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The Poisoned Child

This is the continuation of the story The Poison Shop but I hope it will stand up pretty well on its own as well.

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The Poisoned Child

I cannot die.

Blessing or curse, it is who I am now. My life stands like an iron spike driven into the rock, while countless souls tumble around me like grains of sand driven by the waves. They stay for a moment until the next wave crashes in; they are gone in an instant, but I am always left.

But I am not the only one.

I wake up in the poison shop to find that I have been dead for a little over eight hours. The poison I used was powerful and now my body is stiff and painful. Shop Tender gives me a look of I-told-you-so as I put the syringe on the counter and shuffle away.

I find Terc in her library, halfway through a stack of Chinese literature books. Each of us spends our sleepless, deathless existence in a different way. I poison myself to find the last shreds of that other world of dreams; Terc studies. She looks up at me with eyes that have been tired for centuries.

“I was at the poison shop,” I say. She waits for the news. “I glimpsed the future. Really,” I add, at the doubting twist of her mouth. “I saw the calendar.”

She slips me a patient smile, then turns back to her page of dense Chinese script. “You can’t trust your perceptions in that state. It’s dangerous to go down that rabbit hole of either trying to prevent the future or confirm it. Remember Ram.”

“I know,” I say. “I’m not going to go like Ram. But still . . . I saw a girl lying in the hall of an orphanage. She was poisoned. It seemed significant.”

“But you don’t know the name or any specific information,” she says, with assurance. I shake my head. “It was a dream, Shah. Nothing more.”

“I know. Still . . . how many orphanages in this city have iron gates in front of them?”

She gives a noise of annoyance but then closes her eyes. I see her eyes moving back and forth under her papery lids as she counts. “Only two that I know of,” she says. “Draw out what you saw and I can tell you which one it is. They are different styles.”

I smile but she just shakes her head, telling me it won’t be worth it. For a split second, the image of hot-blooded, passionate Terc invades my mind: Terc as she was before the fatigue of interminable time bore her down. The memories and their intertwined sensations blaze for a moment in my mind, but as always I push them down. I make myself forget.

iron fence

St. Benedict of Nursia’s Home for Orphaned Children. It is the next day and I am standing outside the very gates that I saw in my death-vision. The sight fills my mind with an insane elation. In my vision, I had walked through the gates, but here in real life, I ring the bell and it clangs unpleasantly. A moment later, a matron appears at the door. She is the woman I saw in my vision, standing over the child and screaming. She comes to the gate but doesn’t open it.


“I am looking for a child, a girl.”

“What’s her name?”

“I don’t know, but I would know her face if I saw it. Can I come in and look at the children, or even at pictures?”

Her face is a wall, refusal so evident that she does not even need to voice the words.

“Please,” I say, holding her eye and silently beseeching her to come around to my way of thinking. “She is someone important to me. I just need a few minutes.”

“I’ll let you look at pictures,” she says after a moment, opening the gate. “Come this way.” I can be very persuasive if I want to be.

Mother Cecilia—for this is how she introduces herself—leads me to her office and around behind her mahogany desk, an island of luxury in the ascetically bare surroundings. Soon, pictures of thin, unsmiling children are flitting across the computer screen. After a hundred or more—Terc would have known exactly—they end.

“She’s not there,” I say. “Are these all the children in the orphanage?”

Her clumsy attempts to mask her expression tell me everything. “Please show me the others,” I say.

“There is only one other,” she says finally and opens up another folder. A moment later, the picture of the poisoned girl appears on the screen and I nod in confirmation. “What do you know of Theresa?” she asks.

“I know she is possibly in trouble,” I say. “How old is she?”

“She’s ten,” Mother Cecilia says. Why must people lie, especially when they are terrible at it?

I take a chance. “She is not ten,” I say. “She is much older than that, isn’t she?”

Her face flushes. “Who are you really?”

Later, I cannot remember exactly what I say. My lies are not memorable, but they are wonderfully effective in the moment. I play on the fact that Theresa is in danger and that I am—somehow—her only hope. “You must help me,” I say in closing, emphasizing the must. “How old is she really?”

I lie much better than Mother Cecilia. She nods. “I do not know how old she is, but they say she came here in 1840, just after the orphanage opened. At that time, the records say she looked about seven or so. If she ages, it is extremely slowly. We view her as a miracle. People come to pray over her. Some claim she can prolong the lives of others as well.”

So, she is one of us, I think. And a child, no less. I had not known there were any children. My vision was indeed significant. At my request, Mother Cecilia fetches all the records on Theresa.

“It says that her mother’s name was Harriet Velmann,” Mother Cecilia says. Then, “Sir, are you okay?”

“I apologize, I suddenly got dizzy. That never happens to me.” None of it is a lie, nor is the reason for my sudden reaction, a truth that is more unbelievable than any lie I could have told her. I knew Harriet Velmann once, when her tiny grain of sand was whirling momentarily through time past me. Oh, how I knew her, in that desperate, hopeless way when we fight against the inevitable.

And now I know why my vision is significant, because poor, orphaned, soon-to-die Theresa is my daughter.


(to be continued soon)

The Poison Shop

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The Poison Shop

“What’s your poison?” Shop Tender asks, his face a winter of expression. Years of truth spoken ironically have effaced any natural emotion.

“Talon-4,” I say.

His face does not even twitch, but a pause shows his surprise. “You sure? I ain’t paying to get your rigor-mortass carted away.”

“No fear.”

He types in the charge—$4300—and I look into the green LED on the bar. I get a brief mental image of the amount before the light blinks, transaction complete. Mr. Tender places a thin purple vial and compressed air injector on the counter.

“Syringe, please.”

Finally, a smile cracks the frozen line of his mouth. “Hipster.”

I get my syringe and take it and the vial back to a dark corner. A couple other patrons are about, lying dead to the world in various positions of repose.

I don’t like the dull emptiness of air injectors. I need that small prick of pain, a last quivering match-flame of life, before all goes black. I feel the dull burn begin as the poison starts to work through my system. It spreads like a black glow through my veins and I can feel the world wavering. I have sworn before that I have heard the last thump of my heart before it stops beating but this time I am sure of it. It sounds like a final drumbeat before the silence settles in and oblivion cascades over my senses.

I never know how long the darkness lasts, in that middle-world devoid of sensation, but after what seems like soon, the mist begins to burn away and I am standing on a dim street near a iron-fenced orphanage. The death-euphoria is building and I practically skip as I walk through the fence and the wall of the building. The weather is sepulchral, but in my mind, it is the first of June.

iron fence

I do not have a plan, but the death-euphoria gives a sense of purpose to any action and so in the universe of my mind, I am on a quest, and discovering it moment by moment. Every detail seems significant—every stone and errant leaf preordained for this moment.

In the lobby, a woman is screaming noiselessly, like a TV on mute. A child is lying on the floor, her lips a familiar grey and her eyes large and bulging. Based on her appearance, I could name all five of the possible poisons that killed her, although they are all rare enough that I wonder how she got it. More children peek in arrested horror through the upstairs banister. Several people are talking on phones, silently pleading urgency. I notice a calendar on the wall.

For a moment, nothing seems strange, until I notice that it is for one month in the future. The death-euphoria is wearing off, and I feel my mind begin that slow, sickening knotting that precedes revival. I begin telescoping, the rest of my vision skewing into the periphery as my eyes burn into the calendar. It’s wrong, wrong. This is the future. My mind starts telescoping too, with those two words banging like a gong in my head: WRONG. FUTURE. WRONG. FUTURE. WRONG WRONG WRONG.

I open my eyes to find myself in the dark corner of the poison shop. My spirit is filled and slopping over with the noxious effects of after-death. Nothing lasts forever for those such as I, not even death.

(to be continued soon)

Raise a Glass for the Phoenix

This story is based on a real place. There is a restaurant in my city called the Phoenix that is shaped like a huge sailing ship. It caught fire about 12 years ago and now just stands there, abandoned and left as it was on the day of the fire.

dim bar

“Raise a glass for the Phoenix.” I heard glasses clink.

The bar was dim but I could see a small group of older men hunched together around a table. The empty glasses on the table showed they had already been drinking heavily for some time.

I should have left it alone, should have gone back to my drink and cell phone game and continued waiting for my friend to arrive. Still, I have a need to know, like a compulsion. When people say “curiosity killed the cat,” I reply, “Yeah, but at least he died satisfied.” That’s my motto.

“Excuse me, I said, sidling up. “I know this is impossibly rude, but I’ve heard the name Phoenix several times before. I was wondering what it meant.”

The men looked up at me, giving me a stony glare that showed I was interrupting and not welcome. Then one of them spoke. “You’re not from here, are you?”

“I moved here six months ago.”

The men looked around at each other. A few had doubtful expressions. “I’ll tell you,” one of them said finally.

“You really going to do this, Ryan?” one of the other men asked.

“Sure, why not? We need more for the party, right?” The other man shrugged, drained his glass, and then he and another left.

“Don’t mind them,” Ryan said. “So, a drink?”

“Yeah, sure,” I said. He signaled the bartender, who brought me a beer in a tall glass.

“For the Phoenix,” Ryan said and we dutifully clinked glasses all around the table. He waited until I had taken a drink before beginning.

“It’s a restaurant,” Ryan said. “The Phoenix. It was, at least. It was way out in the middle of the forest, all by its lonesome. It looked like a big old sailing ship, always in full sail, never moving. The owner, Brett Narrock, was that weird mix of hermit and exhibitionist. The restaurant was just like him: a kind of Vegas built out in the mountains.”

I still didn’t see what was so special about it that it required constant toasts.

“Did you go there a lot?” I asked.

“Go there?” Ryan said, looking surprised. “No, the guest list was very exclusive and by reservation only. I hear that they booked months ahead. No, I was a chef there, the sous-chef under a man named Balodis. The slogan of the Phoenix was: ‘Be Reborn’ but Balodis would always say, ‘When pleasure is old, when the perverse is banal, when the shocking makes you yawn, come to the Phoenix.’”

Ryan brought his face closer to mine and I smelled the sour alcohol on his breath and saw the white-stubbled wrinkles of his cheeks. It was the face of experience. “We made things in that kitchen that defied reason, even sanity,” he said. “It wasn’t about nourishment or any sort of satisfaction of the stomach, it was about experience, titillation, and novelty. Culinary miracles, or nightmares came out it into the dining room. There were bowls of live meal worms that burst in a puff of glowing narcotic when you bit them; potatoes grown on blood; and strange, chemical cocktails tailored to produce specific emotions. One of the appetizers we made was a bowl of chocolates where every fifth one was poisoned. Balodis said a lethal dose was five.”

“And the customers knew you were doing this?” I asked.

Ryan nodded. “Oh, they knew. They paid a lot of money for it. Every night you would see them drive up in their black cars to the underground reception area, or be shuttled in by limo from the helipad.”

“It must have been huge,” I said.

Ryan shook his head. “Not really. It could probably hold a hundred people, may a few more. The clientele was ultra elite. It was nice enough, but it wasn’t covered with gold and jewels, or anything. The customers had all those things already. That’s not why they came.”

“So why did they come?” I asked.

“Unpredictability, loss of control,” Ryan said. “Nothing was the same from one night to another. One night the meals were free, the tables were naked women and the aperitifs were shots of squid ink; the next night, each meal cost five thousand dollars, there was a live tiger roaming the room and the hostess slapped them in the face when they walked in. They lived for that kind of unpredictability.

“Narrock, the owner, gave them everything they wanted and more. He and Balodis were of the same mind about things: both obsessed with pushing things further, trying to find the last untasted experience.”

He paused and took a drink. The story seemed to be over, so I pressed him. “So, what happened to it? They couldn’t have just closed it down after all that?”

Ryan shook his head. “No, there was a fire one night in the kitchen. Balodis was experimenting with some sort of combustible chemical. The whole place went up quickly and spread out into the dining area. Fitting end for a place called the Phoenix.”

Ryan stopped and on an impulse, I raised my glass again. “Well, here’s to the Phoenix. It must have been a hell of a place.”

The others just stared at me and I saw open hostility in more than a few of their faces. “What do you mean by that, exactly?” Ryan asked.

“I—just that it sounds like quite a place.” I felt as if I’d misjudged the situation somehow.

“Weren’t you listening?” one of the other men asked. “The place really was hell. Ryan left out most of the terrible stuff, but I was a waiter there: I know. They tortured animals; they even killed people. They had this place in the middle called the Pit. Once it was glassed in and filled with water for a shark fight. A girl fell in and got torn apart. No one tried to help her. They said it was an accident, but I don’t think so. They once set a live cow on fire and just sat and watched as it crashed around, burning. When it was dead, they cut it up and served the raw, smoking flesh to the diners. There was worse, but I’m not about to speak the words. The nightmares are bad enough.”

“But, then why did you toast it?” I asked. “I thought you liked it.”

“I’ve never hated a place worse in my life,” Ryan said. “After the fire, Narrock tried to rebuild but by then the area had had enough of him and they refused. Before he left, he said, ‘When the party starts to die down, the Phoenix will rise again.’ I don’t know what he meant by that, but it was the sort of cryptic thing he would say. We just started toasting it, hoping that would be enough to keep the Phoenix down. It might seem like superstition but you didn’t know Brett Narrock.

“Where was the Phoenix, anyway?” I asked.

Ryan just shook his head, as if to say, young people these days. “You want to go there, after all I’ve told you?” I nodded. “If you want to go bad enough, you’ll find it. But I won’t tell you. And if you go, if you wake up the spirit of that place, then don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Moonlit Phoenix

The Phoenix

(I should have listened to him, of course, but I was younger and cockier then. The story continues, soon.)


No Joke: Three Men Walk into a Bar

I don’t usually do the Daily Prompts, but this one caught my eye.


Three men walk into a bar…

…and stop at the sight of four figures in a tense standoff.

One man is holding a .45 caliber pistol. He is wearing a rattlesnake skin jacket and has a patch over one eye. His hand is steady and he has the look of a killer. A briefcase bulging with cash is open at his elbow.

The second figure is a woman holding a rocket launcher, and swiveling it rapidly back and forth between the other three. She is wearing a pair of orange pajamas and has long purple hair. She has a crazy look in her eye. Crumpled divorce papers lie at her feet.

The third figure is a monkey holding a blowgun and loading a peeled banana into it. Its back is shaved and a large tattoo proclaims it part of the “Armed Primate Expeditions”. A typewriter and sequined tutu are on the floor by the bar.

The fourth figure is a man in a speedo who has clearly just come from swimming. He is holding a towel, his hands are in the air, and his face shows that he is about to wet himself from fright.

Two of the men at the door look at each other. “Another bar?”

“You guys go ahead,” the third one says. “I’m just going to make a few notes for my next blog post.”


Peregrine’s Bar – Friday Fictioneers

copyright Ted Strutz

copyright Ted Strutz

Peregrine’s Bar

Peregrine’s Bar was open once a month, but on that one day, the place was packed for seventeen hours straight, as patrons crowded in to hear about Peregrine’s latest adventure.

“…and that’s why the Kayan chief gave me this tattoo.” The bar erupted in applause. “Give me five minutes and I’ll tell you about the panther attack I survived.”

“Hey Peregrine, where to next?”

“Kazakhstan.” The crowd oohed appreciatively.

Peregrine closed up at dawn, having made enough in one day to finance his search for another month. The kidnappers had said he would never find her. He’d prove them wrong.

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