Image Flash #36

Image Flash #36

5 minI’ve had a niggling daydream in my head for a novel for couple of decades now. It’s one of these things that I’ve let ferment, never really acted on, and pops into my brain every now and again. I have other projects I want to do first, but eventually, the concept will finally accumulate enough substance for me to turn into a story.

It’s about dreams, and shared dream experience, and memory, and loss, and how we cope with guilt and fear and it’s still only half baked after all these years. But this picture pulled it strongly out of my head and I decided to write a scene that could exist (but probably doesn’t).


There was something hiding beneath the leaves. There was no outward indication of this fact. The crimson plants remained still and did not move. No sounds came from their quiet fronds. But still, I knew. I knew it almost from the moment I entered this place.

But, with the same certainty that I knew there was something out there, moving around beneath the shrubbery, hiding in the gloom, I was certain that it was not harmful. I felt strongly that I was in no danger.

It was a great flat forest. The ground was as level as if it had been engineered and covered in waist high red-leafed foliage. Tall, branch-less, black trees reached up into the mist. Everything was painted on a blue, sourcelessly illuminated, fog.

I was pretty sure that I was a silhouette.

“What is this place to you?” I asked.

From a half dozen yards away her outline responded. “A secret mostly. Something lost. Maybe wants to be found.”

“Potential then?”

“Futility.”

I looked out into the rows of trees, vanishing into the haze. I felt I could walk miles in any direction and find the same view. A treadmill maze without walls.

“Not exactly the most romantic place to meet up.” I said.

Her figure shrugged, leaned against a tree. “I’m not feeling particularly romantic.”

Whatever it was, beneath the bushes, was listening. I used my foot to push away one of the plants to get a look at it. Nothing was there. I was sure it had been though. It was quick and quiet and absolutely not real.

“This is an old one, isn’t it? It’s very simple. Very clean.”

She chuckled. “Are you saying my newer expansions are dirty?”

I walked over to a tree and touched it. The bark was smooth, unfinished, and felt more like drywall than a tree. “Of course I am. We all clutter with age. Have you ever been in an old person’s Sphere? Their final realms?”

“No.”

“They’re amazing. Terrifying too. Nothing is so pure. Everything is touched by something. Usually more than one thing. Every object, every component, is ladled full of memories. This tree, right here…” He knocked on the trunk. “It has none. It feels like you might think it feels if you’d only looked at it, tall and straight, and never touched a tree. Like someone who didn’t know that smooth pine was flaky and moist with sap. That oak is craggier and deeper than ash, but both are rough. Or birch had horizontal bumps of tough interspersed with paper thin curls. No, when you made this, you weren’t even tall enough to pull yourself up onto a branch.”

“And someone very old?” She asked.

I was unsure how to articulate it. I gave it my best shot. “So, imagine this tree is there. The bark could look the same, even feel the same, but it wouldn’t be the same. It would hold the weight of what it isn’t more heavily than what it is. It would know it didn’t feel right. You would feel the reasons. The old person couldn’t have created it without their own experiences, and they graft into it.”

I continued. “You would feel the differences. Every other tree, every other texture, that had ever passed through their fingertips would stand along-side it. Their choice, to use that texture, cannot hide the fact that it’s a choice. Like, picking a number between one and ten. The number five cannot be picked without also knowing that the other nine were there, along side it, as possibilities. Nothing an elder creates stands outside the context of everything they’ve experienced. Knowledge crushes it. One fingertip on such a tree and you recognize the scale of everything they’d ever touched.”

She stepped away from the tree she’d been leaning on. I noted that her hand slid away from it last, feeling. “That doesn’t sound so bad.”

I nodded. “Oh sure. If that were all there was to it. But it’s not. You see, every one of those textures has memories associated with it. They come along, playing into the sensation; childhood climbing, shop class, yard work, camping trips. All of it, communicated indirectly through only the feelings associated with them. A flood of contradicting emotions rushes in along with the scale of the thing. It’s overwhelming. And, keep in mind. I’m only using a single tree as an example. When the elderly build, everything they create is this dense. Impossibly assaulting to your system. Near utter confusion.”

“It sounds like a lot.”

“It is. But, in the end, that barrage of sensation and imagery, isn’t the worst of it. The brain can’t handle it. So, it simplifies. Tries to bundle it all up into one giant feeling. It sees all this information, pouring from someone nearing the end of their journey, and recognizes it for what it is.”

Finally, she walked over to me. “And what is it?”

“A desperate revealing of self before they die. It’s the spiritual equivalent of a ninety five year old in a wheelchair, trying to hand out their biography for free in Times Square, and everyone ignoring them. And they know it. They know none of them care. They knows when they die that those books will rot, unread. And it terrifies them, so they start throwing them at anyone within reach. But they’re too frail to throw and the effort won’t matter. They know this too.”

It was as close a description as I could muster. It was wildly insufficient.

“That’s so sad.”

I looked her trees up and down. “Yeah, it is. I like this more. Romantic or not, we can come here any time you like.”

She took my hand. “Let’s walk.”

We did. I knew that whatever it was hiding beneath the leaves was following us but it didn’t bother me. And despite the fact that we went nowhere, and the fog reminded us of the futility of progress, I quite enjoyed myself.

Image Flash #35

Image Flash #35

5 minSince last week was a slightly more traditional fantasy style story, I decided that this week would be fun to make a traditional science fiction story. Of course, I didn’t want to go so far back into the tradition as spaceships and aliens and decided to go to my roots with some barely retro, early nineties, cyberpunk style.


9a Sim1 (pronounced Nine-uh Sim-wun) looked at the key-man they’d brought with them and frowned.

“This fucker’s glowing. Is he supposed to be glowing?”

Bunt rolled his left eye up into his head, did a quick internal data search, and looked for the answer. He chewed on his mustache as he did. His eye clicked back into place.

“Nope. Not as far as I can tell. They’re only supposed to light up when they’re accessing a network, manipulating codestreams, or some shit.” Bunt shook his head, vigorously no, and clenched his fists. A series of metal prongs that protruded from his knuckles flickered with electricity. “You better not be burning us!”

9a pulled her pistol and thumped it into the key-man’s forehead. “What the hell, man? You trying to burn us?”

The key-man was vacant, somewhere else, his eyes focused on some digital spectacle and he was unaware of the cerametallic gun barrel pressing against his brain box. All across his face and hands, the delicate tracings of blue light glowed through his skin like some computer with varicose veins.

“Bitch, wake up!” 9a jabbed him, hard.

The color beneath his skin vanished and he snapped back to reality.

“Oh shit is greater than x.” He muttered.

“Oh shit, is right!” Said 9a. “What did you just link to?”

The key-man looked at her, considering his response. “High percentage of calm is appropriate to trad-sec response. We equal good. System was closed. Alternative variable. Another problem.”

9a took the gun from his forehead but didn’t put it away. “We’re not paying you for problems.”

“Solution is pretty imperative.”

Bunt snarled at him through clenched teeth. “Explain yourself, now.”

“Closed loop message, from, input assumption here, the last key-man to try an equivalent endeavor at this location. A warning. If we go any further, we die.”

The biometrics in her visual implants didn’t indicate any obvious deception in his statement. But he was a damn key-man and was near impossible to understand half the time, let alone read them for normal human auto-responses. They spent the majority of their time digitally, had limited ‘real’ personal contact during childhood, and their sociopathy only got worse as they got older. They burned out early and most didn’t live past forty. Their key-man looked to be in his thirties, and usually that was a good thing because it meant experience. They hardly ever spoke, and were content to exe on command. This one though, he’d just said more than any key-man she’d ever heard. That told her more than the scan.

“How.”

He glanced down at her gun, then back in the direction they’d come from. His answer was reluctant.

“Insufficient memory.”

Bunt sucked his mustache back into his mouth and chewed. 9a sighed heavy and weighed her options. The key-man spoke.

“Permission request. Network probe. Quickie in and out. Trad-sec is greater than zero. It equals maybe.”

She’d been thinking the same. There was no way she was going ahead with a warning like that without, at the very least, a virtual scout. She knew any such recon came with the chance of discovery and all the hell and light and metal that came with it.

“Do it.” She said.

“Yeah, do it.” Repeated Bunt.

The key-man went stiff, his eyes went glassy, and the glowing circuitry covered his body again, illuminating his skin.

On edge, 9a Sim1 waited.


 

Image Flash #34

Image Flash #34

5 minIt’s been a fair while since I’ve written a good, old-fashioned, fantasy story. While this image was a bit industrial, I still felt like it was a good candidate for it.

Super windy and warm today so I tossed in some opposite weather; cold and still. Seems to have worked well with the image!


The sea was a gray, still slab as Jarn sailed across it. The breeze carried an icy chill despite being too weak to raise a wave. He pulled his cloak tight and nuzzled his chin into the fabric. His opalescent sails were fine, almost lighter than air, and they managed to catch just enough of the feeble zephyr to move him along, albeit slowly.

The speed didn’t bother him. Neither did the cold. Odds were, considering where he was going, he’d long for the cold soon enough.

The cloudy half light of approaching twilight filled the sky as his destination finally came into view; a tall, crooked, pinnacle of an island stabbing up from the horizon. Even from here, he could see the orange glow on the shoreline and the black smoke rising. The fires were well lit. Eliara had been right to summon him. He hoped that he was right in coming alone.

As the bank drew closer the source of the light, and plumes, became clear. Three enormous metal funnels rose up from the rocky earth, each as tall as a castle tower. Flames licked from their mouths as they belched noxious fumes from their throats. The landscape, aside from the fiery monoliths, was rocky and barren stone, wrapped in winters shroud.

Eliara was standing in the snow, waiting for him, swaddled in her own white cloak.

As soon as he was close enough, he threw anchor out onto the land and pulled the boat in as near as he could. The tied off the rope and jumped out onto the rocks. Eliara didn’t move to join him, so he went out to meet her.

When he got within earshot she spoke and her tone was not welcoming. “What are you playing at, Jarl?”

“I was thinking we’d try something different this time.” He called back.

She scowled as he stopped before her. “It would seem we’re obligated to since you’ve already made the decision by not bringing a sacrifice.”

He met her anger with a smile. “It would seem.”

He passed her and headed for the closest of the vents. She followed.

“I’ve half a mind to force you back onto the boat.” She said.

“You could try.”

“I could do it.”

He considered. “Yes, you probably could. What does the other half of your mind think?”

“That whatever comes next is on you and I should let the consequences land where deserved. My conscience is clear.”

He stopped by the pillar and extended his hands toward the metal, warming them and enjoying the heat that radiated from it.

“You mean it’s almost clear.”

“It’s clear.” She affirmed.

He turned to face her. “Really? You’re okay with giving this beast an innocent woman every decade or so? For what? Centuries now? That’s what makes for a clear conscience these days?”

Her irritation at his suggestion was evident. “Do not twist my meaning. You know the alternative is far worse.”

“Well, that assumes certain alternatives now, doesn’t it? I’ve come to think there might be other options.”

At this she outright laughed. “Please don’t tell me you’ve gotten it into your fool head to try and kill it.”

Jarl shook his head. “Oh, nothing so simple.”

“Then what? Tell me of your brilliant ideas.”

Jarl sighed. This was the part he knew wouldn’t go over so well. There was no way to make his plan sound better. To do so, he’d have to have an actual plan and not just an idea. He didn’t.

“Do you remember, all those years ago, when the beast was loose upon the world? When we tried every way to kill it and failed. When all of our kin died but us in the endeavor? When we finally set upon seeking terms with the dragon and it agreed. We built it this place, set this signal, and then became the keepers of the contract?”

“Of course.”

“It has been bothering me, for a very long time now, but I think there is something we forgot to do.”

Eliara narrowed her eyes. “Humanity has thrived since the containment of the dragon. For a pittance of life we’ve ensured the safety of generations. What is it you think we did not accomplish?”

“We never took the time to ask it why it wanted what it asked for. Hell, we never even negotiated. We saw the price was so low and did as it asked.”

She nodded. “Yes, exactly! Of course. Only a fool would not have snatched peace at such a bargain.”

“Then I guess I’m a fool.” He craned his neck and looked up at the metal towers, simmering fire, above him. “Call me what you may, but over so many years, even such a small price has begun to wear on me. The older I get, the more I see value in each of them, of their capacity to set things in motion generations after they’re gone. I wonder, sometimes, about the very first woman we gave it. About the children she would have had, and their children, and so on. It’s not just one girl every decade. It’s all the potential within them, and beyond. It is tens of thousands. And I think it knows this.”

Jarl stepped away from the column and stared directly at Eliara. “I can’t do it anymore. It ends. Now.” He said.

She considered his words. “I still don’t understand what you’re planning on doing.”

“I’m going down there to talk to it. I’m going to try and understand it. To renegotiate a new deal that doesn’t involve sacrifice. If I have to, I’ll fight it.”

She cringed at his last words. “You can’t kill it.”

“I know. But we’ve lived a long time. We’re not without magic of our own now. I don’t think it can kill us either.”

She turned from him, looking out at the flat expanse of sea. Night had fallen far enough that the sky and the water blurred into single dark gray palate. Gulls cawed as they headed in for their nests for the evening.

“I’ve felt the burden too, but see no other course. What you suggest, the consequences could be terrible. You’re sure about this?”

Jarl walked up and put his hands on her shoulders, looking out at the waters with her.

“I am. The only thing I’m not sure about is if I’ll be doing it alone or if I’ll have my sister at my side.”

She shook her head in disbelief. “It would seem I’m obligated, wouldn’t it?”

He smiled. “It would seem.”

She took his hand. He was glad for it.

They left the beach and descended into the earth.


 

Image Flash #33

Image Flash #33

5 minYou may notice that this particular Image Flash is a couple days late. Well, that’s on purpose! This one is being released on Valentine’s Day and is about as close to romance as my writing gets these days.


Sister (patient) Valerie was in love.

It wasn’t (was) common for members of the Holy Tabernacle (Warren Asylum) to seek out romantic relationships. They were supposed to be focused on their spiritual selves (mental problems) and not the physical world. It was something Sister (patient) Valerie tried to do, but found herself constantly struggling with. Ever since the visits (shifts) from Hector, acolyte to Elder Antolo (server for lunch meal), had started, she found it impossible to focus. Her mind was filled with nothing but thoughts of them being together, his hands on her body, their flesh intertwined.

She managed to sneak from her prayers (room) one day, intent on declaring her love for him. There was no make-up at the Holy Tabernacle (Warren Asylum), but she did the best she could by letting her hair down, pinching her cheeks, and rubbing a ripe strawberry (bloody cut) on her lips. Her heart fluttered as she approached him that first time.

“I’ve been watching (stalking) you and have something to tell you. I think I love you. I would leave (escape) this place for a chance to share your life (suffering).” She said.

He smiled (frowned). He moved closer (away). He spoke (shouted). “Forever! (Security!)”

While this behavior was scandalous (common) for a Sister (patient), there was precedent (were consequences). The other sisters (asylum doctors) doubled her duties (meds). Despite this, Valerie discovered that it was possible to abandon (escape) the Holy Tabernacle (Warren Asylum). Once a year, on Saint Embers (spring cleaning) Day, any Sister (patient) wishing to leave had only to perform (execute) the right rituals (plan) and she could be free to choose her own path.

Sister (patient) Valerie made her choice. She knew that, though she would be leaving, she was following the will of her Sacred God (demented heart).

As the departure ritual (escape plan) dictated, she put on her best dress and covered her head in a crown of flowers (cage of iron). With the help (corpse) of one of the others (orderlies), she washed her arms in rose water (fresh blood). She took the wine decanter (stolen keys) and went down the hallway to the High Mother’s quarters (Head Directors office). She was sad (surprised) to see her go (there). They drank (fought) and Valerie hugged (choked) her. She took her time, keeping her arms wrapped around her, prolonging the goodbye (murder).

The rest of the day went easier. She went to the chapel (kitchen) and prayed for peace (turned the burners). She lit a candle. She took a blessing amulet (fire axe) from the church altar (emergency stairwell) and showed (used) it to (on) everyone as she made (carved) her way to the exit.

Outside, the wind smelled like summer sap (burning bodies) and freedom (death).

She felt happy and confident.

She set out to find her love.


 

Image Flash #32

Image Flash #32

5 minThere are a few concepts in this little piece that I could easily translate into some sort of strange, science style, horror story. But I’ve got a full plate of work, it’s not something I’ll get to in years, and I can always self-cannibalize my own ideas in the future.

So while the idea could have gone horror, I decided to swing it into something a bit more odd and, dare I say, lighthearted?


Dr. Johnson Momoa was soaking wet as he stood on the doorstep of his colleague, and blackmailer, Dr. Catherine Dunning.

He jabbed the doorbell again and immediately followed the action with a series of kicks to the door itself. He hated being here almost as much as he hated this island, with it’s tempestuous micro-bursts and jungle plant stink.

“I swear to god, Cathy! If you don’t open this damn door, right now, I’m leaving! I don’t give a damn who you tell about my bugs!” He shouted.

He heard the clatter of locks tumbling and the door swung wide. A old man in a lab coat was hunching there, one arm extended to let Dr.Momoa in. He was leaning on a cane, but despite this, had a large drink balanced in that hand. It had three cherries and a lime floating in it, ice-less.

“Bugs, you say?” He squinted. “Insect or germ?”

Dr.Momoa bustled in. “None of your business, Gunderson! Where is she?”

He pulled the door shut. “The lab, the lab. Always the lab.”

The two headed there. Dr.Momoa, himself an old man, didn’t walk much faster than his caned companion, but it was just slightly fast enough to be irritated at having to wait for the man. He did not enjoy the squeaking noise his wet shoes made and the puddles he was leaving. Also, he did not enjoy speaking with people.

“So, she’s got you on a short leash too, eh?” The man babbled. “Me as well. I’m not ashamed to admit it. It turns out that one of the best ways of achieving the type of breakthroughs we need is through mutually assured, global crimes against humanity, threats of exposure.”

Dr.Momoa scowled. “I do not require any help for breakthroughs.”

Dr.Gunderson nodded. “No, I suppose you don’t. It seems the arrangement would benefit some of us more than others. But, it’s all for the good. Well, the subjective good anyway. My projects could certainly be interpreted in a variety of moral ways. Have I told you what I’m working on?”

“I don’t want to talk to you anymore. Please stop.”

The old man huffed. “You certainly can’t keep me from saying what I want. It’s my tongue and I’ll use it when, and where, I see fit. But since you’ve been so rude about it, I don’t think I have anything else to say to you.”

“Good.”

The man stopped. “On second thought, I do have one last thing to say to you. You are a fucker.”

Dr.Momoa didn’t disagree. He left Dr.Gunderson there and enjoyed the silence.

Cathy’s lab (despite professionalism he always thought of her as Cathy and then mentally corrected himself) was, Dr.Momoa noted with disdain, a chaotic mess beyond reconciliation. Small carts, loaded with equipment, littered the aisles, in some cases, eliminating them entirely. Every table was heaped upon with equipment and all the wiring, tubing, venting, and piping that went with it. Clearly, the woman never put away anything and just kept building on the ruins of past projects. She was the vile offspring of Albert Einstein and a junk yard hoarder. He had seen some of the cats he experimented on cough up more organized hairballs. He rounded a bank of Amiga computers (all chugging furiously) and caught sight of her fiddling with a panel that had no less than a thousand color coded wires plugged into it. The old woman was, seemingly randomly, unplugging and inserting connections.

“I’m here, Dr.Dunning!”

She didn’t look away from her work. “Over here.”

He joined her. “I know where you are. What is it that you want?”

She plugged a last connection, looked them over, calculating in her head, and then turned to face him. He was surprised, as he always was, how his mind played tricks on him whenever he saw her and, for a moment, she wasn’t the old woman she was; she was the brilliant, young, blonde he used to know, shining through. Like her name, he pushed it aside.

“Can we get to it already? I don’t have all day.”

She nodded, knocked out of a reverie he hoped was dislike his own. “Right. This way.” She said.

They followed the wires she’d been playing with to a table. A naked man was strapped to it with dozens of electrodes attached to his head, feet, and hands. He was unconscious.

“Volunteer or patient?” Asked Dr.Momoa.

She ignored him. “I’ve been working on targeted cellular transfiguration. Manipulating specific cells to become other types. Bone cells to skin cells, fat cells to brain cells, you get the idea. It’s been working. I can pretty much swap cell types anywhere I want.”

Dr.Momoa knew she was brilliant, but this, this was beyond anything even he had dreamed of! It was the cure for disease, aging, body control. It was, if handled properly, a wide open door to the direct manipulation of the human species.

“My god…”

“It was all going perfectly. Everything I wanted. But then I hit a wall. I’ve lined the patients cardiovascular system with taste buds. When I did, he went into a coma.”

Dr.Momoa blinked in confusion. “You did what?”

“Tastebuds. Veins. He can taste his own blood, everywhere, all the time. Keep up!” She snapped at him.

“But, why would you do that?” He stammered.

She pointed to the sensors on his head, leading to the computer banks. “He’s out cold, but I can see everything going on in his brain. Totally overstimulated in there! Everything is almost working like I want, but I can’t get it right. I need your help.”

Try as he might, Dr.Momoa could not conceive of any good reason to do what she’d done. It was miraculous idiocy. He knew she’s gotten a bit eccentric in her older age, but this was beyond his ability to deal with. He went with his fallback; anger.

“I don’t even know what you’re trying to accomplish with this, Cathy! What the hell do you want from me?”

She looked at him like he was stupid. “Johnson, don’t be so dense! Do I have to explain everything, dummy?”

She leaned over and patted her ‘patient’ on the chest.

“I need you to help me change the flavor!”


 

Image Flash #31

Image Flash #31

5 minI’ve always enjoyed a good cemetery. Doesn’t matter if it’s well groomed or overrun with weeds. I’ve never found them frightening in the slightest. Even on those rare midnight trips to the supposedly haunted variety.

Of course, my personal lack of fear aside, that doesn’t stop me from writing creepy little scenes set in a graveyard!


Terrell Collins unzipped his jacket and let the mid-afternoon breeze flow across him. It flapped, like a tiny cape, at his back. He knew that the unseasonable warmth the wind carried was probably a bad thing, so far into October, but for now he relished the balmy air in his face. It felt good.

“That there, that’s the worst part.” Said Mr.Gregors, pointing to a small, steep divot in the hillside. “I’ve almost tipped the mower there more than once. Not something you’d want to do; roll ass over ears down a hill with the mower blades, now is it?”

Terrell agreed. “No, sir.”

“We’d need five graves for you after that.” He held up his hands, about a foot apart. “Tiny ones. If you get my meaning.” He chuckled.

“I do, sir. Messy.”

“That’s one thing we don’t do around here; messy. You’ve been to other cemeteries?”

“Sure, of course.”

“Then you see the difference?”

Terrell looked around, scanning the landscape. He could see it. The grounds looked a lot more like a botanical garden than an actual graveyard. The lawn was lush and uniform, the bushes were sculpted and groomed, and the trees were the picture of perfect health. There were no old flowers on the graves, or new ones for that matter. The stones themselves were clean, moss-free, and lacking the usual signs of age. It was beautiful and immaculate.

“Sure, I see it. You keep things up really nice here.”

Mr.Gregors looked at Terrell quizzically. “Did they tell you why?”

“I assume they can charge more.”

The old man snorted and continued walking down the paved trail, leading the tour. “Wrong. Cemetery’s closed to new residents. No more room.”

Terrell knew that was the case for a lot of cemeteries. Eventually, they filled up and, unless they expanded, they just got older and older. The kin folk passed on, less family came to visit, and eventually, it was only strangers who came to see the graves. Maybe an odd descendant here and there, but mostly not. Those above were no longer visiting those below out of love, or loss, or longing, but out of a morbid connection to death, or perhaps the past.

Personally, he was relieved. It meant the job wouldn’t have him digging holes, working a back-hoe, and dealing with burials. Funeral arrangements, scheduling, and all that seemed like a pain in the ass to him. Mowing lawns and trimming trees was going to be a hell of a lot easier.

“So, why is it so neat?”

Mr. Gregors turned off the trail and cut across the grass, headed for a row of tall, trimmed, bushes toward the back of the lot. “They vetted you pretty thorough for this job, didn’t they? I bet you assumed that was because you’d be working with dead bodies. Extra careful on account of the valuables they’re buried with. Jewelry and stuff. That it was normal?”

“I figured, yeah.”

“But nobody’s been put into the ground here for forty years. Still make sense to you?”

Terrell had a sinking suspicion that he knew where the old guy was going with this.

“Didn’t you think it was weird, considering what they’d be looking at, that your background check didn’t give you any shit?”

He knew. He had to know or he wouldn’t be talking like this. “I’m just looking to start a future, Mr.Gregors. I guess I was feeling hopeful that whoever let me get this close to the job understood that.”

The man stopped and turned to look at Terrell. “Huh. You’re looking for your future in a graveyard. Interesting.”

Terrell felt his opportunity slipping. “I can do this. I really think I’m the right man for this job. I’m good at keeping up a lawn. This is the same, just bigger.”

“Oh, it’s not exactly the same.”

“Close enough.”

Mr.Gregors looked at him for a while, then turned and kept going in the direction of the hedge. They passed it and hung a left. There was a row of trees, symmetrically placed, graves between them. They followed the hedge and took another left, and another. Terrell expected to be coming back around to where they’d started, but was surprised to find that they were, in fact, in a small, secluded field, ringed in by the decorative trellises and vines. The wind blew through these gently and the sound of the sticks rubbing together made a quiet, grating sound. Without the right sequence of turns, he would have walked past this area and never known it existed. Like a secret room in a house, the landscape had been tailored to obscure this section of the plots.

“That’s a neat trick.” Said Terrell.

“You understand the scenery now?” Asked Mr.Gregors.

Terrell nodded. “Oh yeah. It’s cover and distraction. Nobody’d ever stumble on this by accident.”

He walked over to the gravestones, so white and stark against the vibrant fall colors. They were all blank; no names or dates. Nothing.

“I buried every single person in this cemetery. Did you know that?”

Terrell ran his fingertips along one of the stones. “No. That’s quite an accomplishment. Being the gatekeeper to all that death.”

“Death?” Asked Mr.Gregors.

The wind, so warm and comforting, dropped, and the October chill returned. Terrell realized that the scratching sound, the noise he’d thought was coming from the breeze and branches in the trellis, hadn’t stopped.

“Who said anything about them being dead?”