To End With Ashes
Copyright Taryn Bell, 2017
All Rights Reserved
First Shakespir Edition
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Table of Contents
Dr. Joseph Himmler paced beneath the fluorescent yellow glow of the submarine hull lights, his shoes clunking on the metallic floor. He stared down at a notepad in his hands, his eyes skimming the flourish-filled pages. Voices carried from several rooms over, in the observation room. His colleagues discussed how they could get their grimy hands on whatever secrets lay on the ocean floor, written on a massive anomaly. They bantered amongst each other, hoping to use them for whatever selfish exploits they had in mind, none of which included how to improve the lives of others.
“Disgusting, self-centered swine,” Dr. Himmler muttered, glaring in their general direction. He shifted his gaze to a small screen in front of him, which broadcasted an image of the circular structure on the ocean floor, as well as several divers that were excavating it.
He glanced down at the notepad, running over the translations of the anomaly’s inscriptions and trying them under his breath. Sable hair fell into his face and he brushed it away with a sigh. It was damp with sweat. He rolled his shoulders back and tried again, this time uttering the archaic words with lilting accuracy, each sentence punctuated by guttural syllables. His eyes flitted back up to the screen when he reached the last word. All he saw was gritty darkness and the outline of the circular monument. A curse escaped his lips as he turned away from the screen.
Several loud popping noises reverberated against Dr. Himmler’s eardrums. He strode down the hall, his hands shaking. He pressed a glowing button and the door slid open to the observation room, which was now silent, except for the sound of static from the camera feed. The room was empty of his colleagues, but red liquid splattered the walls and machinery like the work of an abstract artist. His stomach churned at the iron and copper scent pervading the air. He turned his gaze to the large screen. The inscriptions were still visible, but the water was dyed crimson. He turned away and jabbed the same button, the door sliding closed behind him.
The entire vessel jolted and he was thrown to the floor. He cursed again, and turned his attention back to the small screen mounted on the wall. A massive, six-eyed dragon’s face stared back at him. The eyes were completely black, and its skin was pale and tattered, like that of a mutilated corpse. Rows of fangs filled its elongated jaws, and continued far down its neck. The creature filled the diameter of the monument. It was alien in appearance and yet so familiar, as if its image was embedded in all his nightmares. Dr. Himmler froze in place, his skin crawling.
State your request, mortal servant. You have brought me through to this world, so I will grant it, the voice entered his mind. If an avalanche and blizzard winds had a voice, the creature’s would be its equivalent.
“I want the earth to be cleansed of all its corruption and selfishness,” Dr. Himmler said, his voice and body shaking.
A sound similar to a ship’s hull scraping past an iceberg passed through his mind. The creature was chuckling. It will be done.
“But my request was already stated in the inscriptions. My colleagues are gone,” he said.
The leviathan’s eyes blinked in succession and its grin widened. You have not yet seen the consequences of the choice you’ve made.
“Consequences?” His voice went up an octave. “There was no mention of consequences.”
Its deep laugh of a thousand demons pierced his brain. Fool. You want me to cleanse the earth of all that is corrupt. All of your kind has corrupted this planet. And I will put a halt to it before you have the chance to destroy more.
“That’s not right,” Dr. Himmler said, his face contorting from fear to anger. “You know exactly what I meant!”
I do, it replied. But that isn’t what you asked for. Now I will kill every last human waste on this planet, and you will be the last to die. It paused, staring down at him. And you are going to witness each one.
“Oh, God, what have I done?” he whispered.
Room to Remember
David sat on the edge of the creaky, old hotel bed. He stared down at a tiny velvet box in his wrinkled palm, then turned to a spilled bottle of prescription medicine on the nightstand. He sat the box on the bed, reaching for the white pills and scooping them up. He brought his hand to his mouth, but stopped before tossing them all into his mouth. His body shook as the pills fell from his hand to the floor. He slumped down onto the bed, sobbing into his hands as images of his experience in the room entered his mind.
“Your kisses are just the best,” he said after pulling his lips from hers with a sigh.
“David,” she said, her face turning scarlet. She swatted his shoulder and giggled.
He pushed a wad of messy sheets aside and climbed out of the creaking bed. “Karen,” he said, “I have a gift for you.”
“Oh? What might that be?” she asked, sitting up and buttoning her blouse.
“Wait right here,” he said and crossed the room to a brand new record player. He selected a record and placed it on the player, dropping the needle on it.
Karen gasped when “My Girl” played. “Our song,” she said, beaming.
He nodded and reached his arms out toward her, beckoning her to come forward.
She stood and crossed the carpeted floor to him, lacing her fingers in his.
He pulled her closer and kissed her once more as they swayed to the music.
“I love you, David,” she whispered and pressed her forehead against his.
“I love you too.” He spun and twirled with her in rhythm with the music, the two of them laughing and smiling.
The song ended far too soon. David stood with his arms wrapped around her, both of them glowing in complete happiness. A few minutes passed before he pulled her towards the door leading to the tiny patio. He led her to a lawn chair next to a small glass-top table and asked her to sit. “Do you know what I love most about you?” he asked as he sat in the chair across from her.
She hesitated a moment. “I’m not sure, dear.”
His lips turned up in a tiny smile. “That’s just the thing. It’s too hard to decide. I love everything about you. In fact, I don’t think I can go through life without you.” He reached into his pocket, then got up and knelt on one knee before her, opening the small, blue box in his hands. “Karen Elizabeth Newton, will you marry me?”
Her hands flew to her mouth. She stared at him for a moment, her blue eyes glistening, before she burst into tears.
“Oh. Oh, God. Did I say something wrong? I’m so sorry, I—”
“Yes!” she said, lowering her hands. She was grinning.
“I said something wrong?”
“No, you big fool. I want to marry you!” She got up and flung her arms around him, her tears rolling onto his shirt. Her elbow knocked his arm and the ring box almost fell.
“Here,” he said as she unlatched herself from him, crouched on the ground in front of him. He reached into the box and plucked the thin ring from it. It had a miniature, clear stone secured to the band. David smiled up at Karen as she reached her hand forward. He slipped the ring on her finger. “I know it’s not much but…it looks beautiful on you.”
David blinked. He found himself lying in the bed in front of a small flat screen TV, not paying any attention to the football game on the screen. Instead, he stared down at the tiny, silver band in his palm, vivid images of the past filling his mind. These memories had brought him back to this place often since Karen passed away, each time a more difficult struggle with his desire to join her. This time, however, was different. Karen’s presence there was evident, even if it wasn’t physical. He pressed the cool ring to his lips. “Your kisses were just the best,” he whispered.
Annuals and Perennials
The downhill road was swallowed by deep shadow, so dark that the trees were barely discernible. Anthony raced home, his palms sweating so much they almost slipped off the steering wheel with each winding turn of the road.
His wife called him at work before he headed out the door, her voice incomprehensible and coming in quick, gasping wails.
An image of her lying on the bathroom floor, blood spreading from beneath her like a blooming plant embedded itself in his mind as he sped up the driveway, slamming on the brakes in front of their house. He leapt from the car, sprinting up to the door just as it swung open, revealing his pregnant wife, Lily. She clutched a bundle of blankets in her arms and tears dripped from her jaw. A trembling, curled tail peeked out from under the blankets.
“It’s Periwinkle,” she said as she hurried to the car, followed by their groggy three-year-old, Daisy.
Relief flooded his veins. At least Lily didn’t miscarry.
His wife rocked back and forth in the passenger seat as they hurried back into town, tears plopping onto the frail, seizing Pomeranian in her arms. The car smelled of urine and failing organs.
“I don’t know what to do for her, Anthony,” Lily whispered.
“Daddy? Is Peri going to have a puppy like Mommy?” their daughter Daisy asked, rubbing her eyes and yawning mid-sentence.
He glanced back at her in the rearview mirror and offered a faint smile. “We’ll make sure you get one, sweetie,” he said.
At the animal hospital, everything happened far too fast. Peri’s seizures stopped, and her throat emitted tiny whimpers as the nurse explained to them that her kidneys failed. She didn’t have long.
Anthony made the decision.
The needle injected pale liquid into her veins and within moments, she gave one last whine, her lungs exhaling for the last time. Her mottled gray eyes turned dull. Lily flung herself over her stilled body, sobbing into her fur. Daisy slept through it all.
Memories of a young and vibrant Periwinkle darted through his mind, in which she pranced around his feet, pale blue eyes staring up at him in adoration. She never failed to stand guard by his side when he was feeling unwell or unsafe, and consoled Lily during the nights she lost their unborn children. The images overwhelmed him, so he scooped Daisy up and stepped outside. His wife’s wails of despair echoed through the halls of the animal hospital.
A few hours later, the car slowed to a halt in their driveway. Lily stepped out, her face puffy and splotched with red.
“I’ll be inside in a bit. Go ahead and get Daisy into bed,” he said.
She nodded and cajoled the sleepy girl into going inside with her favorite Batman toy.
He sat in contemplative silence for a moment. Guilt crept through him like a strangler fig, choking off that thought. Why was he so unkind to Peri during her last few days? He got impatient when she didn’t climb the porch stairs fast enough, and yelled at her when he picked her up and carried her inside. He called her “stupid” and “slow”, but, in reality, it sent shockwaves of pain through her thin frame when she climbed. Her cataract-covered eyes, once that lovely pastel blue that inspired her name, saw little besides shadows as well. She often bumped into objects and could no longer look him in the eye. He pressed his forehead against the steering wheel, hands gripping his hair. She was just a dog, he thought. Why am I worrying about this now?
Days passed and he brought a puppy home from the pound. It resembled Peri somewhat with its fluffy, curled tail. “Her name is Rose,” he said.
“Peri’s puppy!” Daisy squealed.
One day, Anthony moved Periwinkle’s silver urn from the mantle to the floor so he could dust the gritty surface. Rose bolted into the room and, with a curious sniff, knocked the urn over. Ashes poured from the vessel to the snowy carpet, mixing with the fibers and clouding the air.
“Rose, no!” he said as he dropped to the floor.
Rose darted out of the room, tracking tiny, gray paw prints through the rest of the house.
Anthony sobbed as he attempted to salvage what was left of his beloved Periwinkle, his tears muddying the ashes in his hands.
About the Author
Taryn Bell is a writer and illustrator. Her work as a novelist leans toward the horror genre, but she has also dabbled in action and adventure, as well as comedy. She also writes game scripts for an independent game studio.
She is working on her Bachelor of Creative Writing for Entertainment at Full Sail University. Her flash fiction has appeared on Down in the Dirt Magazine’s website and will appear in an upcoming volume of the magazine’s print edition. She also has an upcoming publication in the Story Shack.
Taryn’s eclectic interests include Korean music, Japanese anime and manga, and pretty much anything film or novel-related that gives her the creeps. Her storyteller role models include Hayao Miyazaki, Guillermo del Toro, and Edgar Allan Poe. She can be found at .
In TO END WITH ASHES, three flash fiction stories explore the terror, loneliness, and regret that stems from personal loss and irreversible error. "Consequences" takes place in the deepest depths of the ocean where Dr. Joseph Himmler makes a deal with an ancient power that can grant any wish for a costly price. In "Room to Remember," David, a depressed elderly man, reminisces about the precious memories attached to a specific hotel room that leave him lonely and isolated from society. Anthony is a young husband and father wrestling with overwhelming guilt in "Annuals and Perennials," as he attempts to mask his emotions due to the sudden passing of his family's beloved dog, Periwinkle.