A Sinister Blast from the Past [fiction]

© 2001 by Steven L Campbell.
(Approximately 1,700 words.)

Inside this cold and sterile environment, I am a prisoner of time, a prisoner of fate, a prisoner to the cruel circumstances that have left me unable to communicate to the people around me. They pass me and I go unnoticed by them. Without a name, I am nobody. Without a voice, I am nothing more than a silent pet that must be fed and bathed and taken care of. Unable to move, I am barely alive.

It began when my Uncle John died ten days ago. He was more of a father than an uncle. He and Aunt Zela raised me after my parents died when I was four. My older cousins Judy and Donald became like sister and brother, and when Judy called with the heartbreaking news, the two of us wept while we remembered John Foster’s inexhaustible kindness.

That evening without Carrie at my side (she was in Pittsburgh at an art show), I left my woodsy ranch home on the northeast outskirts of New Cambridge and drove west to Uncle John’s funeral in nearby Ravenwood. I felt alone without my wife and constant companion next to me.

(My dearest Carrie, I miss her dearly. We married the year she graduated from New Cambridge University. I was twenty and she had just turned twenty-three. The wedding ceremony turned out better than how we had rehearsed it. Even the cake turned out just right. Although Aunt Zela lamented that I had married too young, that my destiny was college and a profession as a teacher, she shared my happiness anyway when I became a writer for the New Cambridge Gazette. She and Uncle John ended up loving loved Carrie and the children dearly.)

During the drive to Uncle John’s funeral at Ravenwood, a strange storm dropped rain and hail on me just north of town where the surrounding woods are thick with pines. Despite the canopy of tree limbs, brisk winds and sheets of rain caused me to pull over and wait for visibility to return. My cell phone searched for a signal while I sat alone in my cramping Toyota Camry parked along the highway.

A few yards behind me, a naked tree that had lost many of its branches long ago toppled and splintered onto the road. Then, as I looked through the torrents of rain striking the sunroof and flowing down my windshield, I saw bolts of lightning strike beyond Myers Creek to my right. Suddenly, a whistling bolt of lightning struck the hood of my car and rocked it like a boat taking a large wake to the stern. My ears popped and a deafening ringing filled my head. My hands tingled and felt like they had been too close to a raging fire. I stuck my fingers in my mouth to relieve the burn. When the ringing stopped and the burning in my fingers had subsided, the storm was gone.

A headache twisted my forehead into an unvarying frown. I got out and inspected a large scorch mark across the hood of my car where the lightning had turned portions of the metallic blue color to an ashy gray. Nothing I couldn’t fix I reasoned as I got back in. As I looked in my rearview mirror before driving off, something seemed amiss. By the time I had driven another mile, I realized the tree that had crashed onto the road had not been there when I pulled away.

The headache knifed at the back of my eyes and the evening seemed especially bright when I drove into Ravenwood. When I arrived at the funeral home, no one was there, so I tried calling Aunt Zela, but my phone still searched for a signal. I left downtown Ravenwood and drove south to Uncle John and Aunt Zela’s house, and the place where I grew up. As I turned on Hamilton Street and approached the house, a thin teenage boy darted out in front of my car. I stopped quick enough not to hit him and he was athletic enough to dodge a car coming down the other lane. He turned and looked at me and I stared dumbly into a face I hadn’t seen for a long, long time.

A girl around the same age and a boy no older than seven, came across the street next. My cousins Judy and Donald passed in front of my vehicle and I watched them catch up to the boy that I had been in another time. Next, I saw Uncle John come to the driveway, climb into his old, red `66 Chevy pickup truck, back out onto the street and drive past me.

A car horn blared from behind and I was startled into driving in the direction I had seen my self and cousins go. Suddenly, I began to shake and had to pull over. I got the door open in time to vomit onto the street. After I emptied my stomach, I closed the door and wiped my mouth with my hands. My headache ceased, but my stomach roiled.

I don’t remember how long I sat there along the side of the street with the engine running and my mind locked in disbelief. At some point, I turned on the radio, likely to distract me and keep me from thinking. A baseball game came on. The Pittsburgh Pirates were playing the Cincinnati Reds in Pittsburgh, at Three Rivers Stadium.

The announcer’s voice from long ago sent chills through my numb body. His was a cherished voice I had listened to on many summer days and nights while growing up on that very block of town.

I snapped off the radio and cried deep sobs. It was all I could think to do. Perhaps I should have screamed, but the thought never entered my mind.

When my nerves settled enough to drive, I tried the radio again. Many of the stations I selected were playing anti-war songs, and Watergate was still a hot topic on the news. I slid a New Age CD into the CD player and drove madly away, but the strangeness remained as I passed late 1960 and early 1970 classic Chevy and Ford vehicles from some insane road show. Of the vehicles I followed out of town, their Pennsylvania license plates looked plain—authentic yellow and blue like the ones nailed to the wall inside my garage back home, not like the colorful and fancy wildlife one fastened to the back of my small, aerodynamic-designed Toyota.

Along the way, I saw places from my childhood restored. Sam’s Diner and the movie theater were back. The shopping mall was Chester Bailey’s farm again. I knew that I had somehow traveled into my past, and my fancy car was trespassing on it. What would the police say if they should pull me over? I drove the back roads toward New Cambridge and home. There, the peaceful countryside settled my nerves.

Night came early as a second front of storm clouds quickened the darkness. When I returned to the highway for the final three miles home, I could tell by the large and round headlights that passed me that I was not getting closer to where I wanted to be. The strangeness had reached New Cambridge and I saw that the BP filling station two miles from my house had changed its square green and yellow signs to red and blue oval ones with AMOCO AMERICAN GAS in white letters across their blue centers. Amoco’s gas was 47.9 cents for a gallon of regular, and I laughed like a loon as I turned on the road to home and drove toward the house I knew would not be there.

The road came to a dead-end next to the creek that wound its way behind where a home would someday stand surrounded by walnut and maple trees with a doghouse and swing sets and tire swings below. Someday, three children would be home-schooled here, a practice that would fly in the face of some of our friends on the school board. Carrie and I would contend that a good education can come from the home and that most schools, although equipped with well-meaning faculty, don’t seem to produce graduates with minds well-developed for creative problem solving. Andrew would become a brilliant sculptor and designer, and teach college art classes in San Diego, California. The twins, Haley and Becca would become geology and nursing students respectively, at the top of their classes at New Cambridge U.

A different type of headache drummed in my head. I recognized it as the kind I get when I’m stressed and tired. Irritation set in and I hammered on the steering wheel, yelling at God until all that irritability changed to anger, and anger changed back to frustration and confusion.

Afterwards, I sat alone for several hours trying to figure out what to do next. For sanity’s sake, I knew I had to find someone and some place familiar. The once beautiful woods that I had enjoyed being in had now become ominous tree shapes silhouetted by a large spooky looking moon.

I turned around and drove into New Cambridge not sure of where I was going. I felt numb and out of sorts when I started over the railroad tracks on Dearborn Avenue and noticed that the signal lights were flashing red. That’s when the train struck my car.

When had they started using the railroad again?

That’s the question I tried to ask the ambulance crew who pried me from the wreckage before I passed out.

After that, I woke up here in ICU, broken, alone, a prisoner to cruel and sinister circumstances, making me unable to speak to the people around me.

No one looks long at my eyes. Perhaps they’re afraid of what they see there.

God, take away my misery.

The Thing In the Mirror [fiction]

© 1999 by Steven L Campbell.
(Approximately 1,500 words.)

Inside a single yellow eye of a two-story brick house, fifteen-year-old Randy White sits at his bedroom desk and stares into a rectangular wall-type mirror propped in front of him. He draws a few lines to his portrait, trying to capture a convincing likeness of himself to show Mr. Everly, his art teacher, on Monday.

A crowd roars from outside his bedroom window; he wonders for a moment if the Warriors have scored. A half-block away, Ravenwood High School’s football team is battling a well-matched contest with their neighboring town, Birchville. His parents and sisters are there amidst the fervor.

Randy glances at the radio on the stand by the side of his bed and considers turning on the game. Then, annoyed, he realizes the noise of the game has become a distraction; the skinny boy stamps to his window to close it.

Football season has ascended upon Ravenwood’s Friday nights and tonight the air is heavy in the third quarter, the game tied. Randy knows that sweat and adrenaline and coffee and soft drinks are flowing fast. He had been part of that life once.

Before he closes the window, a loud cheer follows a brown elliptical ball kicked over the heads of the visiting blue and white team. The ball passes end over end between white jutting poles rising toward the scarlet sky, and then falls and bounces into a wire backstop. The fence rattles, Randy knows, where on the other side, a few bees buzz atop the uncut field of brush and scrub in the waning September daylight.

Behind the school and beyond the field lights, portions of Myers Ridge jut like jagged canine teeth trying to bite into the bands of red and gold sky above it. Randy notices a sphere of white light blinking along the cliffs and wonders what it is. It moves back and forth and up and down, then zips away for a few seconds before it returns and repeats the pattern.

Randy thinks of UFOs, so he hurries back with a digital camera. He zooms and snaps a picture. The orb blinks off and on. Randy takes another picture. The crowd roars. The orb stops blinking.

He waits for the strange light to blink on again, but the ridge remains dark.

Bands of lightning spread out across the northern sky, streaking and skipping over the amber clouds. Randy reaches to close the window when white light flashes in front of the window and sends him falling backwards. Partially blinded, he scrambles from the floor to the window and closes it. Then he ducks and waits; he wonders if little gray beings will enter his room and want to abduct him.

After several minutes, he peeks outside. Then he pulls his curtains over the window and hurries to his desk. He watches his window in the mirror for several minutes. The football crowd is muffled on the other side; there is no other disturbance out there. No UFOs. No aliens. All is safe. Right?

Right.

And the light?

Probably a flash of lightning. That’s all.

He returns to his portrait and draws. His hand, eyes and mind become synchronous and he discovers he really likes what he is doing. He understands the rules of composition and positive and negative space now. He has become an artist and he knows it. Drawing what he sees is easy to do.

He looks at his face and studies the forms made clear by the light from the lamp on his desk. Then behind his mop of brown hair where thick green curtains should cover the window he closed not long ago, he sees a closed door instead.

What? This can’t be.

He slowly puts down his pencil, rubs his eyes, and looks again at the mirror. The door is there! A dark oak of plain, smooth slab with a glass doorknob on it where his window should be. He quickly turns from the mirror and looks at his window. It’s there, covered by green curtain. In the mirror, he sees the door.

Fascinated and a little frightened, he repeats the procedure until he is certain the mirror is not lying to him.

He looks at his window. “Hello. Aliens?”

No answer.

He lifts the mirror from its propped up position and crosses his room. Facing the curtain, he holds the mirror by its wired back with his left hand and sees clearly in the mirror the door now next to him. He reaches out to where he knows there is curtain. He watches it happen in the mirror as he touches cold wood instead.

He yanks his hand away and blows on his fingers.

He hears the muffled noise from the football field where his parents and two young sisters are watching the game. But he barely thinks of them now.

He lifts his hand to the curtain and watches his hand in the mirror grasp the faceted doorknob. It is solid and cold and he shivers and takes a deep breath to calm his excitement. Then he turns the knob.

The door in the mirror swings out and he feels its weight butt against his right shoulder as the door comes to rest. He moves forward and watches the door open all the way in the mirror.

Beyond the door is a hallway with a wood floor as dark as the door and just as polished. Across the hall is a plain, off-white wall where a large painting of a seascape hangs from an ornate gold frame.

He reaches back toward his window and sees his arm enter the hallway. He turns and looks at his hand pressing against the curtain and the window behind it. He does not feel the curtain or window, even when he leans his shoulder against the curtain.

When he looks again at the hallway in the mirror, he tumbles through the doorway.

In his bedroom, the boy holding the mirror falls into the curtain and window, evaporating through green fabric and window glass and wood frame and wall. His reflection continues to tumble likewise into the hall, sprawling onto the cold, hard wood.

In Randy’s room, the mirror falls to the bedroom floor and bursts into shards and slivers.

At the window, Randy White has vanished.

At the window, glass begins to chatter with the sound of rain. Two-hundred yards away the football game has ended. Several minutes pass before the front door at Randy’s house opens. His father calls upstairs to remind him of their ritual of going out for ice cream after a home game. Wear a jacket, Randy’s father says, it’s raining.

Minutes pass. The youngest girl impatiently stomps upstairs calling for Randy to hurry. Inside his bedroom, the girl sees on his desk his drawing pad and a self-portrait looking back in wonderment. Past the desk, Randy’s camera lies near a broken mirror below his window. She crosses the room, picks up the camera and turns it on. She looks at the pictures that Randy took of the flashing orb. The images are blank.

She puts down the camera and picks up a piece of mirror glass, jabbing the end of her thumb on an edge. She cries out, switches hands and sucks at the bead of blood from her injury. She holds up the knife-like length of glass and sees the door. A shadow falls across the polished floor. She looks closer. The shadow is crouched over a body. A long, smooth, gray face turns. Large glowing yellow eyes peer at her. A mouth of sharp teeth consumes the Navy blue fabric of Randy’s shirt.

The creature lunges at her. She screams and drops the broken mirror and runs from the room, crying and yelling all the way downstairs. She races past her mother and older sister and into the arms of her concerned father.

No one believes her when she tells them what she saw. Upstairs, no one else sees the door or the hall or the creature consuming Randy White’s body in the mirror. They see the broken mirror, but nothing more than shards of glass and splintered wood. Looking around, they see Randy’s drawings and evidence of a boy missing from home, perhaps running away.

He did stop enjoying sports, his father says.

The police officer suggests abduction, which would explain how the mirror was broken.

Definitely abducted, the girl says. By an alien.

No one listens. No one ever really listens to the stories that come from a child’s overactive imagination. Not ever.

Fiddling [book and writing news]

Thanks to all who have taken time from your busy schedules to comment and email me about my art and books. Extra thanks to those of you who found mistakes in my books — all of them were minor but the corrections improved the products a thousandfold.

Extra thanks to you who have commented your likes and dislikes. Publishing on my own with almost no guidance from my peers has been a HUGE learning process, and I have made plenty of mistakes so far. But your excellent comments / suggestions have made me a better self-published author and working my best to get better.

Also, as if I didn’t have enough on my plate, I plan to post more short stories here at my website and author them at Amazon. Shorts were common when I was young, when pulp magazines were alive, especially detective, sci-fi, and monster magazines. Unlike novels, short stories rarely answered the story question of whether someone lived happily ever after at the end, or if the monster was actually dead by the time you finished reading the final sentence. They were morsels, like the sugar glazed holes of the bigger doughnuts. That is what made them fun to read. Hurray for e-books bringing short stories back to the market.