One-Hour Flash – Blood Sport

Got another one-hour flash fiction for you folks. Again, this is another story I wrote in an hour based on a visual prompt. Many of these prompted one-hour stories go on to publication, and others, like this one, uh, don’t. So instead of letting the piece collect dust on my hard drive, I’m gonna inflict it on all of you. You’re welcome. 🙂

Here’s “Blood Sport.”


Blood Sport

“Who am I fighting?” Hector said as Manuel worked the kinks out of his shoulders.

He felt Manuel shrug. “You know how these things go. We won’t know until you step into the ring.”

Hector shook his head. Since the UFC had banned him for steroid use, he took whatever fights he could get. Many times these were unsanctioned bouts in the filthy basement of a bar or an abandoned warehouse. They paid okay, and since he’d been a pro; the losers that fought him rarely stood a chance. Still, the promoters of these bouts promised to use UFC rules, but they rarely did, and the fights were little more than blood sport.

“I fucking hate this shit,” Hector said.

“Calm down,” Manuel replied. “You can’t get tense before a fight.”

“I am Hector Villanueva, goddamn it. I was the fucking UFC welterweight champion. Now look at me.”

“Yes, look at you,” Manuel said, and stepped around to stare at the man he’d been training to fight for twenty years. “You are still fighting. You are still making money. This fight will pay you twenty-five thousand dollars. Soon we will have enough to hire the attorneys you need to get back into the UFC.”

Hector drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I know but this feels so low. Beneath me.”

Manuel nodded. “Sometimes we have to dig ourselves out from the bottom to get to the top.”

A knock sounded at the door to the makeshift training room–the employee’s locker room in an old meat-packing warehouse. Manuel went to answer it. He opened the door, and one of the fight promoters stood. He was a weird looking guy: tall, shaved head, with squiggly tattoos on his skull. They might have been writing, but Hector couldn’t tell what language they were.

“Is your man ready,” the promotor said. His voice was low and flat, like a computer. It gave Hector the creeps.

“He’s ready,” Manuel said. “What about yours?”

“Nearly,” the fight promoter said. “I need one more thing before we begin.” The man pulled a short jagged knife from his pocket.

Hector hopped off the training table and slid into a classic Muay Thai stance. “What the fuck, man?”

The man stopped and smiled. “I mean you no harm,” he said. “I only need a drop of blood.”

“Fuck you,” Hector said. “I’m not giving you my blood.”

Manuel came up behind the man, ready to spring to Hector’s defense. Though nearly sixty, Manuel held a black belt in Brazilian jujitsu.

“I know this seems odd,” the man said. “But it is necessary.” He reached into his other pocket and pulled out a roll of hundred dollar bills. A fat roll. “I can offer you another five thousand up front.” He tossed the bills to Manuel.

“On top of what we’re already getting, right?” Manuel said, and looked back at Hector with a what-do-you-think expression on his face.

The man nodded.

“Not my hands,” Hector said. It was hard to turn down another five K. “Cut my arm or leg.”

The man smiled, showing a lot of straight white teeth. “Of course. We need you in top form tonight.”

#

The ring was in the middle of the abandoned meat-packing plant. It was sorry attempt at an octagon with chicken-wire fences and a dingy mat within. There was a small crowd, all dressed in black. Hector’s opponent stood inside the octagon, his face hidden by the hood of a black silk boxing robe.

“Jesus, this is weird,” Hector said to Miguel as the approached the octagon.

“No shit,” Manuel said. “Fuck this dude up and we’re out of here, thirty grand richer.”

Hector made his way to the gate where the fight promoter waited. The man opened the gate and allowed Hector inside, following after him.

Hector went to the other side of octagon, across from his opponent, and begin throwing punches into the air, shifting from foot to foot, anything to get the blood flowing.

His opponent stood still, arms at his side. He looked to be the same height as Hector and of similar build: muscular and lean.

Maybe this asshole will give me a real fight, Hector thought. It would be a first in these unsanctioned bouts where he usually won in the first round with a knockout or submission.

The fight promoter stepped to the center of the octagon and cleared his throat. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “This is what we have gathered for.” A soft murmur of appreciation rose form the small crowd. “A man comes to us to fight his demon.”

What the fuck is this? Hector thought and looked to Manuel standing outside the octagon. His trainer was staring at the fight promotor and listening.

Something was very wrong. “Manuel, what’s going on?”

His trainer smiled sadly. “I’m sorry,” he said. “They paid me a lot more than thirty grand to get you here.”

Movement from across the octagon drew Hector’s attention away from Manuel. His opponent had removed his hood, and Hector’s breath caught in his throat. The man he was fighting could be his identical twin save for the flat black eyes and shark-like teeth crowding his open mouth.

“We give thanks for this vessel,” the fight promoter said. “We honor you with this sacrifice, Abbadon, destroyer of men.” He exited the octagon, and the crowd pressed close, blocking the gate.

Hector’s doppelganger slid into a perfect Muay Thai stance, one with which Hector was intimately familiar.


As with many of these failed flash stories, I like the set-up and the characters, but the story doesn’t really go anywhere. It sets up what could be an interesting conflict but then just fizzles out because we don’t see that conflict resolved. If we were to see Hector fight for his life against the demon, change and grow because of it (even if he doesn’t survive), there might be something to this. As it stands, I think I have a solid premise and setup, but that’s about it. The ending is definitely rushed as I ran out of time and word count.

Want to see more failed flash? Check out the previous installments in the One-Hour Flash series.

One-Hour Flash – End of the Line

Hey, folks, here’s another bit of flash fiction from my vault of almosts, not quites, and something’s missings. Like a lot of these flash pieces, this one came about in a one-hour flash fiction writing exercise. Sometimes those exercises result in publishable fiction and sometimes they result in, well, something else. This is one of the latter. As usual, this is essentially a first draft.

Here’s “End of the Line.”


End of the Line

Arnold awoke to the rumble and vibration of a moving train. He opened his eyes and found himself face-down on cracked filthy boards that smelled of rot and old blood—sour and coppery. Above him the wind howled, and he rolled over onto his back to see that he was lying in an open-topped rail car. The car was walled with bare boards—newer than those that made up the floor—nailed together to form a kind of fence or pen. It was desperately cold, and he could see the ghostly white shapes of snow-topped trees flash by overhead as the train sped along.

He had no memory of how he’d gotten here. He had gone to bed last night, safe in his apartment. He remembered closing his eyes, looking up at the ceiling in his room as sleep stole over him. Then he’d awoken here.

He sat up slowly, his limbs heavy and aching in the cold. He vision swam and a spike of exquisite pain lanced through his skull. He moaned and rocked forward onto his knees, trying not to vomit, trying not to pass out.

“Sorry about that, friend.”

The sudden realization he was not alone cut through Arnold’s pain like a white-hot knife. He pushed himself away from the floor and onto his backside and scanned the rail car from end to end. It was little more than a bare box some twenty feet long by ten feet wide. The moon overhead offered some illumination, but thick shadows pooled in every corner—they could be hiding anything.

The shadows farthest from Arnold shifted, and their tenebrous mass took on a man-like shape. It slithered forward, and Arnold caught a glimpse of black cloth and the suggestion of a face, round and pale like the moon above. He couldn’t see much else; the shadows seem to gather protectively around the figure, obscuring all but a vague outline.

“I had to tap you on the head to keep you quiet,” the shadow man said. His voice was barely a whisper, but it reached Arnold’s ears unobstructed by the shrieking wind or the noise from the moving train.

“I don’t—,” Arnold croaked, his mouth was bone dry and his tongue felt like it was made of cotton batting. He tried again. “Where am I?”

“On your way,” the thing in the shadows said. Arnold heard a smile in its voice, or maybe he saw a flash of teeth—long, yellow, and sharp—in the flickering moonlight.

The answer meant nothing to Arnold, but it filled him with such horror he could scarcely breathe. He moved away from the voice, until his back brushed up against the far wall of the rail car. “Why?” he whispered.

Again the shadow man smiled, but this time he saw—with certainty—a pair of eyes, lantern-like above that ghastly grin. “He keeps me very busy,” it said and laughed—the sound sent tiny spiders of terror down Arnold’s back. It was like hearing breaking glass or splintering wood, a fractured, unnatural sound. “He is hungry, always hungry. I bring him the choicest morsels, the most delectable sweets, and that keeps him quiet.”

“I don’t understand,” Arnold moaned. “I was asleep in my apartment. How can I be here?”

“I know you don’t understand,” the shadow man said. “You don’t need to. I came for you because you have certain qualities he will enjoy, certain qualities that will keep him quiescent for a few more weeks and save many from his hunger.”

“Please don’t kill me,” Arnold moaned, terror robbing him of hope and dignity.

“I won’t kill you,” the shadow man said. “Not I. But why should you care? You have nothing; you are loved by nothing. I snatched you from your bed because your life is barely worth living. You are hopeless and pointless, Arnold Graves. He will give you purpose so those who deserve life can keep it a little longer.”

“But I don’t want to die!” Arnold howled. “I don’t—“

The shadows surged forward. A hand shot from the darkness and grasped Arnold by the throat, cutting off his scream with a choked gurgle. The shadow man lifted him bodily from the ground, turned him about, and slammed him into the wall of the rail car. He could see over the top of the barricade, where a black engine belched smoke into the night as it hurdled down rusting tracks through a nameless forest.

“End of the line, Arnold,” the shadow man whispered, his breath cold in Arnold’s ear. “Can you see him where the tracks end?”

Arnold tried to close his eyes, but long fingers reached over the top of his head and pried them open . . . and he saw what was waiting. It rose up from the forest, trees splintering in its wake, blocking out the moon and the stars with its enormity. The wind howled louder, and Arnold heard its voice carried in the screaming torrent. He felt its hunger, felt its mind, immense and alien, reaching out to gather his soul as its vast claws reached out to gather his flesh.

The shadow man released him. Arnold had time for one long, lingering scream before the dark and the cold swallowed him whole.


Okay, so this is another one I actually like, and I think it’s effectively creepy in places. The problem with it is my main character is just kind of blah. He doesn’t have much personality or anything, and he’s really there just so the monsters can do bad shit to him. If I were to expand this story, he’s the first thing I’d focus on, especially the part about his life being pointless and all that. That’s something the reader needs to see, to experience, rather than have a shadow monster mention it off-hand.

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

One-Hour Flash – The God in the Lake

Time to share another bit of flash fiction that didn’t quite make the grade. I haven’t done one of these in a while, so just as a reminder, this is a story that I wrote in one hour as part of a flash fiction writing exercise. I’ve done a lot of those over the years, and many of the stories have gone on to publication. Many others have, uh, not. This is one of those. This is basically the story I wrote in an hour back in April of 2014, and though I’ve tinkered a bit here and there, it’s still pretty first draft-y.

Anyway, here’s “The God in the Lake.”


The God in the Lake

“There lies the death of gods.” Alexios drew his sword and pointed the short length of honed bronze at the lake. His blue eyes gleamed cold.

“Don’t do this, Alexios,” Hesiod said. “It won’t bring her back.” He had counselled his friend for days since they discovered the lake and that what lay within it was more than the fevered obsession of a broken man.

Alexios lowered his sword but did not return it to its scabbard. Hesiod saw the old hurt crash into him, the grief that had torn his world apart. But grief had not killed Alexios. It had done worse; it had eaten his soul and breathed hatred into the space left behind.

“I know,” Alexios said. “I’ve accepted that.”

“Then why are we here?” Hesiod gestured at the crystalline surface of the water, looming, white-capped Olympus behind it. The lake had taken ten years to find, and Hesiod had thought it no more than a myth, a place that could not exist. He’d kept the dream of the lake alive in Alexios because it was better than watching him drink himself to death or spend his life and blood on another senseless war. Now they stood before it, the doom it held a terrifying reality.

Alexios’ eyes burned with something equal parts joy and rage. “I want them to feel what I feel. I want the mighty gods of Olympus to suffer as I have suffered, and that!”—he turned and stabbed his blade at the lake — “is the only thing that can hurt them.”

He took the horn from his belt. Finding it had been as difficult as finding the lake. It was carved from something black that was not antler, wood, or stone. The symbols etched onto its surface were a tangle of angles and spikes. They were not writing–something far older than that.

“You followed me for so long, my friend,” Alexios said, his mouth trembling. There were tears in his eyes. “Will you not stand beside me while I blow this horn? Will you not join me in bringing justice to Althea?”

Althea had been Alexios’ wife, but Hesiod had loved her as well. Watching her die, wasting away, the physicians helpless to ease her pain, had been as torturous for him as it had to Alexios. He, too, had prayed to Hera, to Zeus, to any god that would listen, begging them to heal Althea or let her die swiftly. They had done neither. “There is no justice in this,” he said.

“Vengeance then,” Alexios replied.

“You may gain vengeance, but all the world will suffer for it.”

She was the world to me.” His eyes flashed, and his face twisted into something nearly as monstrous as the creature he sought to wake. “I will take the world from them.”

Alexios’ wasn’t paying close attention to him now. Hesiod could take two steps, draw his own sword, and drive the blade into his friend’s back. He could save the world from this madness. But for what? Althea would still be gone. For ten years he had been a surrogate to Alexios’ pain, nurturing it while his friend focused on reaching the lake. That pain had grown to maturity now, and it replaced everything Hesiod had been or could be. If he killed Alexios, he would be alone. He would be nothing.

Hesiod sank to the sand before his friend. “Then do it. Wake Cottus. Maybe the death of the world will suck the venom from your soul.” And the emptiness from mine.

Alexios raised the horn to his lips, drew in a deep breath, and blew. A sound like the dying screams of a thousand men rushed out in a low, blatting roar. It shook Hesiod’s teeth and raised the hairs on his arms and the back of his neck. He heard the knell of doom.

The lake’s surface boiled and writhed, and a great black shadow appeared beneath the churning foam. Alexios stumbled backward, his sword falling to the sand, and sat next to Hesiod.

“We will watch their doom,” Alexios said, his lips drawn in a mad smile. “We will die knowing she is avenged.”

The hecatoncheir broke the surface of the lake, a roiling mass of hands and heads. It blotted out the sun, the sky, and the towering mountain behind it, a monster not even the titans of old could overthrow. It would destroy the gods, but the destruction would not end there.

Hesiod heard Alexios speaking beside him. He thought his friend was praying, but Alexios simply spoke to the gods. He told them he had unleashed their doom.

The shadow of Cottus engulfed them, and Hesiod closed his eyes and covered his ears. He saw Althea’s face, her long black hair, and her soft brown eyes. He had loved her, even though she had chosen Alexios. He held on to that love and hoped it would follow him into Hades.


I rarely have a clear concept in mind when I write these one-hour flash stories. Generally, I see the prompt, and I go with the first thing that pops into my head. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. With this one, I had a very clear idea. I wanted to write a story that mixed Greek mythology with Lovecraftian cosmic horror. The hecatoncheires are certainly fitting for that kind of treatment (even if I did take some liberties with their myth), but the story just never came together. The backstory of Hesiod and Alexios needs more fleshing out as does their quest to find Cottus, and that’s a tale that needs more than a 1,000 words to tell. Still, I dig the concept, and like most of these failed experiments, there might be something worth returning to at some point.

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

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.