Bathing Betrayal in Blood

The corpse of his bodyguard stood headless across from him.

The blade materialized into the hand of the carcass, and in one fluid motion it lowered its level and darted toward him.

Robert saw the puppet’s strings now, a slight light in the dark.  The light of the moon gleamed off them as he took a quick breath.

Would it be enough?

Robert pulled his sword back and steeled himself.  The body ran nearly parallel to the ground and its feet moved fast.  Impossibly fast.

Blood spurting from the neck stump, the puppet swung up — then straight forward in a fencing thrust.

Fuck.

Robert had already committed to the upswing, bringing his sword over and down at the wrong angle.

Dropping a foot back in a hard pivot threw out his knee and avoided the thrust of the corpse puppet.  Mostly. The sting in his side was nothing compared to whatever the hell happened to his knee, which screamed at him in agony.

Where is he – 

Another person appeared near him, behind him.

To the right..? 

A blade appeared at his throat, to his dismay.  Then, it fell away.  A limp body collapsed behind him.  Slowly, very slowly he turned to look and saw his son.  Much older than when he last saw him.

“Tristan?”

“I have news, m’ Lord”  He tossed a blade with the flick of his wrist into a bush nearby, and the bush screamed and out slumped the puppeteer.

“… Maybe call a healer first.” Robert grunted.  He stared at the dead puppeteer. an elf with a raven emblazoned on his forehead.  Green eyes staring angrily in death.  A strong glow emanated from Tristan’s hands, snapping tendons and miscellaneous sinew back into place, rippling visibly underneath his skin.  Robert grit his teeth and grunted in agony, to the delight of the darkness around them.  The coppery smell of blood lingered in the air.

Invisible hands rubbed together and ancient lips licked, smacking loudly — but Robert couldn’t hear.

“Thank you.”  Robert when did you learn that?”

“That’s what I wanted to tell you.  The news I mean.”  Tristan grinned just like Robert and more often than Robert.  Normally it irritated Robert.  A laugh came naturally from both.

“I do have other news, sir.” Tristan narrowed his eyes.  Even his curly brown hair looked more serious.

“One half of the Ravens is willing to talk terms.”

They’re willing to talk?  And half?” Robert scoffed.

“They’re not monolithic, sir.  Many groups tire of the fighting and are willing to talk.  Probably half of them want to use this as a ruse to kill some of us.  But the other half of that –”

“So, maybe 1/4 of them is willing to talk?”

“But it is that small group that is important.”

“No…Impossible.”

“It’s exactly who you think it is.  They survived…” He stared intensely and paused, gauging Robert’s response.

“…However”.  Robert exhaled forcefully through his nose in a half laugh.

“However… they want a marriage.  And familial rights to the council.  Seats on the Senate.  Votes.”

Now it was Robert’s turn to pause.

“They seriously are willing to consider this?  What proof do I have?”  Robert rubbed his knee and stood.  A paper rustled, a sealed scroll.  Sealed with a dark wax.  Peace?

The scroll bore the ancient seal of Elven blood.  Something that hasn’t been seen for 30 years.  Describing the terms, concession of all Elven territory in exchange for representation.  A self-defense force for Elves.  Additionally, an illustration was rolled up along with the document.  A skillful hand had drawn a most delicate picture of a rare prize.

An Elven princess.  For Robert’s hand.

“But I am already married.”  Tristan stood silent.

“Father… You know she has been dead for nearly ten years now.”

They stared at each other.  The moon stared too.

“What…?” Robert’s head suddenly hurt very badly and he had to sit down from the sudden wave of nausea.  Memories of her long black hair in his hands flooded his mind amidst the tears.

“We need to get you to a proper healer.”  Tristan whispered to him as he put Robert’s arm around his shoulder.  “Let us leave this grim place.  Rally the Halharken.”  Tristan now spoke loudly to the scouts gathered around him.

They stood unresponsive to Tristan’s command.  Tristan steadied himself under the weight of his father and prepared to shout again.  Omar stepped forward from the troops with a face as sullen as Robert felt.  He held a scroll in his hand.

“Tristan, step away from Robert.” Omar’s voice was barely a whisper.  Tristan scoffed.

“What?  Rally your troop and prepare to move to the capital.  We do not have time for this.”

Robert was feeling steadier, and stood on his own now.  Shoulder to shoulder with his blood.  He leaned to Tristan and spoke softer than Omar.

“Something is wrong.”

“BY ORDER OF THE KING, RULER OF ALL MEN AND ELF AND HALFBREED.  STEP AWAY FROM LORD LOWMAN.” Omar had drawn his weapon and stepped closer, in unison with the stomps of the Halharken closing their half circle upon them.

“Omar, what is this foolishness?”  Robert spoke as he pulled his sword.  He did not want to hurt his friends, but blood is blood.  He helped raise the man standing next to him.  Now they were back to back as the crowd closed in.

Omar stared, the smell of each others’ sweat could be tasted on the air.  “Robert… I… This scroll came just now by royal courier.  The Kingsguard sent their best hawk to bring this.”  Omar tossed a parchment that had been crumpled up in a ball to Robert’s hand.  Robert read it and paled visibly even in the shadows of the trees.  The shadows tingled with delight.

“Tristan… How can this be?  The King says you are a traitor.  You are collaborating with the Elves in a secret plot?”  Robert turned to face Tristan, who stared at him in confusion.

“NO!  I had just come here on the orders of the Court!  This must be a mistake!”  Everyone’s knuckles tightened on their weapons.

“There is no mistake, child.” Omar grimaced and took his stance.  Robert stared in horror as Tristan began muttering ancient words and his sword glowed with a foreign light.

The light certain Elves could imbue in their blades.

Omar and the Halharken dashed forward together, Robert raised his blade to protect his son against their curved sabers.  Tristan exhaled and the world exploded in ancient light.

Then darkness.  Slight steam rising from the ground around them.  Robert and Tristan stood in a small sea of corpses.  Omar’s face continued to grimace up at them from their feet.

Robert fell to the ground and screamed in a mix of rage and sadness.

Tristan still held his blade up.  “Did you hear that, Father?”

Robert just stared at his dead friend in silence.  His heart now a chunk of dead matter.

“We are still not alone… There was a strange scream just now, not the men here.  What wa–” A large burst of blood sprayed from his mouth onto the back of Robert’s head.

So warm

Tristan fell beside him, his body twitching furiously.  Blood spurted from his ears and nose with each heartbeat.  Steam rose from his body writhing in the dirt, and the steam quickly turned into a thick forceful blast as if a great furnace had opened before him.

 

tales of a travelling salesman final

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Just Beneath the Surface

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A darkness so complete.

He felt cold.  Looking all around, there was nothing to see.  He could not even see his hands or his body below him.  He felt as if he were a solitary eye floating in ink.

A darkness that breathed.

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Spiral of Shadows

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The horns were all Robert could see for a moment.  His eyes focused on the demon perched on the back of the Harley roaring toward him, shadows swirling violently behind it.  There were two sets, one beginning from the being’s brow and extending back, with only a slight curve inward toward their tips.  Perfectly symmetrical.  The second pair came from just behind its cheeks, and curled over like the horns of a ram.  Like some horrible helmet.  They were blood red and shined with polished brilliance, reflecting the light from the sun glaring down on them.  Robert tried to swallow, but he couldn’t.

He and the shadowy demon flew at each other, alone together on this stretch of highway.  Heart pounding in his flesh, he stared at the face of the darkness. The smile stared at him harder than the red eyes that sat above, unblinking. The teeth were perfectly straight, sharpened to points.  So symmetrical. Robert was paralyzed, he could feel his eyes bulging out of his head at the horror. Smiling ear to ear, the mouth wrapped around its black head.  It tossed back, laughing wildly at everything. Shadows whipping around like tentacles flapping in the wind.  So close now! Robert could not move, and he felt that he was watching himself from somewhere deep within his body.  Like those terrifying dreams we have from time to time, a strange cursed passed down through history.  A sensation of paralysis and gripping fear that may permeate into our waking state.  A brush with hell.

Numb to the world, he could not feel his hands clutching the wheel.  He squeezed so hard that pain echoed in his metacarpals; bones that broke when he was a kid and never quite set back right in his hands.  He stared at the being bearing down on him with intent to kill, and he thought of Linda.  His wife’s face blinked into his mind, a breath in his ear, the smallest whisper.  A reassurance.  The words that were whispered are words we all wish to hear, the most comforting phrase a person can know.  These are, all at once, words of forgiveness and trust, loyalty and joy.  Words that are as old as humanity.  Words necessary for life to continue:

“I love you.”

At the moment before the impact, time slowed down.  All in one second he stared, noticing the being reaching out for him, one arm stretching out with onyx claws.  Within this moment, the claw melted into a black-gloved hand.  It was rising to shield the face of a human in black, slamming into his car.  The creature had abandoned this husk within a fraction of a second.  The man was tossed into the windshield, tumbled over the roof, and thudded on the road behind Robert losing control of his car.  Slamming into a tree, he managed to slow it down enough that he wasn’t knocked out, while protecting his head with his arms.  He always wore his seat belt, and it cut into his chest with burning force.  The horn exploded past the ringing in his ears, droning out into the sky.  The car was totaled, at least beyond what Robert could repair.  Bleeding and groaning he spilled out of the car onto the grass.

Holy shit.

 He managed to get up, his left leg shouting out in pain to his brain.  Both the motorcycle and his car were wafting black clouds of smoke lazily into the sky.  Finally, the car horn was fading down into silence.  Robert limped over to the man in black, laying face down in the middle of the road.  Blood pooled underneath him, thick and almost reflecting the serene sky above.  His head was cracked open, and Robert remembered something similar from when he was a child.

The memory rose to the surface, where back in his home town where he was teased by a bully, and Robert challenged him to a bike race down a steep hill.  Robert was eager to put that giant of a kid into his place.  The bully naturally accepted and rode to the appointed place.   Robert prepared by going home for his favorite shirt, and he made his way there.  But not before his mom made sure he ate a big lunch.  She thought he was just going to play as usual, and he needed the energy.

cirrus clouds

The sky now was the way it was then, blue with only a whisper of clouds high in the sky. They were like white feathers up there in the light blue hue.  Robert won that race, but his opponent had lost in the worst possible way.  Halfway down, he lost control of his bicycle and toppled head first onto the asphalt.  The blood was thick, and almost reflected those celestial feathers hanging in the blue.  The smell was the same too.  Copper laced with something else.  That big lunch his mother made for him – salami on rye – made a surprise appearance that day.  As if on cue.

This day though, his stomach was cast iron.  He did not feel queasy at all looking down at the dead man.  Relieved, he began to limp away down the long highway flanked by trees.  He was hungry and tired and his body ached with every step.  Birds called out their songs to the sky, intermingling with a wind that traced its way through the trees.  The breeze was cool, and he raised his face to the sky for a moment before continuing his walk.  He felt like some great weight had been removed from his shoulders.

His leg had mostly stopped bothering him, and sticking to the shade he began to walk briskly down the road.  Nervously he hummed to himself as the trees helplessly listened.

~*~*~***~*~**~**~*~***~**~**~*~**~***~*~**~**~**~**~**~**~**~**~***~**~*

After what seemed like forever, he happened upon a small town.  It was the type you always pass on the way to somewhere else, and if you blink twice you’ll miss it.  A gas station, a diner, and a small motel were the only establishments that he could see.  All of them seemed very old, like folks haven’t passed through in a long time, and it was only by the grace of God that they managed to stay open.  The gas station was the first he came upon, a place named “Jim’s”.  A small mechanic’s garage was attached, where a man was underneath a black sedan that looked completely shot, and a small truck was parked next to the wall outside. Robert swallowed, and hoped this fellow took credit cards.

“Hey there!” Robert said amiably, walking up to the mechanic now rolling out from under the car.  Tools were littering the ground, grease seeming to cover everything.

“Hey there, mister.  How can I help you?”

“You must be the Jim.  I’m Robert, Robert Lowman.  Call me R.J.,” The salesman in him was coming out again, and he smiled at Jim’s face covered in the grime of hard work.

“Say, does that truck happen to be for sale over there?  My car just got wrecked a ways up the road, and I have to get somewhere.” Hiding his unease, Robert was in a hurry to escape for a while. He needed to get away from the eyes of strangers.  He felt extremely paranoid even talking to this man for a moment.

How does the darkness find me?

“Actually, I have been trying to get rid of that thing for a while.  Some guy came here, asked for it to get repaired, and then just disappeared.  Strangest thing.  So yeah, you can have it budd —  er  — R.J.!”  Jim was visibly pleased with how has day was turning out.  He was thinking of maybe getting his son that bike he wanted.  Robert moved in with a fair offer, uncaring of running his credit up.  Thoughts of holding her in his arms again made financial worries seem distant.

“Sure thing, sir!! Thanks for not low-balling me.  Let me get your information then I’ll get the keys.”  Jim wiped grease from his hands onto the grease on his overalls, and the exchange went quickly. Robert was eager to get on the road again.  He was completely exhausted and felt that he would fall asleep if he kept his eyes shut longer than a blink.  Hopping in the truck, he put the keys into the ignition and the engine just made a strange clacking sound.

“Starter’s out? That’s strange… I just replaced that the other week.  No matter, should have another one in the back somewhere.  I’ll get it swapped right away.”  It turned out that he did not, and after looking for several minutes apologized and said that he ordered one from a store up the road.  They were going to drive it out in the morning, so Robert was stuck in this glimpse of a town.  Robert normally would have felt frustrated or angry, but he knew he did not have the time for that.  Walking toward the diner, he could swear that he could feel the man began to be framed by swirling shadows.  He whipped his head back around and looked at a normal Jim walking back inside his shop.  Trees stood tall around the town, and stared at Robert, who shivered as he began to navigate around rusted out cars with tall grass growing out of them. An ancient refrigerator was yellow in the partial shade, patterns of leaves dancing across its door.

Better get some food to go.  Can’t spend too much time near people, obviously.

The diner was almost as dirty as the garage, and he would never have eaten here if he was not starving.  When he grabbed the door handle, he also grabbed a fat round roach that crunched in his hand.  Normally it would have startled and made him disgusted.  Today, he just wiped it off on his pants and walked inside the restaurant.  He could feel the eyes of patrons looking him up and down, and he buried his anxiety with the perpetual smile of a salesman.  He ordered a burger, fries, and a Coke from a bubbly young waitress with bouncing brown curls.  Sitting at the counter, he tried to read a newspaper someone had left behind but could not focus with the eyes tracing over his body.  Suddenly he stood up, deciding to wait outside for his order.  The uncut grass was safer company than that of strangers.

 Finally the girl came out to him, white teeth shining with youthful optimism.

“Have a great day, sir!!”  He took his bag and walked to the motel without a thank you or hesitation, taking long strides.  A nervous pace like walking through a parking lot late at night.  Crunching through some grass for a few seconds, he stepped onto the pavement of the motel’s modest parking lot.  It looked like it was well taken care of, unlike the rest of the town.  Freshly swept and windows washed, and a clean bell tingled in the air as he walked into the small office.  An old man tended the counter, and cheerfully greeted him.

“Hello!  My name’s Don French, and this has been my family’s motel for a long time.  You look like you could use a good night’s sleep!” He gave a strong chuckle despite looking very frail, his white hair thin on his head.  Wrinkles carved strong lines all over his face.

“Hey Don! This place is a sight for sore eyes indeed.  Got a room?”

“I got a whole bunch!  Let me get your card and information here,” He said with a smile.  Soft music buzzed from a radio that seemed to match Don’s age.  Robert scribbled his information with intense speed, his hand aching from the tenseness of gripping the pen.  The exchange was quick, both men practiced in the process of buying and selling.  A few smiles and a key let Robert into a motel room, with a very comfortable looking bed that Robert knew he could not sleep in.  He promised himself to not even touch it, no matter how inviting it was.  Even the smell wafting up from it – fresh linens – could not coax him into its soft promise of comfort.  He understood that even a wink of rest would fling him into a river of oblivion, filled with its currents and eddies and sharp rocks.

Robert stared out the window, looking outside on a world that appeared bent on catching up to him somehow.  A strange chase that was chilling to think about, the darkness hiding in the universe itself searching everywhere all at once for a single man.  Could the plaster in the walls sense him? The lamp, or even the light itself that radiated from it?  The shadows that stood tall on the wall behind him?

“We are everywhere.”

Robert tried to think which word of the phrase was the most horrifying.  “We” implies numbers, possibly great ones.  A whole team of shadow beasts with some devious objective.  “Are” cements the fact that they exist.  And reinforces the “we” from before, and with confidence.  And “everywhere”?  Well…  One finds it easy to think of those implications.  Robert’s legs twitched with an anxious tic.

The wind blew briskly outside as the sun drifted lower in the sky.  Shadows cast from the trees grew longer, and darkness crept over the land.  Robert’s stomach rumbled, and he appreciated it.  The hunger should help keep him awake.  He played a tune with his hands on his knees, an ancient rhythm that has been played time and time again by those familiar with struggle, or with a battlefield.  The beating of drums that came from his hands was the song of nervousness, of anxiety and a lingering fear.  It had played in the hearts of those who have stared death in the face, and lived.  Lived to know that one day they would have to raise their sword again against that Black — the Nothingness.  Raise their sword and watch it disintegrated by the scythe of Death as it cuts down to push them into the darkness of Shakespeare’s “Undiscovered Country”, from whose borders no traveller returns.

But Robert’s tune was somewhat different.  He had the knowledge that there are fates worse than death.  The madness that he had felt in those spaces of time, those places darker than black.  The whispering tongues that wagged in the darkness.  A place that ripped and pushed into his mind and abused his senses with overwhelming inputs of emotion and physical horrors.  Madness.  Robert shivered, and tapped his hands harder, faster.

He had to stay awake.  He had to make sure his wife was safe.

It was going to be a long night, he mused.

Tap tap.

Tap tap. 

motel2

 

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Scratching (2)

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I heard something heavy on the roof, crawling above us.   I went outside to get a look at the thing, and I peered into the shadows above my house, trembling.  An overwhelming sensation of being watched came upon me, stifling my breathing.  I gazed upon nothing.  But that feeling of being quietly observed made me sick to my stomach.  There was nothing on the house… Not anymore.

I quickly went back inside.  Bolted that door tight again.  Moved the couch back in front of it.  I wasn’t going to risk going outside again, not after what I did.  Not after what happened.  There was something primal about our interaction, like a story that had been told too many times already over the course of history,  Us versus them.  I can’t explain it, but there is a hostility innate to the interaction between us.  Like homo sapiens forcing homo erectus into extinction.  Who would have thought my high school biology class would become useful to me?
After the roof scare, we decided to take all of the animals and just go into the bedroom for the night, since the doors were locked and blocked.  My wife took a pill to help her get some rest since she is a schoolteacher, and she can’t miss work since tests are coming up for the kiddos.  I stayed awake, clutching my Mossberg.  I felt pretty confident that all of the barriers that I made in the shed should keep the creatures in the ground.  But as I sat there in the darkness, I found myself thinking of their eyes, glittering in the dark looking up at me.
None of the descriptions you folks suggested really looked like what I saw.  The rake’s hands are much too big for this.  These things had more… dexterity.  Nimble fingers.  And the eyes were not dark, at least not with a light shining at them.  Seems more like some forgotten link between us and the primordial soup.
My thoughts were a whirlwind as sleeplessness began to catch up to me in a wild delirium.  The faintest brush of a wind in the bushes made my heart flutter, and my muscles tense.  And that FEELING!  The one of being watched.  Even the walls of my home seemingly could not keep those prying humanoid eyes from whispering into my mind.  The darkness itself seemed to hold them.  The shadowy corner, black in the room.  For all I could tell, there was something crouching in my room now —
Scratching began anew.

 

The location made me feel a new fear.  The walls!! The WALLS!! I have heard rats in walls before in apartments I lived in during my youth.  Light scratches and tiny scuttles.  This, was completely different.  It must be ThemScraaaaaaatch scratch. Scraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaatch.  Long, subtle scratches.  Like dragging long nailed fingers lightly over drywall.  I could picture the creature, skinny enough to slip into the frame of my home, grey skin pallid in the dusty darkness.  I loaded my shotgun with buckshot.  There was no question in my mind now, that there was something there.  And it was the thing that I saw.  There are no coincidences on a moonless night like that one.  There were no cute mice in my wall.  I knew.  I could not bring myself to pump shells into the walls, lest it let the creature spill into the bedroom.  Luckily my wife was out cold, but the dog was whining and growling again — like before.  I sat on the edge of my bed, feet hanging over the side to the ground, cradling my shotgun at the origins of the hellish sounds.
When the scratching first stopped, I went out into the living room to see the other side of the wall, to make sure it was within the thin frame and it hadn’t gotten into the home itself.  Surely, it was where I suspected.  But this gave me more scares.  The angles that strange body would have to twist into to get to where it is now are wholly unnatural.  It took all my strength left to not vomit, thinking of the disgusting being covered in dirt that had lived so close to me for so long.  And then I noticed that the cat had come out with me, and was at the window looking out intently at something.  I slowly walked over and I swear I caught a glimpse of a face peeking into my home.  A face not devoid of reasoning.  A face looking for something, someone.  Me.  As I got closer it was nothing but reflections and shadows…
I waited all night for something more.  But the scratching would stop, I would begin to drift off to sleep and then they would begin anew.  Toying with me.  As if it could sense my sleepiness and was playing with my mind.  Psychological warfare.  It is now almost 8 am, and the scratching has been gone since just before the sun rose.  They must be nocturnal.

I sure hope so.
I am going to take a quick nap, then go out into the shed.
If my hands will stop shaking.

 

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Cheshire Dark

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It was as if he continued to fall.  Even after the explosion of pain from when his head smacked into the roof of the car.  Falling, falling through a darkness that watched him.  He could feel something vile looking into his mind, its evil tenacity prying past his eyes and into his brain relentlessly crushing his will, peeking into his body and violating him. A sensation of spiders covered in oily hair that were crawling inside of his skin and skull.  Gnawing, scratching, nibbling, tickling.  Laughter erupted from the greasy arachnids, their mandibles quivering with devilish glee and dripping with saliva.  He fell into the black screaming, crying and clawing at his eyes scratchi —

A solitary heartbeat, thumping in the darkness.

Glasses clinked.  A toast.  Familiar music fuzzily found its way to his ears, that haunting tune:

“Stopped into a church
I passed along the way
Well, I got down on my knees (got down on my kneeees)
And I pretend to praaay…”

Robert’s eyelids were heavy, and he blinked away the sleep.  He sat up and looked at a darkened bar, men leaning against a wooden wall talking.  A dart thumped into a board amidst mixed cheers and groans, and R.J. wiped at his eyes.  He felt like he was drugged, or still drunk from the night before.  A nausea twinged in his gut as he smelled himself.  He looked down at the ragged suit he was wearing, tattered and stained.  He really smelled like something that had died and sat in the sun for too long.  Robert mused about the witty comments Linda would have made if she could see him now.  The faint smile disappeared from his face as his past experiences came rushing back to him.  The bloody mess in the forest, the vacuum of space, the post-apocalyptic hell all filled his mind’s eye.

Where is this? Seems… Normal enough.   

There was an empty glass on the table in front of him, sitting on top of a newspaper that read the date.  Robert’s heart skipped a beat and he stood up with a start, looking for the bartender.  He noticed that his cheeks itched as he strode across the dark wooden floor.  A thick beard has found its home where his clean-shaven face used to be.  Odd.

“Say, barkeep…” Robert said with a wave of his hand as he sat at the counter.  The man turned and hesitated before walking over.  Picking up a glass to clean, he looked at R.J. and nodded.

“What city is this?” Robert asked, barely able to hide his hope.

city 3

Laughter swelled in the tavern as the bartender told him, and Robert’s eyes lit up with joy.  He was home!  Well, almost home.

“Pour me a cold one, friend.” Putting a bill on the counter he smiled at the fellow, and the fellow could not help but smile back at Robert’s happy face.  R.J. had one of those types of smiles: rare, but when they came you HAD to smile back.  Perfect for a travelling salesman.  He had closed a few big deals with this talent before.  The man poured R.J. a nice cold beer with a modest head, and he took a sip.  It was impossibly refreshing to Robert, and he felt he could cry he was so happy.  Finally he was safe.  Suddenly, the bartender’s smile became stretched almost…  like a caricature.  His eyes narrowed and changed somehow.

Did it just get darker in here?   Or…

“You… do not belong.”  The barkeep said with an ominous monotone.  The voice was distorted and had undertones of static.  Invisible ice crept over Robert’s shoulders and shot down his legs as  the man leaned toward him threateningly. Now Robert could see that darkness was emanating from the space around the being.  The shadows were pulsing, bubbling out from nowhere, and R.J. felt like he was making eye contact with it.  As an elongated tongue curled from the being’s mouth Robert leaned back from the demon barkeeper in awkward horror, and he looked to his left at the man sitting two chairs away.  The jovial fellow did not seem to notice this petrifying thing pouring drinks!  Robert felt as if he was freezing solid, and leaping from his bar stool he made his way to the entrance, clumsily weaving past people as they enjoyed their night. Passing back frenzied glances at a thing of madness.

“YOU CANNOT ESCAPE.” A roar blew from the darkened space swirling behind the bar, framing the shadowy humanoid.  Robert noticed how unnaturally tall it was, and that everyone around him seemed to not notice anything.  Talking and laughing, blissfully unaware that something had consumed the…barkeeper?  With the blink of an eye the devil vanished from existence, the darkness resting for now.  Glasses clinked again and conversations blended into a chorus of humanity.  Maybe he was seeing things.

A bell chimed as he left the bar, twinkling in the doorway with warmth.

So much for not escaping.

 Considering where he woke up the last few times, Robert felt at ease despite what he saw.  He looked at this old city, one he had grown to hate, and saw a paradise.  It’s amazing what peering into hell can do to your world-view.  It was a nice day out, and Robert walked briskly through the crowd with ease.  Folks were avoiding him due to his odor and appearance, and a light laugh came from his chest.  There was a homeless man in the window pane next to him, smiling back and wearing the same tattered rags.  He couldn’t let his beautiful wife see him like this!  She would make him sleep on the couch and bathe in tomato soup for a WEEK!  Her smile, with those ridiculously perfect teeth, filled his head with feelings of longing.  The beard could wait, but he needed new clothes.  Luckily his wallet was still hanging in the clump of threads that used to be his back pocket.  A storekeepers eyes changed from suspicious to thrilled quickly with some clean green bills.

As he walked out, buttoning his black suit coat, he could feel the owner watching him.  Casting a glance over his left shoulder as he strode away, he caught shadows of darkness surrounding a figure wearing the smile of a Cheshire.  Robert’s blood ran cold in his veins despite the sun shining onto the city streets, and he picked up his pace.  He felt his paranoia was getting the better of him.  Thinking back as he walked, he thought that this really must have all been some strange drug induced amnesia.  Robert felt certain that all that had happened had been just dreams, and he felt braver because of this.  Finally he was on his way home, to his wife who must have had every cop in the state looking for him.  He turned down a block and he could see the park that he went to each morning and —

My car!! Yes!! 

city 1

He produced car keys from his coat pocket and trotted to his sedan.  Amazed that it could still be here after what seemed like forever, he stood and looked around at this day.  It really was a lovely one.  Birds sat lazily on a wire, watching people going about their lives.

“Hey, R.J.,! Is that you?” A voice shouted out over the hustle and bustle of the city.  Robert turned quickly to look at an old friend.  The doctor he met once during a sales call, and R.J. tried to get him to buy several vacuums.  Several!!  At the time, Dr. Charley was incredulous to the point of hilarity.  He instantly had a soft spot for this bold salesman, rattling on about how useful it would be to have several vacuums — one for the house, the practice, and back-ups just in case the others broke!  Ridiculous!  Yet there was logic in his rhetoric.  And the only reason Robert did this was so that he could negotiate down to just the two.  Start high, they always tell you, set a high benchmark to set the tone of a negotiation.  Robert smiled at him as he walked over through the crowd.

“Barely recognized you with that beard, R.J. Lowman!  What are you doing with one? Found a job that let you keep it?”

“No… Just…” Robert paused and looked up to the sky.  A crow was flying against the wind, struggling and getting nowhere.  But it was beautiful, he supposed.  Sighing, he looked back to his friend:

“I’ve taken some time off, I guess.  From the search.  I’ve been meaning to ask you about those sleeping pills you gave me, are you sure that they were OK?”

“What do you mean?” Dr. Charley tilted his head and crossed his arms.  He looked as if he was still in the office, wearing his lab coat and stethoscope.

“I had some very strange… dreams, and I don’t remember the last…”  Robert sheepishly looked to the ground, “… I don’t KNOW how long.”  A moment of silence passed.

“That’s just too bad.” Dr. Charley replied flatly.  Robert looked at him in surprise.

“What do you mean, ‘that’s too bad’?!  You’re a doctor!  Sort it out!” The doctor burst into  loud laughter at him, gregariously throwing his head back.  After a moment he calmed down and caught his breath, wiping the tears from his eyes.

“Robert, do you still think that I am Dr. Charley?”  He looked at the smiling doctor, who watched him with the gleeful curiosity of a child.  A bitter cold spread itself through R.J., tracing its path down his back to his feet.  He felt weak.

“We are everywhere, Robert.  You cannot escape us!”  At this, Robert backed up, reaching behind him for the door handle — eyes locked onto his friend.

“What are you talking about?  You’re Doc Charles!”  The doctor stared back at him in disbelief.  He chuckled and shook his head, looking down at the ground as if remembering some punchline to some joke.  Robert was horrified.  He knew now that what he looked at was not his friend.  There was no doubt.  He felt the tingling of fear again, surprised he was not desensitized to the feeling.  In one swift motion he swung himself into the car and shut the door, turning the engine on.  Dr. Cha — something leaned casually onto his car and stared into the window, looking right into Robert’s eyes with a knowing smile.  Like a friend would.

“Try as you might, but the cycle must continue, Robert.”

Robert slammed on the accelerator and peeled into traffic.  Glancing into the rearview mirror he could see the fake doctor, standing there waving at him with one hand while the other was tucked into his lab coat.  Robert whirled his car around the corner, tires squealing over the black asphalt.  Pedestrians threw themselves out of his way as he raced out of the city.  He had to get home.  He had to get to his wife before they did.

” We are everywhere.”

The city finally began to grow smaller in his rear-view mirror, and R.J. breathed a sigh of relief.  The radio quietly comforted him as did the dull roar of his engine.  He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel over-zealously to the rhythm of the song, the same evocative tune from the bar:

“You know the preacher like the cold (preacher like the coooold)
He knows I’m gonna stay (knows I’m gonna staa-aaay)

Caal-i-for-nia dreamin’
On such a winter’s daaay”

He drove for a while, and stopped for gas.  As he pumped he noticed a man sitting by his motorcycle in all black, watching him.  Dark sunglasses hid his gaze, but Robert could feel eyes on him.  R.J. cut the pump early, and got back into his car to leave.  The man kicked on his bike and sat on it as it rumbled, glancing at his watch.  Robert carefully turned back onto the main road, and got up to speed as fast as he could.  He felt uneasy after what happened in the city, despite attempts to calm himself down.  The rear-view mirror held no dark motorcyclist.  He breathed a sigh of relief, but still his heart pounded in his chest.  Thumping against his ribs.

The reflection off of the motorcycle’s chrome flashed in his mirrors.  The man in black was coming up on him.  Robert accelerated, pushing the gas down and shifting into gear.  There was no way that he could out run the bike, he knew, but maybe somehow he could cause him to wreck.  The man was barreling up the road, coming closer and closer.  Robert felt his heart in his throat beating mercilessly.  They were on a straightaway now, and the man in black flew up behind him, and passed him without effort.  Then he kept going.  Apparently, the only thing that man was looking for was the open road.  R.J. felt like a nervous fool.

But then the motorcycle stopped off in the distance, and turned around.  It looked like the exhaust was pumping out black smoke but he was surrounded by that darkness.  The same thing that consumed the others.  The motorcycle roared toward Robert, some kind of demon flying toward him with the throttle pulled back.  Robert pushed further on the accelerator as he wiped the sweat from his palms.

He had never played a game of chicken before.

But nothing was going to get between him and his wife.

Not even hell itself.

 

 road

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Sand

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Alone and writhing in the obsidian emptiness of space, Robert James strained to breathe. The vacuum of darkness pulled at his lungs with furious persistence. His lungs burned for oxygen and his mind screamed:

PLEASE GOD LET ME WAKE U–

night sky hanging with a moon bro

Eyes opened to what looked like some dark corridor with holes dotting the walls and ceiling, light poking through them all into the dusty gallery. Robert could hear whispers echoing from every direction, the languages twisting between each other like tangles of smoke. Forgotten tongues blended with the arcane, and they all reached into his mind with each opaque syllable. Inhuman laughter let loose, laughing at him. His hands clutched at his ears to stifle the sounds, but they crept from within his skull. Heart heavily thumping a primal rhythm to accompany the intoxicating multitude of forbidden sounds driving him unceasingly to madness and he felt a scream begin to erupt from his mouth –

 

He was staring at an old ceiling, a brown-green-black blotched work of shitty abstract art. Heat filled the dry air as an ancient ceiling fan lazily rotated above him with infuriating slowness, creaking.

This is not my house… This isn’t even the place where I fell asleep…

He sat up to look at an obviously abandoned and ancient hotel room, completely dilapidated and… plain nasty. There were some big black bugs on the rotting dresser, and a dirty grey rat sitting propped up in the corner… Relaxing?

Oh… The dream. Right. Time to wake up.

Robert pinched himself as hard as he could and twisted a large fold of flesh on his forearm with all of his might, digging his nails in with extra force he summoned with desperation.

A desperation that comes from fighting a descent into psychosis.

Well…

Blood spotted on his arm. It continued to ache as he waited to wake, and he noticed the amount of dust and sand covering the floor. The mattress he was on, more a pile of springs and cloth, creaked with his standing up. The corner-rat scampered off into some hole, leaving Robert alone with his confusion. Shoes gritting the sand he walked to the window, covered by blinds that seemed dozens of years his elder.

“Might as well see where I am…” R.J. whispered into the musty air. Droves of dust flecks that were dancing slowly in the strips of light became erratic with this sudden gust. The pane of the window was covered in grime and he wiped it away with the sleeve of his suit, a dry cough escaping his mouth.

Robert James looked out upon a desert scene, sand dunes reaching to the horizon, the area near the old hotel could only be recognized as a former parking lot by the tops of cars peeking out of the drifts. The place was apparently named “Hotel Kansas”, as the sign sticking out of a golden heap read.

Looks more like the Sahara than Kansas. What happened here?

Robert ripped the hotel room door open after it stuck for a moment and it flew open abruptly. Sand spilled into his shoes from the mound that had blown up against the remnants of the building.

“Great.” He stepped outside, crunched up a hill, and looked around with eyes reaching for the blurred horizon: there were no other ruins in sight. He strained his eyes to the distance where motion glimmered through waves of heat rising off of the sand. The sun was beating down on a mass exodus of people.

Where are these people going? Why are they here?

Robert’s curiosity suspended his disbelief, and questions flooded his mind. He slid-walked down the dune he was on, and hiked carefully up the next one. His feet slipping down with each step, laboring to climb what seemed to be a disintegrating hill. Reaching the top, he crouched to hide his profile from the crowd and looked on. Hundreds of dusty people with down-turned faces slunk in huddled masses, all lurching toward some unknown refuge off to the empty horizon to his right.

As R.J. looked closer, he could see that there were military personnel urging the people forward, his ears catching the echos of men speaking to the crowd in a mix of English, Spanish… Chinese? Further ahead of the crowd, Robert saw a small detachment of desert fatigues talking together on a crest of a dune, pointing farther to R.J.’s right. He followed their gaze, and saw a massive wall of sand hanging on the horizon. It was so colossal it seemed to be still, but they all knew it was moving. Quickly too.

The men slid back toward the main group in a tumbling rush, and met with the other soldiers. They all seemed skittish, pitching glances around. One pointed in Roberts direction, and he felt the icy hand of a chill brush down his back. They dispersed and herded the crowd slowly toward where R.J. was. The sandstorm was closer now, the people were moving along faster with the soldiers trotting beside them. A baby’s cry carried over the sand and through the shimmering heat, wailing forcefully.

Robert stood and looked up again to see the storm, now noticing flashes of lightning within, and in the blink of an eye it seemed to change the direction it was heading, turning now toward him. The icy hand cemented its grip around R.J.’s heart.

Why can’t I wake up Jesus God please let me wake up I want to go home to my wife an–

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

 

A hollow, mechanical drone violently filled the air, echoing into the expanse like a foghorn. It was distinctly artificial, and loud enough so that R.J. was forced to cover his ears, but the vibration was so low and loud that he could still hear it no matter how hard he pushed his hands against his head. Sand slipped in tiny avalanches on the dunes all around him. The bones in his body shook, and he couldn’t tell if it was from the sound or the fear. The horrible tone lasted for a full minute.

The people all stopped silently in a valley between dunes, for just a moment, and looked around. The soldiers frantically urged them to continue, each holding a gun in one hand while windmilling their other arm fervently. As they saw the sand storm crash over the hills around them, spilling over them, they broke into a frightened sprint.

Like… roaches…

The baby continued to cry, but was cut off by another drone. Robert felt that the sound sounded ancient, somehow. Primeval. The sandstorm ceased along with the hellish tone, and there was a second of false silence as his ears rang. The chilling screams of the forsaken filled the air, drowning out the cries of the child. Robert beheld something which defied logic, and his eyes locked with horror on something that should never be able to exist.

A silver serpentine behemoth looked down at the crowd, and towered above the landscape. Sand fell from it as the harsh sun reflected off of chrome and it made a series of sounds: Horrifying whirrs from unseen gears, disgusting clicks from a gaping maw where dozens of cold steel mandibles slammed together in hungry anticipation. Hundreds of bright red eyes covered what could only be its head, flashing and darting in all directions. Robert fell to his knees in terror, as he watched the extermination of his species.

We are… vermin…

The mechanical colossus curled, lowering itself to the sea of humans trying to escape. Arms appeared, like titanic scythes, and began to slice into the crowd with the quick, efficient strokes of a skilled surgeon. The dunes surrounding were painted with splatters of red, turning the sand dark like mud. Sparks erupted all over the monster’s body as the soldiers began to fight back in vain. Robert cowered as bodies were tossed like insects into the air, the air whooshing around him with each methodical pass. Blood flecked across his face as a lone officer shouldered a rocket launcher and looked up to fire, hands shaking. The fear forced his aim to land only a glancing blow off what must be the being’s torso. It turned to focus its ancient gaze on the mortal, and another drone echoed out, freezing the rest of the humans where they stood.

An all-too-brief moment passed, and with strange intelligence, the thing leaned down further. The baby had survived somehow and was crying again into the macabre silence. A tumultuous sound creaked from the silver horror and its body opened to allow mechanical tendrils to spread from within. They reached, spreading around the baby to cradle it carefully and bring it back inside. Its desperate mothers’ arms were outstretched instinctively as the steel mountain confirmed the child was tucked safely within the darkness of its frame. With stoic professionalism, the carnage began with a new sincerity. Robert turned down the dune he was on to run somewhere, anywhere but here.

Silence. A gunshot, a loud thump of a muffled blow against the sand which peppered the back of Robert’s neck. Overwhelming silence. His feet scrunched the ground. There was nowhere to escape, nowhere to go. He was not sure if he could die anymore, but if he could he did not want to go like this.

My wife has no idea what is happening to me. How long have I been out? Am I even alive anymore? I want to go home…

The ground rumbled and he looked back, against his better judgement. Through tears of fear he caught a glimpse of shining silver as it slithered back into the dunes, whispers of sand moving and becoming louder, taunting him. It was coming for him now. It knew.

He looked down at the roofs of cars just under the sand in this desert of a parking lot. Roberts mind sparked with some understanding now, he had to go to sleep, and fast. He had to get back home, back to his wife and his life – however bleak he thought his existence to be, it was worlds better than where he was now. Worlds. His mind filled with thoughts, images, feelings of his wife. Her long, black hair. Those big, dark eyes. The beach at night when he proposed. He forced his mind to fill with only thoughts of her.

Her.

Dream to escape. Escape to dream.

Robert James jumped as high as he could for the first time in over ten years. As he guided his body, a fraction of a second he wondered if he had died and this was his hell. His hands clasped behind him as he flew head first toward the roof of a rusted car. His wife’s face filled his mind’s eye.

To die, to sleep.

To sleep…

Sleep.

Perchance to dream.

wispy sand gif

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A Forest in the Appalachians

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R.J. was numb, laying there in the shade of the great oak. Keep Reading!

How to Start Writing… Anything!

Going to take a minute to help the community here, I promised myself this blog would be ONLY for my short stories… But I really like helping people too… So.. I apologize profusely to both myself and you, dear reader.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

We have all been there before:

“A BLANK PAGE?! OH MY GOD AHH!!”

Step 1,2,3: Breathe.  Again!

You’re gonna be just fine, tiny dancer.  You can write, you haven’t hit a block, you haven’t lost your skill.  It’s aaaaalllllll good.  You are a great writer, don’t worry.  I believe in you.

What you do have to do is this — and trust me I know it sounds too easy, and oversimplified.  But bear with me.

Step 4?

Just write ANYTHING.  If you’re typing, just start typing something relevant to what you are writing about.  A general outline works great, especially for academic writing where you have to clearly organize your thoughts.

If you have a pen and paper drawing helps too, even if you aren’t an artist.

Just the simple act of scribbling gets rid of the blank page.  If you are writing a story, or a poem, try to draw an aspect of the subject.  Try to make it relevant.

Keep that process going until the juices flow.

Step 5:

Once the juices are flowing, and you are writing something relevant to what your topic is, KEEP WRITING UNTIL YOU CRAMP UP.  You can always go back and whittle off what is useless, or rearrange the ideas.

But turning a blank page into anything else at all helps me tons.  

And I hope it helps you, too.  Good luck, and for all the gods’ sakes – 


DON’T STOP WRITING