Monthly Archives: May 2011

An Unexpected Guest…

An Unexpected Guest

A person lacking Margo’s training would surely have slept through – or completely disregarded – the muffled thump from the first floor.

The digital clock on the bed table read 3:13 AM.

She widened her eyes and quickly did the math: in bed for six hours and twenty-three minutes, plenty of time to have entered N3 sleep and therefore she could be 60-80% sure that the thump she’d heard was the initial stimulus.

Her two-year-old daughter, Ursula, was warm and still at her side. Margo put a hand on the child’s shoulder, which rose and fell with comforting regularity.

No one else was in the bed.

Margo snapped her head around.

There it was again: a soft impact tremor emanating from below, but closer this time.

Someone was definitely coming up the stairs.

Margo emerged from under the blanket and swung her feet soundlessly down to the carpet, being careful not to awaken the child.

Adrenaline tingled up and down her torso, front and back. She closed her eyes, tried to remember her training: shallow, silent breaths; a posture she could hold without lactic acid accumulation; and most importantly, a vantage point that kept her concealed while allowing the maximum flexibility for aggressive response.

Margo’s mind flashed through questions and answers:

Q: Does Abrams have another job to push on me?

A: I haven’t heard from him since entering the program.

Q: Someone I crossed while I was active?

A: I left most of them dead or maimed. Can’t recall anyone with this kind of stealth ability or the contacts to track me down here in the program.

Q: Did Abrams finally decide I know too much to be running free in suburbia?

A: Unlikely, given the fact that he’s aware my attorney is in possession of a detailed affidavit in a sealed envelope with instructions it be made public in the event of my ‘accidental death.’

Q: A random B-and-E? Maybe a rapist?

A: I can only hope it’s that straightforward.

A breeze blew in the open window. Margo heard the rustling of the linden tree’s leaves and wished the window were closed so she could focus more clearly on the approaching danger.

She stepped quickly to the walk in closet and removed all the hanging clothes from one of the wooden rods. She eased the rod out of its brackets, and moved to the side of the master bedroom door. Margo assumed a batter’s stance and, like a slugger with three balls and no strikes, prepared to swing away.

Creak.

Directly outside the door now.

Suddenly Ursula started to whimper.

Margo raced back to the bed like a panther. She lifted the little girl with one arm and cradled her against her chest.

She bounced by slightly flexing her knees, trying her best to keep the child asleep and quiet.

Night terrors. At times, the girl would begin screaming for no apparent reason. As a single parent, it fell to Margo to manage each of these incidents, cooing, cradling the child until the terror passed, and she was able to drift off again.

Of course, Margo blamed herself for these episodes. Felt they were in some way related to the incident with her first daughter, also named Ursula. Many years ago.

She often wondered if it could be possible that the horror of her first daughter’s death could have been passed on to this Ursula. Could the horror held deep in a mother’s heart be passed to a child during pregnancy? Margo’s guilt compelled her to think it could be so.

The doorknob turned.

Margo placed Ursula in a laundry basket in the closet and, as quietly as possible, slid the door closed.

She then resumed her position next to the bedroom door.

The door fell ajar, letting ambient light from the hallway spill into the bedroom.

A large man entered. A hulking but silent shadow.

Although just a silhouette, Margo could tell he walked with a slight left-sided limp. She immediately decided to pulverize that leg once she’d incapacitated him with a head shot.

Margo took no chances.

The man was holding something in his right hand, but she couldn’t make out what it was.

He was completely in the room now.

Margo swung hard, hitting him directly at the base of the skull. She didn’t swing to kill. She needed information.

The man fell forward onto the carpet.

Margo strode forward to attack the left leg as she’d planned, but the man whirled around and clutched her ankle, pulling her down on top of him.

“You are so dead,” she said, gritting her teeth.

“Margo, stop,” the man said.

She stood and drilled his left knee with the end of the rod.

The man held his leg with both hands and moaned. The thing from his right hand lay on the floor next to him.

Margo ran to the light switch by the bedroom door. “Now, let’s have a look at your sorry ass before I take another pot shot at your leg.”

When the overhead light came on, Margo nearly passed out.

How could he be here?

“Dan?”

“I’m sure that knee will need replacing.” He dragged himself up to a sitting position.

“Dan?”

On the floor next to him were a doll and a toy pistol.

He noticed what she was looking at. “I didn’t know what to bring. Did we have a boy or a girl?”

Tears filled her eyes. “Dan?”

And Margo slammed him again with the rod.

___________________________________________________________

Chuck Wendig is at again with another flash fiction challenge. This time out, the story needed to center on the concept of an unexpected guest’.  Well, I simply couldn’t resist another Margo story. If you’re new to this blog,  you should read earlier Margo installments (“Margo in Rome” and “Hermosa Beach Heartache”) just for some context. As I’ve noted previously, I’m serializing Margo’s bizarre story in this blog. It’s great fun (and a great challenge) to approach each installment as a stand-alone flash piece as well as another addition to an ongoing story. Hope everyone enjoys the story!

Image by Nathan Eckinrode


Six Minute Magazine

Hello out there.

My short short piece, “Shopping”,  has been published in Six Minute Magazine.

Check all the great flash fiction in the latest issue!

Take care all.


Why Horror, Bob? – A Childhood Memory

Where Did That Come From?

 

In horror writing circles, an axiom exists that one’s stories are stronger if they actually horrify the writer.

I’ve written scenes with my face half turned away from my computer screen, horrified by the words appearing there…

And if you write enough stories, you start to see patterns. You see recurring themes and images.

In my own writing, I’ve noted a recurring theme of “children in peril”. And it freaks me out.

Now, I really have no idea where this comes from, but it definitely finds its way into a lot of my stories. A lot of them.

I wasn’t an abused kid. My family was loving and somewhat normal.

But there was this one experience, back in, oh, I’d say 1972 or thereabouts…

A Salem Story

 

I want to tell you a story about Salem, Massachusetts – my hometown.

The Salem Theater on Essex Street would let anyone in with 50 cents to see the Saturday afternoon matinee double feature. Yes, they were usually horror movies.

I was a regular. I was big for my age. And many times the ticket taker would conveniently look the other way, tear my ticket in half and wave me through.

My parents thought I was safe at the library or at a friend’s house. But I was at the Salem Theater watching “Let’s Scare Jessica to Death” or “The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant” or “Dracula A.D. 1972” or (moment of silence, please) “Attack of the Mushroom People”.

Those days the world was all Watergate and Vietnam. Horrors that beset adults.

Being eleven years old, the thing that made me want to shit my pants was the thought of the giant ants from “Them!” clacking their way down Lafayette street cutting people I knew in half in their enormous pincers. Such were the times.

That was all about to change.

One Saturday in late fall, I’d gone to the movies with a friend to see “Night of the Living Dead”. I was so horrified by the sight of things that used to be people fighting over intestines, gnawing on ulnas and generally cannibalizing every living human that got in their way. My lifelong fascination with zombies, in print and on the big screen, dates back to this day.

But that’s not what I want to tell you about.

Fully satisfied with the afternoon’s horror renderings, my friend and I left the theater in near dark. I remember the light bulbs around the edge of the marquis were twinkling. The YMCA across the street seemed closed. No lights.

We walked down Crombie Street, heading for Riley Plaza and the train tracks.

Back in 1972, the Salem stop for the commuter trains from Boston (the “Budliners) was under Riley Plaza.

I was a little late and needed to hurry and get home. So I decided to go down through the train station and walk down the tracks that ran parallel to Canal Street.

My friend and I parted ways at the stairs leading down to the station.

“Good movie, huh?” he said.

“Yeah. The part where they  pulled that guy’s intestines out was wicked cool,” I said, I think with a little too much bravado.

“Well, see you at school,” he said and headed off up Washington Street.

Me. I looked down the stairs leading to the train platform. It was too dark for me to see the bottom. A wind heavy with diesel fumes and a chemical smell from the leather factory blew up into my face.

Suddenly, heading down into the dark, alone, didn’t seem like the best plan. But, inexplicably, I took the first few steps down toward whatever awaited me down there in the gloom.

Looking back on this, forty years later, I’m amazed that I still recall so many seemingly insignificant details: the increasing smell of urine as I descended; the feeling of leaving everything safe and OK as the sound of Riley Plaza traffic receded behind and above me; the one piece of Bazooka Bubblegum I held tightly in my left front pants pocket, like some talisman to keep me safe.

I got to the bottom of the stairs and stepped down onto the platform. The traffic above was muffled to the point where I felt impossibly isolated, like I’d entered another reality. One that existed next to, or even within, my own world.

The darkness around me was complete. I raised my eyebrows to open them as much as I possibly could. There was a vague bluish-purple zone way up in front of me that I assumed was the end of the tunnel. And freedom from the terror that was now rising past my sternum and lodging itself directly at the base of my throat.

That’s when I heard it.

A rustling just behind me. Something down low, near the ground. I froze.

My heart was aching, it was pounding so hard. I couldn’t see anything.

Then something grabbed the bottom of my left pant leg.

And tugged at it.

I was so horrified at what was happening to me, I’d failed to register that the Budliner was nearing the entrance to the tunnel. It’s bright, Cyclops light progressively filling the tunnel with a cone of light.

When the train’s light was nearly upon me, I somehow summoned the courage to turn around and see what was tugging at my leg.

I jerked my around quickly, like snatching a Band Aid off a scab. And then I screamed.

Here is what I saw:

Three zombies staggering toward me. Ripped clothing, dripping eyes, teeth shattered.

A fourth lay on the ground with a fistful of my pant leg in his hand. The scene all the more horrifying because of the train’s garishly bright light.

I knew then that zombies were real and I was going to be eaten. I would watch as they ripped open my belly and removed my intestines.

Without thinking, I kicked my leg free and ran screaming down the platform. And I didn’t stop running until the cramp in my side felt like a hot poker being twisted in my guts. I ran a mile, nearly to the A&P on Canal Street.

I never told anyone about it. I’d calmed down enough by the time I got home. The familiar surroundings and the smell of dinner brought me back to this world. The world I knew.

But ever since that day, I knew there was a world of horror that could rear up right out of the ordinary everyday world. A horror you never suspected was there.

Of course, looking back as a fifty-year-old man, I know that the zombies in the train station were just some homeless guys. Probably drunks, who knows?

So, is that why I like to write horror stories? Is that why “kids in peril” show up in my fiction? I don’t know.

I find it’s best not to look too closely at that stuff.

The writing is the thing.

____________________________________________

I’m currently writing a collection of short stories (horror stories, of course) all based in Salem. I think this experience of mine will end up in one of them. I’m planning on putting in some personal essays on fiction, horror, and writing as we go along. But I’ll still publish stories here, just want to mix things up a little. Hope some of my Salem readers recognized some of the landmarks in the piece above. Thanks everyone for continuing to show up to read some of my scribblings!

Image by Frederic Dupont


Black Kedo (A Nagasaki Memory)…

Black Kedo – A Nagasaki Memory

When the black rain hit us, we thought we would die.

But we were wrong.

My wife looked up at me as we struggled to breathe.

“Where is Kedo?” she said.

I shrugged, not feeling myself at all.

After the brightness, all the air was sucked out of us.

A piece of cedar from the doorframe was sticking out of my wife’s neck.

I tugged at it, absentmindedly, but she slapped my hand away.

Kedo.

We looked all around the house but couldn’t find our daughter.

Then, finally, we noticed it: a perfect charcoal outline on the south wall of her room.

A shadow burnt into the wood.

We called her Black Kedo.

That was many years ago.

She would be fifty-seven today.

With bent back, I shuffle to the south wall and light some incense.

Happy Birthday, Black Kedo.

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Image by kedoink kedondeng


I Am No One…

I Am No One

Your employee identification number is on the back of your badge in the lower left hand corner. Right here, see?

Some new hires get confused and use the number on the front right corner. That would be your badge number. Now, don’t ever confuse your badge number and your employee ID number; you don’t even want to see how ugly that can get.

Me? I’ve been here…oh, let’s see, coming up on my seventeenth anniversary. Has it been that long?

Lots of changes since I came on. Look here: employee number two forty three.

OK – just a couple of things to get you oriented.

As you’ve probably seen, office attire is business casual. No one really knows where the line is between ‘business casual’ and ‘too casual’. If you have any doubts, ask your line manager. It’s easy to just look around and see what your coworkers are wearing and, well, fit in.

If you don’t stand out, no one can ever criticize you, right?

Now, get all your training out of the way as quickly as possible. I know it can seem overwhelming that you have three hundred and thirty seven Standard Operating Procedures to read and acknowledge in the next week, but just do the best you can. The SOPs are there to ensure we all do things the same way. Otherwise, there’d be chaos, right? Am I right? Sure I am.

Here’s your Intercorporate Behavioral Standards and Guidelines Manual. This is a living document. We’ve added to it continually over the years to account for nearly every conceivable interpersonal interaction and we’ve leveraged what we feel have been the most effective interventions and approaches.

For instance, need help giving feedback to a peer? It’s in here, Section 4.2.1.3a.

Think your kid’s drug problem is affecting your productivity? Just have a look at Chapter 12.

Want to know how to blow off steam at the afternoon spin session in the company gym instead of bringing a high-powered rifle to the office? You got it: it’s in there.

No matter what type of problem you might be facing, if it affects Corporate Productivity – and in the end, don’t they all? – The Manual will provide you with a step-by-step procedure to get back to peak production levels.

I remember when my wife and I were having some issues. See? I’m a manager who takes the training to heart: I can share some of my personal travails with you to show you that I’m as human as you are. It builds rapport and that sort of thing.

Well, as I was saying, a few years back, well, I guess it’s been about eight years now, my wife felt I was spending way too much time here at work. She never really took to the culture, you know? Pity.

It made it hard for me, because I had divided loyalties. I mean – it sounds awful to say this, I know – but I felt more at home here. I’d grown to love the predictability of the culture, the comfort of knowing any confusion could be dispelled by reviewing the relevant SOP. Home was just…uncontrollable.

Well, the folks at the Employee Assistance Program were great. They emphasized the fact that this type of thing was common and blah, blah, blah. Then, the counselor said something that completely illuminated my way forward. She said, “Success is nothing more than a matter of making the right quality choices despite adverse precipitating circumstances.”

I mean, I’d never had someone speak to me in such a straightforward manner before.

Long story short, my wife and kids left, and I’m still here. Obviously.

OK – enough about me.

Let me show you to your workstation. I prefer that term to ‘cubicle’, which has drawn considerable negative connotations in popular culture in recent years.

I know your first few days can be a little overwhelming. I suggest just keeping your eyes open. See what others do and try to blend in.

You want to find that sweet spot between being seen as a slacker and being seen as a show-off. That’s the ticket. Don’t give anyone cause to single you out.

Then, you’ll gradually move up the ladder mostly through attrition. Just hang in there, year after year.

Remember, I’m living proof that borderline operational competence can be successfully counterbalanced by a strict adherence to corporate policy and procedure.

Anyway, welcome aboard.

If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to drop by my workstation. Over there.

The name is Noone.

Spelled just the way it sounds.

___________________________________________________

Image by Derrick Tyson


Comfort Me with Apples…

Comfort Me with Apples

Tonight, she was sure of it: she’d been entered.

The stillborns and miscarriages of her recent past mocked her.

In the still of each evening, she heard them cackling and cooing as they romped through the deserted and darkened nursery. Vases occasionally tumbled and shattered.

She saw darting movements out of the corner of her eyes. Sometimes an entire child-image. Other times, just the quick shadow of a tiny foot as it whisked around a corner.

Of  course, he didn’t believe her. Not that he was cold or indifferent. Another man might have deserted her by now, leaving her yoked to barren solitude.

But he tried to make her laugh. To forget.

But they would never let her forget.

Each night in her dreams, she was assailed by tiny, blue faces. Shriveled. Accusing. Milky eyes staring up at her. Small monkey hands that reached up out of her bloodied bedclothes until she sat up screaming and he would comfort her, easing her back down until her bird’s heart returned to normal.

Tonight, another being had warmed itself beside her. Waiting to be invited in.

She put down the potato she was peeling and inhaled deeply. A sweet aroma of ripening apples entered her and she had wept. Another had chosen her.

In the hallway, she heard a picture frame slide down the wall and smash on the hardwood floor.

When he returned from work, she’d told him what had happened and what she wanted to do. He’d listened and agreed, as she knew he would.

She entered his study. He was sitting at his blood red writing table, staring out the window as the sun descended behind the Parliament building.

“Are you ready?” she asked him.

He turned to her and held out a red rose and a tightly wound bundle of sage. “Yes.”

They went to the fireplace and she thrust the sage bundle into the glowing embers. Its musty scent immediately filled the apartment.

“Come,” she said.

They unlocked the nursery door and entered, the smoking sage held out before her in a shaking hand. The end of the sage bundle glowed an unearthly orange in the semi-darkness. The smoke scent mingled with another, more ancient stench of corruption.

She grabbed his hand and strode to the very center of the room, sage held high, and screamed. She ran to each corner and thrust the smoking bundle upward. She demanded to be left alone, to be free of unnamed children.

The walls shook, the floor buckled. And outside, an unnatural orange glow filled the sky.

The woman and the man held each other tightly until the room stopped convulsing.

They walked back to the blood red writing desk in his study.

She draped herself onto his lap and lay back.

She took his hand and pulled it to her waist.

“Here,” she said. “Put your hand here. I smelled apples and then he was living right here.”

The man cradled her stomach and kissed her.

A delicious silence settled on the house as the orange glow faded to purple in the west.

She looked up at him with shining, wet eyes.

“Just like apples,” she said.

________________________________________________________

Today I was at the home of a close friend. We were discussing books and life etc.  Conversation turned to whether or not there were such ‘things’ as individual human souls. I was of the opinion that the notion of  eternal souls is a delusion (not that I am in any way qualified to make such a statement.) My friend told me of her experiences with failed and successful pregnancies and I was fascinated. Moved, I wrote this story.

Image of incredible Chagall painting by Shawn Rossi


Summer of Love…

Summer of Love

When I got your letter about the divorce, I’d already lost my legs.

Now, sitting on this hill looking down at The Cliff House, I’m wondering if coming here to see you is a good idea.

I see you stand up tall, out of your station wagon.

The kids scatter all around your legs and you point at the big rocks completely covered in birdshit.

You have on your big Sharon Tate sunglasses that I love so much. Your yellow sundress billows in that the San Francisco breeze.

You look happy, really happy, with your new family.

It’s so ironic that you’ve come all this way, all the way to California, to get away from me. And I was just up the street at the VA Hospital on Clement Street, not five minutes from where you stand right now.

He puts his arm around your waist. You settle against him. It’s like I’m seeing all this from another dimension – somewhere far away.

I’ve actually been to The Cliff House a couple of times. They wheel us down there from the VA and carry us in. You know, just to get away for a few hours.

We get a few stares. Some of the guys just look down, or over at the birdshit rocks. Me, I just stare right back at them. Until they look away. Boo-fucking-rah.

I see you look around, almost as if you can sense me up here, but of course, that’s impossible. Even in this wheel chair, I can still make myself invisible to a target.

The counselor at the VA thinks I’m dinky dau, but she don’t know shit about shit.

It was really no problem to locate you. Why did you run away? I wouldn’t have hurt you or the kids. You have to know that.

If you don’t want me any more, that’s ok. I’m not going to make a Mongolian clusterfuck out of the situation.

But I have to draw the line at another man taking you on. Not to mention the kids.

It was obvious to me during my last R and R that you’d already checked out and poisoned the kids against me.

But to file papers while they were hacking my legs off in a hot LZ in the Central Highlands? That’s just cold, baby.

This midday heat has me sweating. Snakes of sweat crawl down my stomach and wrap around my scrotum.

You said it would be forever.

It seems, wherever I turn now, there’s no fidelity to promise.

With Nixon and Kissinger, it’s all about peace with honor, and fuck winning the war.

With you, it’s all about understanding how we’ve grown apart. What the fuck does that mean?

The hippies at Golden Gate Park spit on me. I can’t chase ‘em ‘cause I got no legs.

But I do have this sweet little .222 with a scope.

I won’t hurt you or the kids.

Just that guy you seem so hot on.

From up here on the hill, it’s an easy kill.

Once he stands up from behind the station wagon, I should have a wide-open head shot.

C’mon, man.  Binky’s back in the world and ready to play.

Just a little higher and I’ll have you.

C’mon, let me light your fire, man.

I can’t walk or fuck. But this? This is second nature.

Just a little higher.

Right there.

That is just….

Perfect.

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Image by Ed Bierman


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