Saturday, July 27, 2013

Clear Cage

I'm working on some large projects right now, and I'm not putting out as many brand new short stories right now. And by "brand new" I mean "never before seen or heard". For July, I'm giving you my short story "Clear Cage". This story has already been released in audio version on the writing prompt podcast Every Photo Tells. Find the site here The podcast can also be accessed through iTunes (that's how I get it) and other sources. Check out their site for more info, and while you're there, make sure to listen to episode 121, which is the podcast version of the story I'm about to give you. Here's the link to their entry for my story: Or you can just go to iTunes and get it. It is free, after all! The audio version is pretty spectacular, thoroughly bonechilling. Trust me, if you like short fiction, it's a podcast worth listening to!


Not many people came to the old park on the edge of town. Within the town proper, a new park had been sectioned off, and it drew all the attention to it. Brand new slides and swings, monkey bars, seesaws and merry-go-rounds were built, and that was more than all the children in town could ask for. Families flocked to the new park, and in a matter of months, the old park was forgotten and allowed to fall into disrepair and eventually ruin. A generation passed, and the old park became just another part of the town’s history, failing to enter the present with the new businesses and the new playground.

The twins, Sandy and Landry, were nine when they discovered the old park. It enthralled them: the wildness of it, the sparseness. It wasn’t dominated by bright, plastic playground equipment, young married couples with their dogs, new parents with babies in strollers or elderly people going for their daily stroll. The plant life in the old park had grown wild from neglect, flowers spilling onto the carefully marked walkways and lawns that were once carefully manicured. The playground equipment was made of metal, plain grey steel, and that made it eye-catching. The new park was all bright colors that overwhelmed the senses. But this place was made to be played with and on, not to be looked at first. The merry-go-round here didn’t have safety bars like the one in the new park. The steps to climb to the top of the slide weren’t carefully enclosed and backed so a child’s foot wouldn’t slip through. The equipment whispered the stories of childhood dares, stunts, and activities that would make mothers in this modern age faint with terror and the government cringe at the thought of lawsuits for injuries.

The twins explored the old park all morning, enjoying the feel of the old equipment. They picked at the rust, inspected the flaking paint that used to embellish the slide and the bars of the swings. Sandy tested her weight on the first few steps of the slide, but they had rusted through and wouldn’t support her. She got a running start and climbed up the slide itself instead and zipped down, crashing to the dirt in front of it rather than slowing to a stop and stepping down from the slope. Landry settled onto an old swing and went as high as he could, trying to swing over the bar. He could never seem to make it over though, but he was still pleased to get that high. Adults at the new park always seemed to begin screaming if he swung too high, and Heaven forbid he jump off. He did so today, at the peak of his forward swing. He let go with his hands, extended his legs, and soared through the air for a handful of seconds. He crash-landed and rolled a few feet. His arms and legs were a mass of scrapes when he finally stood, but he had never been allowed to have so much fun in his life, and he let out a whoop of pleasure. His shout was cut short, though, when he saw the lamp he had landed by.

There was only the one lamp in the entire old park, and it still burned. Being nine, Landry didn’t stop to wonder why the gas company saw fit to continue supplying the lone lamp with fuel. Landry only saw the eerie yellowish-white glow and stared up at it. Eventually, Sandy noticed and joined him. It was just after noon, but the light was brighter than the midday sun. It must be brilliant at night. They both stood and stared, ignoring the playground equipment that still seemed to be whispering their names.

Their mother’s voice calling for them served to draw them away from the lamp when it was nearly dinnertime. They both backed away, eyes locked on the light until they were forced to turn a corner that removed it from their sight. Without a word to one another, they agreed to return the next day.

A week after they had first discovered the old park, a week that saw them spending every free moment at the old park, Sandy and Landry brought a small group of friends with them. The light hypnotized their friends as wholly and instantly as it had the twins, and as summer went on, nearly every child in their social circle came to stand and stare at the lamp each day. A group of just under thirty lingered there, usually forming a circle so no one would have to crane their necks looking over or around the others.

It was in the middle of summer, on the first day of August, that they all saw the first flicker of movement inside the lamp. It came like a shadow, a black dot inside the glass shield of the lamp. It circled the flame once and disappeared, but that sight was enough to make every one of the children jump where they stood. A second passed, and they all gazed harder at the lamp, waiting for it to happen again. The old park was silent; there wasn’t even the sound of breathing. Landry, Sandy, and their friends were all holding their breath.

The shadow passed again. The children began chattering immediately, whispering and pointing to one another and then at the lamp. All the children asked if the others had seen what happened, except one. Sandy said nothing. Instead, she took a tentative step forward, then another. A third. A fourth and fifth. She was eight tiny steps closer to the post when Landry started after her. He reached the base of the lamp post a few seconds after her and tilted his head up to stare at it, mirroring his twin. The shadow made a third appearance, this time longer. It whirled round the gas flame, over and over, causing a gentle strobe affect and sending strange patches of darkness across the faces of the children. One of the younger girls squealed and ran toward the lamp, and then the entire group of kids rushed forward to stand closer and lock their eyes on the rapidly flitting shadow.

It stopped abruptly, halting its revolutions right above Sandy’s upturned face. She squinted up at the light, trying to focus on the darker shape, to make out some sort of form or figure in the black patch.

“Look!” shouted Landry, pointing.

None of them had noticed before how much soot had caked itself on the glass of the lamp. They all noticed now as some invisible force began writing thin, spindly letters on the inside of the glass, in the soot itself. But the writing was too small and the children too close to the ground to read them. Sandy beckoned to her twin and wordlessly began to climb his back and onto his shoulders. He took this in stride, holding her ankles as she stood on him with one hand against the post for balance. This added height gave her a much better view of the tiny letters marring the layer of soot.


“It says it wants out!” she cried, nearly falling from her brother’s shoulders in her excitement. The clamor that followed her words brought life into the park that had not been seen for a generation. The words faded long before they reached the busy part of town, unheard by anyone but the children and the creature in the lamp.

“Let’s help it!” someone cried, and a chorus of agreement followed.

Sandy shouted at the lamp. “We want to get you out! How do we help?”

On another of the glass panels, adjacent to the first message, new letters appeared. Landry and Sandy had to do an awkward shuffle to face the new words without toppling head over heels on one another.


“Rub?” the word was repeated as a question over and over again among the children.

It was one of the younger children, a boy named Abe, who made the connection. “Rub the lamp! Like Aladdin! Maybe it’s a genie in there!”

“Are you a genie?” Sandy shouted at the shadow.


That pane of glass was taken up by letters now, so she nudged at Landry to do their awkward shuffle to the next one. Once they’d settled, she asked, “What’s your name, genie?”


“Okay, that’s just an awesome name!” someone shouted. “Rub the lamp! Let him out!” A new chant began then, resounding voices calling for Bapdap’s release from his smoky glass prison. They cried for freedom. Sandy raised a hand to the glass. With a thumb, she rubbed one of the glass panes.

Nothing happened. The black shape inside the lamp whirled around again, but no new letters appeared, and the dark figure was still inside. Rubbing hadn’t worked. “Maybe I didn’t do it right?” she asked, confused, but the other children looked as baffled as she did.

A voice emerged from the group. “Try again!”

The shadow that was Bapdap the genie spun even faster, around and around in the lamp so quickly it made Sandy dizzy as she reached her hand upward again. The writing on the glass caught her eye, and she strained to see the other panels the captive genie had written on. RUB RUB RUB one said. Was she supposed to rub three times? Maybe she had done it wrong, just rubbing once. Emboldened by this new thought, she reached her thumb up again and rubbed, rubbed, rubbed. Three passes she made with the pad of her thumb, slow and deliberate, over the glass pane of the lamp. The oils from her finger left streaky smudges on the glass that slightly distorted the light and the dark splotch inside.

The lamp post shuddered, shook, and stopped. The flame didn’t so much as flicker, but the shadow disappeared. Sandy leaned closer, peering inside the glass. The other children craned their necks, squinted their eyes, and tried their best to find where their genie had gone. Abe was the one who gathered the courage to shout, “Hey! We freed you! You’re supposed to grant us wishes now!”

As one, the other children began clamoring for their wishes. One of the children went so far as to promise using one wish to free the genie from his prison forever, trying to bribe the genie into returning. Their voices disappeared into the open air, unheard. Eventually, Sandy climbed down from her twin’s shoulders, upset that after all their work, after all this time, they weren’t getting anything out of this. They hadn’t even gotten to see the genie. The lamp suddenly held much less draw. The entire old park had lost its appeal in one disappointing moment.

It was a great surprise then that Landry saw a strange man, clad all in grey and silver, standing at the back of their group, looking down at them with a wry grin and one eyebrow raised. Landry’s mouth went dry and his voice left him. He couldn’t speak to bring his comrades’ attention to the stranger. All he could do was point until one by one, the other children noticed the man in their midst and stared.

Abe recovered his voice first, though it cracked when he spoke. “Bapdap?”

The man nodded. The twisted grin stayed plastered on his face as he looked at each of the children in turn. His clothes didn’t look like he was from the story of Aladdin. His charcoal grey shirt was buttoned up the front, the collar starched and stiff. He wore a vest and tie, both silver, and his pants were pale grey and creased expertly. He looked like a businessman in an old black-and-white show. But his hair was out of place. It was spiked and black as a moonless night. And under the cuffs of his trousers, his feet were bare.

The children gathered around him, delighted that they had not, in fact, been abandoned by the genie they’d just rescued. Bapdap placed a hand on each head in turn, one corner of his mouth raised in a half-smirk. Sandy and Landry were the last two he touched, and he did so at the same time, one hand on each of them. As he removed his palms from their hair, the world distorted and dimmed.

Landry put his hands out before him, and they came to a stop not far in front of his chest. It was like the mimes he saw on television, pretending there was a wall stopping them from reaching their hands out any further. The difference between him and the mimes was that there really was something in front of him stopping his palms. He brought his hands back, and they were covered with soot. Two hand prints were on the glass before him, interrupting the sheen of soot. His eyes went upward, and he saw the soot had other marks in it. Written backwards, he saw the words RUB RUB RUB. On this side of the glass, the letters were huge.

“We’re in the lamp!” Abe shrieked. He began pounding his fists on the glass before he’d even finished the sentence. The other children followed suit, pounding on the panes of the lamp, shouting at the genie who was still standing outside. Bapdap had lifted his chin and was peering at the lamp and its new, unwilling inhabitants. They were all so small now that they weren’t even crowded in the small space. There was plenty of room.

A hand that looked enormous raised up and tapped on one of the panes. The sound of it thundered, shaking the lamp and knocking many of the children off their feet. More than one of them screamed, begging to be released. Others shouted wishes for freedom. Sandy only looked at the genie, pleading silently.

“Your mistake,” Bapdap said, his voice booming even though he was probably only talking at a normal volume, “was thinking that all genies are good. I’m not bound to those ‘three wishes’ rules.” His smile widened, and bright white teeth appeared between his lips. Still smiling at the captive children, he raised a hand, snapped his fingers, and was gone in a flash of shadow.

Inside the lamp, the light flickering behind them, the children of town pressed their hands against the glass panes, marring the blanket of soot. They screamed until they were hoarse, but not many people came to the old park anymore.

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