Synopsis of my story:
Post Mortem Press
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Synopsis of my story:
Post Mortem Press
Leave a comment | tags: anthologies & short stories, anthologies of short stories, anthology, anthology of short stories, author, cain, dark, dark fiction, flash, flash fiction, flash story, horror, kenneth w cain, prose, short, speculative, story, writer | posted in Flash Fiction
BE SURE TO VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE. AND COMMENT AT THE END. FOR THIS ROUND WILLIAM IS GIVING AWAY A COPY OF HIS SHORT STORY, “THE APPLE-HOWLER” AND JAMES CHAMBERS IS GIVING AWAY AN EBOOK COPY OF HIS NOVELLA(S) THREE CHORDS OF CHAOS OR DEAD BEAR WITNESS. YOU HAVE TO COMMENT TO WIN. VOTING AND COMMENTING CLOSE WHEN THE NEXT ROUND BEGINS.
[DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE FILE #77391: One (1) document, and one (1) video-capture.]
Blake sat at his station 300 feet beneath the Defense Intelligence Agency’s St. Louis field office. No longer could he waste time (or indulge in escapism) watching home-burned DVDs of favorite baseball games, and imagining himself on the mound and in-charge.
He’d read through the document four times, telling himself this couldn’t be real. Whether North Korea, Pakistan, or whoever had conceived the plan to spike tornados with hyper-toxic drones (obviously with inside help), didn’t matter. The massive outbreak of super-twisters, over the last 27 days, offered many, many opportunities. No one yet had taken credit. Did they even know their bristly bio-agent revived the recently deceased?
Blake could barely wait to start the video-feed the NSA had yanked from a security-cam in some Omaha biker bar. A looter, less than a mile from one of the F-5 tornados responsible for this clusterfuck, gets on the wrong end of a Droner—a real snuff film.
“Fuck me,” Blake whispered, and clicked on the show.
A tall guy with spiky black hair trots into the main barroom, his white T-shirt glaring in dim light. Pausing, he scans the space with jerky urgency—shouts something no one ever will hear—and climbs over the bar for a bottle of Pernod.
Twisting off the cap, Nowhere Man tilts the bottle and swallows a good few ounces of fiery green liqueur, then sets the bottle on the bar. Chest visibly heaving with dread (no doubt induced by awareness of the F-5’s roaring approach), he pulls a compact pick-ax from a utility pocket in his cargos and starts bashing the cash register. After a few seconds, the drawer is open—empty.
Nowhere Man smashes glass, whips the pick-ax out of frame. He’s fucking pissed.
All at once he turns toward what must be the entrance and—eyes wide—jumps back a few feet. He’s really hollering now, shaking his head as if in denial. [Here Agent Blake can read NM's lips] Motherfucker! Motherfucker!
The door must be open, because a shambling shadow stretches toward NM and his terror, until—[“Jesus Christ!” Blake blurts]
A man taller even than NM, wearing a black leather vest and no shirt, black pants to match and engineer’s boots, moves unsteadily—left leg fucked-up, knee bent back like an insect’s. In profile the long-haired dude looks nearly normal, until NM panics and hurls a bar-stool at him.
Unknown Dude, making no effort to avoid injury, takes a direct hit to the left shoulder—which swings him toward the ceiling’s camera-blister.
His remaining eye is filmy like bad milk. The bloody pit where the other ought to be boils with flies. Unknown Dude is a Droner.
Abruptly NM plucks the discarded pick-ax from the floor, rushes the other and smashes his skull.
NM falls hard; the ax stays where he put it, jutting out like an antenna.
The Droner’s whiskery mouth opens and closes like a grounded fish, drools strings of black gunk onto its chest.
NM gets to his feet, climbs over the bar, grabs the Pernod and pours it into a smeary mug. The Droner lurches toward the bar.
NM grins; raises the mug and flings the hooch—bingo! The Droner is even greener than before.
NM pulls a Zippo from his pocket and—flick of the wrist—clicks it open and thumbs the flint-wheel. There is light!
The Droner hits the bar and NM ignites his heart. Immediately the beard is aflame—and the chest. The Droner exhibits no reaction whatsoever, reaches over the bar and pulls out NM like a rotten tooth.
Ashtrays and peanut bowls crash silently to the floor.
Incredibly, NM manages to strip out of his T-shirt, and uses it to snuff the flames now threatening his own greedy ass. It works.
But the Droner is hungry, and displays this by clamping a hand around NM’s throat, lifting him and biting off an ear. [The Droner's Adam's apple visibly pulses as the ear is swallowed. Agent Blake regrets his heavy lunch]
Within several seconds, NM’s face and neck and torso are bloody—his mouth gaping in agony. He collapses and the Droner drops with him. A real bro!
It can’t wait, clutches NM’s right arm, stands and stomps a boot onto the shoulder. NM’s head shakes wildly, flinging blood. The Droner pulls and pulls—and off comes the hairy arm barely connected by an umbilical of cartilage and yellow fat.
NM’s head jerks back and gushes green from his gaping mouth, remaining limbs convulsing.
The Droner takes this opportunity to reach out and touch someone—NM’s lower jaw, which he wrenches from its mooring, sniffs, and tosses out of frame.
NM’s eyes roll back white—he’s slippery with blood and lymph, so the Droner grabs fresh tongue and raises him to a sitting position. Long enough to thrust a stiff hand into the other’s diaphragm, separating thoracic from abdominal regions, and opening NM like a dying Christmas present.
NM’s convulsions cease. The Droner spends a few minutes uncoiling intestines and wrapping them around its waist for, apparently, private dining later.
[Blake—who's seen his share of Al-Qaeda beheadings and mayhem—screeches his waste-basket close and grunts up lunch]
The slightly blackened Droner smolders, grabs the free arm and swings it over a shoulder like a club.
At that moment what looks like a John Deere tractor smashes through the roof and splinters the bar—the CCTV signal dissolves into snowy static and is gone. Score one for the F-5….
Nature abhors a vacuum.
[Agent Blake grinds his teeth, sips from a Monster...wondering if he'll survive to see his next birthday in two weeks...closes out his screen]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Independent writer/editor, author of JOHNNY FLASH, THE UNTOLD, FLOWERS ON THE MOON and over 250 short stories, articles, interviews and reviews in CEMETERY DANCE, BEWARE THE DARK, NPR-associated WIRELESS and others. On Forbes.com (ghosting for NYC “philanthropunk” John Kluge), 2 Paragraphs, Magonia Blog, Hellnotes, Horror World, and elsewhere. Recently, Peabody Award-winning investigative journalist George Knapp lauded Grabowski’s work on syndicated radio show COAST TO COAST AM. Five years with World Fantasy Award-winner THE HORROR SHOW earned him a nomination from SPWAO as Best Nonfiction Writer. Blogs: THE NIGHT RUN on WordPress, and WILLIAM J. GRABOWSKI’S OUTSIDE LOOKING OUT on Blogger. His books and short fiction are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.
With a crack of the bat, the Riverton Rebels’ right fielder, Tough Tommy Tedesco, planted a long fly ball in the center field bleachers and tied the game in the bottom of the ninth. The home team crowd roared and filled the minor league stadium with applause as Tough Tommy rounded the bases, driving in two runs before tagging home plate. The scoreboard blinked “5-5.” The Crestview Catfish, longtime rivals from the next state, groaned collectively in their dugout as the lead they’d held since the third inning vanished.
Smiling, Rick and his grandfather, Big Pop, settled back into their seats, praying for the Rebels to bring one more runner home to win the game. But the next batter, Rebels catcher Whit Smiley, whacked a line drive to right field, and Jackson Martinez of the Catfish retired the side with a diving catch.
“Extra innings,” Big Pop said. “You know what that means.”
“Yeah,” Rick said. “Means we might win this one yet.”
Big Pop waved a hand and shook his head. “Means Death’s in the stadium tonight.”
Rick rolled his eyes. “Not again with the baseball myths.”
“It’s no myth, Ricky,” Big Pop said. “Saw it myself, back in ’63 when I was playing third base for the Lewisburg Half Sox. Game went 15 innings and Lou Piscatelli, our second baseman, well, old Lou got himself a new lease on life. I helped keep that game rolling until we won it. We figured Death was aiming for Lou that night, because Lou’s ticket got punched a month later. Car accident. Extra innings or no, everyone’s game ends sometime.”
Rick flagged a concession vendor and bought two cold beers. He handed one to Big Pop. “I’m not eight years old anymore. I’m not falling for stories about magic curveballs and bats made from haunted wood. Let’s just enjoy the game.”
“I made up a few stories in my time, sure.” Accepting the beer, Big Pop shook his head. “But cross my heart, swear to God, Ricky, this isn’t one of them. If a game goes extra innings, it’s because someone gets a chance to cheat death.”
“Uh-uh, Pop, it’s because a team’s trying to win,” Ricky said.
“That too, of course. Sometimes, though, whatever happens later, you only need a little extra time to win.” Big Pop peeled the cellophane from his beer, sipped, and then raised an eyebrow at Rick. “I’d say not dying counts as a win, though, wouldn’t you?”
“Sure, Pop, not dying is always a win. But extra innings have nothing to do with it.”
“Ah, you’re still wet behind the ears. What do you know?”
“I’m twenty-seven. I know about computers, which is how I afford these season tickets I spring for every year,” Rick said. “If your time’s up, Death doesn’t care about extra innings. It’s not like death’s a person anyway. It’s something that happens.”
“You’re wrong about that,” Big Pop said. “Death loves a game.”
Rick eyed his grandfather, searching for the twinkle in his eye and the faint curl at the corners of his mouth that accompanied Big Pop’s tall tales. But Big Pop looked serious, his eyes watery, surrounded by deep wrinkles that seemed out of place and unreal to Rick, who always thought of Big Pop as he knew him from childhood—strong and dark haired.
“That’s only in the movies,” Rick said. “The game was chess.”
“You want to cheat death through chess, you have to win. That’s hard. You want to cheat him through baseball, you only need to make him forget who he’s here to reap.”
“Reap?” Rick asked.
“Yeah,” Big Pop said. “He’s the Grim Reaper. That’s what he does, he reaps people. Everyone has a time and a place at the end of their lifeline. You live so long—or short, I suppose—then you die. Where and when is laid out ahead of time, like where and when you’ll be born. Everything in between is up to you. You do what you want with your life. But when your time’s up, you go—unless you trick Death. That takes help from the spirit world because only ghosts—and Death, of course—know where and when someone’s supposed to die. And baseball, Ricky, is a game of ghosts because it’s a game with history. Decades and decades of tradition and ritual. Players wearing lucky socks or blessing themselves in the batter’s box. Babe Ruth and the Red Sox’s curse. That dumb Billy goat in Chicago. Tip of the iceberg. There’s power in all that superstition. Ballplayers look after their own. Sometimes a player who’s passed on will tip the living that Death’s coming for one of them. Sometimes the ghosts even intervene. And the result is extra innings.”
Rick smirked. “So the myth goes, you mean.”
“Uh, yeah.” Big Pop shifted uncomfortably. The game resumed as the Rebels took the field, but he watched the seats on the opposite side of the stadium, behind the first base line, his stare intent. “That’s how the myth tells it, sure.”
“You don’t believe that, do you?”
Big Pop chuckled, but before he could answer, the Catfish’s third baseman, Tino Salud, popped a fly into left field. The crowd stood and quieted with anticipation as the ball sailed through the hazy illumination pouring down from the stadium’s lights, a speck against the starless shell of night, and then it dropped….
With a smack of leather, Tough Tommy made the catch, back pressed to the wall, glove arm extended what seemed like a mile. The crowd cheered.
Except Big Pop, who refused to take his eyes off something across the field.
Rick gripped his grandfather’s arm. “You okay?”
“Honestly, Ricky, I don’t know.” He pointed to the far seats. “You see anything odd over there?”
Following the direction of his grandfather’s gaze, Rick saw seats crowded with a sea of fans in Rebel’s baseball caps and jerseys, foam fingers, and handmade cheer signs.
“By the foul pole,” Big Pop said.
Rick shifted his eyes. More of the same—except about ten rows back from the field sat a man dressed all in black. A big man in what Rick took for a black, hooded poncho. Holding a long pole with a banner on the end.
“That guy in black?” Rick said.
“You see him?” Big Pop sounded surprised, worried.
“Is that what this is about? You see some wacko fan, dressed up like Death because he wants the Rebels to bury the Catfish and decided to pull my leg?” Rick said. “It’s all a joke?”
Big Pop laughed once. “I’m not joking. Watch that guy a minute.”
Rick did. He missed the next play when the guy in black shimmered like a heat mirage, vanished, and then reappeared in another seat, closer to home plate. A moment later it happened again. Then a third time. Rick blinked and downed half his beer. The man in black now sat right on their side of home plate.
“He’s getting closer,” Big Pop said.
A cold knot crimped Rick’s stomach. “How’s he doing that trick?”
The man in black shimmered again, disappeared, then reconstituted.
“Ricky, I don’t feel so well.”
Big Pop looked pale. Rick touched his grandfather’s arm. Clammy, cold.
“Where are your pills, Pop?”
“Left them in the car.”
“I’ll go get them.”
“No!” Big Pop squeezed Rick’s hand. “Don’t leave me alone.”
On the field the Catfish had loaded the bases with two outs. Their best hitter, Ron Finlay, stood in the batter’s box. Finlay watched the first pitch pass—a strike. He didn’t swing at the next three either—all balls. Finlay fouled off the fifth pitch. Full count. He fouled off the next as well, sending the ball into the bleachers between the man in black and where Rick and Big Pop sat on the edge of left field. The man in black shimmered and flowed steadily nearer, moving from seat to seat, somehow always finding one empty. Finlay fouled off yet another pitch. Rick prayed for Finlay to strike out to keep the game going. Big Pop eyed the man in black, wincing as he flowed nearer. No one else seemed to notice him. He sat only a few rows away when Finlay cracked a high, long shot toward the right field wall. Silence gripped the stadium. The ball sailed into the light then arced down aimed for the deep bleachers. Tough Tommy charged it… threw himself up the wall… stretched for it….
The man in black swooped into the seat right behind Big Pop.
A wave of cold air rolled off him, chilling Rick.
He swiveled, readying to push himself between the man and Big Pop when Pop squeezed Rick’s arm and said, “Look!”
Where the ball sank toward the bleachers stood a ballplayer in an outdated uniform, glove raised, cap tight over his eyes. He lifted off from the stands, racing through empty air to intercept the ball. It passed through the floating ballplayer, and then it dropped, short of a home run, where Tough Tommy caught it, his body stretched halfway over the wall. The crowd stamped their feet and cheered. The Catfish’s four base runners slowed, halted, and Finlay dropped to his knees. Even Death seemed riveted by the excitement. He stood, arms upraised, skeletal hands protruding from the dark wells of his long sleeves, his scythe clutched in one bony fist. Then he shimmered into thin air and reemerged closer to the field—away from Big Pop.
The ghostly player descended to the bleachers. Rick glimpsed the name stitched across the back of his shirt: Piscatelli. He glanced toward Big Pop and tipped his hat, revealing a gaunt, cadaverous face and empty eye sockets.
“Pop,” Rick said.
“Yeah?” Pop said.
“Pop! Did you see that? Was that…?” Rick said.
“A ballplayer? Yeah, Ricky, it was.”
“Hey, Pop, you okay?”
Big Pop nodded. “Yeah.” His color had returned and his breathing relaxed. “I’ll be fine. Back in ’63 I helped Lou, and I think tonight Lou’s helping me.”
The game continued another two and a half hours until the Rebels brought in the winning run in the 17the inning. The man in black disappeared sometime around the bottom of the 16th, and Piscatelli, who had popped up a few more times to help keep the game tied, faded away soon after. Rick never saw either of them again. In the days that followed, he convinced himself they had been only in his imagination, caught up in his grandfather’s story. Over the next month, he and Big Pop attended six more games. None went into extra innings. Then Rick’s wife, Angie, gave birth to a baby boy, their first son, Big Pop’s first great-grandson.
“You should name him Louis, after old Lou Piscatelli,” Big Pop joked.
“Nope,” Rick said. “Going to call him Little Pop.”
Big Pop sat with the boy in his arms, beaming, happier than Rick had ever seen him.
A week later, Big Pop forgot his pills in the house and had an attack in the garage while Angie took Little Pop to a doctor’s appointment. Rick found him when he came home from work. At the sight of his grandfather’s body, he felt a touch of the frigid wind that had braced him that night in the stadium when the man in black loomed behind them. He thought of how ball players looked out for their own—and how sometimes a little extra time is all you need to win.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James Chambers’ tales of horror, crime, fantasy, and science fiction have been published in numerous anthologies and magazines, and Publisher’s Weekly described his collection of four Lovecraftian-inspired novellas, The Engines of Sacrifice, as “chillingly evocative.” His other books include the novellas Three Chords of Chaos, as well as The Dead Bear Witness and Tears of Blood (the first two volumes in the Corpse Fauna series), and the story collections Resurrection House and The Midnight Hour: Saint Lawn Hill and Other Tales with illustrator Jason Whitley. His stories have appeared in the award-winning Bad-Ass Faeries and Defending the Future anthology series as well as Allen K’s Inhuman, Bare Bone, Chiral Mad 2, Clockwork Chaos, Deep Cuts, Fantastic Futures 13, The Green Hornet Chronicles, In an Iron Cage, Mermaids 13, The Spider: Extreme Prejudice, To Hell in a Fast Car, Walrus Tales, and many other publications. He has edited and written numerous comic books including Leonard Nimoy’s Primortals and the critically acclaimed “The Revenant” in Shadow House. He is a member of the Horror Writers Association and the recipient of the HWA’s 2012 Richard Laymon Award. He is online at www.jameschambersonline.com and https://www.facebook.com/ThreeChordsOfChaos.
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BE SURE TO VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE. AND COMMENT AT THE END. FOR THIS ROUND I’M GIVING AWAY A COPY OF MY COLLECTION, THESE OLD TALES (WINNERS CHOICE OF EBOOK OR AUDIOBOOK) FOR DAVID ANDERSON AND RACHEL AUKES IS GIVING AWAY A COPY OF 100 DAYS IN DEADLAND (WINNERS CHOICE OF EBOOK OR AUDIOBOOK). YOU HAVE TO COMMENT TO WIN. VOTING AND COMMENTING CLOSE WHEN THE NEXT ROUND BEGINS.
BRAIN MAPPING FOR THE ADVANCED NEUROSCIENTIST
Entry 137 – Voice Transcription Initialized – 14 March
It has taken me many years but I have finally succeeded. Success came while walking in the afternoon sun. I happened upon a man and his son on a stroll. The boy stumbled and his father, without thought, reached out and grabbed him. It was pure instinct, controlled, at least in part, by the spinal column and peripheral ganglia. You see, the mind isn’t simply the cerebellum, the pallium, hypothalamus, and so on. It extends into other areas!
When I programmed my slugs to not only map the brain, but the spinal column as well, it made all the difference. After they made their route through the latest cadaver, I loaded them into the reader and was thrilled to find the data was intact! The subject’s memories had been successfully recorded. I must further investigate the findings for other abilities and skills but it is late and I grow tired.
Entry 138 – 15 March
I spoke too soon, I am afraid. Though the subject’s memories were mostly intact, other functions were lost. From what I understand, in life, this man was a gifted violinist. After combing through every line of code, I found no sign of his ability. The memories were there but the skill he had honed over years of practice had simply vanished.
I know there is something missing but I do not yet know what.
Entry 139 – 19 March
I hesitate to commit this to record for fear of reprisal but in the name of progress some social, and perhaps even moral, limitations must be bypassed. After extensive research, I believe the problem with losing data stems from the subject being deceased. This indicates that, in order for the process to be successful, the subject must still be living when the process occurs.
I must admit that I find myself struggling with this. I do not want to take the life of another human being, but how many lives could be saved if the mind of the world’s foremost authority on cancer research were to be recorded, saved, and duplicated? If his or her experience and thought process could be coupled with that of other brilliant minds in the field, what breakthroughs could occur? Is not the life of one human being a small price to pay to save millions? And over time, billions?
Entry 140 – 26 March
I’ve altered the encryption on these recordings in the hopes of staving off discovery.
While walking to the market last night after the sun had set, I passed a homeless man warming himself by a barrel fire. I would have paid him no mind but he whistled a lovely tune. I do not know that I have ever heard it before but it was beautiful with many highs and lows which he traversed with great ease. It occurred to me that whistling is not a difficult skill to master but this man had a particular talent. If I could be successful in mapping something this simple, perhaps I could move forward in other areas.
I am not proud to admit what comes next. I removed a small bill from my wallet and approached him. He reeked of alcohol and body odor but when he was close enough, I injected him with a strong sedative. He was difficult to drag down alleyway but in the dark of night, I am certain no one saw me.
I put him in my trunk and drove immediately to the lab. After strapping him to the table, I waited for him to regain consciousness. If nothing else, I felt I owed him some explanation. He should know what a large part of history he was becoming.
Of course, he begged and pleaded but to no avail. I must press on in the hopes of saving future generations. Despite his protests, I cut open a small portion of skin to the left of where his cerebellum, brain stem, and spinal column connect and let the mappers get to work.
I fear his screams will haunt me to the end of my days.
Entry 141 – 27 March
Despite the difficulty in coming to terms with what I have done, I was successful! After the initial upload of normal brain functions, I began to see new lines of code; things I had never seen before. They strung along in wonderful characters converting not only a lifetime of practice but also latent talent into quantifiable data! Once completed, I checked the findings four times before convincing myself it was all there.
Next comes the hurdle of transferring that data from computer memory to a useful vessel, another human.
Entry 142 – 1 June
I have not committed anything from the past two months to this record. Installing the port into my skull with no help was a long, arduous, and painful process. Despite this, I have tried the process and it was successful.
Two days ago, I could not recall the tune that caught my attention. I remember it was lovely and I enjoyed it but the details were lost. I uploaded those new lines of code to one of my “mapping monsters,” as I have come to call them. I’m not sure I like the name though.
I placed it next to the port in the back of my skull and waited. The slithering felt cold and unusual initially but once it found entry, the sensation was forgotten. There was some discomfort as I felt it latch onto my brain and begin sending electrical impulses to rewrite portions of my memory. Within seconds I was whistling the tune as if I had been doing it for years.
Think of the implications! The skilled hands of a surgeon being passed along to hundreds of doctors! The talent of the next Picasso or Rembrandt being distributed to so many promising young artists!
I will explore my results further but first, perhaps a celebratory drink is in order. I do not normally imbibe, but it is a special occasion.
Entry 143 – 2 June
I may have over extended my celebrating last night. I wish to resume my work but my head is aching fiercely and I am having trouble maintaining focus. At the very least, I can categorize this as a new experience, scientifically analyze the sensations.
But first, I’m going to take a nap.
Entry 144 – 5 June
I have spent the past few days wrestling with my desire to see my research continue and my reluctance due to moral reasons. I am repulsed by the notion of taking another human being’s life but the greater good of humanity itself hangs in the balance. Despite my reservations, I feel I must continue.
This is why I recently disguised myself and visited the local homeless shelter. The vagrants are less likely to be missed, reducing my chances of being caught. Having never learned to speak another language, I sought out someone who could. I came across a man who used to be a high school French teacher. The “thought slug” has already mapped his brain.
No, I don’t like that name either.
I am now placing the creature near my port. The sensation is still somewhat unnerving. The lubricant excreted helps conduct the electrical charge but it is more than a little uncomfortable.
It is now inside my skull. I just felt a slight pinch as it latched on. Ah!
At-il travailler? Je ne suis pas sûr.
Entry 145 – 8 June
It has been a very busy few days. There are limited possibilities with homeless shelters but so far, I have learned to play the piano and speak French, Spanish, and a little Mandarin. Unfortunately, I feel I have reached the end of the possibilities here. Thus, I have begun searching for new subjects in different areas.
What was that?
I must be tired. I need rest.
Entry 146 – 12 June
It seems fortune has smiled on me. At a locale convenience store, a strapping young man came out to find his car broken down. It’s a shame how that happens. He was returning from his sophomore year and attending university on a football scholarship. Quarterback.
The short version is that now, I can throw a football sixty yards and still hit a plastic cup. Strangely enough, this time, it took a little while to master. Though my brain had the knowledge, my muscles took longer to acclimate to the new abilities.
Entry 147 – 13 June
My knowledge remains intact as do my recently acquired physical abilities. I haven’t noticed any real side effects yet. I hypothesized there might be some but so far, nothing.
Entry 148 – 15 June
I think my lab may have become home to a rodent. I keep hearing random noises.
This makes me curious. Could the abilities of a scavenger or predator be successfully mapped and transferred across species? That’s a big question. I will need to do a lot more research.
Entry 149 – 19 June
I think local law enforcement may have become aware of what I’m doing. I keep hearing a buzzing sound and the hint of voices. Could they have bugged my lab? I’ve been very careful to incinerate all evidence. Even the college boy’s car was dumped in the lake. Nothing should be tied back to me but I have to stay careful. I am making too much progress to be stopped. They wouldn’t understand.
As a side note, I still haven’t found that rat. I’ll get him though.
Entry 150 – 21 June
I can sing! I visited a karaoke bar late last night and befriended a man with an incredible voice. He had amazing control and power, even though he was obviously drunk. The promise of more alcohol and perhaps a romantic encounter was all it took to lure him here.
Needless to say, after a brief brain rewrite by one of my mechanical friends and a couple of hours practicing, I could probably get a job with a local band. Ha! Amazing!
Entry 151 – 23 June
I have to find that bug! The police are messing with my head! They want to stop my research. Maybe they want it for themselves. They could use it to create an entire force of super cops. They could take over the city and impose their law on everyone.
I won’t let that happen!
Entry 152 – 24 June
My head hurts. I need rest but I have to continue my research. What are the limits of my brain? If I continue, how much knowledge and skill can I get? What all can I do?
What did you say?
I don’t know. I’ll get it later.
Entry 153 – 27 June
I can cook! All the wonderful flavors and textures and combinations! It’s fantastic!
I’ll admit that this subject was a little harder to handle. He was rather large. But you know what they say, never trust a skinny chef! Ha!
I wonder if I’ll get fat now.
Entry 154 – 28 June
A cop car followed me for three blocks after I left the grocery store today. They know. I’m sure of it.
Entry 155 – 30 June
I’m not sure where to go next. There are so many possibilities. I’ve lost count of how many subjects I’ve collected. I can do some astounding things now.
Okay, I’ll tell them.
I can juggle! How cool is that?
Entry 156 – 2 July
The bad news is that a police officer came by to ask me if I’d noticed any strange things happening in the area lately, unusual people running around or acting odd. I panicked.
The good news is that I know how to shoot a gun now.
Entry 157 – 3 July
They’re here! Here to stop my work! They don’t want me to reach my full potential. I’ll show them. I’m loading everything onto the Net. All the neural maps, schematics for the leeches and ports, and all of my journal entries.
I’d hoped to have more time to research this next part but I don’t. I’m plugging my brain into the computers. I’m going to load my mind and all of its skills on the Net. They may kill my body but not my mind!
What are you doing? No! You can’t!
Stay away from that! No!
Don’t turn that—
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
“Gramps was right,” the man said to his girlfriend, a grin wide on his face. “Gramps told me he found this place over sixty years ago on a hiking trip with his high school buddies. It’s exactly like he described it. Absolutely perfect.”
She wanted to argue, especially after a full day’s drive and a hot morning’s hike out here, but instead she couldn’t help but return his smile. It really was beautiful. A tiny island, hidden among the Cyprus trees, encircled by a moat. A fairytale paradise, truly. Even as he spoke, a couple Monarch butterflies had fluttered by her cheek.
“C’mon,” he said, tucking the hand-drawn map into his cargo pocket. “Let’s get to the island.”
Her smile fell into a frown. The only access to the island was a rickety looking wood plank bridge. “We’re crossing that?”
He cautiously stepped on it and then did a tiny jump. The board creaked but held. He let out a whoop. “It’s fine. Just like Gramps said.”
“That was sixty years ago,” she reminded him.
He shrugged. Confidence filled his steps as he crossed the bridge. When he was on solid ground again, he faced her. “See? It’s a piece of cake.” He motioned to her. “Your turn.”
After a moment’s hesitation, she gave a tight nod and stepped onto the warped two-by-eight piece of wood. She took a deep breath and put a foot forward. The water below was dark and murky. It wasn’t that she was afraid of getting wet. It was the idea of walking several miles in wet hiking books that didn’t set well with her. Step by timid step, she crossed, feeling the wood bend and creak beneath her feet. She took the last few steps in a rush and jumped onto the island with a squeal.
He caught her and pulled her into a kiss. The kiss turned in a caress, which turned into a lovemaking session, followed by the romantic picnic lunch they’d brought in their backpacks. “Here’s to our first year together,” he toasted and clinked their wine glasses.
Afterward, the pair lay under the shade of the tiny island’s single tree, with birds providing music. She snuggled deeper into his embrace, despite the humid heat drenching them.
He chuckled. “While I’d love to stay here forever with you, if we don’t start heading back now, we’ll have to hike in the dark.”
“I wish we could stay here forever,” she murmured before stretching and coming to her feet, reluctant to abandon their newfound Eden. “We’ll come back every year,” she said. “This will always be our place.”
He smiled and kissed her. “Our place, I like the sound of that.” With that, they dressed and packed their trash.
He took the bridge first, each step bringing a creak from the wood. Midway across, a loud crack resounded in the air, and the board broke in half. She gasped as he plummeted into the water in a splashing flurry of limbs and wood.
“Oh my god, are you okay?” she called out, stepping to the edge of the water.
“Fine,” he sputtered out between coughs.
She laughed as he slung a wad of algae from his hair. “Gross!”
He smiled and swam toward her. “Agh!” His eyes widened and he disappeared under the water. It was only an instant before he burst forward onto the land and pulled at his skin.
Her mouth dropped open. He was covered by hundreds of the biggest, scariest leeches she’d ever seen.
“Get them off me!” he cried out as he tried to shake them off him. “Get them off!”
She reached out but didn’t touch him. “I don’t know what to do!” Frantic, she scanned the woods across the water. “Help!” she cried out. “Anyone! Please help us!”
He pulled out his pocket knife and tried to scrape off a leech. “They-they have some kind of shell. I can’t get under them.”
Rivulets of blood ran where he’d cut himself, but the leech remained unscathed, feasting on his blood. His hands shaky, he kept trying while he cried out in agony.
Gripped by terror, she watched her lover grow paler beneath her. When he dropped the knife because he was shaking so badly, she grabbed the blade and tried to peel a quickly growing leech from his skin. But it seemed to have attached itself perfectly, leaving no edge to pry. She tried to carefully stab at it, but its shell was like armor. “I don’t understand,” she whimpered. “Leeches aren’t supposed to be like this.”
He stumbled and fell onto his butt. The leeches grew so quickly, now covering over three-quarters of his body.
After staring at the knife, she jerked around and pulled off her backpack. She rummaged through the contents and pulled out her phone. No signal. She held up the phone higher. No signal. Nevertheless, she still tried to place several calls. Next, she tried to send a text.
By then, he’d collapsed onto his back. His shaking had lessened. His jaws were clenched in pain and his movements were becoming sluggish.
Dropping her phone, she continued to scream for help. She went to hold his hand, but leeches covered both palms. “Hang in there, honey. Stay with me,” she murmured before he stood and walked in a circle. “Help us, goddammit! Someone, anyone, help!”
“I-” He tried to speak but no more words emerged.
His face had become shrunken as his precious blood was sucked from his body. It took less than a minute for the life to leave his eyes.
The woman did nothing. She watched in shock as, one by one, the leeches detached themselves and slunk back into the water. It wasn’t possible, she tried to tell herself as she stood there, shaking under the hot sun, but the lifeless body of the man she loved told her differently. When stillness reclaimed the island, she sobbed and clutched him against her.
She cried for help, for him, for anything to make sense, until her voice became hoarse and then abandoned her. She cried until the moon replaced the sun, even as mosquitoes bit her and creepy things crawled over her. At dawn’s twilight, she finally released her dead lover.
She drank what was left in her water bottle and set out the contents of both their backpacks. Some crackers and a quarter bottle of water was all that remained. After all, they’d been planning to return to the car after the picnic. She gazed across the water and prayed for hikers to find her, but she knew how secluded this area was. She searched for ways to cross the water, but the island was barren aside from the single Cypress tree.
She regulated her intake of water, but the day was hot and she was thirsty, and she was left with nothing by noon. She tried to call out for help, but her voice never returned. She tried her phone while walking over every inch of the island. She tried her lover’s phone. She was alone, trapped from the world by a rim of deadly water.
She refilled the water bottle, but the water was cloudy. Still, she took a sip but spit out the horribly rotten-tasting liquid.
By the following night, both phone batteries were dead from her attempts to reach help. Flies pecked at the corpse of her lover, who she’d covered with the red and white picnic blanket. She cried more, but no tears emerged.
The second night was worse. Her energy had been taken by the heat and by exhaustion. Anguish had given way to hopelessness.
By the third night, hopelessness had given way to apathy. She’d lost her strength. Her parched tongue was swollen with dehydration. Welts from mosquitoes covered her skin.
The following morning, her hands and feet had gone numb. Somehow, she still managed to push herself, albeit shakily, to her feet.
She took a step. That one was the hardest. Then she took a second step. Then another.
She stumbled a quiet plop into the water. Another step, and it came up to her neck. For a second, she stood there. The water was still. Nothing attacked.
She shouldn’t have waited so long. If only she’d left earlier, she would’ve had more strength to walk back to the car. She would’ve—
The first sting felt like a molten bullet in her calf. Then, a hundred more followed, piercing every part of her body. If she still had a voice, she would’ve screamed. She stumbled back onto the island and collapsed next to her lover.
Her wish had come true after all.
They did get to stay on that island forever.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rachel Aukes is the bestselling author of 100 Days in Deadland, which was named one of the best books of 2013 by Suspense Magazine and one of the best zombie books by the Huffington Post. Rachel lives in the Midwest United States with her husband and an incredibly spoiled sixty-pound lap dog. When not writing, she can be found flying old airplanes and trying (not so successfully) to prepare for the zombie apocalypse. Learn more at www.RachelAukes.com.
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100 Days in Deadland
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BE SURE TO VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE. AND COMMENT AT THE END. FOR THIS ROUND KT JAYNE IS GIVING AWAY AN E-COPY OF HER STORY “PUSH BUTTON, GET BACON” FROM THE ANTHOLOGY DEAD SOULS I’M GIVING AWAY A COPY OF MY COLLECTION, THESE OLD TALES (WINNERS CHOICE OF EBOOK OR AUDIOBOOK) FOR AARON BESSON. YOU HAVE TO COMMENT TO WIN. VOTING AND COMMENTING CLOSE WHEN THE NEXT ROUND BEGINS.
THE USEFUL TOOL
A wire brush is a useful tool in the zombie apocalypse. When things went to shit, I didn’t know what would be helpful. I pretty much just did a sweep of my workbench into my tool bag, grabbed a shovel and ran like hell. There’s lots of things in that tool bag that I’ve used. Hammer, wrench, pliers, flashlight. But none of them has been used as much as that wire brush. Not even the shovel. That’s a great zombie killing tool. Gotta separate the head from the spinal column after all.
So, here I was. Barely able to catch my breath, leaning against a very heavy wooden door with zombies clawing at the opposite side. I could hear them. Rasping and scraping. Sniffing. What the fuck do they sniff for? I have no idea what the hell that’s about, but whenever they get close to live people, they start sniffing. Maybe they can smell us thinking. I found that stirring up some dust with my handy wire brush throws them off the scent, though. They sneeze and it’s like their systems freeze up.
The wooden door was starting to bow inward. I didn’t know how long I had, but I suspected that it wouldn’t be long before those fuckers would swarm through the door and beehive me like four year olds on a soccer ball. I looked around the room. It was the back storage room of a bar. On the wall opposite me was another door that I figured led to an alley. All back doors in bars lead to alleys, don’t they? I also figured there would be a dumpster out there. It was a long shot, but a plan was starting to formulate and it would require me moving quickly and being right about the alley and the dumpster.
Taking a deep breath, I mustered what was left of my strength and dashed across the room, bursting through the door. It was dark on the other side. I cursed myself for not thinking to grab my flashlight before I rushed out. I’d been in the bar for several hours sleeping in a booth before the zombies had found me, so I knew in my head somewhere that it would be dark. I stopped and waited for my eyes to adjust. A streetlight glowed dimly at the end of the alley and I saw that there was indeed a dumpster. Glancing back, I saw that the wooden door I’d just left was starting to crack. No choice but to crawl into the dumpster and hope that they shamble past.
Seconds later, I was hunkered in the bottom of the dumpster, lid shut and trying not to throw up the last meal I’d had. I heard the door give and crash to the ground. Zombies hit the alley and they knocked against the dumpster. I knew they weren’t smart enough to lift the lid, so I waited. There was no telling how long it would take them to get bored and go away. I pulled some cardboard over my head and said some prayers to hurry them along.
I checked my watch again and again. An hour crawled by at a snail’s pace. My legs were tingling with pins and needles so I shifted. A sharp pain ran up the side of my calf and I aimed the flashlight down. Pulling my jeans up, revealed a thick dark red line running down to my sock. Digging around in my backpack yielded a box of wipes and a first aid kit. I spent a few minutes cleaning the jagged cut on my leg and digging glass out of it. I put a band-aid on it and then edged over to the slime covered wall of the dumpster. Out came the wire brush and I used it to clear a small circle to listen. An occasional thump met my ears, telling me the zombies were still outside.
One thing about zombies. They are very fucking patient. It’s not like they have anything else to do. They will mill mindlessly around for hours. Waiting. I needed a plan and nothing was jumping out at me. I moved myself so that I could take inventory of my belongings once more. There had to be some way to get out of this situation and I hoped that the inventory would give me some stroke of inspiration.
Tool bag, toiletry bag, flashlight, first aid kit, notebook, pen, extra change of clothes, ipod, jacket, and of course, the wire brush. It didn’t look like much, but it had gotten me a month into the apocalypse. I expected it to get me through the rest. I rubbed my eyes. I could starve to death trying to out wait the zombies. I’d seen it happen.
Planting my feet on the floor of the dumpster, I rose slowly, lifting the plastic lid just enough to allow me a narrow view of the world outside. Two zombies shuffled around the dumpster in full satellite mode. Dropping back down, I reached for the small bag with my minimal self-care items. I opened the dental floss container and tied the end to my wire brush. My plan was to throw the brush as far down the alley as I could. I was hopeful that this would distract the zombies and send them on a wild goose chase away from me. In theory, the plan was a beautiful nugget that worked perfectly. In execution, the plan was clumsy, but mostly effective.
The clattering of the wire brush on the pavement toward the mouth of the alley did distract the zombies and draw them away from me. I didn’t plan on one of the zombies grabbing the wire brush and yanking. The dental floss snapped and my wire brush started to move out of my sight. I didn’t think. Grabbing up my stuff and shoving it back into the backpack, I clambered over the dumpster wall and dropped to the ground. I moved forward until the two zombies were in my vision again. The female zombie sat down on the sidewalk and turned the wire brush over and over in her hands as if trying to remember what such a thing might be used for. A glimmer of recognition went across her face and she lifted the brush to her head, using it to comb through her knotted hair. She dragged it through the snarls pulling hair and small pieces of scalp with each tug. I usually used my wire brush for cleaning, I didn’t have to wash it very often.
I watched in horror as the female zombie continued to comb until all of her hair and most of her scalp were gone. Reaching back, I released the shovel and gripped it firmly. I tiptoed toward the pair, pulling my arms back so that I got a good deal of force behind it. I aimed for the man first. His head flew to the side and hung at an odd angle, staring at me accusingly. I then shifted my attention back to the girl who was still combing her hair with my wire brush. I lifted the shovel once more and swung toward the female. Her head made a satisfying crunch and her entire body fell over. The wire brush fell out of her hand and I reached to pick it up.
As I bent, I heard footsteps coming toward me. I looked between my legs to see two small boys, both under six heading straight toward me and looking ravenous. I picked up the brush and slowly straightened to strike these two creatures out as well. I turned toward them, pulling the shovel into position only to find the zombie boy running to me with his head down. I swung, hitting him square on the back of the head. He fell face first and I rammed the shovel down through his neck until his head rolled away. A low moan came to me and then a thump landed on my back. Before I could think, I lifed the brush and rapped the zombie on the head. That only stunned him, so I smacked the hands that were around my neck on the knuckles. This had a better effect and the zombie fell away from me for just long enough for me to whirl around to face him. He proved to be too quick again and barreled at me, teeth bared, poised to bite. I instinctively raised my arms with my wire brush still in hand. The zombie bit it and then yanked hard. I fell backwards and the wire brush flew above our heads only to land back into the alley.
“Damn it, that’s the best tool I have.”
I lifted the shovel and swung it furiously from side to side. It didn’t matter who or what I hit, just as long as I connected. This zombie leapt backwards with the momentum and hit the brick wall of the building hard, sliding down. No more zombies awaited me in the alley. I walked down into the alley, scanning the ground, looking for my brush. When I found it, the handle had gotten lodged in a man’s skull up to the hilt. He lay on his back, looking up at me pathetically. I stepped on his head, and pulled on my brush until it was free in the palm of my hand.
Yep, you just didn’t know what would be helpful in the zombie apocalypse, but it didn’t hurt to have a wire brush.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Do you know what to do in case of zombie apocalypse? How about when surrounded by a mad horde of Doctor Who fangirls? What if the Mothman invades your town? What if aliens land and start shooting up the place? Lucky for you that you have met KT Jayne. She knows exactly what to do if any of these things happen. She should, she’s spent her entire life obsessing about all these “what ifs” and more. Lucky for you, too, she has Asperger’s and with her out of the box thinking and whiz kid know how, she might just save your skin. Or your soul. Grab your shovel of death and prepare to face whatever form the apocalypse will take. Or just stand behind her. She’ll figure it out. No matter how the apocalypse manifests, KT Jayne does not die at the end.
KT Jayne lives in a small town of central Indiana with her husband.
A FIELD WELL TENDED
We’re gonna need to be getting’ ready now. The blood moon rose an hour or so ago, so things’ve gotta go just right or it all ain’t worth nothin’, probably even worse than that. Gramma practically beat that into me when I was first learnin’. They’re real particular about the ways. I wish there was another way to do it all, because this all seems like a lot more trouble than it’s gotta be, I’m sure you agree.
After Momma and Poppa died, Gramma was the only kin to take me in. What other kin I got never really were around, so no great loss there. Gramma made things real clear day one when I got here. She kept the ways right and proper, and tarnation if I wasn’t gonna as well. Seems like a lot for a young girl to take on, right? I gotta say I took to it pretty quickly, quicker than a body would think. Gramma said it was my knack, just like she had. After she died there were a few hiccups in my performin’ the ways, and They don’t really cotton to mistakes, but they gave me a second chance. You gotta appreciate that, all things considered.
The ways were almost fun at first. There was the dress up and the fixins that They insist upon. I thought it was all like playin’ weird tea party at first, but Gramma quickly knocked that idea outta my noggin. “They don’t play.” Gramma scolded me. When I first met them…boy howdy, she weren’t kiddin’. I got the law laid down on me and how, so you best believe now that it all goes by the book, no pun intended.
Look at it. It’s just an old wire brush, right? Sad, tired lookin’ thing. It didn’t have too many bristles when I first came to live here, and considerin’ that only three or four have been plucked out since I took it all on, you get an idea of how long all this has been goin’. Don’t rightly know if I’m gonna be here when the last one is pulled, but I sure ain’t gonna lie and say that it wouldn’t be an interestin’ thing to see. It gives you an appreciation on how long the ways have been kept. Kinda nice, gettin’ a clear view of takin’ part in somethin’ bigger than you, right? Who wouldn’t want to see that come to pass?
I thought the story about it all was just Gramma gettin’ into her dizzy juice good an’ hard the first time she told me, but as I said, Gramma weren’t one for jokin’. I might’ve been a wee thing when Gramma told me this here was the Devil’s hairbrush, but just because I was a little squirt don’t mean I was stupid. Children are a lot smarter than people give ‘em credit for. Yup, knew you’d agree. Anyways, that’s how the brush got its mojo. It’s all filled up with the Devil. You know how you brush your hair and it can get all crackly, and you touch someone and give them a little shock? This here brush is just like that, just a bit different. How Great-Great-Gramma got the brush is a tale to tell, but I ain’t got the time or the head for it, goin’ on about “promises in blood” and “thrice-scourged metal” and the like. I gotta admit, I still don’t understand half of what Gramma went on about, but that don’t matter none just as long as I know what needs knowin’ and do what needs doin’. Good thing, that.
Hey, y’hear how the crows and the wind just stopped at the same time? That means They’re close. I gotta warn you, to say that They are a sight don’t put no justice to Them. You best believe I screamed my damn fool head off the first time I saw Them, who wouldn’t? Even now it gives me a headache just to look at Them, with those weird eye-mouth things and the shapes that make you feel like you got the flu. The smell, too…you think you’re smellin’ it, but you’re really hearin’ it. That’s not the weirdest part, even. They pour right into the bristle when the time comes, just like a lake goin’ into a thimble. That’s how they take the bodies. They can’t stay long in the world unless They take a body, that’s the only way they can stay here and do what they do. Gramma told me that when all the bristles are planted, then our job is done and They’ll take it from there. Sorry, I’m probably not explainin’ this well at all. You’ll see what I mean.
Honestly, the whole thing with the bristle is the part I hate the most. Cuttin’ out the tongue, really? Why not just poke the bristle in the tongue? There’s still going to be plenty of blood when you do that. Gramma said that little pain and blood weren’t enough for Them. The bristle needs to take root in the mouth for it to work right and proper, and the tongue just gets in the way of that happenin’. There’s still gotta be a better way, I reckon.
That’s the reason I cut your tongue out while you were still passed out from the dope I put in your water. I’m sure it still hurts like blazes, and I’m right sorry for that. Believe you me, it would’ve hurt a helluva lot worse if I’d done it while you were awake and aware, so small blessins and all that. This’ll probably poke for a second, but I promise it won’t hurt long once Th…ah, hear that smell? They’re a-comin’. Okay, open wide for me now…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aaron Besson is a writer of horror and dark fantasy from Seattle,Washington. His writing has been published in the Weird Fiction Review from Centipede Press, James Ward Kirk Publishing, and Spinetinglers.
1 Comment | tags: author, competition, contest, duel, fantasy, fiction, fiction story, free book, free books, free fiction books, free kindle, gunslinger, horror, round, sci-fi, science fiction, scifi, sff, shootout, short story, story, versus, wordslinger, writer | posted in Wordslinger Shootouts
BE SURE TO VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE. AND COMMENT AT THE END. FOR THIS ROUND ANDREW NIENABER IS GIVING AWAY AN EBOOK COPY OF HIS LATEST BOOK, STZ AND KEN MACGREGOR IS GIVING AWAY AN EBOOK COPY OF HIS NEW COLLECTION, AN ABERRANT MIND. YOU HAVE TO COMMENT TO WIN. VOTING AND COMMENTING CLOSE WHEN THE NEXT ROUND BEGINS.
. . . DO US PART
She scurried to the camera, giddy, and picked it up. She turned it over in her hands, hit the button on the back, and checked the picture, cooing.
“It’s perfect. We look…” she wiped away the tear crawling languidly down her cheek. “We look like a cake topper. Just perfect.”
She turned the camera around to show him, but he remained indifferent. She smiled at him anyway. His stoic manner was part of the reason she’d fallen for him in the first place. He reminded her of her father in that respect: the Platonic ideal of a quiet, steely Midwestern Scandinavian-American patriarch; practically a stereotype.
“One more,” she pleaded. He didn’t respond, which she took as his usual patient consent. She set the camera down on the counter, set the timer, and dashed back to his side. She adjusted the veil down over her eyes, smoothed her dress, and grasped his hand. She still felt a shock every time she touched his skin, a jolt that began as a series of pinpricks in her fingertips then spread slowly up her arm. She grinned. They’d lost it for a while, gone through some hard times, but through Herculean effort on her part, she’d managed to re-forge their bond, made it stronger for the mending.
The red light on the front of the camera blinked briefly, then the flash lit the room. She danced to the counter, picked up the camera, and checked the picture.
“I don’t think this one is as good,” she said, turning the screen so he could see it. The basement room was warm, and he shifted slightly. She thought he was getting uncomfortable – he had been in that tux for quite some time after all – but knew he would never complain. He didn’t complain about anything; he never had, really. Instead, he used to show his displeasure with the back of his hand. He never told her she had over-salted his dinner, or that she failed to look pretty enough for him when he got home from a long day’s work, not in words, but she always knew when he was displeased. She always had known. It was different now. She fixed it. Everything was perfect now.
“Ok, just one more,” she said. In days past this would have earned her a split lip and a gout of blood from her nose, but he was a new man now, a changed man. Infinitely patient. “I really want this to be special. We only get one tenth anniversary!” She set the camera back down on the counter, aimed it precisely, hit the timer and ran back to his side. Just as the red light began blinking, indicating that the picture was imminent, she licked her lips and lifted up onto her toes, kissing him on the cheek. The flash fired, blinding her for a second. Her lips lingered for a moment longer, stretched as she pulled her face away from his, then broke free with a soft, delicate tearing. She smiled to see the livid red lipstick mark she left, peppered with small, pale tatters of her soft lips. He had nothing to say about it.
She picked up the camera and, satisfied that she’d gotten all the pictures she needed for the invitations to their vow renewal party, she stowed it in its soft neoprene case, which she slung around her shoulder.
“This was a beautiful day,” she said, sauntering toward him until their faces nearly touched. “Thank you for this. Truly.” She reached up and set her hand on his cheek, feeling the familiar shock to her skin. “I can never really express how glad I am that we patched things up. Thank you for being the man I always knew you could be.” She pressed her lips to his, a chill spreading throughout her face. The kiss lingered, her pressing his head between her hands passionately, as if trying to wring every last drop of emotion from his stoic lips.
Then, with effort, she pulled herself away. She looked him over, took a deep breath and smiled. He was the perfect husband now. He would never hit her again. He would never make eyes at that little slut Jill over at the Wing Palace anymore. He was hers – all hers – forever.
She opened the lid of the chest freezer – the one he used to store the meat he dressed from deer and elk carcasses back in his hunting days – and, with no small effort, tipped him over inside. It was far more difficult to get him to fit correctly now than it had been when she’d first stuffed him in after stabbing him fifteen times in the ribs that night when he’d come home smelling like Jagermeister and Cowgirl Chic perfume and decided she needed to be taught a good, solid lesson about questioning his activities before he passed out on the bathroom floor.
She gently folded his arms across each other – she’d had to break the bones to make that possible, but it was the only way to get him inside the freezer – gave him one last kiss on the forehead, whispered “Goodnight, my darling,” and closed the lid.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrew Nienaber has been an ice cream truck driver, a bartender, a teacher, a writer, a blogger, a director of operas, and all-around theater professional and a long-time observer of the human condition. He is one of the founders of FatalDownflaw.com and his short-lived blog about his experiences selling ice cream, The Ill Humor Man, drew hundreds of hits per day. Andrew’s premiere novel Truly, Deeply Disturbed was nominated for novel of the year by both Pulp Ark and his story “What We Found” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. You can receive periodic updates about his work – as well as a huge amount of snark – through Andrew Nienaber’s Grammar Correction Institute at http://facebook.com/ANGrammar.
OUT OF THEIR DEPTHS
“Happy Valentine’s Day, baby,” Carla said, nuzzling into Mike’s neck.
“Was that today?” Mike asked.
She slugged him. He laughed and hugged her. She held him close and they stayed like that for a while.
“So, what grand, romantic plans do you have in store?”
“You’ll never guess,” Mike said.
“Is it fancy dinner, movie, live show or swanky hotel? ‘Cause, really, I’d be okay with any combination of those.”
“All good guesses, but no,” Mike said. “We’re doing something different. Something I doubt any couple has ever done on Valentine’s Day.”
Carla leaned back to look Mike in the eye. She raised her eyebrows in her well, tell me already expression. Mike broke the hug and grinned at her. He turned away and looked back at Carla over his shoulder.
“Come on,” he said and walked into the study. Mike walked past the small desk. The swivel chair was tucked under it and his laptop sat closed in front of the chair. Turning to look at Carla again, Mike pulled a book off the shelf. It was bound in cracked brown leather and the pages were a pale yellow.
“That’s an old book,” Carla said. Her voice was quiet and reverent. Mike nodded.
“Published in 1848,” he said. “It’s about Baraga.”
“Seriously? Why would anyone write about this town?”
“Well,” Mike said, “according to this, this little tourist trap used to be the edge of a thriving copper mining community. It says the copper mined here was so pure you could turn it into pans without having to refine it.”
Mike handed her the book. Holding it gingerly, Carla leafed through it, scanning the pages without reading them.
“Okay. Cool, I guess. But, what does this have to do with our romantic plans for this evening?”
Mike flipped a few dozen pages ahead and the book fell open. Between pages 112 and 113 lay a folded sheet of vellum. Carla looked up and Mike flicked his eyes to the sheet, then back to hers. Setting the book down on the desk, Carla unfolded the vellum.
It was a map. It looked like something out of Dungeons and Dragons, all tunnels and notations about cave-ins and fortifications. After a moment, she turned to Mike.
“Is this the abandoned mine?”
Mike nodded. He was trying to hold in a grin.
“Check this out,” Mike said. He flipped open the lid to his laptop and hit the power button. The machine warmed up and the onscreen image became clear. It was the same map, but the one on the vellum had details the digital one lacked. After switching her gaze back and forth a few times, Carla smiled.
“If this is right, whoever drew this knew about a secret part of the mine that the records don’t show. Am I seeing that right?”
“You are,” Mike said. “I think my grandfather drew the map. Could have been his father. I don’t know. They were both named William.”
He pointed to the signature on the right border: Wm. Greene.
“Will you please tell me why I’m looking at this instead of getting dolled up to go out with you?”
“Because you’re not getting dolled up. You’re going to dress warmly and you and I are going to go find that lost vein of copper.”
“I’m sorry. What?”
Mike put his hands on Carla’s hips. He moved in so he was almost touching her. His lips brushed hers in a near kiss and he whispered in her ear. Her hair tickled his nose.
“Copper is worth more now than ever in history. If we find the vein, and I think we will, we’ll be rich. We could move out of this town, go somewhere warm, buy a big house, get married.”
“I’m sorry,” Carla said. “But, did you just drop the ‘M’ word?”
“I’ve been thinking about it, you know, a little.”
“Keep thinking about it, tough guy. Maybe someday I’ll let you propose to me.”
“Maybe you’ll let me, huh?”
Mike grinned at her. Carla shrugged.
“Okay,” she said. “Let’s suppose, just for the sake of argument, I agree to go with you to an abandoned mine on Valentine’s Day. We find this alleged copper vein and then what? Put it in a wheelbarrow and roll it to a scrap yard?”
“Carla, if I’m right, there could be thousands of tons of copper in there. It’d be worth millions, maybe hundreds of millions.”
“What are we waiting for, Romeo? Let’s go.”
Moving stiffly in winter coats and snow pants over street clothes which in turn were over thermal underwear, Mike and Carla got out of the 4X4 and into the biting winter wind coming off Lake Superior. Most of their skin was covered,save for a spot below the hood and above the scarf so they could see. Their eyes watered from the cold and tears froze on the wool of their scarves.
Inside the mine was no warmer, but being out of the wind made it seem almost balmy. Mike pulled the scarf down off his chin. His breath plumed out around his head and drifted up to the stalactite-like icicles hanging over their heads.
Their high-powered flashlights illuminated rough stone walls buttressed by 8X8 wooden beams every twenty feet or so. The tunnel curved to the right as it declined into the earth. Mike shined his flashlight on his own face.
“Carla, my darling, would you be … mine?”
“Dork.” But she laughed.
They followed Mike’s grandfather’s map to the point at which it deviated from the public record. The wall on their left was a side-passage blocked with 2X4s. Barely legible red paint warned of a cave-in.
“All this way for nothing,” Carla said. Her shoulders slumped.
“It’s a trick,” Mike said. “To keep people out.”
Setting down his gym bag, Mike moved aside the coil of strong rope and grabbed the pry bar. Even through his thick winter gloves, he could feel the cold of the steel. Jamming an end in, Mike pried off the first board. It came away with a screech of rusty nails. In ten minutes, Mike was sweating under his winter gear from exertion, but the passage was clear.
The lovers shone their flashlights into the side tunnel without venturing in. The walls in there were rougher-hewn, like they were carved by trolls instead of men. The tunnel was narrow, too and the supports were 4X4 beams. They did not look up to the job.
Mike and Carla exchanged a glance. Neither radiated confidence.
“Better be worth it,” Carla said.
“Yeah,” Mike said.
They stepped over the threshold and the temperature dropped another ten degrees.
Before long, the passage curved left and slanted down steeply. They had to lean backward a little to keep from falling forward. As they descended, it got colder and colder. The heat was being leached out of Mike and Carla’s bodies despite the layers of protective clothing. Ice coated the walls of the tunnel and icicles spiked down from the ceiling just over their heads.
Checking the map, Mike nodded to an even smaller tunnel off to the right.
“This should be it,” he said. His voice, barely a whisper, billowed out in a cloud of frozen moisture. Beside him, Carla shivered a nod and they climbed through the hole.
Side by side, there were only a few inches between them and the tunnel walls. The ceiling was still a few feet up, but they had to duck under the hanging ice several times. They came to a fork. Mike glanced at the map in his flashlight beam and they veered left. Carla clamped her jaws down on her chattering teeth.
The tunnel opened up into a wide, roughly circular chamber. Their lights picked up reddish gold reflections along the walls. All over the walls, rich copper sat fat for the taking. There were low, narrow side passages leading off, but they were not on Mike’s map.
“It’s really here. Oh, Mike, we’re gonna be rich.”
Carla threw her arms around his neck and pressed her body to his. He held her tightly. Their flashlights pointed behind each other toward the floor.
A sound made them freeze. It was a shuffling, slithering sort of sound, like someone sliding to the side on concrete steps. Both lights were up and searching as they broke the hug.
The noise got louder and was clearly coming from the low side-passages. Mike and Carla pressed against one another and edged back toward the tunnel they had come out of. They both flicked the beams from passage to passage. Their breath quickened and they shook from more than cold.
All at once, pale shapes filled the side passages. They stood on two legs, hunched over almost double. The creatures pointed their faces in Carla and Mike’s direction, but they had no eyes. Fleshy hollows indented their faces. Their noses, barely more than slits, sniffed the air. As one, the creatures moved toward the lovers.
Carla dropped her flashlight. The bulb popped on impact and the mine got a lot darker.
“Come on,” Mike said. He pulled Carla gently and they backed into the tunnel, keeping the remaining light trained on the blind cave beings. The creatures gave chase. They emitted a whining, mewling, hungry sound and moved faster.
“Ow. Damn it,” Mike said. An icicle stalactite fell to the floor after connecting with his head. It shattered. Reaching back, he felt wetness, and could see blood on his hand in the light.
“Shine it up,” Carla said.
“The light. Shine it up, Mike. Now.”
Mike did and Carla grabbed a large icicle as high on it as she could reach. After a brief struggle, she broke it off. Mike brought the beam of light down.
There was a pale, rubbery, grasping biped less than a foot away.
Mike gave a cry and backpedaled. Carla drove the icicle through the thing’s belly. Red blood welled around the makeshift spear and began to flow.
Mike and Carla backed slowly away, keeping the light on the creature. The others of its kind touched it, probing with fingers that ended in jagged claws. They felt the ice, dipped their hands in the blood and tasted it. The stabbed one made a pitiful noise in its throat. It reached a hand toward Mike and Carla. Carla shook her head, no.
The mob fell on their wounded comrade and tore it apart, shoving mouthfuls of it into themselves. Mike and Carla ran. They didn’t stop running until they were out of the mine. Mike ripped off a mitten, dug his hand into his coat and used the remote to unlock the truck. As soon as they were in, he locked it again.
They sat, staring through the windshield for several seconds. Finally, Mike started the truck and kicked on the heat and defrost. After a few silent minutes, two small, clear circles appeared in the frost and began to grow.
“We pulled down the barricade,” Carl said. “They can get out.”
Mike nodded. When half the windshield was clear, he drove.
He didn’t stop until they were in Florida.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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|Synopsis of my story:
A boy tasked with retrieving a crayfish discovers a far more terrifying creature.
Truth or Dare? – edited by Max Booth III
Table of Contents:
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Bibliography (Click titles for details)
• The Saga of I
• United States of the Dead
• These Old Tales
• Fresh Cut Tales
• "Warmth Within Thy Depths"
• "Spaceship Earth"
• "Old Zombie, New Tricks"
• "Ordering Out"
• "In The Shadow of The Equine"
• "Ahote's Spirit"
• "The Patrol"
• "Passing Time"
• "A Window to Dream By"
• "Her Living Corals"
• "A Ring For His Own"
• "Night of the Fireworks"
• "The Hunted"
SAMANTHA QUICK SERIES:
• The Lifeblood Saga
• The Jade Chronicles
• The Adventures of Alexin
MIDDLE GRADE FICTION:
• The Blue Moon Crew of Sawmill Falls
• The Big Book of Monsters & Friends
• Horror 101: The Way Forward