Revelations

Sometimes the night seems to know things.

Richard heard it in sound of the crashing surf, muffled but still audible from out of sight just over the dunes. He saw it in the way the tall grass trembled in the breeze. The way the ghost crabs crept out of their holes in the sand at the edge of the campfire’s light, ready to dart back in at the first sign of danger.

He finished off his Heineken with a long guzzle, fished another out of the cooler beside him and cracked it open. The urn’s brass weight rested solemnly in his lap.

On their last trip together, when Cheryl made him promise to spread her ashes here, he’d grown angry and said she shouldn’t talk like that. Like the cancer had already won. He regretted that bitter exchange now, of course, and the night knew this. But it knew something else as well, something that had been seeping into his mind in the months since Cheryl’s death: without her, his existence had absolutely no meaning.

He felt stupid for taking so long to finally admit it to himself. The night had known all along. And it beckoned, promising sweet relief in its embrace.

Except for a few campfires twinkling hundreds of yards away in either direction, the beach was deserted. Hopefully, his body would be found by some early-morning jogger, and not by someone’s kid. If he managed to swim out far enough, he might never even wash ashore. He might end up as food for sharks. Or maybe nibbled away by some school of little fish. Back into the circle of life; Cheryl would’ve liked that.

The churning waves glowed faintly under the moon, reaching for him, collapsing and retreating in frothy white lines. Just as he stepped onto the hard, wet sand, he heard something: a male voice–or more accurately, a grunt–nearby.

Wishing he’d brought a flashlight, he peered into the darkness in that direction. There, about twenty feet away, he could barely make out a human-sized shape in the moonlight, lying in the surf.

His first thought was teenagers, doing what teenagers do whenever they can manage to sneak off together. Just like him and Cheryl, long ago.

He was about to turn and walk away when the shape thrashed. It was definitely a man–not fooling around, but fighting with someone, or something. He crept closer.

When he saw the girl’s long, dark hair fanned out on the sand beneath the man, the ugly reality of the assault struck him instantly. It was as though a switch flipped somewhere inside him. Hot rage flared and adrenaline surged. He charged forward, swinging the urn with both hands in a high, overhead arc. The blow landed squarely on the man’s back with a meaty thud. He cried out and rolled off the girl, saw Richard raising the urn to strike again, and scrambled away into the darkness.

The girl rose to her feet in one fluid motion, like a marionette pulled up by its strings. She stood motionless, completely nude, her skin gleaming like porcelain in the moonlight. Her wet hair hung down over her face and covered her breasts.

“Are you okay?” Richard asked, shaky and out of breath.

No response. In the darkness, her eyes looked like two charcoal smudges. He couldn’t make out a mouth or nose at all.

Queasy uncertainty washed over him. This girl had needed his help, he reminded himself–and he’d defended her like a pro, chased off her assailant. Hell, for the first time since Cheryl’s death, he felt like he actually had a goddamned purpose.

He set the urn down and took off his windbreaker. As he put it around the girl’s shoulders, he noticed what looked like a white rope hanging down into the water behind her.

She leaned in and hugged him unexpectedly. At first, he was relieved by the gesture–but she was too cold, too hard. And she reeked like dead fish. The rope tensed and rose up out of the surf, and he saw that it was actually an appendage that grew from the base of her spine like a long tail, thick and eel-like, stretching away and disappearing into the ocean.

The instinct to flee pounded in his pulse, but it was too late. The girl-thing tightened its grip on him, and he felt a burning sensation as thousands of tiny bristles poked through his clothes and into his flesh. He caught sight of a huge, bloated form breaking the surface some distance out, glistening under the moon, just before a violent jerk of the cord yanked him off his feet. He struggled, knocking over the urn in the process, but couldn’t break free.

As he was being pulled through the water–towards the mouth of God knows what–an odd sense of awe overtook him. The night had fulfilled its promise in spectacular fashion, revealing one of its secrets to him in the process. What other monstrous life forms lurked out there, ancient and undiscovered, down in the deep?

Cheryl would be amazed. But as he struggled to reach the serrated folding knife in his pocket, he realized she would have to wait to hear about it, because he’d changed his mind.

He was going to live after all.

Ding-ding-ding! Acceptance!

My 770-word flash piece “Mother Knows Best” has been accepted by The Red Asylum for publication in Issue #4. Vay nice!

Monster Gallery is now available

Static Movement’s Monster Gallery anthology, in which my story “A Fair Price” appears, is now available at http://www.pillhillpress.com/shoppe-static-movement.html.

Publication Announcement. Happy Dance!

My 420-word flash piece “Blood Ties” has been accepted into Dark Moon Digest’s upcoming Frightmares anthology, edited by Stan Swanson. It should be out this November.

Publication Announcement, woohoo!

I am happy to announce that my ~750-word flash piece “A Fair Price” (originally written for this Friday Flash Fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig) has been accepted for publication in Static Movement’s upcoming Monster Gallery anthology, edited by George Wilhite. Huzzah!

Flash Fiction: “Good Dog”

This is for the Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenge 9-2-11“100 Words [or less] on the Subject of Revenge.” Somehow, I’ve managed to make it exactly 100 words. So I am special.

Good Dog

            Of course they couldn’t keep the goddamned puppies. Was he made of fucking money?

He beat her with a coat hanger for being stupid, did the same to the kid for good measure. When the dog tried to protect them, he shot it.

He threw the bagful of puppies into the river on his way back to the bar.

It was late when he got home and stumbled into the kid’s room, unbuckling his belt.

A growl from the corner stopped him in his tracks. There, a pair of eyes burned with purple fire.

The dog was waiting for him.

Flash Fiction: “Hidden Fees”

Another Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenge entry…this time the theme was “The Sub-Genre Tango, Part II”Choose any two sub-genres from Southern Gothic, Cyberpunk, Sword & Sorcery, Femslash, Black Comedy, or Picaresque. Mix well and serve chilled.

And thus I present my 720-word Picaresque Cyberpunk adventure.

Hidden Fees

            The cube joint’s tiny lobby smelled like sour sweat and ozone. Still, it was better than the reek of the alley outside.

The proprietor looked up from his bank of vidscreens, squinting at him through grime-covered plexi. Cam watched his piggish face closely for any sign of recognition, tightening his grip on the magshocker in his pocket in case the purge bots came swarming from their hidden alcoves in the walls.

He knew he was still on the global ban list. It’d only been a month since he’d been caught using custom hardware in one of the fancy topside cube houses. But to his relief, the door buzzed open. Pigface was either too brain-burnt to recognize him or he didn’t care, which was exactly what Cam had been counting on.

The tang of ozone was stronger inside the big darkened room. The dull roar of countless exhaust fans filled the air, and the metal floor hummed with the power of the xenoservers beneath.

He walked down the nearest row of cubes, each with an amber light on the door, until he found one with a green vacancy light. A flash from his spoofed cred disk opened it, and he hurried in and shut the door behind him.

Unrolling his homebrew sensor cap, he placed it on his shaven head and connected it to the modbox on his belt. After the box’s sync indicator lit up, he pulled down the cube’s neural interface helm snugly over the cap and strapped it on.

He took a deep, focusing breath and spoke the init command: “Enter game.”

The cube walls flared to life, each displaying a giant “3…2…1…” countdown, then an intense white light blinded him. There was the usual momentary dizziness, and when he could see again he was inside the ‘Scape.

An engineered wave of euphoria washed over him. It was easy to see how people became hopelessly addicted to the UltraScape. Hell, some people stayed plugged in all the time–in their own personal cube at home, complete with automatic nourishment and waste removal modules. Costs about as much as a Moon condo.

As if this blatant, manufactured addiction to an artificial fantasy universe wasn’t bad enough, now the megacorps were starting to insert subconscious thoughts designed to influence users when they were “outside the cube”–subliminal programming to tell you what to buy, who to vote for, which wars to support, how to think. Of course they denied it, denouncing any accusations as pure conspiracy theory. But Cam knew the truth, and he was going to prove it.

The question was: When he did, would anyone really give a shit? Or would it just be accepted as the cost of Heaven on Earth?

He warped to an admin layer and located the datacloud he’d been scouring for the last month. A quick download filled his modbox with enough raw data to keep him busy decoding for a week. Hopefully this chunk would have something useful in it. Or at least something entertaining, like that preferences file he found last week for the Mayor’s pleasure layer.

As soon as the download completed, he deleted the logs and disconnected. Best not to dally since his modbox could only partially mask his location. If they really wanted to, they could still narrow down the access breach to within a few blocks.

In the lobby on the way out, he stopped cold. The blue strobes of the security bots outside flashed in the narrow windows near the ceiling. How the hell could they have found him so quickly?

He pulled the magshocker from his pocket and turned towards Piggy’s plexibooth, but found it empty.

Suddenly the metal wall behind him screeched open. He whirled around, ready to face a purge bot, and saw Pigface standing there instead.

“This way!” he wheezed, beckoning Cam with a spastic wave of his hand.

Cam hesitated. “Why would you–“

“No time! Let’s just say we’ve been watching you, and we want you to join us.”

“And who is ‘us’, exactly?”

Pigface’s eyes bulged, and he looked as if he may explode. “Look, I’ll explain later. Right now we have to go!”

Cam weighed his options. Face the army of bots outside, or trust Pigface.

He stepped into the corridor and the door slammed shut behind him.