by Ami Clayton
A collection of 100-word mini stories drawn from contemporary folklore.
|From A to Z
Drabble: A story told in exactly one hundred words, popularized as a format by the Internet as “bite-sized” entertainment.
In the antique shop, there was an abacus on the desk behind which the proprietor sat. As I laid down the few items I had selected, I noticed him slide a bead across the wire. I peered at him curiously.
“I slide one for each customer,” the man told me. “The person who causes me to slide the last bead over gets a prize.”
I glanced at the abacus. “I’m the next-to-last one?”
Disappointed, I paid for my things and left. As the door clicked shut, I heard the young woman behind me let out a bloodcurdling scream.
The couple had always wanted a child, so when they found the baby on their doorstep, they thanked God and asked no questions.
Every night since then, the howling of the coyotes had come closer and closer to their home. The mother found herself singing lullabies to drown them out; the father found himself lying awake monitoring their approach.
Finally they were close—too close—and the couple ran to the cradle, but the window was open and the child was gone.
Eleven years later, when the mother died, a naked girl was spotted by night weeping over her grave.
Every kid who ever went out on Halloween was warned ten times over about poisoned candy. Our parents obsessed about checking it over, making sure not a single piece had been tampered with, though few of them did examinations thorough enough to thwart a real poisoner.
Every full moon at midnight, I sneak out of my house. All the kids do. We go to the house of old Mrs. Weller, who gave us those caramels last Halloween. I don’t remember what happens there, but I wake up the next morning in my bed, wishing I had never eaten that candy.
It only took one look at her to know that she was drowning. She thrashed about on the surface of the lake, bobbing up and down, disappearing beneath the surface for a moment before shooting back up, taking a deep breath, and screaming for help. From my place at the end of the pier, she was quite beyond my reach, and I was a poor swimmer. My eyes darted across the edge of the lake; no one was in sight, nor did I see any boats out on the water.
I sighed. I should have tied her to heavier weights.
The priest laid the Bible on the chest of the child.
“By the power of Christ, demon, you will leave this vessel,” the old man said, his voice thinned by age but commanding nonetheless.
“Make me,” growled the child’s mouth.
He said it again, louder. “By the power of Christ, demon, you will leave this vessel!”
The girl shuddered and went still. Her mother turned to the priest, teary-eyed, and whispered, “Thank you, Father.”
He turned to leave.
“Wait!” the mother cried. “You’ve forgotten your Bible!”
He looked over his shoulder with a sinister grin. “I’ll not be needing it.”
I’m not the kind of man who would normally patronize a prostitute, let me say that up front. But we were in New Orleans, my buddy Chuck and me, a better city of sin than Vegas could ever dream of being.
I met her in this goth bar that we got into because Chuck “knew people.” It was the kind of place where girls like her could turn tricks on a pool table.
She laid me down on a couch, climbed on top, slid me in. That’s how I found out not all vampires keep their fangs in their mouths.
My globe is my very favorite toy. Sometimes I spin it and drag my finger on it, then pretend to take a trip to wherever it lands. Other times, I try to hold my breath until I can find a country that starts with a certain letter. But the best game is ‘Magic Globe,’ where I am a wizard and whatever I do to the globe happens to the world. I spin it fast sometimes or turn it upside down. But now I have scarlatina, and they have to burn all my toys tomorrow.
- Jacob Juarez,
December 20, 2012
I have gone through my life a humanitarian. There is nothing not to love about people. Their skin may be soft and supple or tough and leathery; their eyes may be gentle or hard, their fingers calloused, fat, or both. Yet despite these variations, they are all the same inside: the same pounding heart and warm blood. Beautiful or ugly, young or old, I find that I must reach out to them.
I met a girl recently by the name of Renee who introduced herself by saying she was a strict vegetarian.
"Ah," I said. "So you only eat vegetables?"
He met her in the bar for a blind date, and she bowed her head with shame.
With a soft smile he told her, “Don’t worry. It’s what’s on the inside that I love.”
They planned their wedding, forced to cut corners because they didn’t have much money.
With a kind smile he told her, “Don’t worry. It’s what’s on the inside that I love.”
On their wedding night, he laid her down and slit her open throat to navel with a machete.
With a sick smile he told her, “Don’t worry. It’s what’s on the inside that I love.”
Following the attack, we had been forced to forego mess hall meals in favor of MREs, and now we just drank a supplement we called ‘Juice.’ It was thick, grayish-red, and completely disgusting, but it kept us healthy.
Then Private Sanger was killed in the field. We wanted a funeral, but the OIC refused, so instead we all sat around that night drinking smuggled Jack Daniels. Sanger hadn’t gone to battle even once without a fifth of it in him.
The next day the Juice tasted like Jack. You ain’t seen nothing until you’ve seen thirty soldiers puke in unison.
Knowledge is power, they say, and knowing is half the battle. But it’s not so great. See, I know everything. I know who won the World Series in 1923. (The Yankees. It was their first.) I know who will win it next year. I know where Jimmy Hoffa is buried and where Amelia Earhart’s plane went down. I know when I’ll die, when you’ll die, when your kids will die, and when their kids will die. I know when the world will end.
The only thing I don’t know is the one thing I wish I did: how to forget.
In any city, in any state, there will be an old hospital, probably converted into a medical office building. Go there and go in the front door. Keep your eyes lowered; speak to no one. Take the elevator to the top floor. Turn left and walk to the end of the hall. There will not be any lights on. Knock on the door to your left. Wait a few seconds. If you don’t hear an answer, run, and don’t look back. If she tells you to come in, do so. She will hand you an item. It is the first.
“Anna,” she said as she walked into my bedroom wringing her slender hands. “I think it’s the time that you knew the truth.”
“About what, Mama?” I asked.
“Your memory, beloved. Why it is that you have so much trouble remembering things.”
She gave me a grave look. “Because when you were thirteen, you tried to kill yourself. You blew the back of your head clean off with your Daddy’s shotgun, and you haven’t been able to remember anything since.”
“Mama!” I gasped. “Why didn’t you tell me before?”
“I did,” she said. “I tell you every day.”
Blindfolded Tessa was led by the kids into the room. She had been babysitting for a year or two, so she knew the game that they would play, and surely enough, first they put her hand on a plate of peeled grapes.
“These are eyeballs!” laughed little Jordan.
“Bet you won’t eat one!” cried Kim.
Tessa popped two into her mouth for good measure, chewed, and swallowed amidst peals of laughter from the kids. Then they put her hand in a bowl of cold noodles.
“These are worms!” shouted John, and Tessa put a handful in her mouth.
Everybody who took one look at Jamey knew he was an outcast. He’d show up every day wearing his black trench coat, his hair greasy, with bags under his eyes. He’d sit in the back and say nothing all day, then roar out of the parking lot in his truck blasting death metal. He spent his Saturdays shooting hookers at point-blank range on Grand Theft Auto, and the whole school knew within a day after he bought that forty-five caliber pistol from his uncle. So we were all surprised when it was the head cheerleader who shot up the school.
I loved to watch Are You Afraid of the Dark? as a kid. It was this show on Nickelodeon that told a campfire story in just half an hour, and it had a knack for giving me the willies. There was one episode I remember well, about a kid with a magic notepad who could send anything in the world to Oblivion by drawing it on the pad and erasing it with a special eraser.
I don’t have the Tools of Oblivion, but I do have a pistol. They do pretty much the same thing. He’s going to be sorry.
I wondered for a long time what there is to hear in perfect quiet, what there is when cars, animals, neighbors, and settling houses are far away. Do your ears create sounds for you to hear if you expose them to silence for too long the same way your eyes create images if you sit awhile in the dark?
I walked out to this place we call the dead zone, deep in the woods, but no creatures dare tread there, and I held my breath and listened to the silence.
That’s when I heard the screams. The awful, awful screams.
The roses appeared the same as they always did. The thick, sweet scent that hung in the air was the same one that was always there. Yet as I looked closer, I could see that these were not my roses. This one had a line of brown along the edge of a petal. That one curled in not quite the right way. It was all I could do not to be scandalized by the imperfections. I frowned at a bloom, intent upon showing it that I knew it was a phony. It looked back at me and began to sing.
Our neighbors put up a frightful-looking scarecrow the week before Halloween. I drove slowly past their house the day afterward, trying not-so-discreetly to get a better look at it. The face was ghastly but childlike, and the strands of straw sticking out from the sleeves and leggings were stained with fake blood. I couldn’t look anymore. I quickly drove on.
On Halloween night, I took my daughter trick-or-treating, and we stopped at the house with the scarecrow. A crow was perched on its shoulder, and I chucked. Then the bird pecked out the scarecrow’s eye, and the damned thing screamed.
The legend said that it had been a hanging tree and that the cemetery had sprung up around it because nobody wanted to take time to move a dead criminal across town. The local teenagers liked to dare each other to climb the old tree, and after getting drunk down at the dry creekbed, they sent one of their fellows to the graveyard with instructions to tie a noose around a branch on the tree to prove he had been there.
No, they didn’t find him hanging by the noose the next day. They found him hanging by his intestines.
I tried to sit up, only to whack my head on something only a few inches away from my face. I twisted until I could put my palms against whatever was holding me down and pushed up against it. It wouldn’t budge.
I became aware then of a string around my finger and a small hole. A soft noise- the tinkling of a bell- was coming from above, and then I heard a voice.
“Is someone alive down there?”
“Yes!” I cried. “Please let me up!”
“This stone says you died six years ago. Damned if you’re coming up here.”
I watch her sometimes, as she walks to church a step behind her father and mother. I think of what I would do to her if I could free that blonde hair from that bonnet, how I would run my hands through it and just keep going lower until I could slip my finger in where it is forbidden to go.
She wants it, of course, but she’s hooked on that religion stuff, eaten alive by poverty, chastity, and obedience. She loves to give up control to Jesus. Sometime I’ll show her how much her virtue is like my vice.
When I was a kid, my grandpa told me not to eat watermelon seeds because it would make a watermelon grow in my tummy. I asked if that could really happen, and he told me that when he was a boy, his cousin ate a watermelon seed and her belly grew and grew until finally she had to birth it like a baby, and when they broke it open, there was a little gray man inside it.
I thought he was crazy until the night I looked outside and saw the green lights in the sky over the melon patch.
“It’s one-of-a-kind,” the old man said as she picked up the mallet. “Made of bone. The only thing is, it’s missing two keys.”
She tapped out a melody, skipping over the two gaps. She was in love with it in spite of itself, and she looked at the price tag. Alas, it was more than she had.
The old man saw the look in her eye and smiled. “Perhaps we can work something out.”
- - -
“It’s one-of-a-kind,” the old man said as he picked up the mallet. “Made of bone. The only thing is, it’s missing a key.”
The patients at the institution always ended up in the yellow room. That was the office of Dr. Howard, who always came in wearing a yellow tie. It was his job to bring them back, you see, because under the stress of the treatment, the yellow-bellied cowards that were his clients somehow found a way to slip off into another world in their heads. It was their only way to cope with the pain, really. So off they’d go, through a yellow haze, and there they would stay, until their preprogrammed safeword brought them back. A safeword like ‘yellow.’ Yellow!
I read in one of those “impossible tales” books about a kid in Haiti who was buried alive and came back a zombie. It had something to do with pufferfish poison and oxygen deprivation, I think. It enthralled me, even more than the story about the guy who lost his sense of morality after getting a steel rod through his head, though that one was pretty good too.
So I got my degree in biochemical engineering and got this huge grant from the government. If only they knew I was spending it all on pufferfish, vacuum chambers, and steel rods.
Ami Clayton, 2010