There is Life

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“I’m approaching the site,” Brad screamed into his helmet, hoping that the mic would pick up his voice along with the roaring of the wind.

He never should have gone out of the habitat today, the winds were too strong, there was too much red dust kicked up in the thin atmosphere and swirling around him in rusty eddies making him have to wipe off his helmet every few steps, but he pressed on.

Brad Filcrum was a biologist in a land where nothing lived.

With one day left on this strange, red planet, he was determined to find something, anything resembling life.

Just yesterday they had realized that a large outcropping of rocks had an opening that may have been a cave.

The crew members weren’t permitted to enter any caves or go beneath the surface, not on this first mission, but Brad wanted to just get as close as he could to the opening — peek into the darkness and see if there was anything to find.

Perhaps some kind of Martian cockroach, those suckers could survive anything and everywhere on Earth. Or maybe a small fungus that could somehow withstand the freezing temperatures.

It didn’t matter.

Brad had been told that the likelihood of discovering life on Mars in this first mission would be slim to none, but Brad also knew this would be his one and only trip to the red planet, and he wanted to make his mark.

“I’ve reached the rocks,” he called into his mic.

Static and gibberish was returned to him.

He looked back toward the habitat and could barely see it through the swirling red dust, but at least he could see it, he wouldn’t lose his way back.

As he turned back to the rocks, Brad thought he saw something long and black moving out of the corner of his eye, but he turned and there was nothing there, just the small opening between the pile of red boulders.

Brad dropped the bag he was carrying on the ground and pulled out some specimen jars. If nothing else, he would get a soil sample from this shaded area to see if the nutrient components were different than the rest.

A shadow passed over him as he was bent over the bag, and Brad felt his heart flip-flop in his chest.

He snapped his head up, and could have sworn he saw a shadow moving inside the little rock cave.

“…okay…there?” he heard a crackling through his comms.

“Yeah, I’m okay, just spooked myself,” Brad said, then took the specimen jar and moved closer to the little cave.

He squinted and rubbed at his helmet.

He could have sworn it looked like something was moving inside the cave.

Suddenly, Brad wondered whether coming out here was worth it.

“Hey guys, I think I’m gonna head — “

Brad’s voice cut off abruptly when a long, black arm darted out of the cave and snatched the specimen jar out of his hand.

Before he could say or do anything, another arm lashed out, grabbing onto the bag by his feet, and as it pulled away he felt something pulling at the pant leg of his suit.

“Oh my god, it’s a tentacle,” he screamed into his comms.

Brad turned and began running back toward the habitat, shouting into his comms as he lumbered over the rocky Martian soil.

“There’s something in there, something in there and it has tent — “

And that was the last thing Brad said before he was grabbed around the waist and yanked back with enough force as to make him lightheaded, but unfortunately, he didn’t pass out before reaching the cave.

Brad’s body was too big to fit into the space between the boulders, but the tentacled arm that had him didn’t care about that at all, it pulled anyway.

Brad screamed when he felt his back breaking and pelvis being crushed as he was bent in half and yanked through the opening, falling backwards into darkness in the clutches of his certain death.

Brad Filcrum had found life on Mars.

It would be many missions before anyone found what it had left of Brad.

This House Breathes

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The house breathes.

Oh, no, child. That isn’t the house settling onto its foundation like your momma says, oh no.

This house breathes.

You see it up there on the hill, looking down at us?

It’s looking at us through all those busted up windows, and let me tell you, child, that house is mad as hell that those windows got broke, cause you know there are things still living inside there.

Ain’t just those creepy crawlies in the closets and the spiders in the eaves, there.

That house has things living in it that get mad in the daytime and come out after dark to play.

You should never go in there after dark, but you shouldn’t be going in there in the daytime, either.

Why, because they’re mad, child.

Their windows are broken and the paint is peeling off the walls. The hallways haven’t been swept in fifty years and no one thought to take the curtains off for washing, they just rotted where they hung.

Sure, the furniture is all gone, that got stolen up out of there right quick after the family passed on, but you see, not everything made it out of that house.

No, child, listen here, don’t go near that place.

Can’t you feel it watching you through them window holes?

This house can see.

This house has eyes on the inside that are watching us right now; they be wondering if we’re dumb enough to come closer.

You dumb enough to go closer, boy?

Naw, sure you ain’t.

No one listens to me anymore, a crazy old man wandering the streets.

I see everything, you know.

I’ve seen it when the lights come on upstairs and the shadows start to dance, and boy, child, you’re all alone and it’s getting close to dark.

Hey, where you going?

Aren’t your parents going to be looking for you, for dinnertime?

Come back here, now!

There’s nothing left behind in there that you can take away!

You don’t have to prove nothing to me, or your friends, or even yourself, so come back, now!

Did you see that?

Did you just see that door swing open, boy?

Yeah, you saw it, plain as I saw it, but there’s no one in there to open that door for you, boy!

That house is breathing, it’s sucking you right in just like it got that other kid last year.

Yeah, remember him?

They never found him, but this was the last place he was seen, walking into that house.

Yeah, go ahead and call me names. Nothing I haven’t heard before. Want to throw a rock at me, too? Some of you little shits just love that, don’t you?

Well, fine, I tried.

Go on, then.

I’ll stand here and watch.

That house is going to take a big breath and swallow you whole.

The Mice Told Me

 Photo by  Bryan Minear  on  Unsplash

Photo by Bryan Minear on Unsplash

"We can't stay here," Lacey said, letting her backpack clunk to the ground in a cloud of dust. 

I winced at the sound, pushing past her with the long metal pipe, my weapon of choice these last few weeks, raised in both of my hands, ready to twack about the head anyone coming out of a doorway toward me - but the house was empty, I knew it before we had even gotten close. 

No one would stay in such a dilapidated, ruined place, not when there were so many nicer ruined places to choose from. 

"Sure we can stay here," I said. 

I set down my pack on the warped, sagging kitchen counter, not jumping when a nest of leaves and fibers rustled next to it and a family of mice made their escape. 

"Says who?"

"The mice who live here," I said. "They just told me, it's a fantastic place to spend a night."

"No," Lacey said, shaking her head. 

I was already pulling my can open and tonight's canned dinner out of my pack, but Lacey wasn't moving from the spot by the door. She stood rooted in place, looking all around her like the place could be haunted. 

"This place is empty, it's fine. We can bunk down on the floor and at least we'll have some cover from the rain," I said, but still she stood, unmoving. 

"There's someone here," she whispered. 

"There's no one else here."

"The mice told me," she said, nodding toward the staircase a bit to her left, a flood of mice families running toward her down the stairs. 

Above us, we heard the creaking of floorboards that should have collapsed ages ago.

"Well, I always believe the mice," I said, and Lacey rolled her eyes at me as I shoved our dinner back into my pack and a moment later we were out the door, racing through the tall grass surrounding the house as we heard the telltale clicks of a shotgun being racked.

"Don't come back here, now!" a voice boomed behind us as we ran into the night, the rain beginning to pour down, the hope of a comfortable night's sleep leaving us once again. 

Recipe for Resilience

 Photo by  Matt Brown  on  Unsplash

Photo by Matt Brown on Unsplash

I felt Gramma Bonny reach for her tea on the table in front of us and winced when I heard the clatter and splash, and my sweet Gramma saying “shit” under her breath like she never would have done before.

I sighed, rising to go find a towel to clean it up before she tried to do it herself. 

“I can do it myself, Joanna,” she snapped at me. “I’m perfectly capable of cleaning up my own messes.” 

“I know, Gramma,” I said, “I’m already up, I got it.”

I shuffled into the kitchen, hands on counters, reaching blindly with my fingers until I found the towel that always hung from the stove handle - not a safe place to leave a towel anymore. 

“I don’t need you to stay with me,” Gramma Bonny said as I shuffled back into the living room, banging my shin on the stupid ottoman I kept forgetting about when I tried to map out the memory of my grandma’s house in my mind. 

“I would have been all alone in the house, I told you that, Gramma. Mom and dad never came home from work.”

“Well, how could they? Have you missed the last five hundred news broadcasts?”

I rolled my eyes, not like it mattered anymore, and sat back down next to Gramma, reaching forward to blot up her hot tea, doing the best I could. 

We didn’t bother with the television anymore. Gramma Bonny preferred the company of the radio, something about it being a throwback to her better days, when the news and entertainment came over the radio waves and not from ‘that box that made fools of us all.’

“Thank you dear,” Gramma Bonny said after I had sat back on the loveseat, done with her mess. 

She reached out and I felt her old, bony hand crawling up my leg, looking for my hand to hold. I grasped hers in mine, the thin paper of her skin rough against my own. 

“What are we going to do, Gramma?”

“We’ll be just fine,” she said, giving my hand a squeeze. 

I could almost see that smile spreading across her face. No matter what was wrong, she knew she could get through it. She was born in the depression and had grown up poor. That, she said, prepared you for everything. 

“How are we going to get groceries, walk five miles to the store? We’ll be out of food soon.”

“We have plenty of food, child.”

“We really don’t.”

“God provides.”

There it was. 

It was always God with Gramma Bonny, too. 

God and poverty: put the two together, and you have the recipe for resilience. 

Voices droned on the radio. I didn’t want to listen to them anymore. 

Gramma had already been going blind and deaf, and the volume was up so high I swore I could hear chatter in the background, other people in the radio station having conversations over the broadcast, or maybe that was just my imagination going wild.

In the constant darkness, colors swirled. 

Fractals and tunnels, spirals and occasional bright flashes of light. 

When my eyes were opened it was all I saw, when my eyes were closed, I saw them even brighter - the glory of whatever I had left. 

I turned my head to the left, away from Gramma, toward the window I knew was there. 

Outside the window was there was a road that led away from Gramma’s and into town, where I lived with my parents until the day they didn’t come home, until the day things started going blurry around the edges. 

Maybe it was cloudy, maybe the sun was shining so brightly I would have wanted sunglasses. 

Maybe if I knew any better, I would I run outside, away from Gramma’s, and never come back. 

“I don’t think God delivers groceries, Gramma Bonny,” I said.

She squeezed my hand again and clicked her tongue.

“Look what God is capable of doing.”

“I can’t look, Gramma, that’s the point.”

“Well, then I rest my case, dearie.” 
 


Hannah

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A year to the day he had buried her empty coffin, Evan Mulraney saw Hannah sitting in the living room chair when he walked into his house after a long day at work.

At first he didn’t notice her there. Evan walked into the darkened front hallway, took off his shoes and left them on the rug by the door to dry, hung his raincoat on a peg, and turned to lock the door behind him. It wasn’t until Evan had his hand hovering near the light switch that he saw the figure in the high backed Victorian chair by the windows. It looked like a tall woman wearing a long white dress, sitting as if waiting for something.

“Hello?” Evan asked, and only after his mouth was closed did he realize that no sound had actually escaped his lips. Evan’s whisper was caught up in his fear, and he trembled.

‘Shake it off,’ Evan thought to himself, ‘You’re seeing things.’

Maybe he would have been able to brush it off as a figment of his overactive imagination, maybe he could have passed it off as a blur on his contact lens, but when he flipped the light switch it remained dark in the house, and as lightning flashed Evan knew that the woman in his living room was no figment of his imagination.

Evan dropped his briefcase at his feet; it clattered to the floor and broke open, spilling out his papers, sending his cell phone and a pack of gum skittering across the hardwood floor. His heart was pounding so hard he imagined that whoever was sitting in that chair must be able to hear it, must be able to see, even in the dark, his shirt fluttering with every beat in his chest.

Evan took one step back, that was all he could manage. He leaned against the wall behind him and stared into the living room, at the woman, the thing in that chair.

It was Hannah. But it wasn’t Hannah.

A year ago Hannah had left home. It had been an unseasonably warm morning nearing Christmas, and she had left to run some errands. She was just going down to the craft store for wrapping supplies, and maybe she’d stop and have a coffee at her favorite little cafe in town.  ‘I’ll only be a couple of hours, I’ll be right back,’ she had said to him as she walked out the door.

He reported her missing that evening, and it was a week before they found her car abandoned on the side of the road in a town two states away. They searched the car for evidence of her being taken, and indeed it did seem that she had been snatched from her car, because all that was left of her belongings was a pair of Converse shoes and a book titled ‘The Memory or Lies,’ a book he had never seen before, a book he couldn’t imagine her reading. And of course, Hannah wouldn’t just walk off into the woods with no shoes on in the middle of winter.

Then, days after the car had been found, a police officer came walking up to the front door holding a cardboard box in shaking hands. Inside, there were Hannah’s well worn shoes and the book he didn’t understand. This was all that was left of her, and he knew she was dead. They had searched and searched for her, but eventually Evan gave up. She had an empty casket in a plot at the town cemetery, a stone marker with her name on the grave, and yet here she was.

It was Hannah. But it was not Hannah.

“Yes it is, Ev, it’s me.”

‘Run,’ Evan thought to himself. ‘Either there is a ghost in your house, or you’re going completely crazy. Which would you rather be? Haunted or insane? Either way, you don’t want to be here, alone with this thing.’

Alone like he had been all year, in this house that was too big for him without his wife in it as well, the house that was really too big for both of them, before Hannah had disappeared. They used to yell to each other from opposite rooms of the house and hear their words get lost in an echo of hard wood and the living, breathing space. Some days when they were both working at home, when Evan was in his office off the bedroom and Hannah in her own downstairs by the kitchen, they could go hours without seeing each other. A few times Evan even forgot that Hannah was home, and those days he’d get a funny feeling like he was forgetting about something important, like he had missed an appointment or stood up one of his buddies. Hannah would come up into the room behind him and he would scream. He knew she was there, but she wasn’t there. That’s what this was like.

“I’m just imagining you,” he finally whispered.

“You’re not. Would I lie to you?”

“Yes,” he answered. “You said you were going out for scotch tape and tissue paper, and that you’d be right back. You never came back.”

“I’ve missed you, Evan. All I do is think about you.”

“You’re not real.”

“Why don’t you believe me? I’m right here. I’ve always been here. You’re just trying to forget about me.”

Evan took a step forward, wanting to see her face, needing to know if it was really her. There was just enough moonlight through the dwindling rain clouds to make out the shape of her face. Her long neck, delicate ears, high brow, straight nose. The curve of her lips was the same as Evan had burned into his memory, the one thing he’d tried the hardest to hold on to – his wife’s beautiful smile and the light in her eyes. But there was no light in her eyes. She sat in darkness, and even though it was Hannah (but it was not Hannah), he knew she wasn’t real, she was just a ghost.

“I don’t believe in ghosts,” Evan thought to himself, but she heard.

“You don’t have to believe in ghosts, Evan. I am right here.”

Inside of Evan, something broke. That cage he built around his heart, that lock he put on that particular place in his throat where the sobs can easily escape from, it broke open after a year of keeping himself mostly together.

“You said you would be right back! Where did you go? What happened to you?” he screamed, finally. Raised his voice and let himself be heard, let himself say the words he’s been asking himself for a whole year, the words he stopped asking other people (his family, his friends, the police) a long time ago because he got too afraid to hear what they would have to say, what horrible scenario they would dream up that particular day.

“What happened to me?” Hannah repeated flatly, not human. “I’m here Evan. Isn’t that what matters to you? Isn’t that what you have been wanting since the morning I left? Haven’t you wanted me back?”

Evan was sobbing. He was bent over at the waist, holding his arms around himself, holding himself up and together. He thought that if he screamed loud enough, someone must be able to hear him, certainly if he was this frightened, someone would save him, they would have to.

No one came.

When he looked up finally, through a haze of tears, Hannah was walking toward him. She was wearing her wedding dress, the dress that they had buried in her coffin because her body had never been found.

“I’m back, Evan, and don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere.”