Mitsy Bats Her Lashes (Part Three)

Start here if you’re new to Mitsy: Mitsy Bats Her Lashes (Part One)

Then here: Mitsy Bats Her Lashes (Part Two)

Audiophiles, here’s Part Three audio for your listening pleasure:

“We’re okay, we’re okay,” Mitsy tried to say, but it came out “whee kay” with the shotgun pressed under her chin. Link was staring at her, panting inside his birdcage, searching her eyes for what? Zippers? Mitsy felt, for the first time, very out of control. This wasn’t a nasty escrow situation, there was no contract to enforce. There was a crazy dude with a shotgun and he currently held all the cards. Her eyes, already irritated from trying to rip her eyelids off, filled with tears that spilled down her cheeks.

Link yelled a startled “Gah!” and moved back a step, taking his shotgun barrel with him. He seemed to be holding his breath. A few more steps and he was brave enough to open his mouth. “Is that acid? What is that??? Stop doing that!”

Mitsy sniffed loudly and blinked the last two giant tears out of her eyes. This guy was afraid of his own shadow. She was afraid of his shadow, too, maybe he’d think it was after him and start something else. She blew out a big breath and tried to calm down. Having the shotgun barrel somewhere other than her chin helped tremendously. Mitsy was going to pretend he was a seller with a rotten roof and convince him that replacing it was his own idea.

“Alright. You got me,” she said, barely a hint of tremor in her voice. She folded her shaking hands on her lap. No point reminding him they were free. She forced a rueful chuckle. “I told them you’d never fall for it, but they underestimated you, didn’t they?”

Link stood up a little straighter, some of the fear leaving his face. “Damn right. All those black helicopters flying over, and I’m supposed to think you showing up is just a coincidence? After what happened on Tuesday?”

“Why don’t you tell me about Tuesday?”

“Yeah, right, like they don’t just download all that.” He rolled his eyes inside his wire cage. “You people were flying overhead in circles all damn day, taking pictures and using your mind beams. It didn’t work, though, ‘cause I stayed inside the Cocoon. I’ve been up every minute since then, watching, and here you are.”

Mitsy blanched. It was Friday afternoon. The man hadn’t slept for three days? Not that he was going to be safe and predictable normally, but this was not good.

“The Cocoon?” she asked.

“You don’t need to know about that!” Link was getting agitated again.

“We apologize for that,” she soothed. “I’m actually here to let you know it was all a big mistake.”

“Uh huh. They don’t send assets like you in to deliver messages. I already got their message, loud and clear, that I’m a threat and they’re gonna do something about it. These don’t lie. I can expose them all.” Link waved his hand toward the computers spooling numbers as if that explained it. Mitsy noticed he also had a large red button on his desk, one that looked like a cartoon self-destruct button. She amended the flyer copy to add “Many amenities, wired for surround sound.” The sound was “BOOM.” Small details.

She needed to redirect him. If he wasn’t going to believe she was harmless, maybe she could make herself the best of bad options. “Well…” she stalled. “Would you have let them in?”

Instantly, she knew she’d made a mistake. Link bounded over to one of his computers, like one of the moon-walking astronauts he probably believed never left Earth, and punched through a series of cameras, checking all his vantages. His anxiety was palpable.

“Where are they?” he asked her, intense and wild.

“It’s just me!” she protested, knowing he wouldn’t buy it. Link still had the shotgun in one hand, his knuckles white, and his shaky control was visibly slipping. He kept glancing at the front door as if it was going to burst open any second. He turned back to his cameras, seeing nothing and not believing it. He kept mumbling something under his breath, but she couldn’t make it out. Mitsy thought furiously. “If you have all this information on them, why haven’t you exposed them already?” she asked.

“I have to be able to disappear before I go nuclear. I’m waiting on some documents.”

“Documents? Like more evidence?”

“Like my passport, as if you didn’t know it’s been held up for weeks because I smiled in the picture. Just another way to get our facial biometrics, but I got around that.”

“So…you are going to use your actual passport to get away from the government that issued the passport?” Mitsy couldn’t help pointing out the flaw in his plan. Link sighed and put his shotgun down on one of the tables. Walking a few steps toward her, he put his hands on his hips, making them disappear into his foil bubble.

“Look, it’s not like there are people who make fake passports going door to door handing them out. I don’t use the sheeple internet search engines because of tracking, OBVIOUSLY.” He shook his head, jangling his birdcage. “My shielding on the building must be blocking your instructions or something. What do you remember? Are they coming?” He came closer, peering with uncomfortable intensity into her eyes. “TELL ME ABOUT THE BLACK HELICOPTERS,” he commanded.

Alright. If he wanted black helicopters, she’d go full fly-over for him. She’d burnt any chance of reasoning with him already. “They’re close,” she whispered. “There’s no place for you to run.” She closed her eyes and thrust both her hands at him, palms out.

The effect was electric and extremely clumsy. Link jumped in fright, off-balance in his outlandish protective gear, and began a panicky windmilling fall across the room. Mitsy held her breath. Just when he seemed to be gaining some control, he ran into one of the support posts again, hard enough to drive the air out of him in a whoof and pinball him in another direction. It was away from the gun, thankfully, but another three stumbling steps drove him straight toward the table with the big red button. One flailing hand came down on the thing with a loud, slapping mechanical click that surely meant it was activated. Mitsy braced for oblivion.

“Nununununononono….” Link stammered. Mitsy opened one lavishly lashed eye and peeked at him, wondering where the boom was. “I’m nuclear! What have you done!” he yelled, blaming her for whatever had just happened.

“What did I do? Are we blowing up?” she asked.

“NO.” He made a disgusted noise to make clear how stupid the question was. “My exposé just went out to every major media outlet in the world. I’m not ready! Chapter 31 isn’t even proofread!” Link looked at his button-pushing hand as if it had betrayed him. Computer screens went black in a cascading failure. The camera feeds stayed on, still showing no activity, but he was transfixed for a minute. Mitsy was afraid to interrupt him, not wanting to remind him she was there, or that he had a shotgun three feet away.

“Well, that’s it then,” he said quietly. “It’s time for the Cocoon.” He reached behind him and turned off the fan to his suit, slowly deflating like punctured kiddie pool. He headed away from Mitsy, to a scarred khaki school locker with the number “1013” on it. Must be where he keeps his bug-out bag, Mitsy thought.

She had both her hands free. She could probably get out of here if he just left, but she had to be in one piece for that to happen. She didn’t really know how to broach the subject after scaring him and sabotaging his big manifesto plans, though. Link was fumbling with the combination lock and had to start over several times. Well, no time like the present.

Mitsy silently lifted the loose ropes over her head, leaning to place them on the floor. The chair creaked underneath her. Link was opening the locker door when he heard the movement behind him.

“What are you doing?” he screeched, his extreme anxiety pulling his voice an octave higher as he turned.

“Now, Link,” Mitsy tried to soothe, “I’m just wanting to get out of here, just like you. Just tell me how to get out of here and we’ll leave. I won’t tell them a thing if you just let me out.”

“Hell no! I’m not leaving! This is the Cocoon!” The man tried to step back dramatically into the nearly empty locker. His birdcage got in the way, preventing his head from entering the space with his feet. Another boinging sound and he fell forward, clanging his feet into the locker and slapping the floor with his palms. The sound was unexpectedly funny, and Mitsy stifled an involuntary laugh, using the blank face she had ready for consultations with DIY homeowners who’d “improved” a few too many things.

Link scrambled up and disconnected something in the back of the cage. The wires sprung outward, allowing him room to yank it off. He tossed it at Mitsy with both hands, a wild but predictable throw she tried to kick away. Her heels weren’t down with that plan, though, and one of the sharp spikes caught a wire and wedged in-between it and another. Mitsy had to do her own flailing dance to keep from falling, but managed to catch herself on a support pole before kicking the wires, shoe still attached, across the room.

Link was busy while she was hopping. By the time she looked over again, he had stuffed himself in the locker and was closing the door, ready to wait out his own personal Armageddon. Well, he was more nutterfly than butterfly, but he was out of the way in his Cocoon.

Mitsy pulled off her other shoe and dashed over to the shotgun, unloading it like the seasoned trap shooter she was. She put the shells in her jacket pocket and went back to the locker.

Bang! Bang! She hit the outside of the locker with the heel of her hand. “Link? Are you going to be okay in there?

“Go away!” he yelled.

“You got it. Just tell me the combination to the lockbox.” Mitsy didn’t really need it, but it would be easier.

“No!” Link fired back with the vehemence of an offended two-year-old. Mitsy sighed and closed her eyes. No help there. Time to do it the hard way. She searched for a roll of tape and found some silver duct tape handy for patching Link’s space suit.

She took the Barton lockbox down and inspected it, trying to see if there was wear on the buttons to give away the numbers in the combination. All five numbers were pristine. She’d have to try to exploit its weakness, the “Number 3 Flaw.” She took the shoe she had in her hand and pulled the rubber tip off the sharp heel, creating a makeshift punch. She put the lockbox on the floor and pressed down the “3” button all the way. A small strip of duct tape held it down. Lining up the sharp heel, Mitsy brought her shoe down with all the force she could muster. She missed, and the lockbox skittered a few inches away.

Attempt number eight was successful. Mitsy got a dead-on hit with her shoe on the depressed “3” button and the lockbox made a popping sound. She removed the tape and the front compartment fell open, spilling the deadbolt key on the floor. A Barton, really? Might as well use one of those hide-a-key rocks. She looked at her shoe and sighed. Perhaps an “I survived” pair of shoes were in order, anyway. She tossed it with the other one.

She grabbed her briefcase, no reason to leave that behind, and walked to the locker again. “Link, I’m leaving. I’m sorry I scared you. I’m just a person who got lost.”

“No, you’re not!” he yelled.

“You going to be okay in there?”

“I was on Tuesday!” Alrighty, then.

Mitsy walked to the door and inserted the key in the deadbolt. It opened with a satisfying thunk. The doorknob lock opened with a little twist. The door still wouldn’t open. The electronic combination lock didn’t have a terminal on this side, so it couldn’t be that, but the card reader did. The card was presumably in the Cocoon with Link, the world’s most paranoid caterpillar. Mitsy considered trying to break the door down, but a 5’1” lady wasn’t going to break anything but herself.

She thought for a minute about what she knew about card reader locks. She’d had commercial properties listed once in a while, and these locks weren’t foolproof. Cutting the power was the easiest thing, but the main part of the box was outside. Lately, thieves were carrying strong magnets to jimmy locks like these. She blinked.

Mitsy had to drag a chair over to get up high enough to put her eyelashes right next to the swipe reader. She stepped up on the seat and put her eyes one inch from where the electronics would be on the other side of the door. She batted her lashes, once. With a little buzz, the lock disengaged. She quickly hopped off the chair and tossed it out of the way, opening the door before the lock re-engaged.

“I’m leaving now!” she called back to Link. He didn’t answer. Mitsy stood on the small porch, considering. The man was locked into a school locker and afraid to come out. Who knew how long he’d stay in there, waiting? She might need to call someone to go check on him? If she closed the door, they’d have to break in, freaking him out all over again. She decided to leave it propped open and call someone as soon as she got back to the convenience store. She cursed her useless phone again. She wedged a rock in the door and took off barefoot down the long driveway. She was relieved to see her SUV exactly where she’d left it, and fished the keys out of her briefcase.

As she opened the door to get in, a noise reached her from the direction of the highway. A fast, percussive “thwurp thwurp thwurp” approached very quickly, and as she looked up, three sleek black helicopters appeared, moving fast and in a tight line. She watched them fly directly overhead and begin a banking turn before disappearing over the trees. A light wind ruffled her blonde hair. That was weird.

Her SUV started just fine, something she’d worried about, and she drove back toward the convenience store at “I’ve been kidnapped and would enjoy being pulled over right now” miles per hour. About halfway there, a line of dark sedans shot by going the other direction, three of them nearly tailgating each other. They went by too fast for her to see anything but the impression of men in suits driving each one. Those guys should slow down, they were going to kill somebody.

The convenience store had more customers this time, and she felt better about that for a reason she couldn’t put a finger on. She wanted to use the phone, and she wanted to complain about those stupid eyelashes. She wheeled into an empty parking spot and stalked into the store, less scared now than furious.

The man behind the counter was different. He was just slightly taller than Mitsy, dark-skinned and wearing an apron with the nametag “Hakeem” prominently displayed. Some of Mitsy’s fire dimmed as she contemplated this man, clearly not the one she’d talked to before and probably the real “Hakeem.”

“Excuse me,” she said, taking advantage of a break in the stream of people buying cigarettes and diet soda. “Are you Hakeem?”

“Yes, how can I help you?” He looked slightly nervous.

“Do you have another employee named Hakeem? A big blond guy?”

“Uh, no, no, just me. I am the only Hakeem.” He was stuttering and wouldn’t meet her eyes, looking everywhere but at her.

“I was here earlier, and there was a big guy wearing your apron, then, is he still here?”

“That can’t be, I am the only one here all day. This is my store, no one works here but me.” Still nervous.

“Can I use your phone? I just had something terrible—”

“Oh, no, sorry, but the phone is broken. Will not be fixed today.” That was a lie if Mitsy had ever heard one, but there was a line starting behind her and she didn’t even know where to start. She looked around the counter for the “Rare Earth Eyes” display and couldn’t find it.

“Well, maybe you can help me with these.” She pointed to her eyes. “I bought these eyelashes here today and they’ve been nothing but trouble. I can’t even get them off!” She reached up to demonstrate on her left eye, tugging gently at the tips of the synthetic extensions. The entire eyelash popped off in her fingers with the first pull. She stared at the spidery cosmetic in her fingers for a moment, not sure what to say now. She dropped the lash on the counter and Hakeem took two startled steps back, the maximum he could in his small space. Mitsy plucked the other lash from her right eye and dropped it beside the first. Hakeem recoiled as if they were spiders, and highly venomous ones.

“I do not sell those, Miss,” he blurted. “I have never sold those and I do not know what you are talking about.”

Mitsy was starting to wonder if she knew what she was talking about. Of course, she’d bought them here, but the man’s protestations were vehement. “But…I’m sure I bought them here just a few hours ago?”

“Hey, lady, he says he doesn’t sell them. Maybe you got ‘em wherever you left your shoes.” A balding man with a paunch and long scraggly beard was ready for her to move out of the way. The other two people in line seemed to agree with him, looking quickly at her bare feet and chuckling. Mitsy stared hard at Hakeem, who was looking at the dead eyelashes, hands shaking slightly. This was not getting anywhere. She needed to get to a phone and call the police.

She looked around the counter area again, and not seeing a hint of the polka-dotted cardboard, or anything else that might help, scowled at the man behind her and stomped out of the store. Her stomping was not as effective as she’d imagined it would be, a small barefoot woman slip-slapping out across the linoleum, but it was all she could think of.

She carefully picked her way across the parking lot, avoiding a broken bottle and a wad of gum, and didn’t see the black envelope on her SUV until she was reaching for the door handle. She got on her tiptoes and retrieved it from under the windshield wiper. It wasn’t sealed, and contained one piece of thick, folded paper. When she slid the paper out of the envelope, several coins fell from the fold to the pavement, tinkling and rolling. Inside, there was a ten-dollar bill, two ones, and the rest of the 99 cents. She set the money on the hood of her SUV and read the printed note.

The unsigned note read, simply, “Thank you for your service, Ms. McDonnell.”


Copyright 2019© by Rebecka Ratcliffe, All Rights Reserved.

The Story: I hope you liked this story about a plucky real estate agent and her spooky experience–not ghost spooky, but spook spooky. Writing serial fiction is interesting. You have to have some idea where you’re going to tie it all together, but that final part is still a challenge. Constrained by what has gone before, you must satisfy the reader’s expectations in an unexpected way. Thanks again to Joshua M. Anderson for the cool idea of “magnetic eyeliner” that sparked this story!

PS. I am currently in need of more ideas for the idea list. I have a few queued up for the next couple of months, but the longer I have the idea, the more I can mess with the story. Drop your suggestions in the comments or e-mail them to ideas@storymcstoryface.com.

Mitsy Bats Her Lashes (Part Two)

Part One (which you’ll want to hit first if you missed it): Mitsy Bats Her Lashes (Part One)

Audiophiles, listen here:

Mitsy blinked rapidly at the man. She’d been in hostile negotiations before, but over carpet allowances and alleged foundation cracks, not “what” she was. Be direct but unthreatening, her training told her. “My name is Mitsy McDonnell, and I’m a real estate agent,” she said. “I have come to—”

“Oh, right! The truth in a lie, that way you don’t forget. I bet you are an agent. What are you, some kind of bionic half-breed? Come to do what? Neutralize me?” The man shoved the shotgun at her and she flinched.

“No, no, let me explain! I didn’t mean to come here, my GPS malfunctioned. I sell real estate. Really….I have cards in my briefcase. Here,” she said as she slowly reached for one.

“I SAID DON’T MOVE!” Mitsy stopped moving. “I bet your GPS malfunctioned, implants never work like they say. I have sensors all up and down this road, and I know you aren’t some lady real estate agent come to look at my foy-YAY or something. Drop the bag.” Mitsy dropped the bag. “Now, you’re going to walk in front of me up to the house, and I’m going to shoot you if you try anything at all. ANYTHING. If my brain starts feeling messed with, I’m gonna shoot first and dissect later, got it?”

Mitsy thought his brain was plenty messed with, but she had to hope it seemed normal to him. She nodded and walked toward the house. He grabbed her briefcase and followed, snorting in disgust at her tiny, heel-impaired steps. Mitsy kept her hands up and her eyes on the uneven ground.

The porch on the front of the house should have had a nice Adirondack chair and a table for your drink, but it was bare, framing a door with several locking mechanisms evident. The man waved her aside with the shotgun and a terse instruction, and punched a code into the keypad under the doorknob. A key on a chain around his neck opened the deadbolt. A card came from one of his pockets and triggered the last lock when he swiped across it.

Mitsy did not want to go into this place, nothing good would happen in there, but she wasn’t getting a predatory feel from the man, actually the opposite. He seemed very afraid of her. He growled at her to get inside and she went, still at gunpoint. He closed the door and relocked the two-sided deadbolt with the key.

The interior was dark. Most of the 1,400 square feet had been opened up into one room with improvised support beams breaking up the space. The windows were painted black on the inside of the glass, blocking almost all the light, and shop lights hung to illuminate the room. Computer equipment lined one wall, with several monitors displaying camera feeds and others running continuous streams of numbers and symbols. A generator kicked on somewhere outside. Mitsy mentally wrote the flyer copy for the house. “Spacious studio house deep in the woods, state of the art security and privacy. Perfect for singles in the Witness Protection Program or terrorists just starting out.” She decided to try again with the man.

“I’m sorry I ended up on your property. I got lost and my phone is dead. My name is Mitsy, what’s yours?”

The man laughed. “Yeah, I’m not surprised you can’t use a phone. I’ll call you Mitsy, if that’s what you want. I’m sure you already know my name and my shoe size, but you can call me Link for now.” He waved her toward a chair in the middle of the large space with the shotgun. “Get over there and sit down, Mitsy.”

Link put on black gloves that looked like welder’s gear, watching her closely whenever the shotgun was out of his hands. He brought over a handful of rope, scratchy orange nylon about ¼” in diameter, and tied Mitsy clumsily to the chair. He wouldn’t get close enough to do it properly, craning his neck away to the last possible inch. He rushed through it and danced away. Some hardcore conspiracy nut, he didn’t even have a plan to detain someone.

“Link?” Mitsy questioned softly, “Why am I tied to a chair in your living room?”

The man actually guffawed. “What was I supposed to do? Let you walk in here and start collecting samples or giving me mind commands or whatever? What would you do if the black helicopters were flying over every day and suddenly something crawled over your gate and started up to your front door?” He snorted again and went to a lockbox hanging from a steel hasp in one of the supports. He punched a code into the keypad of the lockbox and stowed the chain with the keys on it inside. “There, now you can’t get out even if you wipe me or get me down somehow.”

Hoo boy. Mitsy needed a little more information on what exactly this man thought was going on, and why he kept calling her a thing instead of a person. She also recognized the lockbox, a Barton X-J255, notoriously easy to break into.

“Link, I assure you that I am a normal person.” The only one in the room, she mentally added. “You keep calling me a thing and won’t come anywhere near me, but I’m just a lady trying to make a living selling real estate. I am lost and I need to get back to my car.”

Link didn’t respond. He went over to a table behind one of the support columns, and Mitsy couldn’t see what he was up to for a minute. She tried the ropes again and could tell that they’d take a few minutes to loosen, tops. This guy must have been more worried about being abducted than abducting.

He came back into full view in the most ridiculous costume Mitsy had ever seen, and she’d been to some real low-rent Halloween parties. His shiny helmet was replaced by an honest-to-god colander with a cage of wire built from the top of the colander down to his collar, making his face some sort of naked Chinese lantern. He’d put a new jacket and pants on over his tactical gear, all made from shiny metallic space blankets and ballooning and flowing around him unnaturally. The cause became clear when he walked toward her and the tiny fan inflating the space blankets became audible. He looked like Jiffy Pop in process.

“What is all that mess?” she asked, too stunned to be tactful.

“I made this gear to keep things like you from forcing me to do unnatural things. Now what are you and why did you infiltrate my compound?”

Wow. There was a lot to unpack there. Mitsy seized on the one thing she couldn’t seem to get an answer from him on. “Link, why do you keep saying ‘what’? I’m a person just like you.”

Link barked a laugh. “Yeah, right, you’re a pretty good facsimile, but you couldn’t mask your magnetic signature. You think I just use my eyes? Those sensors are for all kinds of things. You aren’t radioactive, or super-dense, or a thousand degrees. On visual, you’re too short and your hair is obviously fake, but otherwise the replication is pretty good.” Mitsy smarted a little at this but stayed quiet. “The only problem with your charade is your magnetic field. It’s literally the size of a field. Nothing human puts off a force like that, and it’s up high, in your brain, I guess, so it’s not something in your pocket. So what does that make you? Android? Mind-control bot?” He waited for an answer, expectant through his birdcage of crazy.

Mitsy knew what the problem was now, and she was in truth, a little relieved. Those eyelashes were giving him some sort of weird reading, and once she explained that, it would all get sorted out. She softened her voice into the warm, reassuring tone she used when a showing turned up a closet covered with porn clippings. “Link, I’m so glad you told me what you found! That is such a simple thing to explain.” She worked at her hands while she talked, getting one free but not pulling it out of the rope just yet. “You see, while I was on my way out here, I bought these magnetic eyelashes.” She batted her eyes at him to demonstrate. “And they are probably showing up as—”

“You expect me to believe such a thing exists at the store?” Link exploded. He started waving his arms, agitated, and Mitsy clenched her jaw together a little off-kilter, eyes wide, wondering what to do now. “You should have metal objects stuck to your head with these readings, things flying across the room. Somehow, that isn’t happening.”

“Here, let me show you,” she said in her best “invite them in” voice. She pulled her arm out of the bindings around the chair and Link screamed. He lunged across the room to grab his shotgun, but his athleticism was severely compromised by the wire cage and inflated foil suit. His overlarge head glanced off one of the supports with sort of a sproingy sound and he nearly went down. Mitsy wondered if the suit would pop if he fell.

“No, no, it’s okay,” she said, holding her free hand out in a calming motion that didn’t calm Link at all. “See, just look.” Mitsy reached up and grabbed one of the eyelashes. Link took a panicked look behind him and proceeded to grab the shotgun, waving the barrel erratically in her general direction.

Mitsy pulled. The eyelash did not peel off in her fingers, as she expected. It held firmly onto her eyelid as she used more and more force, pulling the skin of her eyelid away from her eyeball and taut. “Oh no,” she breathed, wriggling her other arm out of the loosened ropes.

“Don’t you do that!” Link screamed, coming towards her now. Mitsy was too preoccupied with the malfunctioning eyelashes to pay attention to him. She reached for the second eyelash and tugged on both eyes, pulling hard enough to hurt. She thought she might be pulling hard enough to pull real eyelashes out. Nothing.

A circle of hard metal pressed under her chin as she struggled to remove her vanity purchase. Her hands flew from her eyes like butterflies scorched by a match, quickly and completely at a loss for navigation. “YOU KEEP YOUR FACE ON,” Link yelled, pushing the shotgun under her chin hard enough to leave a bruise. Mitsy shrank back into the chair, trying to get away from the gun and unable to go anywhere. She briefly considered kicking him in the crotch, then decided that sudden movements would likely be a bad idea. Mostly, she was trying not to pee her pants. That stop for water was becoming one of her major life regrets in more ways than expected.


Copyright 2019© by Rebecka Ratcliffe, All Rights Reserved.

The Story: This is a continuation of the story proposed by Joshua M. Anderson about magnetic eyeliner. Next week we will have the final chapter, a conclusion that I think will be worth the wait. In the meantime, remember that trying to explain to a conspiracy nut that you aren’t part of the conspiracy makes you part of the conspiracy.

PS. I know the voicework may not sound 100% this chapter–I’ve had the plague. I’m in that two week recovery period where I’m really not going to sound any better, no matter what I do. Thanks for bearing with me.

 

Mitsy Bats Her Lashes (Part One)

Listen Here:

Why people wanted to live out in the woods was a mystery to Mitsy McDonnell. She made good money selling remote homes to people who thought they wanted to ditch civilization. Later, she made even better money reselling those homes when they realized an hour to get to the grocery store was about 45 minutes too long. She kept her own opinions to herself in both cases. Yes, the woods were peaceful (boring) and the scenery was to die for (a fire hazard), and it would be so wonderful to sit on this porch and have a glass of wine in the evening (while the bugs flew into your glass and raised red welts across your face.) Oh, yes, it was a wonderful home but being so far from the (insert modern convenience) was troublesome, and of course, she’d be happy to list it for them.

Mitsy was 5’1” of real estate juggernaut. She wore heels that added two inches, and her chrome-blonde dyed hair was piled up another three inches on a good day, two if she was in a rush. She didn’t go for this new casual style either, where your agent could roll up in their going-out pajamas and show you around a messy home as if everyone involved had overslept. Her homes were staged as immaculately as she was. Today she was in a black sheath dress that “slimmed” her 40-something figure, and a jacket in a wild black and white optical print. Her shoes were her latest favorites, a seriously dark pair with heels like ice picks. The homeowners were young tech types, and she’d go for any edge she could, even a sharp heel on a shoe.

Mitsy’s dark blue SUV was clean and roomy, and she punched the address into her dash-mounted GPS. The property was almost two hours away. Far, even for her, but she had plenty of time. Mitsy was never late. NEVER. She put some talk radio on low volume, slipped big round sunglasses over her eyes, and hit the road.

At the halfway point, Mitsy needed to get out and stretch her legs. All those years of high heels meant she had a little issue with her back, and a bigger issue with her calves, and an even bigger issue with her arches, and she couldn’t drive straight through for hours anymore. A convenience store on her right had one black sedan parked in front, ruining its “rural casualty” first impression. Must still be open. The door jangled when she pushed it. There were no other customers in sight, but a bathroom said “Occupied.” Mitsy grabbed a pricey bottled water and a package of mints. The man behind the counter was enormous, at least 6’3”. Mitsy had to crane her neck to see his head from her miniature frame. He was white, with a blonde crewcut and a chin cleft deeply enough to hide a dime. He was in a white dress shirt and suit pants, with a much too small apron dangling off his neck. His name tag read “Hakeem.”

“Will that be everything?” he rumbled, fumbling the items around to find the barcodes. Mitsy already had her card out and was about to confirm when her eye lit on the display next to the card reader. It was, of all things, a cardboard stand with one lonely pair of false eyelashes in a crystal clear case. “Rare Earth Eyes” was splashed across the cardboard in pink and black polka-dotted font. They were “Earth’s Best Magnetic Lashes!” and guaranteed to stay on in a hurricane. They were thick lashes, and came with everything required, and Mitsy suddenly needed magnetic eyelashes very badly.

“These, too,” she said, and took the lashes off the display. “Hakeem” quickly snagged them out of her hand and put them in a thick brown paper bag with the water and mints. She ran her card and accepted the bag from him with a reflexive “thanks.” He’d been kind of weird and rude, but it didn’t cost a cent to be polite.

Mitsy was excited to try the new lashes, and she had time to put them on right in the car. She loved cutting edge makeup things. She took out the tube of magnetic eyeliner and opened it. It had a strong chemical smell, but that would surely fade. With her eyes three inches from the visor mirror, she applied thick lines on both eyelids, as close to her natural lashes as possible. Her skin stung a little, and she had to quickly catch a few tears in a tissue to avoid smearing the rest of her face. The directions said to let it dry for ten minutes, but she didn’t want to chance being late because of her inability to wait. She carefully plucked one of the lash strips from the package and moved it toward her face.

SLAP! The lash strip flew out of her hand and adhered to the eyeliner with an audible smack. Startled, she squeaked a little and blinked rapidly. More tears in a tissue, and she looked to see what the result was. Her mouth fell open in surprise—they were gorgeous and perfectly aligned. She turned her head this way and that, admiring. The second lash went on a little more gently using a two-handed grip. She fluttered the lashes at herself and smiled. Totally worth the $12.99 impulse purchase. She changed the radio over to a rock and roll oldies station and pulled back onto the road.

Ten minutes later, she wanted to call her clients and let them know her arrival estimate. She grabbed her phone from the console, a no-no, she knew, but she’d been driving with a phone attached to her face for 20 years. She found the number and punched it. The normal sounds of a cell phone dialing went haywire as she held it to her ear. An ear-splitting shriek drove directly in behind her eyes, forcing them closed. She threw the phone across the car as she struggled to maintain her lane. She steered her SUV into a driveway, barely missing the mailbox, and tried to calm her breathing. She got out and went around to the passenger side. Her phone fell out on the gravel when she opened the door. It was dead, and a crack split the screen diagonally. No amount of cursing or button mashing convinced it to resurrect itself.

She tossed it in the seat and got back in the driver’s side. Her GPS was fine, and she didn’t really need to call them, she was still on time. She leaned in to look at the GPS map, checking the arrival time, and it went blank for a second. She leaned away, blinking, her stomach flipping. She really would be lost if the GPS gave it up. It blinked back on and she let out a relieved breath. It was back to the start screen, though, she’d have to put the address in again. Poke, poke, poke, poke….done.

“Turn left on Truman Street,” the GPS lady said. That was back the way she’d come from? Mitsy double-checked the address, that was right, but the route was different and the arrival time was 20 minutes later. Crap. She must have made a wrong turn without realizing it. She’d have to speed now to make it on time, and she couldn’t call to tell them she was late. She whipped around onto the road and sped down the revised route. The little store had a “Closed” sign up though the black sedan was still there.

Rural roads weren’t heavily patrolled, and she made it in good time, pulling onto the unmarked driveway ten minutes early. It was weird that it wasn’t marked at all, she’d have to talk to the homeowners about that before they did any showings. About a quarter mile down the driveway, there was a gate across the road, part of a substantial and ugly security fencing situation. It was closed. Mitsy hopped out and went to the latch, thinking the least they could have done was leave it open. There was a giant industrial padlock on the latch, and the hasp was securely shut. Swearing at it didn’t have any miraculous effects either. Her curses were particularly ineffective today. No call button was evident, though she could see a camera in the tree above the fence. She waved at the camera, but there was no way they were going to unlock that padlock remotely.

Looking at the gate, a steel beam type, she decided she could climb it. She grabbed her briefcase, checked her phone (still useless), and hiked up her dress. She shoved her heels through a gap in the metal near the hinges. If the homeowners had any doubt about her commitment to sell their real estate, this little show would erase it. Mitsy was fit for her age, despite a little fuller figure, and managed to get up and over the fence without falling or tearing her dress. She rearranged herself and put her shoes on, mad that she had to hike in heels that were meant for show, not go.

There were cameras all the way up the drive, and some other poles hooked to wires on either side. A metal plate in the middle of the road looked unsafe for her heels, so she bypassed it, but a rubberized mat a few feet later was unavoidable. The house was ahead, just visible around the bend. The front was plain and looked much smaller than the homeowners had indicated. Mitsy started to wonder if she had the right place after all, but maybe they’d have a phone she could use to let her potential clients know she’d gotten lost. She had to watch her step across the rubber, her pointy heels sucked into the surface and resisted each new step. She was staring at the ground and placing her shoe carefully when a sound in front of her necessitated an immediate and drastic priority change.

KA-CHUNKKA. The sound of a shotgun racking a round was the most movement-arresting thing Mitsy had ever heard. She put both her hands out to her sides with her fingers splayed, instinctively showing her harmlessness to the owner of the property she realized she was trespassing on. Slowly, she raised her face and saw an ordinary looking man, a little thin and possibly a few years younger than Mitsy, pointing the shotgun directly at her. He was wearing tactical type clothes, heavy pants with pockets and a jacket with more pockets, and a construction helmet covered in some sort of shiny metallic paint.

“I don’t know what you are,” he growled, “but I’m willing to blow your ass back to whatever lab you crawled out of if you move another inch.”


Copyright 2019© by Rebecka Ratcliffe, All Rights Reserved

The Story: This little adventure was inspired by a suggestion from Joshua M. Anderson via Facebook. What about the perils of magnetic eyeliner? Well, we are going to find out about the perils of magnetic eyeliner and lashes in three parts. This is especially exciting for me because I haven’t written the other two yet. We are living on all the edges. I’ll try to get them out a little closer together to keep it from taking over a month to find out what happens to Mitsy.

As a side note, I adore Mitsy McDonnell. I have known a few real estate agents, and as a group, they are resilient and relentlessly positive, even if the house they’re showing has jars of dead fish on the porch (yes, really). After we see what happens here, she may come back around to hang out in something else.

PS. If you are listening, don’t forget to listen to the credits. Marvel ain’t got nothin’ on me.

Permanent Solution

Audio Here, Text Below:

The front door opened with a bang. Stewart cursed softly. No one was supposed to come in that way. He didn’t have a sign out to say that, but his business was supposed to be low profile. Not breezing through the front door where anyone could see from the street.

He hurried to the front of his small house to intercept the client who hadn’t played by the rules, tucking a black shirt into black jeans. Liza was on his living room sofa, lighting up a cigarette and looking for the ashtray that hadn’t been offered in polite society for 30 years.

“Liza—” Stewart had to handle this carefully, but he couldn’t just let her violate him this way.

“Yes, get me an ashtray, would you? I’ve been thinking really hard, and I need this.”

“But Liza—”

“Just get me a bowl, or a glass, anything will be fine. No one has an ashtray these days, it’s like they want you to light the place on fire.” She took a long drag, blowing the smoke back out her nose, and tapped the ash into the carpet at her feet.

“Here,” Stewart said, handing her the cat’s dish. It was clean, chipped on the edge from the fight with Baldwin, but the cat was as gone as Baldwin. “I didn’t expect you for another thirty minutes, Liza, why so early?” It would do no good to chastise her about the front door.

“I made up my mind and you know I don’t wait. I just can’t take it anymore.” Liza tossed her head, not quite getting the effect she thought she was. Her hair was dyed within an inch of its life, rattling crow-colored broom straws she spent too much time arranging for it to look like it did.

“Let’s be careful here, Liza. Some decisions can’t be undone.” Stewart was dismayed, but not surprised. He’d been trying to walk this conversation back for months. This was a job he didn’t want. He didn’t do this anymore.

“I thought I could live with the way things are, but it’s just not working. I need you to fix it.”

Stewart felt his stomach turn over. Liza was used to pronouncing her wishes and watching people scurry to fulfill them, but she was going to be just as unhappy after.

“Alright, Liza, I hear you. Maybe we could talk about some alternatives, though? I can’t undo this. Things as you know them will be irretrievable.”

“Are you saying you won’t do it?” Liza’s voice had an edge to it, and Stewart knew threats were boiling up, ready to spill out. “Because you know I know everyone.” She raised one over-plucked eyebrow.

“No, no, no, I’m not saying that at all. If this is really what you want, I’ll do it.” I’ll do it, he thought, because if I don’t, you’ll do it yourself and blame me anyway when you don’t get away with it. “It’s just drastic, isn’t it? I don’t want you to regret anything.”

“I am not a woman with regrets,” Liza said. “I want to be a different person. I want out of this routine, all this time wasted every day. If you won’t do that for me, I’ll find someone else. I thought I’d come to you first because I know you need the money, but if my money isn’t good…?”

Stewart wanted to run. His mind raced, how was he going to do this without it getting traced back to him, especially when Liza barged in through his front door? She did have one thing pegged, he couldn’t afford to turn down the money after Baldwin’s sudden exit from his life, but he didn’t want to do something this criminal to survive.

“Oh, Liza, of course that’s not what I mean,” he rushed out, trying to defuse the tension. “You know I’ll do whatever you want. When do you want me to do it?” He’d push it into the future, as far as possible, and maybe she would rethink it between now and then and call it off.

“Right now.”

“Wha—you mean right this second? Today? There might be things I don’t have here, and the timing is important, too. It really would be better—”

Liza’s face closed in on itself, lips pressed together and eyes narrowed, like a baby about to caterwaul at being denied. Stewart looked away, not wanting to imagine the child that had become this impossible woman.

“Sorry,” he blurted, “of course you want to do it now. I can skip dinner, I guess, I’m not hungry anyway. Let me see if I have enough of what I need.” Stewart trotted back down the hallway, glimpsing a haunted man in his mirror, and slipped into his dimly lit utility room. The edges on his cutting tools were sharp, he had gloves and a mask, and the black vinyl apron was on its hook. He pulled the dusty box out from behind the bottles on the bottom shelf. He opened it, looking at things he hadn’t used in what—15 years? Something he thought he’d put behind him for more respectable work. Yet he’d held on to this, as if he knew.

His kit was in order. He arranged a few strands of his glossy brown hair back into place, pulling his confidence together. He was a professional, after all. He rolled the cart out of the back room and nearly into Liza, who’d followed him, noiseless and currently smokeless. She made a show of putting her hands up to protect herself, but her lips were twisted in the smirk of cruelty being rewarded.

“Go ahead and have a seat,” Stewart said, gesturing toward the hydraulic chair at the edge of the room, next to the door Liza should have used. Looking at Liza’s smug expression reflected in the large wall-length mirror, Stewart’s pride rebelled. He ran his fingers through what little bottle-black hair was on Liza’s head, calculating how much more would break and deciding he didn’t care. “Which rod size should we use? I think the blue ones?”

“How am I supposed to know?” Liza barked. “Just give me the tightest perm you can, I don’t want to have to come back in two weeks because it all fell out.”

Oh, there’s going to be fallout, Stewart thought, but it’s not going to be my fault.


Copyright 2019© by Rebecka Ratcliffe, All Rights Reserved

The Story: I received this suggestion from a writing seminar with Alisa Kwitney, a terrific coach and writer (most recently publishing Corpse and Crown, the second in the “Cadaver and Queen” series.) The request was a dialogue that doesn’t reveal its true nature until the end. I’m interested to know if you guessed it before the salon was revealed. I see this sort of thing as a long-form joke–and it’s tricky to write it in a way that makes the reader feel “in” on the twist, rather than duped.

I have a really great piece ready for next time–erm–so great that I sent it to a magazine. If it comes crawling back before mid-March, I’ll be able to share it here. If not, I have an idea in the hopper about magnetic eyelashes/eyeliner. *wink*

PULSE

Rejoice, Audiophiles! Listen here:


I was trying to change the world in my own small way. When I say that, I’m not being modest. I was trying to change the world with my patented nano-exploration technology. It’s small, and I own it. I do love precision.

The ocean floor trip wasn’t my idea. The spaceheads insisted I hadn’t sufficiently proven unconstrained pressurized environments, which was bullshit, but I needed their money to pay off the first investors. I’m a genius, not an accountant.

The compression process caused some fuzziness in my thoughts. It was a brief high, like I’d popped a couple of quick synoids without limiters. I checked to make sure I’d come through without distortion. I could see my brown eyes and brown crewcut in the mirror-like surface of the capsule wall, my thin, naked body as uninspiring as ever. The slouch between my shoulder blades from too much computer use, the thatch of brown wisps around equipment that never saw use. All ship-shape. I grabbed a miniature towel to preserve the illusion of my modesty, even though my assistant monitored the whole process.

This chamber is the first part of my system. To put it in terms the average person might understand, I squeeze the space out of atoms. Not all of it, the electrons still need to move, but 99.9996% of it can go. I’d gone from 194cm to about 4.5cm in the chamber. I can also pump the space back in, so to speak. It’s hard on your body—I was close to my personal limit—but I only needed it to work once more. It was spacehead money or bust.

The second part is the good part, the reason the spaceheads came to me and not someone else. You’d assume I still weighed 68kg, because all I took out was space, but you’d be wrong. My real genius ideas, the patented ones, are the ones that make me (or anything) weigh a proportionate amount to its new size. I’m not going to explain because you wouldn’t understand it, but I weighed less than one kilogram. I’d feel a little on edge but completely functional.

The third part of the system was a suite of miniaturized envirosuits and vehicles engineered so tiny people could go where no one had gone before. The spaceheads were slobbering for these, and I would make huge risk-free money on them. That’s probably why I agreed to do the sea thing, which was not risk-free, even after we’d passed all the lab tests.

“You okay, Dr. Hurley?” Delaney asked, putting down a small cage I could be safely carried in. The last thing I needed was to be dropped on the floor and splattered like Humpty Dumpty.

“Yes, thank you, Delaney.” A middle-aged woman with good credentials, my lab assistant wasn’t young or beautiful, but she was competent and dedicated. She carried me over to the table and turned her back as I put on a miniature dive suit and tank.

When she turned, she was chewing on her chapped bottom lip, a tic she should have outgrown 20 years ago. “I don’t think you should do this,” she blurted. Her cheeks flamed red at her boldness. “I don’t think it’s safe. The probabilities suggest a much higher risk of loss than you told astrotravel.”

I frowned up at her from the table. “The test is set and the spaceheads are expecting the results in three days. It can’t wait.”

“I know the astrotravel people want it, but I have a really bad feeling.”

“Feelings don’t pay the bills, Delaney. As we have discussed before, this lab is no place for feelings.” She flinched, and I knew that was a low blow, but I needed her to focus on her end of the experiment. She really would lose me if she was wringing her hands instead of tracking.

“Yes, Dr. Hurley,” she muttered. She went back to work, avoiding eye contact and keeping her vague issues to herself, where they belonged.

She hardly spoke to me during the van ride or the trip out to sea. That worked for me. I was redoing calculations in my head, making sure the force on the ocean floor wasn’t going to compress my body beyond functioning. I’d done these calculations hundreds of times, and done sims in the comp environment, but this was going to be life-or-death. My life or death. When we hit the coordinates, the captain cut the engines and I switched on my locator.

I attached the thin retrieval cord to my suit, made of carbon fiber to reduce weight and drag. We tested the communicators, and I swear mine frosted up a little at Delaney’s tone, but everything was working. She dropped me in the water a little faster than necessary and I felt more like a chunk of bait than a scientist. Oh, wide ocean, you are deep and full of terrors, but you have nothing on a woman scorned.

I made the descent smoothly, recording data at each depth checkpoint. My body was working fine, nothing bothering me, respiration normal. Your breathing is the first thing to go if there’s a problem, at least I think it is, so I watch like a coal miner with a pet canary.

I would be on the ocean floor at the desired depth for ten minutes. It wasn’t as long as the spaceheads wanted, but it was long enough to show I wasn’t just holding my breath. It was gorgeous down there. Very little sunlight made it down from the surface, and my headlamp’s glow reflected off the quartz and pyrite crystals in the sand, a dazzling diamond palace. I adjusted the filter on my helmet lamp to keep from blinding myself.

“Delaney, how much longer do we have on the clock?”

“Nine minutes exactly,” she replied, distant but calm. I decided to throw her a conciliatory line, feeling bad about rubbing salt in her wound earlier.

“Great, it’s really amaz—”

From behind, powerful suction knocked me off my feet and my body rushed backwards, bent in two like a folding chair. My safety line trailed from its connection on my suit, pulling slack that Delaney must have noticed. Sand and grit, the size of gravel at this scale, started to billow around me.

“What is it? What’s going on?” Delaney barked.

“Rogue current,” I panted, fruitlessly fighting the pull of the water.

“Go with the current!” Delaney yelled, and I realized she was right. I’d die fighting it, but maybe I’d survive if I reserved my strength. As long as I didn’t exhaust my air, I’d be fine until she could reel me in. I rolled into a ball and flipped my body, a college diver again, putting my hands above my head in the swimmer’s prayer. I was moving fast, a shark now, unable to see through the disturbed muck. I had to hope that the current wasn’t going to toss me into a rock and break my neck.

“I’m swimming with it,” I gasped, trying to give Delaney some indication that the situation was improving. “Just keep track of my lo—” As suddenly as it had started, the current stopped. I continued forward momentum, but the current was no longer pulling. My line fell into a loop behind me as Delaney continued to feed out slack. “Stop!” I barked. “I’m not moving anymore, don’t put any more line—”

Without warning, the water moved again. I was pulled off balance, dragging slack line behind me. After a few inches, I was jerked to a halt as the loop of line caught on something in the sand. The current wasn’t letting up, but I felt my line pulled back toward the boat, jerking against whatever rock or coral it was snagged on as it grew taut.

“Delaney! Wait!” was all I got out before she gave the line a big panicked yank. It shredded against a sharp edge on the object and separated. The end still attached to the boat zipped away in a trail of tiny bubbles, and I was again caught by the current. “Delaney!” I yelled. My locator would tell them where to pick me up, but I suddenly felt very small and vulnerable, an astronaut left to drift in hostile space.

My pity party didn’t waste any time yelling “Surprise!” I slammed into something behind me, not hard edges of coral, but soft and yielding, like a thicket of sea grass. The tendrils swayed and buffeted me as the current continued to rush through them. My relief was quickly replaced by the sensation that something wasn’t right. I was too deep for sea grass, and it should have been moving with the current, not in every direction.

As my body recovered, I tried to make sense of what little I could see. My light was still on, but the waving plants made shadows as they covered the lens and moved away, making it hard to get oriented. The branched fronds were nearly white and somewhat translucent, with fringed ends. I couldn’t identify it. I’d have to look it up when I was back on the surface. I dug an elbow in, trying to lever myself out of it.

The current stopped again, helping to free me. I kicked back into the grass, trying to swim away. That was a mistake. The tentacles of the creature, realizing I was live prey, shot after me and wrapped around my legs and neck. Not sea grass. Not even close. I could feel the pressure of each limb as it groped over me, exploring every inch of my suit. The tentacles clamped and receded, clamped and receded, moving me into their center. I could feel them slithering across my suit, across me, and it was like lying in a pit of snakes, letting them writhe over you while you desperately suppressed the urge to move. As the thing turned my body, I finally got a look at it, the source of the soft, slithering manacles.

A black hole was open in front of me, a mouth big enough to engulf me. I recovered from my shock enough to scream. Fighting against the hold of the creature did nothing but increase its resolve to ingest me. It clamped down harder, squeezing my breath out and halting my struggle. I slid, helpless to resist, headfirst into the gullet of the monster.

My comms came to life. “Why….you…eaming? …at happe…. oh god…..Travis….god!” Delaney’s voice was cutting out. The comms weren’t optimized for intracreature use.

On the inside, I took a few deep breaths as the pressure of the tentacles lessened. Water came barreling in through the mouth and I felt myself lodging further down the digestive tract. As the creature squeezed its body again, I felt an inner heat, like burning from the inside. My light wasn’t showing me anything but white and pink flesh clouded by suspended sea floor muck.

The pulses were steady and relentless. The pink flesh molded to my body and squeezed, and I became disoriented and hot, so hot. Breathing wasn’t the first thing to go, it was temperature control. Interesting. The seawater rushing in cooled my body enough to clear my head, but it only lasted a few seconds. Then the walls would contract again, immobilizing and confusing me. I gave up on controlling my body while I tried desperately to control my mind.

Sea cucumber. The thought popped in during a lucid moment and it seemed right. I’d been sucked into a large sea cucumber. That was bad, but something worse was going on, and I couldn’t quite grasp it. The red heat of the pulsing kept interrupting as I teased the end of the thread. So hot. All I could think about was the next cycle of heat and pain. Heat. It was something about the heat. Compression and heat.

“Delaney!” I screamed. “I’m going bomb! Do something!” No answer, and the sea cucumber pressed again, and it was hotter, and I faded out. I woke kicking and screaming, a brief moment of relief from the pressure, the pulsing that was going not just to kill me, but leave a crater in the ocean floor a mile wide. I was compressed by my procedure, and under higher than normal pressure on the ocean floor, and now this sea cucumber was going to squeeze out what little space my atoms had left. Then….KABOOM! I kept fighting until the sea cucumber’s muscles closed in again, boiling my body by fractions.

“Trav…we have to…cuate. Will ….. track….but….tain…have to go.” I half heard her voice through the sound of my own blood rushing through my over-heated brain. Cowards. They were trying to outrun a nuclear explosion in a boat. It was laughable.

I screamed again as the heat and pressure wiped out all else. I screamed at the pain and the abandonment. My life was going to end, but worse, my work was going to die with it. I’d be remembered as a fool who’d played with forces he couldn’t harness and destroyed himself and a big section of the ocean. A madman.

When the pressure released, I could still feel heat in my arms and legs. I was getting closer to detonation. I kept screaming. I rallied what strength I had and punched and kicked the sea cucumber’s insides. I braced myself for the next pulse, but the rhythm was disrupted, slower. The monster might not have a brain, but I was triggering something. Say what you want about my lack of social skills, I was distinguishing myself from seafloor muck.

I screamed and kicked, renewed by the hope that I was causing the animal to regret its choices. I tried to turn, to claw my way back out the animal’s mouth, but that was a one-way door. Water rushed in and I was forced backward again. Now I was lodged in feet-first with even less mobility. Dumb, dumb. I flailed ineffectively.

Another squeezing pulse started, but different, more intense. I screamed a rasping sound. My lungs were compressed, my atomic structure was compressed, and I imagined I could feel the electrons hitting their nuclei, fusing in a destructive release of energy. The intensity wasn’t the only difference. The stomach was compressing and moving at the same time, sliding inside the body of the creature, oozing and compacting. Vertigo overtook me, the colors of the creature’s insides blending into a red and black weight on my eyes. The heat felt like blades slicing through me, pulsing and blooming, then receding only to reform at another place.

My mind was scattered, disorganized…here was my 5th birthday party, the one where I ate too much cake and threw up in the pool….here was the first time I had sex, backseat, all over in minutes…here was last year when Delaney declared her “feelings” and I told her that wasn’t a possibility, her crying the whole time, no tissues and tears caught in the folds between her chins, wet and glistening. The end of the world was a trite cliché after all.

The sensation of movement was confused, rhythmic but from too many directions, pressing in and moving my body. The heat and pain and nausea threatened my consciousness again, and I fought, grinding my teeth together until heat shot through the roots. This pain gave me a new focus, and I kicked the stomach walls again. The organ was slickly compressed around me like I’d been coated in solidified mucus, but I felt a slight clenching, creating another wave of hot slicing knives in my body.

I bit down again, trying to get the feeling back, trying to control the pain, but I couldn’t. The sliding sensation intensified with the burning, and my body tried to eject the small amount of food I’d eaten before the dive. I bit harder. The pain expanded from that central point, creating an expanding ring that calmed the chaos a little.

There was one last hard squeeze, igniting my bones this time, internal fire lighting up the nerves so severely that I imagined I could see them, a branching system of molten metal searing its way through my arms, legs, heart. I was still screaming, I think, but not making any sound. My air tank wasn’t in danger of being crushed, and the seals were holding, thankfully, but detonation was seconds away.

With a great pulse and push, I was rocketed through the inside of the sea cucumber. The flesh of the creature rushed by in a sickening motion, a water slide greased with motor oil. I was a comet, bright and burning inside, moving through space at a speed I couldn’t comprehend. The sea cucumber pushed again, more heat, more lateral movement, and then…cool water surrounded me. My light was still on, and it shone dimly through the membrane of the sea cucumber’s stomach. I couldn’t see clearly, but I could see shadows moving, swirling, something that looked like tentacles but didn’t move with purpose, just drifted lazily.

I’d been expelled in the thing’s digestive system. I could feel my body cooling rapidly inside the sea cucumber’s stomach. My thoughts were fuzzy and disorganized, brain damage was likely, but my body was going to go into shock before that could be explored. I was too weak to break out by myself, weak as a child after a high fever has broken.

“Delaney,” I whispered. I tried again, managing an audible noise. “Delaney!” The comms crackled and I worried they were already out of range. The entire ordeal couldn’t have taken more than a few minutes, they couldn’t be that far away yet, could they?

“DELANEY!” I yelled.

“Travis?” Her response was tentative, as if she wasn’t sure it was me. Who the hell else would it be?

“Send the diver,” I said, and then I ran out of things to say for a long time.


Copyright© 2019, Rebecka Ratcliffe, All Rights Reserved.

The Story: I wrote this after a friend posted his opinion that there was no way to make a sea cucumber scary. I, of course, took that as a dare. The result is this little sci-fi piece that uses the brainless little blob as an agent of a larger problem, not the actual monster we should fear at the bottom of the sea. I hope you enjoyed it! Sci-fi isn’t my normal sandbox, so it was fun to kick the dirt around in there. Got something you want me to try next? Send it to ideas@storymcstoryface.com and I’ll get it in the queue.

PS. I am learning audio editing RIGHT NOW. I expect that the quality of the recordings will do nothing but improve. If you like having the audio, drop me a line to let me know.

 

 

Welcome to Story McStoryface! Now Put Me to Work

Welcome to Story McStoryface! This is an online story project for 2019–a story project YOU can be part of. About twice a month, I will publish a short story on the project’s website, https://storymcstoryface.com/. These stories will be (for the most part) based on requests from readers! Nothing is too outlandish or weird, but no porn or fanfiction, please. Check out the “How It Works” page for more info if you’re into that sort of thing.

My work tends toward dark comedy and speculative horror, so if you ask for butterflies and rainbows, don’t be mad when the rainbows are radioactive and the butterflies turn into vampires.

While all of the stories will be available in electronic text, I plan to record most on audio as well for the reading with your ears crowd. I’m excited to get this started! The first story, a sci-fi about a sea cucumber I wrote on a dare, will be out on Friday, January 18. You can submit your story requests in the comments or to ideas@storymcstoryface.com. Let’s be ridiculous together. We might as well.


PS. I named the project “Story McStoryface” after this wonderful fiasco of internet participation gone wrong: Boaty McBoatface. Don’t let me down, internet.