Category Archives: Short Stories by Claudia Lane

Dark Dreams

The  baying  of hounds echoed  in the sultry night.  Their undulating cries grew closer, as the pack reached the courtyard.  Long claws skittered up the marble steps and spilled into the hallway. Their scent was ripe. The coppery scent of blood hung in a miasma about their swirling forms.  Panting  tongues dripped saliva along the pristine halls as they sought egress into the apartments within the building.

A  small child huddled beneath her bed, staring at the partially opened window of her bedroom.  Shivering, she held her breath, hoping they wouldn’t find her.  Desperation winning over fear, she slipped from her hiding place and struggled with the window pane, pushing it down against a pair of scrabbling paws  with all the might her  ten year old body could muster.

On the foyer  beyond, a solitary shadow reflected in the dim light that passed through the shattered pane of the front door. Slim and well built, he tossed back his heavy mane of unruly hair, and howled at the moon.

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The Lake

Sam liked to fish. He loved it. He spent hours talking about it, days pouring over maps of where to fish, and weeks planning his fishing trips. This week he was excited, as he packed up his truck  “Old Blue”.

His canoe,tackle  and camping gear went into the back of the dinged up pickup.  His cooler was a close second, secured right up front on the bench seat, and filled to the very top with beer and ice.  Clothes, he didn’t consider too important, so they got bundled up into a tight wad and stuffed somewhere in the back seat.  Sam figured that they’d be okay back there if he felt the effort to change into something that didn’t smell like fish.

Several hours and a few dozen country songs later, Sam turned off onto the trunk road.  Slamming “Old Blue ” into four wheel drive, gears grinding painfully. Sam happily bounced along over ruts, rocks and a few small trees.  The winkle of deep blue appeared now and then between the trees as he approached “The Spot.” as he had privately dubbed it.   Sam had been looking at Google Earth at work one day, rather than working and had discovered that there was a small lake up this road.   Odd, since he’d grown up in the area and never remembered seeing or hearing about it before.

He had hunted up some  maps, asked the guys at fishing store, but no one seemed to know anything about the place.  In Sams mind that meant only one thing.  It was his.   All his, and there must be fish.

His heart beat faster as he slowed the truck to a crawl and realized that he could just manage to turn off the road and into a narrow overgrown lane that led right down to the waters edge.  He stopped the truck close to the steep edge, grabbed a beer from the cooler and stepped out to take a look.

The lake was small, maybe a mile and a half long.   The sun sparkled along its surface and the light breeze tossed the occasional wave up against the rocky shoreline just below him.  Cracking open his beer, a loon’s call echoed from across the lake as he looked around for a place to set up camp.   Leaning back against the front bumper of his truck, he looked around for a place to set up his camp for the weekend. As far as he could see, there was no other signs of life.   Just him, the lake and a whole forest around it.

Sam couldn’t believe it, he was still astonished that no one could recall this lake at all.  It was perfect.  Looking down at the pink shale that crunched underfoot, he walked further down towards the shore to investigate,  using the occasional shrub as a handhold to keep himself from sliding right into the lake below.   Reaching the water, he bent down to flip over rocks, searching for signs of life.   A crawdad or two would be good, perhaps some other hatches.

The steep incline was having another effect that Sam wasn’t aware of.   His old pickup truck had had a long and busy life.   With only first gear holding it in place, it popped out and the truck began to roll.  Picking up speed , it headed straight for the lake and for Sam.

Sam didn’t have a chance. By the time he turned at the noise, the truck was on top of him and carried him straight into the deep water, with a splash. Burbling a few times, it disappeared beneath the dark tannin waters.

No one ever knew there was a lake there.

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Wallflower

I am a wallflower.

We belong to the most unique of groups.  A glorious tribe of people who refuse to conform. We are the dreamers, the artists, and the geniuses.  We belong in a way that that regular  people can’t understand.  They will never understand. We sometimes deign to include them in our circles, but our tribe never truly accepts them. One could question why.  Unless you are truly a wallflower, you won’t get it.

We live in the shadows.  We watch the grand parade with eyes that truly see and ears that truly hear. We are the cynics, the disbelievers, and the truth seekers.  Vanity holds no place in our hearts.  The cold cruelty of your words and actions cannot touch us.   We have seen the fire and felt the ashes grow cold beneath our palms.  Collectively we have watched the phoenix rise time and again.

We are the questioners, the philosophers and the story tellers. We hold our own truths and follow our own honor code. You cannot belong unless we agree to let you. You label us.  Incorrectly.  But we allow it. To you we are the geeks, the nerds and the losers. We don’t care.  Because we know history,  and history always repeats itself.

We are your future.

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The Phone Rang.

Her world had ended.

In a nightmare of twisted metal, with the smell of gasoline on a chilly winter’s night.  The phone had rung late that evening. Expecting a call from her son to tell her he was heading home from work, instead a strange voice replied to her cheerful hello.
“Is this Mrs. McCallum?”
“Yes, who is this?” was her immediate reply.
“This is Corporal Bourne. Do you have a son named James McCallum?”
Even two months later she couldn’t recall the rest of the conversation. Only the final result of it. Her handsome, athletic son was gone. Driving too fast on an icy road, his car had gone out of control and spun off the highway, tumbling  end over end to finally rest in a nearby field. Days passed, nights passed. Yet the agony was still fresh. Every breath she took ached in her chest, tears threatened constantly. She missed him so much. She found herself sitting on the couch for hours on end.

Remembering.
They say mothers always remember. It’s a curse. She could remember every detail of his life. From the moment she first held him, the first time his baby blue eyes cleared and really looked at her. The fact that he not had a hair on his head until he was two.  That his teenaged cousins had spent all one night wondering if he was alive.   He spent an entire wedding reception fast asleep in his baby seat on the buffet table.  He had slept like his life depended on it.
And the later years, when he’d beg to be swung between his parents, tiny hands tightly wound into theirs. Always yelling  ‘Again!’ as they  walked hand in hand down the road.  His first teetering bike ride in front of the house, the sheer triumph on his face when he managed to go more then a few feet.

The day she made him believe he was magical.  James would stand in front of the garage doors, yelling ‘Open Sesame!’ and to his amazement they always opened. She would hide in the bedroom over the garage with the remote, and open the doors every time he yelled.  Just to hear him laugh.
There were the tough days as well. When she and his father separated, and James had to learn that money didn’t grow on trees. And she shed more than a few tears than, going without for years just to give him that ‘little bit more.’ She never knew if he understood, but she hoped he did, and she hoped that he would be okay with it.

Eventually.
James got older, and taller, and smarter. In his teenage years, he moved away from being her little boy. But to her, he would always be just that. He moved onto girls, fast cars, and caring more about what his friends opinions were that what hers might be. But she was okay with that, it was part of growing up, so she always told herself. And she still loved him as much as ever. She was content to stand back in the shadows and let him grow into the man she had always hoped he’d be one day.
Then the phone rang.

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The Crowd Roared

       Kara wiped the rivulet of sweat from her cheek. She squinted against the sun. She hated this particular soccer pitch which faced east and west. No matter the time of day, there was always  half of the game where she struggled to see down the field. Kara tensed and then relaxed, trying to keep her body limber as she scuffed a cleat against the turf.

       Her eyes narrow, she rolled her shoulders, keeping herself prepped for that moment when the soccer ball made it past the fullbacks and  then there was only herself and the ball that would matter. Her ball. It was Kara’s private rule. Once that soccer ball made it inside the penalty box it was hers.

Pulled from her musing, she scowled and flexed her fingers. The roar of the crowd warned her of the other teams’ breakaway long before the two forwards sprung free of the pack and began to head up field towards her. The soccer ball twitching back and forth at they played it between themselves, showing off for the crowd. Her defense had been left in the dust, dim figures outside Kara’s interest now, as they lumbered along behind the two speed freaks.

Kara’s instincts took over, shifting eagerly from foot to foot, gauging the best place to move into to narrow the open angle of the goal line behind her. Picking her spot, she made a mental note of it, while watching that leather orb flash back and forth across the green as it was moved towards her.

       Concentration narrowed her focus, she could hear nothing but the tap of cleats against the turf, the feel of her hamstrings as she crouched. The warm heat of the sun on her face, the tingle she always got in her hands when she readied herself to save the day.

Now!

Springing out her crouch, she slid belly forward into the grass. Both arms swinging wide, she roped the ball mid-pass into her chest and rolled over it protectively. The smell of peat rose in her nostrils.

   The crowd roared again.

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Battle

The snow had run red with blood. Lore wrinkled her nose at the coppery scent that hung in the quiet air, as her horse picked its way carefully down from the treeline. Broken bodies and shattered weaponry lay around the small valley. The battle had been hard fought, and barely won. Farther off a large grey cat padded amongst the dead, stopping now and then to investigate.

“I don’t think this is a good idea.”

Tien tended to think in pictures rather than speech, but Lore was so used to it, she didn’t have to work too hard to grasp what he was saying.

“It might not be a good idea, but we have to at least look for him.” Lore replied out loud.

Halfway across the field, Lore spotted the remnants of Bentor’s banner. Dismounting, she pushed and pulled at bodies around it, hope fighting with dread.

“If he isn’t here, I don’t know what we will do. And if he is, I don’t what to think about that either.” Lore muttered half to herself as she continued her search. The long grey cloak she wore quickly becoming covered in mud and worse as she hunted for a sign of Bentor.

Tien worked his way towards her and began to help in his own catlike way. Using claws and teeth as carefully as he could to hunt through the corpses. Not that the dead would feel anything, but there was a certain solemnity and care given.

“For honest sake Tien. You could do that a lot better if you weren’t a cat.”

Golden eyes regarded Lore for a long moment, before the cat dissolved into a rather unremarkable teenaged boy. Unremarkable except that his eyes were the bright unfathomable yellow of a predator.

“Its warmer,” was Tien’s unapologetic reply.

Picking something up out of the half frozen mud, he rubbed it clean  against his leg before holding it up for her to see.

“Bentor’s insignia.”

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Hot

A Short Story by Claudia Lane.

Hot.  That was the only word he had for it.

Stepping out onto the sidewalk from the coolness of the cafe, the blast of solid heat near drove the breath from his lungs.Turning to head south down Main St. , he ambled. Even at such a  speed, perspiration  beaded and coiled down his back and beneath his armpits. His khaki shirt clinging and soaking  through with the  smell of sweat and age oozing out of his pores in a matter of seconds.

Even so, he flashed a habitual smile at  each of the girls who walked past him. Their lean tanned legs flashing enticingly beneath short summer shirts. Blond hair swaying against their backs as they moved past him in graceful patterns. Like an tank of  exotic fish  they flitted across the streets and sashayed by in a timeless dance, a  parade of youth and beauty. Homage to the fiery sun above.

There was no response to his efforts at friendliness. Such immortality couldn’t deign to acknowledge the  gap toothed  greetings he laid upon their altar, as he made his way along with shaky limbs and gnarled feet that were curled like knotted wood inside his leather sandals. He was nobody to them. Detritus left behind from another era. Set aside and forgotten,  garbage abandoned behind the garage.

The tap of his burled cane was steady and slow. A plunking  metronome that marched alongside him. His arthritic hand knotted about the cane’s handle, a constant companion. His only friend. One that held him steady and upright as he passed through each day and night. Moving along the steaming streets of heat and life, that buzzed by him in an ever increasing pace, saying to him alone. “ No time!”

They  sent their warning to him, knocking inside his head, circling around the inside of his skull making the words louder and louder with each echoing pass,  until he could barely think over their haunted screams.  “ No time!”

For decades, he had marched these roadways, lived and breathed the elixir of life. He had laughed, loved, lusted, mourned and lost. Yet, he had no time. His body creaked and moaned with the demands of a sedate walk. His mind caved under the simple effort  of remembering the day, or the phone number of his daughter.

The end was near. He could feel the sluggishness of his blood, the slow wait for nerves to send their commands to stringy wasting muscles.  Rheumy eyes watered, as he looked ahead into that narrowing tunnel. Pausing, he took a pained breath,  and waited.

Another sensation  slowly began to invade his dimming senses.  A  breath of heated air brushed along his sweat soaked clothing, and caressed his time worn flesh with an invitation that pressed tightly against him.  Whispering, “Look! Listen!.”

Paradise  beckoned.  A grim gated entry barred against his infirmity had been pried open just a crack. The barely seen alcove  beyond it gleaming with peaceful green and the murmur of falling water that splashed its promise of vitality into the hungry garden that drank deep and without apology. Wishing itself upon him with a siren’s call.

He took another step.

Hot. That was the only word he had for it.

*Copyright Claudia Lane 2012

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