Here it is at last, as promised in my post last week, part one of an original short story collaboration based on the Surrealist parlour game Exquisite Corpse. Thanks very much to the contributing writers and to editor genies Jess West and Joanne Blaikie. You are appreciated and one day we will have that drink. We hope you like it and that you’ll be back to read part two next week. Drum roll please…
Nillu Nasser Stelter
He slept in a room full of colour and familiar objects, but the silence crept under the door and touched his face. A blue-black curtain of darkness still hung in the sky. Unease gripped him. He rolled out of bed to look for his mother.
The door handle spun easily in his hand as he padded out into the hallway. The house was dark and didn’t look much like his house at all. Shadows followed him as he stole past closed doors to his mother’s room, expecting to hear the rumble of her snore. Instead, he found her bed empty except for a pair of socks. She didn’t even wear socks.
That she was not there worried him. As a small child he had wept with passion when his mother had left him unattended. Now, even though he was almost grown, she still told him where she was and when to expect her. She had left the older woman in charge then, the one who lived with them and who they said was his grandmother though he had never quite believed it. He had sucked sherbet lollies while she was gone. The instinct was still there. The sugar left his teeth grainy and his mind alert. He was glad. He was never one to trust strangers, and there was something about Granny that sat all wrong.
A man-boy yearning for his mother’s comfort in the dead of the night was not someone who won at life. For a moment he wondered whether to search the remainder of the house for her. But though he was a clever boy, he was not a very brave one. Instead he retreated back to his bedroom and hid underneath the covers until the sun came up. He did not notice the grey cat with amber eyes watching him from behind a pile of discarded clothes.
J. Edward Paul
Will woke to a petrol sunrise, toes curled against the chill of morning. Scrubbing sleep from his face with dry hands, he levered himself off the old mattress and into a pile of dirty laundry. A brief search produced a pair of jeans and a Superman t-shirt that smelled of three-day old cologne.
Silence still held the house hostage, but it seemed less ominous in the light. TV fire burned in the still dark living room, casting technicolour shadows over empty furniture. Uneaten oatmeal sat warm on the sideboard in the kitchen and the orange juice was out.
“Mum?” Will called. “Mum, I’m running late for class. Can I take the car?”
No response came. He knew he should check her room, but his professor did not take kindly to tardiness. Grabbing the keys off a hook in the foyer, Will opened the porch door. It would take him hours to realise it had been left unlocked.
Frosted air nipped at his bare arms. Once in the car, Will rummaged through a pile of greasy bags and discarded Styrofoam cups, coming away with a thin jacket more dirt than fabric. Slipping one arm into a cold sleeve, he used the other to turn the ignition. Manic clicks sent a flock of sparrows scattering toward the town centre. The car was dead.
Will lay his forehead on the steering wheel. “Why today?”
Suddenly, a grey cat landed on the hood with a thud. Will jumped and then nearly scrambled into the torn passenger seat when something moved in his peripheral vision. His grandmother, wide and still, slowly turned toward sunrise.
“You scared the shit out of me, Granny,” Will said as he climbed out of the car.
“They came again,” the old woman whispered.
“What?” Will frowned, exasperated by his grandmother’s cryptic words. “I don’t have time for this, Granny.” He jerked. “I need to—“
“They came last night.”
He stopped. The flimsy jacket still dangled from his left arm. A gust of wind tossed a swirl of snow across Will’s face and he blinked. Had his grandmother suddenly become translucent? Her words penetrated the morning fog in his mind and he looked back at the house, remembering something about socks…
Will ran past his grandmother into the house, dropping the jacket behind him. The entryway was suddenly grey and cold, and he realised there was an emptiness to the house he hadn’t observed when he first got up. The porch door swung shut with a bang behind him, and he jumped. Cold fingers of fear slid through him. He moved towards the kitchen in the back of the house.
“Mum?” His voice wavered slightly as he called out. Where was she? “Mum, where are you?” He searched the refrigerator for a message, a note, something. She always left a note. Always.
“Mum!” Panic laced the word. He turned away from the refrigerator and almost pissed his pants. Granny was standing at the kitchen island, staring at Will. He hadn’t heard her come in.
“Granny. Who came last night? Where’s Mum?”
“They will come again.”
Will felt like punching her, but she still looked transparent, almost as if she wasn’t there. Would his arm go straight through her if he tried? Fear made his voice squeaky, his words terse. “What’s wrong with you? Tell me where Mum is. I…I have to get to college.”
“We must prepare.” The old woman, now shimmering slightly, moved towards the ottoman in the family room. “Come.”
She lifted the lid.
He didn’t want to follow her, fearful of what he might see within the bowels of his once favourite climbing toy.
“Wh-what’s in there? What’s happened to my mum? Who ARE you?”
Granny snarled, exasperation written across her face. “Come, you idiot boy.” She reached down and Will nearly fainted, frightened of what she might show him. Her hands came up again, clutching…papers?
Papers? That was it? No ancient voodoo doll, no cracked human skull, no secret book of spells? He sighed in disappointment as he walked over to her. Mum always told him he had an overactive imagination.
“What are they?” He wished he had a lolly, or maybe some of that oatmeal over on the counter. He’d forgotten to eat breakfast and he was hungry.
“Evidence,” Granny whispered, her eyes darting around the room, as if expecting someone to be lurking in the corners.
“Evidence? Of what?” He took the top sheet in his hand. “It looks like gobbedly-gook to me, just a bunch of numbers.” His eyes widened as he noted the drawing at the bottom. “Is this an -”
“Invisibility cloak? Yeah,” Granny broke in, impatience lacing her words. “Obviously in beta, which is why you can still see me.”
Granny scooped up the rest of the papers and came toward him. “You think all the woman did was cut the crusts off your bread? This—this—is her true life’s work. Not you, you ungrateful idiot.”
The cat slinked into the room, its amber eyes fixed on both of them.
“Take these and go quickly,” said Granny, thrusting the papers into his arms. He stared, bewildered, as she bent down to the cat and began to whisper in an indecipherable tongue.
“It’s ok, he’s not in today.”
A sense of relief and shame washed over Will as the lecture hall slowly filled, like a gentle incoming tide. Even Todd, his closest friend, now felt the need to tiptoe around him. To handle him like a fragile ornament.
“Randy MacGuffin.” Todd spat out the syllables and left them, rotting, on the sticky carpet. “Don’t pay any attention to him.”
Everyone did though. Blessed with the supreme confidence of someone who habitually relieved the local store of soda cans and chocolate bars, Randy was the figurehead of the year, a larger than life character through whom all events were channeled. He was an opinion piece and a newsreader in one cocky swagger, and now his top scoop featured ‘Weird Willy’ and his papers. And his grandmother, and the cat.
“Just so you know, I don’t laugh at the incest jokes about you and your mum.”
Todd had a knack of comforting you in a barbed wire blanket.
“It doesn’t matter to me whether he is here or not,” lied Will, as students turned away from the huge screen towards him. He tried to maintain eye contact with some but their smiles grew, eyes twinkling with malevolence.
The room fell silent as an officer walked in, furtively whispering to the lecturer. The two sets of eyes locked on Will. The rest of the room followed the gaze. A ripple of astonishment hovered over the collective heads, incredulous that the rumours might be true.
Minutes later Will learned about Randy’s corpse and that his engraved pen knife had been found jammed deep into the dead boy’s neck.
– ENDS –
You can read part two of ‘The Pact’ here.