ASHLEY LAYCO - SHORT-STORIES (PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED IN DOWN IN THE DIRT MAGAZINE)
Ashley Layco is currently attending Full Sail University majoring in Creative Writing for Entertainment. When not writing, she is either playing Taiko, at the gym or binging on Netflix (the current obsession is 'Creeped Out' and 'Riverdale').
“I guess tonight’s the night.”
Takeshi stood in front of the stove, staring at the pictures that surrounded him. The pictures of his parents, family, and other loved ones. However, the cold air in the room creeped into the picture frames and froze the glass, making it nearly impossible to see the warm faces underneath.
Takeshi sighed and looked down at the stove. Placed on it was a pan with a few pieces of coal on it. He grabs a coal and lifts it up to his face to inspect it. They were smooth…for now. In a few seconds, they would heat up and lose their solid structure, turning into the smoke that would allow Takeshi himself to be released from his solid prison and into the world beyond. He reaches for the knob, heart racing with excitement until…
Knock knock knock
He sighs and walks to the door. He opens it and looks around. Nobody. Irritated, Takeshi goes to close the door, but a glint of light near his feet prompts him to look down. When he does, his eyes widen in surprise. Sitting on his steps was a box, taped together with duct tape. Takeshi reaches down to carry it in and is surprised at how heavy it is. He opens it, revealing its contents: a vintage camera. He runs his hands along it, feeling the smooth leather casing. He grabs it, causing the room around him to turn white.
“Hey, what’s going on?” Takeshi says, “Answer me!”
“Welcome to Yamamoto and friends, LLC!” a voice says, “You have been selected to go on a trip to a randomized planet to take pictures! Good luck and have fun!”
“Wait, what?” he says before the room starts to disappear, the white walls slowly morphing, turning more and more blue. Eventually, blue clouds his senses. When it does, he starts to fall…fall…fall…
Eventually he stops. Looking down, he realizes he is floating.
“Hmm…I don’t think that’s normal,” he says out loud.
“No, no it’s not,” a voice says.
Takeshi turns around to see an old man limping towards him. He was a bald man, save for a few wisps of hair. He held a light blue cane that matched his deep, blue eyes.
“Welcome to Neptune,” the man said, “This here planet is the farthest from the sun, really cold and really, really windy! But enough of that, get to taking those pictures!”
Takeshi raises the camera to his face and begins to take pictures. Of the deep ocean blues, the cloudy whites, and everything in between. The wind whipped up around him, causing the beads around the old man’s cane to jingle in the wind. In the distance, thunder struck. But Takeshi continued to take pictures. To document this wonderful place in the galaxy. This wonderful storm. However, as he continued to take pictures, he felt a nudge. And then another, and another.
“What the hell is nudging me?” Takeshi says, looking up from the camera.
The man smiled. “It seems that the camera wants you to see something. You should see where it takes you,” he says.
Takeshi sighs, and lets the camera nudge him away. Away from the light blues, and whites and to the greys and darkest blacks. From a wonderful storm to a disastrous one. To a storm that rattled your bones and froze your heart.
“Interesting,” the man says, “The Great Dark Spot of Neptune. As an anticyclone, it only looks evil and vile, but look closely.”
Takeshi squints his eyes. He saw the thunderstorms and rain around him, so very scary and dark. But as he looked closer and closer towards him, he saw that the storms subsided, to be replaced with calm silence. As he focused on the happenings closest to him, the clap of thunder from the distance became quieter and quieter.
The old man smiled. “It’s not as bad as you thought, was it not?”
Takeshi nods. “I guess so.”
The man smiles. “Exactly. Remember that for when you feel lost in the world, for when you feel like ending it all. The storm within you is only as strong as you let it be.”
Takeshi smiles. “Thanks,” he says.
The man pats Takeshi on the shoulder. “Well then, I think that’s enough photos for today, so please hand me the camera and we will be mailing your check in 5-7 business days.”
Takeshi hands the man the camera and the world around him starts to fade. The grey wispy clouds took form, turning into the various bookcases in his apartment. Eventually, Takeshi was put back on solid ground in his kitchen. He looked up at the pictures above his stove. The frost that once covered the picture frames were gone, and Takeshi could now see the faces underneath. His mother and father…he hadn’t contacted them for ages. He hoped that they were okay, that work wasn’t taking too much of their time. He saw his brothers, his confidants and best friends. He also hadn’t contacted them for a while. He hoped that high school was going well for them. It was then that he had a strong urge to call them all. To hear their voice, get an update on them and know that they were ok. To arrange a time with them to meet up and talk about all the things in their life that he had missed. Eventually, he walks away from the kitchen to the phone, and dials a number. After a short dial tone, Takeshi’s mother answers the phone.
“Hi, mom,” Takeshi says, “How are you?”
The coal was left forgotten.
“Well darn, I have no idea what that thing is, and frankly, I don’t care what that thing is,” Papa said. He reclined his seat back and focused on the TV. Wheel of fortune was playing.
Granny looked up from her bible. “Buddy, honey, the only reason you don’t care is because you’re too focused on your albino cows,” she said.
Papa slammed his fist into the recliner arm. “Dammit, Irene, they are not albino cows! Those spots don’t just disappear! And on top of that, I lost one yesterday! I bet it has something to do with that damn half-wolf.”
I bookmark my spot in my biology book and close it. “You do have a theory about the wolf.”
Papa scrunched his nose together. “Maybe I do, but it’s not gonna-” Papa stops and looks around. “Did you hear that?”
Granny and I approach the door. It was so quiet that you could hear the cows breathing. But with that was another sound. The sound of water dripping on hay.
“Dammit, it looks like the pipe got loose again,” I said.
Papa closed the recliner. “That god damn pipe, I swear, when my leg heals-”
“Yes, when your leg heals,” I say. “I got it, Papa,” I say. I grab the flashlight, screwdriver, and swing the shotgun over my shoulder before going out into the darkness.
I go outside and put on my shoes. They had holes in it, but they were strong and sturdy. I walk down the stairs and approach the pipe. I shine a light on it. The pipe was old, and rusted, but it was leak free, which meant…
I clicked the flashlight off and grabbed the shotgun, pointing it in front of me. My heart began to race and my palms started to sweat. I inched more into the barn, towards the cows. The sound of water increased as I approached the back of the barn. The cows were not sleeping. They were huddled in one corner. I took a step forward and gasped. Liquid poured into my shoes, getting into my socks. I smiled and swung the shotgun onto my back. I approach the corner of the barn and shine the light. When I clicked it on, the smile on my face disappeared.
In front of me was one of my dad’s precious cows. Its skin was pure white, except for some spots on its shoulders. However, even that was disappearing. It was as if the black was being sucked right out of her. The culprit of this was standing on her. It was human-sized, but it was furry and had a tail. It had to be one of those half-wolf things. It continued to ‘feast’ on the cow. I reached for the shotgun, pointing it in front of me before shining the light on the beast.
The wolf falls off the cow, causing the cow to run back to safety with the rest of the herd. I watch as the wolf gets up. It stares the light, and then…
“Can you stop shining that damn light in my face?” it says, covering its eyes.
“You can speak?” I say.
The wolf chuckles. “Of course I can speak, what do you think I-” the wolf gasps. “Oh my god, are these your cows?”
“No, but these are my dad’s cows.”
The wolf claps both hands over its face. “Oh god, I was just trying to get rid of their demons and I forgot to close the door of the barn so one of them ran away. I tried looking-”
“Ah, yes, whoops, wasn’t supposed to tell the living that. Anyways, yes, demons. But don’t worry about it because I got them all out,” the wolf says, patting its chest.
“You got them all out? What about this stuff?” I say, gesturing at the puddle underneath me.
The wolf’s eyes widen. “Fuck! I’m so sorry for getting the gunk all over the place, its my first week and management just threw my ass out here without even an instruction manual!”
The wolf sticks its hand out and siphons the rest of the black liquid through its hand.
I shake my head. “It’s alright, I guess I’ll just leave you-”
“No wait!” The wolf says, sticking out its other hand at me. “I made a mistake in telling you about the demons, so I’ll help you out. Give you a little ‘hush-money’, so to speak.”
The wolf raises both of its hands and rubs them together. It then places it on the ground, causing the ground to hum. After a few seconds, the wolf stands up, smiling.
“Get outta here, your gift is outside,” the wolf says.
I go outside of the barn and see nothing. Nothing but the full moon, the corn crops and the forest beyond. But then, the ground begins to gurgle. As I walk closer to the corn fields, the sound gets louder.
“Here, girl, start digging,” the wolf says, throwing me a shovel.
I dig, and it doesn’t take long until I find what the source of the gurgling is. Black substance begins to pool out of the ground, soaking my wet shoes even more. The smell was unmistakable. It was oil.
“Go get you and your family a nice house somewhere…anywhere but here,” the wolf says.
I drop the shovel and run into the house to give the good news. Grannie bursts out of the house, squeaking about living in the Bahamas. I help Papa out of the house. When I open the door, Grannie is near the oil well, jumping up and down.
Papa smiles. “Looks like I’ll be able to get this leg fixed earlier than I thought,” he says, limping down the stairs.
I walk down the stairs, soggy socks leaving black footmarks. At the bottom of the stairs are a pair of shiny new black boots and socks. The wolf is nowhere to be found.
MATTHEW MCAYEAL - CURRENT AFFAIRS
Matthew McAyeal is a writer from Portland, Oregon. His short stories have been published in the literary magazines "Bards and Sages Quarterly", "Fantasia Divinity Magazine", "cc&d", "The Fear of Monkeys", "The Metaworker", "Danse Macabre", "Scarlet Leaf Magazine", and "Bewildering Stories." In 2008, two screenplays he wrote were semi-finalists in the Screenplay Festival.