Edward Owen – Author

Ray Bradbury Challenge #31 The Last Laugh

I’ve been listening to the Comedy channel for the last couple of weeks on I Heart Radio and of course my twisted little brain had to go down a dark path …

open mic

 

 The Last Laugh

 

“Shit Henry, you killed out there. I think that chick in the red dress wet herself.”

Henry Collins grinned at the compliment. They had come up through the ranks of the open mic circuit together making his remark all the sweeter.

Henry slapped his friend on the back, “Are you high or did Mona blow you while I was on stage?”

Tim laughed. “Dude, if she had, I wouldn’t be standing here talking to you. I wouldn’t be standing at all. Hey, some hottie in a white dress is looking for you.”

“Did you see where she went?”

“Maybe over to Howie’s office. I’ll catch you later dude.”

Tim ambled down the hallway toward the exit. Henry headed toward the office and nearly collided with the woman as he turned the corner.

“Henry! Just the man I’m looking for,” she said, grasping Henry’s hand and shaking it.

“I’m sorry, have we met?” said Henry.

“I’m Nairi Sarkisian. I want to represent you and put your career on the fast track… unless you’d rather keep schleppnig around these feeble open mics.”

“I don’t need an agent sending me to a bunch of shit-hole gigs just so you can make a buck at my expense. Have a good evening.” Henry turned his back on the woman and headed toward the exit.

“You’re good, Henry. I can have you on HBO in six months. That’s a promise. And I never make promises I can’t keep.”

Henry stopped with his hand on the door and turned around.

“Talk is cheap. I’ll tell you what. Get me a date with the blonde in the red dress and I’ll think about it.

“Do you want to take her to dinner or bed? If we’re going to work together, we have to be honest with each other.” Nairi regarded Henry, her stare burning into his eyes.

“You get her to spend the night with me, no strings attached, and I’ll give you six months.”

“Consider it done. She’ll meet you at your room after the show.”

“Yeah, sure she will. It’s been fun.”

Henry pushed through the door and headed back to the stage. He forgot about Nairi as he climbed the stairs to the stage and introduced the next act.

*****

As Henry stripped off his clothes a soft knock sounded at the door. Beer in hand, he strode across the room and peered into the peephole. It was filled with a mane of blonde hair and a red dress split with a generous amount of cleavage. Henry opened the door and the girl smiled.

“I’m Julie,” she said. “Your friend said you were looking for some company.”

She glanced down at his boxers. “You didn’t start without me, did you?”

Julie slid past Henry into the room, rubbing her body against him. Taking his hand, she pushed the door closed and led him toward the bed.

*****

The crowd was on their feet; the applause filled every corner of the theater. Henry’s head was spinning as the curtain came down on the stage. A wiry woman with big teeth bustled over to him.

“Henry, oh my God! You were absolutely phenomenal,” she said. “You’re the best comedian I’ve ever worked with on HBO or anywhere.”

It had been five months and a half months since he had met Nairi in L.A. and his life had become a blur. And she hadn’t booked him on a single shit gig, not once.

“Thanks, Tawney, but I have to give Nairi most of the credit,” said Henry.

“Talking about me behind my back,” Nairi said as she sidled up to Henry.

“Speak of the Devil and she appears,” said Henry with a crooked smile. “I need a drink and I’m buying.”

“Shall we?” Nairi pulled Henry to the exit. “I know a great place down this way. We can walk.”

“I can’t say thank you enough,” said Henry. “I owe you everything.”

“Yes you do. And now I believe I’ll collect.”

The city bus was rolling down the street at fifty miles an hour when Nairi shoved Henry in its path. His body was thrown thirty feet into oncoming traffic. Four vehicles struck his body before it came to rest in the street. Paramedics pronounced Henry Collins dead at the scene thirty minutes later.

*****

“Holy shit!” said Henry as he swung his legs off the bed. “I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.”

“You were,” said Nairi. “A bus, two trucks and an SUV. You were dead before you hit the ground.”

Henry stared at his manager in disbelief. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Funny you should mention Hell … Oh, you go on in three minutes.”

“Go on where? This doesn’t make any sense.”

“Right there.” Nairi waved her hand at a large curtain at the end of the room. “Today should be especially fun. The crowd is a bunch of angry Bolivian farmers who don’t speak English. Keep your eyes open. They brought vegetables.”

“Where the hell am I?”

Nairi slid the back of her hand down Henry’s cheek.

“You didn’t think all that success came without a price, did you? Silly man. The day Julie walked into your room you were bound to my contract. We can go over the details later. You’re up.”

Henry was propelled across the room as the curtains opened. He squinted in the glare of the lights. A sea of lined and tan faces scowled at him from beneath straw hats.

“Nice of you folks to make it …” Henry stammered. His words were cut off by a tomato hitting him in the chest.

“Usted no es divertido!” (You are not funny) a man shouted from the front row.

By the time he got off stage he reeked of rotten vegetables.

“They were laughing at the end, Henry. You almost won them over.”

“They were pelting me with tomatoes. Of course they were laughing.”

“Maybe you’ll have better luck tomorrow with the French stable cleaners.”

Ray Bradbury Challenge #30- No More Tomorrows

No More Tomorrows

No More Tomorrows

 As he pushed the door, it swung in and the house greeted him with a heavy silence. For a brief moment the words “Honey, I’m home” danced on the tip of his tongue. He’d said them five days a week for almost twenty five years. It had been their inside joke that they were living in a sitcom. He stood immobile in the center of the kitchen. A week ago the smell of stew and fresh baked bread had filled the room. She had loved to cook and his expanding belly was a testament to her culinary skills. If he had known that would be their last meal together, their last night together… the tears he had kept at bay through the memorial service forced their way into his eyes and down his cheeks.

“I miss you so much…” The soft words caught in his throat as his grief hit him like a right hook. He staggered into the living room and dropped into his recliner. Reaching behind the chair, his fingers wrapped around the smooth neck of the whiskey bottle and brought it to his lips. Images floated through his mind in a macabre parade filtered through the alcohol induced haze. The police coming to her sister’s door with the news and the obligatory “we’re very sorry for your loss”. The picture of her mangled Accord on the front page of the paper. “Local Woman Dies in Horrific Crash” the headline announced. In their small town, making the front page took very little effort. It had only taken a split second when the other driver had run the red light. “Police estimate that the suspect was traveling in excess of eighty miles an hour with a blood alcohol level of .16%, double the legal limit” the accompanying article stated. The trip to the mortuary with her mother and sister and the news that there would be no need to bring one of her dresses as her body had suffered far too much trauma for an open casket. The outpouring of grief from friends and family. It was overwhelming. He drained the bottle and the haze grew darker until it blacked out the images. His body went numb, his eyes closed and the empty bottle dropped to the floor.

*****

The hair on the back of her neck stood up and she shivered despite the warm spring temperature. That had been happening more often as of late. It had been three months since his heart had called it quits but she still wasn’t used to being in the house alone. They had shared it for more than half her life. Now her only companions were the things with which they had filled the house and the memories they had made together. There had been no children, only the two of them.

Not for lack of trying, she thought as the sadness washed over her again. Alone. Her parents were gone and she had no siblings. It was just her in their queen size bed. As she passed the living room she looked at the recliner. There was something on the floor. She flipped on the light and it sparkled on the clear glass and bright green label that was all too familiar. Briarson’s whiskey. His favorite. She picked up the bottle and less than a swallow of brown liquid swirled inside. The bottle hadn’t been there this morning when she vacuumed.

*****

The sun shone in the window and the volume of his headache doubled. He reached for the bottle but it was nowhere to be found. All of the windows were open and the curtains were flying in the breeze. He couldn’t remember opening them, but then erasing his memories had become second nature. For just a moment the faint scent of gardenias wafted on the air. It reminded him of her perfume. Hunger gnawed at his stomach and he forced himself out of the chair with a groan and shuffled off to the kitchen.

*****

She must be losing her mind. The proof rested in the ham sandwich occupying a plate on the kitchen counter. A sandwich that she had no memory of making. She hadn’t even been in the kitchen since she got home. The hairs on the back of her neck rose to attention.

*****

There it was again, gardenias. It was too strong to be coming in from outside. Besides, there were no gardenia bushes anywhere on the property. As he crossed the kitchen a wave of warmth washed over him as if he had stepped into the shower. Just as suddenly it was replaced with an icy cold blast. His breath fogged in front of his face. The scent of gardenias was overpowering.

*****

There was someone in the house with her, she could feel them. Goose pimples rose on her arms and legs as the temperature dropped without warning. The scent of whiskey hung in the air, even though she had dumped and rinsed the bottle. The presence was palpable, causing her breath to catch in her throat as it closed in on her.

*****

They materialized together in the center of the kitchen, surprise and shock registering on both their faces.

“It can’t be,” he said. “You died.”

“You’ve been dead for three months,” she said. “I’ve missed you terribly.”

“My heart was broken without you.”

As their bodies coalesced, he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her to him.

“I don’t understand,” she whispered.

“Neither do I. And I don’t care. Just kiss me.”

Ray Bradbury Challenge #29- Bed and Breakfast (Part 2)

Bed and Breakfast (Part 2)

Allowed the muse to lead me along a winding path. I think I will hide her energy drinks from now on.

 bnb

The driver could have stepped out of a Norman Rockwell painting. He was wearing blue overalls and a flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows. Fuzzy white hair peeked out from under a green John Deer ball cap over a lined and weathered face. A pair of thick wire framed glasses sat in front of eyes that seemed to sparkle in the dim glow of the dome light.

“My pleasure, son. Name’s Nathaniel Gruber but my friends call me Nate.” He extended his hand and Colby shook it.

“Colby McNamara. Thanks Nate.” Colby climbed into the cab and pulled the door shut.

“I’m guessing that was your fancy ride I seen by the side of the road back there?”

“Yeah, hit something on the road. Look like the front end is busted up. I tried to call triple A but I couldn’t get a signal out here.”

Nate chuckled. “Yep, them cell phones ain’t worth the powder and lead to blow ‘em to hell. We got a land line at our place. You’re welcome to use it.”

“Thanks. Where is your place? I’ve been down this highway a dozen times and I don’t remember seeing any houses.”

“Just a couple miles down the way. Missus and I run a little bed and breakfast place up in the hills. You can’t really see it from the road.”

“Guess that’s why I missed it.” Colby stretched his legs as far as they would go in the confined space of the cab. The idea of getting some sleep appealed to him. “You have room for one more? I think I’d rather deal with all this in the morning.”

Nate flashed Colby a toothy grin. “Yeah, we got plenty of room. Most folks come up on the weekends or holidays.”

“That’s the best news I’ve heard all day.” Colby leaned his head back against the seat and closed his eyes. He drifted in and out of sleep until Nate turned off the highway onto a dirt road. The truck’s ancient suspension creaked and groaned as they bounced through potholes and ruts.

“Your customers ever comment about the road?”

“Oh, this is the back way in. It’s a little rough but it’s a short cut. We got a nice paved road but it hits the highway a couple miles further on.”

Colby wrapped his fingers around the arm rest. His head was pounding and his tongue was sticking to the inside of his mouth. The road went on for several more miles and ended in a gravel parking lot next to a sprawling, two story house. What little Colby could see of the yard was tidy and well manicured.

Nate pulled the pickup into the lot and killed the engine.

“Come on in. I’ll let my wife know we’ve got a guest for the night. What’s left of it, anyway.”

“Hate to wake her up so early in the morning,” Colby apologized.

“Oh, she’s already up. We don’t sleep much and there’s always somethin’ to do around here.”

Colby followed Nate across the yard, wincing with every step. The sooner he pulled his boots off, the better. The two men climbed a short flight of stairs to the back door. Nate held it open and waved Colby inside. The room was lit by a single bulb and filled with an assortment of shelves and boxes that cast shadows onto the floor and walls. As he limped to the other side, a quick movement caught Colby’s attention. He turned his head but there was nothing but a stack of dusty wooden crates.

“You folks have a cat?” Colby asked as he entered a large, country style kitchen.

“Nope. Too many folks allergic to ‘em. No dogs either. Don’t need the extra work.”

Nate ambled into the kitchen, glanced around as if he was looking for something then stuck his head out the door on the other side.

“Angie! We got company.”

“Hold your horses, I’m comin’,” a voice echoed from another part of the house.

As Colby surveyed the kitchen, something caught the corner of his eye. He turned to look at it but his head pounded from the quick motion. He chalked it up to fatigue as Nate’s wife came bustling into the kitchen. If Norman Rockwell had painted Nate, Colby thought Angie must have been one of Andy Warhol’s creations. Nothing about her fit. Her features were sharp and angular with large, dark eyes, the lashes heavy with mascara and thin lips covered in bright red lipstick. The rest of her face was covered in a heavy layer of makeup as well. Ornate crystal earrings swung from her lobes as she moved.

She smiled and held her hand out. “Evangeline Gruber, but call me Angie.”

“Colby McNamara. Nice of you and Nate to let me stay here, Angie.”

“Oh, don’t mention it. We got plenty of room.” Angie turned to Nate. “Be a dear and fetch some more wood. I’m gonna need it for breakfast. I’ll get Colby settled.”

“Yes, my love.” Nate turned and strode out of the kitchen, the screen door banging as he left.

“Now then, Colby, let’s get you into bed.”

Angie gave Colby a smile that reminded him of a snarling dog and made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. “Follow me.”

Angie strolled out the same door she had entered without checking to see if Colby was following. If he hadn’t seen her face, he would have sworn she was in her mid twenties. The tight knit dress hugged her well proportioned curves. Her backside swayed almost hypnotically and Colby pulled his eyes away as his face grew warm. A musky scent swarmed into his nose as he trailed behind, wanting to get closer and bolt for the door all at the same time.

Angie led him up the steps, her dress rising up in the process. By the time she reached the second floor, the curve of her buttocks peeked playfully from the hem of the garment. The narrow stairway afforded little in the way of a distraction leaving Colby’s stare fixed on the show of soft flesh.

“Here we go,” Angie said as she opened the first door at the top of the stairs and sashayed through it into the room.

“Umm, thanks,” Colby said.

“There’s clean towels in the bathroom if you want to take a shower before you turn in.”

Angie’s gaze crawled over Colby’s body causing him to shiver. Her tongue brushed the inside edge of her lower lip with a slow, teasing motion.

“I think I’ll just get some sleep, all the same.”

“Suit yourself, darlin’. You get all rested up and we’ll see you at breakfast.”

Angie gave Colby another long look before she turned and sauntered out of the room, closing the door behind her.

With a heavy sigh Colby pulled the comforter down, dropped onto the bed and pulled off his boots. Relief washed over him as he flexed his toes and laid back on the bed. The stress of the day slipped away and he fell into a dreamless sleep.

Cold water hit him in the face causing Colby to sputter and choke. He attempted to wipe his eyes clear but his arms refused to cooperate. After blinking a few times, he rolled his head to the left. His arm was stretched out and his wrist bound with a heavy length of rope. His right arm and both feet were also tied, holding him fast to the hard surface on which he was lying. Worse yet, he was naked for all the world to see. As he took stock of his surroundings he realized he was on the large counter in the kitchen.

“Hey! Nate! Angie! Somebody help!”

Colby’s voice echoed through the house. The sound was immediately replaced with one of scraping and the click of heels on tile.

“Well, good morning deary,”

Angie’s voice grated in his ears as her face floated into his view.

“I don’t know what weird fetish you’ve got but you best let me go. By the time my attorney and the cops get done with you, I’ll own this place.”

Angela smiled revealing a set of sharp, pointed teeth.

“I doubt that… come children, it’s time to eat.”

The sound of tiny claws filled the kitchen. Colby stared in horror as dozens of small, red skinned creatures climbed up the cabinet and covered his body. They were the size of newborn babies but were grotesquely deformed with claws and sharp teeth. He screamed as they began biting and chewing his flesh.

Angie lowered her face down to Colby’s as she licked her lips.

“Welcome to Nate and Angie’s … we supply the beds and you supply the breakfast.”

Her mouth covered his. Sharp teeth cut through his tongue and he began choking on his own blood as she chewed and smiled.

Ray Bradbury Challenge #28- Bed and Breakfast (Part 1)

Yes, I am running behind again this week. I blame it on my new iPhone. Yes, I can write on it if I so choose. But really, a shiny toy in the hands of an ADD redneck? Not a recipe for productivity. I’m getting better. I’m sure the novelty of Facebook at my fingertips will eventually wear off. At any rate, I did get this much written this week.

I’m sure I could have condensed this story down to 1000 words, but for some reason it didn’t feel right. To keep things in manageable pieces, I have chosen to split it into two parts. I’m almost done, so part two should be up by Wednesday at the latest. Hopefully I can get back on track with the Friday blog as well. So enjoy part one and be patient … oooohhhhh. a cat video on my phone …

bnb

Bed and Breakfast (Part 1)

The front wheels of the Corvette skidded on the wet pavement causing the car to lurch across the center line into the south-bound lane. Colby’s heart hammered in his chest as he yanked the wheel to the right and hit the brakes. As a result, he found himself spinning out of control like some demented Merry-Go-Round from Hell. The glare of headlights flashed through the windshield, the driver’s window, the rear window and the passenger’s window. The cycle repeated twice more before the Zr1 hit the gravel on the far shoulder and shuddered to a stop. Seconds later a big rig tore past him, the driver blaring the air horn in protest.

Colby sat in the car and shook, his knuckles white on the steering wheel.

“Holy fucking shit!”

The expletive was the only sentence his brain could form for the better part of ten minutes. As his heart rate slowed he regained control of his body. He peeled his right hand from the steering wheel and pulled a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels from the glove box. His hands were still shaking and it took him several tries to unscrew the cap.

“This is partly your fault, you know,” he said as he stared at the bottle. “The least you can do is help a buddy out.”

He resisted the temptation to empty the bottle and stopped after two swallows. He replaced the cap and tossed the whiskey on the passengers seat. After waiting a few minutes for the alcohol to work its magic he opened the door and swung his legs out of the car. At six feet, five inches tall and two hundred eighty pounds, extracting himself from the Vette was laborious process. He towered over the roof and gave the car a cursory inspection. The moonless desert night afforded him very little light but he could tell by the cant of the front tire that the car would not be going anywhere under its own power.

“Son of a fucking bitch!” He slammed his hand down on the hood for emphasis. The highway was dark in both directions as he looked for a possible source of help. He punched the button on his Bluetooth. “Triple A.”

“I’m sorry, but I am unable to complete your call as you are currently out of range.”

The computer generated voice grated on his last nerve. His cellphone traveled a full twenty yards before bouncing on the pavement. This wasn’t the first time one of Colby’s tirades had been inflicted on an inanimate object and the military grade case prevented any damage to the device. He trudged down the highway and retrieved his phone and checked to see if the impact had somehow managed to produce a signal.

“Fucking useless piece of shit,” he said as he crammed phone into the pocket of his jeans. “This sucks hind tit. Bet there ain’t even a shitty motel out here.”

He hadn’t passed any buildings that he could remember in the last fifty miles. Walking back the way he had come seemed like a dumb idea so he grabbed his whiskey and headed north, his boots kicking up small puffs of dust on the shoulder.

The sounds and smells of the desert night cut through the blackness making Colby miserable. His allergies were causing his nose to run and he jumped at the slightest noise. He was sure he was going to end up as so much coyote shit before the night was over. To top it all off, his feet were killing him. The three thousand dollar ostrich boots, while stylish and trendy, were ill suited for marching through the desert. Several blisters were making their presence known adding to his suffering.

A handful of vehicles had passed him but none had bothered to stop despite his extended thumb. Had any of the drivers glanced in their rear view mirror, they would have seen an extended middle finger in its place.

“Mother fucker!” Colby spat the words at the back of dark SUV as it sped past him. “I hope you roll that piece of shit into a ravine and the coyotes start eating you while you’re still alive.”

Four-fifteen a.m. according to his Rolex. He’d been walking for the better part of two hours already. Other than his sore feet and rabid thirst, not much had changed. He’d finished the whiskey an hour ago and shattered the empty bottle again a large rock on the side of the highway. He was exhausted and ready to lay down in the dirt and call it quits when another pair of headlights split the darkness behind him. He glanced back and made a half-hearted attempt to extend his thumb without turning around. The rumbling of the engine increased until it overwhelmed the desert’s voice. When it finally passed him, Colby dropped his hand and stopped walking. He was done.

The glow of the taillights increased as the driver applied the brakes and pulled to the side of the road. It took Colby’s mind a moment to process the information. When the passenger door opened he was shaken out of his stupor and ran down the shoulder, ignoring the protests of his blistered feet.

To say it was an old pickup was putting it mildly. He was no expert, but he guessed that it had been built well before the Second World War. Considering the condition of the body, he was surprised it was still running. The fact that it was not only running but waiting to carry him out of hell erased any misgivings he may have had about its road-worthiness.

“I sure do appreciate you stopping,” Colby said as he ducked his head into the cab of the truck.

Stay tuned for Part 2 next week.

Ray Bradbury Challenge #27- Dead Line

Something about the pressure of getting these stories done on time …

typewriter

Dead Line

“He wants to see you upstairs.”

Cleo hit the return lever and swore.

“Damn! Thirty words short.”

Despite the circumstances, she had to laugh at the irony in her choice of expletive. The screen went black, there was no use in trying to continue.

“You don’t have to look so happy about it,” she said.

“But I’ve gotten so used to having you around,” he said. ‘He’ was Ba’alok, level one minion. No real power other than his ability to constantly annoy Cleo, a task he performed with unbridled zeal and the foulest stench in all the seven circles.

“When I leave, I’m wishing you into a tub of hot, soapy water with two angels to scrub your mangy hide.”

“Now you’re just being mean and spiteful.” Ba’alok turned on his hoof in a huff and marched away from Cleo’s desk.

Good riddance. His odeur du joure must have been corpse vomit. Glad I don’t have to eat here.

Cleo hefted the stack of her typed manuscript off the desk and trudged toward the stairs. There was an elevator but one did dare use it when one was ‘called upstairs’. Exactly six-hundred and sixty-six steps later she stood in front of a pair of massive iron doors that swung inward with a groan. Behind them a small, tidy man sat at an oak roll-top desk. His hair was combed to perfection and his smoke-gray, pinstriped suit had neither a wrinkle nor a speck of lint on it.

“Love what you’ve done with the place,” Cleo said. “The whole ‘Ruler of the Nether World’ thing is really working. The doors are a nice touch; impressive but under stated.”

The man fixed his gaze on her as if she had just farted at the dinner table.

“Cleopatra, Your mouth is one of the reasons you’re here in the first place,” he said.

“Really? And the whole time I thought it was that butcher knife I planted in my ex’s chest.”

“A contributing factor to be sure. I see you failed to make your word count – again.” As he spoke, the man swiveled his chair around to face her.

“You know I hate that name,” she said, meeting his stare.

“Why? Your mother gave it to you. She obviously had bigger aspirations for you than you did for yourself.”

“My mother was a delusional crack addict. I’m surprised she’s not down here giving you pedicures. I only missed by thirty words this time. I think you must be slipping.”

The man motioned her forward with a wave of his hand. As she got closer, a sickly-sweet smell permeated the air making her eyes water. She laid the manuscript on his desk and backed away.

“What is it this time? Dead horse urine and rotten apples?” Cleo rubbed the tears from her eyes, “I swear you guys must have a prize for the worst smelling … whatever you call that crap.”

The man smiled as he flipped through the pages.

“Nicely done, Cleopatra. There are two missing commas and a misplaced em dash, but other than that, it’s perfect. Pity you weren’t able to finish.”

“Yeah, yeah, just cut to the chase. How much longer am I stuck in this shit hole?”

The man waved his hand and the manuscript disappeared in a flash of blue flame.

“I’m feeling generous. A day for each word you were short. Another month and you are still bound to our original agreement. A hundred thousand words …”

“Yeah, I got it. You know, eventually I’m going to finish and you’ll have to let me go.”

“Maybe. It hasn’t happened yet. Hemingway has been here a lot longer than you have.”

Cleo laughed. “He was a hack. No doubt you’ve kept him sober all this time.”

“It’s a shame you are so set on leaving,” the man said. “You would make a good demon.”

“Not a snowball’s chance in your shorts that’s going to happen. I’ll see you in a month.”

Cleo tromped back to her cubicle only to be greeted by a stench as foul as her mood. Ba’alok leaned against the corner of her desk sporting an ear to ear grin.

“I guess you’ll be staying,” he said.

“Don’t get too cocky. Only thirty days and then it’s bubbles and scrub brushes for you, ass-breath. I know a couple of gals in purgatory who were on the woman’s weightlifting team. Heaven is one demon bath away for them. I threw in some blessings if they removed at least two layers of skin.”

“You still have to finish. I gave Him a few ideas and he agreed to let me try them out.”

Ba’alok waved his hand and sparks flew from his black nails.

Cleo’s hands throbbed in pain. When she held them up, all her fingers were now thumbs.

“I know, it’s kind of cliché, but I just couldn’t help myself,” the demon said.

“Fine. Now leave me alone, I have work to do.”

She sat at the desk and rolled a piece of paper into the carriage of the typewriter. All of her thumbs made it a difficult process, but she managed to get the words on the page.

It was a dark and stormy night.

Thirty more days …

Monsters Uleashed Blog Tour

Yes, I am running behind this week. With my wife recovering from surgery, I’ve had a full plate. So for the rest of you last minute Charlies, here’s my contribution to the Monsters Unleashed Blog Tour on behalf of Timothy Hobbs.

 

http://new.inlinkz.com/luwpview.php?id=358597

Ray Bradbury Challenge #26- Jenitha’s Demise

This story was written for a former student of mine who wanted to appear as a victim in one of my stories. Been a hectic week here at home, but I’m happy to say that I am half way through the Challenge.

Half Way

Jenitha’s Demise

Jenitha awoke to find herself tied to a chair and dressed in the pajamas she had worn to bed. Had that been last night? She had no idea what day it was. The room was cold and damp. Moisture ran down the smooth concrete walls. She couldn’t see any doors or windows, but then, she couldn’t see what was behind her either.
“Happy now?” The voice bounced off the walls as if it was broadcast from a speaker overhead.
“Why are you doing this?” she yelled back. “Who are you? What did I ever do to you?”
The laugh was ear shattering and sent chills through her body.
“You wanted to be in a story. Now’s your chance. Oh, just so you don’t get your hopes up, we’re all out of dashing heroes to save the girl at the last minute.”
A panel opened in the wall in front of her. Jesse’s body was impaled on a spike through his chest. Jenitha’s scream tore from her throat and echoed off the concrete. She pulled at her bindings but they held fast.
“Now then, let’s get started with part one,” the voice said.
Water swirled around her feet. Within minutes it was up past her ankles.
“Holding your breath will work for a while, but it its unlikely you will last that long.”
Something was in the water. She could feel small bodies brushing against her feet.
Her captor contiued. “I have gone to a great deal of trouble to make your death as interesting as possible. I’ve even put it on a private channel for others to watch. I think Sjonia should find this most entertaining, don’t you agree?”
The voice subsided and the water continued to rise. Jenitha sobbed.
“Please, don’t do this. Let me go …”
“What would be the fun in that? Oh, those things you feel in the water are piranhas imported directly from the Amazon river. They don’t normally pose a threat to humans but I discovered a way to make them very hungry.”
Jenitha screamed again as electric current tore through her body and several of the fish ripped chunks of flesh from her calves.
“They respond quite enthusiastically to electrical shock. It would seem you do as well. So the race is on. Will the shock stop your heart before the piranhas consume you, or will you last long enough to feel the burn of water coursing through your lungs? Good thing you’ve been working out so diligently. It should make the show last ever so much longer. I’ll be watching along with Mommy dearest. Be careful what you wish for, Jenitha. You might get it.”
A second electric shock blasted her body. The water had reached her waist, giving the fish complete access to her legs. As they chewed into her, she watched her blood darken the water. And she screamed.

The Best Horror Writers You’ve Probably Never Read (But Should) Part 4 (Kristen Lamb and Kevin Lucia)

Thanks to the super duo of Kevin Lucia and Kristen Lamb (yep, same initials … creepy, huh?) for yet another post that makes me look smart.

Posted by Author Kristen Lamb in Writing Tips on December 20, 2013

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anurag Agnihotri

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anurag Agnihotri

Kevin is continuing his series on horror, offering works we might not be aware of, books that can diversify and enrich our creative pallets. Why paint with three colors, when there is a limitless spectrum awaiting if only we’re brave enough to explore?

Take it away, Kevin!

***

“Horror isn’t a genre…it’s an emotion.” – Douglas E. Winter, American writer, critic and lawyer.

If one of literature’s more noble functions is to comment on the human experience, then the horror genre has the potential to take a scalpel to that human experience and dissect all our worst fears, nightmares, and weaknesses. Horror can examine our frailties and strengths, and – like all good fiction – show us at our worst and at our best.  Today, I’d like to present you with some authors whose work I’ve found especially moving, emotionally.

Gary Braunbeck’s fiction is drawn from a very deep, emotional well, which gives his work rich (and often terrifying) substance. One only needs to read his autobiographical treatise on the horror genre, To Each Their Darkness, to see how much he’s drawn from his life. What’s so powerful about Gary’s fiction is twofold: first, his characters could be us. Could be the person down the street. Could be that tired mother pushing a child in a stroller and holding another child in the crook of her arm while waiting in a food pantry line.

Secondly, Gary pushes the metaphysical/existential/spiritual/quantum mechanical “what does it all mean?” line better than anyone I’ve read in horror fiction, with the exception of Peter Straub and British writer Gary McMahon. While Gary’s stories seem ripped right from the headlines: domestic abuse, mass killings, suicides, infanticide, underneath he’s ALWAYS asking the BIG questions: Why? How do these things happen? Who/What allows them to happen? The way he addresses these questions are more frightening than any kind of “horror.” Also, like Charles Grant’s “Oxrun Station” stories, Gary’s novels In Silent Graves, Mr. Hands, The Keepers, Coffin County, Far Dark Fields all take place in his fictional city of Cedar Hill. And to show his range, Gary’s most recent collection, Rose of Sharon, features all mainstream, literary, non-genre fiction that’s sure to be every bit as compelling as his genre fiction.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 11.28.31 AM

Mary Sangiovanni takes Lovecraft’s “cosmic horror,” injects it with heart and emotion and believable characters, making it all her own. A writer who relies on characterization, tension and dread, her “Hollower” trilogy – Hollower, I See You and Triumvirate deals with cosmic horrors from beyond the pale, but it also deals with the human experience. She’s not afraid to rip you apart emotionally (but oh, so quietly), and her novel of cosmic terror Thrall is perhaps one of the finest riffs on “small town cosmic horror” I’ve ever read.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 11.23.49 AM

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 11.23.16 AM

Author Mary SanGiovanni

Across the pond, Gary McMahon is easily Gary Braunbeck’s British counterpart, asking those same, deep questions. His most recent collection, Where You Live finds horror not in dank castles, gloomy moors or shadowed cemeteries…but at work. In the house down the road. In our homes and lives. His Thomas Usher books – which begins with Pretty Little Dead Things – features haunted, tragic occult detective Thomas Usher, a man mourning the loss of his family, cursed to see the dead…and not able to much about it.  His short story “Some Pictures in an Album” in the anthology Chiral Mad is one the finest, most subtle…and most disturbing…pieces I’ve ever read.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 11.24.38 AM

Mercedes Yardley will make you laugh, cry, rage, giggle at completely inappropriate things, weep quietly, laugh again…all within the confines of one collection. The reason for that is that Mercedes truly writes about the human experience, the whole ball of wax: the good, the bad, the absurd, the strange, the strangely absurd, the weird, the ugly and everything else there is in life. You could say she writes horror, weird fiction, fairy tales, fables, or weird horrific fairy tales with elements of slipstream comedy…it doesn’t really matter what you call it. She’s a fantasist that plumbs the depths of the human heart in her first collection Beautiful Sorrows

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 11.18.59 AM

.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 11.19.52 AM

Author Mercedes Yardley

Primarily, Ronald Malfi writes about people. Hurting people, struggling people, people who’ve lost their way and are trying to find their way back or find some semblance of meaning, or are just trying to survive not only this world, but also themselves. And, of secondary importance, very often those stories traffic in the horror genre. But first and foremost, Ron writes about people and their conflicts, their emotions, their failures and their victories.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 11.22.28 AM

The Floating Staircase is ghost story…but so much more, and that story’s resolution left me near tears. The Narrows is one of the best small-town horror novels I’ve read since Salem’s Lot, and Malfi’s twist on a classic horror motif makes the story all his own. Snow is simply a well-written, entertaining horror novel…with characters we care about. The Fall of Never is Malfi’s take on the classic Gothic Tale and Passenger still stands as one of the most emotionally wrenching stories I’ve ever read.

I hope you’ll seek out some of these authors that have changed me and inspired me. Allow them to open your mind and thoughts into new ways to reveal the human condition, the common and uncommon struggles and, in the end, make your own work far richer.

Horror Author Kevin Lucia

Horror Author Kevin Lucia

Kevin Lucia has worked as an Editor for Shroud Magazine and a Submissions Reader for Cemetery Dance Magazine, and is now an Associate Fiction Editor for The Horror ChannelHis podcast “Horror 101” is featured monthly on Tales to Terrify and his short fiction has appeared in several venues. He’s currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English at Seton Catholic Central High School and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles and his first short story collection, Things Slip Through is NOW AVAILABLE from Crystal Lake Publishing.

I love hearing from you!

The Best Horror Writers You’ve Probably Never Read (But Should) Part 3 (Kristen Lamb and Kevin Lucia)

Stealing Borrowing another post. This is a great series and I have put all these authors on my (very long) reading list.

Posted by Author Kristen Lamb in Writing Tips on December 19, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-08-15 at 4.54.49 PM

It’s the holidays, so why are we talking about horror? Well, 15 minutes at my family reunions could answer that, but in short, horror authors aren’t all blood, guts and gore. In fact, the horror legends do what ALL authors should do…they probe the human soul, peel back falsehood and reveal the authentic human condition for better or worse.

Whether we pick up a Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Edgar Allen Poe, or Rod Sterling story, what surfaces almost immediately is these authors understood people when creating these tales. Writing great novels requires we become masters of exploring the psyche, of using what makes humans weak, greedy, vengeful, callous, vain or jealous. Human frailty is the lifeblood of story—CONFLICT. Whether one writes thrillers, romance or YA, we must be able to delve deep and go to those uncomfortable places, because THAT is why readers turn pages.

Today, Kevin continues his series about horror, to help demystify the genre and show us it’s more than slasher flicks or B-movies. Great horror is timeless (Telltale Heart, anyone?). Great writers grow into their unique greatness by studying masters who came before, even masters from different genres. We infuse our own work with the genius inspired by others, so today Kevin will offer more insight and a reading list like none other.

Take it away, Kevin!

***

Some writers don’t necessarily “fit” into what folks think is “horror.” In other words, because they don’t write about monsters, vampires, zombies, werewolves, serial killers or serial killing mummified zombie vampires, they’re not considered as “horror” writers by horror fans and young, fledgling horror writers like I was a few years ago. Or, even worse, they suffer from the opposite problem: they have “horror” slapped on their books but really their work is much bigger than just horror, and those who don’t like “horror” end up missing them entirely.

Or, maybe a writer has written so many other things that their “horror” hasn’t gotten as much attention. Maybe they primarily operate in a different genre – like science fiction – but have written some “horror” or stories possessing “horror” elements. For me, at least, here are some authors I initially missed simply because they didn’t fit into neat categorizations.

Ray Bradbury certainly needs no introduction to anyone. His work is adored by legions, but most of the attention is (in my experience) focused on his seminal works: Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Martian Chronicles & The Illustrated Man. However, Bradbury’s earliest work definitely lived in the weird/horror genre, much of it published in the original Weird Tales magazine. His first collection, Dark Carnival – which became The October Country – is full of weird and strange and uniquely disturbing little bits (like “The Jar” and “The Scythe” and “The Small Assassin”) that only Bradbury could’ve written.

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 11.06.01 AM

Russell Kirk is probably more well-known for his essays on conservatism, (and not the Tea Party version of it) than his fiction, but when I ran across his short story “Lex Talionis” in one of the WHISPERS collections (we’ll get to those, trust me), I had to find more of his fiction. He specialized in ghost stories and occult detective tales, and as a devout Catholic, his fiction managed to be both uplifting and spooky. His collection Ancestral Shadows is a wonderful tome of ghost stories which, quite frankly, I enjoyed more than I did M. R. James’ work. Maybe not necessarily horror, but certainly well-written stories pondering what happens after death, and the spirits left wandering because of it.

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 11.07.26 AM

Manley Wade Wellman was a giant in the science fiction/fantasy field, and for years I missed his work until I first encountered one of his main characters, Silver John the Balladeer, once again in a volume of WHISPERS. Though again not necessarily “horror,” you had to love Silver John: a traveling bard roaming the Appalachian mountains and countryside, a veteran of war who wanted peace, a wise man of folk and occult knowledge, carrying with him a guitar strung with silver strings.

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 11.08.05 AM

He encountered demons, spirits, monsters, witches’ familiars…just about everything under the sun. Even centuries-old aliens bent on infiltrating and taking over humanity. Who Fears the Devil?  And After Dark were my introductions to Wellman, and he’s also well-known for his other occult detective, John Thunderstone.

Rod Sterling. Wait, what? Rod Serling? Yes. Shamefully enough, for the longest time I considered him just a talking head before I realized how many of the Twilight Zones he wrote himself. And, you can read many of them in collections – Stories from the Twilight Zone – some of them original paperbacks, as well as new Kindle versions, and we can all agree that one of the shows most adept at straddling the genres was the Twilight Zone.

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 11.13.47 AM

Two contemporary authors that don’t fit into neat little categories and whose work definitely transcends the “horror” label are Mort Castle and Rio Youers. Mort Castle is one of the most “literary” horror writers out there. He’s been nominated for numerous Bram Stoker Awards, (winning two last year for his collection New Moon On The Water and his role as editor of the Ray Bradbury tribute collection, Shadow Show), but he’s also placed his work in literary venues and has won a Pushcart Prize as well. He’s a writing instructor at Columbia College Chicago, and his collection Moon On The Water is one of my favorites, boasting stories that run the gamut, from literary fiction to horror, including zombie mash-ups long before they were popular (in “The Old Man and the Dead”).

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 11.09.49 AM

Rio’s work can often be dark, disturbing, introspective…but it doesn’t necessarily fit into the neat little niche “horror,” though he has written his fair share of genre tales. “Speculative fiction writer” best fits Rio, but really, he writes deftly and eloquently about what it means to be human. End Times and Westlake Soul may be tales of the fantastic – but they’re also  tales about what it means to be human, and all the joy and suffering that goes with that. That’s why Westlake Soul has been optioned for film.  Also, his collection Dark Dreams; Pale Horses offers some of the finest prose and stories I’ve ever encountered. Rio’s work transcends the horror genre; he will be the “next big thing” someday.

Tomorrow, we’ll look some more writers that could be considered “jacks of all trades,” but “masters of all…”

Kevin Lucia has worked as an Editor for Shroud Magazine and a Submissions Reader for Cemetery Dance Magazine, and is now an Associate Fiction Editor for The Horror ChannelHis podcast “Horror 101” is featured monthly on Tales to Terrify and his short fiction has appeared in several venues. He’s currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English at Seton Catholic Central High School and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles and his first short story collection, Things Slip Through is NOW AVAILABLE from Crystal Lake Publishing.

I love hearing from you!

Horror Author Kevin Lucia

Horror Author Kevin Lucia

Ray Bradbury Challenge- #25 Avatar Life

The idea for this story was suggested by Larry Ruotolo, fellow writer and member of the Awesome Coffee House Writers Group. He also did some clean up editing. Thanks, Larry. This is what happens when you give me ideas … I hijack your FB pic.  :) And no, this has nothing to do with James Cameron’s movie… not even a little.

Larry Ruotolo

Larry … Just Another Avatar?

Avatar Life

Keith knew that his life was no longer his own. Maybe it never had been. Maybe every action he’d ever taken, every thought or emotion he’d experienced had belonged to someone – or something else. He couldn’t prove it but he would. Until then he kept the idea to himself. He might be a puppet, but it would still be his ass in a strait jacket if he told anybody.

“Richards, you must have that inventory report ready to go if you have time to sit around and daydream.”

The voice jarred him from his thoughts.

“Sorry Bev, mind wandered for a bit.”

His boss blocked the entire entrance to his cube with her girth, glaring at him from behind thick, horned rim glasses.

“Well, get it on a leash. It’s much too small to be out on its own.”

She emitted a loud, boisterous cackle at her own joke.

God, it’s like she ate the Wicked Witch of the West.

“I’ll have it in your inbox in thirty minutes. Scout’s honor.”

“I need it in fifteen or you can plan on working all weekend.”

Bev turned and waddled away. Her ass looked like it was trying to escape the confines of her mammoth slacks. The report was done in ten minutes. He waited five minutes to send it.

Why in the hell would anyone else want my life? I don’t even want it.

There it was again. The only word he could think of to describe it was glimmer, like he was looking through a fish bowl for a moment. There was something on the other side but the image was always distorted. Not like someone was watching him but watching his life – through him. It happened at all sorts of odd moments, even during sex once. It always freaked him out.

At four fifty-eight, Keith flipped his laptop shut, grabbed his jacket and headed for the door. It was Friday and the last thing he needed was Beverly trying to ruin his weekend. He took the back stairs just to be on the safe side. He emerged from the rear of the building and slipped on his jacket against the cool air that passed for winter in Los Angeles.

It was a short walk around the building to the bus stop. The sidewalk was filled with the requisite conglomeration of L.A.’s homeless population. After working in downtown for the last eight years, Keith didn’t notice them much anymore. Even the combination of body odor, urine and gutter slime barely registered with his brain’s olfactory processes. He stared straight ahead and avoided eye contact with the gauntlet of panhandlers spewing the same recycled hard luck tales. Experience had taught him that to do otherwise was to invite their unwanted attention, turning his wait for the bus into ten minutes of living hell.

When the old woman stepped in front of him, he sidestepped her out of habit. She hadn’t even registered in his mind so when she grabbing his arm it startled him.

“You know, don’t you?” she said through yellowed, broken teeth. The stench of her breath cut through the background odors and made him recoil. Keith pulled his arm away and stepped back.

“I don’t have any money.” He uttered the words as if repeating a mantra.

“Don’t want your money, sonny.” The woman gave a cackle that reminded Keith of Beverly and gave him chills. “You know about them, the ones what always be watchin’ us. You think you might be crazy so you ain’t told nobody. You ain’t crazy. I seen ‘em up close. I found out how to keep ‘em outta my head. That’s why I’m out here. Long as I don’t play the game, they leave me be.”

The woman’s eyes drilled into Keith’s forehead, making him squirm.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Just leave me alone.”

He turned away from her rancid breath and nasty teeth and prayed that the bus wasn’t running late. To his relief it was lumbering down the street. A tug on his arm caused him to whirl around.

“Leave me alone!” he yelled. And then it happened. The glimmer. Gray skin and large, almond shaped eyes peering at him from the other side. There were sounds his mind recognized as language, but he couldn’t understand any of the words. One of the faces swam into sharp focus.

“Push her.”

Keith couldn’t tell if the words were actually in English or if he had suddenly learned the beings’ language. Either way, there was no mistaking their meaning. He reached over and shoved the old woman off the sidewalk and into the street. She stumbled across the curb and teetered on the verge of losing her balance. For a split second she gave him her ragged, broken toothed smile. As the front of the bus impacted with her skull, several of those teeth were strewn across the street along with the rest of her body. By the time it landed in front of the bus stop thirty feet away she was unrecognizable. And dead.

The testimony of every witness was the same. The woman had lost her balance and fallen into the street. Even the technician and the investigators who reviewed the video from the camera on-board the bus agreed. It had been nothing more than an unfortunate accident. Only Keith knew – remembered – the truth. The old woman’s words haunted him.

“As long as I don’t play the game, they leave me be.”

The next day, Keith walked out of his apartment with only the clothes on his back. None of his family or friends ever saw him again.

Keith shambles up and tugs on the sleeve of the woman’s coat. She whirls around and thrusts the pistol into his face.

“You picked the wrong woman to rob,” she says.

“You know, don’t you?”

“No, I don’t know …”

The bullet blasts into Keith’s brain as the smile spreads across his face. The shooting is ruled self defense.