I forgot to schedule this for Saturday! Ugh Migraines be the Devil. The Stitchers got together and put out some fine fiction! Below is the picture we used for the challenge, and each Stitched VIP Author’s (unedited) work. Remember and be kind. This was on the fly! If you want to participate, respond in comments!
The Fairy Bowling Game by James Mathew Byers
The last attendant headed out,
The bowling alley closed.
And went the lights at last were off,
A statue firmly posed
Began to move beneath the glow
And shimmer of the moon.
A window cracked admitted in
The beams upon a goon.
A goblin and a gremlin grabbed
A ball from off the rack.
The statue golem did as well,
As there upon the track
Inlaid the path unto the pins
As ten awaited doom-
No longer made of maple wood,
The blocks there in the room
Endangered now, the fairy forms
And gnomes all jeered and booed.
A troll and ogre joined the gang
And looked on those there glued
Into the shape, the curvy round,
As ball by ball hit home
Impacting every little one-
From fairy down to gnome.
A hambone and hedge hog bowled,
A high flush down the line,
And on and on the game played out
Until the creeping shine
Of sunlight offered teasing booms
Into the blinds as strands.
The fairies and the gnomes, relieved,
As final greedy hands
Unleashed the last of bowling balls
Before the duckpins’ flight.
And when the humans came again,
The monsters hid till night.
The statue once again stood still,
The goons and gremlins fled.
The trolls and ogres turned to stone
Outside the alley bed.
The goblins and the creaking ooze
Within the fountain drink
Evaporated into grime
Around the kitchen sink.
The cafe kept the creatures all
Within its subtle sway.
A magic spell in golem tongue
Suppressed the scene by day.
The fairies and the gnomes again
Became the solid wood
Of pins repeating, blow by blow,
To shake up fairy blood.
And people bowling spares and strikes
Engaged in routine bliss
Remained without the knowledge that
The alley was amiss.
For many years, the ghoulish freaks
Enjoyed their captives’ shame.
And would for centuries to come-
The fairy bowling game …
Entropy by Dan Naden
I felt the motion before I saw it.
I’d taken part of my afternoon to stretch my legs and unstress after a long day and an even longer week. My wanderings took me from my office, to just a few blocks away to where the latest round of downtown redevelopment had yet to take hold. I enjoyed looking at all the old buildings, most of which were erected in times long past and which had lived, decayed, and were reborn multiple times in the intervening years.
Working downtown, like I had for so many years, I had a tendency of looking at a building, not with an eye for what it was, but also with a sense for its bones: for what it might be. An office here, a set of high-dollar lofts there — even retail, after a fashion: an upscale grocery combined with a coffee shop. It’s not that I’m a developer or know anything about real estate. It’s more about the feel of being downtown, a place that is, at once, old and new; dirty and clean, all with a humming undercurrent of almost-danger. Being downtown could be kind of weird, like wandering between the teeth of some huge and ancient monster, a behemoth that had been there so long it was mostly ambivalent to all the people crawling around like ants in its mouth. Ambivalent. Mostly. I’ve worked here forever and I still sometimes get the feeling I could be swallowed up and disappear … while the buildings remained as timelessly eternal as ever.
So I walked and stretched my legs and found myself gravitating away from the safe, (relatively) clean streets near my office to an area that was less developed. The buildings weren’t as tall — nothing over four or five floors — and most of the glass was missing from their windows. I couldn’t see any chain link perimeters that might signify renovations were coming, which only helped the overall mental image to me that the block was full of rotting teeth. Did the behemoth rest uneasy here?
I moved closer, picking my way carefully around and over broken bottles, trash, and the occasional body effluent — homeless people obviously squatted here. I had just passed a deep, dark doorway, peering out of the corner of my eye to judge if perhaps one or more homeless people might be resting in the shadows and edging wide to avoid any potential conflict that might arise, when I got the strange sense of pressure in my eardrums. Not a noise, nothing so direct. It was…a sense of motion. That feeling you get when you think something is sneaking up on you, even though you don’t see or hear it.
I peered out of the corner of my other eye, hoping to see what I felt was there and, to my surprise, I saw something. It was like a shadow — a group of shadows, really — moving to the door of the next building over. They were carrying something, dangling from extended arms. Lunch bags, maybe, but the size was off. From my vantage point, I couldn’t really tell.
I felt compelled to follow. I didn’t get a sense of unease or danger, which was odd, given how I usually felt being downtown. So I followed right up to the door. I couldn’t see the shadowy figures anymore and I half-expected the door would be locked against me. To my surprise, it wasn’t. I shouldered my way through and walked in.
In its previous life, the building had been a bowling alley. It had only a handful of lanes, none of which had seen use for years, and the only light came in through the huge arched windows on one wall. The inside was dirty. Muddy patterns of dust and grime covered everything, a speckled look that spoke of a porous roof and a lot of water damage. In fact, one of the lanes had a puddle, saved in the warped wood.
My initial reaction was disappointment. Here was a fascinating space: a bowling alley tucked into an old building with an impressive architecture, yet almost all of it was ruined by water and rot. The dank, fetid smell would certainly chase me out before long — not to mention the risk of my falling through the floor into whatever decaying pit lay below me. But I couldn’t help but feel that this building might be too far gone to save. That it would disintegrate, bit by bit, with no new renovation, no new cycle of rebirth like the other buildings downtown. And I though that was a shame.
Until I felt the motion again.
Shadowy shapes; this time I could see them more clearly. They were bowling. When I squinted, I could see the entire space was full of them, looking very much like a regular bowling alley on a busy league night. I saw the group I followed in, a group of men dressed, it seemed, like construction workers at the end of their day. I saw others that looked like bankers in quaint Depression-era suits and attire. The shapes covered a wide variety of times and dress, but they all seemed to occupy the same space, interacting with each other like there was nothing odd in their obvious differences. Or that they were shades of people and not real in the same way I was.
As I watched them bowl and talk and interact, I noticed something peculiar. The shades seemed to be wearing down the parts of the building they were standing on or interacting with. The bowling ball cut, not a line, but a deeper pattern of mold and rot across the lane boards as it passed. The floor underneath the others also darkened. At a table full of shades and their drinks, I saw the floor and table completely collapse and fall, crashing into the space below. The shadow people remained where they were, but where the real table had been, a shadowy one appeared over a shadowy floor covering the hole. They didn’t seem to notice. Near one of the outer walls, a guy leaning against the masonry surface caused an avalanche of collapsing brick. He didn’t move, but the fallen brick was more like dust than stone, there on the floor.
It occurred to me then that perhaps the shades couldn’t use the real building at all. That maybe they needed the building to decay to make it suit their needs. I’m not sure where that insight came from, but it made sense, in a way. We spent much effort restoring downtown buildings, renovating them to make them new and clean because that’s what we need. What if the shadows needed to bring the buildings down — for them to decay and fester and dissolve — so they can have the spaces they need, opposite us, like the backswing of entropy’s pendulum?
I turned to leave — I decided I didn’t want to be around much longer — when it seems the shades…noticed me. I wasn’t sure if my motion did the trick or if they’d all been ignoring me until I was ready too leave. Or maybe they simply felt my motion instead of hearing or seeing it.
Regardless, the entire group of people in the alley closed around me. I started to run, but the group of construction worker shades had slipped between me and the door.
Spinning, looking desperately for an escape, I felt a shadowy hand’s motion in the moment before it touched me. It passed through my shoulder, like the guy was clapping me on the back, but where it touched, my skin aged. My bones there went brittle and the muscles atrophied, just in that brief second. I screamed, the pain was that intense, then more hands were reaching for me, passing through me.
Skin sloughed off, and I screamed and shrieked. Somehow, I remained standing. I don’t know how. The circle pulled closer. Shadows engulfed me.
Through it all, what little was left to me, I had the time to wonder if the shadow people actually needed me, or if I was just part of their renovation.
If she squeezed her eyes closed real tight, Fawn could still imagine it. Pretend that it was still the days before the Ruination, when there were still adults. Breathing in deeply that distinctive scent of floor wax, disinfectant and bowling shoe leather. Hearing the perpetual rumble and clatter of the alleys, a clockwork cacophony pierced by whooping and laughter.
Days long gone. The ceiling mounted screens were hollow and burned out husks, the once garish neon signs now melted down the walls, pooled like hardened candlewax.
The creak of floorboards – that tell-tale squeak of stretched linoleum – roused her from her reverie, dragging her thoughts away from the scattering of ten pins and back to her predicament. Holding her breath, she peered into the room from behind the cover of a cracked concrete pillar plastered with dozens of faded posters – for events either long gone or that would never happen.
No sign of the intruder, but a gap in the motes of dust that hung suspended in the beams of mottled sunlight that crept in through the thin cracks in the derelict walls.
The bowling alley was her home, and had been since the early days. She’d instinctively sought out somewhere familiar, somewhere with nothing but happy memories. In the subsequent months she’d come to know every shadow in this place, could recognise the precise sound and location of every loose floorboard. It was as though the building were an extension of herself.
Intruders were rare – to the casual scavenger, richer pickings were more likely to be found elsewhere in the Mall complex housing the Buscemi Bowlerama. She’d made a passable job of securing the building to make it look like it would take any scroungers too much effort for a meagre reward.
The more persistent ones that made it into these hallowed chambers? They came in two categories – either newcomers, who blundered in and announced their position with every noisy step. Or, less commonly, they were skilled foragers who’d learned the most important trick – that remaining silent would keep you alive.
This current interloper fell into the latter category.
Fawn had noticed – from her look-out point at the top of the Bowlerama that gave her a view of most of the mall – that a lot of the recent visitors to the Mall had been armed. One or more of the roving gangs must have discovered a cache of weapons – there were few things as equally bizarre and chilling as the sight of a group of nine-year-olds carrying automatic weapons almost as big as themselves. This new threat had meant that she’d had forego her typical complacency.
The too-close-for-comfort sound of metal scraping against concrete. The sound that could only be a blade – or more than likely the barrel of a gun – of somebody getting dangerously near. Judging the approximate location of threat, she crouched low and ran for the shadows in the opposite direction – she’d long since mastered the art of moving in silence, landing on the ball of her foot with every measured step.
A brief game of cat and mouse followed. Fawn knew, only too well, that any mistake could be your very last. And a mistake was made – and with one misplaced step came the realisation. That moment when you suddenly find yourself staring into the last face you’ll ever see.
The kid had barely even begun to turn around by the time Fawn had swung the bowling ball into the side of his skull. He’d lain there – shaking and writhing violently and blood frothing from his ruined mouth – for the longest time. It had made her task somewhat trickier.
The disappearances clearly hadn’t made enough of an impact. More drastic measures would have to be taken.
The racks that held the bowling balls were the first thing you saw when you entered the building. The severed heads of the five bodies she’d collected so far were placed – eyes and mouths stretched wide open – in the custom grooves on the rack to stare accusingly at any would-be intruders.
If that didn’t stop the fuckers from the Mega-Muncharama Food Court Gang trying to muscle in on her turf, nothing would.