PseudoPod 624: Flash On The Borderlands XLV: Personal Narratives
“Ten Things I Didn’t Do” is a PseudoPod Original – “This was a story that I struggled with while writing it. I wanted it to have a happier, more heroic ending, but the story refused to bend: it stubbornly held on to its darkness.”
“Egg” was first printed at Aug 12, 2016 – Out of the Gutter Online
“People Watching” is a PseudoPod original – “This story is, a little bit, about people who write stories.There’s something predatory about watching people as they go about their day and trying to extract inspiration from them.”
Ten Things I Didn’t Do
By Maria Haskins
- I didn’t die.
I promised you I wouldn’t, so I didn’t. I know you said the words in jest when you dropped me off at school, “Don’t die, honey!”, with that hoarse laugh and sideways wink you do, but I rolled my eyes and said “OK, mom, I promise,” and I don’t break my promises.
- I didn’t walk home alone.
Alicia walked with me almost all the way. I could see the light from our kitchen window in the early dusk when the car pulled over, saw it pass as it drove away with me. I saw that kitchen-light, with you inside it (bent over the stove and cursing your lack of cooking skills, as usual), even when I had to close my eyes to keep the darkness out.
- I didn’t go with a stranger.
I knew him and so do you. He said my name. He knows your name, too, and for a while, when he was getting ready to take me apart, I wondered if he’d speak your name afterwards. If he’d type it into his phone. If he’d call you. If he’d be savouring your name as he savoured mine, rolling it over his tongue, swallowing the tenderness and sweetness of it. Or if he’d scream it, holler it, bellow it, like when I called out for you.
- I didn’t go into a haunted house.
There were no creaking floors or crooked doors. No warped stairs hung with lacy spider webs. No eerie swing seat on the porch. No broken windows. No spooky silhouettes behind the curtains. Not even one bat, taking flight. Just stucco and rhododendrons, and inside, a shaggy orange carpet that smelled of cigarettes and cats. Wallpaper with flowers in the hall, the kind of stuff grandma liked, and a tap, somewhere – drip drip drip – like blood or tears striking the concrete floor below.
- I didn’t see any monsters.
There was no ghost or vampire risen from the grave, no werewolf wielding claws and teeth in fear of silver. There was only a man. For a while, in the light from that flickering fluorescent tube, I thought his face might have been a mask, but if it was, there was nothing hidden underneath. A man. That’s all it takes.
- I didn’t stay quiet.
I screamed. Did you hear me, mom? Did you hear me through the shirt stuffed into my mouth, through the bricks and concrete, through the abyss of heaven and the pits of hell that separated me from you? I kept screaming, even after he stabbed into me, after he ran me through, after he wiped his hands clean on his pants.
- I didn’t let him kill me.
Death hovered over me. It was a mirror, and in the polished steel of my demise, I saw my spirit slithering out between my lips and teeth, grey and faded, but I wouldn’t let it go. I grabbed hold of it, grabbed hold with crooked fingers and dirty nails, I held on and stuffed it down my throat. I swallowed it, choking on every bit of it as it went back into my gut.
- I didn’t kill him.
I forced my limbs to animate again. I sucked in the shadows from the cracks and crevices, from the spaces beneath the earth, below the sky, I drank every drop of that darkness to fill my empty veins. I felt rage rippling like scales across my skin, pain turning into fangs behind my lips, grief sharpening into claws growing from my fingers. If I’d been a vengeful beast of myth and legend, I would have grasped hold of him right then and there, would have ripped apart his flesh and soul, would have made him scream, and once he screamed, I would have grabbed that scream and held it in my claws and fangs, would have tasted the salt and tang of it before I stuffed it back into his face to see it ripple through him, loosening skin from flesh, flesh from bone, bone from soul.
Instead, he drove me home.
(In the car, I took every memory I had of you, and I spread them over my ragged skin, like a salve, like a balm, like a healing plaster to soothe the ache, to patch the holes he’d made in me. It’s holding me together still.)
- I didn’t run away.
I stood outside our house, blood and rain pooling at my feet. I walked up the steps, my wet feet slapping on the wood and stone. I opened the door. I stood by your bedside. I curled up beside you beneath the covers and the sheets.
You woke up and turned on the light.
“Ree. Did you eat at grandpa’s? He told me he was picking you up after school.”
The bedside lamp shone on my face, and I cowered in its glow. Yet you didn’t see my new fangs and claws. You didn’t see the wounds that went right through me. You didn’t see my scales and scars. You didn’t even notice the tattered remnants of my spirit, dribbling from my chin.
But I saw you, anew. I saw your fangs, your scales and scars, your wounds, your ragged skin. I saw the ancient, dried blood on your face and hands. I saw your swallowed spirit heaving beneath your bones and flesh.
- I didn’t tell you any of this.
“What did you do today, Ree?” you asked and touched my scaly cheek as if it were still skin.
“I stayed alive,” I said, and hoped it was the truth.
by Rachel Cassidy
It smells so good and rich and fine.
The line is moving so slow and Egg is crawling out of his skin. He’s clutching his tray real tight and his arms are kind of sore.
Egg was six once and maybe his eyes were a little too close together. Didn’t mean he couldn’t see what was up.
Didn’t mean he couldn’t see them pushing the gristly tough bits to the side, giving the nice juicy pieces to those cow-faced Johnson kids and Gunderson kids and Walton kids and dropping that gristle and fat on Egg’s tray and looking away.
Maybe there’ll be gravy too and maybe they’ll give him some. It’ll be different today, it has to be.
The line shuffles another inch and Egg’s jaw hurts he’s drooling so hard.
When Egg was nine once the mean one with the chin hairs gave him just a bone on his tray. She had hateful eyes.
He was so hungry he cracked it with his teeth and sucked on the insides. By the end of the day he was just about asleep at his desk.
He could hardly pick up one foot after the other walking home past the feedlot where his pop worked all hours fattening up the cattle.
It’ll be so nice, so nice and falling apart tender and with the grease that runs down to wipe on the bread and fills a person right up. There has to be enough today. There has to be.
If he stands on his toes he can peer over shoulders and see the steam rising off the trays under the lamps and he’s rocking a little bit but not so much the ladies will notice and turn away.
There is no one behind him in the line.
The kids are filling up the tables, laughing and tearing and chewing with sharp white teeth and shouting and roughhousing with friends. Their trays overflow with meaty scraps and crumpled napkins.
Egg was twelve once but that was last week and now he’s older.
He can nearly taste it, the way it will shred between his teeth, the way it will lay heavy on his tongue, how the salt and the spice and the rich dark flavors will linger after he swallows real slow and takes his time with the every single bite.
There’s maybe a dozen kids left in the line, the other ones who eat last but not as last as Egg.
He’s doing math and counting the pieces left under the lamps and humming a little bit, quiet and high, tapping the count on his fingers with every piece and every mouth and with every one that goes on a tray Egg hums and taps and his breathing gets a little more ragged.
There’s so few left, like always, taunting him with their juicy savory deliciousness but maybe, just maybe today…
Egg is more than twelve now and yesterday he protested, made a mewling noise when the gristle flopped careless onto his tray, and the mean one, the one with the chin hairs, she hissed at him and then he needed to be quiet hid in the dark for a while but then she walked in the closet and he moaned and she was fumbling for the light switch and then there was something heavy and long in his hand and it fell and fell and her hateful face was all crunching wet and red and he couldn’t hardly hold the mallet slick with blood but it kept falling and then her mean eyes didn’t see him no more and he threw away the mallet with its face of pointy pyramids gummed with shreds of flesh and Egg sank to his knees and he shook all over.
There it is, bathing in the glow of the heat lamp, roasted crisp and brown on the edges, rosy and warm in the center, its glorious meaty aroma wafting. One last piece. No bones, no gristle, no fat. Just one perfect serving.
When Egg stopped shaking, he came out and he saw the shining metal fridges, full of silvery trays filled with the next day’s roasts resting in marinades, waiting for the ladies to come in the morning and light the gas burners like they do with their lighters and their little tins of butane to fill them and they’ll smoke their cigarettes and slow-cook the meats and come lunchtime Egg will be last in line like always.
Tomorrow there will be an extra roast in there.
One perfect serving, and Egg watches it settle onto his tray and the juices spread, soaking into the bread, and he’s giddy with the smell. He cuts a piece, small and delicate, and lifts it to his mouth.
It is delicious.
by Alex Patterson
It looked almost like a man.
Enough that I couldn’t blame anyone else for missing it. It wasn’t hiding. It was just sat there, hands not quite touching a warm cup of coffee on a cold, bright day. I think it was doing what I like to do; I think it was watching people. Seeing what it could work out about them.
I did not let it know that I saw it.
I did not know what it was. You never know exactly what they are. There’s no handy dandy set of rules like you get in the movies; just something that looks like a person, that does some of the things a person does. Something that chooses people. That does something terrible to them.
This thing had a warm coat and a cap and big, shiny sunglasses. It had undersized ears and big, bee-stung lips. I don’t think anyone else noticed the pale grey line that ran down its long nose, across those plump lips, disappearing somewhere under its chin. I imagine that line is where it splits open. I imagine that there are cat-claw teeth all the way up the sides.
I had nearly finished my drink when I realised it had not moved, not sipped the cooling coffee in front of it. It still held its hands close, not quite touching the mug. The fingers on those big hands shone, plump as sausages, the fingernails blunt and white at the tips.
I had to finish my coffee before I left. If I left too quickly or if I let it know I saw it, it would follow me. Try to do something to me. And you never know exactly what they’ll try to do. When I left, I pulled my coat on and picked up my bag, and didn’t look at it.
I pretended not to see when it gave me a half-nod, a professional’s thanks for a professional’s courtesy. I would have blushed, if I could blush. It had known I was there all along.
I found a different coffee shop, and double checked my make up before sitting down with a cup of tea. My breath was fast. It had known I was there all along. The other things I’ve met, the things that look like people, have not been terribly gracious. But this thing knew me. Knew that I knew what it was. And it didn’t try to force me out, or follow me. This is a large town. Big enough, if we are clever, for two.
It was hard not to smile. I can’t, of course- smiling gives me away- but it is a long time since I have shared my territory with such a gentleman.
About the Authors
Rachel grew up running wild on horseback in the foothills of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. As a result, she can’t ride a bicycle to save her life. She likes airplanes, cave diving, and technology.
Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pseudopod, Dark Moon Digest, The Molotov Cocktail (Pushcart nominated), and others.
She currently lives on Salt Spring Island, B.C., with two yellow dogs of questionable provenance.
Maria Haskins is a Swedish-Canadian writer and translator. She writes speculative fiction, and debuted as a writer in Sweden in the far-off era known as “the 1980s”. In 1992, she moved to Canada and she currently lives outside Vancouver with a husband, two kids, and a very large black dog. Her fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Escape Pod, Aliterate, Kaleidotrope, Shimmer, Cast of Wonders, Bracken, and elsewhere.
Alex exists in Stafford, and one day hopes to meet the Black Eyed Girl of Cannock Chase. His work has previously appeared in ChiZine magazine, and he is almost finished writing a set of horror sonnets about the seaside.
About the Narrators
Rebecca Wei Hsieh
Rebecca Wei Hsieh (she/her) is a Taiwanese American actor, writer, translator, and sensitivity reader based in NYC. Having grown up across several continents, her work focuses on the interplay between Asia and the Asian diaspora, gender, queerness, and mental illness, and has been featured in outlets like We Need Diverse Books, Wear Your Voice Magazine, Book Riot, and The Dot and Line. She has a BA in theatre and Italian studies from Wesleyan University, and you can find her attempts to use her liberal arts degree at rwhsieh.com
Katherine Inskip is co-editor for Cast of Wonders. She teaches astrophysics for a living and spends her spare time populating the universe with worlds of her own. You can find more of her stories at Motherboard, Cast of Wonders, the Dunesteef and Luna Station Quarterly, and forthcoming from Abyss & Apex.
Ron Jon is a creator of haunted atmospheres – melding loops, field recordings, synths, library music, found sounds & home made instruments. He is a narrator, musician, singer, student of parapsychology & the supernormal. He is a writer of disturbing micro-fiction for adults & children’s books. He has a new album out titled – ‘Cosmicism’. The music is inspired by the literary philosophy of H.P. Lovecraft called ‘Cosmicism’. The premise being that there is no recognisable divine presence, such as God, in the universe, and that humans are particularly insignificant in the larger scheme of intergalactic existence. The album cover art is an original illustration of Cthulhu by Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Want to listen? Go to the bandcamp site: https://thespectrecollector.bandcamp.com Or go to the blog: http://thespectrecollector.blogspot.com
With this new set of micro-horrors the spectre collector went back to basics.
Nothing too tricky, nothing too fancy. Just keep ‘em short, sharp and creepy.
The album’s called “Demons Like Us” and it’s a bumper crop of small yet perfectly formed aural disturbances to fright and delight your senses. Give it a spin, like it on your socials, what the hell spoil yourself and buy it. You’ve been cooped up long enough, you deserve it. You’ll find it on Bandcamp here – https://thespectrecollector.bandcamp.com/