Architekt von Albträume

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It was a typical Friday night for the Ayers as David drove the family car down an empty highway.

Fridays meant date night, but with Halloween just around the corner, he and Monica were headed to a party. As per the usual weekly routine, they were stopping by his father’s to drop off their sons for the evening.

The boys, Timothy and Dylan (10 and 8 respectively), had never been fond of Fridays at their grandfather’s.

It wasn’t that they didn’t like their grandfather, per se. It was that his house was boring. He didn’t have any video games, his computer was archaic (it never had and never would know the thrill of connecting to that “series of tubes”), and his fridge contained only Ensure Plus and an opened jar of pickles they agreed had to be older than the both of them combined.

David exited the highway and took a right.

Timothy, previously glued to his PSP, looked up. Noting how close they were, he sighed deeply. Dylan was too busy playing with his toy dinosaur to notice.

David caught it and looked at his son in the rearview.

“Come on, Timmy, it’s not that bad. It’s only a few hours. Besides…your Grandpa has some pretty good stories.”

His stories were terrible and David knew it. Monica cut him a sideways glance, trying to suppress a chuckle.

David grinned.

Never one to disappoint, every visit with Grandpa Ayers always garnered a few yarns.

And yawns.

The stories were always the same.

So were the yawns.

Yes, we’ve heard about the time a raccoon broke inside and ate all the dog food…

Yes, we’ve heard about the huge thunderstorm that nearly took the roof off back in ’76…

Yes, we’ve heard about the time you were given your lucky silver dollar by Frank Sinatra…

We’ve heard them all and you tell them again every week!

Timothy groaned, “Ugh, can’t wait…”

“Can’t wait!” echoed Dylan, unsure of the topic yet still wanting to be included.

David and Monica exchanged a smile.

The car turned off the road and up a large driveway.

Timothy and Dylan stared out the window as they approached the large house. A single, weak bulb burned in the lower level.

They pulled to a stop out front.

David got out and opened the back door, releasing the boys. They stood side by side, staring up at the foreboding residence.

Lightning flashed across the darkness.

The house seemed to reach infinitely skyward, stabbing into the heavens.

Suddenly, the porch light illuminated and the front door was yanked open.

A wispy-haired silhouette stood backlit in the doorway.

Flames leapt up high behind the figure, and in it’s free hand was a pointed object.

The figure jumped out on the porch, a mentally disturbed clown wielding a long, shimmering knife high overhead.

The boys clutched at each other, terrified, screaming.

The clown faltered slightly, then doubled over, shaking.

They realized the shakes were laughter-induced.

The clown stood up and pulled off its mask, revealing himself to be their grandfather. His own hair even wispier than the disguise.

The kids slowly let go of each other, taking it all in.

The mask, the plastic knife, the roaring fireplace inside.

“Happy Halloween, kiddos!” cried the old man, with outstretched arms.

Dylan squealed, delighted, and ran to hug his grandfather.

Timothy scoffed, “I wasn’t scared.” He walked up the steps past his grandfather, who rustled his hair.

“Gettin’ too big for that stuff, huh?!” Grandpa Ayers asked with a laugh.

Farewells were exchanged, and the boys were ushered inside as the parents drove off into the night.

•••

Timothy entered the living room and flopped down in an oversized chair, resuming his video game.

Grandpa Ayers followed him with Dylan in tow.

“You boys want anything to eat?” he asked, “I got pickles.”

Timothy and Dylan shared a quick glance, then responded in unison “No, thanks, Grandpa.”

Grandpa Ayers shrugged, moving to his recliner.

“Well, alright then. You boys let me know if you change your mind.”

He picked up a newspaper and donned reading glasses.

Dylan found a bowl of hard candy on the coffee table and began feeding them to his dinosaur.

•••

The fire had burned down significantly.

Dylan had shoved upwards of twenty-five Werther’s into the triceratops and was working on the next.

Grandpa Ayers snored softly from his recliner, reading glasses slipped precariously to the tip of his nose.

Timothy’s PSP blacked out as the battery gave up the ghost, and he tossed it on the coffee table indifferently. He had grown bored of it anyway.

He sighed and looked around the room. His grandfather had decorated for Halloween, all right.

From the fake spiderwebs, to the drawings, to the freshly carved jack-o-lanterns flanking the fireplace…he’d gone all out this year.

A particular drawing caught Timothy’s eye.

He rose and walked across the room, passing Dylan, who was now utilizing a TV remote to assist in nourishing his toy, and peered up at the artwork.

It was a sketch of a man working a large, black machine. Dark smoke seemed to be either coming from or entering it. Something was also emanating from the center.

Light, maybe.

The title read “Architekt von Albträume,” written in a heavy, scrawling cursive.

A pair of hands reached over Timothy and grasped the frame, pulling it from the wall.

His grandfather stood over him, smiling, looking at the drawing with affection.

“This is one of my favorites. Your grandmother drew this. Back when your father was about your age, I think…”

The boys looked at each other. A story was coming on and they knew it.

But this was the first they’d ever heard him speak of their grandmother. They knew very little about her, and Timothy, eager to listen for once, put a finger to his lips to quiet his brother’s protests.

This was going to be a new one.

•••

The boys sat on the couch, the drawing held between them, a root beer in each of their free hands.

Their grandfather was in his recliner, a small smile tugged the corners of his mouth as he remembered.

He took a swig of root beer.

The boys followed suit.

“Your grandmother was quite the artist,” he began. “She loved to draw and paint. She would often draw things from her dreams. This was one she swore was real, though. She said she met him when she was young. He was working the levers of that big machine.
Creating…inspiring.”

He looked at them, the smile reappeared.

“Would you boys like to hear the story of that man?”

Nodding.

“It might be little on the scary side…” he warned.

Eager nodding.

“Promise not to tell your momma? Y’know she’d skin me.”

Emphatic nodding.

“Alright then. Well, the way I heard it..the way your grandmother told it…this man lived in the woods…”

•••

Marta Schön knew little about the man from the Black Forest. He would only come into town on rare occasion to stock up on supplies. No one knew for sure exactly where he lived, or what it was he did out there in the woods… they just knew they didn’t like him.

Her mother had told her stories of people disappearing, and warned her about staying away, but she was stubborn if nothing else.

One day she followed him, deep into the forest.

The trees grew so thick and tangled she could hardly see the sky. The deeper she followed him, the darker it became. She noticed there were less birds singing as they went along, and when they reached his home, she hadn’t seen or heard a single creature for an hour or more.

The man had fashioned himself a house. Although “fashioned” didn’t quite describe it. “Grown” himself a house was more fitting.

Trees and brush and vines twisted and shaped themselves together into a large shelter, complete with what passed for doors and windows. It sat in the middle of a small clearing.

The man entered, lit a candle, and began to stoke a fire.

Marta waited at the edge of the clearing until the sun had set completely. Once she felt it was dark enough, she stole to a window, and peeked inside for a better look.

She watched the man prepare potions of differing sorts.

The fire had grown to a roar by now, and it threw off enough light for her to see it was built beneath a large, black machine.

It was covered with levers which the man began working in a specific order. He repeated the same pattern over and over as the machine warmed up.

When he had it up and running full steam, she noticed that the little stones, sticks, and leaves around his house had begun rising slowly into the air.

They held their level, about a foot off the ground, gently moving no more than an inch in any one direction.

He worked the levers a few more times, then began feeding the machine. Some of the items were bought in town, some came from jars previously prepared, and finally, some of tonight’s concoctions.

Once finished, he worked the levers again.

The machine hitched and thumped, spewing smoke out of the top and sides before a kind of white light began to spill from its center.

He screwed an empty jar into its side.

Pulling a single lever, it shuddered violently as it forced all of the previously spilled light into the jar.

Working a few more levers rapidly, the light transformed from white to black, and a final lever suddenly shut it off, along with the machine.

The floating stones and debris fell to the ground.

A lid screwed onto the jar before it released into his hand.

The man turned around and Marta dropped quickly, so not to be seen. She heard him approach the window, set something down, and move away.

She peeked over the sill and saw he was at the machine again. He seemed to be prepping it for another cycle.

Looking down she saw a row of jars next to the window. Each contained a different colored substance. In the closest there was a black fog resting at the bottom.

She reached for it and the fog swirled upward, becoming a snake, slithering around inside jar.

It had enormous fangs, but no eyes, and struck at the glass repeatedly, trying to get at her. It sounded like a tiny bell as it’s teeth made contact with the jar.

Marta looked up and saw the man standing in front of her. She tried to run but he caught her hand deftly.

He opened the jar with his free hand and the snake-like thing escaped. It struck, biting her, shooting it’s venom into her palm.

She immediately saw a string of images in her mind.

Terrible images. Frightening images. Her deepest secrets drawn into the light. Her worst nightmares all at once.

The venom had put them in her head…injected them     like a drug.

Marta began to scream, trying to force the images out.

She immediately woke up, finding herself in her own bed.

Her mother and father rushed in, frightened by her screams. Marta tried to explain but they told her it was just a bad dream, that everything was okay.

She couldn’t accept that.

She knew it was real.

There were two small, dried dots of blood on her palm the next morning.

•••

The boys sat enthralled, absorbing the story entirely.

“She was German, your grandmother. That’s where the name comes from, ‘Architekt von Albträume.’ It means ‘The Nightmare Architect.'”

A knock at the door startled the boys from their trance.

“Oh! Well, that’ll be your parents now.”

He rose from the recliner, heading towards the door. Pausing, he turned back to face the boys with a smile.

“Now remember…don’t go telling your mother I filled your head with all this nonsense.”

•••

The Ayers family started home.

Timothy and Dylan sat silently in the back seat, wary of the eight miles of woods that lay ahead of them.

Grandpa Ayers waved as they pulled away, smiling.

Once they were around the bend, he descended the   front steps.

Rounding the house, he opened a wooden privacy fence, passed through, and latched it shut again.

Approaching a small shed on a pathway of haphazard paving stones, he paused at the door.

Smiling up at the sky, he took in the stars for a few moments, pulling in a deep breath of the cool, night air.

He entered the shed, shutting the door after himself.

An electric starter whined for a moment before a small engine roared to life. A few mechanical noises emanated from within the wooden walls.

Light spilled out between the cracks in the boards as the paving stones began to levitate…

The Lord’s Work

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The priest stood by the communion table, a blood-stained cross gripped tightly in hand, as he stared down at the lifeless body.

It’s face was awash with the flickering candlelight.

And blood.

Blood that was flowing onto the carpet.

The new carpet.

Fortunately it was burgundy…

To symbolize the blood our Lord Jesus shed, he thought-

…and would hopefully blend in.

He thought he was doing the right thing.

He’d been so careful, so detailed. The months of work and planning had negated any initial alternatives, satisfied any and all reasonable doubts.

He thought he was right.

All signs had pointed to yes. The events he’d witnessed, the evidence he’d gathered…

It all added up.

When he began to follow the man’s daily patterns, when he tracked him through the city, when he lured him to the church and invited him in…

How could he have been so wrong?

What had he overlooked? Where had he made a mistake?

Racking his brain, he mentally retraced his steps.

He couldn’t think of anything.

The clock on the back wall struck out the quarter hour.

He didn’t have time to think now.

The sun was coming up in a few minutes and his flock would arrive very soon after.

It was Easter Sunday.

The one day a year they held a sunrise service. Just one more thing he’d overlooked, apparently.

He had to hide the body…but where?

The small church, though lovely and quaint, wasn’t much more than a sanctuary. Nooks and crannies were hard to come by, which would make the task difficult.

A muted crunch of gravel outside grabbed his attention.

He hurried over to the window and peered out.

The Ayers family, always early because on time was late, had arrived. He watched the father exit the car, with a noticeable limp, before releasing two hyper kids from the back and opening the trunk.

Shit...

The priest turned away, his back to the wall now.

His gaze fell to the body.

He had minutes at most.

Dragging the limp form into the kitchenette to the left of the sanctuary, he frantically searched for a hiding spot. Small beads of sweat formed on his brow.

He yanked open a closet.

Full.

Another.

Far too small.

The last.

Full of white linen. Not exactly camouflage…

He was running out of options, and fast.

Frustrated, he leaned on a small folding table, his palms flat against the smooth, faux-wood surface.

Closing his eyes he inhaled deeply, held it for a moment, then exhaled completely.

Opening them he found himself staring at a clear, glass pitcher.

In the name of the Father…

Water.

…the Son…

Container.

…and the Holy Spirit…

The baptismal!

Hope spread across his face.

Every last one of his congregants had been baptized, and the odds of them bringing a newcomer in this town were slim to fat-chance.

He quickly dragged the body back into the sanctuary and began rounding the stage towards the choir room.

The first rays of sunlight began to illuminate the stained glass, casting hues of red, blue, and purple across the priest’s straining face.

A clove of garlic fell from his breast pocket, unnoticed, as they made the journey. It rolled out in a lazy, wobbling arc across the middle aisle.

He was nearly to the practice room when the lobby doors squeaked open. Young, undisciplined voices broke into the near silence. Doorstops flipped down as the Ayers secured them.

The priest quickly turned and looked.

His heart turned cold and began descending towards his stomach as a bolt of panic struck him.

Had he unlocked the door connecting the lobby and sanctuary?

He couldn’t recall.

He couldn’t see the latch from where he was, and hadn’t the time to check now.

“Looks like we’re the first ones here…” said Mr. Ayers.

“Yeah,” Mrs. Ayers responded, “…oh, hey! The new carpet was put in last week, right?”

“I believe so.”

“Well, let’s go have a look!”

Shitshitshitohshitohshit…

The priest quickly assessed his situation.

The baptismal was up behind the choir loft.

The choir room led to another door which opened upon a small set of stairs that climbed to the baptismal.

Two doors, another room, and stairs stood between him and the small pool.

No time for all that.

With a fresh surge of adrenaline he threw the body over one shoulder, leapt the divider between the stage and loft with a smoothness that an olympic hurdler would envy, and high-stepped it through the chairs to the back.

Sliding his grip to the man’s waist, he heaved upwards with all his might, pushing his body up the splash guard.

The man’s face now lolled mere inches from his own.

The dead eyes snapped open, bloodshot and soulless.

The dead mouth gaped, full of multiple needle-like fangs.

With a growl the man clawed for the priest’s throat, reaching his fangs towards the palpitating jugular.

The priest pushed him back, fending off the attack, and tumbled backwards between the burgundy rows.

The man followed the priest down, lunging after him with incredible, inhuman speed.

In that moment, Mrs. Ayers threw open the double doors to the sanctuary.

Bright, pure, sunlight flooded into the large room.

The man looked up, horrified.

As he burst into flames, shrieking, Mrs. Ayers let out an excited little scream of her own while she danced over and across the new, synthetic blend.

The man was gone. Not a trace remained.

The priest caught his breath, quickly checking for bites.

Satisfied, he shakily regained his feet, dusting himself off.

Noticing his presence, Mrs. Ayers called out to him. “Oh! Hi, Father! Didn’t see you back there! My goodness, this carpet is to die for!”

He nodded, straightening his collar tab and glancing over where the blood had pooled by the communion table.

That was gone, too.

A tired, thankful grin spread across his face as he glanced heavenward, mouthing a quick “thank you.”

He walked toward the Ayers, hand extended in greeting, and slyly kicked the clove of garlic under a nearby pew.

As he reached the family, Mrs. Ayers took his hand in hers. “It looks fantastic! I can’t believe you did this all yourself! And just–Father! You look exhausted! Are you feeling well?”

He patted her hand and smiled reassuringly.

“Oh, fine, I’m fine, dear,” he said. “The Lord’s work just ran a little late last night.”

DAVID AYERS’ DEVICE

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David Ayers’ finger hovered over the button.

It had been there so long he was aware of the pulse within, the tendons creaking with each and every twitch.

He had come here with a purpose: to end it all with a small movement of an index. The house, the job, the mortgage, the boss, the wife, the kids, that little yap-yap dog next door…

…all of it.

Gone.

Just a simple press of the button and he could leave this life behind. No one telling him what to do, where to be, how to act. No one demanding his time…

One inch.

That’s all the distance that remained between him and his blessed departure from this world.

One inch…maybe less now.

Could he do it? He had obligations he would be leaving behind, breaking promises, maybe letting a few people down…

Half an inch.

The escape from this harsh reality was so close…

The device his finger hovered over housed wires and electrodes, circuit-boards and infra-red sensors…incredible power was contained within.

Unlimited worlds could be traveled to, as time and space didn’t matter to the device…he could go anywhere.

He’d tested it a few times before, so he knew it worked. In fact, he’d even calibrated it to take him to his favorite world of all.

Another reality so beautiful he could forget about this one…for a while…

Forever…?

No, he knew that much.

While the device would take his mind to another reality, unfortunately his physical body had to remain in this one. A trapped, empty vessel awaiting his return.

The little yap-yap dog barked outside.

David’s free hand unconsciously went to his left ankle. That stupid, little bastard took a chunk out of him this morning.

He’d been taking out the over-flowing trash his wife had nagged him about for days and that flea-bag came out of nowhere…

The quick bandaging made him late for work.

He got yelled at for that.

Right before Lenny from accounting called saying the system crashed and they lost his information. He would have to be re-entered into the system.

Again.

“Apologize all you want, Lenny, but another two weeks without a paycheck ain’t easy with the mortgage and a few mouths to feed.”

Lenny. What kind of grown-ass man goes by Lenny? Not Leonard, not Leo, but Lenny. Douche.

A quarter of an inch.

He was so close to ending this. A little further and he could leave it all behind.

He looked at the clock on the wall.

A quarter of six.

A quarter of an inch.

The wife would be home soon and any chances of leaping realities would be put on hold.

It was now or never.

He dropped his finger to the button, felt its welcoming texture, and–

His cell rang.

Work.

Hitting dismiss he returned to the button. No hesitation this time.

He pressed it.

A warm, inviting, blue glow washed over him.

Enveloped him.

He began to see things that weren’t there moments before…

…and hear new sounds slowly replace the little yap-yap dog next door.

David Ayers set down the TV remote and entered his alternate reality…

…for a while.

 

The House at the End of Cherry Street

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The house at the end of Cherry Street was beautiful once, before the games.

Boasting thick, high walls with windows near the top. Set far back from the street, upon a slow, rolling green hill. The topiary was trimmed into delightful little creatures, which would change with each passing season. The only downfall of living in the area was the ivy, a constant battle for the walls. It was still beautiful in a way, crawling in it’s organic method over the cracks and crevices in the brick. The owners held gorgeous parties that would sprawl on the lawn, little tents with naked bulbs strung about and between. At night they would dim so the moon could compensate, allowing the stars to join the festivities.

Now the house is abandoned, unattended.

Forgotten.

The topiary grew together in a tangle of branches, walling off the lower portion of the house. The ivy took hold of every inch, creating natural shutters for the windows.

It was perfect…

The thick walls blocked any sound. The high windows ensured no escape. The overgrown topiary and ivy hid the events from prying, curious eyes.

Passers-by unaware of the horror within.

Strangers waking, trapped. Lies to instill distrust and place blame. Natural dangers from the decay in the house, and purposeful traps placed to harm.

Alliances formed.

Words passed in anger.

Then someone found a weapon…

Those who disagreed were the first to go. Former alliances were strained and broken.

More weapons discovered.

Every man for himself, and so it spiraled downward.

In the end there stood one, blade in hand, surrounded by the bodies of people she didn’t know two days before yesterday.

In another room, in another building, in another city even, men in overpriced suits smoked their cubans, and drank their scotch.

They watched a bank of monitors. A room on each, contrast in black and white.

The center focused upon the woman, clearly the victor.

Money exchanged hands with both grumbles and laughter, while promises were made of future victories.

The house at the end of Cherry Street was beautiful once, before the games.

So this is happening…

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After much hemming and hawing and excuses and delays, I’ve finally given in to starting a blog for my short stories (Read: My wife finally convinced me to stop being a wuss about it).

This is mostly for additional motivation to write, but also a way for me to get some of my work out there. Hopefully you’ll like what you read, come back for more stories, and maybe share it with your friends if you feel so led.

I’m not sure how often I’ll post new stories (because life and work can get in the way sometimes), but I’ll try to keep it fairly regular.

Thanks for stopping by,

-GSJ-