Tuesday 27 October 2020

Dark Fiction: Fine Times

Dark Fiction: Fine Times

By Casey Douglass

Fine Times

He prayed to God that he not wake up. Every night, when he went to bed, those were the last thoughts on his mind, the last words on his lips. An illness without cure, a life without hope, a coward suffering on, without the courage to end things himself. God didn’t listen. If he did, he didn’t care.

He prayed to Satan that he not wake up. He prayed to any deity he could think of. The aether never brought a reply, not even the celestial equivalent of a “Your call matters to us” with some soul crushing muzak belting out behind it. The lines were dead, the lights were off and no-one cared for his customer satisfaction.

Halloween arrived. He prayed to any ghoul, ghost or goblin that might hear him. The same prayer. The same plea. The Moon cast a mellow light through the open curtains. A dog howled somewhere faraway. The roof creaked with a sudden gust of wind. No reply came. Mind fogged and despairing, sleep billowed in his body, the pressure pushing his consciousness down into the depths.

Images of a dream. Scenes from his life. A laugh. A sob. A pain in his arm. A new scene. A massive tree, the kind that would need at least ten people to reach around it with hands linked. The bark around its base looked loose, but rigid, and still in one layer. It looked like a flasher opening his coat, the bark hanging free like wooden floppy wings. A creature stood in-front of the tree, grinning with an evil twist to its mouth. It was like a smear on the landscape, an after-image in the eye after brightness. It beckoned. It walked up to the tree. It pushed itself between the bark and the trunk, wheedling its way out of sight. Seconds later it emerged from the other side, brushing moss and splinters from its body. “Fine times!” it croaked, its voice hard to make out, like someone burbling underwater. It held up a misty, bleeding hand, and watched the skin knit together. It winked and nodded. Then it screeched.

He woke, his hands clasping the sheets, pale daylight illuming the room. He knew that tree! He had hiked past it many times when he walked deep into the woods. He rushed to prepare, to get out of the house and on the trail. It was dusk when he finally arrived at his destination, the sky darkening between millions of leaves, the birds puttering on their perches. His heart hammered, his body was shaking. His illness was awake and ready to pound him into the ground. Pound him into weeks of shuffling around, into weeks of barely having the energy to lift his head, into weeks of limbo.

He thought he would be in two minds. He wasn’t. He stripped off all of his clothes. Easier, possibly, he thought. He walked up to the flaring tree. The scent of loam and old leaves tingled his nostrils. Tight it looked, dark too. He set his back to the wood and pushed his left arm into the gap between trunk and bark. Each side chafed against his skin. He sidled. Pushed deeper. Edged further. The open flap brushed his shoulder. He pushed again. Felt a splinter cut his arm. The thought occurred that blood was a natural lubricant. He felt the sting of another slice into his flesh.

An hour passed. He was almost half way around. Face, body and limbs all encased in the rough sandpaper interior of the hulking tree. He felt fluid trickling down his body. A mass of cuts, tears and scuffs keeping him focused and alert. He’d got stuck twice. His slickening body soon found a way to twist through. He was hardly breathing. There wasn’t room. Insects ran over his face. He was starving. He let one run into his mouth. Chewed. Swallowed. Felt his bile rise. He decided he couldn’t do it. Tried to edge back the other way. Spines pierced his skin. He screamed. He ran fingers the way he’d come. The whole trunk was saturated with needle sharp splinters, all pointing against him. He whimpered and resumed his initial direction of pushing. He pushed hard, something gave, the spines in his other side slid out. He moved on.

Much, much later, he felt his left hand push into cool night air. He felt weak. Empty. He mustered one last push. With a scream he fell out of the other side of the opening, his almost three hundred and sixty degree perambulation complete. He fell to the ground. He sobbed, he cried, he screamed again. The pain flowed as freely as the blood. He sat back on his haunches and gazed down at his body. Lacerations, tears and punctures gaped, blood pooled and flesh puckered. He watched hungrily, looking for signs of the healing that should be about to happen.

Minutes passed. Nothing happened. His heart raced as it struggled to circulate the diminished blood in his body. Why wasn’t it happening? The edges of his vision started to go blacker than the night around him, pixie lights floating in the center. A twisting, smirking face formed from the glowing specks, a hissing whisper pushing into his thoughts. This time he heard what it had to say all too clearly:

“I said not fine times but five times fool!”

He sat in the darkness and trembled, waiting for the laughter to stop, or for oblivion to claim him.



Happy Halloween 2020 and thanks for reading!