Saturday, December 31, 2016

Fear and Loathing in the Left Lateral Incisor by Aimee Lucido

We made it. This is the last post of the Renegade Shorts Winter Holiday Showcase. Also this year is over and I think we're all happy about that. Let's look forward now to the New Year, new experiences, and, of course, new stories. I want to thank all the writers that contributed to this weird idea I had. It was a lot of fun organizing this and reading everyone's stories all the stories. You are all wonderful writers, and special as snowflakes!

Today's story is a departure from the Holiday theme. It's a reminder that while the Holidays are happening, so is everything else. It's also creepy and fun. The type of story you can really take a bite out of. Thank you to the stupendous Aimee Lucido, the writer of today's short. Thank you, Aimee.

Fear and Loathing in the Left Lateral Incisor

By Aimee Lucido

A molar tastes like romance.
Did you know that?
Of course you didn’t. You wouldn’t. In your mouth it gets all muddied up. Mixed together with the loneliness of a canine, the fear of a incisor.
Your mouth is a Big Mac of emotions. Too many flavors, confused and scrambled, and you’re left unable to feel anything at all.
But ooh! Nothing compares to the pure romance of a molar. You pop one of those babies and you can lie on your back for hours feeling nothing but first kisses and the gentle whisper of a lover’s fingers.
That’s some good shit.
I’ll show you what I mean. See that man up there? Gray hair, neatly parted, wedding band glinting like a bedroom candle in the moonlight? Tom’s his name, Tom Waddle, and I happen to know for a fact that his first molar on the lower right hand side packs the sharpest punch around. We’re talking high-school-sweethearts-turned-long-distance-lovers-turned-fifty-years-of-marital-bliss kind of romance.
Oh mamma it’s gonna be good!
It’s a delicate dance, a dental do-si-do, as I step two three, and walk two three, and trip two three, and sorry two three my way through the chaos. Tom Waddle falls two three and before anyone can swing their partner round and round the tooth is dislodged, in my hand, and I’m back on my way two three.
Don’t look at me like that. He’d thank me if he knew what I was doing. It’s been aching him for months, and all I did was push it along.
            And now I have the final ingredient. It’s one I’ve been perfecting my whole life, and now, with this molar, I’ve finally done it. I have the incisor from a boxer—someone famous, can’t say his name—and the bicuspid from one of those existential poet types who thinks Nietzsche is a four-letter word.
            And now I have Tom Waddle’s romance. Just in time, too, because it’s starting to snow.
            I get back to my temporary residence and light a fire in the pit so I can see. I pull my baggies out from behind the PVC pipe and sift through them. Canine, canine, wisdom tooth, aha!
            There they are. The incisor and the bicuspid, in their individual homes, marinating in their isolation until I’m as prepared for them as they are for me.
            I pull out the molar from Tom Waddle and stare at it for a moment, savoring the anticipation. It looks so small in my hand, so white by comparison, and I lick my lips.
            And when I can’t wait any longer I pull out the other two and shuffle the three together like dice in my hand. Fear: the incisor of a boxer. Sorrow: the bicuspid of a poet. And romance: the molar of Tom “White Picket Fence” Waddle.
            And then I open my mouth and rest the three lightly on my tongue.
            Teeth absorb everything. Adrenaline from a late-night motorcycle race. Blood from a fist to the jaw. Whiskey from a third consecutive afternoon spent at the local pub.
These three teeth have absorbed more than most. Their flavor hits me all at once. Knocks me to my knees. It’s stronger than anything I have ever tried before… and yet something is wrong.
            I spit out the teeth and inspect them. No fillings, no chips, no flaws whatsoever. I must be imagining it.
            I pop them back in and the flavor hits me once again….
            And then there is the wrongness.
            I try to enjoy it even so. This is my crowning achievement, my magnum opus. It’s supposed to be perfect!
            But I’m sure of it now. It’s not right. Something is missing.
            I spit them out.
            And then, like serendipity, like the shining face of God pointing me to the Promised Land, I hear a tiny voice.
            “Mommy! Daddy! I lost a tooth!”
            I stand up so hard I hit my head on a hot water heater.
            “Wow! That’s a really big deal! Congratulations, son!”
            I stick the three teeth into a baggie, jam it in my pocket, and pop my head out between two beams. I see three backs blocking the view of this new tooth, the child’s tooth, and I know what my concoction is missing.
            Canine, molar, bicuspid, doesn’t matter. Children’s teeth taste like joy.
            Before the plan is fully formed in my head, I step out onto the street. Careful, careful, don’t alert the Hallmark Family, and step two three, and walk two three, I leap two three from wall to wall. Close enough to hear the child state his wish to keep his tooth, far enough to remain a part of the shadows.
            The family disappears into a house like one that Tom Waddle might live in. Colorful lights dapple the edge of the roof, some sort of fragrant plant adorns their front door. My teeth jangle safely in my pocket and I watch as lights turn on and off throughout the house. I follow the shadows. Two big, one little, popping up first here, and then there, until finally the two leave the one in a room on the top floor. The lights are on, and then they are off, and I have the location of a bedroom.
            I wait patiently. Oh, so patiently do I wait, until, at last, the house is as dark as the inside of a mouth.
            Then I climb. Up two three, and across two three, and quiet two three, and window two three. It slides up, unlocked two three, and I hold my breath as I push myself in.
            The tooth sits on the bedside table, tiny tiny and pearly white, as if it’s waiting for me.
            I grab it and it’s all so easy and then—
            A scream.
            The lights flick on.
            “Mommy, Daddy! Come quick! Someone’s in my room!”
            A pounding from down the hall.
            I have to move fast.
            Step two three, step two three, run two three!
            I’m out the window and there’s no time to be graceful so I fall two three, but the window remains open.
            The tooth is in my hand. I have what I came here for. I should run. No, I need to run. And yet, I find myself waiting behind shrub, watching through the upstairs window.
            “It was all a bad dream, sweetie!” says the mother.
            “Go back to bed, son,” says the father.
            “But… I promise I saw someone! I promise! Look! the window is open… and my tooth… my tooth is gone!”
            The father gets up to close the window. How on earth did this thing come open, he must wonder.
            And then.
            Eye contact.
            His mouth pops open. Fear in his eyes.
            “You know,” he says, swallowing deeply. “I think I know who you might have seen.”
            “Who?” says the tiny voice.
            “The Tooth Fairy.”
            He slams the window and locks it behind him.
            And so I sit there, under the window, and pour the four teeth into my mouth. Now, now it is perfect.
            The father was more correct than he could ever know.
I am something magical. Something Fae. I am an epicure, a connoisseur, a fucking gourmand when it comes to teeth.
            So go ahead and hide them, children. Shove them under your pillows with your teddy bears and wishes.
            I enjoy the challenge.  

Friday, December 30, 2016

Hell Is Frozen By Linda K. Strahl

On this the official 8th day of the Renegade Shorts Winter Holiday Showcase, we have a story about the dark side of winter. In a hard, terrifying future, two friends break into a secretive compound to discover uncover the truth about their world. Instead, they find themselves confronting the true nature of the darkest nights of the year. Thank you to today's writer, Linda K. Strahl!

Hell is frozen

By Linda K Strahl

"Fences are for climbing," she whispers.
The puff of air that escapes her lips as she mutters the words make her feel like a dragon, puffing steam in the cold air surrounding the fence. She is a girl still. Even though seventeen is closer to a woman. In the cold night darkness, her rusty brown hair looks black. Her pale skin is covered with dark paint to keep her presence hidden from any passing by.
She couldn't risk getting caught.
Strangers put the fence up last week. The fence is a challenge. What is on the other side is certainly something worth investigating. But climbing the fence is the only objective in that still night air. Puffs of breath coming from her mouth.
A Dragon.
"What are you waiting for? A parade?" It is a stinging taunt. Abel is never a ‘nice partner in crime.’ He treats her like baggage. Except, he never leaves without her.
"Hush, Abel. I'll bet I can beat you over even with a head start."
"Bet me what, Persephone?"
"What are you going to bet if you win or I win?"
Persephone didn't really think she had anything to bet. It was just a phrase she heard over and over again when her stepfather spoke to his work buddies.
"I'm... I'm... I'm..."
"Hey Pear, it's okay. We don't need to bet anything." A majority of the time he is an ass. But when he calls her Pear, it is different.
"Let's get moving," Abel holds onto her arm gently guiding her like he does to the horses when he walks them around without a bridle. The fence is in front of her face she grips the links; the metal is cold, seeping through her thin black gloves.
"Fences are for climbing," she says again. No looking back; just a purposeful crawl over the chains until they are up and over. Landing feet first on the ground on the other side. Both crouch to the ground.
"That was a pretty loud thud Abel. Have you been eating too many sweets?" His laugh is muffled in his sleeve like a cough. Persephone moves across the ground to a pile of bricks.
No footsteps.
No rushing breaths.
She is more aware of him than usual, in the prickles on the back of her neck. He’s staring at her just a little longer than he should. His breath is close to hers. The puffs intertwine, sort of.
He peers over the edge of the brick pile.
“Clear," tapping her shoulder before he moves towards the other brick piles. Persephone follows. There are sounds coming from farther away. Sounds are the best place to start looking for answers.
The earthmovers are giants on wheels. They tumble around the site without any concern for the people on foot: workers, engineers, and Persephone's Mother and Abel's father standing under a tent.  Their faces are angry lines and scowl and raised voices straining against neck muscles.
"Well, I guess we know where they went.” She feels numb. Their parent’s disappeared months ago. Her mother went missing on the way back from market. His father vanished from work.
"What are they doing here?" Abel asks.
"What do they have in common?" Persephone’s voice keeps the cut & dry tone. There are no tears of frustration or worry for them now. She’s cut off her feelings like a damaged limb. 
 "Their jobs are both with Olympus Company?" Abel sits back on his heels. He would rub his face if it weren't for the paint. "I'm not going to ask her questions when the answers are over there," Persephone points to the entrance, "Are you coming or are you going to him?"
Abel was close with his father. Persephone’s mother, on the other hand was a career woman first and a mother tenth.
Abel shakes his head, "I'm with you Pear."
It was her turn to lead. She opened her arm pocket and brought up the data she debugged after her mother's disappearance. "Easiest way is through the entrance. They might have changed passageways since the last schematics were sent." She didn't look back at her mother as she headed towards the entrance of the tunnel.

The massive hole is dented with tracks taller than either of them. No one notices their two shadows as they move with the trudging wheels. Persephone keeps pace with the vehicle until the first side passage opens up. She turns and Abel follows. The sounds were too loud to speak, so they switch to hand signals.
Two turns right, then left.
You know they could have just told us everything right?
She'd lie.
Abel doesn’t have a response. He touches her shoulder, and squeezes.
Have you been working out?
Keep moving. She smiles.
The light changes instantly when they arrive at the first segment. Fractals of blue break through the darkness around them. They can only see the grey orbs of each other’s' eyes.
Maybe an opening? Abel signs on Persephone’s shoulder.
Or a cavern? She responds. The opening is in the right place, for them to continue. There is a draft from the tunnel. Maybe another entrance.

There is no one left as they move further into the tunnel. Down was the only way to explain the angle they feel their feet are heading. A faint light illuminates their path in front of them as the darkness expands behind their bodies. Their black clothes are almost blue compared to the shadows they were emerging from.
The air is damp, as if water is inside the earth surrounding them, but there are no droplets on their sleeves or puddles under their feet.
"What is this place?" Abel says. Out loud.
"I don't know," their voices echo. Persephone and Abel both place their hands on the earth walls. "Frozen."
They look at each other in that moment, wondering if they should turn back, away from the light ahead, and return to the darkness, where eventually they would find their parents again. Persephone almost pushes Abel to return to his family, but he moves forward, knowing that she would not go back even if he did. He would not abandon her to the unknown.
At his step forward the sounds change. Before the world was filled with their breath and steps and voices. The sounds, no longer only of their own making enticed them forward. No thought to turn back returns to their minds.
Each step Abel took made a faint twinkling of bells. When Persephone followed him her steps were followed by a wind instrument. Each step adds tones to the sounds as they moved towards the opening that grows larger and brighter the closer they came to it.
Within minutes, the sounds became a cacophony. The twinkling of bells become discordant smashes and the flutes were painful screeches. Their eyes blur, as they kept moving forward. Beckoned. Controlled.
At the most unbearable moment, Abel rushes to Persephone and put his arms over her covering her with his body as he stopped them from moving any further. He knew any further, and they would die from the deafening clatter.
The silence is a weight on their ears.
Over the madness of sound they hear a voice. The voice is emotionless as if it were talking to objects rather than people. "What are you doing? Stop with the noises you fidgets!"
The sounds try to resume their rhythm.
"No. No. No!"  Says the voice.  "You've announced them. Now stop it."
The sounds stop.
"We are being announced?" Persephone says into Abel's ear.
"Come forward. They won't start again. I want to see my visitors!" The voice does not change tone. Persephone and Abel both felt their objectness as they are pulled towards the chilly entrance.
"Well. Visitors." The voice belongs to a blue hued being. Taller than either of their parents but not a giant either. The room has objects made of ice rather than fabric or wood. In the corner alcove are a band of instruments floating in the air. Held by invisible hands. The sounds of the cave.
"Forgive the intrusion Sir." Persephone curtseyed. Abel bowed.
"I was wondering if any of you would come to see me. As so many are scuttling around so close to where I live. What are you doing out there?" Its words were like gusts of cold wind off of glaciers.
"We do not know Sir," Abel bowing again with his own words.
"How do you not know?" The chill coming out of its mouth is violently annoyed with them.
"We are not a part of that." Persephone says as she looks away from the face.
"I see. Then what are you, 'a part of'?" The gust clips off. Waiting for their answers. The question was an open riddle. Any answer could be the right one, but what could happen if it was the wrong answer to the question.
"We are a part of 'the above'." Persephone says while looking at Abel. Abel looks at the creature's reaction. The face is slate and ice, grey and clear and dangerous when scowling as it is now.
"The above? The above? Did it say the above?" The creature looks around, as if trying to find someone else to confirm her answer.
"Yes Sir. The above. As this is beneath."
"I am not a part of 'the beneath!’”
"Then what are you?" Persephone changes the topic quickly to avoid a harsher breath.
"What am I? I am a who. I am a great who. Do you not know me?"
"We do not know what to call you, Sir. I am Abel, this is Persephone." The creature pauses at their names, lost in a memory.
"I've had many names. Pluto, Hades, Theos, Lucifer just to name a few. But you don't sound like those that called me those." Its fingers cradle its chin as it stares at them intensely. Deciding they were more than just objects in that moment, it asks with a wicked twinkle to its eye. "You said 'the above' where in 'the above' do you come from, Persephone and Abel?"
"Ithaca, New York, Sir." Its head nods at the place Abel mentions. Its fingers curl through the air, as if sifting through some invisible reference.
"Yes, yes, yes. You would know me as Jack Frost. Greetings and Salutations to you both." Jack Frost bows to them.
As Jack Frost bring his face to theirs, his fingers curl closed. Persephone and Abel feel themselves tugged into the ice room. Their bodies are slammed against the ice furniture. Jack Frost slips into his chilly throne, leaning his face into the palm of his hand.
Persephone hears a rumble as she turns to look at the opening they just stood in. The frozen dirt tunnel collapses. The walls surrounding them become a smooth glass against the dirt. Her breath puffs out of her mouth again, “No fences to climb. No escape. No escape. No escape.” She is no dragon. Abel moves to her and wraps her in his arms.
“Where are we Jack Frost?” Abel asks the creature as it stares at them holding each other.
“My dear Abel and Persephone,” The smile it gives them is cold, bordering on endearing, “didn’t anyone ever tell you? Hell is frozen.” 

The Mrs. By Polly Alice McCann

This is supposed to be the day seven post on the Renegade Shorts Winter Holiday Showcase, but I got delayed last night, so this is going up today, and there will be another later today. Mostly people think of Santa as a jolly old soul, and a spirit of kindness, but in today's story we are asked to consider what exactly it would be like to be married to someone that devoted to their work. The answer? It is not pretty. Many thanks to our writer today, Polly Alice McCann!

The Mrs.

By Polly Alice McCann

Dear Nick,

By the time you read this letter Rudolph will have flown me somewhere even you can’t find me. You know you never use him on the Eve? Why? Does everything have to match? Forget I asked that.

You can’t be so blind as to wonder why I’m going. Or maybe you can.  I bet you two candy canes you find this letter in May and don’t know I was missing for five months.

Well if you do notice, I figure I better just out and say it. It’s a time thing. You’re too old for me anymore. I can’t believe you didn’t realize this would happen. I can’t believe you haven’t noticed. You thought if we both ate fireberries we’d live forever. So I make up my batch of fireberry salsa and chips every New Years Day. But we created a problem, Nick. Because every year you stop time for however long you want. And you stop me too. You always seem to forget about me as the day approaches. It’s like I don’t exist. But you see that’s the problem. Every year you spend the Eve out for one night. You stop time for the whole world then you waltz around spinning in and out of houses, eating crap, doing who knows what, messing with your blood sugar and your common sense, I think. You forget that I’m frozen in time. I don’t age a day. You know this, you’ve always known this. It takes you about a year now, to visit every house in the earth. Even with magic, you are aging two years for every one of mine. I know what you’ll say. You say it doesn’t matter. So what if you are 4,000 years old and I’m 2,000 give or take a few years, it really is all the same.

I don’t think so. No, I don’t. And this is not me asking to be taken with you. I spent a few centuries doing that, but I won’t ask any more. I know going out in the sleigh is a man thing. You only take the boy reindeer, too, I notice. Well I’ve had enough. I’m going feminist. You know my white hair? It’s just a wig. The glasses? I don’t even need them. I’m just trying to make things easier between us. To make it seem we are a pair. How can we be a team if you never see me? Most days you are in the workshop. Two weeks every summer you take a holiday without me. You work the New Jersey Turnpike and give change in quarters, saying “Ho, ho, ho.” Who does that? Why not a real holiday? I go to Hawaii if you must know. I take off the white wig and glasses and just enjoy myself. I have a blue bikini. I really do get tired of wearing red. And no I won’t start in again about how your suit is only pajamas I made you for our 500th anniversary. I won’t. You put a belt over them, call them a suit. You’re Santa. Do what you want.

So I am just leaving this to say goodbye. I left you the fireberries. You can make your own salsa or some elf will surely help you. I never understood why they love you so dearly those elves. I guess you make their lives more meaningful. Carving icicles is just a dull job and you gave them a much better one, I’ll grant you that. Don’t come look for me. I’m going to run a gift shop in a small town by the beach that doesn’t care much about Christmas. I’ll finally get to design my own gifts like I always wanted. Or at least put my real name on my ideas, not yours.

I really don’t think you’ll even notice I’m gone. If you do, just bake yourself some cookies you’ll be fine. I’m not even really in the poems and songs am I? Surely, I don’t exist. I’ll send you my new name when I think of one. Makes me think back to my poor father when you brought him that sack of gold to help with my dowry. He was so surprised. Gave you our family clock-- the one that stops time. Honestly, Nick. You can keep it. I really will be happy with just the normal amount of time I have left. Thanks for all the presents; you are so good at that. I left you the best ones and sold some to buy my new shop.

Goodbye, Nick.
The Mrs.