Category Archives: story

The Demise of the Morning People

It was mid-morning in the clearing. Bleary-eyed people were waking up, deciding they should finally get up and moving. Fires were stoked, water was poured into urns and set in the coals to boil. A yawning child crawled into her father’s lap, her Bambi eyes still sleepy.

“Tell me the legend of the morning people again, Daddy,” she said in her small voice. The child loved stories and legends of long-ago, of the time they lived in lands of stone and metal. 

He smiled and yawned. He was always grumpy in the mornings before his first cup of kaf, the strong black nectar of the gods, but he never took it out on her. He cleared his throat and began:

In the time of long-ago, when men lived in cities of stone and metal, there were two tribes who mistrusted each other. One tribe woke up at a decent hour, and though they woke up grumpy, they had full and productive lives, and were even happy when the yellow orb went to sleep and night came. For the night was when they ruled and played and celebrated the mysteries of the world. By the gifts of the gods they could function late into the night, and could see by magic light. The other tribe woke up far too early and were even happy to do so. They had no kaf, and no want of it. They were smiling and ready to go the instant they opened their eyes. In their arrogance they refused the Divine Bean, you see. The late-risers were mistrustful of the morning people, as they came to be called, for anyone who could wake and be ready to go without the Divine Bean, from which kaf is brewed, the very gift of the gods, could surely be up to no good. So the late-risers watched, growing ever more mistrustful. One day one of the morning people’s unholy shamans began tampering with the Divine Bean, trying to remove its very essence, that which sharpens the mind and speeds the heart. The late-risers were rightfully horrified at this blasphemy. When the shamans succeeded and then started doing the same with its close cousin, the tay leaf, the morning people had finally gone too far. They had strayed from the Righteous Path and, in their arrogance, tried to usurp the gods and their gifts to us. So the late-risers went to war against the morning people who, lacking the pure Divine Bean and its cousin the Tay leaf, could not keep up. They were slaughtered to the last for their blasphemy. 

He looked down at his daughter. She was engrossed in the tale. His wife handed him a steaming ceramic mug of strong black kaf, and handed a mug of golden-brown tay to their daughter as the bacon sizzled. There was much to do today. He took his first sip.

The gift of the gods. Perfect. 

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Trick Candles – an Excerpt from Flies in the Leaves of Glass

Okay. I’m going to be honest with you. I’m… disappointed. The new book isn’t selling at all. I’ve done practically everything I can think to do short of whoring myself to try to get someone to buy it. I’ve got one more trick up my sleeve, though. So here goes:.

I’ve looked on Amazon and their free preview of the book involves the entirety of the first story in the book – Demon Speeding Blues, and at least a portion of the second, Trick Candles. So since they’re giving away a considerable portion of my book for free, I’m going to give you a free sample. After much thought and consideration, I’ve settled on Trick Candles. You can already read Demon Speeding Blues practically for free, and frankly, it’s the weakest story in the book. Trick Candles was pretty good though, if I do say so myself. The book is called Flies in the Leaves of Glass. If you’re looking for something to twist your perspective a bit, get the book.

So, without further ado, here it is. Obviously, copyright on this story belongs to me, all rights reserved, 2016, etc. etc.

 

 

Trick Candles

 

 

Johnny hitched his backpack higher on his right shoulder and walked on in the late afternoon sunlight. He felt amazing. He felt strong. Above all else, he felt free. He would never have to be afraid again. Nobody… and he meant nobody… would ever hurt him again. Every other time Phil Williams had put his hands on him, he had allowed his mother to talk him into staying. She would run crying into his room as he was packing what clothes he had and beg him to stay, wail that Phil did not mean it. It was the beer and the coke, this was the last time, they would go to counseling and she would make Phil go to rehab, blah blah.

The abuse had been going on since Johnny was six. That was the year his father died in a freak accident at the local mill. That was the year his mother started drinking her feelings away. That was the year Phil came into his life. At first it had been relatively gentle. Phil did not like Johnny and never bothered to hide it. After about six months of living with them and sleeping with his mother in his dead father’s bed, it turned hard.

Phil told Johnny to go get him a beer out of the fridge and by God he better “keep your fucking hands on it this time. If you drop it like the last one I’m gonna thump yer skull for ya!” Between the condensation on the can and Johnny’s clumsy, shaking, six-year-old hands, he never had a chance. Phil opened the can he was brought. Beer sprayed him in the face.  The next thing Johnny was aware of was that he was sprawled on the floor on his stomach, soaking wet and stinking of beer. There was a throbbing pain in the side of his head and he was dizzy. That was Johnny’s only clear memory of that first time. Of course, it only got worse from there.

He was eight the first time he awoke in his bed to find Phil’s hand wrapped around his, which was stroking Phil’s cock. When Phil noticed he was awake he forced Johnny to open his mouth.

“You suck at everything else so you may as well learn how to do it right, you little faggot!”

After a while Phil was no longer content to just stick it in his mouth. When Johnny had tried to tell his mother she called him a liar and slapped him. When Phil found out he gloated that nobody would ever believe a little faggot like him so he had just better keep his mouth shut unless Phil wanted him to open it. Then he made Johnny turn around. Twenty minutes later if anyone heard the muffled moans and cries coming from the woodshed, they chose not to investigate.

When he was ten he ran away the first time. When he was twelve he attempted suicide. Now he was done. He had heard stories while growing up of boys having enough of their mothers’ abusive boyfriends or husbands and beating them within an inch of their lives. The problem was those boys were always bigger or stronger than their abusers. Johnny had missed out on the genetic lottery payoff. He was of average height, but had a small build and was thin even for that. He had none of the wiry strength the other farm boys his age developed and knew he never would.

His mother woke him early this morning so he could get started making breakfast. She had to work early in the diner, so he needed to make Phil’s eggs and bacon today. He reluctantly got out of bed to get started. Johnny knew what would be coming and was in no way looking forward to it. His eyes burned as he brushed his teeth.

###

Phil awoke to the delicious aroma of bread frying in bacon grease. The bed was empty, which was just the way he liked it. Her side of the bed empty meant she was already gone. Which meant he had time to… play… before he had to get to work. The boy was not good for much, but over the years he had learned several important skills: how to cook, how to suck, and how to bend over. There was not much fat on him, but he had enough where it counted.

Phil was not gay. He had made that fact perfectly clear to the boy over the last eleven years. He did not find the boy attractive and damned sure was not in love with him. For Phil only two things mattered where the boy was concerned: power and pleasure. This was his secret way of keeping the boy cowed, and his way of getting what Johnny’s mother would not give. There were just certain things she refused to do, and it was easier getting those things from Johnny than anywhere else. Phil was a strong believer in the old adage, “any port in a storm”.

He got out of bed, got dressed, and went to the bathroom to address the necessary. Fifteen minutes later he was shaved, his teeth were clean, and his bladder was empty.

“What’s cookin’ there, boy?” Phil asked as he ambled into the combination kitchen and dining area in the small house. Johnny flinched at the sound of his voice, just the way Phil liked it.

“Fried eggs, crispy bacon, potatoes with onions, crumbled sausage and cheese, and fried bread. Mom said you were gonna have a long day today, so I needed to make you a big breakfast. I’ve already got your lunch packed. I made you two BLTs and a fried egg sandwich. There’s a pickle in there, too.”

“Good. How long until it’s ready?”

“I’m about to make your plate.”

That made Phil smile. He rewarded the good news by grabbing the boy’s ass and grinding up against him. The boy jumped and pulled away.

“Not while I’m cooking, Phil.”

“After breakfast then. Your room. And if you try to fight me again I won’t be quite so gentle this time, you little faggot.”

The boy wheeled around, anger blazing in his too-bright eyes.

“Stop calling me that! You’re the one who gets his rocks off by fucking little boys! As far as I can tell the only person here who’s ever stuck his dick in someone else with a dick is you!”

Phil’s voice was deadly quiet as he stood. “Boy,” he said, “I do believe you just called me a faggot. Let’s get something straight here. You’re the one who sucks dick and takes it up the ass. That makes you, by definition, a faggot. It makes me sick just looking at you, knowing I raised a fucking faggot. Now you’re going to get on your knees and swallow what I give you to swallow by way of an apology, or I’m going to split your skull open.”

“No.”

Phil’s eyes widened in surprise. “Say that again? I don’t think I heard you right.”

NO!” the boy shouted at him, tears spilling from his eyes.

Phil lunged at Johnny; Johnny swung the frying pan still in his hand, hot bread, smoking bacon grease, and all. The contents struck the side of Phil’s head just before the rest of the skillet. Phil bellowed in rage and pain as he clawed at his eyes. Johnny bolted.

###

Johnny’s hand was on the doorknob when Phil caught him.

Five minutes later he was bent over his bed, his shorts around his ankles. He screamed with every thrust. Phil, in his anger, had gone in dry.

###

Twenty minutes later, Johnny lay curled on his mattress, crying. His shorts were still around his ankles. Blood and semen coated his thighs. His left eye was puffy and swollen where Phil had hit him and blood trickled from a corner of his mouth. Phil stood at the door of Johnny’s bedroom, buckling his belt.

“You ever try anything like that again, boy, and I’ll fucking kill you. I mean it. Now, I’m going to go eat my breakfast. Then I’m leaving. When I get back here this afternoon, I’d better find this place fucking spotless.”

Thirty minutes later Johnny heard the front door slam. He got up and went to the bathroom to clean himself up.

###

He was sitting on the edge of the bed his mother shared with Phil. Phil’s gun was in his hands. Over the years he had entertained this thought more times than he could count. He spasmed with silent sobs. Phil had threatened to kill him, and Johnny believed that he would do it eventually anyway. Happy fucking birthday, he thought. He was seventeen today. Still a minor, and still trapped here for at least another year. He looked at a framed portrait hanging on the wall. He and his mother stood around a seated Phil.

The anger flashed before he could even begin to try to stop it. He seized the portrait, smashed the glass, and ripped it to shreds. He picked up a piece of glass and made a deep long vertical cut up the inside of his forearm. Blood gushed onto the floor. With his uninjured hand he snatched the gun from the bed, put it to the shelf of his chin, and pulled the trigger. The world exploded into innumerable shafts of white light. Then all was darkness and oblivion.

###

Three hours later, his eyes flew open.

###

Johnny sat bolt upright. He had the worst headache he had ever known, and there were shooting pains in his left forearm. The bright morning sunlight had deepened into afternoon. He looked around. He was still in his mom’s room. The portrait was still shredded to bits and glass was all over the place. Blood was everywhere: the floor, the bed, the nightstand, him.

He looked at his arm and was surprised to find it uninjured. The skin was red and raw, but otherwise whole. He stood up and the world lurched. He stood still until the vertigo and nausea passed. Johnny made his way to the dresser and looked in the mirror. He looked as if he had just starred in a B grade horror movie, and somehow he was naked, but other than that he was fine. His eye was no longer puffy; his lip was no longer split. Gingerly, he reached behind his head, terrified of what he would find. To his astonishment and great relief, he found the back of his head intact. Then he looked back at the bed and screamed.

Lying on the bed in a pool of blood was his body missing half its head. The darkness took him again.

###

Phil enjoyed his Saturdays. That is to say, he usually enjoyed his Saturdays. His wife almost always worked a double shift at the diner in town on Saturdays. He got to sleep late before going out to work the fields, and he almost always managed to dip his wick in the boy at least once. Today was different. The boy had bucked up at him. Worse than that, the boy had hit him with a hot frying pan. The side of his face was burned bright red where the bread and bacon grease had splashed him and his entire head ached from the heavy skillet. He had applied a zinc oxide cream to his burns, but it still hurt like hell. When he finished up for the day he was going to put a hurt on that damned kid he would never forget.

Phil had never liked the boy. From the first time he saw him, Phil had taken him for a clumsy scrawny runt. And he was. The boy’s grades were never something to write home about, he had a habit of dropping and breaking things, and he was too scrawny and weak to even be much of a help out in the fields. The boy was too weak to sling hay bales and too incompetent to drive a tractor. As far as he could tell, the boy was only good at opening his mouth and bending over.

Phil sat in the shade of an old and towering oak tree, pondering the morning’s events and growing angrier each second as he ate his lunch, when his cell phone rang. He half-listened to the woman’s voice on the other end as he pondered his rage.

“Uh-huh. Yeah I figured you’d take the extra hours. No, it’s fine, we can use the money. How the fuck should I know what he’s doing? I can tell you what that no-good useless bastard isn’t doing and that’s fucking working! Whatever. What time do you think you’ll be home? Fine. I’m gonna knock off around three. No, I’ve just got a headache is all. I need to get under the tractor and check it out. I thought I smelled oil burning. After that I’m calling it quits for the day. Yeah. Love you too.”

He had figured out how to explain away the burn on his face while he was on the phone with her. Never underestimate the power of denial, he thought to himself as he gathered up the remains of his lunch.

Three hours later, he was heading back to the house. His face still burned like hell and his head was only slightly better. The boy was definitely going to pay for this. His mood was black as he opened the front door.

Phil paused for a moment in the front room of the house. All the lights were off and there was no sound. The house had a strange feel to it which he found impossible to identify. It felt empty, yet not. He had never been superstitious, but in that moment he felt a cold chill travel up his spine in that particular way only hauntings can cause. He reached for the wooden bat which lived by the door and cautiously turned on the light. The room was exactly the way he had left it.

He walked through the house, turning on lights as he went. His anger deepened when he saw the kitchen and dining room in the exact same condition as they were when he had left. I told that worthless bastard to clean this place up, he thought as he continued through the house. Phil looked in Johnny’s bedroom as he walked down the narrow hallway and found it messy, but no Johnny. It was then he saw the shape in his own bedroom.

“Johnny? Is that you?”

The shape neither moved nor answered. Phil clutched the bat tighter as he flicked the light on. What he saw horrified him. The boy stood facing away from him, naked as the day he was born and covered in red. Phil felt ice water run through his veins as he surveyed the ruin of his bedroom. When he saw what was on the bed he felt the bottom drop out of reality as his brain refused to accept what his eyes tried to show it.

The corpse of his stepson was melting into a puddle of ichor as he watched, but was still plainly Johnny. The gun lay beside what was left of the body, though Phil was too dumbstruck to grab for it.

“Hello, Phil,” the boy standing at the foot of the bed said, “welcome home. How’s your head?”

Phil could only look in horror as Johnny turned to face him. The expression on his face made it plain to Johnny that Phil would not be useful for pretty much anything ever again.

“I know what it looks like, and yeah, it’s pretty fucked up,” Johnny said, “it took me a while to wrap my head around it too. I mean, I blew my brains out with your gun, but here I am. Of course, I’m there too.” Johnny waved at the thing on the bed. “I don’t get it or how it happened, but there you go. I’m dead, but still alive.”

Phil’s gaze shifted from the thing on the bed to the thing standing before him.

“Oh yes, I’m alive. I’m not a ghost or anything like that. I checked. That,” he pointed at the mess on Phil’s bed, “was actually the second time I’ve committed suicide today. Believe me, it’s hell on the head. And the mattress, I’m guessing. Anyway. Now that the situation has changed somewhat, let me make something very clear to you”

Johnny took a step toward Phil, who stumbled backward as he raised the bat. The front of his pants grew visibly darker as Phil’s bladder let go.

“You will never touch me again, you sick fuck. But I’m going to touch you.” Johnny’s lips peeled back in a very sharp, pointed, and hungry smile. “This is for eleven years, you son of a bitch.”

Phil tried to swing the bat as Johnny lunged at him, but the space was too confined.

Twenty minutes later, if anyone heard the muffled screams coming from the house, they chose not to investigate.

 


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The Long Shadow of Memory – an excerpt

The Long Shadow of Memory

A Tale of Love in the Time of Shub-Niggurath

A Short Story by Paul Martinez

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters and events portrayed in this story are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.     THE LONG SHADOW OF MEMORY ©2014 by Paul Martinez     All rights reserved.

He stood in the rain on this chilly October evening much as he had done on this date for the last ten years: staring down at the headstone and holding the revolver loosely in his left coat pocket. Every Halloween he stood and waited for midnight to come and pass, his revolver loaded and ready. Ready for what, he could not say. On the one hand, he felt a complete fool. After ten long years nothing had come to pass of that dreadful prophecy written in defiance of all that was right and sane in the world. On the other, if his former lover were coming back as he said he would, someone had to be there. He could not definitively say what someone had to be there for, but there was the revolver in his coat pocket.

    He examined the headstone more closely. It had endured the previous decade nicely. Carved into its cold gray surface were the words, “Juan Alejandro Sevilla. Beloved Son and Brother. Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine.” Beneath this two fat little cherubs flew, one holding a bouquet of flowers, the other a bible. Thomas Moreland smiled a wry grin at that, knowing his friend and former lover would return if he could for no other reason than to rail at the religious symbolism which marked his empty grave. Though Juan had shed his native Catholicism, a relic of his Mexican heritage, his parents’ beliefs were so deeply ingrained they had refused to accept both his rejection of their faith and the root cause of it. The priest responsible had been accused and convicted of molesting fifty young men and boys over the course of thirty years, but they could not understand how he could hold God responsible for the crimes of man.

    He had gone to confession on his thirteenth birthday and admitted to the priest he wasn’t attracted to girls like all the other boys his age. He wanted to know how God had made him like this even though it was an abomination. He wanted to know how to be a good Catholic and to please God if he was gay. The priest told him he was possessed by a spirit of homosexuality, took him to his quarters in the rectory, and, in Juan’s words to Thomas ten years later, “tried to rape the gay away while whispering Bible verses at me.” Eventually the disgraced priest lost his freedom. Juan lost his faith, his innocence, and his belief that the universe generally wanted good things for him.

    They had met at university; Thomas was pursuing a liberal arts degree while Juan, never one to settle for one when he could have two, was double majoring in both molecular biology and quantum physics. It was love at first sight. Thomas was tall and well built with piercing blue eyes and medium length light brown hair. Juan was smaller, just a few inches over five and half feet tall, with deep brown almond-shaped eyes and short jet black hair. His frame was small and delicate. Thomas was gregarious where Juan was reserved and studious. Juan always shone between the beginning of October and Thanksgiving, though. That stretch of autumn was his favorite time of the year. He loved the crisp, cool air, the fact that almost everything was pumpkin-spiced, carving pumpkins, and watching his beloved Green Bay Packers while enjoying a hearty dark stout beer or a bottle of Moscato. Thomas, being a Bears fan himself, liked to joke that a house divided was doomed to fall. Juan would laugh and pull Thomas’s protective arm tighter around him as they sat together watching a football game with their friends.

    The trouble began while Juan was working toward his doctorate in theoretical physics. He was focusing heavily on a relatively new branch of superstring theory called M-theory, which was an attempt to explain the universe in eleven dimensions. Juan called it the theory of everything. Some nights while he, Thomas, and a small group of their friends were sitting around the fire pit in their backyard getting high Juan would attempt to explain the fundamental problem he kept running into where the math was concerned: he kept running into what he called extra-dimensional pockets that he could not account for no matter how hard he tried. According to his calculations, these so-called pockets were entirely separate universes unto themselves, but were so near to ours they would actually meet in places and could even be breached if one knew how. The possibilities were absolutely tantalizing. Here was an opportunity for mankind to interact with entirely different universes! It might actually be possible to prove the many worlds theory! He had approached the department chair with his findings and was laughed out of the man’s office. Humiliated, he left in an uproar and vanished in the midst of a raging thunderstorm for a week.

    Thomas kneeled down to place a single yellow tulip on the stone. Tulips had always been Juan’s favorite flower. They were expensive to get during autumn, but he had never failed to leave one for his lost love. He wasn’t usually given to sentimentality but he had never gotten over losing Juan the way he did. He had never been able to let go the image of that…thing…and what it had done to the man he loved. Over the course of the intervening years he sometimes wondered if he were somehow responsible, but he also knew Juan was always dogged in his pursuit of his goals. He had the innate arrogance of all brilliant minds. Juan knew he was right about the interdimensional gaps he had found in space-time, knew they were physically close to the boundaries of the universe he had been born into, and knew they could be breached with currently available technology. After he had found that first one and breached it, Thomas also knew it was just a matter of time. He closed his eyes as he felt a wash of memory seize him in its cruel grasp.

    Thomas was sleeping when the sound of the garage door opening jolted him awake. He reached for the baseball bat he kept by the bed and waited. The intruder was making an ungodly amount of noise. Then he heard a chair get kicked and a familiar voice utter a mild curse which stopped his heart for a moment. He was out of bed in an instant and running for the kitchen. “Juan? Christ on a cornflake, where in the hell have you been? Everyone’s been worried out of their minds! I called the police! Your parents are going insane!”

    “What are you talking about?” he asked, stifling a yawn. Dark circles were under his eyes and he looked rumpled, like he had been sleeping in his clothes. “You act like I vanished without a trace and have been missing for ages!”

    Thomas pulled Juan into a bear hug as he replied, “What are you talking about? You have been! It’s been seven days today!”

    Juan broke the hug and stared Thomas in the eyes. “Are you serious? I’ve been missing an entire week?”

    “Haven’t you checked your phone? Seen a newspaper? Have you been hiding under a freaking rock or sleeping on a bench somewhere?”

    “My phone is fried. I hoped it was just a dead battery but the damned thing is a total loss. Besides, I came straight home. I didn’t even stop to get anything to eat, I’m so tired. It’s a wonder my car wasn’t towed if I’ve been gone for a week. Can we talk in the morning? I feel like I could curl up in my sock drawer and sleep for days.”

    Thomas assented to Juan’s request and followed him back to the bedroom. As they lay together in the bed they had shared for years, Thomas wondered about this man he had fallen in love with so long before. He remembered a joke one of his friends had cracked some time ago about the line between genius and madness being a thin one and that Juan danced on it quite freely. Thomas had punched the man in the eye for that comment. Now he found himself asking whether that statement had more truth in it than he had cared to believe before. Juan lay with his back to him, Thomas’s arm pulled protectively around him. As he felt himself drifting off, Juan spoke.

    “Thomas?”

    “Yeah?”

    “You don’t think I’m crazy, do you?”

    “Of course not. I think you’re brilliant. And I think we’ve all had a long week. Get some sleep, babe. We’ll talk about it in the morning. I’ll make you a big breakfast and we’ll talk about where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing. Ok?”

    “Ok. I love you. I’m sorry that I scared you.”

    “Don’t worry about it. I’m just happy to have you home safely. I love you too. Good night.”

    Juan was already asleep.

    The following morning was cool and cloudy. The autumnal breeze blew through the open kitchen window, heavy laden with moisture. Thomas was chopping green onions, slicing mushrooms for omelets, and brewing coffee when Juan stumbled into the kitchen, his short black hair poking out in corkscrews and at jaunty angles. Thomas looked at him and smiled, their familiar routine quickly reestablished.

    “Good morning, sunshine.”

    “Ugh. Don’t talk to me. Is there coffee?”

    Thomas grinned and handed Juan a mug of the freshly ground and brewed nectar, no cream, three sugars, and waited for permission to speak. Juan had never been a morning person. He had, in fact, been the type of person to whom one never spoke until after his first cup of coffee. He absolutely hated being called sunshine in the mornings and only barely tolerated it from Thomas. Thomas waited in silence for him to finish his first cup, the smell of cooking eggs and the promise of rain wafting through the kitchen air. Juan drank the coffee, his eyes closed in obvious relish. Thomas only bought the best beans and brewed their coffee by hand. He argued hand-brewed coffee was infinitely better than that done via machine and Juan had been forced to admit he was right. It took far more effort, of course, but Thomas always said anything worth taking the time to do was worth taking the time to do right.

    “So?” Thomas asked when he saw Juan finish the first cup and reach for the pot.

    “So, what?” Juan replied tersely.

    “So where the hell have you been for the last week?”

    “I’m sorry, Thomas, I have a hard time believing I’ve actually been gone a week.”

    Thomas threw the morning newspaper at Juan. “You don’t believe that? Check the date! Your parents are worried out of their minds! I called the police! I filed a report and organized a search party! Hell, I thought you were dead and they were going to find you in a ditch!”

    Juan was visibly shaken as he scanned over the newspaper, the date in the upper right hand corner glaring at him. “Okay,” he said. “This is what I’ve been up to.”

    Thomas paled in horror at the story Juan relayed to him. He was almost certain the man he loved had gone completely insane. There was no way he could have been responsible for the freak thunderstorm a week ago when, as he claimed, he opened a portal between the universe they knew and an entirely different one governed by similar laws of physics that lay approximately ten meters to the left in relative three-dimensional space. He told of a planet similar to Earth but covered in ruins and strange flora which he had discovered. There had obviously been an advanced civilization living on the planet at some point, but it had been completely extirpated along with any native animal life which he could detect. Not even insects remained.

    “There was evidence of some kind of external force which wiped out everything on the planet. I saw what looked like burn scars everywhere. There were what looked like huge footprints and other marks I couldn’t make out. I’m a physicist, not a paleontologist or xeno-biologist or whatever they call themselves. Apparently there was some kind of time-dilation effect too, because I thought I was only gone for a day and a half.”

    “How is any of this even possible?” Thomas asked, absolutely bewildered and more than half confused.

    “It’s actually not all that difficult,” Juan replied, growing excited. “It doesn’t take much energy to open a door between our universe and one that lies close to ours. However, the further one goes in any direction requires a directly proportional increase in the amount of energy applied. I found a thin spot between the worlds, though, which exponentially reduces the amount of energy I need to break the barriers and cross over! What I just did I did using four “D” batteries! Imagine what I could do with a car battery! Or even a power plant! I’ve singlehandedly created entire new fields of science! What?”

    Thomas was looking at him with unabashed concern. “Juan… you realize all of this sounds completely insane, right?”

“You don’t believe me either, then. Go figure. You’re the one person I was sure would believe me. It’s alright, though. Give me a chance to rest and I’ll prove it to you tomorrow.”

“Juan, that’s not what I…”

He was already gone. Thomas winced as he heard the bedroom door slam.

An hour later Thomas tried the bedroom door and found it unlocked. Juan was sitting in bed writing furiously in a notebook filled with incomprehensible equations and figures. It was obviously math, but so far advanced beyond anything Thomas knew it may as well have been written in Swahili.

“What are you working on, babe?”

“My calculations for the trip tomorrow. Time obviously works differently between our world and that one, and I need to figure out how differently. I experienced a day and a half there while in this world an entire week passed. I wonder if I aged a week too? It’s not really time travel per se, so I’m not sure how it affects my physiology. If nothing else, I’ve confirmed the multiverse theory. I wonder what else I’ll discover. You need to pack a bag too, just in case my calculations are off.”

Thomas stared at Juan in shock. “What are you talking about? Why should I need to pack a bag? And… I’m sorry, but multi-what? You have to remember my degree is in English literature, not quantum mechanics.”

Juan sighed and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I’ve gotten so caught up in the moment I forgot you and I are in entirely different fields. As simply as I can explain it, the multiverse theory which I’m talking about posits that there are an infinite number of alternate universes out there. A new one is created every time a diversion of events occurs. For example, in our universe you and I are a couple and have been for years. In another, we never met and our lives went in completely different directions. The further back in time one goes, the more those changes are compounded. In one universe the United States never won its independence from England. In another, Hitler’s luck didn’t run out and he won World War II. In yet another, the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs never hit Earth. I’ve found a universe very close to ours which diverged pretty early in human history but it appears something else came along and wiped out all animal life on the planet.”

“How could you tell it diverged early?”

“The ruins I found were ancient and covered in plant growth. The landscape was recognizable as identical to where I crossed over, though. Whatever civilization developed in that area was obviously relatively advanced. They built pyramids, Thomas. Do you remember when we went to Mexico and saw the ruins there? I’d put them on par with that. You know Native Americans up here in our universe weren’t building structures like that out of stone. They did, though. But something wiped them out utterly.”

“And the bag?”

“You’re coming with me, Thomas. Remember? Just don’t bring any electronics with you. Opening the gateway obviously fries any advanced electronic circuitry that attempts to cross, so there’s no point. Luckily the device I built was solid-state, and that appears to be fine. I do want you to bring a notebook and several pens, though. We’ll be taking notes this time. I was extremely interested in the runes and glyphs I saw on some of the buildings, and if we’re lucky we may even find a library of sorts.”

Thomas could see there was no point attempting to drag anything further from him, so he resigned himself to packing an overnight bag.

There was a loud crack of thunder and an overwhelming sense of nausea and vertigo as the doorway slammed shut behind them. Thomas briefly wondered if his shoes were coming up along with his breakfast, but the wave of nausea passed before he had a chance to deposit either one on the alien soil he was kneeling on. He kept his eyes tightly shut until the vertigo passed, listening to Juan retching a few feet away. Apparently he wasn’t the only one with whom interdimensional travel disagreed with. After a few moments he felt it was finally safe to open his eyes and see exactly what Juan had gotten him into this time. What he saw took his breath away.

A faded yellow sun shone on a gently rolling windswept plain bordered to the north by a lively river. The ground was covered in a verdant blanket of springy grass. Thomas turned his face into the chill wind blowing from the west to see a range of snow-capped mountains in the distance. A few miles to the south he could see what looked like the ruins of a city, while the plains continued as far as the eye could see to the east. Here and there he could see craters and scars upon the earth, as if something huge had scooped up entire chunks of earth and flung them away.

“Impressive, isn’t it?” Thomas almost jumped out of his skin as Juan spoke up behind him. “This isn’t even the half of it. You should see the city. There are some things I saw that I know you would be fascinated with. We should get moving though. Time moves slower here and it looks like it’s getting close to midday. We’ve got a few miles to walk before we reach the gates of the city itself. Are you ready?”

This is the end of the excerpt. For the rest, you can find the ebook version on Amazon for the ridiculously low price of $0.99!

Also by Paul Martinez

Sliding Along the Watchtower: A Novella


Untitled Scifi Story – Prologue

So I’m 1200 words into my next project. What do you think?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prologue

Once, we were dominant. Once, we were the masters of our universe. Once, we were humans. All that changed, though, when we learned how to manipulate light and gravity and space. We learned how to use the laws of physics to travel between the stars. We weren’t ready for what we found out there.

Where does the story begin? Perhaps it begins July 20, 1969. That was the day Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to set foot on another world. I’m talking about the moon landings, of course. Over the course of the next three and a half years, a total of six manned missions went to our nearest neighbor on a comprehensive data-collecting and research mission. One of the things they collected during Apollo 11 was a fragment of metal which was obviously artificial. This was why we went back five more times. Those fragments of metal were of an alloy never before seen on Earth and that never occurs in nature. Even after all these years, it has never been identified.

Obviously, such a discovery warranted vast amounts of attention. It wasn’t conclusive proof, but it strongly suggested that we weren’t alone in the universe after all. The fragments were ancient, too. The scientists working on them dated the fragments at approximately 1.5 million years old. How they had survived on the lunar surface all that time was anyone’s guess. Then we had a major breakthrough. A structure was unearthed in Antarctica which was composed of the same type of metal. Then we found one buried in the Egyptian desert. Another was discovered in central Mexico. Still another was located deep in the jungle in India. The structures were made of that same metal, shaped like obelisks, and covered with strange runes and glyphs. This was a bombshell and was suppressed by all the relevant governments. How would people have reacted if they suspected human evolution had after all been guided by external forces? Considering the religious turmoil of the time period, that news would have been disastrous at best. The decision was made at the highest echelons of power to keep it quiet.

Maybe it begins on August 15, 1977, when an astronomer working on a project at Ohio State University detected the infamous “Wow! signal”. Discussions were had, decisions were made, and plans were created to respond to extraterrestrial incursions. There was no evidence alien civilizations were interested in us, but – the reasoning went – better safe than sorry. Everything was fine until 2019 when the Hubble Space Telescope – in one of its final discoveries before it came crashing back down to Earth – saw something very peculiar parked at the L2 Lagrangian point behind our planet. Orders were relayed to several ground-based observatories and we finally had our first proof of active extraterrestrial monitoring of our planet. The blasted thing was completely invisible to all of our instruments except those that used visible light, and was far beyond anything we were capable of making at the time. Nobody knew how long it had been there, but over the next two years we watched the probe watch us. All attempts to communicate with it met with total silence, and the one hastily assembled mission to it was an utter failure when the rocket carrying what the public had been led to believe was a new type of communications satellite exploded on the launch pad. Shortly afterward the probe turned around and blasted out of our solar system and was never seen again, though we kept watch on all of the Lagrangian points within relatively easy access of our planet after that.

That event actually marked a major turning point in human history. It was ironic that the seed of our destruction was also the seed of our salvation. The American government notified the other major powers of what was going on – Russia, China, the European Union, Japan, Israel, and Iran. High-level negotiations were started, and for a change they actually accomplished something. That probe began what idealists had hoped for for decades – the long march to peace. It was a long and difficult road, but in the end logic and reason won out over religious extremism, paranoia, fear, and prejudice. Historians still shudder to think what might have happened had America had a President Cruz or Perry or even Palin instead of President Warren. Her educational background and commitment to reason were major factors that helped prevent a return to the Cold War which had marked the 20th century.

Some would argue this story begins in the early 21st century, when one of our space probes – Voyager 1, I think it was called – became the first man-made object to cross into interstellar space, earning us attention we couldn’t know we didn’t want. That attention got a probe parked behind our planet which the Hubble Space Telescope discovered less than a decade later.

Thirty years later (October 29, 2043, to be exact) we actually discovered living microbes on Enceladus and Titan and actual complex multi-cellular organisms swimming around Europa and realized the pale blue dot was just a pale blue dot after all. This event and the subsequent revelation that – no, we’re not alone nor unique in the universe – was key in finally securing worldwide peace. We discovered life elsewhere in the universe independent of humanity. Certain governments wanted to keep that information from the public, but one of the scientists working on the Europa mission managed to smuggle some of the data out and leaked it to the Associated Press. After the Europa data leaked, keeping the discoveries on the other moons secret no longer made any sense. After all, once everyone knew that Europa sported some heavy duty fishing, microbes swimming around an ocean of hydrocarbons on Titan didn’t seem like such a big deal. It sparked some serious upheavals both in North America and the Middle East, but eventually the religious uprisings were quashed on both continents and humanity finally began to really grow up.

For my part, I think that while all of that is relevant to how we became what we are now, it serves mainly as background information. For thousands of years, humanity was confined to its pale blue dot in an ocean of stars, content in the knowledge that we were special, we were unique, and we were – above all else – alone in a universe created solely for our benefit. All that changed during the latter half of the 20th century and throughout the 21st. Finding complex life elsewhere in our own solar system changed our outlook completely. Religious wars were fought, governments rose and fell, entire economies collapsed, and a paradigm shift occurred. Religion was no longer the dominant force in most people’s lives. We realized that we needed to restore our planet and we needed to share its bounty equally amongst ourselves. We came back from the brink of self-destruction and saved ourselves. After one hundred years of contemplation, clean up, and revamping the global economy, we were finally ready to start looking outward again.

We were fools.


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the War

So I hadn’t planned on doing this, but I’m excited about it so here it goes: I’m currently writing a short story collection. Here is one of them. Keep in mind this story ties into a larger one.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the War

The year was 2003; the cowboy president was ramping up his brushfire war in the east; the boy was young and eager and ready to leave this dead-end town he’d been born into. His parents were broke; his grades were mediocre; his prospects were bleak. Charlie Grist was tired of slinging hay and shoveling shit and mending others peoples’ fences. He was tired of flipping gut-bomb burgers at the local hamburger stand nights and getting high with the same crowd of losers on weekends. He wanted out. So he did what any 19-year old kid with no prospects and no future would do – he called up his Uncle Sam and volunteered. Three weeks later he was taking his oath, kissing his mom for the last time, teasing his kid sister, and shaking his daddy’s hand. Then it was off to Fort Benning to be a soldier – a real live infantryman. Not long after, Charlie graduated and was sent to hell.

Three years later, he was still there.

Charlie, Sergeant Grist now, was known among the members of his platoon for being a rock. He was also renowned for having a way with the new guys fresh from back home. Therefore it was no surprise when he hit it off with a new guy from Austin, Texas, named Benitez. Benitez was a bit strange, but considering where he hailed from, that was no surprise. Everyone Charlie’d ever met from Texas always said Austin was a bit weird and they were proud of that. Charlie found out just how weird Benitez was, though, one day before their platoon went on patrol about three months after Benitez arrived.

“Hey Sarge!”
“What’s up, Benitez?”
“Did I ever tell you about my tattoo?”
“…Can’t say you have. Make it quick, we’re getting ready to move out.”
“It’s my guarantee of getting home safe. See – I figure I’ve been praying to God all my life and what did it get me? Here! So I got this tattoo of the devil on my ass right before I left, and I made him a deal. I told him if he protected my ass over here I’d do something for him when I get back home. Wanna see it?”
“Are you crazy? Keep your ass in your pants and your head down. THAT’S how you’ll get home on your feet instead of in a box, asshole. Now come on – we’ve got a job to do.”

While on patrol, Charlie’s platoon came under heavy attack from insurgents after Benitez triggered an IED. His legs were blown off at the knee, and he suffered burns over most of the rest of his body which he later succumbed to. The only part of Benitez which wasn’t burned was his ass. Specifically, his left ass cheek. The one with the devil tattoo.

“Sometimes I still think of that kid,” Charlie said. “I think about that deal with the devil he made. He asked the devil to save his ass, not his life, you see? THAT was his mistake! He should have asked the devil to save his LIFE! Cause all the devil saved was his left ass cheek. I still think about him screaming. I still think about having to pick up his legs and bring them back with us after we fought off those screaming ungrateful bastards. I still remember what a cock-up that entire day was – that young kid, lying on the ground, burned, bleeding, cursing everyone and everything. And I remember seeing that one perfect piece of skin on him – the one part that wasn’t all fucked up. That devil tattoo was grinning out from what was left of his BDUs at me. I figured he didn’t need it anymore.”

Charlie reached into his shirt and pulled out a cord with a brown flap of leather, on which was tattooed a vibrantly colored smiling picture of a fellow with a forked beard, red skin, horns, and goat’s eyes. The artwork was actually quite good.

“I cut it off him, you see. He was already dead – he just didn’t know it yet. I don’t know if it was my own luck or this dead boy’s tattoo that got me through that clusterfuck, but I made it home just the same, boys. I made it.”

The diner was silent as Charlie placed his dead man’s devil tattoo back under his shirt. Charlie returned their stares, waiting for someone to break the silence which was rapidly becoming uncomfortable. Someone stifled a chuckle. Finally Tom, the ostensible leader of the bunch, found his voice.

“Holy shit, Charlie, that’s real fucked up.”
“War is hell, Tom. When the shit hits the fan you look for any advantage you can get. Besides – we all heard stories growing up about grunts going crazy and cutting off ears and wearing them as necklaces. The way I see it – I got this off a dead man, and it’s all I ever took. At least this served a purpose.”
“So why’d you decide to keep it?”
“I figured better safe than sorry, right? I went through the rest of the war wearing this damnable thing around my neck and never got so much as a splinter or a hangnail. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”


The Coming of the Herald

He came to the world in darkness. Triumphant chanting filled the cold night as air cut his lungs for the first time, cold wet air filling lungs millennia old yet newly born again. He had risen from the ashes of death again, where he had lain in dreaming sleep for thousands of years. And he was hungry. He was not the great dread Old One, the high priest of the immortal Elder Gods, but a servant. His task was to prepare the way.

He looked down at the shriveled husk beside him, so recently a man, now a burned out lifeless shell. Only death could pay for life, and to awaken the high priest himself would cost much. He looked appraisingly at the worshippers surrounding him for a moment. Not nearly enough. Still, he had three hundred years to spread the word and terror and dread of his great master’s coming. Time enough to kill…time enough to feed…time enough to raise the master from his deathly slumber.

Author’s note: This may turn into more later. Those of you who know me know I’m a HUGE fan of Lovecraft, and I’ve been wanting to contribute to the Mythos for some time now. Here’s a start.


Part XII – The Devil and His Due

“Hold me now I need to feel relief like I never wanted anything.
I suppose I’ll let this go and find a reason I’ll hold on to.
I’m so ashamed of defeat and I’m out of reason to believe in me.
I’m out of trying to get by.” – Seether

South central Texas – one month after the end of the world

The sun rose over what used to be a sleepy little town. All was silent. His first desperate stop was his mother’s house. If she’d come here like he hoped, that’s where she would have come. He approached the town from the northeast, reasoning it would be faster and safer that way. He unhooked the bike from its straps, checked his weapons and gear, and rode into town.

• • •

“Jacob, pass me that bottle. I need another shot.”
“You got it bro. I still can’t believe you’ve chased your family from Nevada to Georgia back to here with no proof they’re even still out there.”
“All I have left is hope.”
“Hope’s running kinda slim these days, bro.”
“It saved your ass, didn’t it?”

Jacob closed his eyes, remembering the horror that brought this man into his world. He’d been drifting since the end, making his way slowly east before turning south. His ultimate goal was to make his way to the coast, find a boat, and make his way to some tropical island. Everything was going fine until he got to some rinky-dink town in the middle of nowhere called Gonzales. First he’d been ambushed and nearly killed by a group of survivors. He’d had to abandon most of his gear and his car to escape through the woods before running headlong into a hungry pack of monsters. They’d been attracted by the sound of the bandits’ guns. Of course. Luckily, he’d been working on his cardio since the end and was pretty hardy for long distance running. After three miles he broke through the tree line and found a highway. The going here was easier, which was good for him since he’d stumbled and felt his ankle twist under him. The monsters were gaining though. Then he heard a ridiculously loud engine. He looked up, saw a big rig closing on him, and waved his arms frantically.

The driver saw the man running for his life, slammed on his brakes, and leapt from the truck. He drew his hand cannon, and yelled a single word: “DOWN!” Jacob dropped like a rock as the monster closest to him exploded. The roar of the gun was deafening. Another one fell, then another. The rest scattered and made for the trees as the driver ran toward the man on the ground.

“You ok?”
“I twisted my ankle.”
“Can you walk?”
“When the Devil’s chasing you you can do anything. Didn’t you just see me running?”
“Come on then, Johnny. Grab your golden fiddle and let’s get out of here.”
“There’s a group not far north. They took my stuff and tried to kill me.”
“Thanks for the tip. I’m not heading north, so I think we can stay clear of them. Come on; let’s get you inside and see if we can fix you up.”

The driver helped the prone man to his feet and together they walked to an abandoned convenience store. After ensuring it was clear, they went inside. The driver turned and went back to the truck, pulled into the parking lot, and grabbed some supplies before heading into the store.

“Well it’s getting late anyway, I may as well stop here for the night. You’re not going anywhere on that ankle either.”
“No shit, Sherlock. Thanks for saving my ass back there.”
“No problem. I like to think you’d do the same for someone else in trouble.”
“I like to think that too. I don’t know though.”
“What’s your name, little brother?”
“Jacob. You?”
The driver told him.
“You Mexican?”
“Among other things.”
“Huh. I took you for Asian at first. It’s the eyes.”
“I get that a lot.”
“So what’s your story? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about my avenging angel being Mexican Dirty Harry meets Optimus Prime, but I’m curious what you’re doing out here. Where are you headed? What brought you out here?”
“It’s a long story.”
Jacob reached in his pack and pulled out a bottle. It was very old, very Scottish, and – considering the day they’d both had, VERY necessary.
“We appear to have plenty of time, and since storytelling’s thirsty work…”

The driver took the bottle and began his story.

• • •

He’d long since lapsed into silence. Jacob was a good audience, and he missed having someone to talk with.
“So what now?”
“What do you mean what now? Tomorrow morning I finish the journey. I have 30 miles to go from here, then the real work begins. Tomorrow – I go hunting. I find my family – ALL of my family – and then get them the hell out of here. I’m heading north from here. We’re going to Idaho.”
“Idaho? Why Idaho?”
“There’s a town up in the mountains there. Coeur d’Alene. Ever heard of it?”
“No. What’s so special about this town?”
“It sits in a valley and is protected by mountains and a huge lake. It’s about as safe a place as you could hope to find. Spokane is just west of there too, and there’s farmland and fields nearby. It’s a place to rebuild. Some friends of mine were headed there. I’m hoping to find them.”
“Idaho’s a long way from here, big brother.”
“I’ve made it this far, haven’t I?”
“True.”
Jacob took the bottle and swallowed a mouthful of very fine single malt Scotch whisky. He thought carefully for a minute (as carefully as he could, anyway. The liquid was doing its work very well) and said, “Why don’t you come with me? There are bound to be some boats along the coast somewhere. Let’s find your family and head for the water.”
“I don’t trust it, little brother. Think about it – you won’t have any kind of weather warnings and your only source of water on an island will be rainfall. Not to mention the bugs. Mosquitos carry malaria, you know.”
“I dunno. I think the best thing to do is get off the mainland. People have lived on islands for thousands of years. I’m pretty sure we could manage.”

The driver thought about it for a while. The main problem was having enough fuel to get a boat from the Texas coast to an island somewhere. The only islands he could think of were the Bahamas, the Caribbean, and Cozumel. Cozumel would be the easiest, but getting there would be tough. He had no knowledge of boats whatsoever and had no clue as to roads and traveling conditions through old Mexico. Mexico was a complete unknown beyond the border cities. It was too dangerous.

“I’m sorry Jacob. The risks are too high. I don’t know anything about boats or navigating over open water, and there aren’t many islands in the Gulf of Mexico. I think the better bet is to go north. These monsters are susceptible to weather, and winter in the mountains gets cold.”
“On the mainland you still have to worry about groups of survivors though. I don’t know about you but you’re the only survivor I’ve met so far that didn’t try to kill me on sight. Society’s gone, bro. Civilization collapsed. It’s kill or be killed now.”

The driver thought this over. It was true. He’d had more good encounters than Jacob, but still – there had been far more bad ones than good. Still, he’d made it through alive and was positive he could find more good people and they could rebuild some kind of life together.

“My mind’s made up. I’m heading north with my family when I find them. You’re welcome to join me if you like.”
“I think I’ll try my luck heading south. Damned shame. The one decent person I meet is headed the other way.”
“It happens, little brother. Still, we’re well met on our journeys. I tell you what – if things don’t pan out along the coast, head north. Try to find me. Where are you heading? There’s lots of coast in Texas.”
“I figured I’d start with Corpus Christi since it’s not too far and work my way east along the coast. There’s bound to be a boat somewhere.”
“I tell you what – I’ll give you a ride as far as I’m going. It’s only 30 miles, but 30 miles is 30 miles.”
Jacob passed the driver the bottle with a grin. “That, my brother, sounds like a plan. Leave at dawn?”
“Dawn it is.”

• • •

The driver rode hard and fast. It was several miles from where he’d parked the truck to his mother’s house, and he wanted the full day to search. He had to find a whole slew of people, save the ones he could, and get them the hell out of there. How to do it? The truck was big, but it wouldn’t hold ten people unless he modified a trailer. That meant welding and time, and he didn’t have an arc welder or time to do it. Better to cross that bridge when he came to it.

The wind shifted, and he caught a familiar odor on it. He quickly steered the bike into the university campus where he could find cover. “No guns,” he thought. He couldn’t risk shooting and drawing attention to himself. Not yet. He dismounted the bike, shouldered his pack, and drew the machete. He continued walking toward his mother’s house, creeping from tree to tree. He was particularly thankful this day for the abundance of live oak trees in his hometown and all the cover they provided him.

After a mile he turned onto a side street and walked the last quarter mile. There were several cars parked along the street in front, but only one was familiar. He looked around and sniffed the air. The street was empty; the air smelled clean. As he checked the cars his heart fell to his feet – all of them were covered with dried blood. “No,” he whispered. One of them had Georgia tags. There was blood everywhere. He looked toward the house; there were several misshapen lumps lying in the grass. He approached them slowly, dreading what he knew he’d find. One of the lumps had tufts of black and white fur sticking out of it, the other orange tan. He bent down for a closer look. All that was left was fur and some bones. These were his dogs.

He suddenly had no desire to approach the house. He didn’t want to see what was inside. The front door stood slightly open; the house was dark inside. Still, it had to be done. He reached into his pack and pulled out a flashlight. He checked his surroundings again…he caught the smell of stale urine and old sweat, but didn’t see anything or hear movement. He steeled himself and walked to the house.

Blood. Blood everywhere. It looked like something out of a Freddy Krueger movie. The furniture, the beds, the floor were sticky with it. He held himself together as long as he could, then ran outside. He was lightheaded and dizzy. He took a few deep breaths, then fell to his knees and screamed. It was a raw, primal scream, full of pain and despair. He couldn’t think. Death was all around him as he knelt, oblivious to it.

Keen ears heard and headed toward the sound.

He wept, heedless of the noise. He’d known this was a distinct possibility, but he’d never prepared himself for it. His mind was trying to jump start itself now. He’d cleared his mom’s, now to find his sons. To do that he had to get back to the truck. They’d lived about ten miles out of town. Maybe they were still there or hiding out with some remnant of his ex-wife’s family. He had to know. Someone still had to be alive.

He looked at what was left of his dogs, stroking the fur. “I’m sorry,” he said as much to his family as to them. “I’m sorry I was too late. I’m sorry I failed you.” He stood and turned toward the street. An entire horde of the monsters was approaching, slowly for once. He backed toward the house and felt his adrenaline surge. Suddenly he was enraged. His eyes blazed as he drew his guns. He bared his teeth and yelled at the monsters with all his pain and rage and despair.

“COME ON! COME EAT SOME OF THIS!”

They charged. He fired.

• • •

The driver sat inside the house on what used to be one of his mom’s dining room chairs. He’d fired both guns empty, reloaded, done it again, then ran inside the house and barricaded the door. The monsters swarmed it, crashing against it like an ocean wave upon a cliff. It was only a matter of time before the door gave. He took a minute to look at the pictures on the refrigerator. He picked one up – this was his mom, his sister, his nieces…tears fell from his eyes as he held it. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t here,” he said to them. “I’m sorry I failed you all. I couldn’t save you…but I’ll damn sure avenge you.” He saw another picture, this one of his daughter. The one next to it was of his sons. He pocketed all three pictures, closed his eyes, and whispered a prayer to his gods for their souls.

The door creaked and moaned under the weight of the bodies behind it.

He walked to the door and drew the machete. A loud cracking sound filled the air as he cursed the monsters to the lowest pits of Mahāraurava to be tormented and eaten over and over by kravyāda for time beyond meaning. He held the hand cannon in his right hand, the machete in his left. The door cracked again and buckled in as he stood still as a stone. He closed his eyes and meditated, gathering what remained of his strength for this onslaught. He couldn’t be killed yet, not without knowing if his sons lived or not.

“I don’t know if you’re up there or not. I don’t know if you give a damn about what you’ve allowed to happen down here. I’ve tried to be faithful; I’ve tried to live a good life without fear or hatred. I’ve tried to help others around me; I’ve fought for equality and compassion; I’ve placed my life on the line for others and asked nothing in return. All I ask now is the strength to get through this moment and into the next. Help me survive this fight so I can continue helping the others I find. I’ve heard that luck will often save a man if his courage holds; help my courage to hold.”

He opened his eyes, tightened his grip on the machete, and stared his death in the eyes peering at him through the gaping hole in the door. One more push and they would be through. He raised the cannon and fired a round into the brain of the monster.

The sound of the shots could be heard for miles.

• • •

The cannon was empty and he was out of ammo for it. He’d only brought three extra mags for both guns, and just drew the Glock with its last full one. He fired. Creatures fell with every shot, but it seemed as if two more sprouted for every one he killed. “They’re like the goddamned hydra,” he thought wryly. He also thought it a shame he didn’t have a nephew to help him slay the beast like Hercules. Then the door cracked into pieces and the monsters began stumbling into the house. He took one’s head off, fired a round point-blank into another’s skull, and slew yet another with his machete.

He had a distinct advantage in the doorway – it was narrow, it was dark, and there was already a pile of bodies the creatures had to stumble over to get inside. Still, he wouldn’t be able to keep this up forever. He had to break through somehow. He slashed one’s throat open with the machete and started backing toward what used to be his nieces’ room. There was a window there he might be able to escape from.

The monsters followed him, stumbling in the dark but hearing his footsteps. Still, they didn’t see well in daylight and their sight was worse in the darkened house. The air was heavy with the scent of their blood and the house still rang with the echoes of the gunshots. The driver could barely believe how well he was hidden from them in plain sight. He reached the bedroom, smashed the window and vacated the house. The rest of the horde was waiting for him. He ran.

They chased.

He ran harder than he’d run in years, and his knees screamed their outrage at him. Suddenly his ankle popped and he fell forward, tucking into a ball on instinct and rolling to face his pursuers. If he must die lying down, it wouldn’t be with one or more of those things on his back. One lunged at him; he brought his feet up, caught it in the gut, pushed hard and flung it off him. It knocked over a few of its companions as it fell snarling. Another lunged, impaling itself on the upraised machete. Another one fell on top of him; he reached up and broke its neck. Then another fell, and another, and another. Soon he was buried under a pile.

The driver could hardly believe his luck. Here he was trapped under a pile of ravenous cannibalistic monsters, relatively safe thanks to the two dead ones sheltering him with their bodies. His nostrils were filled with their reek; he was thankful he couldn’t see their faces. It was bad enough knowing he’d probably suffocate under here. The weight of them made breathing difficult and black roses were starting to bloom before his eyes. The snarling sounds were growing soft and distant; the weight of the bodies didn’t feel so oppressive now. He was exhausted. “It would be so easy to sleep now,” he thought. He closed his eyes and let oblivion take him, not caring if he ever opened them again.

• • •

The group heard several rapid popping sounds from a distance; their identity was unmistakable.
“Really?” said one of them. “Some idiot is out here shooting?
“We’d better go check it out,” said another. “Sounds like someone needs help.”
“What concern is that of ours?” asked another.
“What if that was you? You’d want help you selfish prick!”
“It does explain why it’s been so quiet in town today,” said another. “We should be thankful of our mystery guest. But let’s be thankful from a distance!
“No,” said another, “it’s our moral duty to find them and help them.”

The group debated quietly but furiously. They’d come into town looking for supplies and equipment, not survivors. They believed they’d rounded up most of the survivors anyway. This person had to be an outsider, so what could it possibly concern them?

It was eventually decided that a scouting party of three volunteers would go investigate. If three volunteers could not be found, there would be no scouting party. Two quickly volunteered to go; finding the third proved challenging. Finally, someone else stepped up after much pleading by one of the other two. They headed quickly and silently into the dead town.

They eventually stumbled on what they were looking for. There was a pile of the creatures on the ground, trying to reach something buried under them. All three drew their blades, approached silently, and – thankful of the monsters’ single-mindedness, began lopping off heads. One of the party screamed in horror when they reached the bottom of the pile. Her comrades turned to look at her, curious.
“What’s wrong with you?”
Her eyes flashed angrily as she pulled off her hood, revealing the problem instantly.
“You jackass, that’s my brother!”

Author’s note – and so ends Chapter 2, as well as the free excerpt of my upcoming novel. I’ll be sure to let you know if and when I ever find someone willing to publish it. I hope you’ve enjoyed the tale as much as I’ve enjoyed writing and sharing it with you. Thanks for reading. – Don Loco


Part XI – Redemption in the Red Dawn

“Encumbered forever by desire and ambition, there’s a hunger still unsatisfied.
Our weary eyes still stray to the horizon though down this road we’ve been so many times.” – Pink Floyd

Prologue

The virus was meant to be a cure at first. The scientist had long pondered ways to combat the nuisance and lost time of various minor illnesses that – despite the wonder of the human immune system – just kept defeating it. Then the human genome was decoded. Surely there was a way to change it, to tweak it, to write an immunity into the damned thing! After many years of frustrating work, he thought he’d figured out how to do it.

The answer was a retrovirus – it would rewrite the original host cell’s genetic code with something new, then become a regular virus and replicate trillions upon trillions of times, in each new cell of the infected person’s body. Better, these traits could be made heritable so they would be passed on to future generations. He could write an immunity to cancer, to AIDS, influenza, hell even the common cold! Of course there would be a portion of the population that would be naturally immune to his retrovirus, but that didn’t matter. The percentage would be so small it really wouldn’t matter anyway and eventually thanks to natural selection those people’s genetic lines would die out.

His research consisted of thousands upon thousands of pages. He could do it! He knew he could do it! Then he approached a pharmaceutical company for funding to begin testing. They sent him on his merry way, telling him that if he actually planned to cure all these diseases he’d put them out of business! Again and again he was rejected for various reasons. His work was too theoretical, or too speculative, or just too much in the realm of sci-fi for it to work, they said. Quit watching Star Trek or Space Wars or whatever the hell they called it and do some real work, they told him. Then he caught someone’s eye.

He’d published his research for peer review, of course. He’d been soundly ridiculed in the respectable journals. His work was promising, but just too far beyond current capability to have any practical value. It was too far into theory; what about the ethical implications? Would we even still be human? He was burned by the fools’ shortsightedness. He could do it! Then he was fired from his teaching position at the university. The board of directors didn’t want to be associated with his crackpot theories.

He was at home, drunk, when he got the phone call. A third party was very interested in his theories and wanted to meet with him. “Why not?” he said. He’d grown used to being laughed at. What was one more time? He was angry; he was bitter. He was prepared for anything but to be taken seriously.

He was taken to a remote cabin in the mountains in Washington to meet with his mysterious benefactor. Hs questions had all met one response: “All will be revealed. Save your questions for then.” So he’d waited. He’d waited when he was driven to the airport; he’d waited when he was taken to the corporate airfield; he’d waited while he rode the extremely comfortable private jet; he’d waited while they landed in Seattle and he’d been escorted to a waiting limousine. He’d been waiting for some time now on the ride from the airport into the mountains east of the city. Finally they pulled into a driveway. The flunky sitting across from him said they were going to his employer’s cabin; the scientist saw that his definition of cabin needed expanding. It was a mansion. It was surrounded by acres of evergreen trees; there was a stream cutting through that was clear and looked cold as ice. The home itself was a log building, but was three stories tall and had enormous picture windows on the ground floor. It looked like a warm and inviting place; it looked like a place you’d want to come home to on a cold winter night.

“We’re here,” the flunky said.
“I gathered,” replied the scientist. “Should I bow or should I curtsy?”
The flunky didn’t look amused. “Don’t be an ass. My employer wants to meet you. He finds your work…fascinating, to say the least.”
“I’m sorry,” replied the scientist. “I’m not used to professional courtesy anymore.”
“It’s fine, sir. Now if you’ll follow me, please.”

They walked up the path leading to the house and stepped inside. The flunky escorted the scientist to a lower level, where they found an office. The flunky introduced the scientist to the man in the chair and excused himself. The scientist examined the room and the man slowly before opening his mouth to speak. The man in the chair stopped him.

“Doctor, it’s an honor to meet you.”
“I’m sorry, but you have me at a disadvantage.”
“I’m sorry, but names are such…trivial…things, aren’t they? Suffice it to say I definitely know you. I know your passion is neurobiology and genetics; I know you’ve found a…novel…way of treating what ails us; I know you’ve also been dismissed as a crackpot. I believe, though, that you are right. I believe it is indeed possible to rewrite the human genetic code to include immunity to various diseases. I think we’re long overdue for a software upgrade, don’t you?”
“Why yes,” replied the scientist, shocked at this approach. “So what do you want from me?”
“I want you to do it. I’m proposing to completely fund you. I want a practical application. Make it happen, Doctor. Save the world.”
“This sounds too good to be true. How do I know this isn’t some elaborate April Fool’s joke?”
“Call your bank. I’ve advanced you five million dollars. The money is yours.”

Ten minutes later, the scientist white as a ghost…

“One more question.”
“Yes?”
“Why? Why are you doing this?”
“Let’s just say I have a vested interest. So do millions of other people around the world. I’ve gone as far as current medical science can take me. The only condition I have is this – when you’ve succeeded, you will release your retrovirus into the air here in Washington. The jet stream will carry it around the world. You can publish anything you want, you can patent and trademark everything you do and discover, but this first treatment will be absolutely free to everyone around the world. I’m paying you more than enough to compensate you in advance for your time and effort.”
“And what am I upgrading first?”
The man looked at him steadily. “Cancer. Are you up to the task?”
“When do I begin?”
“Now.”

• • •

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

The man sat with his back propped against the car, weeping uncontrollably. All around was silent, save the chirping of insects and his wordless cries. He reached for the hand cannon in its holster, placed the barrel to his chin, tilted his head back and thumbed the hammer.

“WAIT!”

He reacted instantly, pointing the gun in the direction of the shout. It was an old man.

“Easy son, I’m still me and you’re still you – for now. You pull that trigger though and who can say for sure? Looks like you’ve had a rough time of it.”
“I was ambushed on the other side of the bridge. I killed eight men. Then on the bridge…some of them were…just…kids…”

He started weeping again. He saw his own children’s faces on the tiny bodies. He saw black gore spurting from slashed bodies. He heard snarls as monsters reached for him, hunger and hatred in their dying eyes.

The man approached and knelt beside him, putting his hand on the big gun and pushing down slightly. The weeping man holstered the gun and looked into the old man’s eyes.

“I’m a murderer so many times over. I’m so sorry for what I’ve done.”
The old man reached out and pulled him close, holding him surprisingly tightly.
“Easy, son. You can’t murder in self defense when your life is on the line. You did what you had to do. You can’t murder a wolf that means to kill you. Nor a man, whether he’s still a man or not. If you hadn’t fought you’d be dead now, right?”
“Yeah.”
“Those creatures on the bridge – the others you’ve had to kill – they’re not human anymore. They still look human, but what made them human is long gone. You’re not killing people but rabid dogs.”
“That doesn’t make it any better.”
“No it doesn’t, and if it did I’d say there was something wrong with you. But killing yourself isn’t the answer. You’ve done what you’ve had to do.”
The old man stood up and extended a hand to the younger man. He took it and stood, looking away toward the setting sun.
“Come on now, son. You’ve taken time to mourn, and that’s good, but you need to realize nonviolence isn’t the answer anymore. You need to figure out that it’s okay to fight sometimes. Now you’ve taken enough time here. It isn’t safe, and you still need to head west a ways and then go north.”
“How did you…?”

The old man had vanished.

A door in the motel burst open and three monsters charged at him. He drew the machete in a single fluid motion, sidestepped, and disemboweled the closest one. It crumpled in a heap, howling in pain as its guts spilled on the ground. The other two stopped short and stared at him, hunger and hatred in their eyes.

He reached for the Glock and pointed it at one of the monsters. He backed away slowly and, without knowing why, ended the howling creature’s misery. He’d never heard any of them vocalize like that before. The sound was…inhuman. He kept the gun on the creatures as he got into the car and drove away.

• • •

Lafayette, Louisiana

He didn’t find the truck dealership, but he did make it to the big truck stop on the eastern edge of town. He looked regretfully at the burger place across the way, remembering how much he’d loved them. Now it was just a dead and empty building painted orange and white. He acquired another truck and, to his delight, found another bicycle. He’d sincerely regretted losing the one in Columbus but there had just been nothing else for it at the time.

He scavenged some supplies and headed back east toward the bridge. He still had another hour of daylight left and intended to use it. He made it back to the pileup where he’d been forced to abandon his supplies, loaded them into the new truck, drank some water and fell asleep.

He did not dream.

• • •

He woke before sunrise. He checked his surroundings, decided it was safe, and stepped out into the pre-dawn chill. He lit a cigarette and dragged deeply on it, savoring the smoke. He hadn’t smoked in days, but decided he’d earned one after recent events. He looked toward the east and the sun broke over the horizon, lighting the sky in reds and oranges and golds and pinks. It was glorious.

For the first time in weeks, he felt easy in his heart. He’d written the encounter with the old man off as a hallucination brought on by stress or even a nervous breakdown, but now he wasn’t so sure. Still, whatever he was, the old man was right. It was time to move on. “Why the hell do I want to go north?” Then he remembered a conversation he’d had with his friend Stone back at the beginning. They were going north and were planning to hook up with others. He couldn’t remember the name of the town, but that was a small matter right now.

He finished his smoke, climbed into the truck, and drove west.

• • •

Epilogue

The beginning of the end of the world

Montana

The car headed west on the interstate. Its two passengers were in relatively high spirits, though the world was ending around them and one of them was ridiculously sick. Stephanie was driving, singing along to a cd. Justin was wrapped in a blanket, trying not to complain too much when they hit the occasional bump. They were madly, deeply, in love.

Justin was amazed at his rotten luck. Here it was, the end of all things, and he’d had to go and get the flu on top of everything else. Still, he was grateful to be with the love of his life. He’d gotten lucky. He was from North Dakota, she from Michigan. They’d met and fallen in love in Las Vegas, of all places. Now they were together headed to Idaho to meet up with others who were planning to set up in a more well protected area. Still, he felt like absolute shit.

“Steph?”
“Yeah Stone?”
“Have I told you lately how motherfucking awesome you are?”
She laughed and reached for his hand. It was insanely hot. She looked over at him and her heart plummeted to her feet. He was unconscious. She slammed on the brakes, the car skidding a little on the ice.
“Stone? STONE? Wake up, honey, oh please god wake up!”
She ran to the other side of the car, opened the door and pulled him out. He was too hot. There was snow on the ground and she could use it to cool him off.
She started crying in her fear.
“Come on, honey, wake up! Don’t do this to me!”

He started convulsing, and blood began leaking from his pores, his ears, his nose, mouth and eyes. He stank, as if he’d urinated on himself in a sauna. After a few minutes the convulsions stopped and he lay still, his breathing ragged and his eyes fluttering under the closed lids.

“Stone?”
No response.

Stephanie knelt beside her husband in the snow, wondering what to do. She wouldn’t leave him, she knew that, but beyond that knowledge…

His eyes flew open. They were bloodshot, and the whites had turned yellow. He sat up and looked around.

“Stone?”

He looked at her a long time, reached a hand out to her, and grabbed her hair, pulling her to himself. He snarled as he pulled her face toward his mouth.

to be continued…


Part X – Down By the River

“Together we may get away
This much madness is too much sorrow
It’s impossible to make it today.” – Neil Young

The Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana

The swamp is the largest in what used to be the United States. It is crossed by a bridge 18 miles long. The bridge is high above the swamp. It is difficult to access anywhere other than the entrances. This makes it difficult for the creatures to get onto it. It also makes it difficult for them to get off. The bright side of this is that it’s easy to see what’s ahead and behind. The bridge continues in an East/West direction its entire length. The bad news is that it’s also very easy to get hemmed in, especially since the bridge is now jammed with cars.

• • •

I’d lost the truck. My worst fear had come to pass – I was now defenseless in very wild country. I’d as good as killed eight men in anger, but I didn’t have time to mourn for them or me right then. The shots and the grenade brought a pack of them down on our position, and I had to get out of there – fast. “Run”, I thought to myself. I ran for the trees. I’m terrified of heights and I’ve never been much of a climber, but I managed to make my way into one and climb. Thankfully the trees distorted the echoes and made it harder to put an exact position on me. I made it unnoticed. The monsters feasted while I hid; I could hear the men screaming in agony as they were torn apart by the hungry mob. I covered my ears and tried not to hear.

I woke with a start to the sun on my face. I’d lashed myself to the tree to keep from falling out during the night. I looked toward the parking lot and saw a bloody mess. All that was left of my attackers was bloodstained concrete and asphalt. The creatures were nowhere to be seen. I made my way down from the tree, drew my machete, and crept toward the parking lot. I needed to scavenge what I could and head west.

I checked the cars in the parking lot and managed to find one that still ran. Granted it was a piece of junk (all of them were, really), but it would move faster than I could walking. I find myself utilizing the “better than nothing” mindset more and more these days. It was more of a house on wheels than a car, and not in the RV sense of the phrase. Still, the engine started when I turned the key and when I put it in gear it moved. I went to the truck and – after clearing the junk and trash – got my gear and supplies and stuffed it in the car.

The words of the fellow I’d met outside Monroe rang loud in my head. “Stay clear of the swamps if you can,” he’d said. “The swamps are full of them, and there’s the other critters too. Plus you got them survivors from Fort Polk and they ain’t nice people.” Still, I was miles away from there and the bridge over Atchafalaya only had two access points along its length. I figured I’d be relatively safe, and I could see about getting another truck in Lafayette. It was time to go.

I’d made it about eight miles across when I came to a pileup. It wasn’t deep, but it was enough to bring me to a halt. Four cars were piled into each other and the road was blocked. I had no choice but to continue on foot. I grabbed what I could carry and hoped to come back for the rest. If I could get another truck maybe I could push my way through if I took it slow. Time would tell.

• • •

I’d walked a long way – it felt like miles – when I caught that smell again. “Damn,” I thought to myself as I drew the machete. I looked both directions, but couldn’t see anything. It felt creepy though. I could hear insects chirping in the swamp; the sun was warm on my face; I could feel eyes watching me. I didn’t like it. “Better to draw them and get it over with,” I thought as I sheathed the blade and unslung the shotgun. I racked a shell and drew breath to yell.

• • •

A pack of the creatures, 20 in number, wanders the bridge. Their vision is poor, their ears sharp. They haven’t eaten in days and are very hungry. They catch a cry on the wind and are instantly drawn to it. They move at a nightmarish speed, their DNA having been rewritten to allow for much faster movement. Some of them are further along in the process than others, and surge ahead. They close the distance fast. There is a loud BANG! and the one in the lead falls. Then another, and another. Several more fall, and the man drops the shotgun.

The monsters draw closer.

He pulls another gun, this one smaller but still big by any standard. He takes aim and fires. One of the creatures simply explodes, then another, and another. He fires again and misses. He fires off four more rounds, hitting his targets each time. They don’t duck; they don’t dodge; they run straight at him, hunger and hatred in their eyes. Seven monsters are left, and the hand cannon is empty. No time to reload. He drops the Magnum and pulls the Glock, popping shots in quick succession. He learns a fast lesson then: the creatures don’t have to be killed by headshot, but the 9mm doesn’t do enough damage to kill with one shot to the body. He drops four more creatures when the closest one comes close enough to strike with the machete. Over the last several weeks he’s had lots of practice with it and gotten good. The strike opens its throat and black goo spurts out, reeking of death. He shoots the one behind between the eyes with his last bullet, and lets the third one impale itself on his blade. The force of the impact knocks him off balance and the thing lands on top of him as it dies. He pushes it off and gets to his feet, shaking with exertion and adrenaline. He’s tired. He wipes the gore from the blade and sheathes it, then picks up his guns and reloads them. He begs his gods for forgiveness the whole time.

The sound of the gunshots travels for miles. Sharp ears hear them and are drawn, curious and hungry.

• • •

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, late afternoon

A car moves slowly along the highway. Its lone occupant is exhausted. It’s taken hours to get this far – he’s fought more in the past five hours than he ever did in his past life and killed far more than he’d ever imagined he would. The last pack included a few children and he’d only killed them because he had no other choice. He is shellshocked and traumatized by what he’s done. He sees a Holiday Inn next to a truck stop and pulls into the parking lot. The engine stops and he steps out of the car. He’s singing to himself. It’s the chorus of an old Neil Young song. “Down by the river, I shot my baby, dead…”

The man falls to his knees, puts a hand to his eyes, and begins to sob uncontrollably. He doesn’t feel the eyes watching him from the motel window.

to be continued…


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