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.

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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.

Flash Fiction: “Show of Force”

This is for the “Must Love Guns” (aka “Gun Porn”) FF Challenge this week over at the always awesome Terribleminds.com.

Show of Force

            Drake stumbled through the storm sewer, one arm shielding his face from the stench and the other clamped tight against his ribs.

The fight-or-flight burst of adrenaline was wearing off now.

You are one lucky bastard. He would’ve laughed, but he knew it would hurt like hell.

The bullets had gone clean through his left side without hitting anything vital. Probably Teflon-coated rounds–great for piercing body armor, but at close range they had a tendency to perforate without causing a lot of damage.

Unfortunately, his two guards hadn’t been so lucky. The very first shot took off the top half of Thorpe’s head. Chew had at least gotten off a short burst of return fire from his 9mm MAC-10 before being hit in the neck and chest.

Drake should’ve known the deal was a setup. Six crates of AR15’s–complete with M203 under-barrel grenade launchers–was a pretty heavy order for a small-time middleman like Jazz. But he’d learned a long time ago that in order to succeed in this business, there was one rule: never ask questions. Especially about why the customer needs the merchandise.

Of course there was that other rule too, the one that dumb fuck Jazz had broken: if you’re gonna rip off a hardware man, you’d better make damned sure you kill him.

And don’t just assume he’s dead because his body floats away down the river.

Finally he came to a rusty ladder. With some effort, he managed to climb it one-handed, then shouldered open the manhole cover at the top.

He emerged into the sodium-orange night on the outskirts of downtown. It only took him a second to get his bearings. He was just a couple blocks from one of his apartments.

Sirens wailed from the direction of the docks. He shuffled along as fast as possible and tried to stay in the shadows, keeping an eye out for Jazz’s black Escalade.

The first thing he did at the apartment was clean and dress his wounds. He’d have a trustworthy doctor check them out later.

Right now, he had unfinished business with Jazz.

After a double shot of Johnny Walker Black, he went into the hall closet and triggered the hidden switch at the back. With a nudge, the entire wall swiveled around to reveal a collection of “display model” hardware: everything from pistols to assault rifles, submachine guns to shotguns. From Sigs and Glocks to M4’s and Steyr-AUG’s, HK’s and Uzis to Strikers and Streetsweepers.

He grabbed a Sig Sauer P220 and shoved it into his waistband. A Colt Cobra snubnose .38 went into his jacket pocket. Over his shoulders he slung an Uzi SMG on one side and a Bushmaster ACR on the other, then picked up an Ares Shrike 5.56 light machine gun with a flash suppressor and night vision scope.

When he shouldered the Ares he winced in pain, but it was manageable.

Still, despite all the firepower at his fingertips, he wanted something more. He needed to make a real example out of Jazz. And for that, he would need something…bigger.

He picked up the phone and speed-dialed his house. “It’s me. No, I’m fine. But I need you to pick me up, and bring something from my private collection.”

***

            When Drake opened the Lincoln’s trunk and saw the olive-drab case with the words “PROTOTYPE – TOP SECRET” stenciled on it, a rush of anticipation welled up in his chest.

Carefully, almost ceremoniously, he unlatched the lid and opened it.

The huge weapon had no markings other than “BFG-9000” on the box-like business end. Grasping both handles, he hefted it out of the case and hooked it to the shoulder harness he was wearing, allowing it to hang low at his hip.

From the back of the abandoned furniture store, he had a clear view of Jazz’s shitty little bar on the corner, about half-a-block away. The neon Colt 45 sign in the window glinted off his black Escalade, parked right in front.

Drake widened his stance and bent his knees, then swung the BFG towards the bar and squeezed the charging lever.

The weapon powered up with a whine like a jet engine. Within a few seconds, an unearthly green glow at the muzzle told him it was fully charged. He put his thumb over the bright red fire button.

Just then, the door to the bar swung open, and out stumbled Jazz with a couple trashy-looking women hooked on his arms, laughing loudly.

“Hey, Jazz!” Drake yelled.

When Jazz looked over, his jaw dropped in an “oh shit” expression. He shoved the whores away and dove behind the Escalade.

Drake pressed the button. The ball of plasma left the BFG with a whoosh, the recoil pushing him back a step.

Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. As the crackling ball rocketed towards its target, two laser-like beams shot out from it, connecting with the women and killing them instantly. Then it struck the Escalade, with a blinding flash and a ground-shaking thunderclap that forced Drake to duck-and-cover.

When the bits of rubble finally stopped raining down around him, he stood and surveyed his handiwork.

In place of the Escalade–and most of the bar–was a giant smoking crater. Only one burning corner of the building remained.

Ahh, satisfaction.

Now that was how you make an example of someone.

TERIBBLEMINDS Flash Fiction Challenge: “The Flea Market”

This week’s challenge was to write about something you might find at a flea market. I’ve been a little lazy and missed the last couple challenges, but for some reason this one struck a chord and kicked the muse into high gear. Hope you enjoy!

[EDIT: This piece has been accepted for publication in Static Movement’s upcoming Monster Gallery anthology, edited by George Wilhite. At some point after publication I will probably put it back here.]

TERIBBLEMINDS 4th of July Challenge

This week, the challenge over at Terribleminds was to write a story under 1k words about something that happens on the 4th of July. Something dark and nasty, preferably thriller/horror…my favorite.

Below is my humble offering. Technically, the deadline isn’t until Friday at midnight, and I would’ve liked to have another day to tweak it–but we’re leaving to go on vacation later tonight. So yeah, that ain’t happening.

[EDIT: 9/23/11 This piece has been given the necessary tweaking, and is now being shopped around for publication.]

Terribleminds sub-genre mashup challenge

Over at Chuck Wendig’s most excellent blog Terribleminds, there’s an ongoing flash fiction contest every Friday. Submissions must be posted in the entrant’s blog–which I now have, woohoo!

So the challenge this week was to pick any two of the following subgenres, and create a mashup under 1k words:

Steampunk.

Superhero.

Noir.

Erotica.

Farce.

Men’s Adventure.

Chuck will choose the winner this Friday, and personally critique up to 5k words of their current WIP…quite a prize! So without further ado, here is my humble Superhero-Noir mashup attempt:

Luck’s Demise

To say that Joe Trumbull was a desperate man was like saying the Pope was a little religious.

Joe needed cash, and he needed it fast. Like yesterday fast. Otherwise, Frankie was going to cut off more than just another toe. That part was made crystal clear.

As he rolled down the street, eyeing the well-spaced McMansions, it occurred to him that this might not be the best plan. He was a grifter, not a thief. And definitely not a home-invader. Just a small time con with a big time gambling habit.

Then he remembered the cold steel of Frankie’s cigar cutter and shuddered.

He finally chose a big one that sat back a ways from the road. A middle-aged man answered the door, studying Joe over the chain lock.

“Mr. Collins?” Joe asked.

“No,” the man said with a tilt of his head.

“Is this 26 Cedar Drive?”

“Well yes, but there’s no one living here by that name…”

“I’m sorry. Do you know Paul and Jenn Collins? I know they live on this street somewhere.”

“Hmm.” He adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses. “Are they long-time residents, or recent arrivals?”

“Actually I’m not sure,” Joe said. “Our sons are in Cub Scouts together, and I need to drop off money for their den leader’s thank-you gift.” He held up the twenty in his hand as proof.

The man unlatched the chain and held the door open. “Come on in. I have a neighborhood directory here that may help.”

He disappeared into a hallway as Joe walked in and shut the heavy door behind him. A striking, dark-haired woman–the man’s wife?–came in from another room, smiling.

“Hi,” Joe said, doing his best to seem friendly. “I guess I have the wrong house, I’m sorry…”

“Yes, I heard. It’s no problem.” Her voice was deep, husky. From her accent, he guessed she was from somewhere in Eastern Europe.

The man returned with a small three-ring binder. They flanked Joe on either side as they perused the laminated pages, each containing a large color photo of a house on their street, with the address and owner’s name printed below.

They made it to the end without seeing the name Collins. “Huh. Let me make sure I have the right street…” Joe pretended to reach for his cell phone, grasping the handle of the Glock in his pocket instead. But before he could pull it out, his world exploded into a white flash of pain, and he was on the floor without even knowing what hit him. Then everything faded to black.

***

            When he awoke, he found himself bound to a folding chair in the basement. A strip of duct-tape covered his mouth. His head throbbed like a Vegas hangover.

In the room above, he heard shouting. “I don’t care what you read in his mind, I could’ve handled it!” the man yelled. “And we’re not going to kill him. Who cares if he saw your face? Do you really think he has any idea who you are? Or who I am?”

“Fine,” the woman screamed back. “Just go ahead and let him go, mister nice guy. Hey, maybe you could even change your hero name to that! Or maybe Mister Stupid, because that’s what you are…nice and stupid!”

Shit.

Of all the places to rob, he’d picked a fucking super’s house. Talk about bad luck.

He wondered which one the man could be. Generator? The Raptor? There was no way to tell. Could even be the great Quantum Man. But the woman…as far as he knew, there were no female supers with black hair. Unless it was wig. Either that, or–

No way. Was she was a villain?

He heard her say something that he couldn’t quite make out. There was a pause, then heavy footsteps stomped over to the basement door, knocking dust from overhead. The door flung open and the lights came on.

Joe mentally kicked himself. She can read your mind, dummy!

The man stormed down the stairs, with the woman close behind. Joe’s heart was in his throat. He was a goner for sure this time. At least he didn’t have to worry about a slow, painful death at the hands of Frankie. He squeezed his eyes shut.

“Wait,” the woman said. He opened his eyes enough to see her whispering something into the man’s ear, who nodded in solemn agreement.

She sauntered up close to Joe with a seductive look in her eye. When she reached out and caressed his face, another flash of white knocked him unconscious.

***

            This time, Joe awoke to the sound of chirping birds, with the morning sun in his face. He was still gagged and bound to the chair.

Squinting at the run-down parking lot in front of him, he was puzzled. If they’d decided to let him go, why was he still taped up? He twisted around and saw a yellow brick building at his back. With a sinking feeling, he recognized it as one of Frankie’s strip clubs.

The sign on his chest said “F. – Better your problem than ours. You’re welcome.”