Fantasy and Science Fiction Tales

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Catching Up

This little story is essentially a transcription from beginning to end of a dream I had. I often have very clear, very weird dreams. The short ones are easy to jot down. The lengthier ones often fade when I wake, which is really too bad. Here is one of the shorter ones.

Catching Up

He fled down the city street, weaving in and out of the crowds, scarcely aware when he jostled or was jostled in return. His heart beat a frantic tattoo behind his ribs and his breath came in short gasps. From time to time he cast terrified glances over his shoulder and saw nothing that did not belong to the late winter afternoon.

All about him, other people went about their business, going home after a day at the office or perhaps on their way out to supper. Few gave him more than a cursory look, unless he bumped them too hard as he scurried past. Caught in his terror, he never bothered with so much as a "sorry" or "pardon me".

A moment of relief touched his heart when he saw the door to his apartment building just ahead. His pace increased until he was almost sprinting. He hit the door, fumbled the key into the lock and squeezed through, letting the door close itself behind him. Who had time to pull it shut?

Up the seven steps to the hallway, sparing only a glance into the stairwell that led to the basement. The corridor was darker than he thought it needed to be. Some of the ceiling lights must have burned out. He slowed to a rapid walk, glanced at the empty hallway behind him and made his way to the last door on the left.

Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod, he thought. Home. Homehomehome. I'll be safe there. Oh thank you, God.

The swirling, twirling thoughts made no sense to his rational mind. He could not have told anyone the source of his sudden and overwhelming terror, only that he was deeply and firmly convinced that someone or something nameless and horrible pursued him with evil intent.

The door swung open and he hurried into the narrow hall of his apartment. He went straight through to the living room, relief beginning to flood through him, when he realized he hadn't closed the door. He spun around. The apartment was empty. At least, to his eyes. His primitive brain said his eyes knew diddlysquat and...

He slid the balcony door and went outside. A light snow had begun. He looked out over the edge to the courtyard, down deep so the basement level apartments could have little garden areas instead of balconies, and their patio doors opened out to the court. A wrought iron fence marked the edges of the gardens. Ordinarily, he enjoyed sitting out here in the summer, seeing the pretty flowers, sometimes chatting with the neighbours. But today, all was grey and cold. The other buildings rose around the courtyard, their windows empty of faces, of help. He leaned over and looked up, wondering idly if he could climb to the balcony above and be safe there.

A sound from inside his apartment sent his heart into frantic fluttering. He made a small, frightened sound and turned again. His back pressed the stone parapet of his balcony.

The emptiness of the living room alarmed him more than it should have. Why was he so frightened? He fought for control, thinking he was going mad, when unseen hands grabbed his legs and lifted. He felt himself going up, up and over the edge. His buttocks slid across the wide edge of the balcony wall and his body tilted back. He screamed then. Screamed at the open sky above and the empty balcony. Screamed as gravity reached out for him and drew him down, down to the waiting fence.

He saw snowflakes following him down and he sensed something looking over the balcony at him, and then he knew no more.


A feeling of satisfaction, a job well-done, suffused the being's essence. It left the apartment, moved down the street, unseen, unfelt, unnoticed. It found the crowded bus and the young woman who sat with her face turned to the window. Her reflection showed a blank expression. The energy aligned itself with her and sank into place. Her eyes blinked and she arched her back a little before turning to look across the aisle.

Her gaze met that of a well-dressed man who was reading the evening paper. She nodded. His answering nod was almost imperceptible as he snapped his paper shut, folded it and rose to his feet. He rang the bell for the next stop and went to wait at the back door.

The young woman smiled. The job had gone very well. She sat back to enjoy the rest of her ride.

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This one was inspired by a writing prompt from one of my readers. I hope you enjoy it. As in the first story, the prompt is in italics; the rest is my invention.

As she stood there holding the broken doorknob, she resigned herself to the possibility that this day wasn't going to get any better. "Aw, crap!" She tried to grab the metal stub that poked its tongue into the room from the door. If she could reattach the knob to the spindle, she would be able to get out of her bedroom and maybe even make it to her new job in time.

The tip of her tongue poked from the corner of her mouth, unnoticed. "Come to Mamma," she murmured to the ridged metal. It wiggled in the door, but seemed to be holding. She put the open end of the knob on the spindle and pushed gently. A thud came from the carpeted hall on the other side of the door. "Damn you!" She held the knob in her hand and stared at the hole in the door where the other part had been. She thudded her head on the door. "Noooooooo. Please let me out! Please. It's the best job everrrrrrrrr." A whining tone had entered her voice. "This so sucks!"

She sat on the edge of the bed for a few minutes, wondering how she was ever going to get out of this stupid bedroom, in the stupid old-fashioned apartment which, until this morning, had been her pride and joy. Her eyes searched the room. There--on the dressing table--a nail file. She bounced from the bed, seized the nail file and dropped to her knees in front of the door. Careful manipulation rewarded her with a faint click and the door swung open.

"Yes!" She pulled it open the rest of the way, flung the nail file at the dresser, and hurried out into the hallway. Her foot came down on the other knob, which rolled away. The movement twisted her ankle and she fell. "DAMMITALLTOHELL!" Pain throbbed up her leg. She almost wept with frustration. The new job in the heart of the city, the big break in the world of business, the realization of her dream--all the hopes were fading fast. She struggled to her feet and hobbled to the living room. What to do? What to do?

She couldn't walk down to the subway station now, that was for sure. She'd have to call in on her first day and plead sick. She hoped they would be understanding. She clicked on the TV, and reached for the phone and her purse with the business card and number of her new boss. The line buzzed and wouldn't connect. She tried again. A busy signal. What the heck? She hung up the phone and stared at the TV. The image made no sense. She stared. Flames billowed from the tower, black smoke filled the sky. Confetti, or so it seemed, swirled in the air. The camera angle changed. What movie was this? She turned up the sound.

"A plane has flown into the north tower of the World Trade Center..." The north tower. Her new job, up on the 98th floor. She stared, eyes wide.

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Another inspired by a writing prompt from a reader. I'm finding this an excellent exercise to kick-start the imagination.

She knew she had locked the door and even put the chain on, yet how could it be that she had just heard it open and close.

"It's probably just the ghosts," she said to herself, raising the spatula she had been using to flip sliced potatoes. She crept down the hall, spatula held out before her. "Yoohooooo, ghosties!" It occurred to her that if it were an actual intruder, she was giving him plenty of warning, but it was probably just the ghosts. They had been appearing more and more lately. She had never believed in ghosts before the fire in her building had claimed two lives. Since then, they seemed to have moved in for reasons she couldn't explain.

They were a young couple and they didn't seem to mean her any harm. They just moved things around, opened doors and sometimes turned the TV and stereo on and off. One of these days, she would go to the church and get some holy water to sprinkle around her apartment. Maybe that would ease their passage to wherever they were supposed to go.

There was no one in the hall, but she could see that the chain on the door was undone. A sudden sound came from the room to her right. Still clutching her spatula, she peeked through the door to the living room. She jumped at the sight, her heart suddenly in her throat. The room was FULL of ghosts. Eight or ten at least. This was too much. She had to get help. An exorcist. Anyone.

She hurried back to the kitchen, thinking to use the phone there to call Father Larry. Smoke rose from the frying pan where the forgotten potatoes were turning black in their inch of oil. "Oh shoot! I forgot!" She reached past the pan to the knob on the back of the stove. Her arm bumped the handle. The pan spun, tipped and spilled oil onto the burner. Fire snatched at her sleeve. She screamed and jumped back, knocking the burning pan onto the floor. Flaming oil spread quickly. The little rug flared and blocked her exit. She screamed again.

"Jilly." Mark's voice came from the doorway. It was calm, quiet, soothing. "Jilly."

She coughed and looked past the flames. "Mark! Save me!"

"It's all right, Jilly. There's nothing to be afraid of."

The heat was horrific. She cried out in terror. "Help me!"

He smiled and came toward her, his hands out. "Come to me. It's all right."

The fire roared around him without touching him at all. She felt her shoes beginning to melt. "Please help." She coughed again. Mark came forward and put his arms around her.

"It's over, honey. Don't you remember? It's time to go."

She blinked, eyes smarting from the smoke. "What?" She looked around. The fire and smoke were gone. The kitchen sparkled in the afternoon sun. Laughter and music drifted from the living room. "I don't understand." She stared up into his grey eyes. He kissed her forehead.

"It's time to leave," he said. He stepped back but kept hold of her hand. "This isn't our place any more. Not since the fire. Come on now. Terry's waiting. And your mum."

"Terry? Mum? But they're--" Her voice trailed off. "Oh. Oh!" She walked with him into the hall. "It was real, wasn't it? The fire, I mean. Not now. But before. Right?"

"Right as rain."

"And you did try to save me, didn't you?"

He nodded. They passed the living room. She glanced in at the crowd. One young woman looked up, a startled expression on her face, then Mark and Jilly were past the doorway. She heard the voice, "Did you see that? Who was that?"

Another voice answered, "Oh, that's just our ghost. I've been meaning to sprinkle holy water around, but she seems harmless."

Jilly clung to Mark's hand. They walked through the locked door and left the past behind.

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The third writing prompt from a reader at Opendiary. As always, the prompt is in italics.

Heart beating wildly, she sat bolt upright in bed, gasping for air, her hands at her throat. She stared into the darkness of her bedroom, faint light filtering through the curtains from the light over the neighbour's back door. All seemed normal.

A few deep breaths helped to restore her heart rate to something closer to normal. She plucked at the neckline of her nightie, then tossed the blankets back. Since she was so wide awake, she might as well go pee before she settled back to sleep. She sat up and groped with her toes for her slippers. Her fuzzy bathrobe hung on the back of the door. She put it on and tied the belt as she went down the hall to the bathroom.

After using the facilities, she stood before the sink and stared at her reflection while she washed her hands. "You know better than to eat cold pizza for a bed-time snack," she told her mirror self. She shook her head. "I'll learn--one of these days."

She turned off the tap and reached for the towel. A strange sound from downstairs arrested her hand in mid-reach. She listened, heard nothing more and went about drying her hands. The sound came again just as she flicked off the bathroom light. This time, it was followed by the clatter of something plastic falling in the kitchen. She frowned and went to the top of the stairs.

She stood there, one hand on the newel post. "This is where the heroine in a horror movie doesn't call the cops and gets herself killed by the psycho du jour." She put her foot on the top step. But if I call 9-1-1 and it's nothing, I'll look as stupid as I feel. Besides, it's probably just the cat. The fact that her cat was at the vet's overnight didn't register.

A faint light from the kitchen illuminated the dining table. It looked as if she had forgotten to turn off the little light in the stove hood. "Stupid," she muttered and walked confidently forward.

The stove was just to the right of the door, and sure enough the hood light was on. She stepped through, went to the stove and reached for the switch. The cellar door behind her creaked, as it always did when it opened.

"Is that you, Kitty?" She half-turned to look. Before she could scream, the man in the ski-mask was across the room. Strong hands closed around her throat, cutting off her air. She clawed at his hands, dug her nails into his flesh. The hands tightened. She flailed at him, reached for anything she might use as a weapon. Her breath whistled in her attempts to draw air into her lungs. Darkness closed in with blooms of light like fireworks in a night sky. Once more, she put her hands on his and fought for freedom. She could see him smiling behind the mask and knew she was going to die.

Heart beating wildly, she sat bolt upright in bed, gasping for air, her hands at her throat.

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