Friend of the Devil

November 1, 2016 at 11:57 pm (Short Stories)

Charlie Beamer

Charlie Beamer stepped out of his office into a chilly October rain. He had expected this, somehow, even though he hadn’t checked the weather. Charlie was a pessimist, and as a pessimist he assumed that since his day had started so poorly it would only get worse. He had a newborn son with a bad case of croup, and he hadn’t had a proper night’s sleep in two weeks. He’d been tied up in meetings all day, and his project had its funding cut. To make matters worse he had gotten stuck at the office late, much later than usual. He had just missed the 5:45 pm bus. So now, as he looked at the rain from under the awning of his building and shivered in the October wind, he was not at all surprised to remember that he had forgotten his umbrella at home that morning. He popped the collar of his jacket up against the rain and set out  towards the bus stop.

He walked slowly feeling the rain soak his hair and face and inwardly relished his own misery. He almost enjoyed the pit of despair that was his life. So when he arrived at the bus stop, dripping wet, he was secretly a little pleased to find that a homeless man was stretched out across the bench, fast asleep and taking up all available space.

“Isn’t this just perfect,” he muttered to himself as he edged underneath the shelter of the bus stop without getting too close to the sleeping man. He was already plotting about what he would tell his wife about his day. He imagined she would be appropriately sympathetic and possibly she would wash the dishes and put the baby down without rousing him from his recliner.

Charlie didn’t think he had ever seen someone as filthy as this man on the bench. His clothes were stained with mud and what appeared to be garbage. There was also an odor coming from the sleeping man that was unlike anything Charlie had ever smelled. It was like a skunk had fallen into a dumpster and perished. For a brief moment Charlie wondered if the man was dead, but then  he stirred, saw Charlie and sat up.
“Sorry,” the bum mumbled, “have a seat.”

Charlie obliged, seating himself on the very edge of the bench and holding the collar of his jacket over his nose in an attempt to block the stench. It didn’t work very well. From the corner of his eye, he could see the other man watching him from underneath a worn out stocking cap.

Charlie’s phone rang. He was sure it was his wife. She was probably calling to see why he wasn’t home yet. She was probably tired of watching the sick baby alone. He decided to ignore it and reached into his pocket to silence the phone. He just wasn’t in the mood. He looked down 6th street to see if he could see the bus coming in the distance. Nothing. He leaned against the side of the bus stop and pretended he couldn’t smell the man on the other side of the bench.

“That’s a nice suit.”

Charlie was startled. He looked down the bench at the bum who was leaning over resting  his elbows on his knees. His long matted hair obscured his face but it was clear that he was talking to Charlie.

“Looks expensive.” It sounded like he was trying to give Charlie a compliment. Charlie didn’t take it as a compliment; now he was afraid of being murdered at a bus stop for his suit. Charlie doubted the man would fit his suit, as the bum was much taller. He began to think maybe he should call his wife back.

“Very nice suit” the dirty man emphasized, but he didn’t look at Charlie. “I used to have a suit like that. It was gray though. Nice suit. Kinda suit a man can feel proud of.”

There was something strange about his voice. There was no hint of emotion, no variation, no change. His voice seemed flat, dead.

“What happened to it?” Charlie asked, against his own better judgment. He already assumed the man had sold it for alcohol, or worse.

“I lost it.” The man’s voice still didn’t vary in tone or pitch as he said this, but Charlie felt a very real sense of loss conveyed.

“I had money once. I wasn’t always like this. Once I was like you.” The bum said, staring into the rainy streets. “I had it all.”

“What happened?” Charlie asked. He was already here, there was no harm in listening a little longer.

“I’m going to tell you this once. You don’t want to hear my story. I tell everyone this same thing. If you ask me again I’ll tell you. But I can promise that you don’t want to hear this.”

“You can tell me,” said Charlie, who was very curious now, although he wouldn’t admit it, “I’ve probably heard worse.”

“Well,” said the stranger in that same monotone voice, “It started when I made a deal with the Devil…”

 

The Stranger’s Story

I wasn’t a very special kid growing up. I had two older brothers and they always seemed like they were good at everything and smarter too. School seemed to just make sense to them but I never seemed to catch on. Math and Science were just the names of two more circles of hell for me growing up. My family wasn’t a rich family but when my oldest brother Ben got accepted to college, my dad presented him with a savings bond and sent him out the door proudly. Same went for Stephen when he came of age. He got his acceptance letter in the mail and dad gave him a hug and a savings bond. Dad didn’t hug us much, but I could tell he was proud. When I was finally old enough I sent out an application to every decent school around and, one by one, I watched rejection letters come back. I got accepted to two community colleges but everyone knew that wasn’t the same. Dad clapped me on the back and said “cheer up kiddo” or something like that and said that maybe construction wasn’t such a bad job after all. There was no savings bond. My brothers graduated and I laid pavement. My brothers married and I moved into a basement apartment in the city. My brothers had children and I splurged for basic cable. Eventually I quit the construction gig and got a job at the Brightman building down the street as a janitor (“Hey!” Charlie interjected excitedly, “that’s where I work!” Then he decided he probably shouldn’t have told this stranger where he worked. The bum just nodded and continued.). I worked there for six years. I made enough money to pay the bills and even go out once a week or so and have some drinks. But that wasn’t the life I had wanted or expected. My brothers were comfortable with their families and their lives. Lives that I had wanted and dreamed about. They had families and houses and I had an apartment on the south side with a rat problem. I’m ashamed to admit that it ate at me. I was mad at them for the opportunities they had had and I was mad at myself for not being able to accomplish what they had. I was bitter and unhappy, and so, I began to drink more. Even when I didn’t have the money I found a way to drink. I lost my job for that. I lost my apartment because I lost my job and before I knew it I was on the street.

I made it ok on the street. I was a friendly dude. I managed to get by. You pick up little tricks that make things easier. But I was still homeless. I could have gone to family but I hadn’t forgiven them. Then one day I was lying down here in this very bus stop. I remember I was trying to take a nap. It was pouring down rain, sort of like today, and I was wet and cold. It was about this time, maybe a little later, and the number six bus pulled up and this man climbs off and sits right down next to me. I knew him immediately, as if I had known him all my life, but then I guess I had in a way. He was the Devil. I remember the way the rain drops didn’t touch him as he got off the bus, they just disappeared, as if they couldn’t bear to touch him. I wasn’t surprised either, somehow wasn’t shocked by his appearance. It was as though I’d known all along he’d be there. He wore a pristine white suit, white shoes with black spats, a red tie, a bright red top hat and the prettiest carnation I’ve ever seen in his button hole. I just stared at him and then I realized that he was staring at me too. He smiled at me and I swear to you, I’ve never seen such a friendly smile as the one the Devil wears. His whole face smiled at me, but especially his eyes. If I had looked through a peephole and just seen one of his eyes looking back at me, I would have known he was smiling. So anyway he just looks at me and says, “Jonathan.” That’s my name by the way, I’m Jonathan.

(“Oh! So sorry, I’m Charlie”, said Charlie and shook hands with Jonathan in spite of himself. Jonathan’s hand felt cold and more than a little dirty. Charlie wiped his right hand surreptitiously on the bench beside him. “It’s nice to meet you, Charlie” Jonathan said flatly, and continued his story in the same unchanging voice).

Anyway, the Devil looks at me, smiles that smile and says “Jonathan. It’s nice to see you today. I understand you have a problem.”  I guess I knew he would have known my name. I asked him what he thought my problem was. He didn’t answer, just asked about my brothers. I told him they were fine, just tried to change the subject you know. But he kept bringing it back up, asked about their families, their jobs, their educations. He asked each question so innocently, but each one had an unspoken indictment of me. He would ask me a question and it would emphasize that I was just a bum sitting in a bus stop to get out of the rain. Each time I answered a question I got more and more angry, but not with him, it was so hard to be angry with him, with that smile and all. I got angry with my family for not caring enough, for not helping me out, for not giving me more.

Finally he stopped asking those questions about my family and he looked me right in my eyes. He stopped smiling and he was as serious as the grave.
“And you Jonathan? How are you doing?”
I was fine I told him. I was going to go get back my old job I told him. I wasn’t tied down to anyone I told him. This was the good life.
The Devil looked at me very seriously.
“Why do you feel like you need to lie to me Jonathan?”
I told him I wasn’t lying.
“Jonathan, do you know who I am?”
I said that I thought I did.
I guess he didn’t think it was good enough. So he told me who he was. He gave me all of his names – Shaitan, Beelzebub, Satan, Lucifer, The Great Deceiver, The Beast, The Adversary and more. Names I didn’t recognize, names I couldn’t pronounce. With each one, his voice grew deeper and deeper. When he finished, his voice was like the roar of a tornado.
“AND YOU DARE LIE TO ME? HE WHO KNOWS YOUR DARKEST FEARS AND SECRETS?”
I had never felt so afraid in my entire life, but strangely I also knew he couldn’t hurt me. It was just like standing on the other side of the fence of an enraged pit bull. My heart trembled inside  and then he smiled again. When he smiled it seemed like the sun came out again and I forgot about the anger of a moment ago. That’s when he offered me his deal.
“I can make you rich, Jonathan. I can make you ten times as wealthy, ten times happier than your brothers. Prettier wife, faster cars. You don’t need college. You have the potential right inside you, you just need me to bring it out.” I was tempted. You won’t hear me tell you otherwise. This was everything I’d ever wanted. But I also went to Sunday school as a kid, so I knew you couldn’t trust the Devil. I told the Devil no. I told him I couldn’t do it. I needed my soul, I’d just have to work a little harder and maybe stop drinking so much, and maybe not smoke any more pot (“I knew it!” thought Charlie) and I’ll be ok. The Devil looked thoughtful and then he looked at me and he told me “I tell you what. I’ll let you have it all! On a trial basis, full refunds available! If you don’t think it’s worth the price, I’ll return you right back to where you are now.” I couldn’t find a way that worked out badly for me. At least I would get a few months of easy living out of it. We shook hands. I even made the Devil swear on a Bible like he was being sworn into office, because the Bible has power over the Devil.

When we shook hands the sun popped right out of the clouds. The rain stopped and even though it was February it got warm enough for me to take my coat off right there. I knew big things were going to happen.

It started small, I found a dollar. I bought a Coke at McDonald’s. They were having some Monopoly game or something and my cup had Boardwalk on it. The rarest piece they had. I pulled another cup out of the garbage and it had Park Place. Just. Like. That. I had won a million dollars. I knew I would be successful. I had the Devils word. That bastard had sworn on a Bible and he was going to pay up. I started a business, a janitorial service. I don’t think there has ever been such a successful janitorial business. Everything we did turned to gold. We got anonymous donations, we got huge contracts, we got government grants, it was ridiculous. So I spread out. I started buying and selling stock. I made money hand over fist. I was in all the best clubs, I knew all the best people, but something was still missing.

Then I met Her (for the first time, there is an almost imperceptible change in the Jonathan’s voice at these words. His voice is still flat, his tone unchanging, but for the briefest moment, there was almost a quaver). She was beautiful. I won’t tell you her name. I can’t tell you her name, even to speak it seems an insult to her memory, but all you need to know is she was everything a woman was supposed to be and more. She was my world. We were married. She got pregnant and the next thing I knew I was holding twin boys. I was a father. She was a mother. We were a family. I was rich and happy and had everything I wanted.

As I stood outside the nursery in the hospital staring transfixed at my babies in their bassinets I realized that someone was standing beside me. It was the Devil. He smiled at me. His eyes smiled at me.
“Hi Jonathan” He said, voice as smooth as melted butter, “you remember me don’t you?”
Then he introduced himself again. He went through all his names, each one resonating in my ears a little louder. Each name had a weight, generations and generations of fear and terror. These were names that were never meant to be said. These were names that could curse a family and their children and  friends just by speaking them. There were names that aren’t even known. I remember all of them. And the whole time he smiled at me that winning, cheerful smile that told you everything was going to be just fine.
“Well Jonathan, it looks like the trial period is up.” He said, “I’m sure you found it more than satisfactory?”

The Number Six Bus

“So you just let it all go!” gasped Charlie “You let your family go and went back to your life on the street?” He had been sitting entranced by the story. The fantastic story seemed impossible but Charlie had been drawn in. Jonathan laughed for the first time. It was a hollow sound, there was no mirth in it, no joy.
“How could I? I wish I could have. But I would have given anything for them.”
Jonathan put his head in his hands and scrubbed them through his hair in frustration.
“I took his deal. I looked him in those smiling eyes and shook his hand and took it.”
“But” Charlie asked, confused “why are you here then?”
Jonathan turned and looked up at Charlie. He pulled his hair away from his face and for the first time Charlie could see his eyes in the light of a street lamp. They were like hollow white holes in his face. The pupils were rolled backwards only the barest sliver of them showing at the top of his eye, there was no life, no spark. They were the eyes of a dead man.
“He ate my soul in front of my kids as soon as I shook his hand. Right there in the hospital hallway. I swear as I felt every emotion and every feeling rush out of me, his smile got just a little bit brighter, a little more real. He left me like this, dead but still moving around, thinking, acting like I’m alive. My wife couldn’t stand me. She shuddered at my touch and cried when I looked at her. She took her own life two days after she got back from the hospital. The police officers were horrified by me too. They thought that I had something to do with her death. I guess I did in a way. They couldn’t convict me but they took away my children. It’s the eyes, Charlie.” He smiled at Charlie, in the worst mockery of a smile that Charlie had ever seen. There was no emotion behind it at all.
“They can’t bear to look at my eyes. Or touch my skin.” He grabbed Charlie’s hand and Charlie squealed and yanked away. It was cold and clammy. Lifeless.
“So they took my children. My stocks crashed. The IRS audited my business and they took everything. Back taxes they said,” he shook his head almost with disbelief.
“So here I am. That old goat was true to his word but both paths led right back here. Back here to this same bench.”

Charlie had scooted as far to the edge of the bench as he could, as he was teetering just slightly on the end.
“Why are you still sitting here then?” Charlie asked.
“I’m waiting for him” Jonathan said, and he stopped staring at Charlie. His head drooped back over his knees again. “I want him to take me.”
Charlie cleared his throat slightly. “Ahem. Won’t he… you know… take you to…” he trailed off.
“Hell? Yeah. Or at least I hope so. I don’t expect you to understand, but I’ve been sitting here for twenty years. I’m an empty soulless wreck who is incapable of feeling anything. At least in Hell, at least there, I might stand a chance at feeling something.”
Charlie realized vaguely that the bus was idling in front of him the driver staring down at him impatiently.
“Well, looks like that’s my bus, good chatting with you Jonathan. I’ll be running along then.”
Jonathan just sank his head a little lower. As Charlie stepped onto the bus he turned around and looked at the pitiful man. “If you’ve been here for twenty years why haven’t I seen you here before?” He asked.
Jonathan didn’t raise his head. “Because I only come here at the right time. I only come for his time. That’s when I’ll meet him eventually.”
Charlie turned and took another step inside the bus, the driver was holding out his hand impatiently. He turned over his shoulder and asked, “What do you mean his time?”
This time Jonathan looked up. He stared right into Charlie’ eyes with those dead white eyes and responded calmly.
“His bus. The number 6 at 6:00 on 6th street. You know. His number. I’m here every morning, every night. He’ll come eventually.”
“Oh.” Charlie gulped and handed the driver his bus pass. The man grunted as he stamped it and handed it back. The bus  started moving while Charlie was still walking towards the back. The soulless man on the bench still stared at him with empty eyes. Charlie opened his phone to call his wife. He would like to hear her voice, and maybe, even the  baby’s croupy cough.
“Hello, Charlie.”
Charlie looked up. There was only one other passenger on the bus. It was a man sitting in the back row, wearing a white suit with a red carnation and a red hat. His legs were crossed and he carried a cane that he tapped against his spats. He smiled at Charlie, and Charlie could swear it was the most genuine smile he had ever seen. Even his eyes seemed to smile.

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The Orichalcum Orchid

October 11, 2013 at 4:22 am (Short Stories)

The Orichalcum Orchid

“Hey Suzanne!”
Suzanne turned around to see Chad Peters running towards her down the school hallway. Chad was a small boy just entering the 6th grade. Suzanne was two grades above him and it was a tax on her memory to even remember his true name.
“What is it, Chad?” She asked impatiently.
“It’s your birthday!” He said brightly, panting slightly from his run. His backpack looked like it was three sizes too big for him and the straps made it hang down to his bottom.
“I know when my birthday is, Chad.” She was impatient. Her friends were waiting for her outside.
“Oh. Yes…” He faltered and looked unsure of himself. He looked like he was trying to talk but the words weren’t coming out. His face slowly grew red from the embarrassment.
“Chad. I’m about to leave.”
“I’m sorry. I get nervous. I have a gift for you.” He reached into his bag and pulled out a tupperware container. He opened it carefully and retrieved a something from inside. It was a piece of paper, folded carefully and meticulously into what looked like a flower.
“It’s an orchid,” he said, “it’s orichalcum.”
“What?” She took it from him, rather roughly. “Don’t you mean origami?” She asked as she examined the paper flower. It was gold in color and made flawlessly. It was the best origami she had ever seen. Each line was careful and perfect. It looked the nearest thing to a real flower.
“No! I mean, well yes, it is origami. But it’s orichalcum too.” He looked flustered.
“What’s orci-cal-whats-it?” She asked, turning the gold flower in her hands. “Is it a special kind of paper or flower?”
Chad felt a burst of confidence at this. She seemed interested in his gift. He rushed eagerly to explain.
“No, it’s a metal! It’s the very rarest there is. It’s even more rare than gold because no one knows how to find it anymore or what it was made of.” He favored her with his brightest smile.
“Chad, this is paper. It’s just paper.”

She turned her back to him then and walked away down the hall, tossing the flower in a trash can as she opened the exit door.
“Wait! You just have to pretend…”
His words were cut off by the slamming of the hall door, leaving him standing alone in the now deserted hallway.
He stood there for a moment, one arm flung out towards the closed door as if he could call her back with a gesture. The door remained firmly closed and his arm dropped limply to his side. He took a step or two towards the trash can that had become the final resting place of the orchid and stopped. It had been hers and hers to do with as she willed. He leaned up against the wall, defeated and slid down behind a water fountain. Tears of frustration welled in his eyes. He had practiced for three weeks to get an orchid folded so perfectly. He rested his head in his hands and cried softly to himself.

The door at the end of the hallway opened quietly and without Chad noticing. Suzanne slipped back in from outside. Her friends hadn’t waited for her after all, they probably hadn’t even remembered it was her birthday. She looked down the hallway, and seeing it was empty, reached into the trash can and pulled out the gold paper flower. She examined it and found that it was unscathed from its foray into the garbage. She marveled at it again, it was beautiful.

There was a sound partway down the hall that caught her attention. She looked up from the flower and saw a pair of small legs sticking out from behind the water fountain. She walked up quietly and squatted down beside Chad. He pretended like he hadn’t been crying. She displayed the flower to him.
“So, orichalcum, huh?” She asked.
“No it’s really just colored paper.” He sounded dejected. “I just wanted to give you something no one else could. So I hoped if I pretended it was orichalcum that you might pretend with me, and that way I could have gotten you something special.”
She twirled the small golden paper flower in her hand.
“Nope,” she said, giving Chad a big smile, “It’s just paper. It’s just paper and it’s special. I’ve never gotten anything like it. Thank you.”
He looked up briefly and saw the truth in her eyes. He smiled too.

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Christmas War

December 21, 2012 at 4:57 pm (Short Stories)

This Christmas Eve was shaping to be one of the coldest in recent memory. Gerald Morris stumbled through the snow drifts piling up in the deserted streets looking for shelter. He wore three coats and four pairs of socks but he was still chilled to the bone. Gerald was homeless and being homeless in St. Paul, MN is a bad thing in the Winter, your life depends on finding shelter and Gerald was not having much success with that. At one point he had been a successful real estate agent, but after the housing market dove he had eventually lost his job, his wife and his house. He had gone from Sunday brunches to fighting for leftover pizza behind the Papa John’s. This current struggle was one of the most desperate he could remember though. The snow was coming down thicker now as he peered into each unfamiliar alleyway he passed. He was looking for a manhole that he had found recently, it led into a quiet relatively dry area of the sewers that would be perfect for a night like tonight. There was also a steam vent from one of the buildings above and if he laid underneath it he could stay pretty warm, if a little damp. So as the clock ticked towards Christmas Gerald searched on.

He found it finally. It was almost midnight and his heart gave a great leap as he began to recognize the alley he had found. He rushed over to where the manhole was and frantically began clearing away the snow covering it. This task complete, he pulled up the cover and descended into the depths. It was hideously dark in the sewers. He hadn’t remembered it being this bad. Being homeless he was fairly comfortable with dark places, but this was different, this seemed unnaturally dark. He stood for a minute waiting to see if his eyes would adjust to the dark. They didn’t. He sighed and began shuffling through his pack for a book of matches. Something ran into his knee. Later, when telling this story, he would leave out the shrill scream that he uttered at this very moment. Whatever had run into his knee seemed equally concerned. It yelled too and began waling on his knee with what felt like a small bat.
“Hey! Cut that out!” He shouted and tried to shield his knee.
The blows stopped briefly and then there was one more delivered for good measure. A light blazed and Gerald stood blinking in the sudden brightness.
“Who are you?” A small, rough voice asked.
“I’m Gerald. I was looking for someplace to sleep. Who are you?”
The voice didn’t answer, it just asked another question, this time to someone else.
“Have we locked everything down already?”
“Yes sir! Nothing is getting out for a while.” Another voice piped up from somewhere.
“Looks like you are coming with us. Let’s go” The bat struck the back of his knees, not hard but with enough firmness to encourage Gerald to walk forward.

As his eyes began to adjust to the light Gerald began to get a good look at the owners of the voices. They were tiny men wearing green cloaks and marching about the sewers very briskly. There were probably twenty of them in this group, but he could hear shouts a long way off and wondered if there were more. There was a question bubbling in the back of his mind that he desperately wanted to get out, but he was afraid it would be terribly rude. So he decided to try and be tactful.
“I’m sorry, excuse me. Do you prefer to be called dwarves or midgets?”
The small man looked affronted.
“I prefer to be called Terry because that’s my name. Do you prefer to be called ignorant or pudding brained?”
Gerald realized that maybe he hadn’t been as tactful as he had originally planned and began to stammer out an apology but Terry cut him by smacking him with the bat again.
“And we are elves. Not midgets, not dwarves. It’s Christmas Eve, that should have been easy to figure out.”
“Ha! I was right! Why are you down in the sewers though? Shouldn’t you be making toys or something?”
“No we make toys all the rest of the year.” Terry said very seriously. “What this is right now? It’s the reason for the season.”
“Are you bringing toys to homeless men?” Gerald was very excited about this prospect.
“No!” The bat came up quickly, but Terry decided against using it. Gerald was grateful for this.
Terry began waving at his other elves.
“It’s almost time! You all spread out and get into position. I’m going to see if I can’t recruit some extra help.”
The rest of the tiny men laughed to themselves, a little more derisively than Gerald thought necessary, and began to move on ahead.
“Look at me”, Terry said. He reached up and grabbed Gerald’s jacket, right around his belly button and tried pulling his face down to meet his. Gerald got down on one knee obligingly, but he eyed the bat warily.
“This is really important and you need to pay close attention because we don’t have time for me to repeat myself, got it?”
Gerald nodded.
“Good. You’ve heard of Santa Claus right? Toys, presents, good boys, good girls?”
Gerald nodded again.
“All true. All real. Right now Santa is flying around delivering presents and coal. Not one really. An army of Santas. One man can’t do all that work. What made you think there was only one? Ridiculous.”
Gerald was a little stunned by this revelation but kept silent.
“There is a really good reason why Santa flies around and gives toys out for free. Did no one ever wonder about that? Idiot humans. Anyway, Santa is a distraction. Christmas Eve, everyone who has someone to love goes to be with them.”
Terry eyed Gerald critically when he said this last part. Gerald became uncomfortable and more than a little sad.
“So no one is out and about on Christmas Eve this late, or very few are. We timed it like that on purpose. We set up Christmas to be a distraction.”
“What?” Gerald was in shock. “What about Jesus’ birth?”
“Jesus wasn’t born on Christmas Day. It was just a handy excuse. Do you really think Jesus would want you to throw money and presents at each other in a blind greed fest? That was all us. That’s exactly what we want. Focus on being home with your family and free things are a great way to convince people to do that.”
Gerald didn’t particularly like the content of what the elf was saying but since he walked all over the city to get free meals on a regular basis he couldn’t exactly argue with him.
“So why do we want everyone to stay at home on Christmas Eve? Because we have to kill monsters.”
“Wait, what?”
“Kill monsters. Who is telling this story? Be quiet and listen.”
Gerald was quiet, but he could hear a nervous chatter coming from the other elves who had taken up positions nearby. They seemed scared. That didn’t comfort him much.
“On the winter solstice each year is when the Wargles appear. They are creatures spawned from the lies and hatred and evil from humanity throughout the year. They grow in damp places, sewers swamps. They are born on Midnight on December 21st and are perfectly translucent for the first three days while they grow. So what that means for us is that on Midnight on Christmas Eve the Wargles become visible for the first time. That’s when the elves go out all over the world, and while the Santas distract the world, we kill the Wargles..”
Gerald was shocked.
“Wait. You kill them? Just like that?”
“Yes. Just like that. They all must be put down or else they will attempt to slaughter humanity. The Black Plague? We let two Wargles survive that year. TWO! Two Wargles caused the Black Death and killed 100 million people. We slaughter every one of them. Any problems with that?
Gerald’s doubts had begun to fade at that.
“So what can I do to help?”
“Take this bat. Come with me. If you see something black and terrible skittering towards you hit it.”
Terry handed Gerald the small bat that he had been using to abuse him. It was small in Gerald’s hand, but it had a good weight to it. He hefted it experimentally. It was reassuring and that was good because there was a sharp feeling of dread in the pit of his stomach. As he walked towards where the elves had set up their barricades, he heard the shouts starting, elves that looked hardened and grizzled had fear in their eyes, yelling and pointing at something the size of a small dog coming at them out of the dark corridors. It made a hideous scraping sound as it scrabbled across the concrete towards them and Gerald could hear more of them coming up behind the first. He gripped his bat a little tighter, feeling for the first time in years a sense of purpose and belonging, and he rushed to join the fray. This was going to be a good Christmas after all.

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Ink

September 21, 2012 at 2:43 pm (Short Stories)

It was mid-August in 1944 and dusk was settling on the back streets and alleys of Paris. Two men walked side by side down those streets talking quietly to themselves. They carried rifles and wore the uniforms of the German army. The city was deserted except for these two and other patrols like them as a curfew had long been in effect. All citizens were to be home by dark or something unpleasant was likely to happen to them. German soldiers were not known for their restraint.

One of the soldiers spoke up.
“You know they say the Americans are closing in.” The taller one said.
The short one nodded. He walked with a slight swagger to his step, a casual saunter that belied no concern whatsoever.
“That doesn’t worry you, Franz?” The tall man looked much less confident. His eyes scanned each alley and shadow, his hands were clenched tight around his rifle. “All these posters popping up too. Looks like these French idiots are planning on giving us some trouble.”
Franz shook his head and stopped to fish a cigarette case out of his pocket. He leaned against a nearby wall, lit it and took a long, exaggerated drag.
“I’m not worried, Klaus.”
Klaus pulled a cigarette out too. His hand shook as he lit it and he puffed on it like a drowning man gasps for air.
“How are you not concerned?”
“I’ve got a plan.”
“Pray tell, what is your plan?”
Franz looked uncertain for the first time. He hesitated a moment, fingering his sleeve as he considered something.
“Look, we’ve been on this route for a long time together. You’ve got to promise me you won’t tell anyone about this.”
“I promise.”
“Well, we heard about the beach landing at Normandy. Remember that? Remember how that scared us? Well most of us eventually sort of rationalized it. We thought, that surely they wouldn’t get much past the beach. We were safe here in Paris. But time goes on, and the Allies creep closer and closer and people keep making up new excuses, but they also cry out while the sleep and shiver on warm nights. Now they are right at our gates and no one is prepared. Except for me.”
“And how are you so prepared?” Klaus asked sharply. He had shivered earlier even though the evening was warm and thought that Franz had been poking fun at him.
“When the allies first landed it shook me to my core. For the first time I thought we might possibly lose this war. Then what would happen to me? I might die. I might be thrown in prison or a camp. I didn’t like any of those choices. So I made myself a god.”
The street was quiet for a moment. Klaus stared at Franz for a long minute underneath the light of a nearby street lamp trying to decide if he was joking. He decided he wasn’t.
“A god?”
Franz said nothing. Instead he unbuttoned his jacket and slowly pulled off his undershirt. Klaus gasped. Franz’s whole torso was covered with strange black marks, they criss crossed across his chest and down the length of each arm. They coated his back, his stomach, his shoulders. Franz turned slowly, cigarette dangling from his mouth, to display his creation.
“Runes”, he said “I covered myself in runes. Ancient symbols of power. I tattooed them on myself. Strength, protection, anger, love, happiness, hatred. I’ve written them upon my frame. When the allies come, I will destroy them. But even if I cannot destroy them, they cannot destroy me.”
Klaus gaped at him.
“You are a fool. Scratching ink on yourself with a rusty needle won’t protect you from a bullet.”
“Then hit me. That’s all a fool deserves. Hit me and show me the error of my ways.”
So Klaus hit him. He hit him with everything he had, fueled by the lost hope that Franz had so briefly offered, fueled by the disappointment when he had realized it was nothing more than a fools errand, Klaus hit him harder than he had ever hit anyone before. Franz laughed at him and one of the runes in his chest glowed a pulsating red.
“See? That one is for protection.” He pointed to the one that still glowed faintly. “This one is also protection, and these on my arms are for strength. With these I am the Ubermensch, the Superman!”
He turned and struck the wall behind him. The brick crumbled into dust and Franz laughed again, it was the laugh of a man not quite sane.
“What are these ones? Have you joined them together?” Klaus pointed at several pairs of runes on Franz’s chest that seemed to be connected.
“I needed to be stronger than even ancient runes could provide alone. So I created some new ones by joining them together. This one is for will and this one is for strength so that gives me strength of will. This one is for enemies and this one for fear, to cause my enemies to fear me.”
Klaus was convinced. He didn’t want to believe, it was crazy to believe all this, but he had no choice. He toyed with the idea of asking Franz to give him a few tattoos too.

There were gunshots in the street. Klaus quickly readied his rifle again. Franz flexed and stretched and smiled like a cat toying with a mouse.
“French Irregulars are out.” Franz stated calmly. “Whatever you do, don’t surrender; you have the Ubermensch on your side.”
Franz’s smile made Klaus uncomfortable but he agreed without hesitation. He was in no spot to argue with his best chance at survival.
Several men appeared at the mouth of the alley and pointed, shouting in French. Klaus dropped to one knee and began to fire wildly, dimly aware of an insane laughter coming from somewhere over his shoulder and then the sound of screaming.

One of the irregulars kicked at the corpse of the German soldier that had shot at them.
“This one is dead.” He had to shout to make himself heard.
“Isn’t someone going to shut that guy up?” Another irregular shouted pointing over to the corner where the shirtless German sat.
Franz’s eyes were open and staring at nothing. He screamed like a man in mortal terror. One of the irregulars had stuffed Franz’s own undershirt into his mouth, but he still screamed through it. They had tried shooting him twice and stabbing him a half dozen times but none of it worked, until Franz had wrested the knife away from the soldier and cut his own wrists. Now he lay in the filthy alley shirtless and screamed, while his lifeblood drained away on the cobblestones. Through all this, two runes glowed brightly on his chest, the two runes that he had joined incorrectly, Fear and Enemies.

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Meteor

May 11, 2012 at 3:57 pm (Short Stories)

People had been warned about the meteor. They had been warned there was a good chance that it would strike earth. They had been warned that it was 2 miles across and would cause untold devastation if it struck. They had been told that it was a similar meteor to the one that had possibly destroyed all the dinosaurs. People are interesting though; a lot of times they have a hard time believing in something until they can see it.  So when they looked into the night sky and saw one star just a little brighter than the others, no one felt that threatened. Then, one morning, families woke up and looked out their dining room windows and they could see the incoming rock hanging in the daytime sky. Then the panic started and, over it all, the meteor loomed closer and closer.

There was one man who wasn’t concerned. His name was Terrence Howard but he liked to go by the nickname T-money. He didn’t look up into the sky a lot and he wore dark sunglasses most of the time because they made him look mysterious. He had heard the news about the meteor and had taken it as an opportunity to start using a tanning bed instead of spray tans, because hey, life is short. He was admiring his tan that morning as he prepared to climb into the tanning bed at his strangely deserted local tanning salon when he heard a strange rumbling sound.
“I wonder what that is?” He thought to himself.
The meteor slammed into New Jersey, removing it and T-Money from the face of the earth. It also made quite a loud noise, which upset the digestion of the citizens of Philadelphia, so everyone was quite concerned about that.

There is a set amount of time that one should wait before going to examine two mile long meteors that have just destroyed all of New Jersey, but no one was quite sure how long that was. So secret government organizations showed up a couple of hours later with the intent of creating a top secret zone, but they discovered that hillbillies were already there in lawn chairs, and they decided that it would be a lot of work to move them. Once the government set that precedent, tents started popping up all around the steaming red mass poking up into the sky. Religious fanatics came to worship the meteor, scientists came to study it, high-schoolers came to do drugs, hillbillies came because it was one more place to drink beer, and regular people came because it was just something to do. So, before too much longer, the state of former New Jersey was filled with people eager to see the first tourist attraction New Jersey had ever had worth seeing.

So when an enormous door opened in the side of the meteor, revealing that it probably wasn’t a meteor at all, a lot of people were there to be very surprised. Then, as people were recovering from their surprise enough to be curious, they became a little more surprised and quite a bit more uncomfortable (with the exception of the religious fanatics who fell on their face in awe) when out of the door stepped an enormous T-Rex wearing a tiny space helmet. Nothing really quite makes you reconsider your assumed “safe to approach the strange celestial object” time frames than when a dinosaur approaches you in a hat, and at this sight quite a few campers decided that there were better places for them to sleep uncomfortably on the ground. The exodus was in full force when the T-Rex opened his mouth and roared. The roar shook the earth, but the strangest thing was that, when he roared, a tiny speaker on his space helmet piped in and said this:
“STOP! I won’t hurt you!”
The sound was tinny, like a bad car radio turned all the way up, and was barely  loud enough to be heard over the roar of the T-Rex, but it was enough. Everyone stopped and looked at the dinosaur who, in turn, looked hungrily at an overweight child who had been running more slowly than the others. Then he shook his head and started to roar again. Unfortunately, when he shook his head, the tiny space helmet had become dislodged from his massive head and stopped translating his words. The giant reptile tried to reach up and adjust it back but T-Rex arms weren’t made for reach so, after hopping around for a while, he rubbed his head against the side of the door to resettle his helmet.
“We won’t hurt you!” he said again, and out of the door poured every kind of dinosaur that you could imagine.
“We were just like you once,” he told them, “looking around at the giant rock that fell out of the sky and then we discovered that it was an alien spaceship. The aliens hoped we would help them get their spaceship fixed. But we ate them and fixed their spaceship for ourselves. Ever since then, we have roamed the skies in peace and harmony, exploring worlds!”
A scarred Stegosaurus with a bite out of his tail harrumphed at this last part.
“Now, good humans,” finished the T-Rex, “could you help us fix our spaceship so that we may finish exploring our wonderful solar system?”
A fat government agent smiled and waved good naturedly at the T-Rex.
“Of course! Of Course! We just have to make sure that you aren’t contaminated with space rabies.”
Six airplanes flashed over-head, dropping giant canisters that bounced down amongst the dinosaurs and, as they spun, they released a foul green gas. The enormous reptiles collapsed.

The dinosaurs awoke to a loud noise. The spaceship was taking off and leaning out was the fat man. “So long suckers!” He shouted. The T-Rex groaned and took a bite out of the sleeping Stegosaurus.

 

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Adventures

April 24, 2012 at 5:28 am (Short Stories)

The hospital room was quiet, or as quiet as a hospital room can get. It was mid-afternoon and warm, and an elderly man dozed in his bed, a heart monitor beeping rhythmically beside him. A small boy sat in a hard chair in the corner, moving his feet restlessly, making a beeping sound with his mouth whenever the machine did and occasionally glancing at the old man. The old man stirred and looked over where the boy sat.

Hey grandpa!” He stopped kicking his feet. “Mom went to get something to eat and said to stay with you!”
“Hello Tyson.” The old man smiled weakly at his grandson. “Have you been here long?”
“I’ve been here for a hundred and forty three beeps.” The monitor beeped again. “A hundred and forty four, we are learning counting in school. I counted to three hundred once!”
“That’s very nice. I’m proud of you.”
The boy stopped smiling. He slid out of his chair and went over to the side of his grandfather’s bed somberly.
“Grandpa, mom and dad said you were going to die.”
His grandfather looked startled. It wasn’t news to him, but he was surprised at the boys candor.
“Yes, I’m afraid they’re right. I’m not really doing very well. But it’s ok, don’t be worried for me. It’s just my time.”
“No, I wasn’t worried.” He reached down beside the bed and picked up a small backpack. “I just decided I’m going to go with you.”
This was not what the old man had expected.
“Why do you want to come with me?”
“Well, mom and dad told me that I shouldn’t be sad about you dying. They said that death was ‘The next great adventure’. I decided that you shouldn’t have to go adventuring alone, so I’m coming too.”
He folded his arms over each other and gave his grandfather a very firm look.
“Tyson, come up here.”
The old man patted a spot beside him on the bed and the boy dutifully climbed up and sat beside him.
“What do you think will happen on this adventure?”
“I hope there are dragons!” The boy’s eyes lit up and he smiled cheerfully as he talked. “And princesses, you have to have a princess. I bet there will be bad men that I’ll have to fight, you can help, grandpa, if you want. Will I get a sword? I should have a sword. Or a gun. And a fast car. So that way I could escape.”
“Well now I’m very excited too. Let’s hurry up and die together.”
The old man closed his eyes again and lay very still. Tyson closed his eyes too and laid down beside his grandfather. He tried to lay as still as he was able. But he was a very excited young boy and excited young boys have a lot of trouble lying still. He opened his eyes and looked over to where his grandfather lay beside him.
“Grandpa!” He whispered.
“Yes?”
“Does it take a very long time to die?”
“Some longer than others. It’s taken me a very long time to die. It took your grandmother a little less time. It will probably take you a very long time indeed, so you must lay back down and be patient.”
The boy didn’t look happy but he tried his very hardest. It didn’t last long.
“Grandpa!”
“Yes?”
“Is it almost time?”
“That depends on who you are talking about. But no. Not for you.”
Tyson sat back up and crossed his arms. He looked disappointed.
“You are going to leave me behind aren’t you?”
“Yes, I believe I might.”
“But I want to meet a princess and be a hero, Grandpa!”
The old man faked a look of surprise. He brought one shaking hand to cover his mouth and his eyes grew wide.
“Is that all you wanted? Well you can do that without dying. As a matter of fact you need to. Do you want to know a secret?”
The boy nodded vigorously and leaned closer.
“Your grandmother was a princess when I first met her. She was always a princess. I slew dragons for her. I drove fast cars. I built her a castle.”
“Grandpa, I’ve been to your house, it’s not a castle.”
“No, not to you, and Grandma wasn’t a princess to you either. But they were to me, and that’s what matters. So you need to go out and find your own adventure first.”
“I don’t think I want to die just yet.”
“That’s ok. I don’t think you should.”
“But Grandpa… I don’t want you to have to go alone. “
His grandfather smiled at him and reached a wrinkled hand over to pat the boy on his arm.
“That’s why you find yourself a princess. I’m pretty sure your grandmother didn’t want to go alone either. I bet you anything that once I take my first step on this new adventure, she’ll be standing there waiting for me.” There was a faraway look in his eyes while he said this, a look that spoke of sadness and fear, but mostly hope. “I’ve missed her a lot Tyson and so I’ll be very excited to see her. Don’t you worry about me.”
“Ok Grandpa. Thanks! I’m going to count some more.”
The old man smiled at him and nodded, then closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep, a slight smile playing across his lips. The boy slid down off the bed and sat back in his chair and began to count the beeps of the heart monitor. But small boys are easily distracted, especially excited small boys and before too long he began day dreaming about princesses. He lost all track of the beeps and didn’t even notice when they stopped. So it was, as one small hero sat in his chair dreaming of all his future adventures with his princess, the other hero finished his adventure and stepped into his new one, taking the hand of his princess on the other side.

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The Sweetest Lies

April 3, 2012 at 4:05 pm (Short Stories)

Written in response to Chuck Wendig’s writing challenge “A Terrible Lie”, based around one character lying to the other.
This is my story, I call it “The Sweetest Lies”

——————— 

“I promise it’s going to be ok.” She looked up at him from where he cradled her in his arms, her head gently rocking from the motion as he walked. She frowned and clutched her doll closer to her.

“Are you sure?” She didn’t look convinced. Her eyes were glazed with pain as she focused intently on his face. Snowflakes settled on her flushed cheeks and melted, but more slowly than they should have.
“I’m positive,” he looked at her, trying to look as convincing as possible, “have I ever lied to you before?”
“Well…” She screwed up her face, thinking, “What about when you told me about the monster that eats little girls?”
He felt like she’d stabbed him.
“That wasn’t very nice of me was it? Well except for that. Have I ever lied to you except for that?”
“No. I don’t think so.”
“Well, then trust me now. I’m sorry I told you about the monsters. I promise I will never let anything hurt you.”
She smiled at him then, and when she did he could see the blood staining her teeth pink. He walked faster, his heart pounded in his chest as the panic began to take him all over again.
The blizzard was supposed to be the worst they’d had in Michigan in twenty years. The weatherman had been warning about it for the last day, but they said it wasn’t supposed to get bad until later that night. The weatherman had been wrong. He’d thought he would have time to take her into town. She was his little angel, his first daughter, and every year since her second birthday he’d taken her to the same toy store to pick out her present. It was her sixth birthday, it was an important birthday, and he couldn’t let her down on this birthday. The weather had started looking ominous while they were in the store, but he had still thought he would have time to make it home. When he had gotten halfway home, he had begun to curse himself for deciding to move so far out into the country; the weather was awful, the snow was piling up on the road, he couldn’t see more than ten feet in front of him and he still had another ten miles to go. Then he overshot a turn in the dark, hitting the brakes only spun the car out  and it shot over an embankment and struck a tree. He didn’t wake up for a long time, but when he did she was the first thing he thought of, his leg felt sprained, but he made himself get out and walk on it. He found her in the snow. She’d been thrown from the car and he found her lying in a snow bank nearby. She was awake and she looked up at him when he approached.
“Hi Daddy,” she said, “are you okay?” But then she coughed and the blood was there, staining her white jacket with those terrible red droplets. The doll he had bought her was lying next to her in the snow. He handed it to her and hugged her. He didn’t want to move her, but his phone had died searching for signal and he knew no one would see the car in the dark. So he had picked her up, carefully, carefully and started carrying her the ten miles towards home.
She started crying. He held her close and felt how cold she was. She was shivering badly now.
“You know what I’m excited about?” He asked her.
“I don’t know, Daddy” she said, between chattering teeth. “What are you excited about?”
“I’m excited to get home and have some warm chicken noodle soup. How does that sound to you?”
“I’m not very hungry, my stomach hurts.” Her voice was very quiet now. Her breathing came more and more shallowly.
“Well, we could get the fire going and curl up together and watch Scooby Doo. How about that?”
She smiled wanly and nodded her head slightly, as if speaking were too much of an effort. Her eyes closed again.
“Hey… It’s going to be ok. I promise. I’ll make sure it’s ok.”
Her eyes opened again slowly, big blue spots on the background of white. She looked hurt at the suggestion.
“I believe you, daddy. I’ll always believe you.” She closed her eyes again.
The tears came then that he’d been holding back. He started running. Each step made pain shoot up his leg, but he only ran faster, each footstep jolting him awake with a stab of alertness. He ran until the frigid air seared in his chest with each breath. He ran until he couldn’t feel his feet. He ran until he tripped on a rock covered in snow and stumbled. Her head jerked in his arms as he lost his footing. He fell to his knees, cradling her head against him, crying.
Eventually he stood, tears frozen on his face and looked at her. She looked as beautiful as ever in his arms, but her skin was cold to the touch and white as a sheet. He couldn’t even see her breathing anymore.
“You are just sleeping aren’t you sweetheart?” He asked her, tracing a finger across her face, trying to convince himself more than anything. His desire to walk, to get home to the warmth was evaporating. He didn’t even feel so cold anymore. Mostly he was just tired.
“Let’s take a nap.” He whispered to her, quietly for fear of waking her. He laid her down in the soft snow and curled up in a ball around her. He felt almost warm now, and so tired. He kissed her on her cold cheek before he laid his head down.
“I told you it was going to be ok,” he said, “Daddy’s got you.”

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The Fire of the Gods

March 27, 2012 at 2:45 am (Short Stories)

This is a response to Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challeng “The Fire of the Gods”. The task was to write a story titled “The Fire of the Gods”. This is mine 

—–

A glowing computer monitor was the only thing that lit the small shed. A teenage boy sat hunched over the keyboard, typing furiously. Another boy was laying on the floor with his head on a beanbag chair, bouncing a tennis ball off the wall. The entire inside of the shed was covered in tin foil and the ball made a crinkling sound whenever it hit the walls. The boy at the computer looked up.
“Do you have to do that?” He asked. “You are distracting me.”
The boy bounced the ball off the wall one more time, then threw it at the other.
“What are you working on, Ian?”
Ian looked back at the computer screen rubbing his arm where the tennis ball had hit him.
“I’m working on a new blog, Mark, what else? I’ve got some new theories that I wanted to work on.”
Mark spun around on his bean bag and propped his chin up on his hands.
“How is the government out to get us this time?”
“You don’t sound very convinced about this stuff.”
“I’m not really. But it gives me a laugh, so come on.”
“Well you know the government is always up to shady business. They are always doing things to gain more power, but it’s usually secret because they can’t have the voting public know what’s going on.”
“Yes, like the 9/11 conspiracy.”
“Exactly, but that’s old news, that was ten years ago. The stuff they are pulling now makes that look like small potatoes. You know why they want Iran? The real reason they want to go into Iran? It’s not because of the nukes.”
“It’s the oil isn’t it?” Mark stretched to try and reclaim his lost tennis ball without getting off his bean bag chair, but spilled out instead.
“No, it’s not the oil, that’s what THEY want you to think.”
“I thought they wanted us to think it was the nukes?” Mark collected his ball and returned to his bean bag.
“No, they say it’s the nukes to scare the people that will believe it, but that’s only for the ignorant. The really smart people know for sure it’s the oil. Only a few of us know the real reasons and that’s because we refuse to accept the obvious.”
Mark tossed his ball into the air and caught it in his hand. He waved it threateningly at Ian, who ducked.
“I’ll peg you with this if you don’t tell me. I don’t want to be one of the ignorant majority.”
“You won’t believe me anyway. You think I’m crazy.”
“Probably, but you’ll tell me anyway.”
“It’s the GOLD. Iran has huge vaults just filled with the stuff. They’ve got enough there to pay off the entire national debt. I know for a fact that they’ve already sent in SEAL teams to make covert raids and make off with some of it.”
Ian typed furiously as he talked, pondered what he wrote, deleted it and then started typing again. Mark missed catching his ball and then watched it bounce away from him. He debated going after it again and then decided to remain in his chair.
“Isn’t gold really, really heavy? How are a few SEALs going to make off with enough of it to make a difference?”
“They have technology, man. It’s like you don’t pay attention. They have technology you wouldn’t believe. But they still can’t get that much. That’s why they need a war. They want the gold.”
Each word was punctuated by a furious key stroke as he typed feverishly away.
“So they want this stuff kept secret right?”
“Of course. That’s why they lie so much. If all this got out no one would trust them anymore. You wouldn’t believe the lengths they’ll go to.”
“So you took it on yourself to tell the world about it?”
“Yep. It’s incredibly dangerous. They could come after me at any time.”
Mark grew bored and set out after his ball again. It had rolled under an old work bench covered with spider webs and he decided he didn’t need it that much after all.
“Don’t you think that if a SWAT team broke into your dads tool shed and dragged you away people might get a little suspicious? You’re 16.”
“They don’t even need to use SWAT teams. They have technology that you can’t imagine.”
Mark began sifting through the tools on the workbench, looking for anything interesting.
“Are you going to go on about the giant space laser again?”
“The Fire of the Gods? That was real. I told you, there was a farmer in Iowa that got blasted by a laser from outer space right in front of his wife, which was unusual, usually they take care of witnesses. I’ve been following her blog ever since.”
“Yes. You told me about that. Why would the government want to kill a farmer in Iowa? It doesn’t make sense.”
“He was using unapproved pesticides against federal regulations. They hate people that disobey.”
“So they sniped him with a heat ray from outer space?”
Ian nodded.
“Like an ant under a magnifying glass.”
Mark had found an old machete and used it to retrieve his tennis ball from under the work bench. He bounced it idly.
“So if they are willing to take out a farmer for using unapproved pesticides, what makes you think that they wouldn’t zap you for exposing all their secrets?”
“They would, but they can’t find me” Ian said proudly, “I’m running through, like, six different proxies right now, I’ve spoofed my MAC address,  I’ve also shielded this whole shed with tin foil so they can’t use our heat signatures to pick us up on their satellite feeds. I don’t want to brag but I’ve done a pretty good job. You’ve got nothing to worry abo…”
There was a sizzling sound and nothing more. The tennis ball bounced a few times, but no one caught it and it rolled away under the workbench again. The air smelled of char and burning metal. The only sound was the tin foil on the ceiling crinkling away from the two holes that had appeared there. The monitor on the computer still glowed, but soon even that winked out.

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Shadows

March 16, 2012 at 3:49 pm (Short Stories)

This post is a response to the Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenge “I’ve chosen your words”. It can be found here.

My story is called Shadows, and the words he selected are in bold.

———————————–

Myron woke up feeling watched. This wasn’t altogether surprising, he often felt watched in his home. Sometimes he would be washing the dishes, lost in his own thoughts and he would feel a sharp finger of dread crawl down his back. He always stood for a second afraid to turn around, afraid that he would come face to face with a nameless beast of legend. He always turned around though, suddenly and violently, twisting around like a mini tornado, hoping to surprise the unseen watcher. There was never anyone there, much to his chagrin and he would return to his washing flushed and sheepish, but he always kept casting looks over his shoulder just in case he’d missed seeing anything the first time.

His  house was old. He’d bought it ten years ago with big dreams and goals. He planned to turn it into his own little paradise, but aspirations without motivation have a way of turning into dead dreams. The stairs still creaked whenever he walked on them and the doors still groaned when opened. The bathrooms that he’d planned to remodel still had mold and mildew stains and the hot water taps often doubled as a second cold one. It settled at night too. He woke sometimes in the middle of the night to the sounds of squeaking floorboards and creaking stairs, wondering if there was someone in the house.

This time something felt different though, the house was completely still. Too still. He lay unmoving on his mattress afraid if he moved too much the springs on his dinosaur of a bed would squeak, he felt safer if he still looked asleep. There was a bit of light leaking into the room from a street lamp outside, it glowed a sickly orange and flickered weakly but still produced enough light to illuminate a corner of his room and attract a few bedraggled moths. There were shadows all about and each one seemed to hold its own secret. In one corner of his room he thought he saw something crouching, hulking shoulders throbbing in dark. He recoiled back involuntarily, but on second glance he realized it was only a pile of clothes. There were too many shadows, all hiding secrets, all refusing to divulge them. His ears strained for any sound but he could only hear a squeaky gate slamming in the night wind outside. He closed his eyes again, attempting to fall back asleep.

This time he heard something too. A faint intake of breath. A slight gasp as if in excitement. His eyes popped open again and he searched the room for any sign of movement. Then he saw it. In the corner by the closet the shadows were a little more solid, they had more shape than the rest and at the very top of that solidity were two eyes. They glowed faintly green in the reflected light from the street lamp outside and they stared at him with a feverish intensity. They swayed slightly like the eyes of a snake about to strike, and then, they were gone. Myron stared into the dark corner as hard as he could, maybe he had been imagining the shadows seeming more solid there. Maybe he had drifted off to sleep and been subjected to a horrible nightmare. The shadows just seemed like shadows again. The creeping feeling of being watched dissipated and he heard a familiar creak of the settling house out in the hallway. Slowly his pounding heart began to return to a more respectable rate. He settled back into his pillows exhausted, laughing at himself for his stupidity, and pushing away the lingering seed of doubt that still remained. He snuggled underneath his covers pulling them up under his chin and assuring himself that nothing could attack him in his safe blanket haven. He rolled over onto his side in order to get more comfortable. The eyes were peering over the edge of his bed at him. But this time they were in the face they belonged to, and what a face. The skin was deathly pale, sickly white in the glow of the street lamp. Where its jaw should have been there was nothing but trailing tendrils of torn and rotting skin and its hair was falling out in in clumps leaving patches of hair and bald interspersed across the head and face. The eyes were the only part that looked alive, gleaming out of the darkness with that same intensity that they had before. The face made the same breathing sound he’d heard before, a small exhale of breath. It smelled like roadkill. Myron began to scream. He screamed because he didn’t know what else to do. He screamed because once he started screaming the creature leaped up and used his blanket to pin his arms to his side. He screamed when it leaned over him and its tongue dangled precariously from its cavernous mouth. He screamed until its cold, moist hand covered up his mouth and no sound could escape him. He drew in a deep shuddering breath, everything smelled like death. His eyes were wide and staring at the thing leaning over him. It moved its hand.
“What… what do you want with me?” He asked.
It smiled at him, a ridiculous mockery of a smile with only the top corners of its lips remaining.
“I saw you looking for me. You knew I was here. You looked so alone.” It slobbered when it talked, using its throat to form the words, in the absence of a jaw.
“So I came to introduce myself. You won’t ever have to feel alone again.”
It smiled again, removed its hand from his mouth and slid into the shadows. He heard the gasping breath again, and then silence.
Myron lay there in the darkness, spitting to try and get rid of the taste of rot that filled his mouth. One thing was certain, he didn’t feel alone anymore.

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Us

March 9, 2012 at 4:48 pm (Short Stories)

This is in response to Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge “Song Shuffle part 2” It can be found here.

Us

We made a statue of us. It wasn’t much but it was something. Mostly we just piled up old trash cans and various litter and taped and hammered it into an edifice vaguely resembling a human shape. We needed something to lift our spirits and tell us that we were somebody too, and that helped. We could look up at our statue and tell ourselves that someone loved us, that someone looked up to us, even if that someone was us. We admired that image of ourselves sparkling in the bright sunshine of the salt flats and if we could squinted hard enough we could imagine that the mop bucket head on the statue bore our likeness and that everyone else around us could see the same thing.

We’d been sent away when we’d gotten sick, out here in the heat and the desert. We’d been given blankets and shelters and some awful food that most of us ignored. It was hot and barren but with the fevers most of us had we didn’t notice the heat too much. They had talked about putting us down, relieving us of our misery, but an uproar went up. The “Sick Not Dead” campaign swept the country through text message, Facebook and twitter and the law makers swayed to the demands of their constituents. So we were relegated to a place that no one would be likely to catch the disease. It was silly, really, it wasn’t even spread through the air. We didn’t think it was at least, and the Sick Not Dead people made that case too, to little result.

                Most of polite society wouldn’t have anything to do with us. We couldn’t blame them.  Most of us were the same before we got sick. We’d heard horror stories of the tremors that shook your body, the slow aching gnawing of hunger that couldn’t be satisfied as your body devoured itself, the slow rot of mind and flesh. Those things all happened and it wasn’t something we would wish on anyone. It wasn’t all bad though, you got to be surprisingly good at smelling things. We just figured our bodies were trying to make up for all the other horrors they were inflicting on us.

                Sometimes people tried to come see what our encampment was all about. Some enterprising fools or drunken college kids would sneak out to the salt flats and look to see the city of the diseased. Late at night they would come, so we couldn’t see, and point and laugh and joke. They forgot about one thing. Even though our city was made of cardboard and garbage and scrap wood and tarps we shared one thing in common with New York City, our city never slept either. At night we couldn’t see them any better than they could see us, but we could smell them. It was surprising, that even with the shakes that wracked our bodies, how many college students could walk right past five or six of us sitting in the shadows. That was when the hunger was at its worst and that was when the population of our city would grow by a few more the next day.

They named a city after us. It was called Necropolis. The city of the dead. A living cemetery. It was kind of fitting really. 

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