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Volume VIII

I II III IV V VI VII VIII
  1. Mud.
  2. The candle flickered briefly before going out.
  3. The rope started to move.
  4. On the day we met, I sensed a shift.
  5. Another one hit the tin roof with a thud.
  6. The guests would start arriving at eleven.
  7. The van arrived in the village every Tuesday at 3pm.
  8. Eleven bottles were discarded on the side of the road, some of them empty.
  9. They began to play.
  10. An expansive desert lay before me.

Mud.

50 words
Josh

Everywhere.

“My garden!” I gasped aloud. The garden I had loved tirelessly. My life’s work, now nothing more than sloppy mud.

The storm had been treacherous, a savage beast.

Behind me, houses were slipping from their foundations, maybe even mine.

I didn’t care. I couldn’t stop looking at the mud.


Tom

It oozed into his ears and he tasted bitter earth against his tongue. Embraced in its cool comfort he was no longer afraid. It was comfortable here in the slurry.

He felt an explosion nearby and some blood splattered across him.

Warm bodies cooled in the slick earth.


Josh

That perpetual breeze, such relief during the heat of a summers day, was starting to destroy my night. I let out a gentle sigh and looked to my trembling hand. The pack was almost exhausted and I knew I had one final chance. Lighting the last match I held it against the wick, waiting, willing for the flame to take hold.

Watching the golden spoke rise and fall, teasing and tempting my hopes, I briefly lost myself in the moment, forgetting why I was in front of that candle to begin with. Flame had always been my vice. Something of a calling but something so destructive. Chants behind me seeped back into my consciousness and I snapped into action.

With the candle safely lit, I glanced down the row of fuses to my left. There were seven. Looking down once again at this delicate, vulnerable candle, on whom I placed so much expectation and hope, I willed it to hold out. For the perfect firework display, all seven had to make it into the sky.

Six down, I dared to breathe as I held my flickering candle against the final wick.

I looked up and I waited to be dazzled.


Tom

Darkness rushed in with a blinding silent roar, pressing up against their faces, deafening their vision, smothering them in oily blackness. It stuck to their skin; their clothes.

The shadows that had been held at bay by the meagre light gained confidence and leapt forward. Hints of movement, traces of motion tugged at the corners of their useless eyes. Writhing, twisting, awful creatures danced around them grotesquely. The five survivors pressed together, the warmth of their physical touch the last bastion against the horrors of the obsidian sea.

Submerged in the icy waters of raw terror, their already pitted resolve began to rust. A whimper escaped the lips of one of them, the physicist, and they felt the invisible attentions of those incorporeal creatures coalesce around his form. Together they could withstand. Alone they would fall.

The physicists body shook with the exertion of staying still while his primordial instincts screamed at him to flee. Unable to hold back the natural reaction of his physical form he bolted into the nothingness that surrounded them.

Moments later they heard his guttural scream as he was overcome.

The remaining scientists huddled closer, cowering against what God's creatures were never meant to find.


Tom

In slow jerking motions the slack was taken in until it became a taut line from my harness to the edge of the crevasse where it disappeared down into the swirling snow.

My heart thumped violently - she was alive.

I fumbled for my knife and began to cut.


Josh

Everyone followed its serpentine coils. It dazzled with astounding intricacies.

“Wait.”

Looping fibres, clinging to one another.

“No.”

A complex weaving that seemed to debunk all common misconceptions of gravity.

“It wasn’t me.”

I couldn’t believe the way it all connected.

A not-so subtle break.

This little puppet of mine.


Tom

Sloughed were the important burdens I carried, now irrelevant trinkets. The thread of time pulled taught as a thousand possible futures wove together into one, my path through the labyrinth obvious.

As you lay at your mother’s breast I understood what it is to live.


Josh

Sunday, mid-October, winds starting to whistle. As our eyes connected, they turned into an almighty howl. A pack of passing wolves, deep into chase.

We were married by late February. Two children. A life together.

Some Octobers later, the winds picked up their howls once more. We braced ourselves, uncertainly.


Josh

She’s at it again
Who
That old Mother Nature
Ain’t no mother of mine
Slap
Mind your mouth
Slap
Mind your hands
Pause
Touché

Jeanne and Jean listened attentively to the thuds on the roof.

Jean and Jeanne thought those thuds were raindrops.

They were not.

Raindrops do not thud.


Tom

As a room we flinched - bodies wound tight with disparate fear as we watched the TV footage of a blurry shape hovering above the ocean. Birds had begun to drop from the sky on the day it appeared. I feared my call had been answered.


Josh

That always struck me as rather late, but by now I knew to not question the seemingly questionable. Instead, I kept myself to shadows.

Tonight, an anxious buzz of activity bubbled up all over the place, in every over-laboured corner. Dust clouds billowed as curtains underwent their monthly parting. Yearning pillows sang as they were pinched to perfect plumpness.

My ears twitched and flexed at every whisper, attempting to unlock the secret of this late night rendezvous.

For years I sought the truth of those dinners. The underhanded dealings. The solicitations.

A cult?

The mafia?

Supper club for insomniacs, apparently.


Tom

She looked at her watch - 10:37.

She looked at her dead husband lying on the living room floor, and wondered what to do. The Jeffersons would not stand for this. The Andersons, maybe, but definitely not the Jeffersons.

She attempted but he was too heavy to move. After a moments more thought she started pulling cushions off the settee.

---

"How very chic Carol! You say this is how they do it in Morocco? On cushions on the floor? Trés a la mode!" Cried Mrs Jefferson in delight. Mr Jefferson shifted uncomfortably on his large, very lumpy cushion.


Josh

It is a tidy village, one filled with kind and generous folk. Stoic houses sit alongside one main road, featuring a grocery and a taverna.

My homestead sits at the edge of this village, on the meandering road that twists around the mountains.

Our language isn’t shared with the visiting drivers, but we make do with gentle signs of the hand, of implied terms through open faces, uplifting tones.

Today, an unfamiliar face disembarks, yet the words that slip from their lips are understood by all.

“My dear children.”

This Tuesday will go down in history.

The return of salvation.


Tom

It should have been very nondescript but it's sheer unremarkablility made it somewhat remarkable. It was just a dirty, white, regular transit van - but it looked like someone had read about ordinary dirty white transit vans in a book and had tried very hard to nail the details. It bellowed mundanity; screamed banality.

Every Tuesday at 3pm a man would slough off the front seat, light a cigarette with excruciating nonchalance and lean on the bonnet of the van gazing painfully idly at the sky, finish and leave.

Today however, was different. Today, his lift arrived - from space.


Josh

January 11th. Every morning, another joins the line. An unwritten rule.

July 23rd. Summer was warm, a young couple stops by en route to their final destination. Ambling along, unaware of the 204 bottles lining the highway.

“Wine. Cold.”
“Tough day?”
“Sí. Sorry, yes.”
“You know what to do?”

International idioms were increasingly bizarre.

July 24th. Curtains twitch at the sound of the ignition. Doors open as wheels crunch on the gravel driveway.

204 bottles. The townsfolk double count.

The Sancerre clinks in the backseat as the hairs on the back of their necks leap up in a sudden breeze.


Tom

"No no no, of all the shipments, not this one." The doctor muttered to himself under his breath, shattered glass crunching under his feet as he walked towards his cargo. The cart transporting them lay nearby, a broken axle having caused it's contents to be strewn across the country road the previous day, much of it now looted by locals.

A groan snapped the doctors attention to a farmer propped up on a nearby boulder, clutching a near empty bottle in his hand. Cold sweat pricked the doctor's brow as the farmer began to convulse.

"The transformation is beginning."


Josh

It was a ruckus. A cacophony of garbage. Timing, rhythm, melody, every facet of this symphony lacked harmony. Mismatching sounds filled my cranium until I could feel my synapses starting to sizzle.

“Again.”

More of the same ruckus.

“Again.”

Misery.

The call had promised an audience of ten thousand. Promised a televised spectacular. ‘Big break.’

Finally my name in lights. While unexpected, it had felt legitimate, yet this was the shit show that the production company sent my way.

I looked at the email again. That name. A name I recognised. I fell cold.

It had all been a trick.


Tom

Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, his favourite. She adjusted her position and scanned the crowd, looking for that familiar face.

There. Second box. Stage right.

She'd done this a thousand times, but always felt nervous. Breathing slowly, she calmed her body as the symphony thundered on - her cue was coming up.

She rechecked the contraption in her hands, now feeling unfamiliar in her clammy grasp. Raising it up, she felt it's cool weight upon her shoulder.

The soaring music engulfed the room and she saw the percussionists preparing for the crescendo - her cue.

Cymbals crashed and she squeezed the trigger.


Tom

Hot, gritty wind whipped against my face as I took my tatty map from a saddle bag, orienting myself against the sun and what few landmarks remained. Jagged ruins of buildings jutted out of the sand, the only evidence of the city buried below.

I packed away the map and headed deeper into the desert. The harsh climate and the crumbling buildings made venturing into the sites of the old cities dangerous - weakened buildings could collapse under the weight of the sand and drag you under. The price people would pay for old-world relics made the danger worth it though.

After a few hours crossing the hot sand I saw what I was looking for, large red letters stuck out of the sand - 'tfield'. As an old trading post, it had rich pickings for relic hunters like me.

Securing a rope I lowered myself into the cavernous main hall, the whistling sound of desert wind fading as I descended. Sand and broken glass crunched under my boots as stepped onto the floor and cast about for what I was looking for.

There - a Ven Dingma Chine, filled with the most previous artefact of all - uncontaminated water.


Josh

It was astounding. Something mesmerising. For a moment I forgot what I’d done - I had walked out on Rafe, for the final time. But really final, this time. His snakeskin charm does not work on me like it used to.

Snakehips.
Rattlesnake.
Slap of leather.

Banish him from your mind, Lila. Fill a suitcase - small, chic, potentially international - fire up the Subaru and hit the open road.

Within minutes the jitters come over me. The nerves. The slowing of adrenaline and the peaking of anxiety. Calming those nerves seemed sensible. It seemed that all women of intrigue and mystique dabble in light alcoholic flair. I turn off the freeway and allow my liver to guide me.

“Martini. Dry.” How incredibly chic, I allow myself to think.

“Rafe on his way?”

I should have driven further.

“Not this time, Hank. Not this time.” Repetition, suave.

“Sure he is - just came through the door.”

The clack of a snakeskin boot. Snakehips. My loins drop at the same instant as my stomach. Confluence. Two deeply opposing feelings that have dictated most of my waking days.

I turn. Slowly, in my swivelling stool.

“Sweet cheeks.”

Wetness. Immediately. Goddammit, Rafe.

“Goddammit, Rafe.”