Drabble · Stories · Writing

Out of the Box: A drabble

Zi stared down at the tiny box, eyes narrowed in concentration. There had to be a trick to opening it and getting at whatever was inside. It was small, barely the width of her hand, and the wood dark and smooth with age. It had been two hours now, and she was nearing the point of simply carving in some very illegal sigils and letting the thing explode. There was no latch, no seam in the wood’s perfectly uniform sides. Her instructors hadn’t even told her what was hidden in the box, just dangling the mystery in front of her like a carrot. She pushed a stray strand of dark hair back behind her ear.

Maybe I’m not supposed to open the box, but just pretend that I did. That wouldn’t be out of the ordinary. Her memory echoed with Agent Larch’s constant refrain of “think outside the box!”

She grinned suddenly, glancing around the small, bare room. Each corner had its own set of engraved rings, adjustable standards ready for most spells. She grabbed the unopened box of chalk, standing and making her way over to the closest set. Why should she try and unlock the cage, when she could just move it out of the way, instead?

The chalk dropped into her hand, and between the outer two rings she drew crow sigil. Crow, her mind offered absently. Sign of the tricksters; of travel, change, and illusion. The tiger was a more finicky sigil, and she took her time making sure the angles were perfect. The tiger; strength, stability, wealth and treasures.

Filthy hands left streaks of white on her jeans, but Zi barely noticed, reaching down deep into the earth to pull at the power she could always feel buzzing beneath her feet.

Whatever was in that box, it was hers.

Just a little drabble as a homework assignment. Zi is a character from a novel I’m working on though. I do like her quite a bit. 


S.J. Penner

Author of the upcoming series #Tyrant, artist, and inveterate dabbler. Creator of #guiltfreeswag for writers and gamers at Coffee Ink where 100% of proceeds go to Red Cross Emergency Services.

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Stories · Writing

Knock. (A Short Story)

Someone is knocking at the door.

The sound came to me in slow, pulsing waves of sound. Tap. Tap tap. Tap tap tap. Each strike scrapped against the edge of the cocoon of silence I had woven around me. My ears clenched against the intrusion, the first flex of muscle since I had laid down yesterday. The day before?

No more than three days, surely.

The visitor rapped against the wood again and I blinked slowly, eyelids scrapping across my corneas. I tried to swallow but my mouth was dry as paper, dry as the wood the shivered and sang under each sharp knock. It hadn’t rained in weeks, and I hadn’t moved in days.

The world and me, wasting away into dust and drudgery. I watched the constellations of glitter the woken dust made in the air above me. I blew a breath out, my throat screaming at the sudden rush of scorching air. Had I swallowed sand again, before I slept? I thought I had moved well past that by now.

I had started out as all those grieving do. Denial packed my bags, and drove my feet day after day. It brought my radio, which was filled to the brim with static and white noise.

Anger was written on my hands, in the scars that riddled them from the mirrors I had shattered. The carnival had been closed, quiet as the graveyard down the road. Rainbows of fluttering flags waved to me as I crunched across the gravel. The house of mirrors had been full, though, the moment I stepped inside. Full of gaunt, expectant men in stolen, luxury suits, staring back at me with my own red-rimmed grey eyes.

I destroyed them all, my silent companions.

The begging came later, sitting on a dock, staring out across the ocean. I begged then, for a boat. For an escape from the madness and the loneliness. The silence had begun to fill my ears, even then, and I could barely hear the rush of the waves over it.

Give them back, I pleaded. Give them back, or take me too.

I don’t know who I was asking, but no one every answered. Or at least I didn’t think so.

Someone is knocking at the door.

A blanket of inertia keeps me pinned to the luxurious mattress, but I let my head fall sideways. Across a sea of shatter plates and remnants of life, I stare at the source of the slow but steady thrumming in my chest.

Tap tap tap. My heart vibrates with the sound, and while my muscles lay atrophied and useless, my nerves stretch, my mind peering through the fog of disuse to watch the wood.

Depression had struck me like a physical blow. The ruins of my hotel room scattered around me; the mirror shattered, my dinner thrown aside, the maps, radio and camping equipment in useless pieces. Like puzzles, all their pieces thrown together in fury, and abandoned in despair.

The weight of being alone struck me down. I lay amidst the satins and silks of the five star room. The candles I had lit flickered and died, and my soul had followed the light into the darkness. The sun rose, and I didn’t. The world was too large, too empty.

There had been no bodies. Maybe if there had been, it would have been easier to understand. If I had watched the world die of sickness, if I had seen them kill each other, or waste away amongst the radiation, maybe I could have been stronger. Maybe I would have lasted longer.

I had woken to an empty world. My wife’s place beside me in bed was empty, our infant daughter’s cradle cold. The phone lines were still connected, for a few weeks, even the tv worked for a while. It was like humanities last grip on the world; remnants of technology slowly blinking out with no one to care for it. No one but me.

I had finally accepted it, last night. Or accepted the depression, maybe. I’d been depressed before, in my previous life, the one surrounded by seven billion people. I had felt isolated and alone, even in a crowd.

I had been an idiot.

That wasn’t isolation. I could have spent a year in an igloo in Antarctica and it wouldn’t have been isolation. There is an energy that humans have, a hum of life that you can only feel when it’s gone. No one has ever been as alone as I am. No one has ever been truly lost.

There is someone knocking on the door.

Tears are hot on my cheeks, my unused muscles clenching in response to heavy rapping. My body is heavy, the weight of the empty world resting on my chest, but somehow I stood. Like Atlas, the world on my shoulders I walked towards the door, my footsteps matched to the rhythmic pounding.


Someone is knocking at the door.


I find myself gasping, tears blinding me in their furious descent.

Knock. Knock.

The doorknob is cool beneath my fingers, my trembling hand gripping at it with white knuckles.


I can’t hear the turn of the lock, the slide of the mechanism over my gasping breaths.


The light blinds me, the early morning sun the only proof that the world is still turning, once the clocks all stopped. I blink away the spots and the tears, squinting at the dark figure. My heart beats a rapid staccato in my chest.

“Oh.” My voice is sandpaper. “It’s you.”

This was just a short story I wrote during a weekend of writing with friends and family. I hope you liked it!


S.J. Penner

Author of the upcoming series #Tyrant, artist, and inveterate dabbler. Creator of #guiltfreeswag for writers and gamers at Coffee Ink where 100% of proceeds go to Red Cross Emergency Services.

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