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Monday, February 20, 2006

Facade

Jared Winburn cleared his throat, closed his eyes, wiped his sweaty palms on a handkerchief he kept in his jacket pocket just for such occasions, and climbed out of his four-door sedan. He stepped quickly across the parking lot, head kept down only partly because of the rain starting to fall. He stepped up to the door, looked both ways quickly, then knocked three times.

"Come in," came the reply from the other side. A girl's voice, a bit husky, but she was from the Midwest.

He walked into the darkened room, shutting the door behind himself. The lights were on in the bathroom at the back, past the two double-sized beds.

"Hi, Jana," he said with a tremor in his voice that he hated.

There was no reply spoken. Just a length of piano wire wrapped around his neck from behind, two strong arms -- decidedly masculine and adult, not the nubile female he'd been expecting -- lifting him off the ground.

The wire cut into his neck, into the fingers that fought a futile battle to preserve life, nearly decapitating the 30-year-old father of three and rapist uncle of two.

*****

popfan14: Dno about this...
photoguy: Liked yr profile. But listen 2 yr folks. Not everyone's ready. Have 2 be mature.
popfan14: I'm very mature! Y do u gotta b like that?
photoguy: It's long hours. Have to keep yr grades up.
popfan14: I come home alone every day, wait hrs for them 2 come home. Make merit roll, 2.
photoguy: Well, sounds like yr smart. Have a good head on yr shoulders. Want 2 meet for a test shoot?

*****

Spencer Trice's camera would have cost $5,000 if he'd bought it. He'd traded some ... specialty commission pieces for it instead.

Jenni was half Mexican, half Japanese. A rare beauty who'd be a superstar among a very quiet fan base. He walked toward the warehouse, saw the bicycle chained to a pole outside. Pink tassels off the handlebars, some rapper's name painted on the seat.

Like candy from a baby ... tell her she's beautiful, tell her that all the other kids are wrong, tell her about the ugly duckling if he had to do so. She'd be doing anything he wanted with anyone he specified inside a week.

Spencer strutted into the warehouse and took a look around. He barely had time to register what he was seeing before the first bullet ripped into stomach. A second shot went through his heart, and the third entered his left eye socket and blasted out the back of his skull before he even began to fall.

*****

drumchk15: What are your influences?
bassman18: Power trios -- Rush, Cream, shit like that.
drumchk15: More Rush or more Cream?
bassman18: More Rush?
drumchk15: Hope your voice isn't all nasal.
bassman18: GEDDY LEE IS GOD HERE!!!
drumchk15: LOL. I'll have someone swing me by there, check out your sound.

*****

"That guy was different," Wallace observed after Johnny got home. "Why him?"

"Kelvin Raines disgusted me more than most of them," Johnny said, taking off the latex gloves and tossing them into the fireplace. "He used his father's bank account to litigate or bribe himself out of at least a dozen date-rape or statutory-rape charges. Smile and call the victim a gold digger? Well, now we know who was really 'asking for it,' don't we?"

"You said you were burking him? Putting him in Japanese porn--?"

"No, after William Burke," Johnny said, smacking Wallace across the back of the head. "Scottish serial killer -- half of a pair, appropriately enough. He'd hold a man's nose and mouth shut, let him suffocate ... kill without leaving a mark. Good for selling bodies to a medical lab before everything turned all C.S.I. and shit."

"Speaking of being a pair," Wallace said, looking away from Johnny.

"You're done when I say you're done," Johnny said, the cheer dropping from his voice. He put a hand under the man's chin and turned his head back around to look him in the eye. "Got it?"

"What happens if you get killed out there?" Wallace asked. "I'd starve..."

"Spare me," Johnny said. He reached down and rattled one of the chains that held Wallace in a basement corner. "I could have disappeared you a long time ago, you worthless fuck. Instead, I've fed you, tossed out your bucket there, made you a valuable member of society."

"You hold a gun to my head and put me online to chat with..."

"With other people just like you," Johnny said. "How many kids did you grab back then? You didn't have computers, true -- you had to turn a puppy loose or hand out a photo of a missing kid or something -- but how many?"

Wallace didn't say anything. He just looked away.

"That's what I thought," Johnny said.

"You're going to walk through a door and find someone waiting one of these days," Wallace finally said. "Just like you've been waiting for them. What if it's the police? They gotta know there's a serial killer out there hunting people down."

The smile returned to Johnny's face. "You know, Wallace, we've been roommates for four years now," he said. "Did I forget to mention my day job?"

He walked up the stairs, closed the door and locked it, leaving Wallace in his soundproof room. He took out bread and cheese, then felt his pager vibrate. He pulled it off his belt, looked at the screen, and set his food down.

Time to go stand over Kelvin's body again for the first time.

SETTING SUNS by Elizabeth Donald

Rising horror author Elizabeth Donald's new short fiction anthology, Setting Suns, ships today from New Babel Press. It can be purchased Amazon at the link above or through the publisher. The tale of the assassin in the snow-covered tree mentioned in the blurb below was a collaboration with yours truly, but I'm telling you about the book because I bet some of you would enjoy it; no money is going to end up in my hand (except maybe a couple of pennies if you buy through Amazon), so there's no conflict of interest.

BACK COVER:

A nightmarish funhouse turned deadly.

A couple trapped in a futile journey through time.

A single baleful eye watching from the deep.

An assassin waiting in a snow-covered tree.

A pair of soldiers trapped between death and something worse.

These are the tales and terrors of Elizabeth Donald, award-winning author of the Nocturnal Urges vampire mystery series. These stories and more are contained in this volume of terrifying twilight tales.

In that space between evening and nightfall, between consciousness and sleep, the moment when the light fades and the shadows take over…

These are the lands of the Setting Suns.

"Elizabeth Donald's prose has a flowing fluidity that draws the reader in like a rushing river. The stories in SETTING SUNS are imbued with a haunting lyricism, but frequently there are moments of pure terror that arrive like a devastating punch to the gut. Donald's is one of the strongest and freshest new genre voices out there."

-- Bryan Smith, author of House of Blood

More details at Elizabeth Donald's Web site.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Up next...

Revisiting some fiction I wrote in college -- straight fiction, no fantasy elements at all, about coming of age in the provincial South in the late 20th century. I'll be breaking the stories up into smaller chunks, as most were in the 20- to 40-page range.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

"Morning Dew"

Note: Story originally appeared in 2004 at the Distinctive Fiction site as part of the Muse City series. This is a revised version, with some errors corrected and a change in timeframe, from shortly after the Civil War to the Great Depression.


"Morning Dew"


He was a muscular man, broad in the shoulders, with calves and upper arms resembling nothing less than tree trunks. The sweat glistened on his olive skin as he lay bricks, slathered mortar and then added another layer of brick.
Martha watched him from her spot in the window, admiring this carpenter play the part of mason half a mile away. Their daughter was soon to marry, and her husband would play a valuable role on the farm. No, make that present tense -- Maxwell had spent time hanging around here since he was tall enough to leave his parents' house.
Martha dressed, then walked down into the kitchen and pulled a plastic drinking glass down from the counter. One came in every can of oats, and they did the job just as well as fragile crystal, Jesse said. She reckoned they did, at that.

Martha stepped out onto the front porch and set the glass down on a window sill. She turned a crank handle near the well a few times, finally pulling up a bucket of cold water. She dipped Jesse’s glass into the bucket and handed it to him as he walked up.

"Good morning, love," he said, kissing her warmly.

"Good morning to you," she said.

They sat and talked a few minutes about the wedding, and they watched as the sun finished rising over the trees to the east, watched the lawn turn hazy as the rays of light lifted the night's dew from the ground and started it back on its journey to another place.




Ruth had her father's graceful looks and her mother’s hard head. Everyone who met her, who met her parents, agreed upon this within five minutes. At the moment, she was haggling with a seamstress in town -- who was also her best friend and her soon-to-be bridesmaid.

"You told me this dress would cost ten dollars, not fifteen," she said, lips pursed.

"Well, the alterations..." Hannah said.

"Can I help it if the Lord provided?" Ruth asked. She'd been the first girl at the one-room school to blossom into young womanhood, and she'd done it as she did everything else: In abundance, quickly, without looking back. At 15 years old, she already had the bosom of a 20-year-old and then some.

In a city, she wouldn't be marrying for a few more years; in a city, she'd still be in school. But this was Appalachia, this was farm country, and marriage and motherhood came early to the girls.

"Can you pay twelve?" Hannah asked, exasperated.

"I can pay fifteen," Ruth said quickly, "but it's not right I should have to do so."

"OK, I can take twelve," Hannah said.

"You're a peach," Ruth said. The two girls giggled and embraced.

"Do you have time for lunch?" Hannah asked.

Ruth looked at the grandfather clock that leaned against the store wall. "I may have time," she said. "Maxwell and I are to meet with Rabbi Goldman at two."





T
he general store had a small lunch counter, and it was toward there that the two best friends made their way from Anna Linkletter's dress shop. The Appalachian heat was rising to 80 degrees, quite hot for April.

They passed wagons, horses tied to a hitching post outside the store, and a blind black man named Jacob Rainwaters who played the guitar and sang for his life's wages. Ruth dropped a nickel into his hat, and he said, "Five cents from the bride to be," with a nearly toothless smile.

"Will you sing at my wedding?" Ruth asked.

"I don't know any happy songs," the ancient man said. "It wouldn't be right."

"So learn some," Ruth said.

The same conversation for six months now, and she'd been giving him a nickel whenever she had one since she was five years old. Her father said it was only right to help those poorer than oneself.

Lots of poverty in this town; the only person who could afford a truck was the mine boss. Even the police car and fire truck were donated by the mining company.

"You've given him enough money over these years to buy three dresses," Hannah said with a bit of distaste. Ruth had observed that although her family seemed to handle Ruth's family well, their general preference was for lighter folks such as themselves, mostly the Christians. Not that she'd ever call her on it; it would create a scene for no good reason.




Henry had started drinking early today, as he'd done every day since the war ended for him. He'd lost an eye, had a foot mangled, and suffered pain that would keep him bent double without the alcohol.

His employer, the innkeeper Jenkins, had sent him on another of the endless stream of errands that he devised to keep the boy out of sight for the travelers' comfort. The market collapse had given many a new set of worries; no need reminding them of that war in Europe or the rumors of another one coming.

Three of Henry's brothers had died in the war. The loudmouth runt of the bunch had made an officer through some dumb luck, and was sending checks home to his Ma -- another way of showing off, Henry reckoned.

The young gimp squinted as he saw the two girls stroll down the street laughing. The movement of their hips, of the tall girl's bosom, was hypnotic.

If only they weren't laughing at him. That one girl, in particular -- Ruth -- she was marrying Maxwell, who'd come back from that damned war without a scratch. That's probably why the little bitch was laughing at him.

Henry took another drag on his flask and watched them pass him by.




Jesse heard the plate shatter inside his kitchen from a quarter of a mile away. He heard Martha's sobbing, heard Maxwell swearing, and he started sprinting back to the house.

The sight of the sheriff's car outside the house dropped him to his knees for a moment. He picked himself up, and resumed his run.




"You've got to let me in there," Jesse told the sheriff. He'd known Slade since the lawman was a boy sitting in his father's chair in this same jailhouse, and he'd helped both men organize plenty of search parties over the years.

"I can't," Slade said, shaking his head. "If something happens to him before he has his trial -- Jesse, you're one of the best men I know, but things are what they are."

"I'm Jewish and the church doors don't open without his ma first inside," Jesse said with a nod. "Yeah. I've done this dance a time or two before. I just want to see if he’ll tell me where she is."

Slade patted the man's shoulder awkwardly. "Oh, believe you me, the boys are doing their damnedest to find that out even as we speak."

A scream -- muffled by a leather belt between teeth -- cut through the air. "This isn't right, Slade."

"Yeah, I know," Slade said. "It should be you and Maxwell asking him the questions."

The sheriff backed his way to the door, opened it behind him, then stepped inside and shut the door. Jesse heard the lock click, and muttered to himself, "That's not what I meant, and I thought you'd know better."




Hannah, Henry had taken with a couple of blows to the head. He'd left the rock lying next to her body, strands of copper hair and gray brain tissue stuck to it by blood dried a sickly black.

R
uth, he'd taken off somewhere. She'd fought him, Slade could tell -- the man's nightmare of a face was marked by fresh scratches. His balls had been swollen black from a kick or some other fresh injury even before the deputies had stripped him down and brought out the brand.

"I reckon you figured you could just off a couple of Jew girls and everyone would look the other way," Slade said, holding the man's jaw in his hand. It slacked down funny, not quite hinged to his skull as it should have been, and Slade neither knew nor cared if that was a war injury or a more recent development.

Henry was strung up by his arms, his feet 18 inches or so off the ground. Whatever had happened to his head over there in the trenches made him stronger than a team of ox when he was mad, so that treatment almost made sense.

"You went off and did your duty," Slade said. "Ain't no shame in coming back a mess from that; you still one of the lucky ones who walked away at all. But you don't get a free ride on murder -- not if they're Jewish, not even if they was black. And 'specially not when I'm friends with one girl's daddy."

Henry blubbered something incomprehensible. Slade let go of his jaw.

"You care to repeat that?" the sheriff asked. "Or do I get that girl's daddy in here to circumcise you?"

"In the well, behind the inn," Henry spat out. A bubble of blood burst on his lower lip, and a large drop of it splattered onto the ground below where he hang by his arms.

"Fix this mess up," Slade said to his deputies. He looked back at Henry, disgust clear on his face. "You should've done everyone a favor and died over there in Germany."

He gave the boy a punch to the gut, the only blow of his own in this whole incident, then turned and left the room.




Angus, the dwarf who ran the smithy shop, shimmied down the rope into the well. Again, Slade had to hold Henry back from going down there himself. "You'll break your fool neck, and then what will Martha do?" the sheriff asked.

Five minutes passed, then the rope jerked twice. Slade, Jesse, and the other men pulled on the rope, and after a few minutes the dwarf was back up, with the girl's body tied to the end of the rope.

Her skin was blue from the cold underground. Her hair was soaked, her upper body naked, her lips split open and her eyes bruised. Her skirt was stained red about her private parts.

Several women started sobbing; one of them fainted. Slade took off his vest and covered the girl's torso. Jesse turned and walked away, back toward the jail. No one stopped him.




"OK, I don't understand a damn bit of this," Slade asked as he sat in Jesse and Martha's living room. "You're asking us not to hang that boy when the jury convicts him -- note I say 'when,' not 'if.' He confessed to it all."

"And I know how diligent your boys were in getting that confession," Jesse said.

"One girl dead, another missing -- yeah, we got rough," Slade said with a nod. "For all we knew, she might have been alive. If we'd done more..."

"If you'd done more, he would have died and you wouldn't have known where she was until someone's well downstream turned deadly in a few days," Jesse said.

Martha, in the kitchen, dropped her plastic glass, and they heard her footsteps pound up the stairs to their bedroom.

"I never was good with words," Jesse said finally. "But killing that boy is just going to put his ma through the same pain we're feeling. Worse, because she'll see it coming and have no way of stopping it. She's only got the one other boy left, and he's off east playing soldier."

"I don't think the Linkletters are going to see it the same way, Jesse," Slade said. "Or Maxwell. And that war didn't turn him into a mad dog killer, neither."

"Good people can disagree," Jesse said. "How do you think most wars get started?"

The sheriff shook his head. "You should've been a rabbi, Jesse."

"I'd rather get my hands dirty and build things than preach," Jesse said. He looked up at the ceiling, then back at his friend. "I should go check on her."

"You do that," Slade said. "I'll let myself out."

The two men rose from the wooden chairs, shook hands, and then parted.




Slade sat at his desk, listening to the damn snoring from the cell. He walked over to the bars and banged his wooden baton against the bars. "Turn the hell over, Henry," he said sternly.

The man had been lying on his back; he turned on his side to sleep facing the desk. The sheriff marveled again at how quickly the man's injuries from the day of the killings were healing.




Come the trial, Martha was present every day. Jesse was out in the field harvesting the crops with Maxwell and his younger brothers. Their mother’s precarious health had spiraled downward to its tragic but inevitable conclusion after Ruth's death, and the four orphaned boys all lived together now in the new house Jesse had built for Maxwell and Ruth.

The town's only lawyer, Hiram Walker, was acting as Henry's attorney. He slept through most of the testimony, and his closing statement was simple: "The war addled his brain."

A panel of twelve men found the man guilty in ten minutes, and a firing squad carried out the sentence immediately afterward -- normally, it would've been a hanging, but in respect to his military service and his mother's losses, the sheriff agreed to go along with that foolishness.




Darkness melted away to a dull light, and Henry felt a tremendous pressure weighing down upon his chest. He struggled to move, but couldn't. But then he saw a light building, and felt hands grip him. He felt himself rise, then felt himself slam into something with tremendous force.

"Where -- what -- who?" the young man stuttered.

Jesse looked down at the boy lying beside the freshly unearthed grave.

'Take a look down at yourself, boy," he said sternly.

Henry looked down at his chest and saw the wound in his chest where he'd been shot. Blood gurgled out of it, and he blacked out.




Henry awoke again, and saw Jesse standing over him again. "What's happening to me?" the boy asked. Before the carpenter could answer, the killer felt his heart burst again, saw the blood spill from his chest, and the darkness took him again.





When Henry awoke again, he was lying back in the pine box. He struggled to rise, but Jesse easily pushed him back inside. "I healed you, but it's not a precise thing,' he said. "I hope you're stuck here 'til the end of the world."

Henry saw that the carpenter had taken his shirt off. He saw the jagged scar that ran along the left side of the man’s chest, as if someone had stabbed him in the ribcage. He noticed the scars in the palm of the hand that held him down, and noticed that as Jesse wept, both wounds were bleeding.





"What did you tell me about not using your abilities anymore?" Martha asked as she stared at Jesse across the breakfast table. He hadn't touched the pancakes or the eggs, but he'd eaten his and her beef sausage.

"This was a special case," he said. "It was too late to help Hannah."

"What about turning the other cheek?" she asked.

"If it had just been Ruth, I might've done so," he replied. "But I never said what to do when they hit you a second time."





Maxwell and his brothers waved goodbye to Jesse and Martha as they loaded the last of their goods -- the ones they were taking, at any rate -- into the wagon. "The town won't be the same without you," the eldest boy said, hugging them both.

They were two days' ride out of town before they opened the large chest at the very back of the wagon.

"I don't see why we couldn’t stay," Ruth said with a pout, rising up from inside the box.

"We've both told you what ended up happening the last time people found out your father's secret," Martha said.

"People change," Ruth said. "You should know that most of all, Mother."

"That's true," Jesse said. "You never wash my feet anymore."

"You're lucky I don't make you cook the Seder for tonight," she said.

The carpenter kissed his wife, embraced his daughter, and continued guiding the horses along the trail to another town, another life, another set of names.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

"A Man Who Wasn't There"

Josh took a swing at the tall, stocky man with the long hair and the perennial smirk. He stared as his fist passed through the man's jaw, emerging on the other side. The heckler winced a bit, and he saw his features blur for a moment, but then the other man's appearance returned to normal.

"You're not real," Josh said.

"Hell, I'm as real -- or not -- as you, man," the tall man said. He grinned, extended a hand. "James Douglas is the name."

"Anyone ever say you look like--"

"Only all the goddamn time," Douglas said.

Josh shook his hand. "Now you're solid."

"As solid -- or not -- as you are," James said.

"You mean I'm not--" Then Josh's word broke off into a scream, and James looked down at the floor in front of himself.

"You're one mean sumbitch when you want to be," another man said.

James looked at the late arrival, a heavyset man with long sideburns and graying hair, dressed in a ludicrous jumpsuit festooned with rhinestones. "Hey, Sheriff," he said, nodding his head.

They looked through the glass, seeing the youngster's ghost falling toward the ground, waving his arms just like in a movie. If he'd really been alive, he'd have passed out, or had a fatal heart attack from fear before now, and would be dead weight, but no, the dumb kid was flailing his arms like he could grab a bird or something.

"Guess I ought to get down there and check on him," James said. "Usually stop falling when they 'hit' the ground, but I remember that one Buddhist guy who ended up down in the magma. That was one annoying-ass search."

James walked through the glass window and let himself fall, letting himself imagine for a second feeling the breeze blow past his nonexistent cheeks, through his memory of hair, hearing the hiss in ears he told himself he had.

He landed as gracefully as a cat next to the boy. "You don't have a bladder, boy, so how'd you come to piss yourself?" he asked.

Josh looked at him. "I was scared," he said.

"Well, pretend I'm the wizard giving you courage," James said.

Josh thought about it for a moment, and his pants were suddenly dry. Not that he was wearing pants, or could feel moisture or thirst.

"I'm dead," Josh said.

"No," James said, walking toward the waterfront. "To be dead, you have to exist. You beat your dad to death before she ever got pregnant with your older brother, much less with you -- you're what we call a 'special case.'"

"Police going to be looking for me?" Josh asked. "I should get out of town..."

"It doesn't matter," James said, shaking his head. "If you got locked up, you could walk out of any prison they made for you. And that wouldn't happen -- interacting with real people at all is going to take a lot of concentration. Being solid will take concentration.

"Being 'all there' enough to make an impact -- especially one big enough to be recognized as the stranger who attacked that poor soldier boy for no reason -- it'll take you years to learn how to focus yourself enough for that to be an issue. And by then, you'll still be baby-faced, and they'll be looking for an older fella if they even remember."

"But she said I looked like him, enough to be a cousin or brother," Josh said.

"Yeah, but trust me, man -- she'll make herself forget," James said. "She'll want to be put her lost love out of her mind -- especially since he turned out to be such a world-class asshole. Not that she'll tell anyone; she'll want to protect his mama, being as she's all alone now."

"But she'll move on, and you can hope she's learned and will love someone a little more stable," James said. "Sometimes, that happens. Sometimes, it's worth it -- sometimes, you can make a difference. At least that's what I hear."

"So what happens to me?" Josh asked.

"Up to you," James said. "You can throw yourself into trying to reach through to them, and you'll become one of those 'I met a guy' guys -- as in, 'I met a guy who changed my tire, and when I turned around, he was gone. What did he look like? Just a guy.'

"Or 'I was raped by a guy, but I couldn't tell you what he looked like,'" James continued. "Well, I hope you don't become that guy -- too many of them around, though the Sheriff sends them on to their hell when he runs across one."

"And if I decide that's not worth it?" Josh asked.

"Well, I don't think you're ready to let go of existence just yet," James said. "Otherwise, you'd have faded out when your pa's heart stopped. You might spend more time chasing after the real people, or more out here with us figments, or back and forth; get too far from it all, though, you stop caring, and one of these days you'll just not be here."

"I'm not here now, though," Josh said.

"But you're not here here," James said. "You quit caring, you quit fighting, and you'll not be anywhere. A ghost would at least move on to something -- the destination that fits the innermost truth of that person, going back into the universal mind or God or whatever the hell you want to call it. But you're not a ghost, because you're not dead, because you were never born; you'll go from zero to the square root of zero, and that'll be it."

They paused, looking out at the lights from the football stadium down the harbor. "So I'm here until I get bored of it," Josh said. "That doesn't sound too bad."

"Well, that or until some other deadbeat kills you for stealing his ghost-woman, or taking his magic artifacts or just for the sheer joy of ripping you to shreds and then flossing his teeth with your memories," James said. "You're lucky you died in an artsy town and ran across me. If you'd jumped off a bridge near Alcatraz and changed your mind halfway down, you'd have been some dead mobster's bitch the moment you washed up on shore."

Monday, October 10, 2005

One year ago today...

Christopher Reeve, a real man of steel, took his final flight.



"Look, I've flown, I've become evil, loved, stopped and turned the world backward, I've faced my peers, I've befriended children and small animals and I've rescued cats from trees. What else is there left for Superman to do that hasn't been done?" -- Christopher Reeve (1952-2004), 1983 Los Angeles Times interview

If you've ever thought about donating to the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, there's no better time than today.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

"Fragment"

"Something's wrong with Stephanie," Katherine said, then she took another hit, held it, then finally exhaled as she passed the joint to Kyle.

"Her brother's dead," Kyle said, looking at the back of his hand. "You think about how creepy hair is? You've got this stuff that just comes from nowhere, pops out of your skin, but if you get an X-ray, you don't see it curled up under the skin, waiting to roll out."

He took another hit as Katherine shook her head. "No, Kyle, listen, I'm being serious. Something's wrong with her. Besides that."

The CD player slipped from one disc to another, Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile" followed up by Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song."

"Ah, shit, that album always brings me down," Kyle said. "Guess that's why God invented random play, huh?"

"Oh, so you believe in God?" Katherine asked, leaning over and kissing him.

"No, but screaming 'I do not acknowledge your existence' over and over would take my attention away from the nookie," he said, and they both started laughing.

"Yeah, I notice it, too," Kyle said a few moments later. "She's pulled away from us -- making me look like the social butterfly ain't no small thing."

"You think..." Katherine started, then let the words dangle there.

"It's July," Kyle said. "It's been way colder than it should've been, yeah. And she's had mono, so she's had chills, yeah. But still, it's July, and she's wearing long sleeves. Might as well be wearing a turtleneck, you know?"

"And she said he never leaves hickeys," Katherine said.

"So it's the other thing," Kyle said. "A girl wears sweaters in July, it's because she's a Muslim or because she's been beat."

"Well, she did miss choir last week, but yeah," Katherine said.

Kyle dropped the joint, stuck his singed fingers in his mouth, hissed from the pain of the burn. "Well, if the conversation hadn't killed my buzz, that would have."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

"Eight Steps off the Path"

Oliver Hawke shot an arrow into the chest of the first woman he'd ever loved. It caught Eve in the stomach, and she stared at him in disbelief.

"For all the times you seduced me when I was meditating," he said through gritted teeth. "You didn't even have the most basic respect."

The sorceress raised her hands, preparing to throw some dark energy or summon some shadowy beast to attack him.

The next arrow went through her left hand. "For the mind games," Oliver said.

And another, through the right hand she'd clutched to her left arm. "For diverting my attention to your 'cause' -- which turned out to be carnage for carnage's sake," he muttered.

A tiger made of pure darkness leapt at him; circuits hummed in his robotic right hand, and a flash of light disintegrated it before it reached him. He drew and fired two more arrows in quick succession. One hit her right thigh, the other lodging in her hip, and she fell.

"I could have been a monk, could have been a doctor; you turned me into a warrior. I could have healed people; you made me a killer," he said. "I wanted to call you my beloved -- now I see that you're the crazy bitch everyone warned me you were."

Another arrow, this one into her heart. "You took me off the path, no matter how hard I tried to stay there. You freed the world, but kept on fighting anyone, anything, just for the love of blood. You brought this on yourself."

The last arrow went into her eye. "Then you took away my tomorrows," he said, kneeling beside the sorceress' dead body. "Even with you dead, I can't see going back; all I see is this darkness, Eve. You win. I'm just like you."

Her baby let out a cry, and Ollie's body siezed in pain as the new liege of this dimension exercised his first act of divinity by throwing a tantrum that shattered cities, set ocean floors surging to spawn tsunamis, and brought black lightning down around Eve's castle, the child's castle now.

Nerves frying, Ollie mouthed a final spell, to make the child sleep, and then he collapsed. Telepathy? he thought. I was right. Damn kid's not even mine. Then he lost consciousness.




Oliver awoke in a hospital. He was on earth again; he could tell that by the lighter weight of the air even if he didn't hear hospital equipment or smell Alisha's perfume.

"Hey, you," he said. Or tried to say -- the sounds coming from his mouth made no sense.

"He's awake," Alisha said. He felt her squeeze his hand, and the touch sent a thousand spikes of pain through his body.

"I think he needs more morphine," Alisha said.

The cold swallowed him up, washing him away again.




"Severe nerve damage, loss of vision, slurred speech; it's like the bitch's baby gave him a stroke," Danny said. "I always said I never wanted kids because they turn on ya."

Ollie could almost hear Alisha rolling her eyes.

"Anything you all need, I'll pay for," Tim said. "If it doesn't exist, I'll pay someone to make that shit up. What are friends for?"

"Gotta be odd knowing that kid coulda been yours, bro," Danny added. "She played you both."

"I think he's awake," Guy said. "You with us, champ?"

Ollie managed a grunt.

"Let's let him sleep," Tim said. "Seriously, Alisha -- nothing's too much for the two of you."

"I'm here," Alisha said.

Ollie clutched his hand into a fist, squeezing twice, their sign for a heartbeat since he couldn't bear to be touched right now.

Guy and Tim talked about the baby being out of the dimension, being cared for in a place where they'd teach it to control its emotions, until it could control its powers -- calling the child an it, not a he, distancing themselves from the whole affair the same as he and Tim had both tried and failed to put Eve into their pasts, mark her off as a learning experience or a mistake.

One of these days, Ollie figured, her child would come looking for him to finish the job or to look at him, shake his head in pity, and walk away. He knew which would be healthier for the child, which would be more in keeping with the Buddhism that Ollie had spent a life failing to practice; and he knew the other was what he felt he deserved.

A blind archer was like a koan told by a mute monk to a deaf disciple. There might be wisdom, their might be skill and a lifetime of training, but in the end, it all amounted to nothing. If it wouldn't have hurt Alisha, he'd beg her to unplug him right now.

Eve had that death wish, too, he thought. But he wouldn't put the curse of helping fulfill it on anyone else. That pain, he'd carry alone until her son showed up, and then let the dice fall as they fell.

-- For the DCF team, especially Erik and Tommy and Schuyler

Watching traffic

Since launching this site -- or, more specifically, since adding the Site Tracker feature (the box at the bottom) -- I've been seeing traffic pop up on here from all over the world. Every populated continent has shown up at least once with the possible exception of Africa; I'm not sure whether all of them have been people reading this, or people looking to spam me, but it's still kinda cool to see.

If you are reading this and enjoying it, drop me a reply here. Yeah, I know the text-verification thing is obnoxious, but it was needed to stop some of what was clearly reply-based spamming.

More twisted thoughts coming soon.

Verve Vault