Monthly Archives: October 2016

Flash Fiction Horror Collaboration: A roundup


Over the last three weeks, Chuck Wendig has run a sort of round-robin storytelling gig at Terrible Minds. We write 1000 words at a time, then hand the story off to another writer to continue the tale.

I started with A Laughing Matter, which received a part 2 Nate F and by S.L. Wright. My sad clown was off to a couple of roaring starts! Unfortunately, nobody has given it a part three so far. Too bad, but them’s the breaks — the challenge suffered a fair bit of attrition as things crept along (There were something like 30 stories in the first round, about 22 chapter 2’s, and even fewer chapter 3’s).

Not to worry, though, because I also continued a story started at Line Meets Sand, and that chapter two received another two completing chapters — one by Runner Skye and another by Vicente Ruiz.

In the business world, we’d call that a significant return on investment — people put more into writing the stories I contributed to than I ever did myself — so I’d like to thank those authors for allowing me to take advantage of them! If you like what I put up around here, you just might enjoy clicking on some of the links above.


The Energizer Bunny of Pestilence


The air goes in; the air goes out, and with it (both ways!) goes a sickly ripple of phlegm in the throat.

Our house is afflicted with the plague again. Seems like I write this post every year. This year feels worst of all, though that can probably be blamed on poor memory.

We shouldn’t be surprised. The kids are in day care, after all, which is basically a petri dish incubated at a biologically-friendly temperature for the entire year. Sort of like the opposite of the CDC. Instead of cataloguing germs for study and treatment, the day care simply cultivates the germs for dissemination on an unwitting populace.

All that means that for the last six weeks, at least one person in our house has had some form of cough/runny nose/sinus infection/sore throat. And for the past two weeks, we’ve all had it. Kids have been to the doctor, but my wife and I haven’t. She because every time she goes to the doctor, the doctor tells her she has a sinus infection. (She could go in with foot pain and be diagnosed with a sinus infection, I’m pretty sure.) Me because I’m a red-blooded American male, and we don’t go to doctors unless body parts need re-attaching.

I hate to complain about being sick. Any runner will develop a healthy (or actually, pretty unhealthy, come to think of it) ability to fight through pain, but whatever germ we’ve got keeps going and going. The Energizer Bunny of Pestilence. It’s become impossible to ignore.

First it was just a nagging cough. Then the cough got some static in it and migrated down into the chest. Then there was a little rattle at the end of each and every breath that won’t dislodge no matter how many coughs I cough. Now it’s a headache that settles in after lunch and hangs around like that one friend at the party until you give up and go to sleep.

Is it just a super bug we’ve contracted? Probably not. The body influences the mind influences the body, and it’s been a stressful month. The loss of my recent writing. The culmination of the one-act play we’ve been rehearsing at school for several months (ask anybody in theater what the best/worst time in the life cycle of a production is, and they will tell you it’s the last week — and that was last week for us). The not being at home due to all the work on said play.

I was sick going into all that, and then I went through all that, and I’ve only gotten sicker.

Thankfully, the stress is abating. We take our play in for competition today, so the pressure of improving it is over. And the novel has begun generating its own momentum again, so my daily writing is fully back on track. So maybe, maybe, just maybe the phlegm-lacquer coating all my breathing parts will start to crack as well.

Just in time for the kids to bring home a stomach virus from day care, no doubt.

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.


Becoming the Curmudgeon


I’ve always joked that I’m going to become that old guy. You know the one. Pants a little too high on the waist. Hair in wispy explosions behind the ears. Gravelly, phlegmy voice. Shouting at the neighborhood kids, warning them off his lawn.

I hate everything, so this is a natural outgrowth, but I fear it may be closer than I anticipated.

And ironically, what’s bringing it out of me the most is day care.

I know; there’s nothing more suburban and yuppie than kvetching about your kids’ day care. To be fair, though, it’s not the day care that I have a problem with; it’s the other parents.

Our “school” hosts about fifty kids. It’s not huge, by any stretch. So it’s a comfy little building with a tiny little parking lot; about twenty spots or so, with a “pickup lane” running the gap right in front of the door.

Now, look. I’m going to preface all this by owning and acknowledging how 1st world this particular issue is, but I think, like most things, this is a microcosm for bigger problems.

This parking lot, then, of twenty spaces or so, means that there really isn’t a bad spot in the lot. At worst, you have to walk maybe fifty feet to the front door; a not at all unreasonable distance to rid yourself of your kids in the wee hours of the morning. But there’s also that pickup lane.

Now, the pickup lane is there, presumably, for people to keep their cars idling while they hop in to pick up or drop off the kids. Well and good. But at our day care, people don’t just use the pickup lane. They park right in front of the goldfingered door. So I, and anybody else unlucky enough to arrive at the same time as these hapless, bumbling SOBs, have to detour around their cars, sucking up their exhaust, just to get into the building.

And this is bullsharknado. I pay the same weekly fee as these people. My son and daughter come home with the germs that these people’s kids bring to school. My wife and I (okay, mostly my wife) bring in extra donations when the pre-k teachers send home flyers begging for them. (Seriously, my wife sent in two full-sized pumpkins. WHO DOES THAT?!) But no, I have to detour around their oversized cars for the privilege of using the front door.

Never mind that there are perfectly good parking spaces — dozens of them! — not ten feet away. Never mind that in addition to disrupting the walking traffic, I’ve seen these knuckle sandwiches align themselves like poorly-placed Tetris blocks, stopping even the other jerk stores from passing through the pickup lane until they’ve done their business inside (and they’re never walking in a hurry, either, let me point out). No, these monsters have to park right in front of the doorright across the middle of the crosswalk, and to hell with anybody who’s inconvenienced.

I mean, we’re living in a society, aren’t we? Enough people live in these cramped cities of ours that, even if you hate people like I do, you surely understand that we’re better off if we occasionally look out for each others’ well being and convenience than if we only look out for our own.

These are the people who will drive past the backup at the on-ramp, then nose in at the last possible second. The ones who will angle their shopping cart to stop and obstruct the entire derping aisle at the grocery store while they compare nutrition labels on store-brand and name-brand Cheez-its. Speaking of the grocery store, these are the ones who will blithely pay for a hundred-dollar order with a jarful of change with five customers lined up behind them, or who will stalk you in the parking lot for your space that’s fifteen feet closer to the door than the space that’s wide open a bit further down. (Man, I have a lot of rage centered on the grocery store.)

Well, I’ve had it. I’ve reached the point in my life where I’m no longer content swallowing my displeasure in favor of good manners. I thought for a bit about making up a bunch of passive-aggressive notes to stick on their windshields, but there’s something cowardly in that, and I also think that if you’re being an arsehole, you need somebody to point it out to you to your face for it to really sink in.

So, when I see these people now, I’m calling them on it.

Politely. Self-deprecatingly. But directly. “Hey. I’m not trying to be rude, but this is a crosswalk you’ve parked on.”

I say it, and I can feel that siren’s song in my gut when I do it. Get off my lawn.

I’ve done it twice, now. As nicely as I can stand. And you know what I’ve seen in the faces of the two people I’ve tried out this societal intolerance on? Confusion. They were surprised that I was saying anything to them in the first place, but more than that, they legitimately had no idea they were doing anything anybody would find objectionable. Double-takes to their cars and the crosswalk. Uneasy shuffling. To say nothing of my blood pressure shooting through the roof — me, the ever-avoider of conflict, getting face-to-face to call somebody on their stupid.

But you know what else?

They aren’t parking in front of the door anymore. And that feels good. But I know I’m also paying a price for it. The price of being disliked and grumbled about after the fact. Then again, that may be a price I’m happy to pay.

Is this my first step towards becoming the King Jerk of my neighborhood?

 


Flash Fiction Horror Collaboration: The Dark Fairy


This week: the conclusion of Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction horror collaboration.

I’ve gone with the supernaturally bent The Dark Fairy, started by Rosemary Carlson and StarNinja (feels like there’s a Guardians of the Galaxy joke in there somewhere). For ease of reading, I’ve plonked their text down here, but I highly recommend that you visit their sites too, as they’re taking new stories in new directions this week — and who knows, one of them might even finish one of the two others I’ve worked on here.

Anyway, the conclusion of The Dark Fairy is below; my part comes last. Enjoy! (And if a fairy talks to you, just run. STRANGER DANGER.)

****

Part 1 by Rosemary Carlson

****

Evan wondered what to do, if anything, with the information he had just received from his grandfather. Evan was only 17 years old. Most of his family was gone. His mother had recently passed away. His father had left the family when he was a child. He was living with his grandfather, who was dying. Evan was taking care of him. Evan could hear his rasping breath, even though he was in the next room. They didn’t have the money to hire any help. Evan was exhausted from the 24 hour shifts, grabbing sleep here and there, that he was pulling taking care of Gramps.

Gramps was napping and Evan was wrapped up in a wool blanket, sitting beside his bed. The old house was cold and drafty and he had just heard the most fantastic story. He wondered if Gramps was just sick and delusional. He even wondered if he was so sleep-deprived that he had imagined it all. Suppose it was true? What should he do?

As the old man lay sleeping, Evan thought about the story. Fairies. Could fairies really exist? If Gramps was telling the truth, they did exist. Evan started to drift off to sleep while thinking of the fairy story but something hit his head. He jumped up, looked around, but there was nothing there. What was it? He must have dreamed it. He had to stay awake in case Gramps needed him.

Once again, he started to think about the fairy story. Gramps told him that, all of his life, there had been this creature, a fairy, that had accompanied him everywhere he went. The fairy, a female, thought of him as her pet. Evan had always thought of fairies as funny, light, fairy tale things. Gramps said this was a dark fairy, really a mean fairy. Gramps was confessing to Evan because he felt guilty. This fairy had made Gramps do many bad things.

Gramps told Evan about a book he had on fairies, so Evan went downstairs to find it. As he started down the stairs, he tripped on broken wood and started to fall, but suddenly he wasn’t falling. The fall stopped and it felt like something grabbed him by the shirt collar.

“That’s weird,” Evan thought. “What broke my fall? Felt like something stopped me. Oh well, best consider myself lucky.”

Evan went on down the stairs and into the living room to the bookcase. He found the fairy book and reached for it.

“Ouch,” Evan said, as it felt like something hit him on the hand. Then, as he tried to get the book out, it felt like it was stuck. As he tugged on it, he fell backwards and hit his head on the wooden floor.

Evan started wondering what was going on, but he picked up the book and walked back upstairs so he could read and sit by Gramps. He leafed through the old, tattered book until he found the page on dark fairies. The more he read, the more frightened he became. Dark fairies do just what Gramps said. They make people do bad things. They treat them as pets. They are malevolent creatures. Evan started to shake all over. Gramps continued to softly snore.

Evan tried to calm himself by deciding that Gramps’ story was just the ramblings of a sick old man. He was so sleepy that he gradually drifted off in his chair.

Evan woke with a start. How did he get outside? He wasn’t just outdoors but he was in the sky. He was flying and something was holding him up. He heard a whisper in his ear, a female voice, that said her name was Ramona and she was his fairy. Evan started to scream and squirm and Ramona put something over his mouth. He could hardly breathe. She told him in a very stern whisper to shut up or she would make the noose around his neck, with which she was holding him up, even tighter.

Evan was so scared. He was scared of Ramona and of flying. He couldn’t stop squirming and he was screaming behind his gag. Ramona pulled the noose a little tighter. She whispered that Gramps was a much better pet than was Evan.

Suddenly, Evan could tell they were going down toward the ground. Before they got there, Evan fell. All of a sudden, he was on the ground. He could hardly move since he had hit the ground hard. There beside him stood a creature. She was maybe a foot tall. Evan noticed that she had a long black cape on and sported long, flowing black hair. She had piercing blue eyes. He couldn’t look away from her eyes.

Ramona laughed uproariously. She asked Evan if he had enjoyed the ride and the fall.

Evan said, “No. Take me back to Gramps. He’s sick and he needs me.”

“That old man is dying,” said Ramona. “He doesn’t need anything but to be left alone. We have a job to do.”

“Who are you and what do you want with me?” Evan asked.

“I told you. I’m Ramona, your fairy. I was your Gramps fairy and now I’m yours. You’re my pet. You look like a fine boy.”

Evan replied, “I don’t want a fairy. I want to go home. I’m cold and sleepy and I need to be with Gramps. He’s my responsibility. You’re a horrible fairy. I must be having a nightmare.”

“You are going to have a nightmare if you don’t shut up,” said Ramona, as she hit  Evan with a stick. She hit him over and over again, until Evan was almost unconscious. Then, she woke him up.

As Evan sat up, Ramona said, “Do you see that house over there?”

Even shook his head yes.

Ramona said, “There are three people who live there. A man, woman, and female child. The woman needs to die and you are going to kill her.”

****

Part 2, by StarNinja

****

Evan didn’t want this. He didn’t want this with every fiber of his being.

“I’m not a killer. I don’t kill. I won’t do it.”

The fairy sighed, pondering the stick in her tiny hand.

“The stick worked well for your grandpa. Perhaps for you it will be the carrot instead,” said Ramona.

“There’s nothing you can say that will make me do this,” said Evan.

“So confident,” Ramona said knowingly.

“Okay then, why? Why does the woman need to die?”

“Need is a strong word,” said Ramona.

“Answer me,” said Evan.

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“Why, because my feeble human mind couldn’t possibly comprehend?” Evan asked angrily.

“Close. No it’s less a matter of comprehending than it is a matter of context.”

“Stop playing around with me and answer me straight! What did she do to deserve death?” Evan asked.

“If you want the whole truth, we’re going to be here for a while and neither of us have that kind of time. Wouldn’t it be easier to be a good pet and do what I say?” asked Ramona.

“I refuse. I won’t do it no matter how much you hurt me,” said Evan.

“Would it be easier if she was an abuser?” Ramona asked.

“No. She should be reported and go to jail for that,” said Evan.

“What about if she was a child molester? Hmm? What if she preyed on the children of this neighborhood? On her own daughter? Would that change your mind?” Ramona asked.

“Well… no. She still wouldn’t deserve…”

“And!” Ramona said, cutting him off, “what if she herself had killed? What if she was going to kill again?”

“Killing her wouldn’t be the answer.”

“Why not?” Ramona asked.

“Because everyone deserves a chance to own what they’ve done. To make up for whatever it is you think ought to get them killed. They deserve a chance at life,” said Evan.

“Oh, my precious pet. No one deserves to live,” she said with a dark smile. Evan felt himself shiver, or maybe it was the cold night air.

“That’s insane. Of course we do,” said Evan.

“We? Are you putting yourself in the same boat as that monster? No no, she’s got to go. She is a plague upon this earth, my pet. She ‘deserves’ everything you’re going to do to her. If you don’t know what that is, don’t worry. I’ll teach you. I’ll show you how. But I did not misspeak when I said we had a job to do. It is a job. A most important job. Do you believe in Karma?”

“What?”

“Karma. Not a lot of people believe in it anymore. Not around here anyway. Not really. They give it a lot of lip service, but they live their lives like it doesn’t exist. But the great wheel cares not whether you believe in it. It’s kinda like the rain, or earthquakes. It just is. But the problem with people, especially people around here, is that they’ve found a way to get around good old fashioned Karma. They’ve dumped it on other people. Across space, across time.”

“You’re not making any sense,” said Evan.

“See? Context. Maybe you’ll understand after I tell you a little story. Once, little Suzie was a good girl who wanted to become a firefighter. But that didn’t last very long. Her family moved away when her uncle died, they had to get away from the stigma around the whole thing. So Suzie grew up, studied Literature, married a lawyer, had two kids, aborted one because reasons. She was living the American dream. Is this America? You still call it America, right?

“Anyways, Suzie moved into a nice two story home here in the suburbs with her family. She doesn’t do anything with her degree. She wants to, but it just hasn’t turned out that way. Instead she bides her time, waiting for her moment to be relevant. Maybe she’ll write that book she’s always wanted to, or maybe get a job at a magazine, or hell maybe her blog will take off. I mean something’s gotta happen, right? Guess how many people Suzie’s killed to get where she is.”

“Killed? She’s a murderer? Maybe, I don’t know, lead with that next time?” Evan asked. Ramona hit him with the stick again.

“Guess.”

“Ouch! Okay! Um, I don’t know. If she’s a serial killer, like four or five?”

“Three hundred thousand,” said Ramona.

“What? How?”

“Two people died in the forest cutting the trees down, another in the lumber yard that processed the wood for that house. Five commited suicide who’d worked in the factory making the smartphone in her pocket that she’s going to throw away in a week or two when the new model ships. One hundred people died in the mines getting the precious ores that went in her phone and computer and car and…”

“Stop! She didn’t do any of that! That was just…”

“If you say ‘It’s the system’s fault’ I swear to everything that is holy… ha, never mind. Little pet, I didn’t say she was directly responsible for all those deaths. She is a grain of sand on a scale, tiny and insignificant on her own. But. There’s a lot of sand. A LOT. Tipping things in favor of her and all her friends which means we have a lot of work to do tipping that scale back towards balance.”

“But that doesn’t mean…” Evan stammered.

“People she’s never met suffer every day, die, grow ill, working themselves to the bone to make her life so comfortable. But like I said, Karma doesn’t care about her ignorance, it reacts all the same.”

“I’m not going to kill her because…”

“Because what? She doesn’t know any better? Of course she does. She has the entire span and breadth of human knowledge at her fingertips. It wasn’t her fault she was born into these circumstances, but then neither was it the poor little girl’s fault who made her shoes. So how to make this right? What to do, what to do,” Ramona said, pushing Evan forward.

“I’m just as guilty as her for all those things. I deserve death just as much according to that logic,” said Evan.

“Logic: a system of thought developed by Ancient Greeks that didn’t save them from their own destruction. Don’t be like them, my pet. This is nature. This is the world. The universe doesn’t care what you think. The wheel keeps turning, gears crush and grind the dreams and hopes of every living thing that can dream and hope.” Ramona stroked Evan’s hair. “Tonight, it’s going to get a little more grease.”

****

Part 3, by me

****

Evan looked up and found himself face-to-face with the door of the house Ramona had pointed to only a few short moments ago. How had he traversed the distance? The house had looked impossibly far away, and yet here it was.

Here, now, Evan felt more doubt than ever. It would have been better if the family had turned out to be some disconnected, isolated, living-in-opulence sorts, but no, the house was entirely like his grandfather’s: not run-down, but in need of maintenance that the owner didn’t have the money, time, or energy for. Peeling paint. Drooping gutters, heavy with leaves. Windows smeared with children’s fingerprints. It was, in short, the all-too-familiar home of a family working hard to get by.

Evan turned to walk away, but found his feet would not budge. Ramona, riding weightless on his shoulder, droned in her tinny, urgent voice about balance and right and wrong. Gritting his teeth and summoning up every inch of resistance in him, Evan growled: “I won’t do this!”

A tiny little cackle in his ear. “You’re already doing it.”

Into Evan’s vision, his right arm drifted. Closed in the fist was a rock. When had he picked up a rock? With a yelp of terror, Evan spun and hurled the rock away — or meant to. The rock left his hand and sailed through the porch window, shattering the glass with a horrible sound. Evan was sure it would wake the neighborhood.

Again, he turned to run, but the fairy floated into his view before he could take a step. “You’re a fool about a great many things, and that’s not your fault, but don’t be a fool about this. Fingerprints on the rock you just used to break into the house. Do I need to tell you how guilty a young man fleeing from the scene of the crime in the dead of night looks?” She pointed. Lights had gone on in the house across the street.

He hated her, but she was right. Evan punched out the remaining shards of glass, reached through the window, and gingerly eased himself into the house. Maybe he could wake the family, explain all this away. If the fairy would just shut up. But no sooner had he stepped on the scuffed hardwood floor than he heard a commotion of footsteps upstairs. He froze, torn between bolting and hiding. He glanced around; there, in the cast of moonlight through the broken window, was the rock.

Get the evidence and go, he told himself. He grabbed his rock and ran back to the window, and then the room was flooded with light.

“Daddy?” The voice was sleep-thick and innocent. At the top of the stairs stood the child; a scrawny girl of no more than four. She stared at Evan oddly, her head cocked to the side.

“She’s not the one you want,” Ramona taunted. “Of course, if you wanted to…”

“Shut up!” Evan hissed. The girl took a timid step backward. Evan pressed a finger to his lips, but it was too late.

The girl screamed.

Evan ran. He only got one step before Ramona flitted into his vision again, screeching: “you’re not finished, Evan!”

He swatted her aside like a gnat and ran to the window. He threw one leg over the sill and gasped in pain; a gleaming shard of glass protruded from his thigh. He seized it and yanked it out; the blood gushed out in a thick gout.

“DNA evidence,” the fairy tsk, tsked, from behind him.

“SHUT UP!” Evan screamed and spun, lashing out with the dagger-sized shard of glass. There was a mist of blood, but the resistance was considerably more than he expected. He hadn’t sliced the fairy in half; he’d opened a gash in the throat of the man from the photograph.

Where the hell had he come from? Evan hadn’t even heard him approach.

The man held a baseball bat aloft, his face stretched wide in surprise. The bat fell to the floor with a clatter as the man clutched at his throat, blood washing over his hands in a thick sheet. He fell to his knees, then collapsed on his face in a growing red pool.

“Mistake, Evan. You want the wife, not the husband. God, you’re making this difficult.” Evan could no longer tell if Ramona’s voice was coming from her perch on his shoulder or the inside of his own head. Another scream echoed from upstairs. “His wife is getting the gun. She’ll use it on you unless you kill her first.”

Evan shook his head fiercely. “I won’t. I’m leaving.” He made for the window again —

And he felt himself flung across the room. Ramona stood on his chest as he blinked at the ceiling. “Not until you or she is dead. And I’m starting to doubt your usefulness. Now get upstairs.”

Dizzily, Evan got to his feet — the blood draining from his thigh clouding his vision — and stumbled up the stairs. Weak and injured as he was, it was easier than fighting. The fairy’s voice guided him.

“Right, now. End of the hall. Second door. There.

There she was, hunched over a little safe, just opening the door.

“Wait!” Evan lunged for her, not even really meaning to — but still, of course, clutching his dagger of glass. He tripped and fell toward her as she brought the gun about and fired.

Heat and pain bloomed in his chest as their eyes locked in horror. She reached up and pulled the shard from her neck, and the blood rushed out in a great fountain. It sprayed, smoky and thick, across Evan as he collapsed on his back.

The last thing he saw was the little girl watching from the doorway. Not screaming in terror, but nodding in understanding at the words of the tiny fairy on her shoulder.

 


The Weekly Re-Motivator: Soldiering On


A short SOCS post today, because I’m totally fried from this murderous week at work.

I’m back in the swing of my novel this week, despite the crazy hours at work. I got probably about 2400 words written — not quite what I aim for, but considering the loss of planning time and how scattered I’ve been, I’ll take it. But I’m not here to kvetch about word count (or lack thereof).

See, a few weeks ago I suffered what I could only, at the time, call a catastrophic setback: the loss of my un-backed-up flash drive, and hence the loss of a good twenty- to twenty-five thousand words on my latest project. That’s about two months worth of words, if you’re counting, AND I CERTAINLY WAS.

And, after the storm and the swearing and the self-abuse subsided, what was there left to do? Either quit the project, accepting the loss as too great to recoup, or soldier on and keep writing on the project anyway. And considering that this novel just happens to be one I’ve wanted to write for about three years, throwing in the towel was not a thing I was willing to swallow (argh, too many cliches).

So I took a day to outline the story I had written so far from memory, and then I started fresh with a blank page.

And man, that first day sucked, because returning to what was an essentially blank page was intimidating as hell (the perfect white expanse of the unblemished page — or, okay, word-processor window — is a thing you can only screw up with your first draft word-vomit). But a few days in, the momentum kicked in again, and all of a sudden I was churning along just like before I shot my foot off.

And the weird thing is? I actually feel really liberated. Losing the old project has allowed me to divorce myself from some of the preconceived notions and lame patterns that had cropped up in the writing. Now I can not only pretend they didn’t exist; they actually, literally don’t exist any more. I’m messing with new POVs, experimenting more with the narrative sequence, and generally having a lot more fun with the project than I had been for a while.

What’s that thing they say about relationships? Sometimes you have to lose something to learn what you really had? Maybe that’s a little too trite for the current situation, but one way or another, the project is moving ahead at a healthy clip again, and that’s damned encouraging.

Tomorrow: a third and final entry to the October horror flash-fiction challenge that’s kicking around over at Terrible Minds. (I hope.)

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.


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