Ashore (Flash Fiction Horror pt. 2)

Chuck’s challenge this week is a continuation of last week’s project. Last week we wrote a 1000-word beginning to a story; this week, we continue somebody else’s story with another 1000 words.

I ran with a story begun by Nate F at Line Meets Sand. His work begins at the 1; mine takes over at the 2. His piece was untitled, and seeing as we’re not sure how it turns out yet, I’ll just title my piece: “Ashore.”




Finally some real rain—a decisive, if not delinquent, increase in ferocity compared to the drizzle that had hung suspended, noncommittal in the air for days.  Water dripped from his longcoat as Josiah Leech lifted the last of the fancy trunks not yet aboard.  His jaw tightened as he turned to make his way back to the Trinity.  Whatever was locked in this particular trunk made it heavier than the others by far.


“That’s what April showers bring.

“And so do March showers.  And May showers. And June showers.

“Mud.  Mud.  Fuckin’ mud,” he murmured as he trudged on, stubbornly wrenching his boots from the mire with each soggy step until, at last, he reached the docks.

Josiah’s stride narrowed to cross the thin, roughhewn board that connected the old galleon to the dock, but his pace never slowed.  Just short of his destination, Josiah’s muddy right boot lost grip of the wood and he staggered forward, hands forsaking the trunk in order to grab the railing and prevent the Thames from claiming him.  As he pulled himself back to his feet and onto the main deck, he watched the trunk hit slide to a stop next to the deckhouse.  At least he had propelled it forward.  Through rotten teeth, crows in the riggings laughed down at him.

“You’ll be payin’ recompense for damages caused by your imbecility,” said Bernard Ambrose.  Without so much as a glance up from the manifest, the ship’s quartermaster addressed the nearest deck hand.  “Master Clement, after securing the gangplank, do help Mr. Leach locate that trunk within Mr. Lambert’s stateroom.  The grandiosity of it is clearly too much for but one man to bear.”

“Aye.”  Francis Clement’s mouth spoke agreement as his eyes told Josiah something else.  He too would rather be hoisting the normal cargo of woolen cloth instead of these thirty five haughty aristocrats and their weighty accoutrements.  But in this rare moment of restraint, Francis held his tongue until they were below deck.  “Gents will be the end of us.  Had you slipped but one step further back, you’d been crushed between hull and wall.  They know naught of what the sea brings yet they talk of hunting beasts and savages in uncharted lands.  Worse, they’ve steered Captain Hore and Mr. Ambrose to folly. We’ve too many these trunks and too few stores.”

Josiah gave a single nod in agreement as he wondered from which gossiper the lad had stolen the words.  They were too keen for Francis’ own mind, having been with him for only two voyages.   “Aye, Francis.  Let’s get this done and get to our stations.”

The pair carried the trunk through a narrow passageway formed by planks that had been hastily thrown up in the aft hold as a means to create apartments for their esteemed passengers.  They rounded the last corner and dropped the trunk just inside the door of Mr. Lambert’s room.  A heavy thud spread across the deck, shaking the makeshift walls.

“Reckon we should open it?” Francis asked.  “Just to see.”  Josiah paused, unsure if he saw inquisitiveness or fear lurking in Francis’ eyes.  “Not to steal nothing.  Christ, Josiah.  I ain’t no thief.”

“That’ll be quite enough lads.”  The steady voice came from somewhere inside the dark room.  Francis was so overcome with fright that his clumsy escape made Josiah think of a rat thrown overboard, contorting its body frantically in search of land isn’t there.  “You may be excused,” the voice continued.  Josiah left with a nod, never having seen its owner.

Josiah approached the aft hatch and found clogged with sailors looking onto the main deck.  “What delays?” he asked, pushing through.  “I’m due at the wheel.”

“The passengers,” responded the originally named Mr. Cook.  “They’re lined up at the rails like a boarding party of pirates.  Yet instead of bearing muskets, they stand in the pouring rain, waving to all of London as if to the Queen herself.”

“Who do they suppose will dry their clothes and fancy hats?” asked Josiah, continuing to elbow through.

“We could hang ‘em from the foremast,” said the cook.

“The linens or the gentlemen?” Josiah asked as a matter of practicality.


During the voyage, the voyagers encountered storms typical of the North Atlantic and a few near collisions with icebergs hidden by fog.  Nevertheless, most days were smooth and uneventful, even if the crew did keep below deck more so than usual.  They weren’t so instructed.  They preferred it to watching the highborns preen and puke.

Francis, or whoever he had parroted, was right about the stores; the crew had been on reduced rations for weeks when they finally spotted the New World.  Strangely, the passengers didn’t seem nearly as distraught about this as the crew would have expected.    Especially when repeated forays into the wilderness yielded nothing but hard roots and poultry herbs.


“Ho, landing party ahoy.” The announcement came from the crow’s nest.  Josiah turned and gripped the railing with anticipation.  The gentlemen cared little for the daily chores, yet they seemed to relish the opportunity to take landing parties ashore in pursuit of food.

“Mr. Lambert, what good news gives those with you cause to smile?”  Captain Hore greeted the men with hope in his eyes.

Grins now absent, five of the six who left a day ago climbed back aboard as Mr. Lambert responded.  “Not by Christ’s mercy, Captain.  This is a terrible place.  An awful creature came in the night and snatched young Mr. Clement.  He wailed with terrible fright as it carried him into the wood.”

“Did you see the beast?  Could it sustain us, just for a little while, if we return and overtake it?” asked Captain Hore in desperation.

“Nay, Captain.  To be true, none saw this demon outright.  The good Mr. Cook, for he was the one lying closest to poor Mr. Clement, did say that he felt a terrible shiver preceding the snatch.  I fear that no good can come of another sortie.  We must press on.”


2. Ashore

Five days passed before Hore ordered another landfall. The rations were all but exhausted. The crew had grown gaunt and haunted-looking, and even the gentry aboard had tightened their belts. On the favorable side, the ship’s complement of rats had been dramatically reduced.

But when time came for a landing party to scout the shore, Lambert’s men refused. Like a plague, the legend of the monster on the shore had consumed the ship.

“The demon stalks us by night, and hides in the shadows by day,” said one.

“Eyes like moons in the wood, it has, and teeth like to pierce God’s own arse,” said another.

Cook, still shaken by the loss of Clement, bothered not with excuses. “I won’t go, and that’s that. I’d sooner walk the plank than go ashore with that hellspawn.”

In the darkest hour of the sixth night since the first landfall, Josiah wakened in a sweat.

As he shuffled onto the deck, bleary with exhaustion and hunger, he nearly bumped into a young woman, apparently out for a look at the stars. Somehow, she had not wasted away like the rest of the souls aboard; her cheeks were full and radiant, her eyes bright and deep. At first he thought she was a hallucination, lovely as she was, but the warmth of her was real enough.

His gaze drifted to other parts of her, which were similarly unblemished — Josiah had been many months at sea, after all — but meeting her eyes again, propriety seized him, and Josiah snatched his hat off his head. “Ma’am.”

“Mister Leech.” Her voice was full and warm, the purr of a pampered cat. “I need to go ashore.”

Josiah’s jaw worked without effect for a moment before his words found him. “Pardon me, miss, but nobody’s goin’ ashore until we send a landing party, and, well …”

“The monster, yes.”

Of course, she knew, but she said it with the off-handed impatience reserved for childish complaints. He felt silly, suddenly, and shuffled his feet on the water-swollen boards. “Right. And seein’ as nobody wants to volunteer, I reckon we’re all stuck aboard until –”

“Until the rats have been exhausted and we’re forced to eat each other? You know as well as I do, Mister Leech, that something must be done.”

The moon cast an unearthly pall across her bare shoulders. Josiah tugged his threadbare coat tighter, tried not to stare, but the cold of the night seemed to affect her as much as the starlight. But she was right — something had to be done. He nodded.

“I knew you’d see reason.”

“Beg pardon, miss –” he didn’t know her name, and he paused, but she did not offer it — “but even if I were to help you, the captain would never allow me to take one such as yourself off this ship.”

“Hore and his men,” she sneered with contempt, “are dead men walking.” She flicked her gaze up toward the crows’ nest; there, the watchman sagged in a heavy sleep. “We’ll not be spotted under the cover of the night.”

Sweat broke on Josiah’s lip and his scalp, cold and prickling. “Why me?”

She smiled, warm and terrible. “Because you know where my trunk is.”

And that’s when he knew. Hers was the voice in Lambert’s room.


The noise should have waked the dead. It would have, Josiah figured, but the sickness settled upon the Trinity had left them all somewhere between life and death, untroubled by bumps in the night.

He found the trunk in Lambert’s room, and under the watchful eyes of the lady, Josiah dragged it away. Lambert slumbered not a few meters away, but never batted an eye. The trunk was every bit as heavy as he remembered — more so, perhaps, or maybe that was just his own weakness — but the lady’s presence drove him like a lash.

Driven first by the fear of being caught, but more and more by the lady’s impatience, he hauled the trunk up from the cabins and onto the deck. It banged and scraped something terrible, but not a footstep nor a quickened snore rose in response.

With tremendous heaving and contortion, Josiah worked the bulky thing into a lifeboat. The ropes creaked their complaint, and he licked another sheen of sweat off his lips.

“Miss, pardon me for saying so, but I don’t know if –”

“It will hold,” she said, and that was an end of that. Josiah offered her a hand into the vessel — her touch sent a chill through him, but the night breeze more than explained that — then climbed in himself and began the laborious work of lowering the craft into the waves.

The Trinity shrank to a black speck amidst the riot of starlight behind them as Josiah rowed, the only sound the wet slap of the waves against the boat. Most highborns get green on a tiny craft like this, but the lady was unmoved. She stared past Josiah at the shore, one hand resting lightly on the trunk, the way a mother rests her hand on her sleeping child’s back.

The instant their tiny craft scraped the sand of the shore, a soul-rending shriek erupted from the treeline. A powder keg caught fire in Josiah’s chest. What had he done? Brought this lady and himself to their deaths upon this shore, and why? He didn’t even know why.

He stumbled out of the boat, into the freezing waves, and looked toward the land. It coalesced like a fog, a black shape blotting out the edges of the trees behind, great white orbs for eyes floating twenty — no, thirty — feet above the ground, a horrible maw of teeth and talons gleaming dully in the moonlight.

The demon.

Josiah’s blood turned to ice, his thoughts and his sense deserted him. But out of the corner of his eye, he saw the lady, striding through the waves like an angel advancing against the devil himself, arms outstretched toward the creature.

“Josiah,” she cried, her voice like a crashing wave, “open the trunk.”

Dubious Activism

When you’re environmentally conscious enough to drive a Prius, but you’re voting for a guy who claims that climate change is a hoax…


The Weekly Re-Motivator: Panning for Gold

I remember, when I was in school, learning about how during the gold rush — you know, old west, Manifest Destiny times — people would pan for gold. Scoop some water out of the river, sift through it, see if any nuggets were floating in the runoff. Or they’d just take big handfuls of dirt, toss them on these screens, and slowly sift away the big rocks, then the little ones, and so on, in hopes of separating out something priceless from the junk.

And I always thought that was kind of BS. You dunk your little pan into the river, hoping to get rich off some crumbs floating downstream? You dig up your backyard, hoping that in there among the rocks and the sand, there’s a gold nugget, just waiting to be discovered?

It’s the sort of ridiculous hope that keeps people buying lottery tickets. The overwhelming odds are that not only will you not find gold, but you will have wasted hours — if not days or weeks or worse — of time which you could have used for, you know, useful things otherwise.

Not incidentally, one of my favorite snippets from Sam Harris (a prominent atheist/philosopher/neurologist and pretty smart guy) has to do with a guy who spends his weekends digging in his backyard for an enormous diamond. “It gives me great pleasure, seeking this diamond,” the guy claims, though there’s no evidence that the diamond exists, nor is there any good reason to believe that it might. And regardless of whether this diamond does exist, the believer “wouldn’t want to live in a world where there wasn’t an enormous diamond buried in my backyard.”

Panning for gold in that way takes something maybe even stronger than an act of faith.

But lately, that metaphor strikes me in another way.

If the first draft is the rushing mountain stream, then there are definitely some gold flakes floating in it, lost amid the smashing rapids and festering cesspools of word vomit. (This is, incidentally, why I’m not totally soul-crushed after losing about twenty thousand words of my latest project; because I know that most of it is crap.) Problem is, there’s no knowing where they are ahead of time. And there’s no guarantee that, if I dive into that stream of bland, meandering word salad, I’ll come away with anything approaching usefulness.

But I keep doing it. Every day I wade into the waters and pan for gold, screening the water and the dust and the lumps of calcified cow crap in hopes that somewhere among the detritus is a nugget that I might one day parlay into a car payment.

You know. The sort of blind, hopeless faith that I usually rail against.

But with one key difference.

The poor saps panning and sifting for gold or digging for diamonds in their backyards are putting their faith in things they can’t see or touch or know in any way. The gold is either flowing in the river, or it’s not. It’s either mixed in the dirt, or it isn’t. The diamond is either buried in the earth to be found, or there is no such diamond. But the words I churn out every day? It may not be much, but at least I’m in control of those words. And I know that, even though most of them may be crap, the potential is there, hiding behind fossilized feces or drifting downstream.

The faith a writer has to have is a faith in himself (or herself!). Some would argue that it takes a hell of a lot of faith to return to the blank page, day after day, to deface it with your imperfection. There’s certainly something of the devotional in it.

But I don’t think it actually takes much faith at all. The stories we’re sifting for are there, hiding just below the surface, winking at us from behind the river of crap.

We just have to have the patience to screen out the garbage.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.

Locker Room Talk

There’s been a lot of talk about “locker room talk” the past couple of days. But I don’t think any of the people talking about this so-called “locker room talk” actually know how people talk in locker rooms. (For the most part, guys don’t talk in locker rooms — they’re trying too hard not to catch an eyeful of old man scrotum.)

So to clarify what actual locker room talk might sound like, I reimagined a certain prominent recent conversation as it might more conceivably play out.

Please to enjoy.


Two men, on opposite ends of “middle aged”, meet in a locker room. A TV in the corner plays entertainment news.

Tronald: Hey.

Billiam: Hi.

Tronald: (gesturing towards the TV) You see her?

Billiam: Hmm? Oh. Yeah. Who’s that? She looks familiar.

Tronald: Ancy O’Dale. Pretty hot, right?

Billiam: Sure.

Tronald: I put a move on her, once.

Billiam: Who, the girl on TV?

Tronald: That’s right. Bought her some furniture.

Billiam: You — what? I thought you said you put a move on her.

Tronald: Yup.

Billiam: So … you bought her furniture? That was the move?

Tronald: I have a lot of money.

Billiam: I see.

Tronald: She was married, though.

Billiam: Wait. She was married when you put the move — when you bought her furniture?

Tronald: Sure. I was, too. I tried to bang her. Came up short.

Billiam: That’s … not cool. Why would you hit on a married woman? Especially when you were married yourself?

Tronald: Well, I had just gotten married.

Billiam: That’s even worse!

Tronald: Eh. It was only my third marriage.

Billiam: Jesus.

Tronald: Hey, do you have any mints? I could really go for a Tic-Tac.

Billiam: Um, I might, let me check.

Tronald: I get that bad breath, you know what I mean? I’m doing this interview in a few minutes, and you never know what might happen.

Billiam: I really don’t need to know. (Finds mints, offers them.) Here.

Tronald: Thanks, guy. (He tilts most of the pack into his mouth, crunches them loudly.) I might try to kiss this one, I don’t know.

Billiam: Huh? I thought you said you were doing an interview?

Tronald: Sure, but I just love women, you know? If she’s beautiful, I might just try to kiss her. I can’t help myself.

Billiam: Whoa. Stop. You’re just meeting this woman for the first time, and you think you might try to kiss her?

Tronald: I meet beautiful women all the time. As often as I can. I run beauty pageants, you know. Part of the deal. Sometimes I try to kiss them, sometimes I don’t. Just depends how I feel.

Billiam: What about how they feel?

Tronald: What do you mean?

Billiam: The women. You just kiss them? I mean, the ones you feel chemistry with, or … I really don’t understand.

Tronald: No, no chemistry. I just see a beautiful woman, I try to kiss her.

Billiam: That’s … a little rapey, isn’t it?

Tronald: It’s all right. They don’t mind. I’m a star. I can do whatever I want. Grab them by the pussy, whatever.*

Billiam: The — WHAT?

Tronald: What?

Billiam: Dude, that’s actual sexual assault. You know that, right?

Tronald: You want to come with me? I can get you one, too.

Billiam: No. NO. Who the hell even are you, anyway?

Tronald: I’m running for president.

(Billiam just stares, dumbfounded.)

Tronald: Can I count on your vote?

Billiam, now dressed, scurries out to tell all his friends not to vote for serial abusers, as though such a thing had to be said.


**I just want to tell you how uncomfortable it makes me to use the word, even when quoting somebody who, I feel, is a totally reprehensible excuse for a human. But we can’t go mincing words, and we can’t go pretending total jerks didn’t say the things they actually said, live, on video.

A Laughing Matter

Scowling through the mirror at Earl is a face as twisted as the ones in his nightmares.

One hand tightens on the brown bottle, the other on the glass. The cubes swirl and clink as he pours a drink too many and tosses it back.

“You’re just not making them laugh like you used to, big guy.” Max had given him a sorry grin, like a dog who’s eaten your dinner but who knows you’re not going to do a damned thing about it. “Nothing personal.”

And just like that, here he is, cleaning his crap out of the dressing room for the last time. Over the monitor, Earl can hear the trite jokes from some new kid on the circuit — name of Zamir, of all things, riffing on his foreign parents — to what sounds like an ocean of raucous laughter.

A sound Earl’s only ever from backstage; never in person.

The glass flies from his hand and shatters the mirror, and now it’s not a single scowling mask that looks back at him, but a dozen. Earl stares himself down for a good, hard minute, then grabs his jacket, frayed elbows and all, and beats it.

There’s a storm rolling in. The first fat drops are just starting to fall, but the real action’s a long way off, yet. A couple of drunks are hanging out, grinning at each other in that half-lidded, glassy-eyed way that you only see at one in the morning outside a comedy club. One of them recognizes Earl, and it begins.

“Hey, it’s the comedian.”

Earl knows what’s coming. He pulls up his collar and tries to walk by, but the guy’s in front of him, a hand on his chest, fruity, watered-down vodka on his breath. “You weren’t funny.”

“Sorry you didn’t like it.” Earl sighs. Tries to be contrite. “Look, talk to Max. Tell him Earl said to give you a few free passes for next week.” Max will never give this guy anything, but vodka breath doesn’t know that.

“What, so we can hear more lame jokes about your mother-in-law?”

Vodka-breath’s buddy thinks this is really funny. He bursts out in a laugh that sounds like a choking horse. Again, the sound of laughter that isn’t for him burns away at Earl worse than the bourbon burning through his guts.

Everybody thinks they know what funny is, but they don’t, not really. They don’t laugh at Earl’s jokes. But they’ll laugh at their idiot friends making fun of Earl’s jokes, sure, no problem.

Earl stares at horse-laugh long enough for it to get real uncomfortable. “You think that’s funny? How about a knife in your spleen, think that’d be funny?”

A low rumble of thunder punctuates this, and the drunks back away real slow, watching Earl like he’s rabid.

“Thought not,” Earl mutters, and shoves his way past, making sure to give vodka-breath an elbow to the gut as he goes.


Then a bottle hits him in the back of the head, and everything goes dark to the sound of shattering glass.


Earl comes to — he’s not sure how much later — choking on the rainwater that’s puddling around him. His head hurts like hell; he rubs at it and his hand comes away hot and bloody. Lightning lights up the deluge that’s falling now, and the thunder rattles his skull.

The club is dark. Max. Probably saw Earl lying there when he left and didn’t do a damned thing to help him.

It’s the last straw.


Blue-lipped and shivering, Earl almost knocks the door to his cramped, moldy apartment off its hinges. He brushes past a sink full of dishes and a table covered with slowly decomposing takeout Chinese and makes for the bathroom.

It’s no mistake that his bathroom is set up like a green room; the apartment may be a shithole, but this is a shrine. His shaving kit, immaculately laid out by the sink. A couple of freshly-pressed towels hung on the rack. The bright lights overhead make him blink when he turns them on. Worn, curling pictures and newspaper clippings — over a dozen of each — are sandwiched between the frame and the mirror. Earl catches glimpses of himself in between as he looks back and forth. His father, his uncles, grandfathers and greats.

Down one side, he sees Samuel, the foppish Auguste in a frilled collar and big red nose. Randolph, a simple Whiteface in an oversized suit with white gloves. Freddy, the bumbling Tramp with a chewed-up derby and stippled-on stubble. All grinning in that carefree, gleeful way that clowns have, like even behind all the paint and the makeup and the oversized shoes, they find the whole world funny.

You could say it’s a family business. One that Earl’s tried to avoid. “Cheap laughs,” he always called it. But clowning is in his blood, he knows that, now, as he sees his eyes reflected in the pale masks.

But the other side of the mirror is in his blood, too. Tri-Cities Terror. Seaside Strangler. The Knife in the Night. They’re Earl’s family, too, and their mugshots stare back at him with the same clownish grin as the others, minus the makeup.

If psychology were a thing Earl’s family ever bothered with, they might have made something of the checkered legacy he has inherited. All Earl knows as the storm pounds on the windows is that he tried, he really did. He only wanted to kill them with laughter.

Now, he thinks as he reaches for the greasepaint, he’s just going to kill them.



Holy carp, how long has it been since I turned in a flash fiction?

Well, this one’s not complete, but that’s by design: Chuck’s challenge this week is to start off a horror story that somebody else will (hopefully) pick up and run with. I figured, hey, clowns are topical right now, right?

Anyway. Sorry to the clown-phobes in attendance. Guess I shoulda put a trigger warning up top, huh?

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