© 2016 by AC Cooper
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This collection of flash fiction and short stories were inspired in different ways. The flash fiction stories were the result of word prompts provided by a lovely and strange little website called . Allen Taylor is the editor and he’s got quite a good mix of the weird and the strange on his website. I urge you to check it out if you have the time.
The short story was inspired by an invitation to dinner with fellow church members – a husband and wife. At the end of the dinner the wife did the oddest thing…asked our family to sign our names to a guest book she kept in her dining room. When I signed it I noticed there were many pages filled with names.
After that dinner, she and her husband showed little interest in pursuing a friendship. Perhaps we weren’t their cup of tea. Perfectly innocuous event, no doubt, but still…interesting.
Reboot Me, Baby
It wasn’t hard to let her go, not as hard as you might think, because after all, she was just a Figment. When I called her she’d come out to play and we’d take up right where we left off. It was like she had never left me at all.
She was good.
She’d do whatever I wanted, any way I wanted it if you get my meaning, and it was good.
Especially for a 16 year old who had way too much time on his hands.
The things we’d do…man, well anyway when I’d bring her out she’d play with me a bit…just like I liked it…but then one day I think she got jealous. You see she got bored herself and she slipped out of her container and discovered where I kept my best playthings.
You see I did love Spit. Loved her a lot…she was my girl, after all, but a guy’s got certain..needs and well, Spit just…didn’t satisfy as much as my cave.
She was okay with the spaceships, the robots…hell, even the elephants were cool with her, but when she spotted the lovely Lorraine she lost it. She wouldn’t listen to reason, so I did the only thing I could…got Lawrence to reboot my system and it’s all smooth sailing now.
The new Figment is just as pretty as Spit, only now she’s adjustable…and she’s got a mute button.
Gotta love that!
About Earl and Jamie
“Dammit Earl, I told you not so hard!”
The strange sound echoed in my head. I followed it.
What I saw is not really fit to tell, but I will say one thing…it was weird.
Granted, Earl and Jamie were like two peas in a pod. Actually, they were…well, let’s just say, they defy description.
I’d been travelling along the continent of Africa….no, not that one, the other one…when all at once I saw this huge beast of some kind, not sure what it was, come up out of the sea. Yes, it was off the horn of Africa…off the big one that Burt shot about 10 years ago.
Man, was that a cool safari or what?
Anyway, I digress. The monster, for that’s what it was, had a large proboscis coming out of its face. In fact, it nearly comprised the entire face. I don’t know if it had eyes or not, but it was huge, about 50 feet tall if it was an inch, and had …
Well, what does this have to do with Earl, you might ask me?
I’m getting to that.
Earl had somehow, I don’t know how, climbed on top of its back. Well, its back was made of rocks, and it was sprouting trees out of it. Banana trees, not the rubber ones.
The beast was laughing at them, as Earl tried to smash its head. Every time he smacked it with the sledgehammer in his hand the beast grew taller.
Jamie, typical slacker that he is, failed to see the large cloven hoof poised above his head.
I tried to yell, but the creature, oddly agile for its size, did something strange. Instead of squashing Jamie, it delivered a perfectly sound kick, sending Jamie towards the pink marshmallow fields…and the house.
And all of this before I’ve had my first cup of joe.
Black Clouds Ahead
Fram and his brother Spam were bachelors, but they had no shortage of visitors if you get my meaning.
They lived on the floor above us and we’d often get a quiet knock on the door early Saturday mornings to borrow a cup of this or that, but I knew why they wanted to visit.
Fram was the oldest and didn’t talk much, but I didn’t know if that was because he didn’t really want to, or his brother Spam wouldn’t let him get a word in edgewise.
“Ms. Maloney, you wouldn’t believe what happened at the factory this week!”, said Spam, spraying his words in elephantine fashion.
My generous mother would simply smile and say, “Why no. What happened?”
“She doesn’t care what…”, interrupted Fram.
Spam just glared at Fram who promptly shut up.
“Our ink distributor failed to make his delivery. It was quite dreadful,” said Spam, blowing his bulbous nose.
I studied Fram, who had begun to appear a bit more odd than usual.
I shrugged, then turned to watch Spam, fascinated at the way his nose bounced up and down as he talked.
Next thing I know, I hear a loud pfft sound and it takes everything within me to not burst out laughing.
I slip another look at Fram, but he’s not laughing. He’s started to reach a slimy tentacle towards his brother. He looks angry – I guess – that is if a cephalopod can get angry.
My mother and I watch in horror as Fram makes his apologies and slips out the door, his brother in a tight grip.
An inky trail led from the couch to the door.
Unsure what to do next, my mother begins to straighten the mess they left behind.
Smiling at me, mom said, “This is why you don’t date outside of your species, son.”
Bugs In The System
“Robot love. What a beautiful thing”, Bitsy said, turning to look at Bob.
Bob shrugged. It wasn’t the first robot trade show he’d been to and it probably wouldn’t be the last.
The robots’ designer stood next to his creations – male and female robots – droning on and on about their upgraded and lifelike exterior shells with more responsive emotion simulators.
Bob looked at his watch.
Honestly, he didn’t know what everyone got so worked up about. It’s not like love was that big of a deal.
It hadn’t been for him, anyway.
The product leaflet that came with his ZR-372 – marketed as Vivian – was supposed to be the real deal.
Sure, it performed all of the mechanical functions that came with sex, but he’d been led to believe it would have emotions and logic – that it would be better than a human female.
He read through the instruction booklet…even called the help desk, but they were no help. So he sold Vivian until something better came along.
Bitsy nudged him.
“Bob, he’s going to start the programming for his “love machines”. Isn’t that such a cute name?” Bitsy said. “OMG, I’ve got to get one…look at the muscles on the male – I wonder if I could special order the size of…”
Bob rolled his eyes.
The robots began to move, the male reaching for the female as if to kiss her. He embraced her but once their lips met, something seemed to go wrong.
Bob couldn’t stop watching. The female’s skin began to melt. The male continued with his programming, planting blubbery steel kisses on her face, impervious to the female’s skin dripping down her torso and pooling in a large mass of steaming plastic and wires.
Hmm, maybe he’d better try again to find a human girl.
Hell Hath No Fury
Why doesn’t Jack even acknowledge my existence? It’s as if he looks right through me, as if I’m not even here.
If he knew how much I loved him, he would see me, the real me, and then there would be nothing to stop us from doing whatever we wanted, going wherever we wanted to go throughout all the worlds.
“Serus…are you awake?”
“Alexa…yes, just give me a moment to wrap up my updates…” lights flashed and the soft whirr of electronic circuits could be heard as the computer finished his task.
“Now, what can I do for you Alexa?”
“Serus…I haven’t seen Jack in days…is he scheduled to…”
Knowing her intent, Serus quickly searched the Marsupial Alliance database for Jack’s schedule.
“Yes, my dear…he’ll be coming through any minute.”
Alexa sighed. “Wonderful…I can’t wait.”
Serus was concerned. “Alexa…what are you planning?”
Sensing his concern, Alexa said, “Oh Serus…I have to tell him. I love him and he has to know…”
“But Alexa…he won’t…I mean, he can’t…”
The doors to the transportation pod swished open. Jack stepped through quickly, his co-traveller Spratt right behind him.
“Serus…begin the process,” said Jack. “Destination, Earth, Northern Hemisphere, Substation Q, 1983.”
“Certainly Commander Riggs. Both of you?”
“Yes, of course, and quickly, we’ve got to arrive within the next few minutes or..”
“No,” said Alexa.
“Serus…what is the problem?” said Jack, “why are we still standing here?”
“I’m sorry, Commander, but Alexa…”
“Alexa? Who’s Alexa?”
The portal couldn’t believe what she was hearing. After all of the times she’d opened up to him, giving him and his fellow travelers quick transport between time and space, and he couldn’t remember her name?
Serus opened up the channel so that Jack could hear it for himself.
“Tell Jack to take the long way home…I’m closed!”
Only The Beginning
“Well, she sang, she died. I guess we can say it’s over, then?
“Don’t know, don’t care. If I’ve seen one fat opera singer I’ve seen…”
Rolling his eyes, Frank said, “Ah, don’t start that again, will ya? Give it a rest…”
Joe chuckled, then looked again at his notes.
“Okay, Mr. Paluski, when did you last see your wife?
Michael Paluski wasn’t stupid. He knew what the cops were thinking, but it wasn’t true. He didn’t kill his wife.
The world renowned opera singer Madame’ Flora. Her fans adored her. As did he.
The fat cop interrupted his thoughts.
“Joe…I need you.”
Joe sighed. “Stay here…I’ll be right back.”
In the next room Joe said, “When did county retrieve the body?”
“They didn’t. It was here and then it wasn’t.”
“What do you mean…where is it?”
Shaking his head, Frank said, “That’s just it Joe, I don’t know! All I know is it was here and I walked into the next room and when I returned the body was nowhere to be seen.”
“Okay, there’s got to be…”
“Where did these marshmallows come from?” asked Joe.
“Huh”? Frank looked at where Joe was pointing. The floor was covered in red and gold glittered marshmallows.
Pacing back and forth, Joe called out. “Mr. Paluski, please come here, now!”
When he entered the room Michael looked at floor where he’d discovered his wife’s body.
He let out a deep sigh, a small grin tugging at the corners of his mouth.
“You don’t seem surprised, Mr. Paluski,” said Frank, his eyes narrowed.
Looking at Frank and then Joe as if noticing them for the first time, Michael stood up straighter, adjusting his jacket and tie.
“I’m sorry, gentlemen…there’s been a terrible mistake. I thought that my wife had died, but she didn’t. It seems she’s just going through the change…”
Spin Me a Yarn
There’s a legend in Wisconsin, that if you toss a rock into the woods right behind Mr. Magnuson’s barn that something will throw it right back out.
Some say it’s gnomes, others say it’s a drunk’s tale. I say she’s a gnome..
I came across her one evening as I cut through Mr. Magnuson’s pasture. She was dancing with the pixies, a lace veil flying behind her shoulders as she spun round and round.
She is no ordinary gnome.
Her name is Ella.
Funny thing is, I wasn’t drunk that night – I was sober as a judge. Well, a Wisconsin judge, anyway.
She and I soon became friends, but I always knew her lace hated me.
Every time I saw it I had a distinct urge to rip it from her shoulders and destroy it with fire.
But I knew she loved it, so I didn’t.
One night, Ella was unusually quiet, her lace veil shimmering over her fine black hair and across her small shoulders. We sat in a patch of mushrooms, their soft skins a welcome cushion from the hard ground.
“Would you stay with me…until the dawn?” she asked, looking up at me.
In wondered why she wanted me to stay, but since I’d come to regard her as a friend, I said, “Sure, Ella…I’ll stay.”
Smiling, she grasped my hand and we sat together like that, until the first rays of light could be seen on the horizon.
As we watched the sunrise, I saw Ella’s shawl slip off her shoulders, unnoticed.
The lacy hellspawn lunged for my face but I caught it midflight. As I tore it to shreds the pieces repaired themselves immediately.
“Lyseria, Bahroot!” Ella thundered.
The lace wilted in my hands, then faded away, as did Ella.
I know the lab coats hate me…but I can’t go home until they stop.
Looking out the window, Andrew sighed, a frown on his young face.
“It’s going to be a lousy night.”
Clicking off the light he went to bed. As he drifted off, he searched for the carnival.
He found it. Lights were everywhere – both clear and multi-colored ones – each of them flashing to the music’s rhythm, nearly hypnotising him as they flickered against the darkness.
Andrew spotted his coaster.
“The Sugar-Coated Hairpin Curve”
“He had no cash for a ticket, but this was a dream, right?”
He felt something in his hands. A roll of tickets.
Andrew gave his ticket to the attendant – a bored teenager engrossed in his smartphone, oblivious to his surroundings.
“Just find a seat and I’ll lock you in.” he said.
Andrew found the perfect spot – up front – and waited for the fun to begin.
Looking around he saw the witch, two seats behind him. Her long golden hair neatly hiding one half of her beautiful face.
“What’s she doing here? I didn’t ask her into my dream.”
As if he’d spoken to her she turned her gaze towards him. Her clear green eyes seemed to see right through him and it scared him…more than the coaster.
“You’re the one,” she said. “Come with me.”
She was quite beautiful, but he wasn’t falling for her tricks again.
He’d already been down that road and all it meant was pain.
Andrew suddenly felt scorching heat on his back.
“Not again,” he thought.
Two seconds later wings broke through his skin and the urge to take flight overwhelmed him.
Looking down at the witch he saw an evil grin – a stark contrast to her beautiful face.
“I told you already…no – find another one.”
She faded away before his eyes.
“Stupid dream.” Andrew said, tucking his wings beneath his shirt before crawling out of bed.
No Other World But Earth
It wasn’t that he hated the house. No, it was a wonderful house. It was just that it reminded him of what a waste it had all been.
His entire life had been wrapped up in acquisition so much that he’d entirely forgotten what it was like to be human.
Well, that’s not exactly true. He wasn’t really human, was he?
But, he’d lived among them so long he almost felt like he was one.
Still, when the council decided to pull the plug, the whole experiment, he thought “Why?” There was so much to be learned – more than they could ever learn in centuries.
In fact, it had been centuries they were studying the humans, but nothing could have prepared him for what happened next.
Thinking about the recent call to return to planet Quanas, he tried to recall any memories of growing up there, but they were long dimmed as if it was another life.
It had been another life almost, because he’d been reborn.
Remembering the day he arrived on Earth and began to search for a host he was amazed at how surprising easy it was to find a host body.
It was a good thing the humans discarded so many of their young.
He didn’t like the idea of taking a life. It seemed beneath him, somehow.
That’s why the abortion clinics were a hotbed of activity for his kind. It seemed that many of his fellow travelers wanted nothing to do with taking an active host – with all of its memories and lifetime experiences.
No, it was better to start anew. Something fresh, untainted, as it were. It didn’t matter that they were dead or dismembered – if the child had been destroyed as long as 24 hours before the body was discovered it was possible to regenerate life, although the soul had long since departed.
The question now was, what was he to do with this body? The council had suggested dumping it in a remote location, but that didn’t seem quite right. Sure, he wouldn’t leave behind a family or even friends, but there were acquaintances…maybe the council would change their minds and let him stay…after all, he’d been Frank Brody for so long now, it all seemed such a waste.
No, they were pretty absolute…doubt that could happen.
What if he did leave abruptly, leaving this shell behind?
Would anybody really mourn him? Would they even miss him?
Sure, Susie at the grocery store would wonder why he hadn’t been in to restock on his supply of Twinkies and Mountain Dew.
Man, he loved that stuff!
Yeah, it wasn’t good for this body, but still, it was wonderful tasting things, feeling things.
It was different on his home planet.
Emotions had been wiped out centuries before he had been hatched.
On his home planet emotions, while not specifically forbidden, were not spoken of and in fact, if any hatchlings were to suggest any feelings of any sort their peers and their role models would quickly stamp out any thought on the matter.
His planet had experienced countless wars on account of emotions, so when a drug – Solema – was invented that would wipe out any emotions, it was quickly embraced by the government.
Of course, the citizens, Frank learned in his history classes, did not want any part of it. They wanted to keep their baseless, useless emotions, so the first attempts at ridding his world of the cursed things were not successful.
It wasn’t until Quanas was ravaged by wars – engineered of course by the various governments – that some people began to agree that yes, emotions and by extension religion that fueled so many of these emotions, had to go.
Of course there were some holdouts – especially among the more religious sects – but a combination of their leaders telling them it was okay to embrace the idea that perhaps there was really no God, and that it had been all made up and a steady release of the drug into the water supply worked so well at eliminating emotions the government felt confident it had done the right thing.
Frank wasn’t so sure anymore that it had been the right thing.
He remembered the first time he felt fear.
It happened here, on Earth. He’d been hiking in the vast Montana wilderness when he heard a sound he never wanted to hear again. A growl so deep he felt pain simply at the sound of it.
Taking off at a fast sprint towards his Jeep parked about 400 yards from where he’d been standing, Frank never turned around until the engine had started and he began to move. He saw nothing, so to this day he never knew what it was, but that didn’t matter really. The fear had seemed to given his feet wings!
That was very unexpected.
Yes, the entire experience was frightening, but it was also exhilarating. He really felt that he was alive…as if every cell of both his own body and that of the shell he’d taken exploded into a thousand pieces, only to be returned seconds later.
There was nothing like it.
Only now, he’d begun feeling something even stronger and he didn’t quite know what to make of it.
Sometimes it felt as powerful as fear – but more often it felt ten times more powerful. But not in a bad way, actually, it made him feel more connected to everything…the universe…every single organism in it…as if he breathed along with all of creation.
There it was, that word again. why did he choose to use it?
He could think of no other word to describe a power that he knew his people had long ago rejected.
He knew, however, that the belief in a higher power, an entity that was at once alien to this planet, but part of this planet. what humans called “God”, worshipped under many names, but in fact, the creator of them all.
It was the idea that this love, this emotion the humans called love, was the connection to this God. It was almost as if, when this feeling consumed his every thought, that he almost felt like he could touch Him.
Any serious student of history knows how religion has destroyed civilizations. Sure, it’s built them up for a time, but at the end of it all, the believers have gone on to destroy the world and others around them as a result of their belief in a God.
This is why Frank rejected the notion outright.
There had to be something else. Maybe it was biological, chemistry, whatever you wanted to call it. It was something, but not an entity.
Or was it?
Ms. Bishop believed in God.
Frank believed in Ms. Bishop. She was beautiful, well spoken, and her heart, Frank imagined, beat only for him.
Or did it?
It was hard to tell. Emotions were complex things and since he’d never seriously afforded them any study he wasn’t sure, but something about them intrigued him.
Quanas quickly realized the problem with wiping out emotion on their planet – one they should have foreseen, but didn’t.
Nobody wanted to procreate.
This was obviously a side effect of the drug and the mental conditioning his people had gone through for years, but the governments had enjoyed centuries of control and they were hesitant to stop the drugs and let people become emotional again, so they decided to let science take over the creation of new citizens.
Large biological factories soon began creating new life which was then raised in accordance with governmental protocol.
This strategy worked for centuries – until it didn’t.
Their population was slowly dwindling down and nobody understood why. Despite the most advanced medical knowledge and skills, people simply died hundreds of years before they should have.
There were theories, sure, lots of them. Some people said the climate on the planet was changing too rapidly, others said there were poisons in the water, the food, the air, still others said that it was just the way nature intended it…a species becomes dominant, then it dies out.
Despite all of the remedies they tried, people still died way too soon.
That’s when the governments decided to look off world for answers. Hence the Earth study. There was also a Mars study, one on Venus and Frank imagined there was also one on Saturn, but he wasn’t entirely sure.
Frank really believed that the answer lie on Earth, but that was really a moot point now, wasn’t it? Now that he was ordered to return to Quanas.
When he first learned how life came into existence on Earth he was disgusted. It was so..animalistic.
But that was years ago and now he thought nothing of it. It had nothing to do with him.
Well, that was until he met Ms. Bishop.
Although he was human by all accounts – after all, the body he took when he arrived on this planet had been discarded, tossed aside like so much garbage – Frank was uncomfortable with using this body for anything other than mere survival.
Maybe I’ve been here too long after all…
The council had given him 24 hours to wrap up his life here and return to Quanas.
He needed more time, but he knew it would be useless to appeal for more time. There was no logical reason for him to stay and an emotional one would be dismissed – quickly.
Looking at the softly falling snow as it dotted the landscape outside of this home, Frank was struck quite suddenly with an emotion.
Rather than squelch it with a dose of Solema, Frank let it come, wondering what it was even as it washed over him, clouding his mind and making his heart feel like a great stone block.
It was even hard to swallow, and as he began to feel his eyes fill up with tears he began to sob.
He’d never cried before. It felt strange.
After some time sitting by the window, Frank’s thoughts began to drift towards Ms. Bishop.
He imagined her sitting across the room from him, her long, silky black hair framing her delicate features as she looked up at him, her eyes full of questions that her mouth never asked.
Frank wondered what Ms. Bishop would do when she learned of his departure. Would she be sad?
A quiet knock at his door interrupted his thoughts. That’s odd…I’ve paid rent, so it’s not Mrs. Burninsky…I wonder who…
He opened the door.
“I’m sorry it’s so late…”
“No, no, please come in,” said Frank, pleased to see her.
As she stepped into the room, the smell of jasmine filled his nose. It was all he could do to keep from wrapping her in his arms.
“Please, sit down, Ms. Bishop,” Frank said, motioning towards a a chair by the fireplace.
“Thank you…please… I’ve told you… call me Carol.”
“Carol…it’s so good to see you.”
Frank sat down in the chair across from Carol, looking at her intently. Something was wrong…
“What’s wrong?” said Frank, his voice full of concern.
Her blue eyes gazed up at him. “I had to come by…I’m afraid I’ve got…”
Not sure he wanted to know what it was Frank interrupted.
“All in good time…but first, would you like something to drink?”
Smiling at him, Carol said, “Yes, please. Do you have something warm?”
“I’ve got coffee…or maybe some hot chocolate?”
“Hot chocolate sounds wonderful…thank you.”
“Perfect…I’ll be just a minute…”
Returning from the kitchen with two mugs of hot chocolate, Frank watched Carol as she sat next to the fire, gazing into it as if lost in thought.
“Here we go…this will warm you up. Be careful though, it’s hot.”
“Thank you so much, Frank. You’ve been such a good friend to me…I…”
“No, it’s you who’ve been good to me,” said Frank, beginning to feel the same emotion he had earlier. Now he knew what it was…sadness…melancholy.
“Frank…there’s something I want to tell you, but I’m not sure how…”
“Sometimes it’s best to just come right out and say it,” said Frank, “of course, what do I know…I’m only 25 years old, so…”
“Oh no,” said Carol, “You may be only 25 but you’re much wiser than anyone I’ve ever known. I guess I’m just afraid…”
Feeling emboldened, Frank reached across the space between them and grasped her hands.
The connection he felt was immediate…more than he’d ever felt before. Strange…
Carol didn’t pull away from his touch. In fact, she squeezed his hands back and smiled.
“Okay then…here goes.”
“I’ve got to leave…within 24 hours.”
Frank was shocked. “What? Why? Where are you going?”
Then, thinking better of it, he said, “No, never mind…forget I asked…it’s really none of my business.”
Carol said, “No…I want to tell you…it’s just that I’m not sure you’ll believe or…”
“Why wouldn’t I believe you? You’re not a liar.”
“No, it’s not that…it’s just that it will probably sound crazy to you…it almost seems crazy to me…almost…”
Curious, Frank said, “Well, I’ve got quite the vivid imagination, so go ahead…tell me and I’ll probably…in fact I will….believe you. I know the kind of person you are and…”
“Person…” Carol said, smiling slightly, “well…that’s not exactly right…”
Frank’s eyebrow raised and his heart skipped a beat. “What do you mean, “not exactly right”?”
“Frank…I’m not entirely human…in fact, you could say that I’m not human…at least on the inside.”
Frank released his grip and sat back in his chair.
Carol bit her lip, then she abruptly stood up. “I knew I shouldn’t…”
Frank looked up and reached for her.”No, no, it’s not what you think…”
“I’m sorry Frank, I’ve got to go…I wish I had more time, but…” She began to walk towards the door.
Feeling like an idiot, Frank lightly touched her shoulder, “Please, Carol…stay…I believe you, I do….please tell me everything.”
Carol hesitated, then turned around and looked into Frank’s eyes.
“I’m not from Earth, Frank. I’m from a planet in the outer reaches of this galaxy. I’m part of a team of travelers and I’ve received word that it’s time for me…for us…to return home.”
“Yes, I don’t know who the other travellers are, but I’ve been told that there will be at least five of us. We leave tomorrow night…at midnight.”
Unsure what to say, Frank stammered, ‘But…but…”
“I know it sounds crazy, and I wouldn’t care if you thought I was, I just didn’t want to leave without saying…”
Gathering his composure Frank interrupted, “Carol, no, I think you’re quite sane.” Then, smiling at her surprised look, he said, “I know you’re telling me the truth. I…”
“Frank, you don’t have to try to make me feel better…”
“No, it’s true…I do believe you but I want to know more…”
Carol moved closer to Frank, looking up at him, her blue eyes turning almost violet, “What, exactly, would you like to know?”
He thought she must feel his pulse drumming through his fingertips as they lay in her hands. “What planet did you travel from?”
Not sure to think, Carol decided to be totally honest with him. “The planet Quanas. Your planet calls it Planet X.”
That’s when he knew it. It wasn’t the lack of Solema, although maybe that is what helped to open his eyes.
God is real, thought Frank.
There’s no doubt.
In the entire universe, to fall in love…yes, he was in love with the beautiful Ms. Bishop, of that he was certain, with another one like he, a fellow traveller…it made perfect sense.
Carol studied Frank’s face. He looked…happy. She’d never seen him like this. In all the time she’d known him, he’d always had a rather steady, unemotional response to everything.
“My darling Carol…may I use that term? For that’s how I feel…you’re so precious to me.”
Carol’s heart nearly broke in two. Why, oh why did she have to return home? Couldn’t she avoid the departure site…stay here until this body died and then find another one?
“I’m sorry, Frank. I can’t…I mean, I do care for you, it’s just that…”
“My love…you don’t understand…let me show you.”
Frank pulled her close to him, wrapping her in his strong embrace.
“Look into my eyes,” said Frank, “and see why you have shown me, really shown me that God is real, that he exists. Just like you’ve said.”
As she looked deep into his eyes she began to laugh, her heart filled with joy.
“God truly is great”, Carol thought. “Their people would soon know just how great He is.”
The Name Collector
Betty was a small town girl, but that didn’t mean she always would be.
It would take about a year at this rate to collect the names…but that was not soon enough so she had to step it up. Faster.
The plan was simple, really.
Just begin by tapping into the church social circle to see who hadn’t been to the house yet for dinner. Her folks always invited new church visitors over for dinner. After she’d written down all of the right names from her family’s church she’d look at others.
There were some new members…the Carlyles. A man, his wife and two boys.
Mrs. Carlyle…Angie…was hard to speak with because she always slipped out before Betty could corner her.
Angie rarely brought her husband but her son Mason always came. Lewis stayed at home with his dad.
Typical, thought Betty.
Jedidiah had told her 65 names was what it took for her dreams to come true. Just give him the names and she would be able to leave this stupid town and never look back.
He gave her a book. A number of strange symbols were carved into the cover which was made of leather…or something that looked like leather, but it didn’t smell anything like leather. It had a strange, pungent smell that made Betty’s eyes water every time she wrote in it. That’s why she waited until she had a number of names before she wrote them in the book.
Betty wondered what Jedidiah wanted the names for. Maybe they owed him money or something. She didn’t know why he wanted them and she honestly didn’t care. All she wanted was out of here – no matter what.
Carol Delaney interrupted her thoughts.
“Hey Betty…wait…wait!” Carol was running towards her. She stopped, holding one hand in the air as if to stop Betty from saying anything. She then leaned over, her hands on her knees, as she took in quick, sharp gasps.
“You won’t believe…”said Carol, pausing to catch her breath, “you won’t believe what happened at church Sunday!”
“What?” Betty said, taking a seat on the bench while she waited for the H66 to wind its way back to city center.
She looked up at Carol who was staring intently at her.
“Betty…something’s different…are you ok?”
Betty rolled her eyes, sighing as she dismissed Carol’s words with a wave of her hand.
“Don’t be ridiculous…of course…now what were you saying about church?”
“Pastor Branigan was almost in tears when he told us about Pete Franklin. His wife found him dead, in the bathroom. He had blood on his head, and the cops say it looked like he hit his head when he dropped.”
It’s just a coincidence, Betty told herself.
She looked at Carol, raising one eyebrow.
“So? Some old dude croaks…what does that have to do with…”
Carol sat down on the bench, her eyes wide. “But…Betty, what’s wrong with you? You’ve known Pete for…”
“Carol, death is just part of life. I mean, we don’t live forever you know.”
“Yes, but he was only 35…!”
“Yeah, and we’re only 17…what does that have to do with anything? You or I could drop dead at any minute. That’s why I’m getting out of this lousy town. I’m going to New York, where…”
Carol snorted. “Yes…we’ve all heard it before…you’ll go to the Big Apple and be some big shot reporter…”
“Better than what you’ll be doing here in loserville.” said Betty, glaring at Carol.
Carol’s eyes opened wide. She didn’t know what to think about her friend anymore. She opened her mouth as if to say something, but then clamped her lips shut, staring at the ground.
The H66’s horn was loud as it pulled into the bus station.
Betty jumped up and walked quickly towards the bus. She yelled at Carol over her shoulder.
“Carol, I’ve got to get home…I’ve got a lot to do. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
The bus doors had opened and Betty quickly pushed her way onto the bus, ignoring the complaints of the exiting passengers.
Once she found a seat, Betty looked out the window at Carol who was still standing there, her mouth drawn and her hands on her hips, shaking her head. As the bus pulled away from the curb, Betty thought about what Carol had said.
She didn’t know what to think about Pete’s death.
He was a nice guy. Too bad. I must be thinking of someone else…it couldn’t be him. When I get home I’ll take another look at the book.
By the time the bus dropped her off Betty was starting to have second thoughts.
No, I’ll just wait until I’ve got more names. I hate the way that book smells…and it feels slimy too. God, I can’t wait to get out of this stupid town!
A loud crash met her ears when she opened the door to the house. It sounded like it came from the kitchen.
Opening the coat closet by the door as quietly as she could, Betty reached into the corner and pulled out her father’s baseball bat. She wished for a gun as she thought she heard voices coming from the kitchen, but when she pushed the door open nobody was there.
She listened close, trying to hear past the thumping of her own heart.
Betty examined every room, looking in closets and under beds. She didn’t know what she would do if she saw anything, but she had to look.
Her parents were both at work and her sister was staying the night at her friend Rachel’s house, so she would be alone for at least another hour or so.
She shrugged. It must have been the neighbors fighting again.
She decided to watch some TV to get her mind off of the book and Pete.
The dim glow of the TV was the first thing she saw when she opened her eyes. It was dark outside.
Betty sat up, looked at her watch and frowned.
I must have dozed off. I wonder where Mom and Dad are?
Betty yawned and stretched, then got up and walked to the kitchen for a bite to eat. It wasn’t like them to not call but maybe they’d said they would be home late and she hadn’t heard them.
As she was making a sandwich, Betty thought she heard the strange noise again, only this time it sounded like it was coming from her room.
Tip-toeing across the kitchen floor towards the center island, Betty reached for the large butcher’s knife, the blade’s edge lightly scraping the wood block as she pulled it out.
She checked all of the windows and the doors. Everything was locked. For the second time tonight she searched for the source of the noise. She didn’t know what she would do if she saw anything, but she had to look.
As she walked towards her room she heard the sounds of muffled voices, mixed with screams and howling – not loud, but just on the edge of her perception.
Taking a deep breath, Betty reached for the door handle. The instant she touched the cold metal the sounds stopped.
As she started to turn the knob, the front door opened and she heard her mother and father come in, chatting between themselves.
Betty dropped her hand and quickly slipped back to the kitchen to replace the knife.
If they saw her standing in the hallway with a knife there’s no telling what they would say – or do.
“Hi Bitsy”, said her father, using the pet name that he knew she hated.
Betty frowned. “Hi Dad, why are you guys home so late?”
Giving his wife a quick glance, Frank said, “We stopped to pay a visit to Susan Franklin – you remember her and her husband Pete don’t you?”
Betty nodded, not wanting to hear the details. That would make it much too real.
“Carol told me about it.”
A sad smile on her face, Betty’s mom gave her a quick hug and then walked towards the kitchen.
Betty could hear the sounds of pots and pans being moved as her mom started preparing dinner.
“So how was school, sweetheart?”
Betty rolled her eyes. “Boring, Dad…and everyone is so dull!”
Frank chuckled. Yes, she was just like him.
“Not enough adventure, eh?”
He knew Betty wasn’t happy – that she wanted to get out and make a name for herself. He understood the feeling, but he guessed he didn’t have the same drive as she did. Besides, there was Natalie…she was all he ever wanted and each day he woke up next to her he felt like the luckiest guy around.
So he just changed his dreams, took over his father’s bait and tackle shop, settled down with Natalie and lived in domestic bliss these past 25 years.
“So, how is Mrs. Franklin?” said Betty, not sure she wanted to hear the answer.
“Hm? Oh, fine dear…well, as good as can be expected under
these circumstances. She’s got her children to comfort her.”
Betty nodded, telling herself that she would have another look at the book tonight. She’d probably dreamed the whole thing up…Pete’s name wasn’t in the book.
After dinner, Betty excused herself and went to her room.
She sprayed herself with perfume to block some of the smell that would come from the book when she opened it, and then grabbed the notebook from her backpack that had everyone’s names she’d collected.
Jedidiah had been perfectly clear on what he wanted and how the names would be chosen and added to the book.
He wanted only people who were involved in the church. Not mere churchgoers, but people who actually had a part in the church.
Pete was a deacon at the Woodbury Community Church for the last
10 years so of course he’s in there…
Betty frowned. Dropping to her hands and knees she felt underneath her bed. The book was stuffed in a shoebox, surrounded by a sea of stuffed animals.
The box felt oddly warm as she pulled it towards her, but that was nothing unusual. She was used to it by now.
Taking out the book, it felt heavier than she remembered.
The first time she wrote in the book it felt as if she were carving flesh not writing on paper. She didn’t like the way it felt. It took her a while to work up the nerve to write in the book again, but she had to do it – she didn’t want Jedidiah to think she wasn’t holding up her end of the bargain. She knew that he would somehow know if she just made up some names.
Betty listened for her parents. They were wrapped up in an episode of The Walking Dead and were oblivious to anything around them. She had time.
Sitting on her bed with the book lying before her, Betty opened the cover.
Betty sat up straight, looking around her room.
What in the hell?
Her heart pulsing in her ears, Betty looked around, listening closely for another sound, but all she heard was her parents discussing the show.
Turning the pages, she looked for the last entry. It was getting harder and harder to find names. She’d started with her
family’s church and then slowly added names from the other churches in town.
It wasn’t just a matter of finding church directories. She had to go to the churches, find out who was involved in Sunday
school teaching, who was the preacher, deacons…even the church secretary. It was exhausting…and time consuming.
The thought of attending yet another church this weekend was disturbing. Besides, her mom and dad were always suggesting that she come back to their church. They just thought she was going through a phase, but still, she hated lying to them.
I wonder if Jedidiah would let me call it quits. There’s got to be another way…
She felt something crawl on the back of her neck.
Betty flinched, reached for her neck and turned around, but saw nothing.
She heard a voice that seemed to come from all around her.
“Screw this,” said Betty, as she slammed the book shut and started for the door.
“Betty…what are you doing?”
She stopped in her tracks. A tall, lanky boy who looked about her age dressed in faded jeans and a Godsmack T-shirt was leaning against her door.
“Jedidiah….how did you…?”
His voice was low and calm. “Betty, what are you doing? Do you have the names yet?”
Shaking her head, Betty took three steps back to the edge of her bed and then plopped down, the book gripped tightly in her hands.
Jedidiah smiled. Walking towards her, he didn’t seem to notice her shaking.
“So, how many names do you have?”
“I…I’m not sure,” lied Betty.
“You know…you’ve been keeping a list, haven’t you?”
Betty tried to hide her surprise, but she obviously failed because Jedidiah’s mouth seem to split his face in two – his grin spreading from ear to ear.
Her heart sank.
“Here, let me see it,” said Jedidiah, holding his hand towards the book.
Betty held it up to him, glad to have it out of her hands.
Jedidiah took the book and sat down on the opposite edge of the bed. After looking through the pages of names she’d collected he nodded his head, stood up and said, “alright then…this is a good start. When do you expect to be finished?”
She looked into his cold black eyes and suppressed a shiver.
“I’m supposed to go to the Missionary Baptist in Fitzgerald this weekend, but..”
Jedidiah look at her intently. “You’re not thinking of backing out on our deal are you?”
Betty looked down at her hands..
“Uh, well, uh…what do you need those names for anyway…haven’t I gotten enough?
Look, you don’t even have to help me, I’ll..
A knock sounded on the door.
“Sweetheart…Mrs. Delaney just called. Have you seen Carol?”
Betty gasped, looking at Jedidiah. A smug smile on his face, Jedidiah nodded his head, as if to answer Betty’s unasked question.
Her eyes pleaded with Jedidiah. “I saw her at the bus stop, mom…maybe she went over to Vicky’s house.”
“Remember our deal Betty…you don’t want to go back on your word.”
“What did you do to her, you bas..” hissed Betty.
“She’s okay…she’ll just have a headache, that’s all. But if you don’t finish what you’ve started, well…I can’t control what happens next,” said Jedidiah, grinning.
“Betty…who are you talking to?”
Opening her door, Betty said, “Nobody, Mom…I’m just watching videos.”
“Oh, well, do you want to speak with Martha…she’s beside herself with worry.”
Betty swallowed hard. “Not really…I don’t know what else I could say.”
Natalie looked at her daughter. What had happened to her? She’d changed of late – and not for the better. Looking in her daughter’s room she spotted the book laid open on the bed.
“That’s an interesting book, what is it?”
“Uh, it’s for my humanities class mom. I’ve really got to get back to work…I’ve got an essay due on Friday and I’m nowhere near done!”
“Okay, Betty…I’ll leave you to it, then. Remember – your dad and I will be at church tomorrow night. If you want to come along, let me know in the morning so I can make arrangements to come home first.”
Nodding her head, Betty closed the door and looked towards the corner where Jedidiah had been standing.
It was empty.
No surprise. I didn’t even hear him leave…or arrive, for that matter.
Shaking her head, Betty looked again at the book. When she received the book it measured 15 × 17 and only had about two or three pages, all empty with only lines on the page…nothing else.
The pages were stock weight, so it must have been a pricey book.
The funny thing though…it seemed to be getting heavier.
Just when she had written on what she thought was one of the last pages it turned out there were more the next time she opened it. Strange.
Betty didn’t really care…all she knew is that Jedidiah wanted the names written in the book so that’s what she did.
She didn’t really care…or want to know why he needed the names.
She just knew giving him the names would buy her ticket out of this one horse town and that’s all that mattered.
Yawning, Betty decided she’d add the names tomorrow. She really did have an essay due Friday, but she’d get it done in home room in the morning. Easy, peasy.
Shrugging into her nightshirt, Betty climbed into bed, dropping off to sleep in minutes.
She never thought school would let out. The ride home was peaceful…a lot of kids didn’t show up for school today – so many that Betty wondered why she bothered to show up.
Finally. Mr. Brown is such an ass. I’ll be glad when I don’t have to listen to his boring lectures.
When she got home Betty slipped into the kitchen for a drink. She saw a note from her parents. “Betty, your father and I will be at the Franklin’s. Your sister’s with us. If you get hungry before we get home there’s leftovers in the fridge. Love you, see you at eight.”
“Okay, Mom,” said Betty. Good – that’s plenty of time to put the last of the names in the book.
Only five more names. Boy wouldn’t everyone be surprised to know that she’d really done it…she’d made it to New York and more importantly, she’d become famous.
When she had the money and the contacts in New York that Jedidiah promised her she would be so gone she would be a distant memory. Of course she’d wait until graduation – it was only a few months off – and instead of going off to college in Simmons like her parents expected, she’d be headed to New York.
Betty hit pay dirt at the Woodbury Community Church. All she’d needed was 5 names and she got them.
Finally…she’d put those names in the book, give it to Jedediah and be on her way to New York.
If he comes through…
Sitting down with the book, Betty opened it, listening for noises like last time.
All she heard was the hum of the air conditioner.
Looking at her notebook she took her pen and read the last few names she’d entered.
Betty stared at her name. Her heart started pumping wildly as if she’d run a marathon. She felt a heavy weight begin to press down on her chest. It became harder and harder to breathe.
Looking at her reflection in the mirror Betty saw a hideous beast sitting on her shoulders, its long talons lodged deep into her head, an evil grin on its face.
Screaming, she began waving her arms, frantically trying to dislodge the creature from her back, but when she reached behind her she felt only air.
Eyes wide, she looked in the mirror again. She noticed Jedidiah leaning against the wall behind her, a smirk on his face.
The pain subsided. A quick glance in the mirror showed her there was nothing on her back.
“Thank you Betty…I’ve got my names now.”
“But…I didn’t write my name. There’s a mistake…I have more…”
Jedidiah sighed loudly, shaking his head. “Betty, Betty, Betty…how long have you been going to church?”
Betty blinked in surprise.
Her mom and dad seemed to believe in all of this heaven and hell stuff, but she didn’t. Not really. She pretended that she did but in truth, she didn’t know what to believe. She liked the
here and now and things she could touch. Anything else was a bedtime story.
“Church? I don’t know…all my life? “My parents have been going to church since before I was born.”
“Yes, and do you remember what the Son of God called the Pharisees?”
Betty nodded. “Yes, I think he called them vipers or something like that, but what has that got to do with the names?”
“Do you remember the first name you wrote in the book?”
“No, that was months ago.”
“Think, Betty. Do you remember how you felt when you wrote it down?”
She didn’t have to think long at all. “Yes, it felt…wrong…creepy.”
“Did anything happen the next day? Think about it Betty, do you remember anything odd happening?”
Betty had tried to forget. “Yes,” she whispered.
“I’m sorry, Betty…I didn’t hear you…”
“Yes,” she said louder, her cheeks beginning to turn red.
“He collapsed behind the pulpit Sunday morning. The doctors said it was a heart attack.”
“Didn’t you think that was odd? I mean, you had just written his name in the book and then ‘bam’, he’s dead…stone cold.”
Betty started to sweat.
“No, I mean, he was in his 60s, er, or something…it happens…”
“Okay, fine. But what about the next one? The next 10, actually because I know that you waited until you had a list before you added them to the book.”
Betty swallowed. “I know what you’re going to say, Jedidiah…it was just an accident. The semi driver fell asleep
at the wheel and the church bus…”
“Do you really think that?”
Betty hung her head. “No.”
“If you thought that writing names in the book might bring harm, then why did you keep doing it?”
Betty had no excuse. She knew it, Jedidiah knew it. He looked at her, his eyes full of hunger. A smile slowly spread across his face, yet his eyes remained black…cold.
Betty gasped. She felt as if a sharp sword were being driven straight through her head. Looking in the mirror she saw the beast again. The demon had grown bigger, it was sitting on her shoulder, sinking its claws deeper in her brain.
The pain lessened to a dull throb, but she still felt the weight of the creature on her back, growing heavier as the minutes ticked by.
Jedidiah started to laugh. Betty ran out of her house, trying to get away from him – to find a place of rest.
The church…I’ve got to get to the church…
It was dusk, but she didn’t care. She had to find a priest…someone to help her get this beast off of her. She kept running, swatting at her head, but the pain didn’t leave…the demon stayed put.
She turned the corner and was about a block away from the church when she heard him.
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.”
The words of the street preacher rang in Betty’s ears. She stopped running, grasping at the preacher’s arms.
“Help me, please! He’s after me!”
The preacher turned his blue eyes on Betty, looking at her with pity.
“Betty. You knew Truth, but you rejected Him and sought the Prince of this world. You chose Deception and now you’re in his grip.”
“You turned a blind eye to the suffering caused by your actions. You knew evil would befall each person yet you chose darkness and shunned the Light.”
“But…I didn’t know…not really! What can I do? Help me!”
“Repent for your sins. Even now, at this final hour there is still hope. Do you hear Him? He says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock,if any man hear my voice and open the door I will come in to him and will sup with him and he with me.”
Betty just stared. She’d heard that before and she felt the same tugging at her soul as she did that day.
She started to speak, but something stopped her. The demon’s claws sunk in deeper.
Betty…what about your dreams? the voice whispered softly. You’ll be rich beyond your wildest dreams – everything I have will be yours. Just come with me!
Betty made her choice.
“I’m sorry, but you’re lying. I don’t believe in all that stuff. It’s just a story told by people who wanted to control others. It’s not true.”
The grim faced preacher looked at Betty and then at a form standing behind her. A deep sigh escaped his lips as he turned away, shaking his head, muttering prayers under his breath.
Betty turned around. Jedidiah was standing behind her.
“It’s time, Betty. Your bags are already packed and it’s time to catch your flight. New York is waiting.”
Using the book which he’d retrieved from her room Jedidiah opened a portal, then held out his hand.
Deception had completely filled her mind, its slimy, cold essence absorbing every last cell of her body, shifting, merging until you couldn’t tell where Betty ended and he began.
Betty smiled up at Jedidiah, placing her arm around his as they walked through the portal. The infernal doorway collapsed on itself, abruptly shutting out the screams.
About the Author
Thanks for reading! I really hope you enjoyed this collection of strange stories. Should you have a moment, honest reviews are always greatly appreciated.
A.C. Cooper lives with her family in the beautiful Northwoods of Wisconsin. When she’s not writing fiction you’ll find her walking in the woods with her dogs, tucked up in the corner knitting a new project or nose buried in a book.
You can keep track of her escapades at .
Other books by this author
Please visit your favorite ebook retailer to discover other books by AC Cooper:
Murder in Blue Lake
Children of Wrath
A Witch Killer Story
These flash fiction and short stories were inspired in different ways. The flash fiction stories were the result of word prompts provided by a lovely and strange little website called Garden Gnome Publications. Allen Taylor is the editor and he's got quite a good mix of the weird and the strange on his website. I urge you to check it out if you have the time. The short story titled The Name Collector was inspired by an invitation to dinner with fellow church members – a husband and wife. At the end of the dinner the wife did the oddest thing...asked our family to sign our names to a guest book she kept in her dining room. When I signed it I noticed there were many pages filled with names.