Chess

Ana loved to watch the sunset from her bayside window, loved to look above and see the sky swirl into an orange-purple haze. Even now as the late afternoon perpetuated into a dark dusk, she could feel the warm and lasting kiss of sunlight against her skin. The sound of the sea always sang to her as she laid and stared at the wall. Each evening she took time to close her eyes and listen to the relentless crash of the waves against the shore. Yet her serenity failed to last at the hollow and haunting call of crow over the sea. She could feel her peace retreat like the tide as the blackbird emerged from the sky. Yet her eyes could not peel away from the paper clutched between its talons.

With the evening breeze pushing against its back, the crow was ushered towards her window in mere moments. No longer did Ana hear the relentless flap of its wings as it cocked its head and cawed. Any other day she would have smiled, approached the bird with open arms and retrieved whatever it had brought her. But today she dreaded to read the note between its talons. Was it her father bidding her his final farewell? Four years ago he had disappeared across the sea without a word. For four years she received nothing but trinkets.

The last time she enjoyed his company was the day before he departed. Ana’s father was a fanatic when it came to chess. Day in day out, they spent their time staring at a board, anticipating each other’s next move. She could still remember him lounging on the porch, bathing in the sun and waiting for her to move her pawn. They never ended her game. One moment he was there, smiling and waiting for her decision and the next he was gone.

Ana did not know what to expect as she managed to take a step closer. The Crow once again cocked its head and cawed, leaning forwards at her approach. Her touch was gentle as she reached for its foot and carefully unwrapped the scrolled note from its talons. As a child, she had been taught how to handle birds from every corner of the globe. They came in every color and every size, yet her father’s interests fixated on the crow. Even years later, Ana’s skill did not waver as she gave the bird a soothing pat on the head.

“Now go” She spoke, turning her shoulder dismissively. The crow cawed one last time before disappearing into the darkness. Ana was left with the scrolled paper in her fingers, palms sweaty despite the cool breeze blowing through her open window. She unrolled it with care, worried the fine paper would fall apart if she touched it the wrong way. She could smell the sea, the fish and the salt and even the scraggly crow. The handwriting was messy, undoubtedly written by the hand of her father. Still, she spelled out the words in her mind.

         Checkmate

 

The New Guy

    There was gossip around the office about the new temp. Some said he was short and tubby, his hair slicked back to reveal fat Korean features. I couldn’t say they were true until he fell face first into my cubicle, spilling hot coffee across my new pants. I was not sure which was more vexing, the warm liquid burning my legs or the highly dangerous ‘man’ struggling to get up from the floor. I was the least bit surprised to discover that this short, Korean-looking temp managed to rank higher in hostility than my husband, a retired marine corp.

     For the days that followed, I was convinced that my mind was playing tricks on me. How could such a small, seemingly un-intelligent and physically unfit man be so dangerous? The idea was ludicrous from the perspective of a woman that had encountered many dangerous people in her life. For the weeks that followed, I found myself observing him from the break room as if waiting for him to commit a crazy act of violence. Yet he acted like any other reserved guy would, quiet and rarely social discounting his occasional Korean curses. For the longest time, I was perplexed by the entire situation, puzzled by how such a man could be so threatening. This continued until I arrived home from a long day of work months later to see a certain Korean man broadcasted throughout the news.  

    The new temp we came to call Kim had been gone the last week on his ‘vacation’ to a family cabin. Some could say it was me being merely superstitious, but the man all over the news looked remarkably like Kim. For the longest time I sat, perplexed into the front of the television, convinced that the man threatening millions of people was an identical twin of Kim. But that theory soon proved to be invalid as weeks passed without Kim returning. His presence seemed to no longer matter, the months wearing away the short tubby figure from each of our minds. I soon came to forget about the small man that somehow came to be so dangerous.

Cookies

James Mcdevor was far from the nicest student in Mormont High. Some could say he was even the bully, the classic teenager that pulled a wedgie on one of the freshmen every once in a while. But that would be a large understatement to explain the attitude of Juvenile James and his friends.

The young man was demeaning and heartless, never knowing the limit to his actions and frankly, not caring. Most avoided him, afraid of his tall and lengthy figure that shadowed every hallway he walked down. With his group of minions behind him, James was nearly unstoppable.

Well, that was until the day after Valentine’s Day, when the young man stole a plate of Cookies from one of his fat classmates. Amy was her name, a girl considered to be one of the sweetest in the school despite the demeaning comments she received for her weight.

“Stop your complaining Amy” James sneered “you already have enough fat on those bones”

As the poor girl cried, James took two large bites of a sugar cookie and promptly began to shove the rest in his backpack.

“You didn’t-didn’t” Amy stuttered

James opened his smooth to reply with a snarky remark but his voice seemed to lodge in his throat, his heady clouding with something strangely light.

“What was in that cookie?!” James stammered as he stumbled towards a desk to sit down. His hands latched onto his forehead, an unheeding pressure growing at the base of his skull.

“Sugar, eggs-“ Amy began to ramble as James nearly fell sideways.

Her voice became more distant every moment that passed until he could only hear the fear underneath her breath. Do I scare her this much? James could not help but wonder. He tried to shake the feeling of guilt away, but with his head pounding and heart beating alarmingly fast, James could not help his brain that turned every which way.

“I-I have to go” He managed to say, grabbing his backpack and stumbling towards the doorway.

Every step after was hesitant as if James had a sudden impulse to turn back and return Amy’s cookies. He tried to wash away the feeling that grew every moment that passed but no matter how much he pushed the guilt away, it kept returning, demanding to be felt.

James Managed to find the bathroom and throw himself towards the sink before his strange impulses took over. Lapsing the water across his sweaty face, the young man ran his hands through his hair and stared at his reflection.

He knew something was strange the moment his eyes stared back at someone nearly unrecognizable. Sure he was still tall and lengthy, but his face no longer held that heir of coldness everyone felt when he walked by.

“You okay man?” A voice rose from the silence.

James turned around, wild eyes landing on a shorter boy. “Fine. What about you?” He blurted before second thoughts could stop him.

“I’m good yeah-“ he paused as recognition washed across his features “you’re James? Right?”

James only nodded, thoughts heavy with much more than the vexing boy behind him.

“Oh man-“ He began

“Jeremy” James cut in, jaw clenching “please leave”

Jeremy could not explain his shock and frankly, James could not either. How did he know his name?. Yet the shorter boy did not stick around to ask the moment James passed an intimidating glare in his direction.

When at last the lengthy boy was left in silence, he collapsed onto the bathroom floor, a strange pain erupting between each shoulder blade. It came to grow and grow until James nearly cried out from the sharpened agony. The feeling was unexplainable as if someone was stabbing his back from the inside out.

He twisted his arm and felt below the base of his neck, hands grasping something silken and feathered.

“What the-“

Before James could curse another pain shot through his back and sent him writhing on the ground once again. He was unsure of how long the laid their, twisting uncontrollably before managing to pull himself towards the bathroom sink.

He was not shocked to see his sickly pale skin and tired eyes, only left breathless from the two feathered wings attached to his back.

———————————————————————————————

Amy was disappointed that James stole her cookies earlier that day. She had forgotten lunch and hoped to share some with her friend Nancy on their short break. But of course, that stupid and juvenile boy always managed to find a way to ruin her day.

She frankly was tired walking home now, not only because she had forgotten lunch but because the entire day had been a mix of snarky comments and insults. Thankfully James had disappeared for the remainder of her classes, saving her some time to actually enjoy herself. Yet she could only suspect her happiness would last so long.

She did wonder if the demeaning boy was okay after that abrupt scene in AP English. Something strange occurred when she made the cookies the night before but she doubted or rather hoped the effects would not be detrimental. Then again she would enjoy watching James cry every once in a while.

Amy’s thoughts continued to linger on these strange hopes and maybe one-day realities as she continued down the narrow sidewalk. Passing houses block by block, she at last arrived at her own, somewhat relieved that her day was done. But before she could step towards the walkway cutting through her yard, she paused.

Sitting on the steps near her door was no other than James Mcdevor, tall and strange as ever. She would not have been left so breathless if two white wings, long and feathered loomed over each of his shoulders.

Amy even tried to rub her eyes, wondering and hoping this was some figment of her imagination. But after several strange shakes of her head and fluttering of each eye, the sweet girl was left with the same picture. She thought about turning around and running the opposite direction, entirely puzzled of what she had witnessed. But the closer she looked, the more she came to see his face held no intention of hurt. He looked rather lost and desperate for someone or something.

“James?” Her voice barely a whisper as she took a few small steps forward.

He smiled unlike any other she had seen his lips draw before “Amy. How are you?”

Her eyebrows raised, steps faltering “you have wings”

His head arched backward “Oh yeah…those”

“How…” Her eyes grew wide “How is this even-“

He sighed “It’s a long story”

“Well…why are you here?”

He unzipped his backpack, pulling out a plastic container of sugar cookies.

“I brought back your cookies”

 

 

The Gingerbread House

Jeremy knew his new apartment was strange. The very moment he arrived from San Francisco with only a few boxes and a mattress tied to the top of his Prius, a haggard old lady wobbled over to offer him a batch full of fresh gingerbread cookies.

“You need more meat on your bones” She smiled, scraggly hands coming to pinch his flushed cheeks.

Jeremy politely accepted her offer despite his suspicions, deciding to discreetly throw the treats into a nearby trash bin as she disappeared into her house. To much of his dismay the sweet smell of gingerbread never quite left his senses. Even after taking a long shower and spraying Febreeze across the entirety of his apartment, the scent remained. Jeremy went to bed with a heavy head that night, twisting and turning through retched nightmares of witches cooking fat children in ovens. When at last he awoke in a cold sweat and decided to take a feverant early morning run, the old woman sat watching him from across the street. Jeremy waved only to be greeted with a cold and almost distant stare of hunger.

Street after street he ran, shaking off the discomfort scathing across his skin as he passed desolate houses and shops. Too much of his relief, another woman soon came into sight stopping to take several heavy breaths before jogging in the direction of Jeremy. Soon they were running side by side, exchanging quick and breathless conversation.

By the end, the woman by the name of April offered Jeremy a cup of coffee which he happily accepted, relieved to finally conversate with someone seemingly normal. Not long after he sat contently in a small chair, telling his oncoming friend of his recent move from San Fransisco.

“Where do you live now?” She asked, spoon circling lazily around her mug of hot tea.

“Some apartment on Line Street” He smiled  “A weird place I have to say.”

Her eyes widened at his words “Apartment 2b?”

“Yeah. A really strange woman lives across from me”

“You have to leave” Her eyes suddenly grew stern

“What?” He laughed

“Apartment 2b is a dangerous place” She took a small sip of her tea “Move somewhere else”

“What?” Jeremy nearly stammered “Why?”

“I-” She heaved an uncomfortable sigh “a couple years ago two kids were found dead in the ovens of that apartment. Some say…they-they were cooked alive”

Jeremy’s stomach churned, hands twisting together anxiously “Cooked alive?”

“Well according to the kid’s parents that were informed of their autopsy-” She scratched her neck uneasily “Yes, they were cooked alive”

Jeremy felt sick. How was he not heard of this?  “So this is the same apartment?”

“Well…” She paused “Not exactly. The apartment was condemned before being bulldozed…but many say it’s still standing”

He took a shuddering breath “What about the killer?”

“Gone. Never found, some think it was the crazy old lady”

“The one across the street?”

“Who else could it be?” She shrugged “Some say she’s even a witch”

Jeremy’s appetite had diminished by the time their conversation had ended. With a small and grateful smile, he thanked April for coffee before reluctantly making his way back to apartment 2b. All the while questions of anxiety and curiosity swarmed his head. How could an old lady cook children? Is there a reason his apartment smelled like gingerbread? Was this all a lie?  

In the midst of this confusion, he failed to notice that the old woman across the street had disappeared from her rocking chair to leave only scraggily black cats in her place. At last, he arrived at the base of his apartment door, entirely unsure of whether his blistering headache was only his false imagination. With unheaded frustration, he twisted the doorknob and pulled back only to have the entire half of the front door rip off.

Jeremy stared at his hands, momentarily puzzled by the giant chunk of what he believed to be wood. But the door was to light to be wood and smelled almost sweetly. The moments after passed in uncomfortable silence before realization smacked Jeremy forcefully in the face. In disgust, he dragged his tongue across the board to be met with the only the taste of gingerbread. Something was terribly wrong.

This was no apartment at all, This was a gingerbread house. And he was the witches next meal. As if on cue a chilling laugh rang from the window, the sweet smell of gingerbread dancing around his nostrils in almost a teasing manner.

Jeremy” She sang “I have more gingerbread cookies”

As if instinctive Jeremy turned from the gingerbread door and beelined for the car, ripping the keys from his pocket fervently. The witches voice sounded strangely softer and younger than he remembered, almost driving him to run back to the false apartment. But with a heavy breath, Jeremy managed to silence his lucid thoughts and slam the side door of his car shut, clumsily smashing his fist against the ignition.

The Prius lit to life before he forcefully pressed his foot on the accelerator and jolted forward, leaving skidded tire marks across the driveway as he attempted to distance himself from the apartment. Even when he swerved away from Line street, incredibly reckless and feverant, the laughing never seemed to stop. Soon enough his hands began to shake uncontrollably, causing him to let go of the steering wheel and sending the small car straight into a tree.

Jeremy spent the next minute trying to catch his breath and push away the marshmallow-like airbag that somehow managed to wrap around his head. When at last he emerged breathless to be met with the shockingly snide face of April he could not help but be surprised.

“April?” he croaked

“Life lesson Jeremy” she smirked “Never have coffee with a witch”

 

Days of Decay

   Ben stared blankly at the radio sitting on the dashboard of the truck, his blood stained hands fiddling nervously with a stray string hanging from his shirt sleeve. The heavy humid air clung to his body like a jacket as rays of the sun’s boisterous heat leaked through the cracked windshield.

   The  Cicadas that loudly flapped their wings in the distance suddenly grew silent as an inhuman like growl drawled through the air. Ben’s green eyes instantly snapped upwards, his hands slowly reaching for a large hatchet at the side of his leg. Grasping the hatchet to his chest, he sprung from his seat and snatched the radio from the dashboard, roughly shoving it in the back pocket of his backpack. With a swift movement, he flung the door of the truck open and jumped to the ground.

His small hunting boots crunched against the dead leaves as he jogged towards a nearby tree trunk strung with a rope. Kneeling down, He methodically untied the rope and forcefully jerked it forwards. An emaciated boy with nothing but bloodied stubs for arms suddenly stumbled from the darkness, a gurgled groan emitting from his mouth. Ben stayed frozen in his crouch as he watched the boy wallow towards the dirt road adjacent to the tree. With a frustrated but also relieved sigh, he harshly pulled his arm backwards causing the boy to nearly topple over his own clumsy footing.

“Come On Charlie” Ben snapped “We’re not going that way”

       Charlie groaned in reply, his yellow teeth strung with flesh gnashing together in contempt. Ben merely rolled his eyes before slinging his backpack over his shoulder and lazily walking the opposite direction. At the light tug of the worn rope around his neck, Charlie followed surprisingly silently behind Ben. The two made their way into the forest without even a snarl exchanged.

    As the day progressed and the sun sunk lower to the horizon, Ben became increasingly worried about the near twilight approaching. There was not a single vehicle in sight and despite Charlies earlier cooperation, he was becoming even more sluggish and hungry. Every now and then Ben would have to set himself a  few yards apart from Charlie in order to avoid getting his own arm bitten off. After only a mile more of walking, Ben reluctantly tied Charlie to a nearby tree and collected firewood. By the time he kindled a fire, the sun had dipped well below the far off hills and left only a orangeish glow across the dim sky above.

Not long after Ben nearly collapsed to the ground to scavenge through his backpack for something to satisfy his growling stomach . Charlie watched him with an unwavering expression of hunger as Ben triumphantly pulled a meal from his bag. Unfortunately instead of being a scrumptious can of beans, Ben’s hand held a square shaped container of SPAM.  Instantly, his eager face turned into a look of disgust. Charlie let out a gurgled snort that sounded like a near snicker at the sight.

“Oh you thinks that funny” Ben retorted at Charlie with narrowed eyes “I guess i’ll just eat the squirrel I caught for you myself”

   Charlie quickly clenched his jaw shut causing Ben’s lip to tug upwards into a smug smile.

    Seconds later a disfigured squirrel with a jagged cut across its stomach was pulled from Ben’s backpack and tossed to Charlie. Charlies eyes brightened briefly before he leaned forwards and chomped his teeth down against the squirrels flesh.  

   It was not long after that Charlie had finished his meal and sat back up with blood stained teeth and a slightly more satisfied feeling. He was still hungry, he was always hungry, but the gnawing in his stomach was not nearly as severe as it was before.

Yawning, Ben rested his head against the side of his backpack and stared blankly at the orange flames that danced around large chunks of charcoaled wood. Although he was laying a few feet away, the heat radiated from the fire, providing a comforting warmth against his cool skin. The trees above that added a thick canopy of shelter swayed gently in the breeze, allowing a tranquility to wash over him as he stretched his sore limbs. Slowly, his eyes began to droop shut, a heavy weight of sleepiness already beginning to envelope him. Ben felt peaceful.

    But as the distant crickets began to chirp and the fire slowly died, the harmonious silence  was broken by a loud growl. Instantly, Ben’s eyes fluttered open, his hands instinctively grabbing the hatchet laying at his side. In a fluster of movement, he stumbled to his feet and blindly walked towards the opposite side of the fire. Judging from a blurry and dark outline Ben was able to see the strained rope around Charlies throat as he forcefully attempted to walk forwards. Even though Charlie had no arms, his shoulders shifted as if he was reaching outwards for something.

Irritably rolling his eyes, Ben dropped the hatchet to his side and quietly pulled out a small flashlight from the back pocket of his jacket. With one small flick of his finger a ray of blinding light projected from his hand onto the tree. Charlie hoarsely hissed as his clouded eyes clamped shut and he fell onto the hard ground behind him. His body squirmed briefly before he tugged his thin knees up to his chest and moaned painfully.  Ben quickly redirected the ray of light to the area opposite of Charlie, a flash of concern dawning his features. Charlie luckily recovered rapidly and seconds later regained his footing to lunge towards Ben.

Ben scrambled from his path, his foot catching a large tree root in the process of attempting to escape. His body fell backwards as he harshly hit the end of a pointy tree branch. The branch snapped and tumbled to the ground with Ben, a series of curses following his descent. With one final thud his sudden fall ended and the branch fell lifelessly to his side.

While Ben slowly recuperated, Charlie continued to savagely push forwards from the tree, the rope tightening around his neck as a puffy line of red laced his skin. Moments later, a loose rock rolled from the sluggish trudge of Charlies feet and slammed against the the long tail of an animal. A yelp pierced through the cool night air, causing both of the boys to abruptly stare curiously into the wall of darkness.

Ben leaned closer to the line of trees, his hands cautiously searching for his small flashlight. The leaves rustled as his fingers finally grasped a compact cylinder of metal and soundlessly pulled it to his side. Wincing, he pushed himself up from the ground and turned towards the direction opposite of Charlie.

The flashlight clicked on, sending a residual line of light across the border of blackness. Two brown eyes and a long snout of black hair flashed across the beam, inducing Ben to step back in surprise. A few yards away sat a Dachshund no bigger than a house cat, quivering and whining as it nursed it’s injured leg. Although his eyes were drooping with exhaustion, he was able to make out the long bloodied cut that proceeded up the dogs legs and across its stomach. Judging by the hunched way it held itself and the water that glossed its eyes, the dachshund was in a severe amount of pain.

Bens feet moved on it own accord forwards, his hands slowly reaching out to calm the petite dog. The dachshund shrunk backwards until its back hit the trunk of a tree and began to whimper.

Charlie watched motionless from a distance, his eyes glinting with hunger as Ben gently picked the miniature dachshund up from the forest floor. However, instead of receiving another meal of fresh meat, he passed Charlie without a word and carefully placed what was anticipated to be Charlies second dinner onto the ground next to the fading fire.

Seconds later, Ben unzipped his backpack to pull out a roll of gauze and half-empty plastic bottle of water. With slow movements to ensure the dachshund would not panic, he shifted the dogs leg into his hand and began to clean the large cuts across its body. Once the wound  was disinfected to the best of his ability and nearly half of the dachshunds rear was wrapped in gauze, Ben took a small sip of water then shoved both of the items into his backpack.

“What a day” Ben muttered as he rested his head against his cushioned sweatshirt hoodie. Gradually, his eyes began to droop shut and his usual rapid breathing slowed into a steady, heavy rhythm. Serenity once again washed over him.

———————————————————————————————-

As the weeks passed by and the humid season of summer slowly drifted into fall, Ben grew anxious of the near winter approaching. Already wildlife was growing scarce and although Charlie was fully in Bens control, his actions began to become erratically violent due to lack of fresh game.

The only part of his life that was practically keeping him sane was Roxy, the small dachshund he had found injured weeks before. Despite Roxy being considerably small and useless for pretty much any type of work, her optimistic nature always seemed to comfort Ben.

So as each day progressed he continued to walk, not because he wanted to but because Ben knew that if he decided to give up, both Roxy and Charlie would be forced to survive on their own. And he could not fathom the idea of Roxy being stuck alone with his bloodthirsty best friend.

But as the days got darker earlier and the nights got colder, Ben’s motivation grew thinner. The world seemed to feel much more isolated than it did before. Roxy no longer reassuringly nuzzled against his leg, instead deciding to keep a nervous distance between the two of them. Charlie only snarled every time Ben attempted to strike some kind of conversation with him, his irritation and hunger growing higher every minute.

By the middle of November, The three had nearly stopped walking. A few nights of exhaustion and one of the biggest mistakes of his life later, Ben realized that he had forgotten to tie Charlie to a tree.  Everything after was just a blur, a memory that he will never remember. A memory that he will never want to remember.

His two friends, his only friends gone because he was too tired to tie one knot. So there Ben stood, on the edge of a large boulder, staring blankly at the hatchet encrusted in Charlie’s blood. His legs shaking and lips trembling as he grasped Roxy’s homemade collar with strained hands. He could no longer control himself as his feet slowly inched closer to the edge of the boulder, his eyes growing more distant at every step.

But just as the slight breeze rustled Ben’s brown hair and his toe began to slide of the the course surface of the boulder, a loud robust of static erupted from his backpack. At first Ben though he was hallucinating, creating a reason in his head to not jump. But mere seconds later it happened again, this time more prominent in his ears.

Cautiously, Ben moved his foot away from the hazardous edge before hesitantly running the opposite direction. The sound continued to pierce through the heavy air until at last Ben pulled the small radio from his backpack . The radio once again crackled to life before a faint voice pierced through the static.

Hello? anybody out there?

Ben felt his lip slowly curl into a unfamiliar smile, a twinge of life and hope rushing through his veins. He wasn’t alone.