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Phantoms

by Liminality


On Sunday, Leland drove Getrude to the orphanage with a large-sum check, her arms each a Christmas tree dangling with toys, books and snacks for the kids. Getrude scowled at him the whole way through. Every so often, when she thought he wasn't looking, she would side-eye him, as if he were bringing her to some remote location to be butchered.

She got off on the side of the road. Standing there, with the passenger's seat between them, she spoke, frowning. "What's with you?"

Getrude was shorter than him, but this way she could finally look down on him as she's wanted to since January. It made Leland speak a little more lightly than he would have otherwise. "Nothing."

The bags swayed in the air as she whipped around, scoffing. He waited until she was a flame-coloured dot on the rickety steps to the orphanage. He imagined them creaking. When the door opened, there was a rallying cheer from inside, dampened just slightly by the autumn wind, which sent red leaves careening forward from the bed of birch trees, star-shapes slapping against the windshield or flying away.

Leland pulled his jacket tighter around his shoulders.

Down the street, a father and son came jogging. The father was old and withered - Leland could smell it on him. The son, meanwhile, ran in squeaky sneakers and would die within five years from a heriditary disease.

Leland snapped his fingers. The wool of his scarf hid the blue glow nicely. That was the only reason why he'd bought this plush luxurious thing, really, he thought, as a thump resounded behind him. A loud terrified cry pierced the air. Leland dialled an emergency number on his phone to come pick them up - both the kid and the body.

Then he drove away, as he promised Getrude he would. He waited for her in a small back lane, shielded by the pale morning shadows. His hands did not shake as he cracked open the dashboard and begun to sort through a lifetime's worth of files and newspaper clippings.

--

The Phantom gave him an instinct for the dead and dying. His own siblings had perished one by one, in the order in which they were born, until there was only him left. Their gravestones lay in the cemetery opposite the Alabaster Park, up on the hill, as if peering down on the affairs of the living. This chill he felt, it was all a part of the Phantom. And also a part of him.

From the other side of the hill, he could hear the sirens going as police and other authorities came to investigate the scene. He imagined the child would go home to his mother. They would live together for a long time yet, living off of recycled years from an old man who waited too long before starting a family.

Leland contemplated the cold, bluish skin on his palms. With this power of his, he could medicate such situations.

He lay his hands on the steering wheel, they shivered still, but it sapped less of his strength to sit this way, and that was the reason why he did most things, these days.

On his phone screen, from two hours prior:

G: Hey gremlin, you're 21. Why do you talk like an old man?

G: Srsly, it's like you can't even read a map! Where are you right now?

G: Nvm I see your car. Be there in two.

As he waited, he spent his time deleting all his old messages and contacts. For the first time in a long time, no new ones arrived. Even his mole in the news agency had gone silent. Leland sat back, watching the clouds arrive and blanket the sun.

G (two minutes ago): hey I heard the police - are you okay?

G (one minute ago): hello?

It was time to tell her.

--

Later, she squeezed into his backseat without a sound, gaze distantly watching the beginnings of a drizzle patter lightly on the windshield. Inside the car, he showed her clippings of all the different Blue Phantom cases, all of which lined up with locations from their community service activities or things from uni.

"Nadia?" In the rearview mirror, he could see Getrude had picked one photograph out of the many. "I remember that girl. She came to our centre after her father was arrested . . . So you're saying - "

"I just transferred his years to her. He wasn't going to live long, anyway. It was a small change."

A small change, but a better one, if you asked him. Otherwise, the girl would have died after the stabbing.

"So you've - killed - people with this power?" Her teeth bared sharp and white. "That's insane!"

Her neck seemed to bristle with the fear he would kill her, too, in this meeting he arranged alone with a trusting person. He was so very tired of fear. "I don't just kill anyone," he said quickly. "Quite the opposite, actually."

Would she call the police? He watched silently as she seemed to struggle with what he'd just told her. A million different things seemed to flash across her face. Her dark skin blanched slightly, and he turned up the heating, watching her with furrowed brows.

Getrude's voice went quiet. "Why are you telling me this now?"

Leland smiled.

"My remaining years . . . I want you to have them."

--

It was a good place, the Alabaster. The way out of the park was a meandering, winding one, one that carried them through corridors of crimson autumn birch trees. Wind swept the leaves this way and that, so life-like, it seemed the air was filled with red butterflies, fluttering en masse fresh from their split cocoons.

As he drove, he could see the park's stone paths inclining like a spiral staircase above him, seeming to rise relative to their descent from the hills. Tar flowed in, substituted the grey cobbles. And all was doused in the runny grey light of a gentle rain.

Getrude bounced her knee anxiously. She clutched the bag of recyclables she had taken from the orphanage. Each movement made the tin cans clang, but she seemed to be happy for the noise now.

Maybe he should have switched on the radio. His finger hovered, for a moment, over the power button. Then he put it back on the steering. Radio would be too easy. Getrude needed to think this over, and so did he.

A hand slapped against the cushions. "I can't think." She was looking at him. Looking at his reflection, rather. What did she see in his reflection? Just a pale, dead face.

When they pulled up at the recycling centre, he heard a cluttering of noises behind him. Getrude had leaned forward. She pressed the bag into his hand.

"You go take it out." Her jaw squared with authority. "Take it to Mal."

A drop of cold sweat broke out on Leland's neck, as the wind whistled through the open window, chilling his spine. His stiff fingers closed around the bag. It weighed heavy on his arm. Yes, Getrude had more muscle than he, at this age, and that was all the more reason why she could fill the space he left behind. Tar replacing cobbles. Day replacing night.

But the way she was staring at him now created a growing discomfort, like a sheet of rain falling onto his heavy head. A pain glowed in the space behind his eyeballs. She didn't talk about his offer. It was stupid of him to load this on her all of a sudden, especially in this place, with its too-heavy leaffall and its dreary atmosphere.

With a stuttered reply, he turned. He unlocked the car door. He stumbled outside. Swaying on his feet, he struggled to right himself, as the blood rushed down to his legs.

Mal was a small wrinkled smiling bonsai tree of a man whom he'd never spoken to. The grinning eyes, lined with crow's feet, widened slightly when they saw him.

"Oh, hello." Mal's voice was bright, surprisingly pleasant. He shook Leland's hand. He took the bags of recycling from him and tucked them swiftly into the heap piling up next to him.

Nothing about it all seemed real.

With the world swimming, all Leland could do was smile and nod. And hobble back to the car, Mal's concerned gaze on him. And he could sit down. He could do that much.

--

Getrude was right.

He had killed people. He had drained the years from a drug dealer who sold to teenagers. He had killed someone to let a kind elderly doctor live long enough to treat a few more patients. His dashboard was stuffed to the brim with files of these orchestrated transfers, some measured in years, some in months or days.

All of these incidents were becoming increasingly frequent. Between them, he seemed to mourn less and less. Regret less and less.

"I just think it's no good for me to go on any longer like this," he said, finally, when the silence after he'd gotten back grew too large too looming to bear.

Getrude immediately began unwrapping a granola bar. She munched on it absently, not looking at him. She waited for him to step on the engine.

They picked up slowly, rattling along the last stretch of road in Alabaster Park. A deer dashed across the road in front of them and made him - curse! - and stop short. Why had they come here again? Maybe he'd wanted to be close to his brothers and sisters for this - who knows?

He couldn't think about it, now. Instead, he drove carefully, let speeding cars go first if they wished, let pedestrians flout the traffic lights, if they wished.

At the junction, the flow paused. Someone's fuel had run out on the side of the road. He watched the stream of neon-yellow-clad traffic police amble about, herding curious crowds away and slowly clearing the road. A tap on his shoulder. Getrude offered him a sip of her drink and, without really thinking, he took it. Strawberry. It made him pause. Was everything off today? She usually preferred vanilla.

It was night-time when she got out in front of her house. By then, the rain had stopped. A pale shimmer of water coated the small cul-de-sac where she lived. On the brown garden fence, a tabby cat meowed in greeting, then impatience as Getrude lingered outside the car, pretending to adjust things inside her purse.

Moonlight sliced downwards. It lit the left side of her face, where the scar ended and the tattoo on her cheek began. Leland had never really noticed the shape before.

Suddenly, she spoke. "You know all this time I thought you were a perv or something."

Leland's head snapped backward to look at her, eyes wide. Her face flushed.

"It's cause--!" she said. "It's cause you keep all those secrets. You do all that skulking about, here and there at uni. I just assumed things, okay? But I guess you're not a perv and you're just some weird vigilante the papers won't shut up about --?"

She exhaled her frustration, seeming to pound on the air with both fists. "I still don't know what to think. But I'm not dying, you gremlin. And neither are you."

Getrude left the evidence in a pile on his backseat, wedged between the flower-shaped cushions. "We have a meeting on Monday." Then, more quietly. "Don't be late, okay?"

That meant goodbye - and, no thank you.

For a moment, Leland rested his head on the steering wheel, eyes screwed shut. Then he relaxed. He switched on the window wipers. The last of the red leaves fell from his car on her street, whisked away by the repetitive swishing of foam upon glass.

In the dim glow of streetlights, Leland hauled himself back up, pressed down on the pedal, and kept driving.


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Tue Aug 11, 2020 9:55 pm
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IamI wrote a review...



Intro
Hi @Liminality! Remember when said I’d be reviewing this soon? Turns out I’m even worse at keeping promises than I though. Let’s begin.

Bad

until there was only him left.


The phrasing here is a bit clunky; I would suggest changing it to “until only he was left.” I know it’s a bit of cliche phrase, but it’s really the most readable version of it that I know.

it was all a part of the Phantom. And also a part of him.


The second sentence in this passage feels very tacked on; I think it would read better as something like “it was all a part of the phantom—part of him.”

He could hear the sirens going


The verb ‘going’ is very weak. It doesn’t really give us any vivid input into what kind of sound it makes, I would personally go for something like ‘keening’.

Later, she squeezed into the back seat


The problem here is the same as above, the story would benefit from great vivacity and precision.

Her neck bristled with fear that he might kill her, too


I would suggest getting rid of the “that he might kill her, too,” part, since we’re not in that character’s head (at least I don’t think we are) and the context of the scene up to this point should give the audience enough to know why she is afraid.

and made him - curse! - and stop short.


This is a confusing sentence and really an unwelcome and surprising tonal shift, I would suggest changing it to simply “it made him curse and stop short.”

other
The characters here don’t seem to me to have very strong personalities. That’s not to say they don’t have any at all, I simply mean they aren’t too memorable too me. Simply put: I can’t guess where Leland goes or what he does after the story ends. While that may be the point of the vague ending (not a thing a I dislike by any means), I still think the characters should have a strong enough personality to exist in my mind after I stop reading. This is a very difficult thing to do (off the top of my head the only author I can think of who has actually achieved this is Robert Jordan) so don’t strive for it at the expense of anything. I just wanted to leave you with something to think about.

Good

To start off, the characters in this have an interesting and realistic dynamic. The texts in this are also very realistic.

As always your descriptions are excellent. One that stood out to me was:

It was a good place, the Alabaster. The way out of the park was a meandering, winding one, one that carried them through corridors of crimson autumn birch trees.


Despite the spar sort of adjectives, this description creates wonderful images and I like the alliteration of ‘corridors of crimson’.

Conclusion
A thoughtful, grounded, take on the superhero genre evocatively set and described with decent dialogue and well realized characters.

Keep up the good work!




Liminality says...


Thanks so much for the review! Lots of good stuff you've pointed out here. I love 'keening' -- thanks for suggesting that :)



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Sun Jul 19, 2020 2:28 pm
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Rosewood wrote a review...



This was a cool story, and because of that, I don't have much to say.

The settings were well described, the characters were believable, and the writing was well executed. I particularly enjoyed the main character's conversations. The dialogue feels like it is happening in the moment and I'm just overhearing it rather than reading about it.

The plot was a tad bit confusing, but that may just be me. I felt like the story kept turning and changing, and that I had to reread a few times to get the gist of it. I feel like if you expanded upon it, the story would be well told and I would understand the plot better.

Overall, it was a good short story that conveyed the characters and the dialogue well.




Liminality says...


Thanks for the review!



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Wed Jul 15, 2020 4:23 am
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Vil wrote a review...



Hello, Liminiality! It's Vilnius here with a review.

This... power is unlike anything I've ever seen before. I'm curious as to what inspired it-- a dream, maybe, or something you read? Possibly something else? No matter how you came up with it, it's an awesome concept that could really affect all sorts of characters in all sorts of different ways. This power could, in theory, have changed the course of history.

There were no grammatical errors that I noticed, which is always a good thing!

As Harry said, gloves would really be a need for Leland-- I can't think of a reason for palms to be a bluish color-- with the exception of frostbite.

Your descriptions were nicely written and not overdone. They were tidy and easy to understand, something every reader will appreciate.

"He had killed people. He had drained the years from a drug dealer who sold to teenagers. He had killed someone to let a kind elderly doctor live long enough to treat a few more patients."
I love moral/philosophical complexities in stories! Normally, causing a death would be seen as a bad thing, but in this case (especially given the power Leland has and how he used it), I would argue that Leland is morally right to kill the dealer. As, quote, "[H]is dashboard was stuffed to the brim with files of these orchestrated transfers," one might assume that this is something he does regularly. As Robin Hood takes from the rich and gives to the poor, Leland may be taking from the bad and giving to the good. That's something I can get behind.

Overall, a well-written story. I personally enjoyed it and would recommend it to others. 5/5




Liminality says...


Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I'm glad you enjoyed the story :)



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Mon Jul 13, 2020 8:29 am
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HarryHardy wrote a review...



Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening/Night(whichever one it is in your part of the world),

Hi!! Here to leave a review on behalf of The After Watch.

First Impression: Well that was quite the story right there. Very intriguing indeed. Some very neat details there to help us understand the context but vague enough that it doesn't feel like an unnecessary information dump. The details for a couple of areas were a touch light though.

Anyway let's get to it,

Down the street, a father and son came jogging. The father was old and withered - Leland could smell it on him. The son, meanwhile, ran in squeaky sneakers and would die within five years from a heriditary disease.

Leland snapped his fingers. The wool of his scarf hid the blue glow nicely. That was the only reason why he'd bought this plush luxurious thing, really, he thought, as a thump resounded behind him. A loud terrified cry pierced the air. Leland dialled an emergency number on his phone to come pick them up - both the kid and the body.


Gotta say this is a really cool idea for a power that you've come up with here. It's something that I don't think I've ever seen before and it the possibilities from something like this is just amazing to think about.

The Phantom gave him an instinct for the dead and dying. His own siblings had perished one by one, in the order in which they were born, until there was only him left. Their gravestones lay in the cemetery opposite the Alabaster Park, up on the hill, as if peering down on the affairs of the living. This chill he felt, it was all a part of the Phantom. And also a part of him.


This is a very short description of his abilities and I like that. The catch is this sort of thing works really well if this was the first chapter of a novel where more details would help us understand this better...but...this is a short story so you don't quite have enough context to figure out what exactly it means when he uses these powers to transfer his years to Gertrude.

Leland contemplated the cold, bluish skin on his palms. With this power of his, he could medicate such situations.


If he wanted to hide those I daresay gloves would be a required accessory.

Later, she squeezed into his backseat without a sound, gaze distantly watching the beginnings of a drizzle patter lightly on the windshield. Inside the car, he showed her clippings of all the different Blue Phantom cases, all of which lined up with locations from their community service activities or things from uni.


This hints at quite the history here. Love the subtle way that is shown.

It was a good place, the Alabaster. The way out of the park was a meandering, winding one, one that carried them through corridors of crimson autumn birch trees. Wind swept the leaves this way and that, so life-like, it seemed the air was filled with red butterflies, fluttering en masse fresh from their split cocoons.

As he drove, he could see the park's stone paths inclining like a spiral staircase above him, seeming to rise relative to their descent from the hills. Tar flowed in, substituted the grey cobbles. And all was doused in the runny grey light of a gentle rain.


This is a great description right there.

Getrude bounced her knee anxiously. She clutched the bag of recyclables she had taken from the orphanage. Each movement made the tin cans clang, but she seemed to be happy for the noise now.


Okay like Lee mentioned the reaction by Gertrude does seem a little too mellowed down. She doesn't even ask why he thinks that she'd need years from him nor does she does press for information on his powers or how he feels about them or why he thinks its a good idea for his years to be transferred. It just feels a little too glossed over.

He had killed people. He had drained the years from a drug dealer who sold to teenagers. He had killed someone to let a kind elderly doctor live long enough to treat a few more patients. His dashboard was stuffed to the brim with files of these orchestrated transfers, some measured in years, some in months or days.

All of these incidents were becoming increasingly frequent. Between them, he seemed to mourn less and less. Regret less and less.


This part is great.. A lot of good development in those few short sentences.

She exhaled her frustration, seeming to pound on the air with both fists. "I still don't know what to think. But I'm not dying, you gremlin. And neither are you."

Getrude left the evidence in a pile on his backseat, wedged between the flower-shaped cushions. "We have a meeting on Monday." Then, more quietly. "Don't be late, okay?"

That meant goodbye - and, no thank you.


Well that certainly is very interesting right there.

Aaand that's it.

Overall: This is a really good story. Nice little plot. The setting is pretty clear and the character here is also developed pretty well. The skimping on a couple of details is the only problem I spotted really.

As always remember to take what you think was helpful and forget the rest.

Stay Safe
Harry

This review courtesy of
Image




Liminality says...


Thanks a lot for your review! It really helped me see how a reader would interpret certain lines of this story. :)



HarryHardy says...


Your Welcome!!



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Mon Jul 13, 2020 5:13 am
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LittleLee wrote a review...



Hi, Liminality, I'm Lee, and here to review your short story!

I'll begin by saying it's very interesting and well-thought out, and I was overall impressed with your writing. There are lots of nice descriptions, and I really like the character of Leland.

Here are just a few of my thoughts:

I would like to have had a little more detail put on the whole phantom thing. Is it a power he inherited? Or was he born with it? And when he kills someone, does the body change somehow? You mentioned the "Blue Phantom cases", that's why I'm asking.

Getrude's reaction to his admission seemed rather tuned down. She just found out he can kill or save people with his power, but she takes it all in stride. I mean, okay, they know each other, but still.

Leland contemplated the cold, bluish skin on his palms.

Is there any reason for his palms being cold and blue? If they were blue all the time, surely someone would notice.

All of these incidents were becoming increasingly frequent. Between them, he seemed to mourn less and less. Regret less and less.

Oooh. Dark. Possibly my favourite lines.

Why is he dying? Illness? Age? Some terminal disorder? The side effect of being the Phantom?

Overall, like I said, it was very good, and quite intriguing. The plot is simple and well-structured, and it made for a great read. Keep writing stories of this calibre!

I hope the review was useful in some way. Good luck!

- Lee




Liminality says...


Thanks so much for your comments! I agree with a lot of what you've pointed out, especially about the details and Getrude's behaviour. This will be really helpful for editing the story further. Thanks again!



LittleLee says...


You're welcome!




#longlivebigbrother
— alliyah