Friday, September 1, 2023

2 Minutes. Go!

I've done too much. The walls are closing in. The sweat streaks down between sharpened shoulder blades. The muscles twitch and, when you look, you can see the blood coursing through the body. Feel the power in that. Imagine the blood leaking out of deflated veins. 

It didn't do what it was supposed to. Not for long enough. It quit early. Or I quit. Someone broke the covenant, and dead flowers rained from the sky. Dead Gods reigned from the sky as well. They asked for sacrifices, and I fucking delivered. How many wasted souls did I send them? Where is my bounty? I am stuck chasing diminishing returns, and all will pay the penalty. 

A blade through the achilles tendon, a knife shoved up under the ribs and twisted. I will burn them with fire. I will erase them from the earth for trifling with me and my expectations. They will learn. Believe me when I tell you that. It won't be pretty. 

Rotten seabirds line the shore, heaps of corpse bodies and feathers. The fish float in a thick, slimy mass on top of the water. They will putrefy. There is nothing to eat their death. For you? For you, it's different. There are many waiting to eat your death. They will let your blood run down their chins, and they will feast - this is the prophecy they have been waiting for. Praying for. 

It is time.


  1. Chilling and macabre! You can feel the mental pressure in the opening two lines.

    1. Marvelously dark and slithery. And what Vickie said.

    2. There’s so much powerful imagery here and it’s so incredibly dark. It just rolls along and then it finds its focus. This is so chilling.

  2. The inn

    It breathes, bereft of slumber,
    turns its glass eyes to the moon,
    closes both doors, seals itself off.

    Dust mites nibble the open pages
    of the only book ever to be read.
    So many tales left untold.

    Fiery last embers crumble to ashes
    and a cold draft lances through,
    trips up the stairs two at a time.

    Outside, a long-lost dog howls,
    thankful for the scraps on the step,
    listens to winter’s chill settle in.

    Brick and mortar glues it all,
    on top a tiled hat sits askew,
    offers a cosy nest for the crows.

    Copyright Vickie Johnstone, September 1, 2023

    1. There are some great images here and word choices here. Very tasty.

    2. I love the detail you've included here. It's a lovely set of snapshots, each one giving another view of this property. It's delightful and I envy the subtlety of your writing.

    3. This is super strong. I agree about the's tricky with poetry, but you killed it. JD

  3. The bees have all gone. I was hoping they’d last longer this year, that they’d shrug off the predatory moth larvae that often infest their hives. There’s little that can be done to limit them once they’ve got established; there’s no easy way to eradicate them when they’re inside. It’s only a matter of time. The end is always in sight; you can only delay it a little.

    It’s like the Sidemen and the Flux. They’re both here now, one following the other, although no one I know can prove they’re connected. It’s all been just a little too convenient; a pandemic which threatened the globe and then the aliens came, their huge patrol saucers setting themselves in position above every city of sufficient size, creating shadows that never moved, other than at the edges where the light bled in from the sides. ‘We just happened to be passing and we noticed you’d got in a fix,’ they said, offering their assistance like any good neighbour would.

    And then they were here, and they brought their whole fleet, helpfully re-conditioning our atmosphere so we could continue to survive. Of course, they never stop telling us that we’ve got a lot to be grateful to them for.

    The city councillors – the few that were left – were among the first to welcome the alien fleet. There’d been a significantly high rate of mortality among them before Uncle John established first contact, the fatalities largely concentrated to the ones who’d flown regularly, especially on international flights. Our civilisation had already begun to collapse, a nation at a time, with little other than our electronic links to connect us. There was some surface travel, but it was mostly cross-country, usually relying on automated cargo carriers to distribute the food and raw materials we used, the oceans having been put out of bounds too, since that was where the Flux had seemed to originate.

    But at least now commerce can continue, we can still eat fresh fruit and we can maintain relations with the rest of the world.

    But only with the ever-present Sidemen managing things on our behalf.

    I don’t know who it was that first used that name. It’s obvious where it came from – Uncle John being the only alien anyone’s seen, his eyes and multiple mouths displaced to both sides of his head. And with that singular ear where a face would usually be. Although, it looks nothing like a human one, being an area of bone and other appendages that no one can identify. Nothing at all like any of the comic book aliens, the ones we could identify as being distant cousins, conveniently close enough to human for them to be played by a child in the movies.

    The Sidemen weren’t at all like that. Or at least that was what the people of Earth thought, based on a limited sample of one.

    An Eyeball bumped at my window. It shimmered briefly violet, then it rephased itself, slipping through into the room. It hovered and swivelled above the table, scanning us both.

    “Nothing to see here, Uncle John,” I declared, giving it a thumb’s up. “We’re just busy having our breakfast. Just two normal folks, doing everyday things. And making ready to go out to work in a few minutes.”

    Percy nodded; his mouth full of the scrambled egg substitute we had to use now. He waved his fork at the surveillance drone, taking care not to direct it toward its lens. “I’m Williams, from next door,” he explained, swallowing hastily. “We both take turns making meals every morning. It’s much less wasteful when we can share.”

    The drone dipped, acknowledging us. It whirred and then it released a cloud of mist from the nozzle on its side, dosing us both with the Flux-preventative booster we’d need before we left the house.

    “Well, that’s us safe for another day,” I said, getting up and dropping my plate into the sink. “I’ve heard it’s going to be another virally aggressive day today.”

    1. Okay, I'm totally hooked now. What a great setup. I want to know more!

    2. Yeah, me too! This is so scary and interesting. I think this would scale to a larger story or novella really well. JD

  4. (part 1)
    “These young girls, they’re so lazy. My teachers back in nursing school would have our hides if we made a bed like what was just under you, the sheet all catawampus, the mattress protector still damp and wrinkled underneath. Didn’t they ever hear of mold? Bedsores? You poor souls in here don’t need to truck with that, with everything else. Honestly, honey. If I had better hips I’d march right down to that school and give them a piece of my mind. Not like it would do any good. These girls”—Beverly shook her head—“well, I guess we don’t have much choice anymore. Beggars can’t be choosers and all. I’m just glad I’m here to do what I can. There. See, isn’t that better? Yeah, you know it. Now, when you ring the bell next time, you just ask whatever young thing happens to show up that you don’t want no raggedy ass bed changing. Or they’re gonna have to answer to me.”


    Beverly pulled herself up tall as she walked to the nurses lounge, poured a cup of oily black coffee and sank into a chair with a whoosh of breath, every other joint complaining. Some days she had half a mind to quit. But then she thought about those little grandbabies needing food and diapers and her daughter not able to work just yet. Which kept her coming back shift after shift. At least she was happy to have a skill that was useful, paid more than grocery bagging or slinging burgers out the drive-through.

    “I just can’t even, with some of these people today,” said one of the newer young aides as she huffed into the room. She grabbed a can of Coke from the refrigerator, drank it all in nearly one gulp, and swiped a forearm across her mouth.

    Cry me a river. Beverly attempted a smile. “What’s wrong?”

    She rolled her eyes. “Oh, the usual. Everybody wanting this or that. And the lady in 315. She’s a piece of work.”

    Miriam, that poor thing. The woman kept falling at home and getting sent back here, almost like home was the last place she wanted to be. But then here—well, there were only certain people she allowed to give her care or else she’d holler. Beverly was one of them, and she had a soft spot for the old lady. Crazy like a fox, one of the other patients called her, but Miriam was still in there. Beverly knew from a soft twinkle in her eyes. “I don’t have her on my rotation today. She up to her usual tricks?”

    “And how. That poor husband of hers, he’s such a sweet guy. Couple hours ago, right before he left, I was passing by the room and she was calling him every name in the book. So I just kept on walking.”

    Beverly’s brow creased with worry. “Did you tell Luisa?”

    “Couldn’t find her. Someone said she went home with a migraine. Then I got called to the third floor, and I been hopping ever since. Meds came around just before I heard them fighting. Maybe Miss Miriam is in la la lithium land by now.”

    A wave of unease came over her. Beverly rose. “I’ll just take a peek in.”

    “Good luck to ya,” the aide said, and motored off again.

    1. Part 2

      Call lights were lit like Christmas all along the corridor, and Beverly poked into a few of the rooms, making promises that help would be coming soon, promises she hoped whomever had picked up Luisa’s slack could deliver. Miss Miriam’s light wasn’t on, but that didn’t always mean she didn’t need seeing to. It might mean she either couldn’t reach the call button or forgot that she had one, leaving her asleep in wet drawers for what could be hours.

      Indeed the woman was asleep, her head lolling to the side in a painful looking way. “Miss Miriam.” No response. Beverly moved further into the room. It frightened the woman, to awake to someone standing right next to her, and Beverly wouldn’t blame her if she hollered. She might, too, in similar circumstances. She might just grab the baseball bad Eddie insisted she keep next to the bed and give that person a wallop.

      So she called out her name a little louder. Nothing.

      “Okay, Miss Miriam. We gotta check to make sure you’re dry. Don’t want to irritate that nice skin of yours.”

      Beverly shuffled closer, put out a hand to the woman’s gown, lifted it to check the brief. “Goodness, you’re so cold, Miss Miriam, you’re—” Instinct set Beverly’s fingers to the side of Miriam’s neck. She knew what came next would be loud and chaotic, and that there was no rush to make of it, so she sat beside her, let out a long breath, and whispered a prayer as she held the woman’s plump, cold, pale hand.

    2. You write people so incredibly well, Laurie. You create these scenes and shine a light upon them and their situations with such empathy and accuracy, making them live and move across the figurative page. You're an incredible writer and you should never beat yourself up about your skills and your abilities.

    3. I agree 100% I am often amazed and sometimes jealous of how well populated your brain is. Makes me feel like I have six characters I cycle through. JD


    “I don’t want anyone else to know my secret,” I said. “It would be impossible if anyone at work found out. I can’t imagine how everyone in the office would act. Even if I could work from home, I’d still have to speak to them.”

    Lyndsey shook her head. I already knew she disagreed. She’d never missed an opportunity to tell me I was wrong, but she was still supporting me in what I was doing.

    “You’re going to have to admit it eventually,” she said. “And it’ll only get worse the longer you leave it. I understand your reluctance, but you might be surprised. People are more tolerant now: there’s nothing they won’t have seen or read about.”

    I couldn’t imagine how I would bring it up at work. I’d never had many friends there – for obvious reasons - but even then, it would strain our relationships.

    It was much easier when I was at home. I could dress as I liked and practice my make-up without any worries about what anyone would say.
    Although, I knew I’d have to say something eventually. At the moment, my changes were subtle and could be easily hidden. To most people, I was virtually invisible; I was one of the few who did what he was asked with minimum fuss. I was professional in everything I did. My projects all ran on time, and my budgets were rarely overspent. I was reliable but dull, always doing nothing that would raise any interest.

    “I’d have to tell my manager,” I conceded, reluctant to think beyond that. “And then, I’d ask her what she thought. I’ll need to take some time off for the surgery I’ll need. And then I’ll see what happens after that.”

    As it stood, I was already taking risks, almost hoping my secret would come out. I kept a strip of my hormone replacement tablets hidden in my drawer. It would be so easy for someone to find them. Someone could take a call for me and then need to take a note, copying a name or number down for me. They probably wouldn’t recognise the prescription or know what it was for, but it’d be easy to find it on Google if they were curious.

    And then there’d be the questions and gossip after hours. And the disbelief and shock when my secret came out.

    I knew that Lyndsey was right, even though it felt wrong.

    And I hated to leave anything to chance.

    1. This is a really interesting piece. There is a LOT of subtext here, and you did a great job of not going too heavy. The balance is really nice, and you got inside the feeling of longing. The whole thing feels like the character feels. JD


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