Tag Archives: short story

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.

“Asshole.”

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.

clown-1537543_960_720

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

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?


Touch Will Come Second


Door, Entry, Hospital, Passage, Red, HandleAlistair Van der Berg opens what he thinks are his eyes and looks up into blinding white lights. Into his field of vision swim three dark blurs in silhouette that resolve, like hardening acrylic, into androgynous shapes.

“Mr. Van der Berg?” says one of the shapes.

“Yes?” Alistair’s voice comes out stronger than he expects.

“Please hold still. We have to check a few things.”

Alistair turns his head and glances down toward his body, concealed under a grey sheet. Lumps and points in all the right places, but he can’t feel any of it. The sheet shifts and moves like a sackful of kittens, but his arms and legs are restrained. “What’s happening?”

“Alistair,” says another of the shapes. “Calm down.”

Alistair looks around the room in a panic. By the door, a sign. Synthetics testing.

It’s happened, he realizes. I died. I’m back. I’m alive again. My brain in a plastic body. “What year is it?”

The shapes have resolved into murky faces that exchange glances with one another. “What year do you think it is?”

“How did I die?”

“One thing at a time, Mr. Van der Berg.”

“Don’t give me that. I’m back from the dead, and I want to know what’s –” He stops as his eyes drift sideways and catch the mirror against the far wall. Not a mirror. One-way glass. Instinctively he points toward it, but his arm only rattles in a restraint he can’t see or feel. “Who’s in there? Is it my children? My grandchildren?”

“Easy, Mr. V –”

“NO!” He reaches out for the voice, and this time, there’s a squealing, shearing sound as the restraint gives way and he swats the androgynous figure aside with a fleshy thwack. He stares at his hand; pale and perfectly manicured, manacled at the wrist. A torn hinge dangles lamely down his arm. He jerks his other arm free of its restraint, then yanks his legs toward him with an awful tearing noise, and he’s free.

There are sounds of squabbling behind him as the other attendants rush to the one he’s injured. Alistair ignores them and goes to the mirror — or tries to. As he swings his legs out of the bed, they tangle in the hospital gown he can’t feel, scrabble for purchase on the cold tile floor, buckle, bend and collapse. He goes down in a heap of pain and confusion.

A voice crackles from above. “What’s wrong with it?The voice is familiar, but he can’t say why.

An androgynous one replies: “Touch receptors aren’t working. He won’t be able to walk or move effectively yet. Photo and audio receptors are online for this primary test, along with speech protocols. Touch will come second.”

The lights go on behind the mirror, and suddenly Alistair is looking past the crumpled wreck of his body at himself standing behind the glass. An older version of himself. Stern. Thoughtful. But alive. And unpitying.

The voice he now recognizes as his own crackles through the speaker again. “Shut it down.”

A tiny electro-dart buries itself in Alistair’s neck, but he doesn’t feel it. His processors drone off into silence and his servos go limp.

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

Chuck’s challenge this week was a random title. Mine? The Touch Will Come Second. For artistic reasons I dropped the “the,” and not only because I wanted a reason to say “the the” in my explanation.

 

 


Pegasus Intelligence


Beer, Beer Garden, Thirst, Glass Mug, Drink, Beer Glass“Ernie Collins.”

“The name doesn’t ring a bell. Then again, I’ve only been working here for six months or so.”

“Oh. Well. He’d have been here back in ’07.”

“I see.” Lana, feeling that the conversation had reached that inevitable point where things peter out and the bartender and patron go on with their individual existences, began polishing glassware, and only when she noticed Eddie gesturing at her did she realize that he had continued speaking.

“And from there, it’s on to Melbourne, to a little hole-in-the-wall joint called Dingo Lingo.”

She angled back into the conversation as best she could. “I’ve never heard of it.”

“Of course not. Very few people who haven’t cracked the top-10 bestseller list have.”

Lana squinted at him, still turning a glass in her hand. It was impossible to tell if he was putting her on. The crazy ones never seem crazy. “And you’re going there to …?”

“To drink it all in, man.”

“What, Dingo Lingo serves some proprietary drink?”

“No. What? No. Look.” Eddie pulled out his phone and opened his notes app. He tapped on a file, zoomed in on a maniacal-looking spider web diagram dotted with pictures of towns and bars and faces she didn’t recognize, clicked and zoomed and scrolled a few more times, and finally stopped and shoved the phone toward her. On the screen was a picture of an absolutely normal-looking guy. Slightly unshaven, slightly frumpy, a below-average intelligence gasping for help in his faraway stare as he sat at a Starbucks street table. “Because of him. Haven’t you been paying attention?”

“I fear I may have lost the thread.”

Eddie sighed. “He’s a Pegasus.”

“A what, now?”

Eddie sighed again, harder this time, to make clear that he was explaining something he shouldn’t have to explain. “In Greek myth, Pegasus was said to strike springs from the very ground where his hooves touched.” He smiled at Lana as if this should have meant something to her, but it obviously didn’t. “Pegasus was the personal transport for the muses. Like Uber, but, you know, a horse.”

Lana gave an ever-so-slight shake of her head. “Muses?”

“The Greek goddesses of inspiration.”

“Okay, and you want a drink from the bar because –”

“It’s a metaphor, man! It’s not a literal spring. Ernie Collins is not a goddamned winged horse. But he’s a Pegasus in spirit. He travels the world on his parents’ retirement fund, and every so often:” here Eddie rapped his fingers on the tabletop and made a clop-clop noise with his tongue. “Inspiration springs forth.”

“So you think,” Lana said, studying the freshly polished bar as if it might offer some insight on how to deal with a clearly deranged individual, which it did not, “that just by being in these places, you’ll … what, soak up some inspiration?”

“Exactly.” Eddie folded his arms and leaned back from the table as if he’d just solved a two-hundred item crossword puzzle. He raised his eyebrows at her, again, as if he expected her to be impressed.

“And that’s why you haven’t ordered anything but that one beer, then?” She tried to keep the edge out of her voice, but he’d been nursing the one drink for three hours. It wasn’t like she needed him to vacate the stool — it was a Tuesday night, after all — but principle dictated that a bar tab should at least exceed in dollars its length in hours.

“Nothing personal, you understand.” He picked nervously at the label which had already been thoroughly picked at. He came away with bits of glue under his fingernails. “But I’ve got quite the itinerary ahead. Atlanta. Seattle. Toronto. Melbourne. Tokyo. Gotta make every dollar count.”

“You can afford travel to all these places, but you can’t afford another drink?”

“I’ve got a GoFundMe page set up. I’ll move on when I can afford airfare.”

Won’t hold my breath for a decent tip, Lana thought. “You’re a writer, then?”

“Trying to be,” Eddie replied, a sort of self-satisfied smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth.

“What have you written?”

“Well.” He scratched the back of his neck. “Nothing yet.”

“Oh, a work in progress?” Lana returned to wiping glasses. “I had a roommate in college who always had about a dozen works in progress. Never did get published. Wrote like a demon, though.” She glanced sideways at Eddie. “Ordered more than one drink at happy hour, too.”

“Thing is, I don’t want to just write anything. When I actually sit down to write, I want it to be the best. Hence: following in the footsteps of Pegasus.”

Lana frowned thoughtfully. “I suppose there’s intelligence of a sort in that.” Then her thought caught up to her frown. “Wait. You mean to tell me you haven’t actually written anything yet?”

“Er.” More glue, more fingernails. “Not as such, no.”

“Not a draft, not an outline, nothing?”

Eddie shook his head.

“I mean, you at least know what you’re going to write about, though?”

“Well, kind of. I mean, I have some ideas.” He jabbed at his phone again, and showed her the picture of Ernie Collins. “Truth be told, that’s kind of what I was hoping this whole Pegasus thing would help me out with.”

“Let me make sure I understand clearly,” Lana said. She set her glass and rag down and leaned in close. “You want to be a writer, but you haven’t written anything. Instead, you’re going on a trip around the world, on the dime of internet strangers, hoping to sponge up some inspiration … from a man you feel is the embodiment of a winged horse?”

“To be honest, the GoFundMe only has fifteen dollars in it so far.” He eyed the last swig in the bottom of his bottle, felt the moment was right, and swallowed it. “From my mom. Actually –” he waggled the empty bottle — “how much did you say this was, again?”

######

Chuck’s challenge this week: The random title challenge. My title for the week was “Pegasus Intelligence,” which was the fanciest bit of nonsense I’d heard in a while. A little bit of research, though, led me to a place I didn’t entirely hate. It’s more of a vignette than a story, but, well, that’s life, innit?

Also, about halfway into the writing, I realized that I have here the seedling for a … not exactly a sequel to my first novel, but for another story in the same universe as that one. Dammit, Chuck. These short stories are supposed to let me vent pent-up creative energy, not spawn entire novels to go clanging around in my skull.

 


The No-Call


Chuck’s challenge this week is a story in 100 words. These are tricky, and Once Upon A Time is back from its hiatus, so…

Sandal, High Heels, Sets, Female, Women'S Fashion, Shoe

Cindy gave her sorority sisters the slip and went to the party anyway. They’d never let her pledge if they found out.

She drank too much. Danced all night. Deftly parried the drunken advances of some guy in a crown.

Next morning, the house was aflutter; the fraternity president was making rounds to name his queen for the spring formal. He had the shoe, he proclaimed, of the magical girl whose company he had shared the night before.

Cindy ran upstairs and threw her mismatched pump in the garbage chute, vowing never again to waste her time with silly boys in costumes.

 


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.


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