Keeping Secrets

Working on a new story is a secret process.

Sure, you might see me clicking away at my netbook in the breakroom (yes, I know it’s pink, it was on sale, shut up) or watch me brighten with epiphany and scurry off to scribble it down (or maybe it looks like I have the runs; I’ve never actually seen my epiphany-face).

It’s fine if you know that I’m working on something new. My whole goal is to always be working on something new.

But.

Nothing will kill a story faster than telling someone what it’s about. It’s instant death. It’s peeling the shell off a chick half-formed.

Because no matter how well-meaning, someone will always try to “help”.

Maybe I’m over-protective, but as soon as someone else has put in their two cents, the story no longer belongs just to me. Now it has the smudge of someone else’s fingerprints, and the rest of the time I’m working on the piece I can’t stop glancing at those little blotches someone else left. Maybe their suggestion is fantastic: I’m not trying to negate, here. But once someone else has touched the story, I’m no longer the sole captain of that ship.

Writing is ultimately for an audience. Part of what kept me from finishing anything (for years!) was the fear of not having anyone like it. The whole point is to entertain the reader. To make them feel satisfied with the time they spent on your story. If you don’t ultimately concern yourself with the reader, you might as well be scrawling on the walls in a closet somewhere.

But first, before the reader gets let in, the story is just for me. I want to write something that I enjoy, without tailoring it to some demographic. I need time to experiment, to fail catastrophically and nix the whole damn thing if I have to. That freedom is worn away every time the partially-finished story is told; suddenly you have expectations (I thought this was about zombies? Where did the mysterious strangers in the bushes go? Why did you change the names?). And expectations weigh the story down, tying tiny little ropes to it until it can’t move anywhere.

So please: don’t ask what it’s about yet. And if you do, I apologize in advance for my grimace.

Dump Room

This one’s silly and gross, and I had a blast writing it. Enjoy! -Stefanie

Dump Room

Melissa pried back the white plastic lid and tipped the bucket unceremoniously over a large sieve.

A hand flopped out and lay there in the plastic mesh, palm up, fingers curled.

She leaned over to get a better angle through her thick plastic mask. Female, looks like. Huh.

Once the hand had drained, she lifted the sieve and flipped it over into a lined container marked BIOHAZARD. The hand fell wetly on top of the sundry pieces already laying there; a gallbladder, a kidney, a tumour with the eye and lid still attached.

The mask she wore was chafing again. She scrunched her cheeks, trying to unstick the rubber gasket that was gouging a raw red ring into her skin. It wouldn’t budge, stuck slick against the sweat beading on her face. She sighed, the sound amplified oddly behind the industrial mask.

Better get a couple more done before break, she thought.

Sighing inwardly, she reached for the next bucket. The shelves were full this time; it would take her the rest of the day, easily, and maybe some of the next.

It hadn’t been her first choice, this job. It wouldn’t be anyone’s. But it was necessary.

An overtired supervisor had shown her to the dim room. It was cramped, tucked in behind the Pathology labs, and even through the door Melissa could smell the chemicals inside.

“This is the dump room,” the woman, Cheryl, had said. “Anything comes offa you or outta you, we keep it here in case someone decides they want to sue us. After six months, everything in here’s gotta be thrown out.” She’d swung the door wide and swept Melissa inside.

“Masks, here.” She pointed as she spoke. “Gowns, gloves, shoe covers. Buckets. If you can’t get them open, I can get you a pry tool, but I don’t like to use them. More chance of a splash.”

Melissa had hoped her grimace wasn’t obvious.

“Now, you need to know that these containers might hold anything. Breasts, feet, products of conception.” She’d looked at Melissa, her eyes softening a little. “That’s babies. Miscarriages, abortions. If you can’t deal with that we can find someone else.”

“No, I’ll be fine,” Melissa said, her voice cheerful, wanting so badly to make a good impression. Anything to get a job here. Anything.

Cheryl had nodded curtly and slipped out, leaving Melissa alone with pieces of strangers.

That first time the job had been half done already; Cheryl said the intern before her had moved on suddenly. Melissa had made short work of the dumping, and had been given the dubious honour of “Disposal Attendant”. The job paid next to nothing, but her internship was unpaid altogether and she was nearing the end of her loan.

Now she peeled back the opaque plastic lid.

Weird, she thought, there’s nothing in this one.

She swirled the murky preservative around; still nothing surfaced. She shrugged and poured the liquid out in the dump sink beside the sieve.

An ear, badly burnt, plopped into the shiny steel sink. It lay there, shrivelled and raw.

“Gross,” she said to the empty room. She flexed one gloved hand and reached down to pick it up. Her fingers stopped just shy of the lobe; for a second she thought of what it might feel like and almost didn’t touch it at all.

She’d imagined hard brittleness, but what she felt when she plucked it from the sink was warm soft flesh.

Reflex made her fling it away; it stuck to the back wall of the sink and began, before her horrified eyes, to slide back down.

She gagged a little.

Finally it flipped end over end and came to rest again by the drain.

Melissa looked around for tongs, pliers, anything so she wouldn’t have to feel its warmth against her glove. She found a pencil lying along the back of the counter, but couldn’t bring herself to pierce the tissue.

Reluctantly, she extended her hand again. She exhaled, steeled herself, and scooped the offending organ up. She tossed it into the waste box, where it vanished down the side.

Melissa shuddered. Screw this. I’m taking my break.

She shucked her gown off and turned to hang it on the hook.

A sound, a very, very quiet sound, came from behind her.

She stopped, held her breath, waited.

It was muffled, but it was there. The crackle of shifting plastic.

She knew right away, but she turned to be sure: it was coming from the box on the floor. The big yellow one with all the…parts.

She moved closer, shoved the box with the toe of her sneaker.

Waited.

Nothing. Stop being a dumbass.

She peeled the thick rubber gloves down and flung them onto the counter. The booties could wait—they were a pain in the ass anyway.

She nudged the lid into place with one denim-clad knee and turned to leave.

Wait.

The lid had been on, firmly, before she took her gown off. Cheryl had stressed the importance of covering the…waste…as a personal safety precaution. Melissa had clamped the lid down, she was sure of it.

But then it had been open, just a little, tilted back on an angle.

You’re losing it. Get out of the fumes.

She turned

then

a long, slick piece of intestine coiled its way up her leg. Melissa shrieked and kicked, trying to dislodge the thing. It only snugged tighter, climbing higher until it reached her thigh. One end swung itself across her and wrapped around her other leg, rendering her immobile. The other end was still pinched in the lid of the hazard container.

She screamed then, the shrill sound dead against the insulating rows of plastic.

Her hands shook; her body shuddered. This isn’t happening.

She forced a quivering hand down and pulled at the ropey gore, but it was steadfast. And the lid was sliding back again…

Melissa tried to scissor her legs apart; to force enough slack to run.

A fingertip appeared. Two. The hand gripped the lip of the waste box and tensed, trying to pull itself over. Suddenly it fell, pushed by a blob of amorphous meat that splatted down beside it.

The intestine was squeezing harder, made stronger by the chemicals that preserved it. It was up to her stomach now. She gaped down in horror. Dark blue veins pulsed with hideous life. A wet trail of chemical fixative marked its ascent. The pockets in the intestine contracted and expanded, propelling it as it slithered up toward her chest.

Bits of gore rained down from the yellow bucket on the floor and began inching closer. The errant ear from earlier rode perched atop the gnarled hand, whose cracked and blackened nails clicked on the tile as it approached.

The hand reached her in seconds, it seemed, and began tugging on her pant leg. Its fingertips clenched the fabric, urging her back towards the spreading pool of excised tissue. The grisly stump at the wrist thumped against the floor as it pulled.

The intestines were almost at her neck now, cuddled into the hot pulse at her throat. The severed end reached up and lovingly stroked her face—

The door behind her swung open.

Instantly the undead tissue fell to the floor, harmless again.

Cheryl stood in the doorway, mouth open in shock as she surveyed the scene. Bits and pieces lay scattered around the floor. Melissa stood stiff at the centre of the carnage.

“What the hell are you doing in here?” Cheryl demanded.

“It…they…attacked me!”

“They who?”

Melissa struggled to speak. The open end of intestine lying across her shoe burped, releasing a mouthful of fixative.

She ran, screaming, from the room. Cheryl watched her go with open disgust.

“They think they’ll handle it, but they never do.” She sighed, grabbed some gloves from her pocket, and set about cleaning the glistening mess.