Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Family, Part Two

Here's part two of my story. I feel like I should have gone over it a bit more to make it better, but I was satisfied enough with the conclusion. As of right now, I'm hard at work on my novel. 12k words in, with hopefully many more to follow. I'll try to keep you guys posted. The dead fell to his knees, silent as he should be. Rafael clenched his fist, feeling the hot blood surging up his arms and down his legs. It was the feeling of invincibility, the allure of the insurmontable. It was the downfall of initiates and veterans of the order. Rafael whispered a prayer as he pushed past the adrenaline. “... heartily sorry for…” murmured Rafael as he knelt beside the corpse. He reached into one jacket pocket, and then the next, searching for any clues as to the monster’s origin. He found nothing. Why would he? Any zoimanta who could craft such refined dead would take care of such basics. All Rafael had were the tracks torn into the winter earth. They would have to do. Rafael draped the jacket back over its owner, the little respect he could give the dead. The man once had a life and family, but here he was, far away from both. Whoever raised him would have much to answer for. Rafael pushed up and on, tracing the spotty trail. In some places it ended before beginning again dozens of yards away. Each step brought him closer to one of the lights in the distance. It had come from a home. His pace quickened, a trot that soon graduated to a dead run. The building was a squat, one-story affair, forged from local stone and little else. It was made by stubborn people who refused to submit to nature, and so tried their hand at mastering it. The thick front door was slightly ajar, and from it the footprints began. Warm light filtered out of the home and onto the yard, warmth in the cold night. There should have been laughter inside, the petty arguments typical of large families, anything but the dead silence that emanated. The structure beckoned to the exorcist, ready to share its secret with him. Rafael wasn’t ready. He had seen his share of horrors for a lifetime. The priest hesitated. His feet carried him forward. He pulled the door open and it groaned. Rafael almost followed suit. Inside sat the family. Their skin was ashen and their eyes dull, each arranged around the den. The children sat by the fire, ignoring their wooden toys and torn necks. The mother was in a chair to the side. She been knitting a red sweater, but her missing fingers suggested she would never add another thread. The father sat at the back of the room, and held a crumpled paper paper in his hands. The hollow sockets of his eyes bored through the print. They were a family, and now they were la fame morti, a mockery of what they had once been. “Where are you?” said Rafael as he pushed into the home. The family’s heads rose, faces flickering with interest. He paid them no heed, stalking through the den and into the kitchen. A man laid spread across the table, red ribs cracked open for the night’s supper. Rafael’s fists clenched as he screamed again. “Where are you?!” He was looking for their maker, for the monster at the center of the abomination. There was a creak to Rafael’s left. The mother approached the traveling priest with eager abandon, her arms outstretched for an embrace. Rafael rejected it with a punch to her jaw. She went flying back into the den as the rest of her family edged forward. There was one last door and the exorcist slammed through it. It was the family’s bedroom. Two small beds occupied the room, neatly made, along with a plain vanity. Most importantly, the man responsible was also there. He was a zoimanta, a perverter of flesh and raiser of the dead. He was a small man for such a large evil, barely above five feet tall. His blonde hair was slicked back, his large brown eyes narrowed. Perhaps his most important feature, however, was the iron in his hand. It was pointed straight at Rafael’s chest. The exorcist twisted to the side as the weapon went off, a rapid succession of gunfire splintering wood and shattering glass. Rafael dived to the floor, a quick tumble that brought him to the zoimanta’s feet. The sinner let out a yelp of surprise before the priest caught him in the gut with a swing. The iron clattered to the floor, followed shortly by its master. Rafael wasn’t done. As the man slumped, the exorcist’s hand was already at the back of his collar pulling him up. Rafael drove his knuckles into the man’s kidneys again and again, making him spasm and dance across the floor. The exorcist felt a thrill at the man’s suffering, a sense of sweet righteousness for every blow he delivered. Rafael’s mind screamed for his body to stop. It took every shred of his will to release the madman. He went tumbling across the floor, landing face first in front of the waiting family. They milled before him like confused children, growls and whimpers rising from their throats. “Why did you do it?” asked Rafael from across the room. “What did they ever do to you? Was their living so terrible? Was their happiness such an affront?” Silence was the only reply aside from the man’s trembling. Rafael felt the rage boil in his chest. “Answer me!” The little man quaked, but craned his neck. He didn’t look to Rafael though, but at the father, the mother, at each of his creations so docile and patient. The zoimanta’s voice was soft, as if he was afraid to break the silence. “It wasn’t because I hated it. Who would hate such a thing, exorcist? No, this…” His gaze was enraptured by those before him, his hands raised in awe. “...I wanted this so badly!” He stood slowly, his hand brushing the face of a little brown-haired boy. “They’re my family now, exorcist. They’re mine and neither you, nor the Papa, nor even God Himself can take that away from me.” A long silence passed through the room. The words reeked of such madness, how could the priest respond? He found his retort lying on the floor. The priest picked up the iron. “You are wrong about that, amico. They are not yours. They were never yours to begin with.” What that the gun roared to life. The father collapsed, a clean shot through a sightless socket. The mother fell next, her serene face marred by a bullet. One of the children followed. The little man gasped and spun, a scream on his lips while his hands waved in the air. “What are you doing?!” he asked, “What are you doing to my family?!” Rafael trained the barrel on the brown-haired boy’s face, the last of the abomination. “Granting them mercy,” he said simply. Before the exorcist could pull the trigger, the little man leapt across the room, slamming his shoulder into the priest’s stomach. The two toppled to the ground, the little man swinging with mad panic more than any real strength or skill. Rafael’s skin bruised and blood rolled from his freshly busted lip. It still wasn’t enough to stop him. With a swat of his hand, the little man hit the ground. Only to be replaced by the boy. He lunged forward, his tiny hands wrapping around Rafael’s throat. He couldn’t be more than eleven or twelve, but his grip was like a vice. The exorcist grabbed the ghoul by the head, slamming an elbow into it once, twice, but with no success. He might as well have been punching a wall. The monster was indefatigable while Rafael certainly wasn’t -- the spots swimming in front of his vision were proof enough of that. The exorcist again reached for his knife, hand fumbling for salvation. He found it as the cold steel reopened his palm. The tattoos pulsated, over his scalp and along his cheeks. Power surged through the exorcist’s arms as his hands clapped on either side of the boy’s head. The room filled with red. The fingers loosened and the body fell, leaving Rafael gasping on the floor. His chest burned and the room swam. The exorcist barely had time to process the black barrel pointed at him. “You killed them all!” shrieked the zoimanta. He had to have grabbed the weapon in the scuffle, the man forgotten in lieu of something far more dangerous. Now here Rafael was, back against the floor while the hysterical man had the advantage. “Put down the gun or you’re next--” The zoimanta didn’t wait for Rafael to finish. His finger tugged the trigger. The exorcist flinched for a bullet that never came. The chamber was empty. The little man stared at the gun in horror, pulling the trigger again and again. All he received for his efforts was the repeated click of an empty cartridge. Rafael stood, beginning his slow approach toward the beast, a greater monster than any roving dead or whispering devil. “Stay away from me!” howled the little man, but Rafael was deaf to his words. Rafael was a man of his word. The warrior raised his hand a final time. Flames licked at the wooden interior of the stone house. The fire was slow to start, but was ravenous once begun. What had really happened at that home was best left a mystery. The madman of local legend had arrived at the house, murdered its occupants, and set flame to the evidence. As he escaped, he met a fateful end in a field not far from his crime. There was no undead, no zoimanta or deformed corpses. There was nothing but a simple narrative that would stick. In the end, people always went with the simple solution. It would be easier for the sanity of everyone involved. It was a lie Rafael wished he could believe. The priest knelt in the field as he watched flames lick the sky. Lanterns danced on the horizon as neighbors rushed to combat a threat that was already finished. Rafael closed his eyes, drawing out his prayer medallion. Christ might be omnipotent, omniscient, but He was certainly not omnipresent. There had been none of God’s love in that home, none of His authority but what the exorcist could feebly introduce. There had only been blood and madness, the former he carried on his coat, the latter in his soul. He could still see the boy’s hungry eyes just before he died. Hopefully Saint Drogo would intercede on his behalf once more. if God was even there.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Family Part One

I'm currently writing a book. One that'll hopefully not fall apart, this go. I'm currently posting a backlog of content that I have built up. I'll probably eat through it eventually with updates becoming sporadic at best.

Until then, enjoy what I've got. This is part one of a short story I wrote.

Rafael Ignacio prayed. It wasn’t an unusual action for the exorcist. Christ was omnipotent, omniscient, and best of all, omnipresent. Wherever Ignacio was, he could call on the Son for His incomparable strength. It was a great comfort for a simple man.

 Not that Rafael did not have strength of his own. It was power that had been conditioned from childhood. His muscles had been forged to physical perfection. His rough hands could incapacitate, wound, or even kill. Pain no longer troubled him, and even hunger was the merest of inconveniences. Rafael was a force to be reckoned with, an instrument of God Almighty.

 But even he was still human. Rafael squeezed his prayer medallion as he opened his eyes. It was etched with the image of Drogo del Sebourg shepherding his flock. He was a righteous saint, and had served Rafael as a faithful intercessory all these years. Rafael’s thumb smoothed over the worn image before the exorcist stood. Perhaps it was because the deformed had to stick together.

Hopefully Saint Drogo would serve once more. Rafael stepped into the night air. It had to be below freezing, but Rafael only felt the first few pinpricks of the Italian winter before warmth enveloped his body. Some called it the Flame of God, others the Love of Christ, but it was nothing nearly so impressive. It was a simple trick taught to all I Penitenti del Sebourg, hard earned but oft-used. Rafael shoved tattooed hands into his coat pockets, pushing against the north wind.

 The hilly countryside twinkled with occasional light. A farm here, a home there, each resident setting down for their evening meal. A good end to a long day. The only sign that there was something more sinister in the countryside was the full moon. It grimaced down at the world, as if cringing at what it saw. Rafael couldn’t blame it.

 La fame morti were on the move. The hungry dead. Three men had disappeared in as many days. When they were found, the farmers didn’t even resemble men. They were stripped head to toe of muscle and flesh, only the barest remnants clinging to the bone. Some cried “wolves,” others murmured a mad man. Rafael was one of the few who knew the truth.

It was best that it stayed that way. These simple people knew only of tilling fields and raising children. They could understand wolves or violent men, but the dead were outside of their scope. They were afraid now, but the truth would only bring panic. It was best to let them contend against the enemies they understood. Rafael would take care of the things that went bump in the night.

 As Rafael came to the top of a hill, something stirred in the fields to his left. A lone figure stood, silhouetted by the cloudless moon. His head was slumped and his arms hung limp, as if the life had gone out of him. Rafael tensed and his heart quickened, but the only figure only stirred with the wind. A minute passed, then two, and only then did the exorcist dare approach the creature.

 Each step was a little piece of eternity. Usually the dead groaned and howled, hands stretched to rend anything showing a shred of life. The silence was worse. It contained uncertainty for an already terrible foe. Still, Rafael approached. It wasn’t bravery that guided his feet but training, years of experience ingrained into his very being. The exorcist was afraid, but he was unable to heed fear anymore. Rafael took another step and saw the monster’s face.

 Its skin was a light brown, worn by the weather, while its eyes were beady and black. The mouth was a slit, torn and terrible, always parted in a scream. As far as scarecrows went, it was quite fearsome. Rafael slumped forward, hands on his knees, before finally taking a breath. A soft laugh followed, powered by relief as much as the absurdity of it all. Rafael raised a hand, slapping the shoulder of his adversary.

 “I believe you won this one, amico,” said the exorcist. Rafael gave the sentinel’s shoulder one last pat before he turned to go. A footstep came from behind, a boot crunching against the hard enough. It was enough to freeze Rafael in place. The dead exhibited a low cunning, to be sure, but never anything quite like moving silently across frozen earth. Of course, it could just be a frightened farmer, eager to end a madman who had plagued his community. Rafael tested his luck.

 “How can I help you, senore?” asked the exorcist.

“Grhhhnnn,” hissed the damned.

 Rafael’s luck was holding. As la fame morte charged at his back, the exorcist snatched at the knife at his side. His fingers dug into the exposed blade, sending blood rolling down his palm and dripping to the earth. It was his salvation. The tattoos that ran up his hands and across his face rippled and glowed in the moonlight.

 One second he was standing on the ground. The next he was sailing through the sky, over the monster’s head and then to the earth below. The dead swung its head around, blue lips curled in rage. The ghoul spun and charged the exorcist with hungry abandon.

Rafael met the dead man with a swing of his fist. The blow was a blur of motion, faster than man’s mere limits. Some would call it a magic, men of faith might suggest a miracle. It was far too commonplace to be either. I Penitenti del Sebourg had many skills, and this was just another. The dead man’s fingers brushed at Rafael’s shirt -- that was as far as they got. The crunch of bone filled the air just as the deadman’s skull caved underneath the exorcist’s knuckles.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


“I’m hungry,” she said. I ignored her. She was a creature of complaint, a woman of the whine. It spoke of her skill that my considerable patience was already fraying after my third glass. Her voice piped up again, this time taking on the nasally intonation that was my weakness.

“Jimmy, I’m huuunn-GRRREEEEE! 

My fists slammed down on the desk, bringing an end to her incessant cry. The objects on my desk jiggled and jarred, with the ink jar taking a swan dive over the edge. It ended its long service with a crash and slow leak, blackness soaking into the oak floor. I tried to reign myself in, but it was far too late -- my temper was as hot as the room’s roaring fire. “ You’re not hungry! You’re not cold! You’re not bored, and you’re certainly not lonely! You’re not any of those damned things because you’re dead!

The ghoul blinked her single eye before edging a finger through the hole the other once occupied. “Huh, so I am,” she said before flashing me a smile. It was crooked and cruel, the signal for cutting words and painful jabs. “I wonder whose fault that is?” The one sentence was enough to end my anger. I clenched my fists and closed my eyes. I had brought it on myself. I felt her hands ease over my shoulders, delicate fingers that plucked at my shirt.

“Tell me, James, who was it that killed me?” She damn well knew the answer. I pushed up from the chair and paced across the room, away from her, away from her incriminations. “I’ve explained myself already to you, woman! A hundred times, a thousand! How many more times must I before you’re satisfied?”

“Long hours, marital strain, a terrible thirst,” she recited boredly, “The same old excuses, Jimmy. They rang hollow the first time. Do you think repetition will make them sound better?” A man could hope. I had certainly tried.

“Who could have saved you?” I whispered, staring out the window. The streets were orange and empty, influenced by lamplight and the night sky. Those images were soon replaced by another, of an empty socket and a single wild eye. She was laid out on the table, bleeding through the linens. There were shouts and orders filling the room. They were all coming from me.

It was a scene I could never forget. “You had been shot through the eye, right into your posterior cerebral artery! If you hadn’t bled to death, you would have been an invalid, a shell of yourself!” I whipped around, pointing a finger at the ghoul, accusing her, beseeching her. “I tried my best to save you, dammit! My hands didn’t shake, my mind was clear, I never lost focus! I couldn’t have done more!”

She laughed, a long, sinuous sound that slithered through the room and ‘round my heart. My finger drooped and the righteous red of my cheeks faded. Her blue eye watched me as red lips twisted into a smile. “Now we get to the truth of it, Jimmy. No matter what you did, no matter what you attempted, you couldn’t save me. It wasn’t spurned wives or fourteen-hour shifts:

“You just weren’t good enough.”

She shimmered, form blurring as tears filled my eyes. She was right. It was a fact I had been avoiding for weeks, months. My knees sank to the floor and my hands covered my face, banishing the terrible spectre for even a moment. “You were so young, so full of promise. You had the world ahead of you!”

“It never turned out how you wanted, did it?” she whispered in my ear. She was behind me again, my tormentor, my judge, with fingers stroking through my hair. “The big, empty house, the string of wives, the long hours… It was never the fairy tale ending you were looking for.” Her voice was soft, even sympathetic. I shuddered, waiting for the taunts or jabs that always followed.

They never came. She continued to soothe my hair and hold me close. My throat ached and my chest clenched as I wept. It was the first bit of understanding since the Incident. My body shook as I clung to her. “If I had been able to save you,” I whispered, “Maybe, maybe I could have saved myself. I could have lived a life that I didn’t regret. Maybe I could change.” I drew back from her, searching that pale face.

“You were right. Saving you was impossible from the start.”

She laughed again, this time a sweet sound. It was the voice of a girl rather than a ghost. Her hands were cool as they pressed against my cheeks, lifting my head up. “I’m not your salvation, Jimmy. I never was. Whether you keep on this track or get off, it isn’t because of me. It’s all you. It has been the whole time.”

The girl leaned in and gave me a whisper of a kiss. It was tender, gentle, and all-too-brief. When she pulled back I shuddered, fingers squeezing at her cool flesh. “Something sweet to remember me by, Jimmy.” Her single blue eye gave a wink. “Maybe it’ll help you move on.” Then the girl began to fade, her colors becoming dull before transparent. Soon she was gone, leaving only the memory.

I was left alone with a growing headache, which neither the bottle of whiskey at my side or the sunlight slipping over the windowsill helped. I stared at the amber bottle, fingers clutching at its glass surface. Today I could choose. Stop or continue. Live or keep dying. All it would take was one choice. My hand trembled.

I let the light liquid spill over the black ink.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Call

For some reason I wanted to write a Middle Eastern story. Of course, knowing little to nothing about medieval Muslim culture, I probably screwed the pooch more than my fair share. The most glaring, I think, is an empty, yet stocked, bazaar during the adhan. Supposedly you're able to perform prayer wherever you might be able, as long as it's clean, but I decided to alter that, obviously.

Don't think too hard about it. I'll try to do the same.

The muezzin made his call. It floated from the minaret and into the city, a siren's song for the faithful. Turbaned men and veiled women rushed from the busy streets for their homes. Kabeer al Omar moved as well, though his purpose was not so holy. He had completed his prayers before the adhan, a sorry attempt at pardon. Perhaps Allah, Most Merciful and Supreme, would forgive him that one sin.

Perhaps He would forgive the ones that were to follow.

Omar hated the dry heat of the desert, and the thin robes were little protection against its blazing mid-day sun. The sun beat down like a smith's hammer during the day, while winter's fingers clawed at them during the night. No matter the years he spent here, Omar could not adjust. The peace that he had found in his heart never quite transferred to his form. Omar picked up his pace, short legs carrying him into the bazaar.

The shade of stone saved the Troll. The market's ceiling vaunted twenty feet into the air, making the giant feel as but a child in a room for men. The grim purpose on his shoulders did not help the feeling. Omar passed empty stalls, some filled with fruits, others lined with silks, all untouched by the greedy. Thieves knew better than to risk the wrath of Allah, Greatest Protector and Wisest Judge, during the call to prayer.

Murderers were different. While perhaps not brazen in their methods, they planned and plotted easily enough with whispered words in concealed corners. Not that anything was hidden from Allah, the All-Knowing. Still they tried, and it was left to ones such as Omar to find them. As the Troll came short of a fourway path, he could hear the bloody murmur of conspiracy to his left. 

".. must look as if a stroke," continued the fat man, bent with age. His spotted fingers stroked roughly through his beard, a nervous motion that plucked hairs. "A tragedy of time, of a rich lifestyle! Perhaps thabann sinn? Haadi?" 

The other man shook his head, pacing as he spoke. "It is far too late to change our plan, Nasir. Steady your hand and your heart!" cried the youth. His eyes blazed, a fire that only seemed to enhance the beautiful face behind a full beard. "When Selim arrives, we shall come upon him from both sides. His Janissaries shall part for those of our rank, and when they do--"

"We will die!" answered the elder. "We are administrators, Hasan, not warriors! We will be rent limb-from-limb, savaged beyond recognition! Dogs will feast on our bodies and vultures will commence the clean up! And that is only if we are lucky! What if Selim's giant comes for us? You have heard the tales of red rooms and missing men! That alone should have warned us, but here we are! Why did I let you talk me into this madness, this foolishness, hopeless endeavor? Allah, deliver me--"

The sharp sound of an open-hand against flesh silenced Nasir's triade. His trembling hand raised to a reddening cheek as the old man quaked underneath the youth.

"Allah would not abide such a beast on the throne! A man who kills his brothers, his cousins, what sort of man is that, Nasir? If he will murder his relations, then we will be nothing to him should he catch wind of our dealings! Gird your loins, for you sound more like a woman than any man I've yet known!" Hasan spit at the ground, fists tightening. "With Selim dead, we have the chance to rise beyond our means no matter what monster he might command! I swear on my name, Nasir, I will drag you kicking and screaming to the caliphate if I must!"

 So it was true.  They had embezzeled the caliph's money. Worse, they sought to steal his life. Even the smallest sin led to bigger temptations. Once man erred intentionally, it was hard to ever stop. It was a sad fact that they had started large and only had their ambitions grow. Omar had heard enough to pass judgement on the pair. It would be no sin to do his duty this day. Yet the Troll still closed his eyes, muttering a prayer. 

It was still on his lips as he turned the corner. "Gentlemen," boomed the giant. The two men spun in surprise. Nasir's face paled. Hasan's confidence faded. Omar took one step, then another. The old man's back pressed against a stall, while the youth's feet were stuck fast to the earth. They were mice caught in a serpent's gaze. They would not escape.

"I believe I need no introduction. I am called 'giant' by some. Others call me 'monster.' Allah Most High has seen fit to call me Kabeer al Omar. I am a simple man with simple tastes." Omar's lips began to stretch, first in what seemed a smile before too many teeth were on display. His lips parted, his red tongue edged forward, and the black space between beckoned. 

"I am Selim the Steadfast's Sin-Eater, and now I shall feast."

The muezzin made his call. It floated from the minaret and into the city, a siren's song for the faithful. Kabeer al Omar was among them. His heart was as heavy as his belly, but the Troll had done his duty. Prayer would ease his troubled heart -- it always did. As for stomach, time would heal that ache.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Tea Party

Here's another foray into the world I'm writing. I've got a large document filled to the brim with races, history, etc. etc. Hopefully I'll be able to produce something substantial (such as a book) when I'm finished. Until then, I'm fine with writing short stories from different corners of it.

Snow was falling.

She hoped it never stopped.

Snow meant that Dr. Remington would stay in. He hated the slush and congestion of a snowlocked city, and she hated to see him go. Each venture out meant new subjects or forays into mischief, things she could not abide but was unable to protest. At least today, Jessica had him all to herself. She made to make preparations.

Jessica stepped away from the window. She had another name before, but it had faded like the day's snowflakes. She couldn't remember much before she had opened her eyes and seen the good Doctor, a crinkled smile on his blood-speckled face. He had given her the task of naming herself, a name all her own.

Jessica Eloise Shirley Sanderferd tackled it with zest. She did so with most things in life, evidenced by the flare of a frilly white tablecloth in her hands. It floated gently down to the tabletop, just slightly askew, before it leapt up again. As the cloth settled, Jessica walked around the table, smoothing away wrinkles with her tiny fingers.

"Perfect," she murmured.

Next came the chairs, five all in total. One for her, one for the good doctor, and the other three for the usual guests. She fetched them from the walls, first Lady Habless, a slovenly bear of leisure with stuffing emerging from her belly. Lord Iverness followed, a gorilla with a bright out-look despite his paraplegic status -- the Great War was a tragic thing. Finally was Mr. Whimsley, the dour, one-eyed rabbit. Jessica didn't care for his rough attitude, but she figured that tea parties were the only thing keeping him from the drink.

She couldn't very well turn him back to demon rum.

As Jessica set down each cup, turned just-so to the sitter, she let out a sigh of annoyance. "Yes, Mr. Whimsley, tea will be served soon. However, we must wait on Doctor Remington. As you well know, he is our benefactor. Would you care to displease him?"

The rabbit answered with moody silence.

As she set the teapot in the middle of the table, she heard a floorboard groan outside her door. He was coming! Jessica's ringlets bobbed as she looked around the room, looking for any preperations  gone askew. The place settings were immaculate, the china shined to a fine sheen, and the guests, while perhaps unhappy, weren't rebellious. No, it was all grand. All the scene needed was a final touch to be perfect.  She rushed to her chair with the energy of youth.

The door creaked open.

"We have been expecting you," said Jessica imperiously, teacup drawn to her lips. It was all about impressions, really. Jessica may have put effort into the occasion, may have rushed to have it completed, but she certainly couldn't act as if she had. This was her realm, where she stood first lady -- with that at stake, nothing else would do.

The doctor laughed before bowing his silver head. His gray hand settled at his heart, clearly agrieved at his poor behavior. "My apologies, Ms. Sanderferd. It is little excuse, but as you know, when Lady Science calls, we mortals have no choice but to answer." Jessica released a long suffering sigh as she nodded to Habless.

"I must agree, Lady Habless, we are much more attractive than science." Jessica peered over her cup with feigned annoyance. A lady must play hard-to-get, especially for a prize worth winning.  Truly, the doctor was the grandest prize of all. She waited, body tensed.

"If science was attractive as the two of you, I am afraid I would never leave her side." There it was, the silver tongue that he was notorious for. Jessica's heart fluttered even as she watched the skeletally thin man bow at his waist. He reached down to take Jessica's hand and her fluttering heart stopped, dead. His touch was cold and his kiss on her fingers even colder.

It was absolutely delightful.  Doctor Remington moved to his chair, a seat that made him look absolutely gigantic. He raised an empty teacup to his lips, testing a sip before frowning. "Lady Sanderferd, you know I prefer my tea not to be quite so steeped."

"A penalty for being tardy, I'm afraid," said Jessica with a wave of her hand, doing her absolute best to look unconcerned.  "I'm afraid I have no scones for today's tea, either. A casualty of our long wait."

The doctor laughed, furrowing the crow's feet at the corner of his eyes. He was an older gentleman, to be sure, while Jessica was a girl not yet in the flower of her youth. It was the unlikeliest of romances, to be true, but she could hope. She admired the fine lines of his face, perhaps too involved with the intricacies of the man.

"I'm sorry to say this is a business call, Lady Sanderferd." Immediately her back went rigid, her lips pursing bloodlessly. She might love the man, but she hated his "business." Jessica looked away, tiny fingers tightening around her teacup.

"I wish you wouldn't," she said quickly. "It's a snow day. You know you're not to speak of your work on a snow day." She hated how petulant it sounded coming from her lips, a whimper rather than a command. The doctor reached across the table, his hand settling against her own.

"I'm sorry my dear, but we'll soon have visitors," said the doctor. "You must be prepared for when they arrive. Else, it could go very badly for the both of us."

"But this is our time," she stressed. She felt tears well in her eyes, making the air shimmer. Why was he so cruel? "Why do you have to hurt people? Why do you have to take them from heaven?" The doctor's hand slipped up to her cheek. His thumb brushed away a stray tear as he offered a faint smile.

"Why must you hold tea parties and place princess?" he asked the child. "We do these things because they are a part of us. You are naturally regal, my dear. I..." Doctor Remington offered a lop-sided smile.

"I'm naturally a monster, I suppose."

Perhaps she should have hated the doctor. He had stolen her from heaven and now here she was, in a lonely room surrounded by stuffed animals and finery. She could remember nothing before she woke, and after she did, he was everything. The doctor began to explain, giving instruction and explantion.

Snow was falling, but Doctor Remington's words were even colder.

She wished he would stop.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Can't Go Back

Here's a bit of a change of pace. Instead of articles, I'm going to start to toss out some short stories. Little more than blurbs, really. Bits that establish my world in my own head. They'll probably be rough as hell, but I appreciate your reading them.

Bird Doublehead was terrified.

He had never been a brave man.  Brave men didn't stay quiet when women were forced to looms, and men into fields. Brave men didn't stand back as they watched outsiders uproot their people to some forsaken corner of creation. They certainly didn't watch while white men erect bonfires to burn the best of them.  He could still hear the howls and whines. He could still taste burnt fur and flesh.

Bird wasn't brave in the least, but he was mad as hell, and that was a fine replacement. His head leaned forward, peeking through the trees. In the distance he could see a trail of dust stretching up to the sky. He raised his forearm above his eyes, squinting as he fought the sun.

The horse-drawn wagon clattered along the dirt path, the frame bouncing over every stray rock and occasional pothole. Its passage from Georgia had not been easy, as evidenced by the torn tarp and wary horses. It was for good reason. The wagon brought the scent of rot and wine, of an old man used to sweet things and easy paths. On the bench was bent the Major, gut protruding as his gnarled hands squeezed the reins. He was a man in the winter of his life. Once he could face it was a smile and a laugh, but now all he could muster was the weariness of all those years.

Treason aged a man considerably.

Bird emerged from the treeline, his heart hammering against his chest. The horses came to a dead stop. Their broad nostrils twitched as the pair sniffed at the air. The horses' eyes rolled back until they were all white, panicked wickers and whinies filling the air. Still, they held their ground as not to defy the seated man.

Bird could easily have ambushed the Major, brought him low with a hidden snap and have been done with it. There was no joy in such a victory. He'd dreamt of killing the Major since he was a boy, fangs and blood haunting every single night. It was for this that he'd gone all this way West, across unknown country with a dagger hidden behind every smile.

Doublehead'd be damned if he didn't look the man in his eye before he killed him.

The Major finally raised his head. It was with mild disinterest that he studied Bird, as if he was just another rock in a long road. It was enough to make the younger man's blood boil. The old man finished his inspection with a sigh.

"You're Chief Doublehead's boy?" asked the Major.

"Bird Doublehead," confirmed the assassin. "I've been following you since Turkeytown, by Reddingville Way."

"It took you this long to catch up?" The Major laughed, a clipped, rough sound. "You almost missed your chance." He nodded to the wagon. "I ran into a few of your friends in Chanceton."

"Weren't no friends of mine. No friend'd take what's mine away." Bird took a step forward.  That's all the motion it took. The Major's hand settled on the rifle laying beside his seat.

"Don't be quick to join your Pa, boy. Turn around and just keep moving." He nudged his head forward, at the trail. "You've got a ways to go, and a new life to live. There's nothing here waiting for you but a quick end at my gun."

Bird Doublehead was terrified. He had never been a brave man, and he didn't want to die. Still, the pelt worn under his shirt bristled with fury. It ached to tear and bite, to make right what had gone so terribly wrong. It was filled with a rage that went beyond reason, and it swept the fear away.

"I mean t'finish what I started," said Bird, or so he tried. It was hard to speak between growing fangs and lengthening lips. The man dropped to all fours and as he did, the rifle rose. He could smell the panic coming off the Major, as sweet as honeysuckle, and he raced toward it.

The air filled with a bang and a roar.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Milk'n Mah Degree

Anything that allows me to study the deviant nature of man is interesting. Tabloids, gossip sites, and history books are my go-to for human folly and spectacle.  While the first two only focus mainly on Bill Clinton's Plastic Surgery Nightmare! and Justin Bieber being a little bitch, history books actually mention things worth a damn. They give us powerful narratives of the human lives that came before us, and that edged mankind toward the present. As I'm currently drunk, bitter, and staring at stacks of mounting student loan debt, I thought I might share my shit-worthless degree and the resulting perspective with the world.

 Asano Naganori and Lord Kamei were two daimyo, or Japanese lords, whose prospects were looking up. They were about to play hosts to some officials of the shogun, the big-wig who ran Japan. These were powerful men who had a constant presence with what was essentially Japan's chief badass. All they had to do was learn court etiquette from a well-versed teacher, Kira Kozuke-no-Suke Yoshinaka, inside the shogun's home, and they were set for life.  There was only one problem.

Kira was an asshole. The sources vary on whether he straight up insulted them or merely didn't fulfill his duties as a teacher, but one thing was for certain: He was shitting all over the pair. While Asano was able to maintain his composure, Kamei planned to kill Kira. Luckily for Kamei, his servants knew that he was an unstable bastard and bribed the hell out of Kira. The teacher started actually treating Kamei with some measure of human dignity, and the debacle settled down.

At least on Kamei's side. Kira, noting that Asano hadn't left any unmarked bills in specified locations, ramped his asshattery up to eleven. It got to the point that Kira called Asano a "country boar," the medieval Japanese equivalent of "jive-ass motherfucker." Asano reacted like any rationale human being would at this point.

He drew a knife on Kira. The teacher's back was turned, but Asano wasn't about to let that keep him from fucking up the assassination. The first cut went across Kira's face. The second ended up missing entirely and plunging into an innocent wooden pillar. Lee Harvey Oswald this man was not, and he was soon restrained by guards. The shogun was left with a problem in his hands. Kira was a total knob, but Asano had drawn a weapon in the shogun's household. Like most typical Japanese mistakes, there was only one way to deal with the situation.

Lord Minamoto: Where is the coffee?
Squire Asano: I forgot to make it, my lord!
Lord Minamoto: Dammit, Asano! You have failed me for the last time!

It was a strange and magical era. 

Asano committed seppuku, or ritual suicide, spilling his entrails before being beheaded. The name of his house was tarnished, his land was divided up among neighboring daimyo, and his retainers became ronin, or masterless samurai. The ronin, like any recently unemployed workforce, were pissed. Their daimyo was dead, their jobs gone, and they were cast to the streets. One amongst them, Oishi, rose as a leader in their ranks. Oishi was obviously the right choice, as he proceeded to concoct a convoluted and bloody plan for revenge.

The ronin spent the next two years acting like they had moved on. Some became farmers, others blacksmiths. Oishi, for his part, got constantly wasted and banged hookers. All to lower Kira's guard, of course. Kira bought into Oishi's whoreishness and slowly grew content with the knowledge he gotten away scott-free. It was exactly what Oishi wanted. Some of his comrades, those who weren't busy doing blow or visiting donkey shows, had since taken up construction, and they had learned the layout of Kira's castle.

All the pieces had come together. Oishi only had to take one more step before he besieged Kira's castle. Oishi met with his wife of twenty years, an extraordinary woman who had stuck with him in the good and the bad, and turned a blind eye to his fallen behavior. He had kept his plan secret from even her, so worried was he for the success of his mission. It was time that Oishi repaid her for the years of devotion in the only way he could.

He divorced her. You see, Oishi operated by the ancient bushido code of "bros before hos." Energized by the sustenance of a woman's tears, Oishi led his men to storm Kira's castle in the dead of night. It was a thorough assault. One half attacked the front gates while the other crashed into the back. They even sent messengers to tell the neighbors that it was only Kira they were attacking, and not them. The neighbors, relieved that Kira's tyrannical hold of their homeowner's association was at an end, held a block party to celebrate. In the words of one premient historian, it was, "pretty ball'n."

Enemy after enemy was cut down before the fury of the ronin before the castle was silent. Well, silent aside from the weeping and wails of terrified women and children. Aside from them, the castle was pretty damned quiet. The ronin had triumphed over their enemy, and brought honor to their fallen lord.

Except for the fact they couldn't fucking find Kira. They looked in closets, behind screens, and even posted Craigslist ads ("47mlfm"). It was all for naught. Dawn was coming and their revenge was uncompleted. That is, until they saw a wall scroll fluttering in a windowless room.

Apparently Kira had planned for just such a homocidal contingency, and had a secret courtyard built. The ronin pushed past the scroll, kicked open the door to a shack in it, and found the elderly Kira trembling. Being Japanese, and thus overwhelmingly polite, Oishi fell to his knees before Kira and asked him to face death like a samurai. He offered Kira the dagger Asano had used to commit seppuku. Of course, Kira was speechless. He had been woken in the dead of night, watched most of his retainers die, and felt his pants get ten pounds heavier.  Oishi realized further entreaties were useless. With only one option left to him, Oishi bravely acted.

And proceeded to saw Kira's goddamned head off with the dagger.

The ronin left their enemy's castle victorious. As they moved across the countryside and back to their master's grave, they were invited by several households to feast. People were touched by their devotion to their master, their embodiment of the samurai spirit, and they fact they had taken out a notorious fuck. Oishi deposited Kira's head at their master's grave. They then awaited their fates.

The shogun was left in a bad spot, once again. These men evidently carried bushido in their hearts, but they had killed a court official, one of his most trusted men. He was trapped between admiration and law. It took time, deliberation, and the advice of able counselors before the shogun was able to come to a conclusion that was both just and fair.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Dangers of Mississippi

If the continental United States was a human body, Mississippi would be the balls.

It's moist, smells terrible, and you sure as hell don't want to see it in the light of day. The summers are sweltering, the winters are freezing, and the landscape more often than not reeks of chicken shit.  Sadly, that isn't even the worst of it. No, the land might try to break our spirits, but it's the flora and fauna that actively tries to maim our bodies and take our lives.

The world must know of our trials and tribulations. It must know the terrors that lurk at the ass end of the universe, if not for our sakes, at least for theirs. Who knows when (or why) you'll take a jaunt through Mississippi. Maybe you'll be visiting the Civil War battlefield of Vicksburg because, hey, you just love reminiscing about brutal conflicts that pitted brother against brother. Perhaps you'll be frequenting the fine Indian casinos of the Coast, because nothing says "I'm really sorry for centuries of genocide" like popping a coin in the slot. No matter the situation, you'll be minding your own business when tragedy strikes! With the information herein, you might just come out alive. You might just survive

The Dangers of Mississippi!

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

Except for the possum. Jesus Christ, what was He thinking? It was ugly, riddled with rabies, and... fuck! Creation was all a terrible mistake. God shortly held a conference on nixing his newfound pet project with Jack Daniels and his close associates, Smith & Wesson.

The earth barely escaped unscathed.

"Well, you look cute and cuddly, but... rabies."

You might say to me, "Justin, what are you talking about? Possums are downright cute! What could God possibly find wanting in them?"

"Jesus Christ, is it too late to pass on the rabies?"

You hear that? That's the sound of you shutting your goddamned mouth. Possums are terrible, hateful creatures that feast off of terror and despair. If you met a possum in a dark alley, it would hold you at knife-point screaming, "Your money or your life!" Of course, as possums lack the common decency to speak English, it would come across as random hisses and screeches. It would then probably bite you for not following its demands.

Fucking possums.

A year or two ago, I lived out in the country. As you probably know, country-living and trailers go hand-in-hand, so it's not hard to figure out where exactly I was living. The spaces were cramped, the air conditioning was sub-par, and we constantly heard scratching at the vents in the floor.

Something was living in them.

Our cat, Tery, would follow this unknown creature as it crept through the trailer. Like hell we could see anything, but she only had eyes and ears for it. Many a night she would fall asleep by one of the airways, as if waiting.

She didn't have to wait very fucking long. My mom screamed from the kitchen late one Friday night. Apparently a rat had poked its head out of the bottom of the fridge. That's all it took for the cat and I to come charging in like a dynamic duo, ready to kick ass, take names, and leave something maimed and/or dead. As I was looking for the critter, I laughed at her feminine squeamishness. It was only a rat! What did we have to fear from an overgrown cheese muncher? Stupid women!

It was then a white and gray head poked itself out from under the fridge.

I nearly shit my pants. The possum skittered back under, Tery scattered away, and I was left with a problem on my hands. How the fuck was I going to deal with a possum? Who the hell could even help us in this kind of situation? The brief eye-contact I had made with its beady eyes told me all I needed to know -- it wouldn't stop until my mother and me were dead, and my cat had been taken for its possum-wife. We scratched our heads, fretted over the options, and finally came to a consensus.  We went to the phone and called the only man who could handle such a dire emergency.

My Uncle Jerry. He didn't have nearly half the sense God gave a common dog, and I can't imagine he had anything past an eight-grade education -- basically, he was the perfect combatant for a possum. He wouldn't know to fear the bastard like good, sane folk might. He could tangle against the monster without the fear of rabies or the thing latching onto his face. Clad in jean overalls and enough hair to make Robin Williams feel feminine, he marched into the house.

"You want me to kill it?" he asked. It's here that I still curse my liberal education. I thought all animals were precious creatures, part of a delicate and beautiful balance. Who were we as men to dictate the fates of noble creatures? He stared at me with his bead eyes for a long moment, but finally nodded. He let my youthful innocence override his years of wisdom. The plan was simple, then.

We were going to move the fridge outside. I grabbed one side, he took the other, and Tery supervised from a corner. We grabbed the refridgerater and began navigating it for the door. One would push, the other would pull. We shoved corners, bumped entryways, and finally made it out into the fresh air of freedom. "Be free!" I shouted to the possom. "Go join your furry brethren!" I waved my arms eagerly to the treeline!
 Shit didn't happen. No matter how I coaxed, called, or pleaded, the possum didn't budge. Soon we resorted to a broom jabbing underneath the fridge. That worked as well as the begging. It was only when we got on our hands and knees, throwing caution to the wind, that we found the terrible truth.

The goddamned possum wasn't there. We ran around inside, checking under beds, around cabinets, underneath tables with the same result: Nothing. The possum had vanished from the face of the earth. I tried to coax Tery into action. If anyone could find that bastard, it would be the cat! Except she was too busy having 'nam flashbacks in her corner. As Tery recounted being pinned down in "the shit" by "Charlie," we gave up the search. The possum was gone.

The monster had won.

Maybe you'll be fortunate enough to never see a possum in your lifetime. It'll be a nightmare that stays at the edge of your perception, a bogeyman to frighten small children at bedtime. If you aren't, at least it probably won't break into your home in an insane attempt to murder you and everything that you hold dear. Should that remote possibility take place, however, remember my tale.

Also, buy a gun.