Chuck Wendig: The Last Stand of Dickie Metter

Time for another Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction challenge.  This week he gave us a list of twenty different subgenres of fantasy, sci-fi, and horror.  Using a d20 or some other randomizer, the challenge is to randomly select two of the genres, mash them up, and spit out 1,500 words.  I got Southern Gothic and kaiju.

I don’t know a whole lot about either one.  I think of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and Anne Rice’s Interview With A Vampire when I think of Southern Gothic.  I have no idea whether those really are good examples of the genre or not, but they’re what I think of, and that’s the feel I tried to capture.

Kaiju is a Japanese genre of stories about big monsters smashing things.  Godzilla is one of the ultimate examples, but I think that even more heroic stories like Voltron, Ultraman and The Iron Giant would count as well.  My story isn’t particularly heroic, though.

I hope you enjoy it anyway.


 

The Last Stand of Dickie Metter

The moon shone down through the giant magnolia trees in the front yard.  The light glinted off the waxy leaves, giving the night a slippery, oily aspect.  The orange light coming from the woods to the south bespoke something else entirely.

Mother Spencer staggered out of those woods, dazed, her skirts ripped in several places.  The others followed, stumbling as they tried to stay upright.  They gathered under the trees.  Haunted eyes looked out of Mother Spencer’s face as she stared back the way they had come.  Her voice shook.  “What have we done?”

The smoke drifted upwards and obscured the moon.

 

They had gone into the woods not even an hour earlier.  As they trekked south the magnolia trees in the yard had given way to cypress and pine, with the occasional oak standing proud and wide.  Spanish moss hung down from nearly every tree and they pushed it aside in the places it crossed their path.

For the first time in nearly half a lifetime they came to the Place of Ritual, where women like them had been coming for nearly three hundred years, since Oglethorpe had first led the English to Savannah.  Their people had been farming the land in this place since then and they themselves were the descendants of powerful women who had learned to harness the power of nature and the land to suit their own ends and for the benefit of the town.  If that suited their own ends.

The Place of Ritual was a clearing in midst of a stand of pine trees.  Generations of women had kept the trees free of moss and the grounds weeded and trimmed.  In the middle of the clearing was an old cypress stump, carved with words of power and symbols of incantation and protection.  Their earliest forebears had brought these symbols, and the rituals that used them, over the sea from England and they had been passed from mouth to mouth and heart to heart down through the years.

The women formed a circle around the stump, as was traditional and right.  Mother Spencer stood at its apex.  Her soft blue homespun dress reflected the moonlight as the clouds moved aside to let their Mother gaze down upon them.  Mother Spencer looked into the sky and smiled, reaching out in supplication to the moon.  “We see you, Mother.  Smile down upon your daughters.”

The others in the circle gave the response: “Smile down upon us.”

Mother Spencer was the latest guardian of the words.  She was the keeper of the lore and the power of the circle resided in her.    Slowly, she turned on the spot, one revolution clockwise, one the other way.  The others followed suit.

“Prepare the ritual,” she said.

 

A town had grown up not far from the Place of Ritual, back when the Place was new.  No one except the women of the circle knew about the Place, or knew the true reason the town had been placed where it was.  In the centuries since the town’s birth, they had used the power of the Place, focused by the aura of the town, to influence events and shape the development of the town and its people whenever needed.

Now, it was time to do it again.  A mayoral election was fast approaching, and one of the available candidates was neither morally worthy of the office, nor qualified to fill it.  Modern society was bankrupt, Mother Spencer had decided.  The world was going to hell.  She decided she had to do what she could to make things right.  The old ways needed to come again.

It was nearly thirty years since the ritual had last been called.  Mother Spencer, to her embarrassment, found that she remembered little of the lore she had been entrusted with.  She wasn’t sure she could perform the ritual.  She couldn’t back down now, though.  The others had gathered and she had to follow through or be shamed before them all.  It would not do.  She would look as foolish as those idiots supporting Dickie Metter for mayor.  I’ll remember it by the time we reach the clearing, she thought.

Fifteen minutes later they were in the clearing.  She hadn’t remembered.  She moved ahead anyway.

“Bring forth the offering!”  She pointed at the stump.  Clara Wright came forward, carrying a canvas sack.  She reached in, pulled out an unconscious possum, and laid it on the stump.  She cast her eyes toward the ground, unwilling to meet Mother Spencer’s gaze.

“It’s supposed to be a pig, Clara,” Mother Spencer said.

“Please, Mother,” said Clara.  “There weren’t none.  Clete killed the last one this morning for breakfast.  We ain’t got no more.  I couldn’t come with an empty bag so I got him on the way to your house.”  She looked guiltily at the others.  “I had to hit him with a rock to knock him out.  He’d never have gone in the bag if he wasn’t out cold.”

Mother Spencer sighed.  The ritual was already far enough off the track that having a possum rather than a pig probably couldn’t make it any worse.  She nodded, and Clara laid the canvas bag on the ground beside the stump, curtsied, and moved back to her place in the circle.

Mother Spencer walked forward to stand beside the stump.  She reached into the pocket of her apron and pulled out her husband’s hunting knife.  She held it up for all to see.  The moonlight glinted off the polished steel blade and serrated edge.

The circle began to chant.  The women began turning, first one way, then the other.  They weren’t all turning at the same rate of speed or in the same direction.  Mother Spencer sighed again.  It’ll have to do, she thought.

She began to shout.  She couldn’t remember the exact words of the ritual, so she called upon her Pentecostal upbringing and began to shout syllables and words that she had heard other women shout in church.  It was said they were speaking in tongues, a gift given from the Holy Ghost.  She knew she shouldn’t be doing it, but she didn’t want Dickey Metter to be mayor.  She hoped the Holy Ghost would forgive her.

Still shouting, she closed her eyes and swung the knife down.  As it descended, a blue spark jumped out of Mother Spencer’s mouth.  It moved down the length of her arm into the knife just as the blade penetrated the body of the possum stretched prone on the stump at her feet.  There was a flash of blue light.

The possum’s eyes snapped open and he roared.  It sounded like the smallest full-size grizzly bear anyone had ever seen.  Not a sound a possum should make.

At the sound, the women stopped dancing and twirling and stared in shock at the stump.  The possum stood up.  It looked out at them, its beady eyes glowing red.  Its long, bald tail suddenly shone bright orange.  They had to turn away, so they didn’t see the light in the possum’s tail go out as it opened its mouth and breathed a spray of fire that almost reached Mary Damper’s shoes.  The grass caught fire at Mary’s feet.  The possum turned its head and blew another spray in the other direction.

Then it began to grow.

It twisted its head and roared again, louder than before.  It gnashed its teeth as it got bigger and bigger.  Mother Spencer began to run, heading for the woods, and the others followed her.  Meg Preston was the only one who looked back, and the possum was the size of a large deer and getting bigger.  In her surprise, she stumbled and ran into a tree.  The possum was on her in a moment in a whirlwind of teeth and flame and glowing red eyes.  It continued to grow even as it fed.  By the time it spat Meg Preston’s eyeglasses out on the ground it was nearly fifteen feet tall.

The possum could hear the women of the circle as they ran, dresses catching on branches, ripping, tearing, as they continued on their frantic passage through the woods.  It sniffed.  It could smell them.  Its tail glowed orange again and whipped back and forth.  It breathed again, and the pine woods began to burn.

 

The women stood under the magnolia trees as the possum, now almost thirty feet tall, came crashing out of the woods in a shower of sparks.  Behind it, the forest was an inferno, the pine trees and Spanish moss combining to provide exceptional kindling.  The last thing Mother Spencer saw was a red eye as big around as a dinner plate and a flash of orange.  Then the world went black.

Leaving the farmhouse flattened and the woods ablaze, the possum sniffed.  There was something off that way, it thought, and it started up the road towards town.  It wasn’t long before the screams began.

Needless to say, Dickie Metter was not elected mayor.

 

Chuck Wendig: The Dancer and the Shattered Shell

I missed the Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction challenge last week, so I was determined to get one done for this week.  This week’s challenge is to pick one from a list of ten randomly-generated titles that he put out there, and write a story of up to 1,000 words to go with it.  Mine is 645 words long.  I hope you like it.


 

The Dancer and the Shattered Shell

I sat alone in the back of every room I was ever in.  I was the kid who never raised his hand, who never spoke up, who never said hello.  Or goodbye.  Or anything else.

I built walls around myself to keep me in and everyone else out.  Walls that reached up and arched over and met in the middle to form a dome high over my head.

A shell.

And inside my shell, I kept my own counsel.  I drew.  I wrote.  I read.  I sang.

I drew innumerable doodles of starships and swans and dolphins and cartoon dogs in the margins of my class notes, but never showed the drawings to anyone.

I wrote poetry on the inside covers of my notebooks.  Shy, hesitant poems about darkness and light and the way the wind feels on your face when you step outside into a cold winter storm.  I never showed those to anyone, either.

I read thick, impenetrable epics full of heroes and villains and magic and love and fantasy that took me to places I knew I would never reach on my own.

I sang.  Not out loud, but in my heart, where only I could hear it.  I sang the popular songs of the day as well as my own compositions, songs of longing and desire and the need to be accepted and the fear of reaching out.

And I danced.

Oh, above all, how I danced.

In my bedroom, late at night, I would put on headphones and turn on the music, crank up the volume, and I would dance.

I never had any sort of musical training, and my rhythm was suspect, but I didn’t care.  As the music pounded through my headphones into my soul, I would throw my head back and my arms wide and spin and leap and hop and thrash and mosh and give myself over to the beat.  It was the only time I ever allowed myself to let go, to show who I truly was.

Of course, no one ever saw it but me.  Everyone else was outside the shell.  I was safe and insulated within.

Then one day at school, some kids were fooling around while we were waiting for the bell to ring.  We were out in the courtyard and someone turned on a speaker and started playing music.  A couple of kids started dancing, just goofing around, and everyone else was laughing and clapping, egging them on, joining in.

As I usually did, I moved away and sat alone, reading.  I read while listening to the music with one ear, head bobbing ever so slightly to the beat.

Someone called my name.  I looked up, and they were all waving at me.  “Hey,” they shouted.  “Come on!  Show us what you got!”

They had done this before.  I did what I always did.  I held up my book and shook my head.  “No thanks,” I said, and I ducked my head back down to read.

This day would be different, though.  For some reason, they weren’t going to take no for an answer this time.  Someone came over, laughing, and reached through my shell and took the book out of my hand.  Other hands reached out to me, imploring me to get up.  Faces smiled and heads nodded reassuringly.

The call came again.  “Show us what you got!”  Cheers, clapping, some of it probably from people who were hoping to see the class mope make a fool of himself.  They weren’t going to let it go.  I took a breath, and I stood up.

The song changed.  One of my favorite late night songs came on.  It was a sign.  I smiled.  It was the first time some of these kids had ever seen an expression on my face.

I threw my arms wide.

My shell shattered.

And I danced.

Chuck Wendig: That House

Chuck Wendig runs flash-fiction challenges at his blog.  He gives a prompt, you write a story based on it and publish it on your blog.  I am going to take part in as many of these as I can this year to help get the muse flowing again.

The challenge this week was to bring up a random Flickr image and write a 1,000 story inspired by it.  The photo I chose was entitled That House by Arif Ünsal.  The link is https://www.flickr.com/photos/arifunsal/24319708705/ and the picture is below.

ThatHouse

Here is my story.  I hope you like it.

Home

We were out when the snow really got bad.  Jenny wanted to go to town and get some lunch.  She wanted a cheeseburger.

“I can make you one,” I said.  “There’s meat in the freezer.  It won’t take long to thaw.”

“I don’t want one of yours,” she said.  “You can’t cook for shit.  Besides, I want a margarita too, and there’s no tequila left.”

“That’s not my fault.  You know I don’t drink tequila.”

“Maybe you should start.  Might improve your cooking.”  She was always saying stuff like that, trying to yank my chain, get me going.  I ignored her, as usual.

“It’s supposed to snow this afternoon, babe,” I said, still trying to talk her out of it.  “You know I hate driving in that stuff.”

She wasn’t having it.  “Just a little snow,” she said.  Then she did that pouty thing with her lips that she knows I can’t resist.  “Come on, Seth, please?”

I looked at the ceiling, then at her.  “All right.  Let’s go.”

We live almost 20 miles from town, way out in the middle of nowhere.  The snow had started by the time we got to Jack’s.  We got out of the car and she stood there for a second.  The snow swirled and spiraled in the wind and dusted her hair and shoulders with a radiant halo of crystals.  She was beautiful.

“We better hurry,” I said.  “If this keeps on we’re going to have a hell of a time getting home.”

“You can’t rush a cheeseburger at Jack’s,” she said with a grin.  I just looked at her.  Her smile faded a little and she nodded.  “I know.  I’m sorry.  I just thought it would be fun.”

“It will be,” I said.  “I just want to make sure we get back before the roads get too bad.”

 

Fifteen minutes later we said our goodbyes to Jack and Sheila and came back out to the car.  The burgers had been delicious and she had loved her margarita.  She smiled at me.  I love to see her smile.

The snow was falling harder than it had been when we arrived.  The car was covered with it, not just dusted.  Had to have snowed an inch while we were in there.

We headed for home.  The roads were covered with snow and in town, drifts were already forming against the curbs.  I had chains on my tires—around here we put them on in November and don’t take them off until March unless God Himself comes down and says it’s going to be sunny—but I kept my speed down.  No sense tempting fate.

Jenny teased me about my driving.  She thinks I drive too slow anyway, and now she really started to hoot.  “Is that a turtle passing us?”

I spared her about a half second glance.  I could barely see the road for the snow blowing, and I didn’t want to take any chances.  “If it is, I hope he’s got his chains on,” I said.

It took almost an hour to drive the twenty miles home, but we finally made it.  I almost went off the road three different times, and by the time we saw the house in the distance, Jenny had quieted to let me concentrate.

We’d made it.  I parked the car and we went inside.  The fire had gone out, so I laid some new logs and coaxed it back to life.

I walked back outside to gather more firewood.  It was covered with snow, but I made several trips and stacked it by the grate in the mudroom to dry.  I made one more trip.  This one was just for me.  I walked halfway to the road, stumbling through the piled up snow, and turned back to look at the house.

It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

The snow had stopped falling.  The sun was glaring down out of the silver sky.  The ice in the trees and the snow on the ground were sparkling in the reflected light.  I could just make out the shape of the house under the trees.  I threw my arms wide and shouted.  No words, just a roar of happiness and contentment.

I walked back up to the house and went into the mudroom.  I scraped off my boots and tossed my gloves and hat on the grate by the wood to dry.  I hung my jacket on one of the hooks by the door and headed into the house.

“What was that all about?”  Jenny had gone into the kitchen while I fooled with the firewood and wandered around the yard.  I walked in and leaned on the counter beside her as she plundered in the cabinets.

“I just felt like yellin’.”  I grinned.

“You’re such a caveman.”

“Not in this weather,” I said.  “Maybe a Viking.”

“Like Thor,” Jenny said, “except he’s hot and you’re just a skinny little guy with a bald spot.”

I shrugged.  “You married me.  You weren’t so picky back in the day.”

“Maybe I should have been.”  She gave me a hug.  I kissed her.  She leaned into me for a few more seconds then pulled away and started looking through the cabinets again.  “You want some hot chocolate,” she said, “if I can ever find it?”

“Sounds good,” I said.  “It’s in there.”  I pointed at a drawer.

She opened it and took out a couple of packets of cocoa.  “What the hell’s it doing in there?”

“I dunno.  I saw it in there this morning.”

As she made our drinks I went into the living room and jostled the fire around a bit.  She brought me a mug, steaming hot, and we cuddled up together under a blanket, sipping our hot chocolate and watching the snow start coming down again through the window.  We stayed there, enjoying each other, until we both dozed off.

It turned out to be a pretty good day after all.

Rebooting the dream

Welcome to Writing The Egg, version 2.0.  I have made many attempts over the years to be a more frequent, consistent writer and blogger, and 2016 will see yet another, as I try to recover from the abject failure of last year’s #NotLazy campaign.

In a different sort of approach, I have decided to completely reboot WTE.  I have changed the template for a new look and cleaned out the archive, getting rid of the past eight years of posts and whinging and intermittent fits and starts.  This is a new era for the blog and a fresh start for me.

I am not going to lay out all sorts of goals and aspirations in this post, other than to say that I am going to make an effort to blog more often and write something every now and then.  I have no intention of trying to write a novel anytime soon.  My muse has been on vacation or on strike or something for more than three years now.  Grandiose plans and schemes will not bring her back.  If I can blog a bit, and write the occasional short story, I’ll be happy, and we’ll see where it goes from there.

So keep an eye out.  I will definitely be posting a story here later today.  Check back and see what you think of it, and keep a look out as the year progresses.  Maybe I’ll actually get some writing done.