The Last Harvest (Image Prompt)

It happened under whirring servos and gray clouds, and it happened without ceremony or celebration. Together, hydraulic fluid and blood spilled onto the snow, fresh and white and clean, like the passing of a torch. And that was that. One screamed in terror while another executed lines of code in silence.

Lifeform extinct.
Program complete.

It’s curious how polarizing remorse can be in a given instance. So often, it comes down to perspective. On one side, the last of living men only felt the crushing weight of regret, of mistakes made and consequences now permanent. Remorse consumed him. On the other, barely a hit of mechanical satisfaction. Nothing more than a troublesome checklist where the last box was finally ticked. Remorse was impossible.

And with the falling snow, evolution continued.

Link to artist: http://cobaltplasma.deviantart.com/art/Last-Harvest-693682243

Last Harvest by cobaltplasma

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Shopping (Writing Prompt)

The prompt from Reddit:

In a daze, she pulls a cart from the tangled lot, and metal crashes down as it breaks free. Slowly walking into the store, she leans on her elbows, and the empty cart wheelies under her weight. She wonders why she bothered grabbing one at all. There’s no need for it. Maybe it’s habit.

Maybe it’s the weight of the moment.

With a spinning front wheel as her guide, she passes down the aisles. The search is a charade. Though no one watches, she feels as though the whole world fixates on her movement. In her pocket, her phone buzzes with the arrival of another text. The message is left unread. She knows it’s from her best friend. She knows what it probably says.

omg when? or Do you know who the father is?

She turns the cart down the only aisle that holds what she came for. The selection is overwhelming, and she wonders, does it even matter which one? She makes three indiscriminate choices, and the pregnancy tests fall into the empty cart. Inside their metal cage, they look just as she feels: trapped.

She leaves the aisle and heads toward checkout. She sees the lines, the people waiting. The reality of it all freezes her in place. An overwhelming urge comes to her, one of filling her cart with random items in attempt to cover her fate.

In her pocket, her phone buzzes with another message. She doesn’t reach for it. Like the waiting pregnancy tests, she already knows what it’s going to say.

Death and the Doctor (Writing Prompt)

The link from Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/comments/68xdw5/wp_you_are_the_worlds_most_successful_doctor_upon/

On a dull afternoon and with little fanfare, he slipped away.

Dying met few of his expectations. In many ways, its simplicity made life itself and the fear of losing it a disappointment. Only a handful of memories flipped by in random order and of nothing particular: washing the car with the children on a Sunday, the one baseball game attended that went into extra innings when most of the stadium had trickled out to the parking lot in disappointment, snow in early May.

All of these passed by like billboard advertisements on a forgettable highway.

When he came to the place of consciousness, he did as we all do; he smiled. Not a joyous smile over a life lived or one of having avoided terrible damnation, but the smile one gives after being reminded of a struggle experienced, endured, and concluded.

“Hello, Bill,” Death said.

“Hello. I’m surprised to see you here.”

“Are you?”

Bill gazed. The dream of reality still dripped from his mind like water falling from fingers pulled from a fresh stream. “I guess so. I don’t know. Should I be?”

Death smiled, seeing Bill’s expression. “You’re still coming to. Give yourself a moment.”

Bill exhaled with relaxation and bathed in the warm glow of existence. “When do I have to go back?”

“There’s no set rule,” Death said. “Take as much time as you like. You’ll soon jump back in again. You always do.”

“I don’t feel like you normally meet with me in transition,” said Bill. “I was right the first time. This is surprising. Why are you here?”

Death extended his arms and allowed himself a slow spin in the beauty of being, a fleeting bit of freedom away from continual duty. “Your most recent life resulted in your achieving tremendous stature in your profession. Can you still remember?”

“Yes,” Bill said. “I was a surgeon.”

“You were indeed, one of the best.”

Bill smiled larger as the stream of life temporarily overflowed its banks and refreshed his memory. “It was wonderful,” said Bill. “Those looks of gratitude. I remember those the most.”

“As you should,” said Death, “as you should. You earned them, one and all. Tremendous work, Bill. I’m proud of you.”

“Thank you.”

“And I want to thank you,” continued Death.

“Oh?”

“Of course.” Death paused, knowing the fate of the world below, and relished the warmth around him for one moment more. “Your hand postponed my own from coming down. So often my character is misjudged. I find no pleasure in seeing despair in those eyes, but no one wants to admit to my having sympathy.”

“Wasn’t there a song about that?”

“I think the context was a little different,” said Death with a scoff.

“Why didn’t you visit me?” Bill asked. “After all I had heard during that life, in that line of work, they convinced me of your existence, despite my upbringing. When you never appeared, I wondered if perhaps you were mad.”

Death paused, knowing his own time was up. Those in pain now called. “I couldn’t bear it. When things are ugly, I despise removing beauty.”

Bill felt the twinge of sadness in his friend and felt it in himself too. “I know. I forgive you.”

“I must go now, but again, I thank you. Have you decided on your next life?”

“I have,” said Bill.

“What will it be?” asked Death.

“I’ll be a composer. A musician of some kind.” Bill smiled, seeing the memories of his future life already falling into the hands of destiny. “I’ll make music in a time where it will be forever preserved. It will be beautiful, and it will last well beyond my lifetime. It’ll be a beauty that can stay.”

Death smiled with sincerity. “It’s wonderful music, Bill. Truly. I’ll visit you this time.”

Bill filled with the warmth of being. “Yes, I know. I look forward to it.”

The Mist (Writing Prompt)

The link from Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/comments/5grz6u/wpthe_impenetrable_mist_creeps_slowly_forward/

The mist came in the late night, just before the dawn. Its evil flowed over the hillside and soaked into the woods, the leaves, the stones and streams. Its fringe carried with it an unnatural cold, something vile and wet that found its way into your bones like moisture working through the mortar of old brickwork. We all felt that cold. It fell on our sleep and sent shivers through our thick wool blankets. The children curled their legs to their chest while mothers and fathers tugged covers above their shoulders and pressed together for heat.

Had it been daylight, we may have noticed. We may have had a chance. However, darkness is the escort of evil, and in darkness evil came once again.

The rooster did not crow; there was no light to crow to. Outside our small village, the mist sunk its shroud into every limb, every bit of soil, every hovel and livestock pen. The animals huddled in the corners, silent and afraid. Something was coming, that they knew, but they were unaware that what they feared had already came.

The mist sunk into their fur, then into their flesh, and in time they all felt the urge to kneel, to rest, to succumb to death. Each one shuddered their dying breath.

It was McKellan who alerted us first, him being the widower of our small clan. He was the first to snap from terrible dreams to the bite of the cold damp. He thrust his door open to a fog he did not believe. Though his lantern was lit, he could not see. Fear stroked his old heart, but he pushed on from the frame of his door. It did occur to him that he might die, but it never occurred to him what he may have left to live for.

The mist fed on him all the same.

Though the morning grew later, a near-perfect darkness encased our homes. Light could not shine through. In this darkness, the leaves of the ground melted into black blood and smothered the stones they rested upon. The soaked soil turned to a gripping mud that first stole boots then socks and then suckered onto skin and bone.

That was when we first woke. It was to the screams of McGreggor. He had gone outside as well. His daughter was crying of the cold. The strong father he was committed himself to making a fire, despite the apparent lateness of the hour. Upon going out, the ground took him in. The more he struggled, the more the mist delighted in his pain and surged its power into the mud trail leading to his meager pile of wood.

In the end, his death was technically that of drowning.

The village stirred then. The mist muted all sounds, but it did not mute the sensation pressing down. But the realization only resulted in the same tragic mistake. Curiosity triggered investigation. Investigations led to open doors.

Open doors led to doom.

Some fought back, as well as one can against a vapor of evil. They slammed doors and sealed cracks with clothing and furs and did anything they could to keep the mist back.

But the mist bore down, and those that resisted had it worst of all. They suffered inside their own sanctuaries—the very places they call their home. Where they sat to eat with family and friends is where the mist dripped in from the ceiling. Where they lay their children down to rest is where the vapor soaked its insanity. Where they cooked and played and kept warm by small fires is where their cold, dark deaths came. The mist infiltrated them all. It stretched onto their skin and seeped into their pores and poisoned their very streams of blood.

It consumed them all from the inside, as it did with every living thing. When it had its fill, the mist lifted, and there was nothing that remained.

Off the Train (Writing Prompt)

The prompt from Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/comments/5cwfaj/wp_you_and_another_person_ride_the_same_public/

I always sit two rows back so I can watch her without really seeing her and her never seeing me. She sits with a leg up and her hand hanging off a bended knee. Her fingers dance to music I cannot hear, but it’s probably a piano piece. It must be a piano piece. Only the ivories can make fingers dance with such beauty.

Her skin is china-white, and there is a tattoo of Ouroboros on her wrist, the snake coiled in a circle consuming itself. All is connected. Nature is infinite. It’s clean and well-done, but it makes the yin yang ring on her middle finger seem redundant. I come close to being annoyed by this trivial detail, but then another song is sent through her earphones and her fingers start dancing again. All is forgiven.

Sometimes her raven hair is striped purple or blue or dark green or pink. It’s as if she’s wearing a mood ring. I try to make sense of what the colors mean, but it’s likely they don’t mean much of anything. They’re always accompanied with the same style of torn jeans and Converse shoes and wristbands made with various threads and colors lacking rhyme or reason.

I notice she looks ahead at the coming tracks and I always look off to the side at the scenery passing by. I don’t know why. I wonder if it’s symbolic. I wonder if she’s more in tune with herself than me. Maybe I should start listening to the piano. Maybe I should get a tattoo.

She’s new to the area. We’ve been sharing the same stop for a few weeks, and I’ve only seen her standing alone in the morning, and she’s never with anyone when she’s going home, or so I assume. Our paths split immediately; hers is east and mine west.

She smiled at me once, a few days after seeing me at the station. I was too nervous though. I flashed a smile and a quick wave, but that was it. It was then we both understood I had respectfully declined the unspoken attempt at friendship.

Unfortunate. Silence has become the end result between us.

The train jitters over a poor section of track and banks left. We’re nearing our stop now. It’s another chance to introduce myself, to say hello, to reconcile my mild rudeness from the first time she tried to break the ice. It’s another chance to berate myself after failing.

It seems shyness is the event horizon for eternal silence between two unmet friends. The black hole, obviously, is loneliness.

The train stops. We get off. She huddles under the collar of her jacket as cold wind sneaks in through the gaps. I’m ten steps behind and almost to that point where I pretend to tie my shoe or throw something in the trash or get something out of my bag so that I don’t feel like a stalker pacing her until we reach the street.

But she stops. She’s fishing something out of her pocket now. It’s a gum wrapper. She drops it in the bin and glances at me again. The surprise catches me off guard and emboldens me. Through some miracle, I speak.

“Hi.”

She shoves her hands into her coat pockets and her forces her chin down. The wind snaps her black hair around. The front is vivid purple stripe. “Hi.”

And there we are. I look at her and she looks at me and the train presses on to the next station without us. We’re alone with the cold, whispering wind as chaperone. My mind moves like the train and leaves without me.

“I love your hand.”

Her eyes squint, and I notice they’re an amazing blue, like the frozen lake not far from the station. “What?”

Though the cold bites at my face, my cheeks flush and fill with heat. “I mean your tattoo. The snake.”

“Oh,” she says. “Thanks.”

“And your fingers,” I practically blurt out.

She’s hesitant. “You like my fingers?”

I palm my forehead like a drunk driver failing an interview with the police. “Yeah. That’s weird, but that’s not what I meant.” I sigh and regroup and see that she’s still standing there. Despite the cold and the awkwardness, she’s still with me. “What I mean to say is, I love how your fingers dance when you’re listening to music. On the train.”

The words slowly soak into her mind, and she stares at me for a moment. More cold rushes by. A slow smile crawls across her lips. I know it’s sincere because she also smiles in her eyes.

“I’m Claire,” she says with a shallow bow of her head.

“I’m freezing,” I say in return.

She laughs then. She laughs and it’s beautiful and suddenly I realize I’m not freezing. A warmth is blooming inside of me.

“Can I walk with you, Claire?” I ask.

“Sure,” she says, already turning and hurrying along. The cold has not paused for our brief interaction. I follow along quickly. While we walk and we talk I notice that she still looks forward and I still glance at her to my side, but this time that which I see isn’t passing by. That’s new for me. I notice she glances to the side at me from time to time. When I catch her, she smiles. Perhaps not always looking forward is something new to her. Perhaps she’s not had a reason to look to her side.

Perhaps it’s a victory shared between us. Maybe the black hole of loneliness is the grip from which we’ve both broken free.

Lady In Red (Writing Prompt)

This prompt is based on an image. The link from Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/comments/5abfe7/ip_lady_in_red/

I’ve chosen not to post the image itself as I have not asked for permission. You can see it via the Reddit link.

The link to the artist’s website (please visit, cool stuff): https://www.artstation.com/artist/jakubrozalski

 

When I was boy, father spoke to me of monsters. He say, Legend born of truth and twisted by time still true. He warned me of darker hills in Romania, darker hills with black wood. I was never to go to them. Not as boy. Not as man. Not ever. Man has not conquered world like he thinks.

He was right.

In village, stories cannot always be trusted. They are half-fun. Like Television. Villagers embellish for entertainment. They cannot help. They are bored. But sometimes you hear story, and you know it true. Even when heart not want to believe, you know.

I was fool.

I hope my father forgive me even though he is dead. I hope my family forgive me, although they shouldn’t. No one should.

When first report come, we think it joke. The man was crazy! He shivered like so much cold but covered in sweat. He ran all night down road, through mud, through ice and rain. When inside garrison, he collapsed. His strength was gone, but his eyes still wild, and he spoke crazy things.

They’ve come! They’ve come! he said, again and again. But when we ask who, he go crazy. The darkness with eyes, he say. The darkness with eyes.

So, we go. What else is do? Is job. We go.

I’ve never seen so much blood.

The village was gone. In mud, you could see the marks where villager claw ground while being dragged from home. All homes like this. All villager is gone. Taken up the hill and into wood. Every trail the same, washed in blood. And in one small home I see crib. It—like meat pile. Like smashed tomato.

I remember gun shaking in hand and feeling very cold even though in full uniform. Mist come from woods and cover village in sadness. The others, they say devil. Some say demon. But I remember my father’s words of black wood.

Village was too close.

While staring at crib, shaking, crying, I hear shot and yell. I run from small home to see fellow soldier being killed by wolf of shadow. Wolf of shadow does not eat soldier like wolf. Wolf of shadow eats soldier like darkness eat room of dying candle. Wolf of shadow surrounds and soldier becomes another meat pile and puddle of blood.

So I run.

I know it’s too late, and I know I am soldier and supposed to fight, but I cannot help. I run.

There is clearing in wood, on hill, outside of village. The trees have been lumbered and thatch harvested for village. When running, I see wolf of shadow, whole pack now. They are in the wood beyond. I see what crazy man saw now. The darkness with eyes.

Though I tremble with fear, I cannot go on. Is hopeless. Man cannot outrun legend. I fall to my knees and weep like child, for I am scared and suddenly very homesick. I hear wolf of shadow coming to me and I pray that end is fast. I do not fear death, but I do not wish dying to be painful.

But then strange silence falls around me. I look and see that wolf of shadow has moved away.

There is woman now. Is gypsy in red. With her is real wolf, black but not as shadow although the eyes look same. I try to gather myself and stand. Maybe gypsy can save me. Maybe she commands wolf of shadow.

“What are you doing, gypsy?” I ask. I hold my rifle but I do not point it at her or real wolf. In her hand, she holds a stiletto dagger.

She does not answer.

“Why have you unleashed these evil things?” I ask. Behind her, pack of wolf of shadow stand now like human things. They are taller than tallest man I have seen. They are tall like bear.

“Are you devil?” I ask in whisper. The wolves of shadow laugh. The sound is like jackal.

The gypsy looks upon me with eyes like shadow, like skin of wolf of shadow. She points dagger at me and tells me to kneel. I can barely stand already. My knees are shaking. But with all of heart, I do not want to kneel. My father spoke of other things when I was boy as well.

Son, he said, never kneel for devil, for then death is not the end.

The gypsy takes half-step closer. Her voice is different now. Is voice of devil. Gypsy tells me to kneel. In heart, I feel nothing but sorrow and dread. I wish to be home. Around me, the wolves of shadow laugh like jackal.

My leg bends.

A Medium Translation (Writing Prompt)

The prompt from Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/comments/53gf5i/wp_you_are_a_medium_who_connects_people_with/

The woman took apprehensive steps into the single-wide trailer. When she closed the door behind her, the bell hanging from the door jingled again. The harmless sound startled her. Cynthia looked up from her reading, another pulp romance novel, and saw her newest customer. She was tall and thin. Everything about her was gray. Skin, hair, clothing, even the pensive look in her eye.

Cynthia set her book aside and stood from the old couch that had shaped to her form. She tightened the shawl over her shoulders, something more for uniform than comfort, and walked toward the woman. “Hello. Can I be of service?”

The eyes of the thin, gray woman darted in eager assessment. The stuffed owl, the dusty books, the animal skull and the dream catcher. All of these things were observed. “I don’t know,” she said. “I think so.”

Cynthia nodded. The new ones were always the same, afraid to admit to their wanting to believe in what they felt could only be a scam. “Shall we sit?” Cynthia asked, waving her hand toward a small wooden table, clean and hosting coasters and an ashtray.

“Yes,” said the woman, already relieved at being guided. When they sat, she set her purse atop the table, gray as well.

Her eyes kept scanning, taking in the residence, and Cynthia waited. Outside, trucks rolled down the highway, and her neon sign flashed the curtains with pink light. “What is your name?” asked Cynthia after a moment of waiting.

“Aren’t you supposed to know that already?” joked the woman with obvious nerves.

Cynthia smiled at the worn joke. “Perhaps,” she said with an innocent wink, “but I like to leave out the guessing when I can.”

“Sarah.”

Cynthia gave a polite smile. “Sarah, you don’t have to be here. I’m happy to have a customer, but I’m much happier helping those that are comfortable.”

Sarah chuckled. “It’s that obvious, is it?”

Cynthia nodded. Silence joined the two of them, a rare interval between semi-trucks.

Sarah shook her head. “I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. I think I want to be here, but this is all very confusing.” Her eyes resumed their scanning, darting from object to eclectic object in an almost frenzied state. They only stopped once, undoubtedly on the taxidermied wolf head.

“What’s the trouble?” asked Cynthia.

Sarah’s hands fidgeted with her bag. “Is it okay if I smoke?” Cynthia nodded, and the woman quickly produced a pack with only two cigarettes remaining. She lit and took a long drag. The nicotine stains on her fingers blended into her gray skin.

“It’s my father,” Sarah said in a smoky exhale. “He killed himself about a year ago.”

“I’m very sorry,” said Cynthia.

Sarah waved her hand at the condolence. “Don’t be. He did it to himself, selfish prick.” She took another drag, longer than the first. “We were all obviously devastated when it happened. My mother—well, anyway, I won’t drag you down with the details. Do you charge by the hour?”

“I charge by services rendered,” said Cynthia with a polite smile. “The opening consultation, assuming it isn’t too lengthy, is always free.”

Sarah gave a hurried nod and snubbed out her half-smoked cigarette. “I’ll get to it then.” She folded her hands on the table in front of her. “I don’t think he’s gone.”

Cynthia paused for further explanation. None came. “Your father?”

“Yes,” said Sarah. “Things have been happening lately. For a few months now. Leading me to believe—well. You know.”

Do you believe?” asked Cynthia after a small pause.

“Excuse me?”

Cynthia adjusted one of the many rings on her fingers. “I’ve been doing this for many years, Sarah. The only thing that doesn’t require psychic powers is knowing when a skeptic walks through the door.”

“I don’t believe,” Sarah said in a whisper. “But that doesn’t seem to matter much anymore. These things… Things keep happening.”

“What would you like to do?”

Sarah looked down and began picking at her nails. “I want to talk to him. Tell him to go away.”

“Well, believe it or not, that’s something you can do on your own already. The next time you—“

“No.” Sarah said, interrupting. “I want you to make him go away.”

Cynthia’s eyes narrowed. “You want me to help him crossover?”

“Sure,” said Sarah with quick nods. “Yeah. I want him to cross over. Help him move on.”

Cynthia turned the ring on her thumb, a thick ring made of sterling silver and engraved with the world tree. “Very well. I can assist you with that. The rate is fifty dollars.”

Without hesitation, Sarah opened her purse and laid three twenty-dollar bills on the table. “Keep the change.”

Cynthia looked at the cash on the table, looked at the hurried look in Sarah’s eyes, and took the money. She turned in her chair and reached for a small incense stand behind her, gave it a light, and set it in the middle of the table. “If you’re alright with it,” Cynthia said, “I’d like to hold hands. It will help me contact your father.” Sarah surrendered her hands across the table, and when they came into Cynthia’s, they were very cold.

Cynthia closed her eyes and slowed her breathing. She relaxed her body, and a chill gradually came over her. It was not a comforting feeling. She realized then that Sarah’s father was already there. How he’d arrived without her noticing was surprising. Cynthia opened her eyes and saw the fear resting in Sarah’s.

“Jim,” Cynthia said, much to Sarah’s surprise, “I feel your presence here. Thank you for coming.” The room chilled further. Cynthia felt her pulse quicken and took a deep breath to steady herself. “Sarah wants you to move on. You’ve frightened her, Jim. Do you wish to frighten your own daughter?”

Yes.

The response was immediate and strong. And painful. Cynthia’s hands twitched from it.

“What did he say?” asked Sarah, her eyes already wide with enthrallment.

“I—I couldn’t make it out.” Cynthia closed her eyes and exhaled, steeling herself to the powerful presence. “Jim, why do you remain with her?”

Because she. Killed! ME!

It was an ethereal scream only Cynthia could hear. She snapped her hands back in surprise and caused Sarah to jump in her chair.

“He’s here, isn’t he?” Sarah said in a panicky voice, rubbing at the goosebumps speeding up her arms. “I knew he was already here. Leave me alone!” she shouted.

“Stop,” Cynthia said. “Please. Yes, he’s here, but it’s important to stay calm. There seems to be a negative energy. Yelling only makes it worse.”

“Do we need to rejoin hands?” asked Sarah.

No longer in contact with Sarah, Cynthia could feel the heat returning to her body. “No,” she said, trying to sound sure of herself. “I can speak with him directly now.”

“What did he say?” Sarah squealed. “Why hasn’t he moved on?”

Cynthia held up her hand and silenced the frenzied woman. She was finding control again, but a coldness still lingered. “Jim, what are you seeking? What will help you find peace?”

Her death.

The words hissed into Cynthia’s mind and made her eyes water. Despite her best attempts, she could not play it off. Sarah saw the reaction.

“What did he say?” Sarah asked.

“He said,” she swallowed, “he wants you to forgive him.”

Hate flooded in. I want her to die. Die.

A heavy cold pressed against Cynthia, and she swallowed hard. Her watery eyes welled over, and a single tear fell down. Trying to remain calm, her words muttered. “I’m sorry, Jim. There’s a darkness around you. What is it you need from Sarah?”

Die!

Cynthia jolted, unable to control the cold hate passing into her. Breath fled her lungs, and she tried to swallow. Sarah jumped up from her chair and clutched her purse to her chest. “What did he say!?” Her hand was already on the door. The bell hanging from it jingled with her racing nerves.

“Sarah,” she tried, but the word was choked.

Sarah screamed and flung the door open. In seconds, she was in her car and racing down the street. Cynthia stayed seated, bracing herself on the table, and waited for the episode to pass. With surprising quickness, the presence faded. It was as if the cold and the hate had rushed out the open door in pursuit.

Again, she was alone in her trailer. Neon pink flashed the curtains. Semi-trucks groaned by.

Some hours later, unable to sleep and watching the local news, she saw a report of an accident on the highway near her home. The driver was a woman traveling alone. For reasons unknown, she had lost control and rolled her vehicle while speeding. Her body had been flung from the car.

The newscaster told Cynthia what she already knew. Emergency crews had found the driver dead at the scene.

Unsent Letters (Writing Prompt)

The prompt from Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/comments/4vrju6/wp_ive_been_writing_you_letters_but_those_letters/

I’ve stopped again, although this time I managed half a page. I don’t know why I bothered though. It’s half a page of nonsense, of my talking about the sky. I’ve been obsessed with the clouds lately. I’ve been looking up and seeing them and wondering what they think when our bombers go by. Somedays they’re so thick the sky is black. They block the sunlight.

The bombers I mean. Not the clouds.

And I don’t know if it’s just my imagination or not, but it seems like no matter what, the clouds are always going the other way. Those serene clusters of white hurry away from our destruction of the Earth below. Maybe they’re cousins, the clouds and the ground. Who knows. I try not to spend too much time thinking about it.

And now my wondering is layered in worry, doubt. I only have half a page of clean paper to write on, and I’ve already wasted most of that on clouds. Paper isn’t easy to come by. I shouldn’t waste it. I can already tell this note will end up with the others in my coat pocket.

But I have to try, don’t I? I have to write. You told me to write.

Normandy was hard. I’m sure you’ve heard. Carl didn’t make it. In some ways, neither did I. I’m still here, still alive, but I’m beginning to forget what that means. My mind keeps wandering. I keep looking at the sky, at the bombers flying one way and the clouds rushing the other, and I don’t understand what’s happening.

There’s one note I almost sent. One I tried to keep simple. It just says I’m alive, but even sending that doesn’t feel sincere. What if something happens on its way to you? What if by the time you read it, the note stops being true?

And if the truth held, to what does it matter?

You’re there. I’m here. Yours are days filled with oppressive worry, waiting for letters that never come. And I march on under speeding clouds and droning bombers, stepping over vaporized towns and dead soldiers.

Am I supposed to tell you that the nights are getting colder? That we’ve begun looting bodies for better jackets, better shoes? What difference does it make if yesterday’s grenade took a lucky bounce from the stone wall I ducked behind, bouncing away instead of toward with an explosion so loud it still knocked me down? The guy to my right lost his arm. Well, had it taken anyway. He didn’t lose it. We found most of it later, after he died. Not that we were trying. We just needed the ammunition left behind. Things like that are too valuable.

Carl told me to send them. Just send them. You need to know I’m alright.

Interesting choice of words. Alright.

Maybe that’s what I’m waiting for, to be alright. I don’t know if either of us has that much time.

I think I understand why the clouds are always going the other way. They don’t want to see it. They don’t want to be there. Like parents sick of listening to their children scream and fight. I want to go the other way too. Each body I step over, and I want to turn and follow the clouds. The ground is their cousin. The dead soldiers are mine.

All of this beautiful country is covered in pain, yet the birds still sing.

They say it’s a big deal we’ve taken Paris. They say the war is almost through.

They say a lot of things.

When I was a boy they used to say that babies were brought down by storks that lived in the sky, but that’s not true. I’ve seen what lives in the sky, and what comes from up there doesn’t bring babies down. It takes them away.

Carl is right. Was right (I keep forgetting). I need to send the letters. I need to let you know I’m still alive. I’ll send the one I’ve already written, the short one. The easy one. I’m alive. Anything more and I’d have to find more paper, and I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to search collapsed homes and basements for things. I always find something else. Another long-lost cousin.

I’ll send the letter, but maybe not today. No. I’ll wait to send it when I know it’s true.

Memories from Hats (Writing Prompt)

The prompt from Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/comments/4vg9tx/wp_every_time_you_put_on_a_new_hat_you_gain_the/

He was nervous, and with good reason.

Time Square bustled in a bad way. Cold rain, bombarded by the bright lights of advertisements, fell from a dark sky and onto people with no interest being there in the first place. Feet darted over deep puddles in exchange for landing in those looking shallow. Passing strangers only spoke in puffs of cold breath. Misery pressed down from above, and it pressed down upon all of them.

And there it was. Another hat.

It lay on the cement near an overflowing trash can, abandoned. Water soaked it through and through. When he saw it, his heart begged no no, but he knew there was no turning away from such a thing. There can be an attractive quality to vicarious pain; it offers one’s life a chance for calibration.

“Just don’t let the memories flood,” he whispered to himself as he drew near. He picked up the baseball cap. On the front was the soiled icon for the New York Yankees. He looked around without cause. No one was watching. Those that even held a chance of caring only hurried by. Often, time is money, but in a downpour, time is dry.

Giving the bill a gentle squeeze, his heart begged once more. Only sorrow is coming. You know this.

But still, he did.

Closing his eyes and holding his breath, he placed the cold, wet hat upon his head.

And the darkness came.

Looking back, having the chance to do it again, he would have wished for a flood. Floods push through and steal away and are gone again by morning. Floods only leave a vague recollection like a dream. As he liked to call it, the memories never stained. Had these memories surged his mind, some may have slipped by unnoticed, forgotten.

Such is the occasional misfortune of getting what you ask for.

Instead, the memories trickled in like a lazy river, each savoring the depth of their pain. The memories were simple, and their simplicity made it unforgettable for he who now wore the hat.

Darkness and cold and pain was pushed back by a clear imagine again and again, needles seeking veins. Needles stabbing into forearms and elbow bends and hands and legs. Any location blood dared to flow. Then the subtle movement of a plunger. Then warmth.

But the warmth was always shallow. Never permanent. Never meaningful. It was like stoking a night flame in the vain attempt to chase shadows away. Soon the fire withers and dies, and the darkness crawls forward again. Choices are limited. Stoke the fire or let the cold and the dark swallow you.

Again and again, there is a picture. Two people. A mother and her son. His wife and his son. They’re both blonde. They’re both smiling. They’re both beautiful in the way that can only be seen by love. In the boy’s eyes, maybe a lad of six or seven, is the look of utmost admiration. It’s the look of a boy who loves his father. Only through tragedy can a look like that be stolen from a child’s eyes.

And so, tragedy comes.

It comes slowly, heavy and thick like a glacier that’s forever moving while going nowhere, forever grinding stone. That tragedy grinds on the poor man’s soul day by day, inch by inch. The tragedy comes from water, salty and warm. A New Jersey coastline. A summer day. A man is screaming, he is screaming, losing his mind, sprinting from a mild ocean with a lifeless, blonde boy in his arms. Call 9-1-1. Try CPR. Sand sticks to the nose and mouth from the effort, from the frenzy, from panic setting in. He opens the boy’s eyes and sees beautiful blue. It’s still there. It’s right there. But they’re not moving. They see nothing. He shouts his name, he begs the child back from the brink, but the eyes look upward, nowhere. There is no look of admiration in these eyes.

Screams and tears and pain. And pain and pain and pain.

Over time, the woman loses the love in her eyes as well. There is shouting, although no one remembers why. Darkness crawls in. The glacial memory grinds and grinds. So plunges the needle into the skin. So it plunges again and again. Darkness and warmth is born into its perpetual cycle.

The man pulls the NY cap from his head and lets it fall to the ground. The cold rain continues, but his cheeks are warm with strain and fresh tears. The memories of the stranger have stained. The pain is no longer vicarious. Alone and cold and wet, the man crumbles to the curb. While he weeps with closed eyes, his mind sees a picture of open eyes filled with admiration.

The Window (Writing Prompt)

The prompt from Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/comments/4ugt77/ip_the_windows/

“Is this it?” Michael asked.

His father’s eyes rolled over the scene as though he were reading a book of his own personal history. The scent of dust lingered in the air, dust and concrete and neglect. His father shuffled forward a few steps, and the pebbles crunched under his shoes. Finally, he cleared his throat. “Yes.”

His father continued forward with his cane escorting each step. Michael followed. Outside, the first hints of fall blew a cool breeze through the allies between empty buildings. The Indian summer was finally failing.

Near the windows, next to a support beam, his father stopped. “I was here,” he said, spreading his hands over a workbench that was no longer there. Like his eyes, his hands and body moved around that which only existed in his mind. “It would get so hot in the summer,” he said, almost with a smile, as if the current day offered the memories themselves some relief. “I was lucky to have a window. Often times, I had to fight other boys for it, but I beat them.” The smile grew with the returning memory. “That, and I wanted to be in sight of your mother.”

Michael watched his father spread his hands.

“All of this,” his father continued, “this whole floor was just rows and rows of work stations. Mine was here. Your mother’s was there, two rows down.” The old man shuffled inward with hunched shoulders and made his way to the exact spot. “There were aisles, see? Here. They would walk the aisles all day, all night. It didn’t matter. They would walk and watch us, and they had these pieces of bamboo, see?” His father clapped his hands as loud as he could, and the sharp sound flew through the abandoned building. “Whack!” he said with another smile. “If they saw for a second you weren’t working.”

Michael watched his father in silence as the man mumbled to himself and returned to his nonexistent workstation by the window. He wondered if his father realized turning a corner around a bench that was no longer there.

“I was here, see? And your mother was there. She was so pretty.” His father smiled again.

“How did you meet her if you were always working?” asked Michael.

“Your mother had very beautiful eyes,” said his father. “I would look at them any chance I had, and I forced myself to smile when she caught me. Of course, she would smile back. Your mother was very kind, even then.” Michael and his father exchanged a mutual grin. “I finally built the nerve to ask her to sit with me near the window when they allowed us to eat. She did, and we’d look out at the other buildings and talk.” His father sighed and faced the open windows. “Lunch was only twenty minutes. That one moment in the day was all we had. Time goes so quickly.”

Michael took a moment to imagine the vast room frenzied with people, couldn’t, and joined his father by the window. “How old were you?”

“Fourteen,” his father said immediately. “She was one year younger.” Next to the window, the breeze caressed their faces. His father placed his hands on the sill. “This window,” he said, “was very important to me. I could smell the outside air. Sometimes, like today, there was a breeze. If it weren’t for this window, if I had worked at another station toward the center, I don’t know if your mother would have ever joined me for those lunches. We would’ve never spoke. She never would’ve given me the chance to walk her home.”

“What made you finally leave?” asked Michael.

His father squinted, and a darkness came to his eyes. “They hit her.”

“What?” asked Michael.

“It was my fault,” said his father. “I had been looking at her a lot that day. Smiling, making faces. She was smiling too, almost laughing sometimes. I couldn’t help it. Her smile was so pretty. We lost focus. We stopped paying attention to where the floor walkers were. One of them saw her making a goofy face, sticking her tongue out. The bamboo snapped across her back.” His father cracked his cane on the concrete floor and sent a loud Clack! through the empty building. Michael startled.

“Her eyes bulged big and white, and then the white turned to pink. I was furious, but she saw it. She saw me and shook her head. Silent tears rolled down her cheeks and she shook her head at me. She knew what would happen if I tried anything.”

The two men looked through the window in silence for some time, one reliving painful memories and the other trying to comprehend them.

“That was our last day here,” his father said. “That night when I walked her home, I begged her to leave with me. She was scared, obviously. It was a scary thing. I told her I’d sell all my things and we could flee the country and find something else, anything else. We could make our way.” His father chuckled. “She called me crazy, but she must have seen the determination in my eyes. I don’t know why she agreed to it. She was right. It really was crazy. But I knew I had her when she started smiling. Even with that mark fresh across her back, she started smiling. I knew then we’d be together forever.”

Michael smiled. “Was that the last time you were in this building?”

Michael’s father was snapped from memory’s daze, and he turned around. With the veil of memory removed, his failing eyes seemed to see the vacant building for the first time. After adjusting to the feeling of time marching by, he finally looked at his son and answered. “That was the last time I stood by this window.”