sounding slightly worried.

     “I’m a Drafter, and I’m supposed to–well, it’s a long story.”

     “Oh, right, that scuba suit you had on,” the Twicken replied, nodding to the chair where Armin had tossed the safety suit.  “Right, go on.”

     “I–I will.”  Armin began to throw the safety suit over his clothes, but stopped mid-dressing when the Twicken, unexpectedly, asked:

     “What’s your name?”

     “Huh?”

     “Your name.  You got one?”

     He hesitated, then answered, “Armin.  Armin Fisher.”

     “Mine’s Satchel, and I don’t like my last name, so it’s utterly inconsequential.”

     “Oh.”  Armin thought he sounded really smart for a chemical-deranged cannibal. 

     “Can I ask you one favor?” Satchel asked as Armin was lifting the helmet onto his head.

     “Depends.”

     “Don’t tell anyone about me, ‘kay?”

     Armin didn’t answer; that had been exactly what’d he’d been planning to do.  He’d decided to tell whatever Governance official came with the delivery tram, and he was going to get that dangerous Twicken out of his life.

     “I mean,” Satchel continued, closing his eyes once again. “I know you’ve already done a ton for me, saving my life and all, but don’t tell anyone.  At least give me the chance to state my case.  Aren’t I worth that?  If you still wanna tell after that, fine, whatever, but… don’t I deserve at least a chance to talk to you?”

     Armin didn’t answer.  Satchel looked as though he was losing whatever energy his unconscious sleep had given him. 

     “Please,” Satchel muttered, but before Armin could answer, he was asleep again, and Armin had only seconds to stare at him and wonder before turning to the door and beginning his journey to Murf’s house.

#

     “Cuttin’ it close, kid.”

     “Sorry, I–overslept.”

     There it was: the first lie.  Armin didn’t know when he’d made the decision to succumb to Satchel’s wishes.  On the drive to Murf’s?  When he had first stepped onto the tram? 

     Or when Satchel had added, so weak and desperate, “please”? 

     It was likely the latter, and even more likely a fatal mistake.  People didn’t just harbor Twickens.  That was like building a bomb in your kitchen.  Had Hem-V taught him nothing?

     Apparently, because the Governance official came and went (with Armin hiding quietly in Murf’s bedroom; the Governance would never discover that Murf had taken a break from his duties).  Armin listened as the Governance official finished delivering the rations for the week, along with one nuptial officer for a couple on the south side of the compound.

     “Playing matchmaker today, kid,” Murf began, more cheerful than usual.  “We’re delivering a bloke to a lucky little lady.”

     “Great,” Armin said with a wan smile.  “Let’s get going.”

     Those three simple words began the day.  They started their journey at the house with the little twins. (“I’m sorry,” the wide-eyed mother apologized.  “They require a lot of attention.  Memphis, go sit with your brother.”)  An hour later, the tram added an extra passenger: an anxious, dark-skinned young man, who kept asking the Nuptial Officer questions and pacing throughout the small space.  He met his new wife right before lunch, and they held hands, awkwardly, for the very first time right as the Nuptial Officer pronounced them man and wife.  The Nuptial Officer stayed with them for the rest of the day, even eating lunch with them.  He raised an eyebrow when Murf mentioned the missing table cloth.

     “Where is it?  My wife made it special.”

     “Is it not there?” Armin responded, a little too quickly.  “Weird.  Let’s get eating, okay?  We’ve got a long day.”

     Murf squinted his eyes at Armin, as though he was trying to see him a little more clearly, but shrugged it away.  Armin downed his crackers in record time, thinking that subtlety was not his strength.  Oh well, whatever got him home faster.


Copyright Sarah Davidson 2021

Unexpected Advice

Notes: Okay… doing something a little different. I don’t have another chapter of Plugged In quite ready yet, but I was hoping not to “cop out” and just do a random post in place of a story. I was hoping to actually have something worth reading…. And that’s when I remembered this story I wrote in high school. Back then, I was a HUGE Harry Potter fan. (Still am, but now The Boy Who Lived has to compete with superheroes.) Anyways, I was nerdy enough that I dabbled in fanfiction now and again, and this was always one that I was really proud of. The concept was Remus Lupin’s father trying to come to terms with the fact that his son is now a werewolf. Obviously, this was written prior to Pottermore, so information is not canon-accurate. This was just how I’d envisioned Remus’ childhood.

Anyways, I promise this blog won’t become a fanfiction site. I’m much more interested in writing my own stories with my own characters. But I remember this being something that helped get my creative juices flowing. In many ways, it acted as a nice writing exercise.

And, plus, I thought it might be fun to do something a little bit different.

Oh… and obvious disclaimer: I don’t own Harry Potter.


Remus Lupin groaned from the nearby sofa, and his father looked up. It had been a month since he had been bitten, but he was still as weak as ever; perhaps even more so after his first transformation. Jonathan looked back at his untouched tea, having less desire than ever to actually drink it. His wife, Lucinda, was lying beside her five year old son, stroking his sandy hair. She had been doing so all day, just sitting there, watching Remus–it was all she had done since he had been attacked. All she had done while he’d been lying in St. Mungo’s, all she’d been doing since he’d been brought home.

And this is what Jonathan had been doing: sitting as far away from his son as possible. Remus had tried to catch his eye, but Jonathan couldn’t bring himself to even look at his son, lying covered in scars that were, ultimately, his fault. If only he hadn’t angered Greyback. If only he had been moments sooner and realized that Remus was not in his bed… that he was outside… if only…

Jonathan gulped his now-cold tea in an effort to stop the flow of thoughts that always seemed to cascade whenever he looked at his son. The attempt was in vain. If things would have been different, if he would have been smarter, then Remus would not be lying, scarred and weak on the couch. Remus wouldn’t have spent two weeks of his young life confined to a hospital bed; he wouldn’t be a…a…

Jonathan drank his tea again, only vaguely aware that he had reached the sodden tea leaves.
If it wasn’t for him and his idiotic mistakes, Remus would be up and about, as normal and healthy as any other young wizard. He would more than likely be outside, eagerly expecting his father to play hide-and-seek with him, or perhaps his mother would be reading him a story from the thick volume of fairytales they had bought when Remus had been born, rather than tending to the large gash, still red and fresh, that ran from his right side up to his neck.

Lucinda had refused to talk to Jonathan since the attack, she had every right to. It was he, after all, who had ruined their only son’s life. It was he who had convicted his son to the life of an outcast, a life filled with pain and heartache. Jonathan, put his cup to his lips again, gagging on the tea leaves. Lucinda glanced at him for the briefest of moments, before looking again at her son.

Jonathan rose, rinsed his cup and crossed the hall to the living room, making to sit beside his wife; she tensed instantly. He didn’t try to talk to her; the last time he had attempted a conversation it had ended with the two of them yelling, her responsible for most of it. “How could you! You know what that monster’s like!” He knew to say anything would develop into the same fight, and he didn’t want to wake Remus. He merely sat beside his wife, looking down at his boy. He had always been small and thin for his age, but more so now than ever. Now, he looked sickly: his features were pale, almost blending into the pillow he lay upon; his light brown hair was matted to his thin face; dark circles hid beneath his eyes; and there was a slash, still bleeding, from the wolf that had disappeared back into the boy’s body mere minutes ago.

“How’s he doing, then?” Jonathan asked, reaching to pat his son’s hand. Lucinda reached forward protectively, stopping her husband from coming any nearer to their son. He paused immediately; Lucinda and his eyes meeting briefly. Her eyes were the sharpest blue, penetrating; Remus, however, had inherited his father’s own brown eyes. Yet, there wasn’t any love or understanding in Lucinda’s eyes this morning; there hadn’t been for a month. The only emotions he ever saw reflecting in those clear orbs were anger if she was looking at him, or sorrow if she was with Remus.

“I’ll leave you with him, then?” he asked tentatively.

“Go off then, leave him when he’s like this!”

“You won’t let me anywhere near him!” he spat in a harsh whisper.

“Well of course not! If you would have just–you know what that… that maniac’s like!”

“You talk as though I wanted this to happen to Remus! Cindi, you know that I would never–that if I could take it for him I would–don’t say this is my fault!” he finished in a defeated breath, knowing that to not blame himself was a lie, but he couldn’t stand to hear the accusation coming from Lucinda or, even worse, from Remus.

“Not your fault!”She was whispering too, though it didn’t appear that any amount of noise would wake Remus; he was sleeping soundly, his features expressionless. “If you would have just–if you could have–you should have…”

“Don’t you dare say what I should have done, Cindi!” Jonathan said gravely, rising from his seat. “You have no idea…what would you have done? Cindi, I–”

“Look at him!” Cindi yelled suddenly, standing, pointing at their son, who still hadn’t stirred.

Jonathan stared for a moment, before quickly looking away, as though suddenly finding the beige carpet immensely interesting. “I can’t.”

He turned toward the door, repeating weakly, “I’ll leave you to him, then.” The door shut quietly behind him, and he set off down the path that led to the nearby Muggle village. The morning air was stiff around him, and stung his eyes, which had become suddenly moist. He couldn’t stand to be in that house any longer–couldn’t stand to see Remus lying there, completely helpless, completely unknowing…

He turned the corner more sharply than he had intended, wondering again whether it was wise to not have told Remus the truth about the attack. The Healers at St. Mungo’s had said he was too young to understand–let him go on believing it was a wild dog he’d run into, continue to come up with excuses to explain what happened to him once a month until he was old enough to understand.

But when exactly is “old enough”?

Lucinda had agreed, eager to shelter her baby boy from the horrible truth of what he was and how the rest of the world would see him for as long as she possibly could. Jonathan had wondered, had felt that if, perhaps, Remus was capable of being a werewolf, wasn’t he capable of understanding what was happening to him?

But the Healers had said….Yes, yes, the Healers had said and he would do whatever the Healers thought was best; after all, they knew more about this kind of thing than he did.

He arrived in the Muggle village and set off toward the nearest pub. It didn’t occur to him until he was standing outside of its darkened windows that there wasn’t any way the pub would be open; it wasn’t even seven o’ clock yet.

But he needed something… something more than tea to calm his nerves. He set off toward the nearest store, and bought the hardest liquor he could find. Then, sitting outside on the sidewalk’s curb, he began to drink.

Jonathan had never been a drinker…the last time he’d had a drink was his and Lucinda’s honeymoon, nearly eight years ago. He grunted, taking another sip from the bottle. This was much more effective than tea, he could already begin to feel his troubles disappearing with the amber liquid.

Once again his memories seemed to return to Remus. Lucinda and himself had tried for three years to have child…three long years with absolutely nothing more than sadness and disappointment.
After five miscarriages, they had resigned to giving up, admitting that they just weren’t meant to have children…

And then Remus had come. Quite out of nowhere, Remus had come…and he had been fairly healthy. Premature, though he was, after a few extra weeks in the hospital he was able to return home, and happy and fit as any other baby.

He smiled into his alcohol, the effects already beginning to make life seem much less serious. Remus had been a bright baby, and had grown into an equally intelligent little boy, always asking questions about the world around him.

Jonathan sighed; the liquor beginning to take a new effect; suddenly the reality of the situation seemed much sadder, and the inhibitions that had quelled his sadness, stopped him from breaking down completely, were now gone. He heaved a dry sob, thinking dully that none of it mattered–

Remus could be one of the brightest boys of his age, and it wouldn’t matter. All that anyone would ever see was the wolf, that beast he became once a month. The thing he hadn’t asked for, nor wanted–the mere fate he had been dealt. No one would ever see the kind, caring person that was beneath the scars or the shy boy beneath the howls of the werewolf–a dangerous half-breed, that’s all he would ever be viewed as.

Jonathan took another gulp of his drink, grimacing slightly at the bitter taste. In the back of his mind he knew it was best to stop thinking about his son and the problems they would, inevitably, have to face. The right thing to do now was sit and drink. Just drink, drink, drink…

“Bit early to be hitting that stuff already, don’t you think?”

Jonathan turned around, an elderly man with frazzled grey hair had approached him, his hands shoved deeply within his pockets. It took a moment for Jonathan to realize who he was; he had been so keen to get the liquor and begin drinking that he hadn’t noticed much else. At last, he recognized the man as the clerk he had bought the alcohol from, and now the man was sitting beside him, taking out a cigarette.

“You strike me as someone who isn’t normally a heavy drinker,” the man began thoughtfully.

“You strike me as someone who should mind their own business,” Jonathan spat, surprised at the hold the alcohol had already begun to take upon him, or perhaps he was just using that as an excuse. That may well be it. He’d been angry for a while: angry at Greyback for having bitten his son, angry at Remus for having been out of bed, angry at the Healers who had told him with so little empathy that there wasn’t a cure, angry at Lucinda and her bitterness, angry at himself and what he had done. And now, he was angry at this old fool. This old fool who was sticking that large, bulbous nose into his business.

“I suppose I am being a bit nosey–”

“Good, now if you don’t mind, ” Jonathan took another gulp of the liquor, eager to do the one thing he could do to calm himself and the rage that had been churning within him for a month. No matter how much he wanted to, he couldn’t release any of this anger, he could only drown it in this blessed liquid. Jonathan couldn’t go after at Greyback without losing his own life, and for no reason would he punish Remus, the rest of his life would be consequence enough; he couldn’t bring himself to hurt that poor boy any more. And the Healers? It wasn’t their fault there wasn’t a cure, nor could he blame Lucinda, and if he beat himself any longer there wouldn’t be much of Jonathan Lupin left. But he could yell at this old man.

“What you still doing here?” He drained the last of his first bottle, and eagerly opened another.

“Taking a break,” the man said, lifting his cigarette to his lips to explain. “Good time of the day to think.”

“That’s just about what I want to stop doing,” Jonathan muttered, swallowing half of the bottle at once. “And the quicker, the better.”

The old man looked at him for a moment. “Family problems?”

“What’s it to you?” Jonathan snapped, taking another sip.

“You’re too old to be worrying about some quick girlfriend, looks like you’ve settled down, or at least tried to. What’s it, a divorce?”

“No, not yet, at least…” Jonathan didn’t know what else to say. Lucinda couldn’t divorce him; she cared too much for Remus and there was no way she could be able handle his monthly transformations alone. But then again, she hated him so much these days.

“Who’s fault is it?”

“Sorry?”

“Whatever you and the missus is on about, it’s her fault, right?”

“No, I–” he stopped. Why was he blaming himself? It was Lucinda who had put Remus to bed? She should have made sure he was asleep! This wasn’t his fault, not at all. “It’s her’s, all her’s” he reasoned, reaching for his third bottle.

“Not your’s at all?”

“Nah,” he said, raising the rim of the bottle to his lips. Remus’ lycanthropy wasn’t his fault. Not at all–Greyback was a monster; Lucinda should have watched Remus more carefully; Healers weren’t smart enough to find a cure; Remus… Remus misbehaved… should have been in bed…

Funny how alcohol puts everything in perspective.

The old man was silent for a long time, long enough for Jonathan to reach his fourth drink.

“Whoa, go easy there–”

“Don’t tell me what to do!” Jonathan spat. “I’m tired of people telling me what to do! Telling me how to raise my son! Well, he’s my son, you hear! My son, and I don’t need any bloody Healers to tell me how to raise him! He’s not changed any, not really…” He fell into himself, slumping over his stomach.

“Shouldn’t you start backing off?” the man reached for the final bottles, still in the bag beside Jonathan, who harshly batted the man’s hand away.

“And I don’t need some old fool telling me what to do either!”

“Of course,” the man held his hands up in surrender. “Just thought you might want to talk; ‘might be able to help–”

“You can’t, you old fool! No one can help him! It’s useless! I’m useless!” he finished dejectedly, “I’m useless. Can’t help anyone. Can’t do anything.”

“I’m sure there’s something–”

“There’s nothing!” Jonathan spat.

“I have trouble believing that,” the man said, thumbing his cigarette into the gutter. “There has to be something that can be done.”

“THERE ISN’T!” Jonathan stood, smashing his bottle into the street, the amber liquid dripping off the sidewalk onto the pavement. “You brainless git, it’s pointless. It would have been better if…if…” he collapsed on the sidewalk again.

The man looked into him, clear blue eyes piercing into Jonathan’s now watery-brown.

“My son is…” Jonathan stopped. He wasn’t intoxicated enough to forget that he was talking to a Muggle. “Sick,” he finished lamely, his blurred vision staring unseeingly ahead of him, determined to look anywhere except at the old man.

“Is it fatal?” the man asked, and Jonathan was surprised to find that his voice was filled with real concern.

Jonathan shook his head. “Not in so many words…” It could be, though. Remus’ transformations will only get worse the older he becomes. If the wolf attacks itself this much when the boy’s only five… Jonathan shuddered to imagine Remus’ injuries while he was a teenager or an adult.

“Must be hard for your son.” the man replied thoughtfully.

“He doesn’t know–too young–wouldn’t understand…” Jonathan slurred, still refusing to meet the old man’s eyes.

“Children understand more than we give them credit for,” the man replied. “Especially if it’s happening to them.” He pulled out another cigarette, “They have questions, they want answers, plain and simple–just like adults do. How would you like to be kept in the dark about something like…er…what is it you said your son had?”

Jonathan looked ahead. To be honest, he had no idea what sort of pain Remus had gone through last night, but if he could imagine, just have the faintest idea what his boy could have suffered–if it was him who was being forced to become a monster once a month…

He’d want answers. He’d want to know what was happening to him–within him. He’d want to understand.

And before Remus had been bitten…before everything had gone so horribly wrong, Lucinda had always cooed to Remus how much like his father he was. How similar the two of them were…

Remus would want to understand.

And…Jonathan realized, standing up and turning in the direction of his home, Remus is capable of understanding.

“Thank you,” he said to the man, and began to go home, where everything was falling apart and where he was going to repair what he had begun over a month ago… Lucinda and Remus were exactly as Jonathan had left them: Remus, still asleep, Lucinda still watching over him. Lucinda jumped immediately toward him, looking Jonathan up and down. “You’ve been drinking,”
she said after a few moments.

“I needed to…” What was he going to say exactly–get his mind off of things? “I’m going to bed.” he mumbled. Nothing good could come from a drunken conversation…he could literally feel his reason slipping away as he looked over at his son. It would be best to wait.

“So you go off and get yourself drunk!”Lucinda was saying. “After everything that Remus has been through, everything you did–”

“DON’T BLAME THIS ON ME, LUCINDA! YOU HAVE NO IDEA…DON’T KNOW… I’M NOT AT FAULT HERE!”

“Dad?”

Jonathan wilted. He had been ready to fight, ready to set Lucinda straight and make her see how much this was hurting him, to force her to understand that she wasn’t the only parent that loved Remus, that his heart was breaking too. He had been ready to scream and yell at her, at long last, but he was also ready to set things straight with Remus. And now seemed like a good time to do so.

Remus had lifted his head, the scar on his neck more prominent then ever. Jonathan approached, taking a seat beside his son on the couch. Lucinda had followed, lips pursed, and stood behind Jonathan, her eyes relaying a message that Jonathan had seen all too often lately: Don’t talk to Remus.

Jonathan reached forward and patted the top of his son’s head. “How’re you feeling, Remus?”

“Awful,” was his son’s response, barely more than a whisper. Jonathan smiled sympathetically; Remus had always been so quiet, but now more than ever.

“Daddy?” Remus asked, his bright brown eyes seemed to almost protrude from his weak face.

“Yes, Remus?”

“Are you mad at me?”

“Mad at you?” Jonathan looked at his son. This was the last thing he had expected; why would Remus think that he was angry?

“I said I was sorry for being out of bed, but you haven’t talked to me at all. I’m sorry, Dad, please, I’m sorry!”

Jonathan stared at his son, hurt to see the tears that had welled in his eyes so suddenly. He glanced at his wife, and she too seemed to understand. Now was the time to stop feeling guilty, to stop pointing fingers. Now was the time to act, and to accept the cards they had been dealt. Now was the time to live with what they had been given–it was time for Lucinda to let Jonathan back into their son’s life, and it had been foolish of her to have denied the two of them, and equally as foolish of Jonathan to have separated himself. It was time for him to be a father, because now Remus needed him–he needed him more than he ever had before.

“Daddy?”

Jonathan looked again at his son, and smiled weakly, “I’m not mad, Remus and I forgive you.” He looked again at the marks that spread across his son’s frail frame, and sighed. This was more than a skinned knee that he could fix with a kiss; Remus’ entire young life had fallen apart and now lay broken around him. This was something that Remus needed to fix himself.And it could take years…it could take a lifetime… Remus would need guidance and help to put those pieces back together–a father and mother both to be beside him with all the kisses and bandages needed.

“Remus,”Jonathan began, with a glance at his wife; the trust was restored in her eyes as she looked from father to son. She knew that she had pampered Remus as much as she could, and now he needed the firm, sturdy hand of a father. “Remus,” he said, looking into his son’s large, brown eyes, “Do you remember what happened to you last night?”

Remus shook his head.

“Jonathan, the Healers said–”

“Lucinda, it’s my turn to be with Remus. It’s my turn to help him.” He looked at his son again, and said seriously, “Do you want to know?”

Remus nodded.

Jonathan sighed and with a sideways look at his wife, motioned for her to sit down. It would take the both of them to raise Remus, to help him over the obstacles life had given him. Now, at the young age of five, it was time for Remus to do quite a bit of growing up and he and Lucinda would do it with him.

Plugged In, Chapter Seven: The Bleeding Man

Most people don’t appreciate time.  Their precious routines make time seem like nothing more or less than a light breeze skimming the roofs of their houses: unnoticeable, unassuming, uninteresting.  It comes, it goes, it leaves them behind until, like a long-extinct leaf, it blows them away with it.  Time is nothing to most people.

     But Drafters are not most people.

     Two weeks to a Drafter is like slicing away pieces of cake.  The more you slice, the less there is left–but as you digest those slices… you realize you’ve taken more than you can handle. 

     Armin left the bathroom, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.  He wondered if maybe the chemicals had caused him to feel so ill.  Murf, too, said he’d not been feeling his best, though he tended to get headaches.  He said it happened every time he looked at his wife playing with little Boston, and he thought that maybe, just maybe, that would be the last time he’d ever see them.  Maybe, just maybe, something would malfunction, or he wouldn’t close the tram properly and chemicals would leak into his own house, or maybe…. and then he’d get a headache.

     Thoughts like that usually preceded Armin’s nausea.  As if the damn chemicals weren’t bad enough, this mental pollution was enough to make Armin go crazy.

     He sat his computer.  Turned it on.  Heaved a sigh.  Looked out at the still-dark sky.  4:15 AM, and he was wide awake.  Disrupting his perfectly normal sleep schedule (bedtime at two and waking at noon) was possibly the worst thing that Drafting had stolen from him.

     Though, to be fair, it had given him at least something (even if Armin would never admit it aloud). 

     He was on his profile when he stopped, mouth dry, staring at his newest friend request:  Preema Jennings.  Her large green eyes made up half of her profile picture, which was all sexy stare, pouty lip, and sneaky peek down her t-shirt.  The request came with the message: I’d love to see if you’re as brave as you pretend to be.

     He accepted her friend request and replied: How can I show you that I am?  I’m open to suggestions.

     Send.  Never before had a girl like that talked to him… that was enough to make him feel wide awake even at this ridiculous hour.

     Five o’ clock came quietly and quickly, and Armin had just finished writing a new status (Wonder if I’ll ever get to drive the tram.  Move over, Hem-V, and check out my stunts!), when the sirens alerted him that Murf was, again, at his door. 

     Not even a few minutes into it, and already his safety suit was chaffing.  Murf seemed to be feeling the same way, because he greeted Armin with, “You’d think with all the technology we’ve got, we’d be able to wear something that didn’t make us so damn sore.”

     “Yeah.”

     “Ready to get started?”

     “Whenever you are.”

     And with that, the day, like every day before it, began.

#

     “You ain’t got no right to complain, kid.”

     “I have as much right as you.”

     “Oh no.  No, no, no, no, no.”  He and Murf were taking their fifteen minute lunch break (though they used the term “break” very loosely).  Murf referred to it as their “daily dance with death.”  They had to eat, but couldn’t do so without taking off their helmets.  Somehow, one less layer of protection made the tram walls (though inches thick and fully shielded against the chemicals) seem paper thin.  “I’ve seen those cocky posts of yours.”

     “They’re not as genuine–”

     “Oh, I figured that out from day one.  The way you talked, I was thinkin’, you must be one of those smart-alecky losers.  But you’re just some awkward dork.”

     Armin glared at him.  “I’m not a dork.”

     Murf snorted.

     “I get top points in the regimens!”

     “It’s cute you think the regimens make you strong. Kid, they’re just the Governance’s way of making sure your heart stays interested in keepin’ you alive.”

     “I’m not cute, either.”

     Another snort.  “You’re young and dumb, will you grant me that much?”

     “No.”

     “Then you’re stupid, too.  That’s what I mean by you ain’t got no right to complain.”

     Murf took another bite of the dried ham he’d brought with him; Armin was eating some pureed vegetables between crackers–all original recipes of the Governance’s ration packages. After a long chew, Murf swallowed and said, “You’ve got one person to think about, kid, and that’s you.  There’s no one else in your house, no one depending on you to be a father and a husband.  You know what it’s like growin’ up without a father?”

     “Yeah… well… sort of.”

     Murf surveyed him for moment, then shook his head.  “Yeah, well, that’s not what I want for Boston.  And it’s not what I want for my wife either.  I married her, and that’s a life commitment, and by that, I mean her life, not mine.  I always figured it was the husband’s duty to live longer.  Not like I want her to die, or anything.  I’m just sayin’, like, if we’d both live to a hundred”–he smiled here; ages like that were only appropriate in fairy tales–“and we were both feeble and sick, I’d make sure I’d stay alive just a little longer to make sure she’d never have to feel the sadness of losing the person she loved, so that she’d never have to be lonely.  I’ll take bein’ lonely; I’ll be okay.  I’ll take the burden… that’s what men do.”

     “I guess that’s at least something my dad did, then.”

     “Your dad not get along with your Mom?”

     “My dad doesn’t get along with anyone, really.”

     “Including you?”

     Armin didn’t answer.  He took a bit of his crackers, feeling the dry mush roll over his tongue.  “Depends what mood I’m in, and what mood he’s in.  I mean, he’s my dad.”

     “Fair enough,” Murf agreed.  “But, like I was sayin’, you don’t understand what kinda burden it is, thinkin’ you might leave the people who need you to stick around.  And then, at least at night, you can forget you’re a Drafter.  But I’ve got that damn tram outside my door.  And it sounds freakin’ crazy, I know, because I can’t see it… but I know it’s there….”  Murf trailed off.  “It’s a reminder and a threat, and I hate this stupid aluminum can.”  He jerked his head around the tram–a funny thing to hate, considering it was the one thing keeping them (and really the entire commune) alive.

     “Sounds tough,” Armin agreed.

     No answer.

     “I mean, I get it.”

     Still no answer, then….

     “I’m a selfish son of a bitch, I know that,” Murf said.  “I know we need all this… ‘delivery system’ shit.” He raised his eyebrows, quoting the often-mocked Jess.  “I know it’s selfish, but, man, it’d be nice if I could just have a break.  That’s the worst part of this job.  But it’s just me bein’ selfish, really.”

     Armin took a swig of his water.  “I don’t think you’re selfish.”

     Murf blinked, then muttered, “Thank you.”

     “Yeah, well, you deserve a break.”

     Silence, except for the sound of their chewing.  Armin watched Murf; he was paler and thinner than when they had first met.  Yes, if there was anyone who deserved a break, it was him.

     “Wanna hear a crazy idea?”

     “How crazy?”

     “Crazy enough to calm your nerves.”

     “There’s crazy, and then there’s impossible.”  Murf made to get up, but Armin cut across him, saying:

     “What if I took the tram home?”

     Murf froze, looking like a video on pause.  “What?”

     “My house works just like yours–everyone’s house is designed the same way–and you could teach me the controls.  Besides, I’ve been wanting to drive–”

     “Oh, no–no joy rides!”

     “Come on, Murf,” Armin argued, raising an eyebrow. “I thought you had my act figured out.”

     A moment’s hesitation–just a moment–and then Murf grabbed Armin by the collar and dragged him to the controls.  “Okay, kid, here’s how it works.”

#

     Murf was doubled over in laughter. 

     “Shut-up.”

     Murf howled, holding onto a pile of rations boxes for support. 

     “Shut-up!”

     “You act like your tryin’ to defuse a bomb, not drive a tram!”

     “I don’t wanna–”

     “Don’t wanna live up that lie on your page?” Murf’s face was red with the effort to hold in his laughter.  “Go right on ahead, you’re doin’ a great job!”  The laugh broke out, spraying spittle everywhere.  Armin glowered in disgust and annoyance, steering towards the next house.

     “Okay, okay, I think I’ve got it.”

     “Sure… sure you do.”  Murf was beginning to calm down.  He approached Armin, grabbing onto his shoulder.  “And you’ll make sure you’re at my house extra early?”

     “Yeah, by four.”

     “Good.  Don’t want anyone to know we’ve changed up.  Doubt the Governance would want to know we’re…uh… amending their ‘delivery system.’”

     Armin laughed nervously.  “Yeah, they wouldn’t like that.”

     There was a long pause as they stared ahead at the endless rows of concrete boxes.  The Tram connected to the house, and the two of them could hear the sirens, just barely, through the Tram door.

     “Back to work?”

     “Yeah,” Armin agreed.  “Back to work.”

#

     There was a sick, twisted kind of power that came from controlling a two-ton vehicle.  Man versus machine.  And in that one, glorious instant, man whooped machine’s ass.  Armin turned the steering wheel, still more cautious and hesitant than Murf ever was.  But right now, Armin was the brain of this metal behemoth, meandering through the dusky streets, watching as bluish computer lights flickered across closed blinds.

     Another turn; he could feel the tram vibrate under him, feel it glide on the straights and clunk on the curves.  It was all about him, and his power, and his control. 

Control your life, master your world.

Even Drafters, Armin figured, could have that much.  That was the one guarantee the Governance promised. 

#

     There were two voices not far from Armin, but not quite loud enough for him to hear.  One was a choked voice, a voice that was trying to squirm its way out of a throat that wasn’t quite big enough to let it.  The other was reasonable, steady… and stubbornly refusing to panic.

     “You p-promised me n-nothing bad would h-h-happen!”

     “Listen, Dav, you need to calm down.”

     “Y-you said, and now…now–look in there!”

     “Dav… Dav, NO!”

#

     “NO!”

     Armin stopped the tram.  There were voices, loud voices, as though they were right outside the tram door.

     Outside?

     He didn’t know what to do.  The whirring of his safety suit told him that he could step out, but… what if it was a Twicken?  Then again, what if it wasn’t?  Didn’t he have some sort of moral obligation to check?

     Technically, he did.  But technically people have moral obligations to do a lot of things, and they don’t necessarily do them.  A moral obligation was just about as useful as the old flash drives that some people kept as collectibles.  The smart thing to do would be to keep going.

     “DON’T YOU DARE DIE YET!”

     Well, there went the whole ignoring thing.

     Armin, moving with as much speed as that clunky safety suit would let him, ran to the door and waited the impatient five seconds for the door to whoosh open.  He hesitated for a moment–the first step he would actually take outside, not onto a tram or into a house, but actually outside–but he brushed that thought away, running towards where the voices were still shouting.  They were inarticulate now, maybe even in pain.  He began to run, his suit fwush, fwushing louder and louder… such a stark contrast to the voices, which were becoming quieter now, more or less just labored breaths.

     Or one labored breath.

     The first person was dead, no doubt about that.  A knife was sticking up out of his chest, precisely at his heart.  Armin was reminded, ridiculously, of a toothpick in a sandwich.  Blood was pouring out of his chest and….

     Armin was going to throw up.  It had a smell; there was a smell that came with copious amounts of blood, a fact he had never noticed from the little scrapes he would get while playing, little nothings that his Mom would fix with a bandage.

     But this was… was something that belonged on Hem-V.  Not here, not in front of him.

     Gasping.

     Armin’s attention turned to the other.  He was not much older than the first (who, Armin realized, was probably only a year or so older than himself), but this one was still alive, hand clutching at the rip made by the knife lodged in the other’s chest.  He was lying flat on his back, eyes nothing by mirrors of the stars.  His hand was on his stomach, attempting to hold on to something that was literally slipping through his fingers.  Armin watched as the blood seeped through the fickle barrier of his hand, watched as he heaved each breath….

     Each breath?  That wasn’t helping him any!  The chemicals would kill him faster than any wound would if he didn’t get inside immediately.  Armin shook his head.  Now was not the time to be shocked (that would come later); now was the time to do something.

     Armin approached the Bleeding Man.  He walked right above him, into his desperate line of vision, so that he would know that someone was there to help. 

     The Bleeding Man’s eyes opened wide, terrified.  “No… please no…”

     “I’m here to help,” Armin said, and his voice sounded garbled and strange through the helmet.

     “Like hell you are!”

     And, unbelievably, the Bleeding Man tried to stand. The effort was too much, and he fell over, slipping in the pool where his and the other man’s blood were mixing.  His face screwed up in pain, and Armin reached over. 

     “Let me–”

     “No… no…” he argued, but there was no strength to back up his protest.  Armin tried to lift him, failed, then proceeded to drag him to the nearby tram.  He heaved him inside, and the Bleeding Man groaned.  How much blood could someone lose without dying?

     “Here, uh… let’s… uh…”

     “Stop the bleeding… get a cloth or somethin’.”

     Armin spun around the tram; there was the dining cloth that Murf had jokingly brought for the lunches.  He lunged for it, ripped it apart, and pressed it to the Bleeding Man’s stomach.

     “Pressure… here…” he instructed through gritted teeth.   

     Armin, dizzy and shaking, followed the directions.  He applied the pressure, breathing almost as heavily as the man on the floor of the tram. He couldn’t stand here, keeping the blood at bay forever. He wrapped dining cloth, tight, around the Bleeding Man’s waist and made to get up.

     “Where are you going?” the Bleeding Man asked weakly.  His pale hand reached to apply the pressure that Armin had abandoned.

     “I can’t help you any more than that here.  We have to get to my house.”

     The Bleeding Man didn’t argue, so Armin turned to the controls, started the tram, and began to drive with a shakiness that even Murf wouldn’t have laughed at.


Copyright Sarah Davidson 2021