This story at Fictionpress
Also included this week
Hunting the Frilljaw: Sci-fi. Safari across multiple worlds.
Wildflower Blues: Horror. "In those days, the only fever that she had was in her dreams."
Secret Life: Chapter one. Sci-fi horror. "He is afraid. Afraid that he knows why he is here."
A Story Across Years
Chapter one: Bedtime Story
But I can't sleep, you cry, and I swear, there are such things that I want to do to you, girl. You could at least go back to your room and stay in your bed, and not bother me. Just because you can't sleep doesn't mean I'm not allowed to, either.
But I reign in my temper, sigh, let the frustration out. The punishments don't mean anything if the bruises never have time to fade away. You'd just get used to them, like I did, and I may not dislike it like some might say I should, but I still never do it except when you've truly done wrong, when you need the lesson imprinted on your mind so that you don't get yourself killed. These streets are mean, girl. Better that I hurt you a little bit, than that someone out there does. They'll do more than just hit you, and they'll take more than just your money.
So what do I usually do, in these situations? The same as always. Anything else, and you would be locked in your room, or worse. That's always worked, for the little things, when you don't listen, or you rebel a little bit.
Faa-therr! I can't sleeeep. Tell me a story?
But tradition must be observed. You'll go to sleep, soon enough, I know. Hell if I know how this started. "Then will you go off to bed?"
Yes! you squeal, with glee.
Shaking my head, I get out of bed, and pull on a shirt, and you say Wheee! as I pick you up, and bring you over to the sitting room. You're heavier than you were, a few years ago.
"What story would you like to hear tonight?"
The one with… The one with Skeleton Scott, and the— The same answer, every time, although sometimes, like now, you choke a little bit on it. I think it scares you. I don't go into details, but there's still another reason why you might be scared. Even the barest story can be scary, if it's true.
"Alright then." Why ask you, when I know what it'll be?
Tradition, of course. I wonder when it started.
I hit the stereo, to turn on something low, to drown out the screeching cars outside, so that we don't have to hear the yells and screams, and only the occasional gunshot ever intrudes in on us, a reminder that there is indeed an outside, but it's okay, because nobody ever tries to come in here.
"It wasn't that long ago," I begin. "Just seven years ago. There was a mother, and a father, and their little daughter. The little girl's father was a copper."
This little place just has that sort of reputation. It's an old house, and I have more than added to its reputation, in years gone by. I got it because of you. The litter on the streets, the blood staining the sidewalk three blocks west of here since last Tuesday, the broken windows and the low, tired way that everyone carries themselves— it'll remind you of the world. No illusions. No difference between any of them. Vigilantes, boys in blue, criminals, all in uniforms, costumes. Reach out and seize the day. That's my girl.
"He was… Maybe he was a stupid man. Or he was just too principled. It's hard to tell. But he wouldn't give up. Skeleton Scott was a reasonable man. He offered to pay off the girl's father, he did everything he could, because while he liked killing very much, killing was messy, and caused problems, and Scott didn't kill unless it was necessary, though he always savored it when he had to do it. A practical man, who enjoyed his business, but who did not indulge too much."
Despite myself, I actually care for you. I think I first realized this about five years ago. You're not mine, of course. Not mine. It took a little while to actually care about you. Sometimes I wonder if I'm doing this for purely sentimental reasons, to do right where my parents didn't.
My leg hurts sometimes, but it has healed, mostly, from when he hit it. I barely ever notice it, and it's only pain. I can still move more than well enough.
"But the man wouldn't listen to reason. He continued his crusade, relentless in his attempt to see Skeleton Scott behind bars. But not even the vigilantes were able to catch him. They tried, of course, but all there would be to show for their efforts was a bloody mask left on the steps to the copper's house. A warning. Skeleton Scott gave him so many warnings, but one day, the man came too close to catching Scott, and then, there was nothing at all to be done about it, except for one thing.
"He broke into the house. He killed the copper fast enough, and it was unfortunate, perhaps, but the girl's mother was there, too, and what was necessary was necessary. Perhaps he enjoyed it, but that wasn't why he did it. But he hadn't expected the girl.
"He knew what would happen, if he left the girl alive. She'd grow up hating him, and it was even odds that she would try to succeed where her father failed. A mere mugging had made The Face's worst enemy. There was nothing more dangerous than an orphan whose parents had been murdered before her very eyes. She had to go. But then a thought occurred to him. He could let her live, if he took her with him. He could watch over her, and if she grew to hate him, he could kill her."
Foolish Scott. He was just as stupid as the girl's father. It's hard to raise a child and still be able to kill her.
And Skeleton Scott took her home.
I move on to another story, and another, and soon enough, you fall asleep, and soon enough, I follow you.