Smile for the Camera
It was delivered to Todd Beaumont’s dormitory packaged in a black paperboard box labelled with a red ‘WARNING’ sticker. Upon closer examination, the warning read:
RADIATION EMITTED FROM THIS APERTURE
AVOID EXPOSURE TO DIRECT OR SCATTERED RADIATION
CLASS 6 DEVICE
Followed by an acronym in some very, very fine print:
He vaguely recalled that stood for ‘Container Shipping Information Service’. But he didn’t care much about that. He was more interested in why on Earth there should be a radiation warning, and wondered what ‘Class 6’ meant.
But he’d ordered it and paid for it and now it was here. Todd tore open the top flaps and then pulled out a thick layer of foam padding. He peered inside the box.
My wife and I were gathering up the first buckets of sap for the year, which we use to make and sell our homemade maple syrup, when we noticed the throbbing.
We own a bean farm in Perth County, and we have six black maples in the backyard that just happen to be old enough to collect sap from. They’re all over half a century old, and that means they contain the starch levels required to produce the good stuff. It’s not our primary source of income, but last year we tapped them and each one yielded six full fifteen-litre buckets. After we boiled all that down and added in the extra sugar, the result was a good fifty litres of ‘Ed ’n’ Edna’s’ A-grade Canadian maple syrup. All natural. And organic, I might add.
Well — that’s not all entirely accurate. I should mention that one of the trees refused to produce anything. It had been dry for about six years, but we always drilled a tap into every year just in case. And this year, in a very disturbing way, it produced fluids indeed. And that’s not even the half of it.
Are You Evil?
Are you evil?
I hear her voice asking me this, every night, in my nightmares. And every night I answer with the same reply.
Then I wake up screaming.
A lot of other people ask me the same question. Especially lawyers and doctors. They want to know why I did what I did. “Are you evil, Mister Zac?” they ask, but I don’t answer them. I’ve kept my mouth closed. I’ll only answer her. And every night I do, from here, inside my cell.
I’m tired of the nightmares. And I’m tired of the evil. I feel dread, fear, and revulsion. Dread because of how others perceive me. Fear because the death penalty no longer exists in this country and I know I’ve got to go on living this horror. Revulsion because I know that as long as I’m alive I will love her.
Time to Play The Game
When Tom Lakic saw it, when it glimmered from in his son’s hands within a dusty beam of grey light coming through the basement storage room window, such a feeling of horror and dread lashed him that he just barely managed to choke back a scream. He pressed his teeth into his knuckles, using his clenched fist as a bite block, but couldn’t hold in a gasp. The boy hadn’t noticed, but his wife looked at him inquisitively.
“Hey, cool,” said Bradley with enthusiasm. There was an interest in his tone that Tom or Liz hardly heard from their son anymore. Bradley was six.
“What’s that?” Liz said. She pulled her eyes away from Tom and looked at what Bradley had found. “Oh, looks like checkers.”
“Why’s it so heavy?” said Bradley as he examined its surfaces and corners.
and Infinite Hunger
The day Savage came to town was the day I went to search for my brother — my sister, now — who had gone missing six months earlier. What I found was a version of her. Maybe not the version of her she always wanted, the version she spent years trying to achieve, but the essence of it. The spirit. The knowing that every time we die, we become more free.
It was the sixth of December, just about the time when the moonlight starts giving snow-covered evenings that eerie citrine glow, and the grip of the northern cold was giving a real squeeze. Temperatures had dropped six degrees before dark, and it had been steadily lowering since then. Twice I turned up the thermostat only to feel the shivers come on again an hour later. The chill was literally creeping inside from through the walls.
You Wanna Party?
On the night of April 30, 2016 — the night before the worst wildfire in Canadian history lashed Alberta — I saw Betti Lafore get mad for the first time in my life.
We were all at a cottage party, celebrating a high-school reunion. The cottage, which belonged to our well-off hostess, was way out of town. Deep in the forest near the Athabasca River. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that some wild stuff went down. You name it — it was there. Drinks, drugs, bare breasts. A few people were even shooting rifles off in the backwoods. I don’t exactly remember all the other stupid stuff; the alcohol was flowing.
What I do remember, vividly, was seeing what happened to Betti at that party. I don’t know who invited her, or why she came. Maybe she just got lumped into the considerably large guest list. Maybe she was invited out of pity. Maybe she just came on her own. I’m not sure. I can guarantee, though, that no one actually expected her to show up. Not with how things were.
Stop Using Real Trees
A fresh-cut tree, kept well supplied with water, will last about a month. All Christmas trees start losing needles as they dry out. Ours grew more. Much more.
I remember the exact day we went to get it, because that was the day of the first snowfall of the year: Saturday, December 3. My boyfriend dragged me out to a forest up near Thunder Bay to get an “honest-to-God true Christmas tree”, as he put it. He was way too excited. I never understood the appeal of using real trees. It was freezing and the snow prickled my cheeks.
After trudging through that damned forest for about an hour, Tom finally found what he deemed to be the best one. “This is it,” he shouted, holding his arms up before an oddly unblemished spruce. “This is it!”
No Eyes, No Ears, No Mouth
My wife and I were in bed when we heard it. We live in a small bungalow in Perth County. Living on a farm in the country, it’s pretty odd if you don’t hear weird noises. Coyotes, raccoons. Whatever else.
But this was something — different.
That night was eerily quiet for November. The fir trees all around the house were statue-still. The Canada flag in the front yard hadn’t so much as swayed. And yet it was so cold that I had to run the gas fireplace to keep Mary half-way comfortable. Mary has the window-side of the bed, so she feels it a little more than me. She’s got severe anxiety, so anything to help her feel relaxed is worth the extra money on the hydro bill.
A Neon Dawn
I became what I am today because of a project that started six years ago. It’s what taught me the most important thing I ever learned, despite thirty years in the field of neurotechnology: nothing can stop the future.
My name is William Hanzer. I was the founder of Hanzer Robotics. You probably know about us from all the online videos. We were the ones who pioneered the system that allows humans to control bionic limbs by thought. It works by using implants placed on the inner-wall of the skull to read brain patterns that send signals to electronic devices.
Dark and Sticky
In the past few weeks, I was feeling really anxious and agitated, which is weird for me. I’m not usually like that. Just earlier this month, I found myself telling poor old Mrs. Easton next door to ‘do things’ to herself when she asked me how my day was.
I felt terrible. Twenty-eight years I’ve been alive, and never had I said something so vile to another human being. I apologized to her, and later that day I even went out and got her a bouquet of her favourite flowers — purple anemones. Everything’s good between us now. But there was still the unmistakeable feeling that something was wrong with me. I was having similar kind of mood-swings more and more often. I didn’t feel like myself.
Ten minutes into dinner, and I want to kill him. He only talks about himself, and the only time he directs the conversation to me it’s about how good I look. He called me ‘the prettiest girl he’s ever seen’. That’s interesting; I haven’t showered for days, my hair needs another dose of jet black, and I’m wearing the same Rorschach-pattern leggings I’ve been wearing since the beginning of the month. I’m pretty sure there’s a bloodstain somewhere on my skirt, too.
His eyes tell me that he’s enamoured, if not lustful. Funny how people can be so enticed by strangers. Unfortunately for him, this stranger isn’t even close to whatever image he’s got made up of me in his head.
I know he’s thinking of me naked.
The Eyes of Kretes
I slip through glass doors into the library, with nothing but a backpack of books and a bottle of vodka. Living like this, the way I’m living now, it’s good to be at the Stratford Library. The comfort of solitude can be found in these quiet isles and corridors. Nobody speaks much, but we all share that unified understanding of the importance of silence; it feels like being part of a secret society.
Part of something, anyway.
I find my usual spot on the second story. It’s near the back of the building, in an alcove with a tall window, occupied by two leather chairs and a low table. From here, the city seems more distant, somewhat robotic. And yet I feel like I’m sitting on a runaway train, going faster, faster, and faster, and I haven’t got the slightest idea of what the hell is going on.
The Devil Tree
When I was very young and still susceptible to the venom of my surroundings, I lost a good friend. Before he left, he said something that I would never forget.
‘When you grow up,’ he told me, ‘don’t be a damn thing like my parents.’
It was unlike Nick to say something like that. He had always been a goofy sort of kid, frivolous and flighty, fun in that childish kind of way that was just silly enough to make a teacher smirk — and to make me laugh out loud. I liked it. And that was why I had befriended him in the first place; it was a refreshing escape from my somewhat sullen home life. But when he said those words, it stuck the first fork in our road, and the events that followed after that created in me a reluctance towards him.
Of Man and Monster
I can say all this, now that I’ve got enough gin in my veins, and a gun in my hand. By tomorrow morning I’m sure I’ll be dead. Now, please, whoever hears this, don’t think I’m some kind of unstable degenerate — I didn’t want any of this. But if you saw what I saw, experienced it firsthand, then you’d probably find yourself in a similar state. Oh, Christ, even if I explain, you won’t know, you can’t know, you won’t be able to fully grasp the twisted sickness of it all. The alcohol I’ve turned to doesn’t even do much to alleviate this constant dread, this sense of hopelessness. But — at least you’ll be able to understand, or guess, what turned me this way now. Someone’s got to know what’s going on.
Let me say everything, while I can. Let this be my confession.
Bootcamp for Barbara
St. Michael Secondary School junior Barbara Halbachs will spend the rest of the semester at bootcamp, say school officials. The crime? “We have verified that she has told a teacher and other students that she knows how to bring people back from the dead,” said Principal Martin Henson.
What makes this case notable is that her parents have filed a lawsuit against the Catholic district school board. “Our daughter wears black,” said father Jacob Halbachs in a prepared statement. “She has a laptop and we let her play violent games on it. She loves reading fictional horror stories when she’s on the web. We even allowed her to get a tattoo when she turned 16. But none of that makes her a criminal, or, as certain other people would have you believe, a witch.”
I have a new pet. She’s a silverish siamese cat named Kretes, and we really love her a lot. My fiancée, Jessica, suggested a cat as a way to help me relax. I’ve been pretty stressed out this year; money issues, problems sleeping, and to be honest I was drinking too much too. Kretes helped a lot. They really do have a way of creating calm. But I’m just not sure about the ‘gifts’ she brings home. It’s started to be a real problem.
Anyone who owns an outdoor cat, like mine, knows that they like to bring back whatever they catch out there. You know, birds, mice, even a rabbit on occasion. Jess is usually the one who discovers them, because she doesn’t work, and I’m the one that does the cleanup. Well, normally it’s not a big deal. What are a few robins? How many field mice does this town really need? I don’t believe in declawing or collars, and I want my pet to be free. I view it kind of as a necessary evil. I mean, cats are hunters by nature. Have you ever seen a picture of a feline skeleton under an x-ray? Yeah, well, it looks like something straight from John Carpenter.
This morning I dreamed of Red. Red things happened. There was a red and angry flood. It consumed the entire world. It engulfed my home, my family, my friends. And then it swallowed everything that made me human.
After I woke up, seven letters have been floating around in my mind.
Seven. Seven letters that keep drifting closer together, seven letters I keep pulling apart. The number has never been lucky for me — it reminds me too much of Sunday school; seven woes to the scribes, seven years of captivity, seven wraths of Heaven, seven things the Lord hates. The number of the beast is six-six-six, and six can never be seven, just like “all who have sinned fall short of the glory of God”. Seven.
She Fits In
Ever see those girls walking around with that new piercing, the one that looks like the pull-tab on the slider of a zipper? I met a girl that had one in the back of her neck. That was the first thing that told me she had to have a wild side. The second thing I learned was just straight-up unreal, far more out-there than something like a racy little piercing. In fact, it was something that proved to be the ultimate test of my ethics.
I guess I’m writing this out so I can organize my thoughts. I don’t want to be dishonest with myself. Besides, I think it was unavoidable; even if they tend to get a bad wrap, weird girls have always, always been my type.
And Emily Seward was truly the weirdest girl I ever met.
Late Night Fare
Hey, how’s it going? Come on in now. Watch your step from the curb. Heavy downpour tonight, eh? Can almost smell the thunder. Torrent like this could wash the city clean, don’t you think? Ah, well, probably not this town, anyway. So, where you off to? Downtown? Uptown?
Wait. Lemme guess — Beertown, right? Hah. Knew it. How did I know? Oh, let’s just say I got a feel for people.
We’ll just take Weber. Less traffic, you know. Two lanes.
Hey, listen, it’s a bit of a drive until we’re there, and I got something I’ve been positively dying to get out. You like weird stories? Won’t hear this anywhere else, I promise you that. Might as well kill some time, and I sure don’t mind talking. If you’re okay with it, of course.
Buckle up, my friend, and let me say it how it is.