Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Cast the Boneshaker Movie | Steampunk.com

Cast the Boneshaker Movie | Steampunk.com:

'via Blog this'

That's right, Boneshaker will be a Hammer Film(s). Who would you cast?

The 1958 Documentary That Inspired the Jetsons

The 1958 Documentary That Inspired the Jetsons:
" Originally broadcast on the Walt Disney television show in May 1958, the last fifteen minutes of the program (referred to as "The Road Ahead") showed radar-equipped cars whizzing along color-coordinated highways, while ambulance jets swooped down to pick up the squashed remains of accident victims, both human and vehicular. The style and tone of the whole movie is very Jetsons-esque."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The top 25 must-see movies of 2012 - Den of Geek

The top 25 must-see movies of 2012 - Den of Geek:

'via Blog this'

Unwound by Matthew Cherry

Unwound   by Matthew Cherry

    The beer was good, although it was cold. Mr. D knew they both preferred it warm: hot, in fact. It was Guinness, and though D's personal experiences with the Irish, especially during the 20th century, had not been pleasant, he had to admit that they produced a fine beer.

     "How much of it did they believe?" said the man sitting across the booth from him. In the thick, smoky barlight, D's companion could have been any age, any age at all. His suit was well-tailored and dark. The fingers that curled around the glass before him were very long and somewhat pale. There was a small yellow button pinned to the right lapel of his jacket with the words "How's your pork?" printed in bold black letters across its shining metal face; Mr. D was sure this was some kind of cultural or literary reference, and equally sure that he had no idea what it meant.

     The young these days, Mr. D thought.

     “Most of it,” Mr. D said. He took a sip of Guinness, set down his glass, reconsidered. "All of it. None of it." He shrugged to demonstrate the importance of this answer.

     "How much of the truth did you tell them?" asked the man with the yellow button.

     "Some," said Mr. D. "Most of it was bullshit, but then, that's the part they really want to hear."


     "Mind if we take a break?" Charlie asked. "If you'll pardon the expression, I've gotta make like a racehorse. All this coffee, I suppose."

     "Not at all," said the plain man. His accent was mild and faintly Germanic. "In fact I think I shall join you. It will save your partner the trouble of monitoring me on that clever little camera you have so professionally attached to the underside of the desk, there."

     If Charlie was surprised by this, he didn't show it. He smiled, and the plain man thought his smile was genuine: not an effort to cover the small embarrassment of having his little spy game revealed, but an authentic show of mirth.

     "It will, at that," Charlie said. He was sitting caddy-corner on a student desk, one black loafer planted in the blue plastic seat and the other on the floor. He was tall but his guest was taller, and though the files that Interpol had faxed over from Budapest listed the man's age at 37, he had one of those faces that frustrated Charlie's attempts to place either his age or his ethnicity.

     The plain man rose, adjusted his scarf - it was red silk with an exceedingly-thin gold lining, expensive-looking, and though he had unwound it upon entering the building he had never actually taken it off - and followed Charlie out of Room 213 and into the hallway. His guest moved past him with the same smooth gait that Charlie had observed from the start of their brief relationship. Charlie, whose real name of course was not Charlie, had once dated a senior at Julliard and she had moved with that same grace, even while off the ballet floor; she had been noiseless, something a man in Charlie's profession could respect, even envy, and she had almost seemed to glide across the floor. The plain man moved that way. Even in the shadowy silence of the hallway, he moved across the waxed tiles without a sound. His tall silhouette was dark against the windows at the hall's end, which were clouded over with the white breath of the storm. Charlie pulled the door closed behind him and hurried to catch up.

     "Why Mr. D?" he asked. Moving abreast, they turned a corner and went down a bald stairwell; the University of Central Iowa, in its endless wisdom, had deemed a second set of restrooms cost-ineffective and thus the only johns were on the ground floor. "Don't tell me it's short for Dracula, like in that anime movie or some old Agatha Christie book, because I gotta tell you, that would be pretty lame."

     The plain man looked at him sidelong, adjusting his cufflinks - they were gold, like the lining of his scarf, and Charlie had often thought that D's habit of touching them was either a nervous tic or some kind of tell - then pushed open the door to the restroom and waved Charlie in. Charlie went, noticing as he did the angle at which D had approached the door; he had put his palm to it less than six inches from the edge, on the side that hinged to the frame - the side upon which he would have to exert much more pressure to open the door than if he had pushed, say, on the shiny metal push plate bolted to the door's swinging edge. Also, the door was one of those automatic jobs with a thick metal box on top attached to a steel folding arm, made to open when handicapped kids - or lazy fuckall kids - punched the blue wheelchair button set into the wall at hip-height beside the restroom entrance, and those doors were always harder to push open manually than free-swinging doors.

     Mr. D pushed open the door at that strange angle with the ease that one might push open a spiderweb. The tendons on the back of his hand did not stand out as he did so.

     Charlie noticed all of this in the half-second it took for him to brush by his guest and enter the restroom. He lined up at the farthest urinal and unzipped. Mr. D, instead of choosing any of the three empty urinals at the other end of the line, as any normal human being would have done, picked the one right beside Charlie and reached for his fly.

     "You are wondering why I did not give you the courtesy space of choosing a toilet farther away from yours," the plain man said.

     "Actually, I'm wondering why you have to go at all. Aren't your kind supposed to be above bodily functions? Shouldn't you be dead?"

     Mr. D laughed. "I am on a liquid diet and you ask me why I pass liquid waste? My body, which your comprehensive medical screenings have confirmed is very much alive, is also very old, and very efficient, but even it is not capable of complete digestive efficiency," he said. "There is always waste."

     Charlie considered this in silence.

     "Did you know that when we fought against Vlad Tepes we pissed on the corpses of his soldiers? We stood," here Mr. D reached a white hand above the little partition between their urinals and moved it back and forth to indicate the smallness of the space between them, "shoulder to shoulder we stood, with blood on our spears and sweat and blood and excrement on our clothing and armor, and hiked our mail skirts and pulled down our trousers and pissed on their bodies in the mass graves. He was called the Impaler, you know? Vlad the third, Vlad the Tepes? I mention him because your reference to... Dracula-" the plain man pronounced it oddly, with an extra syllable at the end - "reminded me of him. Vlad was Stoker's model for the monster, is this not so?

     "We had seen the things he did to his enemies and to his own people: seen the bodies on poles, sliding down the poles, as we marched into his lands, and we thought that the men who fought for such a king must be demons, so after we killed them and rolled them into our latrine pits, we pissed on them to keep their souls from coming out of the earth after us.

     "So why, Charlie," Mr. D said, and his tone was the tone of a man performing a Tuesday deposit transaction at his local bank, "why would a man who stood hip to hip with stinking, bloody soldiers and pissed into a mass grave be less than comfortable sharing a friendly little leak next to an American government agent with a Sears tie and a lovely brunette wife named Laura?"

     Charlie shook off and zipped up. He had been a handler for a long time, and had been goaded by his guests before, though none had ever told him his wife's name. Still, he handled it pretty well, he thought. He turned toward the row of porcelain sinks on legs that suddenly felt a little wooden and said, "Vlad Tepes lived five hundred years ago, D. You really want me to believe you marched into Wallachia with the Ottoman Empire half a millenium ago and stuck Vlad the Impaler with a fucking halberd?"

     And how do you know my wife's name, you stiff son of a bitch? He thought but did not say. Counterintelligence was not Charlie's ballpark, although after this little shebang was over and done with, was he going to kick in a few doors back at the office and talk this question over with people who did play in that ballpark? Oh yes, friends and neighbors, yes indeed.

     Mr. D joined him at the sink and began to wash fastidiously. Charlie noticed that the man waited until the water was hot - steaming, in fact - before putting his hands beneath the tap.

     "We did not have halberds," the plain man said, frowning. "They were new back then - at least it was the first I had ever seen them - and we were too low on what you might call the food chain to be blessed with such modern weaponry. We had simple spears. Also, I did not kill the Impaler. I never even saw the man, for which I am grateful." He finished washing and moved to the wall to the left of the sinks, where he eschewed the hand dryer and pulled a brown paper towel from the dispenser.

     "I would have liked a halberd," he said.

     "You know I can't DNA test you because of your diplomatic status," Charlie said. "But that would make this whole charade much simpler."

     "Indeed it would," agreed his guest. "As to my age, what can I say? You moderns like to say, 'diet and exercise,' do you not? Let me assure you most sincerely of the former."

     Charlie looked at him.

     "My diet," said the plain man, "has been most sanguinary." He smiled, and Charlie saw that his teeth were very clean and very straight.

     "Your choppers don't look abnormal to me, my friend," Charlie said. "If you are what you told us you are, why not show me?"

     Mr. D led them out of the restroom, pushing the door from the usual side this time. "If I met you on the street, and I asked you to show me your cock to prove to me that you are a man, would you do it?"

     Charlie followed him into the hall. "No," he said. "I wouldn't." He sighed. Outside, the wind echoed him. A thick skirt of snow rapped against the hall windows and flew away, ghostly in the falling dark.

     "Look, Mr. D," Charlie said, "it's thirty till five, and this weather isn't going to let up. Let's call it a day and Burks and I will take you back to the hotel on the way to the office. We can pick up tomorrow, same time."

     Mr. D stopped outside room 213. "I must admit that your century is much better at treating prisoners like guests than those previous. My prison even changes my sheets every morning and has free HBO." He said the last three letters delicately, as though unfamiliar with them and endeavoring not to trip over the acronym.

     Charlie sighed again. "You're not a prisoner, sir. Our office is simply taking advantage of your embassy's unfortunate delay in expediting your passports to chat with you in the hopes of clearing up some discrepancies in the events of the previous two months - events, I might remind you, in regard to which you signed three separate nondisclosure agreements."

     Charlie ducked into the room to retrieve his voice recorder and both cooling cups of coffee, a process that took perhaps seven seconds. He heard no noise through the open door of the classroom, but when he emerged, the man who called himself Mr. D was fifty yards down the hallway, most of the way to the stairs at the south end of the building.

     "Hey," Charlie said. "Hey, D, wait up!"

     Mr. D, who was moving at a brisk but unhurried pace, did not slow. He reached the stairs and as he began to descend, he turned and gave Charlie a single, cold glance. In the dusklight filtering in through the snow-filmed windows, his pale skin shone, and the one eye that regarded Charlie, rich brown like the plain man's brushed hair, burned in the dark. In that instant, Laura's husband knew, on some atavistic level, that he was beholding the countenance of something both incalculably old and so far removed from what he thought of as humanity that it might as well have been sleek and reptilian.

     Then Mr. D spoke, and his voice was the same as always: mellow, amicable, with just that faint touch of Europe underneath.

     "Fare you well, Charles."

     Charlie said nothing else. For a heartbeat, that image of D turning and fixing him with one baleful Poe's eye held him in thrall.

     Then he ran.

     Two environmentally-friendly paper Starbucks cups hit the floor behind him; the voice recorder went into his jacket pocket. Charlie tore down the hallway of the music building of the University of Central Iowa at Langford ("Why a university? Why a music building?" Charlie had asked. "Because a school is neutral ground," Mr. D replied. "And because that is what I have done for the last one hundred and forty years. I teach music. Not such an oddity, really; music speaks to our hearts, to our blood, and the blood makes music of its own, here." Mr. D had reached forward to touch two fingertips to Charlie's right wrist, and had his touch been cold? No, surely that had been an effect of the winter storm, or of Charlie's imagination.) and by the time he had reached the stairwell, Mr. D, though he had not been running or even in a hurry, was gone.

     Charlie hurtled the first flight, planting one side of his rump on the smooth handrail and surfing the rest of the way to the landing like a sophomore headed for the first bright blue day of summer freedom. He rebounded palms-first against the wall, spun, and took the second flight four steps at a time. His left ankle creaked as he hit the first floor and threatened to spill him hell over breakfast onto the cold tiles, but he caught himself and turned to the south doors, the leftmost of which was closing slowly in the wake of Mr. D's passage.

     Charlie could see nothing beyond the double wall of glass doors; the foyer between them was darkening and the outer layer of glass was mostly frosted over. Panting, he took two giant steps, caught the handle of the left door just as it clicked back into its latch and hauled it open. He leaned into the foyer beyond and was slapped back by an icy gust that carried with it great cloudy flakes of snow; the outer left door was open, held agape by the howling wind.

     He pushed through the inner door and crossed the foyer, not realizing that his right hand had slipped into his suit jacket and was curled around the grip of the Springfield semiautomatic. With his left, he propped the outer door just as it began to sway shut. More snow blew into his hair and eyes, and a sudden shot of wind pulled the door open again, tearing it from his grasp.

     Blinking hard, Charlie stepped through the door and into the storm. A white candy wonderland spread out before his eyes: nothing but snow between him and the high fenceline at the edge of Athens Park across East University Drive, where he could barely make out the great shadowy figures of sleeping oaks and a tall hedge marching away north on a diagonal. The space between East U and Charlie was unspoiled save by the sleek grey outline of his government sedan, parked halfway down the empty student lot - it had grown a fuzzy crown of snow atop its hood and roof and might have looked at home next to the lamp post outside Mr. Tumnus' burrow - and four deep footprints in the new snow leading away from the door. There was no sign of Mr. D.

     Charlie looked around, sure that the man would be hiding in a corner outside the doors. Nothing. There was nowhere to hide, anyway; the plain brick building extended all around him, forming a short box canyon onto which the south doors gave access. His breath steamed away from him in a hot mist and was stolen by the hungry wind. Above him the sky was a frowning sheet of steel.

     Nothing. Nothing save those four deep footprints, leading some ten feet out into the eight-inch drift that piled unbroken as far as Charlie could see. Nothing except a pair of golden cufflinks and a red silk scarf, fallen in a shallow S-shape and already half-hidden by the deepening snow.


     Matthew Cherry is a graduate student of English Creative Studies and a Teaching Assistant at the University of Central Oklahoma, and a veteran in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. His fiction has been published in Calliope magazine. His true loves include Chimay Blue and any English word with all five vowels in alphabetical order. Give up yet? 'Facetious.'

Follow Until You Fall by Chris Castle

Follow until you fall  by Chris Castle

     The knock, when it came, was surprisingly gentle. He climbed out of bed, careful not to disturb his lover and padded down the stairs of his modest house. The shadow of the other man loomed in the glass of the front door and filled him with a dread so absolute, he imagined fainting dead away, like the maidens in the old black and white films. If I did nothing, he would smash clean through that glass and claim me, he thought.

     “You know why I’m here,” the man said as they sat in the small kitchen. His eyes burned blue in a way the man had never known. Even though he was clean shaven, there were traces around his face, shadows and lines, which made him seen unclean, somehow. He did not give a name and the man could only think of him, helplessly, as the Other.

     “Yes,” he began to talk but the words trailed away under the weight of Other’s eyes. His cheeks blanched and he had an exquisite feeling of shame rush through him, as if he were back in the dark old days of school. Whatever bribe or appeal he had considered over the last, long year, dried up in his throat. When he looked up, Other’s face was still on him. His eyes never seemed to blink.

     “Is there any way…” he began to say and then watched as Other’s head slowly tilted from side to side. It’s over before it’s even begun, he thought miserably. Without another word, Other rose from the table and walked back towards the front door. He followed him, pausing briefly at the foot of the stairs to look up towards the bedroom; the gentle beam of their night light cut across the hallway. Before he could call out, scream, sob and therefore doom them both, he turned away from the light and towards the night.

     The car was boxy and clean smelling and for a moment, he wondered how many others had found themselves in the passenger seat of the car. He wondered what mishap had befallen the others, whether it was debt, sex or just God’s own bad luck. What had become of them, he thought, as the car drifted slowly along the deserted back streets.

     “You follow until you fall,” Other said, not looking from the road in-front. For the briefest second, the burning blue eyes searched over him and he felt himself nod, even as everything inside him rioted against it. Other returned the nod and refocused on the empty road; no other car flashed by, no animals wandered into their path. It was as if they were the last two people left on the face of the earth.

     The car pulled up and the barn came into view at the last moment. Other climbed out of the seat, clutching a torch and collected a bag from the boot. He looped in a long, terrible arc, finally arriving at the passenger side door. As he climbed outside, he looked to the barn and waited to hear something terrible, a scream or the buzz of a saw. Instead, there was nothing; even the trees around them stilled much like the roads behind them. It was as if the world waited for the next act.

     Other stepped forward to the shack door and opened it roughly. He followed and saw only darkness inside. For a second there was nothingness everywhere; in his mind, in his heart, in his body and all around him. A sound broke the sensation and the torch cast a high, wide beam into the barn. He drew his hand up to his mouth, plugging a scream that somehow did not come. He was aware of the fingers around his mouth trembling and a feeling of absolute lightness he had never known. From somewhere, Other’s low voice spoke by the lobe of his ear.

     “You follow until you fall,” he repeated and stepped inside, into the chaos. He followed, his hand still prised tight over his mouth, until he was inside.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Insecticide teaser

(a brief teaser from the beginning of "Insecticide" by Ron Warren, published by Third Coast Publishing.)

     Days and nights blur together. What's it been? Four days, five? His complexion gray and sunken, his flesh loose, dry, lacking spring, flexibility. Hunger gnaws at him but thirst screams dry razors along his throat, turns his every organ into a begging, suckling sponge. His tongue bloats pasty, parched, glues to his cracked lips.

     Helen knew the noises. She'd made them herself countless times. Well, maybe not countless. But certainly enough to recognize the husky moans, the pre-orgasmic squeal.

     She did not have to look, but the fact that the noises were coming from her bedroom without her piqued her curiosity. Walking quietly, she approached the open doorway, determined to see but far too dignified to tip-toe.

     The scent hit her first. Humid, cloistering muskiness eclipsing all but a hint of lily-of-the­ valley. The blend was not immediately repulsive; the image it elicited was. Stepping forward placed her slender profile before the doorway. She did not want to be seen. But after all, she had nothing to hide. She wasn't the one...

Find out what happens next via Kindle.

Insecticide by your humble Nautilus Engine Editor

Third Coast Publishing, an eager new e-publisher with a fire in it's belly and a passion for good writing of any genre, has just published my short horror story, "Insecticide."  It's a tale of betrayal and revenge by way of the dark and mysterious powers of voodoo.  Only $0.99 for Kindle (did you know you don't need a Kindle to get and read Kindle books?  You can get the app for your desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone, too!).

And I designed the cover, too!  Gross, right?

You can buy it here:
Insecticide by (yours truly) Ron Warren

I hope you will buy a copy and get a few good, honest chills up the spine for your  investment!  Thank you! ~Ron

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Surrogates & Mannequins by Benoit Lelièvre

Surrogates & Mannequins by Benoit Lelièvre

     It’s one scene that came back to Manning, on the far edge of the universe. One memory. That memory. The last day he spent with Jodie. Everyone was there, in the bi-centennial family house, for Thanksgiving. There were sleeping bags all over the floor, people in every room and the house was vibrating with the energy of children, running all over the house. It should have been a happy moment.

     She woke up early on Friday, much earlier than everybody else. Jodie, she was one year younger than him back then, but she was already a woman. When Aunt Rachel left them for a new life in California, the little girl became something else. She grew up, her hair became longer and darker and that something in her eyes changed. The glow of childhood became something else, something Manning had never seen before. Plus, she had boobs already. He was thirteen years old and had no hair to show for himself. Jodie was younger than him, but her soul had traveled already.

     “Come with me.” she whispered.

     She took him by the hand and helped him up. The feel of her touch ignited an invisible force field that enslaved him to her will. That morning, Manning would have followed her to another continent, to another life. They tiptoed along the second floor corridor, up to the attic. Manning carefully pulled the pin from the latch that kept the attic stairs glued to the trap and lowered it, wishing with all his being that it wouldn’t squeak or crack. It didn’t.

    The walked up in silence. Jodie sat in front of him and cleared her long, dark hair from her face. A ray of light coming from air duct hit her forehead. It shines. She was perfection incarnate, at that moment.

     “Have you ever done it?” she asked.

     “Done what?”

     He knew what she meant, but he was too terrified to answer. She grabbed the lapel of his t-shirt and kissed him on the mouth. A jolt of electricity went through Manning’s body and he became immediately hard. She plunged an expert hand down his pajama pants. Another explosion. New and exquisite sensation traveled through Manning’s body at the speed of light.

     “What do you want me to do?” she asked, smiling.

     Manning would have loved to answer. Anything. Do anything you want with me. I am and I will be yours, forever. Please. Jodie was chuckling and nibble his neck as she went to work on his…on him. He was not Manning anymore, his body had become a gateway for a mysterious energy he didn’t even know existed before.

     How long did it last? He doesn’t know. To him, it was hours, days and even then it was too short. That moment was more than he could describe.

     It was life itself.

     Manning would have wished to tell her. Tell her anything really. Anything that would have kept her close, with him, but his wishes died in his throat when the bald head of Uncle Richard peaked out of the attic’s trap.

     He pronounced her name, centaurian and fearsome, the way adults are before children hit the age of reason and disillusion. He grabbed her by her hair and dragged her out the attic the way cavemen dragged their wives in comic books. They put their coats on and disappeared through the front door under a shower of “Richard, what are you doing?” and “Calm down Richard, please. Calm down.” It was the last time Manning saw his cousin. On their way home, the car hit a patch of black ice and slid off the road and into a telephone pole.

     Death was instant, the doctors said, but the bodies were cooked. It was a closed casket funeral for them both. They only had each other and together they went to the other side. Sad, untimely, but very poetic, said the eulogist. Manning didn’t know him.

     Nobody talked about that day again. Not his parents, not his Aunt Rachel, who came back from California for the occasion. She wasn’t angry at Manning like Uncle Richard was.

     “I know you loved your cousin very much, but you have to be strong. You have to honor her memory by living. You have to live to make sure she survives in your heart. If you decide to live, she will stay with you forever.”

     She was always so kind. Manning doubted the other adults told her about what really happened, but he knew that she knew. Jodie told her. She must have.


     Life resumed its course after that day but Jodie, she never left.

     She became a part of Manning. She became what every woman had to live up to. Perfection. They could never be her. Just like her. That mysterious, sexy and innocent at the same time. That perfect brew he tasted only once. When he married Gillian at twenty-four, Manning did it because it was convenient. She was a good woman and she understood. All that mattered to her was that he was there, with her, giving her the life she always wanted. Wherever his mind would be, she didn’t care.

     She called him a daydreamer, with a sad smile.

     He never told her about Jodie, because he figured out she didn’t need to know. All she asked of him was to sometimes wrap her arms around his shoulders and hold on, while he was somewhere else, with his cousin. Manning liked to imagine it was her, holding him like that.

     But being with his Jodie in thoughts wasn’t enough. It was her that obsessed Manning, but it was that moment also. That moment of perfect lucidity, this existential bliss that hit him like gamma rays for a few minutes. It became sweeter with the years, because it was a unique, feeling sight like a rare bird in a foreign country. But it became bitter also, because Jodie always vanished with the daily grind.

     The traffic, the grocery store, the dentist appointments, it was all so ugly.

     Manning first started going out at night, because the urge was too strong. Jodie called him, from wherever she was. She was in his dreams and in the face of every woman that ever shared as much as an office space with him. In the way they walked, in the way they tied their hair or that they stretched after a long day. When they did things unconsciously, little, perfect gestures, he would see her in them.

     Then, it had to happen again. That moment. Life had to resume its course, even by little bursts if it needed to be.

     He decided to call them Surrogates. There were so many horrible terms to describe what he was doing, but this one was acceptable. The first was a co-worker. She was twenty-three years old and just got hired in the accounting department G. She looked like her. She wasn’t her, but she was long, slender, with dark hair. Good enough. Her name was Cindy or Sylvia, Manning didn’t remember. He never really bothered to learn their names. It was easier this way.

     She was ambitious, the little bitch. So she stayed at the office later. Manning waited for her one night, by her car. He came from behind .

     “Hey,” he said.

     She jumped, from the surprise, but turned back and looked at him. They barely exchanged more than mere salutations on a daily basis, so Manning understood. But here she was, silent and looking at him in the eyes, making everything possible over again.

     He kissed her, sealing both of their fates.

     “What are you doing? Get off me!”

     “Get off? Yeah, get me off. What about me, Jodie? What about me? Haven’t I waited for you long enough? Be a good girl now and get ME off. Goddamit.”

     Cindy or Sylvia didn’t like it, but it didn’t matter because she served her purpose. Manning had lived that moment again, a little. He recaptured a part of his youth and it felt to him like a breath of a November morning air. Cindy/Sylvia became a Mannequin on the back seat of Manning’s car. A used Surrogate became a Mannequin. A still life reproduction. He saw a dark poetry to this. It made it so much better, so easy. He disposed of her in a scrapyard, near his work, where he had heard through a co-worker that the night watchman had a thing for Mannequins.

     He started prowling the night, looking for the best drugs he had ever known. In his youth, Manning had tried weed, haschich, pills, LSD and even coke, but nothing compared to Jodie. She was the ultimate thrill. He voice became louder and more demanding. She wanted to live again and be with him. She wanted to inhabit the Surrogates he found and breathe her last breaths over and over again Her will was Manning’s will. He stayed true to that morning where he promised himself to her.

     He relinquished the idea of buying the newspaper and cut the cable from his household soon after he started this quest of his. Nobody had to know about his secret. He quickly gained a number of skills to deal with his new activity. The less he knew about the girls, the less he could tell the police by mistake. He never bothered to look up their names or to learn their habits. A quick, impulsive snatch would always work best. There would be no patterns to trace, nothing to understand. Manning only understood what he was doing and it was enough.

     He did what? Ten? Maybe fifteen? To be a Surrogate, a girl had to have all the right qualities. Manning couldn’t put words on it, but she had to have “that”. The ensemble of qualities that Jodie had, that made her who she was. The real thing had been destroyed but his evil and greedy Uncle, but there were still a few knock offs worth using.

     He’s not sure whether the last girl was a minor or not. Manning had for principle of never selecting a surrogate that was blatantly underage, but he couldn’t keep himself in check with her. Reality tuned itself out for that moment. When he came back to his senses in his car, not too sure what had happened, Manning knew she was the last girl to become a Mannequin.


     Manning’s life didn’t flash before his eyes, as the stocking tightened around his neck and the oxygen left his bloodstream. Only that moment, because it was that one morning, that one moment where he really lived. He fell dead on the bedroom carpet, with for last sight, Gillian, staring back at him, cold and loveless.

     He wasn’t angry or upset when he left this world. It would be all for the best. Gillian would be delivered from that sad wedding she never deserved. She served her purpose too, like all the other girls. She was a Mannequin, something that never really lived. Not like he lived anyway. Manning was glad she took care of business and delivered him of this material world. Something better was waiting for him.

     He would be with her again.


     THE END

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Miles to Little Ridge by Heath Lowrance

New work from our ol' pal Heath Lowrance. This time he's playing fast and loose with someone else's character, Gideon Miles (created by Edward A. Grainger). Check it out!


Thursday, December 8, 2011

St. Velcro™ and the Swan by Rob Hunter

St. Velcro™ and the Swanby Rob Hunter

            “Good ol’ Potosi. Had your Potosi today?” Saint Velcro™ recalled Potosi as a locally-brewed brand of beer when he was a kid back in Albania.
            “You mean potsy, a street game with marbles for money. Or if you are attempting to speak in Spanish...” said Bare-ass Pryn™, Velcro’s trusty sidekick, as she extracted a Langenscheidt’s from an unsuspected pocket in her gossamer raiment. “Here in the American wilderness...”
            “There’s no one but us. You and me. Believe me, it’s beer,” said Velcro. “In Spanish, the language of second conquerors, Potosi was the name they gave Indians who survived the Aztalan, the first conquerors.” Velcro made a visor of his hand and peered into the distance the way explorers did. Prairie grass disappeared into a horizon rippled with heat. “Gets mighty lonely after a few millennia, Pryn.”
            It had been, by the saint’s count, a thousand years or more since the last tour passed through—Attila and his Hunnic Horde, their hardy ponies pulling an endless cavalcade of Airstream trailers that stretched to the sunrise. “Remember, Pryn―how the horizon tore?”
            At his feet the high prairie took a break that had allowed a meandering stream to carve a chasm millions of years earlier. Velcro tried to leap the stream. “Ow!” There was a considerable drop. He must have blinked and missed it, distracted by the ocean of golden-headed grass stalks. The eyes thing again. “Now who put that there?” After he had he struggled back to the precipice’s edge Velcro looked around and felt foolish. No one had seen. There was no one, unless you counted Pryn. Velcro did not count Pryn.
            “Wrong epoch. Should’ve had your eyes checked,” said Pryn. “And thanks for including me.”
            “I am it,” said Saint Velcro™. “All there is. You are a figment.” On the western bank low prairie flowed to the sunset. “You are not it.”
            “Many in Paradise would jump at a comely sidekick,” offered Pryn, who bore a striking resemblance to Psyche at Nature’s Mirror™ on the White Rock club soda label.
            “I’m it,” said Velcro, “the total population. I lusted; you wouldn’t put out.”
            “You never properly asked,” said Pryn as she fluttered diaphanous wings and arched her tiny breasts. “A girl likes to be asked.”
            “So, I’m asking.”
            “Sorry, I’m a figment. You’ll have to make do.”
            “For all practical purposes then, I am alone; this is what you are telling me.”
            “Not necessarily,” said a voice. Pryn fluttered off to hide behind a boulder, the promontory’s only feature aside from the panoramic view.
            Velcro turned to confront the arrival. “You are new. I thought...”
            “You thought you were alone. You are not alone, you and your figment,” said a lean sun-bronzed man who squatted by the campfire, Velcro’s campfire. “That’s what brings trouble―thinking.” He poked the fire with a stick. Embers rose as a charred end of wood erupted and fell. “Is it spring yet?”
            “You mean the season. How would I know? For all I know it is the time here is the same as it is back... back... Well, wherever we come from.” Home... where was that? Besides, Velcro had a nagging feeling he had forgotten something. He squinted myopically. No, he had always stood here on a precipice at the banks of a wide muddy river.
            “The Mississippi,” the stranger volunteered.
            “We studied the Mississippi River in high school,” said Velcro. “In Albania. Tenth grade. Not so long ago―AD 126, I believe. I would recognize it. This is not it, not the Mississippi.”
            “Why not?”
            “Where’s Dubuque?”
            “Good point.” The stranger’s joints creaked as he rose to stand with Velcro at the edge of the cut. “What is a Dubuque?”
            Antares in Scorpius to Sirius in Canis Major, zenith to nadir, paint peeled, canvas flapped and a gateway gaped across the sky. A flock of Japanese schoolgirls dressed in identical Sailor Moon outfits bounded through. Distant vistas of golden-headed prairie grass and windswept mesas were thrust aside by knobbly knees and trampled on by black patent leather MaryJanes. The girls were led by a fidgety docent wearing headphones. The woman was repeating whatever she heard from the audio cassette player she carried on a strap over one shoulder. “Placental backwaters of Dada... the lesser works of unknown creative artists,” she droned. The girls giggled and nodded. One little girl echoed the stranger’s question. “What is a Dubuque?” she said.
            “A city someplace else,” said Saint Velcro™. “Dubuque is a place we had when I was a kid in Albania. We looked for it across the water.”
            “China flats and MaryJanes do not a summer make,” said the child. The girl gave a haughty sniff and galloped after her schoolfellows. As the sky healed itself, Velcro held out a hand to the hard-bitten stranger. “Saint Velcro™, sagebrush. You...?”
            “Cantrece™ the gunslinger, whistling down a roaming wind: ‘as strong as steel’ and ‘as fine as a spider’s web’―a trademark of DuPont Hosiery. And if you don’t mind me saying, pardner, that’s a mighty fine handle you got, too. What’s your corporate affiliation, if I might ask? You don’t have to answer―this is the new land, we all are free here.”
            “There don’t seem to be very many of us, so what’s the point, really? I was a catalog logo for a liturgical raiment consortium―Bold Christian Clothing: ‘Saint Velcro™, Sinner and Saved.’ It was a T-shirt. ‘Saved’ was on the back.”
            “Might toothsome wordsmithing,” said Cantrece™ the gunslinger, as he whipped a large-caliber pistol from his belt and fired it into the air. There was a heart-rending screech as of a martyr’s soul being ravaged on the rack and a white swan fell dead at their feet. Bare-ass Pryn fluttered to the swan and kissed it, weeping. Cantrece™ kicked the fire into full flame as he sharpened a willow skewer with a Bowie knife. “Hard travelin’ demands roast swan,” said the gunslinger.
            Pryn’s waif-like eyes looked beseechingly at Velcro. “She’s breathing, but in pain. I can bring her back. If only...”
            “Not mouth-to-mouth,” said the gunslinger.
            “My name,” said Pryn, “is the Name of Power. Utter it twice and she shall be restored.”
            “Just say your name and the swan will come back to life?”
            “Yes. Say it. Out loud.” Here Bare-ass Pryn’s™ cheeks flushed against her alabaster skin, an attractive rosebud highlight―two high points of modesty. “If she doesn’t respond, you may utter my name four times. But for no longer than a week and at four-hour intervals.” As she knelt by the fallen swan, Bare-ass Pryn’s hymation had crept up her thighs, going from mini to micro. Exposed was a floral tattoo, Death Before Life.
            “Mighty fine lineaments on that girlie of yours, Velcro™,” said Cantrece™ appraisingly. The gunslinger eyed Pryn’s exposed flesh appraisingly and, flashing the Masonic Grand Hailing Sign, fingered his pistol. “You a Freemason?”
            “I’m a martyr; like the swan, martyrs don’t shoot back. And Pryn—forget about her. She’s a mineral spring nymph. Not even heavy petting.”
            As the painted sun rose pitilessly for the third time that hour, an air of surpassing beauty issued from where the fallen swan sizzled on its spit. “That swan should be about done,” said the gunslinger.
            “I hear her song,” said Saint Velcro™.


A Brief History of the Author
“Hell’s Angels wear leather because chiffon wrinkles too easily...”
―Paul Lynde on Hollywood Squares, 35 years ago.

With the onset of late middle age Rob Hunter is the sole support of a 1999 Ford Escort and the despair of his young wife. He does dishes, mows the lawn and keeps their coastal Maine cottage spotless by moving as little as possible.
In a former life ¹ he was a newspaper copy boy, railroad telegraph operator, recording engineer and film editor. He spent the 80s and 90s as a Top-40 disc jockey. He won a plaque once, for production excellence, from the Maine Association of Broadcasters. The boss kept it. One of Rob’s engineering projects won Senator William Proxmire’s (D-Wisconsin) Golden Fleece Award. 100 Years of Air Power was an Air Force recruiting multimedia presentation shot in PanaVision with 70mm slides, quad stereo, the works. It toured in a trailer that sat four.
¹ The Milwaukee Journal; Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific RR Co.; WINS-NYC WBT-Charlotte WJAR-Providence WIVY-Jacksonville WNEW-NYC WBAI-Pacifica WQDY-Calais, Maine.

You are invited to visit with the author at www.onetinleg.com

Restoration Hardware

Do you have a penchance for stuff that looks steampunk or all "Dr. Livingstone, I presume" turn of the previous century?  Oh, and do you happen to be loaded?  You know, like "money is no object"?  I know, you were on-board up til that last part.  Well, you might like to dream, anyway.

The lovely Mrs. and I were doing some pipedream window shopping amongst the fancy folk yesterday when we stuck our heads in a Restoration Hardware store.  If you are not familiar, this is no ordinary hardware store.  Very upscale do-dads.  Anyway, looking around at this years selections I was struck by how much stuff seemed rather steampunk or at least 1910 Amundsen or the like.  Take a look.

$24SPECIAL $16.49   http://www.restorationhardware.com/catalog/product/product.jsp?productId=prod1214011&categoryId=cat1710046

$995 SPECIAL $795   http://www.restorationhardware.com/catalog/product/product.jsp?productId=prod1617041&categoryId=cat160039

$1395   http://www.restorationhardware.com/catalog/product/product.jsp?productId=prod1623003&categoryId=cat1598016

$1595     http://www.restorationhardware.com/catalog/product/product.jsp?productId=prod1593139&categoryId=cat1598016

$3495    http://www.restorationhardware.com/catalog/product/product.jsp?productId=prod690121&categoryId=cat1653014

$2995    http://www.restorationhardware.com/catalog/product/product.jsp?productId=prod690289&categoryId=cat1680012

And there is plenty more.  Oh, if I won the lottery!  Fun stuff to dream about and play with if you are lucky enough to have one of these stores near you.  And if you truly have so much money that you just don't know what to do with (Mr. Gates.....) feel free to use these items as inspiration to decorate my house!

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Boatman's Price by David Wright

The Boatman’s Price

David Wright

            Her husband was sleeping--sleeping, but not snoring.  She watched the steady rise and fall of his narrow chest, waiting.  Something gnawed away in the back of her mind, like a weasel pulling on the tail of a half-dead gecko.  She didn’t want to wake him, but she could wait no longer.
“Alex,” she whispered, bending close to his hearing aid and nudging his arm.  “Alex,” she said a little louder.  His eyes opened, a look of instant recognition on his drawn and weary face.
“Ranjeet, my darling, you’re late.”
“I’m not late,” she said defensively, but then Alex smiled with his eyes and Ranjeet knew she’d been duped.  Always the trickster, even now.  She could kill him.
“So how are you doing?” she asked, trying to make Alex be serious for once.
“Everything’s going to be fine, Ranj.”  He blinked with condescension, dismissing her worries before she could even express them.  She hated when he did that.  Didn’t she have a right to worry?  Didn’t she have any rights?
“Alex, I…”
“Yes, Ranj.”
“I don’t feel--something’s wrong.”
Alex laughed.  “The whole world is wrong.”
“That’s just what I mean.  It doesn’t seem right what we’re doing, not with the world the way it is.”
            “Oh Ranj.”  He tapped her hand, his touch cold.  “You were always so superstitious.”
            “It’s not superstition.  It’s just not fair.”
“It was perfectly fair.  It was blind luck.  We can’t just stop living because the world is falling apart.  We have to take what life luck gives us.  I just wish we had more time together.” 
He looked at her sadly, serious for the first time.  She tried to smile, grabbing his hand and squeezing it, feeling a pang in her heart that she could hardly bear. 
“I’ve brought you something.”  She looked over her shoulder furtively and reached into her handbag.  “Samosa.  It’s cold but still fresh.” 
He shook his head, his eyes closed.
“But it’s your favorite.  Here, smell.”  She put the deep-fried triangle under the tubes in his nose.  He tried to pull his head away and the health monitors screamed in protest.  She stepped back, the weasel in her head swallowing the gecko whole.
An hour later, the doctor sat with her in the stuffy “patient-family” room. 
“Your husband is very fortunate,” she said.  “We’re into the second phase now and everything is five by five.”  The doctor explained the phase schedules as if they were new to Ranjeet, as if she had not already heard them a thousand times before.  They were always changing, yet always the same--meaningless.
“He’s not eating,” she said, interrupting the smooth, practiced cadence of the doctor’s recital.  The doctor seemed mildly perturbed, but for the first time looked Ranjeet squarely in the eye.
“No.  We removed the feeding tube because his digestive organs have shut down.  I was under the impression this had already been explained to you.”
“So he won’t eat anymore?”
The doctor looked at her coldly as if she were a stubborn child refusing to go to bed. 
The network was on when she got home--a thousand faces, a thousand voices, the tendrils of her world. 
“Congratulations on the lottery.”  It was Jumar, her lab assistant.  He looked anything but happy.  “So when will you be back?”
“He’s only in phase two.  It might be awhile, maybe never.”
Was he smiling?  She couldn’t tell with his head down.  If she didn’t come back to work, she’d be off the shortlist and Jumar would be one step up the lottery.  Nobody ever talked about that openly, but it was on everybody’s mind--the elephant in the room.
“UR71 has gone pandemic.  It won’t be long now.  We could always use your help in--”
He was kissing up, hedging his bets just in case she did come back.  She didn’t have time for that.  She panned through the news channels.  The countdown had started.  Pestilence, war, famine, death--the four horsemen of the apocalypse.  It was as if the whole world knew its end was near.  Only the lucky ones would live, like brands plucked from the fire, somewhere way out there in the stars, if you could call that living. 
She shut it down, shut it all down, and now her house was a hollow shell, an endless cavern of blank, empty walls broken only by the closed door at the end of the hall.  The closed door led to a room she never entered.  The door beckoned to her, but she would not open it.  The room beckoned to her, but she would not enter it.
“We’re well into the next phase,” Alex said with an odd sense of anticipation.  “It could be anytime now.”
Ranjeet watched the steady rise and fall of his chest, not knowing what to say.  It didn’t matter anyways.  The hearing aid was gone.  He was completely deaf.  Soon he would be blind too.  She felt the tears welling in her eyes.  She squeezed his hand, but he didn’t seem to feel it.  He stared past her at the blank, white wall.
“I feel--it’s hard to explain--like I’m on the edge of some great new world, not death exactly, but you have to die to get there.  It’s like I’m crossing the River Styx.”  He laughed hoarsely.  “My ancestors used to put coins on a dead man’s eyes to pay the boatman.”  He looked directly at Ranjeet.  “I guess we’ve paid that price already.” 
Ranjeet felt her soul melt.  She bent forward and kissed Alex gently on each eye.  He smiled, and then suddenly winced in pain.  She looked pleadingly at the doctors, but their attention was now fully dedicated to the beeping lines and squiggles on the life support monitors.  They too seemed rapt with euphoric anticipation, as if something great were about to happen. 
And then it did.
The bed kicked suddenly and the monitors screamed.  Two more white-robed doctors ran into the crowded hospital room.  Alex’s body convulsed violently on the bed, nearly knocking Ranjeet to the floor.  She didn’t know it at the time, but she was screaming and praying and pleading.  And then everything just stopped--Alex, Ranjeet, the squiggling lines.
Alex opened his mouth to let out one final sigh, and his narrow chest lowered, never to rise again.
Ranjeet broke over his lifeless body, her tears mixing with his sweat.  The doctors ignored her, still too intent on the electronic monitors.  And then she heard it.  A beep.  And then another.  And then a steady rhythm, and the doctors gave a collective yet civil cheer. 
            Days passed, weeks.
            Her husband slept.  He did not snore.  He did not breathe.  Only the steady beating of his heart told Ranjeet that he truly was alive.  And then his eyes opened.
            “Late again,” he said.
            She did not argue.  She did not laugh.  Her husband was a stranger to her, trapped behind the aura of his ghost.
            “So how…?”  She began, but did not finish. 
He’d lost his hair, his eyebrows, and his eyelashes.  His skin had become featureless, without pores or wrinkles.  He hardly seemed human anymore, like an undressed manikin in a store window.  They said he could hear again, that she could talk to him, but she couldn’t think of what to say.  She felt the coldness of his skin and let go of his hand.
“Ranjeet,” he said clearly, as if no time had passed since their last conversation over a month ago, “I’ve been thinking.”  He looked at the blank, white wall.  “I’ve been thinking maybe you should go.  I know what you said before about staying to the end, and I appreciate that, but you have to go on with your life.  Nobody knows for sure when the final phase will happen, and from what I can tell, it won’t be a pretty sight.  Come back when it’s all over.  Will you do that for me?  Will you, Ranj?”
He reached for her with his pale, white hand like some grotesque zombie.  Ranjeet stepped back from the hospital bed, horrified.
“Ranj, it’s okay.  It’ll be okay.”
She covered her face.
“Ranjeet, please.”
“No!” she screamed, and ran out of the room, down the hall, past the startled patients and doctors who had come to think of her as just part of the aging hospital décor, like a wilting flower by her husband’s deathbed.  But she would not come back, she told herself.  She would never come back.
            Two days later, she showed up for work.  No one was particularly happy to see her, especially not Jumar--the illusion of her juicy lottery spot shattering before his greedy brown eyes.  She couldn’t blame him.  They all wanted to live.  And every day UR71 spread to another city, and more and more transports thundered out of Cape Canaveral and Baikonur.  Soon, very soon, the last transport would leave, and what was left of the human race would wither like a raisin in the sun.  The earth would live on, the plants and animals, but the people would just blink into oblivion.
            “It’s good to see you back,” Jumar lied, the words dripping off his tongue like acid.  “I suppose you’ll want your office back.” 
            “Yes,” she said bluntly, “and my parking spot.”
            Jumar didn’t even blink.
Ranjeet took charge immediately, diving into her work with a feverish passion that immediately silenced any hope Jumar had of taking her position permanently.  It was all meaningless.  The chance that her lab or any other lab would find a miracle cure before UR71 eliminated the earth’s human population was a statistical impossibility, but that didn’t matter.  She had to work, and so she did, past all reason, past all hope. 
At night, she would walk home through the park, the smell of lilacs filling her nostrils.  She used to love that smell, or any smell, but now she felt nothing.  There were no flowers in New Haven, or so she’d heard, no plants of any kind, no great red cedars, no little ground ferns, no budding cacti, and no lilacs.  They didn’t even grow plants for food.  They didn’t need it after the change.  Oh they had the genomes for most species in stasis just in case, but it would be centuries before they bothered to clone them, if ever. 
New Haven--a world without food and death and flowers.
And then she would enter the blank cave of her apartment, and the closed door at the end of the barren hall would greet her, ever silent, ever beckoning. 
Days passed, weeks.
She received an email from Alex’s doctor.  The final phase was over.  She could return to the hospital.  The news glared at her accusingly on her wall screen.  But this time, she did not respond.  This time, she did not head immediately to the tram as she had so many times before--and into the elevator, and down the hospital’s antiseptic hallways to her husband’s room to sit by his bedside like the dutiful, loving wife.  And neither did she steel herself and return back to work with her head held high.  This time, she failed.  Curled up in a ball of self-defeat and self-pity, she mourned her weakness until her eyes were dry.
And then the door beckoned to her. 
Powerless to resist though she knew it would utterly destroy her, she drifted down the barren hallway like a ghost in a dream.  The door gave way to her slightest touch although it had not been opened in more than two years.  She entered helplessly.  A thick layer of dust coated the furniture, obscuring the pastel pictures of dancing hippos and flying alligators.  The dinosaur mobile hung limp and lifeless in the airless room.  She wanted to touch it, but did not.  Instead, her trembling hand fell upon the edge of the dusty crib and her eyes upon the picture of her daughter above it. 
Cassandra was one of the first to contract UR71--one of its first victims--a six-month-old child.  What kind of a malevolent bug would choose an innocent child for its first victim?  What kind of a god would allow it to happen?
Two years of bitterness and sorrow welled up in Ranjeet’s heart.  Never had she felt so much emotion all at once, not when she first fell in love, not even at her own daughter’s funeral. It was overwhelming, intoxicating.  She could not take it, but she could not resist it either.  Collapsing on the hardwood floor, she lost herself completely to the blind rapture of utter sorrow.  And in that moment felt perfect peace.  
Time itself became meaningless.  When she opened her eyes again, it was morning and her husband was standing over her.
“Alex?” she said groggily.  “You’re late.”
He laughed nervously.  “Yes, Ranj, it’s me.”
He had hair again, not just on his head but all over his face.  He was fully suited for flight, all except his pressure helmet, which was cradled in his left arm.  He looked strangely happy, like a boy with a secret. 
“I don’t have much time.  My launch is scheduled for this afternoon.  But I have good news.”
“What?”  She rubbed her eyes still not sure whether she was fully awake.
“I got them to bump up your lottery number.  You start phase treatments tomorrow.”  He looked at her, apparently eager for signs of her approval.  She gave him none.  His new, brown eyebrows knitted together.  “You know what this means?  In a month, maybe two, you could be on route to New Haven like me.  We could be together again, forever this time, or pretty close to it.”
            Ranjeet looked into Alex’s eager eyes, so filled with life, so filled with hope.  Could she ever feel that way again with all she’d left behind?  She gazed helplessly at the dusty furniture with its prancing cartoons, the lifeless dinosaurs above her head, and the empty crib behind her.  Last of all, her eyes fell upon Cassandra’s picture, and all at once her mind was made up.
            “No,” she said firmly.
            She heard Alex drop his helmet and then he was bending over her, reaching for her with his gloved hand. 
            “Look, Ranjeet.  I know you’ve been through a tough time, but you don’t have to die.  My new body may look different.  It may feel different.  But it will last virtually forever.  No more growing old.  No more dying.  And it’s still me on the inside.”  His gloved hand touched her shoulder and she cringed.  Alex stepped back, startled.
            “Be reasonable, Ranjeet.  They won’t let you go without the phase treatments.  You’ll never survive transport.  And you can’t stay here.  The plague is unstoppable.  The earth is doomed.”  His tone became desperate.  He looked at the dusty crib behind her and the picture of Cassandra on the wall.  “You have to--we have to leave the past behind and start a new life for ourselves.  It’s the only way.”
            “No!” she screamed, pulling away from him.  “I won’t go.  I will stay here until the end, and die if I have to.”
            “Ranj, please.  You can’t give up hope.”
            “I haven’t given up hope, Alex.  You have!”  She rose to her feet, suddenly strong, suddenly powerful.  “I will stay here and fight this thing until the very end, until my last breath.  I owe her that much.”
            Alex stared at Ranjeet mutely, his rubbery, bearded face torn in anguish, but he had no more arguments, nothing else to say.  A suited soldier appeared in the doorway. 
            “Sir, our time is up.  We must go now!”
            Alex did not move. 
            “I’m coming, damn you!” 
            The soldier hesitated in the doorway for a moment, and then disappeared into the blank hallway.  Alex turned back to Ranjeet, his eyes pleading. 
            “But why,” he said, his voice barely a whisper.        
            Ranjeet reached up to touch his chest, but there was nothing--no breath, no heartbeat, no life.  Her eyes fell. 
            “Like you said, Alex, we’ve already paid the boatman’s price.  It’s time to cross the river.”  She gestured to the door.  “Go on.  You don’t want to be late.” 
            Alex shuddered, but did not speak.  And then, slowly, he turned towards the door and left.  Ranjeet covered her mouth to restrain her cry, to stop herself from calling out to him.  And then it was too late.  And then he was gone.  But in her heart, she knew she had done the right thing.  She had stayed true to herself, true to her daughter.  She looked up at Cassandra with fresh tears in her eyes.
            “For you, baby, I won’t give up hope.  For you...”  

About the Author:
David Wright is an English teacher living on Canada’s majestic west coast.  When he’s not teaching, he keeps busy writing, running and occasionally preaching at his local church.  He has a lovely wife and two sparkling daughters.  His short stories have appeared in over a dozen magazines including Neo-opsis, MindFlights and Nightblade.  His first book Flight of the Cosmonaut was recently published by The Fiction Works.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Flight of the Cosmonaut by David Wright

Now this looks promising. Flight of the Cosmonaut by David Wright, available for Kindle via Amazon or any e-pub format via Smashwords.

Historical fiction by David Wright
Georgi Petrov is a brave, young Soviet test pilot recruited into the secret cosmonaut corps to make history as the first man in space, or die trying. But after a few short weeks of training behind the Iron Curtain, he quickly finds himself caught in a dangerous world of volatile rockets, lethal KGB agents, tyrannical commanders and mysterious rocket scientists. How many lives are they willing to sacrifice to achieve their ambitious goals and who will be the next to die? But if Georgi ever hopes to escape his violent past and start a new life with the green-eyed girl of his dreams, he has to take this one desperate chance for glory. He has to make this last flight of the Cosmonaut.

Rethinking the Familiar Book Tour | By Joanne Kaufman - WSJ.com

Rethinking the Familiar Book Tour | By Joanne Kaufman - WSJ.com:

'via Blog this'

Thanks for finding this article, Kathe Koja.

Monday, November 28, 2011

"Hollow" by Chris Castle

Sheriff  Tusk made up his flask of coffee as the sun came up. No more ‘whiskey drips’ though; that was a thing of the past. Tusk had made a promise to himself to keep a clear head. He made his way to the car, dropping the bag in the back seat, the murder file on the seat behind him.
He drove along the interstate, thankful the traffic was light. The radio was playing, although he gave it little attention. Eventually he clicked the dial off. On the back seat the file lay sprawled; after a while he felt the static from it fill the car; the screams, the restless chatter. He pulled off the interstate and headed into the woods.
They said he worked as a landscape gardener. The press, always so keen to jump on any quirk, seized upon that, over everything else. The killer’s actual history, his upbringing, teenage years, all paled to that one line. The lurid nicknames began, the macabre jokes were told. Even before his guilt was confirmed, his history was established for the lurid paperbacks and cultural references set for the future. Tusk had always been indifferent to the newspapermen, but now it left a dark, metallic taste in his mouth. A nightmare, one of the few he ever had, set in. It was not the killer that haunted him; he was more a solitary, secondary figure. No, it was the hacks that circled the bodies that caused him to jolt upright into life at three in the morning. ‘The ghouls’ with their notepads open, their pencils ready. Bu it was their fingers that flavoured the nightmare: Long, wiry and hungry.
Edward Delbee was such a humdrum name for a murderer. Perhaps that’s why the newsies were so desperate for a nick-name. An unremarkable man whose voice was low and drifting, almost sounding on the verge of sleep, no matter what it was that he said. His eyes were not lit; there was no manically charismatic smile. He was simply a plain, greyed man who had chosen to kill twelve innocent people. Tusk wondered if it was just that, the sheer mundane nature of the man’s life, which had driven him to it, rather than some blazing, murderous impulse. Perhaps, it was the only way he could be alive. 
Tusk parked the car and paid for the ticket. The park itself was a sprawling, beautiful thing. Once, before he had been sheriff, he had made love to a girl named Laurie Rocks amongst the conifer trees. Tusk had never told anyone; that one afternoon with the girl he hardly knew had been the finest love-making of his life.  As ferocious as it was temporary and like no other feeling in the world. Tusk lit a cigarette and smoked it in the car park, then lifted the bag from the trunk, jamming the file from the back seat in as best he could amongst the tools.
Delbee simply waited until the evidence was overwhelming, then simply agreed with what he was being accused of. Tusk had been in the room, though had not asked the questions leading up to his final statement. The feeling of anti-climax was overwhelming. Even the blow his partner landed on Delbee’s cheek was a half-hearted, almost apologetic thing.
And then came the sketches.
Delbee was not a talker. He said ‘thank you’ for his meals and that was it. So when he the paperwork was being filed and the recurring motif of a tree appeared on whatever paperwork had been issued for him to sign, Tusk jumped on it immediately. His partner raised his doubts, claiming Tusk simply wanted something more, some gloss, to the whole sorry affair, in order to give it more meaning. Foakes had said, good naturedly, that nothing upset Tusk more than a boring murder. But it shook him all the same, the neat, careful, sketches, in a way he could not quite fully articulate.
This was when Edward Delbee changed. Whether he showed his true colours, or whether it was simply another layer to an already broken mind, it was hard to say. All Tusk really knew, was that something revealed itself in Delbee when he showed him the sketches, all copied and cut and pasted into one montage. It was as if something else, something primal, tore out of the grey skin and into the light. The body of the killer remained the same that much was certain. Scientifically, nothing had changed. And yet…and yet when Tusk stood three feet from the man, clutching the sketches, it was like standing in a room with another man; no being trapped in the same room. He mumbled at first, as if the words were bubbling out of his throat, out of his control. Tusk had an idea if it had gone on much longer, he would have foamed at the mouth. His eyes remained flat and cold, but for once they were full of movement, scanning each picture as if it retained codes in each tidy branch.
And then there was his skin.
It retained its grey, dull texture, all right, but Tusk saw something else underneath the surface, that in his mind, burned bright. It was almost rippling under the surface, trying to break free. Tusk had the idea the man’s whole body was on the verge of something, on the point of tipping over into something else entirely. Tusk drew the paper back and folded it back into neat squares. He watched the killer the whole time; for a moment he had the feeling of being one of his victims, such was the naked fury and hunger in the man’s eyes. If he had taken his eyes off him, he would have seized on Tusk, he had no doubt of that. He pushed the paper lower, out of sight into his pocket and like a spring shower, everything slipped away in seconds and the pallid skeleton returned to the seat. The host gone, Tusk thought.
Tusk asked the man where the tree was. He asked casually, not wanting to reveal the need he felt to track it down. Somewhere inside him had the idea that this place was terribly important and that he needed to see it and maybe, deal with it in some way. The man looked him over and just as casually told him the location, where the tree was, down to the nearest inch. Tusk held his eye and got a good sense he was not lying. Another cop would have asked more questions, the whys and wherefore questions. Hell, the real questions. Instead, Tusk simply nodded and turned out of the room, his mind playing over the image of the man he had finished speaking to and the wholly different beast that reared up inside him with the sketches.
It was evidence.
What they had discussed was evidence, or at least pertinent to the investigation. Tusk knew that and kept walking. The paper in his pocket itched, almost burned against him. He signed out for the day, tossing idle chit-chat back and forth as his brain played with his career. Tusk drove home, talking himself out of going to the park, letting sleeping dogs lie and all the rest of it. He parked the car and immediately started loading his tool bag.
The walk into the woods was bracing, almost pleasant. Tusk tried to keep himself calm; even as he twisted off the recognised paths, he told himself his heart stayed on an even keel. As he stepped into the mulch, his feet slipping slightly, he noted how the angles of the branches cut-off a good deal of the sunlight. He walked on, tumbling out of the day and into the darkness of the woods. Tusk acknowledged that his heart surged a little. He gripped tighter to the bag, trying not to shiver as the shade rode over him.
‘What they felt, we could not say.’
The words Tusk had issued to the press half-way through the investigation. Some quarters took him to task with the statement, others praised the non-sensational tone. In truth, it summed up everything he felt about the case. The slim, perfect divide between being a victim and being a witness to such cruelty. It had always been that way, Tusk felt.
Until now.
Standing before the tree, Tusk froze. It was not quite fear, not quite panic, either. It was dread, pure and simple. He looked up to the monster and saw everything that was wrong and dark taken shape. The bark was a thick, pus-like tone, oozing without dripping. The nooks and crevices were empty, terrible places; not natural indentations as much as scars, scooped out and left to weep, rather than heal. The branches were distended paws, hungry and reaching, the twigs more like blades, needy and sharp.
But worst was the hollow.
Somewhere towards the center of the thing was a space. It had not been carved, nor had it been emptied, not in any natural way. Instead, it seemed simply…vacant, as if waiting to be stuffed and sated. It was a gaping place; slack jawed but twitching and ready. The monster pulsed; Tusk understood then, as eager to be fed, as certain as it was that it would always be supplied.
The other, unnatural sensation that shrouded tusk then, was pain. The pain of the twelve the monster, through Delbee, had taken. The fury of their pain, the rush of how their lives had been seized so unfairly, so coarsely, blazed over him. It rocked Tusk onto the balls of his feet, almost toppling him back onto the thick, wet ground. He kept his balance, pressing against the force, knowing that to fall, to succumb, to the sodden place around him, would be the end of him. No wind shuddered, no rain fell; it was as if the world had been cut off from this one, secluded, dirtied place. It was, Tusk understood, a sliver of Hell, sustained and gone unchecked, unnoticed for too long a time.
A small part of his mind felt the insanity of the situation and almost made him laugh. It was the stuff of poorly developed fairy tales, spook stories drafted to warn off the young and vital lovers. Yet the darkness was overwhelming, a current he had only ever experienced before in the hum before a storm. Though he had stood his ground, Tusk became aware that the hollow seemed to be closer; the void loosening all around him. It would not be long before it was over him and then he would simply cease to be, he understood that. Tusk forced himself rigid, buckling against the black, thinking of the victims, the families and the anger that crackled through him at being lured here into Delbee’s trap.
One hand gripped onto the tool bag, then another. Amongst the stilled rage that gathered around him, Tusk pulled the tools from the bag; he roared in pain and felt something, a bone snap someplace inside him. Still, he pushed on. Even though he was inside Hell, Tusk did not lapse into any mode religion; he did not go cap in hand for prayers. Instead, he repeated the names of the twelve over and over; the motion of their names gave him strength, the grind of each letter propelled his body forward. He screamed as he uncapped the fluid, recoiled as the lighter latched onto the liquid.
It burned.
No, not quite burned; it died. Tusk stepped away, not to a safe distance, not by any means; he had to be close by. The flames tore into the ripe bark, setting onto it like hungry dogs. The fire crawled over every aspect of it, wearing it like a cloak. Tusk did not want to see what came next, but knew he had to, all the same. He was something else then; a witness to the victim’s revenge.
The tree was pared down in the heat. From it, each of the twelve burst into life, racing across the timber of the monster, each of them party to hauling it down and dismantling its frame. There was no emotion in their faces, no savage joy in what they did. It was a task, he thought, brining down Hell in order to restore any trace of heaven. On and on it went, the vapours of the twelve bodies racing through the smoke, tearing strips and clutching broken limbs. On and on it went; as a final statement the pages from the murder file drifted casually into the hollow of its heart, clogging it up with substance before searing it to nothing with the flame. Then it was done.
Tusk allowed himself to fall onto the ground; with the monster nothing but ashes now, the ground surrounding it returned to its natural state. The fire had not spread; there was no risk of it latching onto the real, thriving flora. The flames had contained themselves to dispatching one terrible item and one alone. Tusk listened for sirens that did not come, policemen or passers-by that did not materialise. Soon, he would pick himself up and walk back to the daylight. Something inside him understood that far from the forest, Edward Delbee had slipped away; his heart stopped short, the last link removed. There would be no more chains to lead to this place. But still, he pulled the last remaining sketch from his pocket, the copied montage, and held his lighter under it. As it burned to ash, he thought he heard a faint trace of a scream, little more than whisper, then nothing. It was over. But still he sat and waited, circling the patch with his eyes; he looked for any ash that looked as if it could flicker into something else, something more than dead matter.
Tusk sat.
Tusk waited.     

 The End