Tag Archives: Flash Fiction

Overtaken


Running, Sprint, Athlete, Run, Athletic, Race, Sports

10 P.M.

The line blurs as I toe it. To my left, Skarsgaard, who ran like a goddamn gazelle to beat me in Boston, wearing the white and blue and these ridiculous bug-eyed sunglasses. He looks like a mosquito with his lanky neck and those big bubbles on his face. To my right, Ellersen, a hotshot kid who came out of nowhere and shot up the charts at trials. He’s shorter, stockier, more beetle than mosquito, but he’s got a closing kick like nobody’s seen. Don’t let him get in front of you.

Behind me, a host of nobodies. Fastest in the world they may be, but I won’t know it because they won’t pass me today. Bring what you will in qualifiers, but all that matters is what you can do on the day.

We wait for the gun, crammed in like cattle, restless as dogs still on the leash scenting a jackrabbit.

Crack.

#

11 P.M.

Fog rests on the track like whipped cream on a slice of pumpkin pie. Won’t burn off until breakfast time, which isn’t for another three hours.

Metronome in my head. Left-right-left-right. The track flies underfoot, the crisscross of dashes and hash marks seeming to paint some ethereal pattern that I could discern, if only I could slow down. Shapes emerge out of the soup and glide past me. Bleachers. Hurdle stack. Coach Cross.

“Nice finish,” she says. “Two seconds ahead of last time.”

Not good enough. I lower my head and tear into another lap as the fog swallows her up behind me.

#

12 A.M.

Skarsgaard matches me stride-for-stride on the left, but we’ve left that little hotshot Ellersen behind. We’re at the end of the first leg, and there’s a nasty hill up ahead, like a ramp that could send a rocket car into orbit. Skarsgaard and his mosquito legs blast off up the hill, but I hang back. A glob of Russians splits and reforms in front of me, and I clip along at their heels as we trudge up the hill.

#

1 A.M.

“The hell’s all that about, then?” Cross barks when I finally stop, three more laps on.

She gave up on calling me in and waited in the bleachers until I stopped. It was the dizziness that got me. I felt like a drunken giraffe on the last lap, my knees buckling under me like a couple of rickety umbrellas.

I raspberry the sweat off my lips and nose and shrug, not really looking at her. “If I’m going to qualify, I’ve got to work harder.”

“You stick to the plan or you’ll burn out.” She thrusts a bottle of water into my chest. “And I don’t coach burnouts.”

#

2 A.M.

The hill feels like it could go on for miles, but we finally top it and the valley spreads out below us: a tiny model city just waiting for Godzilla to trample it. And I feel absolutely radioactive.

I lean into the hill and flow past the Russians like greased goose shit through a flowing stream. They exclaim to one another in their curt, clipped tongue, but their voices are fast drowned out by the whistling wind in my ears. In moments I come up on Skarsgaard, wheezing and panting like my old Chevy. He’s hit the wall, I can tell by the hunch of his shoulders, the shuffle of his feet, the downward cast of those weird bug eyes.

I smack him on the ass as I pass. “At least you took Boston!”

If he’s got a response for that, I’m not waiting around to hear it.

#

3 A.M.

Another workout without Coach Cross. No more chirping in my ear on every pass to “back off,” “be smart,” “hold your pace.” Just me and my watch and the blistering July heat. It’s muggy and still and I can look backwards over my shoulder and see the grass trimmings off the track swirling in my wake.

I sail across the line and check my watch: another second off my last lap. I brush the sweat out of my eyes and laugh to myself.

#

4 A.M.

I top the last of the foothills and see a smooth downgrade leading into the last straightaway, like a red carpet leading straight to heaven. The only footsteps I hear are my own. Far behind are Skarsgaard and the Russians and everybody else. I can feel the medal around my neck already, its heavy weight dragging my shoulders down, the glare of the sun off my chest blinding the spectators in the home stretch. Their cries even overtake the hammering of the blood in my ears, but something’s wrong. They aren’t screaming my name.

“El-ler-sen! El-ler-sen!”

I feel him as I turn, and in my dream, he’s monstrous, leering, a hungry wolf staring down a broken-legged sheep. The shock of seeing him — in perfect lock-step with me, I never even heard him closing in — makes me jump. I stumble. Fall. Like a toddler’s block tower in a slow collapse to the ground. Knees, elbows, chin smash against the blacktop.

Swish. Ellersen blurs past me, moving like lightning in slow motion.

Swish-swish-swish. Three other nobodies right on his heels.

The medal evaporates from my neck. The podium dissolves in smoke. Ellersen’s slightly squashed face looms large, cackling, swallowing me up as I lay on the pavement, bleeding and spent.

#

5 A.M.

I can’t lie here another minute.

I kick off the covers. Ignore my phone. I don’t need all my friends and teammates asking me what happened. I don’t need anything except that medal that goddamn Ellerson’s wearing instead of me.

Which means I need to make a phone call.

Of course she’s awake already. She doesn’t even say hello. “Ready to get to work?”

Yes, I am.

*****************************

 

Been a while since I partook, but this one comes to you courtesy of Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Friday challenge. This week’s challenge: Insomnia. Inspired by the upcoming Olympics, and a documentary I just watched: Fittest on Earth.

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The Sisters’ Snack


Man, Face, Fear, Risk, Grunge, Art, Eyes, Waste, Dirt

It happened early this morning. Neighbors heard what they described as a “loud, tearing sound” and came running to their windows. In the darkness, they couldn’t see who or what was responsible, but there are several reports of an enormous shadow moving away down the street. You can see here the shell of the house, sort of like a seed pod that folded open. It appears to have been torn apart, almost as if from the inside. The owner of the house, thirty-three year old Kaitlyn Ziller, is nowhere to be found. We’ll be following this story as it develops.

#

We’re confirmed reports now of a similar occurrence in the neighboring community of Riverside belonging to Mrs. Ziller’s sister, Kim Smithers. Mrs. Smithers’s husband, Ron, joins us now. Ron, can you describe what you experienced?

“Well, I was asleep, with Kim next to me. It’s been a long day at work, and I have an early shift tomorrow morning. Kim gets up at four to run — she and her sister are getting into fitness, you see, doing this crazy juice thing — so I heard her get up but didn’t think anything about it. Next thing I know the house is getting blown to pieces, like a damned tornado blowing through. Ground shaking like an earthquake, and I heard this pounding, like footsteps. I wound up on the front lawn in my boxer shorts and ran back in to see if Kim was all right, but I couldn’t find her anywhere.”

You say you can’t find your wife?

“She’s long gone. I figure whatever tore the house to pieces took her with it.”

Mr. Smithers, let me clarify. You said “it.” You feel some … thing … destroyed your house and took your wife?

“Damn right. It was dark, but I saw two enormous legs walking off East, toward Roanoke.”

#

We now have confirmed reports of similar events taking place in numerous towns all up and down the seaboard — Tampa, Raleigh, Richmond, just to name a few, though there are over a dozen. In all of these cases, the same circumstances: houses torn apart, women missing, sounds of destruction. The sun will be up soon, and we hope that will shed more light on the matter.

#

This story is getting harder and harder to believe, Jen. As you can see from the photographs we’re sending you, it appears that all of the missing women bear striking similarities. All of them are in their early thirties, all have naturally dark hair and green eyes. In fact, we’ve had some trouble organizing the graphics you’re seeing now because it’s so easy to mistake one for another. In our local case, Kaitlyn and Kimberly were known to be identical twins. Some have theorized that all of the missing women might be related, but we cannot confirm that at this time.

#

This is remarkable, Jen. The rising sun led to our first eyewitness accounts. Kaitlyn Ziller was spotted in a wildlife reserve by motorists, and my team and I got here as quickly as we could. We have caught up with Kaitlyn, and as you can see, she’s … well … she’s over a hundred feet tall. We’ve tried, and local police have tried, to make contact with her, but she’s either unable or unwilling to respond, and she very nearly stepped on the Channel 6 News Van during the attempt. We’ll follow Kaitlyn from a safe distance to give you up-to-the-minute coverage.

#

We can now confirm that all of the missing women have grown in size as Kaitlyn Ziller has. That means that there are more than twenty women over a hundred feet high spread across the Eastern United States. We’ve put together a map showing the known paths of these women, and as you can see, they seem to be converging on a point somewhere in rural Virginia. We don’t know if the women are intentionally going to the same place or if it’s just a coincidence; nobody has yet been able to communicate with them. What is sure is that they are leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. Many of them are cutting paths through woodlands and other uninhabited areas and are only destroying trees, but some are moving through rural areas, smashing cars and buildings as they pass. Andrea Danvers, of Fredericksburg, has at least been polite about it: she was heard to shout apologies to motorists as she made her way down I-95. Unfortunately, her booming voice was loud enough to shatter glass and peel the roofs off a few nearby apartment buildings.

#

Joining us now is a man identifying himself only as Jones. He claims to work at a hidden military facility in the woods that the giant women are moving towards. Sir, what can you tell us?

“The women — we call them the Sisters — are part of a cloning project we initiated thirty-three years ago with great success. It appears, however, that ingestion of some radioactive material — possibly the bananas in the smoothies that the Sisters outside of Elmington have been drinking lately — has caused a quantum reaction which has rippled out to all of their shared DNA.”

And why are they all heading to the woods of Virginia?

“In addition to their obvious size, we theorize that the radiation has altered their DNA to produce at least a psychic connection between the Sisters, if not full-blown telepathy. It’s not surprising, therefore, that they would converge to puzzle out what’s happened to them.”

But why Virginia?

“Oh. That’s where we created them.”

And what will they do when they get there?

“Hell if I know. We’re going to nuke them into orbit before they get close.”

#

Jen, the scene here is pandemonium. We are unable to confirm the identity of Jones, who we spoke with earlier, but at least some of his information appears to be true. Nuclear weapons were deployed just moments ago, and the results were devastating. The target — our own Kaitlyn Ziller — instead of being destroyed in the blast, has grown exponentially. From ground level, here, many miles away, we appear to be safe, but … well, this is hard to describe. Only her feet and legs are visible at this point, her torsos disappearing above the cloud of the nuclear fallout. Kaitlyn Ziller now towers into the lower atmosphere. The earth itself appears to be collapsing under her weight, and great fissures in the ground are opening up behind her as she continues toward the woods. Her movements are stirring up tornadoes all around her. Just a few minutes ago, she appeared to sneeze, and the resulting squall tossed a 747 from the sky a full eleven miles away.

Military personnel are fleeing the area in droves, not stopping for comment. It’s unclear how long we will be able to remain here.

#

Much of the smoke has cleared, and we can more clearly see what the Sisters are doing. Several of the others have arrived on site by now as well; there appear to be seven or eight of them, milling around, engaging in whispered conversation. The one who was struck with nuclear projectiles — Kaitlyn Ziller, who now towers into the lower atmosphere — has seated herself to better converse with the others. Nothing else has happened for several minutes, until —

Wait.

Ziller has moved into a kneeling position. Even so, she towers high above the rest. She’s —

Christ! Hold on there, steady. Are you all right? Jesus. Did we get any of that?

Sorry, Jen. Ziller has just thrust her hand and arm deep into the earth, causing what felt like a major earthquake. She appears to be reaching, searching — she’s got something. She’s pulling something up from the ground.

It looks like a concrete slab. It’s impossible to tell at this scale, but it might be the size of a football field. No, it’s not a slab; it’s a bunker. There are people falling out of it. My god. She’s shaking it like a can of peanuts.

There! She reaches down and cups one figure as it falls. I can’t see if it’s a man or a woman. She holds this figure down so that the others can see and speak to him.

“That’s Ernst Felding.”

It’s Jones. Get him in the shot. What can you tell us?

“Felding. I worked with him for over a decade. He’s the architect of the Sisters project. They’re talking to him. I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes right about now.”

What are they saying?

“Hard to say, but it can’t be good. How would you feel if you found out that your whole life was a lie, and it’s all because of this guy? And now, you’re five hundred times his size?”

Jen, I’m not sure if you can see this. Felding is on his knees in Ziller’s palm, with his hands above his head … he’s holding something. Can you zoom in on that? It looks like … a gun?

“The bioserum rapid injector.”

What’s that?

“An emergency protocol. A bioserum to shut down the cloned genes if they should ever behave erratically. Maybe it’ll work.”

Ziller is holding Felding up to the other women, where he appears to be delivering injections into their shoulders. And — my god, it’s working! They’re shrinking! Jen, you can see clearly now, the Sisters are shrinking — it looks as if they’ll be back to normal in just a few moments. In a dramatic turn of events, we appear to have been saved from certain destruction by —

Wait a moment. Ernst has just injected Ziller’s palm, and she’s beginning to shrink, though she’s still gargantuan. She lifts him to look into his face. The other women, shrinking by the second, nod at her. He looks as if he’s pleading for his life. Now Ziller is — oh, god. She’s swallowed him.

“Um … I’m gonna go. Forget you saw me.”

Jen, the man known as Jones has run into the trees, leaving us only with his story. The Sisters, as they will no doubt be known, are rapidly approaching normal size. Today’s events will be talked about for years to come, but the lives of the women involved have been forever changed, and the man responsible has paid a terrible price for what many would consider crimes against these women.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to buy my wife some flowers before I get home.

********

This week’s flash fiction comes to you courtesy of Chuck Wendig’s X meets Y pop-culture mashup. My x meets y: Godzilla meets Orphan Black.

I started with great ideas for this one, but it seemed like too much story for the space allotted, and I had to wrap it up quicker than I would have liked. That, and I have to get back to the real project: the novel. This one was threatening to suck up too much time this week.

Anyway. Be good to the women in your life.


Chick Magnet


Birdman, by Peter Meijer @Flickr.

Birdman, by Peter Meijer @Flickr.

“I’ve never dated online before,” says Greg, fidgeting with his spotted hands on the linen tabletop. It’s a lie, but one he never gets called on.

Theresa, a silver-haired beauty, grins with downcast eyes at her silverware, her face flushing a little. “Me, either.”

She’s divorced, he’s widowed. Sidewalk cafe. Small talk, overpriced wine.

“Kids?”

“Two. You?”

“Four. Grandkids?”

“Eight. They’re like rabbits.” He laughs, and thank God, so does she. “You?”

“Just one.” She can’t help herself. She reaches for her phone and shows him a picture of the little angel, slumbering in that striped hospital blanket. “Two weeks old.”

“Ahh, it’s the best. You’ll see. Even better than having kids of your own.”

“So I’ve heard.”

She’s wonderful, really. Just like his wife in a lot of ways — same hairstyle, same easy way of talking. But then, she’s different too — quicker to laugh, with a nervous energy that keeps her looking around the room, knotting up her napkin. None of them are his wife, but there’s always something to like. She could be the one.

And then it’s over. Pleasant, but abrupt. She doesn’t look back as she walks away, doesn’t promise to call. Probably won’t call. They never call. He sighs and shoves his fork into his half-eaten portion of tilapia. Wishes he’d just ordered the burger he wanted. Stupid diet. Stupid doctor’s orders. A pigeon flutters up and lands in Theresa’s spot at the table, stabbing its beak at the rice pilaf she didn’t finish. He throws a spear of broccoli at it, and it flaps irritably away.

In his pocket, a newspaper clipping. Ragged at the edges, soft as feathers from all the times he’s handled it and not called the number. He frowns at the back of Theresa’s silvery head. He calls the number.

#

It arrives eight days later: a tiny brown box the size of his palm. Not what he was expecting. No flashy marketing inserts, no fancy designer packaging, only an unlabeled brown medicine vial with a dropper nestled in downy cotton packing. Beneath all that, a note: A few drops will make you irresistible to females! Use with caution!

No sense in waiting.

#

“Another first date, Greg?” Marcus, the waiter, grins at him as he pours him a seltzer.

Greg nods, almost giddy. He thumbs the vial in his pocket.

“I never see you here on any second dates. You take them someplace nicer?”

“Never been so lucky. But today’s different.”

“Oh?”

“Something special up my sleeve. That’s the secret with these older birds; you have to work a little harder.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Marcus flashes him another smile: perfect teeth against his dark skin.

Greg watches: Marcus turns the corner inside and gooses the pretty little waitress. She playfully swats his hand away, then plants a quick, affectionate kiss on his cheek. Young love. So easy, so effortless, like falling into a soft, downy mattress.

Maybe it’ll be that easy for me this time.

Linda’s due in ten minutes. He produces the tiny vial, looks around to make sure nobody’s looking, then squeezes out a few drops on his outstretched fingertip. It’s viscous and gritty, almost like birdlime, but it’s got this pungent aroma of … what? The sea? The sky?

Out of nowhere, a pigeon lights on the table right in front of him, staring at him with round, vacant eyes. It bobs its head a few times.

“Shoo.” He swats at it and it flies away, gurgling. The arc of its flight draws his gaze up toward the street, and he sees her — Linda. Pretty as her picture, red hair feathered and falling around her shoulders as she approaches. She hasn’t seen him yet. He dabs the oily stuff behind his ears. At an impulse, he squeezes out a few more drops, which he rubs into his hair.

Before their drinks arrive, another pigeon — or maybe the same one? — coasts lazily in and settles on the table opposite. By the time Marcus brings the appetizer, there’s a second bird perched there. They’re staring at him, like customers at a deli awaiting their turn. Linda doesn’t notice them, but Marcus does — with a languid wave of his hand, he scatters the critters, and Greg sighs his relief.

But by the time Greg sinks a fork into his seared trout, the two pigeons have returned and become four. They watch him implacably as Linda chirps on about the men she’s dated and divorced. More and more arrive. Another winged watcher lands as Greg picks up the check. Linda’s saying she’d really like to see him again, but Greg can’t focus on her at all for the dozen denizens of the sky sitting opposite. Then he notices she’s looking at him, waiting for a response. Oh. Turned down again. He forces a little smile, says he understands, wishes her luck in the future.

Linda’s face falls to pieces like an egg dropped from a nest. She stands, mumbling in disbelief, looking around, lost.

Her claim on Gary vacated, the birds descend. The first one swoops at her and she bats it away. Another tangles its claws in her hair. They chase her down the sidewalk in a flurry of flapping wings.

When Marcus arrives to take the bill, Greg has been swarmed. Pigeons roost on his shoulders, nuzzle at his knees and ankles, lightly bonk their heads against his fingers as he drums them on the tabletop. One nips lovingly at his thinning hair from its roost on his bald spot.

“Damn, Greg,” Marcus says. “Strike out again?”

“Take it from me, kid,” Greg sighs. “Women are for the birds.”

 

********

It’s been a little while since a Flash Fiction challenge. I really can’t apologize enough for the ending.

Anyway, this challenge comes as usual from Chuck Wendig: the random photography challenge. I found the photo above by Peter Meijer, and, well. He just looked so weary.

Comments always welcome.


The Weekly Re-Motivator: Stuff of Substance


I was going to write about the stuff-focused holidays we have here in the States (Christmas of course, Thanksgiving with its frankly embarrassing piles of food, and Black Friday, a de facto holiday with a surprisingly adversarial focus on buying as much stuff as you can’t afford) with this week’s prompt, but the moment I started kicking it around, I realized that even I couldn’t take any more of my bitching about holidays and special events… between my tirade about NaNoWriMo, my grumbling about Daylight Savings Time, and my sermonizing about the war on Christmas, I’ve sure been slinging the negativity lately.

That said, the picture is unrelated.

Today, a positive bent, a return to what I like to use SoCS for: to ruminate on writing.

I’m giving myself a break from Big Writing Projects lately — through the Christmas season, really, by the time all is said and done — and as a diversion, and to keep the grooves nicely greased, I’m working on some short fiction instead. You haven’t seen it around the blarg. It’s a SECRET.

Or rather, it’s in progress, which for writers means it may as well be as secret as the Coca Cola formula — we don’t like people sticking their fingers in our pies until we’re good and ready to have our pies finger-stuck.

Anyway, I went and enrolled in a free short fiction writing workshop hosted over at Holly D. Lisle’s site at How to Think Sideways. She lays out a three-step (with multiple embedded sub-steps, but y’know, that’s not as flashy as saying “3-step”) template to writing flash fiction that doesn’t suck. And what I quickly realized is that a lot of my stories kind of suck. Like, most of them have decent ideas at their cores, but they lack any sort of follow-through or intelligible raison d’etre. (I don’t actually know what that means, but I heard it before and it sounded fancy.) In short, stuff happened, but lacking were the reasons for said stuff happening, or an appreciable understanding of the consequences for the stuff happening.

And with the five stories I’m workshopping, there is a real focus on meaning and significance through brevity. It’s been eye-opening, like that air freshener commercial where they blindfold people in squalid rooms, wave air fresheners under their noses, then remove the blindfolds so they see the cloud of actual sharknado they’d been inhaling.

Anyway, I’m not going to detail the … well, details of the course. They’d be tiresome if you’re not interested, and if you are interested, it’s worth your time to roll over to Holly’s site and sign up for the course yourself. Suffice it to say that while this has been some much-needed down time from my big projects, I’ve not been idle, and that feels nice. Momentum matters and all that.

Which is, I guess, the point of the post this week: writing is something you can only ever get better at by sitting down and practicing at it. And a tremendous obstacle for many would-bes is the simple but enormous leap of faith that it takes to even start screwing up a perfectly good blank page with your awful, stupid words. There’s something to be said, then, for the virtue of just sitting down and banging out words week after week. But there comes a point where you feel safe enough in the habit, and you want to actually start refining your craft. I think, a year and a half into this adventure, I’ve more than established the writing consistently part, and it’s time to start worrying more about writing stronger, smarter, sharper stories. Stories where the stuff that happens is stuff that people will care about.

Stuff of substance.

This weekly Re-Motivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every Saturday, I use LindaGHill‘s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


The Unholy Sands


Chuck’s challenge this week: the Random Title Challenge. Always fun when it rolls around.

This challenge finds me just back from vacation at the beach, and it was a little hard to shake that from my mind, so rather than fight it, I used the image that stuck in my mind when I drew my title as the central gag in the story. Maybe it works.

The Unholy Sands

“I’m just not sure I see the need.”

Larry didn’t even hesitate, but launched into the next tier of his pitch. “See, that’s the thing. You don’t see the need, nobody sees the need. Your average vampire can overmatch a human without breaking a sweat, let alone a fine specimen such as yourself. Which is why this is the perfect weapon.” He pushed the bullet-sized glass vial into the vampire’s hand.

The vampire stared at the vial as if it were full of elk piss. “What does it do, exactly?”

“Good question. Fair question. So. The humans, right? Sure, some of them are accepting of your kind, some of them will even offer you a little of their blood if they’re really friendly. I know a few people like that, and I’m sure you do, too. I’ve even shared a bit of my own from time to time.” It was a lie, but not the biggest one he had in his bag.

Despite himself, the vampire found himself nodding along with Larry.

“But those are the good ones. Now, I don’t need to tell you that there are more than a handful of humans out there who would just as soon stake somebody like you as look at you, am I right? And these people,” he let his mouth curl around the word for disdain, and inwardly ticked a box on his mental list as he saw the vampire’s lips curl up likewise, “they have basements full of every tool they can possibly use in the fight against your kind. Closets full of wooden stakes. An armoire full of crosses. Boxes and boxes of silver bullets. I heard about a guy who became ordained on the internet so that he could bless all the water that came into the house, right there at the water main. Can you imagine? Invited a vampire over, had his wife spill some barbecue sauce on the guy’s face, offered to let him wash up, and blammo. Undead soup all over the bathroom floor.” It was a story spruced up from the truth through a hundred retellings, and it had the desired effect.

The vampire couldn’t help himself. “Ugh.”

“You’re damned right, ugh. Now, I could show you an arsenal of anti-human weaponry, and trust me, I’ve got some things in here that would make your cold heart skip a few beats.” Larry patted his sharkskin wheeled travel bag for emphasis, disguising the subtle click from within. “But there’s no need, because that right there, in your hand, is the crown jewel. May I?” He held out his hand to the vampire, watching for the sign of hesitation that would tell him the vampire was interested. It was tough to spot with vampires, but there it was, a flicker of doubt as he pressed the vial back into Larry’s hand. “Notice how it refracts the light from even the most meager of sources.” Larry held the vial aloft against the backdrop of the vampire’s moth-dingy porch light, and stepped back for full effect.

The shadow that Larry cast onto the front lawn stretched and expanded as you might expect from a solitary light source, but swirling around his shadow’s hand — the hand holding the vial — was an aura of swirling, contorting, faintly whispering blackness, blacker than the night or Larry’s shadow or the insides of the vampire’s eyelids. A hushed storm raging in the air about his hand.

The vampire blinked in shock, glancing from Larry’s hand, which grasped a seemingly harmless glass vial, to Larry’s shadow, which seemed to hold a pulsating orb of living darkness. “What is it?”

“Humans have their holy water,” Larry said. “Vamps have the Unholy Sands of Kelep’Met.” Larry held his breath for a moment. His last sale had been thwarted when his target had turned out to be something of an enthusiast in Egyptian lore, pointing out that Larry had mispronounced the word. He’d been lucky to escape with his life. This vampire, however, possessed no such knowledge, and simply gaped in accepting wonder.

Larry pressed on, edging closer to the vampire, though every instinct in him told him to keep his distance. Vamps might have been in the open, and most thought (rightly) that they had nothing to fear from humans, so they didn’t bother hurting people. But that didn’t mean you could trust them, and the illusion wouldn’t last long. “Far back, before recorded histories, before the dawn of the undead, great and terrible gods roamed the earth. One of them, Kelep’Met, drew the ire of his brothers for his devotion to the dark side of mankind, his demands for human sacrifice, his depraved games in which he would slaughter men in droves just to sate his evil lust for blood. His brothers met him in the darkest recesses of the earth and slew him, and there his blood seeped into the earth and mingled with it. This sand,” and here Larry held the vial out once more for the vampire to take, “is imbued with the darkest forces of evil that the world has ever known.”

The vampire’s eyes were locked on the little glittering capsule, icy orbs in an expressionless face. When he accepted the vial this time, he cradled it in his fingers, as if it might explode if turned the wrong way. Without warning, those cold globes snapped to Larry and he felt the frozen daggers of the vampire’s stare slice into his mind. “Tell me what it does.” The voice echoed in Larry’s head as if the night had parted and God himself had whispered in his ear.

Every pore opened, every hair stood on end, and he even felt a little tingle between his legs. Larry’s blood had been replaced with lava. The vampire’s spell would draw from him the truth, and the gig would be up. Already he could feel his mind spilling his secrets like an uncorked whiskey barrel, the thoughts cascading over one another in their rush toward his lips.

Worst it will do is annoy them, like sand at the beach. Get it down their shorts if you really want to give them a hard time. Or throw it in their eyes.

Kelep’Met is just some name I made up ‘cause I thought it sounded crazy and ominous.

Don’t look in my briefcase, it’s empty except for some silver bullets, some stakes, and the projector that makes the crazy shadows that fool saps like you into thinking this bullshit is legit.

But just as the damning truth began to rattle the air in his throat, the heart rate monitor in his ear registered the effects of the glamour and fired an eardrum-piercing shriek in his head, shattering the effect of the spell. He wanted to scream from the sound but kept his face slack, empty, a good little hypnotized monkey.

“Just let a few grains touch them, and it’ll feel like acid is burning away their skin, then their muscles, then their skeleton, like a bad acid trip they can’t wake up from. I’ve seen people tear their own flesh to ribbons trying to rid themselves of the curse. The ones that survive suffer in pain for the rest of their lives.”

Those seeking eyes flashed across his face once more, and then the vampire smiled, a horrible mask of fangs and handsome death. “How much?”

Larry licked his lips. “Twenty grand.”

The vampire smirked and then flickered — that damn moving-faster-than-the-eye-can-see thing they do — appearing now with a fat wad of bills in his hand. “I assume one such as yourself would prefer to deal in cash.”

It was Larry’s turn to grin. “Cash is great.”

Larry tucked his newly-acquired stacks of hundreds into his sport coat, then reached out for the vampire’s hand. The lifeless, chilling grasp — like shaking hands with a statue — never failed to turn his stomach, but he swallowed back the bile and smiled his winningest smile. It was easy enough, imagining the vampire’s shock and subsequent rage when he tried to inflict untold suffering on a human only to discover that Larry had taken him for a ride and vanished in the wind. He almost laughed. “Pleasure doing business with you.”

“The pleasure is mine,” the vampire grinned, his dazzling eyes flashing in the night.

Larry turned and shuffled off. The morning would dawn in a few hours, and there were a hot handful of vampires in this neighborhood. Just a few more sales and he’d have the scratch to buy his way to Borra Borra, where the less politically correct natives still did the proper thing and staked any filthy bloodsucker on sight.


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