Too Many Shirts

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“Happy New Year!” Yuki greets merrily from the lab.

Her assistant is trying to find his way through the room with the novelty NYE sunglasses (and has absolutely not had a sip of the bubbly poured for all the other of-age guests).

The doctor raises her glass and makes a toast. “For getting through yet another challenging year…there seems to be a lot of them lately. And for being able to squeeze in one more trip before the celebrations begin!”

The assistant chimes in. “We’ve had another excursion similar to this one…I think so anyways.”

Yuki adds, “An older gentleman notices a boy dressed in a particular manner and finds it odd. The details come back to possibly help him…but in a way you probably don’t see coming.”

***

“Entirely too many,” Jeremiah Llambi muttered to himself as he watched the youngster lazily drift down the sidewalk on his skateboard. He supposed he wouldn’t have paid the kid any mind whatsoever if he hadn’t noticed his getup (and he would say so later to the police when they were taking his statement). The red and black plaid material rustled behind the boy and fanned out a little as a breeze kicked up. The long sleeves snaked around his waist and were tied in a bulbous knot in the front. They hung down over his faded blue jeans (Wrangler or Levis, Jeremiah couldn’t tell from his vantage point…not that he’d been studying the boy, but he apologized to the officers anyway, in case that detail would have been helpful), one knee had worn away enough that the white threads were barely keeping it together and the other had torn completely. One of his black Chuck Taylors occasionally dropped to the concrete to give him an extra boost. The weirdest part of the ensemble, at least to Jeremiah, was that he had on a green t-shirt with that white and black circle thing he’d seen on everything lately…you know the one, with the two smaller circles in the upper and lower half (a Yin-Yang the cop had called it, even scribbled one real quick to make sure he got the correct info)…and a long-sleeved shirt under that! Damnedest thing: three shirts being worn on a seventy degree morning and it was promising to be even hotter. Jeremiah obviously couldn’t tell what was on that shirt, but the sleeves, concealing all but the tips of his fingers, were a stark white. And because Jeremiah took so long for the details of the clothing to fully process, he didn’t get a good look at the boy’s face. Pale skin, probably shoulder-length hair, maybe it was brown or dirty-blonde; it was hard to tell in the shade of the elm trees and the harsh flashes of light shining through the leaves.

The kid was heading south down La Monte Avenue. Couldn’t’ve told you where he was going—the comic book store or the park, Lord knows he saw enough teenagers loitering around those places on the weekends. And just as soon as the kid came into view, he was gone. That was the last time he ever saw that boy…his skateboard, now that was an entirely different story.

At the time Jeremiah noticed the skateboarder with too many shirts, he was leaving his home to go to the stores. Now, he hadn’t driven a car since 1987 and as he was a widower and had no local family, Jeremiah either walked or took the bus. He didn’t trust his reflexes any more, especially with the kids farting up and down the streets in their rice rockets. That morning he decided to take the bus to town from the other street over and he’d walk back. It wasn’t a worry to him, nothing on his list would spoil out in the heat.

Two filled canvas bags later, Jeremiah was on his way home with a bit extra pep in his step. A nasty stomach bug kept him housebound the previous week. Unless he had perishables, he always walked to and from town. He wasn’t at 100% yet, but he was on the way. Jeremiah surmised he’d be on roundtrip walks by the end of next week. A bit of a gift to himself for getting better, he decided to go on a bit of a wander and take an indirect way home. It was a normal walk where he engaged in both people- and bird-watching. When he stopped to get a closer look at a blue jay perched on a lower branch, that’s the moment he spotted the skateboard. As a matter of fact, he nearly tripped over the goddamned thing! It was discarded in some thick underbrush precisely where he needed to stand to get a better look at his feathered friend.

The board was splintered almost down the center with two large cracks over each set of wheels, not completely severed, but near enough. Now, Jeremiah wasn’t an expert on skateboards and couldn’t tell you the difference between one or the other. And the area was far off the beaten track from his own place that he never had a second thought about it being the one that belonged to the kid with too many shirts. To him, either some bigger kids had their way with a smaller, weaker one as it had been in his day and probably would be ‘til the end of time or some poor boy had busted it and threw it away, fearful of the parents’ reaction—also a common occurrence throughout the ages.

While he puzzled over the discovery, the plump blue bird flew off into the early afternoon. Jeremiah looked up at the empty branch and sighed and continued on his way. It was getting much too hot.

The first thing Jeremiah did when he got home was put on the air conditioner. In quick succession, he then dropped his shopping bags on the kitchen counter and fetched a glass from the cabinet and filled it with cold water from the tap. He took a swig. Jeremiah studied the countertop, taking in the slight chips in the surface near the edges and the ever so subtle scratches where knives had accidentally made contact over the years. He often toyed with the idea of sprucing up the old place, but inevitably he came to the same conclusion: to what end? There was no one to entertain. Besides, the place was full of memories; keeping it the same made it easier for him to remember, to keep them alive.

He took his glass into the living room and switched on the old RCA FM radio and sat back in his chair and promptly fell asleep.

Jeremiah woke up some time later in the middle of the five day forecast, mumbling angrily at the raised temperatures compared to yesterday’s broadcast. Sleep threatened to take over again when local news headlines started—

“—Zachary Richardson was taken in broad daylight this morning—” consciousness faded and he missed some words here and there, “—no witnesses were able to provide details of the kidnapper. His last known location was at Bicentennial Park near—” Jeremiah nodded off again and came back, “—mother told us that he was supposed to meet up with friends on La Monte Avenue—”

This next part Jeremiah would omit from his conversation with the police.

At the sound of his street’s name, his eyes shot open and a painful sinking feeling started in his gut. His old bones crackled as he got out of his chair and he shuffled back into the kitchen. He went to the back of the room and stopped short of the basement door. Dark crimson splotches covered the tile.

“Oh Miriam,” he whispered and sighed. Jeremiah pulled a key from his pocket and was about to put it to the keyhole, but on a hunch turned the knob before inserting it.

It opened.

He cursed himself for slipping up and flipped on the basement light and carefully proceeded down the old wooden steps.

A gasping and growling sound started up.

Jeremiah turned toward he middle of the room and heaved a sigh. His dearly departed Miriam greeted him. Blood-stained cheeks and lips went from a snarl to something that resembled a smile. Her milky white eyes softened in his presence.

Not again.

Sometimes Jeremiah regretted finding that book—regretted bringing her back. But every time he saw her face all seemed to go back to the way it used to be. And hiccups along the way aside, that was fine for him. In a panic, he decided to go to the police station and give them a statement, hopefully to redirect any suspicion (whether that was real or imagined, was yet to be determined).

***

“Well, that’s it for another year,” Yuki says. “Thank you all so much for joining us. For the past year and a bit, barring one week, we’ve been able to take you to different worlds with varying degrees of horror and the fantastic.

“We’re going to try something a little different in the coming year. Instead of little fortnightly excursions, we’re going to try quarterly. This way we’ll be able to provide you with a better over-all experience.”

Her assistant speaks up, “We will still drop in fortnightly and provide updates…and other stuff. That’s still to be determined.”

Yuki nods. “So for our next excursion, we’ll see you here on the 25th of March!”

<BACK

copyright © Yuki Masaki 2021-2022. ‘Tales from the Void’ logo designed by Intern Kate

A Void Christmas

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“‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the lab, not a creature was stirring…well except for this lad,” says Yuki, who approaches her assistant.

A dour look is embedded on his face. He is scrolling through news headlines. He doesn’t respond to Yuki.

“Helloooo,” Yuki waves her hand in front of his eyes, “Earth to my assistant. You in there?”

Startled, her assistant nearly falls back in his chair. He lets out a stifled scream and places a hand over his heart.

“Jesus! Sorry, Yuki, I was just off in my own little world.”

Yuki raises an eyebrow. “From the looks of it, your little world is a it of a nightmare. What’s going on? You’re not your usual Christmassy, cheery self.”

“Oh yeah, sorry…,” her assistant replies, turning back to the computer screen, “I saw this article about the war and I went down a rabbit hole straight to Hell.”

“Mm…”

“And…I dunno, it’s kinda hard to get in the spirit knowing all this,” he gestures to the screen, “is happening. Like, where’s their peace? Where’s their joy?” He leans back in his chair and sighs.

“I don’t blame you there, kiddo. It’s a completely valid feeling. Trust me when I say that you’re far from the only person with those thoughts. But it won’t do you any good to dwell on it.

“I won’t tell you what to do or anything like that, but if you’d rather not come to the party later, that’s fine. But we’d all love it if you’d join us.”

Some time passes, though her assistant is largely unaware of how long (despite the clock ticking away in the lower right corner; he’s immersed with the content in the center of the screen). A glow from the far side of the laboratory draws his attention away from doom scrolling. He stands up from his chair, his legs and back crackling.

The Void is up and running.

The assistant looks around the room; he’s the only one there. Yuki isn’t tinkering with anything at her workbench, nor is she at her computer. A bout of uneasiness washes over him, but he decides to investigate. If it’s an error that caused this, he has to make a report and see if it can be shut down normally. He hesitates only for a moment and walks over—

Someone is in the room with him.

Just outside of the radiance of the portal lights, a figure stands. A hooded figure…wearing a holly wreath around the top of its head…and a small candle is balanced right on top, burning away. The figure stares him down, unmoving.

The assistant squints his eyes. “Yuki?”

The figure slumps a little. “Aww. You knew it was me?”

Her assistant blinks. “Well, who the hell else is it gonna be? If it was our friend from the other world, he wouldn’t have wasted his time with the theatrics.”

“Fair point.”

“So why are you in all that weird stuff?”

“C’mon, it’s Christmas Eve, you’re having a crisis and you haven’t moved from that computer in hours. Now, if you were doing anything else other than browsing through all that mess, I would’ve let this go. But you’ve just kept digging and digging and digging. So, I figured this was probably the best time to get you out of your funk.”

The assistant sighs. “You’ve seen one too many Christmas specials.”

Yuki scoffs. “That may very well be, but I still think I can help.” She gestures to the Void. “After you.”

The assistant shakes his head and leads the way through the portal, doubtful that anything he sees will help. Yuki stands next to him in the Void. The little round window of their world fades and for the briefest of moments they are surrounded by total darkness. Color explodes all around them and the pair hurtle through the timelines. They stand in silence and watch the settings slow down and then they come to a stop with a jolt.

They are standing in a snowy field. It’s well after dark and the assistant starts to make out ramshackle housing across a narrow, crumbled street. A light flurry starts.

“Okay, I give,” the assistant says, “what are we doing out here?”

“Just wait. You’ll see.”

It’s the only answer Yuki gives and she goes back to waiting in quiet.

“Alright,” the assistant says and sighs once more.

The wind picks up and the white powder comes down harder. A smattering of Christmas lights twinkle in the background. Some of the windows were filled with a warm white light of their own. Everyone is hunkered down for the night, no cars drive by—there isn’t even a hint of traffic on any of the surrounding streets.

Right as the assistant grew impatient enough to prod Yuki further, the sound of sleigh bells overhead caught his attention.

“You gotta be kidding me…” He looks skyward, eyes searching. And then he sees it: eight reindeer leading a sleigh with a driver in a big red coat.

The assistant takes his attention away from the unbelievable sight and turns to Yuki, who is still watching the spectacle overhead, smiling.

“You see, there are countless universes in which Santa Claus is able to supply happiness and joy to the masses. I know sometimes life can bombarded with hardships and tragedies, but there is a greater amount of good in the world than you’d think. They just don’t make the rounds as much as the bad news.”

“I just wish there’s something more we could do,” the assistant replies and thinks for a moment and adds: “Are you sure we can’t use the Void to help more people?”

Yuki turns to her assistant, the smile fading from her face. “I’ve tried that—long before you came around. It…didn’t turn out so well.”

“It didn’t?”

“Not at all. The butterfly effect—not just a bad movie—changes made for the better have a ripple effect on people and places near and far. Sometimes it’s immediate; sometimes it take decades to observe the changes made. And these aren’t always for the better. While there may be some instances where everything rolls a twenty, more often than not, you create even more misery, occasionally worse than the original problem.”

“Oh…”

Yuki puts her arm around her assistant’s shoulder. “But that doesn’t mean you should stop trying to help people in the present. Whatever happiness you create in our world, no matter what, in the grand scheme of things, still counts. Time-and-space travel aside, I can help you with that.”

“I guess that makes me feel a bit better.”

“You damn-well should! I certainly can’t be the one to be sporting enough Christmas cheer for two!”

The two turn their attention back to the houses down the way and watch as the sleigh and reindeer stop at each house on the block.

“Merry Christmas, kid.”

“Merry Christmas, Yuki.”

<BACK

copyright © Yuki Masaki 2021-2022. ‘Tales from the Void’ logo designed by Intern Kate

Relocation to Columbia Hills

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“Welcome, all! Please, step in out of the cold and make yourselves at home. We’ve got some cocoa and mulled cider to warm everyone up,” Yuki says from the far corner of the room, ugly Christmas sweater doing its job and being absolutely jarring.

“These weren’t meant to come out until the holiday,” explains her assistant, carting the drinks, “but we weren’t expecting that cold snap either. So it’s the least we could do to accommodate you all for coming out.”

“Exactly. And that’s kind of on par for our excursion tonight,” Yuki says, “It’s not the kind of craziness we’ve seen in recent weeks. This one is more of a subdued vignette of a young woman needing to get a new start.”

***

The whistle of the Desert Link train cut through the quiet of the morning, signaling its arrival to Columbia Hills. Not that it was necessary, its inhabitants often murmured, the twice daily loadings of incoming and outgoing passengers were always on schedule—at the same times—every single day. Eight o’clock in, nine-thirty out, every morning and evening. The high-pitched wail was perfectly in sync with the Town Hall clocktower a few blocks down.

Five minutes after the arrival notice, the doors to the carriages opened and the passengers disembarked. Train staff, already at their post outside the luggage car, ticked receipts and handed over bags and suitcases. Very few passengers only had a single carry-on case, and, even rarer, did they only come in with just a backpack or smaller.

Stacia Hawkwind was one of those rare creatures.

The brunette stepped onto the station platform and adjusted the strap of the bag slung over her shoulder. She tapped the plastic train pass to the gate reader and exited the concourse. Walking out into the warmth of the sun, she raised her hand and glanced over the top rim of her sunglasses.

It was beautiful, Stacia had to admit. The morning markets of what appeared to be the central business district, were bustling (a number of new arrivals were queuing up for drinks and snacks). All the streets were lined with trees. None of the buildings (all inspired by 18th and 19th century architecture) rose over five storeys. The sky was a deep blue that she was unaccustomed to seeing. And while the city was sizable, it certainly was not the metropolis she was used to living in.

A brilliant realisation came to mind, she would actually be able to see the stars at the end of the day! An experience that light pollution had robbed her of back home.

No, Stacia corrected herself, this was home now.

She smiled at the thought…home. Speaking of which, she fished a folded piece of paper from her jeans pocket. On the tattered scrap was a scribbled map of the city, complete with street names and address of the small flat in which she would be staying.

Stacia ambled to her destination a bundle of nerves; she was both anxious and excited. The place was a perfect combination of city-dwelling and country-living; the latter frightened her to death—she had no idea how to cope with full-on forests and valleys and wild animals. Her thoughts kept getting interrupted; every block in the city was filled with stopping points and things to gawk at. She wasn’t the only one, either. Plenty of locals stopped in their tracks to stare at the tourist (to be fair, it wasn’t every day that a 6’4’’ woman made way down their neighbourhood streets—even when wrestling came to town, none of the men came close to hitting the 6’ mark).

The brunette wasn’t lanky, either, her limbs and midsection were thick, but toned…the best way anyone could think to describe her upon first glance was Amazonian. Before she could notice anyone staring in her direction, they were already going on with their day.

Stacia kept on her way and made it to the first stop, where the property owner was waiting with a key and a smile.

‘Ms Hawkwind?’ the agent said.

‘Yes, that’s me.’

‘Hi, nice to meet you! I’m Robert.’ He extended his hand upward.

‘Nice to meet you, too.’ She accepted his hand and shook it.

‘I welcome you on behalf of the Columbia Hills Council. I expect you spoke with the chairman already?’

‘That’s right,’ she confirmed, ‘we had a video conference while we were stopped over Eberswalde—oh!’ Stacia interrupted herself and pulled her bag ‘round to her front and produced a packet from the inside. She handed it over. ‘And here’s the relocation and processing forms.’

Robert took the paper and skimmed over the pages. ‘Excellent, excellent. We’ll get this processed today. Now,’ he smiled and handed over the keys, ‘let’s have a little tour and get you settled.’ He looked around and noted there was no taxi and no bundles of luggage at Stacia’s feet. ‘Is there nothing else?’

Stacia shook her head.

‘Oh my…Forgive me…you’ll be okay, though. The council has already opened a bank account in your name. You’ll be able to get yourself some clothes and other essentials. Don’t worry about food; your ‘fridge is already stocked.

Stacia kept back the tears and simply nodded.

‘Come on, let’s take a look at your new home.’

And they did.

A few hours later, after Stacia had a nice hot bath, she fixed herself a cup of tea and had a sit out on her balcony She decided that the rest of the day would be spent relaxing. Clothes shopping could wait until tomorrow as her first shift as a baker’s assistant started the day after.

Stacia gazed at the rolling green hills in the distance, in awe of the simplistic beauty. Nowhere she ever lived held this much non-human life. At the same time she realised her fortunate emigration was, in large part, the luck of the draw. So many people barely getting on in what they call ‘life’, being poisoned on a daily basis and dying painful, prolonged deaths.

The starscape was as brilliant as she had hoped; the milky way spread magnificently across the night sky. Her eyes searched and searched until she spotted the pale blue dot she’d once called home.

***

“Don’t worry, everyone, that won’t be the last we see of Miss Hawkwind, I can assure you,” Yuki says with a smile. “I’ve seen snippets of her timeline, best not to get too heavy before Christmas.”

“You can trust her on this one, guys,” her assistant grimaces at the thought. Next year, Boss?” He turns to her.

“Next year,” Yuki assures. “We’ll see you all next time! Take care out there.”

<BACK

copyright © Yuki Masaki 2021-2022. ‘Tales from the Void’ logo designed by Intern Kate

The New Family – Part 8

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“Welcome back, all! Sorry about the delay in getting back to the lab, but some things cannot be helped at all,” Yuki says, letting you enter the laboratory.

Her assistant chimes in, “We’re all good to go on this end!”

“We’ll not waste any time tonight; before we step in, we’re revisiting an old friend from ages ago. It seems like Jaden has been on her own for awhile now after the incident with her mother and siblings,” Yuki explains. “If you need some refreshers, you can start here.”

***

That was the last of the recordings. The cassette tapes and ZIP disks were all that remained. But there had been more—much more. The photos from the disposable Fujifilm weren’t there, in physical form or digitally imprinted onto the disks.

Where the hell was everything else?

She distinctly remembered that night at Crystal Lake…that night of chaos. They’d all gotten out thanks to interference run by the nightmare-conjured Jason and the Ark of the Covenant.

Then for another two years, popping in to small towns as part of the new family, always leaving without a trace within a few months before being found out.

And then, somehow, she was back with them. Away from her mother and siblings.

Jaden closed her eyes and stopped thinking about it. Still too painful. She tried like hell to remember, but every time the migraines came hard and fast.

All that comes in clear is the laboratory space burning all around her. She was free. People were lying dead on the ground all around her. Next, she had her hands on a small metallic box.

It was only after she left the facility—not seeing another living person—that she was able to check the contents: the tapes and the disks.

Jaden had no idea where she was, but managed to hike her way to the nearest town. Under the cover of darkness of the pre-dawn hours, she kept herself invisible to anyone that may out and about. She waited in silence outside of a Goodwill until the manager showed up.

She convinced him to let her in. He instructed him to wait over in the dock area while she found herself some clothes. Stepping out of the changing room, Jaden noticed security cameras. For the manager’s final task, he was to take the VHS tapes from the recorders and destroy them and toss the remnants in the dumpster. As the manager complied, Jaden took the opportunity to let herself out.

Next on her agenda was to get a computer and tape deck to sort through…whatever was important enough to be sealed in a fireproof container.

She hitchhiked her way into Salem (she was in Oregon, apparently). Jaden had her ride wait for her in the parking lot and convinced a nice man to provide her with a Compaq Presario, an external ZIP drive, and a Walkman along with a pack of double-A’s. She asked that he deliver them personally to her later that night at the Bridgeway Inn southwest of town.

He set everything up in her room and she sent nice man on his way, completely oblivious of all his actions.

And so, Jaden spent the night reading through emails, listening to phone calls and radio transmissions, the box even had newspaper clippings. Had her mother held on to these, or…? Jaden went through a couple bags of Gummi Worms and three cans of Coke as she did, keeping herself properly awake and wired.

The disks had nearly exhausted their spare—and many of the files had been corrupted (possibly from whatever happened at the lab, Jaden thought); that was understandable. But the lack of tapes from her mother…they had to be back at the lab, surely.

Would it be too soon for her to go back—or would it be too late?

Fuck.

And why the hell couldn’t she remember anything?

According to literally everything the date was August 23rd…in 2003.

Part 2

On the Road Again – Alone

The thing about Idaho, compared to all the other states Jaden had lived, was that she often felt she was living in a different country entirely (sometimes, even, a different world). Unimaginable beauty surrounded her and yet the population was sparse, even considering tourists (of which she’d seen approximately seven). This meant there was no one to bother her or question why she was out and about hiking or camping by herself. Not that it was a big deal, all she had to do was make them forget they’d seen her. Still, it was an inconvenience to the young teen and she’d often lamented on being able to go one day without having to use her abilities.

On the flip side, having no people or towns around when she needed things like a warm place to stay with a dry and comfortable bed or freshly-made food was a real damn bummer. She told herself that she needed to find a decent middle ground and stay in a place she was certain the eyes of the institute would not find her.

Jaden stumbled into U.S. Route 2 and decided to follow it up to Bonners Ferry. She kept the road at a distance and followed it until she was on the outskirts of town. A few nights indoors would do her some good, she thought, and then she’d make plans to move on from there.

The first hot meal in an actual eatery in two months was at a place called Tavern at the Lodge. Both the exterior and interior had a kind of rustic vibe, although too clean and sanitized to be taken seriously. It was a family restaurant for sure. The cheery atmosphere put it above Cracker Barrel in Jaden’s mind.

She was given a table on the far side of the building and a menu. Her Coke arrived as she was still looking over her choices. Jaden ultimately decided to go all out and ordered Spanish shrimp for appetizers, Jaegar schnitzel for her main, and decided to finish off the evening with apple strudel for dessert. Between portions she reflected on the families eating together and struggled to hold back the tears. Even when she tried to distract herself by focusing on the decor, it didn’t allow a full escape from reality. For example, all the tables were covered in red and white checkered cloth and it immediately reminded her of the setup in the LaRosa’s restaurant her mom used to take them to.

Never thought that I’d miss Kentucky so much, Jaden thought while shoveling down mashed potatoes.

After the apple dessert came out she had to focus on what she was going to do next. The sun was going down and it would be full dark soon.

I’m not spending the night in the woods again, she told herself the seven-thousandth time that day. She wolfed down the remainder of the strudel in spite of her already full belly. Gotta be a place close by. A few days of having a roof over me and a comfy bed won’t hurt.

Jaden left a small heap of cash on the table that included a generous tip to her server. In a couple minutes no one in the building would recall her being there. She stepped out in the cool evening and stuffed her hands in her pockets.

Maybe just a few nights won’t cut it. Not too much longer and it’ll be winter. I’m sure as shit not gonna be camping in the snow for a quarter of the year. The teen mulled over some ideas as she followed Route 2 for a mile. On the right-hand side of the road was the Kootenai Valley Motel.

Strange name for a place, she told herself, mentally shrugging. They had vacancies and that’s all that mattered.

She entered the lobby and was greeted right away by the desk clerk. “Welcome to Kootenai Valley! Can I help you?”

Jaden already had the illusion going for the man’s benefit; to him she looked twenty years older. “Yes, I just need a room for a few nights…maybe more.”

“Certainly.” The man typed away at his computer. “All I have available at the moment are rooms with two twin-sized beds. Is that alright?”

“Perfectly fine,” she replied, smiling back.

“Excellent. Now I just need an ID and a credit card, please.”

Jaden fished around in her pockets and pulled out two baseball cards from a pack of gum she had earlier.

“Perfect,” the receptionist said and took the cards. He focused on his monitor and punched in some more information. An ancient printer sitting against the far wall started up and churned out a receipt for Jaden. The pleasant man at the counter (whose name tag read: Michael) handed back the cards and paperwork. He followed with a silver key with a red-orange tag with the number ‘6’ in shining gold print and provided her with directions to the room.

As she set off, she encouraged Michael to rewind and record over the lobby security tape.

Jaden took her time in the bath. She got the weeks of camping off her skin and out of her hair during her shower, which nearly exhausted the complimentary shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. Now she just allowed her muscles to relax in the hot tub water. Her fingers were well beyond pruning when she decided to climb out.

The lukewarm water was still draining while she ran into the main room and put the thermostat up. Within five minutes of sprawling out on one of the twin beds, Jaden was out like a light.

The next morning , she only left her room once and that was only to gather a small amount of supplies and food from the Safeway. Jaden vegged out on the bed for the rest of the day.

On her third night at the motel, one of the assistant managers got a peek behind her facade, if only for a moment. While she was getting ready for another bath, the weasel used on of the management keys to access the room. They startled each other the second they made eye contact. Jaden only had a towel draped over her shoulders when she walked out of the bathroom to grab the latest copy of Rue Morgue magazine from her bag (she still had about halfway to go to finish it off). She gasped and the unknown man barely got to let out a flabbergasted ‘oh shit!’ before having this inappropriate visit wiped from his memory.

“Turn around and shut up!” Jaden commanded.

The man complied.

“Who are you? What are you doing in here?”

“Roger Maddix. I’m the assistant manager. I was checking out the room over some suspicious activity.”

Jaden inquired further. No way had she messed up with the clerk the other night. “What do you mean?”

“I was double-checking some of the figures in the system. The room was marked as having a guest checked in with bogus ID and credit card info. I thought an employee was scamming us for a friend or personal use. Security tape was wiped for that time, too.”

“How’d you know to check?”

“The program we use highlights bookings that have incomplete details or information it recognizes as incorrect.”

Dammit, this shit may be harder than I thought. “Alright, here’s what we’re gonna do,” Jaden said, “stay facing that way; I’m gonna put the money that’s owed on the bed. You wait ‘til I close the bathroom door and take it. Forget about this conversation. Tomorrow evening, you delete this booking information. Got it?”

“Yes.”

“Good.”

With that, Jaden fished some bills from her pocket and put them on the mattress. “Keep the change,” she said and backed her way into the bathroom, locking the door behind her.

“Fuck,” she muttered and stepped into the tub. Now she was going to have to brainstorm on how to stay in a place while staying off the grid. Otherwise she’d have to flock south for the winter if she’d need to keep camping outdoors.

Jaden draped her towel over the shower curtain rail and gingerly set herself down in the piping hot water. She at least allowed herself a few minutes of peace and relaxation before she got into the nitty-gritty details of staying out of the cold.

***

“Once again, welcome back! We’ll try to be more festive around here for the next excursions,” the assistant says as you return from the Void.

“There are at least two more excursions for the holidays,” Yuki adds. “We’ll do our best to see if we can get another one in. Definitely join us for New Year’s Eve!”

“Hey, Yuki. If I can’t get all the Halloween decorations down, can we just mix n’ match and have some sort of Nightmare Before Christmas thing going?”

Yuki shrugs, “I don’t see why not. Unless Disney decides to have a go at us.”

<BACK

copyright © Yuki Masaki 2021-2022. ‘Tales from the Void’ logo designed by Intern Kate

No Excursion Tonight

Due to a personal situation beyond our control, there will be no story this evening. We will resume our regular posts in a fortnight.

We apologise for the inconvenience.

The City Council

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“Bill…Junk…Bill…More junk,” Yuki narrates as she flips through the various envelopes and catalogs fresh from her mailbox. “Ah, shit,” she pulls out a piece of paper the size of a postcard.

“What is it?” Her assistant inquires, taking down decorations. It seems like it was only yesterday he was putting away all the Halloween stuff.

“Property taxes due.” Yuki’s eyes scan the cardstock. “Education, libraries, emergency services, infrastructure all basically the same…it looks like the leeches in the council added some horseshit categories.”

“Not surprising,” her assistant says, sealing a cardboard box.

“If only our honest and fair Council-members had a tenth of the misery instilled upon them as the ones in tonight’s tale.”

***

The man in the shadows smiled as he wrapped up his presentation, stepping further away from the projection of charts and graphs. He made not a sound crossing the already silent room and took his seat among the other Council-members. None made eye contact with him, nor did any of their mouths open to question or protest. Their words caught in that little bit of space between their brains and lips. So much could be said in response to the newcomer’s proposal, not only in regard to any logistical issues, but all the moral dilemma as well. The exuberant twinkle in the dark pools of the man’s eyes crossed with the arrogant smirk stitched across his face made more than a few of his fellow Council-members wonder if they, in fact, knew what the hell they were on the shores of, or if they were fully prepared to move ahead and face the possible consequences of their actions.

But you already know the consequences you face if you sit back and do nothing, the man’s voice rasped in their minds. A part of his speech came back to them all: ‘Are you willing to stay where you are and let the tidal wave of this town’s financial calamity wash over and drown everyone? Are you willing to resign your post and flee while your fellow townsfolk curse your names for eternity while they’re swept beneath the current? Or, gentlemen, would you rather use your means to stand beside your fellow citizens and keep them afloat—to do whatever is necessary to save them? As well as earn a little kickback for your efforts.’

The other twelve Councilmen glanced at one another, trying to read the others’ faces. Each of them had their own aspirations, some greater than others, but none less important to the respective dreamer. For example:

Stuart Carpenter, a member for a good ten years, owned the local bookstore and had hoped to build another in the neighboring town, and, if all went to plan, then another. A second shop most definitely would put him on Easy Street; any more after that, the better. A national chain or even a regional one was a bit of a stretch, but a challenge he welcomed nonetheless.

Wesley Cunningham was the youngest on the board, having just cleared his second year of college, working toward becoming a lawyer. That coupled with mingling in local politics, he hoped one day to work his way up to the big leagues and leave the countryside for good.

John Malone, head of the Council, dabbed a handkerchief at his weathered face. He was pushing sixty-five, just counting down the days until his retirement. There was much needed relief in sight for him; not only was this his last stint as Mayor, it was to be his last on board, in any respect, of the City Council. Even with the money in his savings, and the retirement fund at his fingertips, he refused to go down a failure.

As for the thirteenth Councilman, Gordon Lynch, much about him remained a mystery. He’d only come to town a few years before, a vacancy among the Council and a fateful inquiry by the newest resident led to his addition.

“What say you, fellow Councilmen?” Gordon asked, breaking the silence finally.

Another moment’s pause, and then Mayor Malone spoke up, “Has anyone any questions for Mister Lynch?”

Silence.

“V-very well then. All those in favor for the proposal by Councilman Lynch, raise your hand.”

Eleven hands went into the air, the Mayor’s trailing after.

“Congratulations, Gordon. As soon as you can get into contact with your associates, you may begin.”

“Thank you very much, Mister Mayor,” Gordon beamed as he rose from his seat, “fellow Council-members. You will not regret this decision today.” He put on his sunglasses and bid farewell his comrades as the emergency meeting was adjourned.

The scene plays out as it has countless times over what feels like eons for the thirteen members of the City Council; countered by the angry voices and sobbing of the various townspeople they vowed to help. Each of them then watch, superimposed over the meeting, as the corporations roll in, shredding the wooded areas and flatten the earth; evicting citizens from the land they claim as their own. Those that surrender are given very little in compensation to what the land’s revenue ultimately reaps. Those that refuse are persuaded to leave—sometimes in the harshest of ways that aught not be repeated. The apparition before each of the Councilmen shows the brilliant blue skies turning black and hazy with the smoke of the chains of factories sprouting up like unnatural weeds. Even with closed eyes, all of them are forced to see the poorer inhabitants rounded up among the brick and steel in the most dangerous (but affordable) neighborhoods. They see old and young alike succumb to violence, to substances aimed at taking them away from the nightmare around them.

All thirteen Council-members spend every waking hour of their day and every second of what little sleep they are afforded in this endless loop…that damned meeting…all those people rotting and suffering and dying at the hands of what they started.

And if that isn’t enough (oh, no, not even close), with every single soul that is broken by their fair city, a change occurs to the Councilmen’s bodies. It is painful and grotesque, simply put. For every dream shattered or life snuffed out, a lesion grows. Bones snap and skin expands, tearing and bursting at the seam. From out of their skulls permanent marks grow, reminiscent of tumors. Over the weeks and months, agonizingly, they reach further upward, a macabre obelisk of scarred flesh and pus. There isn’t a single one of them that doesn’t try to dull the pain one way or another.

Cunningham once tried a healthy dose of self-pleasure to refocus the sensations in his body; he spent an hour and a half building himself up and denying until he was sure that the finish would wash away all the pain, if even for fifteen or twenty seconds. What he got instead was thirty minutes of unrelenting anguish. When he finally erupted, all that spilled forth was molten tar and what he could only assume was ripe sewage. His body shuddered again and again, expelling impossible amounts of waste to the earth. He’d have castrated himself if the strength was there, but as he succumbed to the pain, his extremities buckled and went numb while he helplessly writhed in an ever-growing puddle of his own filth. Some members tried smoking to help alleviate the pain, all that did was cause a further growth at the top of their heads, in which a hole appeared, and descended straight through their sinuses. Dark clouds soon billowed out, a burning sensation ran up their faces, just behind the eyeballs, and up two yards out into the open air. The smokers huddled together, a cloud of smog hovering around them, eyes burning and skin crackling.

All thirteen Council-members plead to themselves, occasionally aloud to end the suffering; offer deals to whatever god or demon bestowed the curse upon them. Not once do any of them attempt to right the wrong they committed, not even so much as utter an apology. The thought never crosses any of their minds.

Perhaps if greed were not in the way…perhaps if the sense of entitlement above all others dissipates…perhaps if their own stubbornness lifts and allows them to admit to themselves and others that they were wrong, then maybe—maybe—the infinite tortures before them would dissolve; life for everyone would go back to the way it was before it all went so bad…but it doesn’t.

Decades pass and nothing changes. It is not in the nature of these elite, even on such a small scale, to recant their sins. They still have the visions, they still wear the marks upon their bodies, a reminder to them and the world that the pains and cries of the meek and those left behind in the name of ‘progress’ cannot always be silenced.

***

“Geez…are you sure about wishing that on someone?” the assistant asks, eyeing his boss.

“In a damn heartbeat! Vultures, the lot of them! Did I ever tell you about the local Board of Education?”

The assistant raises his eyebrow. “No, you haven’t.”

“Then allow me to fill you in with this hot gossip…”

<BACK

copyright © Yuki Masaki 2021-2022. ‘Tales from the Void’ logo designed by Intern Kate

Something’s in the Woods

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“Happy Halloween everyone! Come on in! We’ve got treats, tricks, games, the works!” Yuki proclaims at the door and steps aside to let you in.

Her assistant moves in and hands over a Halloween-themed showbag. “To start you off for the evening, plenty more candy and actual food where that came from from. Beer’s in the ‘fridge and punch is in that cauldron right back over there,” he says and lets you pass.

There’s already a dozen or so engaged in chit-chat while partaking in the snacks and drinks. A wooden barrel sits on the tiled surface of the dining room, towels all around. A woman wrapped in gauze is hunched over, head completely submerged in the water. Other costumed guests cheer her on as she surfaces with a Red Delicious apple.

“That one almost got away from me!” you manage to hear her say over the din of the festivities.

Off to the side in the living room, a mobile chalkboard sits with a list of events and corresponding times. Horror-based trivia was starting shortly after the bobbing for apples, followed by a screening of Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein. There were other assorted activities, but the main event is what everyone is truly waiting for: a special Halloween trip to the Void.

“Gave her a little bit of extra juice this week to have it ready in time. Can’t do it often, she gets temperamental if we overwork her,” you hear Yuki say to another guest dressed as Bigfoot.”

“I feel her pain,” the assistant says with a hint of sympathy as he passes by with a drink tray.

“What’s tonight’s excursion about?” someone asks from the group now gathering around Yuki.

“I won’t go into too much detail,” Yuki teases, “but it involves a kid who sees a monster hunting in the woods behind his neighborhood.” A clamor starts up around the scientist and she shakes her head. “Nope, that’s all I’m offerin’, folks! We’ve got plenty going on ‘til then, so enjoy your time!”

***

It was still two hours before midday, but the temperature was already up into the 80s. Nicole Fitzpatrick was already in her bikini and splashing herself with water from her younger brother’s kiddie pool. Off in the distance, she heard the dads rolling all the grills to the end of the block in preparation for the cookout that was to begin at lunch. Her stomach growled thinking about burgers and hotdogs and the scent that’d soon fill the air.

That growl became a cramp.

Nicole’s brows furrowed and she pressed her hands to her stomach. An ice cold sweat formed over her body. All at once that light peckish feeling degraded into full-blown pain. She curled into herself in the shallow pool water and told herself it’d pass. Breakfast wasn’t even an hour ago and she knew she shouldn’t be feeling something so extreme.

The teen closed her eyes and breathed deep, letting the wave flow over her.

It’s getting worse, she lamented. How long has it been since the last time?

The cramping subsided and, eventually, faded into nothingness.

Nicole sighed, and swept her hand through her blonde mop. They’d never been that bad before, especially after eating, and she suspected that—

Twigs broke and leaves rustled. Nicole’s head snapped to the side and focused on the forest at the edge of the backyard. Whatever was there was alerted to her movement and froze in place.

Silence.

She trained her ears on the woods and blocked out all the other noise around her…and there it was again, softer this time. It seemed to be waiting for a breeze to kick up the rustling of tree branches to move on, as if it were trying to keep itself invisible.

Nicole slowly brought herself upright, crouching in the cool water. What once was pain in her belly was now a pleasant burning sensation; the flame within was growing. She bit her lip to keep a sound from escaping her throat as she stood.

Whatever was out there was watching her, she was sure of it.

***

The blue-gray smoke of the grills rose high into the air; the scent of the burning charcoal wafted up and down the street. Every year the adults in the neighborhood gathered all the barbecue and picnic equipment to help the kids celebrate. It brought them all together for at least one day before individual families set out for their one- or two-week holidays. School had let out three days prior, but now summer vacation had officially begun in the Jovian Fields mobile home park.

The clearing in the surrounding forest housed three streets in the shape of a backward F. The original owner of the park, an avid stargazer, named the main drag Jupiter Street; the bottom row of homes, slightly uphill, was called Saturn Avenue; and the top row of homes, even further uphill, was called Neptune Avenue. There was an unspoken agreement between the adults throughout the park that the kids could play on their own streets, full access, as each home had an unobscured view of the block. The only time permission was needed was to explore and play on any of the other roads or the surrounding forest.

Today, however, was free reign.

The elementary school kids from all over the park gathered for games in the vacant lot that took up a quarter of Neptune Avenue. The older kids in middle school or high school were grouped up with boomboxes and magazines and shooting the shit, careful not to show too much interest in the activities on hand, lest they be deemed “uncool”.

Matt Robinson and Tommy Fitzpatrick were eleven—technically middle-schoolers as of a few days ago—but paid no mind to the social hierarchy. The world was still bright and fun for them and they were currently in the middle of a new game called Scramball. They were stuck in place after Janie, the current Slammer, called for everyone to freeze. Tommy had his eyes fixed on the game and Matt had his eyes out for Nicole, Tommy’s older sister.

“She not coming out today?” Matt asked.

Tommy shrugged. “Don’t ask me. She’s been acting weird the past couple days. Complaining about her gut and bein’ mean and everything.”

“Really?”

“Kid you not.”

Janie’d run the others off to the opposite side of the field and was desperately trying to judge the best target for her. She was no threat to them and continued on with their conversation. Both were close enough to their mothers to eavesdrop on them.

“—really thought we had enough plates to go around,” Matt’s mom was muttering to herself.

Tommy’s mom replied, “Food’s still probably twenty minutes or better out, we’ve got enough to go around for a bit. I’ll run down to Convenient now.”

Matt’s mom sighed in relief. “Oh, thank you, I hate driving that damn Pinto.”

Tommy’s eyes widened and he bolted from his spot (no one on the other side of the field noticed—they were busy being stalked by Janie), “Ooo! Mom, can I get an Icee!?”

“If you help carry the stuff out of the store, yes, you can have one.”

“Alright!”

“Go get my purse off the counter, I’ll get the car started.”

Without another word, Tommy sprinted off to his house while his mother headed to her Bonneville.

Matt turned back to the action on the other end of the field. Apparently, contact was made and Janie was receiving her fifth armband of the game. The others moved in for the next toss up, so he did the same.

“Where’s Tommy?” Janie asked, noticing one less to their little group.

“Going to the store with his mom. Plates n’ stuff.”

“You got his bands?”

“No…”

Janie threw back her head and groaned. “Can you get them? Casey wants to play.”

“Hang on!” Matt turned back and ran back the way he came. Much to his dismay, the maroon car had backed out of its spot and was lurching down the street. Matt slowed down to a stop in his yard and exhaled deeply; he knew Janie was going to be mad as anything when he came back without Tommy’s bands…and she was pretty scary when she got in a mood. Well, if she was going to be put in a crappy mood he was at least up for delaying the inevitable. He decided to check the Fitzpatricks’ porch for the armbands, if he couldn’t find them there, the kitchen counter was the next logical choice. Nicole was probably still inside, too, maybe he could say ‘hi’.

His stride to their front door was halted after movement in his peripheral caught his attention. Off to his left, something jumped into the woods behind their home. The bushes and low-hanging branches of the trees pulled inward and bobbed about for a few seconds. It was probably a rabbit, Matt thought to himself, or a cat chasing after whatever. The moment passed and he peeked through the screen door. Nothing. No bands on the counter or anything. The blinds and windows in the living room were up; there was no light nor sound coming from the inside. There was a possibility Nicole went along with her mom and brother.

Matt’s gaze shifted back to the woods, to the exact spot that caught his attention. Or maybe she was outside now? What reason would she have to go into the thickets—by herself no less? And it wasn’t even the spot everyone used as a hangout, which was at the far end of the block. Curiosity dug into Matt’s gut; he decided to investigate.

He took a cautious pace, keeping his ears peeled for any sound coming from the inside of the Fitzpatricks’ trailer. He looked once to the left, then to the right, and upon seeing no one, crept into the woods.

***

There was movement up ahead; she didn’t see it, but heard it just fine. Thirty feet or so in front of her, tall weeds and bushes and inescapable tendrils swished in time with the tiny mammal ahead. She crept closer to it, bare feet making no sound with calculated steps on dirt and the lightest of grass. The sounds were too heavy for a squirrel or chipmunk and the mass was concentrated on one specific point, so that threw out the possibility of a deer. Bit of a buzzkill, really, she thought, one of latter and she’d be finished for the day—probably a few weeks.

***

Matt heard the commotion somewhere in front of him, like one of his friends rushing blindly through the thickets. Not an especially smart move, since there were plenty of sticker bushes all over the woods. No matter how many he and the rest of the kids hacked away over the summer days, about twice as many seemed to grow back. The swooshing and cracking of undergrowth was short-lived, however, and ended with a pretty nasty-sounding THUMP; they hit the dirt hard.

Although his curiosity had gotten the better of him and drug him out into the woods, Matt hesitated to call out. It might have been one of his friends, true enough, but just as easily it might’ve been one of the handful of other kids from the bottom street that he both hated and feared. Yes, it was rather odd for them to encroach on their space, but then again, they had a reason to be up on their street today. And while they weren’t dumb enough to pull a stunt in front of all the adults at the gathering, it’d be no-holds-barred out in the sticks. He moved along without making a sound, deciding on every step before making it.

A series of snapped twigs and stamped-down weeds that was the makeshift trail led him a few more yards out. After a small patch of dirt—with two indentations of toes—it appeared to lead into a dead-end; only a mound of sticker bushes lay ahead. He walked closer still, leaned his head forward and squinted. A bunch of the thorny vines had been broken—had they really run through? Matt got as close as he dared to prickly mass, he knelt down and noticed a patch at about waist-level that he was able to see through. He hunkered down, resting on his toes and fingers and tried to catch a glimpse of what was on the other side.

Swish.

***

Her heels rose from the ground, all of her weight pressed down on the balls of her feet; she froze. A millisecond’s worth of anticipation and she rocketed forward, leaving grooves in the dirt. Before the animal could even react, she was on top of it. Not even so much as a cry of surprise made it out when her teeth clamped down, crushing its throat.

Finally.

***

What Matt saw stopped his heart and turned his stomach.

Nicole was on the ground, facing away from him, her weight resting on her knees and forearms—she was naked as well. Sunlight that managed to shine through, unfiltered by the densely-packed leaves, danced to and fro over light skin that refused to tan or burn. His eyes drank in the sight, swallowed every detail: her calf muscles eased tension before spasming a few seconds later; three distinct freckles across her left hip and butt formed a tall and narrow triangle; when hit with the light, her smooth slender legs were shown to be outlined with tiny hairs—minuscule wheat fields, glowing hot and yellow in a sunrise.

Heaving a sigh as if a great burden lifted from her shoulders, Nicole pushed herself upright and rested on her knees. Bringing her left arm up, she swiped the top of her forearm across her lips. His stunned gaze followed her movement and locked on to the damp patch dribbling around her wrist. If a bead of sunlight hadn’t glanced over her skin, he’d have sworn it was dirt.

But it wasn’t…it was blood.

Matt stumbled backward; in his haste to get out of the forest and back home, his heel caught on a wiry root, and he landed, with a thud, on his butt. His body froze instantly; he held his breath and stared dead ahead.

Did she hear me? Crap!

Nicole’s upper body twisted around in his direction, her left breast swayed into view. He’d seen her in a two-piece over the past few summers, but the tight material kept her budding chest in place. Uncovered, he’d not have guessed they’d be so…jiggly; they looked soft.

The fleeting moment of sensual wonder passed back over to horror as that bright red smear on her arm stood out against the green, and her movement revealed what she was hunched over: it was a little gray and brown rabbit. Though, most of its fur now ranged from dark red to black—wet and sticky too.

For the briefest instant, Matt gave her the benefit of the doubt and assumed she only just found the tiny creature. Her nudity, still curious, remained unexplainable. But then, her eyes locked on to his—and his heart started pounding again.

Her face.

Nicole’s mouth and chin were covered with, and dripping, blood.

No scream escaped his lips, he simply gathered his bearings, picked himself up from the dirt, and ran like hell back to the neighborhood—back to his house. No! Back to the block party. All those people around. He’d be safe there, right? She didn’t dare attack him in front of all the others, not with so many witnesses around.

Matt cut through the woods—twigs and stickers bushes be damned. Better to lose a few drops of blood than a few pints. One more push through the brush and his skin was kissed with the fresh scorch of summer sun. He never looked back. His little legs kept pressing forward; he wasn’t even aware that his was running of his own accord. Everything around him was a blur: his body, his thoughts, the world around him that wasn’t dead ahead. He crossed over Tommy and Nicole’s back lawn and over his own. He cleared the propane tank and his dad’s garden shed, passed up the swing-set, and made it to the vacant lot where all his friends were still playing. Slowing down and coming to a stop, Matt’s senses gradually came back. His legs had their feeling back—and boy, were they not well—like the two major bones were made of pins and needles connected by lumps of Jell-O.

No one paid him any mind. Good. He had a lot to digest and wasn’t sure how to handle it all. He needed to think…but he also didn’t want to be alone at that moment. Matt turned to face the area from which he just ran.

She was standing there—clothed now—at the back of his family’s home, right at the window of the shared bedroom for his sister and himself. Only a moment’s relief with his neighbors and friends and his heart was pounding against his rib cage like it wanted to escape. Nicole didn’t dare walk up to him now.

She did.

***

Though their eyes only met for a second, maybe even less, Nicole was able to make out the horror in Matt’s eyes. A horror that she knew all too well. One that, left unchecked, meant nothing but pain and suffering for himself and all of his loved ones. Nobody’d believe him—that was a factor in her favor. One of two things usually happened: either the people that were confided in thought they were being put on, or, when it dawned on them that the words spoken were one hundred fifty percent serious, thought they were batshit crazy. There were other reactions, most definitely, but at much lower rates. Very rarely did a loved one believe wholeheartedly in the impossible tales bestowed upon them.

She had to get to Matt before he was able to talk to anyone else. Nicole had already picked up the carcass and gave a hefty toss further out into the forest, where the neighborhood kids never explored. She made a break for her own house and gave herself a quick once-over with the garden hose. Her eyes continuously darted, very, very aware of her surroundings. Confident in her timing, she ran naked through the front door and grabbed a random pair of short-shorts and a muscle shirt. There was no time to be picky about panties, nor a bra, and if everything went in her favor, she’d be a good distance away from any ‘tut-tutting’ mothers and fathers. She wiped the excess water from her brow and made her way over to the party.

***

“Matt?…Matt? Hey, are you listening; what’s wrong?” a voice said—nearby, but echoing as if it were far off. “Jesus, you’re white as a ghost! My God, sweetheart you’re shivering…” More words were spoken, but they were garbled out. He wasn’t seeing properly, everything was swirling and fading around him. He wasn’t in control of his body anymore…crap, he couldn’t feel his body! At least, not his head and limbs; he was able to feel his stomach properly and it was churning like crazy, like all he had that morning was being push right back up and—

He wretched—spilling everything down to the grass and bugs below.

His knees gave out (oh, there they were again!).

The skin on his upper arms and armpits burned (“Hang on! I got’chu.”).

His feet were off the ground; he was floating away (“He’s burning up! Take him inside!” “It’s alright, I got him.”…“Hold the door, please.”)

The world went dark.

And everything silent.

Matt awoke to the creaking and groaning of the trailer against the wind. He was home now, on the bottom bunk in his shared room. Save for the the wind and home, all was quiet. The only light shone in from the room’s only window that peeked out to the back yard and their share of the woods. It must have been late, there wasn’t even the faint muffle of the television from his parents’ room a few feet away.

What had happened to him? He remembered everything from the woods and running back to the party…whatever happened after that failed to process. His stomach growled and, surprisingly, despite the volume, failed to awaken his sister.

If he was quiet enough, sneaking into the kitchen for a snack wasn’t totally out of the question. No sweets after bed-time, that was the rule. But, Matt supposed, this one time wouldn’t hurt anybody, especially his stomach—which was contorting itself all kinds of ways. Crinkling bags of Chips Ahoy! or Lays potato chips were definitely a no-go, the only quick fix to be had quietly was a chocolate pudding Snack Pack (or two).

Matt kicked his feet from beneath the covers and rolled his legs over the side, drawing himself to a sitting position. The move had him facing the window: he saw the winds were steadily dying and clouds must have been moving, as the moonlight grew brighter. More and more of the trees appeared from the dark, the propane tank stood out among all…though, there was a shape resting against its side. Matt gingerly removed his butt from the mattress, keeping the squeaks from the aging mattress to a minimum. He crept through the back half of the room and leaned toward the glass.

It moved.

His vision focused with the intake of light; he saw that it was a person huddled against the metal. It turned its head to face him. He recognized who it was immediately.

Nicole sat outside, waiting.

The look of fear in his eyes diminished a little, Nicole thought. But it was progress. He hadn’t run back and he hadn’t screamed. And, with a little luck, all would be sorted before dawn.

Hopefully.

She pointed to the side of the trailer, the one facing her place.

Matt’s brow furrowed.

Again, she pointed to the side of the home and pointed to him, then down to the grass next to her.

He visibly gulped and chewed on his lower lip.

Nicole place the palms of her hands together, fingers up, and mouthed the word: “please”.

He stood upright, but hesitated. It looked like he wanted to move, though his body didn’t let him.

She kept her hands pressed together, turned up her eyebrows, and gave the best puppy-dog eyes she ever managed. This time she mouthed the word: “sorry”.

Matt’s chest rose and sank as if he’d finished running a hundred miles. A thin layer of condensation fogged up part of the glass on his side. The poor kid hadn’t a clue what to do.

***

When she started to lose all hope of gaining his trust, he surprised her by holding up his index finger. He then turned his right ear toward the rest of the house, listening. Matt looked back to Nicole, nodded once, and disappeared into the darkness of the room.

Nicole walked to the side of the trailer facing her yard and waited by the unused rear door. Unlike the main entrances in all the homes in the neighborhood, the back ones had no rickety and noisy screen doors attached. And as Matt demonstrated after unlocking, brought it wide open without a hint of sound. She offered her hand to him, which he took (without any hesitation this time, Nicole realized) as he hopped down onto the grass.

Matt was still done up in his sleep-wear, with the exception of his hoodie and sneakers (the latter mostly hidden by his Super Mario pajama pants). His mom must have washed him up before putting him to bed, and not just a once-over with a soapy washrag, she caught the whiff of L’Oréal Kids as he steadied himself.

Nicole reached up and closed the door without a sound.

“Follow me,” she whispered.

Matt complied and followed her to the back. Once they reached the edge of the woods, she turned right and crept along the back yards of their neighbors, all the way down the street, until they reached the entrance to the woods all the kids used.

They walked in together, but an hour later, only one walked out.

“Feelin’ better, I take it?” Nicole asked once they were out of earshot of the neighborhood.

“I guess so,” Matt replied. “I don’t even remember what happened. All I know is that I woke up in my bed and you were there.”

The two came up to the opening in the woods—the meeting spot for everyone. She turned to face Matt, keeping in mind to put some distance between the two, for comfort’s sake.

“And you remember what you saw earlier?”

Matt nodded.

“I’m sorry I scared you. I didn’t mean for you to see that. Nobody was supposed to.”

“Why did you…” Matt trailed off, unable to finish the question.

“Because I had to; I was hungry…and I hadn’t eaten in a long time.” She sighed. “Honestly, I thought I was able to go for the rest of my life without having to again. And I gave in to it.”

“Nicole?”

“Hmm?”

“Are—are you a monster?”

Nicole laughed. “Do I really look like one to you?”

“No. When you saw me though, you did have a scary look on your face.”

She chuckled, “You might not believe this, but I was actually as scared as you. You surprised me. And believe me, it’s tough for anyone to get the drop on me.”

“So then, why were you doing that?”

“That’s why I brought you out here, and that’s why I was trying to get to you this afternoon: to explain it all to you. Before you had the chance to tell anyone what you saw. I do have to ask that you keep this a secret for me.” She walked toward Matt and extended her pinky. “Promise?”

Matt extended his own and wrapped his little finger around hers. “Pinky swear.”

“Alright then. This story starts a really long time ago. Long before you—or your parents, or even grandparents—were born…

“I wasn’t originally from here. Years ago, I lived in a little town about a hundred miles south of Forest Run. It was nothing like this—lots of woods, yes, but it was mainly a swamp. I was one of the first babies to be born down there.”

So it wasn’t anything at all like those westerns?

Nicole shook her head. “Not at all. And as small as the towns seem in movies, this one was even smaller—not even enough to have a main road run through. Just a couple buildings here and there. Honestly, I can’t even tell you what all was there—a general store, I’m sure—it’s been such a long time. We could only get to town by horse, so there wasn’t a lot of opportunities to travel out, what with the farm and all.”

You lived on a farm!?

“Mhmm. Most of my time was spent there, helping tend to the crops and animals. So much of the day was spent making sure we had enough to sell as well as for ourselves. It’s not like we were able to go to Krogers and get any old thing whenever we needed. Roughly five months out of the year we had to rely on what we harvested.

“Anyways, sorry, little distracted there…One morning I was supposed to go out and feed the chickens, but when I got to the coop, I noticed the door was open and a few of them were already wandering around. Inside…four of them were dead. Necks weren’t broken, not so much as a drop of blood anywhere. I was about to go out and get my dad when one of the floorboards creaked behind me…and the next thing I know, I was waking up. I was laying down on the ground, still inside the coop. I must’ve fainted.

“So I grab Mom and Dad and they’re just as confused as me, but try not to show it. Tells me not to mind and go about my other chores.

“Later that night, I’m getting ready for bed, and I’m taking my day-clothes off and notices there’s some bruising on my right leg, the same side I apparently landed on when I fainted. A couple small marks in the center; doesn’t really hurt so I think nothing of it. The next day, they’re on their way to healing, so I completely let it go.

“Weeks go by, and some illness sweeps into town. Me and my parents get it and we’re told by the town not to leave the farm. The three of us are scared and dying…Mom and Dad go first and I’m not far off either. Then one day, too weak to even get out of bed, a boy about my age walks in. I tell him he shouldn’t be here, that he’d get sick. He says he can help. He holds out his arm and tells me to bite and drink. I’m almost completely out of it, so I do…and I start to get better.

“The town is dead not long after and he tells me I should move on and goes his own way, but not before giving me advice; he taught me some pretty cool tricks to blend in with the normal people.

“I let the animals go, packed up some of my things and started going north. I’d heard of some bigger towns and cities and figured I’d be better off there. I did as I was taught, and made sure to eat at least two times per week. One detail that was left out, not only did feeding keep me from getting all the illnesses and diseases, it kept me from getting older as well. Not really a big deal back then, there were no forms or anything. Even when they did come into play, a simple typewriter straightened that mess out. Then they started putting everything into computers. I kept away from the public and cities for awhile there.

“That is, until one day, I met the Fitzpatricks. They were out on a hike when I bumped into them, and they “adopted” me.”

Oh! You hypnotized them!

“I prefer to say that I influenced their decision to take me home. I still have to influence people when I signed up for school or had to go to the doctor.”

I thought you weren’t able to get sick…

“That day I met them was the last time I fed…for awhile anyway. I wanted to age normally and grow up with a family and friends.”

“And that’s all I can tell you for now,” Nicole finished.

Matt sat, cross-legged, very much awake despite the hour. His mind struggled to process all the information given to him over the minutes. He’d only encountered such stories from his friends bent on scaring the living hell out of him, or when the local TV stations aired their late night monster movie marathons. The thing was, even though he was terrified of those concepts, he knew without a shadow of a doubt that all those stories were fiction. What he was told tonight however…

“So, you’re a vampire?” The question came out soft, barely audible. There was a tremor in his voice, a sliver of fear, perhaps. “The boy taught you how to be a vampire.”

Nicole nodded.

“That can’t be true…”

“Oh?” she replied, tilting her head slightly, genuinely curious. “Why not?”

“Because I’m not scared of you.” His voice disagreed and brought the little fib to light by cracking mid-sentence. “I mean…I am afraid. But I don’t want to run away from you. And I don’t wanna stop being your friend.”

She laughed and ignored the crackle in his voice. “Just because you’re not afraid doesn’t mean I’m not what I am. And I promise you that one day I’ll tell you the whole story. But for now, please continue not to be afraid.”

“…But all those stories and movies—”

Nicole moved toward Matt as she spoke and knelt down. She wrapped her arms around his body and pulled him in for a hug. She whispered, “Please, never let anyone tell you what you have to fear. Think for yourself and look outside of the box; be reasonable. It’s okay to be scared, sure, but know why you are. Promise you’ll do that for me?”

Matt hugged her back. “Only if you really do tell me the rest of your story.”

She laughed again. “The next time we have a camp-out, for sure. But you have to go along with me and pretend for everyone else that it’s made-up.”

“Deal!”

“Alright,” Nicole let the boy loose and stood up, “now you need to sneak back in and get some rest; so do I.”

“Good night!” Matt whispered as he ran back toward his home.

“G’night, and don’t let any more monsters get you tonight.” Nicole smiled and watched as her young friend crept up the the side of his home and, quiet as a mouse, entered the way he left, and shut the door behind him. If only the rest of the billions on the planet were not so quick to pass judgement, or so hasty to kill in order to quell their own fears and insecurities. But still, with every one person willing to keep an open mind, maybe there was some hope.

***

Sleep came without a hitch for Matt (the same applied for his sister, who didn’t stir at all when he crept back to his bunk), he was out the second his face hit the pillow.

The sunlight through the window was what eventually roused him from his dreamless slumber. He groaned, reached up and prodded the mattress above him.

No answer.

The TV was off, as were the lights. He tossed his sheets aside and quickly made his way to the window. It was foolish to think she’d still be out there, but his eyes immediately went to the spot Nicole was waiting for him. A glance up into the sky told him it was still morning, but only just.

His mom was very attentive to him after he dressed and made his way into the living room. She asked him several questions, repeating sometimes, before getting him a glass of orange juice and offering to make him some breakfast. He said he wasn’t too hungry and could maybe wait for lunch—though he downed the juice like he was stranded out in the desert for days.

When he was finally able to convince his mother he was well enough to go outside (which he was limited to the yard and next door) he went straight over to Tommy’s house.

“Hey! You’re all right!” Tommy exclaimed from the other side of the door.

“Yeah, totally.”

“So, what happened? Mom and I came back and everyone was saying you were really sick or something,” he said, meeting Matt out on the patio.

“I don’t even know, man; I just woke up a few minutes ago. Wasn’t Nicole able to tell you?”

Tommy blinked. “Who?”

“Nicole?…Your sister?”

Matt’s stomach turned when his best friend’s eyes darted back and forth. “Umm…I don’t—”

“It’s okay, sorry,” Matt interrupted, knowing exactly what was about to be said…he just didn’t want to hear it, “Still probably messed up. I was having all kinds of crazy-weird dreams.”

“You’re sure you’re okay?”

Matt gave his best smile, despite knowing Nicole had left somewhere in the night. She was on the move again, off to start a new life…all because he was nosey and found out about her. He wanted to cry, but he couldn’t…not now. Tommy’d never understand…none of them would. All he could do was remember her and hope he’d see her again someday. He closed his eyes and sighed. “Yeah. I know I’ll be all-the-way awake soon. What’re you gonna do today?”

***

“Aww, a Halloween tale with…well, kind of a happy ending,” the assistant says while escorting everyone from the laboratory.

“We’ve had some downers the past few weeks. It’s good to go easy once in a while,” Yuki says, drinking some punch from her goblet. “We’re winding down with some Halloween specials: the Great Pumpkin, Garfield, and Grinch Night.”

The assistant’s head snapped back to Yuki. “That’s how you’re ending the night? Winding down with nightmare fuel!?”

Yuki smiles at her assistant. “Trick.”

<BACK

copyright © Yuki Masaki 2021-2022. ‘Tales from the Void’ logo designed by Intern Kate

‘What the Bloody Hell’s in the Garage?’

LOBBY | EXCURSIONS | STORE | APPENDICES | CONTACT

“Hey, everyone! Join us, won’t you?” Yuki says, looking up from her mostly-carved Jack-o-lantern. “There should be plenty for everyone.”

Her assistant does not look up from his own pumpkin. His eyes are focused on the carving knife and the Sharpie line he is cutting along. “She ain’t kidding, guys. We got a pumpkin patch that could make Linus Van Pelt jealous.”

“Y’all are more than welcome to take some seeds home with you, but if you wouldn’t mind leaving some back for my next harvest, that’d be amazing.”

“We got a scary one tonight?”

Yuki beams at the question, “We do! In the spirit of the season, we’ve got a terrifying tale about a man who encounters an unearthly creature that begs the question:

***

i.

The question comes from Tom Spelling, a neighbour from across the street, after something large slammed against the tin doors of the free-standing garage. It being such a late hour makes it all the more jarring. There is no traffic, no people doing yard work, no one blasting music to soften the audible blow.

Donny Tomasi, the owner of said garage, struggles to come up with an answer. Another loud crash delays the inevitable as the attention is taken from him.

‘Holy shit!’ exclaims Bob from next door. He points to the impact spot on the garage. ‘That one was all the way up there!’

All eyes are again on Donny. A cold sweat breaks across his brow. No way in hell the men and women on their street were gonna let him go now. Even if he is fortunate enough to bail, they’d all be left with…that. While he doubts that any of them would open up before the police or animal control arrive…someone, at some point, would have to peek and go in.

And that wouldn’t be good for anyone, Donny reflects. Why? Why the hell did I have to go out that night?

ii.

Three weeks ago, Donny was leaving the cinema after a late night double-feature. He pulled out his mobile and dialed his girlfriend. He fully didn’t expect her to answer while she was at work. She answered just before it went over to voicemail.

‘Hello?’

‘Hey! How you doing, Jess?’

‘Ugh…Not even here two hours and I’m already dragging.’

Donny stood on the footpath in front of the lobby doors and glanced both ways down the street and walked across to the carpark. ‘Did you get yourself a coffee or, like, a bunch of sugary candy?’

Jessie sighed, ‘You know I don’t like coffee.’

‘It was only a sugg—’

‘I got a large from Maccas on my way in. Freakin’ sculled it waiting to be let in. Nada on the effects.’

Donny shuffled his mobile and got out the keys to his Barina. ‘That sucks! Whadda they got you doing tonight? Maybe you’ll wake up more when you’re up and around?’

‘You sound so peppy right now,’ Jessie pouted. ‘Weren’t you sitting down for four hours in the dark!?’ How do you even do that?’

Donny shrugged even though she couldn’t see. He put his car into drive and started on his way home. ‘You decided to date a nite owl…plus I’ve had a ton of junk food and the horror movies got the heart pumping good.’

‘Even ones you’ve seen dozens of times at home?’

‘Yup.’

‘Well, I don’t have a hope in hell of a pick me up. They got me printing and tearing out the A6 and -7 sales labels, then I have to stuff them into the portfolios by aisle. It’ll be a suck-ass boring night for awhile yet,’ Jessie groaned.

A flickering in the distance caught Donny’s eye. He slowed the car down and peer out his window to the right.

‘You still there?’ Jessie asked.

‘Yeah. Hey something weird is happening.’ Donny pulled the Barina to the shoulder. ‘Something’s glowing in one of the paddocks.’ He unbuckled himself, grabbed his torch from the glovebox, and stepped out.

‘Another torched car?’

‘No, not that I can see…it’s faint and small. Doesn’t look like a fire.’ There were no other cars on the road, so he crossed at his leisure.

‘Of course you’re gonna go investigate. Like you haven’t just watch a bunch of teenagers make some dumbass decisions.’ Jessie tried to keep her voice straight, but ended cracking herself up.

‘Mhmm. And if it’d been an action movie I’d be wandering around ready for someone to pick a fight.’

Jessie got the giggles out of her system and turned serious again, ‘Can you see what it is yet?’

‘No. Hang on a sec, I’m just getting the light on.’ Donny sighed. ‘Shit…so the glowing died as soon as I got to the other side of the street.’ He found a break in the fencing and stepped over. His light hovered over the grass, sweeping left and right. He held it over a patch that was singed—roughly a metre square. ‘It looks like it may have been a fire after all…’

In the background on her end, the quiet music on the Big W PA stopped and a tinny voice called out, ‘Jessie Selsnik. Jessie Selsnik, please come up to the service desk, thank you.’

‘Crap… you’re gonna have to tell me about it later,’ Jessie said, rushed. ‘Gotta go.’ The line went dead from her end.

Donny pocketed his phone and crept closer to the spot. ‘Okay, let’s see what we got here,’ he muttered to himself. There were no remains or ash that he could see, nor could he smell any petrol. There were, however, a handful of much smaller spots where it looked like people had been sitting.

Probably kids smoking and playing with lighters.

Within the blackened grass, he spotted two rocks, identical in shape and size. One of them looked…off. Donny gave the strange one a quick tap to ensure it wasn’t hot to the touch. It wasn’t. Still warm though. He picked it up and studied it closer, shining the light on it.

It really started to bother him; he couldn’t quite put his finger on why the thing was so odd. Like a stick insect or one that resembled a dried up leaf, it wasn’t one hundred percent identical to the real deal. But it was a goddamned rock. Neat looking, too.

Donny decided to take it home. He’d show it to Jessie and give her all the deets. Maybe she, too, would agree that there wasn’t something quite right about it.

Ten minutes later, Donny pulled into his garage and popped the strange rock on to the work bench. Jessie had the weekend off after her overnight stint, she’d probably be over to use his washing machine since hers was on the fritz. He’d show her the rock then.

Except that would never come to be.

The next day, Donny went to leave for an evening shift at Big W. The thought of getting to see Jessie in passing at the very least was at the forefront of his mind. So when he saw that the rock (maybe) looked bigger than it did the night prior, it did not properly register.

When he returned home later in the evening, he was so buggered from the workday that he didn’t notice the rock wasn’t where he left it…or that he gained another four litre paint can in the back corner of the garage.

Saturday arrived and Donny decided to get some light shopping done in anticipation of Jessie’s visit around midday. He backed the Barina out of the garage and remembered the rock. To his dismay, it was no longer sitting where he put it. Or course he chalked it up to being misplaced by none other than himself. And it bothered the ever-loving hell out of him that he had no recollection of moving it.

Jessie’s old civic was sitting in the driveway, earlier than expected, so he parked just behind her. She was nowhere to be seen, neither in the lounge room, nor in the kitchen or dining areas. After he put away the food, Donny retreated to his bedroom, where he suspected she would be after her shift. He opened the door. And there she was, under a single sheet, snoring lightly. He decided to let her be.

Donny took refuge in the garage with a stubby of James Squire in hand. The summer was weeks away and he decided to get some routine maintenance done on the lawn mower and whipper snipper. They’d be having a go once or twice per week depending on the rainfall. He was so engrossed in the cleaning and tinkering that he completely missed Jessie entering and nearly jumped out of his skin when she leant over and plugged in her iPhone. The little smiling faces of the hearts and stars stickers on the USB adaptor matched his girlfriend’s face exactly.

Jessie laughed. ‘You really didn’t hear that door squeaking open?’ She kissed him on the forehead.

Donny took another sip of beer after settling down. ‘Have a good nap?’

Jessie nodded, stifling a yawn. ‘The birds around my place are going crazy right now. It sucks trying to sleep after the sun comes up—forget about a solid nap in the afternoon.’

Donny reflected on the past couple days before speaking. ‘Huh, they have been quiet here lately. They usually wake me a good two hours before I’m ready.’

‘None here at all right now. It’s perfect.’

‘I don’t suppose you feel like going out today?’

‘Gimme a little longer to rest. We’ll figure something out. I can be lazy all day tomorrow.’

‘Cool. I shouldn’t be too much longer in here.’

‘Take your time; no rush. Oh!’ she set down a small stack of envelopes and flyers on the workbench, ‘You’ve neglected your letterbox. Bills and rubbish. And two missing cats.’

‘Pfft. Cats are probably on an extended wander. Little bastards have been through my bins more’n once.’

The two chatted for awhile longer. Donny was not yet finished with his project, but Jessie disconnected her phone and announced that she needed to use the toilet.

‘Alright, while you’re in there, decided on what we’re gonna do tonight,’ Donny said over his shoulder.

She did—and they ended up going to one of those paint and drink dealies (her painting was better).

Later in the week, Donny had enough dry days in a row to warrant a good mow for the front yard. So when he got home from work a shade before three o’clock, he parked his car out front to give himself room to bring out the mower. He also needed to remind himself to take Jessie’s iPhone charger back in the house (she already had a couple spare chargers lying around for convenience). Donny slid the tin door aside and this time noted something was amiss.

Over on the left side of the garage, he had a small assortment of plastic storage containers: Christmas decorations, Halloween stuff, various lengths of extension cords. There was a fourth container. Like the rock he found, there was something not quite right about the mysterious addition. Hesitantly, Donny approached the boxes and reached out to give it a poke.

The next few seconds would be a blur to Donny whenever he tried to think back on it. When his index finger was centimetres from the side of the container, an ear-shattering roar escaped the box. Its sides blew out slightly as it jumped off the ground. The lid popped off and revealed several rows of serrated teeth. The entirety of the lid was covered with the razor-sharp features; inside the box they ran the entire perimeter, going impossibly deep to its unseen core.

Donny snapped his hand back and stumbled over his feet trying to escape. The plastic box jumped up and bounced over to him, snarling and growling without pause. Donny scrambled to his feet and launched himself through the door and slammed it shut. He fumbled with the padlock he normally never used with shaking hands and managed to get it locked as the mimic box crashed into it. Thankfully it didn’t have enough weight to it to do much damage. It continued its assault for a few minutes and ultimately gave up.

Donny’s mind raced, what do I do? Do I call the cops? The AFP? They’d throw me into a mental ward. And what if they do believe me and see this thing? I’d be put into indefinite quarantine and they’d seize my property. Hell with that!

Whatever the hell that thing was needed to eat, right? He supposed a week or two in the garage with no access to food and water would do it in. It was a waiting game now. In the meantime, he’d just have to keep this whole ‘monster’ thing on the downlow.

Okay, just park outside and hire someone to mow for a couple weeks. I can bullshit something about the mower being busted and waiting on a part.

There were times during the next several days when Donny almost forgot there was some sort of otherworldly monster stashed away on his property. In fact, one hour before the intervention he was currently in the middle of, he was on the cusp of putting the situation in the back of his mind.

Donny was prepping dinner while Jessie was reading in the lounge room; he left his post at the counter to ask her for the measurements needed for the barbecue sauce. Before he got a word out, he saw the little heart and star stickers on her phone charger.

‘Oh, haven’t seen that one in a bit,’ Donny said, nodding to the power point.

‘Yeah! Completely blanked on where it was. I’ve been driving myself mad trying to find it at home,’ she rolled her eyes, ‘and I randomly remembered that I left the damn thing in the garage on my way here. When did you start locking it up?’

Donny made up a story about burglaries in the area, got the recipe from Jessie and quickly retreated to the kitchen.

Shitshitshitshit, he thought. How do I know that she isn’t the monster? He looked out the screen door on the side of the house. It could have died before she went in. No way around it…I’m gonna have to check.

Donny put on the stovetop fan and the AM/FM radio perched on the refrigerator. He crept across the dining room and stuck out the side door. Very gently, he slid open the garage door. The additional container was no longer there…nothing looked abnormal…there weren’t any extra things he could see.

‘Whatcha doing out here?’

Donny spun around, taking two steps backward. He choked on his own saliva and went into a coughing fit. He regained his composure to address Jessie.

‘That’s twice I’ve got you bad out here,’ she said, smiling.

‘Yeah…got me good…I’m, uh, just looking for bin bags, we’re running kinda low in the kitchen. I thought I had an extra back out here.’

Jessie continued to smile and tilted her head. Her eyes told him she was skeptical.

iii.

‘What’s in the garage, Donny?’ Bob asks, intense and icy. His gaze is fixed on him. Under normal circumstances, ‘Big’ Bob Kazansky, retired Air Force vet, would absolutely be able to intimidate Donny with such a look.

‘Answer him!’ Tom speaks up.

Others in the growing mob of neighbours affirm this. Bob grows tired of waiting for an answer and starts of toward the garage.

‘No, don’t!’ Donny cries out.

iv.

‘I can tell when you’re lying, dear,’ Jessie said, crossing the threshold and cutting off Donny’s only means of escape.

He hastily pulled a garden rake from the near wall and held the heavy metal tines toward the imposter. ‘Stay back! Don’t come any closer!’

v.

Tom and some of the other neighbours hold Donny back. Bob cautiously approaches the garage. He looks back at the mob as if to say ‘do I keep going?’. The crowd eggs him on. He acknowledges this and keeps moving forward.

‘Hello?’ Bob apprehensively calls out. ‘Is anybody in there? We though we heard some trouble earlier. Is everything okay?’ He inches closer and closer to the door.

Faint sobbing comes from the inside and builds. ‘I need help!’ a wavering and muffled voice speaks up. ‘I need help!’ this time the voice is much louder.

The crowd gasps and chatter resumes.

‘I’m hurt! Jessie’s voice is loud and clear for most to hear.

Bob runs up to the garage door. It’s padlocked, but a key is still dangling from it. He unlatches it and pulls the door open with all his strength.

vi.

Donny lunged at the imposter and swung the rake as hard as he could. The metal tines shredded its clothes and skin. It shrieked and fell against the wall. A hideous amount of blood poured from the wound. The cries for help dwindled, but it still tried to get to its feet. Donny walked over to the creature and brought the rake down hard on its calves, puncturing muscle and breaking bone. It tried to cry out again, but slumped over, unconscious. He had the right mind to put the thing out of its misery…but it looked so much like Jessie…he couldn’t raise his weapon again. Instead, he tossed it aside and shut the door and locked it.

Donny stumbled to his house, locked himself inside, and promptly vomited on the kitchen floor. He didn’t have a clue how much time passed after. Then there was a knock at the door, which turned out to be Bob, Tom, and the rest.

vii.

Bob gasps at the scene. Blood has pooled and smeared all over the floor. Jessie has managed to crawl to the door and lean against it. She spills all over the pavement as soon as Bob opens it.

Without hesitation, Bob picks her up and shouts, ‘Call an ambulance! Jessie’s messed up—bad! Oh my god.’

Donny tries again to break free and yells, ‘Stay away! You don’t know what it can do!’

The crowd pulls him back aggressively and tells him to keep his goddamned mouth shut.

Bob turns around, still holding Jessie, and carries her away from the garage as gingerly as possible.

SCREEEEEE!

The tin door opens further. Everyone, aside from Bob and Jessie, turns their attention to the garage interior.

Donny screams another warning. The grip on his body eases as the mob tries to process a second Jessie, unscathed and standing behind Bob. Talons jut from her fingertips and her jaw is dislocated, mouth hanging impossibly low with several rows of serrated teeth exposed.

***

“Dude, that’s harsh,” the assistant sighs, shaking his head. “The paranoia was real for him.”

“Rightfully so!” Yuki says. “But poor Jessie, getting a good working-over just because she remembered where she left her USB adaptor. But hey, everyone else was going to get messed up a whole lot worse.”

“Not really. There’s no way it wouldn’t finish her off too!”

“Oh,” Yuki pauses, thinking about that for a second. “Damn, I guess you’re right. We’ll put some money on it and we’ll go back sometime to see.”

“Jesus Christ…”

“What? We’ve made worse bets before.”

No, not that…Yuki, look,” the assistant says, pointing to the carved pumpkins. “You didn’t, like, make two of those, did you?”

“I…did…not.” Yuki slowly turns to her Jack-o-lantern and confirms there are two when there had only been one. “Bail! Bail! Bail!” she shouts.

<BACK

copyright © Yuki Masaki 2021-2022. ‘Tales from the Void’ logo designed by Intern Kate

The Order Picker

LOBBY | EXCURSIONS | STORE | APPENDICES | CONTACT

“Happy October, everyone!” Yuki calls out from her PC setup in the laboratory, she raises a glass before taking a sip of the amber-colored beverage.

“What’s that you’re drinking?” her assistant asks.

“It’s a pumpkin shandy with some brown sugar along the rim.”

“That sounds good! Can I have one?”

Yuki laughs. “Nooooo. This is booze, my young friend. Not a high percentage, but you’ve got a few more years before I can legally serve you.”

“Aww.”

His employer leans in her chair and pulls out an Igloo cooler. “I didn’t forget about you though. Some pumpkin pie soda for you.” Yuki rummages through and pulls out a glass bottle and hands it to him. “Now, pop a squat and let’s get the show on the road.”

“We got a scary one tonight?”

“I mean in a sense. Tonight’s tale is about a man trying to get through a long, boring shift at his warehouse gig. Little does he know, it will start to pick up halfway through in a way he can’t possibly imagine.” 

***

Fog was settled over the winding road in the pre-dawn hours. The rolling hills in the distance were becoming visible against the the violet sky. Matthew Dawes was thankful for his umbrella in the backseat when the first droplets of rain pattered down onto the windshield. He noticed the last road leading to his workplace was soaked through, the street lamps reflecting brilliantly.

A Burger King/BP station sat one minute down the road from the few warehouses in the otherwise untouched landscape. Based on the lack of cars at the drive-thru and at the pumps, he imagined they would be running on a skeleton crew today. Most of his co-workers lived more remotely than himself, along twisty, narrow roads; he at least had the luxury of driving in via a fairly straight State Route.

On a whim, Matthew decided to pull in to the BK and pick up a Croissan’Wich and orange juice. He kept an eye on the dashboard clock, which was ticking uncomfortably close to his start time.

The second he pulled out of the drive-thru, he unwrapped his breakfast meal and scarfed it down just before entering the warehouse parking lot. All the rain building up overhead came down at the exact moment he put on the e-brake.

Well, damn, he thought, sipping at his OJ. The rain was coming down in thick sheets and the wind whipped the accumulation into waves across the blacktop. For the next couple minutes he went through the remainder of his drink. When the rain started to calm down, he took the opportunity to get out the umbrella and briskly crossed the lot to the turnstiles. There really weren’t a lot of cars parked at all.

Not exactly bad news for Matthew, there would be a lot less foot traffic and congestion in the warehouse aisles. It’d be nice and quiet, too. A perfect end to the work week.

Matthew waved to Simon, the security guard, as he slid his ID card across the reader to the gate. It looked like they had trouble getting drivers in for the outgoing parcels as well. Normally, there was a queue nearly the length of the building at this hour; there were only two waiting for Simon to sign them out.

Inside, Matthew put his phone and smartwatch into his locker and retrieved his anti-static clothes and shoes. At the metal detector he greeted one of his supervisors. “G’morning, David.”

“Morning, Matthew.”

“Hell of a storm on the way in.”

“Tell me about it,” David replied, sighing. “Not looking like there’ll be an end to it soon, either. At least you were able to make it in.”

“Huh, I thought the parking lot looked like a ghost town.”

“And it probably will be for the rest of the day. I haven’t been off the phone yet, trying to call people in.”

Matthew grimaced for effect. “I barely made it in myself,” he lied. “That’s why I’m here now; I even left earlier than normal. Don’t worry, I’ll hustle with my picks.”

“Please don’t. Even dispatch is having a bitch of a time getting drivers in. Just…take it easy today.”

“Gotcha. See you at lunch then,” Matthew said, picking up a headset and scanner and headed for the racks.”

David called after him, “Not if I string myself up first!”

There was a brief reprieve from the rain while Matthew waited for the orders to upload to his handheld. The hiss overhead stopped on his way to grab a handcart and started back up while he waited for the elevator to the sub-levels—a whopping ten minutes!

His first order had him start in sub-level three, aisle Alpha-Charlie to Alpha-Juliet. E groaned when he saw those letters appear on his screen. David didn’t want him to move fast, but nothing in any of the locations between those two points weighed more than 300 grams. There wasn’t a way for anyone to pick slow in there.

I’d sell my soul to be able to listen to an audio book or a podcast right now.

Dutifully, as much as it pained him, Matthew took his sweet-ass time in the racks. Because he’d normally be moving fast and getting caught up with gossip from his co-workers, he never gave much thought into where or what these electronic components were going or being used for. In fact, he didn’t recall seeing individual addresses on the shipping labels—granted he’d predominantly worked as an order picker, and hadn’t spent much time packing. For his job, it only required him to know that he was picking the right product from the right location and that he was putting them in the correct bin on his cart.

Matthew adjusted the microphone on his headset and spoke into it, “System; pick summary.”

The computer answered in a light feminine voice, “five hundred and nine pieces in three hundred and forty-two locations.”

Holy shit, Matthew muttered. A job that large normally would take a couple hours to pick; at a snail’s pace he could stretch it out to four and get his lunch in right after.

At the end of the pick, Matthew offloaded the remaining totes from his cart on to the conveyor belt. Their epic journey would continue on to P&L (packing and labeling), and travel upstairs to shipping.

“System; take a break,” Matthew said.

“Take a break option?” the system replied.

“Two.”

“Option two; lunch break. Correct?”

“Yes.”

“Taking a break. Goodnight.” A jingle played in a minor key and then went silent.

Matthew strapped his scanner to the cart and hung his headset over the handle.

Among those that were able to make it in despite the weather were the cooks in the cafeteria. Normally, Matthew only went for a candy bar and a soda, but after nearly boring himself to death this morning, a hot burger and fry combo was a perfect pick-me-up.

In the far corner of the room, the television was switched to channel nineteen, currently airing the late-morning news. Matthew decided to get caught up on the current events. With all his morning shifts as of late, he’d largely been out of the loop on local affairs. As he chowed down on his burger, Matthew learned that his high school football team (go Panthers!) was on their first winning streak in years (they’ll inevitably choke, they always do, Matthew told himself with a snort); there was a shooting the other night and a farmhouse burned to the ground (wouldn’t be a news broadcast without a significant chunk of broadcast time dedicated to rousing anger or sadness from the viewer); a new shopping center was finally breaking ground after being delayed for months by various scandals; and several schools in the surrounding districts were doing number of fundraisers for families of soldiers lost in the latest war effort (going on six years now, what a crock of shit; those crazy Cassinians have the nerve to claim we were building illegal weapons when their own crap region has toiled in chaos and death for generations).

David approached, lunch tray in hand, as Matthew was winding down on his fries.

Matthew took a sip of his Coke and said, “Have I been moving slow enough today?”

David nodded and popped the tab on his 7UP. “Perfect. After your break, finish up whatever job you’re on and head over to P&L so we can clear the lines for tomorrow.”

Matthew raised an eyebrow. “Think we’ll be back up to pace by then?”

“Possibly. The next storm surge might fizzle out. Best to be prepped though.”

“True enough.”

Of course the first thing Matthew did when he reached a packing station, now that the thought was firmly planted in his mind, was read over the shipping labels for any address. The only constant was the warehouse’s address for returns and the weight of the supplied products—all in plain English. In place of a tangible shipping address was a series of letters and numbers that made no sense to him. He wondered if there was any program on his station’s PC that could decipher the codes—probably not, but once he got through the workload, there’d be plenty of time to check!

Matthew noticed after packing a dozen or so boxes that some of the address codes were the same…or damn close. So with his next few orders he took a pen and a piece of scrap paper and jotted down the codes for delivery and stuffed it into his pocket.

He started to grab for the next item when he heard a rumble in the distance. Impressive that it could be heard amongst all the machinery.

I guess the storm isn’t over ye—

The building shook violently. Another rumble started up, much closer this time. Another jolt caused the racking and conveyance system to sway dangerously. It even nearly sent Matthew on to his ass. A couple of his co-workers had toppled, lying alongside mouse and keyboard. At first he thought they were having an earthquake, but a massive explosion on the far side of the building damn near blew his eardrums out. Black plumes of smoke and the orange glow of fire told him otherwise.

What? How?

Matthew crouched down and looked overhead, making sure nothing from the ceiling was dangling over him.

More and more explosions rocked the world around him. The sounds were overwhelming and disorienting. He started to panic and looked around at his co-workers to see what they were doing. Most were hauling ass to the emergency exits while others were tending to those who were injured. No one in his lane was down, so he made for the nearest exit on shaking legs. He stretched out his arms as he neared the door. Eons passed and his palms found the cold metal of the crash bar. Daylight greeted him and he winced.

To his left, fire spat out of the side of the warehouse. The roof looked to have collapsed in on itself. No people were scurrying from down that way. Matthew jogged far from the building, trying to get his wits about him. The sounds of jet engines echoed overhead. He couldn’t see them, but several trails confirmed there had been a swarm up there.

What the hell? Were we just fucking bombed!?

A moment later another formation of fighter jets approached. Matthew’s heart leapt into his throat. He froze in place. Not like there was any point in running; all that was around him was wilderness, he’d get lost for sure and encounter whatever the hell was out there. He kept his eyes locked on to the aircraft and watched as they passed right on by. Friendlies.

Matthew heard panicked voices on the other side of the compound, instinctively he started toward them.

Then he noticed one of the trucks.

It had gone about twenty yards from the loading dock. It was still running and the door was ajar. The driver probably figured he’d be a harder target than his eighteen-wheeler.

Matthew looked to see if anyone could see him; when he felt all was clear, he headed straight for the truck’s cab. The GPS was in dead center and hadn’t been programmed a route. He fished the crinkled slip of paper from his pocket and input the codes from the labels.

First destination:

Virginia Beach, Virginia

Naval Air Station Oceana

Second destination:

Okinawa City, Okinawa

Awase Communications Station

Third destination:

Kekaha, Hawaii

Pacific Missile Range Facility

Fourth destination:

Orlando, Florida

Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division

Fifth destination:

Millington, Tennessee

Naval Support Activity Mid-South

Sixth destination:

Fallon, Nevada

Naval Air Station Fallon

Jesus Christ, Matthew thought. We cater to the fucking Navy? What in the fuck are we making to have a target painted on Buttfuck Nowhere, Alabama?

Suddenly, those weird conspiracy theorist kids in high school didn’t seem so fucking crazy anymore. Matthew wished he had his phone on him to get a shot of the GPS deets. Thinking fast, he checked around the inside of the cab for a pencil or a pen…anything to write down the actual destinations. Deep in the glove compartment, he was able to find a barely-working yellow highlighter (good enough). He scrawled the locations next to the corresponding code and got the hell out of the truck before he got caught.

The rest of the morning was a blur. Matthew huddled up with the rest of his frightened, sobbing co-workers. There was no sign of David, who must have been obliterated when one of the bombs struck.

Simon was visibly shaken. His guard house was no more and it was only sheer luck that he decided to do a quick perimeter check before having his lunch at his desk. With all the craziness going on, he was now the de facto leader and kept everyone herded together and upwind from the hideous amount of smoke.

Emergency services were on-scene moments after Matthew joined up with everyone else. Firetrucks arrived first with ambulances and police cruisers tailing behind. The EMTs tended to the injured and those in shock. All of the firefighters got to work immediately on the flames and started a desperate search inside for any survivors (with luck, the people picking in the sub-levels were safe from the blasts). The cops, on par with public perception, were next to useless and only aggravated an already stressful situation. They foolishly tried to demand everyone present provide detailed accounts of what happened. Not at all surprising, this only riled up the crowd.

Before anything got out of hand, Simon ordered that anyone currently in possession of their keys could leave; anyone without a means of transport would be provided a cab home.

To hell with all this, Matthew thought and slowly backed away from his co-workers and went straight home.

The first thing Matthew did when he got to his apartment was pull a beer from the fridge and guzzle it down. The second thing he did was search every last one of his social media friends lists to look up at least one of those paranoid geeks from school.

“Ilsa…Jeremy…Karla…There you are, Max.”

He got out the scrap paper and put it into his scanner and put the image into an IM and added context from the day.

“Aaand send.”

A gray check mark advised Matthew that all was sent and received, but had not been read. Max appeared to be online last seven hours before; it was just a waiting game now.

The third and fourth things Matthew did, respectively, was chug another beer and pass the fuck out.

Matthew woke later that evening with an unread message from his former classmate:

DON’T MESSAGE THIS KIND OF SHIT TO ME!

Max had also blocked him on top of that.

“Dammit.”

He switched off his computer and contemplated what he should do next. He couldn’t let this go. Could he? With a sigh, Matthew got up from the office chair and decided to make himself something to eat. As he started to move toward the kitchen, he noticed a sheet of notebook paper at the foot of his front door. He bent down and scooped it up.

Knocked at the door

and got no response.

I’ll be in contact with you

shortly.

-Max

“Sonuva bitch. ‘Course he showed up while I was sleeping.” At least he can still help out with this info.

Matthew went back to his business and retreated to the kitchen. He pulled a steak from the refrigerator and put it in a Ziploc bag with a marinade he put together while the oven warmed up. It went back into the fridge. He took two russet potatoes, wrapped them in foil, and stuffed them in the oven. It was going to be a late as hell dinner, but it wasn’t like he had a job to go to in the meantime.

Knock, knock, knock.

The sharp rapping at the door surprised Matthew. Shit! I didn’t expect him to try again so soon!

Matthew closed the oven and quickly made his way back to the living room. He started speaking before he pulled the door open, “I was wondering when I was going to—”

At the foot of the door, two men with nondescript faces in full dark clothing stood like mannequins. They rushed Matthew and had him against a wall before he could protest. One of them cupped a gloved hand tight over his mouth. He felt a burning sensation at his neck and then some pressure. Matthew couldn’t fight back; his limbs were numb. Another few seconds passed and his body slumped. Everything went dark.

In the cover of night, Matthew was carried out of his apartment and into the back of a Ford Transit. None of his neighbors noticed the van that night and they never saw Matthew again. They would recall, however, a moving crew two days later. The men boxed up his possessions and hauled them away (his car had gone the day before…again, nobody noticed it leaving). The day after the movers, cleaners arrived (neighboring tenants were told this was on behalf of management) to give the unit a good scrubbing and fresh coat of paint.

Aside from departing without a word, none of this seemed out of the ordinary for the neighbors, until the manager showed up in person to enquire about Matthew, who apparently paid the remainder of his lease in full without explanation. Confusion was abound at this point, as the manager explained that he had not yet arranged for a cleaning crew. Until he spoke with Matthew’s nearest neighbors, management hadn’t even been aware the unit had been vacated.

***

“This is why I’m glad I work here. Not for the government, and far, far from any kind of military base.”

Yuki looks away from her assistant and takes a sip from her shandy.

Her assistant raises an eyebrow. “Oh no…what are you hiding from me?”

“I mean, we’re no longer funded by the government. Not for a long time now. Well before you showed up.”

“We’re not in any danger are we?”

“Aside from our little interdimensional friend we’re trying to get rid of? No. The thing about our government, you’ll learn soon enough, is that that they’re incredibly inept.”

“Yeah, but they’re not after us. Are they?”

Yuki takes another sip. “They’ll never find us.”

“Oh my god…”

Yuki gets another soda for her assistant and hands it over. She claps his back and says, “Look, if you’re wanting some real scares, be here for our next excursion AND on Halloween.”

Her assistant sighs. “I’m sure they’ll take my mind of the fact we may be wanted fugitives.”

<BACK

copyright © Yuki Masaki 2021-2022. ‘Tales from the Void’ logo designed by Intern Kate

The Last Dominion

LOBBY | EXCURSIONS | STORE | APPENDICES | CONTACT

“Whatcha up to?” the assistant calls out to Yuki, hearing a clatter from one of the back rooms of the laboratory.

“Umm, just getting some stuff out of storage,” comes the doctor’s muffled reply. “There’s just some stuff in the way here. It’s more cluttered than I remembered.”

“What could you possibly need to get out from down—”

—Yuki peeks around the corner, shoulders and arms wrapped with fake spider webs and plastic spiders dangling from her hair.

“Oh no. Nonononono!” the assistant groans. “I finally got all of that stuff put away, like, last month.”

Yuki shrugs. “Well, if you don’t clean up properly, it’ll come back to bite you. C’mon, let’s get these guys into the Void. The sooner we get through this, the sooner you can help me get everything set up!”

The assistant sighs and gets up from his desk, defeated.

***

The angry skies grumbled and threatened what living creatures remained below. All were given ample warning before the scorching rains descended to the worn earth. The smallest of insects faced instant death while larger organisms and plant life faced a slow and agonising death, usually not before leaving behind mutated offspring.

The world responded in kind with its own growl towards the heavens—bringing down rocks from cliffsides and trees from several miles all around.

From the distance, the last guardian of Noius Tasdania stood upon his lookout and surveyed the argument from above and below and sighed. It had gotten to the point where each day was visibly worse than the last. Acid rain and quakes over his domain and it had not yet even reached midday. He looked towards the west, the great berry fields, boasting fresh fruit yesterday, were wilting in various shades of gray and brown. The dry beds that had once been lakes and rivers had gone stagnant and run dry. What little water was available in the outskirts of his domain had become so poisonous that all aquatic life died long before the might river flow ended.

His heart sinking yet again, the Elder sighed and thought back to an encounter that seemed a lifetime ago.

Back then, not even thirty years before the invaders encroached on the land under his care, the Elder had noticed the first of many changes: the once clear waters of his great river now ran murky and brown. As he was grieving for the suffering creatures one of them appeared from the thickets of the forest, sweating and wielding a large blade. A child. He could not have been more than fourteen.

With admiration and a little bit of fear, the young man gazed up at the Elder, frozen in his tracks.

‘You’ve come a long way,’ the old man stated in an even tone with a hint of curiosity. ‘What brings you into my domain, boy?’

Letting his blade drop to his side, the young man answered, ‘I came to see what was beyond the city. All the adults say it is far too dangerous to go past the walls—’

‘And you had to see for yourself, hmm?’

‘That’s right,’ the boy replied, nodding. ‘It’s beautiful out here. So many colours compared to the boring white slabs of the streets and buildings. I fancied myself a swim as well. The bathing halls are simply too crowded at this hour.’ He eyed the cloudy waters near the old man. ‘Right about here looks fine!’ He paused a moment and asked the Elder: ‘What are you doing down here?’

‘I am mourning,’ the Elder said truthfully.

‘What for?’ the child asked, looking puzzled.

‘This water, while not unclean enough to harm us, has already started to claim the lives of the creatures who dwell here, who were once so abundant.’

‘Ohh…’

The old man nodded gravely and stroked his stark-white beard. ‘The damage began when the first trees were cleared and the first slabs of concrete poured.’ He gazed off into the distance, opposite of the forest the boy made his way through. ‘The manufacturing in the south has created a smog so thick it is impossible to get along without facial protection. Housing expanded outward to give workers and their families a better quality of life.

‘Off to the west, much of the land has been cleared and excavated for resources valuable to your people.’

The young man stood there, not quite knowing what to say.

Another beat passed and the older man sighed. ‘Do you know how long I’ve been here?’

This question took the boy by surprise. He didn’t know much about the indigenous peoples of the planet, only what little was taught the academy. All the living tribes known to them had been around for dozens of millennia; his own people only landed within the past few centuries—hardly a footnote on the natives’ calendar. An attempt to share the technology was made in the distant past and ultimately refused. Since that time, according to the lectures, little contact had been made with the tribes, only to negotiate new land-usage rights. Few indigenous folk were incorporated into everyday society—they, by and large, did not assimilate well at all. The safest bets were on the farms or in the mines; they were not a city people.

A couple seconds passed and the young man answered: ‘About 80,000 years?’

‘Do I look that old!?’ the Elder said, wide-eyed and blinking.

‘What!? No! It’s not that; I thought you were trying to be profound or something!’

The old man laughed.

‘Really! I thought you were gonna bring it all together—you know…the environment, my people, your people…’

Continuing to chuckle, the older man stroked his beard again. ‘Wasn’t trying to be profound, son, just lamenting on the widespread death and destruction. The world is suffering. Have a look around sometime. And I really do mean take it all in. Within my lifetime so much has changed—and not for the better. I daresay you’ve experienced some as well, yeah? Rising tides. Weather not matching up to the seasons they should be confined to. Think about it.’

The boy nodded. ‘I will…’

So many years ago, the Elder thought. He wondered what ever did become of that boy. Did he think about the negative changes to the world around him and take it to heart? Did he fight for change or did he just forget the words of some crazy old native that he happened upon one day?

Behind him, a schism opened, a blue-white light shone through the tear in the fabric of reality.

A younger, softer voice spoke, ‘All of the others are now off-world, Uncle.’

‘Very well.’

The Elder stood, looking over his region as he had for 75,000 years. He was lost deep in his own mind again, looking down upon the ravaged lands. His expression was a pensive one, as if on the verge of an epiphany.

Many times in recent decades, the younger custodian bore witness to Uncle’s wild ideas and schemes to slow down or even reverse the damage to the planet or to drive away the invaders. The plans were brilliant…but the damned humans were a persistent bunch.

The younger guardian asked, ‘ Is there nothing we can do?’

The Elder, still in deep contemplation, let his fingers stop fiddling with his beard. His mouth was agape, the words on the tip of his tongue.

His younger counterpart’s ears perked up, waiting for Uncle’s profound words.

Without breaking his gaze at the horizon, the Elder spoke calmly and clearly, ‘Nah, shit’s fucked.’ And without another word, turned to the schism and walked through.

There was nothing more that could be done for their world. Tens of thousands of years spent cultivating and maintaining life undone in less than four hundred. Led by a small group of humans hellbent on profits and the brainwashed masses they convinced to work into an early grave for. The exact instant that level of manipulation was reached, it had only been a matter of time.

***

“You see? That right there is why you should clean up in a timely manner. Especially when you’re being paid to do so.”

“Yeah, I guess. But me not getting the Halloween or Christmas decorations up within a certain of period of time won’t be the end of all life as we know it.”

A nervous look crosses Yuki’s face and she looks away.

“Wait. What have you seen in there?”

“Nothing.”

“Boot up the machines, let’s go back in right now!”

“You know we can’t do that!” Yuki sighs. “The best thing you can do now is help me get these decorations up pronto and back into storage in a timely manner this time.”

“Can do!”

<BACK

copyright © Yuki Masaki 2021-2022. ‘Tales from the Void’ logo and this story’s artwork by Kate the intern