, ,

Garbage Day

Illustration of a woman, distraught, sitting among full garbage bags. The title of the story, Garbage Day, is written above the garbage bags.

The idea for the suspense short story below came to me when I was out for a walk with my four-legged friend Harold. He has a tendency to try and pee on the netting and old bed sheets people put over their trash bags. While diverting him from peeing on one such sheet, the shape of the bags underneath gave me the seed of this story. So, thanks for the inspiration Harry!

It’s running for eight now. I have to be at work by 8:30. And there’s still that thing that needs doing. But the bed is warm and that thing is something I don’t want to do. I have to. I know it. I only want to deny it for a little while longer.

I roll over and swing my arm out to encircle a warm body that is no longer there. My arm flops against the sheet and mattress beneath, as if surrendering to the fact of his absence. The sheets are warm, inviting. The day ahead is cold and awkward.

It’s been a week since I’ve been at the office. People will ask questions. They’ll say, “Oh Rebbecca, how are you doing? Really?” in that tone that makes you want to punch them. Or they’ll pretend nothing has happened. Or they’ll look away. I don’t know which I’d rather.

Another glance at the clock tells me I have no choice if I’m going to be on time. I untangle myself from the sheets. So warm. Goodbye. My clothes are on in a minute, my hair pinned up. I throw on a little make-up — no one’s going to question my appearance today and I can’t be bothered to give a shit.

I try not to think about the next task as I descend the stairs. I push it out of my mind, thinking instead of the soothing aroma of brewing coffee. It will fill my nostrils when I enter the office in about twenty-five minutes. Then I can hide at my desk and carry on with my life.

Then I’m in the porch facing my nightmare. My weekly nightmare. I managed to avoid it until now, since that day so long ago. My parents had done it, or David had done it. But he won’t be doing it anymore.

Black garbage bags, ten of them, fill the space. My knees go a little weak, thinking of entwining my fingers into the thin, tacky plastic. And I have to swallow back vomit that is threatening to creep up my throat. A sour taste lingers in my mouth.

This is not hard. I know it’s not hard. People do this every damn week. Why can’t I?

But I know why. And I can’t think of that day without thinking of long-dead Snuffles. Beautiful, loving Snuffles. God, how I miss that dog.

I walk around the bags and sit, fall almost, to the bench next to the door. It’s hard to breathe so I open the door a crack, letting the light Fall breeze caress my face. That was a mistake. That’s when I see it.

The sheet sits next to the stairs, on a little patch of grass in front of the house. That’s all it takes. I start to urge.

I shove the door closed with a bang and dash for the bathroom. Barely making it I puke into the sink. Hot, sticky tendrils of it flow over my chin. The smell almost makes me vomit again. I hold it down. I raise my head, knowing it’s a mistake, and look into the mirror.

But I don’t see myself, not as I am, no, I see a little girl, innocent and carefree. A little girl that didn’t know her life was about to change forever.

I walked Snuffles every day before school, around seven-thirty. It had been one of the conditions of getting her. My mother made me promise to walk her and so I did. But it wasn’t a chore, Snuffles was the best friend an eight-year-old girl could have. She loved to cuddle and would lick my face with her hot little tongue.

On this particular morning, it was cool, a little later in the year than it is now and I could see my breath as I walked. I had mittens on too, with Snuffles leash wrapped around one. We strutted along like we owned the world.

It was garbage day. Piled beside each driveway, on a little strip of grass, were black or green bags. Often one or two and, rarely, three or more. Over most of them, as required, was a sheet, to keep birds away. Some late-risers, putting out their own bags or getting into their cars, smiled at me as we passed. I smiled back. We lived in a small town outside a big town; it was safe and most people knew each other.

Snuffles would stop every now and then, squatting as she peed. In my pocket I had two poop bags, just in case, though she hardly pooped on her walks. For which I was very thankful.

In front of one house there was a paisley sheet covering some very lumpy trash. Snuffles squat on the grass next to it. I stopped to let her do her business and looked around, waiting. It was a quiet part of the neighbourhood, sleepy even. Most of the cars were still in the driveways. The overnight condensation glistened on metal and glass in the rising sunlight. I remember thinking how calm and dreamlike it was.

I had no idea that dream would soon turn into a nightmare.

There wasn’t the usual tug on the leash and so I looked to see what Snuffles was doing. She was chewing on something sticking out from underneath the sheet. I remember thinking that people should do a better job of bagging their trash.

It was a little sausage, pale and tubular. Snuffles gnawed on it with her sharp little teeth, leaving impressions in the meat. Little bits of it came away and revealed red beneath. Tiny trickles of that red ran from the opened seams. That was strange, I had never seen a sausage that looked like that inside.

And did sausages have little wrinkles like that? No, not usually. And what was that at the end? It looked like, almost could have been, a fingernail. I leaned in closer to look.

It wasn’t a sausage. Snuffles was chewing on a human finger, now gnawed and raw with blood.

Adrenaline flooded my body. I didn’t know what to do, which way to go. I froze, not old enough, experienced enough, to handle the situation. I let my eyes trace the shape of the sheet. It was a particular kind of lumpy, a shape that was, now, very clear. I backed up a step, tugging on Snuffles’s leash.

She protested, still trying to get at the finger she had mangled. I pulled harder. The dog protested but finally relented. However, she was on one side of the sheet, I was on the other. The strap of the leash snagged against the material and started to drag it.

“No,” I whispered, knowing I did not want to see what was beneath that sheet. I wanted to keep walking, to pretend this hadn’t happened, to have my innocence left intact. It was too late for that.

The sheet drew back in slow motion. Behind the chewed, pale and, yes, lifeless, finger was a palm. Connected to it were three other, dead fingers and one stubby thumb. Against the red blood of the mangled finger, those digits looked almost white.

Snuffles came closer and the sheet continued its slow reveal. Soon an arm, clothed in a suit, blue and pin-striped, slid into view. From the crumpled outline of the sheet, I knew what was coming. And I knew I was not prepared for it.

Little brown tufts of hair popped free as the sheet travelled on. Next the start of an eyebrow, darker than the other hair. And along an almost white jawbone were hints of stubble. Finally, the first of two horrors presented themselves to me.

The eye was open, begging, pleading but soulless, locked in the agony of death. Its brother soon joined it and the pair locked on my own. I couldn’t look away. I could only stare at the little blood vessels, gape at the blue pupils that still haunt my nightmares.

It was too much. I tugged again and Snuffles, yelping a little, came to my side. As she did the head was revealed completely. What was left of it.

The left side of his skull was only partly there. Above his eye socket, along a jagged piece of exposed white bone, were flecks of red and grey. Beneath and behind it was a mass of misery that I hope never to see again in my life. I suppose brain surgeons see it all the time. But not like that, not penetrated, destroyed. I found out later that it had been done with a golf club. I didn’t need to know that. It didn’t help.

The middle-aged man’s stiff corpse lay there, exposed, unmoving and unseeing in the morning cold. But I still didn’t, couldn’t move.

My knees gave way and I slumped to the ground. Something, some reflex, some survival mechanism clicked on in my brain then. And I screamed. I howled, like a wounded animal.

I don’t know how long it was before someone, one of the people from one of the nearby houses, came out and found me there. My throat was raw as she wrapped her arms around me and turned me away from the body.

Later I found out that it was a town councillor, the body. The man had been involved in some shady dealings and got his comeuppance. It shook our little town to the core, not that I was aware of it at the time. They sheltered me from it. I only wish they could have protected me from that scene.

To me, who he was didn’t matter. He was only the body. And I would never forget it, no matter how hard I tried. I would look into his eyes every garbage day.

After rinsing the sink I make my way from the bathroom back to the porch. I summon courage that doesn’t exist. Damn you David, you son-of-a-bitch. This is your job. Instead, you made time with Cindy at your office. Well, you’re gone now and I’m left with this. The remnants of your life, collected in ten bags, that you couldn’t be bothered to take when you moved out.

And it’s fucking garbage day.

I walk out the front door, ignoring the bags, and lock it behind me.

The bags will still be there later. That’s okay. I’ll deal with them then.


Rufus Snarblax

Rufus Snarblax - Flash Fiction Story

Below is a short tale entitled Rufus Snarblax, the first entry in Flash Fiction Fridays. Each Friday I’ll publish a new story that will be around 1000 words. But I reserve the right to call whatever length I want flash fiction in this context (it is my site after all).

Most of these pieces will be science fiction but some, certainly, will not. I write in various genres, letting out whatever wants out from the strange, banana-fuelled recesses of my brain.

So, without further ado, I’ll let Rufus take it from here…

Frank looked at the typewriter again, for the fifth time. He looked at the words written on the blisteringly white paper wedged against the cylinder of the machine. Or, rather, he looked only at the white paper for there were no words upon it yet.

Frank didn’t like to write.

So why was he a writer? He couldn’t have told you that. Maybe he loved to write or could love to write if he could write what he wanted. He had loved to write, once. But now he wrote garbage. He thought it was garbage at any rate — alien romances. Who wanted alien romances?

A lot of creatures apparently. And it wasn’t like he had a choice.

He let out a huge sigh. Resigned to his task he started typing.

The keys made satisfying chunk sounds as he pressed them. The typewriter was old, manual. The corresponding typebars swung into position and stamped against the ribbon. They left the imprint of each letter on the paper. Frank’s fingers ached, thinking of all he had left to do. He missed his word-processor.

He typed Wormhole Rendezvous: An Alien Romance. His finger jabbed return. And he typed By: Rufus Snarblax. His pen name.

Another sigh escaped his lips. So it began again. It was all too real. The clock on the wall read 5:45 AM. He had a couple hours, a little more.

Then his editor would arrive.

He pressed return a few more times and then began in earnest. It was all he could do.

The words flowed, from his mind and through his fingers. Plastic and metal translated them into little drops of ink on pulped trees. Well, what looked like ink and paper anyway. The ludicrousness of it all made him laugh out loud. He stopped typing.

The clock read 6:23 AM. Was it 6:23 AM? Was it even a functioning clock?

Frank glanced around the spartan room. It contained only his writing desk and the clock. The old replica typewriter sat on the desk and to its left lay a stack of hundreds of sheets of 20-pound typing paper. One lone sheet sat to the right of the typewriter. The room itself was a perfect cube, as far as he could tell. The walls were all white, they looked like regular painted drywall. And in the ceiling was a single incandescent light bulb. Behind him, behind his battered and squeaky wooden — was it? — chair was a door.

His editor would come through that door at 8 AM sharp. Again he sighed, louder than the other times. He started the chunking and clacking once more.

After years it was only a matter of letting his mind go to work, hoping his tired hands could keep up. Today it was wormholes, yesterday a starship, the day before the surface of a cold, barren asteroid. The setting didn’t matter. All that mattered was that two, or more — depending on the target audience — beings found each other. His editor provided the specs.

He stopped typing again and his eyes went to the lone sheet of paper to the right of the typewriter. On it was almost a full page of type — today’s specs. The target audience was the civilian population of Erdilon VIII. There was a thriving economy there based around tunnellers, worm-hole jockeys. They would dive through in their ships, hoping to find something of value. Then they would hope to return with said something. It was gold rush days there now. The public wanted, craved was the word in the spec, stories about their gallant brethren. And about the aliens they met and seduced. Of course. Whether those stories were true, or not. On the spec, below the overview he had read, were a few choice snippets from some of these tunnellers.

Singleblad the Everlasting, a likely name, had written a couple of lines. It concerned his quest for the Serdedian Snudas, an ancient weapon of some kind. Barry Tysver — yes, Barry is a common name on Erdilon VIII, one of those cosmic coincidences — found love through one wormhole. Then the space harpy, his words, left him and took all the valuables he had squirrelled away. There were another couple tales in the spec but those two would do.

Frank had his through-line: Barry the Somewhatlasting was successful in his quest for the ancient Talmeredian Snarflas. It being the only thing that could save his people. But, would he choose his mission or the stunning Talmeredian maiden who guarded the Snarflas? With her pulsating, iridescent tentacles she was quite a catch.

Frank started typing, forcing the words onto the paper. He changed out the sheet of paper, then another, and another.

He finished and looked at the clock. It read 7:50 AM.

Once upon a time, he would read back over what he had written. Those times were long gone, years gone. So many years. What did he care anyway? If the story wasn’t good perhaps his editor would return him to Earth. Or, better yet, kill him. Either way, he’d be free.

7:55 AM. Five minutes to dream, to remember. To ponder what ifs.

What if he had stayed home that night, instead of chasing those lights he had seen in the sky? But he had been a new New York Times bestselling author. He had made his name with a book, of fiction, based on a personal experience. In the forest, he had found something odd and used it as the basis for his book. What if those lights had been the start of his next great work?

Instead, here he was, years later — how many? — writing pithy romance for aliens, trapped in a replica of an Earth room. Outside these four walls was an architecture he couldn’t fathom and an atmosphere he couldn’t breathe. The door behind him — through which his editor would soon emerge, dressed in a pressure suit — was one end of an airlock. The pressure suit hid most of the editor’s grotesqueness. But it couldn’t hide the six arms and the three rows of seven eyes.

Frank shuddered.

He glanced at the stack of blank white paper once more. It was so white, like a beacon.

What was it they said, death by a thousand paper-cuts? He picked up the topmost sheet.

The clock read 7:58 AM.