SOMETHING by Jack Merrywell

Every single organism that has ever existed has had its natural enemy.  The antelope has the lion.  The ant, appropriately enough, has the anteater.  Of course, antelopes and ants are one thing, but even the planet’s true monsters have predators of their own.  In past millennia, the whale had the megalodon.  In more recent epochs, it has the Japanese.  It is a law of nature:  every living thing has something.

Katie Fermin has a rope.  It is an inch and a half wide and four feet long.  Compared to a Japanese whaling ship or a giant shark, or even compared to a damned antelope, it is not particularly imposing.  For most of its existence, in fact, the rope has not been anyone’s or anything’s something.

At this precise instant, however, the rope is affixed at one end to Katie’s neck and at the other to the beam three feet above her head.  This detail elevates the rope’s status from “unimposing” to “menacing.”  The fact that the chair beneath Katie’s feet has been kicked away and is currently lying impotently on its side further elevates it from “menacing” to “something.”  Katie’s own personal something.

Katie is thinking of old western movies.  If this seems odd, understand that like everybody who has watched Hang ‘em High or old Gary Cooper westerns, Katie has thought about what exactly she would do to get away when that little door drops from under her feet.  Everyone thinks about this kind of thing, but for very few does the mental exercise ever become a practical exam.

Katie’s first thought during those movies had always that she’d jump up and throw her feet to the side just as the trapdoor released, balancing with maybe a quarter of an inch of dusty leather boot on either side of the opening.  This thought did not help Katie much in her current situation, for two reasons.  First, there was no posse of good guys hidden among a crowd of onlookers, taking aim with their rifles at the rope above her head, waiting to make the golden shot that would set her free.  Second, and more importantly, there was no trapdoor for her to stand on.

The next move that had always flashed through her mind was grabbing the rope eight inches or so from her head and doing a sort of pull up to get the strain off of her throat.  She had always discarded this option when watching the oldies, because the condemned in those flicks almost always had their hands tied behind their backs.  But that was no obstacle now.  No one had trussed her up, put her on the chair, and pushed her off of it.  She had decided to play suicide all by herself.

Katie had genuinely tried to kill herself once in her life.  When she was thirteen, she had fallen asleep with a pillow pressed over her face, hoping to not wake up.  She had been too naïve to know that as soon as she passed out from the suffocation, her hands would release their grip on her pillow and her lungs would find their way to oxygen of their own accord.  Since that night, she had enacted the same ritual around twenty times when she had bottomed out emotionally.  She knew, of course, that she would live to see the morning, but there had always been something cathartic in allowing herself to imagine that she would not be around for another day.

Her bedtime snuffing sessions had, over the intervening ten years, evolved into occasional forays to the top of her desk chair with the one and a half-inch by four-foot rope around her neck.  When, three minutes ago, she had climbed atop the chair and tied the free end of the rope around the beam that ran below the ceiling of her room,  she imagined that she actually intended to kill herself.  However, in the instant when she lost her balance and watched the chair slide away from the bottoms of her feet, it had become abundantly clear to her that she’d rather be anywhere than attached to the business end of a noose.

Katie’s legs jerked under her as she reached upward with everything she had, determined to put her western-inspired plan into action.  She wrapped her fingers around the rope and pulled as hard as she could.  One time in P.E. class in high school, she had managed to finish a pull up during the Big-Deal-Whatever-Once-A-Year-Fitness-Test.  However, even without taking into account the facts that she was already half-strangled and that a taught vertical rope offers very different gripping options than a horizontal metal bar, that one successful pull up had been at least five Cheeto-filled years ago.  She did not gain a centimeter of elevation.

As her vision started to fade to black, Katie made a gun out of her pointer finger and thumb, pointed it at the rope, and pulled her imaginary posse’s trigger.  Her excruciatingly swollen lips twinged.  It might have been a final smile.

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©2014 Jack Merrywell

Jack Merrywell is a writer and comedian based in Kansas City.  His writing has appeared in several magazines, and he himself has appeared at comedy clubs, colleges, theaters, and dive bars across the country.

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THE RAILWAY HOUSE: By Courtney Dachelle Key

Gothic Shivers Contest Entry

The railway house creaked and groaned at night.  Da said it was just the floor settling, but Cara knew better.  The house was an old soul, grown weary in the years of its disuse, and it grumbled its sorrows to the dark, murmuring of the lost days when trains stopped outside its door and passengers stepped onto the platform and inside for a kind word and cup of tea.  Sometimes when it rained the drops came in through the holes and cracks in the roof and walls, and then she imagined that the house wept.

Cara never cried.  She did, once, the night it happened.  The night Da took her from the village, with the light of the flames and the high voices dying away as they slipped into the shadows and took a boat far, far away, farther than she’d ever been before.  She’d cried for her mother then, to sing her the songs like she did every night, the ones that called the good spirits and protected her against the bad.  She was afraid of the dark, and the ocean, and the most of all the land across the ocean.  The people there had strange voices, her mother said, ones that couldn’t sing songs like hers.  Like the ones Cara would some day.

Da, though, he’d shut her up quick, and she quieted because it was the first time he’d ever been sharp with her like that, threatening to smack her.  Not the last, though.  It got bad for a while, especially the time right after they came to the railway house, and all he did was drink the funny-tasting water all day and look at her, just look at her real long and hard, as if it was her fault they had to come and hide away in this gawdfersaken place.

But it got better.  It’d been years since Da looked at her like that – really, since he looked at her much at all.  He was gone mostly, these days.  He’d tell Cara to bolt the door behind him and then he’d be gone for one two three four five moons sometimes before he came back with food and maybe other things too.  Once for her birthday he’d brought her a hairbrush that even had all of its bristles, and a comb decorated with a dragonfly that was only missing one jeweled eye.  She’d put her hair up with the comb just like Mum in the broken glass of the station’s toilet mirror, at least as best she could remember, and came out all smiling and ladylike, but Da only cried.  Maybe he’d forgot they weren’t supposed to.

The best present Da ever brought, though, was Dolly-girl.  Da said Dolly-girl fell off a train.  He was down by the tracks where they went over the river, miles away, trying to catch a fish for their dinner, when he saw the train coming and a little girl sitting by the open window, hanging her doll out of it when – whoosh! The doll slipped out of her fingers and tumbled down down down right into Da’s arms.

Cara knew this story was a lie, though, because Dolly-girl told her she didn’t fall from the train.  She jumped.  That girl was mean to her, always pulling on her hair and dragging her in the dirt.  When they passed over the river Dolly-girl saw her chance for escape.  It was lucky Da was there to catch you, Cara told Dolly-girl, ‘cause otherwise a fish might’ve gobbled you up and then where would you be?

Dolly-girl talked to her in the dark.  Da didn’t know that.  Cara liked that a little, having a secret from Da, who had so many.  Like he had a big basket of secrets and she’d snuck one out when he wasn’t looking.

Dolly-girl said Cara was special.  Cara knew that already, Mum’d told her all the time.  But Dolly-girl said Cara was even special-er than Mum thought, because Cara had the Gift.

Cara asked Dolly-girl if she could open her Gift now but Dolly-girl told her to stop being so thick.  The Gift (Cara could tell it was spelled with a Capital, like all Important Things) was inside her, Dolly-girl said, and wouldn’t come out until she bled.  So the next day Cara went out and scraped her finger across a sharp rock but nothing came out but her blood and it made her feel a little dizzy and sick, and she got angry with Dolly-girl and told her that she was a liar.  Then Dolly-girl laughed and explained what she meant, and Cara felt sick again and decided it was all right if she had to wait a while for her Gift.

Cara looked out the window over the moor, down the moonlit tracks.  The sky was clear, but you could tell it wouldn’t be for long.  There was a sense of something waiting to break on nights like this, a storm ready to be born.  Six moons he’d been gone.  The food was almost out.

Cara went to sleep, and when she woke up it was still night, and her mouth was full of the taste of iron.  Across the bed, Dolly-girl was looking down at her with sadness, and Cara was about to ask why when she felt a stickiness between her legs and she lifted up the sheets.  She got up and changed, folding a cloth like Dolly-girl had told her.  Just as she changed into her other pair of underthings she heard a knocking on the door.  Da usually didn’t come this late.  Cara realized what had happened to her and wondered suddenly if maybe Da was there to bring her Gift.

But when she opened the door, it wasn’t Da standing there, and somehow Cara knew that Da would never be at the door again.  The shadowed stranger – for he wasn’t a man, and the cloak he wore seemed to be pure darkness, edged in light – reached out to her.  She looked back at Dolly-girl for an answer, but Dolly-girl had lost her voice.  She was only a doll now.  No Capital.

Cara thought of her mother.  She thought of the songs, and the good spirits that came and danced around her bedside, for she remembered them now, remembered so much more.  She remembered how Mum laughed, and how she screamed when the villagers set her on fire.  Cara remembered the hatred in their eyes, and the fear when they looked at her, even through the black veil she always wore. How had she forgotten the veil?  Cara reached up and touched her face.  She was still wearing it now.

The stranger was still waiting.  Her Gift, she realized.  Her choice.  She took his hand, and stepped out of the railway house for the last time.  A train that appeared on no station timetables appeared out of the mists and screeched to a stop on the tracks. Just before she boarded, Cara took the veil off and let the black lace flutter to the ground.

The train moved on.  The clouds rolled in.  The skies opened up.  The railway house wept.

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©2014 Courtney Dachelle Key

Courtney Dachelle Key is a sometime writer and full-time reader living in Texas.  She is a contributor to the Talking Comics website.  You can find more of Courtney’s original writing at http://courtneydachellekey.wordpress.com/.

 

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