Slow Apocalypse

We’re a touch overdue for some fiction around here, so here you go. This was initially meant to be part of a ‘Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge’ ages ago (and if you don’t know what that is, I heartily encourage you to look it up), but I ended up submitting it to an anthology instead. Since the anthology has decided that my little story isn’t quite right for them (they sent me the nicest rejection email ever), I am now free to display it here for all you lovely people. It’s a bit weird, but I hope you enjoy it!

The world ended and nobody noticed. Cars drove chokingly by, spewing black gas down cracked highway streets. Coffee machines whirred and poured dirty coloured liquid into chipped and broken glassware. People arose from cold beds in draught filled rooms with pane-less windows and convinced themselves that cold was the new warm.

Crumbling skyscrapers reshaped skylines as they were filled with leaking water-cooler talk and flaking complaints about Mondays that resonated from the peeling walls. Phones were looked at, with their cracked screens and draining batteries, and it was wondered ‘how did we ever do without?’.

A young boy wandered the busy decayed streets, eyes wide, bewildered at the orange sky, and pointing up shouted ‘that used to be blue!’. Those who could hear him rolled their eyes, looked back down and marvelled at the ridiculousness of young children.

A young woman shared a picture of herself in her soiled floral dress, and was criticised both for the body underneath the ragged cloth and for the sexuality that body demanded.

An artist of no discernible gender grabbed their gun and wandered the streets, scrambling over ruins dubbed ‘construction’ and killed mutants, zombies and demons where they stood. Other people commented that the artist’s work was ‘important, but it’s not really very practical, is it?’ and constantly bombarded the artist with false admiration, condescending praise, genuine derision, and that never ending question ‘where do you get your ideas?’. As if the world were not crawling, scurrying, writhing with ideas begging to be made flesh.

An old woman hunched over her overworked laptop, googling her hopes, her dreams, repeating her mantra of comfort. ‘Just one more year. Just one more year. Just one more year. Things will change, if I just give myself one more year.’

A scientist found the cold dead remains of the very first microbe that held the very first spark of life. She shouted her discovery from the rusted rooftops and was sneered at for her efforts. After all how could a single cell ever become human? The metaphor of an endless tree, sprawling, branching, evolving, was invisible to those who had never seen the sky. Perhaps, it was suggested, if the scientist made an effort, did her hair well, wore something nice, put on some lip gloss, and smile sweetheart, then she would be taken more seriously.

The evening came. Burning orange to black, extinguishing the sun. The artist returned home to find their wife sobbing into her hands, soiling the pattern of her new dress with lip gloss and tears.

The young woman curled herself into a barren bed, satisfied with her fictional attention and sighed at a gush of chill wind through the empty window. ‘It’s so warm’ she mumbled to the threadbare mattress.

The old woman watched her grandson watch the night sky, and spoke a lie.

‘Things were better when I was young.’

The young boy turned to the old woman, his eyes full of stars and spoke a truth.

‘But, grandma, things have always been this way.’

A Real Vampire

Although my wishes are belated, I do hope the small amount of people who actually read this blog had a happy and safe New Year. It’s been a few months since there was fiction here, so I figured I’d give you guys a vampire story. Why a vampire story, you ask? Because it’s never a bad time for a vampire story! This one is an old short story that I wrote many years ago and lost. I have only just rewritten it. Remembering the old one, in comparison to this new version, it is a really good insight into how much I have developed and changed as a writer in the five or so years since this story was first written. I may do a larger blog post about this at some point, but you’ll probably have to wait until next month for that. In any case, I hope you enjoy my recycled vampire story. 

Welcome to VampLife.com.

The inner sanctum for all vampire enthusiasts!

You’re logged in as Girlluvzbats96

You have 1 new message(s).

CreatureoftheNight: Hello.

Girlluvzbats96: Hey 🙂

CreatureoftheNight: You haven’t been online much lately… Is everything alright?

Girlluvzbats96: Yeah, everything’s cool. School’s getting me down a bit, but after exams it’ll all be over.

CreatureoftheNight: I see. So, what have you been getting up to, outside of school?

Girlluvzbats96: I just finished reading Twilight again.

CreatureoftheNight: How many times have you read it now?

Girlluvzbats96: 4 or 5. I’ve lost count lol

CreatureoftheNight: I might have to read it sometime.

Girlluvzbats96: lol You always say that XD

CreatureoftheNight: And maybe one day I will… What are you wearing?

Girlluvzbats96: I’m wearing that dress you sent me, the red one with the lace on the collar and around the bottom. I’m going to sleep in it tonight and pretend you’re lying beside me.

CreatureoftheNight: And what else?

Girlluvzbats96: Nothing else. But I have on that new red lipstick I told you about and my hair is up in a messy bun.

CreatureoftheNight: Sounds absolutely delectable.

Girlluvzbats96: Hey, Jonathan… I have something to tell you…

CreatureoftheNight: Yes…

Girlluvzbats96: I kinda told my mother about you. Please don’t be mad.

CreatureoftheNight:

CreatureoftheNight: Explain.

Girlluvzbats96: Well, we were just talking over coffee, you know and then I kinda just said that I was talking to this guy online and that he was really nice and we had a lot of stuff in common.

CreatureoftheNight: And…

Girlluvzbats96: And that’s it. She said that it was good that I was making friends and to be safe if we ever met in person.

CreatureoftheNight: Did you tell her about the meetings?

Girlluvzbats96: NO! I would never! You told me not to.

CreatureoftheNight: I also told you not to tell anyone about these conversations. You disappoint me, Emma.

Girlluvzbats96: I know, I’m sorry. I won’t tell anyone ever again. Promise.

CreatureoftheNight: As it is, I know don’t know if I can trust you. You make me doubt you, Emma. You make me doubt if you are worthy to be one of us.

Girlluvzbats96: PLEASE!!! I’m so so so sorry, Jonathan! It will never happen again! I am worthy! Please, please give me another chance!!

CreatureoftheNight:

Girlluvzbats96: Please don’t leave me, Jonathan. I love you.

CreatureoftheNight: Alright. One more chance. Meet next week, when the moon is full at the usual place. I will be waiting.

Girlluvzbats96: Thank you, soooo much! I’ll be good. I’ll show you that I’m worthy! I’ll prove that I have what it takes to be a real vampire too!

CreatureoftheNight: See that you do. You had better go to bed now. I want you well rested when next we meet.

Girlluvzbats96: 😉 Ok. See you soon. Night!

CreatureoftheNight: Goodnight, my love. Parting is such sweet sorrow.

Girlluvzbats96: lol what?

CreatureoftheNight: Never mind. Sleep well.

Girlluvzbats96: K. Goodnight.

***

It was the full moon. Emma snuck out of her house with practised ease. The air rippled her skin into goosebumps and set her hair on end. Dew soaked the cuffs of her jeans, even as it shone under the glaring moon, creating another world within her ordinary backyard. A better world. A darker world.

Beyond the mirror still birdbath, past the garden gnomes and carved swans with dead eyes, under the thin wire fence, lay the forest.

Within the trees, everything was still. Everything was black, speckled with brief snippets of shining silver. A small droplet of cold pattered onto the back of Emma’s neck and she shivered, waiting for her eyes to adjust. Air colder than even the crisp spring night could produce brushed against her neck, long fingers snaked around her waist. Emma gasped and jerked away from the icy grip on instinct. The hands grabbed tighter and a familiar voice entered her ear.

“Don’t run away from me now, little lamb.”

Emma relaxed into Jonathan’s embrace, still quivering from cold and fright, her heart beating a quickstep rhythm through her body.

“Jonathan!” She gave a breathy giggle. “How long have you been out here? You’re frozen!”

He sighed another chill breath against the back of her neck.

“I’ve been here a while. Waiting for you. But that is not why I am cold.”

Emma frowned into the darkness.

“Then why?”

“Because I have not fed in a week. My body has lost the warmth it would have gained from the blood. I told you Emma, I am a real vampire. And real vampires don’t give second chances.”

Her eyes widened, her breath quickened.

“You’re so warm.” He rested his lips against the bend of her shoulder into her neck, tongue just tasting the salt on her skin. He pulled her closer, desperate for the heat. She was silent now, her breath subtly irregular, he smelled the tear as it slipped from her eye. He caught it from her cheek and placed the delicate drop of water on his tongue. Her heart beat so fast, like a bird’s wing against her ribcage. It was intoxicating. She spoke through her shuddering breath.

“Are you going to kill me?”

A smile rose to his lips.

“Yes.”

“Why? Is it because I talked?”

The question provoked a soft laugh from him.

“Partly that. But also because you are human. What else would I do with you?” He raised a hand to her throat and felt her swallow her fear.

“You could turn me, make me one of you, like you promised.”

“My dear, it would take one much better than the likes of you to convince me to turn a human. No. You were my plaything, and now my meal.” His hand raised to her mouth, and gripped her jaw closed. “No noise now. It would lessen my enjoyment.” Then his teeth sank into her flesh.

Once the girl was good and dead, painted scarlet and silver by moonlight, Jonathan ran his tongue around his lips and turned his gaze towards the house that he could see through the trees. Not so far away that his senses, heightened by feeding, could not detect Emma’s parents, peaceful, asleep in their bed, their hearts pumping slow and steady. A resting rhythm. With a wicked smile, the vampire began his silent way towards the house. After all, no parent should live long enough to bury their child.

 -End-  

The Scratch

(My contribution to Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Diseased Horror. It was actually easier than I expected to write, I’m normally not that good at horror but this one just flew onto the page. In any case, considering the time of year, let’s call this an early Halloween present. Happy Halloween! I hope you enjoy it.) 

“Jesus fucking Christ.” The words were breathed against the mask of the isolation suit. A horrified whisper at the scene. The children lay slumped, limbs contorted in absurd ways that even in death seemed to animate them. Long red lines meandered along the arms, legs and faces of the children. Blood, piss, vomit and shit crusted the floor. The single adult in the room, the teacher, was limp in the chair, eyes rolled back in her head, story book still open on her lap. It was a picture postcard for the Scratch.

The metaphor was made all the more literal by the photographer, eagerly snapping pictures of the destruction. Pictures that would doubtless be used on the propaganda billboards, news segments and magazine articles that were now plastered everywhere, warning people of the dangers of the Scratch. Most of the general public thought the images were faked, exaggerated photoshops of an ordinary tragedy to aid in the fearmongering. The general public were wrong.

At first she had found it disgusting, perhaps even more disgusting than the mangled bodies she was forced to clean up, that the CDC would use actual photos of the victims in their public service announcements. These days, however, it was just a part of the job. Some freelance journalist or photographer would tag along to collect more nightmare fuel while Amanda and her team just got on with the job.

“Well,” she clapped her gloved hands together in a business-like fashion, ignoring her co-worker’s quiet horror. “This mess isn’t gonna clean itself.” At her words the team snapped out of their initial shock and got to work. Body bags were carried in, filled with small corpses, and carried out. All of it was surprisingly quick and efficient. None of them stopped to grieve the lost children, there simply wasn’t time. There were likely a hundred scenes like this in this school alone. A whole school, teachers, students, admin workers, all of them dead within the space of four hours. That was the horror of the Scratch.

When the room was clear of corpses, the carpet was ripped up, labelled a biohazard and removed. Then the walls were scrubbed with a disinfectant that stripped the paint off in one stroke, and whose fumes even reached inside the respirator. The team had shifts, two minutes with three layers of rubber gloves, then sit in the plastic tent outside for ten minutes, then back in.

By the end of it, Amanda was dizzy, nauseous and absolutely exhausted. The shower tent was the only way to the outside world, and she was determined to get there first.

Stripping down she placed her personal protection equipment to be burned and spent fifteen minutes vigorously scrubbing herself with the medical grade soap. Emerging into the dusk, she was as pink and clean a newborn chi- No. She must not think of children. Children were dead. She must not think of it.

Outside, the photographer was bickering with the boss of the whole operation.

“Listen, Mr Jensen, I realise the need for security, but this film is the only copy of the photographs.”

Jensen rubbed the bridge of his nose with his fingers, then abruptly stopped as if jerking himself out of a bad habit.

“Mr. Davis, I must insist that the camera and film alike be burned. You were given a disposable camera to use that would send the digital files directly to the CDC headquarters. I still don’t understand why you would endanger yourself and others by ignoring your clear instructions.”

Davis smiled condescendingly.

“Come come now, Mr Jensen, I think that surely everyone must agree that within the realm of art, any and all instructions can be ignored in favour of the most desirable result. Film is such a superior medium that-”

Jensen snapped.

“Not when those instructions are in place to keep both you and others alive! Do you realise just how many people you’ve put at risk by taking that camera outside the secure perimeter? Not only that, Mr Davis, but this is not art! These are photos of children who have died a frightening painful death. If it weren’t for the CDC themselves ordering that you accompany us I would not have you here at all. As it is…” The man took a breath, and unconsciously raised a hand to rub his face, but the motion was stopped almost as automatically. “As it is Mr. Davis, I am going to have to ask you to agree to be isolated until we can ascertain whether or not you have contracted the illness.”

Davis stared in shock.

“But… But I was suited up just like the rest of them! I couldn’t have-”

“I really must insist, Mr Davis. After which, if you are found to be healthy, you will be transported to a suitable detainment facility while you await trial.”

“T- trial?”

“By disobeying the orders of the CDC and the Government in this matter you have violated several health and safety regulations, which I need not tell you, are now treated as law. However, it will be the duty of the police to inform you exactly which laws you have broken. For now, Mr Davis, every second you spend outside isolation is a second during which you could infect my crew. If you do not comply I will be forced to involuntarily admit you.”

“But… But.. But I-”

“Mr Davis! I am a very busy man, and I have spent more than enough time on this matter. If you do not comply immediately I will be forced to take drastic measures.”

Davis held up his hands in surrender.

“Fine! Fine. I’ll go.” He slowly walked backwards towards the portable isolation chambers. Three already contained occupants, two women and a man. The parents who discovered the carnage inside the school. Somewhere, inside those countless too-small body bags, were their children. One of the women was screaming as she tried to beat her way through the walls of the chamber.

“LET ME OUT!! LET ME OUT, DAMMIT!! MY SON!! I NEED TO SEE MY SON!!” Soon she folded into her grief. Amanda, passing the chamber on her way to see Jensen in his temporary office, heard her mumbling to herself between rib-shaking sobs. “Charlie… Oh, my baby boy…. Charlie… Come home, baby. Please… Come home to Mummy. I can make you all better… Charlie. Please… just come home… I’ll put you in bed and read you stories and make you hot pumpkin soup… It’s your favourite, remember? Just come home, baby. Please, Charlie. Please, Mummy needs you, baby. My baby boy….”

The other woman was staring straight ahead, her eyes blank, her body limp. She looked freakishly like the dead teacher in the chair, slumped and lifeless and blank. The man was crying quietly into his hands.

Amanda knocked on the office door and entered, Jensen was collapsed onto his desk, head pillowed on his arm. For a moment, Amanda was stunned with panic.

“Neil?” She softly called, waiting with bated breath for him to respond. Thankfully, he jerked his head up and looked around. His face relaxed into a smile when he saw her.

“Sorry, Amy, nodded off there for a second. You ready to go?”

“Yeah. I better drive. Let’s get junk for dinner on the way home.”

He sighed as if the very thought of hot, salty grease soothed him.

“And people say these office romances never work out.”

“It stopped being an office romance when you married me.” She smiled at the memory.

“I suppose, but-” He looked at her. His eyes snapped to her arm. His face suddenly cautious. “Amanda, what are you doing?”

She looked down at her arm and the itch she didn’t even realise she had been scratching. Her fingernails broke the skin of their own accord, and her nightmare began.

Midnight Ramblings

(It’s been kind of quiet around here lately. Sorry about that, but life happened as it tends to do. Anyway, here’s a weird story-like piece partially inspired by the conversation that Erica and I had in the comments of my last post. Enjoy…)

Okay. What time is it? Eleven forty five. Yeah, I better get to sleep. Right. *The lamp clicks off.* Now, let’s get comfortable. Ah, okay, that’s not a good position… Nor that… This is close, but my arm is in a weird spot. Hmm, should I move my arm and risk being uncomfortable or just stay here? … Yeah, there’s no way this arm position is healthy. Let’s move. No. Nope. Almost, but not quite. There we go. Ahhhh.  Nice. All right. Just relax. Let yourself drift… Did I leave the outside light on? I know it was on when I got home tonight, but did I turn it off?… Yes. I did it as soon as I walked in the door, like I always do. But tonight my arms were full of groceries… I don’t remember doing it  that clearly… You know what, it doesn’t matter. It’s not like anythings gonna happen just beacuse I left the outside light on. Right now, back to sleep. Deep breath… Good… And again. Just relax and drift. Yeah. … … … … … … Was that a noise?… Probably not…. … .. That was definitely a noise. It’s probably nothing. Just, I don’t know, stray dishes settling over one another in the sink. Or the house ‘relaxing’ as Grandma used to say, whatever that means. It’s nothing… … … The house has never needed to ‘relax’ before… There it is again… And again. That sounds almost deliberate. Huh? How can a noise sound deliberate? It’s just a noise. We’ll see what it is in the morning… … … What if it’s a thief? Then I guess they can do their thing and I’ll replace it. Not too bad… But what if it’s a murderer? Or Freddy Krueger or something. Freddy Kreuger isn’t real. God, that movie freaked me out when I first saw it. So did Halloween. Gah. What was the name of the killer in that again, Jason Something? Jason Bourne? No, that’s the guy from Mission Impossible. No, wait, The Bourne Identity. His name is in the freaking title. So who was the guy from Halloween? Jason… Something. Wow, it’s totally gone. Jason… Jason… I have to Google it. No, if I do that then I have to get up, and I just got comfy… I’ll leave it. It isn’t that important anyway… I have to Google it. It’s gonna keep me up all night if I don’t. But I’m warm and it’s cold out there. My phone is just on the bedside table! I could grab it, Google it, and straight back to sleep… Right. *The lamp clicks on* *The phone is grabbed* There’s that noise again. Wonder what it’ll turn out to be. Right, here we go… Hang on. What the hell do you mean no connection? Refresh. Is something wrong with the internet? This is bad, if the internet’s messed up again then I can’t send those emails tomorrow. Yeah, I better check it. Just to make sure. *The covers are pulled back.* *Small muffled thumps as the bare feet make their way to the door.* *The door opens, the triangle of light across the hallway is like an eye opening.* Christ, it’s cold in here. Let’s get this done so I can get back to sleep…. It’s off. Who the hell turned the internet off? Why? What? Shit. There’s that noise again. It’s coming from the lounge room. Why is it so fucking cold in here? I know it was forecast, but still, I didn’t think it would get this cold. Noise again. That’s it, I’m finding out what this is. It definitely is not a normal noise. *Careful steps. Almost silent but not quite.*  It’s like a clicking, almost, but bigger? That makes no sense. Yeah, though, it’s like a really big, really loud clicking. There you go. Click click. It’s really weird. Just around the corner and- Oh FUCK! WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT THING?!  Where- shit- where the fuck are it’s eyes?! Shit shit shit shit shit!!! Oh God, are those… are those teeth? Fuck fuck fuck fuck. It clicks when it moves! How the fuck does it move?! This is not a thing that exists. It can’t! Goddamnit. Shit. OH FUCK! IT’S MOVING TOWARDS- Run run run run run run run run run run run. *The bedroom door slams closed* *The sheets tangle and rustle as they are disturbed and flung over a face.* Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. Did it follow me? Oh my fucking God. How could it even see me? WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS THING? I don’t hear anything. Look at me, cowering under the bed clothes like a little kid. It probably wasn’t even real. Just a nightmare or hallucination or something. I have been feeling kind of tired lately.  Yeah, it wasn’t real, nothing like that could ever be- *The bedroom door swings open* *A big, loud clicking noise enters the room* I’m going to die. This is finally it. I’m going to die. I’ll never know the last name from the guy from Halloween. Wait. Not Jason. Michael Myers.  Well, great. Now I can die happy. *The covers are flung back.* I didn’t mean it literally! Oh God, what the fuck are you? *The human muscles tense as a bone hard appendage is extended towards the chest, clicking like clockwork* I can’t move. Oh fuck! I can’t move. WHY THE FUCK CAN’T I MOVE!? *The sternum is touched, just briefly, and begins to grow. Pushing outwards and upwards. Bones contort, muscle hardens, organs shift or die. One last thought.* It’s the light. They need the light. I never turned off the outside light. *Then the eyes shrink, or disappear, or perhaps they were never there to begin with. The new creature rises from the bed, clicking as it does so. It knows what it is now. It’s a Rambling. The digital clock ticks over to twelve as the two Ramblings wander back into the dark, clicking like clockwork as they go.*   

The Fifth Stone

(This is just a little piece of folklore I wrote to go along with the book I’m hoping to publish late 2015-16. It’s short, and hopefully sad. Any questions, feel free to comment below. Hope you enjoy!) 

There once lived a small clan near the Southern Mountains. It was so small that even the children were needed to help with the chores, pulling water from the rivers, fetching and hunting, even the felling of trees and building of huts. The children of this clan were put to every possible use they could.

One day the smallest child in the clan was carrying stones from the riverside to help repairing a hut that had been destroyed by a falling tree. The sun was setting and the child was in a hurry to return to home because it was winter and the wolves were beginning to howl. As a result she filled his bucket too full and could not lift it. And so, the child emptied out five stones and laid them neatly in a line so she could find them later and hurried back to the village.

However it turned out that they were exactly five stones short of repairing the hut. When the child learnt this and told the others of the five stones she had removed from her bucket she was sent back into the woods to find them again. The sun was just beginning to set properly and at every step the child was afraid for her life, but she found the five stones, resting just as she put them, and managed to lift all but one. Once again she hurried home, sure she could feel the hot breath of a wolf on her neck the entire way.

However, once it came to light that the fifth stone was still lying somewhere out in the forest she was ordered back out into the woods to retrieve it, as all the workers were tired and wanted the hut finished before they went to bed.

By this time it was almost completely dark in the forest and the child stepped carefully through the twigs and leaves, for she could smell the wolves circling her and knew they could smell her in return.

At long last she reached the fifth stone. Sighing with relief, she rushed to pick it up but the thing would not budge. The stone was heavy and she was weak from a day of fetching and carrying. It was now that the wolves chose to attack.

Her body was found the next day, ripped to shreds by wolves and the other life of the forest. She was almost unrecognisable, were it not for her hands. Untouched and still gripping so hard to the fifth stone that they were never able to lift.

 

 

 

 

Monkey Glands

(This is my contribution to Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: The Cocktail is Your Title. Needless to say, I got Monkey Gland, which I changed to Monkey Glands because I like the sound better. Anyway, enjoy!)

They lay in the bowl. Specks of vibrant blood shining against the stainless steel. Perfectly smooth, pink as an infants backside, they didn’t seem real, let alone something he had cut out of a fellow primate just moments before. A scalpel was raised, it’s blade a dull grey apart from the razor fine edge, so sharp that anything living would see their own blood long before they felt the pain. By then the scalpel’s work would be done. There was a clattering in the corner. His eyes snapped up, electric yellow surrounded by a ring of deep brown, pupils expanding as his gaze moved from the bright light to the gloom beyond.

“Servile? What are you doing back there?” There was a pause. “Servile?” He called again. The pause was deeper, somehow darker. Sighing at interrupted work he removed himself from the office chair and moved towards the cage. Peering through the bars he leaned closer. A vaguely human shape huddled in the far corner. Every few seconds a shudder rocked the dark form. A second, shallow, stainless steel bowl was overturned. The yellow eyes searched the cage but found nothing else out of the ordinary. He stood and sighed again, looking down at the cowering creature. “Well, are you going to pick that up?” No answer. Another shudder. Perhaps the language centres were malfunctioning. Chewing the inside of his cheek he breathed a word. “Shit.” If the language centres fucked up then he might as well scrap the entire thing. Stooping, he reached through the bars and began to right the overturned bowl. With a movement twice as quick as a shudder, the creature’s hand shot out, it’s black nails dragging bright lines of pain across the back of his hand. Hissing in pain he reflexively cradled it to his chest. “Damn you!” He kicked the cage as he turned back to the desk. The kick did little, but sent a ringing through the bars. The creature leapt to the centre of the cage, and sat there, head tilted to the side, russet hair flopping over one ear.

Still swearing he returned to work, desperately hoping that the scratches wouldn’t bleed and cause a vitium. The white envelope stopped him. Placed carefully against the edge of the bowl, it certainly hadn’t been there before. His name, Tages Haruspice, was written in unfamiliar elegant script across the front. The envelope itself he had recognised instantly. Tages tilted his head back as he looked at it, as though repulsed by the innocence of the crisp white paper. His nose instinctively wrinkled as he reached for it. Black nails shining under the harsh white light his lithe fingers opened the envelope with barely a sound. He cast a cursory look around him. The room seemed normal, concrete walls running with water and mottled with green, the doorway leading to the storage units, the cage, the railway pallet piled with mouldy blankets and pillows he used as a bed, and the desk, with it’s secondhand office chair, stainless steel bowls, scalpel and bright, bright light. There was no sign of unfamiliar life. With a shrug he turned right back to the envelope. The folded paper slid smooth as cream out of it’s confinement.

Dear Haruspice,

Terribly sorry for using your surname, but I can never remember which of you is still human. I expect my runner will observe you and rectify this once he arrives, in order to assure correct delivery. In any case, it hardly matters. As long as you are still practising, you will do this for me. Find someone. Of the same kind as you. I understand how your barbaric art works and realise what it means, but it is imperative that this specimen is found. Drastic times call for drastic measures and this is not a step I would take otherwise. You understand? Yes. Of course you do.

There was a movement from the cage and one of Tages’ russet ears flicked backwards before slowly swivelling forward again.

I, of course, am sorry for the sacrifice you will have to make. I know of your attempts to revive him, but all your efforts will fail. Trust me on this. No matter how many humans you slaughter and insert into your brother, it will not fix him.

On a related note, those ‘storage units’ as you so inadequately put it, and their contents, will continue to be permitted as long as my request is met within seven days. After which… I leave the consequences to your abundant imagination.

Your father is well. He talks of you rarely if at all and then often with a spit on the floor. I trust this news pleases you. Your brothers and sisters are developing nicely. Well enough to escape at any rate. We managed to catch all but one when it happened, which is of course why you have been sent this letter.

Much obliged for your cooperation in this pressing matter.

Yours,

Mother.

Tages sat for a long time before putting the letter aside. His eyes travelling anywhere but the now silent cage in the corner. He then pulled his phone out of his pocket and began to dial a number. The voice on the other end was short, but Tages cut them off. “I couldn’t find him… There was an interruption, several actually…. No! Of course it wasn’t my fault …. Look, I have a much more pressing matter to attend to so if there’s nothing else… Good. Pleasure doing business with-” The line was dead. Placing the phone back on the table, Tages delicately picked up one of the kidneys and took a delighted bite out of the adrenal gland. It wasn’t much, but after three days of ritual fasting it was better than nothing. He considered giving Servile the second, but decided against it. After all he had another three days without food ahead of him. Afterwards, he would have to go out and hunt again, supplies were running low. At least he would only have one mouth to feed.

Three days later, with his twin still and dripping before him, Tages felt his first flicker of emotion for a very long time. All his work for nothing. The regret was a small, hard lump, just underneath his thyroid. He swallowed, and learned that emotion could not be shifted with physical movements. Then the scalpel was put to work. Within the space of fifteen minutes it was done. Kidneys slashed to peices in the shining bowl gave Tages all he needed to know. After scrawling his reply on the back of the letter, he scrambled out through the single window and was suddenly, violently sick. Afterwards, he was hungry and so a night of hunting began. Two children, only one adult but it would be enough, a dog and a cat. Enough to feed him and give him more than enough to search out his most popular requests.

By the time he returned both the letter and the body of his brother were gone. The small concrete room had been scrubbed of blood. After storing the bodies safely away, Tages crawled into his former twin’s cage and slept.