#AtoZChallenge: Time Lapse

It was another quiet summer day. Tina Davis was in the kitchen, washing the dishes after lunch. she was trying not to cry too audibly, lest her seven year daughter Sandy hear her.

Sandy had been diagnosed with leukemia only a month ago, but things were already looking grim. It wouldn’t be too long before she had to be put into hospice care. Tina didn’t want to dwell on what would happen after that. How could things possibly have gone so wrong? She put the last plate on the rack to dry and walked out the back door into her yard.

She pulled out a pack of cigarettes from her apron and put one between her lips. She’d given up smoking almost a year ago, but it was the only solace she could find from everything that was happening.

As Tina fumbled in the pockets of her apron for a lighter, she saw a strange flash of light in the small wooded area behind the house, right near the neighbors’ yard. A glowing door had appeared there. Through squinted eyes, Tina could just make out a shape emerging from the door, which closed immediately after.

The figure that emerged from the door was dressed like an astronaut, or rather, a child’s idea of what an astronaut looked like. It wore a bulky rust-colored suit with a large chestplate that had a timer on it. Black tubes ran from the plate to the helmet of the suit, which was opaque. Yet somehow, Tina had the sense that the thing was looking right at her. It flipped open the visor of its helmet to reveal darkness. It had no face or head. Just a swirling void. Tina felt her mouth go dry and an odd tingling sensation all over her body, as if she had just touched a doorknob after shuffling her feet on the carpet.

The sensation stopped.

Tina couldn’t remember why she had come into the yard. She looked around at the cloudless sky, the lush trees, the empty space by the neighbor’s yard. What was she doing out here?

“Mum!”

Sandy’s voice jerked Tina back to the present. She turned to see her smiling face on the other side of the kitchen door. Tina smiled back. She still couldn’t believe the miracle that was standing in front of her. It was close to two years ago that Sandy had been diagnosed with leukemia, doomed to never recover from it. But then, she got better. Tina didn’t remember how. In fact, she couldn’t remember the past year at all. All she knew was that Sandy was alive, and one of the happiest nine year olds she had ever seen.


 

Dr. Adam Wilfrey walked up the steps to the Bureau of Time Management, fumbling in his coat pocket for his ID card. Doris at the security desk buzzed him through.

“Ah, thanks, Doris,” he said, still trying to find the card as he walked to the elevator. “Oh, and good morning!”

Doris smiled and shook her head.

The Bureau of Time Management was a nondescript office building in London’s West End. It had been established a few years ago, when time travel had started to become commonplace, and temporal anomalies started popping up from misuse of the technology. The Bureau was formed to track and contain the anomalies and to make sure that there were no lasting disruptions in the time stream.

Adam Wilfrey was in charge of the Bureau and liked to get in early to make sure everything was running smoothly. He made himself a cup of tea in the break room and walked into the main laboratory to check on the chronometers. They were running as expected. Dr. Wilfrey took a satisfied sip of his tea, but didn’t get to savor it for long. He was staring at one of the chronometers, which was showing something rather odd.

The previous year was missing. All of it. But there were no alarms, no notifications. Nothing at all to indicate that something was wrong.

Dr. Wilfrey put down his tea and picked up the phone on the desk. It was going to be a very long morning.

#AtoZChallenge: Sweetest Sound

Sonmore High School was quiet at midday, quieter than it had ever been.

Most of the students were in class.

A small group was hiding under the bleachers out by the football field. One of them had a packet of cigarettes, stolen from his mother.

A couple of young lovebirds had snuck into one of the supply closets to fool around.

Ms. Tanner was writing out an equation on the board. Her chalk slid along the slate surface without making a sound. Her students looked at each other in confusion.

Mr. Patrick’s class had been giggling about his odd haircut mere moments ago. Their grins turned to shocked stares as their voices died in their throats.

Stacy Hicks had been reading aloud from MacBeth in English class. She continued sounding out the words, looking around the room for any signs that the others heard her, growing more frantic as she saw the fear on their faces.

The boy by the football field dropped his cigarettes when he could no longer hear his friends joking amongst each other.

The couple in the supply closet screamed when their loving moans died away, but nobody heard them.

Not a sound was heard anywhere in the school. No talking. No yelling. No laughter. No droning lectures. No footsteps. No heartbeats.

Ms. Sybil walked into the library with a smile on her face. Silence at last. Just the way she liked it.

#AtoZChallenge: Outsider

Olive Orkin never fit in with the other children. As she grew up, she never fit in with other adults much, either. She was forever the outsider, watching others huddle into close-knit groups while she hung around by herself. In her family, she was the odd duck, the one who stood out from the rest.

Even her uncle Bainbridge, the black sheep of the Orkin house who had tarnished the family name several times over through acts that none of her relatives dared discuss in the open, fit in better than she did. Such was her lot in life.

Most people worried that others would speak about them behind their backs, but that was never a problem for Olive. They spoke about her when she was right there, though to them she seemed invisible.

Olive was getting ready for her first day at a new job, and she was not looking forward to it. She knew the routine. People would remark on her newness and how she would soon be part of the group, yet within minutes, an unseen wall would crop up between them, cutting Olive off from the rest of her co-workers. She had been bumping into that wall her whole life with no hope of climbing over it.

After getting off the bus, which stopped a ten-minute walk away from her office, Olive trudged her way to the gleaming building and in past the sprightly receptionist who would likely forget about her within the week, if not sooner.

There the usual hellos and welcomes. She was given a quick tour by the office manager, Alice. She was shown the break room, the copy room and two meeting rooms. Finally, she was shown to her desk and assigned her tasks for the day. She buried herself in her work and tried not to worry about anything else.

People walked by her desk throughout the morning, often in pairs or small groups. Whenever she got up, she was alone. But she was used to it. She had been expecting it.

At lunchtime, a few people went to the break room. Some would head to the cafeteria on one of the lower floors, and one small group took over one of the conference room, bags of takeout in hand. Olive decided the break room would be the easiest option.

Alice was there, along with Delia, one of the accountants, and another new girl whose name Olive didn’t quite catch; she had started work the week before. The three of them had their backs to Olive, paying her no mind. It was just was well for her. She shrugged and started walking to the mini fridge, but never made it all the way to the fridge door.

Alice, who still hadn’t seen Olive come in, took the new girl’s hand in her own and pulled it toward her mouth. Olive’s cheeks reddened. She hadn’t expected to walk in on something so intimate, and certainly not in the middle of the day. Were public displays of affection a regular thing around the office? Just another awkward social wave that she’d have to surf? She thought it best to just enjoy her lunch in peace and worry about that later.

The new girl didn’t move or make a sound. She wasn’t even looking in Alice’s direction. She was staring at the wall. That seemed odd to Olive, but then, if her manager suddenly decided to get cozy at work, she might do the same. Delia just sat and smiled. Alice leaned in, as if she were about to kiss the girl’s hand. But that’s not what she did.

Alice bit down on the girl’s hand, just between the thumb and forefinger; Olive saw two little streams of blood flow out, then retreat under Alice’s lips. That’s not very romantic, Olive thought, her mind still catching up to the situation. As Alice was feeding off that hand, Delia took the other and did the same thing. Olive stood transfixed. Minutes later, both of them let go of the girl, who still hadn’t moved.

Delia’s head whipped around, followed by Alice; they both fixed Olive with a steady, calm gaze. Olive looked from one to the other. She wasn’t really sure how to react to this revelation so she gave them an awkward smile, her lips parting just enough for her fangs to catch the light. They smiled back and offered her a seat at the table.

Olive sat down, feeling in much better spirits than at the start of the day. Maybe she wouldn’t be an outsider after all. In fact, she thought, as she examined the twin bruises blossoming on the new girl’s hand, she would fit in just fine.

#AtoZChallenge: Jetsetter

Jacob Gillespie handed his passport to the young woman at the ticket counter and flashed his most charming smile. She couldn’t help blushing as she checked his details.

The scion of the Gillespie shipping fortune and one of the most photographed people in the world, Jacob was no stranger to attention, though he hadn’t always been fond of it. Unlike his socialite parents, Jacob was a recluse, preferring his own company to that of other as much as possible. He was also a nomad, prone to boredom when sitting in one place for too long. When not attending board meetings (which was mostly a formality for him), he traveled the globe on his private jet, visiting exotic locales and failing to dodge the paparazzi. But all that had changed a few weeks ago.

Jacob ditched the private jet and started traveling on commercial airways. The process of buying tickets, checking into airports and mingling with other passengers was exhilarating for him. He loved meeting new people and chatted them up at every opportunity. People who had known him since his awkward childhood days could hardly recognize the confident, gregarious young man in front of them. And he owed it all to one little trip.

Jacob had always been fascinated by the mysteries that lay in remote locales. Recently, the rainforests of Peru had caught his attention, and he decided to explore them. During his trip, he came across a strange lake, shining the deepest shade of blue despite the canopy of trees looming over it.

Intrigued, Jacob waded into the lake, despite the protests from his guide. The water felt cool and refreshing. He had no idea what the problem was. He was so entranced, he didn’t even feel the parasite that crawled in through his ear and attached itself to his brain stem.

Jacob emerged from the river a happier man. A man who was more eager than ever to travel every corner of the planet and meet as many people as possible. A man who could provide so many hosts for the parasite and its kin.

“Looks like you’re all set, Mr. Gillespie. Enjoy your flight.”

The woman at the ticket counter smiled and handed Jacob his passport and ticket. He smiled and made her blush again.

“Oh, I will, miss. I will.”

#AtoZChallenge: Faceless

Falden limped back to the shed. He was sure he hadn’t been followed, but he looked around just to be sure. He hobbled his way to the rusted metal sheet lying by the door and moved it aside to reveal a biometric ID panel.  It chirruped to life and asked him to hold still while a full facial scan was performed. A grid of yellow light was projected onto his face and the scanner seemed satisfied. Falden walked over to the door of the shed, which appeared to be a mass of cracked wood hanging off a hinge but was in fact a hologram. The real door slid open and Falden walked through.

The lab reeked of formaldehyde. Most people would find it off-putting, but to Falden, it smelled like home. He limped over to his chair and sat down, happy to finally rest his legs. Things hadn’t gone to plan that night. He had run into some old acquaintances. People that recognized his face, though they had no idea there was a different man behind it. It was Falden’s fault. He shouldn’t have picked a man so deep in debt.

He got back on his feet, wincing as a spear of pain jabbed his calf. Leaning against every surface he could lay his hands on, Falden slowly made his way to the large door at the back of the room. There was another biometric scanner, more elaborate than the one outside. He went through the requisite scans and the door slid open, releasing a gust of chilled air into the lab. Falden grabbed a heavy jacket hanging from a rack by the door and put it on.

He limped into the cryo room, lined with rows of man-sized tubes. Each tube was occupied by one of the many ‘donors’ Falden had collected over the years. They were all cryogenically frozen, their organs and tissues perfectly preserved, to be used when needed. They were mostly drifters and runaways, people who wouldn’t be missed or easily found. But once in a while, they were found. Like tonight, when he ran into his latest donor’s old friends. It was time for a change.

Walden passed by a series of tubes until he found one that looked promising. A young man, a hitchhiker, if he wasn’t mistaken. He would do. Falden entered the combination that unlocked the tube and pulled the corpse out. It was time to begin the procedure. In only a few hours, Falden would be a new man.

#AtoZChallenge: Dead End Romance

Delilah Stokes had always been told that dead men tell no tales. She learned that was a lie when her ex-husband refused to shut up.

Frank was the kind of guy that young girls were looking for: roguish, charming and spontaneous. He had the sort of face that looked just as good with a smile or a brooding frown, and he knew how to use each expression for maximum effect. When they met, Delilah was a twentysomething free spirit on a journey with no end in sight and Frank was a twentysomething dreamer who couldn’t tell a speed bump from a milestone. Sparks flew the first time they locked eyes at an old gas station, and they burned for each other.

They were young and energetic, living each day as if tomorrow were just a myth. Their wildfire romance led them to the altar, followed by a steamy honeymoon. Using the short-sighed gift of prophecy that all young lovers have, they knew they’d be together forever. A year later, they realized ‘forever’ had an expiry date.

Once the scorching layers of passion, lust and proclamations of everlasting love had burned away, they realized they had nothing left. Frank was still living in his dreams without a penny in the real world and Delilah was hopping from one dead-end job to the next, trying to find a reason for their marriage to survive another day. With time and a few changes, they might have stuck it out. But then Frank had a plan.

Even when she’d first met him, Delilah knew that Frank was a man who saw laws more as rough guidelines. It was a charming trait at first. But as their relationship went further and Delilah craved a degree of stability, Frank’s wayward ways became harder to bear. So when he suggested armed robbery as a solution to their money problems, she wanted nothing to do with it. But Frank, for all his faults knew how to exploit his charm.

It was a simple plan. Masks. Guns. A trail of gas stations. Hold up the convenience store clerks at gunpoint and clean out their registers. They would skip a few along the way, make it seem random, hard to track. Nothing could go wrong.

After their third robbery, things seemed to be looking up. They were a pair of anonymous crooks on the run, but that initial spark of passion was back. For a little while, Delilah forgot her ideas of married life and craved the freedom of the open road again. But Delilah had always been told that crime doesn’t pay. And she discovered how true that was when the long arm of the law finally stretched far enough to wrap its fingers around them.

After an hour long chase involving three cop cars, Frank’s car couldn’t take it any more. They were stranded, holed up in the gas station that would have been next on their list if the cops hadn’t shown up. Frank was holding a gun to the old cashier’s head. Delilah was trying to find another way out. The fuzz was closing in. It was over. But then Frank took it too far. He was going to shoot the hostage. Delilah just knew it. She couldn’t let that happen.

Delilah lunged at Frank, managed to loosen his grip o the old man. He still had the gun in hand, though. And Frank wasn’t happy. He shoved her aside and she could see the madness building in his eyes. He aimed the gun at her, started to say something. Maybe he was going to convince her to kill the hostage. Or maybe he was going to say his final goodbyes before killing her. It didn’t matter. He never finished. Delilah found the shotgun hidden under the counter and fired it right into Frank’s chest. The sound was deafening. The sight of exploding flesh and organs made her throw up. But it was done. She had shot the hell out of ‘happily ever after’.

Delilah turned herself in. She confessed to everything. Told the whole story. The jury was sympathetic, but she was still a criminal. She got five years and served three. It was just long enough to watch her dreams shrivel away to nothing. Even after being released, she felt like she was in a cage. Guilt didn’t wash away no matter how often she showered. Her only consolation was that she was rid of Frank and his madness.

On a warm summer night, Delilah couldn’t sleep. She was plagued by strange thoughts and visions, nightmares that evaporated into smoke whenever she opened her eyes. She got up and went to get a glass of water. When she came back, Frank was sitting on the bed, waiting for her.

“Hey Del,” he said, flashing that same charming smile she’d fallen in love with all those years ago. He looked exactly the same as the last time she’d seen him. Slicked back hair. Fine line of stubble along his jaw. Gaping hole in his torso.

Delilah gulped down the rest of her water with her eyes closed. When she opened them, Frank was still sitting there in the dim moonlight.

“Dammit, Frank,” she said, wiping a trickle of water from her chin. “What the hell do you want now?”

 

 

#AtoZChallenge: Beastly

 

‘Beastly’ Beatriz. That’s what all the kids called her. Other girls might have thought it cruel or hurtful, but not Beatriz Villalobos. For her, it was a mark of respect. And she loved it.

Beatriz grew up in the slums known as Basurero, under the shadow of violence and fear. The streets were controlled by Los Reyes, a gang of neighborhood thugs who got off on intimidating others. Beatriz and her mother kept their heads down, trying to go about their business without attracting attention. But attention found Beatriz anyway.

Eduardo, the leader of Los Reyes, was only seventeen, but his swagger and his scars added years to his lean frame. He had noticed Beatriz, nine years old and prone to looking at her feet as she walked past him. One day, he got up in her face about it. Weak kids were easy prey. Beatriz was afraid. Eduardo was bigger than her and stronger than her. He had her backed into a corner. She didn’t like that.

Beatriz ran home in tears, shaken by the confrontation. Her mother tried to console her, but Beatriz didn’t want comfort. She wanted to fight back. To be tough. She went to speak with abuela.

Abuela was Beatriz’s name for the old woman who lived a few doors down from her, because she reminded Beatriz of her grandmother. Beatriz told abuela about her confrontation with Eduardo and how she hated to be afraid. Abuela listened to her tale and closed her eyes, deep in thought.

“I can help you, mija,” she said, after Beatriz was done. “I can help you become stronger, braver. You need not be afraid ever again.”

Beatriz was intrigued.

“But fear is a part of you, Beatriz. It makes you the person that you are. If you remove the fear, you will no longer be the same. It will change you.”

It didn’t matter to Beatriz. She wanted to be different. It was better than being afraid. Abuela urged Beatriz to think it over again and went to make some tea. She returned with an unusual tea cup, like nothing Beatriz had seen before. It was made of bone, and the handle was carved into the shape of an animal. It looked like a wolf, Beatriz thought, but no wolf that existed in this world.

“Drink this,” abuela said, “And your fear will be gone.”

Beatriz did as she was told, drinking the hot tea in a few short gulps. Her tongue burned and she could feel fire flowing through her insides. But she didn’t feel very different.

As Beatriz was leaving abuela‘s house, she spotted Eduardo out on the street. He saw her and called her down. Beatriz shook her head and kept walking. Eduardo called out to her again but this time, there was something in his voice that made her obey. She walked downstairs slowly, feeling her heart thud with each step. Eduardo met her at the bottom of the steps, then grabbed her by the shoulders and pinned her against the railing.

“Hey there, little Bee,” he said, reeking of cheap beer and expensive cologne. “where you off to in such a hurry? I just wanna talk.”

Fear swirled inside Beatriz, filling her belly and her lungs. She wanted Eduardo to let her go. She wanted him to leave her alone forever. The fear began to pulsate. She could feel it throbbing in her veins. And then that fear changed into something else. Something darker. Beatriz looked the boy in the eye, even though he towered over her. She stood her ground. And she fought back.

Nobody spoke of exactly what happened that day. Stories began to circulate around the neighborhood. Some said that Beatriz broke Eduardo’s nose, or that she punched his face into a bloody pulp. They said Eduardo was too ashamed to leave the house. But in the safety of their homes, they all told a different story, of how the little girl had transformed into something else. Something not of this world. And that this beastly child had banished Eduardo to the depths of hell. Or worse. In the end, stories were all that remained of Eduardo. He was never seen again.

Beatriz walked the neighborhood with her head held high after that. But that wasn’t all. She felt different. Powerful. Dangerous. Over the years, Beatriz took Eduardo’s place as the ruler of the neighborhood and kept it in order. Nobody dared cross her.

Once in a while, though, someone would step out of line. Someone would be foolish enough to believe that they could steal from the neighborhood or attack the defenseless. Someone would try to hurt those that Beatriz held dear.

And when that happened, Beatriz confronted them. She channeled the swirling darkness inside of her. And she showed them just how she had earned the name ‘Beastly’ Beatriz.