Chapter 6: Breaktop

Amy was nearly in a blind panic.

Her freedom from the four dogs, so recently earned, was purchased with exhaustion. She’d found refuge from the dogs, but even after a night and change of solid sleep, her nerves felt frayed and her thoughts came through quickly, disjointed and out of order.

Noises. I have my backpack again. But no carrots. Noises. So tired. My gun. Which gun?

This house, the onetime bastion of safe refuge, was no longer secure, and Amy mourned for its loss.

Harsh, thumping and scrabbling noises from above. Amy could feel the hair on both arms raised as her heart pounded uncomfortably through her chest. Her lungs felt small and closed, and she gasped as if the very oxygen had left the room.

Get a hold of yourself. Breathe. Breeeaathe.

Her shoulders lowered slightly as she caught her breath, but her body still felt tense, tight, alert.

What the hell was that?

Amy tried to marshal her mind and push it forth into rational analysis of the situation. The sounds had a weight to them. Too heavy for a raccoon, but she couldn’t discount the possibility of a slightly larger animal, like a dog.

It could just be a door, swinging on its hinges in the wind. You did see at least one broken window upstairs.

Amy shook her right hand awake and grasped at the zippered hip pocket of her jacket, where the .32 resided, loaded and waiting. She was less than confident in the integrity of the gun. The hammer seemed to work fine when she pulled the trigger, unloaded, but she’d been reticent to fire a test shot, both for the noise and attention it might bring, and the possibility that the thing might literally blow up in her face.

She had no idea how old the bullets were, for one. They might not even fire. The gun had nickel plating that was worn off in several places, which did not give her great vibes about the structural integrity of the steel. On top of all of that, the gun was an ancient-looking breaktop revolver. I small button on the top of the gun made the whole thing pop up and open for easy loading. Convenient, yes, but she wondered how this technology would be viewed in terms of modern safety standards.

Well, good luck finding a gunsmith out here, girlfriend.

Kicking herself one final time for being too afraid to test out the gun, she crept away from the front door and started to make her way toward the maroon-carpeted staircase on her left, right hand outstretched and ready with the revolver.

The staircase came down from the second floor in a wood-banistered U shape. Two steps led up to a wide landing. Turn to the right and seven more steps led to a second landing with a picture window. Turn right again and several more steps led to the second floor. Unfortunately, as Amy drew close to the lower landing, she could see that the upper set of stair was blocked by a large desk and a sofa, jammed together into the passageway. Amy walked up to the second landing to examine the odd configuration of furniture.

There was a small gap on the lower left hand side of the desk through which Amy could see up into the dark interior of the second floor hallway, but it looked barely large enough for a small dog to slip through. A quick nudge with her toe told Amy all she needed to know about the weight of the objects blocking her path.

Maybe there’s another way up.

With a last, distrustful glance at the small gap beside the desk, Amy backed down the staircase. She held out the gun in front of her as she moved back down toward the entryway. She thought this was how they did it on Cops, and she hoped she wasn’t leaving out some crucial detail like remembering not to lock your elbows, or holding your breath when you pull the trigger.

She turned left at the entryway, easing down a hallway that bisected the house on the first floor. Blue and pink floral patterns surrounded her.

This wallpaper: horrific.

A formal dining room appeared through a doorway on Amy’s left. She glanced in, but the two other doorways in the room both opened along the right side wall, along the direction of the hallway. Amy moved back to the hallway. on the other side of the hall were three doors. The first opened into a large bathroom. The second was a closet. The third opened into a black staircase, descending into the bowels of the house.

No thanks.

Amy continued down the hallway and arrived in a kitchen. It was dated, but with several pleasant-looking sets of built in shelves, cabinets, and doorways that looked original to the old house. In the far right corner, a door with a window looked out into the back yard. In the left far corner, there was a refrigerator inset in the wall beside a walk-in pantry.

The kitchen, and really the house as a whole, were in remarkably good shape considering the end of the world. But for the layer of dust dulling the shine of the counters, the kitchen looked ready for the next meal. Amy couldn’t help imagining some cute middle-aged couple preparing dinner and dancing to whatever music old people listen to. Something doo-wop-y.

It was so strange that the one significant thing out of place in the house was the only apparent passageway up to the second floor, where she’d heard a noise. But she didn’t see any way an adult could have fit past the desk, and the furniture looked like it would have taken a tremendous amount of strength and effort to push into place.

Amy crossed the kitchen, hovering briefly in front of the refrigerator before the remembered the smell with which she was assaulted back in her own home a few days ago.

No more fridges.

She turned instead to the pantry door beside the refrigerator, hoping that she might find some supplies before she looked outside at the back of the house for a way up. To her surprise, she found not a room packed with dry and canned goods, but a narrow staircase, twisting steeply up to the second floor.

Amy’s gun, which had drifted toward the floor during her exploration, was pointed up the dark staircase with renewed vigor. She could not see the top of the stairs, though. The staircase was very dark and twisted around to the left. Amy figured there must be another door shut at the top of the staircase.

Please don’t be blocked.

Amy crept slowly up the stairs, feeling her way, and cringing at every tiny creak. Finally, after what seemed to her like an hours long journey, she arrived at a door. She grasped with her empty left hand for a handle and found one. Applying careful force, she was surprised to find that the handle relented easily and the door slid open silently under her gentle control.

Amy eased into a dim hallway lit by one small curtained window beside her, looking out at the back yard. Looking down the hallway toward the front of the house, Amy thought she made out more ugly wallpaper with an odd large floral pattern. On the right side of the hall, she could see the outline of the sofa and desk jammed into the staircase. It still seemed bizarre, given the rest of the house, to see the furniture positioned thus, as if it was blocking off entry to the first floor from the second, or vice versa.

Amy turned to the window and drew the curtains so she could better see the desk and sofa, and the other doorways lining the hallway, which she planned to examine for the noise she’d heard. She had no heard a thing since she crashed back through the front door, and she was beginning to think that her frayed nerves had merely played a cruel trick on her mind, but she was devoted now to the idea of getting to the bottom of the mystery. She turned back to the hallway to pick the first door to open.

Her heart immediately leaped up to her throat.

All along both walls of the hallway, what Amy had mistaken in the dim light for ugly wallpaper was actually messy handwriting in a dark brown ink. The wall was absolutely covered, from ceiling to floor, in the letters.

Amy felt the hallway closing in around her as she broke out in a cold sweat and found it suddenly hard to breathe. Her legs felt weak and she backed into the wall below the window, and stared, wide-eyed and slack-jawed.

On the portion of the wall closest to her, she tried to pick out a few words amid the madness. At first she thought she was looking at a foreign language, but after a few moments of focusing on the characters, a few of them resolved into words. But the words were madness. Just random words jumbled together in no particular order. A select few words seemed to jump out with more frequency: fear. dark. mad. bomb. queen. water. There was just no discernible pattern.

Curiosity momentarily conquering her fear, Amy roused herself from the wall and took a few steps down the hallway. Now that she knew what she was looking at generally, she began to realize that there was one pattern in the writing. A group of large lines on the left side of the hall that she’d initially taken for a series of scratched out words were actually letters overlaying the wild ramblings on the wall. Amy took a few more steps to get a closer look. TRUHSUSKAMRETAWKABOGRVEN.

Amy was disappointed at first. She’d hoped to find some message, a clue about what she could hope to find when she reached Pittsburgh and the remainder of local civilization. She almost dropped it completely and moved on, but something was tickling the back of her mind. She was suddenly thinking of high school and the stupid games that she and her friends used to play. Find the grossest eater in the cafeteria. Who has worn the same clothes a few days in a row. How many ribbons of tape can we stick in the new girl’s hair.

It was embarrassing, thinking about the person she’d been. Amy shuddered at herself and said a silent prayer of apology to anyone who might still be around that she’d hurt. She never considered herself a bad person, even then, but peer pressure was a hell of a thing, even subconsciously. It was amazing the situations you could find yourself in before you so much as realized how you got there.

But no, this was something more innocent. A game she’d played for her own enjoyment. She read the letters again.

TRUHSUSKAMRETAWKABOGRVEN. What is that? There is something there.

Suddenly, it hit her.

It’s backwards. How many times did you sound out words backward in your head back in school? You used to think you were so damn clever spouting them off to people.

After a few seconds of puzzling over it, she tried saying it aloud.

“Nev-rgo-bak-wat-erm-aks-ush-urt. Nevrgobakwatermaksushurt. Never go back. Water makes us hurt. HA!”

In the excitement of the mystery, Amy had forgotten her true mission on the second floor and spoken a little louder than she intended. Not a half second after she uttered, “HA!” she heard a sudden rustling movement from down the hall. Amy froze, muscles tensed for what seemed like the hundredth time in the past hour. And as she focused again on her mission, the dark theme behind the writing on the wall impressed itself upon her. Never go back. Water makes us hurt. Never go back to what? Never go back to the room in this house? The desk and couch wedged into the stairway suddenly seemed so much more ominous.

Should I go back? WHAT DOES IT MEAN?? No. I have a gun. I can do this. If it’s a wild animal, maybe I have fresh food.

As if she’d ever cooked a wild animal. Still, she figured there couldn’t be too much to it. Build a fire. Heat it up. The end, right?

The sound had come from the left hand side of the hallway. There were two doors on that side, side by side. Amy slid stealthily up to the first, and gently turned the door handle with her left hand, right hand outstretched and ready to shoot. She let the door swing open while she ducked behind the wall. Stealing a glance into the room, she found that it appeared to be completely empty. Pink walls. A small bed. Surprisingly vibrant cream carpet.

Now there was no doubt. Whatever, or whomever was in this house was behind the second door. Amy looked doubtfully down her arm again at the .32 and its fragile-looking break top. She prayed it would hold together if need be.

Amy moved as silently as possible to the neighboring door, sweating out each minuscule creak of the floorboards beneath her.

I’m going in hot. Surprise is on my side.

Amy grasped the doorknob, and with one swift movement and a bloodcurdling scream, she turned the doorknob and flung the door into the room, flying in after it.

She could not have been more shocked to find a handsome yet odd looking young pale boy with a green-mottled face blinking back at her, and she paused, mentally disarmed by the unexpected sight. But in that brief moment, the boy’s countenance changed completely. Suddenly, he was red with rage, teeth bared and rushing at her.

Amy’s gun was still held at arm’s length, finger tense on the trigger, and she pulled it, more as a reaction to the sudden thing rushing toward her than out of fear, although of that there was plenty. The shot was deafening, and Amy dropped the gun instantly, surprised beyond belief that the ancient bullets had fired, and afraid that the noise was the gun blowing up in her hand.

The boy looked down himself, felt for holes, found none, then glanced behind himself, where he spotten a small hole in the wall where the bullet had punctured. Truthfully, it had not come close to hitting him.

Amy was still wincing at the ringing in her ears as she observed the boy checking himself for wounds. She looked down for the gun. It had bounced several feet away toward the interior of the room. She was just beginning to move to recover it, but the boy was on her in a flash, bashing her from all sides, with hands and arms and shins and feet and teeth and who knows what else. The strikes were coming fast and forcefully, but not especially painfully. Just enough to get her moving backward out of the maelstrom. The boy was small but he seemed irrationally powerful with sinewy strength. He quickly backed Amy out of the room with a series of quick shoves and blows.

Presently, Amy found herself nose-to-door in the hallway, wondering just what the hell had happened. She wanted the gun back, but there was no way she was going back in the room with that… thing. Nor was she going to stay in the house with it. She raced down the hallway toward the back stairwell, back down through the kitchen, down the lower hallway, and out the front door, pausing only to grab her backpack and bolt action rifle.

Amy ran through the snow for as long and hard as she could, turning randomly so as to lose herself and anyone who followed. Eventually, she found herself in a forest, leaning against a fallen tree and gasping for breath. Night was falling, but Amy had no particular desire to find shelter.

To hell with houses. Seriously.

Amy looked about the fallen tree and began gathering some sticks for a fire. She didn’t really want to draw any attention to herself or her whereabouts, but she wasn’t about to spend all night out here, freezing to death, either. She’d take her chances with a fire. After a few frustrating attempts with her lighter, Amy finally caught fire to some dried birch bark, and pretty soon she had a respectable fire going.

Amy opened a can of Hormel chili and set it in the fire to warm up. After a few minutes, she rubbed her fingers in the snow, then pulled out the can as quickly as she could and set it down. Dipping her fingers in, she found that the Chili was barely lukewarm in the center although the can itself seemed unbearably hot. It was just as well seeing as she had no silverware. After scarfing down most of the can, Amy made a bed of bark and leaves, and was just leaning back on her backpack as a pillow when she heard a stick crack nearby.

Whirling around and grabbing the rifle from the ground, Amy hopped to her feet and pointed the gun in the direction of the sound. At first she saw nothing, but then she detected a low, loping form coming at her from the dark. Her nerves frayed, Amy nearly pulled the trigger, but something stayed her hand. She would find out later that she had not properly cocked the rifle even if she’d wanted to shoot.

As the form came closer, Amy started to laugh with relief. It was the Pit Bull. She’d nearly forgotten it among the events in the house, but it must have followed her when she left. She grabbed the remaining Chili and offered it to the dog. The dog did not pause to consider. It jogged happily over to the can and chowed down, tail wagging vigorously.

Amy laid back down on her makeshift bed as the dog licked the can clean. She was just beginning to drift off when she felt the dog draw close and lay down beside her. Amy beckoned the dog closer, patting the ground by her midsection, and the dog nestled in. And for the first time since she’d gone underground, Amy felt just a little bit happy.

(Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets)

Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets

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Title: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Series: Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children (Book 1)

Author: Ransom Riggs

Published: 2011

Pages: 382

Genre: Horror/Adventure

Kid Friendly Rating: 14+ Lots of spooky monsters and some adult subjects that may be just a little bit inappropriate for younger children. Click here for the Common Sense Media Guide!

Synopsis:

When Jacob Portman was a small child, his grandfather often regaled him with tales of the orphanage that “saved his life” during World War II. Abraham Portman’s stories were colorful, to say the least. They were populated by amazing children with special talents, like a girl who could float like a balloon on a string, and a boy who was so strong that he could toss a boulder as easily as a basketball. Jacob listened with awe to his grandfather’s stories as a young boy, but with the passing of time came a growing cynicism. Eventually, Jacob dismissed the stories as mere fairy tales, and they fell into the dark recesses of his mind, alongside Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

At the age of 16, a gruesome discovery at Jacob’s grandfather’s home shakes Jacob to the very core, and he is forced to challenge his beliefs regarding reality and fantasy. The discovery sets Jacob off on a mission to investigate the site of his grandfather’s former orphanage. He soon realizes that his grandfather’s stories were far more literal than he ever expected.

Final Thoughts:

Well, here I am at 30 years old and reading yet another Young Adult novel. You know what? It’s fine. 30 is still pretty young for an adult. I don’t feel like an adult. Why should I read like one all the time?

A Young Adult novel is comforting. Themes and conflicts are simple and easy to understand. You rarely need to check the dictionary when you read the sentences. It’s nice. If that’s what you want, Miss Peregrine is probably for you.

If it sounds like I’m qualifying my praise, it’s because I am. For me, there was just something missing in this book. I’m not quite sure I can put my finger on it, but I’m briefly going to try.

Perhaps the main thing is the ending. I’m not going to heavily divulge spoilers here, but suffice to say that it is unsatisfying. I have nothing against cliffhanger endings. Love them, in fact. There is nothing that makes me want to keep reading more than a final couple chapters that blister my fingers as I read them only to have the rug pulled out from under me. It’s exhilarating.

But when the book builds slowly but surely, and then, just, meh… Oh my god, is that disappointing or what? It’s criminal. I feel victimized!

I get that Riggs was setting up for a series of books, and he has since continued the story, but this particular book peters out in such an unsatisfying way that I really have no desire to find out what happens. There is no culminating moment to make me feel, “Okay, I’m really glad I read this.” It’s not that the stakes are low. The world is basically at stake (isn’t it always?), but there is something missing.

That being said, I place this book firmly above what I experienced in Veronica Roth’s Divergent universe. The romance in particular, which is still light and somewhat juvenile, is a bit more nuanced. Oh, who am I kidding? Hey guys, this book is not another shameless ripoff of Hunger Games (which is itself an amalgamation of other work)!

So it’s better! But honestly, if you’re treading around in this genre and you haven’t read The Giver, just go do that, OK? That’s the one you need.

Let’s see here… some other positives. The world Riggs builds is really a pretty original and interesting one. We get into a bit of light time travel, which is always good for some fish-out-of-water fun, by way of Marty McFly.

Riggs does a great job with descriptive passages. You can really feel the claustrophobically secluded atmosphere and the damp countryside soaking your bones. Given the disparate settings within the book, the story seems to take on different ambient temperatures throughout.

Overall, I thought this was a fine diversion. While I’m not sold on reading the sequels as of yet, I think Riggs has created an interesting mythology and cast of characters, and it is an easy read. I give it 3/5 stars.

Have you read this book? Let us know what you think!

MIss Peregrine is currently scheduled to hit theaters on September 30, 2016. Directed by Tim Burton, the movie stars Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Ella Purnell, and Samuel L. Jackson. So, read the book now so you can watch it come to life this fall!

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Chapter 5: Hold Steady

Amy’s relief at her escape from the dogs was palpable, but the tears making hot smears of grime down her face were not out of relief, not really.

She had seen so much in the two days since she’d left her shelter, and she’d barely made it anywhere. It is so hard to push onward. What is the goddamn point? She had yet to find a single soul with whom to share this miserable existence. Everywhere she turned, she found only death, drabness, and decay. And what was waiting for her at the end of this journey? Some vague belief that she might find her brother, alive and well in West Virginia?

What evidence had she seen of that? Not a solitary living person so far and she expected to find her own brother, of all people? Amy had known Jake to be a resourceful person in everyday life, but Bear Grylls he was not.

And as if the landscape weren’t bleak enough, now she had to be faced with a pack of rabid dogs. And who knows what else she was likely to encounter. There was no guarantee she would ever make it to Charleston. Right now, even Pittsburgh felt unfathomably far away.

She grimly wondered what horrors might await her in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh, but the prospect of finding help and some semblance of civilization were too great to pass up, especially considering that Pittsburgh was situated in the correct direction and might offer her the best chance of finding passage across the Ohio River. Amy was not optimistic about the state of the infrastructure that she, and everyone else, had long taken for granted.

But she couldn’t possibly be the last person left alive on this depressing rock, could she? Wasn’t that even more unrealistic than the idea of finding her brother alive and well?

She was dead whether she stopped or whether she kept moving. Would it be something so simple and sad as hunger, or a valiant death at the hands of the radioactive spawn of Beelzebub? One sounded a little more interesting than the other.

So she decided to believe. To believe in her own untested ability to survive. In what she might find at the end of her journey. In the power of humanity to survive. She would keep moving on.

Amy took a deep breath, wiped the tears from her face, and shoved herself up away from the door, where she’d collapsed a few minutes earlier. Her legs were shaky, and, as the adrenaline from the encounter with the dogs was wearing off, it was replaced with an intense weariness. It was approaching dusk, and Amy had already subconsciously settled into the idea of spending the night here. She did not have the energy to go back outside, nor was she eager to find the next pack of dogs in her path.

She looked around at the inside of the old Victorian, the carpeted staircase to the left, the traditional parlor to the right, a hallway between them leading deeper into the house, and dusty hardwood floors beneath all. Common sense told her she should further investigate her current dwelling, but she was just so tired. Every limb felt as if it weighed 200 lbs. Her back ached, and her legs were barely holding her off the ground. Her utter exhaustion went most of the way toward convincing her to give it a rest. Any remaining doubt in her mind was put to rest by the complete quiet within the house. So quiet she could have heard a mouse fart.

With little conscious thought and darkness closing in, both in the world and under her heavy-lidded eyes, which were still swollen and bleary from her tears, Amy shuffled into the parlor across the dusty hardwood floors. She slumped heavily onto a large antique floral-patterned settee, grabbing an old blanket from the edge of the seat as she did do. Amy eased her tired legs up onto the cushion beside her, and laid down, covering herself haphazardly with the blanket.

From the settee where she lay, Amy could see out a large picture window overlooking the porch. As the light faded, she wondered if she’d seen the worst of her troubles for a while. She was unconscious before she settled on an answer.


She woke with a start, warm light splashed across her eyes. It was morning, and she could tell it was no longer early.

I must have slept for at least 12 hours, she thought. She’d never been a heavy sleeper, 6-7 hours being the norm, so this was certainly an anomaly for her, particularly given the fitful and nervous way she’d spent the previous few nights.

Amy groaned as she sat up, taking inventory of herself. Her arm was scraped and red where the Golden Retriever had gotten a hold of her, but it appeared the skin was unbroken. Legs and lower back felt stiff and brittle from the adventure of the past several days. And she was sore all over. So, so sore. She wondered if she’d ever walk again.

But after a few moments to compose herself and rub her eyes, Amy was on her feet. The soreness was going nowhere fast, but she could feel a small amount of stiffness dissipating as she forced herself to move.

Amy reached for her shoulder and grabbed the leather strap of her rifle. She’d slept with it on all night. Lucky she was a side sleeper. It would have been less than ideal to wake up with her back split by a three foot long piece of wood and steel. Pulling the gun over her shoulder, she glanced around the room for her backpack, but saw it nowhere. It was gone. Amy began to panic.

She did not believe the pack was critical to her survival deep down, but it contained all of her treasures in the world. Her food, the ammunition for the rifle. The contents of this pack were what saved her from having to constantly explore death-defiled houses. They’d been dearly paid for, and she was not ready to give them up. Amy walked over to the parlor window to look out across the porch and front yard, half expecting to see a pack of dogs laying in wait for her.

The backpack was laying right below the porch stairs, looking slightly bloodied, but really no worse for wear than it had before her ordeal yesterday. A multitude of scuffled footprints and pawprints surrounded the pack and ranged across the front yard of the house, but of the dogs themselves, Amy could see no sign.

She did not want to go back outside with the dogs, but she would have to eventually. Might as well break the seal before her fully awake mind could talk her out of it. Gripping the stock of the rifle tightly with her right hand, she grabbed the doorknob with her left and eased the door open. She stepped quietly through the doorway and unconsciously shut the door behind her, a now-meaningless remnant of polite behavior.

Amy brought the rifle to her shoulder and quickly glanced left and right, searching the yard and the surrounding buildings for hidden threats, but finding none. She slowly made her way down to the backpack, nudging it with her toe, as if the backpack itself could be hiding a dog within its small confines. To her relief, the bag did not move. Most backpacks tend not to.

Amy bent over, grabbed the pack, and shouldered it as she continued to scan the yard and back her way up the porch stairs to the front door.

She grabbed the doorknob and turned it to go back inside. At least, she tried. The doorknob was unrelenting.

“Goddammmitsonuvabitchareyoufuckingseriousrightnow,” she muttered. She would have screamed it, if not for her ongoing fear of the dogs. There was nothing she needed in the house, strictly speaking, and yet, it was hers, wasn’t it? The house had given her a safe night of sleep and little trouble. She was not quite ready to depart it, this adventure notwithstanding. Amy set down the rifle and grabbed the knob with both hands. Still nothing.

Amy let go, shook out her hands, and prepared to jerk the doorknob as hard as she could, setting the weight of her right shoulder against the door as she did so. At first, it seemed as thought the doorknob was going to continue standing fast, but, as she continued to pull and leaned harder into the door, it suddenly gave way, and opened into the house with a bang and a crash as the door flew wildly into a wall just inside the entryway.

Amy fell headfirst into the room, with an “Oof.” and an “Ughhh.”

“There is something very wrong with that freaking doorknob,” she told herself. “Either the lock isn’t working, or that thing is horrifically misaligned.”

Amy made a mental note to find another door to use if she went outside again. She scooted over to the door, reached out for the rifle, and set it inside, then moved out of the way of the door.

It was just as she was again shutting the demented door that she heard the noise coming from the second floor.

(Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets)

Chapter 4: Bad Dogs

Amy grasped desperately at the right hip pocket of her jacket as she shuffled backward from the dogs.

Her mind was frantic as she drew up blank after blank in a vain attempt to search herself for some type of expertise on violent dogs. Instead, she found only unhelpful fear-filled memories, like the time she was ten and she was cornered by a Rottweiler on the way home from her neighbor’s tennis court. Every time she tried to move past it, the dog growled and tracked her, until finally, miraculously, the dog was called home by its out-of-sight owner.

But she was an innocent, unarmed child then, not the hardened road warrior that she now imagined herself when she waxed romantic in quiet moments. Well, her romanticism was draining quickly as the four dogs continued their slow approach and Amy’s shaking, icy fingers failed to find purchase on the tiny metal zipper.

“Fuck these fucking zipper pockets,” Amy muttered.

The growling, blood-speckled Retriever took a slow, yet eager step forward as it observed Amy’s growing frustration. With his reddened, mangy coat, bared teeth, and raised hackles, it was an intimidating sight, in stark contrast to the playful, obedient Retrievers Amy had fed years ago under friends’ kitchen tables. She almost had to laugh at the juxtaposition, and she wondered, dumbfounded at what must have befallen the dog to render it thus.

The Shepherd and the Lab continued to slowly work at flanking her to her left and right, respectively, while the Pit Bull held back slightly, between the Shepherd and the Retriever, appearing to wait for Amy to make a move before springing into the attack.

Amy gave up on the revolver and began to work her left shoulder out of the strap of her backpack, which was inconveniently slung over the old .22 bolt action rifle she carried across her back. That was a mistake she told herself she’d never repeat.

Just as she worked her shoulder free, the Retriever lunged at her right leg with a snarl.

Amy jumped backward as she let the right shoulder strap slide down her arm, and in one single motion, she grabbed the pack with both hands and swung upward at the dog with all of the force she could muster.

She missed the direct hit she’d hoped for, but the backpack was heavily weighted with several bottles of water, cans of soup and vegetables, and other miscellaneous supplies. It clipped the dog’s snout with enough force to snap its mouth shut with a whimper. The dog shook its head and stared intently at the snow, briefly dazed.

The Shepherd, Lab, and Pit Bull froze, apparently startled by the sudden turn of events, and all three watched the Retriever for its reaction before moving.

Amy didn’t wait for more action. She was already turning with her swing, tromping up the street through the sickly, grey snow with as much speed as she could muster.

It was only a few seconds before the Retriever gathered its senses and launched itself after its prey with vigor, now incensed by Amy’s attack. The other three dogs followed suit, a bit more cautiously.

Though Amy’s escape was hindered by the snow, the dogs also had difficulty building any momentum over the terrain, as their small paws frequently broke through the top layer of snow and dropped them nearly face-first into the wretched substance. Still, Amy’s agility was no match for the dogs, and they were closing ground quickly.

Amy ran for the nearest door without thinking. To her right, just 15 feet away, was a glass storefront under a sign that read, CJ’s Smoke Shop. It was one of those pillars of community that showed its great respect for its customers by virtue of a steel-cage lined display.

She yanked at the handle on the front entrance. Locked.With no hope of breaking into the store through the front windows, Amy immediately turned left, up the street, away from the direction from whence the dogs had appeared.

CJ’s storefront ended abruptly in this direction; the severe two-story retail building and sidewalk giving way to an open yard and a weather-beaten red Victorian with white and green trim. There were several broken windows in the the wide second story, but that was fine. She didn’t need it to be airtight and well-insulated, she just needed to keep the damn dogs out. The ground floor looked secure, as far as Amy could tell. A slight depression in the dirty snow indicated a sidewalk leading up to a three wide steps and a covered porch. The house was set back from the street roughly 30 feet: A small-ish yard under ordinary circumstances, but it seemed like a mile in Amy’s current, frantic state.

Amy’s ongoing fear regarding houses, birthed at the Bauers’ house and reinforced by a handful of subsequent grisly discoveries, was momentarily quelled. She began struggling toward the house without hesitation.

Her departure was not a moment too soon. Just as Amy lurched toward the house, the Shepherd chomped hard at her left leg, but it found only air, and skittered past her into the storefront with a crash.

Amy whipped around, backpack flying in a low arc aimed to keep the dog on the ground. Instead of finding the Shepherd, the backpack caught the oncoming Lab in the left shoulder just as it was rounding around toward her at the Shepherd’s heels. The impact and the dog’s already-compromised center of balance launched the dog sideways, directly into the Shepherd.

The two dogs struggled to untangle themselves from each other as Amy spun back toward the house. As she did so, she glimpsed both the Retriever and Pit Bull working their way toward her. The Retriever was in the lead, fangs bared in a deadly grimace.

Amy shuddered as she turned back toward the house. She pushed her out of shape body as hard as it was capable, but she simply wasn’t going anywhere fast. It was her worst nightmare: caught in a deadly chase but unable to make any speed.

15 feet to go. The door still seemed so far away. Amy’s legs were burning unfairly as the blood-crazed dogs chased her. She could hear the Retriever’s ragged breath as it drew nearer. Close now. Too close.

Ten feet. Her legs were numb, running only on fear and a depleting measure of adrenaline.

Five feet. She was almost there. I’m going to make it, she thought. Please, God. Let it be unlocked.

The thought was barely out of her head when she heard the Retriever’s jaws snap shut just inches from her left ankle. With a scream, she half-jumped sideways while she stumbled forward the remaining distance to the stairs. But she was off-balance now, and she had neither the time nor the presence of mind to right her ship, and she went crashing sideways into the steps.

In an instant, the Retriever was on top of her, lunging at her face. Amy shoved her forearm at the dog in an act of self-preservation, and the dog clamped down on it, harder than she thought possible. It whipped its head back and forth, and with a tearing sound, the arm of Amy’s jacket was loose, and the dog stumbled a half step away from her. Amy kicked at it and scrambled backward up the steps, crab-style.

Suddenly, her back was at the door of the house, and she fumbled at the doorknob. It wouldn’t budge.

With growing horror, Amy looked back at the Retriever, who knew his prey was trapped, and approached slowly. Just on the other side of the Retriever, she could see the Pit Bull rushing in to join the fight, and beyond it, the Lab and Shepherd closing in as well.

Amy couldn’t believe she’d survived the end of the world, only to be offed by some fucking domestic dogs off their leashes. She scrunched up her eyes as she heard the Pit Bull growl its threat at her.

A second later, she heard snarls and scuffling from the Pit Bull and the Retriever, but the noises were not drawing any closer.

Amy opened her eyes, and was surprised to see the Pit Bull and Retriever locked in combat. Shaking, she rose to her feet, and shook the door knob in earnest, trying in vain to get through the door.

After a moment of resistance, Amy felt the knob slide in her grip, and, to her amazement, the door admitted her into a dark interior. Amy whipped inside and slammed the door shut behind her, throwing the deadbolt as she did so. She turned and fell backward against the door, gasping and sobbing with relief.

(Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets)

Chapter 3: Dinty Moore is a Delicacy

Amy was moving slowly and there was nothing she could do about it.

The topography of the Pittsburgh area is notable for its makeup of hills and trees, broken up only by virtue of the progressive efforts of civilization. Navigating Pittsburgh roads is known to be a hazardous winter activity in the best of times, between the blind turns around hillsides, the steep grades, and the pothole-stricken pavement.

Mercifully, Amy was not currently beset by the pothole issue, but this was only because the legion of area potholes, divots, and other imperfections were filled in with a foot or more of snow and ice.

To her credit, Amy was wearing a good, sturdy pair of duck boots that kept her feet dry in the deep snow, but she was woefully out of shape from her time spent underground, and the snow and ice and landscape meant a difficult passage. Good boots or not. Good shape or not.

It was snow in spirit, if not in appearance. Nowhere was the pure white snow that Amy loved playing in as a kid. Snow so brilliant she had to shield her blue eyes every time the sun peeked through the clouds and lit up the landscape in a cold fire of white light. Amy had loved to grab handfuls of snow and much on it, even though her dad once melted snow on the stovetop to show her how dirty it sometimes was. She didn’t care. It looked good and it tasted good. That was enough.

This snow was a depressing shade of gray, pockmarked as if diseased by dark spots. It didn’t look entirely dissimilar to the accumulation of snow she saw often by the side of a busy roadway in winter, after plows have churned up the silt of the road and leagues of cars have sprayed muck and gray-brown fumes in their wake.

Amy felt she was making painfully slow progress. Literally painfully slow. Her breath came in hard raspy gasps and she stopped frequently to deal with her burning quads and lungs. As she stared at the sickly looking snow, she wondered again what, exactly, was filling her lungs during these fits and gasps.

She tried to push these thoughts out of her mind as soon as they entered. Unfortunately, the landscape, diseased and radioactive as it may be, had not yet bestowed on her any special breathing abilities or weird neck gills to filter the air.`And unless she’d missed some critical part of adulting, she didn’t expect to find a plethora of breathing masks to protect her every time she ventured outside, Metro: 2033-style.

Truthfully, Amy was more comfortable outside than in at the moment. She was haunted by what she’s found at the Bauers’ house; the image of the rats seething around the Bauers’ desiccated bodies flickered before her eyes every time she thought of moving indoors, even for brief jaunts to warm up, rest, and root for supplies.

In the two days since she left home, Amy guessed she made roughly 4 miles, although she’d never been great with distances, and the intensity of effort required by the snow and her poor conditioning skewed her viewpoint. She was following US-19 because she knew that it, generally speaking, led directly to Pittsburgh.

An intersection with I-279 southbound had forced Amy to make a decision on this count. I-279 flowed more directly toward Pittsburgh, but US-19 would take her through more housing areas where she thought she could scavenge for supplies, or, even better, find someone to help her figure out what in the hell was going on.

The thought of finding help was both painfully appealing and outright terrifying, which was another reason why she ultimately decided to steer clear of I-279, with its broad lanes and wide open sightlines. She had no idea what to expect from the living when she finally encountered them.

Amy had already encountered countless dead bodies, though she tried as well as she could to block them out. They filled stalled and wrecked cars all over the roadways, and more than once Amy thought she’d stepped on suspicious lumps under the snow. She was sure that anyone out there had been through quite an ordeal.

Even with these endlessly disconcerting discoveries, Amy felt a growing awareness that something was off, even in the context of a possible cataclysmic event. She’d found more bodies in a few houses, yes, but she’d also found houses that appeared to be not just empty, but abandoned. Standing cold and lifeless, but untouched, as if their owners expected to return at any moment but never did.

The cars, too. There were snow-covered lumps of cars strewn all across the roadways, in various states of disrepair and abandonment, but Amy thought there should be many more cars around, especially given the empty homes. It seemed like either people were missing, or she was being actively avoided.

Amy felt so incredibly alone. During her extended period underground, Amy was by herself, but she always harbored a fantasy in the dark recesses of her mind that she might open the vault door and find the world exactly as she left it, or  maybe slightly altered. A few bombed out city centers, perhaps. She wasn’t ready for this. Now, after seeing the complete absence of humanity in the world, she felt a despair unlike any she had ever known. It was only her hopes of reaching her brother in West Virginia, and of miraculously finding someone willing and able to help her, that kept her pressing forward with a purpose.

This afternoon, though, Amy had begun to feel a presence.

It didn’t come on all at once, nor was she quite aware of her dawning perception. Call it a latent instinct, or premonition, woman’s intuition; take your pick of miraculous 6th senses. Perhaps she’d heard a series of noises, and her brain logged the information even as Amy’s thoughts were divided between the road ahead and her internal dialogue. But slowly, Amy found her pace slightly quickening, and she began to make out shapes moving in the sides of her vision.

Every time Amy turned to look straight on, she saw only a beat up trash can, or mailbox, and she mentally chided herself for losing her senses in the face of extraordinary stress.

Amy was now looking down a street lined on both sides by old Victorian and Craftsman-style houses, along with the occasional dark storefront. The typical small-town storefront on the ground level of two stories of weathered brick, with an upper floor devoted to an apartment or store offices. Since she was a kid, she’d always wondered about streets like this. Wondering how different the neighborhood had been in times of greater prosperity. Pittsburgh was a re-defined city in the late 2010’s, trading the dying steel industry of the 20th century for technology and medical advancement, but some areas had yet to fully recover.

Families are always rising and falling in America. Hawthorne, I think. I wonder if the same can be said of cities. It was the type of quote Amy memorized to make herself feel smarter, though truthfully, she’d never read The House of the Seven Gables. Never even opened it, actually. But she’d seen The Departed, and wasn’t Scorcese just as good? She thought so. Anyway, it seemed to fit. What is a city, anyway, but a group of people who have decided to live together, and whose fortunes generally rise and fall together by their collective efforts and divine providence? Amy wondered if Pittsburgh was rising or falling now.

Maybe the more important question is whether the human race is rising or falling.

Jesus. That’s enough with the waxing philosophic for now, Amy. My internal dialogue gets depressing as fuck.

Amy was exhausted, and she had ignored the growing pangs of hunger in her stomach for about as long as she felt capable. Scoping a rare dry area next to a trash can under the awning of a storefront nearby, she decided it was as good a time as any to make a stop. A dingy and weather-beaten wooden sign above the awning informed her that this was home of Mike’s TV and Radio Repair.Wonderful, she thought. A store that was useless even before the apocalypse. Amy didn’t want to take the chance of another gruesome discovery just for a taste of stagnant indoor air and some overpriced A/V cables. She aimed for the dry spot next to the trash can.

Amy unslung her backpack from her shoulders and dropped it on the ground next to the store. She leaned back against the trashcan with her antique .22 bolt-action rifle still hanging over her shoulder. It was uncomfortable, but she was too tired to really care. Reaching into her backpack, Amy grabbed a can of Dinty Moore beef stew she’d been saving for a special occasion. The special occasion being that she was really hungry and wanted some damn beef stew.

She had to laugh a little bit inside at the change in fortune. Three months ago, Dinty Moore beef stew was a step above dog food. Now, gourmet masterpiece.

Amy cracked the pop tab and breathed in the luscious aroma of cold, metallic, salty, processed stew. She half-drank and half-scooped the contents into her mouth with two fingers, trying in vain to savor the taste and fight the urge to scarf it down within minutes. She had a spoon buried somewhere in her backpack, but why exercise modesty? Not like anyone was watching her to make sure she abided by proper European-style table etiquette.

So singularly focused was she on her feast, that she nearly didn’t notice the sharp crack of a twig breaking roughly 100 yards away. It took her a moment, but suddenly she was on her feet, backpack in her left hand and can of stew unconsciously remaining affixed to her right.

Amy nearly cried, she was so happy about what she saw. Making its way toward her slowly, hopping here and there roughly along Amy’s footprints in the dull mounds of snow, was a Golden Retriever.

Its fur had lost the bright sheen attended by constant brushings and an indoor life; its golden coat was stained, dark, matted, and mangy from weeks or months of living outdoors, but as it made its way closer, she could see it was still wearing a collar and tags. This was someone’s pet! Or it had been, anyway.

Amy was about to put on her best sing-song voice to draw the dog closer, even though she felt it probably wasn’t necessary, when two more dogs, and then a fourth appeared from around the side of a distant house from the direction she had come. There was a Black Lab and a German Shepherd, and what looked like a Pit Bull mix with a mottled brown coat bringing up the rear. All were wearing collars of various types, just like the golden retriever in the lead. The Lab and Pit Bull both sported nylon straps, while the Shepherd wore a stainless steel chain.

Amy’s right hand, which had been holding the can of stew toward the golden retriever in a welcoming gesture, unconsciously lowered to her side as she considered her growing group of friends.

They must be half-starved. Just let them have the stew and I’m sure they’ll be friendly enough, or they’ll run off, having sated their hunger a bit.

Amy set down the can of Dinty Moore and took several paces backward as she watched the dogs continue to draw closer. The can was extra-large, and though she’d eaten a fair amount already, there was enough for each of the dogs to get a small morsel.

The Retriever’s eyes never left Amy as it made its way closer. Amy could see that it was wet around the mouth, so it had been eating or drinking something recently. She hoped that the dogs weren’t too hungry and wouldn’t fight each other for the food. The Retriever paused as it reached the can, and sniffed the contents thoroughly. It took a single lick of the stew, and then stepped past, in Amy’s direction.

Amy looked on in fascination at the dog’s decision to leave the stew for its fellow companions. Now only 25 feet or so away, Amy could see the sad state of the dog’s fur much more clearly. It was even more matted than it had looked from afar, but the myriad spots she’d taken for mange at a distance appeared to be ugly scarred and scabbed flesh, torn by what looked like both the serrated edges of bite marks and some smoother lines that looked like possible knife wounds.

The Shepherd and Lab passed the can without pausing and began to fan out slightly from the Retriever in the lead. Amy looked with awe at the Lab, who was similarly scarred and missing his left eye, and the Shepherd, who appeared to be relatively unscathed, apart from a shortened tail. The Pit Bull sniffed at the can and whimpered at the others for a moment, then thought better of it, and moved between the Shepherd and the Retriever to Amy’s left.

Amy was involuntarily moving further backward now, but the dogs were drawing closer. Now roughly 15 feet away, Amy could see that she was mistaken about the Retriever’s muzzle. It was wet, but not due to water. Stained in splashes and specks across its mouth and chest was the unmistakable red-brown of drying blood.

Amy began to move backward more quickly as the dogs continued to fan out and move closer. As she fumbled with the zipper of her right jacket pocket, where she kept her .32, a low, sinister growl erupted from the Retriever’s throat.

(Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets)

Chapter 2: The New World

The door of Amy’s shelter opened reluctantly. It was a heavy thing, made of tarnished half-inch steel, with a welded-on handle, bolt latch, and thick insulation besides. Amy remembered it being significantly easier to lower into place when she made her temporary exit from the world 75 days earlier. Which really wasn’t surprising. She did her best to get some exercise during that excruciatingly long period, but she was stuck with an unfortunate choice between maintaining her muscle mass and conserving her food.

Amy, who had lived most of her adult life in fear of some kind of terrorist attack, had been in no rush to re-join a world that she’d last seen imploding into total warfare. She’d chosen the food. Choice aside, 75 days is a very long time, and Amy pushed her supplies to the very limit. She was weak with hunger and thirst. So weak that her vision swam with the exertion of opening the shelter door, and Amy paused, panting and collecting herself in the basement of her home.

It was very cold in the basement, colder by 10 degrees than her shelter room, at least, but still Amy sighed with relief at her new-found freedom. Before moving down into her shelter, Amy found her basement to be uncomfortably damp and musty, with it’s stone and mortar foundation inexorably seeping moisture into the space. Even with a de-humidifier running nearly constantly, the space still felt damp and smelled of mildew and earth. Now, Amy took in the smells and relatively dry air with rapturous delight. She thought she’d never breathed air so fresh.

Amy leaned back through the doorway to grab her backpack and nearly gagged. The stink of body odor and a collection of refuse buckets swam up at her. The lids were firmly planted on the buckets, but it didn’t matter. As a group, they emitted plenty of smell to fill up the space, and then some.

Amy hated to think of what she smelled like herself. Probably something like a dead animal carcass left to rot on the side of a highway. Not far off from the way she felt, actually. First order of business would be to find some food and water. Then, she needed to freshen up. Stat.

Amy trudged up the stairs to the kitchen in search of food. Most of the food in the house made the trip down to the shelter in the days before Amy headed down herself, but she opened the refrigerator door anyway. Mistake. Amy slammed the door shut far more quickly than she’d opened it. She guessed that the only thing that saved her from being bowled over completely by the fetid smell within was the wintry temperatures outside during her self-imposed exile. Still, it was really bad. She almost lost her hunger completely, but not quite.

Amy grabbed a dusty glass from a kitchen cabinet installed in the 80’s. The cabinet matched the dated decor found in the rest of the house very well. She never really gave it more than a moment’s consideration, and she didn’t now, either. Moving to the stainless steel kitchen sink, she tried the tap, but got nothing from it but a weak spurt of brown water followed by pops of air bubbles. No water pressure. She didn’t have it in herself to swallow the rusty water, yet, and searched the pantry for something else. Hidden behind a collection of broom brushes and mops on the floor, she found a single bottle of water and a half-empty box of dry spaghetti.

Amy chugged the water greedily and began munching on the spaghetti noodles as she opened up the rest of the kitchen cabinets. She turned up a lighter, a box of matches, and a can of diced tomatoes. She grabbed a can opener and started to open the tomatoes, but thought better of it and stuffed them in her backpack instead, along with the can opener, matches, and lighter.

With her most pressing needs covered, Amy glanced out the kitchen window at the street and paused. She lived in a quiet neighborhood in West View, just outside of Pittsburgh, Pa, but still, the absence of activity was striking. The street was covered in nearly two feet of light gray snow. Amy wondered if a plow had been through since she went underground. Even without the plows, there should have been footprints, tire tracks… something. As she looked closer, she realized she did see some tracks. A group of deer had trotted their way between two houses across the street, and some smaller prints, as if from squirrels or chipmunks, wound their way among a copse of trees in her neighbor’s yard.

A chill began to creep down Amy’s spine as her mind processed the scene she observed through the window. “What the hell is going on here,” she said to herself. Where is everyone?

Amy walked over to the hallway closet and grabbed a pair of duck boots that she seldom wore, but felt appropriate given the heavy snow. She walked over to the front door and opened it slowly, breathing carefully, in case anything seemed amiss in the air. Amy was not dumb. Even as she did this, she knew in the back of her mind that the air outside was likely not appreciably better or worse than the air inside, but the extra caution helped her nerves, which were still frayed from her underground ordeal, and not quickly improving.

As she relaxed a bit over the oxygen and stepped out onto her front stoop, Amy felt an increasing sense of unease, though she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.

The silence.

In her youth, Amy took a handful of trips up to the National Forest near Tionesta, Pa, and she’d always been struck by the relative quiet compared to the familiar suburban sounds of traffic, children playing, dogs on leashes barking. That was nothing. At that moment, the world felt like a gigantic empty coffee can, emptied of its contents, and reverberating wildly with every individual tap of sound.

As her ears adjusted to the new normal, she realized she still could hear occasional distant chirrups of life, but even those seemed vastly muted compared to her memory of the neighborhood she left behind two and a half months ago.

Amy tromped through the grayish snow, across the yard to the street. She was glad for her Columbia ski jacket, and while the weather wasn’t biting cold, she made a mental note to return to the house for a hat and gloves before she ventured out far. She crossed the street to the Bauers’ yard, walked up to the door, knocked twice, and waited. No answer. She knocked three times, more forcefully now. Still nothing. Amy shuffled along the front of the house and peered through the living room window. The house was dark inside and she could see no signs of life, except the Bauers’ fluffy orange cat, Saturn, looking up at her expectantly from the floor.

Amy thought for a second. She really wanted some more information about what was going on here. She was scared, and she just spent a long time underground. She thought that was probably a good enough excuse on its own. She was also on friendly enough terms with the Bauers’s. She thought they would not judge her too sharply if they found her “checking on the cat.”

She made her way back over to the front door and wiggled the doorknob, surprised to find it unlocked. As she walked inside, Saturn immediately strolled over and rubbed against her legs, purring. He’d always been moderately friendly on his frequent excursions outside, but this was new. He seemed just about starved for attention. Amy reached down and scratched his back, finding him to be leaner than she remembered, but obviously not malnourished.

Amy looked around. The house looked basically normal. The furniture was in place and looked like it was basically the same as the last time she’d seen it, when she returned a cookie tray after the Bauers’s welcomed her to the neighborhood. Slightly shabbier, perhaps. The carpet seemed a little dirty with cat hair, as if it had not been vacuumed in some time, but she didn’t expect an elderly couple to keep up as well as they used to. The only thing completely out of the ordinary was that the phone was on the floor.

Moving toward the hallway leading back to where she knew she’d find the master bedroom, Amy called out, “Hello? Anyone here?” Only one door was closed in the hallway, and she guessed it was the master by the cat door installed near the base. Those people did worship that cat. She knocked on the door, and, not hearing an answer, she entered.

The smell hit her first. Death. The smell of decaying flesh came to her in waves, disturbed by the door being pushed into the stagnant room. The withered corpses of George and Helen Bauers lay in their bed, still locked in a lovers’ embrace.

Amy’s revulsion at the smell was quickly replaced by sadness, and she felt tears sting her eyes as she remembered how kind the couple had been, and how touching it was for them to have gone out this way, together. She glanced at the open pill bottles on George’s nightstand, and quickly decided she didn’t care. If they decided it was time for them to leave, she wouldn’t judge.

Amy was just about to shut the door and leave the Bauers’s to their peace, when she thought she spotted movement at the foot of the bed. She couldn’t help herself. It was clear the couple was dead, so what in God’s name could be moving. She walked over to the bed, pulled back a corner of the comforter, and screamed.

Beneath the comforter lay a writhing mass of rats, engorged by chewing through the remains of the Bauers’s legs. Little was left but bones and cartilage beneath the knees of each, and their thighs were a patchwork of missing flesh. As she looked on, horrified, a large albino rat crawled out of a hole where Helena Bauers’ vagina should have been. Disgusted in a way she had never contemplated possible, Amy dropped the comforter, and stumbled back from the bed as several of the rats fell onto the floor and began crawling toward her, languidly. She tripped over her own feet, hitting her ass hard on the floor, but barely felt it as she scrambled to the door and slammed it shut.

She was covered in a cold sweat and had to get out of the house immediately. Amy rushed to the front door, and threw up the limited contents of her stomach the second she cleared the threshold. She shut the front door and sat back against it, weeping, as she wondered how everything could have gone so horrible so quickly. She didn’t want to go back in the house. Every ounce of her body told her that she couldn’t possibly to it. What she just saw was too awful to comprehend, let alone willfully bring herself nearer.

But her rational mind knew she must. She couldn’t stomach what unknown horrors she might find in other houses on her street, and she knew now what lay within this one. She needed food and more supplies. She had to go back in.

Setting her teeth, Amy walked back in, and went straight to the kitchen, thinking as little as possible about what she’d seen in the bedroom. She was grimly happy to find the kitchen cabinets well-stocked, and she filled her backpack with cans of creamed corn, peas, chili, and peaches.

Amy knew Mr. Bauers was an outdoors-y sort of guy, so she headed next for the garage. The garage was dimly lit, by virtue of a panel of windows set in the two-car wide external door. The Bauers’  tan Buick sedan sat under a film of dust next to a yellow Cub Cadet. Amy wondered if either would ever run again. There really wasn’t much use for the car at present. With the roads under two feet of snow or more outside, Amy thought she’d need a snowmobile or a monster truck to have any hope of navigating the roadways.

In a row of cabinets along the back wall, Amy found an old compass and a bowie knife in a leather holster. The knife handle was heavily-worn leather, but examining the blade, Amy found that it had been dutifully resharpened to a fine point. She unfastened her belt and slid the holster around to her left hip. Rooting around in the cabinet a little further, she came away with a box of .22 caliber bullets. But she didn’t see a gun anywhere in sight.

Amy spotted a step-stool near the garage door and pulled it over to the cabinet. She climbed to the top step and looked in again. There. On the top shelf, all the way at the back, Amy saw the wooden handle of what looked like an old rifle. She moved some junk out of the way and pulled it out. The rifle was covered in dust and grime, but nothing looked obviously wrong with it. It was a bolt-action type, single bullet, with a rudimentary notch on the top of the barrel for sighting targets. Amy brushed off the top of the barrel and read “Springfield Model 15” inscribed on the top. The rifle had a strap attached to the stock.

Amy had seen plenty enough in the short time she’d left her shelter. The antique .32 pistol in her jacket pocket was hardly worth an peace of mind in the face of God knows what horrors she might yet encounter. Without any further hesitation, Amy slung the rifle over her shoulder and shoved the box off ammo in her backpack. If she was going to find something out there, she was damn well going to be ready.

Amy reluctantly stepped back into the house to make her way through on her way back outside. At the front door, she paused just as she pulled the door shut behind her, as a disturbing thought nagging at the back of her mind finally burst through with clarity. Saturn. The rats. That was why he wasn’t starving.

While the thought of a few of those rats getting their “just desserts” was strangely satisfying from a karmic standpoint, Amy couldn’t bear the thought of Saturn getting his nutrition from his former owners, even secondarily so. She opened the door and left it ajar.

Crossing the Bauers’ yard to the street and back to her own house, Amy went back to the hall closet and grabbed her warmest hat, a pink knitted cap with wool lining, and a pair of ski gloves. With these in hand, she thought she was finally ready to get going.

Amy guessed it was roughly 200 miles to her brother Jake’s cabin near Charleston, WV. She said a silent prayer that he was still there, and safe. Amy stomped through the snow on her street in the direction of US-19, hoping fervently that the worst was behind her.

(Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets)

Book Review: Joyland, Stephen King

joylandfront

Title: Joyland

Author: Stephen King

Published: June 4, 2013

Pages: 288

Genre: Mystery/Crime

Kid Friendly Rating: 12+ Like most Stephen King novels, the book contains some adult themes and situations, but it doesn’t stray very far into adult territory.

Synopsis: 

 

Devin Jones is a college student in 1973 who takes a summer job as a carny at a run-down theme park in North Carolina, Joyland. As an employee at the park, Devin discovers he has the dubious honor of a special talent for “wearing the fur” (playing the park mascot, Howie the Hound), and further earns the trust and respect of park management by saving a girl from choking on a hot dog.

Over the course of the summer, Devin learns about a grisly murder mystery that occurred years ago in the park’s haunted house. To this date, rumors swirl that the victim’s ghost is sometimes seen walking the grounds. Devin’s curiosity gets the best of him, and he can’t resist attempting to piece together the crime and solve the mystery of the alleged ghost.

Stephen King’s status as one of the world’s preeminent horror fiction writers is virtually unquestioned, but one of the interesting things about his writing, to me, is that he puts out some really fantastic work when he strays slightly from the familiar pure-horror genres. The Body (aka Stand by Me), Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, Hearts in Atlantis and The Green Mile stand among some of his most interesting titles. Although each of these stories still have one foot in horror or the supernatural, each seem a good deal more sentimental than King’s norm.

My wife (who is also an avid reader of Stephen King) and I have also lamented to each other that sometimes King seems to drive his own stories off the rails by doing what we call, “and then there were aliens.” From a Buick 8 and The Tommyknockers come to mind. Nothing against alien/monster stories, mind you. It just feels like low-hanging fruit at times to inject some type of mythical creature when the narrative is strong enough without it.

With all of this in mind, I was immediately interested to find that King was taking a stab at sort of a pulp-crime novel, and I was not disappointed.

The book contains shades of The Body’s coming-of-age themes, as Devin enters as an uncertain college kid trying to keep his mind off the girlfriend who chose a summer job in Boston with a friend over him. As his relationship with his girlfriend further deteriorates, Devin becomes immersed in the culture of Joyland, and grows into his role, both as an employee, and an individual young man.

King has noted Canobie Lake Park in Salem, NH, as one of the main sources of inspiration for Joyland as a theme park, but it stands as sort of a embodiment of many old-time local theme parks around the United States. Readers will probably find lots of parallels between this place and the familiar haunts of their youth. I myself was reminded constantly of Kennywood in Pittsburgh, Pa.

While the book winds down to a somewhat predictable conclusion, this did not greatly affect my overall enjoyment. As they say, the fun is in the journey, not the destination. King paces the story very quickly, and at only 288 pages, it’s over a bit too soon, if only because I would have liked to spend more time reading it.

Final thoughts:

This should be a fun, quick diversion for any longtime fans of Stephen King, or fans of mystery/crime novels, generally. I give it 4/5 stars.

(Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets)

Snowbound

2/16/16

I think I’m okay. For a little while longer, at least. My fingers are basically frozen from all of this digging, so I’m attempting to thaw them  by writing. Who knows? Maybe these will be my final words. If someone finds this without me, just know that I believe I did the best I could, under the circumstances.

I guess I should begin with what happened.

Long story short, there was an avalanche a few days ago, and I might be just about completely screwed.

Technically, I guess it began while I was asleep, but all I remember is dreaming of a distant rumble, like a far-off lightning storm that grew steadily louder, until suddenly I was screaming and trying to get away from the bunk bed amid a crash of rending wood and obliterated rusty nails. Sort of like a much worse version of the nightmare where you’re falling from a cliff, and you wake up when you brace for impact and bounce yourself off the bed. Yeah. But way scarier, because I woke up with my right ankle crushed under the weight of the top bunk, which had, in turn, been demolished by the weight of a collapsing roof and several tons of snow. I’m pretty sure my ankle is broken. I can’t put any weight on it, whatsoever.

Slowly, painfully, I maneuvered my foot out from under the bed, and dragged myself over toward the front door, and the main light switch for the cabin. I made it to the wall, climbed up on my good foot and flicked the switch, but nothing happened. Since then, I’ve come to realize that the generator must have been knocked loose in the crash, and even if it hadn’t been, I don’t think gas generators work long without oxygen.

I made my way over to the utility sink and found a flashlight, and then I realized how lucky (relatively speaking) I really was. The roof had collapsed in the corner of the cabin over the bunkbed, and the uphill-facing wall under the collapsed roof was also bowing inward dangerously; in fact, several boards in the wall appeared to have splintered inward.

Things are still creaking suspiciously, and I have no idea how stable the walls and ceiling really are. Anyway, the structural integrity of the house (or my ankle – ha-ha) isn’t so much my immediate concern. It’s about 2 pm, and there is no daylight coming in here from any direction, meaning I am basically frozen underground, on the side of a damn mountain.

I still can’t believe how lucky I was to have slept on the bottom bunk of that damned bunk bed. If I’d chosen the top, I would have been crushed completely, from the weight of the roof beams and snow crashing down on me. Broken ankle and all, it could have been much, much worse.

I don’t know what happened to Mike. The good news is he was not in the top bunk when all of this happened. The bad news is that he’s also not in the cabin with me. I wonder if he made a late night trip out to the outhouse. He said he was feeling a little ill last night. Jesus, I hope he’s okay, but I’m beyond worried. That outhouse isn’t much more than a glorified lean-to.

Now I am doing what I can to try dig out with this bum ankle before I freeze or suffocate or starve or God knows what else. Speaking of.

 

2/18/16

It was a long, painful process, but I’ve tunneled my way to air. That’s the good news. I don’t know if I really would have suffocated, but I won’t now.

Bad news: roughly speaking, I think about 9 feet of snow are currently sitting on the roof, and all I can see around the cabin are a few trees, meaning my car and the path of a “driveway” leading here are completely under snow. I’m not getting out of here anytime soon, unless someone thinks to check on me. I’ve spread out some orange hunting vests around the entrance to my tunnel.

I’m beyond worried about Mike. I don’t think he made it. I don’t see any sign of him out there, and it’s been too cold to last long in the elements.

 

2/19/16

Food stores are running low. We were only planning to hunt out here for a couple days, and it was two days already when the avalanche hit. Fortunately, there were a few cans of vegetables and some white rice stored away. I found a mini Coleman stove and some kerosene containers under the sink that I could use to boil the rice with some melted snow. I’ve been stretching it out as long as possible, but it won’t last much longer.

I’m tired of being cold all the time, but if I wrap myself up in all of the blankets in the cabin, it’s not too bad. Snow insulates the cabin pretty well.

 

2/21/16

I found a deer Mike shot! Can’t believe I forgot about it. I guess it slipped my mind in all the confusion from the avalanche and worrying about Mike. I was digging behind the cabin to find the generator and I basically ran into it. Generator is completely wrecked, but that’s okay! I have food! I cut off some meat, and I was able to cook a decent portion using the mini stove. I’ve never tasted anything so good. I feel guilty because it was Mike’s kill, but he’d want me to survive, of course.

 

2/23/16

I’m finding it hard to sleep for more than a few minutes at a time. I keep hearing noises and wake up seeing Mike standing over the bed, nearly frozen solid, but that’s not possible. I think it’s the loneliness getting to me.

 

2/24/16

I KNEW I was hearing voices yesterday. i went out to the end of the tunnel and almost had a heart attack at what I saw. There were streaks of blood in the snow. not a lot of blood, but it was unmistakeable. And lots of Footprints. Some don’t look like mine. I saw one line of prints leading away from the Cabin, and I tried to drag myself out after them, but I lost them in a snow drift. i’m scared. I don’t know who is out there or What they want from me. I just want out of here.

 

2/25/16

still no sign of my “intruder.” I’ve got both my rifle and mike’s ready in case they try to come in. i strung up the empty veggie cans in the tunnel to alert me of any movement. Let’s see them try! HA!

 

2/26/16

i’ve accepted now that the avalanche wasn’t an accident at all. someone wanted me Here. It’s too convenient. stranded with No supplies. they didn’t know how resourceful I cold be. How prepared. maybe it was Mike! HE could be the one out there, just waiting for me to slip up. thinking about it, he WAS acting weird that day. I’ll be ready.

 

2/27/16

feeeeeel the heaaaat Burnin you up some like it hot and some sweat when the heat is on bumbum dadada dumdumbumbum BUM 400 degrees that’s why they call me mr. fairin’ hite. burnin at the speed of lighhht i’ll make a supersonic man out of youuu like pina coladaas and gettin caught in the rainnn singinnn in the rainnn i’m sinnngin in the rain what a wonderful feelin im happy againnn im lo

what was that?

— — —

 

News column from The Gazette, Tuesday, March 1, 2016

GRUESOME SCENE UNCOVERED FOLLOWING AVALANCHE

Hinsdale County, Co – State police were called in after a local logger was nearly shot while attempting to clear an access path following an avalanche. Police say that Gunnison man Jacob Grimes, 36, was quickly disarmed by the logging crew, but the subsequent investigation uncovered disturbing details regarding Grimes’ apparent activities leading up to his arrest.

In a nearby cabin buried in the avalanche, police found the body of Michael Calhoun, 38, of Grand Junction. A police spokesman states that Calhoun’s cause of death is currently unknown, but it appears that large sections of flesh are missing from his body and unaccounted for.

When asked whether foul play is suspected, police  state only that the investigation is ongoing and Grimes is currently a person of interest.

Grimes has retained defense counsel. According to his attorney, “my client is currently in a state of extreme distress related to the extreme nature of his isolation and the recent death of his good, close friend, Michael Calhoun. He and his family would appreciate respect of his privacy during his journey to recovery from this tragic ordeal.

The Gazette will continue to monitor this story as more information becomes available.

(Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets. Also check out this awesome narration by Kalabajooie)

Judith (NSFW) by Scott Hess

A self-described “really offensive” short story by Scott Hess. I take no credit or responsibility for the content of this story.

Judith sat there staring at the mailbox through the curtains of her living room window. The smell of rotting meat hung heavy in the air as swarms of flies circled around the piles of moldy-green beef and pork. Like little mountains, the mounds of warm flesh sat there on the filthy carpet surrounded by cigarette butts and crushed Diet Dr. Pepper cans. Judith was panting heavily. Not just because of her obesity but because today was Thursday and that was what Judith called her Meat Day.  “Sorry Mandy Moore I can’t feed ya now it’s my meat day. Gotta watch for the meat man.”  Mandy Moore was Judith’s beloved dog. Judith saw Mandy as a loving pet, but Mandy was more like a prisoner that had mistakenly snuck into the small house through the chimney and had been unable to escape for the last 2 years. Mandy Moore was not named after the singer/actress that Judith was unaware of and was actually a large male raccoon. Mandy led a miserable life. He hated Judith and the Dorito crumbs she fed him. He was never abused by her but the unsanitary conditions were slowly weakening him, poisoning his furry body every day. Mandy often prayed to Raccotrix, the raccoon God for guidance and help to no avail. At this moment Mandy just sat on his shoebox, reading a 1994 People Magazine, harshly judging Judith for the ritual that was about to play out.

For the next 20 minutes Judith nervously drummed her fingers on her sweaty thighs and made small talk with Charvis Brisco, sitting next to her on the sofa. Charvis Brisco was a pile of laundry that Judith thought was a charming Italian Immigrant that married her in the late 80’s. Among her many other issues, Judith had very poor eyesight and thought the soiled linens were a handsome but quiet lover. Mandy was always quite disturbed when Judith interacted with Charvis, especially when she disrobed and made love to him on Monday mornings. Why she never figured out the true nature of her husband, even when she had to reassemble him after love-making remained a mystery that Mandy couldn’t comprehend. On one occasion, while rubbing her genitals against what was once a pair of sweatpants, Judith accidentally moaned the name of another lover “Gubbert” in a moment of ecstasy. When Charvis elicited no response, Judith assumed that he didn’t hear and that she dodged a bullet. Who or what Gubbert actually was remains a mystery to this day, but Mandy vowed never to go near the stuffed SpongeBob ever again.

Around 3 pm the Burton’s Meats truck pulled up and Judith jumped to attention. Caught up in the moment, a dribble of pee escaped Judith and quickly soaked her large diabetic panties. Judith waddled over to the stairs and in her usual manner, closed her eyes and fell down them. She could not think of a quicker and easier way to descend the staircase and her fatty limbs were usually unharmed from the tumble. Today was different however, and Judith broke most of her remaining teeth. Judith didn’t care. She wouldn’t need them for the meat. All that mattered was the meat and getting it right now. She barely even noticed the blood pooling in her mouth.

Just as the deliveryman stepped out of his truck she was there waiting. Hunched over, spitting blood, dripping in sweat and piss she stood before him. “Hello ma’am, is everything ok?” He asked her not out of concern, but out of a morbid curiosity. “Hello Tyrese.. got my meats for me?”  “Yes ma’am, I have a package for you but please call me Thomas. That is my name.” It was then that he began to smell the urine so he quickly ran to the back of the truck, pulled out three boxes and threw them at Judith. “Have a lovely day ma’am” Thomas politely said as he smiled and hurried back into the truck. “Thanks for the meats Jamal!” Judith yelled. She looked down at the boxes but something seemed off. There were three boxes instead of two she regularly got. “Trombone come back, you made a mistake!” She screamed but it was too late. Thomas was already speeding away.

As she sat down on the sofa next to Charvis she picked up the third, smaller box and held it close to her beady little hazy eyes. “Bonus – Free Gift” was printed on the box. “I got a bonus meats Charvis because I’m a good customer!” she explained to Charvis. Mandy stood up and began to walk out of the room. He had seen the ritual before. Too many times.

Judith turned on the stereo and hit play on the Dance Mix cassette that she had re-labeled “Meat Mix”. As the opening chords of Straight Up by Paula Abdul played, Judith was already disrobed and tearing into the first box. “Beef -Assorted Clippings.” She laid there on the sofa completely nude, squealing with glee. Judith filled ever nook and cranny, every flap and roll with various pieces of raw, ground beef. Most of her skin was too greasy for the meat to stick. She had great difficulty getting the filets to stay in her hairy armpits today but wasn’t deterred. The meat ritual was an emotional roller coaster and by the time Step By Step started, she was crying with pieces of ribeye falling out of her vagina. After an hour, Judith stood up and grabbed the second box, “Pork – Soft, Ground”.

Judith laid there in the bathtub. This portion of the ritual was quieter and more peaceful. She inserted her second Meat Mix cassette into the stereo, this one was actually Professor Javier Mesquela’s “Learning Mandarin for Spanish Speakers.” Judith thought the professor’s voice sounded peaceful and it calmed her. Judith took handfuls of the mushy pork and jammed it into her eyes, ears, and nose. She rubbed the pork on her face and into her scalp. It was important for her to become one with the pork. Judith nodded off and urinated on herself once again. She awoke as Professor Mesquela’s Lesson 8 – Adjectivos came to a close.

Feeling refreshed, Judith returned to the living room. Still nude, pieces of the now-warm meats fell from her body to the floor. It was time to see what was in the third box.

Judith slowly opened the cardboard box and peeled back the tissue paper within. A dozen or so small pieces of chocolate was inside with a small note that read, “To our favorite customer. Please enjoy our new, pork truffles”. Judith began to drool a combination of hot slobber and blood from her broken teeth. She grabbed a handful of the candies and shoveled them into her mouth, moaning and gumming them with her tongue. She instantly felt weak and fainted, smashing her head on the coffee table as she fell. A minute later she awoke, choking and struggling to breathe. She grabbed at her chest as her lungs and heart tightened up. Her eyes filled with tears and her stomach was turning in knots. Judith loudly belched, then farted. Violently, gallons of hot, bloody feces shot out of her ass and sprayed the television and recliner behind her. She turned to her side and the shit fountain shot high into the air and covered Charvis who was unfortunately in the splash zone. Judith shrieked and curled into the fetal position as intestines and organs abruptly shot out of her anus and across the room. With a quick jolt and whimper she seized up and died. A small fart crept out and her body laid still.

The sun had set and the house was dark. Mandy picked up the phone and began to dial. “Thomas, it is done. Thank you my angel, I love you.” Thomas replied, “Finally we can be together. You are my stars and moon.” “You are my bright, shining King. You complete me” Mandy said. The two agreed to meet at the rendezvous point, a Denny’s, for coffee and desert. It was over. She was finally dead. Before leaving the house, Mandy knelt before his shrine to Raccotrix and thanked his God for the strength to finally free himself from this nightmare. He held a trinket in his small hand, an amulet depicting the son of Raccotrix… The Great Raccusamal, Opener of Trash Cans and Crosser of Streets. He closed the door behind him, got into Judith’s Ford Taurus, and turned the key. As he looked back through the mirror he started looking forward to his new life with Thomas. The house they would buy in Cape Cod, their children, and growing old together. A tear of happiness fell from his cheek.

The End

Epilogue

Raccotrix looked down upon Mandy Moore and smiled. “Raccusamal, the chosen one is finally free. Tell the others to prepare the relics of Racconsis.” Raccusamal looked up at his father and nodded. “Finally the reign of mankind comes to an end. The day of Racconisence is upon us!” “Not yet, my son there is much work to be done” Raccotrix explained. “Send word to our commanders on earth to gather all of the chocolates and roach poison they can find!  We are now at war!” Raccusamal nodded and began to walk down the golden hallway. He stopped and looked back at his father, perplexed. “Our followers, where will they find the supplies they need to kill the humans?” Raccotrix looked at his son with a knowing smile. “Where else, my dear son… Tell them to look where they have always looked. In the middle of the street.” “Yes of course, father. Of course!”

Little Sisters

Steve knew he wasn’t like most other boys his age growing up. He played sports with his friends, and even occasionally played pretty well in pickup basketball, but his heart really wasn’t in it.

He did better than average in school; just enough A’s and B’s so people knew he was smart, but the occasional C thrown in, so people knew he didn’t try too hard.

He had a few “good” friends, but no one he hung out with every day. He was the type of guy who always seemed to show up at big parties, though no one in particular remembered inviting him, and he never made a big impression. That was the way he liked it. Being at the periphery of the fold rather than right under the bright light focus of his classmates’ lives.

What Steve really loved to do, was to go home after a long day of school, and hang out with his six little sisters.

Most days were sort of a blur of distracted daydreams; cascading fragmented blurs of people and events moving through his conscious thoughts. But at home, after school, he came alive when he saw his little sisters.

Steve didn’t always feel this way. If he was being honest, he’d spent long months being annoyed with his little sisters. When his mom brought them home, he’d first thought they were like ugly, misshapen, little raisin-people. Never doing anything helpful and always taking everyone’s attention.

But, of course, eventually they’d grown on him. Big brothers always come around, at least a little bit. So, eventually he looked forward to it, going home after school and talking to them, hearing their adorable little views on the world, watching TV (not too much, though), playing games, reading books… Mostly Steve read to them, of course, but occasionally he waited patiently as they worked their way through their favorite little girl books. He didn’t care. It was just so nice to spend time with them.

Stella was always talking about some little boy she clearly fancied, and Steve would tease her about it. Sarah was always running around yelling and screaming about God knows what, and loved to play tag. Sam wanted to play sports outside every day her favorite was playing soccer with Steve and her sisters. Sophie liked to sit down and have tea parties. Scout would never stop reading and loved to prove she could read chapter books even though most girls her age could barely read. And Summer was too small to do a lot of things, but mostly she loved walking around in her big brother’s footsteps, whenever he was at home, giggling at his jokes even when she didn’t get them, and screaming with joy when Steve chased her down and tickled her stomach and armpits.

17 years after high school ended, Steve was 35, and considered himself a bit old-fashioned. He wasn’t going to bars every weekend, or trying to flirt with all of his co-workers. If he was being honest, he didn’t really care much for romantic entanglements, female or otherwise. He’d had a few dates over the years, but it never lasted long; certainly not after any more than a few visits to his house. Steve guessed it was probably because he still lived in his parent’s house. Which wasn’t fair really.They didn’t still live there, and it wasn’t his fault he’d been left the property in the will with the market bottomed out. It was insensible to sell it for those prices.

Anyway, it didn’t really matter. Steve would still rather hang out with his sisters almost every day of the week. Just he and his sisters, who were all still as blissfully unattached as Steve was. Except Stella. Occasionally Stella got a little whiny about her lack of prospects, but once Steve reminded her that he was there for her, she usually calmed down.

So, this is still what Steve most looked forward to, almost every day after work. It was his tradition. Just him and his sisters. Against the world. And all of these thoughts were in his head Friday afternoon, as he walked home after another long week. He walked up to his parents’ old squat brick mid-century ranch house, cracked open the glossy brown front door, and tossed his satchel on top of his loafers just inside the door.

Grabbing a Coke from the fridge, he wandered down the hallway to his bedroom and shut the door. Stella was on the shelf over his desk where he’d left her. Frowning, Steve walked over, picked her up, and brushed her sweatshirt back up onto her shoulder. She wasn’t going to be naughty on his watch. He looked down at Sophie, with her tiny tea set, and thought, “this is probably going to be a tea party kind of day.” It was a long week of ponderous meetings at work, and he wasn’t sure he had the energy to keep up with Sam’s games or Sarah’s antics. Scout would probably just sit with her nose in a book no matter what everyone else did, and Summer would do whatever Steve said. So, tea party, it was. Steve picked up Summer, and, after parting her blonde hair just the way he liked it, set her down next to Sophie at the tiny set. Steve walked to the windowsill and changed Sam into her tennis outfit. Then, after handing Scout the next Boxcar Children book, and tucking her into bed next to the lamp, he sat down next to Sophie and Summer at the table.

“Time for gossip,” he said, picking up his pink plastic teacup. “Who’s been bad today?”

(Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets)