Monthly Archives: August 2011

A WIP (work in progress): Don’t Shoot! I’m Dead Already!

Lana wasn’t sure what woke her, the sharp stink of panic or the cold steel of the gun barrel pressing into her cheek. Maybe it was just that internal click she always felt more than heard when the sun dropped behind the horizon. Situated as she was now in a valley between some rolling foothills, sunset had come almost an hour earlier than it would have on flat terrain. Whatever the stimulus, Lana went from stone-cold and out of it to stone-cold and alert in less than a second. How alert? Alert enough to know better than to move. Which was inconvenient, since she needed to be in New Orleans before midnight and she was still a couple hundred miles north of that.

Better to play dead than to get shot, Lana thought. Not like that’s much of a stretch. Under other circumstances, her eyebrows would have been arched almost to her auburn hairline and her blue eyes would have been rolled all the way up. Instead, she pretended to be a corpse. A really, truly dead corpse.

“Wake up, bitch!” The voice came from an arm’s length above her head. Lana guessed it came from person on the other end of the gun. His northern Alabama accent didn’t match his words. “I said, “Wake up. Bitch!’ Move it!”

She didn’t. She didn’t even breathe, which was no loss, given the unwashed fumes coming off the young man. Not for the first time in her unlife, she was glad that breathing was optional for her. Now, if only she could shut off her entire olfactory system, so she didn’t have to smell him.

Holy hell, kid, she thought, are you allergic to soap? Never heard of deodorant? Fine, I can hold my breath till Saturday… or whatever day is your bath day.  Not that I’ll be here that long. People to see, places to go, et cetera, et cetera.

His pitch went from gansta-wannabe bass to teenage-boy tenor. “I think this bitch is dead, Ty. What the hell?” His voice cracked on “hell” and hit into the soprano range, where it stayed. “How’d some dead chick wind up in our pantry?”

My, my, aren’t we fancy, Lana thought. “Pantry”? It’s a root cellar. Hunting shacks don’t have “pantries.” This one doesn’t even have a toilet! Not that I need a toilet, but it’s the principle of the thing.

“Well, butthead, maybe you could holler my name a little louder,” a slightly older man said from across the shack. “She might be dead or she might be playin’ possum. And if she’s alive, we’ll have to take care of that, Robert James Taylor, so she can’t go telling anyone what you can’t seem to keep from shouting to the whole damn world, which is my name.”

His voice had risen to a bellow, and the gun barrel was shaking now, digging into Lana’s cheek in time with the younger man’s quivers.

“Aw, hell, Ty– I mean, well, crap. I didn’t mean nothing by it. And she’s dead. I can tell. She ain’t breathing and she ain’t moving and…” his voice dropped off. A few seconds passed, then he gulped and asked, “You want me to shoot her?”

Lana almost flinched. No! It hurts and it leaves a mark for days and it gets blood all over my clothes. And I just might have to eat you if you do. Ew, god, no. Not unless you were the last meal on Earth… and even then, only after a bath… or six.

Ty sighed. Lana could picture him rubbing his face and clenching his jaw.

“No, RJ, I do not want you to shoot her. Hand me the flashlight, get the hell out of the way and let me see for myself,” Ty spoke slowly and clearly, like he was talking to a ten-year-old.

“Idiot,” Ty muttered under his breath as he approached, which almost made Lana smile. “Why my baby brother has to be a moron, I will never understand.”

The gun went away as RJ backed out of the cellar door, too quickly perhaps. Lana heard the two men bumping into each other and the doorframe, pictured a fragment of a Three Stooges bit and had to bite down on her tongue to keep from laughing aloud. It was clear that Ty was the Moe of the duo, and RJ? He was either Curly or Shemp.

A few seconds later, a calloused hand touched her cheek for a second.

Warm, Lana thought.

“Cold,” Ty said.

The hand moved to her throat. Ty pressed two fingers into Lana’s jugular vein, held for a handful of seconds. Ty swore under his breath, repositioned his fingers by a quarter inch, then repeated the procedure in the other direction.

“Fuck. No pulse. Just what I need, a dead chick in my root cellar. Tonight, of all nights. Fuckshitfuck.”  Ty stood up and looked down at her for a moment, then moved back into the main part of the shack, leaving her in the dark corner of the cellar.

So sorry to inconvenience you, sir, Lana thought. Had I known you would be coming back to your elegant wilderness abode tonight, of all nights, an abode that appears to have been abandoned for months and not cleaned since… well… ever, I would have sought another crash pad for the day. Do accept my humblest apologies and, oh, would you get the hell out of my way, so I can skedaddle? 

“A dead fat chick,” RJ snorted at his own attempt at a joke.

Lana’s eyes shot open, but she didn’t move otherwise. She stifled the urge to pin the smartass against the wall and rip his throat out. Her fangs tingled in her gums at the thought, but her stomach rebelled at the thought of drinking from such an odorous man. She fought down her gag reflex and her anger, and forced her body to relax before one of the two men shone his light her direction and realized she wasn’t as dead as she used to be.

“She’s not fat, dumbass,” Ty said.

Yeah, dumbass, Lana thought, what he said. I’m not fat. I’ll have you know that for most of history, full-figured women have been valued, cherished, desired. Not like the skinny twigs these last three generations have called “ideal.” Hell, they wouldn’t have lasted a week in a famine… although some of them look like they’re living in one now. Eat a sandwich, girls! Build up some reserves! You never know when you’ll need ’em.

Ty went on. “She’s got a little meat on her, but there’s nothing wrong with that. More cushion for the pushin’… if she weren’t dead, I mean.”

Nice to know you have standards, Ty. And limits.

“She wasn’t here yesterday, Ty, I swear. I’d’ve seen her when I brung the bear traps and extra ammo.” RJ said. “And I locked the place up tight, like you always tell me to. I swear I did.”

“Yeah, RJ, I’m sure you would’ve seen her when you brought the traps and ammo,” Ty corrected him, “if you’d gone into the pantry, which you hate to do unless there’s someone with you. Which there wasn’t. And I’m sure you think you locked the door, but here she is. Inside. So, let’s do the math, shall we?”

“Aw, hell, Ty, you know I ain’t no good at math,” RJ whined.

Or grammar, Lana added.

“No, butthead, I didn’t mean–.” Ty cut himself off. “Look, however she got in here, she can’t have been here long, or she’d be stinking the place up.”

Like decomp would be noticeable over the eau de Butthead. Lana thought.

RJ started to say something, but Ty cut him off.

“The important thing is getting her the hell out of here before our clients get here,” he said. “They’re expecting to hunt bear this weekend, not watch us bury some dead chick and worry about being arrested for murder after the fact or illegal body dumping or littering. Fuck me all to hell. I do not need this.”

Bear poachers, Lana thought. Could be worse. They could be Klansmen. Or coal-company flunkies, dumping toxic waste. Not that there’s much coal mining around here, but you never know.

She wondered what they’d do if she sat up and told them to carry on, that it was none of her business how they made their money, so toodle-loo and arriva-bye-bye. Somehow she didn’t think trigger-happy RJ would take it in the spirit she would mean it. And if he started firing wildly, he might just mess up and hit her. Aside from leaving unsightly holes in and stains on her clothes, a gunshot wound would slow her down considerably, even if she were to augment her inhumanly fast healing ability with fresh blood.

From Ty, not RJ. Lana thought. She had standards, too. Either way, I’d be late. And that is not an option. Late might mean dead dead, permanently dead, ashes-to-ashes dead, if the big boss decides to make an issue out of it. I personally don’t see how being 15 minutes late to a midnight-to-dawn affair is such a big deal, even if I was late last year and maybe the year before that. Can I help it if Antoine’s such a tight ass about ritual? “We begin at midnight because our ancestors began at midnight, and their ancestors began at midnight, and their ancestors before them.” Blah, blah, blah. It’s not like anyone back then synchronized their watches or moondials or whatever. 

RJ derailed her train of thought. His voice was nearing soprano again. “I think I see headlights, Ty. What do you want me to do with her?”

“Put her in the bed of the truck and throw a tarp over her. I’ll figure out what to do after we get them set up in the bear stands,” Ty said.

“Aw, hell, Ty, don’t make me touch her,” RJ begged. “I’m not sure I can carry her by myself anyways. She looks like she outweighs me by a good 20 pounds.”

One more crack about my weight, dumbass, and Ty’s gonna have a corpse on his hands for real.

(to be continued)

———————

Author’s note: Obviously, this isn’t finished yet. I’m eager to know what you think so far, though, so feel free to leave a comment.

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Challenge fail: a story with no conflict

Here’s the start of a short story I wrote for one of Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenges. As you will see, I didn’t finish it. As you will also see, this unfinished story is about 600 words longer than the 1000-word limit Chuck imposes on the challenge.

While I like the narrator’s “voice” in this, I realized that I didn’t have a real goal for the main character, so I couldn’t develop any real story for her… at least not without writing a metric crap-ton more and letting the story reveal itself… or sitting down and plotting the thing out. (Plotting? We don’t need no steenkin’ plotting!)

I wasn’t initially going to let you read this, but this space is about writing, not necessarily about writing successfully every time. Because, as my published author friends and other writers whose days are coming will tell you, writing involves much less finished product (success/product) than actual writing (drafting/process).

Anyway, I hope you see some promise in it too and are perhaps inspired to write your own stories (with endings, if possible). Oh, and the secret ingredient in this particular challenge was to include the element of unicorn somehow, somewhere.

In a Heartbeat

All momentous decisions, the ones that count, the ones that can fuck your world, are made in a heartbeat. Oh, sure, you may agonize over them for days or weeks or years, but when push comes to shove, you make the decisions – push the button/don’t push the button, red pill/blue pill, pull out/don’t pull out – in an instant.

Truth is, you make all decisions that fast. And you don’t always know which ones are the big ones.

Take my friend, Nina.

Nina was storybook-princess gorgeous. She had enormous blue eyes, raven hair, milky skin, pearly teeth, rosy lips and a long, slender neck, around which hung a silver necklace with a unicorn pendant.

The light loved her. In a restaurant, the track lighting tracked her. At a concert, spotlights found her in the crowd. I’m sure that in a primeval forest, branches would part to let a stream of sunshine kiss her face. And even in a cave, a convenient rockfall would surely admit the first daylight in millenia, and it would fall on her upturned and perfect visage.

Nina was sweet and generous, smart and curious, modest and sympathetic. She loved her family and her friends fiercely and never wanted to cause anyone a minute’s worry. And we loved her the same way. It was impossible not to, because she was just too good.

That said, Nina was a parent’s nightmare. She’d gone from beautiful baby to angelic little girl, and even her elementary-school pictures of snaggled-tooth grins were charming. When she had her first period, her mom gave her the unicorn necklace, solemnly telling her that it was magical and would protect her from evil intentions, but she must never take it off. Nina didn’t think she needed protection, but her mom looked so serious, Nina swore she’d wear it always.

Over the years, I teased her about that pendant, begged to borrow it, even tried to tug it off her once, but it stayed around her neck.

“I promised,” she’d say. And that was that.

Nina was too innocent to believe that a 40-year-old man leering at her in an elevator was mentally stripping her and popping her 14-year-old cherry. Or that a “photographer” who wanted to “take some test shots” was recruiting her for kiddie porn. Or that the high-school boys who offered her rides in their pickup trucks really wanted her luscious lips on their ever-present erections. She did notice they became very polite and formal when they caught sight of her necklace.

“I think boys are scared of my charm,” she said one afternoon, as we watched a Lifetime movie about a beautiful woman who couldn’t seem to get a date. It hit close to home, with Nina’s fifteenth birthday fast approaching and her never-been-kissed status still in place.

We spent a lot of time speculating about this, especially after I had my first date and, yes, my first kiss, even if it had been with my mom’s boss’ son, Bradley. Bradley, not Brad, was a one-time-only date and a moist kisser. I don’t think he was very impressed by me either, and neither of us had called the other in the two months since that date.

Nina continued, “Men, too. They all seem to make excuses to leave right after they see it.”

“Are you sure it’s not your charms, such as they are, missy?” I loved to tease her. “Maybe they’re afraid you’ll take that necklace off and your magical spell of beauty will fall away… revealing a toothless old hag with a wart on her veiny nose.”

“Aaaaagh! Then they’ll all know my secret! And only the blood of a unicorn will restore the charm…” She was laughing too hard to finish the thought.

“Don’t worry, Princess Nina,” I said. “When a worthy prince comes along, he will not be put off by a mere silver trinket. Nay, he will become your protector and you will need it no longer. So say I, Gwendolyn, the all-knowing oracle.”

“And seriously, it’s a good thing that grown-ass men aren’t trying to hook up with you,” I said. “You don’t need pervs chasing you.”

“Oh, Gwen, you see pervs everywhere. Honestly.”

I considered it part of my job as her best friend to enlighten her.

Not that she believed me at first.

“Ewww, Gwen, gross!” she’d laughed when I explained why a slack-jawed business man across the food court was jiggling his hand in his pocket and staring at her like she was a hot-fudge sundae and not 16-year-old jailbait. When he spasmed seconds later, squeezing his eyes shut and grunting once, she spit out her Coke and ran for the ladies’ room. She was still laughing, but now with questions. “Oh, nasty! How’s he gonna clean that up? I mean, it’s all in his pants now, in his underpants too. How can he stand having all that sticky stuff in there? Do you think he carries around spare tighty-whiteys for times like these? Do you think he has times like these often?”

We didn’t tell her folks about that. Or about any of the other advances she fended off. Hell, most of the time, Nina didn’t know they were advances until I told her. Call me precocious, but I knew a come-on when I saw it. I’d like to think I’m smarter than the average bear, but it’s more likely that spending my adolescent years avoiding my pervy cousin Don’s groping paws deserved the credit. That’s also where I learned the value of a well-placed knee, but that’s a different story.

Nina’s parents didn’t need us to tell them anything. Everyone who saw her picture said the same things. “If my daughter looked like that, I’d keep a shotgun by the front door.” Or “Can you say, ‘chastity belt’?” Or “When does she turn 18? In two years? Yikes.”

Her dad joked about locking her in a tower until she was grown, one with a moat and no convenient ivy climbing the walls.

Nina teased about having plastic surgery to put a lump on the bridge of her nose or a scar on one cheek, but she stopped when she caught her parents looking at her speculatively. “Come on,” she said. “I’m not that pretty. I mean, I know I’m not ugly, but you’re being ridiculous.”

Did I mention she was modest?

“Just keep that necklace on,” her mom said.

“I will,” Nina said. “Promise.”

On her seventeenth birthday, a silver unicorn named Lando appeared in Nina’s dreams. His magnificent body quivered with power and his coat shimmered. Nina could feel the heat coming off him, as he offered his head and neck for her to pet. His horn was a twist of pure silver at least a foot long. After the introductory dream, he was always there, usually in the background, but ever present.

“Obviously, he’s a symbol,” she told me a few weeks later, “of my innocence or of my parent’s worries or something. He watches over me. And he moves closer to me if there are any good-looking boys in the scene. In fact, he chased off some guys in a blue van in one dream. It was weird, because it started so normal, with you and me coming out of the mall and walking to your car. Then this beat-up blue van pulls up and this dirty-blond scruffy guy leans out of the passenger window and offers us a ride.”

“I’ll bet he did,” I said. “As in, ‘Hey, baby, wanna free mustache ride? Plenty of room in this van for a party.”

“Pretty much,” Nina said, not smiling. “The sun goes behind a storm cloud or something, because it gets dark and the wind starts to blow. And Scruffy Guy tells the driver, who I couldn’t really see, but I could tell he was a bad dude, ‘I’ll take the brunette. You get the redhead.’ That’s you, Gwen, the redhead.”

“Um, Nina, I’m not a redhead. I’m a blonde, hello? Are you sure it was me?”

“It was you, but your hair looked red in the lights, I guess. Anyway, Scruffy Guy starts to open his door, while the bad dude is laughing, and you and I are freaking out, trying to pick a direction to run, when BAM! Lando comes out of nowhere and jumps in front of us and kicks the guy’s door shut. Hard. Totally jams it in the frame. Then Lando stabs his horn right through the windshield, and I hear one of the guys scream like a little girl. Then the van backs up and squeals away and Lando chases it out of the parking lot. When he comes back to us a minute later, he lets us ride on his back and takes us to your car. But the thing is, he has a little smear of blood on his horn, and it’s red, not silver, so it must be from one of the guys in the van. And then he vanished. Weird, right?”

“Weird, right.” I agreed. “And pretty cool. Were you freaked out?”

“A little, but mostly because it felt so real. I could feel the heat coming off the asphalt and smell Scruffy Guy’s nasty breath. I could even feel Lando’s muscles twitching beneath us while we were riding back to your car. Very, um, disturbing.”

“Disturbing?” I gave her a who-are-you-kidding look. “Sounds like you were turned on.”

“No! Well, not really. I mean, maybe a little.”

“Nina lo-oves Lando. Nina wa-ants Lando. Nina had a wet dream. Na-na-na-na-na-na,” I sang it several times while she pelted me with her pillow, both of us giggling like eight year olds.

—-

That’s is, so far, folks. I’d love to hear what you think of what’s there.

Death of a Cat Lady

When the aneurysm blew and you fell to the kitchen floor in a lifeless heap Sunday evening, the cat-food dish was full. It’s Thursday noon, you’re still lying there and I finished the Meow Mix early Tuesday morning. I hope your boss sends someone today to find out why you’ve missed work all week, before you become too decomposed to stomach.

The challenge: to write a three-sentence story. Click the link to visit Chuck Wendig’s site and see some of the other entries.