Caution: “The Underbed Tales” Ahead

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Stories to chill your bones, to send fear trickling down your spine like ice water, or at least to make you raise your eyebrows and think, “I knew it, she’s crazy.” Four stories, to be exact, one published every Friday in October for your reading pleasure from the book The Underbed Tales by yours truly.

Consider yourselves warned.

 

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The Drying Effects of Wind: Chapter Three

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-Feeling lost? Read the prologue here, chapter one here, and chapter two here.

Chapter Three

Take Your Vitamins

Sara’s body writhed in pain. She thought she heard her father’s voice, but then everything went black again. She felt as if she were drowning in the blackness. Even the circular room was a dull black; no doors or windows in sight. She heard the Voice speak again.

“Inhabitant, you have brought this pain upon yourself. Answer the question correctly, and all this unnecessary suffering will end. Inhabitant, what are the Five?”

The pain was less now, her head more clear. She stood up, defiant.

“My father said–” another wave of pain wracked her body and she fell to the floor. Her ears started to ring. Blood dripped from her nose and down her chin like gory face paint.

“Incorrect. Inhabitant, what are the Five?”

This time she could only prop herself up to reply.

“My father–” this time she screamed as her body spasmed. Every nerve was on fire.

“Incorrect. Inhabitant, what are the Five? Final answer before maximum pain is inflicted.”

Sara sobbed. She knew maximum pain would mean death. She also knew the Five stood for everything her father stood against, but what else could she do?

Sara closed her eyes and murmured, “Follow the Five, stay alive: Skipping a scheduled update is Not Allowed, Failure to report a glitch or malfunction is Not Allowed, Taking another Inhabitant’s updates is Not Allowed, Religious, Political, or Other objections or refusal of implants are Not Allowed, Removal of implants is Not Allowed.”

“Louder please,” the Voice demanded.

Now all Sara wanted was to end this nightmare and go home. She tried again.

“Louder please,” the Voice said again.

Sara took a deep breath, willing herself to use whatever strength she had left. She crawled to her feet, squaring her shoulders, and looked straight up at the ceiling. Sara screamed at the Voice. She screamed the Five to the emptiness of the black room, her words echoing, crashing into themselves and shattering, falling around Sara like confetti for a parade she didn’t want to see.

“Very good Inhabitant. And will you fail to report a malfunction again?”

Sara could swear the Voice was smiling. She grit her teeth.

“No.”

“Good. You may leave and report back to your dwelling for further instructions.”

A door opened in the wall to Sara’s left. Hot tears began racing down her cheeks as she staggered home with the knowledge that she had let her father down. Tomorrow, he would die.

 

 

 

Sara regained consciousness a minute or two later, still on the cold floor. The lights in the hallway seemed even brighter now. She groaned, propping herself up with her elbow and rubbing her head.

“Quite a fall you took, Inhabitant,” said a voice behind her.

Sara tried to stand up, but was too woozy to keep her balance and sat back down.

The Supreme Inhabitant’s son, Eli, squatted beside her, Sara’s holo-pad in his hand. He was in the same year as Sara, but she was training for a job as a product tester at Gryce Industries and he was training to take his father’s place. His smile was jovial, but Sara didn’t trust him. She said nothing and went back to rubbing her head, her eyes focused on the floor.

“I heard you got yourself in a little scrape today,” he continued, “but I’ll bet that adjustment did wonders for you. Then you got whacked on the head by a door. What a day, huh? Here, let me help you up.” Eli extended his hand.

Sara neither wanted nor needed his help. She stood up on her own and snatched her holo-pad out of his hand. Then she realized she probably shouldn’t offend someone so important. Part of her realized she didn’t care.

“Sorry, I’m not quite myself today. I have to get to class,” she mumbled and walked into her next classroom, this time avoiding the door. Eli shrugged and walked down the hall, calling out greetings to some of his classmates as he headed back to the Principal’s office.

As soon as school was over, Sara walked home. She was only too happy to put this day behind her.

At dinner, her mother was overly cheerful, the corners of her mouth pinned tightly into a smile.

“I heard someone got an adjustment today. A little out of sorts, were we? Well, I don’t like to say ‘I told you so,’ but I did. Sara, take your vitamins! You’ll feel so much better.” She scraped a bit of butter on her roll and stabbed at the peas on her plate, still smiling.

Sara nodded as she finished the last of her roll.

“I will. May I be excused? I have a lot to prepare for tomorrow’s testing and it’s getting late.”

The corners of her mother’s mouth came unpinned.

“Why are you doing this to me,” she hissed, “is this because of what happened with him?”

“You mean my father?” Sara said. She stood to take her dishes to the sink as casually as if her mother had mentioned a change in the weather.

“Are you malfunctioning,” her mother spat over her shoulder, still sitting at the table, “you know he’s Not Allowed.”

“And we both know whose fault that is, don’t we?”

Sara’s head was feeling sharp and clear as she reached for the vitamin bottle over the sink, opening it and shaking one white pill into the palm of her hand. She felt her mother’s hand on her shoulder.

“I just want what’s best for you, you know I do. Take your vitamin and get some sleep. You’ll feel better in the morning.”

She kissed Sara’s cheek and gave her a gentle squeeze.

“I love you Sara. Never forget that.”

“I love you too, mom.”

As her mother walked away, Sara looked at the little white pill. She felt a sudden urge to throw it as far away from her as she possibly could. Instead she dropped the pill down the sink, running hot water after. She shook her head, unsure why she felt so elated over such a simple act. It was only a vitamin after all.

The figure across the street that had been watching Sara through her kitchen window smiled. The Inhabitants were waking up. The time for revolution was at hand.

The Drying Effects of Wind: Chapter Two

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-Just joining us? Read the prologue here and chapter one here.

 

Chapter Two

Chickens

Sara ran her fingers along the spine of the thick, black book. She had never seen a paper book before. A civilization as advanced as theirs had little need of paper. She had found the book deep under Love’s bed wrapped in some old clothes; the girls were playing their favorite game, hide-and-seek. Sara couldn’t make out the words in the darkness and she couldn’t risk tapping the under-bed light on or Love would find her. She cracked open the book and put her cheek on the cool, delicate pages. She sniffed the book. It smelled like her Great-Aunt Linda – old and a little musty. She wondered where Love found such a thing, and why she kept it. Her stomach felt hot at the thought of breaking a Not Allowed. She heard Love’s footsteps by the bedroom door. “Saaaara, where aaaarre you?” Love giggled and pounced on the bed. Sara hastily put the book back and rolled out from under the bed, forcing a giggle as she admitted defeat. She wouldn’t ask Love about the book. She knew she couldn’t tell anyone about the book, not even her mother, or Love would be punished. Sara could never hurt her best friend.

 

“Call Doctor Aliah,” Sara commanded, squeezing her left earlobe to activate her implant for the call.

“Health and Wellness Center, Amie speaking, how may I direct your call?”

Sara squinted at the brightness in the receptionist’s voice.

“Hi, this is Inhabitant Sara Todd. I’m uh, looking for an afternoon appointment with Dr. Aliah to correct my lenses,” then she added, “Class 3.5.”

“Let me help you with that,” Amie gushed. “I have a three-thirty on the seventh, or a two o’clock on the tenth.”

Sara flicked her schedule up on her lenses, but all she could she was static. She tried blinking to refresh it. An image popped up that Sara had never seen before.

An electronic note from Love with today’s date.

“I’m not gone,” it read, “come find me. I’m with the Naturals. We have found the Better Way. Come find me.”

“Are you there, Sara?” the receptionist’s voice burst Sara’s concentration like a bubble. Sara gulped and the note vanished, her schedule in its place.

“The tenth,” she managed, “the tenth is good.”

 

Later during her first class at Assigned Learning, she puzzled over the note while the teacher droned on about the First Inhabitant.

Technically, the First Inhabitant no longer existed, and was therefore Not Allowed according to Lesser Not Allowed number twelve: Do not speak of the dead. The Pinnacle, the governing council of the city – of whom the Supreme Inhabitant was the head – got around this rule by erecting a life-sized statue of the First Inhabitant and every Supreme Inhabitant after. This way the students could learn of their brilliant leaders without committing a crime. One year a student asked why only the Supreme Inhabitants could cheat a Not Allowed. He was absent from class after that. Nobody asked why.

The First Inhabitant was a doctor. He lived with a group of people whose pursuit was the longevity of life through body modifications. They invented the first crude implants and founded the city of Barter that Sara now lived in. It was more of a town back then.

Sara’s thoughts drifted back to the note. It had mentioned the Better Way, something she and Love invented when they were twelve, bored with learning and big with ideas and dreams.

The Better Way was a simple wish list, a child’s fanciful daydream. There would be no implants or checkups with needles or sore eyes or stinging fingers. They would not be dizzy for days after new ear implants. They would not need to memorize The Five rules or any other Not Allowed’s and they could have whatever job they wanted. They could leave the city. They would even have dessert for breakfast if they liked.

And they would find the animals. Only a few animals remained in the city, and the Inhabitants were not permitted to see them unless assigned to care for them. The closest Sara had come to seeing a cow was the burger on her plate.

Sara’s father whispered stories to her at bedtime about things his father had told him at bedtime, stories passed down from generation to generation. It was Not Allowed, to be sure, and if Sara’s mother ever found out, she would turn him in for telling such lies, but Sara treasured those stories.

Her favorite story was about chickens. One of Sara’s ancestors had been a farmer. He raised chickens, cows, pigs, and horses. He had four cats and three dogs. He even had a few goats. Sara thought that was a funny word – goat. Her father would say it over and over again until it no longer sounded like a word and Sara’s laughter threatened to wake her mother. Then she would beg him for the chicken story.

The farmer had a little girl, just like Sara. Her job was to feed the chickens and collect the eggs while avoiding Solomon, the mean-spirited rooster. Solomon’s black heart delighted in chasing the little girl, pecking at her and digging her with his sharp spurs. One day the little girl had courage. She picked up a stick and fought back. When Solomon came towards her, evil eyes agleam, she clubbed him so hard he flew to the other side of the coop. Solomon walked with a limp ever after, but never bothered her again.

Sara’s father was an animated storyteller, flapping his arms like wings and bobbing his head to pantomime Solomon, with an expression on his face he insisted was evil but it made Sara laugh.

That was eleven years ago. Sara wondered if the note meant Love had found a chicken. She laughed softly to think of Solomon and the little girl of long ago.

“Something you’d like to share with the class?”

Sara’s head snapped up from the desk. The teacher was standing in front of her, his arms crossed, one eyebrow cocked.

“N-no sir, Inhabitant Palmer,” she stammered.

He looked down at the holo-pad in front of her and she realized too late that instead of taking notes, she had been doodling  farm animals. He took the pad and held it high for the class to see.

“I see you do have something to share with the class,” he said in a mocking tone, “things that no longer exist. Class,” he continued, walking back towards the front of the room, “if something no longer exists, what is it?”

“Not Allowed,” they chorused.

“Very good, class,” he put the pad on his desk. “And what is the penalty for a breaking a lesser Not Allowed such as drawing things that do not exist?”

“A visit to the Principal,” they chorused.

“And what happens in the Principal’s office?” he asked smiling, his voice as smooth as butter.

“You get adjusted,” they chorused.

The teacher sat on the front of his desk, arms crossed, still smiling as Sara rose from her seat to go to the Principal’s office. She willed herself not to cry. Maybe she did need an adjustment.

There were no such things as chickens anymore.

 

The Principal looked down his beak-like nose at Sara sitting in the plastic chair in front of his desk. He tented his fingers, tapping them three times on his chin before speaking.

“Tell me why you are here, Inhabitant.”

“I broke a Not Allowed, sir,” Sara said softly, “I drew creatures that do not exist.”

The Principal stood, walking around his desk and behind Sara, his fingers tapping the back of her chair tap, tap, tap.

“And why did you draw these, these creatures that do not exist?”

Tap, tap, tap.

Nausea rippled down Sara’s spine like ice water.

“I don’t know,” she said.

“You don’t know.”

Tap, tap, tap.

Sara could feel his breath on the back of her head. She fought back the urge to vomit.

“No, sir.”

“Well then, let’s get you adjusted and back to class so you can become a productive member of our grand society.”

The Principal pressed his pointer fingers into Sara’s temples.

“Now,” he smiled, “this won’t hurt a bit.”

Sara walked down the harshly lit hallway towards her next class with swimming eyes and a head full of fog. She had needed the adjustment, she thought to herself. She had been right to turn in the Brinkles. She was wrong to have drawn the creatures that do not exist.

A piercing whistle sounded. Sara looked up just in time to realize she was standing too close to her classroom door, but too late to avoid the impact as it flung open. She fell backwards, arms outstretched, and the last thing she remembered hearing was her father’s voice.

How foolish. He no longer existed, and was therefore Not Allowed.

The Drying Effects of Wind: Chapter One

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-If you missed it, read the prologue here.

Chapter One

Execution Day

Three Inhabitants stood on the gleaming metal platform in the square. One male, two females.

All three guilty of breaking the Not Allowed’s.

The Prosecutor read their charges from his Class 6 lenses to the crowd in a booming voice. He waved his hands about in a grandiose fashion, parading back and forth across the platform in a way that distracted from his under-average stature.

“Inhabitant Arthur Brinkle, you are charged with attempted and/or successful removal of your implants and inciting unrest against the Supreme Inhabitant which is Not Allowed. The penalty is death by banishment.”

The accused Inhabitant was young, in his mid-fifties, with brown-black hair and a neatly trimmed beard. He looked neither ashamed nor afraid to hear his sentence pronounced.

“Inhabitant Mattie Brinkle, you are charged with attempted and/or successful removal of your implants and inciting unrest against the Supreme Inhabitant which is Not Allowed. The penalty is death by banishment.”

Mattie looked at her husband with a small smile and reached for his hand, but a guard tased her and she screamed, falling to her knees. A murmur hummed from the crowd. Surely even a rebel deserved some small measure of mercy. The Prosecutor hurried on.

“Inhabitant Love Brinkle, you are charged with attempted and/or successful removal of your implants and inciting unrest against the Supreme Inhabitant which is Not Allowed. The penalty is death by banishment.”

Love was still a child at twenty-three. When the Prosecutor announced her fate, she thrust both fists in the air and screamed, “Down with the Inhabitants!” before the guard could step in and tase her too. That settled the crowd in square opposition of the accused. The Inhabitants hadn’t done this. They hadn’t forced the girl or her parents to remove her implants. They were not pronouncing a death sentence on a child, the child had pronounced it upon herself and they washed their hands of her.

The Prosecutor lead the way as the guards marched the condemned Inhabitants down the shiny platform’s steps and along the road that threaded through the city towards the gate. Inhabitants lined the road the entire way. Some looked sorrowful. Some jeered curses and insults. Others were silent, like Sara.

Inhabitant Sara Todd stood deep in the crowd by the gate, swirling with emotion. Love had been her best friend since they met in Assigned Learning at the age of ten. Sara herself was twenty-three just last week. Maybe she was still a child, but she knew better than to remove her implants, no matter how they plagued her. Yet Love and her family had done just that, and had tried to encourage others to follow their example. It made no sense to Sara.

Love even made wild claims that the city smelled of rot. She said the grass in the city park was plastic. She said the food they were issued daily had little flavor and less smell, that it was a lump of vitamins and nutrients to sustain life, nothing more.

The lies her parents told were even worse.

The Inhabitants could clearly smell the crisp, clean fragrance of the city, feel the softness of the grass, and the food – the food! –was daily manna from the Supreme Inhabitant himself. Muffins studded with blueberries and dripping with butter, peaches downy soft and juicy, steaks smothered in crispy onions with great, fluffy baked potatoes and even fluffier rolls; how could she deny this bounty they could see and smell and touch and taste and even hear for themselves?

The crowd was silent as the procession approached the gate.

“Do the condemned have any final statements,” the prosecutor boomed.

“We did no wrong. May God have mercy on our souls,” Mattie Brinkle said, squaring her shoulders.

The crowd tittered at her foolishness. Souls and gods had been done away with eons ago.

“My only hope is that you see the light, as we have,” Arthur added.

Love had been searching the crowd when her eyes locked on Sara’s.

“’Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not,’” she quoted.

The crowd hissed. Quoting from a banned book was a lesser Not Allowed, to be sure, but still; the audacity of the child to heap sins on her head even as she faced execution.

Sara shrank deeper into the crowd to escape further unwanted attention.

The heavy gate cracked open as the guards forced the Brinkle’s out into the Unknowns, the  unprotected and unfiltered region beyond the city’s protective gates.

Nobody survived the Unknowns.

The gates, now shut, flickered to life, a giant screen. It was mandatory to watch the rebels pass into the EverAfter, and watch the city did, with bated breath.

First the man fell to his knees, fingers clawing the hot, red dirt as he gasped for breath. Without his implants to filter out harmful toxins in the air, his lungs shriveled and his nostrils scorched. His wife ran to him, an expected display of devotion, but she too succumbed in the dirt beside her husband. The girl was the last to die, tears streaking her face, one hand reaching back towards the city in a gesture of longing and regret.

Sara let out a quiet, shuddering breath. She tried hard to convince herself that she had done the right thing by turning in the Brinkle family, but she kept seeing Love’s agonized face as she died. She walked back to  Assigned Learning  with guilt gnawing at her backbone. What did it matter what Love said to her anyway?

Love was dead. It was finally over.

The Drying Effects of Wind: Prologue

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Sara looked into the bright light for several seconds, then closed her eyes. Immediately the commercials began to play. They glitched between a new meal replacement pill flavor, a smiling woman advertising gum you didn’t have to chew, Gryce Industries’ latest air-cycle model, and a few others before the doctor told her to open her eyes.

“Well, I can make adjustments,” he said, “but your lenses will need to be reprogrammed by a specialist.” He consulted her chart downloading to his Class 8 lenses, flipping pages with a few flicks of his right eye.

Sara briefly wondered what it must be like to have Class 8 lenses. Hers were barely Class 3.5, and only because she had scraped together enough credits for the update from her Class 3’s. She should have known not to trust that bargain basement trader again, but the update had seemed a bargain too good to be true. Now that her lenses were glitching, she knew why.

“Fortunately, this is all covered on your plan, so the procedure shouldn’t cost more than four credits.” He smiled at her reassuringly. “It won’t hurt a bit.”

Sara sank into the hard plastic chair. She’d heard that lie before.

When a child is born, they are taken to a specialist for mandatory procedures. Eye lenses for information and communication, nostril implants for unpleasant smell reduction and contamination identification, ear canal implants for noise adjustment and sound filtration, an implant under the tongue to adjust taste and temperature, and various implants in several fingers, such as magnets and computer chips. The implants are updated every three to five years without fail. This is all done in the name of health, the name of longevity, and the name of Progress.

Sara was twelve when her implants began to fail. She had a cold, and the hot tea her mother made her had tasted terrible. She spat it out and refused to drink any more of the stuff. That is when she started going to the doctors, and that is when the lies began.

Follow the Five, stay alive.

Skipping a scheduled update is Not Allowed.

Failure to report a glitch or malfunction is Not Allowed.

Taking another Inhabitant’s updates is Not Allowed.

Religious, Political, or Other objections or refusal of implants are Not Allowed.

Removal of implants is Not Allowed.

-Rhyme taught to children at school

What I’m Reading: The Feast Nearby

The Feast Nearby

I found my copy on Amazon.

This is not a “how-to” or cook book. Don’t read this book to shrink your budget either, because that’s not what it’s for. It is a lovely long chat with the author about her life in Michigan, and, being from Michigan, I love it. The author draws us into her tiny kitchen as she cans and preserves, she takes us on walks through the woods to pick quarts of glittering berries, she gives insight and provokes thought. She gives us toothsome recipes and happy anecdotes about coffee and chickens. For this home grown Michigander, that’s a wonderful thing.

Follow me on Goodreads to see what else I’m reading or send me a book recommendation.