One Hour Flash – Road to Ruin

Time for another installment of one-hour flash. For those new to these posts, these are 1,000-word stories I jammed out in an hour for a writing exercise. I go on to publish a lot of these, but the the ones that aren’t quite up to snuff for publication make excellent blog fodder.

Today’s story is a little horror tale called “Road to Ruin.”


Road to Ruin

“You ever been down this way?” Howard asked and tapped the battered metal sign with his war hammer. It hung from a sagging chain link fence and read “Road Closed.” Beyond, crumbling asphalt peeked through the overgrown weeds and stretched into the distance.

“Nope,” Raphael said. He was familiar with Paradise, officially known as Plague Sector Eight, but he’d only been hunting it a few years. The abandoned, walled city was five-hundred square miles of decaying houses and buildings, weed-choked roads, and hiding places for shamblers. “But we’re close to our quota, so it might be worth a look.”

They’d bagged two shamblers in a nearby shopping mall, but they needed one more to complete their contract. Then they could book it to the west gate, get out, and get paid. Three shamblers meant nine thousand bucks. That would keep them out of the plague sectors for a good month.

Howard nodded. “Pistols or close combat weapons?” He’d been a licensed headhunter only a three weeks, but the former beat cop had a hunter’s instincts, and his size and strength were definite assets when it came to busting shambler skulls.

“Close combat.” Raphael took his flanged mace from his belt. The medieval weapon presented an odd juxtaposition against his modern body armor and other equipment, but the ancient hand weapons were best suited for the work.

They stepped over the barricade and moved down the road, passing the rusted hulks of cars, and the skeletal remains of small houses, their roofs sunken, empty doors and windows promising darkness and death. They didn’t speak as they walked in the fading sunlight. Howard would occasionally point at one of the ruined houses, and Raphael would shake his head. Bigger was the unspoken reply. Houses were death traps, and most headhunters avoided them. Larger buildings, with room to move and swing a weapon were safer.

They walked another mile and a building appeared at the end of the road, a squat cinder-block rectangle more like a fortress than any civilian structure.

“What is that?” Howard asked, keeping his voice low.

“Looks like a barracks.” Raphael was a former Army Ranger, and he knew a military building when he saw one.

“Paradise have any military presence before the outbreak,” Howard asked.

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“What’s your call?”

Raphael studied the building. If it was a barracks, there would be plenty of room inside and not many places for shamblers to hide. The door to the building was a metal slab; mostly rust beneath peeling green paint. It looked sturdy, and they might have to force it open, which meant noise and potentially waking the dead within.

Raphael looked up at the sky and grimaced. They had maybe an hour of sunlight, enough time to make a quick kill. He didn’t want to spend the night in the plague sector.

“Let’s go,” Raphael said, making his decision. “I’ll take point.”

Howard nodded and they advanced. They reached the door, and it was held shut by a rusting padlock. Raphael considered his options, then turned to Howard. “See if you can break this thing. One blow.”

At 6’10” and 270 pounds, Howard was a mountainous human being and absurdly strong. He hefted his footman’s war hammer, a four-foot length of ash topped with a spiked head, and brought the weapon whistling down on the padlock. It shattered with a hollow clang and fell to the ground in two pieces.

Raphael pushed the door open, revealing darkness and an appalling animal stench. He recoiled and an unearthly howl rose from the inside of the barracks. His blood went cold. The sound had not come from an animal, and it sure as fuck wasn’t a sound any human could make.

“Shamblers don’t make noise,” Howard said, voicing what Raphael was thinking.

“Run,” Raphael managed to say just before the barracks door burst open and a dark shape came hurtling from the blackness.

Raphael threw himself to the ground and whatever it was passed overhead. He heard the meat and metal sound of Howard’s hammer making contact and then screaming.

Raphael rolled over and pulled his Sig P226, forgetting the mace. This was no time for stealth. Something lithe and bestial crouched on top of Howard. It had knocked him to the ground and raked at his belly like an animal. Howard screamed and tried to push the thing away.

Raphael rose to his feet and brought his pistol up. He pulled the trigger twice, and the gun’s discharge was shockingly loud. The bullets tore into the creature’s body but had little effect other than to draw its attention. Its head snapped around, a head that had maybe once been human, and sulfurous yellow eyes locked on Raphael.

He took a bead on the thing’s head, and then another gunshot sounded, this one deeper and more commanding. A geyser of blood jetted from the top of the creature’s head, and it rolled limply off Howard. The former police officer had managed to get to his Ruger Super Redhawk and there wasn’t much living or dead that could survive a .44 slug at point-blank.

Raphael hurried over to Howard who tried to get up. Loops of intestine hung from the man’s savaged belly, and Raphael pushed him back down. “Don’t; stay put.”

“Raph,” Howard said, blood running down his chin. “I’m fucked.”

Another piercing howl rose from the interior of the barracks, and Raphael shook his head and held his pistol up for Howard to see.

Howard nodded. “Do it. I don’t want to come back.”

Raphael took his friend’s hand, put the barrel of his Sig against Howard’s temple, and pulled the trigger. The gun went off, Howard jerked, then lay still.

A shape appeared in the barracks doorway.

Raphael ran.


So I kind of cheated with this one. Not that I took more than an hour to write it or that it didn’t fit the prompt. It’s just this story is based on a larger idea I’ve had for a while. I’d even outlined a novel on the basic concept and written the first couple of chapters before I back-burnered it for another project (the novel I’m working on now). These characters aren’t in the outline and the location is different, but it’s the same basic setting. Anyway, this is a vignette rather than a full story, but it might be worth fleshing out into something more substantial. (I know; I always say that, but I mean it this time!)

Want to read more of my one-hour scribbles? Check out these posts.

One-Hour Flash – Fuel for the Fire

Time to dust off another also-ran from the one-hour flash files. As usual, this is a story written in one hour based on a photo prompt for a contest/exercise. The time stamp on Word says I wrote this one in September of 2013. What you see below is more or less what I came up with in an hour five years ago, though I did clean it up a tad.

Today’s story is called “Fuel for the Fire.”


Fuel for the Fire

Pixabay

Ashton had seen his share of forest fires, but he and the ten other volunteer firefighters from Chico, California had never seen anything like this. They had come prepared to meet the blaze on the edge of the Plumas National Forest with the same skill and devotion they’d brought to every job, but this fire did not fit the bill.

The flames were bright green, and they gave off no detectable heat. The trees and undergrowth within the inferno still burned, however, and smoke roiled up into the night sky. Weirder still, the fire didn’t appear to be spreading. Ashton had never see a fire do that; usually it devoured every burnable thing in its path, quick and unpredictable. This fire seemed content to burn only the thirty or so acres of Trees on the edge of Plumas. Hell, you could even see exactly where it stopped. The trees and bushes were green and wet with dew right up to the edge of those crazy green flames and everything beyond was a burning ruin.

“What the fuck is that?” Daniels said. “Why is it green?”

Ashton pushed up the visor on his helmet and took a couple steps forward. “I don’t know. Copper makes a green flame, but there’s nothing like that in the ground around here.”

“I don’t care if it’s pink with polka dots,” Captain Mike wells said from behind Ashton. He was the ranking man at the Chico station. “You still got a job to do.”

“Yeah, but Mike, this ain’t fuckin’ normal,” Daniels said. He was the youngest guy on the squad and had a knack for pissing off the captain, usually by using his first name instead of his rank. “We gotta call someone. We—“

“I said get to work!” The captain stood six and half feet tall, and his voice carried like a drill sergeant when he wanted it to. “That fire is close enough to town we need to stop it right fucking now. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.” Daniels moved up to stand next to Ashton. “Fuckin’ prick,” he said under his breath. “This could be some kind of alien shit, and all Captain Hard-Ass wants to do is put it out so he can get back to his Maker’s Mark.”

“Alien shit or not, the captain’s gonna kick both our asses if we don’t hop to,” Ashton said. “Come on.”

They approached the fire and Ashton saw the flames were getting higher. They still weren’t spreading, but they appeared to be reaching upward. He had his axe in hand as did Daniels. It was standard procedure to fight a wildfire with both direct and indirect methods. Ashton and Daniels were in charge of the indirect; they would create control lines around the blaze, areas with no combustible material. That means clearing brush and even chopping down trees if it came to it. Behind them, the rest of Chico’s small fire team worked on the direct method, a chemical quenching agent sprayed through hoses to smother the fire.

They were near the boundary of the burned and unburned, and Ashton still felt no heat. Normally, this close, you’d be roasting in your suit, marinating in your own sweat. This fire was cool as could be.

“Look at the smoke, man,” Daniels said, staring up, his axe dangling in his hands.

Ashton looked up and for the first time he was afraid. The smoke should be streaming up in a single huge plume. That’s what smoke did. The smoke coming off this fire went up in dozens of individual streamers of gossamer black, and they didn’t go straight up. They whirled around, darting and surging against the wind.

“That’s not right . . .” Ashton trailed off because he was close enough to really see into the depths of the green conflagration. The trees and other things weren’t really burning; they were withering, as if the fire just sucked the life out of them.

“We need to go,” Ashton said, slowly backpedaling. “Right now.”

Daniels had his iPhone out and as was taking pictures of the weird smoke. “Why?” he said. “I want to put this on Instagram—“

One of the smoke streamers darted out of the sky, and cold nails of horror raked Ashton’s insides. The streamer gained shape and solidity as it came down, and then it enveloping Daniels. He screamed and dropped his iPhone, batting at the writhing black smoke with his axe.

Daniels turned, and Ashton saw his face, saw the skin blacken and sink in on itself, exposing the pale white bone beneath. Daniels toppled over and a tendril of fire leaped from the main blaze and covered him, extending the wild fire’s boundary by about five feet.

More smoke streamers came out of the black sky, and Ashton ran. He had always been fast, but he still expected one of those smoke things to catch him and suck the life from his body. His desperate sprint carried him past other members of the crew, and they simply stared at him as he ran by. He didn’t have time to warn them.

He passed Captain Wells and finally glanced back. The captain opened his mouth to yell something at Ashton, but one of the streamers came slashing down out of the night and wrapped around him in a cloak of inky black. He captain screamed, hoarse and guttural, and Ashton saw other men taken by the smoke behind him.

Ashton turned and put his head down, focused all his energy on running, getting away. But he saw the blaze surge forward, a looming verdigris wall, to cover the men entangled in smoke.

The fire grew.


Unlike the most of the other stories in this series, I did actually send this one out for submission a few times. The feedback I received from one publication was spot on. Basically, this isn’t a full story. It reads like the beginning of a story, possibly the middle, or as one bit of feedback suggested, an excerpt from a novel. I do like the idea here, and at some point I may turn it into something longer with a beginning and an ending. Until then, it’s a vignette with a bad case of premise-itis. 🙂

Check out the previous installments in the One-Hour Flash series.

One-Hour Flash – Big Game

Here’s another installment of One-Hour Flash. Yep, another flash piece written in one hour that has been languishing on my hard drive for years. I’ve deemed all the stories in this series not quite good enough to submit (for various reasons), but there are elements I like in each one that might warrant revision or more likely expansion at some point.

Today’s story is called “Big Game,” and I’m pretty sure it’s the only piece of true military sci-fi I’ve written.


Big Game

General DeVeers walked at a pace Daniels found hard to match. The general’s longer legs and superior fitness ensured Daniels would be breathless and sweating by the time they reached the firing range. The general seemed unconcerned about the discomfort of the short, chubby scientist half-running and half-limping behind him, and he peppered Daniels with an unrelenting barrage of questions.

“Have you solved the issue with aggression yet?” DeVeers asked.

“We think so,” Daniels said, puffing. “The most recent batch have displayed a vastly reduced predatory instinct, although they still retain enough of it to serve our purposes.”

DeVeers nodded. “What about manual dexterity? The last batch of quickened had trouble holding their weapons. That put accuracy in the shitter.”

“Yes,” Daniels said and grimaced, and not just because he had to jog to keep up with the general. They’d almost lost their funding and the entire project when DeVeers had seen the test results. Luckily, the addition of a bit more human DNA to the mix and a little good old fashioned trial and error had ensured the latest batch had fully functional opposable thumbs.

“And intelligence?” DeVeers asked. “Are they smart enough to take orders and carry them out?”

This was Daniels’ own area of expertise, and he was pleased with his efforts. “Average IQ in the last batch was 105,” he said. “Outliers as high as 120.”

“Christ,’ DeVeers said. “That’s higher than a lot of human grunts. Well done.”

Daniels suppressed the smile blooming at the corners of his mouth. Praise from General DeVeers was like water in the desert—both exceedingly rare and potentially life giving.

They had reached the end of the three-mile-long passageway that connected the two halves of Luna Base. The massive steel door in front of them led to the labs, the holding rooms for the quickened, and the firing range. A pair of guards in gray blastek armor barred their way. They, like all military personnel on Luna Base, were on loan from General DeVeers, and they quickly stepped aside to let their commanding officer through.

The general waited patiently while Daniels punched in the door code, then brushed past him once the door opened with a soft hiss of escaping air. Beyond lay a maze-like complex of hallways, rooms, labs, and everything else needed for Project Sapia. The general took the lead, navigating the labyrinth easily despite only visiting Luna Base twice before. He had at least slowed his pace a bit so Daniels could walk comfortably beside him.

Daniels soon realized the general didn’t really know where he was going; he just followed the gun shots. The thunderous roar of a Simpson Autocannon is hard to cover up, even four miles underground with a hundred yards of steel and concrete between you and the shooter. The general had a slight grin on his face. Daniel’s surmised that the autocannon’s cacophonous blasts were familiar music to an old veteran like DeVeers.

The firing range was at the very back of the base and opened out onto a massive cavern—a vault, really—as big as a football field. A group of soldiers in gray armor and scientists in white lab coats clustered around a low wall set up on one side of the cavern. A figure crouched in front of the wall, an oversized Simpson Autocannon pressed to his shoulder.

The autocannon went off again, and Daniels clapped his hands over his ears. He’d forgotten his hearing protection and would be nearly deaf for the next couple of days. DeVeers had obviously come prepared, and Daniels noticed bright yellow foamcore earplugs in the general’s ears.

The general approached a group of soldiers and scientists, smiling widely. The soldiers turned to greet them, very careful to leave their own autocannons pointed at the ground. Their eyes shifted nervously back and forth between the general and Luna Base’s pride and joy, Subject 31, also known as Simba. They’d had to put down no fewer than ten of the quickened in the last six months, usually because something triggered a prey response. Daniels silently hoped they’d worked out that last bit with Simba and his brothers.

“That’s enough shooting, Daniels,” DeVeers said. “Let’s have a look at him.”

Daniels nodded and signaled to one of the other scientists, Martinez, who acted as the surrogate for the quickened. She’d raised each one of them from test tube to adult.

“Simba,” Martinez called out. “Come here and meet General DeVeers.”

Daniels couldn’t help but smile at DeVeer’s sharp intake of breath as Simba stood and placed his autocannon on the rack next to the wall. At eight feet tall and 350 pounds, he looked even bigger in his custom blastek armor. His head and face were a smooth blending of human and feline characteristics, alien yet somehow alluring. His fangs jutted just below his upper lip, and his eyes were large and golden, although the irises were round like a human’s rather than slitted like a cat’s. Simba’s mane was long and a tawny yellow; it almost looked like human hair in certain lights.

“General DeVeers,” Simba said, his voice a low rumble. “Mother says I am to serve you. To fight your enemies.”

General DeVeers nearly shook with glee, but when he spoke, the words were laced with still, tight and rigid. “That’s right, Simba. You and your brothers are going to be the finest unit in the entire damned United Military.”

Simba’s mouth fell open in a toothy grin. “We will be your pride. We will kill for you.”

Daniels nodded at Martinez. She put her hand on Simba’s massive forearm and led him away.

“Jesus, Daniels,” DeVeers said. “He’s perfect. If you’ve really worked out all the bugs, the rebels won’t know what hit them. What about the other quickened?”

Daniels grinned, relaxing for the first time since the general’s visit. “If you liked Simba, wait until you see Smokey and Shere Khan.”


So, what’s the issue with this one? Pretty simple, really. This isn’t a complete story. It’s a vignette or the opening bit to a longer piece. Honestly, I kind of dig the military sci-fi premise, and I like the characters too. That said, there’s more work to be done to turn this premise into something resembling a real story. Maybe I’ll flesh it out at some point.

Oh, and I can’t remember why I called this one “Big Game.” The title doesn’t really work for the story, but it was certainly something I latched onto in the desperate seconds between finishing this story and posting it for the one-hour flash fiction contest. I know, I should have called it “Lions, Tigers, and Bears,” right? 🙂

If you’d like to check out the previous installments in the One-Hour Flash series, click the links below.

One-Hour Flash: Kite Flyers

Hey, all, here’s another installment of one-hour flash. I’ve got a weird one for you this time. With these one-hour flash challenges, you get a prompt, usually a photo, and then you have sixty minutes to write something resembling a coherent story. Sometimes that prompt resonates, and you come up with something pretty workable. Sometimes it doesn’t and you struggle to come up with anything, and when you do, it’s, well, bizarre. This story is the latter. The prompt for this one, if I remember correctly, was a photo of big squid kite, and, as a horror author, my mind immediately latched on to . . . well, you’ll see.

Anyway, here’s a story called “Kite Flyers.”


Kite Flyers

They looked foolish. Samuel knew it, but at least the fog gave them some cover. It was probably better the few people in the park couldn’t see all the kite flyers clearly, anyway. Some of them only came out on this very special afternoon when the wind and the fog mixed, creating a sky full of swirling grey eddies and whorls.

Samuel stood on a hill, his kite in the air. It pulled at the spindle in his hands as it surged against the twine and the wind. He could just make it out in the fog, a wide canvas diamond with a vivid yellow cross. In the middle of that cross was a collection of Latin words culled from an ancient Christian manuscript, the Book of Lios. That particular book hadn’t been considered for entry into the Bible most Christians were familiar with. In fact, the church considered it witchcraft and had ordered most copies burned over five hundred years ago.

Samuel could see the shapes of other kites now, as each kite flyer took his or her place on one of the many low mounds surrounding a patch of reddish-brown clay. He knew the city had tried to grow grass in the patch for years with no luck. Nothing would take root there, not even weeds.

The wind picked up, and the fog thickened. Two events that any weather man would tell you were completely contradictory. Not on this afternoon. He looked up and saw other kites through the fog: a blue square with the Star of David in gold, a bright red triangle with the dharmachakra of Buddhism, and he could just make out the shape of a golden box kite painted with the interlocking spiral of the yin yang. He knew each of these kites, like his, bore text from works far older than the faiths they represented. Words that had been folded in to each faith and largely forgotten. Forgotten until today, when the kite flyers took to their mounds. He knew more kites lurked in the fog, some representing religions he recognized and some bearing strange sigils that belonged to faiths with few adherents. Few human adherents, anyway.

They all gathered on this day, their differences in doctrine and theology—no matter how acrimonious—set aside to focus on one goal. That goal had just taken flight, and its owner stood in the center of the mounds. The kite was massive, far larger than any single person should be able to handle—a great green monstrous thing, a floating octopoid head trailing dozens of streamers of bright pink canvas tentacles. The symbols on the great squid kite were a riot of strange angles and spikes. It hurt to look at them. It hurt even more to look at the kite flyer, even though he wore a great brown shapeless coat that covered most of his body. His proportions were oddly humped, and his stooped frame suggested something awful and ancient. He gripped his kite spindle—its twine a greasy pink like a length of stretched intestine—in gloved hands that had too few fingers or perhaps too many.

Samuel pulled his attention away from whoever flew the squid kite and focused on his own. He let out more string, moving his hands lower at the same time. His kite darted in the wind, moving back and forth. The box kite was the first kite to make contact. It snapped out the air, diving in low, its flyer clearly trying to pull his kite string across his target’s. The squid kite moved quickly to the left—against the wind—and the box kite missed its mark and smashed into the red clay in a tangle of canvas.

Samuel grimaced. One down.

More kites appeared in the air around the great squid, a riot of shapes, colors, and religious symbols on the wind. They dived in and out, their flyers trying desperately to smash their charges into the great floating orb of the squid or snap its string. They failed. The squid kite moved with unnatural speed and agility, avoiding the dive-bombing swarm of smaller kites. Its operator also snapped his kite’s streamers, the squid’s tentacles, up with surprising force, smashing enemy kites out of the air and sending them crashing to the ground.

Soon the clearing between the mounds was littered with downed kites and terror gnawed at Samuel’s belly. He had never seen so many fall so quickly. He let out enough twine to make his own attack but held off. There were still kites in the air: the Star of David still flew along with others he did not recognize. They were holding back, waiting. They had one more shot, one more massed attack. If they failed . . . He didn’t want to think about that. About what it meant to the world beyond the fog if all their kites fell and the great squid still flew.

It was time. He felt it, just as the other kite flyers must have. Attack now.

Samuel pulled hard on his spindle and his kite darted out of the fog, down toward the great squid. Others were doing the same, but this time they coordinated the assault, with equal numbers attacking the body of the great kite and its string. The squid juked in the air, avoiding all but one of its attackers. He saw a kite in the shape of great black crow slam into the squid and heard the sound of snapping kite spars. The squid shuddered but did not fall.

Samuel’s own kite now made contact, and its twine crossed the thick pink ribbon keeping the squid aloft. The spindle shuddered in his hands and it was nearly torn from his grasp. Then the sound of twine snapping echoed across the park. The squid’s line parted, and its operator stumbled backward with a shrill alien cry.

The great squid floated to the ground slowly, flattening out once it contacted the earth like a gob of mucous spat from the heavens. The remaining kites fell around it as their operators climbed down from their mounds. Samuel dropped the spindle and turned his back on the field of ruined kites. He would return in one year, on the day when the fog and the wind collide.


I warned you. Weird, right? The problem with this one is not so much that it’s a vignette or a scene; there’s actually kind of a story here. The problem is the concept is so preposterously strange (I’d even venture to call it silly) no one would publish it. Still, I’m amused by what my desperate brain came up with when given the chance to mix kites, of all things, and horror. Yep, the dreaded Cthulhu kite of doom. 🙂

If you’d like to check out the previous installments in the One-Hour Flash series, click the links below.

One-Hour Flash – For Abby

Time for another installment of One-Hour Flash and another opportunity to exorcise a demon from my hard drive. All these stories were written in one hour for a writing exercise/contest, and for one (good) reason or another, I haven’t done much with them. So instead of letting them pile up rejections like the the good lord intended, I’m sharing them here. Like all the stories in this series, this is more or less what I ended up with after an hour of writing.

This one is called “For Abby,” and it’s the touching tale of a man trying to find the perfect pet for his daughter. 🙂


For Abby

The place wasn’t like any pet store Dale had ever seen. There were no cages filled with frolicking puppies and kittens, no aquariums sporting colorful fish, no soft chirps of parrots and finches. It was empty; a square room with a bare concrete floor. A red door behind a counter against the far wall stood as a single, ominous note of color. The shop smelled like rotten eggs, and Dale wrinkled his nose as the door shut behind him.

A curious symbol had been scrawled on the concrete in front of the door: a big circle with a five-pointed star in the middle. To Dale’s relief, there was enough room to step around it.

“Hello?” Dale said and approached the counter.

The smell, the weird symbol, and the shop’s emptiness began to unnerve him. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the post-it note Dr. Falders had given him. She’d written an address and two words: For Abby. This was the address, though it had been exceedingly difficult to find, in an area of town he’d never visited, had never known existed.

“Is anyone there?” Dale called out. This time he heard muffled footsteps behind the red door. It swung open and disgorged a stink so revolting he slapped a hand over his mouth and turned away.

“Can I help you?”

Dale turned back to the counter. A woman in a white dress now stood behind it. She had long black hair, pale, almost alabaster skin, and curiously large eyes, almost too big for her face. Her age was difficult to determine. She could be eighteen or thirty.

The smell had faded and Dale took his hand away from his mouth. He set the post-it note on the counter. “Uh, yeah,” he said. “Dr. Falders sent me . . .”

The woman nodded and smiled. Her lips were very red. “Of course. The doctor said you would be coming.”

“It’s about my daughter. She needs a new pet. Something a little more . . . resilient than a dog or a cat.”

The woman’s smile brightened. “I understand completely, Mr. Richards.”

“She doesn’t mean to hurt them,” Dale continued. “But puppies and kittens are so fragile.”

The woman placed one long-fingered hand on Dale’s forearm. Her skin was cold and smooth. “You don’t have to explain. Dr. Falders told me all I need to know.”

Dale grimaced. What else had the doctor had told this woman about Abby? “So you’re a pet store?”

“Of sorts.” The woman removed her hand from Dale’s arm. “We cater to very special clients with very special children, like you and Abby.”

Dale glanced around the “shop.” “I don’t see any cages.”

“We keep a very limited stock,” the woman said. “But I have just the thing for Abby.”

“Really? That would be great. Her fits are always better when she has something to play with.” Dale was afraid to hope, but Dr. Falders had been right about everything else.

“Step around the counter, Mr. Richards.” The woman opened the red door again, and the stink returned, but it didn’t bother him as much. If this shopkeeper could help Abby, he could put up with a little stench. He followed her into a small dark room that held a big cage, the kind you might keep a wild animal in, like a tiger or a bear. There was something inside, but it was too dark to see it clearly.

“Let me turn on the light.” White light flooded the room from an overhead fixture, and Dale gasped. The thing in the cage lay on its side, its massive head turned in his direction. At first, he thought it might be a dog, but it was too big. Plus, the horns, the burning red eyes, and the shark-like teeth all added up to something very much not a dog.

“Jesus,” Dale said and instantly felt the shopkeeper’s icy grip on his arm, painfully tight.

That is not a name I like to hear in my shop, Mr. Richards.”

“Uh, sorry,” he said. “Abby doesn’t like it either.” He changed the subject. “What is that thing?”

“A pet for a very special child.” Her smile returned and she released his arm.

“It’s a little big.”

“Look closer.” The shopkeeper pointed one finger at the cage.

He took a step toward the cage and saw several small, squirming shapes in the straw beneath the beast, nuzzling its belly. He realized with mingled disgust and delight the squirming things were the creature’s young.

“I can have one of the, uh, puppies for Abby?”

“You can,” the woman replied. “It will weather your daughter’s . . . affections quite well. When it is grown, it can protect her from those who might wish to harm her.”

Dale nodded, remembering the priest at the hospital when Abby was born. He’d thrown a fit about the birth mark on her arm, and the police had removed him. There had been others, doctors mostly, a few neighbors. They’d moved several times since Abby was born.

“I’ll take it,” Dale said. “What do I owe you?”

He felt the shopkeeper’s cool touch on the back of his neck and shivered. Her voice was in his ear. “Nothing, Mr. Richards. Just keep her safe. All will be repaid when she is ready.”


So, this is one of those flash pieces that suffers from vignette syndrome. I like the premise here and the weird pet shop, but nothing really happens, and there’s no character arc. This happens quite a bit in these one-hour flash challenges. I’ll come up with a decent premise, but what I end up writing is the beginning to a longer tale rather than a complete story on its own. What I have here could make a decent start to a short story, though, and maybe I’ll return to it at some point.

If you’d like to check out the previous installments in the One-Hour Flash series, click the links below.

One-Hour Flash – The Christmas Crypt

Hey, all, it’s time for another installment of one-hour flash. If you’re new to this feature or this blog, these are stories I wrote as part of a one-hour flash fiction exercise/contest. Some of those stories were good enough to be published, and the others, well, they ended up here. 🙂

Today’s story is a weird one, and maybe it’s greatest flaw is that it’s a Christmas story. That’s a big limiting factor on which markets you can submit to and when. Since I never think far enough ahead to look for Christmas-themed submission calls, I figured I’d celebrate this Christmas by sharing the story with you.


 

The Christmas Crypt

 

“Christ, It looks like the North Pole exploded in here,” Frank said, panning his flashlight around the huge dark room. The thin beam of light played across stockings and garlands pinned to every wall with rusting nails, a mob of blow-up Santas, snowmen, and elves in various states of inflation, and a small forest of fake Christmas trees, each festooned with gaudy ornaments. Some of the Christmas junk was new, but a thick layer of dust coated most of it.

“Dude likes Christmas,” Randall said with a shrug, shining his own flashlight around. His small, deep-set eyes glinted with rodent-like eagerness as they moved across the room.  “Some of this shit is expensive, though. He must have some cash somewhere.”

“I hope so,” Frank said. “I got two strikes; a B&E would send my ass to prison for the long haul.”

Randall moved further into the room, waving the flashlight in a methodical sweeping motion. “Don’t worry; I’ve been scoping this place for months. The guy lives alone, and he doesn’t get visitors. When he leaves, he’s gone for days. We’re fine.”

They were keeping their voices down out of habit, but it wasn’t necessary. The big old house was in a neighborhood where people liked their privacy. That meant lots of space between homes, and a veritable forest of tall pines obscured this particular house from the road. No one could see onto the grounds without actually coming up the driveway. If that happened, they’d hear and see the car, giving them more than enough time to exit through the back window they’d pried open to get in.

“We’ve been through every room in this place, and I’ve seen nothing but piles of Christmas garbage. There’s not even any furniture.” Frank shook his head. “It’s fucking weird, man.”

Randall had reached the other side of the room and stood next to one of the towering fake Christmas trees. “Hey,” he said, motioning for Frank to join him. “There’s a door behind this tree.”

Frank pushed past a trio of inflatable Santas to join his partner. The door behind the tree was made from a heavy dark wood and crisscrossed with metal strips in a checkerboard pattern. A stout iron bolt held it closed.

“Help me move this tree,” Randall said, and the two of them manhandled the faux Douglas fir out of the way.

Randall put his ear against the door and listened.

“Anything?” Frank asked.

Randall pulled away from the door, his forehead wrinkling. “Bells, I think.”

Frank lifted his shirt, exposing the butt of a black pistol in his waistband. He put his hand on the grip.

“Fuck that, man.” Randall held up both hands in protest. “Stealing is one thing, but I don’t want to kill anybody.”

Frank’s gaunt, freckled face was impassive. “We haven’t found shit in this dump, and if I’m gonna risk strike three on a B&E, then I might as well risk it on armed robbery. Open it.”

“Fine,” Randall said. “But put that thing away unless we absolutely need it.”

Frank rolled his eyes, but he took his hand off the gun and covered it with his shirt.

Randall yanked on the heavy bolt, and it gave way with a loud screeching noise. He pulled the door open, and from the night-black portal came a thick animal stink. Both men covered their noses and stepped back.

“Fuck me,” Frank said, gagging. “Smells like something died down there.”

“Maybe something did.” Randall aimed his flashlight at the open door. The beam revealed rickety wooden stairs leading down.

Frank pulled the collar of his shirt over his mouth. “Let’s see if this asshole keeps his money in the same place he keeps the road kill.”

They mounted the steps, shining their lights into the gloom. The stairs led down into a large brick basement with an earthen floor. When they reached the bottom, they heard two things: the soft tinkling of bells and the hollow boom of the door slamming shut above them.

Frank whirled toward the stairs and pulled his pistol. Randall stayed where he was and shone his flashlight around, trying to find the source of the bells. He heard Frank on the steps behind him, and the bells grew louder, closer.

Randall opened his mouth to call out to Frank, but something large and fast moved out of the dark and into the beam of his flashlight. He saw a white blur and what he recognized as antlers seconds before they pierced his abdomen and slammed him back against the wall. He screamed as the thing connected to the antlers twisted them violently in his guts.

Halfway up the stairs, Frank turned to see his partner pinned to the wall by a white reindeer the size of a grizzly bear. Its red eyes seemed too large for its skull and its misshapen head was crowned with a rack of antlers like a nest of spears.  A string of small iron bells hung from the creature’s neck. The beast jerked its antlers from Randall’s body, letting him sag to the ground, and moved up the stairs toward Frank. He pointed his pistol at it, retreating until his back brushed against the door. He fumbled for the doorknob and realized with cold dread there wasn’t one.

The reindeer shook its head, blew steam from its flared nostrils, and charged. Frank pulled the trigger, filling the night with the dichotomous sounds of gunfire and jingle bells.


Yeah, this one’s not perfect by any means, and it’s probably more vignette than true story, but I dig the weird factor of a giant devil reindeer. Is it a marketable story? Eh, it’d be a tough sell with that holiday theme even if I polished it up. I’ll say this for it, though; it’s an absolutely perfect final blog post before Christmas. 🙂

Happy holidays to all the writers, readers, and fellow rejectomancers.

One-Hour Flash: Fairy Bad Behavior

Time for another one-hour flash story. If you’re unfamiliar with this series, these are 1,000-word stories I wrote in one hour for a writing contest/exercise. I’ve done a lot of these exercises, and sometimes those stories go on to bigger and better things, like getting published. The others wind up here.

This is an urban fantasy story that centers around an agency called the BFA (the Bureau of Fae Affairs), which I’ve used in a bunch of stories. One of these days, I might try and write something more coherent with the BFA than a bunch of disconnected flash pieces. Until then, here’s “Fairy Bad Behavior.”


Fairy Bad Behavior 

“What’s next, Jenkins?” Sergeant Ivan Danforth asked as he and his partner threaded their way through the tangle of desks and moving bodies in the BFA command center.

Agent Ryan Jenkins glanced at his clipboard. “Let’s see,” he said scanning the list of names and charges. “Looks like a Mr. Koruk.”

“Troll?” Danforth asked.

“Nope. Ogre.”

“That’s a first for me,” Danforth said, his hand sliding down to the butt of the huge revolver at his hip. The S&W .500 was the biggest he could find, and it was a pain in the ass to carry. You couldn’t fit it under a coat, and even on your hip it was like dragging around a sack of lead shot. Still, he often found the gargantuan revolver wholly inadequate. “What’d he do?”

Jenkins grimaced. “Jesus. Ate three kids in West Seattle.”

Danforth sighed and shook his head. “What is with these fairy-tale motherfuckers and eating kids? Remember that witch last year? She barbecued eleven before we caught her. Then she acted like it was the most normal thing in the world to do.”

Jenkins nodded and offered his partner a tired smile. “Well, at least work at the good ‘ol Bureau of Fae Affairs is never boring.”

They had reached the far side of the office. It was completely clear of desks, its only feature a massive steel door set in the plain white wall. Two guards armed with oversized rifles of black steel and carbon fiber—Barrett M82s—stood in front of the door.

“Gentlemen,” Danforth said. “We’ve got an interview in room ten.”

One of the guards nodded and spun the steel wheel set in the door’s center and pulled. it open At nearly four feet thick it made most bank vaults look tiny in comparison. Beyond stretched a long, wide hallway constructed of concrete. More steel doors were set at various intervals along the hallway’s length. Some were human-sized, others towered fifteen feet high.

Jenkins and Danforth entered the tunnel and the door shut behind them. Their destination lay at the far end—one of the oversized holding cells. Outside the cell, they found two more guards armed with the same heavy rifles as the last two.

“He’s chained,” one of the guards said as the two BFA officers approached. “But keep your guard up; one smack from this asshole and you’d look like a bug on windshield.”

Danforth smiled and unsnapped the S&W 500 in its holster. “Don’t worry. This isn’t our first rodeo. Go ahead and open up.”

The door opened and they stepped into a cavernous room with concrete floors and walls. At the far end of the room, chained to the wall was Mr. Koruk, their suspect. He was smaller than Danforth had expected—only ten feet tall—but what he lacked in height he made up for in bulk. The ogre wore a pair of grubby trousers, and his bare upper torso gave the two BFA agents a good look at his barrel chest, massive round belly, and arms corded with great slabs of sinewy muscle.

The ogre sat on the floor near the wall, and he turned as they entered. His face was coarse and ugly, with a wide brow, drooping jowls, flabby lips, and a squashed nose the size of large potato in the center of the whole mess.

“Officers,” the ogre said and held up his manacled wrists. They were bolted to the wall with a length of titanium chain. “Can you explain this violation of my rights?” The ogre’s voice was a deep baritone with a slight Irish lilt.

Danforth sat down in one of the two chairs near the door, well out Mr. Koruk’s reach if he decided to get rowdy. Jenkins sat in the other.

“Rights, Mr. Koruk?” Danforth said. “The BFA has been quite clear with you and your kind on what we expect of our relocated guests. Eating school children is pretty much at the top of the list of behavior we’d like you to avoid.”

The ogre frowned. “What am I supposed to eat? I have certain, uh, dietary needs.”

“We know, Mr. Koruk,” Jenkins said. “The BFA has made suitable artificial alternatives available to all ogres, trolls, witches, and giants.”

The ogre grimaced and stuck out his tongue. “That stuff doesn’t taste right.”

Danforth leaned forward in his chair. “I don’t give a goddamn if it tastes like a troll’s hairy asshole. You can’t eat children, you gigantic sack of shit.”

The ogre shrugged. “Old habits are hard to break.”

“Here are your options, Mr. Koruk,” Jenkins said. “You can write and sign a full confession to the crime or we can send you back to Jotunheim and let the frost giants deal with you.”

The ogre blanched, his yellowish skin taking on the color of sour milk. “What? You can’t send me back to Jotunheim. I’ve got asylum.”

“You’ve got asylum as long as you don’t break any laws,” Danforth said. “And although it’s been a while since I checked the codes, I’m pretty sure grinding up eight-year-olds to make sausage is still against the fucking law.”

“So it’s a confession, a last meal, and the needle, or we turn you over to Thrym and let him and his boys deal with you,” Jenkins said, a thin smile playing across his lips. “I hear they still cut the blood eagle on defectors. That’s a nasty way to go.”

“I’ll do it,” the ogre said and slumped against the wall. “I’ll confess. Don’t send me back.”

“Excellent,” Danforth said and stood. “One of the guards will be in shortly with pen and paper and to get your final meal request.

Jenkins grinned. “I suggest the vegetarian option.”


Okay, so what’s wrong with this one? Well, like a lot of failed flash, this is basically the beginning of something longer. I like the characters and concepts it introduces, but it doesn’t feel like a complete story (because it isn’t). I spent way too much time in the intro, so there was no word count left for anything else. Thus, you get a rushed and, let’s face it, unsatisfying ending. Still, I had fun with the dialog, as I often do in these BFA stories, and maybe, just maybe, there’s the seed of a longer (and better) story in here.

If you’d like to check out the previous installments in the One-Hour Flash series, click the links below.