Short Fiction: Foolproof

Just a little something for Halloween.

Special thanks to Mere for the enabling encouragement and notes, and to Andy for the nightmare fodder inspiration.  You guys are evil the best.

FOOLPROOF

by Elizabeth M. Thurmond

Creak.

Creak.

The landlord still hadn’t fixed the middle two stairs.  Kind of hard to do everything a guy needed to do without the neighbors knowing all his comings and goings.  If the neighbors weren’t all deaf, stoned or both.  Maybe the rats noticed, but they didn’t matter so much.

Click.

Thud.

Click.

Crinkle.

Clank.

Beep.

Door locked.  Groceries away.  Dinner in microwave.

Beeeeeeeep.

Another Hungry Man dinner.  More low-budget living.  Not that that was a permanent situation.  Just a few days more.  Worth the wait, even if the TV-dinner mashed potatoes tasted like spackle.

Creak.

Creak.

Must be the downstairs neighbors.  Better wait a while, in case one of those potheads decided to knock on the door looking to borrow a cup of Cheetos or something.  A little TV, maybe.  Rabbit-ear antenna on a black-and-white TV… another temporary situation, though it was getting old watching staticky reruns of The Big Bang Theory every night til the neighbors went to sleep.

Scratch.

Squeak.

Rats.  He’d found them gnawing on his equipment again last night.  No matter how many traps he set out, there were always more.  There might be a better way to handle the situation, but… no.  Not til he was ready.  Best not waste time and energy on the rats.

Scratch.

Scratch.

Not a sound except the rats.  Everybody else in the building must be asleep.  Time to get to work.  First, the storeroom.

He had to admit, it was creepy to go in there and see all the faces staring at him.  Plastic, porcelain, wood.  Painted eyes, shabby clothes.  The product of endless searching through thrift shops and antique shops and even the garbage.  The ones with only one leg wouldn’t do, but one arm was enough for most.  He preferred two, but beggars couldn’t be choosers.

He moved through the storeroom — freezing cold, the landlord wouldn’t fix the broken window — to the back shelf, where the faces didn’t stare.  The newest arrivals — Howdy Doody, creepiest puppet on the planet, and a baby doll in a diaper with all its hair cut off.  Two arms and two legs on both.  Best score he’d had in a while.

Scratch.

Scratch.

Rats. In the storeroom.  So far none of them had dared actually chew on the merchandise, but the sounds made him twitchy.  He needed everyone intact… or as intact as they were when he picked them, anyway.  The clothes didn’t matter so much, but limbs and eyes…

Scratch.

Squeak.

Cursing under his breath, he left the dolls on their shelf and headed to the kitchen, returning with two rat traps loaded with cheese.  He could feel all the faces staring at him again.

From storeroom to darkroom, dolls in hand.  The negatives were waiting; he’d handled that this morning before he went to work at the tattoo place.  Shitty job, but useful.  He’d found both of his current subjects there.  Most of the customers loved to show off their ink.  And in this neighborhood, a lot of them wouldn’t be missed.  Much.

But before the enlarger… the ritual.  Chalk.  Salt.  Candles.  Herbs.

Thwick.

Just enough fire to burn the herbs.  Not enough to set off the lone smoke detector in the hallway.  He couldn’t disable the thing without somebody finding out — landlord didn’t want the crackheads burning down his rat-infested cash cow, so the smoke detectors were checked once a week.

Scratch.

Creak.

He almost stopped chanting.  Neighbors?  No, it wasn’t coming from the hall.  Closer, but smaller.  Rats.

He completed the ritual.

Click.

Clank.

Creak.

He stopped, one hand on the negative in the enlarger, to listen.

Creak.

Rats?  He could swear they were getting bigger… they didn’t used to be heavy enough to make anything creak.

Enough of that.  On to the project at hand.  Negative.  Doll.  Light.  Face over face, eyes aligned with eyes.  Another chant.  The doll went heavy, thudded to the side.  Somewhere, so did a body.  Not dead.  Coma patients all over the city.  Mostly the worst hospitals.  Mostly on the public dime.  Still on life support — first, do no harm.  Even if they couldn’t find a next of kin.

Negative.  Doll.  Light.   Eyes over eyes.

Thud.

Click.

Back to the storeroom.  Two more faces now, staring.

Scratch.

Scratch.

SNAP!

Got him.  An almost-beheaded rat, over in the corner.  Two words, and four of the faces quit staring at him.  Scrabbled down the shelf in a rustle of plastic limbs.  Pallbearers at a rat funeral.  Cheese still intact.  Saved having to reload when the four brought the trap back, empty.  Wasn’t too hard for four dolls to open the trap and heave a dead rat through the broken window.  All they needed was a little leverage.

Another scrabble of plastic, and the four staring faces returned to their shelf.  All quiet.  Still.  Back to the living room.

Too wired to sleep, he took out the book he’d stolen from the library and the pages he’d printed off the internet.  More chants.  Spells. Commands.  Strategy.  Targets.  Not a foolproof plan yet.  The first wave, the ones with the bombs, mostly one-armed, would be cannon fodder, but the second wave… that was more tricky.  Easy for them to steal without leaving fingerprints; not so easy to keep from being traced back to him somehow.

Scratch.

Scratch.

It was coming from the storeroom.

He waited for the SNAP!

It didn’t come.

Rats.

3am.  Impossible to keep his eyes open any longer.

3:15am.  Asleep on the couch, spell book and city maps in his hands.

Scratch.

Scratch.

4:07am.  Rats.  In the living room?  Loud enough to wake him.  He had traps everywhere.  A quick look around — all still empty.  He put the book and papers on the crate he used as a coffee table.  Sleep again.

Scratch.  

Scratch.

He woke slowly.  His lips were stuck together.  How…?

Tape.

He tried to raise his arms, but something was weighing them down.

Scratch.

Scratch.

Creak.

Panic.  What was happening?  Had the junkies across the hall come to rob him?  Good luck to them finding anything they could sell or smoke.

Scratch.

Creak.

Creak.

Not the junkies.  Not loud enough.  Not big enough.

Thud.

He didn’t realize what was happening until he hit the floor, face first.  Dozens of glass and plastic and painted eyes staring at him at the dark.

He’d never asked himself if they could move on their own.  They never had before.

Not a foolproof plan.  Not by any means.

Scratch.

Creak.

Creak.

Creak.

Creak.

Creak.

THUD.

Wasn’t too hard for a hundred and forty dolls to heave a man through a window.  All they needed was a little leverage.

END.
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Woman Writer Wednesday: Beth Wodzinski

For this week’s Woman Writer Wednesday, I interviewed Beth Wodzinski, who in addition to being a writer in her own right is the editor of speculative-fiction magazine Shimmer.

1. What/who inspired you to become a writer?
As soon as I learned to read, I wanted to write. I remember starting a novel in kindergarten — my mom said she’d help me write down the words. So I told her all about how our neighbor went out to her chicken coop and discovered someone had killed all her chickens. Then what, my mom asked, and I had no idea, and stalled out of writing for many years. Since then, I’ve gotten a little better at figuring out what happens next.
2. What do you like most about the genre[s] you write in?
The suggestion that even the most mundane lives have magic and mystery in them.
3. What’s the best piece of writing-related advice you’ve received?
I am currently enamored with the 7-Point Story Structure, from a recent Writing Excuses podcast. There’s also a series of videos on YouTube where Dan Wells goes into more detail about it. I’m using it right now to work out the plot of my next novel, and it’s been extremely helpful.
4. Is there any type of writing you would like to try that you haven’t already?
Most of my writing has been done under race conditions — NaNoWriMo or timed flash challenges. I do enjoy the glee and the lowered expectations — NaNo is so much fun, and I’ve gotten so much from it — but it’s also kind of insane and full of pressure. I’d like to learn to write in a saner and more grounded way, without all the fuss and craziness. Ha, probably you were asking for a subject or genre? But really I think the next big challenge for me is steadiness of practice. One of the most useful tools for learning this steadiness has been the Dance of Shiva, which is kind of like yoga for your brain.
5. How have your experiences in being the editor of Shimmer affected your own writing?
One of the unofficial-but-true reasons I started Shimmerwas to have an excuse to procrastinate on my writing, and that strategy has been brilliantly successful.Reading thousands of slush stories has taught me a lot — not just the usual stuff like how rejections aren’t personal, but more interesting stuff about what I look for in a story, what kinds of images and structures and ideas work for me. It’s clarified my vision. But it’s also raised the stakes for me; I don’t want to write the kind of “just ok” story that makes up the bulk of slush piles everywhere. And raising the stakes just makes it harder to get started writing my own stories.

Beth and her fiction can be found at her own website.  You can find her magical magazine Shimmer here.