Thank you to all of the Sunday Writers’ Club members who are keeping in touch and sending us their stories not matter how self-isolated, quarantined or simply locked-up they are. Keep writing whatever your circumstances!
This Really Happened to Me and My Sister by Jennifer Cornick
Lockdown by Eleanor Keisman
Shush by Jonathan Pickering
This Really Happened to Me and My Sister
by Jennifer Cornick
It sounded like every door in the upstairs had slammed shut at the same time. Violently. We thought we heard the sound of glass rattling from the two panelled doors to the living room but that was not possible, they are always shut fast because we were not allowed in there, unless it was Christmas or spring cleaning. And it was the middle of March, there was no way the doors would have been open.
“Should we check it out?” my sister looked over at me, her face peeking just above Aunty Harriet’s psychedelically coloured granny square quilt.
I stuck my nose out of Aunt Nellie’s E.T. quilt, my absolute favourite of the television watching blankets. “Probably.” The credits were rolling on Jaws and the second one would start in a few minutes. We looked forward to this marathon all week and were not anxious to leave our places in front of the television. It was supposed to be an eight-hour Jaws movie extravaganza. Not an investigate all the noises in the house for two hours to see if there was a burglar adventure.
Neither of us moved. The dog didn’t even lift her head.
“We should go upstairs,” I said, moving one corner of my blanket slightly, hoping by-stander theory was an actual thing. Which meant, by showing a little action, the tiniest fraction of the intention to move and investigate, my younger sister might hop off the couch and go instead.
“You go. Can you bring me a drink on the way back?” she asked, snuggling back into the fluorescent pink, green, orange, blue, yellow, and black wool monstrosity.
“Sure,” I said, clenching my teeth hard. I wanted to make her go with me. I wanted to pull the blanket off her and force her up the stairs. As a human shield. But the last time I did that, when I was seven, I was grounded, no TV for a week. Yes, it was a decade ago but when I learn lessons, I learn them well.
I slowly unwrapped the quilt from around me. It was always cold and damp in the basement, even in the summer. I was tempted to take the quilt with me, wearing it like a cape, but it really wasn’t a safe or practicable option. I have a tendency to trip up the stairs and fall down them, adding trailing anything would change a fifty percent chance of bruising my backside or my face into a one hundred percent chance. Of both.
I climbed the stairs. I looked around the corner. Nothing. All the doors were exactly as we left them. The bathroom door, always open, unless someone was in there. The bedroom doors, open, my mother insisted they be kept open when we weren’t sleeping and closed when we were. And the living room doors, still shut, as always, except at Christmas.
I walked across the newly installed forest green linoleum floors to the fridge on the other side. I grabbed something and a glass and poured. “Looks like she is getting chocolate milk,” I said. As I turned to leave the kitchen, I saw an apple on the white countertop. Shiny and red. Like it had been polished on someone’s shirt. It definitely wasn’t there before we went downstairs. I know this for a fact because I cleaned the kitchen before the movies started. Dad doesn’t like anything on the counters and, so, they were clear and spotless.
I put the apple back in the fruit bowl and headed back downstairs.
My sister’s hand reached out of her blanket nest for the drink when she heard me step on the raised floor in the television room. My grandfather put it in to keep the carpet from going mouldy but it means you cannot sneak up on anyone in the television room and someone always shushes as soon as you enter.
I placed the glass in her hand. “Nothing was wrong upstairs,” I said, picking up the quilt and wrapping it around my shoulders. I sat on the couch and started to tuck all the openings in the blanket shut.
“Weird,” my sister said. The music to Jaws started on the screen and we both turned to face it. The dog wandered over and wiggled herself into my sister’s blanket nest.
We are the product of an over protective mother and television, which means the only adventures we were allowed to have were vicariously, on screen or in books. We grew up hearing tales of her exploits, like holding the principle of her school hostage until they didn’t have to wear uniforms anymore, wishing with everything in us we could do it too. Instead, we were actively discouraged from such pursuits and read books at recess, like the good indoor kids we were. What this means is we could ignore the call to adventure. It could be standing right next to us, gleefully yelling in our ears and slamming cymbals together with great relish and we would just turn the page in our book. Or watch the next movie in a marathon.
On screen, two divers in the ocean were suddenly scared by something. To this day, I am still not sure what made them sound like drowning turkeys because there was another loud crash. This one sounded more like a mirror had fallen off a wall and shattered. We knew what the sound of shattering glass sounded like because my sister threw the Barbie truck at me once for calling her stupid. I ducked and it shattered the glass door of Dad’s brand new television cabinet, just delivered, unpacked, and assembled that day.
“You have to go see this time,” I said, not even attempting to initiate the by-stander effect.
She untangled herself, her foot got caught in one of the large holes which had appeared in the crocheting over the years and pitched forward. She fell flat on her face, scrambled up, and, like we all do, pretended nothing happened. I did not comment. The dog looked at her with contempt for her clumsiness regardless of the fact my sister was her favourite person in the house. I heard her go up the stairs. First into the kitchen and then down the hall. Had anyone been in the basement watching us, they would have seen my head move in unison with the dog’s, looking at the ceiling, as we tracked the sound of my sister’s stomping through the house.
“Why would you do that?” she yelled. It was a form of family intercom system. Yelling for the person who was somewhere else in the house.
“What?” I yelled back.
“There is an apple in the hallway.”
“I said there is an apple in the hallway,” she yelled louder.
“I didn’t do that. I put the other one away,” I had turned to face the door instead of the television so she could hear me better. I heard her return to the kitchen and thud back down the stairs.
“Hallway mirror?” I asked, cuddling into my flannel and cotton nest. E.T. was right next to my eye, which was slightly disconcerting, so I readjusted the blanket. Elliott was not a better option. I readjusted again.
“Fine,” she said, starting to reconstruct her own nest.
“Front hall mirror?”
“Nothing,” she said, snuggling deeper into the wool, her voice muffled slightly.
“Mom’s mirror? Yours?”
“Every mirror was fine.”
“Weird,” I said.
And it was odd. Yes, there were noises in the house. Weird things happened there all the time. It was haunted after all. When my parents purchased the house, the inspector did not point out the rough patch of concrete, behind the furnace, which was approximately the size of a grave. My parents would still have bought the house because it was in their price point, located next to our school, and had a charming award-winning garden which had been designed and kept by the little old lady who owned the house before us. She was definitely not someone you could picture killing someone, jack hammering out the foundation, and burying a body. She seemed pleasant and we would sometimes visit her at her new house for tea.
We never dug that spot up, even when we renovated the whole rest of the basement last year. The dog did try though. Every time the door was left open, she was in there scratching at it. We ignored it for the most part. The ghost who lived in there didn’t faze us. That is a lie. I never liked to pass the furnace room if the door was open in the dark, and it always was left open at night, in the winter, to help the hot air from the furnace circulate. Which means I developed the skill of never having to use the washroom at night rather than pass by the gasping, swallowing dark of that room. But in day time and with the anticipation of a horror movie marathon it didn’t bother me. I had better things to occupy my time than my over active imagination; the fruits of someone else’s.
There was a boat on the screen now. There was always a boat in Jaws movies but without the context of the first few minutes we were disconnected from the film. “You said you put the other one away?” My sister’s voice was now unmuffled, like she cleared all the blankets away from her face.
“Yeah, the apple I found on the counter,” I said. “We must have left it out when we cleaned the kitchen.” It seemed as rational an explanation as any.
“We never leave anything out when we clean the kitchen. And why would we leave an apple in the hallway, near my bedroom door?”
“Maybe you forgot it when you went to get dressed?” I was determined to ignore the call to adventure today. Jaws was on and I wanted to see all four.
“He just wants attention,” my sister whispered.
“He is not real,” I said. “A figment of our imagination,” I yelled so the house could hear me, pulling the blanket closer around myself and settling deeper into the couch cushions. Firmly shutting the door on any adventure happening today.
The movie had moved to some sort of beach house. We had no idea where Jaws was or what he was doing. Truth be told, this installment of the franchise was not that great. We tried to catch the plot but it was all over the place and we didn’t know who several central characters were. But we were determined to persevere and watch the whole marathon.
“I think TVO is playing a Vincent Price retrospective later,” my sister said, from her side of the couch. “Like all his old Edgar Allen Poe stuff; The Pit and the Pendulum, and The Fall of the House of Usher, and The Mask of the Red Death.”
“Should be fun.” I answered. There was something appealing about watching a campy horror film where Vincent Price’s costumes were basically velvet bags with arms and lace collars. It seemed we now had plans for the evening. I mentally took inventory of the microwavable popcorn upstairs. It should be enough for today and we could walk to the grocery store to replace it tomorrow.
The conversation would have lazily continued until the end of the film. Until we could connect to a new set of characters and start over. But then it sounded like everything had fallen off the shelves in the furnace room, right behind us. All the art supplies, all my dad’s tools, all the laundry hanging on the indoor clothes line, all the camping stuff. We both bolted off the couch scrambling over ourselves, each other, blankets, and my mother’s unaccountable area rug in a carpeted basement. My sister spilled her chocolate milk on the couch and the beige Berber carpet.
“Fuck,” she said, shaking chocolate off her hands and splattering it on the couch cushions. Then she slapped both of her own hands over her mouth. A reflexive gesture, as my mother often reacted badly to swearing. It initiated a lengthy lecture about how we had better vocabularies and could express ourselves with words other than profanity.
“Well, we are both going now, we have to get cleaning supplies. From in there,” I said pointing to the furnace room.
We both crossed the short distance to the room. There was only a little light from the tiny window in the wall, and it was mostly blocked by heating ducts. We could immediately see most things were still on the shelves.
Except for the map cylinders. My dad was a geography teacher and had a lot of maps in the house. He kept them in the furnace room on the top shelf, behind the fishing tackle. They couldn’t roll away up there. Now, there were stacked, on their ends, like a monument or trophy, in the middle of the room. With an apple on top.
My sister crossed her arms in front of her chest and rolled her eyes. I grabbed the apple from the top of the cylinders and took a bite. “We aren’t playing today,” I said.
We grabbed the paper towel and all the furniture and carpet cleaner we could find. We shut the door behind us. An hour later, after drying the couch cushions with a hair dryer and putting a bath towel over the newly cleaned carpet, we settled into to watch Jaws 3-D. And the noises stopped for the duration of the day.
We still don’t know what scared those divers into sounding like drowning turkeys or how the movie ended, as neither of us has ever attempted to watch Jaws 2 again.
About Jennifer Cornick
Jennifer is a freelance writer based in Vienna. She has written for the EU Observer, TedX, Metropole, and Impact Hub. When she isn’t writing, she is reading … or in a bookshop. Her blog can be found here: http://curiositycabinet.live/
by Eleanor Keisman
I walked past seven people yesterday. I counted them. A couple – Grüß Gott. A runner – Hallo. Another couple – Grüß Gott. And a man – Grüß Gott – with a little boy. His son, I assumed. He was very cute and he gave me a big smile as soon as he saw me. I need that. I smiled back and gave a little wave. Somehow people have interpreted “avoid social contact” with “be unfriendly”, because not a single one of them participated in the socially contracted call-and-response greeting. The wind hit my face and my eyes, but that’s not why I felt myself tear up. We’ve not only lost our daily habits and routines, but our simple acts of human recognition as well. The world can’t afford to get any more unpleasant than it already is. It’s like those people on airplanes who act like they’re more put out than anyone else. They behave as though the discomfort, which is clearly a community experience when flying in Economy, is a burden put solely on them. It was quite an unseasonably cold and gray day, and I certainly couldn’t have been the only one who noticed it. The sun had been out briefly in the morning, teasing us and then hiding for the rest of the day. Maybe everyone else felt the same sense of meteorological betrayal I did. Or maybe they were too afraid of any stray droplets passed between us.
There’s no place to go, nothing to see, and no one to meet. After the hours I spend doing what I can within these four walls, there comes a point where I simply can take no more. Do we need anything from the grocery store? I hope so. Anything to get out of the house. But yesterday was Sunday, the silent and thoughtful seventh day where we all get to recharge and disconnect. We may not engage in any laborious work. We may not be burned by errands and stressed by the handling of money. Those of us who are religiously affiliated may experience this “slowing” in a church, those of us who are not may experience it within ourselves and amongst the people we’re closest to. All in all, it’s a nice kind of day, and one that I’ve learned to enjoy since moving to Vienna. Hiking was my favorite way to spend the day. I’d suit up, throw some essentials in a backpack, grab a metro somewhere, pick up a coffee and pastry (usually a bakery or café at metro stops were open) and go off into the woods. Into the peaceful green. I’d hike for hours. Then I’d come home and put my tired body and aching feet into a nice hot bath.
We’re not allowed to drive anywhere for recreational purposes during the lockdown. My world has shrunk to the distance from my house my feet can carry me. It’s not like I’d been hiking a lot recently and suddenly had to stop. That hobby had fallen a bit out of habit and been replaced by swimming. I can’t do that now either, but I didn’t think either option would be taken away from me. Because although it’s fine to be in the woods, it’s how I would have to get to the woods that isn’t so fine. Being inside most of the time, with none of our usual markers of time (work, appointments, traffic, transit, gym, activities) my husband and I have lost track of the days. A Tuesday feels like a Sunday. One thing I’ve been doing to kill the time, and make home life a bit more fun, is cooking. I bought a kilo of Bärlauch and made paste for the rest of the year. I practiced making my Chinese noodle recipe. I blended a frozen berry and spinach smoothie. I made a pizza. My husband made chocolate pancakes, ham and eggs, curry, and bread. We’ve actually been eating really well. If food wasn’t one of our love languages before the lockdown, it is now.
My husband and I aren’t used to spending this much time together. Unless we’re on holiday. But then we’re going places, doing things, seeing things. We’re occupied. But we are occupied now as well, by silent anxiety. We humans, the top of the food chain, have had our glorious society crippled by an errant bacteria. But they’ve always been at the top; maybe we were honestly just fooling ourselves. The world has gone still and silent, but not in a peaceful way; not like just after a snowfall. More like, just after a bombing. We and everyone else just sit at home, silent, only a few options of things to do set on a rotation. Being kind and patient has never been as important as it is now. The fear occupying the entire world had seeped in through our walls and taken up residence in our house. We clung tight to each other, leaving barely enough room to breathe. It didn’t occur to either of us in the first week to ask for personal space. That was a mistake on both our parts, because we become insufferable when we haven’t had quality alone time. It finally hit us. I picked on him, nauseating myself in how like my mother I sounded. He replied in kind, sounding like a bratty teenager, which just infuriated me further. After a brief lull, he went out for the walk I’d previously suggested, by himself. I thought I’d feel slighted, but I didn’t. In fact, I was glad that he did that. We had gotten too close, and we needed that moment to really see each other. I was even more glad when I went out for my own walk about 20 minutes later.
It occurs to me that I’ve never been a particularly social person. I’ve always wished I were. In my mind, I like to consider myself a fun-loving individual who can make friends with anyone. And while I can certainly be friendly to anyone, I think that’s about as far as I can comfortably go. I like my space, my quiet times, my habits. I’m entertained by my own internal musings. I want friends, I just don’t want too many, yet when I try to think of someone with whom I’d like to see a movie or have a walk, I’m at a loss. It’s similar to the reason I gave up on social media. The long list of people I knew but didn’t speak to, staring back at me under the header “friends”, just felt too depressing and fake. It bred loneliness. “Liking” is not a social maxim that holds much significance for me. On top of my own semi-introverted nature, and general dislike of social media, I’m also an expat. Making friends as an expat is hard. It’s not necessarily the language or culture that gets in the way. No, it’s more often that people move. Neither I nor anyone else I currently know or used to know has stayed in one place long enough to really form close friendships. And now, with Covid-19, it’s impossible. The days of “Yeah, let’s go to a meetup!” are indefinitely set on pause. I can’t make friends, not at the moment. I can’t go hiking or swimming or to the movies or get a haircut or go to a museum or job hunt in person. The lockdown has us all. Let’s surprise each other. Let’s say, “I see you, human”. Let’s greet the people we pass on our walks. Whether they say anything back, or not.
By Jonathon Pickering
The ancient librarian glared at the rambunctious students perusing the dusty shelves. She hated noise and disorder, especially within her domain. She coughed pointedly after a particularly loud squeal. For the moment the noise stopped and silence once more descended. It wouldn’t last, she knew. Arcane talent did not guarantee intellect. Or manners.
Agnes Kendrik had been the Lord Archivist for more than five decades and had dealt with her share of troublesome students. She wished for the good old days when she could subject the brats to a minor curse to ‘educate’ them in the proper behaviour expected in her library. Blasting them with lightning, was also now forbidden. Agnes might be a powerful mage, but she could not perform miracles. No matter what the Dean thought.
The disruption began again, proving these ‘children’ to be particularly stupid. Most would have worked out by their third year that annoying the ‘Dragon Lady of the Library’ was a foolish endeavour. Some people were simply beyond learning even the most rudimentary truths.
Standing up, Agnes stretched her frail-looking frame, her bones popping as she did so. The cracking of bones would have been enough warning to send most students fleeing. Not these imbeciles. Walking with a purpose through the racks, her gait showing none of her age, she stormed towards the disturbance.
Even the sound of her footsteps, echoing throughout the cold stone halls like ferocious claps of thunder, failed to garner the attention of the brats. Hellfire burned in her eyes as Agnes contemplated what she would do to the intruders. To the hells with the Dean’s rules, she would not allow such disrespect to occur in her sanctuary. They would suffer for their impertinence.
One by one, the candelabras were extinguished as she stalked her prey, tails of smoke drifting throughout the curved arches above, and ever thickening shadows enveloping the black oak shelves. The normally serene atmosphere disintegrated,consumed by a chilling menace. Even the most simple of creature would flee from the thickening fog of dread and despair spreading throughout the library. But not these children. They had not even that much sense.
They had obviously not heard the rumours, heard the stories of those poor unfortunate souls who disappeared from amongst the shelves. They deserved everything that happened to them.
As she approached the source of the noise, she silently cast a series of spells. Horns erupted from her temples, and talons burst from her fingers. A leathery tail with a needle like point swished back and forth behind her, similar to that of an angry cat. She could feel her fangs as she smiled cruelly. This would be extremely pleasurable.
The final alteration occurred as she rounded the corner and laid eyes on the fools. Black, smoky wings fluttered behind her, and her eyes burned scarlet. She was now the physical manifest of terror and darkness, a sight to terrify even the denizens of hell. One of the children, a blond foppish looking boy, glanced up, the laugh freezing on his face as he laid eyes on the monstrous librarian. His already pale face drained of any faint trace of colour, and the unpleasant stench of urine filled the air. The others started to complain of the smell, but soon noticed the reason for their friend’s loss of bodily control. As one, they screamed and ran as fast as they could.
Agnes chuckled as she waved her hands. A book flew from the shelves and hovered before the disgusting children, opening to an empty page. As her victims froze in shock and terror, a sizzling blue light emanated from the tome, consuming them instantly. As one, they vanished, along with the strange glow. The book, now ordinary once more, fell to the wooden floor with a thud. And Agnes, once more appearing as an old, frail woman, gingerly picked it up and returned it to the shelf.
Once more, blessed silence returned to her library.