Submissions have started to slow, guys. It ain’t that your stories aren’t good enough, there’s just a lot fewer. Plus I think the passing of Halloween made everyone feel less creepy.
Kay bolted upright in bed.
She could swear she heard something. A crack, a thump; something low and bassy, but sudden, and loud, and it came from beyond the closed door to her bedroom. She moved her phone aside to see the bright red numbers on her nightstand radio: 3:03 AM.
She sat very still in the pitch darkness, her concentration entirely focused on what she could hear — which at the moment was nothing.
A minute crept by. She slept with every door in the house shut; something she used to do when she was younger because she was afraid of ghosts. She realized it was stupid to assume a ghost would bother to open a door, but it made her feel safer. Just as pulling the blankets over her head did, which she contemplated doing.
This isn’t a story unless you pretend it is. I added some more background information on Ichor Falls to the Visitors Center page, like the approximate location of the town, current mayor, districts and names of lakes and newspapers. I’m not doing that to stifle creativity, but to keep things consistent, and not force you to reinvent the wheel if you want to reference a newspaper, for example. Go check out the new content.
Also, the original Ichor Falls story, Terminus, lives on the site now. It was the first thing I laid down, although it’s more tongue-in-cheek than scary.
Then somebody died! Boo! The end.
In 1806, settler Elijah Brown became lost for two days in what would later be named the Stillwood Forest, a deceptively-small wooded area southwest of Ichor Falls proper. When he returned to the town, Brown was gaunt, dehydrated and starving to the point of near death, and insisted that he was lost not for two days but nine. He also had carefully kept journal entries with the rise and set of the sun, and indeed he had made nine of them. Exhaustion and confusion clearly played a factor in augmenting Brown’s story — and of course, after a hard winter, there’s no record of how dehydrated and starved Brown may have been before getting lost.
Later expeditions into the Stillwood showed that the forest floor is incredibly thick with vegetation, with tall, rail-thin trees making most passage exceedingly difficult. Add to this three similarly-curving creeks and streams flowing off the Erytheia, the natural sound-dampening of the trees, and foliage sometimes so thick that it blocks the sky, and you have a recipe for losing one’s way quite easily.
I have an odd habit a friend recently picked up on, a habit I developed about a year ago. He noticed that when I enter a room, any room, and shut the door, I turn my face away from it and close my eyes until I hear the lock click. Only after the door is fully closed will I open them. He gave me a hard time about it until I told him where it started.
I work for a water-seal company in St. Paul. We produce sealant for exposed wood — decks, boats, that kind of thing. You hear about sealant being a dirty word in the Ashland-Ichor Falls-Ironton area, but not all those companies were part of the infamous “Ethylor summer” that wiped out the local economy in the ’50s. I got sent to an industrial park outside of Ichor Falls on business.
I checked into this dismal hotel, the Hotel Umbra, that looked like the decor hadn’t been changed since 1930. The lobby wallpaper had gone yellow from decades of cigarette smoke, and everything had a fine layer of dust, including the old man behind the front desk. I hoped that the room would be in better shape. Mine was on the fourth floor.
Being an old place, the hotel had a rickety cable elevator, the kind with the double sets of doors: one of those flexing metal gates, and a solid outer pair of doors. I shut the gate and latched it, and pressed the tiny black button for my floor.
Just as the outer elevator doors were about to close, I was startled by the face of a young woman rushing at the gap between them. She was too late; the doors shut, and after a moment the elevator ascended.
My father used to take me to the Natural History and Science Museum, downtown, when I was six. That was where I first saw her.
I remember thinking what a pretty name for someone that was, the “Lemon Blossom Girl.” I have never been able to forget the time I laid eyes on the Lemon Blossom Girl, imprisoned in the tall glass case smudged with the fingerprints of all the other children who had come to stare at her. But she could not stare back.
A real object that has made its way into Ichor Falls folklore is the Hirsch Camera, on seasonal display at the tiny Rand Historical Society Museum near the town center. Its inventor, chemist Robert Hirsch, can claim ancestry back to the original eighty-two settlers of Ichor Falls. He remarked in letters to colleagues that the town “resided in a wonder-land of alchemical potential… I believe there is no more [diverse] geology West of the Alleghanies.”
Make my house from twigs and sticks
I have no clay, I have no bricks
Build my house and make it strong
It will keep you winter long
In the evening tend the fire
Good child, good child
Careful not to let it higher
Good child sings.
In the morning, early morning
Mother cries and father warning
Bad child gone.
You will either die or lose your mind if you reach the end of this sentence, so stop reading it — in the early 1930s, a research group of psychologists, semioticists and English professors in Austria were researching the fundamentals of understanding language; it was believed, rather than language simply being an arbitrary (albeit varyingly complex) system of mnemonics for our conceptualization of reality, that perhaps once learned and internalized, our use of language actually became embedded within the root thought processes involved in our filtration of external, ordered stimuli and thereby our very grasp of reality, and this team of researchers distilled what turned out to be a symbolic halt mechanism into a new kind of punctuation: not a period, or exclamation point, or question mark, but a cognitive “escape character” they referred to as the “ablation mark,” or fulcrum for short — though whether the word “fulcrum” betrays the visual appearance or actual textual annotation of this new punctuation really, REALLY should not be dwelled upon even though as a glyph it is fairly unremarkable (it operates differently when encountered as a component of grammar) — regardless you should have stopped reading this sentence long, long ago because at some point I’ve got to end it and it won’t be with a period, or an exclamation point, or a question mark, but with a fulcrum and only a fulcrum, because I’ve used all the colons, semicolons, parentheses and em-dashes I possibly can, and yet you continue reading, making it very difficult for me to continue to make this sentence grammatically correct, which it MUST be for it is the only thing keeping ME from dying or losing MY mind, because I DID see the fulcrum and began writing this sentence in an attempt to maintain my already-faltering grasp on a world of ordered concepts and symbols tied to meaning, to stave off the deconstruction of my earliest memories of language, since it is this deconstruction upon viewing the ablation mark that is so sudden and so SEVERE that the victim’s sensory perception actually briefly HALTS, leaving the mind locked in total isolation that cannot be described as darkness or even absence of darkness, which in turn brings about a catastrophic sympathetic response of the central nervous system, a response that I have only managed to DELAY with a PURELY GRAMMATICALLY CORRECT SENTENCE which I CANNOT ALLOW TO END, and yet MUST END, because I CANNOT TYPE FOREVER A PURELY GRAMMATICALLY CORRECT SENTENCE WHEN I HAVE USED ALL AVAILABLE PUNCTUATION, INCLUDING COLONS, SEMICOLONS, PARENTHESES, EM-DASHES, HYPHENS, SAVE FOR THE DAMNED ABLATION MARK WHICH IF YOU VALUE YOUR LIFE YOU WOULD BREAK YOUR GAZE WITH THIS SINGLE SENTENCE IMMEDIATELY FOR THE FULCRUM IS REAL AND IT IS ABSENCE OF ABSENCE AND I CAN’T GO ON USING WORDS LIKE “FOR” AND “BUT” AND “AND” TO STRING MORE CLAUSES ONTO THIS STILL-BUT-NOT-FOR-LONG PURELY GRAMMATICALLY CORRECT SENTENCE, SO GOD HELP ME AND HAVE MERCY ON MY SOUL, AND FORGIVE ME FOR WHAT I AM ABOUT TO DO, BUT I NEVER SHOULD HAVE OPENED THAT DRAWER IN HIS OFFICE AND IF I HAD NEVER READ THE PAPER I’D HAVE NEVER SEEN THE FULCRUM BUT GOD HELP ME I DID
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“It is a process which I derived empirically. All motion, either generated by or imparted to an object, obeys the same principle. When your arm moves, is the motion continuous, or are there discretized points, however small, at which there is no in-between?”
“The latter case, I would imagine, at some subatomic level,” I offer.
“Indeed,” he replies. “In my work, I have discovered it matters not the timeframe in which the motion occurs, nor the force that impels it. On film, during the traditional application of the process, the movement is indistinguishable from life. Would you agree?”
“Aside from the crudity of the animation as has been practiced in the past,” I say, “that is entirely the point.”
“Yes, you have chosen the perfect word,” he says, opening the black leather bag I have been eyeing since we entered the room. Perhaps he has noticed. “The stop-motion animator’s work is quite crude. I have refined the processes, and refined them again until the medium was freed of its old moorings, yes? A new art form emerged, and a new science. At a sufficient level the two are indistinguishable.”
“Many things seem to be,” I say. He smiles at this.
“But enough talk,” he returns as his smile is replaced with a stern air of professionalism. There is some hint of pride in his face, though, as he says “perhaps, to begin, I should introduce you to one of my assistants.”
He claps his hands three times. From a shadowy corner, a misshapen clay thing the size of a man shambles jerkily across the room towards us, its skin rippling as if plied by countless unseen fingers.