Monthly Archives: March 2014

Terminal City Nightfall

Here is my offering for Chuck Wendig’s Ten Little Chapters challenge on Terrible Minds. It’s a little scattered, but was fun, and will serve as a rough outline for a novel I’d like to write. You know, when I get around to finishing something longer than 1,500 words.

One

      I hadn’t been in the office long enough for my overcoat to drip before the door opened and she came in. She looked like some ancient princess, with jet black hair, pale skin and lots of eyeliner around a set of peepers that made my mouth dry. Not a drop of rain on her. She stood at my desk and looked me in the eyes.

“What should I call you?” she asked. I gulped.

“Just call me Vik,” I said.

“How odd,” she said, then shrugged and sat. She needed me to find something very important . I told her everything is important to someone. I gave her the boilerplate–$25 a day plus expenses. She leaned in close. I smelled gardenias and the world fell away.

“Vik,” she said, “If you find this for me I’ll double your rates.”

“Lady,” I said, “You’ve got yourself a private eye.”

Two

      Double rates or not, people weren’t talking. Every fence and two-bit second story man I talked to clammed up when I mentioned an obsidian jackal statue. They knew, though. Some looked like they wanted to shut me out of a deal and some looked like they would wet their drawers. A couple flat-out warned me to forget about the statue if I was concerned about my health. This seemed like good advice. I went to my office to think.

The building was ablaze. I joined a crowd watching it burn in spite of the downpour, then headed home, where I’d feel more secure.

That’s when the zombies attacked.

They came in through the kitchen window. I had some warning, as these lunkheads had to bash the glass a few times before they got through. They were big guys, in plaid shirts and wool pants with blank stares and bloody fingers. I may not be big, but I keep a Louisville Slugger by the door and I beaned one with the sweet spot. He went down hard. The other hit me running, knocked me down and tried to eat my face. I twisted around and he bit a chunk out of my arm instead. Something hit him and he fell out of my sight, but so did everything else. I passed out.

Three

     I heard a voice call my name. I must have been dreaming.

“Viktoria…can you hear me?” asked the voice. I tried to reply, but only groaned.

“Viktoria, I need to do something to help you, something you might not agree to if you were awake,” the voice said. “Do you want to live?” I tried to nod, but all I got was another groan. I must have got my point across because I felt a sharp bite above my heart, followed by a coppery tang across my lips. The dream receded, and I rested.

Four

     I awoke in my bed. The pale princess sat across from me and a hawk-nosed man with skin like oiled teak looked out the window, standing by suspicious lumps wrapped in unfamiliar rugs. I pulled the bedsheet over my breasts and backed against the wall as I remembered the attackers and the dream bites.

“So what now?” I asked. “I’ve seen horror movies. Those were zombies and you’re a vampire? Am I dead, or just your servant?” She smiled.

“No, my detective,” she said. “Those were simply men, magically compelled to kill you, and I am not a vampire, at least not like in films. Blood is powerful, though, and my blood is ancient. I healed you, that is all. If our blood mingled again we would be connected, and you would have some of my strength, but would not be my servant.” I looked under the sheet. No bites on my arm or chest.

“Unless you wished to be.”

Five

     Nobody had spilled about the statue, but apparently I’d shaken the right branches. The Princess and her hired gun, Shep, had some leads and needed muscle with local knowledge. The statue was being held by a group of ritual magicians, and we were going to hit them hard. These weren’t dusty old ladies with Ouija boards, but the real things, with real power. I was curious how their power would match up to three feet of white ash.

Six

     “If you do well in this you could set yourself up for a comfortable life,” Shep said , looking down his nose as he lit a smelly brown cigarette. “I’m tired. After this I will no longer serve the lady. You take over and you can be who you really are.” I considered that.

“Sounds good,” I said, “but I’m already being who I really am.”

Seven

     The raid seemed too easy. We kicked in a big wooden door to find a red velvet room full of fat businessmen in ceremonial robes. They stopped chanting, and two mousey guys with spears fell over themselves getting out of our way. The statue was on a dais in the middle of the room and I went for it, then everything went pear-shaped.

Eight

     They weren’t all fat, mousey businessmen. One guy raised his hand and I flew backwards and felt one of the spears go through me between the shoulder blades. I went down, but saw the Princess on top of this guy, tearing at him like a hyena.

Nine

     I had enough strength to open my eyes and see Shep hand Her Highness the statue. She smiled and kissed him on the forehead. His knees buckled, he closed his eyes and he crumbled into a pile of white ash. I passed out.

Ten

     I lived, thanks to the princess giving me another nibble, then some of her own blood. That made the difference between an unmarked grave and a month of slow recovery under her care. I won’t die for a long time. Now I travel with the princess and do her daylight business. I wear nicer suits, and sometimes roll up the cuffs and walk on the beach in the morning, letting the surf roll over my toes.

I don’t miss the rain.

 

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Ponies, or Death Rides a Pale Horse

This week’s flash fiction challenge is “Somethingpunk.” You make up some genre subverting a status quo (in the vein of cyberpunk, steampunk, dieselpunk, but not those ones) or choose from a list, and pump out 1,000 words. This is actually 1,128. I chose “ghostpunk” from the list, and I actually got to finish it this week. 🙂

They said we’d never do it, that no matter what we did the dead wouldn’t come back for a corporeal pony ride. They were dead wrong, as we joked to ourselves. We learned how to draw them from the ether, and the system always worked flawlessly.

Until that one time it didn’t.

##

We started with easy ones. Lindsay strapped the target on her back and wired the crown of thorns over her flame red hair. The mechanism wasn’t really a target, but acted as a focus and entryway into the living subject. The crown of thorns was more of a summoning circle, the thorns actually protrusions designed to increase its surface area. To these she added a heavy overcoat, fingerless gloves and a scarf.

“Not sure how long I can handle this outfit,” she said. “I’m already starting to sweat.”

“Don’t worry,” replied Bernie. “Once he mounts you the temperature will be the last thing on your mind.” Lindsay grinned.

“Once he mounts me? Maybe I should strap the target on a little lower!”

Bernie shushed her. “Don’t get yourself all het up. We need calm for this to work.” Lindsay settled onto the piano bench. Bernie placed the final focus, a plate of scrambled eggs, onto the piano bench next to her. The rest of us backed out of range, Treece tapped the remote to start the recording and Bernie activated the target.

For a solid five minutes the only sound in the room was our breath, and maybe the occasional droplet of sweat falling from Lindsay’s face, then with a sharp intake of breath she stood up straighter and looked around. Her eyes settled on the baby grand piano in front of her and fingers reached for the keys. She started slowly, sometimes curved over the ivories like a hungry buzzard, sometimes swaying her body in a circle in time to the music , Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Her fingers danced nimble patterns on the keys and we could hear her humming along with what she was playing. She was casual and playful, sometimes playing one-handed, but building in frantic intensity until the final crescendo, at which point she lifted one hand to punctuate the end of the piece, stood up and collapsed on the floor.

We were gobsmacked. Lindsay was tone deaf and couldn’t play her way out of a paper bag.

Glenn Gould, on the other hand, could.

##

We all took our turns. Not all that day, as gathering focal props and setting up the scene took most of a morning, but every weekend at least. Playing pony for a ghost was a weird but not uncomfortable feeling. Your rider ran the show, but you never felt trapped, or unable to buck them off if needed. We documented all the rides, improved our technique and gradually our incorporeal visitors stayed for longer periods. One week I borrowed a lute and Thomas Campion made it almost through A Book of Ayres before dismounting. The spirits could sing, but they didn’t seem able to speak through us, so Lee Harvey Oswald couldn’t tell us whether he was the lone gunman and Laura Secord couldn’t tell us whether she really had brought a cow on her twenty mile walk. But musicians and dancers from all points in history couldn’t wait to ride the pony and practice their art one more time.

We had our technique and our protocols down to an exact sequence, and we all would be present for each event. That’s how it was until Lindsay, Treece and I showed up at Bernie’s house Saturday morning and found the door ajar and the camera still recording. We searched the house but the only thing we found was—

“Oh shit! What the hell is this?” Treece shouted. “Linz? Tim? Is this a kidney? A human frickin’ kidney?” Lindsay, who’d taken pre-med courses before switching to philosophy, confirmed that it was a fresh human kidney, with a bite out of it.

“Is it Bernie’s?” I asked, but Treece was already plugging the camera into Bernie’s iMac. We watched as Bernie set up a scene, then shaky handheld footage as he zoomed into the focal artifacts: a leather apron, surgical tools laid out on a red cloth, and the kidney, whole and unbitten. Then back to the wide shot as he strapped on the target and donned the crown. He tied the leather apron on, then sat in a straight-backed chair, with the kidney in one hand and the target switch in the other. He sat erect and leaning slightly forward, activated the target, and took a bite of kidney. I puked in my mouth a little. Treece and Linz looked pretty green too.

We could tell when the rider mounted Bernie. He dropped the switch, and his outline on the screen became blurred and staticky. His posture changed, became more closed off. He cocked his head this way and that, looking around while chewing thoughtfully on the bite of kidney. Then he swallowed, picked up the surgical tools, and walked out of frame. I mouthed ohshitohshitohshit under my breath. This was bad. Lindsay had more presence of mind.

“Check the timestamp!” she yelled. I jumped and did so. Bernie and his passenger had left the room minutes before we’d arrived.

“He doesn’t know where he is, or what’s around,” Treece said. “He can’t have gone far. We stick together and comb the neighbourhood and we should find him.” She picked the discarded switch off the floor. “And then we’ll turn him off.”

We ran out the front door and chose a direction randomly. It was a residential neighbourhood, so if they hadn’t gone that way we’d find out quickly. We did find out. Around the next corner was a school, and there, staring through the chainlink fence at a crowded playground, was Bernie the Ripper.

“Bernie!” Lindsay shouted. “You in there?” Bernie turned toward us, looked back at the playing children, then headed toward us, scalpel in hand. Treece tapped the switch and he collapsed like his strings had been cut. I got close enough to kick the scalpel out of reach, and the girls got the crown and the target off him. Bernie woke up and puked kidney across the sidewalk. It was him, with no-one sharing the space.

It turned out he’d wanted to solve the mystery of Jack the Ripper’s identity. The organ was a beef kidney. Lindsay explained she’d failed gross anatomy. We thought it high time to retire the apparatus, so I took it away to destroy it, leaving restless spirits on their own side of the ether.

Perhaps one day I’ll take it down from its hiding space in the cupboard in my garage.

There’s so much left to explore.

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