Writing exercise: A face appears…

In our jabber chat meeting (normally Thursdays, 8 pm CST) this week, we tried a horror-themed writing prompt (in honor of an upcoming anthology of short stories that we are hoping to launch the writing of): A face appears… (note: the link goes to an image found in a google search, but we didn’t really use it). Four of us (Kaden Patrick, Katherine Czerwinski, Diana Schmuckal and I) had entries (shown below, ten minutes, no editing). Diana amazingly wrote a great poem. I invite you to comment with additional entries.

Tim Yao

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Joe,” Karen said.
Joe imagined her secretly wishing he would ask her up to his apartment. She did pause there for a moment. “Uh, okay. See you tomorrow.”
Karen flashed him a quick, sweet smile and half waved. Joe could see her breath in the cold air, illuminated by the street light above them. Then Karen spun around and continued down the sidewalk.
Joe mentally berated himself, imagining searing lead being poured over him–it would be only what he deserved. He and Karen had been friends now for over a year and he still felt too shy to let her know how he felt.
He made his way up the three flights to his small apartment, barely registering the burned out light bulbs on both the second and third stories. It was cold here, too. His cheapskate landlord never seemed to miss opportunities to cut corners.
Joe fished out his keys before he noticed that his door was ajar.
“Hello?” he called out.
No answer.
He reached in and flicked on the light switch. Nothing.
Maybe it wasn’t the light bulb but a fuse.
It had been a long day; the landlord was hard to reach even in the best of times. Joe entered his apartment, closing the door behind him.
It was cold here too.
“Just as well I didn’t ask Karen up here,” he thought. But maybe that might have been an interesting adventure. A little darkness, a bit of disquieting cold and an opportunity to share some warmth…
Something creaked in the room.
“Is someone there?”
Had the door been ajar because of a thief? Joe shook his head. There was nothing worth stealing in the apartment, not even a television or radio. Still, the back of his neck prickled as though someone’s gaze was upon him.
Joe forced himself to put down his backpack and try to find his phone. He stubbed his toe on the foot of his bed and cursed. Feeling around, he sat down on his bed–the phone was on the floor near the head of the bed.
“Damn it!” No dial tone.
Something cold blew upon the back of his neck.
Joe jumped, stood up. His eyes had adjusted to the dark. There on the far side of the room he could just make out the faint paleness of a face.
His mouth opened, suddenly dry.
The face moved towards him.

Kaden Patrick

I burst out of the servants’ door, weighed down with the judge’s gold and lifted up by the thrill of taking it away with me into the fog. Predawn light and the distant gas lamps of the main street competed to color the heavy mist, tinting the air rust and bruised green. I bit my teeth over a laugh, then that laugh evaporated in my mouth as a face appeared.
A face pale and surprised, opening its mouth to scream.
Terror almost like sound raced up my back, flooding full force into limbs already sparking of excitement.
I threw myself forward and slammed the witness—a boy, a few years younger than myself, pale skin, wide eyes—back against the stone wall. My feet slid for purchase against the slick mud of the alleyway, nearly giving out beneath me.
The sky gave out above me, around me, as the fog came alive with pelting rain, beating fast as my heartbeat against my skin.
He pushed back, kicked my shin with a heavy boot, my arm was already weighed down from the bag of gold so he got loose. He was already beginning to scream by the time I’d freed my knife, but I cut it short and let the rain wash the nascent sound away. Let the rain wash the creeping, pooling crimson away. Let the rain wash my racing fear and sudden fever all away.
He fell to the mud and I ran home through the strange colors of the fog and the sheets of rain. I locked my door, and leaned against the solid wood, and closed my eyes, breathing deep the familiar taste of my own room.
When, finally, my wits had settled, I turned to the thick shadows within.
My eyes worked quickly to identify the lines of my table and chair, my bed, my trunk, but there was something strange. A light spot that was not supposed to be there. The moon reflected in a mirror I didn’t own.
I choked on my own breath as a face appeared.
A face pale and surprised, covered in crimson and mud.

Katherine Czerwinski

 The bathroom had gone from comfortable to stifling in only a few minutes as the steam from the shower thickened the air. James didn’t mind. He welcomed the heat; the tight feeling that it caused as he turned off the shower head and grabbed his towel. The mirror had fogged over, obscuring his reflection as he stepped out of the shower and rubbed the towel over his hair.
This was the life. Thirty years old. Successful. Popular. Good looks, if he did say so himself. On top of that, a shining personality that got him wherever he wanted. (Mostly anywhere, at least. But he tried not to focus on the negatives.) His time was spent as a motivational speaker. Or a speaker, if you wanted to get technical. Sometimes, his speech wasn’t motivating at all. But that’s what happened when you went to work for whoever paid the most. They gave him the guidelines and he gave them a speech that would sway anyone to their side. A mouth for hire.
That sounded just a little too demeaning to him. He preferred the title ‘entrepreneur of eloquence.’ Until, of course, earlier today. As he walked off the stage and found himself confronted by about the same size as himself. His path had been blocked, and despite the side stepping, the man simply moved to block him again.
“You won’t get away with your lies. You really should learn to watch your mouth.”
The threat had been laughed off and security had ushered the man away. Now? Just the thought of it had James chuckling to himself from his own private joke.
A stiffness settled through his jaw and he winced slightly, bringing his hand up to rub his chin. Water still dripped down the sides of his face from his hair, wetting his fingertips.  Shrugging off the feeling, he moved in front of the mirror. His outline was visible, but blurred. That simply wouldn’t do. He had a physique that was meant to be admired.
Reaching out, he used an edge of the towel to wipe some of the steam away from the glass, allowing his reflection to show through.
For a moment, everything was fine. And then, over his shoulder, a face appeared. His heart leapt into his throat and he turned around instantly, stumbling back into the counter. No one was there. Closing his eyes and pushing his fingers over them for a moment, he tried to calm himself. He needed to stop drinking so much coffee. Sleep more. This was getting to him. When he turned back to the mirror, the fear prickled through his body again. The face was still there. He recognized it: the man from earlier.
“You should learn to watch your mouth.”
He spoke, but his mouth didn’t move. Before James could move out of the way, the man’s hand circled around his face, fingers digging into his cheeks and covering his mouth.  He screamed, thrashing at the hold on him. And, just as quickly as he had felt it, the sensation was gone. His gaze frantically searched the room. The floor. The walls. The ceiling. He was alone. When he finally felt like he could breathe again it was quick and ragged. His heart felt like it was about to break through his chest and his entire body was cold.
He repeated the action from before. Closing his eyes. Forcing the heels of his hands into his eyes and trying to force the feeling and images from his mind. When he turned back to the mirror, his eyes widened and he tried to scream. It lodged somewhere in his throat, stuck. No cry for help sounded, though he tried over and over. His reflection in the mirror had changed, and his pulse quickened. Both hands went to his face, fingers digging at the skin, drawing lines of blood where the nails pierced through.
The tool of his trade; the ‘moneymaker’; the reason for his success, was gone.
He had no voice,
because he had no mouth.

Diana Schmuckal

she is not darkness
liquid like-molten glow
she burns at night
fills day skies in
poison clouds

they fear her loud bright violent
anger trembling quake
I fear her quiet, soft
sensual curves creeping
untouchable yet she
touches

eyes glowing in darkness
mouth open, jaw broken
fluid, gaping over acres

Pele, I cry, as ground swallowed
my yard, my tree, my house
wood burns flowers ash
she will devour me
Land-Eater
Goddess
Pele

trap me in stone
suffocate me in earth
she devours
so much more
than me
forest highway house
mortal

she is not darkness
she burns it

Tim is a founding member of the Journey, co-Municipal Liaison for the Naperville region of National Novel Writing Month, and the author of several short stories.

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