So I curated a story bundle at StoryBundle

 

I got approached a few months back to not only participate in a horror bundle but to curate it as well. Seeing as I’ve never done bundle curation before, I found the task somewhat daunting at first. Where do you even start? We received dozens of submissions, some of them amazing, many of them difficult to choose from. We managed to narrow it down to these nine books, some of them by authors you’ve no doubt heard of.

http://storybundle.com/horror

All Covers Large

A couple of great things about storybundle is that the books are all DRM free, meaning you’re free to move them from device to device, or share them with friends–though it would be awesome if they bought in as well. The bundle also gives you the option to donate a portion to charity, which makes everyone feel good about capitalism.

 

So swing by if you want to take advantage of it and get yourself some really great books.

Version

Flash fiction is a story told usually in 1000 words or less.

Version

© 2013 Martin Kee

1.1

And here we are. Jennings is still taking the condensers out of the back compartment, but once he gets those situated, I think we’ll be ready to check in with colony prime and have our first official meeting away from home.

Gotta go grab a shower before the meeting. I feel gross.

1.2

Meeting went well, but Jennings laid it on a little thick. I’m sure the supervisor wasn’t thrilled when he mentioned we’re a week off schedule. She made it clear we need to hustle now if we’re going to be ready for that supply drop. Those drones punch through the fabric of space pretty fast, and we’re easy to miss. Hopefully, we’ll have the beacon ready. Cracker rations only go so far. There isn’t enough mustard in the world…

1.3

As far as colonies go, Ragnarok is small, about three hundred folks, which is a good manageable number. I heard Beta-Nine was packed into their chambers like sardines when they colonized. We’ve come a long way.

Jennings is overseeing the comm deployment, which is good news. That beacon is key.

There are thirty-six human colonies, all founded within the last fifty years. I remember hearing that biological evolution moves in jumps, and I’m inclined to believe technology works the same. They’d only just found a way to punch through to another solar system, and a year later people were building ships. I think it’s fair to say nobody could fucking stand Earth anymore, and who could blame them?

We’d known about this place almost ten years before we could visit. Man, does it feel good to get away from all Earth’s problems.

Hold on, Jennings is here.

1.4

Slight hiccup in the comm array, but you know the saying: tell God your plans for a laugh. Jennings says it fell in the night, but I looked at the tower and there’s clearly some incompetence afoot. Thing was bent like a vine when I went out to it. Solar flares or not, it takes a lot more to bend plasteel than “a fall”. I’ll see if I can get to the bottom of it.

In the mean time, they’re throwing a meet-and-greet tonight with the rest of the rations. I’ve advised against it, but Jennings says, “With the beacon up and running, we’ll have more food than we can eat in our lifetimes this time tomorrow.”

Maybe I can sneak away during the dance and double-check that comm array…

1.5

I could only take a few minutes of that music. Ran off to check on the comm array on the hill. I’d asked if they’d scanned the strats before erecting it this time. Jennings confirmed that it’s solid.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“We looked,” he said. “Nothing but dirt and rock. It’s solid.”

So I figured everything was fine. Well, it’s not.

There’s a cable missing, the cable that connects the beacon to the comm array. Am I making sense now? Yes? The beacon was hooked up, but it was just talking to itself. I’m going to have to figure out how to break the news to everyone. Probably need to go tell them now before they eat all the rations. Then I need to wash up and talk to Jennings…

1.6

People are disappointed, but they understand. We’ll start from scratch with what we have now, maybe send out parties to find edible plants. The fauna here is scarce, and they assured us there’s nothing much bigger than a housecat out in those woods, but we’ll send weapons with them just the same.

In the meantime I’m going to discuss our situation with the supervisor tonight and hopefully they’ll send another supply drone.

Fucking Jennings…

1.7

Jennings was found dead today at the comm tower. We’re not sure what it is, but his hands are bleeding and covered in some kind of infection, small slivers of black can be seen under the nails, like he’s been clawing at something, but we aren’t sure what. Doctors should have an answer by the end of the day.

The scouting party returned and with good news. They brought some berries and fruit. We’ll have those tested asap.

I’m also getting a headache from all this stress. I could use a shower.

1.8

The fibers found under Jennings’s fingernails seems to be a kind of fungus. It’s not from Earth. Definitely from here, but they can’t figure out where. Maybe I need to head back to the comm array again.

The good news is that the fruit checks out. People are eating and happy, so that’s good.

Still, I hate the air here. Sticks to you.

1.9

The array is broken again. This time twisted and laying in pieces. There’s no way we’ll get it repaired now. I explained to Phillips, who took over after Jennings.

He just gave me this look. Not sure what that meant.

I washed up and… here’s the thing…

My shower head is filthy, black mold coming off the nozzle in long strands. Also, I found marks after I shaved my head this morning, like someone was clawing at the back of my head. The hairs look an awful lot like those tendrils under Jennings’s nails. Dark. Wiry. I think I’ll take them in to the doc in the morning… on second thought, better not.

2.0

I found the body today, crammed into the cooling duct above my bunk.

I’ve suspected most of the night, and I imagine the crew has too, otherwise they wouldn’t have locked me in my room. But they’re in for a treat once it takes them too. There’s no way to tell when it’s happening. None. Hell, I didn’t even know until I found my own face, staring back at me from this cooling duct.

It’s fine though. We’ll all be better adapted to life here in the end.

For now I’ll just wait.

Win a signed copy of BLOOM on Goodreads

 

So I’m doing a little giveaway over at Goodreads. If you like BLOOM, would like to read BLOOM and have no money, or if you simply like getting free signed books, you can head on over there by following this link and check it out. So far people seem to really be digging it, and this promotion helps distract me from banging my head against the desk as I work on my other books.

Bloom Cover kindle 900 600

Echoes of Scheherazade

“I’m not saying it’s bloom,” says Doc. “I’m just saying it’s probably bloom.”

Larry glowers at him from beneath eyebrows the color of rust. “Are you saying it is or it isn’t?”

The hobo steps back and lifts the half empty bourbon bottle to his mouth, drinks, and scratches his chin, payment for his diagnosis. They both look down at the blemish on Larry’s arm, a fuzzy birthmark.

Doc hands the bottle back to Larry.“When I worked at the lab…”

“Which lab?”

“The one in Fresno. We were studying goat prions.”

“What?” Larry snatches the bottle and takes a swig, annoyed at the half-assed answer.

“Prions. They’re little rogue proteins. They eat away at your brain, make you forget things, act different.”

“Like rabies?”

“Thats a virus…” Doc takes a breath. “What I was saying is that at the lab we called these fairy rings?”

“What?”

“Fairy rings. Like a bunch of fairies might dance around them. It’s folklore, Larry.”

Larry makes a face and takes another swig. “I’ll tell you who’s a fairy and it ain’t me.”

“No, you’re the troll.”

“What?”

“Under the bridge,” Doc smiles and points to the tracks high overhead, lost in the night sky. He runs a dirty hand through his wild salt and pepper hair. It wisps slightly in the breeze coming off the gorge as they sit beneath the railroad bridge. A tin can sitting on the rock beside him falls over and they both watch it tumble down the slope into the San Joaquin river. Then the ground rumbles and Larry looks back at his arm. Now there are two rings.

“Fairy ring, eh?”

“Yep. you see them a lot in the wild. Formed by mushrooms.”

“I thought you said prions.”

“These were mushrooms, a fungus.” He points at Larry’s fairy ring. “That probably is too.”

“Someone plant them like that?” asks Larry. “The mushrooms I mean.”

“Nope. Just happens naturally.”

Larry screws up his face and takes a drink. “How do they know to be in a circle?”

Fifty feet up, a train makes its way over the bridge. The ground moves. Doc’s mouth begins to move, but Larry can’t really hear over the train. He looks down at his arm again. They’re still there, a dozen wispy towers in a circle, growing out of his skin just below the crook in his elbow. At the center stands another cottony spire, half an inch high. It doesn’t hurt, but Larry can’t help but wonder if it will.

“So is this a prion or a virus, or a fungus or what?” he asks. But Doc is still talking and the train is making it impossible to hear his own thoughts. What he does hear, sounds like music. The train above is blasting Rimsky-Korsakov, Scheherazade. All Larry can do it smile.

Doc is staring at him. “You alright, Larry?”

“Fine. Why?”

“You’ve been staring at that fairy ring on your arm for the last two hours.”

He sees now that Doc is wearing a paper face mask. When did that go on, he wonders. “I have?”

Doc nods slowly.

Scheherazade sounds fainter now that the train is gone. But Larry still thinks he can remember the tune. He hums and then laughs.

“Damn. I couldn’t even play drums in school.” He beams at Doc with a gap-toothed grin. “They kicked me out of marching band. But I fuckin’ loved me some Scheherazade.”

But Doc isn’t laughing with him. Doc just stares, his dark eyes going between the fairy ring and his face. Finally Doc reached into his tackle box and brings out a clear plastic bottle.

“What’s that?” asks Larry.

“Rubbing Alcohol,” says Doc. He pours some on a damp rag. “Give me your arm.”

He’s on his feet before he knows it. “Why?”

“Because,” Doc says. “I’m going to see if I can get rid of it.”

The arm moves fast, snatching up a rusty metal shiv and brandishing it at the old man. Larry stares at his arm like some alien appendage. A full minute passes before he can relax and the shiv comes down. It clatters on the dirty concrete.  “I’d… I guess I’d rather you didn’t.”

Doc gives a slow cautious nod, damp rag in hand. The music is louder again, and Larry can’t tell if Doc is smiling or frowning behind that surgeon mask. He likes to think the old man is smiling, smiling along with him. Maybe he hears Scheherazade too.

“Why does it know how to grow in a circle like that?”

“Maybe that’s just what it’s meant to do,” says Doc. He stands and takes his tackle box. “Lots of things in nature do things without knowing why. How does a spider know how to make a web? How does a bee know how to plot its GPS coordinates to the hive? How does a lyrebird know how to mimic any sound it hears? How do we know how to write or sing or play the harpsichord?” He begins to walk past Larry, but stops to look down at the arm. “Maybe that’s all talent is, ,just some flipped genetic switch. What you should be asking, is if you are remembering a song, or if the bloom is remembering it for you. Or if you are even remembering this conversation.”

“But I… you said it wasn’t bloom.”

But Doc is gone and it’s now daylight. Larry looks at the sky and blinks. How did it get so fucking bright? He raises his hand to block the sun and frowns at the wool muff over his arm. Densely packed fibers hint only a faint suggestion of the hand and forearm underneath.

Larry flexes his fingers, and the fibres shift like a feather duster under water. And from somewhere deep inside, Larry hears the song again. He smiles up at the warmth in the sky, and hums along.

—-

This is a flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig’s Terribleminds.com.

BIN THERE

This is in response to Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge over at Terribleminds.com, something I always enjoy doing but have had little time for lately. This week’s challenge was a sub-genre mashup. I chose cozy-mysteries and dystopian sci-fi. Please forgive the pun in the title. I really couldn’t help myself.

——-

BIN THERE

© 2012 Marlan Smith (published as Martin Kee)

“Do you have anything more… red?”

Jimmy stood holding the limp, pink tie in his hand. It dangled to the counter-top, the noose at one end still tied.

“You’ll have to give that one back,” I said.

“That’s fine. I just want a more red one.”

I took the tie from him and turned to face the stack of odd-shaped bins that took up the entire space of the wall. Sitting in the stool, I opened the bin in front of me. It was empty. The first bin was always empty. The only way to get something back from another box was to place something of value in the empty one. Jimmy knew the rules as well as I.

The bins were anywhere from a few feet long to the size of a trunk. They emerged from the wall, suspended on a a rotating rack that vanished into the workings of the shop. Nobody ever went in the back, not even Murray.

After the Big One nobody trusted machinery much. I just happened to be someone who wasn’t bothered by the plain beige bins, the rattling from deep within the wall, the clanking of chains as the bins rolled under one other, each one unique with its own scrapes and dents. Murray hadn’t been bothered by it either.

I inherited the shop from Murray. Well, not so much as inherited as Murray just wasn’t here anymore. That left me. It wasn’t a bad job, and it gave me something to do on the cold, grey-rain days.

A long, shallow bin stopped in front of me and I opened the metal lid, pulling out a wide tie, red as a gaping wound. I turned to Jimmy. “Will this do?”

“Yeah!” he said, eyes wide. “It’s great!”

He slung the tie around his neck, resting it against his dirty shirt. His brown suit was worn at the elbows with stray strings poking out. Jimmy liked to dress up.

“You got a job interview?” I asked, joking. Nobody had a “job” anymore. We were all just kids playing pretend in some fashion.

“Yeah,” he said. “Otto says he needs help with the rain filters. I’m gonna see if I can get him to hire me.”

“That tie should impress him,” I said.

He nodded and left through the door. Behind me I could feel the empty bin gaping at me, waiting for something new to be placed inside. As if on cue, a woman entered just as Jimmy left. I recognized her, Molly from down the street, where grass has actually begun to grow back for a while.

“Hi,” she said, looking around.

“Hi yourself.”

“I was told that this is the place people can go to trade things.”

“That it is,” I said. “What are you looking for?”

She continued to stare around the walls, bare except for the cracked certificate of business, Murray’s first dollar. “I don’t see any merchandise.”

I jabbed a thumb over my shoulder. “It’s in the bins.”

“How do I know what I’ll get?”

“You don’t.”

She frowned. “How does it work?”

“Don’t know. What do you want to trade?”

She pulled a ring off her finger. There was a naked facet, the tiny gem gone. “I guess I won’t be needing this.”

“What do you want in return?”

She looked past me, a whimsical expression on her face. “Oh, my life back,” she laughed. “I don’t know, actually. I just want something new. I want to remember what new things are like.”

I held my hand out and she placed the ring there, hesitating slightly before letting it go. I winked at her and turned to the empty bin, placed it with a small metallic clink at the bottom and closed the lid. I caught her jump slightly as the machine roared to life, pulling the bins underneath with rattling finality.

We waited. Bin after bin rotated under another, until a long, slender container came to rest in front of me. I opened the dented lid with a creak. Inside was a key, a worn bit of masking tape stuck to the side, the number 4 fading in black ink. I turned and handed it to her.

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

“What am I supposed to do with this?”

“Dunno. Must be for a door somewhere. I guess that part is up to you to find out.”

“What a fucking ripoff! I want my ring back!”

“Sorry,” I said. “No refunds. You can always place the key back and see what you get next, but it’s usually something similar.”

“Another key…”

“Maybe. Who knows?”

Molly almost handed it back to me, but stopped, looking at it for a while. She placed it in her pocket. “Have you always worked here?”

“I used to. Murray left it to me.”

“He died?”

“Dunno,” I said. “Was just gone one day while I was sweeping in the back room. Sometimes people just go away. You know how it is.”

She nodded, her expression melting a little. She moved towards the door. Over her shoulder she said, “Have you ever wished for anything?”

“Once, but I don’t have anything good to trade.”

She nodded and left.

As the door closed, the machine began to hum on its own. First just a rattle, then a full on, grinding racket that shook the entire shop. I hadn’t placed anything in the bin. I was afraid to turn around.

The sound stopped with a hiss and I forced myself to look, thinking of Murray, thinking of how the machine had roared to life that day, wondering if he had failed to place anything in the bin.

In front of me was a five-by-three-foot metal container, beige and dented, rocking gently in its cradle.

It’s still there. Rocking.

I could climb in.

Or maybe I’ll just stare at it a while longer.

Quantum Unicorns

Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction extravaganza this week is on unicorns.

—-

Quantum Unicorns

“Here,” he said and handed me the gun. “You probably won’t need it, but you never know.”

I looked at Harry as he stood in front of the gate. He wore your standard explorer’s outfit, the full safari getup with the hat and the monocle.

“Why the monocle?” I asked.

“Because,” he said. “It adds to the illusion.”

“What illusion?”

“Just take the fucking gun,” he growled. “And put these on.”

He handed me a black leather bag. I holstered the gun and set the bag on the ground. The clasp came undone and I found myself blinking back tears.

“Absolutely not,” I said. “You have to be fucking kidding me.”

“Do you want to see the goddamn unicorn or not? Or are you going to go back to your daughter and tell her you got nothing?”

I dug a hand into the bag and pulled out the spandex pants. They were rainbow colored with bright sequins lining the crotch. No picture for an eleven-year-old was worth this.

“Christ,” I muttered.

“Just do it.”

The GENCORP LABS sign hung over us. It was midnight and I was beginning to understand how Harry made so much money on the side as a janitor.

I slipped into the leotard. It was snug.

“Now the wings.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake.”

“Listen,” he said, grabbing me by the collar. “There are going to be other people in there. They are going to see you. It is going to see you. Now, if you want to live, I suggest you listen to me and follow my instructions to the letter.”

“Other people?”

“Yes,” Harry said. “You know what they say about running from a dragon, right?”

“What? No. What–”

“You don’t have to outrun the dragon. You just have to outrun the dwarfs.”

I slipped the cheap plastic butterfly wings over my shoulders. I muttered something about dragons and midgets. When I finished I looked at Harry. He gave me a once over and turned to face the hatch.

“Now remember what I said.”

“But you never said there would be dragons.”

Harry visibly sighed as he turned around to face me. “There aren’t dragons, Charlie. There might not be anything. There might be a big pit with Jell-O. There might be a ring of faeries–in which case you’ll fit right in. The point is that once we go in, whatever it perceives you to be, is what it will become… or something related.”

“Related?”

“Yes.” He looked impatiently at the clock. “Ok listen. You remember the quantum variables I told you about, Schrödinger’s cat and all that?”

I nodded.

“This is like that. Once something has been observed it changes its state. This is the same thing… sort of. Now are you ready?”

I nodded again and Harry placed a hand on the thick metal handle.

“We’re good to go,” he said into an intercom.

After a pause, there was a hiss, then a faint clunk. Steam poured from the massive room as Harry strained against the handle. Slowly the door opened, as thick as a bank vault. Inside was darkness.

“That’s good,” he said. “That’s means it’s sleeping.”

We stepped inside as the great vault door closed behind us. From the opposite side of the room I watched another vault door open and a pair of figures appear. One of them waved to us. Harry waved back.

“Fucking amateurs,” he muttered under his breath. He then yelled to them. “When it wakes up, just go along with your script.”

The figure waved again and Harry mumbled something with more swear words.

“Ok, here we go,” he said as the lights came up.

From the other side of the room I heard the other people say their lines: “Hark! Hath thou seen the beast?”

“Why no, dear Chancellor,” said the woman. “I cannot think why it doth slumber.”

“What the fuck are you doing?” hissed Harry.

The figure broke character and said, “We thought it would make the experience more authentic.”

“Just stick to the fucking script and hope it didn’t– well shit.”

There was nothing in the center of the room. Then there was light.

Then there was a unicorn.

It stood completely still, looking pretty much as you would expect from the books. A green forest sprouted around its hooves as it glanced slowly from me to Harry, then to the people not ten yards away from us.

“It’s cute!” said the lady, her face glowing in golden light emitted by the creature.

“It’s not a unicorn,” said Harry. “It only thinks we want it to be a unicorn.”

“But look at it!” said the lady raising her camera. She wore a bard costume. Why couldn’t I have been a bard?

“What are you doing?” Harry yelled. “We have equipment for that.”

“I just want a pict–”

There was a blur, and then one of the silhouettes slowly split in two. Wet splats echoed through the room as the man turned slowly to see what had happened to his–wife? Sister? Aunt?

“Get back,” said Harry. “All of you!”

As I stepped backwards, the man continued to turn… and turn… a scream crawled from his strained throat as his body twisted three, four times, resembling something like a cinnamon twist.

The door hissed and I felt hands pushing me out and down. Something warm and soft brushed past my leg. A horn flashed and then another scream came from somewhere on the other side of the room.

I landed hard on the floor, panting, my crotch wet from my own piss. Harry was on top of me, holding my head down with one hand and pounding the emergency button with the other. Air from the hatch brushed my cheek as it closed with a clunk.

After a few moments, Harry rolled over and, staring at the ceiling said, “And that is why you never fucking go off script.”

(c) 2011 Marlan Smith

The Dead Do Not Close Their Eyes

Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Extravaganza gave us an assortment of 60 photographs to choose from as a prompt this time. The catch? Almost every one of them was practically unusable. I went with number 40. I’ll let you decide whether you want to view the photo first or read the story instead.

The Dead Do Not Close Their Eyes


We need to be reminded of this fact now and then.

I had been running hard and not the good kind of running. My running for pleasure days were over about two weeks ago. This was the scared-out-of-your-mind, not-stopping-even-though-your-side-hurts kind of running. It was the sort of running you do where you can’t feel your feet or your tongue because your mouth is so dry; the adrenaline makes everything seem distant, dreamlike.

My Uncle Chaz worked in a funeral home. He called me Charlie because even though I was named after him, he never felt comfortable calling me by his nickname.

“You see Charlie,” he’d say to me. “Most of the time when people die they’re looking at something. Nobody knows quite what it is they see. But they die that way and their eyes stay open. Even if you try and close them afterwards, the gasses that build up inside the body force them open.”

I saw my first dead body when I was ten. My parents had decided it was safe for me to go visit Uncle Chaz down at the funeral home. The body was pale and Chaz had to put makeup on her just to make her look like something other than a statue before he brought out the needle and thread.

“We go in from underneath the eyelid,” he’d say. “Some of the parlors like to use glue. That’s fine I say, but I’d hate to be at the funeral on the day the glue doesn’t set well, or chemicals in the tear ducts make it come undone. Don’t want Aunt Mabel winkin’ at ya.”

And then he’d wink at me. And I would laugh. It was funny at the time, hilarious in fact.

I spent a lot of summers at Uncle Chaz’s funeral home. When I joined the track team I even made it my daily route to swing by and see what body he was preparing, what new insights he might have on the world of the dead.

These days I’m sure he knows plenty.

Running gives you quite the endorphin rush. It’s actually a defense mechanism, something our bodies do for us when we are fleeing a predator, making the fear and strain on the body feel almost euphoric.

I had been running that night, but not for fun. Did I already mentioned that?

You see, I live down the left side of Eldridge street. It sits just north of the hospital. Now, you would think that the best part of living near a hospital would be the easy access to medical attention when epidemics break out. Not so much.

Contagions can spread rapidly in hospitals. They can mutate. Sometimes unexpected medical outcomes can occur. Sometimes people can become hungry, very hungry. Sometimes that hunger can spread rapidly through an entire ward, a hospital, out into the streets.

The hungry were chasing me that night. I had been an idiot and locked myself out of the house. We had one of those push button locks on the handle and I had accidentally pressed it when I closed the door to go out scavenging. It never takes the hungry long to find you, especially at night when the sun isn’t out to hurt their sensitive glassy eyes.

Maddie lived just one house down. After the outbreak we had communicated back and forth on the phone, then on the internet. After the power went out it was all flashlights and morse code. Sometimes she would hold up a note on the second floor window written in thick black marker, easy to read over the dangers in the yard below. I had invited her to stay with me at one point, but she always seemed to prefer her own home.

“BRB GETTING LAUNDRY. WORST BIRTHDAY EVER. LOL,” had been the last thing she wrote. Laundry was code for “checking the basement for hungry strangers.”

Now her house was dark. I ran to it anyway.

Something rushed at me from the bushes, and I nearly tripped. Fortunately, the hungry aren’t all that coordinated. They can’t climb or handle complex mechanisms. I heard something on the final news broadcasts about an advanced metabolism, the body sacrificing intelligence for sheer stamina.

The door was, of course, boarded from the inside. Anyone living still knew to do this. I climbed the trellis outside her window and crawled onto the floor in a heap, heaving, and panting.

“Maddie?” I called. No answer.

I carried a pistol with me, the last thing my dad ever left me worth anything in this brave new world. I hefted it. Cocked it.

“Maddie.” Still no answer.

Now, the hungry are pretty sensitive to sound, so I figured that if they had eaten her and if they were in the house I would have already met them. Instead, the only sounds were my feet on carpet.

Something like 30% of all accidental deaths occur in the home. A lot of those are due to things like electrocution or fire. Loose water kills more people than you can imagine. All it takes is a slip on tile, hit your head the wrong way and you’re done.

It was a long night before the sun came up. The walk downstairs to the basement filled me with a strange sort of longing. I guess human contact was more appealing to me than I cared to admit to myself.

I had gotten used to the sounds of the hungry outside, the scratching and groaning. Silence and stillness felt strange. That’s probably why I cried when I saw her there on the floor. The pink birthday balloon was what really got me. I had completely forgotten how the dead never close their eyes.

(c)   2011 Martin Kee

The Tragic and Untimely Demise of Uncle Ilbert

Chuck Wendig at TerribleMinds gave us another challenge. This time with the picture below as our prompt. The picture is Chuck’s not mine.

 

—–

The Tragic and Untimely Demise of Uncle Ilbert

Uncle Ilbert Notwithstanding was always my favorite of twelve uncles. An explorer, con-man, literary agent and hunter, Uncle Ilbert was somewhat of a black sheep in the Notwithstanding household, a title which took a considerable amount of effort on his part.

The majority of my uncles were scallywags to some degree, each of them doing his best to try and one-up the next. Uncle Ilbert was the oldest, and thus, the most ambitious to try and make a name for himself. He wanted to leave a mark on the world. I would say he succeeded.

When he announced that he would set out to discover the largest library ever known, none of us were surprised. Hyperbole was practically a genetic trait in in the Notwithstanding family. Being somewhat short of stature even by most standards, exaggerated stories were what we used to draw attention away from our shortcomings–a pun that often resulted in some form of disciplinary action when used by the youngest of my brothers and sisters.

The library was a great distance away and not exactly a place we normally even think about going. No one in their right mind would have made even a claim to visit such a dungeon, much less risk being caught by the monsters who dwell there.

Perhaps the whisperings of Uncle Ilbert’s insanity were more than just hearsay. I would like to think that they were only rumors and nothing more. To think that he would have risked (and lost) his life over a mental illness is just too much for me to bear. I rather like to believe that it was pure chutzpah that made him do what he did.

He had convinced his youngest brother Jacob to go with him on the expedition, something that my father never lets me forget. I understand that he and Jacob were close. The library was only accessible through a small opening on the rear wall, a tight squeeze for most, but the Notwithstandings are a resourceful folk.

“There ain’t never been a space too tight fer me to fit in, lad,” he told me once, pulling off my hat and mussing my hair. “The world’s a big scary place. Ye gotta use ever’thing in yer arsenal.”

The story I always tell my children about their Great Uncle Ilbert is one of heroism. If it is ever brought into question, a quick trip to view his hunting trophies is usually enough to silence them.

Once inside the library, he was confronted by a dog so large it nearly towered over him. It was like staring at the middle head of Cerberus, all snarling teeth and slobbering drool. The beast’s breath was foul and in the middle of the night, its howl echoed through the vast halls.

Uncle Ilbert had come prepared of course. Something as mundane as a watchdog was not going to deter a man who kept the heads of far worse creatures mounted on the walls of his study. His harpoon gun was made from found objects and fired with enough power to punish the beast, blinding it in one eye and sending it screaming across the floor to lick its wounds.

“And ya better stay outta ma sight,” he yelled after the animal.

Only once the danger had passed, were they able to completely appreciate the immense hall laid out before them. The pale moon shed dim light on the spines of a million books, all looming over them like sea cliffs  etched with bright words.

“We’ve got ta bring one back,” Ilbert said, panting in his elation. “Jus’ one ta prove this place exists.”

“I don’t think its existence has ever been in question,” said Jacob. “The fact we’ve been here should be–”

“What in the world is that?” Ilbert was always more of a doer than a talker.

He stepped away from the conversation, drawn by something on a table. A book, the huge spine visible over the ledge. A YOUNG PERSON’S GUIDE TO HORROR was written in gold.

The table itself was something used by giants. It towered above them, requiring Ilbert to outfit a rappelling line to his next harpoon. It speared the table with a heavy clunk. The climb took them longer than they had expected. It was the second to last mistake Uncle Ilbert would ever make.

The thing about gnomes, a little known fact to the Massives, is that we have a somewhat adverse reaction to sunlight. It paralyses us, causing our limbs to freeze and our lungs to halt. Direct sunlight is the worst, causing the joints to calcify and the heart to stop.

The giant clerk entered the library unexpectedly, alarmed by the shrieking terrier.

“Hide!” shouted Ilbert

“Where?” cried Jacob. Already the sky outside the window was beginning to lighten.

“Grab the book!”

“The book? There’s no time!”

“There’s always time!” he yelled, their voices nothing more than a mouse squeak to the owner, who swung a beam of light around the shop like a lighthouse.

So they each grabbed a book by its spine, two little men, clad in their finest expeditionary clothes. They gripped it as the owner looked for the intruders. They held on even as the sun rose, fixing their bones and melting their skin.

Today they are something of a legend in our family. Late at night–well before the sun rises, mind you–we will sometimes take the children out to the empty street and look in the giant window. We smile as they “Oooo!” and “Ahhh!” at the diminutive skeleton clinging to his treasure.

“There lies your Great Uncle Ilbert,” I say to them. “A man so much larger than life, he belongs with the giants.”

I’m sure he would have appreciated the sentiment.

(c) Marlan Smith 2011

The Last Honeymoon

 

Chuck Wendig threw us another short fiction challenge. This time the prompt was an image.

Now I have to start by saying that I don’t think I have ever written a story based on an image. I don’t like comics, and I don’t care for illustrations when I read. I like my imagination to do the looking for me.

The challenge in this case was: How do I make a story about the things you can’t see?

Here is my solution.

——-

Bobby lit another cigarette and lay in his bed, watching the smoke drift out the open window. The sheets were yellow, probably not originally. When they had checked into this room she had joked that they should have brought a black light. Bobby was glad now that they didn’t.

In fact, Bobby was pretty damn content to just sit there on the bed, smoking the last of his cancer sticks until the world ended. That seemed like a nice way to go.

He glanced toward the bathroom, the light flickering through the crack above the floor. A shadow moved along the crevice, blocking the light, then was gone.

How long was she going to be?

He looked back out the window. Storm clouds. Everyday, storm clouds.

It had sure seemed like a great idea when they checked in. You got a clear view of the city, a free drink from the tiny fridge and all the soft-core porn you could watch.

Bobby reached for the remote and turned on the TV. It sputtered static, bathed the room in blue light and then rolled the imaged over and over on the screen.

It was the same thing as before, the same monster movie scenario from 3am. Every few seconds the screen would roll, splitting the image in two, mashing it against the bottom then looping from the top.

“You about done in there?” he yelled.

“Hold your horses,” she said through the door.

“You hold your horses,” he said back lamely. He took another drag on the cigarette, staring at the luminous screen, matching the clouds outside.

Those clouds. No clouds should glow like that, unless it was mid-day. He looked at the clock, 10pm. Shit, had they spent the entire day in here, again?

Outside the clouds rolled over one another like juggernauts, but it wouldn’t rain. Oh, shit would fall from the sky, no doubt of that. He laughed to himself and smothered the spent cigarette on the tabletop.

“What’s so funny?” she asked from the bathroom.

“Nothing,” he said, reaching blindly for the pack. “Finish what you’re doing.”

“I just want… I just want to…” he heard a sob. “It’s supposed to be our honeymoon!”

He sighed and fumbled for the pack. Empty. Well fuck, he thought. He certainly wasn’t going to go out in this weather.

A laugh crawled up from his throat. Weather. How fucking rich is that? Two days in and it had gone from a global disaster to “weather.”

He crumpled the empty pack and threw it across the room. The TV image rolled again, voices trying to fight through the static. Amazing they even got reception at all, he thought.

“Just come out, Sweetie,” he said. “Nobody is going to judge.”

“I will!”

Well then you could stop obsessing at the mirror, he thought, but kept it to himself.

“Are the lights off?” she asked.

“The lights are off.”

“Are you lying?”

“Why would I lie?”

More silence and shuffling came from the bathroom.

“What about the TV?”

“Do you want it off?”

“Of course I want it off!”

Bobby reached for the remote again and killed the TV. It was the same shit anyway: a Lovecraftian nightmare of water and monsters. The meteorologists couldn’t explain it. The astronomers couldn’t explain it. Religions couldn’t explain it, but you bet your ass they tried.

It’s God’s punishment for our sins! It’s God’s punishment for socialism! It’s God’s punishment for the gays, for the war, for the taxing of the rich, for hurting the feelings of the Baby Jesus! It’s God’s punishment for neglecting the earth! Neglecting your spouse! Neglecting your church! It’s God’s punishment for Muslims! For Hindus! For Christianity! For Baptists! For Pagans!

Bobby was an atheist. Melinda was an atheist. It was actually the first thing they discovered they had in common. They had a whirlwind engagement and their parents had shit a brick when he delivered the news.

“And now, we’re going to Cuba for our honeymoon!” He said just to see the shock on his conservative parents’ faces.

So they flew to Havana, checked in, never turned on the TV set the entire first day (more carnal entertainment was in order.) When he realized that he was on his last cigarette, Melinda had hopped out of bed.

“You’ve worked hard enough, Tiger. I’ll get you a pack down the street.”

Neither of them had even noticed the clouds rolling in. Nobody had noticed. What’s to notice about some storm clouds in the middle of June? A fluke storm. And it wasn’t like they got a lot of American stations down here, and not like he understood the language of the stations they got.

Now Bobby stood in the silence of the room, staring out the window, wearing his boxers and scratching the uneven hair on his chest. The streets were invisible beneath the black water. Occasionally he could make out something massive beneath the surface. Nobody knew what it was, really. All they knew was that it was everywhere.

Bobby heard the bathroom door open and shut his eyes.

“Are they closed?” she said.

“They are,” he said, turning to face her.

He had promised after all. That was the vows, richer or poorer, sickness and health, human and– he cut the thought short as her footsteps drew closer. They squelched on the carpet like wet sneakers.

“I’m sorry,” she said nearby.

“It’s okay baby,” he said reaching out to the woman he had promised to love unconditionally. “You didn’t know.”

“We should have listened to the TV–”

“Shhhh,” he said as she melted into his arms.

Something wet, slithering and cold pressed against his back, hugging him closer. He felt her wet hair on his chest, that curious seaweed smell wafting up from her scalp. She had come back with the cigarettes. She had come back changed. He had changed with her.

In fact, Bobby expected he would change a whole lot more.