Out of the Mist

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They came out of the mist when they came.

Technically, the mist came first. The first mystery, the mist. falling on our little town one morning, one bright, bright summer morning when mist is incongruous and just should not be. Yet there it was, this all encompassing mist, covering everything.

Smith said it was an accident at the science laboratory on the outskirts of town.

“Must be” he said, offering no real explanation as to why, but we accepted it because it made as much sense as anything, and a lot more sense than other theories in any case.

“Will it make us sick?” Gwen asked, her general nervousness ramped up to near hysteria. It took so little with Gwen.

“Maybe,” Smith said, ever the optimist. “I think probably it might. Best to stay indoors if you can.”

She didn’t take anymore convincing than that, disappearing into her home, leaving the rest of us out on the street, just trying to see through the mist.

Then they came, shadowy figures we at first thought were other townsfolk, but even as they got close enough to be seen, as close as we were to each other, they still couldn’t be made out distinctly. They were misty people, misty people in the mist. Shadows in the shadows.

“Help us!” Gwen cried, having come outside again when they came. Staying inside hadn’t settled her nerves any. She jingled and jangled till she was almost as indistinct as them.

I was about to say to her not to go to close to them. I would have said they are misty people from the mist, don’t go too close, but she was in such a hurry.

And then they surrounded her, fell on her, and there were three sharp cries and the sound of cracking bones, then something that sounded like gnawing, in the mist.

It took so little with Gwen.

But we didn’t think of that, not really, as we ran, into the mist, and towards more misty people. Towards our fates, just like Gwen.

It took so little for us too. Just misty monsters in the mist.

(c ) Helen M Valentina 2017

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Last photo

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This was the last photo taken of them before they disappeared.

They had just been married, and the reception was in full swing, and they’d gone outside for a moment in the peaceful night together. Their photographer came out with them to capture the moment, then left them in privacy, so they could commune. He said they were so in love it ws almost to dazzling to see, to be too close to, and so he was almost relieved to give them that time.

“But if I’d stayed,” he said later, “maybe I could have helped them. Maybe whatever happened could have been stopped.”

We told him that no-one knew what and happened, so fretting over might have beens was pointless. They simply disappeared. Of course, most of us expected the worst. We are pragmatic policemen in a pragmatic town. When a young couple disappears on their wedding night, not off to wondrous honeymoon destinations, but into an apparent oblivion, it makes you shudder to guess where they might have gone.

We searched for days for bodies, or for word. We interviewed all the wedding guests, and family members who had not joined the happy throng. No-one knew of anything dark around the edges of their lives, no apparent or imminent danger. All spoke of how blisteringly in love they were, how happy.

“It makes no sense,” they all said, and as a pragmatic man I could do nought but agree.

Over time we developed hypotheses. The worst was that they were taken into some form of captivity. You hear more and more about that these days, modern day slave trades, human trafficking. But that always seemed to be a thing of the cities. It seemed hard to believe it would happen in our small town, and it wasn’t as though anyone else disappeared then or since. But still, what else could it have been? They had nothing to run away from, and no bodies were ever found. They must be alive somewhere, but in what conditions?

My partner had other ideas though. He is a less pragmatic man. One might ungenerously call him a romantic. Still, in the absence of evidence, his theory is as good as any I think, and more palatable than mine.

“They were too much in love for this world” he said. “So they went somewhere else, in the flash of an eye, or even the flashbulb from a camera, moments after this last photo. They went where only true love can go.”

Who is to say? Perhaps some love is unearthly, and must be re-positioned in the universe. If so, this photo is the moment before a miracle, and the closest thing to evidence of a god, a higher power, than anything I have ever seen.

I find that far more comforting as I age than thinking it is evidence of a crime.

(c) Helen M valentina 2017

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Ever Upwards

Image credit: ARTFULLY PHOTOGRAPHER/Shutterstockcom

We called her ‘ever upwards’. She didn’t frighten us, and perhaps she should have, but when we first saw her we were about her age.

Thing is, we were eleven or so years old then, and now we’re adults, but she’s still eleven. And we left her alone years go, but to hear the local kids she’s still around, old ‘ever upwards’.

Just a girl on the stairs of the old Wilson property. No-one’s lived there for years except her. Family tragedy they said, no-one want to live there they said, something about families and murders and suicides they said. Whispers over the campfire or boisterous tales in the local pub. No-one really knew.

Back then we’d ry to talk to her. We’d call out “Hey Ever Upwards, why not come down the stairs?”

Then she’d seem to do that, though we weren’t really sure how. One minute she’d be at the top of those damn stars, then she’d sort of frizzle and frazzle like our old tv used to do when it was on the blink, and she’d be right down at the bottom of them again, just going back up.

“Hey Ever Upwards” we’d call out, always to no avail. “Why not come and play with us?”

I’d fancy we’d hear her cry just little bit when we said that. She never replied, but we kind of knew anyway. She couldn’t come play. All she could ever do was go up those dreadful stairs, all alone. We were sad for her, but we’d get bored and leave her alone for another day. Old Ever Upwards.

Now years later I think about her and suppose she’s still there. I have a story in my head about her which may not be true, but feels like it is. I think she was the last of the family to meet her murderous father, and he called her up the stairs. And after that, who’d want to know what happened, even her? I think she made herself forget what happened next, so her spirit got stuck, always going up those old stairs.

I might go back one day, just to visit. Maybe she’s lonely. Maybe she’d like that. or maybe she never even knew we were there. Maybe you can’t when you are stuck like that, in another time, anther action, and another thing you are making yourself forget. You just keep going upwards, ever upwards, because next…next..you fall.

(c) Helen M Valentina 2017

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Black Eyed Children

Image credit: rangizzz/Shutterstock.com

Image credit: rangizzz/Shutterstock.com

They called it an urban legend. The legend of the black-eyed children. I read about it online. I watched YouTube videos telling the story. I saw the commentary, the ridicule, and also the open credulity.

Black eyed children, like little alien hybrids or something. I thought it was amusing.

The stories were always the same. The children would knock on a door at night and then when some hapless person opened it to them they asked to use the phone.

“It won’t take long,” they promised.

And the stories always ended there, leaving you to imagine the very worst of it all.

I’ve got the right kind of imagination for that. I grew upon a diet of horror stories. This one had some appeal, but not very much because the story never reached the pay off. It made it a rather lacklustre urban legend, if you ask me.

“Why don’t we ever get to see what happens?” I demanded of my laptop screen one evening.

Be careful what you wish for.

I was going to go and cook some dinner, tired of the videos, tired of it all. And then it came, the knock on my door.

I thought it was probably Dave, coming over to free load yet again. His girlfriend kicked him out of the house with awesome regularity and he’d always end up at my place, looking for dinner and the couch to sleep on.

So I didn’t think anything much of it. I just opened the door.

There they were, two young children. And they looked up at me, and their eyes were completely black.

“Can we use your phone?” one asked.

“It won’t take very long,” the other promised.

And then…and then what happened? Well, that would be telling wouldn’t it? And besides, where I am now, I’ve got no real way to describe.  But it’s true. It didn’t take very long.

Still, if you want to know, you’re going to have to ask yourself. Just like I did.

And perhaps they’ll come.

(c) Helen M Valentina

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Railway tracks

Image credit: Lario Tus/Shutterstock.com

Image credit: Lario Tus/Shutterstock.com

She was seen first after the great railway crash of ’59.

They called her the ‘ghost of the railway tracks’. No-one knew if she was one of the victims of that crash, though we all suspected it. But which of the names on the manifest would have been hers? There were 35 woman killed in that crash. 35 women, 13 children and 28 men.

It was terrible.

Then, when we saw her again, it was more terrible still. For she did not come at random, and she did not come often. But when she came it always foretold disaster.

Not always a train wreck, though that was sometimes her gift. And not always in our town, as we came to see. Wars came in her wake, acts of terrorism, plagues. We never knew what would strike, only when, because her ghostly form appeared as the herald of it all.

I saw her once, quite close up. I was very young then, but a child playing on the tracks. She was weeping when I saw her. I suppose she always did. About what killed her and about what was to come.

I feared seeing her meant it was personal, and someone close to me would be taken. or perhaps I would die, before I’d had a chance to live.

But no, it was far way, and in a far grander city than my little town. Twin Towers fell, and so many with them, into the inky black night that must be her home.

When I knew I wept too, as the whole world seemed to weep.

And now, more than a decade later, real fear stalks our town and our world. For she comes, every day, every day. And in the world the violence escalates, the hatred and bigotry and death.

The ghost of the railway tracks is ubiquitous, and we know the end must be soon. And when she weeps, we weep with her.

(c) Helen M Valentina 2017

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Help Me

Image credit: Dundanim/Shutterstock.com

Image credit: Dundanim/Shutterstock.com

“These days no-one can just kill anyone anymore,” Jason said with distaste. “They have to make a show of it, something arty and pretentious.”

He had a point. I looked at the sign scrawled in blood on the wall: “Help me”. We’d seen this a few times before now, always at the scene of a bloodied and obviously painful death. Always written in the victim’s blood, and possibly by them while they were still alive because the handwriting was always different.

Did the victims think scrawling this was somehow a sign of hope? Did they think the killer was giving them a chance? How cruel if so, for they never did have that chance.

“It remains to be seen what help this one supposedly needed” I said.

As Jason had observed, serial killers these days like to tell stories. They were frustrated novelists or screen writers perhaps. This one had a narrative built around the already existing hopelessness of his victims. After the first few the pattern and revealed itself. A drug addict, a prostitute, a politician recently fallen from grace. What would this victim need death for, what kind of help or release?

It was a girl, a very young girl by the looks of things. I had a bad feeling about it. Something instinctual whispered to me that perhaps she had been a victim of something else before she was a victim of this. Predators come in all shapes and sizes, but when the victims were close to childhood they usually had one thing in common. Perhaps our killer really thought he was helping her out.

And this time perhaps he was. Though it was a hell of an alternative.

“I can guess what she might have needed to escape,” Jason answered me, showing his jaded sensibility was as grey and shadowy as mine.

“Yes” I replied “So can I.”

I looked at the scrawled words with a fresh eye.

“God help us all.”

(c) Helen M Valentina 2017

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Forsaken

Image credit: Perfect Lazybones/Shutterstock.com

Image credit: Perfect Lazybones/Shutterstock.com

After the war all signs of vibrancy were gone.

We went, my friend and I, to the old mall where once we’d spent many a lazy, pointless morning. It had been a tribal rite of sorts, the meetings in the mall. We’d shopped sometimes, sometimes drank coffee, and more often than not spent what felt like endless hours in the games room, pretending to be soldiers in some futuristic war. But nothing’s endless, not really, except the end.

The war came, not so futuristic, and so much more terrible. And we were solders for a time. And we survived, he and I. Just like we won the games, over and over, and maybe because of it. I guess we will never know.

Now when we visit, the lights are out, and all is wreckage. Even if the games room still functioned – and nothing does, not any more – we would not have the heart to play. We wander in the fall out, shaking our heads, no words to say. We sit by the escalator, build a small fire, warm ourselves and dip our cigarettes to the flame to smoke.

You weren’t allowed to smoke in here before. Now there are no more rules. There’s no more of anything, not really.

We’ll have to go out and hunt soon for food. But we both know it’s a fruitless quest, a pretence we have that there is a future, for us, for anyone. We haven’t eaten in days. This little fire won’t heat the cold and hunger within.

“Twenty days and counting,” my friend counted.

Twenty days since we made it back home, and found a ghost town- nothing more. What had we been fighting for? And what cruel god had let us survive, when so few did?

I shook my head. “Here’s to twenty more” I said, but I didn’t mean it.

“We won’t last that long,” my friend mused, but not unhappily. Like me, he yearned for the freedom that others had gained in death. Starvation in a ghost town is a particularly cruel way to go.

“Here’s to that, then” I said. “Here’s to that.”

(c) Helen M Valentina 2017

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Alchemy

Image credit: Vera Petruk/Shutterstock.com

Image credit: Vera Petruk/Shutterstock.com

In those times we read the ancient book
The masters of our little universe were alchemists
and in awe we followed their dictates
They fed on spells and death and hate
into the mess of the nigredo each must fall
if we were to rise at all

I often felt the wisdom they peddled
to the unsuspecting masses was quite suspect indeed
but I followed in any case in thrall
to powers unseen and perhaps dread
And the less of that that’s said
the better as my master often would say
On the coldest, winteriest days
when too many suffered and bled

None of us know anything that’s the simple truth of it all
and yet we look to others for honesty and objectivity
and when written in some ageing text
in symbols and languages known to few
then from this wellspring of false knowledge
everyone knelt and drew such sustenance
that fools might find
We may as well have lost our minds

I believed too long to call myself
a creature of intelligence
And yet I proclaimed as much as any
That from the book we found the secrets of the universe
And our lies reached us
like our ancient curse
And bled into the morning
and the aeons yet to come till
Humanity was quite undone
And so was I

(c) Helen M Valentina 2017

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The Girl in the Wall

Image credit:Ruslan Grumble/Shutterstock.com

Image credit:Ruslan Grumble/Shutterstock.com

She would appear on full moon nights. Only in that one room, up in the attic, and only then.

He only saw her because, on such glorious light soaked evenings, he wanted to be at the top of the house, looking out to the sky, to the wonderful moon.

He understood, then, that perhaps she wanted the same.

The first time he’d been frightened by her. It wasn’t something you expect, after all, a ghostly face of a girl appearing in the wall beside you. A face watching you, while you watch the moon.

But there she was. The girl in the wall, as he came to call her.

When she didn’t emerge from the wall, or cause him harm, he relaxed. He enjoyed her company, though she didn’t speak. At first he tried to see her other nights, but eventually he knew, it was only ever once a month, as the moon met its fullest glory.

He researched the house, but couldn’t find any story of a girl dying here. Still it was an uncelebrated house in an uncelebrated part of town, so anything was possible.

He wished she would speak to him, give up her secrets, her story. But she never would.

She seemed sad sometimes. Like she knew something. Each month, sadder still.

When the doctors gave him his prognosis, he wasn’t even surprised. The girl in the wall had known, he was sure.

The last month before he died, however, when the moon was ripe and she came to the wall to watch its glory with him, she actually smiled.

And then he knew his fellow moon follower had been waiting for him. Soon he would join her, join her in the wall, and neither need be lonely again.

The moon shone down on the dying boy and the girl in the wall. And in its silvery glory was the promise of the morning to come.

(c) Helen M Valentina 2017

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Masks

Image credit: Captblack76/Shutterstock.com

Image credit: Captblack76/Shutterstock.com

She grew used to the masks, but she knew she should not.

The avatars they were given were faceless. That was part of the design, they said, so you could more easily choose how to look.

“You are not constrained here by your genetics,” they said in the brochure. “You can be anything you want to be.”

And for every choice there was a mask. Happy, sad, indifferent, whatever you wanted. Just choose and put it on, and discard for another when you need. So easy.

“The freedom of choice is just the beginning of the virtual experience,” the brochure continued. “Experiences are safe no matter how dangerous they might seem. You can learn and grow in comfort and in security. You can even die and not die.”

It had sounded like a good idea at first. And everyone was doing it. At the end of the working day you had television, or you had this. You would come home to the government regulation small flat, where you could reach out and touch both walls at the same time. Such sensible constraints for the environment and the economy, as you were told, and how could you reasonably question or complain? But you didn’t have to be so caught by limitation. The government provided a remedy for that. Just don the headset and choose your mask, and the vista of limitlessness and eternity was available.

But little rebellions grow of understanding the lie behind the marketing. For there was as much pain in this place as anywhere else. If you didn’t wear the right mask at the right time you were shunned. Bullies roamed the virtual streets as hungrily as they did the real. There was nothing virtuous about the virtual at all. And power and privilege rose and fell on the relentless egos driving it all.

So one night she chose no mask. No mask at all. She walked faceless among the hordes. And the another night, and another. And for a long time they didn’t even notice. But eventually, some did, and over time more saw her. Saw her faceless self for the first real time.

And some even understood. Some joined her – the faceless army for the faceless world. Nothing virtual about this reality at all.

They cut off her access when they realised. She imagined they did this for the others. She would come home and watch television for a while, then sleep.

But in the morning she would go into her small bathroom and look in the mirror,and see her own face, her real face. And if she supposedly had nothing now, and was so alone in a world that could not countenance her capacity for thought, she had this at least.

She could look at her own, true face.

It was enough.

(c) Helen M Valentina 2017

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