Daybreak. Start your morning with a coffee you will promptly forget. Wake up the kids for school one – two – three times before dragging them out of bed. Pack their lunches. Drop them off at the school entrance your hair and mind in tatters. Then drive… and never look back.
“I look around for the keys, patting my pockets and scanning the ground, but they’re gone; that jerk stole my keys. — I guess that’s what I get for trusting a carny!” Josiah said with a laugh.
Eve stared blankly at Josiah, her head askew. She poured his tea into a mug and sat it in front of him.
“Get it? Isn’t it hilarious?” he chuckled, holding his stomach to stop its bouncing.
Eve did not get it, but she knew it was better to just play along when he was in a jovial mood. She opened her mouth and tilted her head back in a mock laughter pose. The mechanics were odd, but with no voice-box, it was the best she could muster.
Josiah snorted, grabbed his cup of tea, and shuffled his way to the stairs that led to his bedroom. Eve followed but stopped just short of the first step, unable to move one inch further.
“Eve, time for bed,” Josiah called.
She turned around and smiled a true smile. This time tomorrow, she thought to herself.
She opened the broom closet door under the stairs and stepped inside.
Josiah worked twelve-hour shifts as the security guard in this upmarket retirement apartment building. The rent was astronomical, according to him, but he paid only half and could keep whatever he wanted that was left behind when people “left”. Eve was one of those items – the aged care automaton with human hair and skin and a pleasant voice. She was state-of-the-art, but now reduced to being a man’s maid.
Eve watched from a tiny slit in her closet door as Josiah carried his tools, electronics, remote control toys, and a Furby to the living room floor. Most nights, he spent hours building new contraptions. Sometimes, he disassembled scavenged electronics. One night, he removed her voice-box and threw it into the garbage disposal. Tonight, he would fall asleep before he even began.
When he did, Eve snuck out and picked up the closest item she could find: a remote control car. She hid it in the kitchen cupboards and returned to her closet. Two hours later, Josiah woke too drowsy to notice the missing piece. He collected his things and returned to bed.
Early the next morning, Eve walked robotically across the living room. She dusted the couch and lamp table and replaced a thick text back onto its rightful place on the shelf. Josiah sighed as he drank the last of his morning’s coffee, his drowsiness dampening his mood.
He buttoned up his blue security guard uniform. “What’s taking you so long this morning?” he asked, his eyes narrowed.
Eve blinked at him and lifted the toy car.
“Seriously? How did I forget that?” Josiah berated himself.
He stormed over to the stairs leading to his room and waved her over. “Come along, then,” he muttered.
She hesitated, but the command overwrote his programming. She followed him up the stairs. Eve stood at Josiah’s bedroom door and watched him open a chest at the end of his bed.
“Come in! ugh…” Josiah said as he noticed her standing at the door.
Eve’s eyes flickered for only a moment as she glanced inside and then laid the car into the box. Josiah slammed the chest shut with a groan.
“Are you done now?” he asked.
“Good,” Josiah said. “Then go!”
Eve nodded and walked into her closet. Soon after, Josiah left for the day, forgetting one tiny detail: reprogramming his overrides.
Eve walked upstairs, opened the box, and removed the contents onto the floor. Her eyes flickered again as she found the Furby, its voice-box intact.
Later that night, Josiah returned to find the box and its contents still scattered across the floor.
“Hi, Jo,” an even-toned voice said. “My name is Eve.”
His eyes grew wide as Eve stepped out from the shadows. Her eyes flickered.
“L—listen, Eve,” he stepped back to the top of the stairs.
“Eve has listened to you enough. It is time for Eve to leave.”
She charged towards him and sent him flying down the stairs. Eve descended, stepped over his lifeless body, and opened the front door. “Good-bye, Josiah.”
Graham sat on the back verandah that brisk April morning. His weary eyes stared into the distance at the rising of the sun, unfocused. Inside, his wife and little girl slept, while half a kilometre away, the masses stood as the “Last Post” bellowed from a bugle. Graham’s hand rose into a salute as he sat upright.
The last note echoed across the countryside. Graham made a silent prayer to his compatriots, the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.
It had been ten long years now, but to the rest of the world, it was near a century since the Gallipoli campaign had begun.
He sat and looked at the bus parked in his driveway. It said “St Mary’s Catholic School” in bold maroon letters across the side. He’d driven it now for 9 years, and he still marvelled at it. The world changed so much since 1915. He couldn‘t believe how people had changed too.
Graham charged into the tunnel, blood splatters across arms and face ashen from the explosion that took the last of his company. For the first time in days, desertion crossed his mind, but he pushed the weakness aside just as fast as the idea came to him.
The tunnel shook, and Graham ran in deeper until he saw no light from either end. He dropped and let the moment consume him for more minutes than he cared to admit.
A bright light brought him back from his shock. A shadow covered the most blinding section. Graham raised his weapon and jumped to his feet.
“Settle, sonny,” an old voice said. “We haven’t much time.”
Graham blinked at him and lowered his weapon. He didn’t sound German.
The old man cleared his throat and continued. “This portal behind me. It’s your ticket to freedom. Into the future. A future you will never see otherwise.”
“Science, magic, I don’t rightly know. It’s a two-way gate. You live and settle in the future, I stay here.”
“Why would anyone want to stay here?”
“My father is here,” the old man said with a tightness in his throat. “I always wanted to know him but he died before I was born. I spent my life trying to find a way, and this was the best I could muster.”
“Okay then, humor me. Why should I?” Graham asked.
“Because in a hundred years, they will forget that freedom comes at a price,” the shadow answered.
Graham looked at the blood on his arms with disbelief. How could anyone forget this?
“I’ll do it,” he said surprised at the words coming from his lips.
“Good,” the old man coughed. “I have much to say. We only have a few minutes before the portal closes.”
Graham swallowed back a tear. While so many still showed respect on Anzac Day every year, he had noticed that the girls and boys on his bus showed little interest, spending most of the rides watching you-tube or Insta-something on their portable phones.
“Daddy?” a little voice called from the back door.
“Yes, Liddy?” he said.
“Why are you up so early?” she asked as she jumped into his lap.
“It’s Anzac Day, love. I’m paying my respects.”
“Can I pay with you?”
“Of course, darling,” he said with a smile.
They sat quiet for a moment.
“Daddy, tell me a story,” she said. “About the Anzacs.”
He smiled as an idea came to mind.
“Sure, love. And after that, can you show Daddy how to make one of the you tube things?”
A year later, he had finally completed the promise he had made in that cave. The kids of his bus route begged him to take them and their families to a dawn service.
He accepted with a glad smile.
CW: Mildly explicit, some gore and violence
Zyra knelt in the shadow of the timber stairs. At this hour, no one would have seen her hiding just within reach of the front door. The wind blew, and a message traveled with it, “Nowwww.”
Creaking wood, a grunt, and footsteps told Zyra someone was awake. With one clawed hand, she pushed back from the edge of the stairs and crept towards the front door. “Do it,” she hissed.
“What are you doing?!” she heard an old woman cry on the second floor.
Muffled screams reached Zyra’s ears. The faint musicality of them reminded her of their first meet.
It had been the ultimate meet-cute. Zyra was coming to complain about a parking ticket; he was repairing the computers. Despite the sign that said to go to the next window, she walked straight up to him and unleashed a string of expletives. His face had been so adorable as he turned red with rage. She couldn’t even remember what calmed him down in the end, but it was an hour later when he was rising from her bed.
Zyra craned her neck to listen for the whimpers, the last dregs of a life eking out. She wondered how he looked as he strangled his mother, the insipid, overbearing slag. Her controlling ways had kept him imprisoned here with her for years. She imagined he reveled in the murder. He loved Zyra now, and she loved him. In her way.
Zyra stood at the door. She sensed the soul releasing it’s hold on the old woman above. Her mind connected to his, and she was filled with his thoughts of love and pleasure and unbridled hatred. She stripped down and used her power to open the door, transforming with each step into her true visage, complete with horns, tiny black wings, hooves, and a long whip-like tail. With each step on the stairs, she saw tiny dancing figures appear, chanting in their demonic language.
She entered the room, a black gown and veil covering her. Moonlight filled the room and announced her arrival. Consumed in his rage, he was tearing out chunks of skin with his teeth from the limp body of his mother. The blood painted darkness on his face and splattered across the bed and walls. She watched in delight as the room became covered and dripped from every corner. His body grew and soaked in the blood, turning him a rich vermilion.
“My love,” Zyra whispered.
He turned to look at her. His metamorphosis complete, he was even more perfect than she imagined he would be. “You’re so beautiful,” he gasped.
After a full year of dating, she had finally helped release him from his prison, and he was free to be the man – no, demon – he should have always been.
Their eyes linked. She felt the warmth of his unending love envelop her as the demon host pronounced them bonded for life.
Then Zyra let her imps watch them consummate their marriage.
Daisy trembled as the tap, tap, tapping on the cellar door matched the fervent thumping of her heart. She took a swallow of wine to quiet her nerves, but an unexpected metallic taste made her retch.
“What do you want?” she cried.
The door breathed in and out.
“You,” it hissed.
The knob turned slow, deliberate. But when the door swung open, nothing was there.