Short Stories

7 Stops –

*Make sure you check out the previous few posts, starting with ‘Passengers’, before reading this.*

He could smell himself, and that mere fact made him ashamed. The platform was full of everyday people dressed in their nice work apparel heading to their nice warm homes from their well-paying jobs. And here he was, the only homeless guy in the crowd, smelling up the place and making everyone uncomfortable.

Once upon a time he had been like the rest of them, having a job, a house, and a beautiful family. Now all his worldly possessions were contained in the small shopping cart that he pulled behind him everywhere. When his wife and children were killed on the July long weekend all those years ago, his life had been turned upside down, and nothing seemed worthwhile anymore. Eventually his depression got so bad that he had lost everything, and turned to the warm embrace of Jack Daniels to comfort himself. He both despised and pitied himself for it, and knew the decision had been his alone, and not once did he blame anyone else for his current position. The only question that ragged on his subconscious all these years was why he had chosen to work over that weekend instead of heading out of town with his beautiful family. At least then they would be together now.

Several years he had spent living on the streets, doing any means of work to survive. He had been on the list through Social Services for 3 years now, awaiting assistance with a job and housing. He had become very disciplined and strict with himself, and a small point of pride he now held was that he had not had a drink in those 3 years.

Then, yesterday while on the phone with his Social Advocate, he had learned that his chance at redemption had arrived. There was an opening at a group home that would help him land a simple job, which could be the first step at recovering some of the distant remnants of his old life. All he had to do was meet with the board members today at 6:00pm and convince them that he was worth a shot. He had not been this nervous in years, and there was nothing he had wanted more in distant or recent memory. Not to say that he was over the death of his family by any means, but at least nowadays he felt at peace with it and stood a better chance of reintegrating with society.

As the train arrived in the station, he boarded the car along with everyone else, the wide berth left around him obviously apparent. The feeling of outcast and disgust overwhelmed him, but he only had to go 7 stops. 7 stops and his life could change for the better, and he would no longer be the pariah on the train. Shuffling through the sliding door, he took up a spot standing at the very end of the car. There were seats available as he entered, but he knew it would make people uncomfortable if he sat by them so he left them vacant for the people in suits and business attire; the people who wouldn’t even draw a curios glance from others.

Scanning his surroundings, he noted the great variety of people on the train. There was the usual business crowd who all looked the same to him nowadays; garbed in their suits with shiny shoes and expensive bags. There was an older lady further down the car who was smiling away, tightly grasping the handrail, and he felt bad as not a single person offered her a seat. Had he been seated, he would have offered it to her instantly.

Then, several rows down on his left, some people caught his attention. It was a young mother travelling with her daughter, who could be no more than 4 or 5 years old. The mom was nothing extraordinary and melded in with the rest of the populace on the train. But the little girl, with her bright red hair done up in two ponytails, her overly puffy blue winter jacket, and look of wonderment and excitement on her face as she peered around the train, reminded him strongly of his Isabelle. She had red hair much the same as this girl, and always bore a similar expression of curiosity and awe when she would experience something new. It made him sad, nostalgic of the days long passed, but also gave him a sense of purpose and motivation, and aroused his excitement for the upcoming meeting. For several years he was incredibly depressed at the thought of how Isabelle would feel if she could only see her father and how low he had sunken, but now he finally had a chance to make her proud again. 7 more stops and he could change everything.

There was a lurch, and the train started to depart the station.

* Copyright © 2018 by CAPA Literature.

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8 Stops –

*Make sure to check out the last post, ‘Passengers’, before reading this continuation!*

As she descended to stairs onto the platform, she saw the myriad of people awaiting the train and immediately she was overwhelmed. There was so many of them that it was hard to comprehend that they would even all fit onto the train. Unfortunately, she didn’t have much choice.

She took up a spot at the back of the crowd, and waited patiently as the cars pulled into the station. Soon she was being carried along by the wave of people, and although she would have readily waited for a less busy train, the mass of people pouring through the doors around and behind her didn’t leave her much option short of being trampled. As she entered the car, immediately she saw there were no seats left. Her knees and back hurt from the walk to the station, but not being the type brave enough to ask for a seat, she stood timidly by the door and grasped tightly to the metal handle. Her son, Dereck, had been killed on a train just like this some 28 years ago; stabbed to death in a mugging gone awry. Ever since then she had a terrible fear of riding the train alone, even during the busy rush hour in broad daylight.

Nervously, she smiled at the people around her, not wanting to make anyone mad or upset about the fact that she was blocking the door. For 28 years she had managed to avoid taking the train, but now that her husband of 60 years, Fred, was in the hospital, she had no choice. She was not comfortable driving nowadays, and he had been her chauffeur whenever she needed something from the store or wanted to meet her friends for coffee. She couldn’t bear going a day without visiting him, but with the hospital being so far away she had no choice but to take the train.

8 stops, that’s all she had to go. Walking that far was not an option, and although standing while the train lurched along the track would not be easy, it would be worth it to see her Freddy at the other end. Despite this, she was still uncomfortable simply being there. In front of her there was a younger gentleman in a suit, but he appeared lost in thought. Although it would have been good manners for him to offer up his seat, she did not overly mind. In a way, the look on his face somewhat reminded her of Derrick.

She scanned further down the length of the train car and saw a man that caused her great stress. He appeared to be a homeless man, his clothes tattered, dirty and torn, and he had behind him a small cart full of miscellaneous garbage and belongings. His hair was frazzled, the beard hanging from his chin long and unkempt. There was no doubt in her mind that he probably abused drugs and alcohol, much like the man who had stabbed Dereck over his wallet all those years ago.

The homeless male was across the car from her and there was a great deal of other passengers between them, yet still he bothered her, causing her grip on the pole to tighten even more. If only Fred were there to protect her and make her feel alright. Life had not been easy since losing Dereck; he was their only son and his death put a great strain on Fred and her. The mere thought of losing Fred now gave her heart palpitations. At least in 8 stops she would be able to see his smile, hear his voice, and hold his hand. Tonight, she would stay as long as she could with him at the hospital, both because she missed Fred terribly and because she dreaded the train ride back to an empty house.

There was a lurch, and the train started to depart the station.

* Copyright © 2018 by CAPA Literature.

9 Stops –

*Make sure to check out the last post, ‘Passengers’, before reading this continuation!*

When the train had loudly come to a halt, the doors ended up right in front of her. She was the third person who managed to push herself through the door, and quickly she took up a spot on the opposite side of the car from the entry. The music in her headphones blasted away in an attempt to distract her, but honestly, she was so out of it she wasn’t even paying attention to the song that was playing. It was almost a subconscious form of habit to put the headphones on as she proceeded up the steps to the train station, and today was no exception to that; a product of muscle memory.

She knew ultimately that she had no reason to complain, as many people were far worse off than her. At the end of the day there was a roof over her head, food on her table, and she was gainfully employed. That being said, she didn’t know how much longer she could carry on like this.

The monotony and mundanity of being a clerical data clerk brought with it a plague of depression that struck her hard in the face every time she walked into the office. When she had been young and free spirited, the dream had always been to be in a band, or work as a producer, or even be the secretary at a label company; as long as it had to do with music she would have been happy. But as the disease of adulthood onset, and the harsh realities of financial and literal responsibilities became apparent, music became less of an option and soon she was sitting behind a desk under florescent lighting punching in numbers on a spreadsheet.

As time passed she did her best to keep up the youthful energy she once had, and thankfully her boss had no issues with the plug earrings or the tattoo on her neck. Short of dawning a turtle neck sweater or an obscene amount of makeup, there was really no way to cover it up, but it was a decision she did not regret at all. At times she would stand fully naked in front of the mirror at home and gaze at the tattoo of the ferocious tiger that crept along her body, the tip of its mangled tail ending along her neckline. It was a symbol of a time when she had been happy, when she had been naive and blissful to the ways of the world, when she still had dreams.

Now she was trapped in a metal tube with hundreds of other drones proceeding home from their equally commonplace jobs, and the thought crossed her mind that there was no point to carry on this way anymore. She was bound for her empty bachelor suite apartment, where she would inevitably succumb to a deeper depression as soon as she collapsed through the door, and would fall asleep watching Netflix as she did every night. Someone else would be there to crunch the numbers the next day at Longings Consulting Ltd., and it would make no difference if she didn’t show up. The only music she was involved in anymore was the racket blasting through her headphones, and she was too preoccupied to even listen to it.

Looking up, she noticed the man sitting across from her staring in her direction, and he averted his gaze as she turned to him. He looked rich, his clothes fancy and expensive in appearance, although the expression on his face was desolate. She assumed he was probably a man who had everything he wanted but was never happy enough with what he had, and that all he cared about was money and numbers. Immediately she found him uninteresting, and stared out the window at the other people still attempting to shove their way through the train doors. An elderly lady caught her attention, wearing a puffy purple and green jacket, knitted mitts, and a thin beige head wrap. By the time the old lady managed to board the train, there were no seats available and she was forced to stand by the doorway grasping a metal pole.

The young man in the blue suit did not budge, let alone offer his seat, but still the old lady standing beside him smiled away at nothing, not bothered at all. She had probably lived a good fulfilling life, and was now enjoying retirement, off to dinner in the suburbs with her grandchildren.

There was brief silence as the song on her headphones changed, and in that moment, she was jealous of the old lady. Life was assumedly simpler at that age, and suddenly she felt that if she just fought through it, perhaps one day she too could be a smiling grandmother content with nothingness. Then the realization came that in 9 stops, an apartment full of nothingness was all that awaited her. She hoped the 9 stops would pass slowly.

There was a lurch, and the train started to depart the station.

* Copyright © 2018 by CAPA Literature.

Passengers –

For this next one, I am choosing to release it a little differently. Instead of giving you guys the whole thing at once, I am going to put out one piece week by week until the full thing is done, so make sure you keep checking in. Enjoy!

Subway

“Next train arriving. Please stand clear of the yellow line!”

The automated female voice caught the attention of the crowd, causing most to look up from their many books, phone screens, and tablets down the track to confirm the validity of the recent announcement. Sure enough, a series of lights became visible as the vehicle rounded the bend, bound for the platform on which they were all eagerly awaiting its arrival. It was a bitter cold day, and it was obvious that many of the patrons were keen to get into the warmth.

The train came screeching into the station alongside the concrete platform, eventually coming to rest right in front of the many waiting potential passengers as the snow began to fall from the grey, cloud covered heavens above. There was an audible beeping sound as the doors all opened simultaneously, and the people, slowly but surely, made their way onto the 5 silver train cars. Once everyone was clear of the entryways, there was a repetition of the earlier beeping as the doors closed, and the robotic female voice updated the passengers as to the unchanging route they all travelled every day.

“Next stop, City Hall station.”

***

He had taken up the first available seat as soon as he had entered the freshly opened train doors, as after the day he had had, he couldn’t bear the thought of standing for the next 10 stops. The day had been long, and quite frankly he was doing everything he could to fight back the tears. Wouldn’t that be a sight? A grown man crying on the jam-packed subway train for all to see during the rush hour mayhem.

His suit was elegantly tailored, the fabric dark blue with black cross-stitching and complimenting brown Italian leather shoes and belt. His bag was Gucci, and it was stuffed full of all his personal belongings. Up until now, he had thought his job at ‘Wells, Jameson, and Hendrick: Attorneys at Law’ had been secure. He had been there over three years and everything seemed copacetic. Granted, somewhere in his subconscious he knew that his work ethic had slowed a tad since he was first employed fresh out of law school, but that was the norm as people get comfortable at work, wasn’t it? So he had thought.

With the job, he had acquired a bigger house, a nicer car, and many other luxuries afforded to lawyers who worked for the most reputable office in town. He had plans to propose to Dianne in the near future, and his overall life prospects had looked good. When Senior Partner John Wells called him into his large glass office which overlooked the river from the 67thfloor of Finance Place Plaza at precisely 15 minutes before the end of the day, everything changed.

As he sat there on the red plastic bench on the train, clutching his Gucci bag, he felt a fool as he glanced around at the other passengers. They probably all saw him in his expensive attire, the Tag Heuer watch clinging to his wrist, and assumed that he was important and authoritative and stable. But now, he was just an unemployed loser whose life was suddenly in shambles. The tears welled in his eyes as he stared down at his shoes, trying his hardest to not make eye contact with anyone. As soon as he would burst through the front door of his condo he would break down on the floor, this much he knew already. For now, he had to keep it together so that at least he had his dignity amongst the masses.

Bravely he looked up and noted the young lady sitting across from him. Her hair was up in a ponytail, presumably to show off the large pink spacer-earrings that she had in both lobes. The remnants of a tattoo could be seen creeping up the right side of her neck under her collared shirt. She had large Bose headphones sat atop her head, with the cord running down into her computer bag which she held in front of her. Her apparel was not in any way unprofessional, but it was definitely on the more casual end of the spectrum. Awkwardly he stared at her awhile, before she turned and he darted his head away to avoid being caught glaring.

She probably had a good job at some hipster, up-and-coming start-up company, where she could make her own hours, bring her dog to work, and ate out at a different food truck for every lunch. Her house would be a studio loft style apartment, decorated with all sorts of pop culture memorabilia and a large record player on the coffee table with a wooden shelf of various albums across from it. She would drink Pabst Blue Ribbon after work with her faux-lumberjack boyfriend, who probably also had some antiquated yet well-paying job at some other local company, and they would spend their weekends riding board-walk bikes along the river, eating odd flavours of handcrafted ice-cream, and sampling local craft beers. He found himself being jealous of her, and again he felt like crying.

‘10 more stops,’ he told himself internally. ‘That’s all you have to last.”

There was a lurch, and the train started to depart the station.

* Copyright © 2018 by CAPA Literature.

* Picture borrowed from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_City_Subway_rolling_stock

A Simple Proposition –

It was a cloudy in New York City, the breezy May air filled with light humidity and the scent of freshly blooming shrubbery and flowers. Central Park was a life with green trees and fresh grass, the likes of which had not been seen since the last spring season over a year ago. Despite the light gale, the several bodies of water that dotted the surface of the park remained utterly still, reflecting a mirrors image of the tall structures that enclosed the serene grounds. Within it, people were strolling casually whilst sipping coffees, others being drawn by horse in finely ordained carriages, the usual chaos and energy of the metropolis somewhat lessened by the atmosphere of the place.

The pair strolled along amicably; he holding up the umbrella to protect them from the faint rain that now fell from above, her arm entwined about his. As they walked they talked about this and that; the adventures they were having, the delicious dinner they had enjoyed at Pershing Square the night prior, about how much they did not want to leave the enthralling city the next day. The trip itself had been nothing short of astounding despite its brevity, and they had spent every waking moment exploring all that the worldly city had to offer. They had beheld the grandeur of Grand Central Station, exchanging veiled comments at the magical whispering wall, and stood humbly underneath the splendid blue ceiling and twinkling stars of the main concourse. They had gawked at the perplexing contemporaries at the Guggenheim, and expanded their minds in the infinite exhibits of the MET. Broadway had dazzled them with the magic and wonderment of theatre, and the city itself had served as a humbling reminder of both the accomplishments and burdens of man.

Today, however, was different. They had chosen to spend their final hours in the city more relaxed with a walk in the park, a luxurious latte, and the exclusive company of each other amongst the masses. The drizzle had caused the few passersby to disperse, leaving the two of them more or less alone as they travelled the many paths and walkways. Despite the serenity of it all, he was anything but relaxed.

With his right hand tightly clutching the umbrella, he rubbed his left over his pant pocket to assure himself that the small package was still safely seated within. Inside his head, his mind was viciously racing through the variety of words and phrases he had concocted over the many months it took to formulate his plan, all of which seemed foolhardy and lacking now that the day of reckoning had arrive. In all reality, he could not picture a life without her at his side, and if everyone else in the world suddenly vanished, and it was just the two of them for eternity, he would have been perfectly happy. But the concern was that he would sound corny and forced if he presented such statements, as in the 8 years they had been together, he had never been the overtly Shakespearean type.

As they continued onward, he began to beat himself up for not coming up with a better plan. He had spent months searching out the perfect ring, and several more booking the trip to NYC. But when it came down to it, he had boarded the plane at her side with the ring in his pocket, content with the ideation that the perfect moment would crop up sometime during the excursion and it would be a natural thing. Today however was the last day of their trip, and unless he planned on getting down on one knee in the terminal at La Guardia, his time was running out.

The couple cut off the concrete sidewalk to follow a little footpath that careened off into some trees and bushes. They emerged from the shrubbery to find themselves in a clearing, the looming skyscrapers and bustling soundtrack of The Big Apple blocked out by the tall foliage. With his heart racing, and a sweat mustering upon his brow, he started his speech, the nervous quivering in his voice quite obvious to himself. He had barely gotten one awkward sentence into it, when a couple and their ratty excuse of a dog burst forth on the other end of the clearing, chatting away loudly. He had not expected there to be many private moments in a place as busy as NYC, but this was ridiculous. Not much of a showman, he retreated with an internal sigh, and capped off his quick speech with a simple ‘I love you,’ and a kiss. She eyed him queerly, but returned the sentiment all the same as they kept walking.

They found themselves back on the main sidewalk, and soon after passing a sign for Belvedere Castle, they angled their gait in that direction. If nothing else, New York had served as a testament to architectural prowess, with no shortage of awe inspiring buildings and structures; and the legendary building in the heart of Central Park mayhap offer  up an ideal place for his plan. But unfortunately upon their arrival, they found the grey stone building surrounded by construction fencing and machinery, with not so much as a brick or a window visible past the barriers. Again defeated, they trudged off to the west continuing along casually. A passing glance revealed another small pathway, and quickly he dragged her aside, to find another clearing similar to the last, only much smaller, with the trees almost completely blocking out the grey clouds overhead. It was now or never.

At no time before had he been so anxious, and even after 8 years of bliss, there was always the possibility that she could say no, which may serve to sour an already splendid vacation. He muddled his way through his speech, each word sounding sillier than the last, and eventually he could not tolerate listening to himself any further. As he pulled the little bag from his pocket, he dumped the small, elegant piece of jewelry into his palm, and got down on his right knee. Immediately he could feel the wetness of the ground seeping into his trouser leg, but he did not care.

With the glowing green leaves and the grey haze of the day, she had never seemed more beautiful. He held her hand with his, clutched the ring in his right, and offered up a simple proposition. While the question was composed of 4 simple words, it carried with it the weight of the world. It would mean happiness and some sadness, adventure and the odd nightmare, great accomplishments and a few minor trivialities; although admittedly the choice was hers. They had talked about it many times in their 8 years, both displaying sentiments that one day they would be ready. But truth be told he had always been ready, ever since the first time that they had held hands, or their original and somewhat awkward first kiss, from the first time they said ‘I love you.” Perhaps he had not known it at those points exactly, but looking back in retrospect he had never doubted that what they were building together would one day lead to this moment.

Finally he mustered up the courage, and all but vomited out the question he had waited seemingly forever to ask.

“Will you marry me?”

Her answer was simple, suggesting that the question was almost silly, and that he should have known all along what she was going to say. As she looked down at her bumbling mess of a fiancé, she couldn’t help but smile.

“Of course.”

* Copyright © 2018 by CAPA Literature.

The Reader –

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There is something about the comfort of one’s own bed which is unparalleled by any other location on Earth. Other beds are also indulgent and warm, and often are furnished with similar luxuries such as supportive pillows, down duvets, and soft sheets, but somehow none compare to the cosiness of what awaits at home. She had travelled the world, spent exorbitant amounts of money to stay in five-star accommodations boasting the finest mattresses, highest thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, and elegantly designed pillows meant to cradle your cranium, but somehow they all paled in comparison to her 10 year old Sealy wrapped in a cloak of familiarity and nostalgia.

The weekend had been a long one, and not in the literal sense of it being Labor Day. The drive itself was arduous in the way that it was dreary and flat, with not so much as a tree to draw the eye away from the rolling beige fields that were the South Dakota countryside. Often, she thought that a bungee cord on the steering wheel and a brick on the accelerator could make quick work of the mundane drive so that she could take a nap or read a book to pass the time, although she would never be brazen enough to try. None-the-less she suffered through, arriving by twilight on the Friday’s eve, and spent the next few days visiting with family, having drinks with old friends, and doing the usual things that she did whenever she returned to her hometown. It had indeed been nice to see everyone, but as she had climbed back into her old Toyota Corolla on the Monday afternoon and headed back to her everyday life, a feeling of relief washed over her, and she could not wait to get home.

Admittedly there was not much that awaited her, and perhaps that was the most drawing feature of the return; the nothingness. As of late life had been chaotic, and between work, errands, and the debts demanded by having any semblance of a social life, she had grown weary in the passing weeks. It seemed that every time she had a day to do nothing, it would pass all too quickly, and suddenly it would be not more than a fleeting memory as she was swept back up into the hustle and bustle of her daily life. But now, as she rolled down the dusty gravel road away from her small hometown, she knew that tomorrow was a day committed to nothingness. The softness of her bed, the lazy hours to be spent reading, the lack of a need to set an alarm for the wee morning hours, it all beckoned her ever nearer as she pressed down slightly harder on the gas pedal.

Perhaps she was depressed? It was something suggested by friends and colleagues over the years, but internally she did not believe it to be true. Quite frankly she could not find anything wrong with self-indulgence into a world of literary grandeur in the comforts of her home, and if that was, for some reason, a sign of mental illness, then supposedly the outside world had even less to offer than she originally thought. Society was drab and blasé, and perhaps the virus that was humanity was in fact the one who was depressed. The news broadcasts were always filled with dismal tales of death, corruption, and idiocrasy, and quite obviously the fables bestowed within the words of a Dickens novel or the bindings of a Twain hardcover were far more uplifting and adventurous than anything displayed on CNN.

On the surface she maintained the societal expectation of a woman in her late 20’s. She wore nice clothes, presented herself professionally, had a job to support herself, and every so often she would even venture to the grocery store and cook herself a nice, homemade meal. She melded with the crowd, never doing anything overly overt, and even enjoyed the occasional pumpkin spice latte alongside the rest of the pre-programmed masses. But inside, the complexities of her interior self were much different. Often the voices in her head left her with migraines as they screamed and shouted inside her skull at the unnecessary redundancies of life, the ridiculous expectations suggested by society, the unescapable stupidity that plagued the multitudes of humanity. Not everyone fit into this mold truthfully, and every so often she would encounter another likeminded individual with whom she could converse, deprived of the urge to tear out her hair, but these people seemed far and few between. Regularly she found herself wondering if others were plagued by the same issues as she, but how was one to know? Mostly she kept the rage and emotion bottled down until she fell through her front door, and let the burden float away as she drowned her sorrows in the pages of a good book.

Long ago she had tried her hand at writing, but found, while therapeutic in its own way, it did not have the same effect as reading. Her stint as a self-proclaimed author transformed more into a journaling session than a bout of creativity, during which she unleashed her harsh feelings and views of the world through angry scribbling, the ink blotted paper staring back at her upon completion almost saying ‘what did I do to offend you?’ While this came along with its own benefits, she found she would much rather distract herself with an already written piece of literature than unleash her inner zeitgeist critic in attempts to compose one.

As time lumbered on, she noted more and more that she arranged her life around reading. Previously she had biked to work most every day, but as of late she favored the train as it meant she could bury her nose in the pages as the vehicle took her where she needed to go. Her television went more or less abandoned in favor of various volumes, and even when she would spend time at the gym there would be a novel placed on the treadmill in front of her. She was addicted.

On the Thursday before her venture to visit her relatives, a long-lost friend had sent her a text message inquiring if she had the desire to go for coffee and catch up. When her phone had dinged upon the arrival of the message, she had been seated in her bathtub up to her neck in steaming water with the latest Grisham account clutched in her one dry hand. For a moment she had pondered the idea, although ultimately she declined, making up some excuse about needing to pack for her Labor Day visit with her family. She felt slightly guilty upon hitting send, although eventually she convinced herself that it wasn’t really a lie, and that she did indeed need to pack her bag at some point, so it might as well be tonight.

But now, as she rolled into her driveway after the existentially plain drive and her weekend getaway, she found herself wondering if she should text Cheryl and see if she was free tonight. She did need friends after all, and she didn’t have so many that she could afford to lose one due to lack of participation on her end. She exited the car and grabbed her duffle out of the backseat; her favourite copy of ‘Harry Potter’ fell out of the half-opened pocket onto the car floor, which she grabbed immediately, brushing off the dirt with her hand. As she stared at the cover, she found any desire she had to attend a coffee shop with Cheryl had now subsided, and she made her way upstairs clutching the epic novel underarm. Routinely, she dropped her bag by the front entry, had stripped completely naked upon reaching her bedroom, and in a matter of seconds had dawned her favorite pair of pajamas before retiring to the couch in the living room, book still in hand. She opened the pages and began to immerse herself in the story of witches and wizards, when she heard her phone vibrate on the coffee table. Glancing up somewhat perturbed, she grabbed the device and briefed the message on the screen.

‘You home yet? Can I come over?’ it read, and she smiled to herself. It been such a busy weekend, and she had been so compelled to return to her favourite pastime that she almost forgot about him, which made her blush with guilt.

‘I’m just curled up with a book if you wanna come by. I’m not really in the mood for much,’ she replied efficiently. She had her response within seconds, and he stated he was on his way over to join her, which admittedly she did not mind at all.

She continued to read until she heard a rap on the front door, to which she answered without hesitation. A large grin curled across her face as she opened the door and saw him standing there with two thermoses of hot chocolate in his hands, and his own book tucked under his elbow. Beneath his thick jacket he too had on nothing more than some pajama’s, and he handed her one of the beverages as he entered the home. They exchanged pleasantries and a few kisses, before retiring to the couch, each with their own book in hand. There they lay for most of the night, their legs entwined like two puzzle pieces that fit together, their minds entranced by the magic held within the pages in their grasp. This, she knew, was happiness.

* Copyright © 2018 by CAPA Literature.

* Picture borrowed from http://sofascouch.com/reading-couch/2057/lovely-reading-couch-57-on-sofa-design-ideas-with-reading-couch

The Writer –

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He was tired. There was no two ways about it. He sat in front of the laptop longing for the words to come, but alas they did not. It seemed as though when he lay awake in bed at nights, tossing and turning with inevitable insomnia, the ideations would come flowing freely into his brain. They would seem so fruitful and creative, but in those moments, he only wanted sleep. The odd time one would be enlightened enough that he would miserably grab his phone from the nightstand, and scribble down the idea in an electronic note so that he could expand on it later. But predictably, once he finally found a moment to sit in front of his computer and write, his mind went blank.

Often enough he would open up those electronic notes in his phone from his late-night epiphanies, glance over the one or two lines he had managed to type out, and think out loud to himself, “What the hell did I mean by that?” And then he would continue to sit there blankly until he gave in to his literary misery and conceded to the emptiness of his mind.

It was almost paradoxical really, the continuity with which this cycle seemed to elaborate on itself. He would spend more and more time forcing the creativity which seemed to output perversely less and less literacy the harder the effort. In turn he would become upset, and spend his nights treacherously tearing apart his subconscious in regards to his constant failures, and as a result the insomnia set in. Then, once his body was on the cusp of sleep but his brain refusing to cooperate, the motifs would arrive. And the more exhausted he was the better they would seem. But daylight would soon come and he would be back at square one.

Today was no different, and he sat in his little office that was more of a nook staring at the blank screen, the blinking cursor seemingly mocking him. He slammed the screen shut with a bit too much force before getting up from the desk. He wanted a coffee. He threw on his raincoat and scarf and headed out into the rain, bound for the little coffee shop a block away from his condominium. There, he ordered a small coffee with one cream and one sugar, as well as a cherry cheese danish before retreating back upstairs into the secrecy of his own domain. There, he scarfed the pastry down before even removing the lid from his coffee, which was still steaming hot when he did so. Taking a sip, he then reopened the screen of his laptop.

He had always wanted to be a writer. The goal was not to be rich nor famous, nothing of the sort actually. A meager living off of his writings would suit him just fine, with a steady audience who actually appreciated his works. But as anyone who indulges in the world of literature can surely attest, even a dream as modest as this is not so easy to accomplish. But day after day he attempted to push himself a little further, as he convinced himself half of the battle was simply putting the pen to paper so to speak.

He sat there, drinking his regular coffee, as his mind now reminisced about his youth. Recalling the days when he would author stories of dragons and knights as a boy brought a legitimate smile to his face, and he longed for the literary ease he seemed to possess back then. Granted the stories of his boyhood had been childish and diminutive, but none-the-less he could never remember a time as a boy when he didn’t know what to write or suffered from so-called ‘writers block’. But now, as an adult, it seemed much the opposite.

Promptly, instead of writing, he brought up a file on his computer containing a myriad of photographs from his youth that he had recently electronically scanned. He perused them at his leisure, grinning every so often at a moment that seemed more vivid than the rest. During this, he stumbled across several pictures of him and his brother as boys, the sentimentally in him overflowing.

His brother was four years his junior, and altogether a completely different person, but they had been the best of friends. While he had spent his childhood immersed in books and his studies, his brother had been off galivanting lackadaisically, playing sports, making friends, and doing all the things young boys should do. As they grew older this prose did not alter, but they still remained close even though the physical distance between them greatened. He himself had always been the driven one, with goals and milestones outlined specifically in his acute mind. The brother on the other hand had been at the whims of the world and seemed to go wherever life took him. They had two very different ways of living.

Truth be told he envied his sibling in a way, as he often felt that the uncompromising style in which he approached his own life was somewhat unyielding and perhaps attributed to his recent blunders. An overworked mind is a blank mind, which at times is a self-correcting problem, an issue his brother did not seem to have.

Regardless, he had found his successes, and was quite proud of them. He had graduated both secondary school and his collegiate years with nothing short of honors, his name appearing on the Dean’s list in his final semester of academic study. Subsequently he had landed a prominently impressive occupation and had accomplished all this at a very young age. But, undenounced to anyone in his life but himself, his passion remained literary in nature, yet seemed to be the one ambition he could not actuate. Not as of yet anyway.

As the years went on, he dedicated more and more of himself to his profession, and seemed to write more and more infrequently. His financial stability improved, he acquired bigger and fancier automobiles, and his overall position in life was substantially rock-steady, but yet the hole in his heart remained.

Then, one sunny spring morning, something changed. The seizure had arrived unannounced, the trigger being subject to mere speculation in the medical world. He had found himself in the back of an ambulance with a surprisingly sympathetic individual and had spent an afternoon being the subject to many tests and inquiries, all of which were inconclusive.

The next several weeks contained much of the same and bore news that while not necessarily negative in connotation, objectively proved that things were going to drastically change one way or the other. He had often thought of himself as an adaptive individual, one who could seemingly thrive in a shifting environment, and but this incident was dissimilar. Much of the action had been removed from his grasp, ultimately meaning that as the victim of circumstances beyond his control, he was now tethered by the rules and regulations applicable to all those in society whom possessed the same ailments as he.

Rather quickly he realised how adversely this new situation was going to affect his employment. As a matter of fact, it had caused a nauseating pit in the depths of his stomach as soon as the words had left the doctors mouth, and he spent much the remainder of the appointment stunned and mentally uncoordinated. He had left the office offering his empty thanks to the physician and sat out front of the building as the tears had flown uncontrollably. Regularly he was not one who was quick to emotion, but in that moment, he had seemed at his wits end.

The remainder of that day was spent down on the banks of the river, contemplating his alternatives and what this condition meant for him in the long term. He sat there, on the veranda of the petit café on the water’s edge sipping an ice cream float, the flavor of which his brain did not even register as it raced through various scenarios. The sound of the water trickling by soothed him in a way, but he could not help but look at all the people passing by with mixed feelings of jealousy and hatred. In all honesty he had no idea what terrible and traumatic events may be going on in each and every passerby’s life, but in that moment, he did not care, for he was too drowned in his own sorrows. But then the silver lining had become evident to him, and his ice cream float suddenly tasted all the sweeter. At least in the mix of this all, he would now have time to write.

The second seizure the day immediately after had served as a stern reminder that he was in fact ill. He had not reattended the hospital as the doctor had stated implicitly that the medication would take some time to work effectively, so he opted for the comfort of his own domain. It did however, re-sour his mood, as again his head filled with the limitations he was now bound by. He was not one who enjoyed other people restricting him and placing prohibitions upon his liberties, but he understood the seriousness of it all and indirectly knew it was only for his own wellbeing. It didn’t mean he had to like it though.

The next several days were spent making phone calls to doctors and employers, setting up appointments, working out professional accommodations, and filling out a plethora of forms that all seemed to bear the same bits of information, but were somehow each very different and independently important. The select few people in his life he chose to inform about his predicament all insisted on rousing his spirits with a drink or a dinner, which truth be told he was incredibly grateful for, as it aided in distracting his thoughts from the mortality of the situation.

But then, one night after dinner with a friend he had not seen in ages involving riveting conversation and delicious cuisine, it dawned on him that nearly two weeks had passed and he had not managed to write down a word. So the very next morning, he set aside all his other menial tasks, and powered on his laptop. That morning served as the point of origin for his writer’s block, and another two weeks had passed without more than a paragraph here and a sentence there of pure drivel. He wasn’t sure if the brain seizures had demolished his creativity, or if the stress of it all had figuratively overloaded his cranium, but time after time he spent hours staring at the blank screen.

This all leads back to the morning at hand, when he had recently finished his cherry pastry and become reminiscent.  The thought had often crossed his mind as to whether writing was a gift through which authors could make alternate worlds come alive, or an encumbrance that intruded upon every moment and thought. As frustrated as he was, he still loved it.

Closing the laptop screen again, he instead chose to spend that afternoon indulged in one of his favorite novels. Perhaps the words of another would help to fuel his own fire. He read the day away, and hardly noticed the darkness creep in around him until he looked up at the clock and saw that it read 11:30pm. Not that it was overly late for a man who had nowhere to be in the upcoming day, but the novel had veiled him in a calm he hadn’t felt in a while, and he crawled into bed with images of the well written book dancing around in his mind. For the first night in ages, he was entranced in someone else’s story as opposed to being burdened with his own. He slept like an infant.

* Copyright © 2018 by CAPA Literature.

* Picture borrowed from http://commonroot.net/pen-to-paper-writing-time-3/

DHC –

The Chief Executive in charge of The Division for Humanitarian Control sat at the head of the table, rubbing his eyes with the index finger and thumb of his left hand. His glasses sat atop his head, which was balding slightly with puffs of greying hair outlining its perimeter. Though he was only 48 years old, time had been tough upon him and all his colleagues had noticed that he had aged substantially in the short period associated with his role of Chief Executive. It was not an easy job, and in the eyes of the rest of the board, Charles Silietto handled it admirably. But then again none of their jobs were easy in the slightest, as running the free world came with a heavy toll.

“How the fuck did this happen,” Charles exclaimed finally, returning his spectacles to their seat on the bridge of his nose. “I knew there was a consensus to go ahead with this experiment, but this is going to make things much harder to manage for us.”

The room, although full of other people, was dead silent. After several awkward moments, a woman standing in the back of the chamber stepped forward. She was garbed professionally in a navy blue pant suit and her frame was as thin as a pencil.

“As ludicrous as it is sir, I think this confirms our suspicions. We’ve reached an impasse and perhaps it is time for a hard reset.”

Charles gazed down the long cherry wood table at the woman. Leaning back in his chair, he placed both his hands behind his head as he sighed audibly.

“So what are you saying Agneta? That society is too far gone and we need to blow up the whole fucking planet?”

“No sir, that’s not what I am saying, and I don’t think I need to explain to you the details of a trial of which you are already very much aware. We all knew that the plan was to present the public with two options, one of which was more radical than the other, and that no matter the outcome we would control it so that the victor was to be the more reserved option. The vote was supposed to be hypothetical, only to gauge the path of conviction of the people.”

“That’s what I am saying Agneta! How is he in power then!? This was not the plan that I approved!” Charles was shouting now.

“We are working on it sir, but our assets in Europe are stating that it had something to do with the Russians,” interjected a young man standing next to Agneta. “They somehow manipulated the election without our knowing and by the time we discovered the espionage it was too late.”

“That doesn’t explain shit,” Charles retorted. “We are the fucking Russians. We are the Chinese. We are the Czechs and we are the Canadians. And I thought we were the United States of America too, but apparently not!”

“I know sir,” the man replied timidly.

“Our sole purpose is to maintain world order and to preserve equilibrium. We allow the masses to believe that they run the show, that each country is individual and contributes something significant to the global economy. No one said our job of running the planet was easy, especially since everyone responsible for the outcome of humanity’s advance is sitting in this room right now. But we should be able to handle a simple election! This was no different than the Bush-Gore campaign, the Nixon-Kennedy op, or anything else. We’ve managed to keep people like Kim Jong-il and Vladamir fucking Putin in power for countless years, but we couldn’t manage to handle this?!”

An elder man sitting to the right of Charles took a sip of coffee contained in a plain black mug. He placed the cup back down before clearing his throat loudly.

“The stage is now set for another world war, and quite frankly we won’t have to raise a thumb to do anything about it, unlike with Adolf. I don’t have to remind you how much effort went into that affair, and thank Christ we managed to pull that one off. Only this time, instead of a charismatic German, we are talking about the President of the United States and a lot less bullshit.”

Charles turned to the man calmly.

“So you are saying we should just let things run their course, and that it will all work out in the end? That is not how we do things at the DHC Geoffrey, and quite frankly I’m a little concerned that you’re the one saying this.”

Geoffrey took another sip of his coffee and held Charles’s gaze.

“What I am saying is maybe we have controlled things for too long. If the masses want a world where their President is nothing more than a rambling celebrity with no clear notion of how to do anything to better their situation, then so be it. They have made their bed and I agree with Agneta. If this is what society has come to then I, for one, don’t think we should interfere any longer because quite frankly I don’t think it is a society worth saving.”

Charles sighed again. There was a silence that filled the room for several moments, not even the sound of a fan or ventilation passage could be heard, just the beating of everyone’s heart in their own heads. Finally, Charles spoke again.

“Well what are the options people? Let’s at least review the possibilities before we commit to our conviction.”

“Well option A is as Geoffrey stated,” began Agneta bravely. “We can let this run its due course which would be unprecedented as far as the history of DHC goes. Option B would be to deal with the issue openly, however an assassination at this stage could result in an Option A scenario regardless. Option C, which I think may be our calmest choice, is to deal with the issue using outside means, controlling his reign utilizing other world powers in a non-violent manner.”

“How realistic is Option C?” Charles inquired.

Agneta paused before answering.

“It’s hard to say sir. The issue is a very strong personality and although we have assets in place already to counteract anything, it may not be effective. He is a violent and rash individual which is why he was an ideal candidate for the experiment.”

“So what you’re saying to me Agneta is that violence is our best option.”

“What I am saying sir is that no matter how we go about doing things, violence may be inevitable.”

“What do our contacts in the CIA think about all this? Can they control him internally somehow?” Charles knew he was grasping at straws, but he had a hard time comprehending that the world had actually come to this under his rule. Subconsciously, he knew all hope was lost.

“Quite frankly sir they are struggling. The CIA and NSA are still in the public eye and after the stunt the President pulled with the director of the FBI, as well as the Snowden incident, they are apprehensive to get their hands dirty with this. We’ve spoke with MI6, CSIS, Mossad and the like, but all our assets are indicating it’s a no go. It seems as though even the public bodies set to prevent such things have gotten soft over the years and are now inclined to sit back and let it happen.”

“Alright I need a moment to think,” Charles proclaimed. “Everyone out.”

Without hesitation, everybody in the room emptied their chairs hastily and made for the doors.

“Agneta and Geoffrey please stay,” Charles requested. The two turned back around and took seats at the table, Geoffrey in his usual spot to the right of Charles, and Agneta on his left. They had both worked with Charles since they joined the DHC, and normally the three were all on the same page. In this moment however, neither of them really knew what to expect from the man they had come to trust and admire over the years. This was uncharted waters.

“I’m inclined to go with Option A at this point,” Charles began, his tone softer now. “Realistically I don’t see any way around it, and all roads seem to lead back to this conversation. Simultaneously I feel as though we at the DHC started this mess and it should be up to us to clean it up, but I am hoping if we let things be this imbecile will be the product of his own demise. That being said, when I call everyone back in here, I am going to step down from my position as Chief Executive as I hold myself responsible for allowing this to occur. Geoffrey, I am nominating you to take my place. You seem to have a grasp on what is best in regards to this path, and I think you are suited to guide DHC through the foreseeable rocky future.”

Both Agneta and Geoffrey were shocked at this development, but both knew that it was not their place to question Charles’s decision.

“Any concerns?” Charles inquired. Both shook their heads.

The mood in the room was both tense and depressed when Charles announced the early end to his tenure, but at the same time no one was surprised. He ended with a speech about the perseverance of The Division, and how he believed that the fate of the known universe was truly in the hands of the people currently present. With that, his final words were “God help us all,” before he took his exit, leaving the packed boardroom standing there awkwardly in awe.

Exactly one year from Charles Silietto’s resignation from the The Division for Humanitarian Control, the first nuclear bomb struck Beijing. It was the beginning of the end.

* Copyright © 2018 by CAPA Literature.

* Image borrowed from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/women-still-struggle-for-seat-at-boardroom-table-report-finds-1.4361154

Innocence –

kite

He sat on the wooden bench, with its red paint peeling and the railings rusting away, sipping his overpriced coffee as he watched the myriad of people saunter past him; a tapestry of diversity and uniformity. The fall day was grey around him as the multicolored leaves painted the sidewalk, the clouds above blasé and indifferent to the multitudes of life going on below them. In the air there was a slight chill foreboding of rain in the coming hours, or perhaps even a dusting of early snow should the evening grow colder yet.

Recently, his subconscious had been dealt several blows of both devastating negativity and undeserved motivation, leaving him as more of an empty shell of a man unsure of what to make of the life going on around and within him. It had all happened in a rather short period of time, and admittedly the goings-on had changed his outlook somewhat drastically; the circumstances had left him both torn and alarmingly certain. Life had never been more up in the air, but he had never been more determined to make things better, despite his lack of ideations as to how. Now however, he sat on the park bench by his lonesome, a mind occupied by unattended wonderments.

In attempts to distract his cognizance from the tenacity of his existence, he had delved rather foolhardily into the printed works of Hawking, Tyson, Rovelli and the like, although much of it went over his head. The idea had been to distract himself with the grand confusion and the infinitesimally small complexities of life as a way to ensure his ego that regardless of the situation, everybody else was as pointless as he, but alas it had not worked out quite so. The minuscule amount of detail that he was actually able to process only served to further fuel the fire of thought in his mind, and now he was also burdened by his own inquisitions relating to the supposed point of it all.

Taking a swig of his java, he looked up from his feet towards the horde of people disembarking a city transit bus that had just pulled up along the curb several feet away from him. As the variety of beings shuffled by, he could not help but speculate as to each individuals conception of the world. Were any of them burdened by questions similar to his own? How many people really care about the reasons for existence, or even have an interest in such trivialities? Was it simpler to just go about life, accepting of the way things are, blaming the odd mishap or joviality on a prospective deity? After all, if his readings had taught him all but one thing, it was that on the grand scale it seemed as though life was going to happen whether he was around to see it happen or not. Perhaps the biggest rife on his internal considerations was whether this idealism was comforting or chaotic.

With a mind askew from unanswered questions and wondering indifference to the passersby, his attention was drawn by two children in the field across from him. Their laughter bounced softly off of the surrounding orange and red trees, the flapping of the kite on which they were tugging confidently vaguely audible despite the height of the thing. It was a scene of innocence, of enjoyment, of lackadaisical excitement, which was a great juxtaposition to the somber and solemn faces of the adults filing off in rows along the concrete sidewalk. Now he found that he could not take his eyes off the children, his train of thought switching tracks from the imposing speculation of actuality to the curiosity of what a blissful existence was like. Obviously, he had been a child himself many years ago, but he could not quite recall the times when his biggest concern had been as simple as controlling a piece of tarp tied to a line. The more he contemplated it, the more he realized that it was not ignorance of fact that the children possessed, but more so the lack of necessity to understand, albeit in a guiltless type of way. For them, things proceeded along as they would, which they blindly accepted, because at that stage, it simply did not matter as to the reasons of it all.

As he stared at the florescent green kite flapping in the wind, a swig of his black coffee brought him back to the realities of the now. The bitterness of the beverage, the heat, the sharp flavours of the darkly roasted beans, somehow it all served to reinforce the lack of innocence that life normally contained, and he turned to the garbage bin beside his bench, disposing of the remnants of his drink immediately. With that, he got up from his seat and began meandering on down the pathway towards his house. He made a quick stop at a small shop on his way, and shortly thereafter he walked through the front doorway of the simple, yet quaint bungalow he called home. The interior smelled of warm pumpkin pie and roast chicken, and immediately his ears were filled with jovial shouts with regards to his arrival. Out of one of the adjoining rooms appeared a small boy, merely 4 years old, wearing a large grin across his face as he dashed, however unstably, towards his father. The boy was followed shortly by his mother, who grinned to match her son as the man revealed the reason he had stopped at the store on his way home. From behind his back he pulled a bright orange kite, much like the one with which he had been transfixed in the park; only this one he presented to his son.

Eagerly, the small family bundled up in jackets, scarves, and toques before heading back to the very same park in which the man had earlier sat. His boy was as equally entertained by the flying contraption as the strange children had been whom he had watched over his coffee. As they now ran throughout the field pulling the kite this way and that, his wife grabbed him and planted a kiss upon his cheek, giving praise about how his small gesture had so obviously made the boy’s night. He smiled and absorbed the compliment, returning the kiss, but internally he knew it was a lie. As much as he enjoyed watching his son mesmerized by the simple toy, partially he also knew that he done it more so for himself. For a fleeting moment, as he watched his son pilot the orange diamond of tarp and wood, he himself felt again innocent and unperplexed; nothing else seemed to matter but their conjoined laughter and the strength of the wind.

* Copyright © 2018 by CAPA Literature.

* Image borrowed from https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/123075002289935339/?lp=true

Clifton Manor (Part II) –

Clifton Manor

*(Make sure you check out Clifton Manor Part I first!)

At first, she was mildly hesitant to use the office again, especially on the darker and colder nights. But after weeks of uneventfulness her fear subsided and Anh ended up dismissing her prior inhibitions as the result of exhaustion and paranoia. As tax season passed, and the days started to warm with the onset of spring, she had less and less use for the place anyway. One Thursday afternoon in May, out of the blue, a pipe on the second floor burst and nearly completely flooded two of her units. The days after were chaotic as she spent all her time on the phone with laborers, determined to get the issue resolved and the apartments back in living condition as soon as possible. The next week, after a series of costly repairs and updates, she once again sat in the strange office pouring over a plethora of bills and statements. The small clock on her desk showed the time to be just passed 11pm, as she scrawled numbers in her ledger, trying to figure out how she was going to pay for the major setback.

Rather suddenly, a cold breeze passed through the space, rustling the papers scattered over her desk. Anh looked around, confirming that the window and doors were still closed. Writing it off as a draft that crept in under the door from out in the hallway, she turned her attention back to her finances. As she was writing furiously with her blue pen, she felt a small pressure on her left shoulder, almost as though her muscles were cramping from all the scribbling. Reaching up with her right to massage out the knot, her hand failed to feel the warm fleece of the yellow sweater she had dawned. In its place, the skin of her fingers touched what felt like another hand. The fingers felt long and boney, their skin rough and cracked, almost like old, unkempt leather. Anh froze, the hair on her arms standing on end as she sat there unsure if she wanted to look or remain ignorant and simply bolt out the door. Despite her better judgement, she slowly gazed sideways at her shoulder. Sure enough, inches from her face, sat a hand unlike any other she had ever seen. The skin was black and grey as though its owner had been dead a long time, the nails thin, sharp and broken like the claws of a beast. The terrifying limb did not move or make any attempt to withdraw, and she sat there staring for several moments, utterly terrified, leaving her own hand in place as she was too scared to move.

She hurriedly mustered some courage, and wheeled around in her chair forcefully to face whatever beast was obviously standing behind her. As she did so the hand vanished, and she was left staring out the open window, no one and nothing else seemingly there. Her hair still standing on end, and a pit of terror now in her stomach, she ran out of the office into the hallway, leaving the door ajar. In that moment she so badly wished Mrs. Christer was still alive so that she could seek the comfort of another human, but all of her other tenants would not be nearly as hospitable, and would probably think her insane if she went banging on their doors at this hour.

Reluctantly she retreated into her own suite, securely locking both the deadbolt and the handle behind her. She grabbed a large chef’s knife and proceeded to barricade herself in the bathroom. She wanted to calm down and be able to write off the experience she just had as exhaustion, but the silence was getting to her, and she was unsure if she could hear movement next door or if it was just her mind playing further tricks. In attempts to drown out either the noise or her subconscious, Anh reached around and turned on the shower, slumping back down onto the floor with her back against the tub facing the door to the room, knife in hand as the sound of the running water began to soothe her ears. Eventually she gave in to her fear, and pulled out her cellphone dialling the number for her dad. Through brief sobs, she told him the story of what had just happened, and reassuringly he said he would come over shortly to keep her company for the night.

Feeling a bit better as she hung up the phone, Anh decided to stay locked in the bathroom until her father arrived.  It seemed an eternity before she heard a faint knocking at her front door, and she slowly exited her refuge, knife still in hand. She peered through the peephole in the door, but could not make out her father, or anyone else for that matter. All that seemed to lie on the opposite side of the door was an empty hallway, before she noticed an unfamiliar shadow on the carpet to the left. It appeared as though it would be a shadow cast by a visitor standing right in the doorway, except for the fact that there was no one there.

Suddenly the whole door shook violently in its frame directly in front of her, causing her to scream and dash backwards. It continued to shake, the rattling so fierce it appeared that the hinges were moments away from breaking free of the wall. Anh continued to stare at it in horror, at this point accepting that she was no longer alone. As it quaked, there were several loud thuds as though whatever was on the other side was attempting to push through the cheap wooden door. Anh could see the wood bending inward with every thump, and with each lasting second her heart leapt further and further into her throat. She began weeping harder than she ever had, although no sound came out of her mouth except for mad gasps for air.

But then, as abruptly as it had started, there was again silence. Tears rolled down her cheeks, the blood in her veins running cold, her skin covered in goosebumps. Anh stood there frozen, not sure if she was going insane or if this was even reality. There was another knocking on the door, and her stomach dropped.

“Leave me alone!” she screamed, holding the knife out in front of her. Muffled by the wall and door between them, she then heard the voice of her father on the other side.

“Anh, it’s me. Are you ok?”

She rushed forward and opened the door, glad to see her senior father standing on the wake holding two thermos’s of hot cocoa.

“Was there anyone out here just now, when you came up?” she asked of him immediately, her terror obvious and apparent. The look on his face was a mix of confusion and concern as he noted the knife still clutched in her hand.

“No sweetie, there is no one out here but me.”

Anh pulled him inside the unit and locked the door behind them. They proceeded to the couch, where she reiterated the original story with the addition of the vehement door. Her father listened intently without interrupting, the look of worry on his face growing with every sentence she uttered. Eventually he convinced Anh to show him the office, and apprehensively they went over to find the door now locked. She opened it with her key, begging her father to go in first. Upon inspection, everything seemed fine, just the way it had been left.

Returning to the comforts of her living room couch, their conversation turned from the paranormal to the normal, and he asked her many questions about work, her sleep and eating habits. Eventually, after much debate, Anh agreed to take the next day off work as a sick day, and to accompany her father to the doctor to get checked. She had been working too hard, he claimed, and needed some rest. The pair spent the night sleeping in the living room; her father on the couch and Anh on the floor next to him. Everything was quiet.

The next day came and went, with the doctor chalking everything up to stress and sleep deprivation from being overworked. The surly physician prescribed her some medication to assist with sleep before bidding them farewell, instructing her to return should the hallucinations persist. Internally, Anh was furious. She knew that they had not been hallucinations; she had felt the door vibrating against her face as she peered through the eye hole and the hand on her shoulder while she had been seated behind her desk. Seeing no way to convince them otherwise, she gave in to the medical diagnosis, and opted to spend the next few nights slumbering in the comforts of her parent’s spare bedroom.

A week had gone by before Anh Ta returned home, and she still felt frightened as she walked through the front doors of Clifton Manor. Nothing had changed; the carpets were still red and musty, the lights buzzed loudly, although the love and pride she once held for the place was now gone. As she exited the stairwell on the third floor, she ran into the young couple from 302.

“We haven’t seen you all week. Is everything ok?” the male asked, somewhat intrusively.

“Oh yes, everything is fine, just been visiting my parents,” she replied as she put her keys in the lock. She hesitated, before she turned back around to face them.

“Have….have you guys heard anything strange lately. Any loud noises or anything like that?” she inquired.

“No not at all,” they responded simultaneously as they smiled at her. “Everything has been nice and quiet since we moved in.”

Anh did not return the smile, and entered her apartment. “Glad to hear it, have a good night,” she mumbled as she shut the door behind her. Maybe the doctor was right, maybe she was overtired. In her mind, she remembered the door shaking so viciously and was sure that someone else on the floor would have heard the raucous. She began to undress as she walked down the hall of her apartment towards her bedroom at the end, intent on putting on her comfiest pajama’s and losing herself in the pages of a novel. As she entered the bedroom, now in nothing but underwear and a bra, she immediately saw the opening.

In the wall which adjoined the office on the other side, directly above her bed, was now a gaping hole that had not been there the other night. The edges of the gap were charred black, as though it had been carved out with a smoldering hot tool of fire. Oddly, through the opening, she could not see the office she knew to be on the other side, or even anything at all for that matter. There was simply blackness and darkness within it, and the fright that accompanied the sight of the thing was overwhelming. Anh turned on her heels to flee, but the bedroom door swung shut aggressively in front of her, and when she reached for the knob, the brass was burning hot to the touch and burnt the palm of her hand. She fiddled with it despite the pain, but it would not budge. After shouldering the door several times, Anh realized it was no use, and turned her attentions to the window as a means of escape.

She turned around and took a step towards the closed window pane, before she noticed the hole come alive. The darkness within it began to swirl around as when one pulls the plug out of a tub full of water, and a musty haze began to emanate from within it, filling the room. Anh froze, unable to process what was happening, letting out a deep, uncontrolled sob as a figure began to emerge from the opening. First, out came the hand that she had seen so closely the other night, the long, cracked index finger pointed directly at her, almost beckoningly. Slowly the arm attached to the hand emerged, and it was not long until a beast of utter dreadfulness stood before her. It was shaped much like a human, only much larger in stature and build, as it stood at least double her height; it’s mighty, bald head almost touching the ceiling. It seemed to not have a neck, the peak of its back and shoulders slouched forward noticeably. The skin of the thing was black to match the hand, with lacerations and oozing boils all over, and appeared to be as thin as paper, with every bone and vein within visible underneath. The face itself was truly terrible to behold, with a long hooked nose, a smiling mouth with thin lips and needle sharp teeth, and huge reptilian eyes of red and black. In place of ears were simply two holes on either side of the face, offset by a pair of hugely sharp horns aimed forward passed the eyes. The thing was completely naked, and it did not have a single hair anywhere on its body. Between the massiveness of its stature and its disgustingly ferocious appearance, Anh knew something dreadful was about to happen.

As it moved towards her, Anh could do no more than stare the creature in the eyes in anticipation of her looming fate, her nakedness making her feel that much more vulnerable. Although huge in size, the steps of the beast were soft and noiseless, and gave an air that the creature could be incredibly agile and quick if it needed to be. The room filled with a smell which she felt was emanating from the brute, a combination of burning flesh, sweat, and somehow the scent of the outdoors on a freezing cold winter day.  It placed both hands on her bare shoulders, the touch so cold it stung her skin, before using the long, skeletal fingers of its left hand to stroke her hair as it began speaking, almost affectionately, though the voice was deep and haunting.

“Thank you for freeing me Anh,” the thing boomed as it continued to smile down at her through rows of jagged, razor sharp teeth. Its breath made her want to vomit, the stench of which she could not place. “It was the witch across the hall you should have feared, not me! Although once you opened the barrier I made quick work of the hag! For that I owe you a debt.”

The beast motioned towards the gapping, black hole in the wall, which hadn’t stopped spinning and spitting smoke. The room, now dense with haze, still smelled of rotting tissue. For whatever reason, Anh allowed the beast to guide her towards the gap, and as she stood before it, staring into its blackness, she could feel the cold hands against the bare skin of her body as it picked her up by her waist. Strangely, the figure then cradled her in its arms, as if she were not more than a baby to it, as it continued to grin in a sinister fashion at the look of fear on her face. She could feel a solitary tear run down her cheek as the monster began chuckling to itself. Slowly, it began to step into the abyss with Anh in its arms. Something inside of her knew that she was going to die, that she would never see the world she had grown up in again, and somehow, for reasons unbeknownst even to herself, she was at ease with the notion, almost describable as a calming fear of the inevitable. As they continued further and further into the void, she could see the remnants of her bedroom growing smaller and smaller, the voice of Mrs. Christer resounding in her head, You should have left well enough alone!Who was the old lady really?

The loud honking of the car horn roused her quickly, and Anh Ta sat up in the car seat with a cold shiver running through her body. She looked over and saw James McGregor in the driver seat beside her, shaking his fist at some other car that was peeling away.

“Some people drive like such idiots,” he exclaimed, as he continued through the intersection and pulled the vehicle alongside the curb further down the road. Anh remained quiet.

“I have just one more property to show you Anh. I know you’re tired, but I think you are going to like this one. It’s right in your price range, and should offer you fairly substantial profits especially if you are willing to put in some work,” James continued, smiling at her warmly. She realized suddenly that she was freezing cold although covered in sweat, even though the thermometer in the dash of James’s Range Rover indicated it to be a balmy 24 degrees inside the car. Anh pulled her yellow cardigan tight around her, noticing a blister that had formed on the center of her palm.

“What do you think?” James inquired, as he beckoned outside to her right. Anh turned her head to look, and let out a shriek of terror that made the elderly real estate agent nearly jump out of his seat.

Clifton Manor sat there in all its magnificence, the old red bricks of the exterior and white painted balconies basking in the warm sunlight of the spring day. It looked much like the other apartment buildings that lined the street, and there was an older lady at the front door with a few grocery bags in her hands fiddling with her keys in the lock that turned and waved affectionately at them. The top floor showed only 6 windows, the same as the other floors, and everything about the place seemed cozy and rustic. The look of fear on Anh’s face seemed unwarranted to most, as the building was nothing more than just that, a building.

There was however, a patch of brick work next to the third window on the top floor that did not match the rest. It was not overtly visible from the curbside, or even from the base of the structure, but if one were to get a ladder and examine the masonry up close, a slight black fungi could be found growing amongst the mortar between the bricks. It’s harmless, an inspector would say. Just a bit of mold from the damp weather which won’t do much more than smell awful rank if you disturb it. Perhaps the bricks should be knocked out and replaced, to see what is growing behind.

* Copyright © 2018 by CAPA Literature.

* Image borrowed from https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/362962051197274394/?lp=true