Unedited, Uncensored, Unsettling…
Welcome to another Stitched Saturday! This weekend sees three stories – one from yours truly, one from regular contributor Mike L. Lane and a suitably chilling tale from newcomer Aiden Leingod. Enjoy! Oh, and keep your eye out for the next challenge tomorrow in which we’ve got something very special planned!
A Bad Workman – Aiden Leingod
‘A van is broken into using a skeleton key every 23 minutes.’
‘Big’ Dave – or just ‘Big’ to his many friends – watched the early morning news with growing annoyance. He’d been absentmindedly swirling his tea since the vignette started more than five minutes ago and didn’t see any reason why he should stop now. As the miserable, windswept local anchor struggled to say his piece through a malfunctioning microphone – eventually storming off-screen – the perspective switched back to the safe confines and furtive glances of the studio, Dave suddenly snapped back into the real world like he’d been profoundly woken from a deep trance with a glorious purpose in mind. He leaped to his feet and took one last sip of tea, quickly realising that not only were the contents stone-cold but had mostly ended up soaking into the brand-new living room carpet he’d installed just last week.
Stifling a few heated words through gritted teeth, Dave tip-toed carefully over the congealed mixture, stray crumbs beat to a pulp sticking to the underfoot of his brightly striped socks. Improvisation key in his line of work, thinking on his feet was actually Dave’s greatest strength, though at the moment it’d be difficult to figure that out without a helpful prompt. Some time had passed since he had, or rather witnessed, the accident that cost him more than a year’s pay and a lengthy stint stuck in-between an empty home and painful rehabilitation.
The architect of his own near-destruction, really. Just another day at the office that took a funny turn all because he had neglected to tidy away leftover materials. In a split-second – emphasis on the former expression – the fall from the ladder left him squarely at the feet and mercy of complete strangers. Their kindness proved to be Dave’s much-needed saviour in his hour of need, swiftly calling for an ambulance and making sure he did not choke on his own blood.
Going back to work scratched a bad itch until it bled satisfactorily. In the meantime, he’d kept busy doing little odd jobs here, there and basically everywhere. The entire house had also been under renovation since that day, starting with upstairs and finally ending in the kitchen where he stood now. With the exception of a few creaky cupboard hinges – and the stained carpet – Dave’s work was almost done. Almost being the operative word.
Dave knew the culprits well. For years he’d smiled at them playing children’s games up and down the street, endured their laughter as they rode endlessly by on noisy quad bikes and been an unwilling audience member to their increasingly intense slanging matches that rivalled anything on television, both in absolute bitterness and absurdity. Living in squalor just around the corner out of a dilapidated semi-detached, this rabble are the very ones whom, of their own accord, had taken the lofty decision upon themselves to topple his stacked bags of concrete as runaway dominos, causing his accident.
Everybody on the block knew to mind their own business, but they also knew Dave, and he knew by now that reputation is everything. A trained fumigator but self-taught in other manual disciplines, Dave was considered a truly dependable jack-of-all-trades and humble master of none. Competitive and mate’s rates, he never missed a milestone or deadline, even to the point of working unpaid overtime during holidays and weekends.
That disguise remained his day job, the veneer beneath which he concealed his true intentions. By night, he put on a very different kind of utility belt. Tonight, he had only a bug and tiny camera, both of which he planted surreptitiously in the back of his van, hidden to the naked eye underneath countless sheets of plastic wrap. Once, he had hidden where he now put the finishing touches, a selfish mistake he would never dare repeat. Dave managed to dispose of bodies with the indispensable, unwitting help of the local binmen. Refusing his admittedly odd requests hadn’t seemed out of place; any second thoughts soon placated by the notion that he may simply be trying to get rid of surplus waste on the side and avoid taxes, fines and other unavoidable government fees they all had to pay at some time or another.
Dave watched the captured footage on a grainy monitor, studying every flicker, armed with nothing but a piping-hot flask of coffee and an unbreakable will. Despite his best wishes, nothing materialised for several hours, until the early morning news broke along with the sun and the industrial grade lock on his van. The crafty vandals were indeed the culprits, one and the same, their barely recognisable visages reflected in sketchy individuals given a menacing narration and standing ovation by the local anchor and his dodgy microphone.
Would he use the hammer or the nails this time? Certainly, both implements may have been a bit rusty, not unlike their owner, but had their undeniable merits too. The former was unmistakeably efficient at extracting information and the latter just as good at getting the point across. Setting the same trap with the same bait as the previous night, Dave confronted the culprits. Brandishing a modified hammer, sharp nails upon nails secured by sheer overkill and duct tape, his elaborate get-up effectively mimicked a post-apocalyptic rendition of the Michelin Man. The terrified thieves took to the wind and scattered as expected. One was all he needed.
After a dull game of cat-and-mouse, Dave finally cornered his quarry at the end of an pitch-black alleyway on a one-way street. But wild animals – and by extension, nature – are most dangerous with their backs to the wall – especially if the wall in question unknowingly consisted of lacklustre craftsmanship and knockoff building materials.
As Dave came to in his desolate kitchen, he was surrounded once again by flashing blue lights. This time however, police officers instead of kind strangers looked down upon him. Helping him to his feet, the emergency services expressed surprise at how lucky he had been to escape without a single scratch. On the other hand, the culprit would need to be airlifted to hospital for live-saving surgery. With the police’s long-winded explanation, it suddenly dawned on Dave that the whole affair was a case of mistaken identity. The culprits had been trying to return his equipment that he’d left out in the open yet again, but they must have been too scared to tell him otherwise, hence why they broke into his van and tried to make it look like the intricate work of notorious thieves.
Led away and sat down in the back of the police van, Dave wondered what the local anchor might have to say on tomorrow’s early morning news.
I’m not the sharpest tool in the drawer.
Critical Mass – David Court
Whatever the scientists tell you, no matter what misinformation spreads over their primitive news networks over your species final weeks, I am not a monster. I am more than a mere animal.
For one, animals are mostly powered by instinct. I was starving when the first of them blundered into my path, and I thought long and hard about whether I’d devour him or not. Seriously. I argued for quite some time with myself over whether it was morally correct to do what I did. Even though I was possessed with a hunger that enveloped every element of my being, was it right for one sentient being to kill another?
I concluded that in this case it was. Although it took some time to reach that verdict, to be fair.
I’d been aware of the science team for several of your sun rotation cycles, but my initial memories of them were chaotic and jagged. I don’t think my consciousness had properly formed in the first days, so I must have appeared to them as little more than a huge glowing rock polyp.
I learned their simple language in about a quarter of one of your rotation cycles. Like most languages that are restricted to sound vibrations, it was a piece of piss. See, I’ve even picked up some of your colloquialisms. When you’re fluent in the higher-dimensional communications of the Voreth Seventh Order, getting to grips with your primitive bellowing is a cinch.
For scientists, they seemed remarkably incompetent. They all reached the conclusion that I’d just naturally formed against the inner wall of the decommissioned reactor, that I was some manner of mutated plant form. Little did they do that I’d chosen it for some peace and quiet. As I’d drifted on the solar winds into your planets upper atmosphere, it was straightforward to extend the outer walls of my outer seed pod to form rudimentary rudders to guide my landing.
But anyway, I digress. A habit I’ve picked up from you lot, it would appear. I was talking about McGregor, wasn’t I? The first of my “victims”.
It was late at night. I could smell it on him as he approached – some manner of distilled spirit muddling both his thoughts and his movements. He leaned over in front of me, chattering away to himself. That’s when I made my decision. It was a simple matter of extending one of my pseudopods and with a quick prod, he’d fell into my bulk.
He was more surprised than anything else, at first. They’d spent most of the day prodding me with a variety of things, and I’d remained solid then. Not now though. He placed out his hands to halt his fall but I simply let him fall into my softened molten mass.
I feel sorry for you organics at times. You’re crippled by your over-reliance on your senses and the frailty of your bodies. Being cursed with an over-abundance of empathy, I felt his pain. It’s a damn shame that this process of freeing yourself from your burden should hurt you so damn much.
He screamed as his flesh dissolved in my boiling innards, flesh stripped to bone in mere moments. My gooey fluid innards burst his eyeballs like popping balloons as I filled every inch of him, every orifice submitting and collapsing to my mass. He was still screaming when there was nothing left of him except for his consciousness – he was quite embarrassed when I pointed that out to him, I tell you.
I think it was embarrassment anyway. He’s mostly quiet now, just sobbing. A few of them are like that. You can’t hear them? Stretch out your consciousness, and you’ll feel them around you. All of them absorbed, just like you. You can’t hear them? Ah well, there’s a knack to it – you’ll get the hang of it eventually. We’re all in here for the long haul now, sunshine.
For a miserable and quiet bugger though, he was delicious. And nutritious too. I’d doubled in size less than two hours later. I quickly got the hand of sprouting multiple pseudopods from my form and dragging myself about. The ones that I didn’t devour in their asleep tried to run for it.
I was still a bit slow and unwieldy, so there didn’t seem to be any point in pursuing them. All good things come to those who wait, eh? That’s one of your species sayings, I think. I like that one.
I had enough energy to clamber outside though. I must have looked quite the sight, a big orange-streaked grey rock sliding up the complex walls and sploshing onto the cracked roof. With one big strain – it’s like holding your breath and then releasing it, but you probably know that by now – I exploded into thousands of tiny spores, each an exact copy of myself. Every memory, every consciousness absorbed – tiny duplicates fluttering down into every safe location I could find.
Abandoned buildings, dank cellars, everywhere that we won’t be disturbed. I think that was how we met, wasn’t it? You hadn’t been into your attic for so long, and you never did fix that tiny hole that I used to get in.
What’s that you say? It’s a little quiet in here at the moment? Oh, it’ll get busier.
It’s going to be fucking glorious.
Departed Keepsakes – Mike L Lane
Jeb Peterson was the idea man behind Garbo & Peterson and had a knack for turning Ronald Garbo’s money into millions. An avid trend follower who thrived on taking old technology and making it modern again, Peterson turned failed businesses into cash cows. He had once talked Garbo into buying Talkman’s Electronics, a cassette player manufacturer, for mere pennies on the dollar. Garbo had been apprehensive, but Peterson adapted the reel-to-reel monstrosities into the Garbo & Peterson Scratchbox, supplying DJs around the world with a portable option for bulky turntables. He had bought a warehouse of old rotary phones and converted them into the Garbo & Peterson X2 Roto-Drone for an avalanche in profits. He had repurposed a surplus of relic pagers into USB thumb drives and dot matrix printers into synthesizers. Practically everything Peterson suggested turned into gold, so when he bought the abandoned doll factory, Ronald was intrigued.
“Departed Keepsakes,” Peterson announced, stretching his arms out wide in a grand gesture as if he had just revealed the greatest idea since sliced bread.
“Come again?” Garbo asked.
“It’s the latest thing, Ronald and we have almost everything here we need,” he smiled motioning around the old factory. The place was full of machinery and old doll parts. Arms and legs waved above prep stations like drowning children. Mounted heads stared at them in eerie silence; their eyes blank and their chubby smiles wide.
“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, Jeb,” he said gruffly, lighting a cigar.
“We’re going to make dolls from the dead,” Peterson said, pausing for dramatic effect. Garbo stared at him blankly, his face twisted into a confused grimace. “People like new and creative ways to remember their loved ones. They’ve been doing it since the beginning. Elaborate tombs. Mummification. Excarnation and sky burials. Funeral pyres and the spreading of ashes. Sailcloth burials at sea. Urns, coffins and headstones. Death is a business that never ends and people have made money from the dead since day one. This is a way to get our piece of that pie.”
“With baby dolls?” Garbo asked. The idea of turning a child’s toy into a symbol of death disturbed him. “This seems a little out of your wheelhouse. I expected waffle iron robots or typewriters turned EMP transmitters.”
“I know it’s a little off the beaten path, but manufacturing dolls as memorial effigies isn’t a new concept. Mourning dolls were very popular back in the Victorian era and it only makes sense to revive that fad now. Businesses are already cashing in on cremation pendants and hair jewelry. They’ve even come up with burial pods where you turn your loved one into a tree! Mourning dolls will be the next big thing. With Garbo & Peterson Departed Keepsakes, we’re going to take those dolls to a whole new level.”
Garbo took a thoughtful look around the room and a shiver ran up his spine. The smiling, cherub faces seemed more excited about this than he was. Still, Peterson had the Midas touch and if he said there was money to be made on this morbid venture, Garbo had no reason to doubt him.
“Tell me how this works,” he sighed.
“Victorians sewed the deceased’s hair onto the dolls. They were modeled to look like the departed, supposedly, but for the most part they were just prefabricated dolls with a dead kid’s hair. We’ll offer that, too,” Peterson said leading Garbo to the rows of abandoned sewing machines in the back of the warehouse. “These old sewers will do the job just fine. The eyelashes will still be made of polymer nylon, but head hair will be procured from the corpse before cremation and sewn into place here. I’ve already made a deal with Burns & Sons, the local funeral parlor. They’ll be responsible for handling the bodies. Then they’ll deliver the hair and ashes to us here, keeping the gruesome part of this venture off site.”
“What happens to the ashes?” Garbo asked warily.
“That’s where we up the value a bit. We’re going to add in the cremated ashes to the doll molds.”
“What?” Garbo choked, snuffing out his cigar.
“It’s a simple process,” Peterson said, leading him to the Rotomold machines. “We melt the plastic pellets over there and stir in the ashes. I’ve ordered powdered pigment to maintain the color. No one wants to see flecks of their loved one speckled across a baby doll. From there, we fire up the Rotomolds and the rest of the process is easy. Connect the body parts, sew on the dead hair, pop in the eyes and paint on a little make-up. Hell, a tape in the head gets them talking and a pull-string in the back gets them walking, if we really want to up the profits.”
Peterson picked up one of the doll heads, mimicking the scene.
“I miss you, Grandmaw,” he said in a high-pitched child’s voice. He turned the doll’s face towards him and spoke in an old lady’s voice, wagging the head with his finger, “I miss you, too, Punkin’. Give Grandmaw some sugar.”
“Isn’t that a recipe for the paranormal? Hauntings and what not?” Garbo asked ignoring Peterson’s heartless puppet play. He felt foolish for saying it, but disturbing images tugged at what little conscience he had. The heads staring at him through empty eye sockets didn’t help.
“You don’t have to keep one in your house, Ronald!” Peterson laughed, clapping him on the back and throwing the doll back onto the table. “That’s just a lot of superstitious mumbo-jumbo. Besides, if buyers complain that evil spirits are terrorizing their children, I have a plan for that, too.”
Garbo looked at him, intrigued.
“Do you know how many suckers out there are willing to pay for a good scare? We’ll make a killing!”