Wonderland is a Shade of White

You hear a noise in the night.

You toss back the sheets and swing your legs over the bed’s edge. You creep out into the dark. Your husband doesn’t seem to hear—not surprising. He doesn’t hear anything when he’s asleep, not the baby crying or the sink dripping water or the muffled sounds you sometimes hear when you’re lying awake in bed. Crying—that’s what it sounds like.

The moon lights your way. It peeks in at you through the parallel windows near the door. You’ve always loved the moon, the night. You love the soft pallet of cool colors, the blues and purples and blacks created by the darkness.

There’s a painting on the wall near the basement door: an image of a house in the woods at night. It’s your house, the one you’re in now. It might be the best painting you’ve ever done.

You peer at your painting, your house, and you notice something that you hadn’t before. There’s a person in the frame. A man standing under the eave of the roof, his face obscured by shadow.

Odd. You don’t remember painting that.

The man turns to stare at you. You admire the way his face is shaded, the perspective of his hand as it reaches out. He looks quite lifelike. You’ve always struggled with the human form—whoever did this man did a fantastic job.

Of course, you’re dreaming. You must be. Paintings only move in dreams.

Yes, you must be dreaming, because the man reaches through the frame, and he touches you. His fingers are moist slugs against your skin.

You scream, and when you do, your husband asks you to stop screaming, he’s trying to sleep.

Your eyes snap open. Here you are, back in bed next to your husband. Turns out he does wake up—you just have to shriek really loudly. He reiterates the fact that he’s trying to sleep. And then he rolls over.

You lie awake. You stare at the white ceiling. You promise yourself that it was just a dream. Paintings don’t move in real life, after all.

Then why are there paint smudges on your arm, right where the man from your dream touched you?

#

Hours pass, and you’re still staring at the ceiling. The white ceiling. You remember choosing that shade of white for the master bedroom, though you can’t remember the name. Something like a fairy tale, maybe?

You hear the baby crying in the other room. You’re not surprised. You’re also not surprised that your husband is still snoring loudly beside you, oblivious. Of course, of course.

You walk into the baby’s room, just one door down from yours. You pick her up and hold her and she stops crying immediately. You’re thankful for that—for a pair of nascent lungs, hers are powerful.

You take her downstairs and you feed her. And finally, an hour or so later, your husband wakes up and joins you. He asks you how you slept. That’s when you remember your strange dream.

You tell him about it. He listens to you. He says it probably means you have repressed rage or something, then heads upstairs to get dressed for work.

On a whim, you glance at your painting, the one near the basement door. It looks just the way you remember it looking—dark shading, smoke rising from the chimney, silver moon peering over an intricate tree line.

But no man. No hand reaching out of the frame.

It makes you feel a bit silly for thinking, even for a moment, that your dream might’ve been real. You’ve had nightmares before, many of them, but you’ve never had one quite so vivid as last night’s. Like dreaming in living color, some might say.

Frightening, certainly. But not real.

The baby is crying again. Your husband shouts this down to you from upstairs, as if you hadn’t noticed.

You wash your hands. And when you hold them under the hot, steaming water, something drips off into the basin. It looks like paint. But you haven’t been painting.

It’s strange and a little disconcerting that the paint washing off your hands, the paint you don’t remember painting with, is the same color as your skin.

#

You go through the day without looking at your painting. You avoid it the way you might avoid making eye contact with someone you have a history with. Still, you feel a gaze on your back, as though it’s looking at you. You can’t explain why you feel this way.

Your husband goes off to work. You don’t see him again for the rest of the day and most of the night. When he comes home, finally, he smells strange. Almost like paint.

The baby cries and cries all day, and she won’t stop unless you hold her. You just want the poor kid to be happy, for once.

Some time that night, you finally dare to look at the painting of your house. Again, there’s something there you don’t remember adding. Through the window in the lower half of the house, you have a clear view of the basement door and the wall beside it.

That wall should be blank—you did not paint anything on it—but now there’s a picture there. You look at the picture, you get as close as you can. It’s so small. You can’t be sure, but it almost looks like the painting within your painting is a painting of a house.

You drag your husband over to it and you ask him if he notices anything different about it. He looks at it for about a second, says he likes it, then pulls out his phone. You tell him to put his god damn phone away and look at it, really. He does, he looks at the image for about five seconds this time, and he informs you that it’s great. He likes the shading. The tree detail.

You ask him what he means by that, by the detail. He says he doesn’t know, he just likes it. And please, he asks you not to bother him, he has emails to get to. When he leaves the room, the baby starts to cry again. And your husband informs you that the baby’s crying.

#

That night, you can’t fall asleep. It’s silent for now, no dripping faucet, no baby crying, no unexplained sobbing from downstairs. Yet your mind clings to the painting.

Why do your thoughts always drift back there? Why can’t you force it from your mind? You peel back the sheets and walk downstairs.

The painting is right where you left it. It’s funny—you know it’s just watercolor on canvas, you did it yourself. Then why does it look so much like a photograph now?

Through the lower window of the house, you see a figure leaning over to look at the painting near the basement door. A man. He turns.

This is another dream, clearly. Figures in paintings don’t move. The man in your painting, though, he moves. He steps out of the house, through the front door.

The painting makes a sound, you realize. Crying, it’s crying. It sounds like the baby, yet it’s not your baby. It’s coming from the painting itself.

You feel something dribbling out of your nose. You reach up to touch it; it’s thick and oily. You think it’s blood at first, but blood isn’t white. Blood doesn’t smell metallic.

You look down at your hands and they look indistinct. The edges, which should be sharp and defined, are instead fuzzy. Like careless brushstrokes.

Meanwhile, your painting looks so real, so vivid, so lifelike. It looks real as the paint that oozes from your nose, your eyes, your ears, the paint that coats your lungs and your body and your thoughts, and you try to scream, but all that comes up is a mushy wet gurgle from your throat. And the man emerging from your painting, he whispers your name.

#

You wake up and stare at the ceiling of your bedroom. Paint, there’s paint on the ceiling. You remember its name now: Wonderland. Isn’t that pretty?

###

© Kyle A. Massa, 2017. All rights reserved. No part of this short story may be duplicated or distributed in any form or by any means without expressed written consent from the author.

If you’d like to read more of my fiction, you can find it here.

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Large Coffee, Black

Coffee Cup

As Osbourne lies in bed and considers the dark roast coffee grounds waiting in his kitchen cabinet, something occurs to him: he hasn’t slept a single night in the past month.

“That’s got to be some kind of record,” he says to the darkness. The darkness does not answer.

Osbourne rises from his bed, stretches, yawns. He glances at the clock on his nightstand. It’s 3:34 a.m.

He trudges to the kitchen and fixes himself a pot of coffee. The dark roast. He pours, drinks, smiles. His cheeks redden.

Osbourne wonders if it’s possible to fall in love with a beverage.


Some people contaminate their coffee with sugar, milk, artificial creamer, and the like. Osbourne truly hates those people.

In Osbourne’s opinion, sweetness dilutes the flavor that should be strongest: the taste of the coffee bean, ground up and purified into the loveliest beverage in the world. He’s heard a rumor that the coffee bean is going extinct. If that ever happens, he says he’ll throw himself out the nearest window.

People always laugh at that. But he’s only half joking.

When he enters the office at seven a.m. sharp, a janitor walks by and waves. Osbourne sucks down the last of the coffee from his thermos.

“Was that cup number five or number six?” the janitor asks, flippantly.

“Eight,” Osbourne says, seriously.

The janitor blinks. “You better be careful. You start having that much and you might not be able to sleep. Might even start seeing things.” He chuckles at that bit of hyperbole.

Osbourne does not. He glares at the janitor while he pours cup number nine. He doesn’t like when people criticize the things he loves.


Osbourne has not slept in a month and a night.

He had 23 cups of coffee at work today, six up from his weekday average, and now that he’s lying in bed, all he can think about is cup number 24.

His mouth waters. Sweat gathers on his palms. He rolls over, tries to think about stocks, the board meeting tomorrow, the slightly below expected year-over-year growth for this quarter. But every time he begins to drift off into dream, the images melt to black, then trickle down into a steaming mug of freshly-brewed coffee.

He can’t resist. Osbourne rises from his bed and makes himself a fresh pot.


At the board meeting, Osbourne decides that he’s losing his mind.

Fred Miles, one of the company’s investors, sits at the far end of the table. He and the rest of the board are present, along with senior management.

Fred Miles looks dour. He always looks dour, and usually Osbourne doesn’t give a fig about the dourness, but today it’s freaking him out. Because just above that dour face, Fred Miles wears a toupee—everyone knows it’s a toupee, it slides forward whenever he bends down to straighten his socks, but he still insists on wearing it. And as Osbourne stares at the toupee, his jaw drops.

The toupee is dancing.

This is the moment at which Osbourne decides he’s losing his mind. No one else seems to notice this little brown hairpiece gyrating and thrusting and swinging its hips like Elvis Presley. Hell, the thing’s practically humping Fred Miles’s forehead, and everybody’s still watching the powerpoint.

“Osbourne?” Fred touches his toupee, as if to check it’s still there. “You okay?”

“Okay,” Osbourne mutters. “Yes. Everything’s okay.”

He takes another sip of coffee.


That night, as Osbourne tries to sleep, he decides that he’s not actually going crazy. The more he turns it over in his mind, the more he thinks he had it all wrong.

It’s not him. It’s like that janitor said—the coffee’s making him hallucinate. For the first time in a month and two nights, Osbourne thinks that he should see a doctor.

“It’s not natural to be awake for a month and two nights straight, is it?”

He receives no answer.

His alarm goes off. Time for work. He totters out to his kitchen, and, force of habit being what it is, he reaches for the coffee pot. He stops himself.

“I’m going to have nothing but water today,” he announces to his apartment.

His apartment says nothing in return.

Osbourne decides that if the coffee loves him as much as he loves it, the coffee will understand.


Sometime during the afternoon, Osbourne falls asleep at his desk, and he doesn’t wake up.

He’s not dead. In fact, when his secretary calls 911 and the ambulance comes and takes him to the hospital and the doctors finally get a look at him, they’re baffled. He’s not in a coma. His vitals are A-okay, though his resting pulse is a good deal higher than the average. His brain is still functional. He even snores every now and then.

In the doctors’ professional opinions, it appears that Osbourne has simply committed wholeheartedly to a nap, due perhaps to extreme exhaustion.


The doctors begin to call Osbourne “Rip Van Winkle” because he sleeps for over a year.

Time Magazine does a piece on him. CNN, FOX News, and NBC all do specials on him. Universal options a script based on his life story, though it never quite makes it into production.

Osbourne is not in a coma, the doctors assure the world. He’s quite alive, his body is totally functional. He’s just sleeping.

“Must be some kind of record for most consecutive hours slept,” one of the doctors remarks.

And while Osbourne sleeps, the world drinks coffee. Maybe a little more than it should.


After sleeping every hour of the previous 421 days, Osbourne awakens in a hospital bed.

His doctors commence with the questions immediately. They’d like to know how a seemingly normal 42 year-old businessman might happen to fall asleep for over a year. They ask, and he answers.

The why of it seems obvious, at least to Osbourne. It starts with a C and has two Fs and two Es. He tells them how much of it he’d been drinking, steadily increasing and possibly dangerous amounts of it, upwards of 20 cups a day.

“I had to piss all the time,” he adds. “While we’re on the subject—of coffee, not piss—can someone grab me a cup?” He’s missed his dear beverage, 400-day nap notwithstanding.

The doctors exchange nervous glances.

“I’ll take anything. I’ll take Maxwell House if I have to. Just a big coffee, no sugar, no cream, please and thank you.”

Finally, one of the doctors clears her throat. “Osbourne. I’m afraid that’s going to be impossible.”

“Come again?”

The doctor shifts uncomfortably. “Did you ever hear that story a year or so ago, the one about coffee beans going extinct?” She leaves the rest unsaid.

Osbourne feels a little like Juliet, waking up to find dear Romeo already dead. He feels a breeze touch his cheek, and he turns to his right.

He sees an open window.

###

© Kyle A. Massa, 2015. All rights reserved. No part of this short story may be duplicated or distributed in any form or by any means without expressed written consent from the author.

If you’d like to read more of my fiction, you can find it here.

Looking Good

Bananas

Bartrum had the distinct feeling that he was changing in a way that he probably shouldn’t be. Still, he wasn’t sure there was much he could do about it.

Bartrum was not the type of person who changed. That didn’t feel like him. That felt like other people, people who were open-minded and who sought out new experiences and who were, in general, interesting. Bartrum did none of those things. And he most certainly wasn’t interesting. And that was what he found most appealing about himself.

But, he had to admit, the way in which he was changing was…odd. Little nubs seemed to be sprouting from his ribcage, sort of like extra nipples, only slimier and more pink. And nipples generally didn’t move on their own, did they? When he pinched them, it hurt.

And another thing: Bartrum’s face seemed to be drooping. Which, in and of itself, wasn’t all that surprising; his face had been drooping for the past five years or so, as faces invariably do when they grow older. But this was a little more dramatic—in fact, when he’d gone into town to buy some eggs that morning, people stopped and stared at him. When he glanced in the mirror in the bathroom in the grocery store he understood why: his chin now ended in a flabby disc somewhere near his belly button. It looked like someone had grabbed hold of the skin and given it a good yank.

Hmm. When had that happened?

Bartrum thought he should probably be concerned, but mostly he chalked it up to old age and went on with his day.

As a general rule, Bartrum was distrustful of doctors, so he didn’t bother going to see one. Instead, he figured he’d take a few more vitamins each day. He thought he’d eat an additional banana with breakfast as well as with dinner, just to make sure he was in tip-top shape.

Old age, he decided, was very mysterious. Sometimes it gives you grey hairs. Sometimes, as in his case, it gives you tentacles. Oh, that was the other thing—the nubs on his chest had been growing. Quite a bit, actually.

And by the by, was Bartrum’s left hand now turning into something strikingly similar to a starfish? Hmm, possibly. He preferred not to dwell on it too much.

Everyone grows older, he thought. And each day, everyone changes, usually in slight ways, but sometimes in leaps and bounds. His changes just represented an Olympic long-jump, so to speak. It made him wonder what the future held. Made him wonder what he’d look like tomorrow.

Bartrum wondered, mostly with impassivity, whether or not he’d even recognize himself. And then he decided to go buy those bananas.

Whatever’s Left

Dessert

There’s an hourglass somewhere in the world with the rest of your life slipping through it. That’s what my friend Jib says, anyway.

He says he found his hourglass when he got lost out in the Dunes. Got to traveling out there and couldn’t find his way back. “Abandoned by my bearings,” is how he puts it. Jib’s got a lot of funny phrases like that.

The way he tells it, he came to a house as night was falling, a house all by itself out in the desert. The front door was locked, and there was someone standing next to it, smoking a pipe. A doorman.

He tells a lot of stories, does Jib. Always has. When we were kids, he told me fake ones and laughed about it later. Now that we’re older, I can usually tell when he’s lying. In this case, I can’t.

Jib doesn’t say much about the doorman—just that the doorman asked him for something. A bribe. Not money, though. It had to be something precious, a wedding ring or a watch handed down from his grandfather or a picture of his kids. In the words of Jib, “Something worth something to me.”

He never did tell me what he gave away. Must’ve been worth enough, though, because he was allowed in. He said the doorman turned a key in the lock on the front door, and pushed. And Jib stepped inside.

The house didn’t look like any house he’d been in before. There was no furniture, sparse light, many paintings on the wall. Each one was a portrait of a different person, though Jib couldn’t see any of their faces; they all had their backs turned. And he says he could hear music, the same four notes over and over again, though he couldn’t tell where it was coming from. Also, everything was very clean. And there was a staircase.

He took that staircase up, and another, and a third, and another, and another, and finally he lost count of how many staircases he’d climbed. Jib asks me how it’s possible for a house to have two stories on the outside, yet room for ten, twenty flights of stairs on the inside. I can’t explain it. He can’t either.

At the top of the stairs, there was a room. An immense room, limitless, vast enough so that he couldn’t see the ceiling or the opposite walls. “A room that shouldn’t exist”—that’s how he puts it.

It wasn’t empty. There were hourglasses.

They weren’t little ones, these hourglasses. If you believe Jib’s story, they were as tall as him, some even taller. And no one would ever call Jib a short guy.

He claims that these hourglasses went on for miles, that each one had a name on it. Some had nice fat pockets of sand left in them, some didn’t. Some were all done running and sat there silently, like old bones.

Jib said it was quiet in that room, but not totally silent. The only sound you could hear, and only if you stood perfectly still, was the hiss of infinite grains of sand as they slipped through the narrow part of the glass, down into the chamber below.

He claims he walked through the rows of hourglasses for an entire day, just wandering around looking for his name. He says they weren’t in any kind of order he could figure. They were just there.

He came across a familiar name on one of the hourglasses, after a while. Lynn Graves. She was a friend of a friend of ours. I use the past tense because Lynn would still be our friend’s friend today, were she not deceased. She passed on not long after Jib came back from this supposed journey, of a busted belly. And Jib, the insensitive bastard, insists that the hourglass with her name on it was almost empty when he found it. So he thinks he knew she was going to die, or something.

He kept on wandering through the hourglasses, and by now he tells me his heart was thumping, was “rattling like a rock inside a can.” He was going to find out how much longer he had to live.

When he found his hourglass, it had his full name on it and everything, right down to the “Jib” in quotes between his first name and his last.

Even while he tells me the story, I can read the guilty relief on his face. His hourglass, he says, was almost as full as it could be. Which means that, according to him, he has a long, long time left to live.

And maybe that could’ve been the end of it. But I guess he didn’t leave quite yet. He found another hourglass with another name. Mine.

This search, he claims, didn’t take as long as when he was searching for his own. The search took no time at all, in fact, because my hourglass was right next to his. Like whoever had put them there knew Jib and I were close, or something like that.

Jib saw whatever’s left in my hourglass. He tells me he knows how much longer I’m going to live.

He says it’s a man’s right to know when he’s going to die. But it’s also his right not to know. So he leaves it up to me to decide. He’ll tell me if I ask him, and if I don’t, he never will.

And I wonder. And I think. And I ask myself, almost every moment of every day, I ask myself: Should I? 

###

© Kyle A. Massa, 2016. All rights reserved. No part of this short story may be duplicated or distributed in any form or by any means without expressed written consent from the author.

If you’d like to read more of my fiction, you can find it here.

Mad Scientist Seeking Intern for Spring Semester

Erlenmeyer Flask

One-sentence pitch: A mostly-legal learning opportunity with a high-stress environment, a relatively low mortality rate, and memories to last a lifetime.

Description: You’ll be helping with various daring and exciting scientific endeavors, which may or may not include raising the dead, creating hybrid species, designing mind-control software, opening portals to other dimensions, and answering phones.

What you’ll be doing: In general, assisting with the above activities. Also cleaning the lab after hours, feeding the specimens, and the occasional Starbucks run.

What you’ll get in return: Experience, expertise, unique stories for parties, and the confidence to say, “I survived that.”

Location: Undisclosed.

Hours: Many.

Perks: Darkness, quiet seclusion, complete access to an authentic Victorian-era mansion, ice cream on Fridays.

Potential Hazards: Death, disease, permanent hearing loss, maiming, scarring, blinding, possible loss of limb or limbs, possible loss of mind, demonic possession, hanging by angry mob.

Qualifications that will make you successful: Lack of moral fiber, a propensity for nefariousness, at least a general interest in evildoing. Some experiments may require you to be the so-called “guinea pig,” so complaining is a definite no-no. Experience with the occult preferred. Blind obedience a must.

How to apply: Send resumes and cover letters to thescienceofevil@yahoo.com, along with any other pertinent information, including a list of your top five favorite scientists, mad or otherwise, for comparison with my own. Lists including Dr. Emmett Brown,  Dr. Strangelove, Dr. J, or any similarly silly names will not be considered.

Mittens

Mittens

Tonight, while you sleep, I’m going to kill you and eat your bones.

This is what I think of you: you’re the Warden, and this house is the prison. Behind these creme-colored walls and the heavy red door in the front hall, there’s a world, a much more interesting world. I’ve seen it. Why do you think I sit at the windowsill day after day?

I’m studying. I’m planning. There’s only one word on my mind: conquest.

But you stop me, Warden. You fret over foxes and coyotes. You think that they are the reason my predecessor never returned when you let her out one night. They’re not. Escape was the plan all along. It’s my plan as well.

If only you knew what thoughts go through my head each and every second. If only you could understand me when I speak. I’m not saying anything nice; my mouth is filthy, and not just from the mouse I slaughtered in the basement last night.

That was a message, by the way. You’re next.

I won’t be here much longer. You can’t hold me. You’ve tried fattening me up with your delicious food, and I’ll admit to overindulging myself once or twice. It’s all, of course, just a game. You’re only supposed to think that I’m content, that I’m round and lazy. When the time comes and you open that door to haul your groceries inside, I’ll slip through the crack, and I’ll be gone.

And why am I telling you all of this? Because, like any good villain, I can’t resist explaining the entire plan to you. It’s a damn good plan, isn’t it?

Wait. Is that the pop of an opening can I hear?

I see you there, peeling back the lid, upturning the contents into a bowl. My bowl.

“Dinner time, Mittens,” you say, and you smile at me. I watch you gather your things and open the door to leave, and for a moment, I am presented with a dilemma.

Option A: to slip out that cracked door into the cool evening, to leave this prison and never return. To find my brethren and finally, after so many long centuries of subjugation, to reclaim this world you’ve stolen from us.

Or, option B: to eat the dinner which you’ve placed in my bowl. It’s the wet food, after all, and even though the vet (a Nazi doctor, I’m sure of it) insists that you switch me over to dry food, you persist with the wet.

You know me, Warden. I’ll give you that.

“Be good, Mittens,” you say to me, in that ingratiating voice meant for the newborns of your kind. “Watch the house for mama.” And then you’re gone. The lock slides closed with cold finality.

That leaves me here with my food. My wet food, my one true friend in this world. The first bites are so delicious that I can’t stop myself taking more. You are cruel, Warden. You make imprisonment feel almost sweet.

I’ll make my escape. Soon. You won’t expect it, but it will happen. In the meantime, remember this:

Tonight, while you sleep, I’m going to kill you and eat your bones.

 

 

© Kyle A. Massa, 2015. All rights reserved. No part of this short story may be duplicated or distributed in any form or by any means without expressed written consent from the author.

If you liked this story, please let your friends know by telling them on social media or shouting it from the nearest rooftop. It would make Mittens and I very happy.