I’ve been drawing more people as robots. Pleased with how the family portrait came out. Robot beards are really hard to draw.
The words vanished so slowly that, at first, Walter Washington didn’t even notice.
When it happened the first time, he thought it was simply a misprint. Why else would the last word on the final page of King Lear be missing? What rogue editor would deliberately leave it out?
But then he noticed it in other volumes lining his shelves. Hamlet was missing whole pages. Macbeth — the entire second act. Shakespeare was the first writer to completely disappear from the old man’s collection.
Walter would spend hours flipping through his books, tracing the blank pages with the tips of his long, lean fingers, searching for some hint that the words had ever existed somewhere outside of his own aging mind. He remembered late nights with Roger during their courtship, drinking and kissing and reciting the bard’s sonnets with such conviction… But now, he could not recall a single couplet. It was so long ago – had he simply imagined it?
One rainy afternoon, Walter was struck with a feeling of deep longing for those same timeless words as he passed by the local library branch on his way to pick up the morning paper.
He entered the building, browsed the classics, and found what he was looking for…but stopped just short of touching the spines lining the shelves. What if the disappearing words were contagious? He could bear the guilt of a personal collection lost forever, but a public library was too much for his conscience to even anticipate.
The next empty volume he found on his shelf was the collected works of Poe. The cover and spine and pages were still there, but they remained as crisp, clean, and blank as the day the sheets were shipped to the printer. The inscription Roger had written on the flyleaf was gone. Even the notes he’d penciled in the margins were beginning the fade into oblivion. Soon, the entire shelf had been transformed from a collection of timeless wisdom to a stack of attractive leather-bound paperweights.
The contemporary lit was the last to go — Atwood, Murakami, the Nicholas Sparks novel Walter had picked up at a used bookstore on a lark, then discarded when it began to hit embarrassingly close to home. He stopped picking up the morning paper, because as soon as he unfolded the pages, it became a race against time, the words beginning to vanish in a staccato rhythm across the columns as he fumbled with his bifocals.
He wondered, sometimes, if he was going mad. But at his age, Walter was too afraid to voice his concerns aloud, for fear that he’d be locked up. He still remembered the last time he’d visited Roger, caged away in the home. Shuttered windows. Small, sterile rooms with doors that did not lock. Dour and disapproving nurses behind every corner. And no shelves lining the walls. Not a real book in the place — just yellowing issues of Reader’s Digest and TV Guide in the common area.
Walter let his subscriptions to Time and the Economist lapse. What was the use? He started to leave the TV on long after the evening news ended, simply to fill the void that the lost words left in his small apartment. But the primetime programming started to fade, too. There were gaps between breaths. Puffs of static. Blips of white noise, growing longer and more numerous each day.
When the mail began to spill out of the mailbox and onto the street, Walter’s neighbors grew concerned. They hadn’t seen him enter or leave the house in weeks. Telephone calls went unanswered. No one stirred in response to the doorbell, the increasingly desperate raps against shuttered windows.
Dreading the worst, the police knocked in the front door. And that’s when they found the old man, crumpled in an unmoving heap on the floor, surrounded by the torn and tattered pages of a hundred scattered books, the television quietly crackling in the background.
A wedding ring had fallen from the widower’s frail fingers, clutched in the palm of his skeletal hand. He was still breathing, but when he opened his mouth to speak, no words came out. After a few moments, choking silently as his unfocused eyes gazed into the distance, Walter Washington slowly shook his head, and did not move again.
They never saw the silent shadow as it slipped from behind the bookshelf and out the door.
(Author’s note: This story, like all of my flash fiction, is made possible by my patrons! Click here to learn more and help support independent writing and art.)
I’ve been drawing portraits of people as robots over the past few days. The one with the ukulele is my favorite. :D
Out there you will only find dust. The shimmering desert, stretching for miles and miles in all directions. And if you walk long enough, far enough, eventually you will reach the edge. There the dust disintegrates into nothing, the trail fading away into a sea of grainy stars. If you leap from the edge into the deep black void, they say, you’ll either fall or you’ll fly forever. Nobody is sure which.
Night of the tiniest murder!
Remember, there are only 12 days left to enter my free art giveaway: http://truthisweirder.com/post/73965161040/announcing-my-winter-2014-free-art-giveaway
She never saw him coming and she never saw him going. He appeared when the stars came out at night and he was gone before the first blush of dawn each morning. She asked him, once, if he had to travel far. He told her, “Yes. Across the sky and over the sea.” She wanted to go with him when he departed, but somehow she never managed to see him leave. Instead, she slept.
(Originally published on Paragraph Planet)
Stacy bought the handgun after serving Max the divorce papers and the restraining order. She’d never had to use it against a living target – he stopped showing up at the house after seeing her at the range a few times. But she kept it around anyway. Just in case.
Before they started to roam the city, she’d always kept it locked away in a safe. She knew 5-year-olds had a way of getting into everything. She didn’t want to wind up in handcuffs on the local news, a tiny body bag in the background.
But then she started to see bloody footprints on the sidewalk in the morning. Suddenly there were more terrifying things in her quiet suburban neighborhood than a vengeful ex-husband or a late-night burglar. So Stacy bought a holster and she started wearing it on her hip as she walked Hunter to preschool in the mornings, as she cut the crusts off his peanut butter sandwiches, and as she dozed in the chair beside his bed at night.
For the first few weeks, people thought she was overreacting. Then they started to see them roaming the streets, stumbling in their tracks, moaning with the effort of moving one diseased foot in front of the other. The windowless vans and the men in hazmat suits followed close behind.
Then nobody thought Stacy was crazy anymore. The other moms at Hunter’s preschool started asking for tips on how to handle a gun. Some of her neighbors simply abandoned their homes. There was no point in putting them on the market – maybe someday they could come back to their forgotten homes and start again. But Stacy didn’t really see the point in leaving the suburbs. The news said they were cropping up everywhere, and she believed there was strength in numbers.
That was before they got Esperanza. It was a Tuesday night. The street was dark, quiet, and empty. She heard a crash outside, like breaking glass, but when Stacy peered out the window, all she saw was darkness. It wasn’t five minutes later that the pounding on the door began.
Stacy put her eye to the peephole. It was Esperanza from next door. Hunter’s babysitter. The old woman was sobbing, tears streaming down her wrinkled cheeks. Her hands were covered in thick red blood.
Stacy cracked the door, hand already on the gun’s grip. “Abuelita? What happened?”
“I run into them outside,” Esperanza whispered. “I was gonna bring in the tomatoes from the cold.” She held her a shaking hand up into the porch light, two deep black gashes slashed across her palm. “I got away, but they… I can feel it, cariña. Going deep.” Her rich brown skin was turning ashy. Her fingers were completely gray.
Stacy began to open the door, but Esperanza slammed her cane on the creaking porch with her good hand. “You loco? I don’t come here so they can get you too. I come here because I know you got a gun. Mija, I need you to shoot me. I don’t wanna be one of them.”
She wanted to argue. To protest. To beg the old woman to let her help. But when Stacy saw Esperanza’s rosary resting limp around her wrist, fingers twitching ever so slightly as if they were trying to move, she knew the old woman was right.
“Not here,” Stacy said. “It might wake Hunter.”
They slipped silently into Esperanza’s garden, shielded by the hedges she paid the neighborhood boys to clip into tight, clean squares. The old woman gently sank to her knees and then lowered her shivering body down among the last peppers and tomatoes of the season. She whispered, “Please. Make it quick.”
Stacy bent down, fighting urge to embrace the old woman one final time. Blinking back tears, she took aim and shot a bullet straight into Esperanza’s heart. A strange calm fell upon the garden.
Then Stacy shot the zombie again. In the head. Just in case.
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