Saturday, December 31, 2011

"eyeballs growing all over me . . again" by Tony Rauch (Short Stories)

Genre:  Science Fiction

Type of Short Story:  Short Stories

Summary:  A man comes home to discover a Bigfoot-like creature watching his tv, a giant robot pays a visit to a couple, a new kid has some unusual toys to share, an inventor creates a gorgeous robot in order to meet women, a girl becomes so ill she has her head replaced with a goat head, someone wakes to discover little eyes growing all over his body, small, hairy creatures come looking to retrieve an object they had misplaced, and a boy finds an unusual pair of sunglasses in the weeds. These are the whimsical, surreal adventures of Tony Rauch.

One Complete Story from this Collection:

red ball jet (drop me off on planet earth)


Aliens appear in my bedroom. They wake me by shining some kind of weird blue light in my eyes. Jerks.

I shake my head and sit up. At first I think, oh great, aliens - that’s the last thing I need right now. Yeah, aliens, that figures. Yeah, that’s about right. But then my curiosity gets the better of me, and I wonder what kind of battery their strange blue light thingy takes. Probably a couple of double A’s.

It’s incredibly late at night. Two of them are looming at the foot of my bed. One of them reaches to me as my eyes adjust to the gray, foggy night. I’m a little scared at first. A little intimidated. I study their outlines - kind of a ghostly gray. They possess a rather ghoulish pallor. I sort of feel sorry for them - being all washed out and gray like that and all. They really should get out more - get some sun.

One of them raises his hand and begins to speak to me telepathically, putting pictures in my mind. He asks me what I want. I tell him I’m tired, that I just want to be left alone. I tell them to buzz-off, that I want to get some sleep. He says, no, we mean if you could have anything you want, you know, like a wish - if you could have anything right now, at this exact moment, what would you want? What would you like to do? Where would you like to go? What would you like to see?

I must admit I’m rather taken aback by this unusual proposal. I think for a moment. What do I most want or need at this time? Right now? . . . Actually, I was rather frustrated. It had been a really boring weekend. There was absolutely nothing going on. Nothing at all. Now I don’t mind layin’ low every now and then, just chillin’ out and all, but this was the beginning of summer, I should be out there after all, out there wandering around, meeting people, hanging out, immersing myself in the soft, dark, velvety night. I tried to call a bunch of people, but no one was around. . . . Just then, in reading my thoughts, the alien asks me if I want to go out. This is a strange thing, to have some big gray dude talkin’ to me in my head. His voice is all long and fuzzy, like out of a metal tube or a long concrete tunnel.

I think for a moment and shrug. Sure, I say, I guess I’d like ta go out. Maybe to a nice party that has lots of nice girls and some great tunes. Maybe to a cool club - some little dive. Heck, I wanted to go out all weekend and here it is Sunday night - and it’s too late to do anything, surely everything is closed up by now. What a waste. Then the gray chap asks me how this makes me feel. I say I feel kind of bad about it - it being summer and all. I mean, I don’t want to waste my summer or anything. I mean, I should be out there - out there doin’ stuff, rockin’ out or something, I shrug, and here I am, stuck here like always. I explain to him that it feels like I’m missin’ out on stuff, that I’m wasting the summer, wastin’ my life. Wasting it. Missing out on things. Squandering chances. Chances slipping right past me. Squandering my life away. What a rip-off. What a shame. Like here I had this great weekend, and what do I do with it? Huh? Nothing. Shoot some hoops and read some science fiction and watch some baseball and stuff. Read some baseball stuff and some Vonnegut and all. Yeah, sure, I cranked some tunes and all, but still, I just wasn’t up for just hangin’ low. I mean, it wasn’t necessarily my fault. I mean, I tried and everything but nothingwas goin’ down. No one was around at all. But still.

I think the guy can tell I’m being sincere, that I’m bummed out, regretful, ashamed - feeling pretty bad about things, because he turns slowly and looks over to the other guy. Then he slowly turns back to me. O.k., he says in my head, we’ll take you out. We want to learn more about your feelings, your inner-workings. I tell him that would be fine, but nothing’s open, nothing’s going on, it‘s too late. It’s just too late. He looks back over to the other gray guy again and then back to me and tells me it’s never too late, that there‘s always plenty of time. Then he asks me where I’d like to go if I could go anywhere, if I could actually be anywhere right now.

I smile a kind of crooked, disbelieving grin out of the side of my mouth, as if to say “get out of town.” But the dude assures me we can go absolutely anywhere, that we can do absolutelyanything. And I am instantly filled with a strange sort of faith, a warmth of trust rushes over me. For some reason I believe them. I mean, they’re aliens after all, surely they could just whisk me off to anywhere. I mean, it just figures.

So I think about it for a second. If I could be anywhere, where would I want to be? If I could experience absolutely anything, what would I like to do? What would I like to re-do?

I remember always being disappointed that I missed the UFO concert back in ‘82. I think I was sick or something, I can’t remember. That woulda been a great show - Saxon, UFO, and Rainbow - what a line-up, I shake my head. Then there was another really great show, The Only Ones and The Flamin’ Groovies back in ‘78. That wasn’t hard rock, though, that was more new wave, modish, power-pop stuff. Yeah, that woulda been something, to see those guys in a small club. A small new wave club. I shake my head. Man, that woulda been something.

I’m looking down, shaking my head and thinking about all the great shows I’ve missed, all the concerts I coulda seen, all the great times I coulda had, when suddenly I’m standing in a well lit bar. Suddenly we’re back in 1978. They’ve whisked me back in time. Just like that. I’m dressed in some weirdo 1978 clothes. They tell me this is to blend in, so no one catches on. The two aliens are here too. Huh, imagine that. And sure enough, they’re disguised as regular folk now too. So I look around, and here we’re standing by the bar. We get to drinking and talking and I ask them their names and where they’re from, how they like it here and all that. And they tell me their names, but the bar is noisy and their voices in my head are kind of foggy and distant, so it ends up sounding something like “Red Bull Jeff” or “Rag Bulges” or something like that. Maybe it was “Redball Jet,” or maybe that’s where they’re from. Aw, in the excitement and noise of the bar, well, you know how it is. So I just start calling the taller one (the leader guy) “Gray Guy” and the other one “Junior.” They just refer to me as “The Subject,” which seems fair enough I guess, I mean since we’re giving each other nicknames, it only makes sense they’d wanna pick one out for me and all.

Anyway, the bands crank up and it’s totally awesome. Unbelievable! I feel like the luckiest guy in the entire world, like I’ve died and gone to heaven, man. We party. We rock. We hit the sunken dance floor and start rocking out like demons. The big guy just kind of stands there and shimmies - I think he’s just playing it cool and all, checkin’ out the scene. But Junior’s really giving it his all - swaying and dipping and swinging around and hopping up and down like some goof who hasn’t been out in way way way too long. And I tell ya, man, he really looks like he needs it too. I knew a night on the town would really do me some good right about now, but I never in my wildest dreams could’ve ever come up with this scene. It was simply, like, the best time of my life, man.

The bands rip into their best stuff - “Shake-some-action,” “Another-girl-another-planet,” the works. Celebratory, ebullient songs of summer, exuberance, and anti-conformity that also happen to rock enormously. The uninhibited music’s beautiful freedom rings in the night forever. Then the bands end and the house lights go up. One o’clock and closing time. Time to go. So I look around, hoping we can meet some girls and hit an after bar party or something. But then I come to. Flash-of-light and I’m in my room, lying back in my bed like nothing has happened at all. Zip. Just like that.

I lay back and think, huh, that’s odd, they didn’t even say goodbye. But it’s late and I’m, you know, kind of tired after the extensive and gigantic rocking-out I’ve partaken in. So I roll over and think about the night. It’s all so vivid in my mind - bright and soft and moist and squishy. The bands, the clothes, the little club, the music, so clear and radiant, the atmosphere, the spiky hairdos, the bright colors, the oranges, the browns, the dankness, the girls. What a night. A dream come true. It totally made my summer. And what a comforting thought that is, that I wouldn’t have to worry about totally wasting a summer on doing nothing fun at all. What a death that would be.

So I’m laying here, smilin’, grinnin’ from ear to ear when I hear something in my bathroom. My sister and I share a bathroom upstairs, like on the Brady Bunch - it’s in between our rooms and we each have a locking door into that bathroom. But the weird thing - she moved away to college so it’s all mine now. I mean, she hasn’t come back home yet. She hasn’t returned. Her school’s not over for the year yet. That’s really odd. She wasn’t here earlier. I mean, what’s she doing back home right now? This late?

I look over and the light’s on. “Hey, who’s there?” I call, thinking maybe it’s the aliens still, Big Gray and Ol’ Junior checkin’ out the medicine cabinet or something.

“Jack?” my sister, Becky, replies. She steps from the bathroom, the light shining in as she stands in the doorway.

“Yeah,” I answer sarcastically, like who’d she think would be sleeping in my bed at, like, a million o’clock in the morning. And here I am wondering what she’s doing home.

“Jack, how’d you get there?” she asks.

“I’ve been out, but now I’m back,” I grumble and roll over, away from the light. “I, ah, snuck in. So I wouldn’t wake anyone.” I have to lie. I mean, what if someone noticed I’d been away. I figure the aliens flashed me back in bed somehow - slipped me in the window, or floated me in on that slick beam of blue light of theirs. Yeah, I gotta get me one a those blue light things. I bet it can do all sorts a stuff, better than a Swiss Army pocket knife.

“Jack,” she calls again.

So I answer, “Ah, yeah,” even more sarcastically. And then, suddenly I appear in the doorway, standing next to my sister.

The me in the bathroom says, “Yeah, whadda ya want?” He’s brushing his teeth.

And Becky looks at him and then back over to me, and asks, “Who’s that in your bed?”

So I say, “It’s me, ding-dong. I’m in my bed.” I sit up and the light from the bathroom catches me, illuminating my face. The eye’s of the me in the doorway get bigger and bigger. He stops his brushing. His toothbrush drops to the floor. Becky clutches the doorjamb to steady herself.

Despite our shock and discomfort, we get to conversing and I explain what went down, and we figure the aliens must’ve drank too much or got lost or something and accidentally sent me back to the wrong time. We must’ve stayed out too late. Dang, I always seem to do that, don’t I? It’s one of my worst tendencies. They sent me forward in time, but returned me three years too early. And the next thing I know it’s like a billion o’clock in the morning and here I am, lying in bed next to myself, all tired and all, stuck back in time. Out of time. Stranded. Marooned. Trying to figure out what to do now.


Naturally the younger me wants to talk. He’s asking me all these questions. And I start getting a little upset. I mean, I’m tired and a little frustrated that they’d leave me back here, and I’m tryin’ ta get some sleep over here. I had a lousy weekend, then I got rousted by some mysterious aliens for reasons I don’t even really know why, I’m out all night, then here I get stuck back in time. And now I’m really tired. Now how’m I supposed to deal with all that? Huh? It’s a little much to deal with right now, you know.

So eventually me and the younger me start fighting. “Get out of my bed,” he grunts, pulling the covers more over to his side.

“No,” I say, “you get outta my bed - go sleep on the couch,” I grab and tug back.

“No way, man. You go sleep on the couch. This is my bed.”

“No it isn’t, I’m older, I’ve slept in it longer, it’s my bed. Now scooch over.”

“Oh go feel yourself.”

“Yeah, like you haven’t done enough of that already.”

“Oh shut up.”

“No, you shut up.”

So, we’re going back and forth like this for a while. Then my sister opens the bathroom door, “Give it a rest already,” she calls, telling us to shut it off. The little me hops out of bed and tries yanking the covers off. I pull back. He starts pointing, jabbing a finger in the darkness, poking me in my ribs. My sister stands with her hands on her hips, insisting, siding with him. “Yeah, imposter,” she accuses. “Why don’t you just get outta our house, this isn’t your house anyway, you don’t even belong here, why don‘t we just call the cops and let them decide.”

And I’m all like, “Whoa whoa whoa, o.k., hold on now, how ‘bout I just try the couch then, hey. Or we could all just cool out an’ get us some sleep already ‘cause it ain’t like there ain’t nothin’ we can do about it right now anyway, so let’s all just cool down here and figure things out. Let’s all just get us some sleep. I mean, I realize this is all highly irregular and all, ‘cause it’s like this crap don’t happen to me often neither, so cut me some slack here, I mean, I am still your brother no matter how old I am. I mean, gee whiz, what’m I supposed ta do about it? Huh? I mean, I’m some kinda genius here? Some kinda astrophysicist or quantum mechanics guy?”

“It’s the government,” Becky shakes her finger in the air.

“It’s not the government,” I sigh, exasperated, “It’s the stinkin’ aliens already. I got ‘em all liquored up. We were just havin’ too much fun.”

“Yeah, the aliens,” the younger me throws up his hands, “They’re worse than the jivin’ hippies already. What we gotta do is get us some guns, an’ if they come back, whoa boy, we show ‘em a thing ‘er two about earthling hospitality by puttin’ a couple a extra belly buttons into ‘em, ya dig,” the little me gets all excited.

I just roll my eyes. “Oh, that’s right,” I groan, “you must be in your ‘gun’ phase. How ’bout we all just get some rest instead. We can assign blame and finger point tomorrow. There’s always plenty a time for that, ya know.”

“Don’t boss us,” Becky snaps.

“Hey, I’m the oldest here, remember,” I explain, pulling up the covers and rolling over.

“You’re not the oldest here,” Becky squeals.

“Yeah I am. Older an’ wiser,” I nod.

“No, no, no you’re not,” she insists, “I’m the oldest.”

“Not anymore you’re not - technically I’m, like, three years older. Remember, I’m from the future. So I say, lights out,” and with that I close my eyes.

There’s a faint glow through the bathroom from Becky’s room. The glow flashes out as she stomps back to her room. The younger me stands there in the darkness for a while. I hear him breathing, thinking. Then he/I finally makes his/my way over to my/our bed.

Finally he climbs into bed and re-joins me. “Scootch over,” he grumbles and I inch over a little. “It’s my bed,” he whispers.

“It’s my bed too,” I respond. “Only I’ve been sleeping in it longer than you.”

“Yeah, but I’ve been here longer. You don’t even really belong here. You’re just a guest, remember?” After a while of lying in the darkness, he asks me if I think they’ll ever come back for me.

“I don’t know,” I respond. “I suppose they will. Probably. They seemed to have a pretty good time. You shoulda seen ‘em. They were really gettin’ into it. I’m sure they’ll be back. I mean why wouldn’t they? They seemed like decent enough folk and all. I mean, you know, other than gettin’ snagged back in time, hung up, caught here like this, other than that, all things considered, they were actually pleasant enough fellows. Very polite and well mannered, although a little on the mysterious-secretive side. . . Yeah, I‘m sure they‘ll figure it all out,” I yawn.

“Either way, you’ll have to lay low,” my younger self whispers.

“Yeah, probably,” I answer. “Say, it’s been a long night an’ I’m kinda hungry. Think you could run down and get me a pop-tart ‘r somethin’?”

“Get it yerself,” is his answer.

So I say, “Hey, I gotta lay low, least someone sees me and freaks out and all.”

The night spreads deeper and thicker, and as I lie there I start realizing how I was actually back in time. Huh, imagine that. I mean, think about it - what if I could go back and change things, redo things, undo things, correct mistakes in my life, regrets - you know, lemons into lemonade, silver lining and all that. So I sez to myself, I sez, “You know, the World Series this year is kind of a shocker. You might wanna get in on the action. Heck, you could put a bunch of money down on the Super Bowl, World Series, the works. All the cake you can. Then hide the winnings in a safety deposit box. Hide the safety deposit box key in our Heavy Metal movie sound track album so I’ll know where to find it when I get back to my time. That way we’ll have a lot of money to spend in the future. I’ll write all the winners down. You just hide the list in the album sleeve and refer to it from time to time. There’s a bunch of bookies in bars around the college. They’re easy to find if you’ve got money. Just ask around. Save up every penny you have and place bets with a bunch of them. We’ll clean up. Really. This is good. This ‘ll work. I’m sure it will,” I grin with pride at my perfection.

The younger me sighs, “Yeah, that’s not a bad idea. What else? Tell me more. What girls like me?”

“Oh, yeah, that’s a good one,” I agree. “In about six months you’re gonna meet this tall girl named Liz. . . .”

“Yeah?” he jumps.

“Yeah,” I nod.

“Is she cool?” he squeaks.

“No,” I shake my head. “Stay away from her at all costs. Trust me. Just stay away. Resist all her come-ons. Believe me, it won’t be worth the trouble. Now, there’s this other girl, Jill. You won’t think she’s interested in you at all. In fact she’ll go out of her way to ignore you and be kinda nasty to you, but she’s just being shy, kinda freaked about her strong feelings for you, that’s all. She’s not very experienced in matters of the heart. When you think of it, it’s kinda sweet in a way. . .”

“No it isn’t,” I interrupt myself, “I’d go with the nice girl. Why waste your time with the one who doesn’t even talk to ya?”

“Just trust me,” I assure him. “She’s interested in you. And the other one isn‘t nice, she just acts nice sometimes.”

“Yeah? For sure? You‘re not just jivin’ me here are ya? Pullin’ some big, elaborate, nasty, time-traveling-big-brother trick on me here?”

“Naw. Don’t worry about it. Here’s what I think you’re gonna need ta do ta pull it off. Now this might not work, but it’d be totally worth it if it does. First you gotta . . .” Suddenly a flash of white light blankets the room, zzzaaappp, ffffffooooooommmmm, and then in the corner there stands ol’ Gray Guy and Lil’ Junior. They tell me they’re very sorry, and that they’ve been looking for me everywhere, that they’d lost me back in time and it just took forever and that they were afraid of gettin’ in trouble and on and on and all that, and I’m all like, “Hey Big Guy, it’s good ta see ya.” And I look over to Junior and I’m all like, “Hey Tiny, how’s it hangin’? That was some night there, back in ‘78, huh? The two of us just shakin’ it all out back there, just livin’ it all out, hangin’ out together, just hangin’ lose. Dang, Slick, we gotta do that again sometime, and I mean real soon - and that’s for real, daddy-o.” You see, I’m not mad at them, I figure they’d figure it all out and be back for me eventually - it was just a matter of time. I always sort of suspected this was maybe all a part of their experiment anyway. So here they’re standin’ there, trying to look all sorry like, thinkin’ I’d be sore at them, and here I’m layin’ here all relieved to see ‘em. Ain’t that just the way though? I mean, wouldn’t that just figure?

So I list up a bunch of sports scores for me to bet on, then I turn to the guys and apply a little guilt. You know, the whole, gee guys, how could you leave me back here. Gosh, I thought we were friends and all, I mean come on here, and finally convince ‘em to take me back again.

I consider going back and checking out a good basketball game. Maybe catch a Clippers game from when they had Lloyd “All World” Free or Bill Walton or something. When they had those cool blue uniforms.

Or maybe I should try an exotic, panoramic locale this time - a setting I’d never get to see - some place romantic, intriguing. Maybe head to Europe. Maybe hang out in Paris back in 1963. Catch some smoky basement jazz joint. Shoot around on a Vespa scooter. A little baby blue number. Scoot around with Audrey Hepburn or something. Hang out with an early 60s era Audrey Hepburn and wear those cool wrap around sunglasses. Yeah, Hepburn in Paris. Audrey Hepburn. That’d be fine. Really nice.

But instead we end up at a kickin’ Sammy Hagar concert down in Texas, circa 1981. Yeah, an early 80s Sammy Hagar concert. But not just any Sammy Hagar concert. No, it has to be aTexas Sammy Hagar concert. And just like that - flash - we’re right there in the middle of it all. And when Hagar rips into Montrose’s “Space Station #5”, I tell you I just lose it, man, just lose control of my faculties, just totally lose my mind. I tell ya, I start rockin’ out like a mad man . . .

Buy this collection on Amazon.  Also go check out Tony's site.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"Alien Coffee" by John H. Carroll (Novella)

Genre:  Science Fiction, Humor

Type of Short Story:  Novella

Summary:  Jillian keeps trying to drink her coffee, only to find the cup empty. However, she is NOT the one drinking it. To make matters worse, Jillian has a tendency to forget it downstairs even after filling the cup. It frustrates her more and more with each passing day until she finally discovers exactly what has been happening.

Everyone knows there are aliens living secretly on Earth. What isn’t known is how much they like coffee or what sort of affect it has on them. A Columbian drug lord has an alien problem of his own, but what can teenagers really tell him, extraterrestrial or not?

Somehow Jillian gets involved in all of it and discovers the most exciting adventure of her life. But what in the world do emo bunnies and snails have to do with anything?

Aliens, coffee, emo bunnies, snails, teenagers and a Columbian drug lord all take part in this humorous sci-fi romp. It’s hard to tell which one is worst.

In the middle of the dimly lit area was a spaceship that looked oddly like a snail. It had a long front fuselage with antenna in the same place as a snail, and a curved shell in back. Jillian stopped and frowned at it while Nyxulla moved to a screen on the wall and touched some symbols. Lights in the ceiling and along the wall turned on. “Why does your ship look like a snail?” Jillian asked.

“Actually; snails look like our ship, not the other way around,” Nyxulla corrected her.

“What do you mean?”

“This is a fairly standard ship design throughout the Amalgamation, which is what our galactic civilization is called. They come in all different sizes and models, but the drive technology is the same.” She walked over to the craft that was five times as high as they were tall on the main body and ten times as high at the shell. The entire thing was about a hundred twenty feet long. “They don’t cost much to make, but they do break every once in a while. It’s a pain in the butt to be stranded, so spare ships have been scattered on planets throughout the galaxy.”

“That makes sense I suppose,” Jillian agreed. She tentatively reached out to touch the ship. When Nyxulla didn’t stop her, she ran fingers along the smooth cool metal.

“Are there extra ships on Earth?”

“Yes. They are the snails you speak of.” Nyxulla grinned at Jillian’s look of incredulity. “A special device is needed, but they contain the basic building blocks and codes to transform into a perfectly functional ship just like this one.”

“Are you serious?” Jillian asked flatly. “Snails are really spaceships?”

“Snails aren’t spaceships exactly; they’re the biological coding for spaceships. A device is needed to transform them. The good news is that they reproduce quite well, which helps keep costs almost non-existent.” Nyxulla turned the main lights back off, leaving only the few that were on before they entered. “Every planet and moon in the galaxy has snails.”

“You mean the ones that can support life,” Jillian clarified, going back through the doorway into the hall with Nyxulla right behind.

“No. There are other snails that can survive in the vacuum of space.” The alien took the lead again. “Each one adapts to its environment. The important thing is that there’s always one available anywhere in case anyone gets stranded.” They passed through the sitting area into the other hallway.

“That’s extraordinary. How slow are the spaceships?” Jillian asked. Everything was so intriguing and odd. It was an adventure more fascinating than many of the stories she edited.

The question puzzled Nyxulla. “Slow? Why would you think they’re slow?”

“Well . . . they’re snails . . . snails are slow, so it stands to reason that the ships are slow.” It made complete sense to Jillian. They entered a large control area with a bank of windows overlooking the cliff out onto the lakes. It was right where her favorite spot had been. Buffy was sitting at a desk protruding from the left wall in a u-shape with multiple screens and was tapping on them more rapidly than Jillian had ever seen anyone move.

Nyxulla walked over to the windows and leaned on a metal bar running along the length. “Space travel has nothing to do with speed and everything to do with the manipulation of space and energy while avoiding mass and time. I’m not going to tell you much more about it. It’s basic education in the Amalgamation, but would take quite a while to explain and you’re not technically supposed to know any of it.” She stretched, which emphasized each perfect curve in her body.

Buffy chimed in. “As far as snails being slow; if you crashed on a strange planetand had to find a new ship, would you want to have to chase it down?”

See John's complete list of works on Amazon or Smashwords.  Download this story for free on Smashwords by entering this coupon code:  JH37H

Sunday, December 25, 2011

"Payroll" by Alain Gomez (Novella)

Genre:  Western Romance

Type of Short Story:  Novella

Summary:  Jimmy Cochran thought that he had left his rough past behind him. But Ralph McCormick, the brother of the man he killed, didn't forget... or forgive... so easily. Jimmy knows he should just hightail it out of town to avoid getting into trouble. That is until Ralph puts the woman he loves into danger...

Jimmy had not even gone through a whole round of ammunition on his six-shooter before he heard the sound of an approaching horse. He turned and saw Adelaide O’Hara riding what could have been one of the finest paint horses that he had ever seen.

When Adelaide saw Jimmy, she reined in her horse and said “Well now, stranger, you’re pretty handy with those six shooters of yours.”

Jimmy grinned. “I have to be if I want to protect pretty ladies such as yourself, ma’am.”

“Is that a fact now?” And without even turning a hair, Adelaide dismounted from her horse, pulled Jimmy’s rifle from its place on his saddle, and emptied five clean shots in the cans which were some ways off.

Jimmy kept a poker face while watching the whole performance. And after she was done, he was silent for a good 5 seconds. At last he finally said “Your third shot went too far to the right. You almost missed the can.”

Adelaide seemed to consider this for a moment while staring at the can in question and replied “No. I do believe that your rifle is at fault, Mr. Cochran. It throws a trifle to the right.”

“Nonsense, Miss O’Hara. I had that rifle custom build back when I worked for your uncle. If it threw the bullet to the right, I would have caught that right away and had it fixed. I can assure you that it is a straight-shooter.”

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

"Diary of a Zombie: Letters to the Mortal World" by David Sayers (Novelette)

Genre:  Horror

Type of Short Story:  Novelette

Summary: Morpheus is a prince in the zombie world, and he seeks to communicate to the mortals. So much misinformation has been distributed via movies and popular culture, and he wants to create some understanding between the worlds. 

He seeks only to create understanding and to lessen the fear of your conversion. Things are not nearly as bad as you believe, and there are advantages to the undead world. Through this series of letters, Morpheus tries to explain to you where they are in the domination of your world while he also tries to humanize his race to you.

Take a step into his world as he walks you through his life and yours. A short fun read of a little over 11,000 words that will be hard to put down.

Welcome. Glad to see you join me this evening. My name is Morpheus, and I thought it was important for me to correct some misconceptions that most people tend to believe. For the record, I am what many of you refer to as a zombie, or one of the undead. This statement is not meant to shock or upset you, because in a lot of ways, we are the same, just in different states of being. In fact, you might say that we need each other. Of course, not all of you appreciate the main reason why we need you, but then again, cows probably don’t appreciate why you need them either. We have also accepted how you use us as a form of entertainment and to keep your children in line. We have accepted that as well.

In many ways, my present state puts me at an advantage. Exhaustion is not something that we need to worry about. Personally, I reached my present state in a foxhole in France in July of 1915. It had been an exhausting day of battle, and although I was on watch that night, my eyelids were feeling heavy. Despite warnings against it, I needed a smoke badly. Hiding the cherry from the cigarette, I felt the soothing of the smoke curl into my lungs right before it felt as though I had been hit in the head with a spike. After a brief intense feeling of pain, I suddenly felt invincible. After a quick tap on the shoulder, I was led out of the foxhole by a well dressed Frenchman. The situation seemed odd, but felt as though I must follow. That led me down the path where I am greeting you today.

Just like you, I have seen all of the Hollywood films about us, and I must applaud your creativity. The only problem is that most of these films are nothing more than rubbish. Yes, some of us are grotesque in our outward appearance, but the majority appears normal to you. In fact, there may be a “zombie” sitting next to you as you read this. Yes, I also know you just took a quick glance at them to make sure they were human. For those that appear human, we usually will either be seen with long hair or a hat so that we can hide the head wound that lead to our current state of existence. The truth of the matter is that rarely will you know the difference between us and a typical mortal.

Over the thousands of years that our kind has existed, we have been able to develop a sophisticated hierarchy of our own society, and we have fully integrated into the modern society in order to better meet our needs. I hope that I have not disappointed you by letting you know that we are rarely the moaning blank faced creatures who mumble as they stumble forward out of the graveyard looking for brains to digest. While it is true that brains are our primary form of nutrition, we are much more sophisticated than you may imagine. In order for you to not be distracted by our conversation, I will relegate our conversation to terms that you can understand, and I will allow you to simply refer to me as a zombie.

Buy this story on Amazon.

Monday, December 19, 2011

"A Visit From St. Nick" by Sheila Guthrie (Short Stories)

Genre:  Horror

Type of Short Story:  Short Story Collection

Summary:  This short story collection contains five tales written for the creepiest time of year -- Christmas! From a visit from the jolly old elf himself, to a hungry customer of a typical restaurant on Christmas eve, stories to give you a tingle instead of a jingle.

A Visit From St. Nick
What could Santa Claus want with an elderly Jewish grandma on Christmas Eve?

In the Meadow
Winters in North Dakota can be harsh, but this year the piles of snow are a blessing.

Miracle in 34B
The unwavering belief of a little girl in the magic of Santa Claus restores the faith of an enigmatic man.

It’s a Wonderful Life
A man wonders what good he’s ever done for anybody, until he meets someone who shows what his life was worth.

Figgy Pudding
The last customer in the restaurant on Christmas Eve brings a special gift to the overworked staff waiting to close up and go home.


“My nuts are freezing off.”

“Geeze, Marty, there’s ladies present!”

Marty Weinbeck blushed. “Sorry, Rita. Forgot where we were for a minute.”

Rita sniffed. Marty was okay, not as crude as some of the others, but it wore on a girl, trying to keep these rednecks civilized.

Just ahead of Rita and Marty, the rest of their hunting party came to a halt at the hand signal from the point man. The scouts had come back to the group to report.

The five of them, dressed in an assortment of camo, jeans and flannel, squatted in the snow while the leaders conferred. One thing they learned the past three months was to take advantage of every break.

After consulting with the scouts, the leader came back along the line, staying crouched below the frozen hedges that lined the town’s center square. He motioned for them to join up, so they duck-walked towards him, closing up the distance to form into a tight circle.

“Seems the furnace in the jail is still firing, so we got some live ones.”

The hunting party groaned.

“Yeah, it’s not what we’d hoped, but the shit is what it is.” Sam Cummings, formerly the mayor of the tiny North Dakota town, pulled a bandana out of a jacket pocket and wiped frozen snot off his mustache. Distracted from his chilled nether regions for a moment, Marty did the same.

“Joe says the strip mall is active, too,” Sam said.

“Piss and hell. I wanted to go shopping and get my kids some Christmas presents.” Rita spit into a snow bank. “Fuck all.”

“Me, too,” Carol Busch nodded. “My boys want one of them new game systems that came out before...” She didn’t finish, but they all knew what she meant. Before the BIG SICK, before the world went to hell without the hand basket, before an unknown virus killed damned near everybody they knew. If they were lucky. The unlucky ones were only half-dead, doomed to wander, dazed and rotting, attacking anything living in their path.

Sam stuffed his bandana back in his pocket and turned towards the front of the line. He looked more tired than usual.

“Remember to follow the plan, folks. We’ll wipe out this batch, clean out any guns and ammo, and get that furnace off. Then we’ll hit up Hornbacher’s, we’ve got a big list today.”

“Nothing like picking up a side of beef, right after you’ve put down the herd,” Marty said. His stomach growled.

“Shut up and move, Marty,” Rita said. She gave him a little poke with her shotgun just for the heck of it.

Buy this collection on Amazon or Smashwords.

Friday, December 16, 2011

"God Don't Take Crap From Nobody" by Terry Gelormino Silver (Short Stories)

Genre:  Humor

Type of Short Story:  Short Story Collection

Summary:  This is a day in the life of homeless and practically toothless old Army veteran Jimmy O'Malley. Jimmy still sees himself as the handsome lady killler of his youth and is always on the prowl for feminine companionship. Jimmy's constant companion is his dead buddy Archie. Jimmy believes that when you think of someone who died, that person can enter your body, look out of your eyes, and do the same thing the living person is doing. When Jimmy has sex, he can have it for his dead friend or for himself. When Jimmy and his dead pal decide to rest up at a church, the parishioners move away from their pungent smell and when Jimmy and his pal decide to join the congregation in singing, the awful noise silences the congregation. Jimmy's speech to the congregation, before his bag of discarded cans go flying down the church aisles, is to affirm that he doesn't blame God for his situation.

Walking across the street to the Church of Religious Science, he checked the doorknob and then pushed the door open. There was a service going on and he decided to go in and watch. Rest his feet for a bit. Let Archie calm down after all that excitement.

“Oh when the saints go marchin’ in,” he hummed softly, ignoring looks of disapproval and giving a toothy grin to a woman holding a cautionary finger to her lips. His entrance had disturbed the air and carried his abundant odor to nearby church members. As he took an end seat in the last pew, they suddenly found better seating arrangements and left a wide berth around the blissful old man.

“Ah, this is great, ain’t it, Archie?” Old Jimmy let out a long sigh of contentment and took off his grease-rimmed derby. Shaking his long, gingery-gray hair, he amused himself watching his dandruff dance around in the sunlight coming in through the stained-glass window. It sure was a hot day.

Throwing his blackened scarf over the back of the pew in front of him, he untied the strings holding his shoes together and slipped out of them, increasing the pungency of the surrounding air. He wiggled his bare, grimy toes against the cool wooden floor and gave them a good stretch. “Ooh, that’s nice,” he whispered to Archie.

The murmuring of the minister was making Jimmy sleepy and he lay back and closed his eyes, until the unexpected singing of the congregation startled him to full consciousness.

“He’s got the whole world in his hands . . . “ they sang loudly and with enthusiasm as he sat back and listened. Finally, he too was filled with the spirit and jumped to his feet. Archie joined him.

“He’s got the little bitty baby in his hands; he’s got the little bitty baby in his hands . . .” Jimmy’s whiskey-cracked voice bellowed out, drowning out Archie whose lung power’d been shot from chain smoking.

The horrible sound rose up to the vaulted ceiling and burst loudly over the church members, throwing everyone off key. Although making a feeble attempt to finish the song, they finally gave up when the organist threw in the towel.
Buy this short story collection on Amazon.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"Dead Ends and Dark Alleys" by Michelle Scott (Short Stories)

Genre:  Urban Fantasy

Type of Short Story:  Short Story Collection

Summary:  The Fourteenth of April - Everyone tells David that what he thinks of as foretelling the future is really only self-fulfilling prophecy. But although he can’t convince them, he knows something dreadful is waiting for him on the 14th of April. And what’s more, he’s pretty sure he won’t survive it.

Both Sides of the Devil’s Door - Claire was always fascinated by Barry’s connection to the supernatural, and it’s why she endured his egotistical, overbearing company for so long. But when she finally gets fed up and leaves him, she discovers how strong his connections to the dark world are and how far his reach extends.

Unreachable - Bruce is pretty sure the thing living in his son’s room is not his son. And he’s convinced that the monster sleeping at the end of his bed is not his dog. But he has no idea what happened to his real loved ones, and doesn't have the courage to go looking in the terrible place he thinks they've ended up.

Sorry? Not once in their three years together had Claire ever heard Barry apologize. Not the time he’d spilled a beer over the keyboard of her new laptop and completely fried it. Not the time he’d accused her of stealing sixty bucks from his wallet only to find it later on in his pants pocket. Not the time he’d laughed at her when she slipped on the icy front steps and fell hard enough on her ass to fracture her tailbone. The apology itself was nothing short of a miracle.

For a moment she stared at him in stunned silence. Then her expression hardened. “Go to hell.”

He gave a weak laugh. “I’m already there.” And he did something even more amazing than giving an apology. He turned and walked straight through the brick wall of the downtown post office. Though she thoroughly searched the street – her perplexity rapidly turning into a kind of panic – she couldn’t find him again.

Buy this short story collection on Amazon or Smashwords.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

"The Pumpkin Princess" by V.A. Jeffrey (Novella)

Genre:  Children's Middle Grade Fantasy Fiction

Type of Short Story:  Novella

Summary:  Eerie dreams. Rotten pumpkins. A fairy princess in trouble!

A sudden, strange blight strikes pumpkins everywhere which means no pumpkin pie, no pumpkin bread, no pumpkin spiced cookies, not even pumpkin soup! Worse, the blight will eventually spread to other crops. Queen Faye's skulduggery spills out ever more into Anne's own world. She knows that the fairy Queen of Winter is behind this dark mischief. The blight and one of Anne's dreams leads her back to Other Land to rescue the Pumpkin Princess, the fairy who helps usher in the fall harvest.

Since Anne's first visit, the Winter Queen has grown more powerful and is terrorizing all of Other Land with her plans to rule the land. Many fairy folk have fled, have gone in hiding or are preparing for war and a cruel, unending winter. Anne must find the courage and fortitude to brave the dangers that face her in Other Land and along the way she finds unexpected friends in unexpected places, but is it enough to stop the Winter Queen's rampage?

In a wood in the middle of a clearing there was a wooden shed with a green door. It once led to a place called Other Land, where all manner of fairy tale beings lived, but not anymore. Of the door, I mean. But of course, you might already know that and in case you didn't, the short of it is this: there was an adventure that began and ended with the green door and a little girl named Anne Greene and then the way to Other Land was shut.

But there are other ways. . . .


School started when the weather was still hot but that had been a month ago and then October had come. The month of October ushered in the full fall season. Sometimes a very thin frost could be found in the morning and some of the trees were just beginning to turn their coats from green to gold, scarlet or caramel. Anne was excited to go back to school. It meant new teachers, new classmates and old friends to see and catch up with. It also meant homework, which Anne only liked some of the time. This particular morning she was slow to get ready and slow getting to school. She'd had a bad dream the night before and didn't feel well that morning. She had been groggy and a bit grouchy. She dreamt that she was being chased by long, pointy shadows with cold, starry eyes. She couldn't stop running and there was nowhere to hide. They chased her over rocks and mountains, over trees and snowy fields and into an icy sea. Then she awoke suddenly to find the alarm of her ladybug clock going off.

Later that afternoon she was walking home from school with two of her friends, Emma and Tanya. All three of them were engrossed in conversation over who at school was suddenly wearing lip gloss, who had collected the most Fashion Princess dolls (there were 20 of them) and what they were all going to do over the weekend. Being that it was Friday, they were more excited than usual and since there was a Teacher's Planning Day on Monday they had a three day weekend which made it even better! Emma and her family were going to Pacific City to visit her grandma. Tanya was going shopping for clothes and gadgets with her family. Anne's family would hold to their yearly tradition of visiting the pumpkin patch on Sauvie Island. Anne loved going to the farms out there and mama and dad always let her pick out her own pumpkin.

They passed a group of boys, fifth graders all, playing a game of catch while walking home. The very same boys that broke the window of the shed, Anne noted.

“Boys are so loud!” She said, annoyed. “If it were girls, they could play catch without being so loud!” Tanya snorted and laughed.

“My little brother makes so much noise when he's playing! He especially likes to pretend he's a tiger and even puts a belt in his pants and runs around the house on all fours! It drives me crazy!” Tanya said.

“My brother and his friends love to play football in the house when mom and dad aren't home,” Said Emma, “and they always manage to break something important!” They all laughed and rolled their eyes. Anne didn't have a brother or a sister. Sometimes she wished she did have one. Even if it was a little brother, she decided. She didn't want one that ran around breaking things all of the time though. The wind suddenly picked up, rustling tree tops and blowing through the girls' hair. On the wind current Anne heard something odd. The fallen leaves, crusty and dry, rustled and whirled lightly but between the wind and the leaves there was a voice so low it was barely audible. Or rather, it was many voices made up of organic things pressed together. Neither Tanya or Emma seemed to notice it but Anne heard it. It was speaking to her through the crackling pops of dry leaves and the thick, wooden timbre of the branches.

“Anne. Anne. The Winter Queen grows strooooong. Yoooouuu must come baaaaack.” The wind, the drifting leaves and waving branches whispered. Tanya turned down a dirt road to catch her school bus and Emma had nearly reached her house.

“See you guys on Tuesday!” Tanya waved.

“See ya.” Anne and Emma chimed. Emma said goodbye to Anne and ran up the driveway to her house. Anne continued on to the trail towards her own house. She looked up at the sky, listening for anything else unusual. The sky was a blanket of gray. A chill coursed through her when she heard the voice mention the Winter Queen. As she reached the clearing she saw her dad standing near the little shed, waiting for her.

“Little one! How was school today?”

“It was good.” She said quietly.

“You feeling better?”

“Yeah. I didn't get any homework today.”

“Well how about that? Mama might not be too pleased to hear that.”

“Mama will just assign me more books to read this weekend. Which is fine because I like reading.” She said, feeling a bit grumpy again. Her dad chuckled.

“Well, let's get home. Grandma Veronica is coming to dinner.” Anne's face lit up.

“Oh, and mama is making our favorite dish!” He added.

“Grandma! Lasagna! Yay!!” She cheered. Dad smiled and they started off home. The clearing, once a wild, riotous tangle of wildflowers was now a field of tall, dull grasses and some grayish brown weeds, the wildflowers gone with summer.

Buy this novella on Amazon or B&N.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Drawing Winners!!

I'd like to thank everyone who participating in the drawing.  There were quite a few people who ended up sharing Twitter links.

I assigned each person who entered a number.  Using the site to pick a random number, the winners are:

$25 gift card:  Isaac Sweeney 

$20 gift card:  Jimmy Dickson

$15 gift card:  Charlie & Diane Winger

Congratulations to the winners!  I do plan on hosting another blog drawing soon so everyone else keep your eyes peeled for another chance to win!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

“Emotionally Charged” by Selina Fenech (Novella)

Genre:  Paranormal Romance

Type of Short Story:  Novella

Summary:  Livvy always dreamed of the day when a rich, handsome hero would appear and whisk her away from her mundane life. She never thought she would have to become the hero.

Reading the emotions of people around her is easy for Livvy. When an earthquake strikes her city, a supernaturally attractive group of rescuers show her that her power goes beyond that. She’s now one of them. Special. But the dream life she’s been swept into seems too easy, and soon turns into a nightmare.

I stared at the crack that ran up our living room wall. To my parents, it said insurance claims and dodgy contractors doing repairs. To me it said excitement. The crack gave me shivers like it was carved up my spine.

We’ve always known our town was near a major fault, but it’s one of those sleepy fault lines that doesn’t do anything for decades, centuries even. Then just when everyone in our middle-class paradise had achieved a false sense of security it decided to give a big heave. Like it was screwing with us on purpose, to spice up this suburban daydream, give us a slap and wake us up. There had been a small tremor that I can’t remember when I was a baby. This latest, just after my seventeenth birthday, was a magnitude 6.8. It woke me up.

Dad was on the phone to his cop buddy getting all the updates. Tilting my head to his conversation, I kept my eyes on the crack, worried that if I looked away it would disappear and life would return to normal. Boring. Dad repeated the main points of interest for Mom to hear as she cleaned the wreckage in our home. Power was out everywhere and likely to stay that way a while. Mom had already insisted on lighting candles even though it wasn’t dark yet. The whole room smelled of struck matches. With power out, there also came the warning of people taking the opportunity to loot while the city was still in chaos. I raised an eyebrow in consideration. No. Wrong team.

Dad’s news report continued. A few buildings had collapsed completely, lots of injured and a few deaths. They were setting up shelters in town for people who lost homes. One was being run at my high school.

I bet they needed volunteers. Not as exciting as looting, but that was where I had to be. My life had so little excitement even handing out blankets had my mind brewing up romantic dreams of adventure.

I peeled my eyes from the crack. “I want to go and help.”

Mom looked up at me from the floor where she worked at brushing up shattered ornaments that had shaken from our shelves. Her collection of ceramic owls would never be the same. Lines around her mouth and forehead told me she was going to give me the worried mother talk. But I could tell she wasn’t really thinking about me. She was just sad about her well put together home being ruined, and worried about her shop downtown. I could read the emotions all over her. With each emotion there’s an energy that shines from a person that I can almost see. Not like an aura or anything; that sounds so new age crazy. I’m just good at telling how people feel. Always have been. It’s nothing special but it does come in handy. When you know how someone is feeling, you can give just the right response to get what you want.

I pre-empted Mom’s speech with soothing words. “I’ll just be helping out in a shelter, under the watchful eye of other aid workers, responsible adults and doctors. Probably the safest place at the moment, right?”

Mom tightened her lips. She looked at the dustpan and brush in her hands as though that was all she could focus on right now. Her startling blue eyes turned back toward me. Why couldn’t I have gotten those? I got brown instead, to match my hair which she won’t even let me dye. Her eyes were still telling me no. She opened her mouth but I beat her to it.

“Just think how appealing it will look on my college application as an extracurricular activity. And I can swing past your shop and make sure it’s okay.”

Mom’s expression brightened. Score to me. “I hope there’s not too much damage. I just had that porcelain shipment in. I’d go check myself but there’s so much to do here. Could you go there first thing? Just, if you’re late back I don’t want you out on dark streets if there’s no power still.”

She stood up, gave me a kiss, then went to empty her dustpan, sighing as shattered owls tumbled into the trash. I saw a pink one roll in and knew it was her favorite. Dad gave her a hug as though they were standing by the grave of a beloved relative. All just a fake display. No real emotion came from either of them other than slight worry and irritation. How do people ever get so stodgy? How could they not be humming from excitement at all of this? I knew I was, but to crave romance and danger to the point of bursting was my natural state.

Dad told Mom he was going to start calling around for repair quotes now, get in before the rush. I had been out for Sunday shopping with the girls earlier and the mirror confirmed I was still presentable. They were my best jeans, but I didn’t care if they got dirty. I threw my red trench on, phone, keys and wallet already in the pockets, and headed for the door.

“Buses are still running, Livvy,” Dad called over. “There’s a pretty clear route to your high school. Just a couple of hours, okay? Be safe!”

Buy this novella on Amazon and stop by Selina's website.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

"Warleader: A Blood and Tears Short Story" by Joshua P. Simon (Novelette))

Genre:  Fantasy

Short Story Type:  Novelette

Summary:  As a young warrior in the elite Kifzo army of his father’s tribe, Tobin lives a life consumed by the relentless training demands of his uncle. Despite his best intentions and hard work, he struggles to cope with his father's indifference toward him and his brother's outright hatred.

A chance opportunity may change all of that. Tobin’s father gives him, his brother and three other young Kifzo each a small squad to lead on a key mission. The squad leader who succeeds will be named Warleader and will command the entire tribe’s army. Tobin sees this as his best chance to step out of the shadow of his brother and earn the respect and recognition he’s always desired.

A wad of spit struck Tobin’s cheek as he stumbled backward. The back of his free hand came up and wiped away the insult. An echo of jeers sounded around the practice circle. One of the loudest voices came from the big Kifzo warrior named Durahn. “It looks like he may cry this time.”

Tobin clenched his jaw and worked the grip of the practice sword with his hand. He had just begun to gain an advantage against his brother, when Kaz caught him off guard and spat at him. Both he and Kaz stepped back to compose themselves but their eyes never left the other’s face. It would be like him to cheat, Tobin thought.

Tobin watched sweat roll down the black skin of Kaz’s face. His brother sneered across at him as the two circled. “Are you going to cry, brother?” Kaz used the word “brother” as a curse. Tobin ignored the question. He focused on the subtle movements of his brother as he tried to determine where Kaz’s next attack might come from.

“Like you’re any better, Kaz? I would have ended this long ago,” said Durahn, turning his taunts toward Kaz. The brash fifteen year old tried to get the other young Kifzo warriors to join him in ridiculing Kaz just as they had all been heckling Tobin. However, most of the warriors respected Kaz or at least feared him enough not to add their voices to Durahn’s.

Only in the last month had Tobin been able to gain the support of a few of his fellow Kifzo. His rapid improvement with the sword, followed by proving himself a capable squad leader, helped his cause. Tobin’s skills had improved so much that sparring sessions with Kaz were no longer the lopsided matches that they once were.

In a blur, Kaz came at him, moving to his left just as Tobin knew he would. But the attack had been feigned and Kaz pivoted and brought his practice sword around at the last moment to strike at the right side of Tobin’s head. Tobin hadn’t expected the move, but he quickly shifted and met his brother’s blade with his own. The two wooden weapons clacked off each other. A flurry of slashes and thrusts followed. Shuffling backward and kicking up dirt with each step, Tobin swore to himself for not being more ready for Kaz’s deception. Kaz pressed the attack while Tobin fought to keep his balance. Tobin saw Kaz over-commit to his next strike and he quickly ducked under it. Tobin came up leading with the top of his head, slamming it under Kaz’s chin. Kaz reeled back and Tobin saw the look of surprise in his brother’s eyes.

As the two separated briefly, Tobin heard his Uncle Cef’s voice call out. “Point to Tobin. The match is over.”

“The match is not over!” snapped Kaz, spitting blood. “We cannot end the match until one of us has reached five.” Shouts of agreement from the other young warriors followed.

Cef stomped to Kaz’s side and grabbed him by the arm to wrench him close. “I say when a match is over, not you. Your father has summoned me to discuss matters of the tribe. I was going to give the Kifzo a rest and cut off training early but it would seem that you all have too much energy remaining.” Cef released Kaz’s arm and looked out at the young Kifzo warriors. Most were smart enough to put their heads down before Cef’s piercing stare caught them. Tobin saw his uncle look out over the training yard and then down toward the shore on the outskirts of the village. “Ten laps around the training ground and then a mile swim in the ocean. Only then may you return to the barracks for dinner and rest.”

Kaz wisely held his tongue until their uncle left the yard. He shouldered past Tobin. “This isn’t over, brother.”

Tobin watched him go with a sigh. I didn’t expect it to be.

The other Kifzo began lining up for their run. Just as they were setting off, Tobin met the eyes of a few of his fellow warriors.

Is that respect? Several gave him a slight nod. At least something good came of this.

Tobin’s wandering thoughts about gaining the respect of the others were interrupted by Durahn and another warrior named Charq boasting about sneaking out to visit one of the village’s whores. Tobin glanced over his shoulder and saw many of the Kifzo hanging on their every word, even laughing when the two warriors talked about slapping the woman around afterward. Put off by such talk, Tobin scowled and faced forward. He saw Kaz frown in Durahn and Charq’s direction before distancing himself from the group. After hearing another cruel remark, Tobin picked up his own pace.

* * *

Tobin crouched near the side of an open window, hugging the wall as he listened to his father and uncle discuss the matters of their tribe.

While the other young Kifzo warriors slept in the barracks, Tobin snuck out once again in hopes the night air would clear his head. His walks would usually take him through the training ground or even around the outskirts of the city, but tonight he wandered into the heart of Juanoq, to his father’s home.

He inched closer to the window’s opening and peered around the frame.

“A villager reported that they saw him sneaking away earlier tonight. I had his home searched and found it empty,” said Tobin’s father, Bazraki.

“Why would he do this now?” asked Cef.

Bazraki grunted. “I cannot guess the man’s thoughts. He hasn’t been the same since his family died in that fire months ago.” There was a pause. “When he started to openly question my decisions in front of others, I suspected his loyalty was turning. I’ve been too busy with other matters to act sooner.”

“I can send some men from the army…” started Tobin’s uncle.

Bazraki cut him off. “No. As much as I hate to admit it, Suran had influence over some of our regular soldiers. I won’t risk them being lenient toward him. I intend to use the Kifzo. They are our elite forces and this is the perfect opportunity to determine who among them will be Warleader.”

Tobin’s eyes widened and his heart raced in excitement.

“They’re still too young. They aren’t ready,” said Cef.

“I have greater trust in their ability to succeed at this task than the regular warriors.”

“Now isn’t the time to decide who will be Warleader. We’re still years away from entering into any real battle. This is not what I had in mind for the Testing.”

“This is the perfect chance to gauge their worthiness on something of importance,” said Bazraki. “A Warleader must be determined now. The sooner the others grow accustomed to Kaz’s command, the better.”

“And what if Kaz does not win the Testing?” asked Cef.

Bazraki snorted and puffed his barrel chest out. “Why wouldn’t he?”

“There are several others who’ve excelled in training.”

“Durahn?” Bazraki asked as he brought his hand up to rub at his chin.

Cef nodded. “He’s one.”

“Kaz will best him. None of the other candidates are any real challenge.”

“Even Tobin? His squads have beaten Kaz’s several times this past month on the training ground and he’s rapidly improving each day.”

Tobin felt a rush of pride at the recognition. Such a compliment was a rare thing from his uncle.

Bazraki shrugged. “Kaz will defeat him. My son is meant to lead my army.”

“Is Tobin not also your son?” asked Cef.

There was a long pause as Tobin saw the two men stare at each other. “Enough of this back and forth,” snapped Bazraki.

Any joy Tobin felt from his uncle’s comment was washed away by the lack of acknowledgement from his father.

“The Testing will be tomorrow,” continued Bazraki. “See that it happens. And make sure one of the candidates is Nedan. He has no real chance of succeeding, but it will appease his father if we include him.”

Tobin pushed away from the wall and with shoulders hunched skulked off into the night.

As he passed several of his father’s patrolling guardsmen, he slipped away from their watchful eyes with ease. At the edge of the village, behind a half constructed building, he found a seat atop a pile of grey granite, still warm from the heat of the day. He looked around at the work still needed on the building and sighed.

As part of their physical training, the Kifzo were tasked with building much of the small city his father ruled over. Bazraki was an ambitious man. It was his desire that Juanoq would one day be the capital of not only the Blue Island Clan but also the greatest city in Hesh.

With the other island tribes constantly opposing Bazraki’s plans, Tobin knew his father’s patience would only last so long.

His uncle taught the Kifzo during training that their purpose would be to defend the Blue Island Clan. Though Tobin never shared his thoughts with anyone, he knew that his father would also have no qualms about attacking the other island tribes if it meant bringing the Blue Island Clan under one ruler. And to do that he needs a Warleader to lead his army.

Tobin’s dreams of becoming Warleader began at the age of five when his mother died. Training to be a Kifzo in his father’s elite army was the only life that he could remember. As usual, those brief thoughts of his mother caused him to reflect on his remaining family.

Tobin’s uncle was a hard man, but Cef would still give him occasional praise and recognition. Those small acts of kindness did much to counteract the constant ridicule and abuse Tobin received from Kaz. Tobin wished he knew why Kaz hated him, but at least he got some sort of reaction from his brother. His father, on the other hand, was completely indifferent to his second son. Bazraki neither showed signs of love or hate, and Tobin could never understand why.

He would not even recognize me as his son.

He looked out into the clear, starry night. It was quiet except for the occasional chirping of insects and the faint lapping of the ocean’s waves. He closed his eyes and clenched his fists.

The Testing will begin tomorrow. “I will make you proud, Father,” Tobin whispered.

An image of Kaz’s hateful stare flashed in his mind. Tobin opened his eyes. “And perhaps you will show me respect as well, brother.”

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

"The Shelter" by James Everington (Novelette)

Genre:  Horror

Short Story Type:  Novelette

Summary:  It’s a long, drowsy summer at the end of the 1980s, and Alan Dean and three of his friends cross the fields behind their village to look for a rumoured WW2 air raid shelter. Only half believing that it even exists beyond schoolboy gossip, the four boys nevertheless feel an odd tension and unease. And when they do find the shelter, and go down inside it, the strange and horrifying events that follow will test their adolescent friendships to breaking point, and affect the rest of their lives...

It's strange, when I look back on it, that on a day we were worried would be boring, everything changed. It was towards the end of a long, drowsy summer, monotonous with heat and the lack of wind. I still have the nightmares about that day and what followed, when I awake into blackness, and the sheets that I’ve pushed to my feet seem like they’re reaching to drag me down. It’s been twenty years, and still the dreams; maybe writing this will stop them. I don’t want to dream any longer about the day when Mark Galloway said we should cross the fields to the old air raid shelter.

There were four of us sitting on the bench, or rather sitting on the bench’s back, with our feet resting on the seat. As boys do. We were fidgety, and bored, and didn’t want to admit to each other that we’d burnt out the long anticipated summer holidays too quickly. We’d left ourselves with nothing to do for the next few weeks but sit in the sun, play the same games and pranks, and taunt each other with the same old insults. Many of my memories after that day are hazy from drink or distance, but I can recall sitting on that bench in the sun as clearly as anything in my life.

Duncan Moore was my best friend, I suppose. We weren’t really very similar, or close. We just hung around together. I’m not sure there's any logic to who boys befriend at that age. Duncan was tall with broad shoulders; he had short cut blond hair and eyes as blue and dull as the summer sky. He always looked hunched and awkward, as if he knew his height was just a temporary victory over his classmates, and one he shouldn’t draw too much attention to. Despite his height, he tended to fade into the background because he did or said so little unprompted. He was, to be frank, thick as the pig shit that they sprayed on the fields behind the village as fertiliser. My school report cards started getting slowly worse after I befriended Duncan; they nose-dived after I met Mark and Tom.

Duncan may have been stupid, but he wasn’t cruel. Mark and Tom were both stupid and mean; bullies, to put it differently. Tom irremediably so; Mark may have had more to him than that, but I never got to find out.

The two older boys had started hanging around with Duncan and I at the start of the summer. We didn’t know why. They were two years older than us so we didn’t protest – it made us seem older in the eyes of our classmates. And besides we didn’t want to anger them. But we both knew we were out of our depth – maybe in two years time smoking cigarettes (which Mark stole from his dad) would have been exciting, but at thirteen? I’d just coughed frantically, and the others had laughed equally frantically at me. Similarly I'd hated the taste of the cheap lager Tom and Mark also stole, although now my girlfriend wants me to get help, I drink so much.

Mark was sitting on the bench next to me, his skinny body erect and his head craning about, as if looking for something to do in the boring ex-mining village in which we lived. But as I said, we’d exhausted it all already. Mark was really tall, and skinny – ‘lanky’ was the word we used, behind his back. His dark shaggy hair was only cut when his mum won on the bingo; it fell into his black eyes and hid a stud in his left ear. He was often scowling, as if thinking about a particularly difficult problem, but when he did smile it was uncharacteristically bright and carefree. Mark’s older brother was in jail for burglary, and village gossips concurred that he would end up in the same place. I don’t know what his home life was like, he never let Duncan or me into his house, only Tom. When they went in to filch something, we had to wait outside – he lived in what was still known as the ‘mining estate’ and I found the rows of long, brown terraces cramped and intimidating.

He was a bully at school, but in an offhand way, as if it was just the obvious and somewhat boring thing to do. His threats and dinner-money extortions loomed large in the minds of all kids younger than him - he had beat me up a few times, and Duncan too, but he didn’t seem to remember when he started hanging around with us that summer. Mark didn’t do well at school, but he did have a respect for knowledge, or at least for the kind of boyish knowledge that I possessed: knowing how to start fires with a magnifying glass; knowing about that UFO that had crashed in America after the war and been hushed up; knowing that if you scraped the stuff off the back of playing cards you could use it make explosives. He liked people who knew about things like that.

Tom White was not like that though, he was stupid and had no cunning or sense of fairness of any kind. He lived with his dad, who was an alcoholic and let Tom do whatever he wanted, which Tom did. As a consequence he was known as a troublemaker by the adults, and as a stupid wanker by us kids. We were both right. He was always doing stupid things and getting caught, like trying to escape an after school detention by climbing out the window, but getting stuck because he was so fat. Tom got very angry if anyone called him fat, but he was, and as kids who’d frequently been bullied by him, we felt no shame in saying so behind his back. Tom did whatever Mark said, because Mark was the only person who pretended to like him. Everyone but Tom knew it was just so Mark had someone to do his bidding, and occasionally take the fall if their misdeeds got out of hand. Even Duncan had worked that out.

And me? Alan Dean?

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