Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Theme Story - The Best Meal

I bit into the morsel, feeling the texture as it filled my mouth. The meat seemed to melt on my tongue, transforming from firm cube to ephemeral flavor in seconds. The sear on the outside, the seasoning…. Everything just melted together in perfect harmony.

I closed my eyes as the flavor faded, savoring this feeling for as long as I possibly could. Only once my mouth was clear did I slice off another piece, salivating as the food approached my opening mouth. At times like this I completely lost myself in sensation, the clang and clamor of the surrounding restaurant disappearing into abject silence. I became a primordial creature, consisting of tastebuds only as I consumed the steak. Each bite was the same experience, neither diminished nor faded, the character of the flavor evolving as the temperature of the meat slowly cooled. I lost myself in the act of consumption completely.

It was her laughter filtering into my ears that ultimately brought me out of my reverie. I opened my eyes and looked down at the plate, awareness returning to me slowly as the taste of heaven faded from my mouth. I looked across the table at her, smiling sweetly, and asked her “How is your dinner?”

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Theme Story - Schoolyard Fight

Jimmy ducked under the wild haymaker, taking a step back as he straightened to catch his balance. He saw Gabe winding up for another strike and braced himself. The initial dodge had been luck, but Gabe’s follow-up jab resulted in a sharp impact in Jimmy’s ribs. Jimmy doubled over, hunching over the impact point in an attempt to protect himself that left the other side of his body wide open – a fact which didn’t escape Gabe’s notice as he threw another wild punch, this time connecting.

The force of the blow knocked Jimmy to the ground, adding to his confusion as his mind battled to deal with the pain in both of his sides. The shouts of the crowd surrounding them were in tongues, barely recognizable as human speech as Jimmy curled himself up to protect against Gabe’s kicks, his arms covering his head.  After a few of these Gabe seemed to grow bored, content to simply point and laugh at Jimmy’s quivering form on the ground.

Jimmy knew he should give it up, that he was outmatched, but that fire – the rage of humiliation, powerlessness, and fear burning brightly inside – the fire demanded recompense. He slowly got to his feet as Gabe turned to move away and, right as Gabe’s back was turned, Jimmy launched himself. He grabbed Gabe around the waist, his momentum pulling the pair to the ground. Jimmy didn’t hear the hit, nor did he feel the impact himself. He was beyond sight, beyond feeling as he started to swing his arms wildly.

It wasn’t until the teacher pulled him off that Jimmy had a true idea of how much trouble he was going to be in. Of course the teacher had shown up late, didn’t see the first half of the conflict with Gabe, didn’t see how Jimmy had been an innocent victim in the whole mess. No, Jimmy was the weird kid that no one liked, didn’t have the social skills that others developed to prevent against this kind of abuse. Looking down at Gabe’s form, bloody nose and battered body immobile, Jimmy knew that even though Gabe deserved everything he had gotten, he’d get off light. A detention or two, not the suspension Jimmy was looking forward to.

Jimmy sighed as he was marched off the playground and through the bland halls of the school. He realized that some day the torment had to end, but with the bruises on his side still aching he didn’t see that happening any time soon.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Flash Fiction Challenge - Post-apocalyptic Southern Gothic

(decided to give the flash fiction contest at Terribleminds a shot. Here's my randomized category entry)
“Get your ass back in there.”
A whip cracked, and the misshapen creature cringed, jumping away from the bars. Claudius smirked as the three creatures sharing the troublemaker’s cage cringed at the sound. They’d felt his whip before, and odds were they’d be feeling it again before the month was out.
The disease had horribly disfigured them, but you could still see vestiges of what they had once been. Doctors. Lawyers. Crackers. He stepped forward to empty the slop bucket into the trough along the front of the cage. It was ironic how the same gene sequence that had killed so many of his ancestors had saved his life.
The creatures rushed forward, digging their hands into the trough and elbowing each other out of the way. Even though they were out all night fighting off the kudzu, they still had plenty of energy. Claudius turned from their cages to gaze at the smoke dissipating over the horizon - the remains of last night’s hunt.
Claudius shook his head ruefully as he headed back to the manor house. and shut the door behind him. He moved into the living room and flopped into his favorite armchair. He grabbed a hand bell off the table next to him and gave it a firm shake. After a few seconds one of the serving girls stood timidly before him, hands clasped in front of her ratty jumper. She kept her misshapen eyes downcast while waiting for instructions.
Claudius smiled. He got such pleasure from seeing these people put in their place. “Get me a glass of water, girl.”
The girl mumbled something unintelligible and stepped off towards the kitchen. Claudius leaned back and closed his eyes, feeling his muscles relax as he pondered his lucky lot in life. He’d done well since the events. Just had to know how to deal with situations like this, how to have a firm hand and show authority...
His reverie was interrupted by a loud crash. Cursing, Claudius burst to his feet and dashed to the kitchen, stopping short at what he saw. Every piece of glassware he owned was shattered.The serving girl stood in the middle, her amoeboid eyes open as wide as they would go. Claudius turned dark with fury. He stepped forward and smacked the girl hard. She went sprawling across the floor, landing in a field of broken glass, and suddenly her screams were no longer silent.
“Shut the hell up, you dumb bitch!” Claudius roared as he approached the girl. She tried to get away, but with the floor covered in glass she only managed to do more damage to her lacerated hands and feet. Claudius crunched across the floor in his boots and began to level kicks at the mutant girl’s side. The girl curled into a fetal position under the constant blows.
“You stupid moron! What the hell did you do?” He looked over towards the cabinet, seeing the splintered shelving in a heap on the countertop. “And you broke my dang cabinet too!”
The girl was trying to babble an explanation, but her deformed tongue couldn’t gain control over her howls of pain. Claudius wound up for another kick, when the girl started shouting.
“Buh... Bugs! Bugs eat! Hurt w... wood!”
“Bugs?!” Claudius shouted. “Ain’t no damn bug that eats wood.” He reached down and grabbed the girl by her hair, dragging her back across the glass as he headed for the door. The girl screamed and clawed at his hands, but she couldn’t make any impression on Claudius as he kicked open the door to the yard. “I give ya a home, food, shelter, and you all just keep taking advantage of me.” He pulled her forcibly down the steps and into the yard, heading for the cages.
He stopped in front of the cages and lifted the girl up by her head. The commotion had roused his captive laborers. They crowded around the cage, seeing but not at first comprehending the scene.”This here girl done broke my possessions, and ruined my cabinets. Your rations gonna be cut in half until you’ve paid her debt.”
Two of the creatures lunged forward, grabbing the bars of their cage. One of them - a woman, or something that used to be a woman - began howling. Claudius gave her a grim look. “Now you listen here. It’s time that I laid down the law here. And this little girl is gonna pay for her crimes.”
The woman began to scream as Claudius grasped the mutant girl more firmly. With a quick motion of his arms and a sickening crunch, the little girl’s howls ceased abruptly. The woman was still screaming, falling to her knees with throat-rending sounds of terror and pain. The other mutant - the man man - simply stared at Claudius.
Claudius looked back, seeing those unblinking eyes, and smirked. “Now y’all let that be a lesson. Keep up in your duties, or you end up like this girl here.” He gave the body at his feet a kick for good measure before turning around and heading back into the manor house, slamming the door behind him.
That evening, he came back out into the yard. The girl’s body was long gone - picked over by feral animals, nothing but scraps of her clothing left to mark her passing. Claudius moved to the cages and unlocked them, one by one, giving the same instructions he gave every night. “Now I know y’all can’t think no more, so I’ll go over it one more time. That sun is gonna set, and them plants is gonna start growin’. You need to keep those plants away from the house. Away from the house, understand? I ain’t gonna end up like old man Brown down the way. And I better not see one damn....”
Claudius didn’t feel the blow that knocked him out, but he felt its after-effects when he came to. One of the mutants - the man from before - held a rock, glistening wetly on one side with a red substance - blood, he guessed. Claudius shook his head, and began shouting. “What the hell’s going on here?!” He tried to move his hands, but found them bound fast behind him.
The mutant approached him. He stopped about three feet away from Claudius, and looked him dead in the eye. After a moment the man turned away, and as if given a signal the crowd of mutants dispersed with him.
“Hey! Get back here!” Claudius shouted after them. “You can’t live without me - you’ll be plant food by midnight!” His cries began to grow more desperate as the light continued to fade. “Come on, untie me! You can’t leave me like this!” He heard rustling in the leaves off to his left, and finally panicked. “This is cruel! Come back here! Let me go!”
Dusk gave way to evening, and as night fell the rustling increased. At first there were shouts and screams, but before long those had ceased as the voracious plants covered the ground like a blanket.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Theme Story - Payback

Tonight was the night. I’d planned for days: tracking my target, purchasing the essentials, finding the opportune time and moment… I was giddy with the heady anticipation, the roaring fire in my veins heralding the long-awaited conclusion to my – and my victim’s – saga.

Victim. I tried not to laugh at the moniker. He was no victim. Sure, he was going to feel the slice of my knife, the  none-to-gentle massage of my strangling hands on his windpipe, and in that sense – the strictest sense – he would be a victim, but his deeds; his deeds had earned him so much more than what I was prepared to mete out.

I shifted my weight, the length of rope in my hands – paid for in cash, of course – alternately slackening and growing taut as some of my nervous energy seeped into my actions. I knew that there was no real risk of discovery. An expert poker player could probably tell what I was up to, as I was surely telegraphing my intentions through my demeanor and subconscious action, but my hiding place was perfect. I was obscured from the road, from the surrounding buildings, and had a clear line of sight to the doorway my victim used every night. With the cloud cover in the area blotting out the moonlight and the porch light having gone out some time last week, my disguise of darkness was absolute.

Lights shone through the bushes around me, moving in a slow arc – the headlights of my victim’s vehicle. I remembered that gray monstrosity,  its privacy-darkened windows obscuring any view of the driver. I’m sure this let him feel more at-ease about his casual callousness, his disregard for his fellow citizens of the world. I relished the chance to disabuse him of his notions of superiority. Today, his bill came due, and I was here to collect.

I remained still, even ceasing the motion of my hands, as he approached his front door. I saw him standing there in black shoes and gray slacks not six feet from me, and I ached to reach out and start the process early. My hand was halfway towards him when I hastily caught myself. His time would come, and come soon. What good could I be to the world if I deviated from my plan and failed to exact the revenge due to society – to humanity itself – from the hide of this miscreant?

The door shut behind my victim as the moment passed, and I listened for a telltale click. My research was perfect, but there was always the chance that he would change his pattern just this once. After a few moments of silence I smiled. In a neighborhood like this nobody ever locked their doors. I surmised that that would change after tonight.

I slipped quietly into the foyer, gently closing the door behind me. I left it open lest my victim heard the latch closing unexpectedly, but the blaring of the television in a room down the hall told me my precautions were unnecessary. I crept down the small hall, positioning myself flat against the wall next to the braying portal conveying the television’s auditory feces onto the aural landscape. Using a small hand-mirror I peeked around the doorframe, and smiled once again. He was sitting in a chair facing away from the door. I relaxed for the first time – this couldn’t be any easier if I had planned it myself.

I took a breath and moved stealthily into the room. This was the moment of truth – the time when all of my research, all of my creative energy came to fruition. Just me and my victim, a few scant inches separating us. I paused behind his chair, savoring the moment, and as the action on screen climaxed I struck, looping my rope around the victim’s neck.

The struggle that ensued could be described by any number of words. Epic. Brief. Desperate. Violent. But ultimately the word that was most apt was “futile.” Before long my victim had passed out from lack of oxygen, and I was able to get to work. His hands were quickly bound to his feet, and his body rendered immobile through judicious application of ropes and restraints. I covered all of the bases – wrists, elbows, knees, ankles, all tied together in a complex series of practiced knots that were as impossible to escape as they seemed to be to tie. This accomplished, my work was largely complete – I simply needed to wait for my victim to awaken.

At this point I did not have to wake long, as a couple minutes later he jerked awake with a curse. He struggled vainly against his bonds, then began to shout. I didn’t really listen to his words, as they were largely immaterial – I simply stepped forward and slapped him across the face. He shook his head and blinked a few times, his eyes settling on my masked head and, more importantly, the shiny knife I was holding in front of it. His eyes widened at this last, and his mouth cracked open to let forth some more verbal assault.

“Who… who are you?”

I smiled. These conversations all started the same way. They all ended the same way, too, but my victim didn’t have to know that. I took a breath and spoke, knowing the vocal distorter would do its work for me

“Someone you have wronged for the last time.”

The man shook his head. “Wronged? Who? I haven’t wronged anyone!”

I laughed, a mirthless sound that caused my victim to snap his mouth shut. “You all make the same claim, but I was there. I saw you, in your hubris, as you ignored all the hallmarks of a worthwhile civilization.” I began to pace around him as I talked, taunting him with his inability to move. “It’s such a simple thing. You wait your turn, then you go. You stand in line, then you receive your turn at the appropriate moment. But you, oh no. You….” I placed the knife against his cheek, causing him to shudder as the cold steel touched his face. “You thought you were so much more important.”

“Hey listen man, I don’t know what you’re talking…”

His voice cut off suddenly as I sliced, a bright red gash erupting on his cheek. He let out a scream of pain – sweet music to my ears paying in one second for all of the time I’d spent preparing.  I gave him a moment to quiet down before continuing. “Hurts, doesn’t it?”

“You… you son of a…”

“Don’t like being cut, do you? But no, you just had to be in first. You walked right past all the people outside that theater, and just jumped in at the front. “

I saw his eyes widen in recognition. “Wait, this is over a movie?!”

I didn’t let his outburst deter me. “You flagrantly flaunted the rules of society. You tried to be more important than the rest of the people who waited politely.” I sliced him again, his scream rising once more as I spoke louder to top it. “You had every opportunity to do the right thing.” Another slice, another scream.” But you chose the wrong action, and now….” I placed the tip of the knife into his nostril and leaned in close. “…now you will no longer be able to hurt others.”

I wish I could say my work took a long time, but my victim alas did not have the pain tolerance shown by some of my more ardent adventures. I finished my task in all of an hour, and before long I’d set the flames I used to cover up any evidence I left. As I left the room, I tried to ignore the sullen emptiness inside of me. It had been growing after each of my victims, lately. I didn’t question my motives – indeed, my work was the only thing I was confident in – but more felt less certain that my victims were serving as any kind of example. There is, after all, a lot of filth in the world – were they getting the message?

As I walked down the street, the amber light rising and flickering behind me, I started thinking about ways to publicize my work, to get the message out. Of course, for that I’d need another victim, and there was no shortage of those.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Theme story - Falling Under

He felt his hand slip free and saw the terror in Gary's widening eyes as he fell away, the entire sequence playing out in slow motion. He slid across the angled rock face, the steep and sheer slope preventing him from getting any toehold with his climbing shoes, the normally tacky climbing gloves seeming as smooth as glass as he scrabbled at the stone. His helmet lamp illuminated a broad triangle of rapidly accelerating ground as the face of his climbing partner disappeared above him. After another couple seconds he crested the lip of the underground canyon they had been tracing, and Gary's face disappeared for the last time.
John felt his body tumbling in the darkness, his light swinging to and fro wildly as he twisted and turned in the air. He pondered trying to get control of his body and his descent, but ultimately gave the effort up as futile. With the light from his helmet being his only source of points of reference, he was having enough trouble just getting his bearings, trying to estimate how much longer he had to fall. No one really knew how deep these caverns went, and his team was supposed to be one of the first in-depth surveys of what had been playfully dubbed "the anthill" due to the complexity of the system of tunnels and caves.
The eerie part was the silence. It enveloped him, calling attention to the pounding of his heart as John continued to fall. This deep underground there was nothing to create ambient noise, no breezes or bird calls, no noise from traffic passing by. John was forced to focus on his body as he fell, anticipating the impact below. He felt oddly calm, perhaps due to the shock of the fall, or likely because he hadn't accepted his impending death yet. Somewhere, deep down, he knew someone would be able to rescue him.
The impact came suddenly, his legs smacking hard against a sloped rock face. His tumbling arrested immediately, and he found himself sliding once again down a steep rock cliff - the right side of his body leading his way into the depths. He continued to slide for a few agonizing seconds, his climbing gear taking the brunt of the impact, before he felt rock rise up against his back. He bounced back and forth between the two spaces - broad horizontal motion diminishing slowly as the two walls closed in on him. Each impact slowed him slightly, until finally he came to a stop. He was wedged tightly between two rock faces.
John laughed, and exhaled deeply in relief. As he did so, his body slid a couple inches farther down - his chest becoming more tightly wedged in the rock. He tried to move his arms, but each change of position brought his body even farther down into the chasm, his flattening muscles providing more room for his body to fall. Before long he was unable to move - his chest wedged tightly between two rocks, his head at an awkward angle as his helmet caught on a small ridge, his arms unable to come to his rescue. The pressure on his body was immense, and seemed to grow as he realized how effectively he had trapped himself.
With the rock pressing in mercilessly from both sides, he wasn't even able to scream.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Theme Story - No Room for Pokey

(Dedicated to Jennifer Billock - )

One fine summer's day, a friendly tornado was wandering the countryside. He blew to and fro, casting about aimlessly as he twirled his way, free. Suddenly, he heard a beckoning cry. The cry held a welcoming, warm tone - inviting him in. Smiling to itself at the prospect of a new friend, the tornado began to plow its way across the countryside in pursuit of the siren's song.

Matt, a nearby youth, heard a noise as well. The sirens going off indicated imminent danger. A quick glance at the TV showed a tornado headed right for their domicile. Shaking off his initial shock, he quickly gathered his wayward brother, Mark, and sister, Jen. Ushering them into the basement - the sanctity of safety he had been directed to by noble but absent parents - he made sure they all found their way underneath the only furniture piece with any stability, any chance of surviving the forthcoming maelstrom - their father's metal desk.

Huddled underneath, he noticed that Jen had brought a stuffed animal, a small brown-and-white dog named Pokey. This dog was no real character on its own, simply a bastion of commercialism arisen from a pointless series of children's stories. An author, trying to make a quick buck of the guilty parents of greedy children. He was prepared to dismiss it from his mind when he saw it - a strange red glow in the toy's beady eyes. It was pulsing, and with each pulse the roar of the wind outside grew louder. Matt blinked, but he couldn't dispel the strange glow - nor could he explain it! His brother Mark was staring off into the basement, nonchalantly awaiting his return to the game console he had been focusing on earlier, but his sister Jen seemed to be growing weary. Matt was baffled by this - it was a highly adrenaline-charged situation, and certainly a time of high energy like this shouldn't bring on drowsiness.

At that very moment, he saw the glow pulse in Pokey's eyes, and was surprised to see Jen's eyelids droop even farther. Coming to a quick conclusion, he knew he had to act fast. he reached out quickly, snatching the offending creature and tossing it to lie forlorn on the concrete of the basement floor. He was amazed at how quickly his sister recovered after this, her energy levels peaking quickly as she screamed and tried to dash out into the basement, heedless of the tornado danger. Trying only to keep her safe, Matt held her back as the glow in the stuffed dog's eyes faded to nothing. As the glow winked out, the wind around the house abruptly died down. The sirens stopped, and we felt safe to come out.

Red eyes fresh with tears, Jen clasped Matt's arm and desperately shrieked "Why? Why would you do that?!" She ran out to the basement floor and collapsed over Pokey, sobbing with grief.

Not knowing the words to comfort her, Matt simply shrugged and said "There's no room for Pokey."

The voice abruptly fell silent. Looking around in confusion, the Tornado was blinded by his own winds. He couldn't locate the direction he had been heading, nor the source of his potential friend. Defeated, he slowly retreated into the clouds - his spiraling ceasing as his dejectedness at the disappearance of the siren's song mounted. Little did he know that in turning aside at the last minute, he had spared a house its untimely demise at the hands of an evil, manipulative spirit inhabiting a stuffed animal.