July Writing Challenge Day 30

The family van whined as it pushed up the last big hill of the journey. The rear view mirror was still, nothing but corn and the gentle, roiling track of asphalt behind them. The children were quiet. Adrian was gazing deeply into the screen of his mother’s tablet. Caroline was drooling into her harness. For the first time in the thirty four hour drive, the car was quiet. Peaceful. Alex smiled.

Beside the driver’s side window, something shimmered and flashed. Alex wished it was a mirage, but a second later he heard the words.

“Don’t let her get away with it.”

Alex winced. He pressed a little harder on the gas peddle and the shimmer slipped behind him. Kristine turned and flashed a smile at him. She reached over and grabbed his hand. Somehow she failed to notice the cold sweat that had gripped him.

The final stretch was low and smooth. Alex waited until he saw the sign to wake the children. Aleswich; pop: 507. Adrian glared out the windows and sneered. Caroline looked around the car blankly. Then she cried. Kristine turned and hoisted her from her booster seat. It took a bottle of formula and a minute’s antics of Elizabeth the Elephant to quiet her. Alex sighed as he pulled in.

Hi parents owned a small stretch of land along a lonely stretch of highway. It hadn’t been a highway when he’d lived there, but somehow it all looked the same. The house was a squat, tired looking thing perched on the rocky edge of a desolate gulch. He’d hated it, even growing up, and the smile he wore as he turned into the long gravel drive was forced.

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July Writing Challenge Day 28: A New Story

So I decided it was time to start a new story. My last one was kind of going nowhere. I’ll go back to it after this month is over, rewrite the parts I hate, trim it down, and then keep going with it. I just need to think about it more.

Speaking of needing to think about things more, I decided it was time to start a new story. This particular story is one I haven’t had for very long, just about a month or so, and I really have very little of the plot down in my head. So, honestly, I’m not sure where it’s going to go. I’ll outline the basic premise here in a bit, but first let me say that I’m not super thrilled with what I did today. It seems a little…I don’t know, shallow. Quick. Like I’m trying to get too much exposition out at once and sacrificing everything that good fiction needs. Or maybe I’m just still bummed out from the last story. I dunno. Not really digging my own writing ability right now.

For this story, I wanted to do a sci-fi story. The basic premise is that there is this world, one that is roughly equal to Earth’s technology about 400 years ago. So, basic gunpowder equivalent weapons, at maximum. Culturally they are…well, another culture, so it’s hard to draw parallels. Anyway, a few months before the story starts the planet is visited by “short, odd looking men from the sky”. Aka, aliens. And these aliens decide that they want to come to this world and exploit it’s resources. But instead of wiping out the local populace they decide to help them out, elevate them and invite them to become part of this intergalactic society. The story starts with a woman, one of the natives, being debriefed about a mission that she helped with. The world is small and has a lot of dense, dangerous jungles. The “aliens” (who, btw, are humans), fund this expedition into it’s depths because they’ve heard about something amazing. Anyway, long story short, things go terribly wrong, lots of people die, and only the main character and one or two others make it back. She tells this story to the humans in hopes that it will dissuade them from pursuing it further, but instead the humans shrug it off. They say that yes, hundreds and even thousands will die while they set up a way to exploit this wonderful thing (still working on what), but once they do it will make them lot’s of money. And besides, this is just how progress works. The main character is stunned that anyone could think like this.

Now, keep in mind that we do this kind of thing today. How many people died making the Panama Canal? The Transcontinental Railroad? Working in mines throughout the ages? This is just how humanity sees problems. Keep bashing away at something until it’s easier.

Now, a few other things. 1) Whatever the “wonderful thing” is that the humans want, it’s ridiculously small. Like a slug that creates a particular enzyme that could be incorporated into industrial grade lubricant and increase productivity by .05% across the galaxy. It is so small that the natives wouldn’t want it, and is the only thing really worth exploiting from a planet (I mean, water and other compounds/elements are all over space, and once your up there, you just have to mine it, so it’s nothing like that). 2) I envision the natives as deeply religious. Their planet is Mother, and the sun is Father. And they live within Mother and one day they know they must leave her. This lends a bit of religious fervor to the locals and makes them want to help the humans because the humans can help do just that. 3) The main character is smart, brilliant even, and resourceful, but something about her has made her shunned and distrusted all throughout her life, so she doesn’t really buy into society worshiping these space men like they do.

I played around with that third idea today. Basically the natives are human shaped chameleons. But they have hair, or something analogous, and the can’t change their hair color. Back when they were evolving they evolved dark hair that would blend in to their jungle environment, but every so often you might get an “albino”, someone with hair so bright that they can’t hide. In an uber-religious society this would be a bad omen at best and a mortal sin at worst.

Anyway, those are just some of my thoughts on the story. I know, it was all kinda rapid fire. Sorry bout that. Anyway, I really think I’ll just redo this section for tomorrow, leave out the whole hair part. Probably tone down the color changing aspect as well. It’s just…not the right place for it.

Okay, well, that’s enough from me. Now…here’s more from me. Thanks for reading, and enjoy.

Untitled
By E W Morrow
Word Count: 818

Kyeera had ceased being startled by doors opening themselves after a day on the ship, but this time she let out an audible gasp. The sleek, rounded gunmetal walls and brilliant blue lighting that seemed omnipresent throughout the rest of the ship suddenly gave way to a pleasant, familiar scene. The room she found herself in had been fashioned from the deep bluestone of her homeland, dark and cool and comforting. The furniture was beautifully crafted tynewood of exquisite quality. Tynewood trees grew for centuries before they attained that rich reddish hue. Often teams of men would venture through the jungles for weeks before they found even a single tree of sufficient age. Most breathtaking, and perhaps disappointing, of all was the view. It was breathtaking because the room’s right wall opened onto a tynewood veranda that looked out over a densely wooded mountain valley. Kyeera could even hear the call of chatterbirds in the distance and feel a gentle breeze on her cheek.

It was disappointing because she knew it wasn’t real. In the past few months, ever since the short, strangely colored men had come from the skies, she had seen wonders and marvels beyond everything she could have ever imagined, and she had learned enough to know that such a thing was not beyond the space man’s art. And if the view wasn’t real, then nothing in the room was real. She sat in one of the chairs facing the illusion, felt what felt like genuine leather against her skin, and she waited.

A few minutes passed before she heard the door hiss open. She turned her head slowly and saw a pair of men enter: space men. She sighed and realized she would have to stop thinking of them like that. In a short time her people, too, would be space men. It was difficult. They were not unlike her own people in appearance, two eyes, two arms, bipedal, five fingers on each hand, but sometimes the smallest changes are the hardest to deal with. What was it they called themselves, she wondered as she stood? Ah yes, humans.

“Kyeera, thank you for meeting us.”

The first man’s name was John Haverstrom, and he strode across the tynewood floor to greet her. He was short and round and pale. He extended a hand and Kyeera looked at it for a moment. Then she remembered that this was a typical human greeting. She took it lightly and let the man shake. As he dropped it she noticed the look on the second man’s face. She did not recognize him, but from what she could tell he was surprised, though it did not seem unpleasantly so. She looked at her own hand and realized that she had subconsciously initiated her own people’s greeting. She took a breath. The skin shifted from bright orange back to dark green.

“I’d heard about that,” said the second man. “Wasn’t sure I believed it until just now though.” He smiled, another human gesture she was getting used to, and his teeth shone against his dark brown skin. “Would I be right in thinking that the display and change of color plays a large role in your society’s cultural interactions?”

“You would,” said Kyeera. Her skin tone lightened a little and a moment later she nodded to let him know what it meant. “Very astute.”

“Thanks,” said the dark man. “Remind me to teach you people to play poker sometime.”

“I would advise against that,” said the John. He breathed in and out very rapidly and noisily. What was that called? Laughing?

“Ah, you’re no fun,” said the dark man, also breathing loudly. Kyeera’s skin soured. “Still, I bet it comes in pretty handy in the jungles, right? Camouflage.” He pointed a finger at Kyeera’s body as if to illustrate his point. Kyeera blued and nodded. “Can I ask something though?”

“If you must,” Kyeera said.

“Is it just the skin?” Kyeera turned a deep, angry shade of red. “Erm….I don’t know what that—have I said something wrong.”

“No,” Kyeera said, though her color did not change. “No, it’s nothing. Yes, it is just our skin. The pigments react to chemicals secreted by a series of glands throughout our body. The ability does not transfer to our hair.” Kyeera reached up and touched her own alabaster locks as she said this. “In ancient times, a child with white hair like mine would have been left for dead in the woods. Though, in these modern times that does not happen.”

The dark man’s eyes narrowed. “But,” he said, as if finishing her words for her, “there are still people who view it as a sort of stigma? Bad luck?”

“Yes,” Kyeera said quietly. The dark man smiled again.

“It’s like I say every time, no matter where you go, people are people.” He clapped a hand on the John’s shoulder and breathed—laughed—again.

July Writing Challenge Day 21: Don’t read this

Everything slides into focus. His hands move. Bam—Crunch. He knows his present state of mind won’t last, can’t last, but he doesn’t care. Three seconds after the impact his mind registers the pain. Bone under flesh. Wood splintering and cracking. In the morning people will ask him why and, being human, he will lie. He will tell them that he fell. That he doesn’t remember what happened. They will believe him, and everything will slide into place. Stupid.

Weeks will pass.

His hands will heal. Slowly. Terrible things will pass through his mind. He will write them off as nightmares, terrors confined to the twilight hours. It is a lie. Not one he tells himself, but one he tells the world. Better to discount the awful things than acknowledge them.

More time passes.

There is pain. Red wounds blossom on pink skin. Who hurt me, he wonders? He remembers the knife, the impetus, the blood. But not the action. He takes off his clothes and looks in the mirror. Where did all this fat come from? Why do I have so many scars? The mirror shatters and he wipes away the blood.

His phone vibrates. It inches its way closer to the edge of the counter. He waits for it to fall, hopes it will fall, but then it stops. It buzzes again, this time moving in the opposite direction. He sighs and picks it up. He wishes he hadn’t.

It’s nothing special. Just another alert about how well she’s doing. Nothing at all. The anger he feels grounds itself in the closest nothing it finds. In the morning he wraps bandages around his hands and tries to forget.

Even more time passes.

The nightmares are worse now. They seem to target recent events, build upon one another until all he can remember is nightmare. The blanks are filled in with something worse than nothing.

July Writing Challenge Day 17: Dictionary Shmictionary

Greetings and salutations. Welcome back to my July Writing Challenge. Today I wanted to do something a little bit fun, so I reached into my bag of exercises and pulled out something I actually hadn’t done yet this month: the dictionary challenge.

Some of you may be familiar with this particular exercise. You open a dictionary (or in my case, use a the random word function on a dictionary website) and find yourself a collection of random words. For today I chose ten. Then you take those words and use them as a framework for a story. These words should help define character traits, setting, problems or conflict for your story. I’ve always said that boundaries breed creativity, so I like setting some for myself.

The ten words I randomly generated were: tactless, suzerain (n; a country that dominates another and makes most of it’s choices for it, though lets it retain a semblance of independence), lupine, blueprint, pucker, disrespectful, persecute, feint, rapier, performance.

Now, just a quick word of warning, I did not get to all of these words in the hour I had to write today, but I intend to. I think I might actually continue this story tomorrow, just so that I can get to them.

The story I decided on focuses on an “ambassador” to a foreign country who is really an agent sent there to squeeze any and all natural resources from the little country and funnel them back into the empire he represents. He’s a brusque, tactless man who doesn’t care much for foreign things. The proposed expansion of the town he oversees angers the local population, but there’s not much they can do because they are effectively second class citizens. The final straw comes when the diplomat decides to start chopping down a section of woods that the townsfolk consider special (i.e. dangerous, the home of something you don’t want to disturb). They decide to invite the diplomat and his cronies to a festival, draw them in to some ancient ritual, and….well I don’t know what yet. Kill them probably, or do something else horrible to them. “Convert” them, maybe.

Anyway, I got about half of the words into the story today, though I tried not to actually use any of them, just hint at them. Tomorrow I’ll try to get the second half.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy.

Untitled
By E W Morrow
Word Count: 943

Albert squinted and pinched the bridge of his nose. It was only ten in the morning and already he wanted to be home in bed. His home, not the embassy, but just now he would take either. The clock on the wall ticked and clacked slowly, loudly. He could almost feel the gears grinding against one another. Or were those his teeth. It was an ornate clock, hand carved from the dark local wood, and Albert supposed it was quite beautiful, but it’s rustic charm was something he didn’t find appealing and right now it was irritating him.

“Next time I get a gift,” he groaned, “I wonder if it might not be so loud. Damned stupid thing gives me migranes.”

“I believe you would have to speak to the craftsman about that directly, sir.”

Albert opened his eyes and looked at the man seated on the opposite side of his desk. He was a small man, gaunt and gray of hair, and for a moment Albert had forgotten he was there. He’d spoken softly, almost politely, but the men behind him grunted and glared at Albert darkly. Christ, Albert thought, were they there a second ago? A whole pack of them. Albert had trouble thinking of groups of men in this country as anything other than packs. They were all of them lean and hairy, with a hungry look in their eyes, and seemed to have an understanding that went beyond simple speech. Like a pack of—Albert shook the notion away. It was probably just poor diet and adherence to, yes, backwards tradition. That was it. Nothing sinister.

“Right,” he said turning back to the matter at hand. “Might do that. Now, what can I do for you Mr…”

“Lungu,” supplied the little man. “Gregori Lungu.”

“Right, well, what do you want, Mr. Longu?” The little man paused for a moment, but decided to let the mispronunciation slide.

“I would like to inquire as to whether you had given any consideration to the proposal that was submitted to your office last week.” Gregori didn’t wait for the look of confusion on Albert’s face. Instead he produced a slip of paper and slid it across the desk. Albert picked it up and read it. The handwriting was like the man: small, neat, and slightly slanted as to suggest it’s foreign origins. Albert like his letters to stand up straight.

“Oh,” Albert said as he reached the end of the document. “Yes, now I remember. I’m sorry to say that we have taken your comments under consideration but have chosen to go ahead as planned.”

“But sir,” the Lungu said, cutting off the muttering foreign talk from the pack of men behind him, “you must realize that the woods to the north are important to my people.”

“What, sacred or something?” Albert asked.

“You could say that,” admitted the little man. “The people do not worship them, as such. They merely feel that they should be…preserved. Protected. Undisturbed.”

“Sounds like a bunch of superstitious nonsense to me,” Albert said.

“But surely it would be easier to expand the town south, along the river, as opposed to north through the hills.” Albert stood and shook his head.

“Afraid we can’t do that Mr. Longu.” Again, Gregori ignored the mistake. Albert walked over to a cabinet and pulled out a roll of parchment. He laid it out on his desk, revealing it to be a map of the town and surrounding countryside. It had on it many buildings and roads that did not yet exist. It was a map of the future. “Maybe you folk are used to doing things the easy way, but the Empire didn’t get as powerful as it is by doing things that were easy.” He pointed to the map with a pudgy finger. “We intend to press north. Fresh timber, see, that’s what we need. Might even find a few mineral veins in the hills, who knows. But the fact is that we need wood. It’s what your country’s good for.”

There was a fresh round of muttering. Again, it was all foreign to Albert, and he wondered if the men could even speak his language. Probably not, he thought, though they certainly seem to understand it. Gregori hushed them and continued with strained patience.

“The people believe that there are more important things than material wealth to be considered.”

“Nothing’s more important that wealth,” Albert said. “It’s what we’re here for. And remember, what’s good for the empire is good for it’s allies.”

“Allies?” asked Gregori.

“Of course,” Albert said. He thumped the smaller man on the shoulder. “Best damned thing your people ever did. Mighty big of you after the war, too.” He sat back in his chair, the wood squeaking under his weight. Gregori rose to leave. One of the pack stepped forward and whispered something into his ear.

“Perhaps you would be willing to hold off on this expansion until after the festival,” Gregori said slowly.

“What?” Albert asked. “What festival? When?”

“The festival of the equinox,” Gregori said “It is at this week’s end. Have you not noticed the preparations around town.”

“Oh, yes. Yes, of course,” Albert said. “Well, I don’t see why not. Give the men a little time off, eh?”

“Excellent,” Gregori smiled. “You shall be our guest of honor.” The men left silently. The small man’s smile seemed to linger a while after he’d gone. Albert shrugged it off. He poured himself a double measure of brandy from the bottle he kept in the bottom drawer of his desk and drank it, trying to drown out the sound of the ticking clock.

July Writing Challenge: Day 14: Three Suits and a Joke

Howdy all. Welcome back. Today I found a fun little exercise I had never heard of before and decided to give it a whirl. It was called “Three Suits and a Joke”, and the basic premise is….exactly what it sounds like. There are three people wearing suits, telling a joke. You describe the people, visually at least, based only on their suits and how they react to the joke. I kind of took it a step further and let each suit tell it’s own joke. I didn’t really try for much beyond the scope of the exercise today, but I still had fun writing it.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy.

Three Suits and Their Jokes
By E W Morrow
Word Count: 770

You open the door and slip inside. Even though it’s night outside it takes your eyes a few seconds to adjust to the gloom. This isn’t the kind of bar that hangs up neon signs or puts the game on the tube. It’s a hole in the wall that people crawl into when they want to get drunk. But tonight the place is packed, or at least as packed as this place can get, and it takes you a moment to catch the bartender’s eye and signal the usual. Then you slink off to an empty booth and settle in to watch the festivities.

There’s three suits sitting at the bar. It sounds like the start of a joke, but from what you can tell you already missed the start of this joke, and a whole lot more before.

“….and so the bartender, he…” the first suit says, gesturing with his high ball full of whiskey and laughing before the joke is finished. “…he says…Hey, c’mon Sal, help me out here. You gotta know this one.” He gestures to the bartender with a ragged sleeve. The colors on the thick wool are faded and the fabric hangs loose. Definitely second hand. Maybe third or fourth. You wonder if it belonged to a father, or maybe a brother, but decide that genetics can’t account for that much deviation. The suit doesn’t seem to mind though. What it lacks in filler it makes up in volume. He laughs again as Sal ignores him.

“Okay, fine,” the faded suit says. “So….where was I? Oh, right. So the bartender says ‘Hey buddy, why the long face?’!” Laughter thunders from the depths of the faded suit. The other suit’s grin and chuckle politely. “Okay, you’re turn.”

The second suit holds up a finger. It’s a big finger. The martini glass in his other hand is dwarfed as he takes a delicate sip and you wonder how he manages it without breaking it but he does. This suit is tight and crisp, all straight lines and hard edges, which is an impressive feet on such a large frame. The fabric glistens as the suit moves to put his drink back on the bar.

“Okay,” the shiny suit rumbles. “I gots one.” There are several seconds of silence as the suit sits and contemplates. Then, “Back during the Cold War, the Gov’ment made a computer, right? Real smart. And this general, he goes up to it and he says, ‘Will the United States or Russia win the Cold War.” Kay? And so, the computer says….no, wait…yeah, the computer says ‘Yes!’.” There is another long pause. “And so the general, he says, ‘Yes what?’. Right? And, so, the computer, it says to the general ‘Yes sir!’.”

Another pause. Fabric glistens as the suit expands, sleeves outstretched, shoulders shrugging as it looks to see if the other suits will laugh.

“Oh!” cries the faded suit. He roars and slaps the bar several times. “Good one!” By now he’s almost out of his stool.

The shiny suit bobs up and down with proud chuckles of his own. “Yes sir!” he says again, this time throwing in a mock salute. The faded suit roars anew. Several minutes pass and your drink finally comes. The suits all get a refills of their own as the laughter dies down.

“Okay, come on,” says the faded suit doggedly, “it’s your turn, and no more passes. Give us a real good one.”

The last suit is the grimmest of the group. Dark and unremarkable. In fact, if the other suits hadn’t been there, you almost wouldn’t have noticed him at all. It’s not too big, not to small. It isn’t quite black, just a charcoal gray with a dark shirt. You have no trouble believing it’s the kind of suit someone would buy to not be noticed in. He looks at the other suits and sighs. With one hand he takes a sip of beer and with the other he pulls out a cell phone. It’s a small phone. An old one. Easy to carry in the pocket of an unremarkable suit. He flips it open and presses a few buttons.

“What’s the difference between ignorance and apathy?” he reads solemnly. The other suits shrug. “I don’t know, and I don’t care.” He flicks the phone closed as punctuation.

The faded suit looks at the shiny suit, and the shiny suit looks back. Something passes between them and they groan loudly. The faded suit starts to thunder, and the shiny suit giggles deeply. You shake your head and turn your attention back to your drink.

July Writing Challenge Day 12

Hey all. Today’s bit of writing is a short one. I’m not feeling so well, and I’m finding it a little hard to concentrate, so most of my hour’s writing was spent squinting into nothingness trying to make words magically appear on the screen. Still, I lasted the hour, so at least there’s that.

Anyway, I’m going to go take a nap.

Untitled
By E W Morrow
Word Count: 437

They say everyone who looks into their family history will find a secret sooner or later. I hope that’s not true. Now that everything’s gone digital it’s easier than ever to go digging. Hell, there are websites, entire companies, who’s sole purpose is to sell you the shovel. It’s so easy, but I don’t think it should be. As distance shrinks, as the world get’s smaller, all we have left is time. What good can come from sifting though the past if at any moment you might unearth some secret that time sought fit to bury in the first place.

Then again, maybe it’s not as bad as all that. I confess I am more than a little biased in this regard. The past holds no comfort for me, no buried treasure, only ghosts. Vengeful ghosts. My own family tree bears a branch so black and twisted that I have begun to fear it’s cancer may have spread to the very roots. I wonder if I have been tainted, not just from the things I have learned, the knowledge I have gained, but from birth. Am I capable of, nay inclined to, committing horrors like those I have learned of? Will my unborn child be as ruined as I am? Is it madness to think this? Or would it be madness to believe otherwise? I don’t know.

My own, personal, horror began six months ago. It was several days since my wife, Julia, had taken the pregnancy test. They were happy days. We were jittery with excitement, the kind tinged with a little bit of fear, but I think that was appropriate for first time parents. Of the two of us, I was the more contained. Julia became a whirlwind of nervous energy, and she was adamant about finding ways to focus it. I swear, if I had let her talk me into it, we would have begun and finished converting the den into a baby’s bedroom half a dozen times. Instead, she took me window shopping for strollers and car seats. She compiled lists for future grocery trips and began comparing prices at all the stores in a twenty mile radius from our house. In two days we had four congratulatory meals with four separate groups of friends and family.

And, of course, she signed us up with an online ancestry research site.

I’ve never been one of those people who was much interested in his lineage. My parents had always told me that we were German-Irish and that was it. I never probed any deeper, and until the news of the baby, neither had Julia.

July Writing Challenge Day 3

Okay, here it is. Technically late, but since I haven’t slept yet, I consider it the third day of July still.

Today was one of those days where I started a story and went for a bit before I got bored and started a new one. I did it twice, though really the first and second stories are the same, I just started writing it in a different way. So, yeah, it’s probably a bit disjointed, but I’m publishing it anyway as proof.

Untitled
By E W Morrow
Word Count – 2024

They found him in a little bar on the outskirts of Cleveland. It was still early, and when the three men walked through the door they doubled the bar’s patronage. The small man who entered last cast his glance around the room and, apparently satisfied, nodded to the other two. These men were not small. They were built like bulldozers and had personalities to match. They took special meaning from the small man’s simple nod and silently moved to obey they unspoken command. The first moved to the opposite end of the bar and took up a position roughly equal distance from both of the rooms visible fire exits. The second casually reached over and flipped the sign on the door so that it read “CLOSED” to the outside world. Then he moved aside. Only when both of the larger men were finished did the small man move into the room. He made his way slowly, but purposefully, to the end of the bar, and gently sat beside the man he had come here to see.

The bartender, a portly man with graying hair, sucked on his teeth but otherwise kept silent. He’d been a bartender a long time and felt like he knew where this was headed. Little men in expensive suits rarely ever wrecked up the place. Those that did tended to pay for the damages. As if on cue the little man pulled out a crisp hundred dollar bill and slid it across the bar towards the bartender.

“I’ll have a pint,” he said. He had a surprisingly deep voice for such a little man, and his tone was pleasant but suggested that he was used to being obeyed.

“Right,” said the bartender. “A pint of what?”

“Surprise me,” The little man’s smile uneased the bartender. “And another round of whatever my friend here is drinking.”

The bartender took the hundred dollar bill and made himself busy with the drinks. He poured a pint of the most expensive beer he sold for the little man and set it on the bar in front of him. Then he reached under the bar, grabbed the bottle of the cheapest whiskey he sold and filled up the other man’s glass.

“Leave the bottle,” said the little man, “and go away. The bartender did as he was told.

Once he was sufficiently pleased with the level of privacy they had, the little man turned to look at the man sitting beside him. The two made quite a contrast. Whereas the little man was immaculately dressed and carefully groomed, the other was a picture of slobbishness. Almost a caricature. He had long, greasy hair and at least three days growth on cheeks. His jeans were dirty and full of holes and his shirt had probably once had writing on it that was legible but was now too faded to tell. He turned and looked at the little man with bleary eyes, and it was obvious that the drink in his hand was not his first of the evening.

“I ain’t your friend,” he said. He drained the whiskey in one gulp and moved to pour himself another.

“And how would you know that, Mr. Grant?” asked the little man in the same pleasant tone he had used with the bartender. “You don’t even know who I am.”

“Sure I do,” he replied.

“And who is that?”

“You’re the government.”

The little man’s smile actually reached his eyes at that point. It was the first hint of genuine emotion he had shown since he’d entered the bar.

“What gave it away?” he asked.

“Because it’s always the government,” Grant grunted as he took another swig of whiskey. “I’d kind of hoped you’d given up after Seattle.”

“We thought it best to give you some time to cool down,” replied the little man. “And none of the agents were seriously hurt. Bear in mind that, had that been otherwise, we would be having this conversation under considerably different circumstances right now. I trust we aren’t going to have a repeat of that day, are we?”

The man called Grant looked around the room. True, the man beside him was little, and he did have a bottle close at hand, but the two meat sticks on either side of him looked like the kind of men who knew their way around a fight. He sighed.

“No, I don’t think we are.”

“Good.”

“So,” Grant said as he topped off the whiskey in his glass yet again. “Not to be rude, but what the fuck do you people want?”

The little government man answered in the same pleasant tone he always used. “Mr. Grant, we want the same thing we’ve always wanted. To know what happened that day.”

Grant sighed, downed his third glass of whiskey in five minutes, and hoped it would be enough.

“Fine.”

I won’t bore you with the details. For all I know, you have a better idea of what we were doing there in the first place. Fuck if I know why a “geological survey” needed an armed from the national fucking guard. I think they maybe had some idea of what we were headed into, even at the start, cause it sure as shit wasn’t some routine survey like they said it was. There were six of us, five squaddies and Sargent Lucas, packed into a couple of Humvees with the three geeks. You ever try to squeeze nine people into two cars? Just glad we didn’t listen to the bald one and try and shove their fancy little gizmos inside too. Hell, I thought we should have strapped one of the geeks on top too.

It was me and Pierce in the back of the second car with one of the geeks. She was kinda cute I guess. Sharron, I think her name was? Maybe Cherri? Dunno. Anyway, Pierce was hitting on her pretty hard. I don’t think she had any more of a clue why there was all this fuss over a little scientific expedition either, but she did say that we were headed out to look into “unusual tectonic activity”, whatever that meant.

It took us three hours to get where we were going, which ended up being the dead end of a gravel road ass deep in the Ozark foothills of Arkansas. We got there just before noon, and even though it was halfway through October it was still hot as hell. Not sure if you’ve ever been down that way, but they get some nasty heat, all sticky and humid. Probably not as bad as it gets further south, but we were still feeling it pretty bad. The geeks had us take down their equipment and the bald one took a few “preliminary readings”. Basically he kicked some rocks over and fiddle with a few nobs on one of the heavier pieces of equipment. Dunno what good it did him. Maybe he didn’t like the….hell, soil composition or something like that. Maybe he just wanted us grunts to sweat a little more. Whatever the reason, he had us pick up the equipment and head off into the woods. I swear he made us walk uphill just to piss us off.

After about forty-five minutes we found what he was looking for. We came to a little clearing by the side of an old stream bed and finally got to put the equipment down.

Somewhere close by, people were arguing. Their voices, hot blooded and angry, echoed off the bricks and flagstones of the city, past little shops closed for the night, and by the time they reached the ear of someone prepared to do something about it, they were little more than garbled shouts with a hint of intelligence. The ear in question belonged to Detective Inspector Locke of the City Watch. He was standing, or, more accurately, lurking, in the doorway of a little all night cafe he liked to hit just before the end of his shift. He sighed and looked at his coffee, black as tar and just as thick. There was no way I’ll get to finish it now, he thought. And I’ve already dumped the rest of my brandy in it. He patted the flask in his left jacket pocket mournfully and sipped his drink. General public order wasn’t really his job, not anymore, but a case could be made that it was still his responsibility as long as he carried the badge, and he was technically on duty for another half an hour, and if he didn’t look into this, chances were that before long it would turn into something that WAS his job. Might as well save himself the paperwork.

He stepped off the stoop and made his way down the cobbles towards the disturbance. He took another drink to stave off the autumn chill. It had rained earlier, and the fog would probably be rising off the river soon, but for now the night was clear. It had been quiet, too, until now. High in the sky the moon hung, bright and swollen full. Locke’s father, who had grown up out in the sticks, had had all sorts of names for a full moon: Harvest Moon, Hunter’s Moon, Crow Moon, Thunder Moon. One for every moon of the year. In the city, where the seasons mattered less, the denizens had only one name for it. Copper’s Moon. A full moon bathed the streets in silver, made it easy to see and hard for anyone to skulk around in shadows. It tended to keep the more clandestine criminals indoors for a few days a month. But that didn’t stop the angry or just bloody stupid citizens from having at one at one another.

As if to highlight the thought, Locke heard a sudden change in the quality of the voices. The general tone slid from mutual anger to panic. He lifted his tin mug to his lips to gulp down the last of his coffee, and then splashed it on himself with a start when the violent crack boom split the night.

Oh hells, thought Locke. Someone has a powder gun. He took off running.

In ten seconds he’d gone a full city block. He almost tripped over himself stopping just as he reached the corner to the alley where he thought the sound of the gunshot had come from. Powder guns might be new to the city, but ranged weaponry in general was not. Stepping into a dark alley and making a nice silhouetted target against the lighted street behind you was a good way to end up dead. So Locke inched up to the corner slowly, then stuck his head around it just long enough to get a general idea of it’s contents. Even under the full light of the Copper’s Moon it was still too dark to make out much in the alley beyond a few feet. Unfortunately it seemed free of any convenient carts, barrels, or even garbage pails to duck behind. There was nothing else for it. I slipped his watch badge out of his pocket with one hand and felt along his belt for his truncheon with the other, which just happened to be holding his coffee tin. He cursed silently when he remembered that he hadn’t carried a truncheon since his promotion to detective inspector. Dead bodies and crime scenes rarely needed to be pummeled. So, just his badge and a tin coffee mug against an unknown number of criminals, at least one of whom was armed with a powder gun.

Locke took a deep breath, drew himself up to his full, not exactly intimidating, height, and rounded the corner.

“City watch!” He bellowed. “Drop your weapons and come out!”

His voice echoed off the brick walls of the alley and then there was silence. No cries of terror issued from the shadows, which was bad, but then again no one laughed or shoot at him either, which was good. He cautiously inched his way further into the gloom. Still, no one took a shot at him. With the exception of his thundering heartbeats, the alley was dead silent.

Especially the corpse, which was lying in a pool of blood twenty feet in.

Ooops

Day 3 of my writing challenge is going to have to be postponed. I have about 200 words left to go, plus a little bit of typing, but it appears holiday plans have changed and I have to leave a little earlier than I planned. Probably won’t get home til late but I will definitely finish and post before I go to bed. Don’t worry, it’ll get done.

July Writing Challenge Day 1: Dog Days

Here’s day 1 for my July writing challenge. Since this is a learning exercise for me, I think most days I am going to put at least a little bit of reflection and self-criticism. If you would rather read the days work fresh, skip ahead and then come back to this section.

So, today’s story started out by me thinking what it might be like to experience an interaction between two humans from the point of view of an animal. If you have even a passing familiarity with me as a writer, you probably already know what the event in question is. From there it kind of evolved into a piece about the animal, and doing a lot of anthropomorphizing in the process.

So, what do I think worked? Well, I have this view of my writing as being incredibly descriptive, today I tried to get away from that, or at least getting away from bogging things down unnecessarily. I tried to focus more on actions, on things happening, rather than spend all 2,000 words describing the setting and characters and having nothing else happen. I think I accomplished that.

As for what didn’t? Well, in such a rough draft kind of format, there’s going to be a lot. I think I maybe anthropomorphized the dog a bit too much, either that or not enough. I think if I’d tried I could have found more unique ways of describing a dog’s senses (how would it experience such a heightened sense of smell, for example?). Also, the “dog vs wolf” parts are a little bit ham fisted right now. The idea kinda came to me as I was going. I like the concept, but since I only really considered it a third of the way through I’d need to go back and smooth it out. This could probably be accomplished by sticking closer to what I had originally envisioned, where the dog wanders more, has more time to be a dog and think like a dog. This would also help because, even though I consciously tried to do away with description, I think I needed some more. Overall it might have helped the pacing. I may come back to this sometime this month in week 2 or 3, have one of my days be a rewrite? Maybe?

So…I guess the biggest thing I’m taking away from today is to work on balancing description and action better, being more direct and economical with my words so one doesn’t drown out the other, and to let myself be a bit more creative, open up and make interesting choices.

Anyway, that’s my two cents worth. Now here’s my 2,000 words worth. Thanks for reading, and here’s to the start of the month.

Dog Days
By E W Morrow
Word Count – 2070

The day had started out hot, and it was only getting hotter. It was only marginally less unbearable in the shade but even so those who found themselves abroad sought shelter where they could. And on a small, secluded bend of trail in a disused corner of a mostly forgotten park, the only souls bearing the summer heat belonged to a man and a dog. The man sat on a bench at the edge of a bank of shade. His tie was loosened, his sleeves rolled up past his elbows, and his pale face was flush from the heat. He didn’t look happy. The dog wasn’t his.

The dog wasn’t anyone’s, in fact. He had been, once. A long time ago. Longer than that, in dog years. Even now, if he tried, the dog could remember the way life had been: a little girl who played with him, a square patch of grass surrounded by chain link fence that he could wriggle under if he wanted, a house he got to go in when it rained, a pair of bigger humans who mostly ignored him but gave him food. He could also remember when things had changed: a new, tiny human that cried and cried whenever he barked, the bigger humans yelling, throwing things at him, the little girl coming out to play less and less, the anger on the big man’s face that last night, the bat in the big man’s hands, making it under the fence just in time.

The dog tried not to think about it too much. Especially not on days like today. It was too hot, and it stirred something inside him. Something old and a little bit feral. From before there were dogs. He didn’t like those feelings. He gave a little doggy sigh, which turned into a pant that refused to stop. He wanted to go back to the little hollow he called home and sleep the day away, but he knew he couldn’t. Too hungry. Too thirsty. For a moment he considered putting on his begging face and sad eyes and approaching the man on the bench, maybe getting a little treat or, if nothing else, a scratch behind the ears, but he quickly dismissed it. Most people were generally kind to dogs, even mangy looking mutts like him, but others got frightened. Or mad. This man looked like he might fall into that second category. The day was, inch by inch, drenching him in sweat, and his face did not look like it would be a kind face on the loveliest spring days.

And he reminded the dog of the man from before. The one who’d come after him with the bat.

So, instead the dog slunk out from between the trees and braved the sunlight. A short way down the trail there was a trash can he liked to rummage through every few days. He sniffed it first and was mildly affronted when he smelled another dog’s scent on the side of the can. Once he’d circled the can a few more times, he took assumed the position. His leg was hiked and he was already mid stream when he saw the second man coming down the path towards him. The stream cut off suddenly, and the dog darted for cover. Once there, he finished his business in a much less dignified manner.

Whereas the first man, the one on the bench, had been pretty big and pretty angry looking, this man was huge and not so much angry as terrifying. His skin was dark and the scowl on his face must have been chiseled there at birth. Like the first man, he was wearing a suit, but unlike the first, his was immaculate, unruffled by the heat. Also unlike the man on the bench, this human did not remind the dog of anyone, and for that he was grateful. He passed the place the dog was hiding and made his way to the bend in the path where the first man was waiting. The dog waited until he heard the two begin to speak in muttering voices and, confident neither man would turn their attention to him and label him a “bad dog”, made his way back to the trash can.

Over his own scent and the smell of other dogs was something else he dearly wanted to investigate. He could smell the left over sizzle, a sort of brown scent with traces of pop and fizz. And, from the smell of it, it was only a few days old. Practically new. If he could get to it he might not have to spend the day walking to one of the dumpsters behind the restaurants blocks away from the park. From experience he knew that the can itself was planted pretty firmly in the ground, not something that he could knock over and pick through at his leisure, but it had a wide rim he could balance on. He’d have to be quick, since the metal rim was likely to be scorching hot on a day like today, and careful not to fall in, but the smell of days old sizzle was just too tempting to give up on. There was a complicated moment as he mounted the rim of the can and then his nose was inside and sniffing wildly. He pushed aside two empty water bottles and a clump of napkins before he found what he was looking for. He gingerly grabbed the edge of the bag with his front teeth and edged it out of the less tasty garbage. It caught for a second, and in a surge of panic he gave a yank that turned into a tumble as his paw slipped off the rim of the garbage can. He landed in the grass with a thud but was on all four feet in a moment. He frantically glanced around, searching for the bag, but it wasn’t on the ground.

He was just beginning to look up when the bag landed on his head.

Tail wagging with furious excitement, the dog picked up his bounty and trotted back over to the shade. He chose a comfortable looking spot far enough away from the bench with the two men that they wouldn’t notice him, but close enough that he could keep an ear on them. Their voices were no longer low and muttering, and the dog wanted to have ample warning if they got angry. In his experience, angry men usually took it out on the dog. Once he was satisfied, he laid down on the grass, bag between his front paws, and began ripping in.

Inside was more than he could have hoped for. Nearly a third of a cheeseburger had been left uneaten. It sat there, among the shreds of paper and a few shriveled french fries, simmering in the mid day heat like a brow crescent moon. The dog hadn’t experienced a windfall like this since the day that little boy had thrown a fit down by the sand pits and thrown his chicken fingers at his mother, and most of those had been unfortunately crunchy. Compared to most days, this was a feast.

He had the patty in his mouth when the men at the bench started yelling and he froze. At first it was just one, most likely the first, but after a few exchanges both men were shouting so loud that several birds in the area took wing, and the dog realized it was time for him to do the same. Memories were surfacing, the terror of childhood coming back after all these years. Keeping the burger clamped tight, he got up and began to trot away. Maybe it was the taste of the meat on his tongue, or the years of living as a stray had changed him more than he’d known, but those other feelings began to stir just below the fear.

Somewhere inside every dog is a wolf. Somewhere under the ages of domestication is the part of the animal that can truly be called the beast. Every dog has it, but only rarely do they give into it. And right now, even though he was slinking away, the dog wanted to heed the call, to bare his teeth and snarl at the danger. To make these men in their fancy suits remember a time when they, too, were more primitive. Man rules dog, but monkey fears wolf. He wanted it more than he’d wanted it ever before.

Then there was a crack that seemed to rip through the heat and sent a cold streak of fear straight through the dog. He jumped, the burger slipped from his jaws, and he bolted. The dog had lived on the streets for a long time, and he knew what a gunshot was. It was one more reason to keep the wolf at bay.

It was in the last stages of dusk before the dog returned to the park. The heat of the day still lingered, but at least the park was empty now. His wanderings through town that day had not been fruitful. It seemed every dumpster was empty and ever human he’d me baked callous by the sun. Only one man had actually tried to kick him, but even so it was another day of loneliness and hunger for a homeless dog. He stopped by a water fountain near the gates of the park, the one that leaked a steady trickle most days, and lapped at it slowly. The water was warm, but clean, and it went down without complaint.

Of the two men who had been there earlier, the dog saw no sign. In fact, he saw no sign of anyone as he made his way to the secluded corner of the park where the day had begun. For a brief moment he dared to hope that the burger might still be there, lying in the grass, but a cursory sniff of the area told him he was out of luck. Some other animal had already been and taken it away.

It was then that the dog caught another scent on the air. Something sweet and a little tangy, and dripping red. It was just a whiff above the earthier smells all around, but it seemed to pulse maddeningly in the air before him. For the third time that day, the wolf in him began to stir. And this time, he was too tired to, and too hungry, to stop it.

It led him exactly where he knew it would: past the garbage can and down the trail, around the bend and up to the bench. There he found a dark pool of liquid glinting in the last light of the day. This was the source of the sweet odor, but it was only the beginning. It spread out to the left, wide and wild, as if there had been an explosion of the stuff, but it quickly thinned and ended. But there was more, a long, thin trail that didn’t diminish, leading straight back into the trees. Cautiously, the dog followed it.

Perhaps twenty feet into the clump of trees the dog found the source of the trail. It was the man, the one who had been sitting on the bench earlier that day. He was lying face down in the dried up stream scant feet away from the hollow that the dog had made his den. The dog approached slowly, not trusting the man who reminded him so much of his troubled past. When he was close enough, he nudged the man’s shoe with his nose and scampered back a few feet. The man didn’t move. Again, the dog moved in and nudged the body, and again the body didn’t move. He reached forward with is paw and scratched at a bare patch of skin. The body just lie there. It seemed the man wasn’t faking.

Two things happened inside the mind of the dog. First, the wolf howled. It hadn’t quite been a hunt, but the beast reveled in the kill none the less. Even hunters like an easy meal. And second, the dog looked at the face of the man, and remembered the one from all those years ago, who had yelled and chased him away from the house and the yard and the girl. And his tail began to wag.

First Story in a Long Time

Well, it’s been a while. The place is a little dusty, but I see everything is just where I left it.

So, yeah, guess I took a bit of an unintended hiatus there. Not really sure what to say about that. It’s been a pretty wild year for me. Lot’s of ups and downs. A lot more ups than downs, now that I think about it, but the down’s have been of such prodigious depth that it kind of tips the scales. To be honest I’m in kind of a bad place in my life right now. I’m trying to work through it, but it’s…well I’m trying to work through it. And one way I’m doing that is by trying to write again.

Our story this time is quite appropriate for the first post after a long absence–it deals with animating the dead. That’s right folks, Zombie Love Story Time! That’s….that’s not the title. I don’t actually know what the title should be, but it won’t be that.

So, yeah, as far as feedback, I obviously am looking for pretty much anything I can get. If you notice the tense slipping between past and present please tell me (I changed it halfway through and might have missed some changes). I like where the story ends, but I still think the end is the weakest part. Maybe I got tired and just wanted to get it over with. I dunno. But I’d love to hear some ideas on how to improve it. Other than that I’ll just let you read it without me trying to direct you too much one way or the other.

As always, thanks, and hopefully I’m back for good. Fingers crossed
-EW

————————————

Untitled Piece
By  E W Morrow
2601

I knock. I do it quietly. Slowly. Just a few raps at a nice, regular rhythm. The door is big and thick. The kind of door you normally think of as needing a pounding just to transmit any sound through it, but I know better. I know there’s be someone waiting just inside listening patiently for me to announce myself.

And I know they didn’t want me to do it loudly.

I hear a deadbolt slide out of the door jam and then the door cracks open a few silent inches. I can see three separate chains securing it from the inside. The room beyond is blocked from view by a shadow with an eye ball up near the lintel. It narrows as it glares down at me.

“What do you want?” it asks, its voice like a distant avalanche.

“I’m here to make a deposit,” I reply calmly.

“How large?” it rumbles.

“I was told size doesn’t matter.” The figure behind the door grunts in amusement.

The door shuts briefly and I can hear the chains being undone. Then it opens again and the shadow steps aside to let me in. The shadow turns out to be a giant of a man with short, dark hair and a scar on lantern like jaw. The gun in his hand, a 9 mil if I had to guess, looks like a toy, but it’s not hard to dispel the illusion. It isn’t that the gun was small. It’s just that his hands are the size of my head. Everything about the man radiates danger. I give him a wan smile. So far, so good.

“Arms up,” he said.

The pat down goes pretty much as expected. First he checks the arms, if only briefly, then he goes for my mid section and chest. His hands linger around my waist, probing under my love handles and prodding my lower ribs. Then he kneels for the legs. He starts at the bottom, checking around the ankles for anything tucked in a sock or strapped to a calf. Not finding anything, he goes higher. In my opinion he spends a little longer than necessary inspecting my groinal region. Maybe squeezes a little too firmly. I’d say he’s just being thorough, but after he stops fondling me he gives the rest of the inspection only minimal attention. In doing so, he almost misses the bulge in my pocket. Almost.

“What is this?” There’s menace in the voice now, like thunder before a storm. He moves behind me and I feel the barrel of the gun against my head and he said, “Take it out. Slowly.”

I do as I’m told without remark. Silence has gotten me this far, and it should get me further still. I slip my hand gently into my pocket, just the first three fingers. My other hand I keep out to my side, fingers splayed. My pants are baggy, comfortable, with big pockets. It isn’t hard to pull out. We hear it first, the giant and I. The soft, crisp crinkle of thin plastic. I breathe easier when I sense him relax.

“It’s just a water bottle,” I say “See? Thought I might need one.” I hold it out for his inspection. He doesn’t take it from me, but I feel him lean over to inspect it. He sees exactly what there is to see, nothing more than a simple water bottle, half full of clear liquid, the label nothing more than a distant memory.

I don’t even think he notices my hand shaking.

“Okay,” He says after a long moment’s pause. “Follow me.”

The hallway he leads me down is long and dimly lit by overhead fluorescents. Maybe one of out of every three has a tube, and half of those blink and strobe uncomfortably. The walls had probably been clean and bright, once, but the passage of too much time and too many people has stained them various putrid hues. Too many hand prints. Too many burst pipes and vermine in the walls. Too much entropy. I know the place’s past, know that it used to be clean to the point of sterile by necessity, but now I am unable to recognize it beneath the filth.

“So,” The giant say, almost conversationally , “how did you hear about us?” I sigh, spotting the clumsy trap almost before it is laid.

“I didn’t,” I say coldly. The giant laughs like an earthquake.

“Damn right.”

It’s the first lie I’ve told tonight. It was one I had planned on telling, and one my hosts had probably expected me to tell, but it’s a lie nevertheless, and it makes me feel uneasy. Just giving it voice makes the bottle in my pocket feel heavier. Colder. More dangerous.

If I’d been stupid, I would have said that I’d heard about this place on the internet. No, not facebook or reddit. You can’t find this place on google. I found it on the dark side of the internet. The deep web. The place child pornographers congregate and professional hit men ply their trade. The kind of labyrinth that only takes you where you already know how to go and never leads to the same place twice. Where you can spend exorbitant amounts of money fulfilling your darkest dreams, or make a fortune fulfilling someone else’s. Just name your price.

If I’d been suicidal, I would have said that Hey Tony had told me. Everyone this side of the law knows Tony, and Tony knows everyone. That’s why they call him Hey Tony. All you have to do was say “Hey, Tony told me…”, and everyone knows who you meant. What everyone doesn’t know was that I’d pulled Tony out of a hole in the ice one winter when we were kids. He owes me, would sell out any of the people who know and trust him with their darkest secrets just to square things between us. And I’ve never once called that debt in. Not for nothing. Until now. So when she went missing, when some dumb fuck made the only girl I’d ever loved disappear, I didn’t bother asking around, didn’t bother making threats or scratching backs. I just called Tony and asked her where she was. In trouble, that’s where. He gave me names, and both of us knew there was nothing I could do. Get in bad with the wrong guys and nobody can save you. Get in that deep, and there’s only one thing you can hope for.

Revenge.

The giant leads me down a flight of stairs and around a corner into another hallway. This one is shorter, but wider, and ends at a pair of battered swinging doors with circular plexiglass windows and steel panels bolted on the bottom half. I know, even before I see it, what’s waiting beyond those doors.

It is a rare thing when imagination synchs up so perfectly with reality. It’s as if someone had plucked the image of the room from my mind and placed it there just for me. I’m sure if it was a gift or a warning, not sure if I should laugh or cry. Three quarters of the room is dominated by a set of autopsy bays lined against the far wall. Each one consists of a metal table in the center ringed on three sides by counters, cabinets and carts laden with medical equipment of the most brutal kind. Scalpels. Drills. Saws. Forceps. All of them glinting and clean. The rest of the room is crammed with a half dozen people, all neatly dressed in slacks and ties, and their equipment: two video cameras, several high end digitals, a pair of soft box lights pointed at the center autopsy bay, and a few other lights of varying types and sizes. Oh, and guns, one for everyone.

Those people are the only unexpected thing about this situation. I’d known that there would be people, that there must be people, but in all my hours thinking about this moment, I had never actually stopped to think about them. They would be there, and they would be dealt with. That was all I had needed to know. The truth is…worse.

Something about them frightens me, makes me sick to my stomach. Maybe it’s the way they look, all clean and professional, in the face of what they are doing. Maybe it’s just a trick of the light. The overheads are off and the only source of illumination comes from the lamps scattered throughout the room and those two huge, but relatively dim, softbox lights set up in the corners. The angles are wrong, different from the norm, and the colors cold and unnatural. Every face in the room has an unhealthy pallor and a few harsh, under lit shadows. It’s almost demonic. But even that isn’t it. Not really. It isn’t how they look but the WAY they look. The way they stare at me. Half amused, half hungry. These are people who make a living from the dead, and who get their kicks from the discomfort of the living. I can already tell that they hope I don’t go through with it. That they’ll laugh if they have to force me.

But they’ve already forced me.

A fat man with a bad comb over and worse teeth extracts himself clumsily from an honest to God director’s and waddles over to me. The smell of his cologne almost overwhelms the scent of antiseptic and astroglide already stinking up the place, but not entirely. He holds out a pudgy hand and gives me a lurid smile as I shake it.

“Know what you have to do?” He asks. I nod, but he doesn’t let go of my hand. It’s clear that he won’t until he’s heard me say it.

“Yeah, I know.” The man’s smile fades at little when he hears how steady my voice is. It’s not going to be as fun as he’d like.

“Eh, good,” he grumbles. “Yeah, good. Well, pick a spot and get naked. Give us a minute to do some final checks and then we’ll let you have at it.” He turns to leave but stops. He wants to have one more go at unsettling me. “Just, don’t pop the nut too early, kay? You gotta fuck it long enough that we can use the footage or the boss is gonna get mad. Got it?”

I nod again and he waves me away. I make my way to an empty bay and start to disrobe. I put the water bottle gently on the counter and throw my clothes in a heap in a random corner. It’s probably poetic, on some level. Me being naked. Thinking something about everything being laid bare would probably be appropriate at this point, but I don’t. Or maybe something about me leaving the world the same way I entered it. Naked and bloody. But I don’t think that either. I’m completely calm. Empty. The only thing that makes my heart beat faster is when I pick up the bottle. So much danger in such a tiny package. I don’t even know where it came from. I didn’t even see the face of the man who delivered it. I just told Tony what I needed, and he made the call.

I guess he really does know everybody.

The fat man yells at me and tells me they’re ready. The lights are on, the stage is set, and it’s showtime. I can feel them watch me as I step up to the table. I feel half a dozen pairs of eyes on my naked skin. I can see their leers without turning to look. But I don’t care, because there she is, laid out on the slab in front of me. I’ve found her.

Her body is just is naked as mine. So naked that I can see all the damage. Especially around her private areas. Teeth marks around the nipples. Strings of finger shaped bruises along her arms and inner thighs. The red, angry ruin around what used to be her vagina. They hadn’t even bothered to clean up the blood. It’s caked on, ruddy brown around every opening. They’d taken her, punished her, killed her, and now they are using her. For money. That’s why they are filming. Necro-porn probably doesn’t have a large market, but it’s expensive. And the men at the top can always use the video to send a message. Punishment doesn’t stop at death.

There I go, being poetic again.

I lean down and kiss her on the lips. I stroke her cheek. I want to tell her I’m sorry. That I’m sorry for being jealous, for blaming her for everything. Sorry that I pushed her away when she needed me the most. But I don’t. She can’t hear me, and I won’t let these bastards hear it either. I can hear them, rustling. Uneasy. By now surely one of them must have noticed that I’m still flaccid. It won’t be long before they realize I didn’t come her to indulge a fetish. But I don’t need long.
I take the bottle and twist off the cap. It’s good to know that, even after everything that has happened, I still know on some level what I’m doing, what it will mean, and that my hands still have the decency to shake as I pour the water into her mouth. I spill a little, but the rest slides down with surprising ease, slithering past busted lips and broken teeth as though it is alive. I guess it is, in a way.

And then I step back. The men on the other side of the lights scream. First they scream in anger, wanting me to get back in the shot, to climb up on the table and fuck the dead girl like I paid to do. I ignore them and lean up against a metal cabinet. Then, they’re screams go from angry, to confused, to terrified as the corpse on the table twitches, convulses, and then sits up. The men may be armed, but none of them appear to be trained, and unluckily for them the giant seems to have disappeared, back to his post. She makes it to the first one before anyone even pulls their gun. It’s the fat man. I grin a little as she tears out his throat. Bastards probably wish they hadn’t broken her teeth. I bet it just makes them sharper.

The others keep screaming. Two start to cry, one throws up, and the last two grow a pair and pull out their guns. But it’s too late. With inhuman strength she hurls the body of the fat man across the room, and with everyone crammed so close together it doesn’t take luck for her to bowl a strike.

About the time she bites in to the third one I close my eyes. It shouldn’t be long before the broken, bloody bodies in the room become corpses. Stop moving. Then start again. For all I know this could be the end of the world, but I don’t feel like watching it. I don’t mind. Not about the end of the world. I couldn’t care less about the world as a whole. I just don’t care that she didn’t seem to recognize me. But I know she did. Sure, she went after the others first, but she always does that. She likes to flirt, to spread her attention around the room. But I’ve learned something.

In the end, she always comes back to me.