Sinister Countdown-The Whisper

It began when the movers came into our house, whispers like a low rustling of leaves. Barrel chested men with mustaches and skin as leathery as their yellowing moving gloves hauled it into the living room.

“Isn’t it wonderful, Charlie?” Mother crooned as she pulled out a worn bench.

I stood there in the hallway eyes roaring over the darkly shaded wood and gleaming ivory keys.

The screen door slammed shut as both mother and I listened to the mover’s truck engine rattle off into the sunlight.

“Does it have teeth?” I asked, unsure of this new intruder now waiting at the end of the hall, seemingly for me.

“Teeth?” Mother giggled, and with a flourish of her hands, began to play the ages piano.

“The only teeth I see are the ones smiling back at me!” she said in a sing-song voice and glance in the hanging mirror. It adorned the wall above our ‘new’ piano.

The keys plunked out a slightly off-key version of Fur Elise. I felt the floor vibrate under my feet as mother’s feet pumped the pedals, fingers moving up and down effortlessly.

I felt mesmerized before the first stanza has passed. There was another noise. A deeper noise that spoke to me. To this day I can still hear it. Like the low roar of the surf.

“Oh,” mother stopped mid-song, breaking my concentration. I somehow had walked down the hall and was touching worn and polished wood.

How, no when had I gotten there?

I couldn’t tell because now mother was standing up from the piano and closing her music book.

“There’s something wrong with the sustainer pedal, it must be stuck.” She was talking more to herself now, heading into the kitchen muttering, “guess Bob will have to take a look at it.”

I was alone with the thing. My skin crawled like someone was watching me. I stood there, not sure I should be alone with this new . . . Prize.

The living room grew still as Mother started pulling out pots and pans from the kitchen cupboards. Beyond the living room, our metal screen door stood ajar, a cool October breeze blowing in.

I took a few steps towards it, instinct telling me to put some space between me and the piano.

Why?

My sudden motion caused the room’s floorboards to creak, eliciting a low hum from the piano. It was a groan so human-like I expected to see mother watching me cross to the door.

“Mom?” I called, fear coloring my tone.

“Yes, dear?” She called back shutting off the kitchen faucet.

There was a pause, and I inexplicably knew the piano was listening to me, to us. Another hum traveled up and down its upright strings.

Taking a quick breath to quell an inappropriate amount of fear bubbling up my throat, I looked away to the kitchen. In a shaking voice, I called back, “I’m gonna go outside for a bit.”

“Okay, honey,” mother shouted, “be back when I call for you.”

Another breeze from behind drew across the nape of my neck, raising each hair on my scalp down to my toes.

The piano hummed again as my feet shuffled back toward the door. I looked at the piano and froze, hand giving an involuntary squeeze on the door handle.

Upon the top of the old upright piano sat a man. A thin man, dressed in rags. Pale eyes shown out beneath wispy and wrinkled brows. His form rippled with the breeze like hanging sheets on the backyard laundry lines.

I couldn’t move, the man just stared. His bushy beard and tattered clothes continuing to undulate.

All I could do was gape. He wasn’t real, how could a person, especially someone as shabby as him, suddenly appear in my house? But there he was with a physical body moving like crumpled paper.

I was shaking, sweat pouring down my back. It was freezing, the room was freezing. I wanted to scream, to cry, to run. The man just stared.

I shifted my weight again, pushing against the metal of the door. The floor seemed to scream with my weight. And as the sound traveled its way across the floor to the piano, the old man opened a mouth, filled with a darkness I had never seen. Crooked teeth seemed to swallow the light in our living room as a growing hum and whisper rose from the piano.

Oh, the whispers, so many, so many like a rushing sea.

I watched as his eyes and nose darkened as well, now more dark than the night sky.

So dark, so dark, was all I could think as I felt drawn in.

“Oh for the love!” shouted Mother from the kitchen as a pot clattered to the floor. I jumped, scraping my arm against the metal grating of the door.

The humming whisper stopped, dark cold pulling away from my body. I looked back at the piano.

The old man was gone, the weathered wood staring back innocently. But I knew, I knew.

This was only the beginning.

-M.E. InkOwl


This is the Sinister Countdown. If you liked this descent into maddness be sure to like and follow this month’s macabre passage. These stories, words, and poems come from the darker recesses of the mind behind the InkOwl. If you’d like to read past Sinister Countdown posts, follow the link below.

2017

On The Go- Kite String

One moment I’m free soaring,

Beyond the reach of my grounded fears and short comings.

Clouds of possibilities glide serenely into my reach,

Challenging me to dance about them with confident wings.

This is what it means to be alive and free,

The toil is over now life can begin.

But quick as a raptor with talons bare,

I find myself cut short.

Hope dies within a sudden chaotic fall.

And I watch as wing meets ground,

Dashing the fragile creature this is my heart and mind.

Within my grasp is held the string,

Frayed limp and useless.

Now I find my feet planted firmly in regret,

I pick up the pieces of my dreams wondering how I can begin again.

-M.E. InkOwl

Of A Healer- Reality

“So how was the week?” I asked punching in my code to open the supply cabinet.

“It was fun!” my coworker exclaimed, “I went out with the other preschool moms, it was so weird.”

We both laughed at the absurd normality of the statement.

“I know!” I said with a smile, “your doing something that other people do. You-“

Glass doors slid open at the far end of the core, voices and bodies rushed in.

“Can you grab the LR? We’re going to need it.”

“I’ve got the crash cart, did you send out the call?”

“The HUC did, what else do you need?”

“It’s bad, it’s really bad, she not going to make it.”

“Out of the way!”

“Some time today would be nice with those meds!”

We found ourselves brushed to one side as faces rushed by.

Silence falls between us and we look through the glass doors. Beyond a fervor of organized chaos envelops a form on a white linen bed.

Quietly we stood there watching transfixed by the movements. Until I suddenly remembered the bundle of linens clutches in my arms.

“I probably should go do this,” I said and walked away.

-M.E. InkOwl

Of A Healer- Hallelujah

“Hallelujah!” she cries, clapping rail thin hands. I smile and take off the blood pressure cuff.

“I take it, it’s good news!” I say with a smile.

“Free,” she says, overcome with apparent joy.

“What was that?” I ask as tears stream down her cheeks.

She sniffs and laughs all at once, “Cancer free, I’m cancer free!”

And as I clasp her hands and smile, we both start to cry.

-M.E. InkOwl

Guest Submission: Grandmother’s Canned fruit

I’ll never forget sitting in my grandparent’s kitchen while family all around laughed and conversed with one another.

I sat, a young observer, watching life whirl around me. I sat with an empty bowl and spoon, waiting for grandma to notice. Of course she did.

She swooped down on me, earrings jangling, “Dear you have no food! What’s wrong?”

I looked up at her, trying to hide the sheepishness form my face. It didn’t work.

“I was hoping to have . . . To have some of your pears.”

She smiled and gave me a wink, “Of course you can!”

I watched her disappear into the cellar.

Enveloped by sights and sounds I waited.

“Here you are dear boy!” Grandma said, appearing at my side.

A trickle of clear juice and pear halves slid into my bowl with an aroma of mouthwatering sweetness.

The first bite was delicious, superb.

The second followed quickly by the third and fourth.

Grandma gave me a kiss and laughed her way into the party while I devoured her hard work.

-M.D.

Guest Submission: Nana’s Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Growing up, my mother made the best oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. They were huge. Each one had to be the size of a grown man’s hand. And they were always soft, even when the outside layer crackled when you bit into it.

As an adult I’ve still got this childhood obsession with this cookie. I’ve gone through quite a few recipes, and they always turn out to be a bit more like nothing the cookies she made. That is until I pulled out my old standby: Better Homes and Garden Cookbook. In there is a classic recipe for that so coveted oatmeal cookies. If you follow it, you’ll find yourself owner of some wonderful cookies. But not the cookies.

So I played around with it. I don’t use eggs in my cookies so I played around with flax-seed, less liquified butter, and varying types of chocolate chips.

In the end I created something that roughly equates to my perfect cookie memories.

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Ingredients:

3/4 cup butter, softened (not totally melted, it makes the cookie spread out too much)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (not optional, you have to)
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (not optional, you can throw in a dash of cloves if you’re feeling spicy)
2 tbs of flax-seed/ 6 tbs of water mixed (or 2 eggs)
1 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups rolled oats

1 cup of chocolate chips

Now when it comes to chocolate, I love to have it balance out the sweetness of the cookie with a rich dark flavor. I use about a half cup of semi-sweet and a half cup of dark chocolate chips. Then I throw in a few more handfuls just to be safe.

*Important* To make these chocolate chip cookies, don’t forget to add the chocolate chips! I use a blend of semi sweet and dark chocolate flavors. I’m a kind of dark individual and really enjoy my chocolate to give me more than just fluff.

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. (It never fails that I forget this step and have to sit and watch the oven heat up.) Prep a 9×13 cookie sheet with parchment paper, silpat.

Cream butter and sugar until it’s fluffy. You’ll know when. Then add flax-seed mixture and vanilla to the bowl, mixing it until all combined. For me the best results come from mixing all the ingredients together with a large fork, or wooden spoon. But if you don’t want to work out your arm please use an appropriate hand or standing mixer.

Next add in dry ingredients, baking powder/soda, spices, and flour (you can just dump them into the same bowl, cut down on dishes). I wait to add the oats until everything comes together, seems to put less stress on your tools*. Add chocolate chips to desired level of goodness and mix until combined.

A trick I learned from America’s Test Kitchen for bakery worthy cookies is this: Ball up dough to double the size of what you would normally do and then break the ball in half. Place both parts with broken side up. I usually fill a 9×13 cookie sheet with a baker’s dozen. Bake for 9 to 12 minutes and enjoy some beautiful cookies. This recipe should yeild about 48 cookies, depending on the size you like them to be . . . or how much cookie dough you eat.

*If you have a mixer, please please please please change the whisk paddles to cookie paddles. You and your bank account will thank you later.*

Guest Submission: Layers of Grief

About this time last year, I became very aware of a grief that I carried in my soul.  The central source of the grief was a lie about myself that had been engraved on my heart.  For months, I ignored any true feelings and lived my life in a state of denial.  Obviously, I wasn’t ready to work with the grief yet, but I knew that anger was around the corner and was going to be disastrous when it finally hit.

It was early July when the anger arrived, and with it, a list of 45 reasons of why.  Loss and pain in black ink on a lined white page.

Quickly, it became apparent that I needed a project to turn my grief into something productive.  I chose a recipe and got to work.

I measured, folded, smoothed, chilled.  Layer after layer.  Butter, dough, butter, dough.  Emotions escaped as I pounded and rolled cold pastry into a rectangle, wider and wider, my bamboo tapered rolling pin leaving rounded impressions on the dough as I transferred sad thought after sad thought to the dough mat.

Triangles of dough were carefully rolled, tucked within themselves, and baked until they were golden brown.  Once cooled, my fingers dug into their crust, breaking the glossy exterior into a million shards.  Exactly the way I felt.

-Anonymous

Guest Post: Peaches, A Requiem For Fall

imageLeaves were turning to gold as I opened the trunk of our car. Voices drifted over to me on the wind, discussing the cost of bushels and quality of produce. I smiled up the drive as my wife, Merideth, discussed our most recent purchase.

“They’re ready!” She called to me, waving her arm excitedly. Next to her two folding tables laden with fuzzy pink peaches sat, waiting to be paid for.

I patted the head of a black labrador that panted in the morning sun. He thumped his tail and smiled up at me with kind eyes.

“You guys have quite the haul this year,” I said to him. He ‘woofed’ with pride and rolled onto his belly. I smiled and tickled the dog’s belly.

“Honey come on! We’ve got to get going!” Merideth called. She was excited to get back home and get cooking. With 100 pounds of peaches, what else was one going to do?

“Better get a move on,” I said as the lab woofed his thanks. Standing up I walked up the front lawn and grabbed a cardboard box filled to the brim with fruit. A smell wafted into my nose, transporting me back through twenty different autumns.

I felt wreathed in memories as my childhood friends laughed over bowls of cobbler and ice cream, Grandma’s canned peaches and toast in their garden listening to the sounds of the coming evening, my first date with Merideth eating fresh peach ice cream and laughing.

Merideth laid a hand on my shoulder, “Are you alright?”

“Yeah,’ I said with a sniff, “Just remembering.”

She smiled at me and picked up another box.

“Let’s go home and get baking.”

Nodding I headed for the car.

– Anonymous

On The Road

The road stretched before our car, thumping under all four tires. All around us desert and mountains stretched for miles.

“Nothing. Absolutely nothing.” I thought and loved it. This was my favorite part of our family road trip. It meant that we had finally left our home state and were now plunging headlong into a new adventure.

“Honey,” my mother said from the front seat to my father, “Pay attention to the road, you’re drifting.”

I smiled as my father nodded and pointed the front of his hat to the windshield. He loved this part of the journey as well, I could tell. The car always wandered between the white broken lines on the road.

My two siblings slept, their bodies fidgeting with dreams. I sighed and looked out the window again. We were traveling up the pass, and hills were transforming into mountains.

And that was when it happened. The rumble of an engine shifting gears from behind. It was a comforting sound, one that I had been listening to the entire trip. From behind us, an engine roared and a rusted bumper came into my view.  The car swayed to the right shoulder and mom cried out.

“Richard! Pay attention! You’re going to get us killed!”

We all jumped in our seats and I almost looked away from the passing truck. It was covered in dust, it’s paint job having long since rusted out. Stained windows reflected bug smears and even more dirt. But for a moment the sun disappeared behind the roof of the cab.

I stopped squinting and looked into through the window. An aged man gripped a slightly bent steering wheel. A cigarette was clamped firmly between gnarled lips. He was bawled, with skin the same dusty worn color as his truck. He stared resolutely out the windshield ignoring our car.

Next to him sat a younger person. I could tell because they were shorter and had smooth white skin. Bib overalls hung loose, over skinny shoulders that sat hunched down in their seat. I felt a chill run to my bones as I watched a ragged towel bounce over the child’s head.

It wasn’t right. The cloth laid over the kid’s face as if hiding the child from view. I only saw the pair for a total of five seconds, while my mother continued to scold my father. But time stopped for me. I saw a rigid back, etched with terror. The kid sat stalks still, unmoved by car nor bumpy road.

I knew, deep in my heart this was wrong, it was all wrong. The light from the late afternoon sun wasn’t even on the kids face, so why would they need it to be covered.

I opened my mouth to say something, but the engine of the truck revved even more and before I could get anything out the truck was gone down the road.

Our car was slowing down. Broken from the trance I looked around and realized we were pulling off to a rest top. Ahead of us, the old truck disappeared into the mountains.

-M.E. InkOwl

By The River Running

Don’t you understand honey?” She said, trying to sound helpful. “They’re taking it all down all of it all the trees the river the forest, they’re already bulldozing it down.”

I ran, bushes and leaves slapping against my legs. A bird took flight from its hiding place, calling out with an ugly voice.

Raven.” My mind stated as the black wings disappeared beyond a stand of trees.

Behind me my grandmother’s apartment shrank behind the usual hedges of scrub oak and lilac.

I ran on, heedless of the noise and destruction I was causing. The trail wound it’s way up and over a small hill. For a flash I could see the green tops of trees leading off into the distance, ending in a long line of roofs

My thoughts returned back to what my mother had said, “It doesn’t matter anyway, Michael, Grandma is moving somewhere else, a better place.”

“But what’s better than this place?” I growled between taught jaws. It wasn’t fair. None of it was, especially for grandma. She was different, always had been. But now they were taking her away from this, from her home where it was safe to be different.

I continued on, now slowing my pace, daring someone to catch up with me pull me back inside.

As trees passed me I again heard my parent’s voice. “Now Michael it’s alright, this move will be good for grandma, they’ll take good care of her.”

Ahead of me some vines hung low over the path and I swung out at them, dashing greenery aside.

Why move from here? It’s perfect for Grandma. She doesn’t-” Thoughts suddenly derailedmy steps faultered and I tripped, almost sprawling head first into a bubbling stream.

I stopped for a moment, realizing just how deeply I was breathing, ears burning in my eyes. But the silence was too complete, my ears rang from it.

Something was not right. I stopped and scanned the forest where I stood. Large trees spread wide overhead, while the elevated path I stood on made up the river bank. Everything was normal, everything except. . .

Something swung in the gentle breeze, lazily circling in and out of view. It looked like a woven basket.

I walked up to the grizzled bush and pulled vines away. Something large swung out toward me and I leapt back in shock.

“What the?” I said, feeling my stomach twist. A woven form half the size of my body hung from a tree. Vines wrapped around most of its twisted limbs securing it to one side.

“Are you some kind of voodoo doll?” I asked, realizing that if a reply came from the woven form I’d most likely need to change my pants. There was no answer, just the sound of vines rubbing on branch. My attention focused beyond the vine. My eyes went wide. Nothing could prepare me for what I saw beyond the swinging form.

A small clearing sat to one side of the stream and path. A makeshift leanto sat between two trees, various objects and trash lay scattered about the space.

A fowl smell of rotten trash filled the air, making my neck tingle.

Maybe it’s a homeless person’s home.” I thought, trying not to panic.

Wind blew through the clearing picking up leave and trash, and throwing fetted air into my face.

I coughed and gagged, covering my nose and looked around. That what when I saw it, saw them. Dozens and dozens of twisted woven forms hung from the trees, swinging the wind. Their knobbled forms tossing this way that, faceless heads turning to look at an intruder, at me.

Dread fell upon me like thick oil. I did the only thing I could, I ran.

And I never looked back.

-M.E. InkOwl