Lakin Wooliver

Finding the ink for my words

And here begins the journey of short little worlds that may or may not exist...

These are my short stories I have worked on for fun or entered into contests. Some of these are centered around the contest's theme, so the subject may not have been my choice. Have fun, and be prepared for the strange.

The Mother of Balance

Story used in "Dead of Winter" contest.           Topic: It's Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature         Genre: Horror

Sleet peppers against the windows like gun fire, matching the rhythm of Archer’s heart. In minutes, his wife will be discharged from the hospital. She has spent weeks in the intensive care unit learning how to sit up and breathe. But, Archer isn’t worried about her breathing. The risk of infection after a heart transplant is heightened in winter along with the possibility of having a car accident on the way home. He bites the inside of his cheek nervously. Their insurance refused to pay for more days in the hospital, and after bribing the Organ Procurement Transplantation Network to move Sarah further up the national waitlist for a heart, they have no more money. She has to leave today, regardless of the risk.

Archer grips the handles of the wheel chair outside of her room. His fingers tap against the rough leather in an uneasy cadence. The light above his head buzzes and flickers. Please don’t let the power go out. If a power outage stops the elevators, Archer would need to get his frail wife down two flights of stairs. Though she’s healing, her body is not ready for stairs. He taps his fingers faster. The light flickers faster. Goosebumps rise on his arms and his skin begins to crawl on his bones.

He stops tapping his fingers. The light stops flickering.

His throat tightens, and he tries to swallow the thickness. This is his imagination. This is not happening again. He taps his finger once. The light turns black. Squeezing his eyes shut tight, he grips the wheelchair for balance, willing his sanity to coast back to shore.

Chilling pain erupts at the base of his neck and trails down his backbone like an icy finger scraping down his spine. He gasps for a breath to scream, but his lungs are stiff and refuse to move. His chest constricts and caves inward. The world begins to tilt, the wheelchair sliding with him. The blackness sweeps him in, taking control of his limbs. His body is immobile, frozen, and withering in the darkness.

He forces his eyes back open. The light is shining its typical fluorescent haze. The wheelchair is resting under his palms with no sign of movement. The pain in his neck is absent, but the ache in his chest is real. Did I almost have a heart attack? That was the worst vision so far.

The door to Sarah’s room opens, and the nurse motions for him to come inside. Archer is relieved his feet move when he tells them to. He pushes the wheelchair into the room slowly, hoping not to awaken another painful episode from his neck. Sarah is sitting on the hospital bed staring blankly at the wall with the same absent expression she has worn since the operation weeks ago. He shoots the nurse another concerned look, and for the hundredth time, she waves a hand dismissively. The nurses and doctors have told him that Sarah’s behavior will improve and does not signify a complication with the transplant. Her vitals and tests have all confirmed her body has accepted the heart. Archer’s not so sure, but since his hallucinations have started, he is not sure of much anymore.

The nurse helps him load Sarah into the wheelchair and gathers her things for departure. Archer is glad to see the working elevator when they reach the end of the hall. The elevator is crammed with people when they enter, but Archer is eager to put distance between himself and the place of his most recent episode. His incidents of hysteria have only happened at the hospital. The stringent smells. The sense of dying. The blinding lights. The perfect combination for a mental breakdown. Though he is not ready for Sarah to leave the care of the nurses, he is most certainly ready to end these stress induced visions brought on by this environment.

The elevator doors close with a slow slide. Archer turns the wheelchair so that Sarah can fit in the steel cube, but this position crams him up against the door. He looks at his obscure metal reflection, nose to nose. The wear on his face is evident. He is not the confident real estate executive he was weeks ago. Archer is a torn, ragged skeleton in a suit, moving to keep Sarah alive. He exhales a tired breath, fogging the metal on the door. The elevator slowly descends to the ground floor. The people sway with the movement but remain silent.

Tick. Tick. Tick. Time moves slowly. Archer watches his breath fog and recede as he breathes. Gradually, the fog spreads into a face on the metal. Two black eyes. A snarling mouth. He stares at the face, his limbs locking and crystalizing with fear. He turns his head as much as his neck will allow to determine if anyone can see the face, but no one looks to him. Like Sarah, their stares are blank and focused on an unseen target. Archer turns to the face again, willing the image to be his imagination. Instead, his hands tremble. His knees threaten to buckle, and he once again loses his breath. The face has been replaced with two sentences of smudged letters:

“I’m coming for you, Archer. I am real.”

He bites the inside of his cheek until he tastes blood. His lungs burst into action, heaving the staccato breaths of a panic attack. His mind tumbles and wrestles for sanity, whirring and ticking for a solid notch to hold onto until his only thought is to get himself and Sarah out of this hospital.

Once the elevator stops, Archer turns the wheelchair and pushes it forward as soon as enough of the door has slid away. He wheels over a toddler’s foot and bumps the hips of three ladies trying to load onto the elevator. The child squeals in pain, and the three women shout at him. But, he doesn’t look back and doesn’t apologize. The glass doors to the hospital are lined with frost. He should wrap a scarf around Sarah, but there is no time. They need to get out. Now. The threat to his sanity is worse than any infection.

Archer senses the stares of nurses and patients as he rushes the wheel chair through the lobby, but no one tries to stop him. The doors slide open, and they slide out. The air is biting and harsh. The chill hits the back of his throat like an ice pick, and the wind cuts at his eyes, making them water. He looks down to Sarah, but she remains perfectly motionless, as if unaffected by an oncoming blizzard. He searches for the car and remembers that it is parked around the loop of the sidewalk. Archer moves hurriedly, but watches the frozen plants around the path with trepidation. Their ice-covered leaves are tilting forward like tiny white fingers grabbing at pedestrians. Imagination or not, he is reminded of the painful scratch down his spine and speeds his run.

Sarah moans as they collide with cracks in the sidewalk. His rough departure is jostling her sutures, but they can’t slow down. Archer needs the familiarity of their home before his lucidity completely crumbles. He moves with haste, and they finally reach the car. Archer places Sarah in the passenger seat and bundles her with blankets to remove the red chill from her skin. He then folds the wheelchair and haphazardly throws it in the back seat. As he rounds the car to open the driver’s side door, he notices a smeared note on the glass with familiar letter strokes:

“You can’t escape me.”

The hell I can’t. Archer jumps in the car and screeches out of the parking lot, fishtailing sideways and barely avoiding pedestrians.

*****

Once on the road, Archer breathes a sigh and calms his racing pulse. The heat in the car begins to melt his tired frozen bones. He licks his chapped lips and smacks them together. “We’re alright Sarah. We’re going home.”

Sarah stares blankly out the window, still showing no recognition of her husband’s voice. Archer angles the heat vent towards her and pats her cold hand. Sarah winces, her eyebrows pinching in angles of distress.

“Sarah? Are you hurting?” He watches her a moment too long before looking back to the road. A slender figure moves in front of the car. He slams on his brakes. The car slides across the icy sheen on the street. The snow and sleet slap against the front window in a violent rebellion to his wind shield wipers. The wipers stall, and the car skids to a stop.

Dread punches into his gut with a fiery fist.

“Oh my God!” Archer screams. He explodes from the car to find the woman. He saw only her frame, but he knows she was directly in front of them. They could not have missed her. Archer didn’t feel the tires give way to a bump under the car, but with his mental capacity failing him lately, he is not taking any chances on leaving someone out here to die.

“Ma’am?” he calls out. “Are you hurt?” He checks under the car and around the sides. There is no blood or even foot prints for a sign that she ran away, and the front bumper to the Bentley is in perfect, polished condition.

Suddenly, the wipers to the car start swiping rapidly. The piled up snow flings away from the window, revealing another woman sitting in Sarah’s place. Bile rises in his throat. An anchor of terror drops in his stomach. He stares, mouth agape, catching snowflakes on his lips.

The woman wears the angry face from the elevator. She has no eyes in her sockets.

The visions have followed him. He really can’t escape. Archer leans to the side and expels the contents of his stomach onto the freshly lain snow. He stumbles and struggles to stand, not knowing if he should run to the car to save Sarah or away from the car to save himself. She could be the reason for the visions, and he is willing to lose her to save himself. If he’s honest, that’s the truth behind his motives. Self-preservation. He wants Sarah to live so he won’t be alone, even if she must live in a shell of her old body. He is selfish.

He looks up to the window one last time before sprinting away from the car.

Sarah sits in the seat with an indifferent, vacant expression. The wipers are gently swiping falling snow. Archer scans the area for the woman, but sees no sign of her. Nothing has actually happened.

He clenches his fists and releases a howling scream into the chilly air. Anger floods his senses that were capsized with fear. Heat and rage course through him in bubbling waves.

I am an intelligent man. I WILL NOT be controlled by these imaginary episodes any longer.

He thrusts his body into the car and stomps on the gas pedal. Sarah’s head snaps back against the headrest, but she says nothing.

*****

Within minutes, on skidding tires and grinding brakes, Archer and Sarah arrive at their palatial home. Archer takes a breath to let his anger dissipate before retrieving the wheelchair for Sarah. One, two three. He counts in his head. He slowly slides her from the passenger seat into the chair. Her head flops like a ragdoll.

He licks his lips again.

“Sarah, you’re going to have to help me. I had to let the house crew go. So, it’s just you and me. You’ve got to try to wake up. I can’t do this on my own.” Sarah’s head rights itself with a small tilt. Archer inhales a breath of hope. The chilly air cools the sweat on his brow. Sarah will wake up soon. We can do this.

Archer moves the wheelchair across the stone walkway with careful precision. In a few weeks, he will sell enough homes to rehire his house crew, and they will be here to help him take care of Sarah until she can do so independently. He has nothing to fear. We can do this.

*****

Once inside, Archer sets Sarah to rest in a guest room on the first floor. He checks her staples to make sure she has not bled, changes the bandaging like the nurse showed him, and pumps her full of pain meds and antibiotics. Soon after, her inattentive eyes drift away into sleep. Archer slumps down against the wall, exhausted. He curls his legs to his chest, and a whiff of his suit assaults his nostrils. He gags, nearly vomiting for the second time. It’s time for a shower.

As he climbs the stairs to reach his bathroom, he removes one article of clothing at time, leaving a cold, wet trail of wool and filth. He showers with water as hot as his body can withstand, certain that his recent insanity can be scrubbed away like dead skin. He relishes the heat. This is real. This water is real, and this steam is real. Once finished, his confidence falters only slightly when he considers that the large mirror in his bathroom will be covered in steam, much like the fog of breath on elevator metal. He swallows his resolve and steps out of the shower curtain.

The mirror is steamed like a perfectly white canvas, no smudges, no letters, no marks.

Archer lifts a hand to his mouth and laughs at himself. Oh, what a shower at home can fix. He towels himself off and dresses in a white shirt and pajama pants. He meticulously combs his wet hair to the side, grabs his cellphone to call for pizza, and opens the door to go back into his bedroom.

He drops his cellphone to the floor.

Sarah is standing before him in the middle of their room staring at him angrily. How did she climb the stairs?

“Where did this heart come from?!” she screams.

Archer stumbles backward on the steam covered tiles and smacks his head against the hard floor. The blackness begins to take his sight from him again, but this time, he succumbs unable to fight back.

*****

The next morning, Archer awakens to the blaring beep of his alarm clock in his bedroom. He attempts to lift his head, but his face is plastered to the cold tiles of the bathroom floor. Drool covers his mouth and cheek.

Beep! Beep! Beep! The blaring continues. He peels his cheek from the floor and dizzily staggers to the alarm clock. He shakes his head to clear his thoughts. He needs coffee. As he walks to the hallway, he notices the dirty clothing he left on the stairs the day before. He stops in place.

Sarah climbed the stairs last night. Sarah spoke last night.

Fear and adrenaline propel his legs into action. He leaps and dashes down the steps leading to the guest bedroom. Inside, Sarah lies in the same position he left her, motionless and asleep. He opens her shirt to find the bandages intact, no sign of damage. The staples are clean. There is no indication she even moved during the night.

“Sarah,” he says, trying to wake her. She gives no response. “Sarah,” he pushes on her shoulder then taps gently on her face. Sarah’s eyes open with the familiar gloss of vacancy. Archer runs a nervous hand through his hair. The lump on the back of his head throbs in piercing waves. He fell. This is real.

Archer didn’t care before, he was just pleased Sarah was alive, but now, he needs to know. “I think it’s time I found out where your heart came from.”

*****

Archer makes several phone calls to the transplant team and attempts every bargaining method he knows to override the donor confidentiality rule, but it is to no avail. The donor’s family, not the doctors, must offer the information to the recipient. He can place a request for the donor’s family to contact Sarah, but the process could take weeks. Archer and Sarah do not have weeks to wait.

He decides on another route.

He learns through internet research that a heart transplant must take place within six hours once the organ has been removed from the donor. So, Archer deduces that the heart must have come from a donor in or near the city. He searches through the online obituaries for the day Sarah had her transplant, September 13th, 2013. There were twenty deaths listed this day in the city, but only one stops Archer’s heart cold in beat. It is the face of the woman. Though she has eyes and skin in the picture, he knows it her. This is the person that donated Sarah’s heart. This is the face in the elevator and the car.

She committed suicide. She was Sarah’s age and left behind a son and a husband. She was a housewife and the president of the parent-teacher association at her son’s elementary school. Her name was Margaret Sumter.

Archer stares at the picture with mixed emotions. He expected someone less ordinary. If the heart donor was someone of significance, maybe these visions he and Sarah were experiencing would make sense.

He walks to the kitchen and makes himself a hot cup of coffee. The brew smells strong, bitter. He takes a sip, and a warm caffeine buzz lifts the fog from this thoughts. He needs to make a donation to the Sumter family. They lost a mother and gave Sarah life. This woman still had importance.

He takes his checkbook, goes to his favorite chair in the living room, and looks up the address for the family of Margaret Sumter on his laptop. Just as he is writing her husband’s name, a ticking begins tapping against the wall. Tap-tap-tap. Thirteen taps. A long scratch cracks down the glass on a picture frame of him and Sarah.

Archer drops his coffee mug. The ceramic cup hits the hardwood floor with a splintering crunch. Hot coffee splashes onto his pajama pants. The liquid sears into his leg, but he doesn’t flinch. Instead, he watches Sarah walking slowly into the room. Her body is rigid and stiff, her face twisted into angles of terror. She shuffles her feet in her house shoes as fast as she can manage. Before Archer can say a word, he sees the reason for her facial expression.

Gradually, the figure materializes. Like a lens defining its focus, the body gathers and forms until the silhouette becomes a woman. It’s Margaret. Archer’s heart slams inside his chest. Pain shoots down his arm into the bones of his fingers. He stands. Her arm lengthens into a hand and outstretches towards Sarah.

“Why are you here Margaret?!” Archer screams.

Margaret’s head twitches towards Archer. Her empty eye sockets lock on his face. Her skin is pale and grey with dark splotches from missing skin grafts. It appears a heart was not the only piece of her that was donated.

“I know Sarah has your heart. So, what do you want?” he asks, his voice shaking.

Her body pops and cracks with movement as she moves toward him. “Don’t you want to know why she has my heart?”

Archer’s eyebrows pull together in confusion. “You were a donor and she was a recipient on the national wait list. You died, so they donated your heart to her.”

Margaret wags a decaying finger at him only inches from his face. “Tsk, tsk, tsk. Archer, you are fooling no one. She was on the list for only four weeks. How did she receive a heart so soon?” Margaret twists her head unnaturally waiting for his answer. “Reveal the truth. No lies.”

Sarah’s eyes flutter. Archer curls his toes tight in his shoes. He grits his teeth. “I paid to have her moved up on the list so she would get a heart sooner.”

Margaret curls her mouth into a sinister grin. “Now you know why I am here. You can’t pay for someone to be moved up the list. That’s not how the list works. There were nine people ahead of Sarah needing heart transplants in this city, and not one of them received my heart. Why? Because like Sarah, they needed a similar aged donor with a heart size, blood type, and tissue match. I was Sarah’s best match. My heart was chosen from the donor list specifically for her. So, you see, your money didn’t move Sarah up the list.” Her mouth turns down into a frown. “Your money paid for a hit on me. You paid for my murder so she could have my heart.” Margaret shakes her head back and forth, her stringy hair swaying like loose thread. “I would never kill myself and leave my son. Never!”

“W-w-what?” Archer stammers. The world begins to tilt.

“The men you hired placed my husband’s gun in my hand and forced the trigger. My son came home from school to find his mother dead and the back of her head displayed against the wall.” Margaret snarls, balling her knuckles and releasing them. “You stole a heart that was meant to survive for a body that was destined to die, and Mother Nature is not pleased. She is the mother of nature, the mother of balance, and the mother of life and death. She chooses who lives and who dies, not you. I am here by her orders to bring balance to your unspeakable crime.”

Archer’s breath quickens. His palms swell with sweat. “I d-d-didn’t mean for you to die. I’m sorry. I swear. I will sell our house and give your family the amount I spent for your heart. They will never have to worry about money again. I p-p-promise. Please, leave us alone.”

Margaret chuckles to herself, patting her hand over her empty chest. “Touching, but I didn’t come for your promises. I came for your heart.”

The Collector

Story used in "Three Cheers and a Tiger" contest.           Topic: Underground Railroad         Genre: Fantasy/ Paranormal
This was a 48 hour writing contest. This story was created between a Friday and a Sunday,

Lye’s cold fingers grip the flickering candle tighter. She watches the light bounce around the dark musty walls. Her shadow is jumping and twitching like a living heart, not that she’s ever felt one in her own chest.  But, she has felt one in her hand.

She takes a breath and releases it slowly, the dusty air swirling around in the hollow space between her ribs. Lye has never felt so fearful. The Bone Collector is the most powerful of all the Collectors, and her dwelling lies deep within a twisting maze under an abandoned cathedral. The blackness surrounding her is thick, enveloping, and smothering. Ordinarily, Lye finds darkness welcoming, but with the Bone Collector so near, she feels her collage of different skins itch with dread. Yet, she has been summoned, so she must press on.

The tunnel is silent aside from the muffled thud of her footsteps. The dirt is red and thick. It reminds her of blood. If only she were going to the Blood Collector, she would feel less like the end of her time is nearing. As she continues to move, the tunnel becomes narrower, the walls grow black and slick, and the air cooler. Her footsteps begin to click against hard ground. She looks down to find shiny grey tiles lining the floor. A wide black door appears. The black magic holding her skin together begins to buzz. Each stitch and suture burns. Her candle snuffs out in a puff, leaving a dark trail of silky grey smoke. Lye clutches the paper bidding tight in her hand.

 “Enter, Lye,” the Bone Collector’s voice reverberates against the smooth tile. Even behind the door, her voice is thunderous and daunting. How many Conglomerates had their time ended by that voice?

Lye slowly opens the black doors and walks into the dark room. The Bone Collector sits atop a perfectly stacked mountain of white polished bones, each one matching the length of the others to create a staircase. The Collector’s dark hair trails down the bones in tendrils, like the black tentacles of an octopus.  Her face holds sharp features, a pointed nose, deep cut cheekbones, black scowling eyes. Absolutely no beauty. Lye holds up the paper to remind herself and the Bone Collector that she has a purpose for coming here. The Collector needs her.

“You summoned me,” Lye says meekly. If her skin were alive, she would be sweating. She drops her candle to the ground but doesn't move to retrieve it. Lye feels like a fly in a spider’s web.  If she makes a sudden move, her body may be devoured.

“I did. I need bones from your region.” The Bone Collector’s eyes shine with greed.

Lye considers this request, but it seems unfitting. She is no skilled bone collector. “From my region? Collector, why did you not choose Mort? He is much more experienced with bone collecting than I am. He would be much better suited for this task.” The Bone Collector chuckles to herself. The skin over Lye’s right arm burns fiercely. She resists shrieking. She has never known such pain.

“If I wanted Mort, I would have summoned Mort. I chose you because the bones I need are related to the bones under the skin you wear.” She looks down to Lye’s arm. “Is your arm burning? That is because I desire the substance of the genealogy within those bones. If you do not bring me the bones I request, I will take yours instead.”

Lye looks at her right arm.  The bones are delicate under the patched skin. She tries to imagine the person who once owned these bones and what that person’s family might look like. Lye has never been ordered to murder a family member to one of her appendages.

“I see you value that arm. Good. Still, your questions to my judgment will cost you. Surely you must know my reputation,” her eyes linger over Lye, reflecting the hunger for her fear. This Collector obviously enjoys disposing of Conglomerates. “You have only twenty-four hours to collect the bones.  However, unlike your previous contracts, this will be an underground task. No living creature must see what you do, and this assignment is not to be known by other Collectors or Conglomerates. I want no interference or delay. I need those bones for my magic and for my existence, and, if I must die, you will die with me. The Collector magic holds your body together. We have built you, and we can tear you apart. You’re sole purpose for existing is to serve us. Do not fail.”

Lye sucks in another empty breath, the dust bouncing off the mismatched bones hiding under her skin. “I won’t fail,” she replies. The Collector slowly walks down the staircase of bones. She touches Lye’s forehead with a single finger and plants the image of her target into her mind. Lye’s eyes click like a dial, adjusting to the picture until it comes into focus. The prey is a female. Young. Small framed and petite with blonde hair and pale skin. “This is my arm’s sister,” Lye affirms, allowing the knowledge to settle into her body.

The Bone Collector nods slightly, a sinister grin slithering across her visage. Lye adjusts her eyes to focus on the room. “Remember, no one must see you. You are not collecting hair, blood, or screams. This target will not survive the collection.”

Lye bows her head in agreement. She knows what needs to be done. This may be her first bone collection, but this is not her first murder.

The Collector pulls the contract out from her vest and holds it out for Lye to sign. Her decrepit index finger traces the letters of her name for her signature to complete the task, and the Bone Collector’s magic swirls in a thick torrent against her back in response. “Your countdown begins the moment you leave this room. If I don’t have my bones by this time tomorrow, your body will fall apart, and I will collect what I need from you.”

The magic begins to nip at Lye’s heels.  She sprints from the room into the darkness of the cathedral tunnel, feeling pulled by the fiery hum radiating through her arm. The thick darkness once again cloaks her body, but she has no time to consider if it is now a pleasure. She feels the Bone Collector’s magic trailing behind her, waiting for her to fail, waiting to consume her body. It breathes hot breath on her neck like a rabid animal.

*****
Once Lye reaches the opening of the cathedral doors, she is more grateful than she ever thought she could be to see sunlight, even if it is fading into night. She looks out to the graveyard surrounding the abandoned church. Jagged gravestones jut out from the grass resembling weathered teeth waiting to swallow the cemetery and its occupants. The buried bodies here might one day be used to create Conglomerates like her, and they too will serve Collectors or be forced back into the ground. Lye feels the reality of her slavery weigh on her hollow chest. She has never had free will, never known choice. Since the day she opened her unnatural eyes, she has been summoned instantaneously by Collectors to do their bidding. She wouldn't know how to behave if she were ever able to have her own time, if the clock in her eyes didn't count down until the moment the Collector could punish her. A strange feeling begins to bump around in her ribs, expanding slowly into her limbs.

Lye wants to find an escape. She wants liberation.

She has never known a Conglomerate to have this desire, this hope. And yet, she has never known a Conglomerate to have a piece of themselves that even a Collector would desire. There is something special about her arm, and maybe, somehow, the arm will be the key to her freedom. Lye looks down to her prized appendage and notices raised lines that developed on her skin in the darkness. She traces the marks with her finger going down her forearm and up to her shoulder. The lines intersect to create large X’s.

It’s a map.

Her fingers twitch with excitement as she traces the pathways on her arm. This could be a map to her target, but it could also be a secret map to her freedom. This could be her Underground Railroad. She feels a notch tick away in her eye, meaning that she only has twenty-three more hours to find her freedom.

*****
The first X leads Lye to an empty warehouse. Her arm continues to pulsate until she reaches a tiny jewelry box wrapped in a moldy cloth. She lifts the box and opens the latch to find a pile of finger nail clippings. She stares at the treasure, stunned and confused. How will this help her find her target or gain her freedom? She knows there must be a reason she found these clippings, so Lye places them in a pouch hanging from her cloak. Then, instantly, the line that led her to the warehouse disappears from the skin on her arm. Somehow, they are connected.

Lye continues to follow her map for hours, hiding in holes, dipping between shadows, silently sliding past unknowing eyes. Mark after mark leads her to more fingernail clippings, and then the path on her arm disappears. These routes were planned for her by someone. With each box of clippings added to her collection, she feels strange sensations dancing across her skin and into the strings that are her hair. It is as if her freedom is beckoning her to continue. This secret path is waking her dead body, and according to the last trail on her arm, she is nearing her target. Lye feels another notch click away in her eyes. Five hours left.

*****
The last mark leads her to an old Victorian styled house on the outskirts of her region. Her arm throbs in intense waves as she glides into the darkness of dusk underneath the trees and bushes. She looks to the windows to search out her target. Another notch clicks. Two hours left. The Bone Collector’s hovering magic causes dread to bounce around in her body like a pinball machine.

Lye grips her knife tightly forcing the skin around her knuckles to pull taut. A sweep of blond hair moves past an upstairs window. There is no time to wait for nightfall for the human to sleep, but Lye needs to catch her off guard. This girl must not call for help.

The sun sets. The shadows stretch further, and Lye scrambles up a tree to watch the second story of the house. The girl stands, walks out of the room, and appears in the window of the kitchen downstairs. Recognizing her time to move, Lye crawls across the tree branch and slips through the unlocked window. She then tiptoes across the carpet and hides behind a door she assumes is a closet.  When the girl returns and her back is turned, Lye will use her knife to carve out her bones.

Lye settles into the closet against the clothes but feels a cool draft brush against her back. She pushes further beyond the clothes and realizes that there is a door. Heat begins to crawl up her arm in throbbing waves. The fingernail clippings in her pouch begin to squirm in rhythm to her pulsating arm. Is this what her map was leading her to?

Lye opens the door to find a room lit with blue light, empty aside from a single wooden crate sitting in the center. She moves forward to examine the contents when her feet crunch on the gravel spread across the floor.

But the floor isn't covered in gravel. It’s covered in teeth.

There are thousands of teeth of all kinds littering the room. Shark teeth. Dog teeth. Human teeth. Lye feels the new black magic swirling around the room begin to surge over her skin. This target isn't a human. She is a Collector.

A giggle erupts behind her. “Did Bones send you for me?”

Another notch ticks away. One hour left. Lye is at a loss for words and frozen in place by panic. Not only is her target much more powerful than she presumed, she has also been seen, which is a direct violation to the Bone Collector.

“Slave, I asked you a question,” the Teeth Collector commands.

Lye clenches her jaw, locking the collage of molars in her mouth in place for fear they will be ripped out.
The Collector laughs at her defiance. “You don’t have to answer corpse. I know she wants me out of the way so that she can have what’s in my box, but she won’t get it. I've been keeping her supply low for a reason.  I’m going to take her out just like I did my sister. I will be the most formidable Collector.”

The Bone Collector’s magic begins to tear at Lye’s skin. Her time is ending. She is going to die. In a last effort, she thrusts the knife at the Teeth Collector’s throat, but the Collector is too nimble. She heaves Lye’s body into the air. Lye lands with a thump, crunching on the scattered teeth, and sliding into the crate in the middle of the floor. The skin on her leg is beginning to unravel and shrivel. She tries to use her weight against the box to stand but only turns its contents onto the floor.

“Idiot!” the Teeth Collector shrieks.

Lye’s arm ignites, and she is sure the skin has pulled away until she sees that it is not only intact, but the patched skin has become whole and alive. The contents of the crate are pulling to her arm like a magnet and have restored the dead limb. Lye stares in astonishment as the bones from the crate slide to her arm one by one. This is the body this arm belonged to. The fingernail clippings in her pouch vibrate a rapid cadence in response. Lye pours them into her hand, and it too becomes whole. The Teeth Collector runs to her and slaps her face, slinging the bones back into the crate.

But it’s too late. Lye now understands why her arm is so important, and why the fingernails will give her freedom. She has the arm of a Collector. A Fingernail Collector. She allows the clippings in her hand to absorb into her body, smoothing her skin, realigning and adjusting her bones, and transforming her into the Collector this arm knew in a previous life.

“No,” the Teeth Collector whispers. “You’re a Conglomerate. You’re no Collector.” Her eyes focus on Lye, and Lye sees her body transforming in the reflection of the Teeth Collector’s pupils. Her hair is growing out blond, her body is growing in height, and her skin is developing flushes of pink as the blood begins to flow through. The Teeth Collector cannot hide her terror. “Sister? How did you do this? How did you come back to life? How d-did you find m-me?”

Lye smiles, exposing her new perfectly straight teeth. Her memories are flooding in as if they never left. “You didn't keep all my body. The Collectors built me into a Conglomerate, and my arm led me down the path to the clippings I hid. I followed my Underground Railroad to freedom, and I am a slave no more.” She lifts up her hand, expending the black magic that once controlled her, and crushes the teeth all along the ground.  The Teeth Collector begins to choke and clamber for the powdered teeth. Her body is graying with the loss of power. 

“If you’re going to kill me, don’t let them make me into a Conglomerate.I thought by keeping your body, I at least saved you from that fate. But, they must have stolen your arm anyway,” the Teeth Collector wheezes, her blond hair turning white.

Lye feels her new heart race with this information. “All Conglomerates have Collector parts?” The Teeth Collector nods in affirmation, sinking to the ground in defeat. “So, the Collectors were killed and then built into another form and enslaved.” Lye shakes her head in disgust. “Well, no more. I am going to help them find the routes back to their bodies and to the parts they used to harness magic. I will lead them to their freedom. No more will the Collectors have slaves. From this day forward, they must do their own collecting.”

The Teeth Collector looks up to her sister with a sly grin sliding across her face, her defiance evident. Lye bends down and grips her chin tightly in her hand. “If you choose to continue creating and enslaving Conglomerates, I will kill you myself and burn every piece of you until there is nothing to reassemble.” The Teeth Collector’s eyes widen in fear. “If I must,” Lye says tightening her grip, “I will become a Collector of the Collectors. They will all burn into dust. I will let nothing get in the way of the Conglomerates routes to freedom. Nothing.”

Look Further

Story used in "Your Story" writing contest 53 for Writer's Digest.      
Prompt: "A girl puts a quarter in a gumball machine and a human tooth rolls out."

Esper frantically placed her quarter into the gumball machine. She turned the latch as quickly as she could and said a silent prayer of hope as the contents rolled noisily down into the hatch. She reached in and snatched her prize. Human tooth. She sucked in a breath of despair as she stared at the rotten and stained incisor gripped between her fingers. This won’t be enough. The porcelain tiger teeth mocked her from their safe place inside the machine. She needed a tiger tooth, but she had no more quarters. The human tooth had to do. Before she could turn around, she felt the breeze of the shop door open. She clutched the tooth in her hand and hummed a constant chant in her head.

“You’re too weak to fight me. Give it up Esper,” her twin sister said, as she inched slowly towards her.

Esper slid sideways and collided with a shelf of animal wings. The jars jostled and tumbled to the ground in a thunder of shattering glass. If Anden hadn’t murdered their mother only a few hours earlier, the mess in their mother’s shop may have been concerning. Esper stepped over the crushed glass and wings haphazardly, gripping the tooth ever tighter. Anden only laughed at her sister’s fear.

“Surely you don’t expect that measly tooth to help you,” Anden scoffed tapping a finger to her lips. She slowly surveyed the room. Her devilish smile grew ever wider. “I can use anything in here to my disposal. My powers are unlimited. Just ask Mom…oh that’s right,” Anden chortled under her breath, “you can’t because I killed her. Silly me!” She giggled a giggle that sounded like drowning chipmunks.

Esper dipped behind a row of braided hairs. She chanted louder in her mind but felt no change in her body. The shop door locked.

“Sister, I am growing bored. You know you can’t escape me. So, let’s just get this over with,” Anden called out with a sigh.

Esper felt her feet burning and looked down to see that her shoes were on fire. She kicked them off as quickly as she could but not before bloody blisters were left trailing up to her ankles. Now, she definitely couldn’t run. She felt like crying. She felt hopeless. But, she knew that she alone had to stop her sister. Anden gained power with taken life. If she took Esper’s life, she would be unstoppable, and the bloodshed would be endless. Shelves began to fall. Books, knives, and animal remains flew by Esper’s head. A claw nicked her ear. Blood dripped down her neck. She chanted and chanted until she felt her head might explode. Her sister stepped before her, marveling in the chaos around them. Esper saw no soul in her sister’s dark eyes, only the reflection of terror from her own face.

Anden slapped her. Epser’s head spun around and hit the ground with a thud. The tooth rolled from her hand and stopped a short distance away. Esper looked to the tooth in desperation and noticed the small glint of gold inside its root. This isn’t a human’s tooth! This is a sorcerer’s tooth! I’ve been saying the wrong chant!

She scrambled to reach the tooth as she felt her body drag backwards and lift into the air. Her wind pipe slowly began to close and her chest began to cave.

“I will enjoy this,” Anden said, forcing her sister’s body to fold in on itself.

Esper strained to concentrate on the chant. Sweat collected on her forehead. Her fist clenched around the tooth with ferocity as her first rib broke. The pain created a white hot cloud before her eyes, but she continued to chant. The tooth finally melted into her skin. The buzz of energy ignited her bones. Her body lowered to the ground, no longer in Anden’s control. Esper took in a ragged shallow breath then looked to her sister with a sinister smile stretching across her face. “No Anden, you won’t enjoy this.”

Remembering

Story used in Softdreamer7 Winter Contest on Booksie.             Theme: Winter
I came in 2nd place.

At her birth, she is falling. She is released from her mother’s soft arms into a vast empty place. Why would she let me go? Who am I? Where am I going? She reaches her arms as far out as she can, searching for anything to hold onto, but she only finds empty freezing air. And, to her surprise, her arms and legs crystalize into that frozen form, forever extended, forever searching. She wants to cry, but she fears even her tears would freeze against her skin.

Falling.

Twisting.

Tumbling.

When will this end? The air is grey, the color of emptiness. She flips on her back as a cold gust dances around her body. She looks up in search of her mother but only sees clouds.

“Where are you? I’m falling. Who will catch me?” She receives no answer. ”Please! I don’t want to be alone!” She calls out in desperation. There is no response but the stillness of the grey sky and the hollow howl of the wind cutting into her body. Her chest begins to burn with frost, and she loses her voice. Her mouth closes and refuses to open. She panics and spins until she is so disoriented she almost misses the sight of him.

He is beautiful.

Floating.

Spinning.

Spiraling.

He moves like a feather, light and gentle. He shines like the sun painted across a glittering ocean. He looks to her and smiles. She feels small parts of the crystals in her chest begin to melt, but her mouth still won’t open.

“There you are!” He calls out, moving towards her in graceful swoops.

She attempts to hold her body upright to watch him as he comes, but she has no control over her frozen limbs or how they combat the wind. Grey. White. Grey. White. The sky above her is grey. The ground below her is white. She is a puppet of the wind.

Something laces through her icy fingers.

Her body stops whirling through the sky. He is gently holding her hand in his. He smiles a brilliant glimmering smile. “You always forget every winter that we become snowflakes. We will stay like this until spring, and then we will return to the sky.” He squeezes her hand tighter until their hands are frozen together. “Don’t be scared. My mouth will freeze soon, but I won’t let go. When you remember how to be a snowflake, you will love winter as much as I do.” He beams one last smile just as his mouth freezes shut.

Together they gently fall to the ground to join the other snowflakes. And, slowly she remembers how lovely it is to be a snowflake. Though they can’t speak, there is beauty and splendor in their silence. Rain drops are loud and boisterous, but snowflakes hold onto one another, enjoying the simple acts of love until the day they melt. Once on the ground, she remembers the laughter of children, the friendship among snowflakes as they link together to form snow balls or snowmen, and the feel of the sun gathering the snowflakes in warm hugs until they are all water drops returning to the sky. Her love speaks truth, winter is her favorite season too.