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Showing posts with label horror. Show all posts
Showing posts with label horror. Show all posts

Thursday, July 26, 2018 4 comments

Stay on, your toes

The Boy continues to embrace the whole home ownership thing. He has a pretty decent garden spot (mostly hot peppers, with a few other things) and is talking about adding a room. A really good thing, he's been keeping up with his glucose and insulin for the last six months or so.

Of course, there are downsides. About a month ago, a bad storm came through and dropped a tree limb on their newest car, totaling it. At least it was parked, which means comprehensive kicks in (lower deductible) and no ding on his driving record.

Then there was the garden incident… at least, as best as we can figure. He was weeding when his foot started burning (wearing sandals), but the pain faded quickly and he kept at it. He saw a blister later was all.

A few days later, he had a pretty heavy-duty infection in his foot, and ended up in a hospital in Carrolton. We grabbed a hotel to spend the night down there. The surgeon told everyone, “we’ll do what we can, but he’s probably going to lose four toes.” Yeowch!

So they wheeled him in, and we flipped out our tablets to wait for the news, whether good or bad. Finally, a nurse called us into the consultation room. The surgeon said, “the infection hadn’t gone to the bone, or got into the tendons, so we cut out the infected tissues.” So far so good… everything was still attached. For now. Even better: “he still has pretty good circulation in his feet, that helps.”

They wheeled him back to his room, and the surgeon came by to tell him what was next: they would leave his foot wrapped up for a few days, then the wound care specialist would come by and check for any further infection. At that point, they would decide whether his toes could stay attached a little longer. The way he talked, it sounded like a 50/50 proposition.

This is the GOOD side!
We went home, but kept in touch via text, until we returned to the hospital for The Unveiling.

No infection! Yay!

The wound care specialist came in and said, “three things if you want to keep your toes: don’t smoke, don’t walk on that foot, and keep up with your insulin.” There were other particulars, including a special boot he wears to walk around safely, but those are details.

The wife took a pic of the bottom of his foot. I really don’t want to inflict that one on you… there was basically a trench about 1/2" wide and deep, running across the joints. Top view is bad enough (the bruised big toenail came from him dropping something on his foot while doing a moving job).

Last week, we got a report (and a pic): the wound care specialist says it’s healing up faster than expected. Indeed, the pic showed a small oval of raw flesh surrounded by new skin. Woohoo!

So what caused all this? The symptoms were all consistent with a brown recluse bite. We may never know what happened, but I’m willing to blame spiders.

Friday, November 25, 2016 12 comments

Patient Zero (#FlashFicFriday)

Some of us are trying to bring the fun of flash fiction back to Twitter. Here’s my contribution, inspired by Daughter Dearest’s text this morning: Walmart is empty, like nobody in the parking lot. That would be as much a sign of the zombie apocalypse as anything…

Do join us! Go to the #FlashFicFriday blog and leave your link in the collector.



Heather was alone in the unruly crowd, but she was closer to the doors now. After all the stress of the Thanksgiving family gathering, her friends Brit and Becks (aka The Bs) invited her to a party followed by Black Friday shopping. Seemed like a great idea at the time. “Maybe it’s food poisoning,” she muttered to herself. Aunt Tammy made the most god-awful side dishes, and insisted everyone get some. Not to put too fine a point on it, she felt like shit. Thank God for the crowd, she thought. It’s the only thing holding me up.

A vision of being a Black Friday statistic brought her to her senses.”Girl up,” she growled. “You’re on a mission.” Big-screen TVs were $125 at Mallet’s (“don’t go to the maul, go to Mallet’s!”) and she meant to get two—one for her, one for her cousin Whitney, the only family member she ever looked forward to seeing nowadays.

She looked at the big digital clock over the doors. 4:54 a.m., and Mallet’s would open at five. Her vision was blurry, and her mind wasn’t much better. She focused, trying to piece together what had happened. She never got hammered enough to black out. Maybe Becks was right, and that guy she had hooked up with at the party gave her a roofie. The Bs ended up carrying her to the car, after threatening the guy’s life, and drove with her window open until she came to.

Her shoulder itched, and she winced as she scratched. A memory sputtered to life: the guy had his hand in her shirt—but behind her neck, gently scratching her shoulder. It felt good, so she hadn’t made him stop. The way it felt now, he must have taken a few layers of skin off. “Some pervs have the weirdest kinks,” she said, and this time the mom in front of her glanced over her shoulder.

Plan. Focus. Get what you came for. The terrified employees lined up a bunch of carts, staggered so you could slip between them to get to the first row. The digital clock went to 4:59, then 4:59:30, then the crowd counted down the last ten seconds.

The doors slid open, the employees got the hell out of the way, and the stampede was on. Heather made the most of her solid build, pushing the mom aside, elbowing her way forward, rolling with her staggering run, letting nobody slow her down. She weaved through the carts, grabbed one in the second row as the first row sprinted into the store, and joined the mad chase.

At Electronics, she found the stack of big-screens, and shoved two onto her cart. Someone grabbed her hoodie, trying to yank her backward, and she stepped back and threw an elbow. The stout middle-aged woman grunted and staggered back, and Heather pushed the cart away from the growing melee around the TVs.

Now that she had what she wanted, her resolve and energy crashed. Slumping against the cart, she trundled to the customer service desk in the back.

“You okay?” the flack behind the counter asked. “Do I need to call 911?”

“No,” she managed to reply. “Just need to rest a couple minutes is all.” She collapsed onto the bench and knew no more.


“Hey. Hey.” Shaking. “Hey. If you’re not sick, you have to go. I’ll call 911 if you want.”

She pushed herself up with a grunt, swaying a little. The TVs were gone, so was her purse, but she had no memory of those things. She was here for…

Rrrrowlrrrrr, went her stomach. She was here to eat. And the meat standing before her was as good a start as any.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016 2 comments

Weekend of Woof

Our weekend began well enough, until Mason… shall we say, displayed symptoms of a 24-hour stomach virus starting late Friday evening. The fun went on a little while through the night, then settled down. Saturday went well—Mason bounced right back well before lunch, and was playing outside. I managed to get the lawn mowed, and started editing Blink on a paper copy.

Call it the eye of the hurricane.

Source: oversharing.tmi
Sunday late afternoon/early evening, the wife started feeling pretty rotten, and I was about three hours behind her. “I meant to tell Daughter Dearest to bring up that medicine,” she said.

“We’ve got Pepto here,” I replied.

“That won’t work.”

Be that as it may, I figured it wouldn’t make things worse, and took a couple tablespoons when I started feeling queasy. It seemed to work for me; I only had MGV (Merde Gran Vitesse) to deal with. I skipped supper, and slept very lightly, but I slept. Unfortunately, the “lightly” part meant I woke up whenever the wife ran for the bathroom, which happened several times through the night. Thankfully, Charlie slept through the night. One less thing to worry about.

Monday morning came. Sizzle came up to watch Charlie, while I felt human enough to take Mason to school. On the way home, I picked up a bunch of Powerade. My first act upon returning home was to email work and tell them I wouldn’t be coming in. I poked at a couple things online, sipping at a tall glass of Powerade, then got back in bed and stayed there until about 2:30pm. By then, I felt quite a bit better—even though I’d skipped three meals in a row for the first time in, like, forever. Wife was past it as well, although she was debilitated and most likely dehydrated. I spent the rest of the afternoon finishing a paper edit of Blink, and plying the wife with fluids.

By supper time, I felt more hungry than crampy, and decided to have a sandwich. It gave me no problem, which was good, but I was ready to sack it again by 10:30. That was good, because Charlie woke up at 6:15 this morning. I got him a diaper change and bottle, and he went right back to sleep right when Mason got up (also a little early). So we got him off to school, and me back to work. Wife is still a little tired this evening, but is otherwise recovering well.

I sure hope Charlie avoids getting it. Nobody should have to go through this, but that goes double for a baby. Besides, this stomach virus already violated the Interspecies Accord by hitting more than one person in the house at a time, so it needs to leave the rugrat alone.

Friday, October 31, 2014 9 comments

A Web of Vengeance (#FridayFlash)

Image source: openclipart.org
Wilson woke up.

Spiders. Everywhere. In his bedroom.

The bugs had invaded his house lately, perhaps looking for shelter from the coming winter. Wilson had declared all-out war. He’d used bug spray, shoes, the vacuum cleaner… and they just kept coming. He had two of those “set off and leave” kind of bug bombs, in case things got out of hand.

“Time to go nuclear, you bastards.” Wilson tried to sit up, but thick layers of spider silk bound him to the bed. He cursed and struggled, trying to wriggle out from under the covers, but he was stuck.

Suppressing a scream, Wilson watched as hundreds—thousands—of spiders dropped or climbed onto the bed.

A weight on his feet. The queen had arrived.

Friday, September 12, 2014 9 comments

End of the Road (#FridayFlash)

Image source: openclipart.org
Vincent “Van” Hendricks stopped at the curb in front of the old mansion. “This is crazy,” he said, for the eighth time since he grabbed his leather bag and jumped in his Impala. The twenty years he spent chasing Jan Meppel demanded he go, though. You are invited to my lair, the letter had said. Bring your tools, and friends if you wish, but I pledge that you will come to no harm by my design. Hendricks had chosen to come alone, but told several trusted friends where he was going that night.

Shouldering his bag, his feet carried him to the door while his mind continued to sift through the reasons Meppel would invite him over. Some treachery, no doubt, but he was prepared.

He raised his hand to knock, but saw the note: Hendricks. The door is open. Please let yourself in and proceed to the parlor. Help yourself to the wine and canapés, and I will join you presently. He shrugged and followed directions. His bag held ways to test for poison, but the food and wine were safe. He poured himself a glass of wine, a vintage far more expensive than he ever bought for himself, and waited.

“Ah, Hendricks,” his enemy, this vampire, greeted him, carrying his own glass and seating himself. “I suppose you are curious why I invited you.”

“I’m sure you have a little surprise planned for me, Meppel.”

The vampire chuckled. “Indeed I do,” he replied. “I am here, you have come, and it is time for you to finish the hunt.”

Hendricks frowned. “I don’t understand.”

“Then I’ll say it plainly. I want you to kill me tonight.”

Hendricks nearly choked on his wine. “What? Why?”

Meppel stood and began pacing the room. “If you include the days of my life, my pre-vampiric existence one might say, I am six hundred and fifty years old, and am bored beyond anything you can imagine. I seriously began to contemplate suicide—which for one in my condition, is a gruesome act indeed—about fifty years ago. Indeed, had you not come along, I would have likely done it before now. Evading you lifted the long boredom for a while, but now it has returned. I’d rather hoped you could have brought me down without my help, but it is not to be.”

“Kill you. Just like that. And you’re not worried about Hell?”

“Not at all. You see, I have no soul. Or rather, my soul went on to its reward with the death of my old self. I awoke into my new existence with my mind and memories, but my soul… gone. Amusing: the one part of me that was fitted for eternity departed when my second birth made me immortal. Such is the curse of the vampire.” Meppel drank and smiled. “I spent many years researching that problem, two centuries ago, and you are the first person to hear the answer I found.”

“That’s interesting,” said Hendricks, truly interested in spite of himself. “Evil without consequence?”

“Evil? You once likened me to a parasite, feeding off those like you. Does a dog call the tick evil? Nay, the tick does what it does to survive. What it is made to do. And I do the same. I may have fed on the unwilling. I may have killed those who deserved death. But never have I done what was done to me, and changed someone against his will.”

“What? What happened?”

Meppel drained his glass and set it on the table next to his chair. “I was in the employ of a merchant, in what you now call the Netherlands. This merchant owed favors to my father, and he persuaded the merchant to hire me on. I was not aware—nor, I believe, was my father aware—that my employer deeply resented my father. One night, he encouraged me to drink my fill of his wine, and I blacked out. When I awoke, it was to my second birth. He who had done this explained how my former employer had sold me, told me of my new existence, what I could do and not do, and so forth. He had a cadre of loyal staff, who also served as our food source. We fed them well, and they fed us in return.

“When whispers of our existence became too loud, we sailed to the Antilles. My master left me his worldly goods when he chose to end his own existence, and I moved on to the Americas. And now, I have reached the end of the road. You have what you need, I presume?”

Hendricks took a stake and mallet from his bag. “I do.”

“Where is your sword?”

“Sword?”

“To strike off my head after!” Meppel looked agitated. “You cannot tell me that you have hunted vampires and—bah. Use that one.” He pointed to an antique sword hanging on the wall. “The scabbard is around here somewhere. Take it with you when you go. You’ll need it when you go back and finish all the other kills you bungled. Will you need me to position the stake properly as well?”

“What? I—”

Meppel waved a ringed hand. “I am sure you know where to put the stake. To my chambers, now. Let us finish this.”

Friday, March 14, 2014 16 comments

Oh Rats! (#FridayFlash)

This wasn’t one of Mason’s ideas, but it does continue the adventures of the exterminator and his enthusiastic sidekick. For more of these two, see Chomp! and Sssssslither!



Image source: openclipart.org
“Lee’s Exterminators.” Lee listened, as Kate said “mm-hmm” several times and scratched at a notepad. “Uh, sure. We can set out bait blocks. Oh. Well, I’ll check with the boss. Can you hold for a moment?”

“What’s going on?” Lee asked, sticking his head out of the office.

Kate had that grin. “They’ve got a detached garage, infested with rats.”

“Don’t tell me it’s—”

“I think it might be an anomaly, yeah. Do we have time to go check it out?”

Lee sighed. “Unfortunately, yes. No scheduled jobs this afternoon.”

“Great! I’ll get the info, call the profs, and we can get going.” Kate was a biology major at the university, and worked for Lee part-time. When a job turned out to be an anomaly, and he’d seen too many of those lately, Kate’s professors paid well for videotape and live specimens. But no amount of money was worth the nightmares.


“They’re… aggressive,” the customer told Lee, rubbing his left arm. “I ain’t seen nothin’ like it. If I didn’t have stuff in there I want to get out, I’d just have the fire department come out and burn it down.”

“Okay,” said Lee. He noted that tone, the one that said you’ll think I’m crazy if I tell you what’s really going on. “Kate, let’s suit up. Sir, if you’d rather go inside while we work, that might be safest.”

“Are you gonna fumigate the garage, then? That’s what I’d do.”

“We’ll see what we’re up against, first. Then we’ll decide what to do.”

“Okay.” The customer sounded doubtful, but fished in his pockets. “Here’s the keys.”


“Video on,” said Kate.

“Keep your shield on the ground,” Lee warned. “Last thing you want is for ‘em to get to your ankles.”

“Roger that.” She stepped forward.

“Kate, it’s my job to go in first.”

“Nope! My turn. I’ll be careful. My insurance is up to date, anyway.” Kate opened the unlocked door before Lee could protest further. “Lights on,” she said. “What the…”

Through the audio pickup, Lee heard a sound like spats of rain. “What’s going on?”

“It’s rat poop,” said Kate. “They’re pushing it off the plywood in the rafters. Like it’s a warning. Interesting.” She drew that last word out, relishing it. “There’s a few of them,” she continued. “Normal size. Brown and white. Weird, they’re not running—shit!”

“Kate!” Lee dashed forward, but Kate was already backing out of the garage.

She turned and gave Lee a wild-eyed look. “If I didn’t know better, I would have thought they—”

Lee looked at Kate’s shield. “Where did that nail come from?”

“Nail?” Kate turned her shield around. “Holy… Lee. We need to check the video. Now.”


“Son of a…” Lee trailed off, as Kate stepped through the video frame by frame. Even with the motion blur, it was obvious.

“They built tools!” Kate exulted. “Weapons! A fracking crossbow! Do you know what that means?”

“It means we’ll have to fumigate the garage after all.”

“Are you crazy? This is an intelligent species! Maybe the only examples! We can’t just exterminate them because—”

“Uh, Kate? We’re exterminators. It’s our job to get rid of animals that invade people’s dwellings. They’re encroaching on human territory. If they were people, they’d be squatting. Trespassing. The police would remove them, using force if necessary.”

“Deadly force?”

“Probably not,” Lee admitted. “But tasers would be a possibility.”

“Taser.” Kate snapped her fingers, rapidly. “Do you have anything like that? Something that would just… knock ‘em out? Sleepy gas?”

“Not with us. Call your profs. Maybe they can suggest something. Then we can let the customer know what’s happening.”


“Ready? Go!” Lee and Kate led the charge, followed by four more biology students. All wore masks and air tanks, and carried cages and grabbers. Kicking the door shut behind them, they waded through the fog of ether and used the grabbers to toss unconscious rats into cages.

“Three nests of babies up here,” said one of the students, standing on a ladder. “And some adults. Looks organized. Almost looks like a daycare.”

“Sweep ‘em into the cage, nests and all,” said Kate. “Try not to mess up the nests. I hope they don’t OD.”

“How many do you think we’ll miss?” Lee asked.

“There’s probably a few up in the insulation,” another student suggested. “Whoa. That looks like a crossbow.”

“It is,” said Kate. They shot nails with it.”

“Day-yam. No wonder you called us in.”

“Got a whole pack of ‘em here,” said Lee. “Let’s get ‘em picked up. What are you guys gonna do with them?”

“The profs have already got some students renovating one of the basement rooms,” said Kate. “Full habitat, observation areas, the works. If we can learn to communicate with them…” she trailed off.

“I still think we should exterminate ‘em,” said Lee. “We’ve got enough politicians around here already.”

Friday, March 07, 2014 13 comments

Spammer, in Hell

I’ve wanted to write this for a long time…



Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Melvin Basgump opened his eyes to find himself staring at an impossibly high ceiling. While he was trying to decide whether it was some kind of optical illusion, a face loomed over him. It was a big face, a stout face, much of it taken up by a bulbous nose; a fringe of hair ran around the top of his head. Like a monk, or something.

Bienvenidos, Señor Basgump,” the man said. “I am Tomas—”

“What’s with the Mexican crap?” Basgump sneered. “Speak American.”

The man looming over him looked unruffled. “Ah, but we are not in America.” His accent wasn’t Mexican, more like that guy who played Khan in that Star Trek movie. “Nevertheless, Melvin Basgump. Welcome to Hell.”

“Hell?”

. Your diet consisted of large quantities of what you moderns call ‘junk food,’ high in salt and fat, but low in nutrition. Combined with your propensity to avoid any form of physical activity, an early death was inevitable.”

“Wait, wait,” Basgump stammered. “There has to be some mistake. I don’t belong here. I didn’t do nothing wrong.”

“Ah, are you not aware that gluttony and sloth are both mortal sins? And yet, those in themselves were not sufficient to bring you here, to the place set aside for me. No, you were a career criminal. A spammer, as they say.”

“That’s not illegal!” Basgump protested. “I was running a legitimate marketing enterprise—” a scream of pain cut off his tirade. “My finger! What happened?” He began to sob in pain.

Tomas stepped aside. “Meet my assistant, Miguel.” Miguel was dressed like Tomas, in a simple grey frock, and shared his ugly hairstyle. But Miguel carried a large wooden mallet. “In life, I had many machines to do my work. And now, I have built a new one. When Miguel strikes one of these pegs, it transmits the force of the blow to a single finger. Very precise, no? Fear not, Señor Basgump, each finger will heal instantly, but not soon enough to prevent the deserved pain. Miguel?”

Again, Basgump screamed, as Miguel crushed each finger in turn.

“Now, Señor Basgump, would you like to opt-out your fingers from further mallets?”

“Yes! Yes!”

“Very well. Sign here.” Tomas looked at the page. “Miguel! I have a list of ten fresh, verified fingers! One gold real!”

“No!” Basgump screamed, but to no avail. And yet, he continued to scream as the mallet, through the machine, crushed each of his fingers once again.

“Señor Basgump.” Miguel spoke for the first time. “I have constructed an opt-out database, if you would like to join. Yes? Very well, sign here.” Miguel laid the sheet on an adjacent table; the paper caught fire and burned away. “Oh, dear. It seems that my database has been deleted.”

“Nothing for it, Miguel,” said Tomas. “Do transmit another blast of important information.”

“Who are you people?” Basgump panted afterward, his voice already hoarse from screaming.

“As I said, I am Tomas. Tomas de Torquemada. In life, my very name struck terror into men’s hearts, even the innocent. I was zealous for the Law of God, but failed in the weightier matters, such as mercy. Thus was I sent here, to continue the work I did in life—but with more deserving subjects. So let us continue, Señor Basgump. We have all eternity.”

Friday, February 28, 2014 12 comments

One Sunday Morning (#FridayFlash)

It was an offhand comment from Maria Lima that drove me to write this…



Pastor Zachariah Jones finished his morning prayers and arose, knees popping. He stretched, raising his hands to Heaven in praise, then ambled out back.

“Thank you, Lord, for seeing me to another Sunday morning,” he said, as he lifted the roof of the small chicken coop. The hens had given him two eggs this morning; he cooked them out back over an open fire with a can of Spam, then took it inside to eat.

The cuckoo clock announced eight o’clock. He shuddered, then chided himself. “Your great-grandfather stood unafraid, preaching the Word to the brothers in Alabama,” he reminded himself. “Your flock needs the Lord, more than anyone. The Joneses have never turned away from the Lord’s call, no matter how difficult, and neither will you.”

The climb to the bell tower was tiring, and Zachariah could smell his own sweat in the still, cool air of the stairwell. But this was the call to worship; his flock would heed the call and come. He stuffed cotton in his ears before pulling the rope.

Across the weed-infested fields, across the blighted cityscape, the pure tones of the church bell summoned the flock to worship. Zachariah could see them, shuffling along the dirty sidewalks, faithful to the call. His heart went out to them; this was not the mission he would have chosen, but he himself would be faithful to God’s call.

As usual, the church was packed, and Zachariah was thankful for the broken windows that let in fresh air. “Good morning, brethren,” he called from the pulpit. “Let us begin our time of worship by lifting our voices to the Lord. Hymn number 553.”

The voices were as mushy as always, but they gave it their all. This was, after all, their favorite hymn:

And are we yet alive, and see each other’s face?
Glory and thanks to Jesus give for His almighty grace!

What troubles have we seen, what mighty conflicts past,
Fightings without, and fears within, since we assembled last!

Yet out of all, the Lord hath brought us by his love;
And still He doth His help afford, and hides our life above.

They seated themselves, some with more ease than others, and Zachariah began his sermon.

As usual, he preached about overcoming temptation, endurance under persecution, and facing their tormenters with grace and humility. These lessons needed to be reinforced every week, especially in the face of threats and worse. Zachariah’s own great-grandfather had faced the same in his day; the white folks burned down one of his churches and tried to burn another, and even shot him once. These days, it was a Sunday morning bombing that Zachariah feared the most. “If only those who would persecute you,” he said, “would join us here, and see the work that we do, perhaps then they would turn away from their sin and unite with the Lord in love.” The flock nodded; many grunted agreement. Zachariah preached on. He never had to worry about losing their attention.

But at last, came time for the altar call. “The Lord gave all men and women free will,” he reminded them, “and He allows us the consequences of our choices. But His word says, ‘he who would keep his life shall lose it, and he who lays down his life for My sake shall keep it.’ And so, the altar is always open, and all God’s creatures may seek salvation.”

A long pause, then one of the zombies stood and shuffled up the aisle. As with the living, others would follow when another led, and a dozen more joined him there. One by one, they moaned their final confessions to the Lord, and passed away peacefully there at the altar.

“Go in peace, and in the love of the Lord,” Zachariah told the remaining zombies. “And you need not wait for Sunday to come to His altar. Resist the temptations of the flesh, and you will be given a crown above.”

“Amen,” several responded, then they carried away those who had gone to the altar.

Zachariah watched the solemn recession. It was important work he did here, and he wished the other living souls understood that. Zombie attacks were down, and their numbers were  dwindling without the need for shotguns or firebombs. Nobody wanted to be a zombie, even the zombies themselves, and there was still a spark of free will in those decaying, hungering bodies. Surely the Lord would bring home those souls who were, after all, only victims of circumstance.

Surely.


Lyrics: “And Are We Yet Alive” by Charles Wesley, 1749.

Thursday, November 14, 2013 9 comments

The Guard Tree (#FridayFlash)

Mason’s like my personal prompt machine these days, especially for light horror. His original appears at the end.



Image source: openclipart.org
The woods were quiet, just as Bubba had hoped. The weekend hunters would be out here tomorrow; but on an early Thursday morning, he had it all to himself.

He drove past the spot, then found a place to turn his pickup and trailer around. “Not like I’m poachin’ a deer,” he muttered, “just a dang tree.” He was barely keeping up with the payments on the single-wide and the boat; he couldn’t afford to buy any firewood or use the gas furnace.

Bubba parked the truck a safe distance back, topped up the chainsaw’s fuel and oil, and hiked over to the tree he’d found during Monday’s hunting. “Perfect size, perfect location,” he said, walking around the trunk. “Drop it right along the track here, cut it up, toss it on the trailer.” It was even leaning in the right direction. This was going to be easy.

Those stupid safety and whatever regulations aside, the silencer came in handy. Bubba started the saw and revved it; even standing right at it, it sounded a long ways off. With any luck, nobody else would hear the thing. He checked his angles one more time, then got to work.

It took only a couple minutes to cut the notch, despite the acorns raining down on him. But it came loose, and he knocked it away and threw it toward the truck. He turned off the saw and listened for a moment: nothing. No motors, nobody tramping through the woods, and even the acorns stopped dropping.

Now for the main event. Bubba went to the other side of the trunk, and started cutting at an angle, down toward the notch. More acorns rained down, and a dead limb landed a few feet away. He never used a spotter, but wouldn’t have for cutting a tree in the state forest anyway.

He heard that first snap above the muffled chainsaw motor, and took a step back, letting the saw idle down. Above him, the treetop swayed, dropping more acorns and limbs—

“Whoa!” For a moment, he thought the tree had a face, glaring down at him. But then he heard that ripping crack that said the trunk was splitting up the middle. Always a bad sign; the tree could buck backwards, then roll sideways. He turned, and tripped on a root that hadn’t been sticking up just a minute ago. Trying to keep his balance, he let the saw tumble away, then scrambled to his feet. He ran until the snapping sounds died back, then turned.

The tree had split up the middle, all right, but instead of falling, the whole thing seemed to step forward, away from the stump. Then, to Bubba’s horror, the trunk still attached to the stump twisted. Back and forth it went, until it broke free and stood on its own on what looked like two legs.

“I’m seein’ this, but I ain’t believin’ it,” he whispered. Then that face turned toward him, looking angry. The tree raised one leg, half its trunk, and stomped Bubba’s chainsaw. Then it turned and ran. Ran! “Not my truck!” he yelled, but breaking glass and groaning metal told Bubba the worst. Not thinking, he ran to see.

“Oh, man,” he groaned. “How the hell am I gonna explain that?” The truck and trailer were flattened—just like a tree fell on it, he thought hysterically—but only a few splinters and acorns were on it. At least he only had liability on the truck; it wasn’t like a ’92 F-150 was worth anything.

Hard fingers wrapped around Bubba before he could think, and the tree yanked him into the air. It lifted him level with that face, scowling at him. Before he could even think to plead for his life, he heard a voice in his head: I am the Guard Tree. None shall disturb the peace of this place again. It lowered him to the ground and let him go, before it ran into the woods and disappeared.



And as always, Mason’s original:

Once upon a time, there was a tree. A man cut it down. And this is the scary part: it had a ghost face on it. Then it jumped up and ran through the forest, because it was a Guard Tree, and smashed a car!

Friday, November 08, 2013 14 comments

The Smells of Death (#FridayFlash)

I was going to use this last week, but didn’t get it written down until Saturday. So you get it this week instead. ;-)



Image source: openclipart.org
Odors were part of the job. Fever-sweat, stale urine, incontinence, rotten breath, all were honest smells. That stink of fear, though, that was the smell the Grim Reaper hated. And it was all over this one.

“Please,” the man gasped. “Not yet. Not yet.”

The Reaper sniffed and took out his tablet. “David Farnsworth, age 51, lung cancer.”

“Don’t kill me. Please. Not yet.”

“I won’t kill you.” The Reaper spoke quickly, overriding that look of relief. “That’s not my job. You just die, is all. If I got to kill you, I’d have done it twenty years ago.”

“What?”

The Reaper opened the stylish black cover and flicked at the tablet’s screen. “Your doctors have been on your ass since you were… nineteen. So you’ve been getting the ‘quit smoking’ message for thirty-two years. If you didn’t want to die tonight, you should have listened. Instead of telling them everybody’s gotta die of something.” He glowered. “And flicking your damned butts out your car window, treating the earth like your personal f— freaking ashtray… if it were up to me, I’d have blown one of those back into your car, set your crotch on fire, and had you go off the road and slam into a bridge support.”

“Jeez. That’s harsh.”

“Whatever. I’m not the one who gets to kill you, in any case. You killed yourself. My job is to collect your sorry shade, and take you to Soul Court.”

“Soul Court? What’s that?”

“That’s where you’re judged. Yeah, you’re lucky I don’t have anything to do with that. They’re pretty lenient. If you haven’t made life Hell for people around you, worst that’s gonna happen is they’ll send you back for another go-around.”

“Like reincarnation? Ow. Ow.” Farnsworth gasped. “It hurts!”

“Yeah. Not as much as it ought to. But yeah, I figure they’ll give you a second chance. Don’t blow it.”

“Ah… ah… dammit, not now… oh.” Farnsworth looked down at the body on the bed. “Shit.”

The Reaper gave him a sardonic smile. “Two… one… yup.”

“Ewwww. Why did I have to do that?”

“You all do. Some don’t wait until they’re dead. Let’s go. You stink enough already.”

Friday, October 18, 2013 12 comments

The Battle of Hallowe'en (#FridayFlash)

Image source: openclipart.org
“Sir,” the elf scout barked, “no sign of the enemy anywhere.”

“They retreated?” the elf general cocked one bushy eyebrow.

“It appears so, sir.”

“Well,” the general told his staff, “that was one disappointing turkey shoot.” A ripple of high-pitched chuckles went around the tent. “But the Big Guy won’t care. We’ve seized Thanksgiving, with almost no casualties. With the former occupants deserting, we won’t have any trouble anywhere in November.” He paced in front of the staff, mostly for effect. “You know what that means, gentlemen?”

“We accelerate the timetable?” one of the elf colonels asked.

“Exactly. Hallowe’en won’t be an easy nut to crack, but now we can deploy our full force. No worries about supply lines or occupation. Once we take October, Labor Day will be a cakewalk. From there, the other holidays will surrender, and the Big Guy will have the gift he always wanted!”

Christmas year-round!” the staff shouted. The forces of Christmas got back to work.


The general extended his brass spyglass and looked at the border. It was as dark and gloomy as the scouts said, and it gave him a shiver. Bah, he thought. Kids dressed up as spooks, and decorations, is all it is. Still, he wished the Big Guy had changed his mind about keeping the Nine close to home. Rudolph’s schnozz would have come in handy when they went in, not to mention possibilities for aerial recon. But you go to war with what the Big Guy gives you…

“Units, report,” he said into his handset.

“Infantry One, ready.” “Infantry Two, ready.” “Cavalry One, ready.” One by one, each unit signaled its readiness. The cavalry, mounted on prancing reindeer, armed with barbed branches. Infantry, carrying glass ornaments and dazzler tree toppers.

“Any word from the scouts?” a colonel asked.

“Not yet. They’re overdue.”

“How much longer do you plan to wait?”

“Not long. I have to assume they’ve been captured or incapacitated.” He lifted the handset again. “Units, move out, Plan A,” he ordered. “Have the troops keep an eye out for our scouts.”

The infantry marched forward, lighting their dazzlers. Cavalry hovered on the flanks, ready to charge in if needed. Infantry Unit One slipped across the border and into the gloomy trees. The major sounded tense. “Enemy sighted. Sort of. They’re staying just close enough where we can see movement—hold your fire!” A brief pause. “Some of the troops are a little eager, sir. No engagement yet… look out!” The transmission cut off.

“Cavalry, go!” the general shouted into his handset. Shouting battle-cries, the elves urged their reindeer forward, faster, faster, disappearing into Hallowe’en territory. The noise of battle carried back into November, and it sounded fierce. “Units, report at will.”

“Infantry Two— it’s— ohnoAHHHHHHGH!”

“Something’s wrong,” the general said, then riderless reindeer came bounding out of Hallowe’en. Eyes rolling, they dashed through the staging area and kept going, probably all the way to Christmas Eve.

“All units, retreat!” the general barked. “Regroup at the staging area!” He heard horns blowing the retreat signal, and stunned elves finally bolted from the spooky woods and into the staging area. Not a terribly orderly retreat, but not quite a rout.

The news was bad. Half the troops were still in the woods, presumed killed or captured, three-fourths of the surviving cavalry had lost their mounts, and the survivors were too shaken to give coherent reports. The only thing he could get out of them was something most said: we have to fall back before it gets dark.

“Sleigh bells, what a debacle,” the general muttered. Maybe the Big Guy hadn’t taken this as seriously as he thought. They’d done well with Thanksgiving, but it was one brief skirmish and then the inhabitants deserted. He always knew Hallowe’en would be the real test, and… well. “Form ranks!” he bellowed across the staging area! “Orderly march up-calendar! Fall back to Thanksgiving!”

Shouts and screams drew his attention to the border. The general stopped and gaped at the sight of zombie turkeys and pilgrims shambling forward. The dazzlers seemed to have no effect, and ornament grenades only stopped them when they took off the heads.

“They went Hallowe’en!” a colonel gasped. “What’s next?”

“Flying barbecue forks from Labor Day?” the general suggested. “I don’t think we want to find out.” He lifted the handset again. “Full retreat,” he said, deflated. “Back to December, elves. We’re beat.”

“Sir,” the colonel said. “If the Big Guy would loan us a couple of the Nine, maybe we could drop beachheads down-calendar. Something like ‘Christmas in July.’ If we get them established, we could come back and hit the We’eners from two fronts.”

“We’re not done for good,” the general said, “just for now. We’ll look into that idea, colonel. Or you will. When we get home, I figure myself for the scapegoat.”

Zombies by day, vampires by night, harassed the forces of Christmas all the way back to December. Only a few returned to tell the tale.

Friday, October 11, 2013 17 comments

Sssssslither! (#FridayFlash)

Here’s another one of Mason’s stories that I embellished. The original follows…



Image source: openclipart.org
Lee hung up and poked his head into the front office. “Kate?” he asked. “You up for a field trip?” He paused. “You have a problem with snakes?”

“Yes to the first, no to the second.” Kate was already up and moving. Business had been good lately, and Lee hired Kate after the thing with the ants. She was a biology major at the local college, and did a fine job keeping the front office going. In between certain kinds of calls.

“You think this is another anomaly,” she said, as Lee followed the GPS’s directions. “Did they tell you what kind?” She reached to the dashboard to stroke the shellacked ant, as long as Lee’s forearm. It was already their good luck charm.

“They never do,” said Lee. “They’re afraid I’ll think they’re nuts and hang up. But you can hear it in their voices.”

Kate nodded and poked at her cellphone. “I’m putting the department on alert,” she explained. “What did they tell you?”

“She. There’s a bunch of snakes under her house. They’re either blue, or silver-gray. She didn’t hang around to get a closer look. But they’re nesting under her house. I told her to keep children and pets inside. I don’t think they’re poisonous, but it’s always best to be safe.” A few minutes later, he stopped the truck in front of a suburban house. “Gear up. Let’s do this.”

The nervous woman led the suited exterminators around the back of the house, to an opening in the foundation. “It’s in there,” she said.

“Okay,” said Lee. “You can go on inside. We’ll take it from here. We’ll let you know when we’re done.” The woman looked like she wanted to say something else, but nodded and bounded onto the porch and through the back door.

Lee set the cage off to the side, and extended the grabber. “Lights, camera, action,” he said, deadpan. They turned on their head-mounted lights and video cameras, then knelt in front of the opening.

“There,” said Kate, pointing. “Looks like a bunch of snakes, all right. Nothing anomalous… what the hell?” The entire group advanced, some rearing up, others slithering. “I’ve never seen behavior like that.”

“Makes it easy, though,” said Lee. “Come to papa… gotcha!” The grabber bucked and twitched in his hands, but held.

“They’re all striking the grabber!” Kate gasped. “I’ve never seen a group work together like that!”

“They’re all coming out at once, too,” Lee grunted. “With any luck, they’ll all hang on until I’ve got ‘em in the cage—what the…”

“It’s one snake! It’s one snake! Seven, eight… how many heads does that thing have?”

“Are you sure? The heads are all different sizes!”

“Look at it!” Kate yelled. “Never mind, you’ll see it in a second. I hope these cameras are working.”

Lee withdrew the writhing body and angry heads, and shoved the entire thing into the cage before letting go. He pushed the hatch closed and slid the grabber out, but the snake stayed well back. “Eight… ten heads. My God.”

“You caught it?” the homeowner poked her head out the door. “Thank God. Have you ever seen a seven-headed snake?”

“It has ten heads,” said Kate. “I hope there’s not another one under there.” She crawled in to look, grabber in hand.

“I don’t think so.” The woman gasped. “Ten heads? It had eight! My husband cut off one of its heads with a shovel, though.”

“Oh, great,” Lee groaned. “Cut off one head, and it grows three back? Kate and her profs are gonna have a party.”

“I don’t see another one under here,” Kate called. “But here’s the nest. There’s eggs!”

“Gather them,” Lee replied. “Your professors will want to see them.”

Kate came out and pulled the hood off her suit. She wore a big grin. “I’ll get a container out of the truck,” she said. “God, I love this job.”



And Mason’s version: “There was a snake under the house with ten heads! I chopped one of the heads off, and three more grew back!” (I’m trying to figure out where he gets his material, I could use more of it myself.)

Thursday, September 12, 2013 11 comments

How to Kill an Elder God (#FridayFlash)

Image source: openclipart.org
“How did you find me?” the elderly priest asked.

The youths shrugged. “Google.”

“And you modern youths, with your modern technology, think you discovered and awoke Tilgoth, am I correct?” They nodded. “Then how did you escape? I know all acolytes in my order, especially the ones skilled enough to bind Tilgoth, and you three certainly are not among them.”

“We don’t know!” another offered. “We were running like hell, with that thing coming up on us yelling FEED ME, and I threw down my backpack so I could run faster! Then it stopped and made all these weird-ass noises, like it was gagging on something, and we just kept running.”

The priest frowned in thought. “What was in there?”

“Spare batteries for my flashlight. A sandwich and a Coke. Some rope.” The kid smirked. “Maybe he got a shower when he opened the Coke. I know it was really shook up.”

“A sandwich.” The priest stared into the distance, long enough for the boys to start fidgeting. “Could it be that simple? Boy, tell me about the sandwich.”

“My name’s Jeff. It was just baloney and Velveeta, with a little mayo.”

“Jeff. You and your friends may take a seat. I must consult some of our most ancient manuscripts. I will have an acolyte bring you meat and drink.”


It took the priest two long hours to find the manuscript he wanted, his aging eyes driving him to concede to the vulgarity of spectacles and a battery-powered flashlight. When he returned to the reception chamber, he found the acolyte glaring askance at the three boys. The wine had made them merry indeed.

He dismissed the acolyte, then turned to the boys. “You three are uncultured, ignorant… and extremely lucky,” he said. “The key to Tilgoth’s destruction has been in our possession for over six thousand years, but you have uncovered it and placed it in our hands this day.” To his amused surprise, the boys stopped snickering and paid attention. “Let me read this passage to you.”

“Sure.” “No prob.” The third yawned, but nodded.

“Hear what was written: In the last days of the land that was called Bochim, where dwelt the abomination Tilgoth, the priest-king Hoat’goth ascended to the throne. In those days, a curse spread across the land, blinding many cattle. So many were blinded, indeed, that the yearly sacrifice to Tilgoth demanded all the remaining breeding stock.

“And so Hoat’goth consulted the priests beneath him, who said ‘demand from the land of Gograh a tribute sufficient for the sacrifice, and if they will not give the tribute, arise and conquer them.’ But these words were not pleasing unto Hoat’goth, and he thought to himself, ‘If Tilgoth could not preserve sufficient cattle, may he share our suffering.’ Seeing that Hoat’goth had determined to do this thing, and would suffer no objection, the priests shut their mouths and said nothing. But one priest raised his voice, saying, ‘do this not, for it will bring down destruction upon us all.’ Then he fled, before Hoat’goth could order him slain.

“Thus, on the day of the sacrifice, Hoat’goth gathered blinded cattle in sufficient number for the sacrifice, and slew them before Tilgoth on the altar. But when Tilgoth ate the impure sacrifice, he vomited upon Hoat’goth, and the vomit dissolved him. Such was the illness brought upon Tilgoth by the blinded cattle, that he rose and vomited across all the land.

“Now when the king of Gograh heard of trouble in Bochim, he arose to plunder what he could. But when he came to Bochim, he found only death and ruin. Only the priest who had spoken true, and fled the wrath of Hoat’goth, remained. He sat upon a stone and told the king of Gograh, ‘The god Tilgoth has cursed this land for three generations, and withdrawn to sleep in the uttermost west. Now slay me, for my purpose is complete. When your descendants see fire in the sky, south to north, then the curse is lifted and they may claim this land as their own.’” He looked at the boys. “Our order followed civilization ever westward, until we found Tilgoth.”

“Whoa,” said Jeff, “a blind cow made him sick? He must have totally puked on a baloney sandwich, then!”

“Oh, I totally know what’ll kill that thing, then!” Jamal piped up. “I’ll tell, but you gotta take us with you.”

“Indeed.” The priest met their grins with a small smile. “It was you who awakened Tilgoth, so it is only fitting that you help with its final destruction.”


“Bring forth the sacrifice,” the priest whispered, and Jamal dug the gallon zip-lock bag out of his backpack. “Now, carefully, boys. Be ready to run, as you did before.”

“You got it,” Jeff replied. They crept forward to the altar, where they had ignorantly sat to take a breather.

“Lay the sacrifice on the altar,” the priest said, “then back away quickly.”

Jamal nodded, opened the bag, and tipped the misshapen ball onto the altar.

As before, Tilgoth awoke quickly, evidenced by the rumbling and hissing they both heard and felt. The priest shouted something in an unknown language, then hustled away to join the boys at what they hoped was a safe distance.

A roar became a retching noise, then a sound that none of them could ever describe. Other sounds, screeching, pounding, vomiting, gasping, followed them up the cave as they ran.

“What was that, anyway?” the priest asked.

“The ultimate weapon for killing a god,” said Jamal. “Spam, rolled in Monsanto genetically-modified grain, all covered in high-fructose corn syrup. My uncle says that would kill just about anything that wasn’t born in Texas.”

The priest chuckled. “The purpose of my order has been fulfilled, and I will soon send the acolytes home. Or perhaps we could become your acolytes. Will you teach us the ways of Google, that we may yet serve?”

Friday, May 31, 2013 14 comments

Chomp! (#FridayFlash)

I don’t know if Mason dreamed it, or just made up a story, but I thought I’d embellish it a little for this week’s #FridayFlash. Yup, I co-authored a story with a three year old. I’ve included the original at the end.



Image source: openclipart.org
“Holy crap.” Lee stopped and stared at the enormous anthill. “That thing’s as tall as me!” He hefted his little bag of fire ant poison, and looked at it and back at the anthill. “Yeah. I’m gonna need more.”

Two hours later, he returned, pulling a wheelbarrow laden with bags of Ant-I-Ant and more safety equipment than he usually needed for one of these jobs. The clearing was deathly quiet. The gnats that followed him through the woods seemed content to be left behind. Lee gave the area a nervous look, then towed his load forward.

He wasted no time, donning his jacket, gloves, and mask. Tearing open four bags, Lee threw the contents across the near side of the anthill, then scuttled back to avoid the dust. When that settled, he’d take the wheelbarrow around the other side—

The loose dirt on the anthill squirmed and shifted, and the ants burst out.

“Oh fffffffff—”

Each ant was 20cm long, easy. Lee gaped, and walked backwards, unable to tear his eyes away—

Something started up his leg. Lee screamed, jumped, and batted at the ant on his calf. It caught his wrist and clamped on. His jacket protected him from the worst of it, but it still hurt!

“Why you son of a!” Lee bellowed. Before he realized what he was doing, he brought his arm up and bit into the ant’s abdomen, crunching through the shell. His mouth filled with the sour taste of ant juice, then it blew a high-pitched warbling fart, squirting alarm pheromones, as it let go. Other ants poured out of the mound, coming to help their comrade.

Lee flung the huge ant across the clearing; the other ants veered away to follow the flying pheromones. He caught a glimpse of more ants piling onto his wheelbarrow as he ran for it.

Spitting and gagging, Lee ditched his reeking jacket and kept running. This wasn’t over. He had a job to do. But he needed some special equipment. Maybe napalm.

And a video camera. Nobody was gonna believe this shit without video. Nobody.



And here’s the original story, as told by a 3-½ year old Mason:

I saw this anthill, and it was huge! Holds hand out at head level So I dumped poison all over it, and the ants came out. One of them bit me, and I bit it back!

Friday, May 17, 2013 16 comments

End. Begin. (#FridayFlash)

Just a reminder, the Pickups and Pestilence release party goes on through the weekend. Links to free books, 99-cent books, and a chance to win a Kindle 4, a $20 Amazon gift card, and books....

Image source: clker.com
The bartender waved from his post as Nick entered. One or two curious patrons turned to look him over, then went back to their own pursuits.

“You must be new,” the bartender greeted him. “What’cha having?”

“I need to make a phone call,” said Nick. “I totaled my car about a mile back, and I don’t know what happened to my cellphone. It must still be in the car, somewhere.”

“Bad one, I guess.” The barkeep began filling a huge mug from a keg behind him.

“Yeah. I don’t know how I walked away from it. I don’t even remember getting out. Musta been a helluva jolt. I need to let my wife know I’m okay, and get a wrecker out there. I’m sure the cops will want to know, they won’t pass up the chance to write me a ticket.”

“Yup. First one’s on the house.”

Nick looked at the mug in front of him. “First and last, for me. I’ll be working on that all night!”

“New guy?” A woman took the stool next to Nick. “Buy a girl a drink?”

The newcomer looked to be about Nick’s age, not bad looking, especially for forty. Still… “Um, sorry, miss,” he said. “I’m married.”

“Gina, give the poor guy a minute,” the bartender admonished. “He’s got a lot to deal with.”

“Oh, that’s alright,” said Gina. “Don’t worry about your marriage. ‘Till death do you part,’ right?” She chuckled, then waved at the bartender. “Gimme what he’s having.”

The bartender gave Gina the requested mug, and a wireless phone to Nick. “Good luck,” he said.

Nick wondered what that meant, but nothing happened when he pushed Talk. “No dialtone,” he said. “Do you hit nine to get out?”

“Phones don’t work here most of the time.” The bartender shrugged and laid the phone on the shelf.

“So what happened?” Gina asked Nick, taking a generous drink.

“It was stupid,” Nick sighed. “I was playing music off my phone. Dark Side of the Moon finished up, so I started pulling up another album. I took my eyes off the road, next thing I know I’m looking at the wreckage.”

“Well, at least you just have you to worry about.” Gina looked miffed. “Some stupid drunk kid plastered me.”

“Ow, that—”

“It’s all right,” she said. “It wasn’t you. Besides, it didn’t hurt for long.” She gave him a significant look.

“Pink Floyd’s a good one to go out on, though,” said the bartender. “I could think of worse.”

Highway to Hell,” Gina laughed. “Definitely not a good omen.”

Nick looked back and forth between the two. “If that’s a joke, it ain’t funny,” he said at last.

“No joke.” The bartender locked eyes with Nick, and Nick shuddered at what he saw in those depths. “You’re here with us. Your body… well, it’s back there in what’s left of your car.”

Nick took a big drink, emptying a third of his mug at once. “Um, aren’t you supposed to wear a hood and carry a sickle?”

“Scythe. That was a scythe. I’m like everyone—almost everyone else. I change with the times. I did the Grim Reaper thing back in the plague days. I’ll wear different guises for different people, different cultures. The important thing is, I took you out of that mess you made and set your feet in this direction. You ready for another?”

Nick nodded and pushed the mug across the bar. “If I—well, what do I do now? Isn’t there some kind of judgement or something?”

“Not right away. You screwed up, and it killed you, but you weren’t hurtful or selfish in life. So you get to hang out a while. It’s like being reborn, in a way. None of your ties in life come with you.”

“The band will be starting up soon,” said Gina, putting a hand on Nick’s arm. “Grimm usually gets someone decent. Not Elvis or Jimi Hendrix, but still good. We can dance forever.” She grinned.

“I—I’ve never been a guy who hangs out in bars,” said Nick.

“Don’t worry about that,” said Death. “Everything changed for you when you hit that tree. The two of you will learn who you really are, together, and then it’ll be time for the next step.”

“Which is?” Nick and Gina asked together.

“That is not for me to know,” Death sighed. “But you might go to your final reward. Or you might be reborn. All I know is, when you’re judged, you will judge yourselves.”

“That’s scary,” said Gina, and Nick nodded.

Death poured a third. “A toast,” he said. “To endings. To beginnings. They are one and the same, after all.”



Casting about for an idea, it was +Helen Howell who gave it to me in a guest post about the Tarot. “All things go on even in death, it’s just that they may not go on in the same way as before.”

Friday, April 26, 2013 18 comments

Up, Always (#FridayFlash)

Thanks to Helen Howell for looking this over!



Image source: openclipart.org
Up, always.

The stairs are endless. I’ve forgotten everything but the need to stay ahead of whatever it is coming up after me. Sometimes, I think my pursuer has given up the chase. But when I stop to catch my breath, I hear footfalls from below.

Up, always.

I think I’m in a fancy hotel. The center of the building is open space. I can’t see the bottom, though. And when I look up, I can’t see the top. Forever down, forever up. But…

Up, always.

The stairs are beautiful, when I pause to look. But they’re not always the same. Sometimes, they’re carpeted. Sometimes, tile. Even marble. Sometimes, the stairs are split by a wall of sorts. Occasionally, I’ll jump on it and scramble up. I don’t think I go any faster, but it’s a change of pace.

Up, always.

My pursuer is gaining. I think about just stopping. Whatever happens, let it happen. But I must have had a reason to run in the first place. If only I could remember it.

Up… or I could jump. If it’s forever down, whatever it is could never catch me.



“Whoa! Temperature just dropped big!”

“What’s the reading?”

“Just a flicker. It’s already back to normal.”

“Hey! It just passed here, too. It must be coming up the stairs. Lynn, get ready—”

“There it is! And gone.”

“You think it’s her?”

“Probably. If she’s a repeater, she’ll be back around in a few minutes. Get the cameras ready, let’s see if we can get anything on the next pass.”

Friday, November 16, 2012 19 comments

Flash (#FridayFlash)

I don’t need pity. So what if I’m deaf? Not only do I miss the banal noise of everyday life, it’s awesome PR. I could be lost in a sea of women looking for modeling work in this city. Instead, I’m Kyria Mist, Deaf Supermodel. Work what you’ve got.

Flash.

I’ve worked with this photographer before. He’s okay, and he’s trying to learn enough ASL to coach me through the poses. I think he’s doing it to get in good with me. I give him props for trying, even if it’s easier, faster, and more accurate to tell the interpreter what he needs.

Flash.

Duck into the wardrobe for the next outfit, and back on the platform. These fall fashions aren’t exactly practical for cold weather, but they get attention. That’s what’s important. I don’t have to wear it outside this studio, I just have to help sell it.

Flash.

In mid-instruction, the photographer and interpreter stop. The little TV isn’t where I can see, but they’re looking at it. And they’re horrified. Assassination? Another 9/11? Damn.

Then, they’re in panicked motion. The photographer snatches his camera off the tripod, throws it in a bag. The interpreter is signing we’ve got to go, frantically. She grabs up my jeans and blouse and flings them at me, points to the wardrobe.

What the hell—

FLASH.

Source: openclipart.org
The interpreter and photographer look at each other. His lips say, “Oh shit,” and they crouch on the floor, hands over their heads.

The first and last thing I ever hear, in my entire life, is the sound of the shockwave toppling our building.

Friday, November 09, 2012 21 comments

The Voting Dead (#FridayFlash)

I thought we could all use a little non-partisan laugh after the long cat fight…



It started in Chicago, of course, but not for the reason you’d assume. Rick Carbone was a long-shot candidate for the City Council. He owned a meat-processing plant, and zombies often bought the offal he would have had to pay to dispose of. To drum up business among the zombies, more than actually trying to win the election, he ran on a platform of extending rights and protections to the undead.

To everyone’s surprise, including Carbone’s, disenfranchised zombies banded together to support his candidacy. Vocal opponents had a way of changing their minds, and he won handily. A man who was raised to keep his promises, his first act was to introduce a law that de-legitimized hitting zombies with vehicles, a pastime often called “bowling.” After two crucial opponents on the City Council suddenly joined the walking dead, the anti-bowling measure passed.

Carbone, of course, had a brief but stellar political career, moving up to serve four terms in Congress. During that time, he spearheaded a successful movement to extend nationwide voting rights to the burgeoning zombie population. But as much as the political climate has changed, getting caught in bed with two dead women (even if they’re only undead) always spells the end of one’s political career. Still, Carbone’s legacy lives on, as America’s number one priority is now education. After all, the largest voting bloc’s single issue is “more braaaaaaains.”

Thursday, July 26, 2012 12 comments

#FridayFlash: Shine Until Tomorrow (conc.)

And we bring this story to a close. In case you’ve missed the earlier pieces, here they are:




“What does that mean?” Mary pushed away to look at Eric.

“You used ‘let it be’ to bring the beast to life, right? And all that other stuff, like getting me out from under that pole. And making the angel.” He took a deep breath. “But not us. I was into you before that.”

“Huh?”

“Yeah. I used to watch you in history class. I was afraid I wouldn’t be good enough for you, so I never dared to try talking to you. I was gonna take art next semester so we’d have another class together.”

Mary grinned. “I so totally wanna hear about this. But we need to get rid of the angel first.”

“It’s that Beatles song.”

“That what song?”

Eric laughed. “My dad said he used to sing it to make me go to sleep, when I was a baby. Let It Be. I bet it’s in there. ‘There will be an answer’.”

Mary shuddered. “I remember thinking that. A couple times, while I was finishing a sketch. How come I don’t know the song?”

“You probably heard it and forgot. I guess it came out when our grandparents were our age.” Eric shrugged. “Dad and Aunt Circe liked the Beatles, and she has her CDs here. Let’s go look for it.”

They went back inside, and Eric lifted the cushion beneath the CD player. He pulled out stacks of CDs and handed them to Mary, digging deeper until, “Aha! Got it! Here, let’s put the other ones back first.” Mary passed stacks back to Eric, until they were all put away. He replaced the cushion. “Let’s play this.” Eric turned on the CD player and inserted the disc. “Track 6. Let me know if it’s too much, okay?”

Mary nodded, and Eric pressed Play. She laughed at the opening lyrics, but was soon caught up. The refrain brought quiet tears to her eyes, but she let the song go on. Near the end, she gasped. “Eric! Stop!”

“What?” He paused the CD. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah. Can you back it up a little?”

“Sure.” Eric held the Back button, watching the numbers count back, then pressed Play again.

“That’s it!” Mary was already at the table, sketchpad open, pencil flying across the paper. She looked up and gave Eric a wild grin. “I’m baaaaack! Give me a few minutes, okay?”

“Okay. I need to go get whatever they’re handing out for supper, anyway.” He picked up a cooler. “I’ll be back in a few.”


By the time Eric returned, Mary was pacing outside the camper.

“They made rolls today!” he grinned, holding up a plastic bag. “And they gave Aunt Circe two cans of beer. She’ll like that.”

“Spam and green beans, too?”

Eric laughed. “How did you know? Did you draw it?”

“Nope, just guessed. Come look.” She took his wrist and pulled him inside.

Source: christianimagesource.com
“Cool,” he said, looking at the drawing. It showed the angel, rising to Heaven in a great beam of light, with people watching all around. Above were three words, different than from before: SHINE • UNTIL • TOMORROW.

“Do you think it’ll work?” Eric asked her.

“Only one way to find out,” she grinned, and kissed him with fervor.

They soon felt the gaze of the angel upon them, but there was also a glow, far brighter than the evening light. Mary looked up again. “Shine until tomorrow,” she said. “Then you go home.” She laughed.

“I guess we’ll have to be careful then,” said Eric. “About… you know.”

“Let it be!” said Mary. They laughed together.

THE END

Friday, April 20, 2012 19 comments

#FridayFlash: UW-401

Dr. Milano stood waiting outside the glass doors as the limo pulled up. The chauffeur opened the rear door, brought out two bags from the trunk, then drove away. The newcomer watched his transportation disappear into the high grass, growing right up to the edge of the roadway, then shrugged and wheeled his bags to the door.

"Dr. London, I presume," said Milano, offering a hand.

"Yes. And you're Dr. Milano?" They shook. "Where the hell are we?"

"Somewhere in North Dakota, I think. It doesn't matter. This is your home, laboratory, office, and lecture hall from now on."

"At least it isn't a missile silo."

"Actually, it was. Only the offices are upstairs. Your office is next to mine. You can drop off your laptop and any papers you brought there first, then I'll show you the rest of the place."


"Look," said London, on the elevator ride down, "I'm having second thoughts about this. Who are we working for here? The government? The military?"

Milano sighed. "Those are just subsidiaries. We're a third subsidiary."

"What?"

"We're working for… the rulers. The one percenters, some call 'em. To say this is top secret is… well, top secrets are secret from citizens, but governments share them around as needed. This place, not even the governments know about."

"Whoa. I was promised top-notch research facilities, opportunities to publish papers, the works. Not some crazy billionaire's private spook factory."

"Actually, you'll have all that. Your papers won't appear in Nature or the New England Journal of Medicine, but we have our own network of journals and lecture circuits. And the facilities are beyond anything you've ever dreamed of. Trust me." London stopped before a steel door and again took out a packed key ring. "This is where we'll be working. Your keys are in your desk upstairs, by the way."

"What's with the keys? Why not magcards?"

"It's too easy to hack. This place was fitted with mechanical locks back when, and they'll work even if the power goes out. Come on in."

"Nice." London tried to take it all in at once.

"Only the best for the pet researchers. Let me give you an overview on what you'll be doing. It was your immunology research that called attention to you, by the way. Level 3 biosafety training didn't hurt." Milano pulled on a pair of latex gloves from a wall-mounted dispenser then lifted a vial from a rack. "This is UW-401, the virus we're studying now. It's classified Biosafety Level 2, as it's similar to HIV in its transmission vectors. Our job is to devise a vaccine for it."

"What's it do?"

Milano sighed. "The sooner you see this, the better." He led London to another steel door at one end of the laboratory, marked "OBSERVATION." He swiped a finger across a tiny scanner, and it clicked. "I'll add your fingerprints when we're done there," he said. "We got cleared to use biometric locks for interior doors. Keeps things interesting."

They looked down at the figure on the gurney. "What — ungh!" London held his nose. "Is he dead, or did he start rotting before he died —" He gasped and grasped the railing, forgetting to hold his nose and breathe. Below them, the figure moaned and writhed, pulling at the straps securing it to the gurney.

"That is a victim of UW-401," said Milano. "One of the superpower militaries developed it, looking for a way to create the ultimate soldier."

"Looks like they created a zombie instead."

"That's pretty much what it is," Milano admitted. "They thought it rather promising at first. I can show you some video from the biowar group that developed it."


"That's impossible," London breathed. "His heart's gone — you can see daylight right through that hole!"

"You can see why they thought they had a winner, huh? The virus rewires the central nervous system and shuts down all autonomous systems but locomotion and digestion. They eat, they kill. You have to decapitate it, or blow it to bits, to stop it."

"You said 'at first.' What changed their minds?"

"A minor detail with soldiers: they have to be able to follow orders. UW-401 victims don't. They just keep going, killing and eating. And transmitting the virus to those they only wound."

"What's the symptoms?"

"Numbness within a few hours of infection. Loss of appetite. Vomiting, if the victim eats anything but fresh, raw meat. The numbness progresses to loss of higher mental functions and a dampening of senses… except sense of smell, which gets keener. After eighteen hours, the cardiopulmonary functions cease and you have a zombie."

"How does it live without a heart or lungs?"

"Badly. Digestion continues to provide enough energy to keep it going, but it's continuously necrotizing. After about six months, it quits. But that's plenty of time to infect other victims."

"Do they think this is gonna get out of the labs?"

"They know it will. As soon as they have a vaccine, they're going to release it."

"What?"

"Yeah. They're freaked out about that Occupy thing. They're afraid it's going to go viral, so they're going to immunize themselves and let something else go viral."

"When?"

"End of November. They'll push down fuel prices so people will be in a spending and traveling mood for the holidays. Computer models suggest it'll be worldwide in a week."

"Why bring me in on this? Immunization isn't rocket science. Dead virus, weakened virus… they've been tried already for sure."

"Of course. The problem is, the immune system doesn't recognize UW-401 as an invader. There's no immune reaction to stimulate."

"So we have like six months to invent an entirely new immunology, so we can destroy the human race?"

"That's the gist of it."

"Fuck that. I'm outta here."

"You think they'll just let you walk out? You have a family, right? Why do you think they talked you into coming out now and letting your wife and baby 'catch up' in a couple weeks?"

London reeled, caught a chair, sprawled into it. "My God."

"Play nice, report some results, and they tell me they'll bring our families out here come fall. I want to show you one more thing, then we'll head back to the offices." Milano gestured toward another door; behind it was a room lined with foam spikes. "An anechoic chamber," he explained, closing the door. "It was part of the original facility." His voice sounded flat.

"Damn. It's so quiet in here it's hurting my ears."

"Yeah. I've checked this room as best I can, and they can't monitor us in here." He sighed again. "I apologize, Dr. London. It was me who recommended you for the position. That was before I realized they don't intend to hold up their end of the deal."

"What do you mean?"

"When they're safely vaccinated? If they're merciful, we'll get a bullet in the head. If not, they'll feed us to the zombies. They've set up another silo for themselves. They'll hole up, release the virus, and come out in a couple years when all the zombies are dead."

London paled. "Shit."

"Yeah. I've got family out there too. I think they're toast, when it comes right down to it. So this is the plan: we continue to research, and come July we announce a breakthrough. We inject the entire one percent with live virus, grab our families, and make a break back for here with as many others as we can round up. If we're lucky, we'll be able to take advantage of the chaos. If not…well, we're no worse off."

"I… that makes sense. I'm in."

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