One-Hour Flash – Killing the Dead

Here’s another flash fiction story I wrote as part of a one-hour contest. This dark urban fantasy tale is called “Killing the Dead,” and like the story from last week, “The Writing on the Wall,” it has lingered on my hard drive for quite a while. I’ve dusted it off and given it a quick polish, but it’s essentially the story I scribbled out in an hour three or four years ago. If you’d like to read the first story or learn more about these one-hour contests I’m so fond of, check out the link above.

Okay, here’s “Killing the Dead.”


Killing the Dead

Johns watched the sun dip low on the horizon, thankful for the warmth radiating though his legs from the hood of his pickup. He drew in a deep breath and ran a hand over the badge on his shirt. The stylized skull and hammer said he was a graver, an agent of the church, and one of the few people dumb enough to be outside after dark since the event of ‘18. It was crazy, dangerous work, but somebody had to deal with the dead, and it sure beat flipping burgers or working construction.

Nightfall was near and he hopped off the hood of the truck, stretched, and took stock of his surroundings. The graveyard was an old one, the headstones weathered and crumbling. The most recent date he could find was 1976, which meant the folks interred here had been dead for a minimum of fifty years. The chances one of the corpses would contain a roamer was thin, but, like usual, he’d claimed this particular graveyard on a hunch. Most gravers liked the newer cemeteries, where roamers were all but guaranteed. The problem there was you got paid the same for cleansing a cemetery of one roamer or fifty. Lot of young gravers didn’t survive their inaugural cleansing.

Johns went around to the bed of his truck and did a quick equipment check. He had a gallon of holy water—blessed by Father Daniels this very morning—some of which he had already poured into his super soaker. He had the axe, the maul, and the sledgehammer, plus the chainsaw if things got really out of hand.

He picked up the super-soaker. As absurd as it seemed, the giant squirt gun was the most important weapon in his arsenal. It could fire a concentrated blast of holy water up to sixty feet, and within that range it was nearly impossible to miss.

He glanced out over the graveyard, looking for a likely spot. There were plenty of headstones, but granite was tough to manipulate, and even an old roamer would have a hell of a time animating one of those. There was the ground, of course, and the newly dead usually went there. He’d faced down more than his share of dirt monsters. This cemetery was old enough that if it had a roamer, it would be experienced. If he were a betting man—and he was—a small stand of oak trees on the edge of graveyard was where he’d lay his wager.

Johns slung the super-soaker over his shoulder, grabbed the wood-axe from the bed of his truck, and started toward the trees. He pulled up just within the maximum range for the soaker and propped the axe on a nearby headstone.

Night fell completely in a few minutes, and Johns flicked on the LED light attached to his vest. He shivered in the sudden cold. Ever since the event, the temperature dropped a good twenty degrees at nightfall. Even in the middle of a Texas summer, the cold came on as soon as the stars came out. He guessed the dead liked it that way, or maybe they needed it that way. Who knew?

Minutes passed and silence settled over the graveyard. That was a good sign. Night critters that put up a racket at night—crickets, frogs, that kind of thing—went quiet when there were roamers around. He listened and was rewarded with a faint whistling that rose from the direction of the trees, a low winding keen that made the hairs on his arms and neck stand up. The telltale moan of a roamer. He’d never understood why they made so much noise, but it sure made them easier to find.

Johns moved toward the trees, soaker held up to his shoulder. The roamer appeared soon after, a faint shadow, slightly luminescent against the dark backdrop of the tree trunks. He could make out a male outline but not much else. Roamers became more indistinct as they aged, losing details until they were little more than shadows. He guessed he was looking at a century-old roamer at the least.

The roamer was lingering around the trunk of a big oak—it had chosen its medium for the night. Johns rushed forward, yelling, letting his target see and hear him. The apparition hissed in anger then disappeared into the tree. The oak shook and trembled, its branches swaying with ominous and unnatural life.

He stopped, aimed the soaker and waited. This was the dangerous part. Until the roamer completely inhabited its medium, it couldn’t be trapped, although it still controlled enough of whatever animate it had chosen to crush, gouge, or smash any unfortunate gravers nearby. Roamers, more than anything, wanted to be real again, to taste some semblance of life, and most didn’t fuck around once they’d found something to animate. This one was no different.

The trunk of the oak suddenly took on horrid life, the bark twisting and bulging as the roamer absorbed organic material and began crafting a body for itself. In this transitive state it was vulnerable, and Johns depressed the trigger on the soaker. A stream of blessed water struck the tree trunk, and the roamer within it loosed an ear-splitting howl. Its partially formed limbs reached out, wooden talons clawing at the air, then froze as the holy water did its work, locking the roamer in its transitive state and rendering it harmless until the next night fall.

Johns hefted the axe. All he had to do now was chop up the roamers body and keep a piece big enough to prove what he had. Father Daniels would say the last rights tonight at Saint Michaels, sending the roamer’s spirit on to the afterlife. Then he’d get paid.

He smiled as his first blow with the axe sent wood chips flying. Any night you helped stave off the apocalypse a little longer and put some cash in your pocket was a good one.


I had fun with this one, and if I remember correctly it was well received by the other authors in the contest (my notes say it came in third). I don’t remember the prompt, unfortunately, but it was likely a cemetery or something of that nature. The issue with this one (other than a pretty meh title) is it’s really the beginning of something longer, and I had to spend a fair amount of my 1,000 words telling the reader how this urban fantasy world worked. That didn’t leave much time for anything else, so the action is a bit rushed, and there’s not much to the main character. I do like some of the concepts I came up with, though–the gravers, the roamers, and the pseudo-post-apocalyptic urban fantasy thing–and it may be something I return to in the future for a longer story or even a novelette.

One-Hour Flash – The Writing on the Wall

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know I write a lot of flash fiction. I never set out to be a flash fiction writer, but about five years ago, a friend of mine introduced me to a weekly contest held on the forums of a horror magazine called Shock Totem (Thanks, Andy!). The contest was simple: someone posted a prompt, usually a photo, and then you had one hour to write and edit a story of 1,000 words or less. The authors would then read, comment, and vote on the stories, and the winner would post the prompt for the following contest. I took to the short form fiction like a duck to water, and I’ve participated in a bunch of contests/exercise like the one at Shock Totem and now through my writing group on Facebook. They’ve been really good to me too. Something like eighteen of my published stories started life as one-hour flash fiction scribbles.

While I do get great ideas from these contests that eventually become published stories, not all of my efforts are destined for fame and fortune. I’ve got dozens of one-hour flash stories that didn’t quite make the grade sitting on my hard drive collecting digital dust, so I thought I’d give these misfits their day in the sun and put ’em on the ol’ blog.

This first one is a little horror piece called “The Writing on the Wall.” I’ve cleaned it up a bit from it’s original form, and I couldn’t help a little tinkering, but the story is pretty much what I came up with in an hour some three years ago.


The Writing on the Wall

 

September 9th

I didn’t expect the college to put me up at the Hilton or anything, but Jesus, this little one-room dump is bordering on third-world squalor. A quick description of my new digs: green carpet the color of Astroturf, worn flat and threadbare in numerous places; a cracked ceiling dotted with what can only be black mold; a pervasive smell of cat urine (likely soaked into the carpet); and bright yellow wallpaper of the absolute cheapest quality. Oddly enough, the wallpaper looks new, if clumsily applied. Gee, Mr. Landlord, thanks for spending the $12.99 to really make this place feel homey. Oh well, it’s free, close to the college, and there’s enough space for my meager belongings. I guess I can’t be too picky.

September 15th

Classes started today. The little shits taking Dr. Harrison’s Introduction to Archaeology are really the bottom of the barrel, academically speaking. As his TA, I didn’t have much to do other than pass out the course materials, but even then, some of the questions I got were eye-rollingly bad. One strapping young lad asked me if we’d be covering dinosaurs. Fuck me.

Anyway, I found a weird thing in my room today. That terrible yellow wallpaper is peeling up in a few places, and out of sheer boredom, I pulled up a section to see what was on the wall beneath it. Well, I can see why the landlord covered it up. The previous asshole interred here wrote all over the walls in bright red sharpie. The little bit I uncovered looked like some kind of weird mathematical equation, except the symbols weren’t numbers. It kind of looks like Sanskrit, but I haven’t come across anything like it in my own studies. Maybe Dr. Harrison can tell me something about it.

September 19th

Remember that funny writing beneath my wallpaper? I showed Dr. Harrison a sample. He said it is Sanskrit, although a much older form than any I’m familiar with. He actually got a little squirrely when I asked him to translate it. He ignored my request and became very curious about where I’d seen the writing. When I told him, his face went white as a sheet, and he made some excuse about needing to make a phone call or something.

What the hell is on my wall? Kind of creeped out now.

September 22nd

I pulled all the wallpaper down in my room. I don’t give a shit if the landlord doesn’t like it; he should have painted. The walls are literally covered with ancient Sanskrit. In addition to that, there are all kinds of weird geometric shapes—strange cubes and spheres that are oddly out of proportion. They’re kind of hard to look at. I’ve got to find someone who can tell me what this shit says.

Oh, I also had a real up-the-ante moment on the creepiness factor today. The guy who lived in this room before me, David Randall, committed suicide at the end of the last school year. Nice of the school to keep that information to themselves. I’m having trouble sleeping as it is.

September 25th

I’ve asked Dr. Harrison to help me translate the writing on my wall a couple of times, but he won’t do it. In fact, the last time I asked, he got really pissed and threatened to bring my “misconduct” to the school board if kept asking him. What a dick.

All is not lost, however. I went to one of the other professors in the archaeology department, Dr. Kline. She’s a funny old bird but damn helpful. She was able to translate most of what I brought her. The samples I showed her were mostly about some god or demon called Yag Socoth or something like that. Dr. Kline said the name translates roughly to “The Key and the Gate.”

I’m going to see if I can get another room.

September 29th

Can’t sleep, and when I do my dreams are horrible. Darkness and then, in the blackness, a writhing mass of pulsating spheres or bubbles. There’s a sound, like a heartbeat, rhythmic and awful, and something whispering or maybe grunting over the whole thing in a language I can’t understand.

Dr. Harrison is getting fed up with me. Lack of sleep is keeping me from performing my duties, and he’s ripped me a new one on a number of occasions. What I need is to take a few days off to get my head straight and get some sleep. It’s unlikely Dr. Harrison will allow that.

Couldn’t get a new room, so I asked the landlord to come in and cover up the writing on the wall. Even that yellow wallpaper would be preferable to staring at David Randall’s crazed ramblings. He wouldn’t do it, though. He said since I tore down the wallpaper, I could paint the room myself, out of my pocket. Cheap-ass motherfucker.

October 3rd

The dreams are getting worse. I’m terrified to close my eyes. I’m not sure what will happen when I do. I’ve been sleep walking. A couple of times I’ve woken up outside, a mile or two from my room. It got so bad I used some of my meager savings to stay a few nights in a hotel. That didn’t help either. The dreams followed me there.

October 15th

I was going to paint the wall, a nice soothing blue, but David Randall’s scribblings are starting to make sense. The name Dr. Kline translated for me, The Key and the Gate, is at the heart of it all. It’s like an equation or a code. It’s clear David went mad before he could finish, but I see what needs to be done.

Maybe if I complete what David started, it well let me sleep. If that doesn’t work, my room is on the tenth floor, and I have a window.


If I remember correctly, the prompt for this story was peeling wallpaper or something (don’t quote me on that). Anyway, I haven’t done anything with this story because it’s a pretty cliché idea (and a Lovecraft pastiche to boot) that any fan of the horror genre has seen a million times. I also don’t think the current epistolary construction works great for such a short piece. If it were text messages or something, it might work better (that might actually be fun). I did enjoy the character’s voice, though, even if the end result is predictable. The thing with these one-hour exercises is that you don’t have time to do much but go with your initial reaction to the prompt. Sometimes that reaction leads you down a path you wouldn’t normally take and even to a fairly original idea, and sometimes you go straight to your comfort zone and write something, well, like the story you just read. 🙂

I do highly recommend the one-hour flash exercise. Give it a try sometime with your writing group and see what you come up with.

Which Work Do You Read? – A Poll

As some of you know, my current published works reside in two very different camps. First, there’s the work I do for Privateer Press, which includes two novels, a handful of novellas, and a whole bunch of short stories. All that fiction is set in Privateer Press’ Iron Kingdoms setting, a steampunk-esque fantasy world. Then there’s my other work, which is, of course, my own IP, and is primarily horror (with a smattering of sci-fi and fantasy). That’s mostly short stories, though I’m currently working on a novel.

I’m just curious who reads what. Do my IK readers read my stand-alone work, and do my horror, sci-fi, etc. readers read my IK work? If you’ll indulge me, I’ve created a little poll here to get something of an answer to that question. No judgment either way. I completely understand that horror or fantasy may not be someone’s cup of tea. I’m just thrilled anyone reads anything I write. Period. 🙂

 

Okay, now that you’ve answered the poll. Here’s some free stuff to read.

If you’re interested in checking out the Iron Kingdoms writing I do for Privateer Press, there’s a bunch of links to various published works here. There’s also a couple of free stories on the blog published when I was still on staff with Privateer. Links below.

  1. Tomb of the Deathless
  2. Wayward Fortunes

Finally, if you have a Kindle Unlimited membership, you can read one of my IK novellas, On a Black Tide, for free. Otherwise, it’s .99 cents.

If you’d like to check out the other stuff I write, mostly horror, there’s a whole bunch of that free on the internet. There’s a fairly comprehensive list on the blog with links right here, but I’ll list a couple of my favorites below.

  1. “Night Games” – This is a story about vampires and baseball. Yep, you heard that right. Read it from Devilfish Review or listen to Pseudopod’s awesome audio version.
  2. “Scare Tactics” – A parapsychologist and her pet demon get up to some supernatural hijinks in this one.  This is another one you can read at Devilfish Review or check out a fun audio version from Dunesteef.
  3. “Cowtown” – My most recent publication, “Cowtown” is a flash fiction piece (1,000 words) that mixes horror and comedy. You can read that one at The Arcanist

Anyway, please vote in the poll if you’re so inclined, and if you have any questions about any of my work, ask away in the comments.

Read “Cowtown” at The Arcanist

My story “Cowtown,” a flash piece (1,000 words) that mixes comedy, horror, and a dash of sci-fi, was recently published over at The Arcanist. The story is free to read on The Arcanist’s website; just click the cow below to check it out.

Read “Cowtown” 

A little more about the publisher. The Arcanist is a new market that publishes sci-fi and fantasy, but their definitions of those two genres are broad enough to include a bit of horror, as evidenced by my story. They’ve really put their best foot forward, with a good-looking website, a solid team of editors, clear submission guidelines, and a pay-rate of $50.00 a story, which works out to .05/word or more for flash fiction. That all adds up to a market you should check out if you write speculative flash fiction. Here’s the submission guidelines.

So, a little about “Cowtown.” This is another story that began life as part of a one-hour flash fiction challenge. I’ve participated in a bunch of these, first at the Shock Totem forums and now with a private Facebook writing group. The idea is pretty simple: someone posts a prompt, usually a photo, and then you have one-hour to write a flash piece of no more than 1,000 words. The authors then vote on the stories, and the winner gets to post the prompt on the next go-around. Anyway, these contests have been very good for me, and I’ve published eighteen stories that began life in a one-hour writing blitz. A number of those stories I later expanded, sometimes considerably, but many I simply cleaned up and sent out in more-or-less in their original form. “Cowtown” is one of the latter, and I’m glad the editors over at The Arcanist dug it enough to publish it. 

Submission Statement: July 2017

July was a much better month mostly because I finally ended my six-month-long acceptance drought. That alone is enough to crown July as my best month of the year. Here’s the nitty-gritty on my submission endeavors in July.

July 2017 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 5
  • Rejections: 2
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Publications: 1
  • Other: 0

Again, I’m getting an average of one submission per week. I keep telling myself I need to double that.

Rejections

Only two rejections this month, but both are noteworthy.

Rejection 1: Submitted 4/19/17; Rejected 7/5/2017

Very sorry for the delay in getting back to you, but we just made our final decisions today. We are going to have to pass on the story, however. This is the hardest part of the job, having to decline stories that we enjoyed so much, simply because didn’t have the space to include them all. It was a real struggle choosing the final stories. I appreciate your patience and hope to see submissions from you in the future.

Another heartbreaker rejection for a story that was short-listed. This is the second rejection of this type for this particular story, and although it’s certainly a positive sign that it keeps making short lists, it’s frustrating to get so close and fall short again. Of course, my frustration is not in any way directed at the publication (that would be real silly and unprofessional). This was the first issue of this particular magazine, and I know they had some very tough decisions to make. I’ll definitely submit to them again when they reopen for their second issue, and I’m looking forward to reading the stories in issue number one.

Rejection 2: Submitted 7/5/17; Rejected 7/5/2017

Thank you so much for thinking of XXX. Unfortunately “XXX” is not quite what we’re looking for at the moment. Best of luck placing it elsewhere.

This is just a garden-variety form rejection, but what makes it noteworthy is how quickly I received it. This market has a very quick turnaround, usually rejecting submissions (mine, at least) in the same day, but this particular rejection came in less than thirty minutes. Now, it’s important not to read too much into that. I think it’s likely the editor was reading submissions when I submitted, read mine, decided it was a no, and fired off the rejection. I have no issues with that whatsoever. The quicker I get it back, the quicker I can send it out again.

Acceptances

One acceptance for July, and a welcome one, ending a six-month slump.

Acceptance 1: Submitted 6/22/17; Rejected 7/22/2017

Thanks for letting us read XXX! We would love to publish it in XXX.

There’s more to this acceptance letter, but it’s just the usual contract/legal stuff. This is a new market that pays solid semi-pro rates, and I’m glad to be among their initial bunch of published stories. They publish sci-fi and fantasy but under very broad definitions, so some horror is not out of the question (as evidenced by the story they accepted). The story is tentatively scheduled for publication on 8/5, and you’ll be able to read it on their site. I’ll announce it, of course, as soon as it’s live.

Publications

One BIG publication in July, my second novel for Privateer Press, Acts of War: Aftershock. Details below.

War Has Come Again to Llael

On the heels of inflicting defeat upon the Khadorans at Riversmet, Lord General Coleman Stryker marches deeper into enemy territory to prepare a major assault. But he is unprepared for the avalanche of a massive Khadoran counterstrike. Empress Ayn Vanar and Supreme Kommandant Irusk send their nation’s most fearsome warcasters to retaliate against the invaders and secure her conquered territories at any cost. Hope comes in the form of Ashlynn d’Elyse, warcaster and leader of the Llaelese Resistance, a woman with no love for Cygnar but who could make for a powerful ally if convinced to help. Along with Asheth Magnus, Stryker’s enemy-turned-ally, this unlikely team must fight to persevere despite being outnumbered, outmaneuvered, and cornered with only their wits and a few warjacks to save their cause from utter annihilation…

Get an eBook – $7.99:

Get it in Print $15.99:


And that’s it’s for July. Tell me about your submission adventures for the month in the comments.