Short Story: Feeding the Muse

"Some days, Simon, I really loathe you," Mariel said, with just a hint of genuine venom. She dropped the Writers Digest on the table, its cover and front pages folded back to reveal a page mostly consumed by a photo of Simon at his writing desk. The image was full of deep shadows, moody, and deliberately included the dark, heavy bookshelves that surrounded him, their worn hardwood planks supporting hundreds of hardback classics, sheaves of loose papers, and the occasional occult or funerary artifact - a human skull here, a hand of glory there. Block letters above it pronounced Simon to be the "Modern Master of Horror and the Macabre." Simon sipped his espresso double-shot latte and produced a wry smile. "It's not my fault if you can't keep up." She twisted her mouth into a sarcastic kiss and pretended to fix her lipstick with her middle finger. "Some of us just refuse to sell our artistic integrity on the open market," she said

Scary Things - Endings and Beginnings: Prologue

Maria had just finished her rounds of the nursery when the hospital lights went down for the night.

She stood in the doorway of the nurse's station and took one more moment to scan the room, thinking to herself how pleasantly quiet it had fallen. With the lights down and the half-dozen infants sleeping like, for lack of a better word, babies, the nursery was blissfully - and uncommonly - tranquil for this time of the evening.

She turned and went to set her clipboard on the desk at the station. As she did, she bumped the large orange and white cup of coffee she'd set there at the start of her shift. For half a heartbeat, she wondered how it had gotten so close to the edge of the desk. Then, it toppled over and, as she dove to catch it, hit the arm of the chair and seemed to explode - some into her face and the rest all over the front of her lime green scrubs.

She opened her mouth to curse but caught herself in time - realizing that the current tranquility of her evening shift was a fragile thing, susceptible to breakage by such things as a loud torrent of expletives. No spilled cup of coffee was worth the risk of filling the rest her shift with six screaming infants.

"Madre de Dios," she muttered under her breath, snatching up a nearby towel and wiping in futility at the cold coffee that was rapidly saturating her pants from the knees down.

It only took a few wipes to become clear to her that this wasn't going to be an easy cleanup. She glanced again over her shoulder at the nursery, as if something there might have changed in the few moments that had passed. She thought for a moment - a very brief moment - about calling someone from Maternity to come down the hall and watch over her charges while she went to clean up her mess. It's what she would normally have done - she took her responsibility as the infants' caregiver and protector with utmost seriousness.

But tonight the peacefulness of the sleeping babes seemed to fill her with a sense of security. She felt they would be all right. Just lock the door, her inner voice - the one that hardly ever led her astray - told her. They're sound asleep. They'll be fine.

She didn't give it a second thought - she went into the hall, closed the door behind her, and locked it with the key dangling from the rubber bracelet on her right wrist. Then, whistling a half-forgotten lullaby her grammy used to sing to her, she went up the hall to go get some fresh scrubs.

She didn't notice the human-like figure that moved up the hall behind her, cloaked deep in shadows that none of the hall lights were casting. Nor did she hear the same lullaby being softly whistled from the figure's lips, the bottom of which was swollen and split, causing blood to well up but not to run.

The shadowy intruder stopped at the locked nursery door and watched Maria as she continued down the hall, remaining still until she turned the corner and was out of sight. Then, it turned to the door, still cloaked in unnatural shadow. Its head, covered by a blood-stained silk scarf, bowed as it focused on the door handle. Its hands - also smeared with still-damp blood - reached toward the handle, but instead of grasping it, simply waved over it as a few words softly issued from its bloody lips.

A strange light played across the door handle and it turned easily. The figure raised its head and hands as if to push the door, which opened without being touched. The figure took one glance up and down the hall before it slipped into the nursery. The door swung silently shut behind it.

The figure moved quickly to the center of the room, despite being hunched in apparent pain and having obvious difficulty with its legs. It dropped a shoulder bag to the floor, which promptly fell to its side, allowing to escape from it several objects. The figure seemed not to notice or care, as it knelt - with some difficulty - and grabbed the bag by its end and lifted it, spilling all of its contents into a pile with those that had already fallen.

The infants didn't stir.

The figure rifled through the pile, pulling from it five fat, half-melted black candles. These it arrayed about itself in roughly even spacing. Then, it took another item from the pile: a box of wooden matches, from which it pulled and lit a match and lit the candles. As if on some cue, the wind began to beat at the windows that lined one wall of the nursery.

Still, the infants didn't stir.

Finally, the figure spread out the remaining objects in front of it. There were three: a brushed-aluminum men's watch with a bright green dial; a combat knife of British design; and a pair of wire-rimmed glasses with one cracked lens. Not one of these items was free of blood spatters or stains; the glasses were the worst - the socket with the cracked lens was coated in partially congealed blood.

The figure's hands trembled as it placed these items a few inches apart in front of it. It then reached up one of it's blood-soaked sleeves and pulled a silver bracelet with a dozen silver charms dangling from it next to the objects on the floor. The wind beating at the windows was joined by a flash of lightning and an almost-simultaneous crack of thunder.

Still, the infants didn't stir.

The figure leaned back on its heels and looked upward. Words issued from between its bloodied lips, at first softly but with increasing urgency and volume as they were repeated. They weren't English words. They weren't words from a language that more than a score of living people know. They were  old words. Old as the universe itself, according to some. The windows rattled harder.

The infants began to move restlessly in their cradles.

The words grew louder and louder, until they became not just sound, but light, its hue undefinable. It streamed first from the figure's mouth, then from its eyes. The figure turned its gaze down and the light poured from its head into the four objects. It then shot upward from the objects, arcing over four of the cradles, then falling into them, forcing itself into the mouths and eyes of the now-awake infants therein.

The infants began to scream.

Maria was still in a cloud of contentment, whistling grammy's lullaby and wearing coffee-free scrubs, when she heard the screaming. Suddenly, she felt like she was aware of her surroundings for the first time since she'd finished her rounds. She ran the last fifty paces or so to the nursery. She slammed into the door when it didn't open, forgetting she'd locked it. Her heart raced as she fumbled for what seemed like forever to get the key in the lock.

What were you thinking, leaving those babies alone?! her inner voice scolded.

When she finally got the door open and dashed into the nursery, the infants were alone in the room and the windows were blown out.

They continued screaming for the rest of her shift.

[To Be Continued...]

If you want to know a little about what's behind Scary Things, read "About Scary Things."
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