Edward Owen – Author

Category Archives: Ray Bradbury Challenge

One story a week for fifty two weeks, inspired by the late, great author/hero of mine.

Ray Bradbury Challenge #20- The Price of Freedom

There is a good chance that this story will end up as a longer work. The idea actually started while listening to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”- “We are yours, Overlord…”  That started the wheels turning. Comments, as always, are welcomed and appreciated.

sword warrior

The Price of Freedom

Jamry was bleeding and his body hurt. That was the good news. It meant he was alive. The bad news was, unless he found someplace to hide and soon, he wouldn’t stay that way much longer. His options were not particularly good. The carrier had hit a mine and lay on its side belching black smoke into the morning sky. That was sure to attract one of the Overlords’ patrol ships. He was surprised they weren’t here already.

Sidmar had not been so lucky. The blast had driven the controls up into her skull. She was dead before the vehicle stopped moving. Jamry didn’t have the luxury of mourning her death. She had chosen the life of a soldier. An early, violent death was almost a certainty in their line of work.

Traveling the open road was the most direct route but it left him exposed and vulnerable. He would have to travel through the jungle. It would be slow but would allow him to remain hidden. The shadows between the trees held a danger all their own. Jamry smiled at the thought. Most of his youth had been spent cavorting through the eternal twilight beneath the deep green canopy. It was his second home. He made sure to leave a trail that the hunters could find with some effort, but not so obvious that it would cause them suspicion.

After he had put a respectable distance between himself and the wreck he stopped to tend his wounds. He had left enough blood that his pursuers would assume his injuries to be worse than they actually were. Leaves and roots with amazing medicinal properties grew in abundance. Within a short time his body was dotted with blue and green poultices. By tomorrow they would cover only minor scars.

Jamry retraced his steps and climbed the trunk of a towering tree, taking care not to disturb the bark or the branches on the way up. His uniform adjusted to blend with his surroundings and he focused so his skin did the same. He would be invisible from above or below. Now he would wait.

The hunting party moved like smoke through the labyrinth of growth that choked the jungle floor. Jamry did not hear them as much as sense their presence. The jungle was a living thing and the change in its voice told him he was not alone. The first hunter was hardly more than a shadow as its blurred form passed beneath him. Jamry counted four figures as they clustered at the end of his trail. It was hardly fair; the battle would be swift and decisive.

He slithered like a creature born in the canopy, keeping the trunk of the tree between his body and the hunters. The tempo of the sounds around him remained steady as his feet touched the carpet of leaves covering the ground. He peered around the tree. One of the hunters was within arm’s reach. Jamry could see only a vague outline, but it was enough. His short blade pierced the thin armor, found its mark and the hunter slumped to the ground. Jamry dragged the body behind the tree as it wavered for a moment before coming into view. He had seen hunters up close before. Bred by the Overlords for the single-minded purpose of finding and killing his people, they were an abomination. He felt no more remorse at killing them than he would one of the flying pests that inhabited the jungle.

The remaining hunters noticed their missing comrade and moved toward Jamry. He pulled his long blade from its scabbard and waited until the first hunter passed him. His blow severed the enemy’s head from its body. It rolled across the ground, still encased in its helmet. The other two brought their weapons up and fired but the energy beams missed and burned through the foliage behind him. With only two adversaries left, Jamry took his time.

His blade again bit into enemy flesh, this time cutting off the arm holding the weapon. Blackish-blue fluid sprayed from the limb and the hunter fell to its knees clutching the stump with its remaining hand. Jamry pivoted toward the last hunter but his strike was late. The hunter dodged the blade and slammed the butt of his weapon into Jamry’s ribs knocking him to the ground. Jamry rolled out of reach of the hunter and in a single motion pulled his short blade from its sheath and threw it, burying the point in the hunter’s throat. His enemy fell forward and lay still in the leaves. Jamry ran his long blade through the soldier’s back, flipped the body over and retrieved his weapon. He dispatched the last remaining hunter in similar fashion, cleaned their blood from his knives and slipped unseen into the depths of the jungle.

The Overlords had invaded his planet and the war had raged for a millennium. Jamry was the fourth generation of soldier in his family. Today the losses were heavy for his enemy, but his side had paid a high price for them. Neither the transport nor a soldier of Sidmar’s skill were easily replaced. The Overlord’s would produce more hunters but would pay dearly in terms of energy and materials. Some of them would surely kill many of Jamry’s people before they died. It was unlikely that Jamry would live long enough to find a mate and his family line would die with him. That was regrettable but it did not slow him from his mission. Freedom from their enemy would not be purchased in his lifetime but he was willing to pay his share of the cost.

Ray Bradbury Challenge #19- Blood Hunt

I’m not one to write about vampires too often. I think in some ways the genre has been over exposed and diluted to anemia (pun intended). However, one must write as the muse dictates, even if she is a drunken wench with a face full of donut crumbs.

Today’s post is a departure from my previous RBC short stories. First of all, it exceeds a thousand words (1314 to be exact). It just didn’t respond well to being edited. Second, I am introducing you all to Fiona, a female vampire who has been banished to West Hollywood, CA. There is a good chance you will be reading more about her in the coming months. As always, comments are welcomed and appreciated.

#19 Blood Hunt

Fiona

Fiona, fangs with an attitude

Fiona slid her tongue over her lips and savored the last few drops of blood. It had been a long time since her last meal. So long in fact that her appetite was was still pushing her to feed. That was going to be a problem. There was a dire shortage of potential victims in West Hollywood as gay men were immune to her pheromones. She had seduced a few lesbians out of sheer desperation but even the most butch among them didn’t have as much testosterone as fourteen year old boy. The blood gave her energy but the male hormone kept her eternally young. Without it the wrinkles would start and that was positively unacceptable.

After removing his head, Fiona dumped the body of the UPS driver into the trash chute. The last thing she needed was some fresh-fanged apprentice following her around like a lost puppy. A quick shower eliminated any remaining evidence. She hadn’t hit the gym circuit in a while so spandex was the order of the day. A vigorous workout would stimulate her pheromone production. Coupled with the tight, revealing outfit she was wearing she would draw any straight man to her within minutes.

‘Body Beautiful’ was one of the premier twenty four hour fitness centers in the Hollywood area. At well over a hundred and fifty years old, it was a safe bet Fiona was by far the oldest member in the club’s history.

And I don’t look a day over twenty-five.

The thought roused her appetite and she had to make a conscious effort to keep her fangs retracted. With any luck she would be putting them to work well before sunrise. She clenched her jaw at the idea of crawling into her crypt on an empty stomach. Hunting would be that much harder with crow’s feet.

The late crowd was beginning to fill the place up as Fiona walked in the door. She climbed onto one of the treadmills near the window. It was the best place to watch members entering the club. It also afforded any interested men a great view of her ass. She set the machine for a medium level workout and focused her mind on the energy in the room. So far all the readings were weak. There were several minds focused on her but the auras were decidedly female.

I hope it doesn’t come to that. I need a MAN!

Fiona was feeling that itch that only hot, rambunctious sex could scratch. Her need to feed had been so great that she had barely gotten her last meal undressed. No, tonight she would most certainly be playing with her food.

She had been pounding out steps on the treadmill for nearly an hour with no male prospects anywhere in sight. Not that she was getting tired, she could keep going for days. Only the sunrise would stop her. Her hunger was putting her on edge and she didn’t want to rush. She was ready to call it quits when he walked in. The sexual energy rolled off him so thick she had to close her mouth to hide her fangs. He couldn’t have been any more than twenty and hadn’t gotten laid in quite some time, if ever.

A virgin? Oh, wouldn’t that be a treat!

He was awkward and a bit clumsy, bumping into several members and tripping once on his way to the treadmills. He climbed onto the one next to Fiona’s and gave her a lopsided smile. She smiled back and his face went flush to his hairline. All that blood amped her up another couple of notches.

If I don’t get him out of here soon it’s going to get ugly.

Fiona stopped her treadmill and turned to the young man.

“I’m heading out. Would you mind walking me to my car?”

He turned to be sure she was talking to him.

“Um, yeah, sure.”

“I’m Fiona.” She held out her hand.

He took it as if he expected it to turn into a rattlesnake.

“Oh, I’m Steven.” and after a pause he added, “Nice to meet you.”

Fiona turned and headed for the door. His aura was strong and very male. She was sure his attention was focused on her rear end. Out of habit she had parked in the alley behind the gym. When she got to her car she turned and Steven nearly ran into her.

“Thank you for walking me out. A girl can’t be too careful these days.”

Fiona traced her fingers up his arm and slipped them behind his neck. As she pulled him forward he  stiffened, pushing her away.

“Something wrong?” It didn’t make sense. She could almost taste his arousal.

Steven pulled her arm away from his neck.

“I’m sorry, I just can’t do this,” he said as he stared at the ground.

“Let me guess, you have a boyfriend?”

His gaze snapped up to meet hers. “What? Oh, no, I’m not gay. I love women.”

She ran both hands over his chest and slid her fingers between the buttons to touch his skin.

“Glad to hear it.” He was tall enough that she had to stand on her toes to reach his mouth. It was wet and delicious. His tongue responded to hers with a fierceness that took her by surprise. He wrapped his arms around her and squeezed her so hard she was glad she didn’t have to breathe to stay alive. She ran her free hand up his thigh to the bulge in his crotch. Even through his jeans it filled her hand.

Oh my God! I might have to turn this one!

Fiona pushed back and reached up to undo his shirt. The material pulled tight and the buttons popped off in her hand. His chest began to rise and expand; his arms grew thick and muscular. His carotid pulsed just under the skin and her appetite bested her desire. Her fangs thrust from her gums and she sank them all the way into his neck. The warm liquid flowed into her mouth but the taste caused her to jerk away coughing and choking.

“What the hell?!” Fiona turned back to Steven and found herself staring at a broad, scale covered chest. His arms turned to massive wings, his head elongated with a mouth full long teeth and a powerful tail swished out behind him.

“A dragon? The only straight guy I’ve seen all day and you’re a fucking dragon?”

A deep, booming voice resonated from the beast’s throat.

“I did warn you, demon. Now, you will die.”

Flames erupted from the dragon’s mouth and engulfed Fiona’s car. If she hadn’t possessed the speed of the undead, she would have ended up as so much barbeque. She hadn’t made it to a hundred and sixty three years by fighting battles she couldn’t win so she kept running. For all its size and power, the dragon was slow on the up take. By the time it was airborne, she was in her condo on the other side of town.

“Son of a whore!” Fiona raged at the expense of several figurines and a vase, all of which ended their existence against the living room wall. “Not bad enough that I’m banished to the land of fruits and nuts, and can’t find a decent meal, have slayers on my ass every other day and have to work some menial job to keep a roof over my head. Now there’s a dragon here, too? Shit! They’re like fucking roaches – where there’s one there’s a damned dozen.”

Her hunger returned full force goading her to move. She dumped the spandex and slithered into a slinky red dress that covered just enough to keep her out of jail. It was only three-thirty a.m., still plenty of time to find a man and redefine the term ‘happy meal’.

… to be continued

Ray Bradbury Challenge #18 – Road Kill

Inspired by my quest for a good fake blood recipe … and my warped little mind. As always, comments are welcomed and appreciated.

#18 Road Kill

 

There is a certain artistry in the way blood oozes from a small cut. The droplets kiss the blade ever so softly as they push free of the confines of their veins and capillaries. Cut deeper and a crimson torrent rushes from the laceration, responding to both the body’s pressure and the force of gravity. The life fluid inside the human body is not the thick, viscous fluid shown in movies. It’s specific gravity is only slightly more than water, roughly the same as milk. It flows freely, seeking its own level and seeping into cracks and crevices with ease.

To remove all of the blood from the average adult of a hundred and fifty pounds is a painstaking process, especially if one wishes to keep the subject alive for any length of time. A balance must be struck between too much blood loss and wounds clotting shut. Our bodies are wonderfully designed to keep us alive. A true artist like myself respects this and strives maintain life while pushing the boundaries of their craft.

The rate of respiration is dropping. The heart and lungs struggle to oxygenate the tissues but they are fighting a battle that has already been lost. I have successfully removed all four limbs while maintaining the heartbeat. Of course, simple amputation would have been far too easy and not nearly as painful. I ask you, where is the art in such heavy handed tactics? No, I started with the fingers and removed one knuckle at a time. I let only a small amount of blood escape before cauterizing the wounds. When at last the hands were merely stumps, they were taken, tendons and muscles carefully sliced and separated. Forearms at the elbow, then the upper arm at the shoulder. That is quite a challenge, removing a ball and socket joint and making sure all the blood vessels are firmly sealed off. The legs were done the same way. The mere size of the bones and muscles dictates a long, arduous procedure.

My early attempts at art were horrific. Most of my subjects died before I made a dozen incisions. The internet has been a wonderful source of knowledge and my surgical skills have improved by leaps and bounds. Most of my ‘pieces’ survive for three or four days now. Sadly, the end is near for my latest creation and I will need a new, blank canvas on which to paint.

 *****

A lonely stretch of road and a woman with car trouble. This is but one of many situations that aids me in my search for new subject material. When the nice young man in the white van stops to offer assistance, she is far too grateful to be suspicious. His arms are tan and his smile genuine and disarming. A quick peek under the hood reveals a broken fan belt. There is no way it can be fixed here, the nearest parts house is ten miles away. Cell phones are useless as well. Yes, the story plays out nearly the same every time. He is only too happy to drive her into town. She hesitates for a moment, then climbs into the passenger seat. She rummages through her purse as he puts on his seat belt. Before he can put the truck into gear a stinging pain shoots through his neck. His arms and legs go numb. He turns to look at me and I smile. The van is a lucky break for me. He is tall and broad shouldered. Getting him to my studio will be a challenge but the thought of taking that beautiful body apart one piece at a time fills me with boundless energy. He stares at me, his eyes filled with fear and questions. Answers are forthcoming and the fear? More than justified. As I drive toward home, I whistle a happy tune from my youth.

Ray Bradbury Challenge #17- The Silence is Deafening

This story came from my idea file. I think it will make good novel, a twist on the post-apocalyptic tale in the vein of Stephen King’s “The Stand”. I’ll probably work on another title. If you’re not familiar with the Ray Bradbury Challenge, my friend Arial Burnz explains it here.  As always, comments are welcome and appreciated.

The Silence is Deafening

It’s getting harder to hide from them. I’ve heard that losing one of the senses makes the others stronger. The way they sniff the air makes me believe this is true. They also get around in the dark better than I do and light attracts them like bugs. If they ever learn to be quiet, I’m screwed. Right now they stomp around like cattle on coke. I can usually hear them coming from a mile away. They learn fast. It’s only a matter of time before they figure it out. There aren’t many of us left, not nearly enough to fight them.

Today is March fourth, exactly six months since the world went to hell. I was one of the few unaffected by whatever it was that changed about ninety-five percent of the population. Lucky? I’m not entirely sure I would use that word. If I didn’t have such a hard time sleeping I’d be one of them. I don’t know exactly what happened. I went to bed with my ear plugs in and when I woke up the world had gone deaf. A few scientists managed to broadcast some information about an energy wave that hit Earth that night but the transmissions stopped after a few days. Three weeks later there wasn’t any electricity on anywhere. Society fell apart in less than a month.

At first those of us who could still hear tried to help them. There just wasn’t enough of us to hold things together. Then they changed. I don’t know whether that energy messed with their minds or going deaf made them all crazy. They don’t speak but they are communicating somehow. The strange part is they can tell that we’re not like them. I saw a woman pretend she was deaf and move around like they do. A hoard caught her and tore her to pieces right in front of me.

I have a stockpile of weapons but even if I killed a thousand of them a day there would always be more. My only hope is to find other survivors. I found a motorcycle with a small trailer so I have a way to travel. I’m getting out of the city and heading north. Maybe the winter killed some of them off in Wyoming or Montana. It’s worth a shot. I really miss having someone to talk to. The days are long and the silence is deafening.

Ray Bradbury Challenge #16- Blood and Dirt

This story started as a teaser only, no story. I finished three paragraphs before I figured out where the story was headed. Sometimes our sins come back to haunt us and not always in the way we expect. Are you looking over your shoulder?

Blood and dirt. To James, they were signs of a job well done. It was almost a shame to wash his hands, but then such stains would invite questions he’d rather not answer. Someone in his line of work avoided undue attention. It had a nasty habit of ending careers.

The florist delivery van had been pure genius. What woman wouldn’t open the door for man holding a large bouquet of flowers? They had cost him almost a hundred dollars, but considering the fee he was receiving from his client they were a minor expense. The van had allowed him to transport her across the city unnoticed. If ever it was discovered at the bottom of the lake, any forensic evidence would be obliterated.

The loamy soil in the Wisconsin woods had been easy enough to dig but it would be frozen solid in another month. By the time anyone thought to look for her out here, there would be several feet of snow covering the ground. He had buried her deep enough to prevent any animals from digging up her body. No, Sasha Antonavich now existed only in the memories of her friends and family. And the conscience of the person who paid to have her killed. Her memory would fade from James’s mind in a day or two.

He flipped through the file one more time. There were several pictures of her that had been supplied by his employer and a few more taken by James himself. He was almost tempted to keep the one of her tied to the bed. Her body exuded a raw sensuality that women seemed to possess for a short time in their lives. He would never actually do something so reckless but the thought excited him. Breaking the rules, even his own, had always held a certain fascination for him. His survival instinct got the better of his emotions and the nude photo was burned with the rest of the documents. The ashes blew through the dead leaves as if he were performing a cremation ritual. He paused as the scent of burning paper blended with leaves, loam and newly turned soil. The moment passed – he strolled to the edge of the lake and scrubbed his hands in the icy water until they were numb and red.

He had stashed a motorcycle in the trees and the ride back to town was brisk and invigorating in the chilly night air. He left the bike in an area of town where its disappearance was a given. It was a short walk to his hotel where he arrived without incident. The small receiver in his pocket indicated the room was empty but he slipped his Glock from its holster as backup. Once he was safely inside with the door locked he allowed himself to relax enough to enjoy a hot shower.

As he stepped from the bathroom dry but quite naked he picked up his shoes and stopped. On the carpet was a small clump of dirt. Impossible. He had changed clothes on the way back, the coveralls and boots disposed of in a dumpster behind a restaurant on the highway. He picked up the offending lump of soil and held it to his nose. It gave off the same earthy odor as the dirt in the woods. It must have dropped from his boots and lodged on the sole of his shoe. He carried it into the bathroom and flushed it down the toilet.

He pulled back the covers on the bed and slipped between the cool sheets, sliding the Glock under the pillow as he did so. His hand brushed against a piece of paper. He pulled it out and stared at it, unable to swallow the lump rising in his throat. It was a picture. The picture. The one of Sasha lying naked, tied to her bed. The one he had watched burn to ashes in the woods. He stumbled to the bathroom and ripped the picture to pieces, his hands shaking. Two scraps fell to the floor as he tried to drop them in the toilet. He leaned over to pick them up and his legs gave way. His head hit the wall tile as he crashed to the floor. Blood trickled through his hair into his eyes and the room began to spin. Struggling, he grasped the pieces and off the floor dropped them into the bowl. He pulled down the handle and listened as the water carried off the evidence of his crime.

State police, open the door!”

James was rousted from his sleep, still sprawled on the bathroom floor. The pounding on the door reverberated through his skull. He dragged himself upright and slogged his way into the bedroom. He grabbed his robe and trudged to the door. With the latch released he swung it open. Four uniformed state troopers stood facing him with their guns drawn.

Sir, is there anyone else in the room?” said the officer closest to the door.

Um, no, just me. What’s the problem?”

I need you to come out here sir. We got a report of screams coming from this room. I also need you to explain the blood on your head.”

That was crazy. There hadn’t been anyone else here. There must be some mistake.

I slipped in the bathroom and hit my head. I assure you I’ve been here alone all night.”

Then you won’t mind if we take a look around.” Three of the officers pushed their way into the room as the first one led him out onto the sidewalk.

James watched as the men opened drawers and his suitcase. He was thankful he had found the picture.

As he relaxed, one of the troopers called out, “Hey Captain, we’ve got something,” and marched toward the door.

What is it?”

The trooper held up a small evidence bag. “Found this all over the floor, even in the bathtub. Looks like a mixture of blood and dirt.”

 

 

Ray Bradbury Challenge #15- The Trouble With Teens and Halloween

A challenge within a challenge this week: a 100 word short story. The idea was simple and the conflict universal. I do have to admit that some of this is rather vicarious for me as I have three boys and no girls ( a fact for which Goldilocks continually blames yours truly) but I have heard the stories from my friends who are so cursed blessed. The Holiday season is here and NaNaWriMo is fast approaching. More on this amazing event on Friday. Thanks for stopping by, comments always welcome. Happy Halloween.

 

“It’s not fair! Mrs. Horner said yes.”

“Well, your mom said no. Pick something else.”

She sighed as her daughter stomped to her room, slamming the door. It had been easy when she was little. Baby vampire, mini zombie … even a giant bat one year. But now at thirteen, every year was a bigger battle than the last.

“What’s got her all worked up?” Her husband said.

“She wants to go to the Horner’s dressed as … an Angel!”

Flames shot from her husband’s eyes. “No demon of mine is going to parade around in such a sacrilegious costume!”

Ray Bradbury Challenge #14- Perspective

A story inspired by a common every day item that many of us have come to rely on a great deal. For an explanation of the Ray Bradbury Challenge, check out this blog post by Arial Burnz here.

Perspective

And to my nephew Michael I leave the small oak box that sits upon my desk.”

The words rang in Michael Warren’s ears and fueled his anger. The box sat on the front seat of his 1998 Camry as he navigated back to his one bedroom apartment in Chatsworth.

A friggen box! The old coot was worth millions and all he gave me was some useless knick-knack.

The smug look on his cousin Jenny’s face said it all. She got the house and the money. He got a box. He had burned a vacation day to attend the reading. What a waste of time. Not that schlepping packages all over L.A. was his idea of fun but it paid the bills. He had hoped his inheritance would allow him to take some time off. He pulled into his parking space and picked up the box.

Not unless there’s a couple million bucks stuffed in here.

By the time he climbed three flights of stairs (because the elevator was on the fritz, again) his anger had settled to mild annoyance. He tossed the box on the kitchen counter and pulled some left over pizza from the fridge. Thirty seconds in the nuker and lunch was served. As Michael wolfed down melted cheese and greasy pepperoni he noticed that one side of the box had a slit in it. His fingernail just fit allowing him to pry open the lid. His excitement was short lived as the only contents was an old pair of glasses and a handwritten note.

Dear Michael,

Doubtless you are cursing my name and your extraordinary bad fortune. Trust me when I tell you that what I left you is much more valuable than the pittance that shallow trollop Jenny received. You’re a smart young man. You’ll figure it out.

Martin

Michael picked up the glasses and slipped them on. Either the prescription was perfect or there was none. There didn’t seem to be any effect on his vision. He stepped into the living room to check out his look in the mirror. A little retro but not bad. He turned his gaze toward the couch and witnessed a man and a woman in a passionate embrace. Before he could say anything they moved apart. The man was him! And the woman was the pretty redhead from the legal office on Center St. She was friendly enough but he’d never said more than hello to her. Michael pulled off the glasses and the image vanished.

Great! Martin left me his hallucination inducing glasses.

Putting them back on produced no further visions prompting Michael to remove them and drop them into his shirt pocket. He grabbed his keys and headed out the door. The pizza had been the final vestige of food in his kitchen and he was still hungry.

Antonio’s Deli was crowded. It took him nearly twenty minutes to reach the counter.

“Pastrami, mustard and pickles only,” he said to the girl behind the counter. She rang him up and handed him his receipt. He stuffed it in his pocket and brushed against the glasses.

What the hell …

The view remained unchanged. He was about to take them off when a speeding white car careened down the street headed for the deli. Michael jumped out of the way as the car burst through the front window spraying the patrons with shards of glass. A number of people lay on the floor bleeding. As Michael stood up the glasses fell off his nose. He caught them and noticed everyone was staring at him. The window was still intact and the floor was clean. His face burning, he shuffled to the counter to pick up his order and slinked out the door cramming the spectacles in his pocket as he went.

Twenty feet from the door the roar of a car engine forced him to turn around. He stared in shock as the same white car plowed into the deli. The glasses were in his pocket. This time it was for real. A numbness settled over him as he pulled out his phone and called 911.

*****

The next day he ran his deliveries on autopilot. He couldn’t shake the chill that had settled into his bones. Two women had died in the accident. They would be alive if he had said something. Maybe. Probably.

He was only vaguely aware he was in the law office until he saw her. The redhead. Her desk was right across from the receptionist. Her nameplate read ‘Mary Ann Stewart’. He started to walk out when the image of the two of them on his couch filled his mind. With a deep breath he strolled to her desk and waited until she looked up.

“Can I help you?” she said.

“I hope so, Mary Ann. My name is Michael and I would love to take you to dinner Friday.”

She smiled, her cheeks reddening a bit.

“Thank you Michael, I’d love to. You’ve been coming in here for weeks. I was beginning to think I was going to have to ask you out.”

It was his turn to blush. “I … umm, you know, I don’t know you that well.”

She giggled, scribbled her number on a sticky note and handed it to him.

“Call me tonight.”

Michael left the building walking on a cloud. Without a thought as to why, he pulled the glasses out of his pocket and put them on. He passed a newspaper stand and read the headline at the bottom of the morning edition.

‘Local Woman Killed During Robbery Attempt’. Mary Ann’s picture appeared next to the article. Michael scanned the rest of the paper. The date listed was next Saturday. He stared at the picture and removed the glasses. Mary Ann’s face vanished. Michael stood frozen in place, sweat soaking his shirt.

You’re a smart young man. You’ll figure it out.

Would he? Maybe. Hopefully.

Ray Bradbury Challenge #13- The Patter of Little Feet

One fourth of the way to my goal. Yeah!

 

The Patter of Little Feet

The screaming made it hard to sleep but he was getting used to it. It wouldn’t be long before one of them found a way in. When it did, he would join the chorus of those whose flesh was being clawed, chewed and consumed. The door of the x-ray room was lead lined and thus far had proven an effective barrier against – what? Abominations? Mistakes? Natural justice? He pulled the heavy aprons around his body in a feeble attempt to stop his shivering but it was not the temperature that made his muscles spasm.

Twenty-four hours earliercreepy cradle

“Don’t you ever feel a little sad?” Sandra’s brown eyes were tearing up again. “I mean, you remember when most of them made it, don’t you?”

The small body fit in his hands as he transferred it to the examination table. Its cool temperature passed through his latex gloves.

“Are you insinuating that I am old, Ms. Boothe?”

He gave her several moments to squirm as she tried to back pedal from the comment.

“I – oh no, nothing like that, Dr. Peterson. I don’t think you’re old at all.”

He released her from her torment with the same disarming smile that would eventually lure her into his bed.

“That’s where you are mistaken. I am old. Yes, I remember when the infant mortality rate was expressed in terms the number of deaths instead of live births. In those days, birth control was not only legal, it was highly encouraged and widely practiced. Viable fetuses were even terminated. The human race was in danger of breeding ourselves into extinction. No, I don’t feel sad, just an overwhelming sense of irony.”

Tears flowed down Sandra’s cheeks in response to her mentor’s words. Dr. Peterson, or Michael as she would no doubt yell in the throes of passion, wiped the moisture from her cheeks with a tissue.

“Let’s continue. We have an entire population eager to be parents.”

Their work continued late into the night. Test and retest, a new strain of virus, a stronger bacteria. Several subjects showed promise, but the fact that the disease would not thrive outside of the human body hampered their progress.

As they left the building, Michael put his arm around Sandra’s shoulders. The night held little in the way of surprises in the home of Dr. Michael Peterson. His bed was a shambles; blankets, sheets and two naked bodies strewn across its mattress. In the lab, a small red indicator light blinked. Moments later the sun shone in the window, its rays cutting through the purple cloud that engulfed hundreds of small plastic wrapped bodies lying on steel shelves.

*****

“I need you to run some baselines on the cultures we started last night,” said Michael. “Will that be a problem?”

“No, I’ll be fine. I just needed a good night’s sleep.” Sandra tiptoed and kissed Michael on the cheek. “I slept great thanks to you. Sorry for making you late this morning.”

“I doubt another hour or two will make much difference.” He watched as she strutted into the lab, her hip action no doubt exaggerated for his benefit. He turned his attention to the monitor and let out a heavy sigh. The readings were off the scale. Something must have contaminated the sample. He punched the intercom button.

“Sandra, don’t bother with …” His words were cut off by screams blasting through the speaker. It took him four quick strides to reach the lab. As he burst through the door the bile rose in his throat and he stopped short. Sandra lay on the floor, her blood stained lab coat in shreds. The wall next to her was stained red with spatter as well. She was alive and Michael took a tentative step toward her. The sound of light footsteps caught him off guard. There were two of them. Babies. They rushed toward him, mouths and – claws? – dripping blood. His brain sidestepped making sense of the scene. It went into self preservation-panic mode. He slammed the door and bolted it shut.

Another scream sounded from the main hallway. The office door swung open, pushed by hands too small to grasp its thickness. Crimson droplets smeared on the wood from gnarled fingers and curved talons. The face was dominated by a gaping mouth full of pointed, blood stained teeth. The eyes had yellow irises and large pupils floating on a pale green eyeball. It made a wet, sucking sound and leaped at Michael. Pain erupted in his arm as it buried its teeth in his flesh. He slammed it against the wall. The body went limp and dropped to the floor. Before he could get to the door, two more creatures forced their way in. The only other exit led to the x-ray room. He tried the handle. Regulations required it stay locked when not in use. He fumbled through his pockets checking for his keys. They were on his desk.

He peeked around the corner. There was no movement in the room. He bolted across the carpet and swiped his keyring from the desk. The moment he turned to leave bolts of pain shot through his leg. One of the damn things had been hiding under his desk. He managed to kick it loose and run to the x-ray room. He dropped the keys twice and fumbled to get the correct one in the lock. The slurping was getting louder. Half a dozen creatures jumped at him as he twisted the handle and slipped inside. Their bodies thudded against the door.

As he lay on the floor wrapped in the leaded aprons, a sound came through the door nearly unknown for two generations. A sound that at one time had been a source of joy and now inspired fear.

The patter of little feet.

Ray Bradbury Challenge #12- Note Worthy

I’m tardy this week. I wrote an entire story, almost a thousand words and had to dump it in the bone yard. Couldn’t come up with an ending. It happens. This story literally popped into my head as I looked at the mailboxes lining the street on my way to work at oh dark thirty this morning. Bus ride in, lunch time and bus ride home, edited and read to Goldilocks and Baby Bear. They gave it two paws/thumbs up.

“You’ve got mail”

“You’ve got mail,” the computer voice announced.

Jeff clicked the icon and opened his email. His hand was shaking.

 

DO IT TONIGHT!

 

Sweat broke out on his forehead. He had to act before he lost his nerve.

It had all started off with a simple message last year.

 

THESE SHOES ARE ON SALE.

 

He almost dumped the message in the trash. The picture showed the very shoes he had been eyeing for weeks, but on his meager clerk’s salary it would take months to save enough to buy them. The sale was an incredible sixty percent off. He would have to make some sacrifices, but it was worth it.

It was several weeks before he received the next message. Men’s suits on clearance, easy credit terms. He found three that were stylish and flattering with manageable payments. The week after a message announced the opening of a new hair salon, free haircuts to the first six people in line. The stylist talked him into a completely new hair cut.

The next day at work Cindy Maxwell actually smiled and said hi. It was the first time she had said anything to him in the two years he had worked there. He almost spilled coffee down his shirt.

Later, he overheard Cindy mention a play at the local dinner theater. It had been sold out for weeks. When Jeff checked his email that evening, he was shocked to see two tickets for sale on Craigslist. He called the number and had the tickets in hand within the hour. He was more than a little suspicious but decided not to question his good fortune.

The next day, Jeff sauntered into Cindy’s cubicle.

“Hi Cindy.”

“Oh, hi Jeff.”

“I, um, well I wanted to know if you wanted to go with me to see ‘The Player’s Game’ Friday night. I hear it’s really good.”

Cindy stared at him as his heart pounded in his chest.

“I’d love to, but it’s sold out. I couldn’t find tickets anywhere.

Jeff pulled the tickets from his jacket.

“I found two online. The show’s at eight so we have time to have dinner first – if you want to.”

“That would be great,” Cindy said, her eyes sparkling. “And I know just the place.”

They exchanged information and agreed Jeff would pick her up at six o’clock. The remainder of the week was a blur for him. On Friday he received another email.

 

SHE LIKES YELLOW ROSES.

 

A chill hit Jeff and he shivered. For the first time he looked for the sender’s email address. He had assumed it was some type of advertising company. The ‘From’ line was blank. He dug through his inbox and located several of the previous messages. None of them showed a sender’s address. In spite of his apprehension he ordered a dozen long stem yellow roses from a florist near Cindy’s apartment.

The evening exceeded all of Jeff’s expectations. A lingering good night kiss on the porch turned into several hours of heartfelt conversation punctuated with more kissing. Their date was the first of many.

The messages guided Jeff to sign him and Cindy up for salsa dancing, a cooking class and a couple’s winery tour in Napa. Ten months later they were married. Her ring was suggested in an email.

The week after their honeymoon Jeff received another message.

 

YOU NEED TO MAKE MORE MONEY TO KEEP HER HAPPY.

 

He was in line for a promotion and deleted the message without a second thought.

Two day later his inbox flashed with an urgent message:

 

YOU CAN MANIPULATE THE FERGUSON ACCOUNT TO INCREASE YOUR COMMISSION. NO ONE WILL KNOW.

 

He stared at the screen as if he could change the words by sheer force of will. When that failed, he hit the delete key. Droplets of sweat beaded on his forehead and ran into his eyes. Rivulets coursed down his back causing his shirt to stick to his skin. Before he could shut his laptop another email appeared:

 

DO IT OR SHE DIES.

 

Jeff’s stomach knotted as he opened the financials for Ferguson. In five minutes he added six thousand dollars to his commission. He prayed the messages would stop. They didn’t. Within a month he embezzled nearly a quarter of a million dollars from numerous client accounts, exposed a coworker who was having an affair and sold part of his company’s marketing plan to a competitor.

 

*****

 

YOUR WIFE IS CHEATING ON YOU. KILL HER.

 

Jeff rushed to the bathroom and emptied the contents of his stomach into the toilet. Cindy would never – they were madly in love. Maybe he had been a little distant lately but his life had gotten a bit complicated. He deleted the message and it was replaced by a series of photos. Cindy and another man in a hotel room – his boss! Still more pictures, different men, different locations. Some were friends and coworkers, most were strangers. His nails dug into the palms of his hands as he clenched his fists. All the chances he had taken, risked his job, jail – and this was how she thanked him? The message had it right. She had to die.

He grabbed a knife from the kitchen and stomped up the stairs. Cindy sat at her vanity with her back to the door. Jeff raised the knife and aimed for her back. She turned and his forward momentum was stopped by a thud and a burning sensation in his chest. As he collapsed his dying mind registered the gun in his wife’s hand.

*****

“Detective, look at this.” The CSU tech turned the laptop on the vanity so the other man could read the email message displayed on the screen.

 

YOUR HUSBAND IS COMING TO KILL YOU. GET HIS GUN FROM THE CLOSET.

 

“Somebody saved her life,” said the detective. “Who sent it?”

“No idea. There’s no sender address, not even a server signature. She has a whole file full of messages like this going back almost a year.”

Ray Bradbury Challenge #11- The Snarfbugle is in Season

With a nod to Lewis Carrol … no, it doesn’t rhyme. I can barely do “Roses are red — “. For an explanation of the Challenge, click here.

 

The Snarfbugle is in Season

 

Gilblat’s tentacles writhed in anticipation as the aromas wafted through the air and settled on his glistening skin.

“Oh Hoochit, you have certainly outdone yourself this time,” said Gilblat. “If we do not haggench quickly I will be a puddle on the stones.”

Hoochit ambled about, tending to a number of boiling dugys and fronnets filled with colorful morsels. Her claws and hard shell clicked and clattered over the rough hewn floor.

“For you, my old friend, it is a labor of love. It has been far too long since we shared a haggen. Just a few moments more. Move to the slab and be patient.”

Gilblat did as instructed, keeping three of his six eye stalks focused on Hoochit’s activities.

After a short time, Hoochit trudged in, all six upper appendages loaded with food. She spread it out over the surface of the raised stone. Gilblat’s tentacles fell on the feast shoveling bites into both orifices with a speed born of gluttony. Droplets formed on his skin and dripped toward the floor, forming a puddle beneath him. Hoochit kept busy lugging fronnets and dugys to the slab. One of her appendages accidentally touched the iridescent pool causing her claw to turn white. She scurried into the other room and plunged the afflicted body part into a bubbling dugy until it regained it’s bright minro color.

“Ummmph …tougen slog is so tender … glamph … the best ever … oh, the kleeg is incredibly juicy … Hoochit, you are a genius …” Gilblat spewed compliments along with bits of his meal. As he reached into one of the dugys he shuddered and stopped moving.

“No! It can’t be … Snarfbugle! This above and beyond. How did you manage to find it in season?” Gilblat resumed his haggenching.

Hoochit gave a little giggle, her tail rattling against the slab.

“I have to confess, I did no such thing. I harvested it last season, cut open a weydolling and stuffed the snarfbugle inside to preserve it. Rather ingenious if I do say so myself.”

Gilblat slogged back from the slab and emitted a bright blue gas cloud.

“My sincerest compliments. By far the most chognalagus repast slathered into either of my grenches.”

“Thank you for your kind words. Now, dear friend, I have to bid you farewell,” Hoochit said. She shook, claws and tail flailing against the floor. “I am brooding and the time has come. I regret sacrificing you this way, but my measly shell is not nearly enough to sustain my offspring. Given their appetite, you will not suffer for long.”

Gilblat’s eye stalks snapped toward Hoochit, now writhing on the stones. The back of her shell split open and tiny claws forced their way free of the opening. Hundreds of miniature Hoochits crawled over her body, tearing small pieces off and stuffing them into their mandibles. She disappeared under a swarm of snapping claws and voracious progeny.

The first baby reached Gilblat and sunk its claw into his flesh and attempted to rip a piece free. One of his tentacles snatched the small fry up by the tail. It squirmed in his grip.

“You and your siblings seem to have rather large appetites stuffed into such diminutive bodies. I seem to be in a position of eat or be eaten. Very well.”

Gilblat stretched out one of his grenches and dropped the creature into it. His linkles and dexaton reduced the fry to a mass of red slime in seconds.

“Oh, Hoochit, it would seem you have saved the best for last. Quite grimordial I must say.

After some time, with the stones clear, Gilblat slithered through the portal and headed for his quag. He remembered Hoochit had a sibling.

I wonder if she is planning a brood any time soon?