I went back over my journal entries. It’s so surreal. Less than a month ago I was thinking about how healthy Dad was. How he seemed like he would live a long life. Was I in denial? Not wanting to face the toll that his lifestyle was taking on his body? All those late nights, always out and on the go, never resting. Was he hiding how lousy he had been feeling this entire time? Was I not a good enough daughter to see it?
Stuart keeps telling me that it’s not my fault Dad’s gone, but if I had been a better daughter and had seen how sick he was behind that businessman’s facade, I wouldn’t have reacted to him the way I did. I would have found a way to make things work, let him get to know Stuart over time. Stuart says that it was a full week later that Dad had the heart attack, that it couldn’t have been me, but I’m sure I wasn’t helping him relax.
Stuart insists Dad wasn’t still mad enough for it to have caused an attack. He was there the morning Dad died, dropping off paperwork so I wouldn’t have to see him. I was still mad after the fight. He said Dad seemed pretty relaxed about the whole thing, that he believed I was going to come running back, so he wasn’t worried. Stuart’s just trying to ease my guilt, though.
Thank God, for Stuart. It’s been a blessing to have him here, to help me through this. He did all the arrangements, hired someone to do the books for a while, and to teach him how to take over, so I can spend time grieving. He even said something about having his friends keep the press away, and it seems to have worked. Stuart’s going to take care of everything.
The Seduction is being animated. It’s going to take a while, I stopped drawing on a regular basis when I was pregnant with my son (fingers swelled up too much to hold a pencil, then no time), and that son is now 18. My eyes are horrible, and fibromyalgia makes holding a pencil an act of endurance. Thankfully, I can be stubborn. Now that I can draw digitally in a more comfortable manner, and I can zoom in to ease the strain on my miscreant eyes, this is going to happen. Eventually, but I’m loving the process.
I finally have something to write about, that isn’t some stupid poem about how the scent of cut grass is from the chemicals it releases when it screams, or the geometry of pine cones, something like that. Something people don’t usually want to talk about. After class I went to Maverick’s, to my table under the speakers. They weren’t doing a good job of covering the noise today. There was a group of women having a late lunch, and there was a lot of laughter. It made me miss Mom. The guys at the office don’t exactly joke around with me. I don’t know if it’s because of Dad, or if it’s just me.
It made me miss more than Mom. Maybe it was their laughter, maybe it was the music, but I started really missing Jeff. Not the wisest thing to dwell on, but that’s how I was feeling. Lost. Used. Something worth nothing more than a good time, destined to be discarded. Foolish.
Jeff made me feel funny, pretty, smart. I really thought he liked me. I should have known better. I guess it’s not a good idea to be hanging around Dad’s employees anyway, it’s just that I don’t have any time to date, I barely have enough time to study, with all of Dad’s paperwork. If Mom were alive, it would be different. She could have done the books while I focused on school, and had time for a life. But Dad needs someone to help him, he’s worked too hard to watch everything fall apart.
I don’t like the way Dad talks about her, but sometimes I think maybe he’s right, maybe she should have eaten better, been more healthy. But here I am, doing the same thing. Eating greasy restaurant food, never cooking, never going for a jog. It just seems like there’s never any time. Maybe if I was better at what I did. Dad is always talking about how Mom was never very efficient either, I wish I had taken more after him. If something happens and I have to take over the business as well as take care of him, I’d be lost.
Here I am again, feeling sorry for myself like a pathetic lump. But, I shouldn’t feel that way now. Besides, Dad is healthy and strong, he should be able to keep up the business well into old age. I don’t know what I would do without him, he’s right that I probably wouldn’t be able to take care of myself.
Anyway, there I was, trying to get the books done so I could go home and write my paper (okay, I admit it, I was moping and tracing the patterns in the wood grain with my finger), when a man came up to me. A good looking one! He said his name was Stuart. I was so stunned, he just slipped right into the booth and started talking about how he likes women with a strong work ethic. And he didn’t seem to think I was being a nerd, with my paperwork and calculator. I was so shocked, I must have missed part of the conversation. He ordered me a Mimosa, and I don’t even remember telling him what I was drinking.
He said I had a warm smile. That was different. At work there are whispers that I’m a bit of a snob, a cold fish. But it was like he looked in my eyes and saw deep into me. And he was so nice, asking about the books I was working on, as if my father’s business was interesting to anyone but the family. We have so much in common too, he said he does the same thing, likes to go to a bar during off hours just to soak up the atmosphere while he works, he just usually goes to the one on the other side of town. He said he gets too busy to really go out, just like me. A hard worker. And we like the same music and books.
He’s so much more together than I am, so much more capable. He’s charming, I could never do that. His smile could get a girl to do anything. He reminds me of Jeff a little, but Jeff was more into just having fun and teased me for working too hard, like I was supposed to just ditch my father and not show my gratitude for all he’s done for me. Stuart admired my loyalty to Dad, said too many women don’t want to work hard, just want a man to take care of them while they sit around the house.
I didn’t have to talk a lot, which is good. It always feels like whatever comes out of my mouth is weird and stupid, and it’s embarrassing. He seemed happy to carry the conversation. When I did talk, like when I said that doing the books soothed me, just a big predictable puzzle where I could easily check if I was right or not, he seemed to understand instead of saying I needed to get out more. He did say that math wasn’t his strong suit, but he at least seemed interested in how it made me feel.
He might not be good with numbers, but he seems to know the other aspects of business, like Dad. I can see him working hard at networking, he does seem like he would be good at it. He said something about helping with a few fundraisers for a couple of local charities, he has a good heart.
He understands people more than I do. He asked me if I was on that Twitter thing, said he has a lot of followers, but those sites just make me feel more lonely. I wish I could be like him, he makes it all look so easy. It was a lot of fun hanging out with him. I lost track of so much time that Dad even started texting me asking where the books were. I had to make up an excuse. Stuart was even nice enough to start helping me a little, once I explained part of my system, something I thought he could handle with a calculator. I was a little uncomfortable with how close he was sitting, especially when he started lightly touching me. I’m not used to that. I kind of wished I had room to scoot a little further away, but I guess maybe I am a little too stand-offish at times.
Maybe it will be okay if I have to stay up late working on the paper. Even if he doesn’t call, it ended up being a really nice night. I just hope it doesn’t end up one of my crushes that never goes further than my daydreams. I hope this is the start of something new that I can cherish, and I don’t end up just feeling like a fool again.
Usually, when the moon is this high, the stone paths they build their dwellings alongside are empty. This is the best place to hunt for stragglers, those that wander along the fringes of the colony are often in a dazed and confused state. Tonight though, there are many of them. A large group sit across the stone, all facing the same direction. A few smaller groups wander around, many carry lightweight boards splashed with color. Some raise their voices in a low, relentless chant, and they all wear cloth on the lower half of their faces. She can see now that the crowd is edged by their warriors, and the crowd seems to be bickering at them.
The hunting tonight will be tricky. She already passed nothing but empty campgrounds on her trip into town. Always empty campgrounds. Summer is usually the time of plenty, and now it is drawing to a close with no where near the bounty that previous years have provided. The pantry is still thin, though the air grows pleasant as the days grew longer. It has been that way for far too long, the elders have been overheard whispering their concerns to each other. It is risky to be this close to the heart of their village, but her family is hungry.
The humans all seem tense and angry. The general guidelines recommended targeting the more aggressive ones, to remove them from the colony so they didn’t damage each other, but tonight they all seem likely to turn on their own.
There is one. A man standing in front of a building with wood panels along the front and sides. He is pacing along the walls in an agitated state, but instead of facing the direction that most face, he is directing his anger at the crowd itself. He seems to be protecting the building, dashing at people who get too close, waving a club at them.
He seems to be protecting the building from the crowd. Everyone is tense, but his anger seems to be facing the people around him, and they do not seem angry at each other. Sometimes their anger directs at him, but they do not rise and charge him as he does them. Those in the crowd are mumbling to each other. They seem to be soothing each other. They seem to want to avoid conflict, though they seem to seethe as a whole. Some even ignore him completely. Perhaps he’s done something wrong, they are trying to exile him and he is refusing to leave. Would their warriors not remove him? Why is he guarding that building? Perhaps there is food in there and he doesn’t want to share, and that’s why they are angry.
Whatever it is, he is likely a good target. His removal will be good for the colony, prevent them from turning on each other. But how to lead him away? His eyes are not lingering on female bodies. Her usual methods would not likely work, either with rolling hips or an air of vulnerability. He seems to want to remain between the crowd and that building. Perhaps she could threaten the building, on the side away from the crowd.
The warriors pay attention when she tries to slip down the alley behind the building, but with a little mental push they seem to forget about her well enough. She clings to the corner of a wall and faces the man.
She sends him the scent of smoke, and the flash of fire. It works, his head snapping to the alley almost immediately. She lets herself be seen ducking behind the corner, and makes sure he sees her head into the grassy area, toward a corner shaded by tall shrubs.
He jogs after her, jingling as he runs, and quickly starts panting heavily. She muffles the sound of his cries toward the warriors, and watches him pause in his frustration, as he fails to get their attention. She jiggles her shrub to draw his attention, and he decides to pursue her rather than get help. It’s nice when they mistake you for weak, thinking they can take you easily when you’re alone. Their look of surprise always amuses her.
His neck snaps cleanly, and he falls silently to the ground. She is hungry, the illusions took energy she barely had to spare. She slices off an ear to nibble on, when a scream rings out. She looks up, one of the crowd is pointing at her, and others near her are rousing, looking around in increasing panic. The shrubs didn’t offer as much shelter as she thought, and she doesn’t have enough energy to cover her tracks. She tosses her kill over her shoulder, and runs.
P.S. – This is the first of thirteen prompts I have selected from Grim List. All thirteen stories will be in continuation.
Horseradish. That would be perfect, just enough to give the other flavors a bit more punch. Usually she prefers pork seasonings, but the occasional hint of something good with red meat helps bring out the earthier tones of the dish.
Grandma would disapprove of such additions to her recipes, designed to be simple and enhance the natural flavor. Unfortunately, the difficulty of the hunt lately made it so that meat was rare, every effort must me made to maximize enjoyment. The prey were learning to protect themselves much better than they did in Grandma’s day.
She hummed as she worked, slicing turnips while a thigh soaked in the marinade. So many people undervalued a good roasted turnip. The flavor was so strong when raw, you would never expect it to turn so savory and mellow.
The repetitive task allowed her mind to wander, and she considered the satisfying catch and kill behind her. This one had been taken in his sleep, always better for the meat. Once, she heard one of the campers tell a story about a creature that hunted humans. Talked about fear enhancing the flavor of meat. It was obvious the human didn’t know what he was talking about. In her experience it made it taste a little off. This one never saw a thing coming, he was nice and cozy in his sleeping bag.
The park rangers are cracking down like wildfire, but they don’t know how to track something like her. They look for their trails on the ground, not in the trees. They would be aware, and so would the campers, but there will always be one or two that consider themselves to be safe enough to stray.
P.S. – Found another older story that contains elements I will hopefully be using for Grim List 2020.
“Oh, she is beautiful. I bet Dr. Fairweather will notice you for this one. You might even get more than just the grant out of him.” She winked. “Excuse me?” I could never remember this one’s name. Grad students are so temporary lately. “Was that too forward?” She smiled. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell. Anyway, she should help you get that grant for sure. I know you’ve certainly been working hard enough to deserve it.” “It’s not about me. It’s not even about my work, but she does bring me some hope.” I couldn’t help the smile I felt rising to my face as I put her in the specimen jar. — “I don’t understand, what do you mean the funds aren’t available?” No, no, I needed this grant. “I’m afraid the last of it went to Dr. Aemulus.” Fairweather wouldn’t even look me in the eye, shuffling through papers on his desk instead. “But it was promised to me, you told me you would make sure of it.” “Well, to be frank, she has an amazingly persuasive argument for her cause.” “Does that argument have anything to do with the weekend you spent together?” A deep flush spread up to his face from the over starched collar of his shirt. “Don’t be petty.” — The whole campus was abuzz with excitement. I sipped at the champagne and wished it was mead. I like mead, the child in me enjoys sipping nectar like a bee. Dr. Aemulus came in on Fairweather’s arm and everybody clapped. The grad student said, “This should have been your event.” Incubo. That was her name. Something Incubo. “Don’t be petty,” I sighed. — “Wait, that’s mine. That’s all mine. What are you doing with my things? That’s delicate equipment, what are you doing?” Fairweather the betrayer came in, holding his hands up as if to physically restrain me if need be. “Calm down, we need this space for Dr. Aemulus to run her experiments. Your equipment will go down to storage where it will be safe until it’s needed again.” “Calm down? How do men always think saying that will help?” “Just be reasonable. The money from forensic research will be far more valuable than conservation efforts. Why are you letting some grad student put a bug in your ear anyway?” “What grad student? How can you think I’m angry because of a grad student? You’re insane!” — I shouldn’t have to do this. I am a good person. I deserve loyalty. But no, here I am covered in fucking blood up to my arms in these stupid beetles. Necessary forensic research, my ass. This “research” has all been done before, it solves nothing. Nothing. Out of pure spite, I crumpled his stupid starched collar before dumping more of the flesh consuming beetles over the pair of them. I patted Aemulus’s hair. “Feed your children well,” I whispered. — Fire grew in my heart. Fire grew in my eyes. Incubo was right. Sometimes, fire is good for the forest, even if some pollinators die. I was wrong to stop the controlled burn the farmers wanted last fall. Sometimes, burning it all to the ground gives room for renewal, for the new, the strong, the helpful, to flourish and grow. The heat tingles my skin, flush from being so near, the smoke billows to the sky and blows through my hair. I feel so alive. What an absolutely beautiful day. — They found her bones in the ashes. Her grad student stood quietly with the other onlookers as the bodies were carried away. With a sad smile, Incubo said, “it looks like I will need a job soon. What about you? I hear you’ve been busy, but they haven’t given you the help you need,” the muse of jealousy continued, “Personally, I think you’ve been underappreciated.”
“Supposedly, Janice Marie Rodgers, age 17, knew nothing of the legend surrounding the item she found when she entered the house. Neighbors saw her walk directly into the home through the unlocked front door, and she was only inside for a brief moment before she walked back out and continued on her way.
As was previously reported, there is no forensic evidence tying her to any activity within the house other than the trail of bloody footprints she left as she walked through Sarah Baker’s blood directly to the display cabinet. There is evidence that she removed a single figurine before turning around and walking out again. There is no evidence tying her to any of the murders in that home, or to the previous tragedies. All evidence corroborates with Baker’s confession, and he claims to have no knowledge of Rodgers. He refuses to discuss the figurine.
It is unlikely that a teenager from a neighboring town with no social ties to any of those involved would have walked directly into a murder scene and have been so unaffected. Currently, investigators believe that Miss Rodgers may already have been on the brink of violence, and her happening upon the scene was coincidental, though likely to have motivated her “psychotic break”. Family and friends state that she seemed like a happy and well-adjusted young woman, and her murder spree is entirely unexpected.
Exactly how the figurine reached Colin David Brand is not known, but it was not found on or near the body of Miss Rodgers. When police raided the hotel room where he lived, it was seen as the focal point of an altar Brand decorated with belongings from his victims, but while police were still in the room, the figurine seems to have vanished. Brand’s whereabouts are still unknown.”