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Collector’s Item


Chuck’s challenge this week: Literary Mash-Up.

I’m not sure if I’ve properly grasped the concept… I end up literally smashing the stories in question together rather than combining elements of each story’s genre, but this is a fun exercise, regardless.

Anyway, my mash-up victims were The Great Gatsby, which I love, and Pulp Fiction, which I double love. Let that serve as a warning that here there be gratuitous violence (thanks Pulp Fiction) language (thanks Pulp Fiction) booze and debauchery (thanks Great Gatsby) and possibly a deeper meaning hinted at but not in the least delivered (thanks BOTH).

Here, then, is Collector’s Item.

Collector’s Item

“We should have Tommyguns.”

Bruce propped one hand on the wheel and leaned his other elbow against the door, letting his fingers massage his bald scalp. Against his better judgment, he answered. “How many are there?”

“Six or seven, what I heard.”

“Hmm.” Bruce didn’t know how he felt about busting into a room with six or seven guys hopped up on moonshine and god knows what else, but he trusted Mr. G., even if Fitz was edgy. He changed the subject. “Where’d you get those shoes?”

Fitz had on a pair of wingtips polished to a blinding sheen. He angled his leg to get a better look at them. “Gypsies.”

“Get the hell out of here. Gypsies.”

“If I’m lyin’, I’m cryin’, sport. Band of gypsies.”

“Where did you find gypsies around here?”

Fitz sniffed and leaned back in the bucket seat, cupping a match to a cigarette and taking a deep drag. “Couple miles outside of town. They have a camp set up out there. Well, had a camp. Moved on since then. Wherever the fuck gypsies go.”

“And how, if I may ask, did you get a gypsy to part with a pair of shoes like that?”

“Gave him my .38.”

Bruce fought back the urge to slap Fitz across the face. “You traded a gun for a pair of sissyfied leather shoes?”

“I traded my old gun for a pair of designer alligator-skin shoes. One of a kind.”

“One of a kind, made out of hundred dollar bills, I don’t care; you don’t trade a fine piece of equipment like that for some shoes.”

“You do, if you have any taste. Look at your feet, man. What are you wearing, dime store loafers?”

“I promise you this: when I’m dropping bullets into somebody’s head, the last thing they’re thinking about is what’s on my feet.”

“See, that’s where you’re wrong. A man looks good, he feels good.”

Bruce shook his head and wiped a trickle of summer sweat off his brow. Fitz would argue the point until the moon got tired and went home. “This is it.”

The lights of the Hilton rose up like a luminescent palm tree in the night. Bruce maneuvered the car around to the service entrance, and in minutes, they had taken the stairs up to the 12th floor. There was some big event in the ballroom keeping everybody occupied; nobody even looked sideways at the two men in black, or at Fitz’s alligator-skin shoes.

“What I don’t understand is,” Fitz continued, having hardly stopped chattering all eleven flights up, “how big G makes all that money in such a short amount of time.”

This again. Fitz was always asking questions about the big boss. Whenever he did, Bruce could feel snakes sliding along the back of his neck. Boss had eyes and ears everywhere, and you didn’t go talking bad about a guy like Mr. G. Not if you wanted to keep your head on your shoulders.

“Do you get paid?”

“What?” Fitz wasn’t a child, but he could damn sure act like one.

“Do … you … get … paid?”

“The hell kinda question is that?”

“We’re on this job. Pays a couple hundred. Now, whether that comes from Mr. G. or from Sweeney or from whoever else, those couple hundred spend the same. Who cares where they get the money from? Long as I get my cut, I’m happy.”

“All right, all right.” Fitz spread his arms out wide, the classic gesture of a man showing you he’s unarmed and means no harm. The twin holsters revealed at his belt as his jacket flapped open belied the gesture somewhat.

Bruce flicked his watch up to his face.  “It’s time.”

Fitz knocked on the door. That damn “shave and a haircut” rhythm: tap, ta-ta-tap, tap… Thick door. Heavy. Maybe oak or something, Bruce didn’t know. Smooth green paint, numbers in gold, fancy carpets all lush underfoot. Nice place to spend a weekend, if you could afford it.

A blaring trumped assaulted their ears as the door swung open on a scene straight out of a … what was that word…

“Can I help you?” The smarmy-looking guy who opened the door leaned in toward them in a haze of booze and cigarette smoke. His eyes drifted in and out of focus as he swept his gaze back and forth across them. Guy was as hammered as a carpenter’s bench.

“Hey, we heard you all were having some kind of party or something,” Fitz said, turning on a positively magnetic smile.

“You heard right, partner! Come on in, the more the merr–” he hiccuped violently then, almost losing his balance. With a grand gesture he flung the door open and stepped aside to allow Bruce and Fitz in.

“Bacchanalia,” Bruce whispered, the word finally coming to him.

There were no less than a dozen people around the room, in various states of drunken disorder. In the middle of the room, one couple danced violently and out of time with the music. Near them, collapsed on the floor, was another couple ignoring the music entirely in their attempt, apparently, to devour each other’s face. The breathy sounds of their kissing and moaning could be heard above the penetrating music. One armchair held a woman drowsily staring at a spot about five inches in front of her face. The couch held two fellows in shirtsleeves passed out on each other’s shoulder. In a poorly-lit corner, one nervous, parrot-eyed man hung on the arm of a woman who looked as bored with him as she probably was with the world, given the clattering assortment of priceless jewelry adorning the arms folded across her chest. All of them, besides the unconscious ones, had that stumbledrunk heaviness to their movement.

The man who had greeted them beelined to the bar, a grand affair of mirrors and gold trim, hosting a litany of bottles with expensive-sounding monikers, all very English sounding. He uncorked a bottle of clear spirits and poured three glasses at once with a swirling of the bottle, splashing booze everywhere. He proffered one to Bruce, who waved it away with a curt flash of the hand.

“I don’t imbibe.”

Undeterred, the man shifted toward Fitz with the drink.

“Not tonight, buddy.”

“More for me, then!” With a mad grin, their host slammed back one of the glasses at one gulp, dribbling about half the drink down his rumpled shirtfront. Then he turned and sashayed back into the madness.

Bruce, meanwhile, had found the record player and dragged the needle, silencing the music with that unmistakable scratch. It was as if he had pulled the plug on a carousel; all the motion in the room ground to a jerking halt. Fitz, meanwhile, hit the lights, and the partygoers blinked in the sudden blinding whiteness.

“Don’t get up,” Bruce said, in a not-exactly-friendly tone, to one of the sleepers, who had woken and rose toward him. Wisely, the man sat down. Every eye in the room followed Bruce as he stalked like a panther among the drunks. He came to rest in front of the only man in the room who wasn’t drunk, a broad-shouldered affair with a weaselly look despite his lustrous blond hair.

“You must be Tom.”

“Who wants to know?” This the man said confidently, smugly, stroking the back of the woman sitting on his knee. Her hand rested daintily on his chest. If Tom wasn’t recognizable by his size and his stare, the woman was recognizable in that she looked as if the angels themselves had set her in the midst of this den of debauchery. Her golden curls tumbled past her shoulders, diamonds festooned her fingers, and her expression was flighty, bemused, and a little otherworldly. Daisy.

Bruce smiled, sliding his hands into his pockets; just chit-chat, here. “I thought so. Great party. Was that Duke I heard before?”

“I don’t know much about music. More important things on my mind.”

Bruce’s eyes glinted, and he pointed a knowing finger at Tom. “Like the way you think, Tom. Like your taste in booze, too, though I don’t drink myself. But I can tell you’re an individual who discerns. Only the finest.” He flicked his eyes momentarily at Daisy.

Tom nodded, cool, in control, but his mouth curled in a sneer. He didn’t care for Bruce’s eyes on his wife.

Fitz had glided soundlessly to stand with his back against the front door, hands resting lazily on his belt. Bruce glanced his way and Fitz nodded the most imperceptible of nods.

“Well, Tom,” said Bruce, “there’s no easy way to say this, but you’ve got something that belongs to my friend, Mr. G.”

“Who the hell is –“

Like a cobra uncoiling, Bruce drew his pistol and fired into the face of the man he’d asked to sit down. His brains and blood fountained all over the other man on the sofa, waking him up. There was an instant of cacophony in which everybody in the room began to scream, but Bruce shot the other man and things got deathly quiet.

“I don’t think we need to pretend, Tom.” Bruce grinned around his gun arm. “You’re smarter than that. We’re here to collect Daisy.”

“Over my dead –“

“Careful, Tom.” Bruce drew back the hammer on his pistol for effect. “She’s going with us. Whether you’re alive or dead when she does is up to you.”

Through all this, Daisy wore a horrified look pasted across her wispy features, but her eyes registered something else entirely, like she knew how she was supposed to act but couldn’t keep her excitement from bubbling through. She yelped when Tom swatted her on the bottom and nudged her up from her perch.

“I guess you’d better go on with… I didn’t catch your name.”

“Didn’t give it,” Fitz chimed in, smiling that winning smile from the door.

Dammit.

“I wasn’t talking to you,” Tom spat, and his bulk unfolded itself, springing out of the chair and throwing Daisy aside. He reached for the pistol at his belt but three bright blooms erupted from his chest – BLAM BLAM BLAM – and he staggered back into the chair, blood and spittle flying from his lips.

The men in the room, who’d seemed a bunch of harmless drunks before, lurched into action, reaching for concealed weapons or diving at the assassins. Intoxicated, though, they were woefully slow. Gunfire thundered off the walls of the little room, and ropes and sprays of blood mingled with the abstract artwork, soaked into the plush white carpet.

Daisy, her blond hair now red with blood, her newly crimson gown clinging to her body, stood trembling in the midst of a mass of death. The few other women in the room were screaming, the shrill sound echoing and magnifying itself in the small space. A dull thwack thwack thwack pounded on the edge of his consciousness; his heart pounding in his ears. It didn’t have to be this way.

With a heavy sigh, Bruce holstered his weapon and looked around for Fitz. Fitz knelt, his weapons spent, pounding the butt of his pistol into the ruined shape of one man’s head.

“Fitz.”

Thwack.

“Fitz!”

Fitz whirled, his gun above his head, mid-swing. A manic glee boiled behind his eyes. “Yeah?”

“We happy?”

Fitz smashed his gun into the man’s head one last time and shoved himself to his feet, sniffing derisively. “Yeah, we’re happy.”

“Miss Daisy,” Bruce said, holding his hand out for her with a little bow. Dreamlike, she took it, and allowed herself to be led from the room.

Fitz shoved his gun back into its holster and cast one last appraising look around the room. “We should have fucking Tommyguns.”


Cold Blood


Chuck’s challenge this week: The four-part story, part 1. That means it’s time to buckle up, because I’ll be taking on stories started by other authors and extending them in my own twisted ways, and they’ll be taking my creations into new and exciting directions of their own.

It was a bunch of fun last time it happened, so I’ve got high hopes this time, too!

So, how do you go about writing the beginning of a story that you won’t be able to write the ending to? Lots of unanswered questions, lots of plants (no, not that kind of plant), lots of hints at what might have come before, but not a lot of concrete. At least, I think that’s a good way to go about it. At any rate, that’s what I’ve tried to do here.

Enjoy, and if you’re here from the challenge and thinking of using this story stem, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

 

Cold Blood

Cold.

The weather reports had called for cold, but that was the first thing Lem could process, and the only thing, for that matter. Despite the sleeping bag her legs were snarled in, the stocking cap smushing down her short hair, and the two hoodies she had layered up the night before, the cold had seeped into her toes and her fingers in the night, and she could barely feel them.

She sat up, and a crack of thunder sounded in her skull. Too much whiskey the night before; yes, that had been a mistake. And not a drop of water around before bed, either. All the water in their flasks had frozen. Was still frozen, she discovered, turning a heavy flask over. It would have been funny, if her head hadn’t felt like it was tearing into two halves down the middle. She poked Mark to wake him up.

But Mark wasn’t there.

His sleeping bag had been right next to hers when she passed out, but now it was rolled up and neatly secured with paracord in the corner of the tent. Next to it sat Mark’s pack, which was also arranged and collected and ready to depart. But no Mark.

She peeked her head out of the tent — sucking in a sharp icy breath, because god help her, it was even colder outside — and looked around. There, the ring of stones around the pile of ash from last night’s fire. There, the funny little outcropping of trees that Mark had said looked like a bunch of aliens dancing around a maypole. There, the dusty trail leading off into the woods. In the distance, the burbling sounds of the river. But no Mark.

Lem cleared her throat, sending another shockwave through her pounding head, and stumbled out into the grey morning. She tried to call for Mark, but her voice was hoarse and tiny in the predawn mist. It wasn’t unlike him to go for a little explore before she was awake, but something felt off. The sleeping bag, his pack. He hadn’t lit a fire. And he’d had as much to drink as she had, if not more. By rights, he should be the one sprawling on the ground in the tent, unable to shake the fog out of his head. She called out once more, Mark’s name issuing out in a great cloud of vapor. Three crows exploded out of a nearby bush and went flapping off into the sky, cawing at one another and at her pitilessly as the grey swallowed them up.

An hour later, Lem had built a fire and thrown a few sausages in the pan, figuring that when Mark returned she could have a bit of breakfast ready. She’d thawed out a canteen and chugged a good quart of water, and that had helped, too. But the hour had come and gone: she had gathered kindling, listened to the thick sizzle of the gristly meat, and then devoured them herself, all without seeing or hearing any sign of Mark. It was only when she was cleaning up from the meager meal that she started to get uneasy.

Not at the thought of being alone in the wild; she carried a gun and was well-trained in its use. That had been her father’s insistence when she took up hiking, and she dutifully loaded it before every expedition, even though she had never had cause to use it. Nor was she uneasy at Mark’s absence; he liked the solitude of the woods even more than she did, and he would be back soon enough with some clumsy excuse about forgetting to leave a note, and they’d kiss and laugh over it and that would be the end. It was the cold, she realized. The sun was up now, casting long, skeletal shadows through the trees, but it was getting colder. Unseasonable was not the word. The chill was unnatural.

She chuckled at herself as she thought it, and went to pack away her mess kit back in her pack, and that was when she spotted it. It was frozen solid but unmistakable, dark crimson in the dust, glittering with the scattered sunshine; A tiny disk of blood that looked like it might have frozen before it hit the ground.

She bent to examine it, the vapor of her breath seeming to melt its surface just a little, tiny droplets condensing on the angry red ice. Now that she’d spotted this tiny pool, the next one seemed to catch light at the edge of her vision. She rose and walked toward the new spot, and then she saw the next patch of ice… and the next, leading toward that strange snarled copse of trees.

For a fleeting moment, she thought of her gun. Her tent was only thirty feet away, just as far from her now as the weird interwoven trees that had caught Mark’s fancy the night before. It would take only a moment to retrieve it. Then came a sound that made ice of the blood suddenly surging through her veins. The cracking of a twig underfoot, but not under her foot. Under another foot entirely, just beyond the edge of the trees encircling the clearing.


Betrayer’s Helix


Chuck’s flash fiction challenge for the week is the Random Title Challenge.

I could cut some excuses off the old ham hock of scrubbitude, but I’ll instead choose to focus on the fact that I had a really great idea with this one that I just don’t think I was able to fully realize.

Maybe I can mine this one for some material later.

Comments and critiques are welcome.

 

Betrayer’s Helix

Art told his first lie when he was four. Continue reading


Shorn


If my typical weekend short story is Flash Fiction, you could call this one Lightning Fiction.  Chuck’s latest challenge is the 100 Word Story.  If you read this site at all, you know that I have a tendency not to scrimp on my words, so saying a lot with a little is a stretch for me.   (For comparison, my introduction is longer than the story itself, at about 180 words).  Nonetheless, I like what I’ve come up with.

Maybe I’ve got hair on the brain.  Mine is fleeing my face as fast as its follicles will carry it; my wife just got hers cut.  Add to that the (unrelated) fact that with our first child we went through a lengthy hospital stay and our second will be arriving any day here… I couldn’t shake off these things clinging to my brain.  If you’re curious, this is not autobiographical, though my wife and I were certainly adjacent to a lot of stories like this one.

At any rate, here are 100 words exactly, title not included.  Don’t read them all in one place.

 

Shorn

Mackenzie disappeared into the treatment wing, escorted by a perky nurse whose name Eloise had immediately forgotten.  Philip offered all the support he could: a sympathetic grimace and a dutiful squeeze of her hand.  She made for the parking lot, not bothering to wipe the tears from her eyes.

**

In the salon, Eloise sat down in the chair and told her stylist what she wanted.

“You’re sure?”

All Eloise could think of were Mackenzie’s frightened eyes, her sobs as the clumps of hair had fallen out.  She bit her lip, nodded, and smiled as the clippers buzzed to life.


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