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 #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?

Ray Bradbury Challenge #10- Hat Trick

Running a little behind this week as I have been preparing for tonight’s Ebook presentation. Info here. I’m pretty stoked about making it to ten weeks. Given my schedule and my efforts to learn the Dvorak keyboard, it’s been rather challenging. This story went in a much darker direction than I originally planned. That’s one of the ‘perks’ of writing horror; it’s a bottomless pit of ideas that slither around in the inky blackness just waiting for some twisted mind like mine to haul them up into the daylight.

For an explanation of the Ray Bradbury Challenge, check out Arial Burnz’s Blog here.

 

Hat Trick

Top Hat

runescape.wikia.com

“Guess it’s going to be dead in here tonight,” Frank says. He laughs at his own joke like it’s the first time he’s ever heard it. He’s made that comment exactly four hundred and sixteen times if my calculations are correct. And they always are. It’s one of my ‘gifts’. Being able to remember everything is almost as annoying as Frank but they both come with the territory.

“Really milking that line aren’t you, Frank. I guess new material is too much for your feeble little brain. Sometimes I wonder how you manage to get dressed all by yourself. Oh, that’s right, you still live with your mother. Bet Mommy picks out your clothes, too.” I know which buttons to push.

“Screw you, Maloney!” That vein pulsing in Frank’s temple has aneurism written all over it. I’m sure his breath reeks of cheap beer, too. My condition spares me such indignities.

“That’s no way to be.” I keep my tone friendly, like I’m talking to a mean dog or a slow child. In Frank’s case, it’s a little of both. “What would Mommy say if she could see your behavior?” I pause just long enough to let him think I’m done. “Does she know about you and – what’s her name? – Melissa? She’s what, seventeen? Shame on you, Frank, taking advantage of a such a sweet young girl. Bet Mommy would kick you to the curb if she ever found out.”

His mouth drops open and snaps shut several times while his brain plays catch up.

“Go to hell! At least I ain’t no fucking ghost. You and yours taking jobs away from us living folks is a big load of bullshit. Somebody needs to burn fucking Necromancer Industries to the ground.”

Frank slams the door on his way out and it rattles in the frame. My clipboard and pencil float up and I put a check mark next to his name. Yep, that little brain hemorrhage will drop Frank Dugan dead as a doornail at exactly nine forty seven tonight. Unfortunately for her, Melissa Fredricks will be trapped under him and suffocate. When Agnes Dugan discovers them tomorrow morning, it will be the last straw for her feeble old heart. She won’t even make it up the stairs. I have jobs to fill and quotas to meet. Three more souls should just about do it for this month. I miss being able to whistle at times like this.

Ray Bradbury Challenge #9- Food of the Gods

Very short story this week as I am preparing a presentation on formatting and publishing ebooks for next Wednesday. If you’re interested, here’s the link. 

If you want more info on the Ray Bradbury Challenge, check out Arial Burnz blog here.

 

Food of the Gods

“You have angered them and now there is no food,” I say to Cassavettes. “The light is fading and it is past time to feed.”

“It has been late before,” he says. “Your worry is only the voice of your empty stomach. Besides, have we not been diligent in our dance? I even offered those two new flutter moves. If anyone is to blame, it is you, Jackman. Same moves every dance. You have no doubt bored them into forgetting the offering.”

I turn away from him. He is a dolt and hunger does not extend my patience. In the new light I will offer a dance the likes of which they have never witnessed.

******

We have now gone many light cycles without eating. Our dance is a ghost of its former beauty. Cassavettes is very unsteady; I fear he will not survive another cycle. A horrific thought fills my mind. I am determined to push it away but my hunger gives it new life. If I am to survive …

*****

Cassavettes is dead. His body is limp and lifeless, but it calls to me. His soft belly … My hunger drives me to do the unthinkable as I tear chunks of his flesh with my teeth, ill designed for such a task as they may be. As the light returns I am sickened by the sight of his remains and yet, if no other food comes I will not hesitate to eat every last morsel if it means living to see the light again.

******

“Dude! One of your fish is totally chowing down on the other one. Must be half piranha or something.”

Jerry endured Mike’s outbursts as one humors a slow child.

“Nope, just plain old goldfish. I just stopped feeding them. Happens every time. Jackman there is the new reigning champ. In a couple of days I’ll go get another one, give them a few weeks to get used to each other and see which one wins.”

“Cool. Hey, we better jam if we want to get in on the drop. They said there might not be any meat for the next couple months.”

“Don’t sweat it,” said Jerry, eyeing Mike’s belly, “I have a backup plan.”

Ray Bradbury Challenge #8 – Jail Bait

It’s been nearly two months since I started this and I have to say that I’m really enjoying the weekly deadline. It’s forcing me to get things finished. For a full explanation of the challenge, check out my friend Arial Burnz’s blog here. Once again, huge kudos to Goldilocks for some great input on this story. More notes after the story.

 

Jail Bait

“Touch me again and all your daddy’s money won’t be able to fix what I’ll do to your face.”

Jennifer’s dark eyes, intensified by black liner and shadow, narrowed to slits as they focused on Amanda’s baby blues. The other girl’s face reflected the abject fear instilled by Jennifer’s hand clamped around her throat forcing her head against the locker.

“Let her go, Psycho,” one of the other cheerleaders said, her pleading tone belying her tough words.

Jennifer released her grip and stepped back, smirking at the streaks of mascara and the red marks marring Amanda’s otherwise pretty face. She and the rest of the cheer squad bolted from the locker room like spooked deer.

“That was freaking awesome!”

Jennifer spun around with a start. Standing behind her was the most pathetic excuse for a human being she had ever seen; well, under the age of thirty anyway. The girl’s scraggly brown hair hung in lifeless tangles over a pair of thick, horn-rimmed glasses. Her blouse was untucked on one side and both stockings were crumpled around her ankles.

“Either swear or don’t,” Jennifer said. “The word you’re looking for is ‘fucking’, as in ‘that was fucking awesome’.”

The mousey girl’s face blossomed into several shades of crimson as her attention was drawn to the tops of her shoes.

“I – Momma says swearin’s a sin and sinners go to hell.”

“Are you kidding me?” said Jennifer. “You must get your ass kicked every day. What’s your name?”

“Tiffany Maxwell,” said the girl. “Did you really kill your daddy, like everybody says?”

Jennifer sighed and rolled her eyes. “Sure I did. Hacked him to pieces and stuffed him in the trash can. That’s how I got in here. Hollingsworth Academy For Girls has educated some of the most notorious murderers in history, didn’t you know?”

Tiffany scraped her shoe across the floor. “You wanna get a latte or something after school?”

“Hell no.” Jennifer watched Tiffany’s shoulders slump forward. “Screw class, let’s go now.”

Jennifer grabbed Tiffany’s hand and dragged her out of the locker room.

*****

 

“I think this is a really bad idea,” Jennifer said as she watched Tiffany apply soft, pink lipstick.

“You’re just jealous. Besides, the faculty honors dinner is a Hollingsworth tradition.”

“Riding alone with a male teacher isn’t. Mr. Laramie could get fired.”

Tiffany fixed her gaze on Jennifer’s reflection. “Aren’t you the one who keeps telling me to get out and live a little? Well, this is me, taking your advice. What do you think?”

Tiffany spun around to show off the results.

Jennifer had to admit the transformation had been amazing. It was hard to believe that the confident beauty preening herself was the shy little geek in the locker room just three months ago.

I do good work. Maybe a little too good.

“Oh, I think I’ve created a monster,” Jennifer said. “You’re a hottie and a half. Just remember, he’s a teacher and a lot older than you.”

“You forgot incredibly sexy. And there are some things you can’t teach me,” Tiffany said with a wicked grin. “I’m outta here. Thanks for your help.”

“Behave and have a good time,” said Jennifer as Tiffany waltzed out the door.

After insuring that she was gone, Jennifer trotted into the basement, opened an old trunk and filled her backpack with a collection of items from its contents.

*****

“Wait … I don’t think …” Tiffany pulled away and removed her teacher’s hand from under her blouse. “It’s late, I should be getting home.”

 

Mike Laramie fixed his dark eyes on Tiffany as he ran his fingers down her neck and traced small designs between her young breasts.

“So soon? And just when we were having such a good time.”

Laramie slid his hands on either side of the girl’s head. His eyes turned black as his skin darkened. Tiffany squirmed, attempting to free herself from his grasp. She screamed and clawed at the hands that had become gnarled and stunk of sulfur. Small tendrils of smoke rose from the corners of Laramie’s mouth, his nose and his ears. Flames danced over his clothing until it dissolved into ash. Long, black nails sprouted from the ends of his fingers allowing him to make short work of Tiffany’s clothes. He stood, admiring the curves of her nubile form and running his fingers over her soft skin.

 

 

The front door exploded in a shower of splinters, several of which caught the demon/Laramie in the back. His roar was the voice of both pain and rage.

“Unauthorized soul stealing, Miklesh?” said Jennifer as she strode through the door. “And an innocent on top of it all? You should know better.”

“You will regret crossing me, witch!” he bellowed as flames erupted from his hands and shot towards Jennifer. She raised her hands and a white mist appeared absorbing the fire.

“Not happening, asshole. Your time is up and you’re going back. You know the rules.”

Jennifer pulled a pair of translucent rods from her belt and held them over her head.

“Majindum nos daemon. Shanno dereaus.”

Blue lighting erupted from the rods and engulfed Miklesh. He howled for a moment before vanishing in a cloud of smoke.

“Holy … fucking … shit!” Tiffany sat up on the couch oblivious to the fact she was buck naked.

“You wanna get dressed?” Jennifer pulled a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt from her backpack and tossed them to Tiffany.

“What the hell just happened? Who – or what – are you?” she said slipping on the clothes.

“Long story short; I just dispatched a demon back to hell. It’s what I do, sorta like a bounty hunter.”

“So you saved my life.”

“Don’t get all sentimental; you were the bait.”

 

I have some great ideas for this character and story line. I may very well have to expand this into a novel, with a nod to Buffy, the girls from Charmed and the guys from Supernatural. We’ll see. Thanks for hanging out and scary demon dreams, Dear Reader.

Ray Bradbury Challenge #6- Hell On Wheels

Had to chop 250 words to make the limit. Couple of twists to keep you on your toes. For details on the challenge, read my friend Arial’s blog here.

Hell On Wheels – photo by TxPilot on Flikr

“Shit!” Red lights in the rearview. My tires crunch the gravel as I pull onto the shoulder. The all too familiar swagger makes my heart sink. O’Malley again? Double shit.

I hold my license out the window hoping to skip the lecture.

“Do you know why I stopped you?”

“Because of my stunning good looks and charming personality?”

“OK, Comedy Central reject, get your ass out here and assume the position.”

O’Malley’s in rare form today. This should be a hoot.

“I don’t kiss on the first date, just so you know,” I say as I climb out of the car.

“Save the lip, sweet cheeks. This is getting old. You best straighten up, ‘less you wanna be walking.”

Yeah, not so much.

“So give me a warning and let me go. No ticket for me, no paperwork for you. Sounds like a win-win in my book.”

I can feel the glare through O’Malley’s shades.

“Not this time. Boss has you on his radar.”

Triple shit!

“I don’t even know where to start. You did see the speed limit sign – and the stop sign, the red light and the pedestrians, did you not?”

“C’mon O’Malley. You tag me for all that I’ll be hoofin’ it for sure.” I’m pretty sure I’m screwed, but some little part of my brain won’t give up the fight.

“I don’t have much choice. Unless you wanna play nice.”

A shudder rips through me despite the heat. It’s not like she’s ugly or anything. Even for a demon O’Malley’s, well, gorgeous. And being with another woman – been there, done that, too. I just know what will happen if I give in. She’ll be on my ass – not in a good way. She’ll own me. My mind is racing. You might think being in Hell is as bad as it gets but Dante nailed it. Things can always get worse.

“I’ll spend a whole week at your place, anything goes. That should scratch that itch you can’t quite reach.” I know how good this sounds to her; I’ve been going around and around with this bitch for two decades.

“What’s the catch?” She saunters up close and runs her long black nail down the side of my neck. I clench my teeth and move back a step.

“You and I race. Winner take all.”

Flames pour from her eyes, nose and mouth.

“What’s a skinny little girl like you want in the very unlikely event you win?”

“Your car, Cherry Red.”

A wide smile creeps across O’Malley’s face.

“You must think a lot of that hot little ass of yours. I win, you’re mine every night for a year.”

I play like I’m shocked.

“Damn, O’Malley. It’s not like I saved somebody’s life. I stopped at one red light. Old habits die hard.” One year? I would have been willing to bet two.

“Take it or leave it. I’m not the one in trouble here.”

“You suck, O’Malley.”

She gets her face right in front of mine and licks my cheek with her long, black tongue.

“Sugar, you have no idea.”

I cringe and wipe her saliva off before it has a chance to arouse me. There’s a lot about demons they don’t teach you in Sunday school.

“Fine. Since it’s my challenge, I get first pick. Identical vehicles, no magic. You pick the course.”

“Hound’s Tooth Canyon.”

No surprise. I swear, demons outside the bedroom have no imagination. You don’t want to know how I know that.

“The car is my brother’s 1969 Camaro, baby blue with every single detail as I remember it. Unless you can’t handle that.”

“Don’t be insulting.”

No lightening, no smoke, just two copies of the car that killed my brother and landed me in Hell. I swallow a hard lump in my throat.

“We start at the top of the canyon, first one through the Gap is the winner. The Guardian will decide if it’s close. Seal it in blood.”

I pick up a piece of flint and rake it across my palm. O’Malley uses her finger nail. She bleeds, I don’t. I clasp my hand against hers and clench my teeth as her blood seeps into my flesh. Now neither one of us can welch on the bet.

“Leave the key, O’Malley, in case you don’t make it back.”

“Gettin’ kinda cocky, doncha think?” she says as she strolls back to her car. Cherry Red is the fastest thing on four wheels in all of Hell. Deep red paint; looks like it’s still wet and two inches thick. O’Malley sets a long black key on the hood.

I jump in one of the Camaros and crank the engine. It purrs just like I remember it. I take a moment to soak in the details. O’Malley’s good, it even smells like his car. I flip open the glove box and peek inside. I slam it shut as O’Malley pulls away.

I catch up as she comes to a stop at the black line marking the canyon entrance. A red light glows in the air; when it turns green, I punch the accelerator to the floor. The glove box opens as I expected. My brother never fixed the latch. On the first curve I cut in front of O’Malley making her swerve. Her scream echoes in my ears over the sound of the engine and I watch her car plummet over the side of the cliff. I cruise to the bottom of the canyon just to make it official. Before I get out, I reach over, pick the Bible up off the passenger’s seat and stuff it back into the glove box.

Back where I started, I grab the key off Cherry’s hood and slide into the driver’s seat. I crank the engine and it roars to life like something wild and pissed. My foot hits the gas and I leave a trail of dust, flames and smoke behind me. Not even the Devil himself can catch me now.

Ray Bradbury Challenge #5- Darkness

This is an experiment in sensory writing — minus one. For an explanation of the Challenge, please see Arial Burnz blog here.

Darkness

The darkness wraps around me like black velvet soaked in ink. I wave my fingers in front of my face and I’m startled when I accidentally hit my nose.

I can’t remember how long I’ve been here. I have no memories outside this place. The floor is cool against my bare feet. I don’t know how large the space is. I’ve been unable to find a wall or partition of any kind after what seemed like hours walking in one direction. I might be walking in circles for all I know.

The stillness is nearly as oppressive, but I can break that by clapping, yelling or talking to myself. There is no echo, my voice leaves my lips and never returns. My stomach is growling and I can’t remember the last time I ate or drank anything. Either I haven’t been in here long or there is food and water available. Both options paint a bleak future. I will either be here for some time or die an agonizing death of starvation.

If I stand perfectly still, my breathing and heartbeat become my own private symphony. My lungs provide the melody while my heart pounds out the bass beat. A light musky odor mixed with salt wafts into my nose. I realize it is nothing more than the smell of my own sweat. This triggers a deep depression, destroying any shred of my fortitude or curiosity and I sink to the floor.

I lay on the floor, curled into a fetal position. It is my only refuge against the darkness. I drift into a dreamless sleep for an uncertain amount of time. I awake to blinding thirst. As I roll onto my knees, my hand brushes against an object on the floor next to me. My heartbeat drums in my chest. I hesitate; this is the first time I have felt anything but the floor.

With a caution born of disappointment, I slide my hand along the floor until it comes in contact with a smooth, vertical surface. It gives under the pressure of my hand. It’s not part of the structure. I move my hand up along the side until it comes to the upper limit and deduce it is a box of some type.

I hold my breath in anticipation as I slide my hand down into the box. The interior surface is rough, made of wood. My fingers touch an irregular surface. Its temperature is cooler than the floor and there are drops of moisture clinging to it. I wrap my hand around the object and its shape calls forth a name in my mind: it’s an apple. I bring it to my nose to verify my theory and the aroma triggers a waterfall of saliva as I sink my teeth into the sweet, juicy flesh, drops running down my chin. It takes only a few minutes to reduce the fruit to a tiny scrap of core and seeds.

My greed is limitless as I rummage through the remaining contents of the box. It contains a half dozen bottles of water, a sizable block of mild cheese, a tin of crackers, two more apples, four oranges and six bananas. There is also a stack of paper napkins and I use one to wipe my chin. For the moment it appears starvation and dehydration will not be in my immediate future.

In addition to the apple, I eat a bit of cheese, a handful of crackers and wash it down with three mouthfuls of water. My hunger is diminished but not entirely gone. It will have to be enough for now as I do not know if I will be given any more provisions. I lie down and curl my body around the crate. Meager as it is, my meal makes me drowsy and I nod off. I awake with a start, panicked that the food and water are gone. I have rolled over in my sleep and am no longer touching the box. My heart pounds with fear in the minute it takes me to locate my food. Everything is the way I left it but it takes me a minute to calm down. My awakening has presented me with a new challenge in the form of a full bladder. There has been no indication of a toilet or a sink, not even a drain. I am faced with the prospect of urinating on the floor. It is one of the rare occasions I would prefer to be a man. I put some distance between my food and my ‘restroom’, taking care to retrace my steps to the crate.

Judging by my sleep cycles, seven days have passed. The crate now holds only a piece of cheese and one banana. The last water bottle is almost empty. I am facing the prospect of starving while I succumb to dehydration. The darkness without has become an insurmountable darkness within. I have contemplated taking my life, but I lack any means of doing so. I have no desire to continue on and reclaim my spot on the floor.

******

“Any change?” the question was posed by a tall, thin man in a white lab coat to a portly woman in similar attire.

“No. She’s shutting down. At this rate, she’ll last about seventy-two hours.”

“Such a pity. It looked like she might be the one.”

The woman’s fingers raced over the keyboard as she spoke. “She’s gotten farther than any of the other subjects. Methodical and disciplined. Do you want me to send in more food?”

“No need to waste resources. Terminate and bring in the next subject. I’ll be in my office if you need me.” The man turned and left the room.

The woman finished typing and paused a moment. ‘Continue Termination?’ flashed on her computer screen. The cursor wavered over ‘No’ for several seconds before moving to ‘Yes’. The screen turned red as the woman clicked the button on the mouse.

TERMINATION COMPLETE.

Ray Bradbury Challenge #4 Amuse Me

My first draft of this story was over 3000 words long. Yeah, that happens sometimes. I saved that file in a short story collection and may rework it at another time. Then I went back and trimmed it down to this. For an explanation of the Ray Bradbury Challenge, see this post by my friend Arial Burnz.

 

 

Tyler hated first drafts. Writing them sucked worse than a three dollar crack whore. The resulting stories? Same whore with braces.

The cursor blinked on the screen, mocking him. Crap. He had to write something. His fans would be down his throat if Rory Martin’s next sexcapade wasn’t plastered all over Amazon and Smashwords by the end of the month.

His muse, it seemed, had succumbed to a bender of hellish proportions and was nowhere to be found.
“That’s because you’re an asshole and you’ve been cranking out the same recycled shit for the last two years.” Tyler jumped from his chair and spun toward the sound of the voice, his heart pounding. The house was empty and he always locked the doors.

Standing in the middle of the bedroom that doubled as his office was a stunning blonde in leather pants, a matching bustier and stiletto heels. Her hair hung in a braid down her back and a coiled whip was attached to her belt.

“We need to get a few things straight, Tyler.”

His tongue had turned to lead and lay heavy in his mouth.

“I don’t drink, but I do eat chocolate. A lot. You seem to be in short supply so I suggest you stock up.”

Tyler’s voice squirmed its way out of his throat. “Umm… who are you and how did you get in my house?”

“Really? After all the crap you’ve been spewing about me all over social media? I would think you’d recognize me. I almost care enough to be hurt.”

Tyler swallowed hard. “Um… You’re my muse?”

“Bingo! Seems you’re not as dumb as your recent writing would indicate. Speaking of that, we need to clean up the mess you’ve made. First thing, Rory Martin is due for an untimely demise. We’re going to put that line of drivel in the ground.”

“Holy shit! My fans will crucify me.”

“No, they’ll bitch and whine and threaten to burn you at the stake – until your next book comes out. When it does, your fan base will double, trust me.”

The woman sighed. “Muse, look it up. ‘One of the lesser goddesses.. Yaddah, yaddah, yaddah. We’re wasting time. Get your ass in the chair and let’s get busy.”

Tyler did as instructed but paused when confronted with the blank screen.

“I’m not helping you until you give me a name. It looks like I’m going to be here for a while and ‘hey you’ gets really old.”

“Beatrice.”

The muse wrinkled her nose. “Oh my Gods and Goddesses. You suck. If you can’t do any better than that, I might as well leave now.”

“Calliope. Or was that one of your sisters?”

The muse beamed. “I’m impressed. Did you Google that?”

“Not today. So, will that do, Calliope?”

“Yes, that will do. Now then, back to your story. Before you say anything, let’s think about this. Rory always meets some damsel in one form of distress or another, saves the day, has sex with her, or has sex with her first then saves the day. All we need is a location, a damsel, a situation and a method of killing the scoundrel off. You with me?”

“Got it.” Tyler’s fingers hit the keyboard and the words spilled onto the screen like candy from a broken pinata. The hours flew by with Tyler only stopping when his body’s demands could no longer be ignored. The days passed and two weeks later he typed ‘The End’ at the bottom of the screen.

“Good job,” Calliope cooed in his ear. “Your personal best. Format it and get it uploaded. Your fans are waiting.”

Six hours later, Tyler watched in awe as his numbers continued to climb.

“It’s gone viral,” he said as his sales his the twenty five thousand mark.

“See? I told you,” said Calliope.

Tyler’s reverie was broken by the ring of his cell phone.

“Hello, this is Tyler.”

Tyler, my name is Christine Majors. I’m an acquisitions editor with Rampart Books. We’ve been watching you and it looks like you’ve gotten quite a following. We’d like to talk to you about a deal for your next three Rory Martin books.”

“Um… Rory Martin. Yeah, I think I’ll be moving on from that story line. I’ve worked up a whole new character…”

Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. See, we’ve done some research and Rory Martin has a huge following. Our cinematic department thinks there might be a potential movie there.”

Tyler’s voice failed him for several moments. “I’ll get your number and call you back.”

He stared at Calliope. “That was it. THE call. And now Rory’s dead. I should never have listened to you. Some muse you turned out to be.”

Calliope’s laughter filled the room, cutting into Tyler’s ears like broken glass.

“Muse? Oh, Tyler, you sweet, naive man.”

As he stared, her skin went from tan to dark red and two horns sprouted from her forehead.

“Like any muse worth her salt would waste her time on a two bit hack like you. I, on the other hand, have plenty of room for a lost soul such as yourself.”

“What? But you said – the story is selling like crazy – I don’t get it. So now I give you my soul and you get Rampart to give me the deal?”

Calliope laughed again. “Oh, I’ve had your soul for years. The first time you wrote a book just for the money, you were mine. Look on the bright side. Rory’s swan song is going to make you a lot of money. You won’t be Ferrari rich, but you won’t be flipping burgers for a living either.”

“My writing?”

“Yeah, I’m afraid this is as good as it will ever be. Enjoy it, Tyler. Fame is a fickle goddess.”

Smoke and the smell of sulphur filled the room as Calliope disappeared. Tyler sat and stared at the computer screen watching his sales hit the forty thousand mark.

Ray Bradbury Challenge #3- What About Amy?

For an explanation of the Ray Bradbury Challenge, please see my friend Arial Burnz’s blog here. I purposely limited myself to 300 words as a challenge to get a story across in the least amount of words possible. A huge thank you to my beautiful wife Goldilocks for her feedback on this story. This first draft was s#!t as is the first draft of anything and she was rather blunt about pointing this fact out to me. After a complete revision on my lunch hour, I received passing remarks from Her Majesty. BTW, this is a picture of my outdoor lunchtime writing ‘office’ at Union Station in Los Angeles. Not too shabby I think.

Union Station Patio

 

Jeff tapped his fork on the table in irritation.

“I had to reschedule two jobs; this better be important.”

“I know you’re busy but this concerns Amy,” said Allison.

Jeff stopped tapping and stared at his ex-wife. “What’s this going to cost? I don’t have any money.”

Allison sighed and dug her fingernails into her palms.

“Nothing,” she said, “and everything.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Dammit, Jeff, I have cancer. I’m dying.”

Silence pressed in on the couple as tears rolled down Allison’s face.

“Before you ask, yes, I’ve gotten a second opinion– and a third and a fourth. I wouldn’t have told you if I wasn’t sure. To be blunt, Amy needs you. You have to be a full-time dad now.”

Jeff frowned. “I’m not the one who left …”

“I don’t want to argue about who’s at fault.” Allison’s voice cracked. “She’s only six. In a few months, she won’t have anyone but you.”

Jeff avoided Allison’s stare. “This couldn’t have come at a worse time.”

Allison slammed her fists onto the table, sending dishes and utensils flying.

“Screw you! I’m sorry my dying is messing up your life. This isn’t exactly convenient for me either. You never think of anyone but yourself and Amy deserves better.”

Tears poured down Allison’s face, her eyes red with rage.

“You don’t understand,” said Jeff. “I volunteered for the mines and it’s a one way trip. I used the money to buy tickets for you and Amy to take a ship back to Earth. I didn’t know you were sick – I wanted to wait to tell you, but I’m leaving next week.

The anger in Allison’s eyes dissolved into horror. “They only let healthy people go to Earth,” she said. “What about Amy?”

Ray Bradbury Challenge Week #2- Free Ride

For an explanation on this Challenge, see last week’s post here.  Or read Arial Burnz blog for the really in depth explanation here.

I work for the LA County Metro. Guess my work is invading my writing….

Free Ride

It was a stroke of luck that he found it at all. Robert was sure it hadn’t been on the sidewalk when he went to sleep. The shiny black TAP card practically glowed against the grimy sidewalk as if someone had left it as a gift.

He shuffled to the nearest stop and climbed on the first bus that happened by and pressed the card to the reader. It gave a cheery little beep. This was his lucky day.

The car ran the red light and hit the bus just as Robert snatched the five dollar bill off the floor. Because his head was down, none of the glass cut him as it did the other passengers. He pushed away the paramedics and headed to the next stop.

On the next ride, a twenty beckoned between the seats. Robert wedged his hand into the crack and stretched his fingers until they just grabbed the bill. It slipped from his grip and he scurried on his hands and knees to retrieve it. The dump truck careening down the hill hit the bus in the exact center, cutting it in two and killing the eight people in the center seats. Robert walked away without a scratch. Buses did not seem to be a safe way to travel, regardless of their profitability.

Several passengers gave him nasty looks as he boarded the train. He ignored them. His card was as good as theirs. The train shot out of the tunnel into the sunlight. The driver of the tanker truck was too busy reading a text from his girlfriend to see the red lights. The explosion killed the thirty five people in the first car as well as the engineer. Robert was retrieving a black bag from under the seat. Because he was in the last car, he suffered some minor bruising. He felt the laptop was an adequate trade-off for his injuries. But now he was worried.

The laptop case also contained a key card to a hotel. The address put it downtown so he walked the four blocks. He slipped into a side entrance and pushed the card into the first door in the hallway. The light blinked red so he moved to the next door. On his eighth try, the light blinked green and the lock clicked. He pushed the door open a few inches.

“Hello, anyone here? I found your card.” He didn’t want to say ‘computer’, but it would be hard to hide. The only answer was the steady hum from the air conditioner. He eased into the room, shuffling his feet, ready to bolt at the first sign of an occupant.

A neatly made queen sized bed occupied the center of the room. Robert opened the closet and found several suits and dress shirts hanging inside. Nothing fancy, but a quick inspection of the tags revealed they were his size.

What are the odds?

The bathroom was fully stocked with towels, a shaving kit and a toothbrush and toothpaste, all sealed in plastic. Robert went back to the door and threw the security latch. He stripped off his dirty clothes, turned on the shower and climbed in. Thirty minutes later he shut off the water, his skin pink from scrubbing. He eyed the pile of dirty rags lying on the floor before wrapping himself in a towel and checking the dresser drawers. He wasn’t surprised to find boxers and undershirts neatly stacked inside. He shaved and pulled his unruly hair back into a pony tail. The man staring back at him in the mirror sparked old memories. He laid down on the bed and fell asleep.

The next morning, he dressed, flipped open the laptop and logged on to the internet. Within fifteen minutes he found a listing for a graphics designer position at one of the ad agencies downtown. His email inquiry garnered a response in less than an hour, stating that an applicant had canceled their appointment and could he be there at ten o’clock? Robert responded immediately to confirm, packed up the computer, donned one of the jackets from the closet and strode out of the front door of the hotel, his feet barely touching the ground.

He had just enough time to make his interview… if he took the bus! The thought of getting on board another bus tied his stomach in knots.

Look, you wouldn’t be going to a job inter view in new clothes if you hadn’t gotten on that bus, would you?

Robert swallowed a lump in his throat and climbed up the steps. An attractive young woman smiled as he walked past. He did his best to smile back, and gripped the back of the next seat as he sat, his knuckles white with fear. His ride was uneventful, but he got off the bus two stops early and walked the rest of the way to the interview. An hour and a half later, he emerged from the building with a new job. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the TAP card and the cash he had found.

“I don’t think I need this anymore,” he said and tossed the card into the trash can near the street. He purchased a standard day pass TAP card and waited for the bus. When it arrived, Robert found a seat near the front. It was a quick ride across the bridge back to the hotel. The operator was just about to close the door when someone shouted “Wait!” A dirty hand was thrust in the doorway and its owner ambled up the steps.

“Got me a TAP card. Gonna ride all day,” said the man. He was filthy and Robert wrinkled his nose as the stench overwhelmed him. The man reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a card then swiped it on the reader. “Found it in the trash. Never seen a black one.”

“Nooooo!” The scream erupted from Robert’s throat as the tires squealed and glass shattered.