Chuck Wendig: The End of Lonely Street

This week’s Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction challenge is called X versus Z, Redux.  Chuck gave us two lists of 20 items and we were supposed to randomly pick one from each list and write a story featuring those things, in a “Pirates vs. Ninjas” sort of way.  One of the lists had “Kaiju” on it and I was tempted to game it like I did last week and do another Possumgeddon story, but I decided to honor the intent this week so I randomized it and got “Goblins” versus “Elves”.  Of course, it’s early in the morning, so at first I thought I had gotten “Goblins” versus “Elvis”.  I thought that sounded a lot funnier, so I went with that instead.  Word limit was 2,000.  I wrote 1,337 words.  Please to enjoy.


THE END OF LONELY STREET       

  

The little squad moved as silently as they could through the tunnels.  Of course, that meant they were heard by anyone with ears within half a mile.  If Xix wasn’t tripping over his own feet, Cuz was dropping his shield.  Or Gyk was getting tangled up in his own pack straps.  Piq shook his head.  He was the captain.  If they messed this up it would be on his head.  It wasn’t much of a head, but he was attached to it.

“Shape it up, you guys,” he muttered out of the side of his mouth.  “We’re almost there.”  The others came crashing and stumbling to a halt.  The din subsided and Xix looked at him.  “Where are we going?”

Gyk punched him.  “You know where.  They told us before we left.  Dummy.”

Xix put on a hurt face and rubbed his shoulder where Gyk had hit him.  “They did not.  I’d remember where if they had.  I’m a good rememberer.”  Cuz chuckled .

Piq shook his head again.  “We have to go up there,” he said.  He pointed upward.  There were iron rungs driven into the wall that formed a ladder going up.  They could see sunlight filtering through some kind of gate high overhead.  The light didn’t reach them, but even Cuz knew what it meant.

“That’s the surface,” Xix said.  “We can’t go there.”

“I told you it’s a crazy plan.  We’ll never survive,” said Gyk.  “You know what happens when we go up against hoomans.”  Cuz made a squishy sound then giggled.

Piq shrugged.  “What am I supposed to do, tell the king no?  He sent us, we have to do what he says.”

Xix sighed.  “Let’s get on with it,” he said, and he put his hand on the first rung of the ladder.  Ten he stopped and looked back at Piq.  “What are we doing, again?”  Cuz sighed.

 

Elvis Presley sat on the sidewalk on the corner of Marshall and Union and held his guitar case close between his legs.  He had just come out of a session at the Sun Records recording studios and was feeling tired.  The sun had gone down and he was hungry.  They had been at it all day.  Mrs. Phillips had sent some sandwiches, but they had run out early in the afternoon.

There was a streetlamp on the corner and he leaned back against it gratefully and closed his eyes.  I’ll just rest here a minute, he thought, then I’ll go find a place to get some dinner.

He dozed off, but was awakened by a grinding metallic sound.  He looked around, and in the dim light of the streetlamp he could see the manhole cover in the street lifting up.  Something was coming out from under the street.  He pulled his guitar case closer to him and watched.

 

It was hard to lift the cover.  Goblins weren’t the strongest of creatures, and it was iron and so very heavy.  Cuz and Gyk both had to crowd onto the top rung and push as hard as they could to lift get it up enough for Xix and Piq to scramble out.  They were able to hold it up to let the others come out behind them.  The squad gathered themselves, standing in the middle of Union Avenue.

A light over their heads changed from red to green.  There was a loud, blaring sound, like a trumpet, then a screech.  A hooman was shouting.  They cringed, and ran.  More blaring and screeching, and they looked around and saw a number of large metal boxes skidding and sliding through the place they had just been standing.

They kept running until they stood under the glow of a soft yellow light.  They looked back out and saw several hoomans shaking fists at them and yelling.  Then a mellow voice, the most soothing thing they had ever heard, asked, “Are you guys all right?”

Piq looked and saw a hooman sitting on the ground beside the light.  He had black hair on his head, slicked back with some sort of grease.  He wore a jacket and pants and carried had some sort of contraption cradled in his arms.  It didn’t look like a weapon, and the blue eyes were full of concern.  Despite having never met a hooman before, Piq felt they could trust this one, and he made motions to soothe the others.

Gyk leaned over and whispered to Xix.  “I think that’s him.  That’s the one we are looking for.”  Cuz nodded.

Piq overheard, and turned to them.  “Is it?”  He looked back at the hooman.  They all looked alike to him, but there might have been something distinctive in the curl of the lip, or the lock of hair that had come loose over his eyes.  The contraption in his arms might be his musical instrument.  He squinted at the hooman.  “Are you the King?” he asked.

Elvis gaped at them.  He could barely understand them.  He didn’t know who they were or where they had come from, but they seemed to think he was a king.  He shrugged.  “Some people call me the King of Rock and Roll,” he said, “but that’s as close as I come to being a king.”

Piq felt a jolt in his spine.  The King of Rock and Roll!  It was him!  He held out his hands to the man.  “We need you to come with us,” he said.  “Our king wants to meet you.”

“What,” said Elvis, “back down there?”  He pointed at the manhole.  All four of the little guys nodded.  “You live down there?  And have a king?”  They nodded again.  Elvis shook his head.  “Who are you guys?”

Piq drew himself up proudly until his eartips quivered.  “I am Piq,” he said, and he introduced the others.  “We are the best fighters in our king’s army.  He sent us to find you and bring you to him.”  Cuz grinned then bowed and turned in a circle, showing himself off.

“What if I don’t want to come?” asked Elvis.

“Then we have to do our best to bring you anyway,” said Gyk.  “We know you are no fighter.  Hopefully we would be able to subdue you.”

Elvis began to stand up and back away.  Piq shot Gyk a dirty look then held out a hand to Elvis imploringly.  “Please, your majesty, we don’t want to force you.  We want you to come with us.  Imagine the honor!  No hooman has ever been to our home.  You can be the first.”  He pointed at the guitar case.  “Bring your instrument.  You can sing for us.”

Elvis considered.  “I really should check with the Colonel first,” he said.  “He sets up all my appearances.”

“There is no time,” said Piq, at the same time that Xix and Gyk shouted, “No Colonels!”  “No soldiers!”  Cuz looked alarmed and Elvis recoiled.

Piq waved them to silence and turned again to Elvis, who looked like he was about to bolt.  “Please, sir, don’t go.  We need you to come with us.  Please.  Hoomans fight us and win whenever they see us, and we never get a chance to enjoy their world.  Please, come with us so we can see what it is like.  Come sing for us.”  It was the longest, most passionate speech he had ever given.  The others looked at him in awe.  Cuz actually saluted.

Elvis thought for a couple of minutes, then cleared his throat.  “All right, Piq,” he said.  “I’ll come with you.”  He stood up.  They waited for the traffic light to turn red, then ran out into the intersection.  The manhole cover was still off.  Cuz went down first, then the others followed one by one.  Elvis passed Piq his guitar case and lowered the manhole cover back into place as he descended.

Later that night, for the first time in their long history, the King of the Goblins danced and their lonely isolation from the world above came to an end.

 

Chuck Wendig: Bible And A Gun

Finally!  Another Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction prompt!  It’s the first one in a while, more than a month, I think.  This time he pulled out one of my favorites, the Subgenre Smash-and-Grab, where he lists 20 different subgenres and we penmonkey acolytes are supposed to somehow randomly select two of them and write a story combining those two subgenres.  I’m going to be honest,  Mine isn’t random.

A few weeks ago I heard a song by the mighty Jason and the Scorchers called “Bible And A Gun” and I thought, there’s a story somewhere out there with that title on it.  It’s a western, but I wasn’t sure what else.  It’s been sort of percolating ever since.  When I saw “Weird West” on the subgenre list, I decided it was time.  I looked them over and tried to figure out what it was going to be.  I didn’t want to get all Jonah Hex or Wild Wild West, so in the end I picked something that I hoped would keep me out of those particular territories.

The word limit for this one was 1,500 words, and I came in at 1,445.  Please to enjoy my Weird West/Vampire story, “Bible And A Gun”


BIBLE AND A GUN

 

“Now I hear her whisper soft and low
Through every mile I run
As I travel through this world of woe
With a Bible and a gun”

Jason Ringenberg

 

Sitting astride my horse, I once again check the chambers of my six-shooter.  They’re full, for all the good it’ll do me.  I have a more potent weapon at hand, anyway.  My hand touches the cross around my neck.

I rode out from Shumate less than six hours ago.  The Marshal had tried to stop me, and Preacher Mike, knowing that I wouldn’t listen, had pressed the cross into my hand.  “In the end,” he had said, “trust in the Lord.”

I brought a couple weeks’ worth of food and a canteen that I will keep filled from little ponds and creeks out past the city limits.  I’m not going back to town any time soon.  I can see it in the distance as I write these words—but I know it now for what it has always been:  a place of danger, doomed to haunt me for the rest of my life.

My course takes me in circles around the town, ever widening, in a searching pattern.  Searching.  Searching for my life, for the light that was taken from my world last night.

In my head I can still hear her sweet voice as she sings, see her radiant face as she smiles, feel the gossamer touch of her caress.  I can also see those magnificent eyes glazed over in death, the ivory skin of her throat incarnadine in the flickering light of the doc’s office.

I see those angel eyes snap open and the devil that looks out at us from behind them.  The smile—oh God, the smile.  The pointed teeth, the flickering tongue.  The shot from the Marshal’s pistol going into her forehead and still she stood up.  She rose before us like an apparition from a nightmare.  Before we could move, she was gone.

“So fast,” said the doc with a gasp.

“What is she?” I asked, “What happened to her?  She was dead!”

“She is a vampire now.”  Preacher Mike came in.  “A demon, a creature of the night who kills and drinks the blood of mortal men.  She is no longer alive.”

We looked at each other nervously.  We had heard of such things, of course.  One didn’t live in Shumate City and not hear of vampires.  For years there had been occasional murders and disappearances and the bodies invariably had damage to the throat when found.  None had ever come back to life, though.  Not before tonight.

“What makes this different?” I asked.  “Why did she come back?”

“Perhaps the old vampire is dying,” said Preacher Mike, “and created a new one to take his place.”

“Maybe he thought she was beautiful and turned her to be his companion,” said the Marshal.  “Surely not even vampires are immune to beauty such as hers.”  He looked at me apologetically.  “I’m sure you can understand that.”  I nodded.  I had fallen under her spell years before.  I can well imagine that even an undead monster would find her captivating.

“We have to find her,” said the doc.  “Both of them, if we can.”  We all looked at him.  “If there are two, there may be more.  Who knows?”

“Maybe they’re raising an army,” said Preacher Mike.  We all shuddered, picturing a horde of vampires swarming into town.

“There’s nothing more we can do tonight,” said the Marshal.  “Tomorrow, in the light of day, we’ll get the town together and get up a posse to look for them.”

“What good will that do?” I asked.  “They are creatures of the night.  We need to be looking for them at night.”

“Not at all,” said Preacher Mike.  “if we find them in daytime they will be sleeping, defenseless.  At night, they have the advantage.”

“How can they be killed?” I asked.  The preacher spread his hands and shrugged eloquently.

I could not sit still and, against the advice of the Marshal and others, rode out on my own to look for them.  Several hours of night remained.  I knew I was at a disadvantage, but how could I sit there, knowing that she was dead and doing nothing about it?

Now I sit here on my horse, wearing a gun that I know will do nothing, scared to death, hoping against hope to find them, hoping against hope that I do not.  What will I do if I see her again?  What can I do?

I holster my gun and reach into my coat pocket and I pull out the small Bible I brought with me.  I always have the Word with me.  It is a comfort to me, and I turn to it often in times of need.

I open it and turn to the Gospel of Luke.  I read aloud from chapter 8, verse 52.  “And all wept, and bewailed her: but he said, Weep not; she is not dead, but sleepeth.”  I read it again, in a louder voice.  And still again, even more strident.  Trying to deceive myself.  Armoring my heart against the reality of the situation.

Soft laughter behind me.  I dismount and turn, but it is not her.  It is another.  A man that I do not know.  He is ragged, unkempt.  Irregular patches of what was once wavy auburn hair clings to the figure’s desiccated scalp.  His face is dried and shriveled, almost as if his skin had been baked under ferocious heat then scoured with some sort of sand.  The eyes are clear, however; blue and slightly slanted.  He smiles.  His teeth are sharp.

As his smile widens, I see bits of flesh flake off and drift away in the breeze.  He speaks, and his voice is not as I expected.  I thought it would be harsh and rough as were his features.  Rather, it is soft and melodious.  Enticing.  Tempting.  “Come to me,” he says.  “Do you miss her?  I can give her to you again.”

Despite my resolve, I feel my knees begin to buckle.  I reach up and grasp my cross, clutching it tightly in my left hand.  My right hand holds my Bible, brandishing it, holding it aloft, and I cry out like Jesus on the mountaintop.  “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”

He laughs at me.  “I am not Satan,” he says.  “I am just a man trying to reunite another man with the woman he loves.  Come.”  He holds out a hand.  “Come to us.”

I close my eyes, trying desperately to maintain my composure.  I feel control slipping through my fingers, though.  It is as if my heart is betraying me, taking my feet forward.  I try to resist, the Lord’s Prayer upon my lips.

Then I hear her voice.  A single word.  “Please.”  I gasp.  My Bible slips from my suddenly shaky fingers and falls to the ground at my feet.  I am powerless to bend and retrieve it.

In spite of my entreaties not to do so, my eyes open and I see her, radiant in her undeath, her throat still crimson, a single bullet hole dry and empty above her left eye.  It is her, though, and she is as she always was:  everything I ever wanted, in life or in death.  They begin walking slowly towards me.  My internal struggle escalates as they approach.

She stands back as he moves forward to stand directly in front of me.  He reaches out a hand.  I know I will never forget the sight of that hand—the grey, rotted skin; the gnarled, twisted joints; the bits of flesh coming loose and drifting away in the air as the hand moves up towards my own; the papery thinness of the skin as it touches me, brushing across my fingers and uncurling them from around Preacher Mike’s cross.  He closes his own hand around the cross and nothing happens.  “You see?” he asks.  “The Cross accepts my touch.”

With that, I am defeated.  My faith has been my bulwark throughout this night and I see now that it is no defense against such as these.  There is nothing I can do.  I bow my head, tears streaming down my face, then I look back up.  My eyes find hers, shining as they always have, and I say her name.  Smiling, he stands aside, and she approaches me.

 

“And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.”

Revelation 9:6

Checking in

This is the first time I’ve been on my blog in a while.  There haven’t been any Chuck Wendig prompts the last few weeks so I haven’t written anything new.  Real life has been rearing its head as well.  With the end of a job, a move to a new state and all the attendant hoopla, and the beginning of an ongoing job search, I just haven’t had time to write.  Besides which, the hard drive in my laptop died about six weeks ago, and I only just last week replaced it. which is an adventure worthy of a post in itself.

I just finished writing a new story, for The First Line.  Today was the deadline for their summer submission.  I had decided not to do it, because I didn’t want to rush it, but decided at the last minute to go ahead and rush it.  I haven’t missed a single prompt all year between TFL and Wendig, and I didn’t want to start now.  So it’s all good and my record is still perfect.

If the story is not picked up by TFL I will publish it when I receive notice.  If they decide to publish it I will let you know as well, and you can buy the issue and see my wordy magnificence in real print for the first time ever.  I’m not particularly optimistic–it was a rush job, after all–but we shall see.

When Chuck gets back to prompts I will be writing again.  I may start trying to write more anyway, and at some point I want to actually revise Everlasting Tunes.  I KNOW!!!  We shall see,  Hoping, wishing, crossing fingers.  Til then, please keep checking back and supporting your local blogger.

Chuck Wendig: One Last Day

This week’s Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge is The End of a Long Journey.  I tried to come up with a different idea but all I could think of was my mom and the last day we spent with her as a family.  It’s not fiction, but it’s all I got.


ONE LAST DAY

 

We sang.

We laughed.

We told stories and shared memories built up over all of our lifetimes.

She lay there in her bed, gently reclined so she could see out.  She was watching, listening, unable to speak but telling us with her eyes how much she loved seeing us all together again.  How special the day was.  How special we all were.

We had known this day was coming.  Since her diagnosis it had been inevitable that it would arrive.  It was just a matter of when.

“When” was today.

We gathered at the hospice center that morning, each of us arriving in our own time, coming in until we were all there.  We sat in the lobby until a counselor took us into a private room and told us what would be happening that day.

I wasn’t really listening.  Forgive me; I was a little distracted.  I knew they were going to disconnect her from the ventilator and then we were going to spend the day with her and show her how much we loved her and how much she meant to us.

They had us tell her good bye before they disconnected her.  They said there was a chance she wouldn’t survive it.  That was when we truly let her go, I think.  Tears fell like rain and we held each other when we weren’t holding her.  Finally we left the room.

She made it through with no problems, though.  In our hearts, we’d known she would.  She was always a fighter.  She always came through.

We spent hours with her that day, and our love and laughter ignited her spirit and she smiled and the sun came out from behind the clouds.  For the first time in months she was as she had been my entire life.  For the first time in months she was completely with us and we embraced her, physically and emotionally.  We gave her everything we had until it overflowed then she gave it back to us two, even three-fold.

It was one of the greatest days of my life.  It was a day I will never forget.

We said good bye to her again as we left, but it wasn’t final this time.  We’d told her that good bye earlier in the day.  This one just was just a regular good bye, a temporary one.  We’ll be back tomorrow, we said.  We’ll see you then.  We kissed her cheek and hugged her neck, and we told her we loved her.  She smiled out at us, making sure we knew that she returned the sentiment.

She slipped away from us just before my wife and I arrived back the next morning.  We gathered together again and we cried, but we’d told her good bye the day before.  She knew we loved her.  We had given her one last day of love and family and of all of us together.

She was gone, but she was still with us.  She is with us still, in our heads and in our hearts, and in our souls, where she will always live, strong and joyous and dancing up a storm.

 

Chuck Wendig: Jumper

This week’s Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge is One Word Titles.  Chuck provided ten words and said, pick one and use it as your title and give 1,000 words or less.  I chose “Jumper” and came up 930 words to go with it.  Not sure what it means, but here it is.  Please to enjoy, and feel free to comment and let me know what you think.


JUMPER

 

A young man stood on a basketball court in a gymnasium in Spain, on the right side of the court, just outside the three-point line.  There were ten seconds left in the game.  The clock was ticking down towards zeroes.  His team was behind by a single point.  He dribbled the ball, eyes scanning the defense as his teammates wove a complex offensive pattern, trying to find an open shot.   A defender crouched in front of him, hands up in classic defensive position.

Nothing was developing so he changed the play, holding up a fist.  He motioned to one of his teammates and the boy came over and set a pick, presenting an obstacle for the defender as the young man took three steps to his left.  His opponent got tangled up in the pick and was unable to follow, allowing the young man to break free and see the basket clearly.

He took a moment to gather himself and rose into the air, his right arm going up, the ball coming off his fingertips and arcing away towards the basket, carrying the winning points with it.  As it traveled, the buzzer sounded.  The game would be over when the ball reached the hoop.

 

In a flat in London, a recent university graduate awoke from a short nap and prepared to go out for a late night dinner.  Nothing fancy, but he was hungry.  He checked the outside temperature on his phone.  It was chilly out.  He’d need a jacket.

He looked around and found a couple of alternatives lying about but neither one appealed to him.  One was too sporty, the other a bit too posh.  He wasn’t feeling either of those this evening.  He wanted something a little more down to earth.

He remembered the package he’d gotten from his grandmother the week before and grinned.  Brilliant.  It would be warm and earthy, and Gran would be so pleased when she heard he’d worn it.  It was the perfect vibe for a casual evening.

He untucked his shirt, knowing it would heighten the effect, and opened the box on his dresser.  He ran his hands lovingly across the prickly wool, knowing that Gran had made it with her own hands.  How could he not wear it?  He slipped it over his head, heedless of the mess it made of his hair, and looped his bag over his shoulder.  He put on a cap, and headed out into the night.

 

In Atlanta, Georgia, a woman who was tired, too tired, had reached the end of her rope.  She stood on the raised edge of a highway overpass, her arms held straight out to the sides, looking down at the highway thirty feet below.  There was no traffic; the police had diverted the flow to an alternate route.  Officers stood below her as well on either side, not quite close enough to touch her.  They didn’t want to take a chance on spooking her, after all.

She had lived a rough life.  Her husband was gone, her job had laid her off, and her children were grown and had left her as well.  There was nobody left and she didn’t have anywhere else to go.  There was nothing else to do.  She had thought that if she came here she might get an idea of what her life could be, but it wasn’t happening.  Nothing was coming to mind except to keep looking down.

She sighed.  The officers tensed, knowing something was about to happen.  She turned her head and looked at each of them in turn.  “I’m sorry,” she said, and she closed her eyes and bent her knees.

 

In San Diego, California, a young mother came out of a supermarket with a full cart of groceries and two children in tow.  She buckled the kids into their car seats and put her groceries into the trunk of her car.  She climbed into the front seat and put the key into the ignition.  Nothing happened.  She tried again.  Only then did she notice that the radio hadn’t come on and the interior lights were off.  Her battery was dead.

Groaning, she got out of the car and looked around.  A man was just climbing into his car across from her.  She held up a hand.  “Excuse me?”  He looked at her.  “My battery is dead,” she said.  “Can you help?”

As it turned out, he could.  They both popped their hoods and he connected their batteries together while she stood beside her car, the back door open, talking to her boys, telling them what was going on.  She heard a small pop and hiss when he put the clamp on his own battery and knew that it had sparked.  He got into his car and turned on the ignition.

After his engine roared to life, she got behind the wheel of her car and turned the key again.

 

Many things happen in this world.

A game is lost when a last-second shot spins out.

The love of far-away family makes an ordinary night on the town special.

A life ends while others watch helplessly.

A car starts and a mother takes her children home.

These things and more happen all around us every day and we are none the wiser because we are engrossed in our own situations.  We move from place to place, from moment to moment, without any awareness of our own place in the world.  We plod slowly along, when we should be jumping forward in leaps and bounds.

Be bold.

Engage with the world.

Jump.