Friday, October 11, 2019

Short Story: Feeding Time

Welcome back to another new short story this week. Enjoy!

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"One more week. Just one more week and this will be someone else's job."

He stood back from the edge of the water and looked out across the lake. The water lapped slowly at the earth around it, like an animal tasting a corpse before digging in. The moon hung low, but enough to be seen over the trees, casting the water in an ugly yellow light.

Alvin lifted one foot, his eyes unblinking as he watched the surface of the water, and reached it beyond the perimeter of the shore, into the boat. He made sure his balance was relatively sure before his other foot followed and he was now on the water. The small boat rocked gently with the additional weight and he lowered himself onto the seat.

Satisfied, he set down his bag and the bucket and grabbed the oars. The handles were smooth, worn from years of being passed around all the people that lived along the lake. They gave him a small degree of comfort, that so many people had followed the routine without incident.  

The shore receded slowly, the wake of the boat small, but on the glass of the lake they might as well have been ten feet high. Breaths came in slow, shallow whiffs; eyes starting to dart left and right as he glided further out onto the water. The silence was unnerving in the middle of the lake, even the calls of the crickets on the shore seemed to vanish into the darkness underneath the trees that lined the banks, as if the very sound itself refused to tempt the water.


His aged muscles seemed to stiffen more with every stroke of the oars, and he could feel his heart 
crawling up inside his chest with every beat.

Then something tapped the boat.

He froze in place, breath forgotten in his sudden fear, the boat drifting along from the last pull of the oars.

Then the buoy floated past, lightly bumping the side of the boat as it moved beyond the marked spot. Breath returned in an explosion of relief, but much of the anxiety remained.

One more week...one more week...

Alvin locked the oars in place and opened his bag, pulling out the cutting board and knife which had come with being chosen for the month of August, along with the boat.

The first fish out of the bucket was a rainbow trout, about ten pounds. One he would have been rather proud to catch himself. There were no fish to catch in the lake, though.

First he cut off the head, then went down the body, blood flowing out across the cutting board and dripping into the bottom of the boat. Once he had five good pieces, he scraped them back into the bucket and grabbed the tail of the next fish. He wished he could have cut them up earlier, in the kitchen sink, but the blood was key to making sure the fish were found quickly.

A sound from shore grabbed his attention, and his finger slipped, running along the edge of the knife and adding his own blood to the pool on the cutting board. Eyes watering, he jammed the finger into his mouth, using his tongue to measure the slice, as well as to keep himself from crying out. It wasn't a bad cut, but he didn't have anything with him to cover it in his bag.

Please don't taste me...please don't taste me...

He tried to think about what he could do with it as he sucked on the finger, unconsciously trying to will it to stop bleeding. His eyes looked out at the shore as well, trying to see the source of the sound that had distracted him.

The cut refused to stop bleeding, and every moment he spent trying to think about his finger was a 
moment longer he was going to be out on the water. He gave up, his finger throbbing and bleeding as he returned to the bucket of fish.

"Trevor! I found it!"

The voice carried across the lake, skipping across the water like a smooth rock. Alvin's eyes widened and he turned to where he thought it had come from.  Movement in the shadows underneath the Carter's willow tree made him focus; the anxiety in his veins crawling through him like worms, spreading along every nerve.

She was the first to step into the moonlight. In the dingy yellow light, long hair flowed out behind her and bare breasts bounced as she pranced down to the end of the bank and jumped into the water with a loud splash. Alvin's stomach turned at the sight of her treading water, facing the bank, but he didn't dare call out.

"Trevor! Hurry up!"

"Sasha, keep it down. People do live on this lake, you know."

The man followed from under the willow, stumbling a little, the familiar shape of a beer bottle held in one hand. He tossed it off into the water, making Alvin flinch from the splash before the man dove in after the woman.

"So? Everyone's asleep at this point. Look at all the trees, I guess these weird people don't want views of the water."

Alvin was frozen as he watched them swim out further, then embrace. A small speck of self-disgust finally grew large enough to force his eyes away, and then they flicked back and forth, scanning the water for other signs of disturbance. His body trembled as he looked around.

The couple was splashing now, the woman moaning, but something else had caught Alvin's attention. A sense more than anything else, a presence that demanded to be noticed. His eyes started to water from being stretched open, but he refused to even blink as he saw the first movement.

A small wake, barely perceptible on the still water. Over by the bank near Mary Anderson's house. It moved slowly towards the couple as they bobbed up and down, wrapped up in each other.

The bloody knife, cutting board, and pieces of fish clattered into the bottom of the boat as Alvin's body shook. The sound was like an explosion in his ears and as the wake paused, his stomach lurched, threatening to send back his spaghetti dinner. He instantly felt shame at the relief as it then continued toward the trespassing couple.

The woman grew louder as the wake shrunk and vanished, leaving the surface smooth. Alvin's mouth moved, silently calling out a warning that his throat wouldn't release. He tried to swallow, but even that caught.

Then the couple was gone, sucked under the surface. Not even air was passing through Alvin's throat now as he watched and waited.

There were two big splashes, one as the man broke the surface ten feet from where he'd gone under and swimming furiously for the bank. The other was the woman, propelled straight up out of the water, letting loose a garbled scream through a mouth full of water.

A thin shadow shot up out of the water after her, grabbing one leg and pulling her back down, almost slapping her against the surface of the lake. Then she was gone underneath again.

The man continued splashing and swimming until he reached the bank, pulling himself completely out of the water and up onto the grass in front of the willow.

"Sasha!" Sasha, where are you?"

Alvin knew she wasn't going to rise up again. His brain was screaming to grab the oars, row back to the house, get in his car and get out of town. To leave and never come back. Not a single part of his body replied. His heart ached in his chest with as hard and fast as it was pounding. He hadn't even noticed the warm liquid pooling inside his jeans.

The man was now on his feet, standing at the edge of the lake, calling out his girlfriend's name. His voice echoed across the now still water. Then the creature launched out of the water, knocking the man onto his back. There had been no big splash, no huge disruption of the water. It just emerged, as if it was an extension of the water itself, flowing up and taking form on land.

It stood over the man. A thick, snake-like body held up on three sets of long, spindly legs. The body continued back into the water, part of it waving back and forth, making small waves some ten feet out from the shore.  A short neck wove back and forth, a wide, flat head looking him in the face. Then its head split open and lunged forward, enveloping the man as he screamed. The whole body undulated backward, sliding back into the water, dragging the man with it as he flailed uselessly, his screams muffled inside the creature's throat.

At the surface of the water, it flung the man back and forth, slapping him against the top of the lake. Then it vanished down into the depths, dragging the trespasser with it.

Alvin sat in the boat, trembling violently, the bucket of fish all but forgotten. Within moments, the surface returned to its smooth, placid look. A mirror, perfectly reflecting the yellow moon above. He knew he had to get back to the shore, get off the water. There was no way he could move fast enough though, not in the little rowboat.

His hands covered his face as he closed his eyes, trying to gain some kind of composure. Even with his eyes closed, he couldn't get rid of the image of the woman's body launched out of the water as she screamed, or the man, pulled right off the bank.

He pulled his hands away, suddenly aware of his finger again, still dripping blood.

FUCK!

He lifted his head and swung around, scanning the entire surface of the lake. Surely it couldn't smell his blood under the water.

Nothing stirred. There were no small wakes on the glassy surface. No sign of anything coming for him.

Gotta get away! GOTTA GET AWAY!

He was moving before he knew what he was doing. Alvin grabbed the handle of the bucket and threw it behind him as hard as he could, then his hands were on the oars before he even heard the splash, powering the boat to turn and move in the other direction as fast as he could, his finger throbbing, bleeding more, running down the handle of the oar.

He hadn't counted on facing the direction he had thrown the bucket during his escape. There was a second splash where the bucket had shattered the surface, and then the familiar v-shape of a wake heading towards the dingy he was rowing.

Alvin's heart was about to explode in his chest, trying to power his escape, to make the boat move even faster. He turned his head, trying to see the shore of his property from the corner of his eye, then looking around for something closer.

His body froze again as he saw the second wake approaching him. Then he puked into the boat as he saw the third.

Oh God...

Collapsing into the bottom of the boat, Alvin grabbed the knife and tried to make himself as small as possible, ignoring the wetness in the bottom of the boat, the fresh vomit, the blood of the fish he had cut up.

Its power source gone, the boat slowed to a gentle drift. Then softly bobbed on the water. Alvin lay there, his breath coming in shallow gasps. His hand squeezed the knife as he thought of his wife laying in bed, probably reading, waiting for him.

Oh God, Anna, I'm not coming home...

Nothing happened.

He forced himself to take a slower, deeper breath. Then he felt the bump on the bottom of the boat. Then another.

"GO AWAY!! GO THE FUCK AWAY!!!"

He looked up at the yellow moon, full in the sky. Then he saw the first of the clawed fingers reach over the edge of the boat and slowly grip the side. Two long, black fingers, reaching over, pointed nails digging into the wood. Then another pair gripped the other side. Then another pair down near the keel. Another. Another. Nine separate pairs of clawed fingers gripped the rim of the rowboat.
Alvin waited for them to try and grab him. They didn't. He didn't know what they were doing until the first slosh of water fell inside the boat. They were pulling the whole boat under the surface.

"Oh God! Fuck, no! No! NO!"

Silence returned as the boat and Alvin were swallowed by the lake itself.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Short Story: Hit and Run

Welcome to October everybody! It's a little later in the week than I planned, but here you all go! A nice new little short story for you all to enjoy for the spooky season! The plan is a new short story every week this month, so check back for new posts all month long!

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Jordan scrubbed the corner of the bumper, dipping the brush in the bucket and splashing a fresh layer of bubbles and suds across it. He really didn't have time for such a menial chore before work, but it had to be done. It certainly wouldn't do to have everyone at the office see his prized Mustang so dirty. It looked like he was done though.

He dropped the sponge back into the bucket and pulled out the microfiber towel, drying the front of the forest green Mustang GT with as much care as he could. Jordan stepped back and admired the car.

"Lucky it didn't get any scratches, but there, good as new."


He smiled and went back into the house, changing out of the jeans and t-shirt he'd worn to clean in and changing into his business suit. His briefcase was ready and waiting by the door and he grabbed it on his way out.

Briefcase safe in its spot on the passenger seat, Jordan walked around the front of the car to get in the driver's side. A quick glance should have been to revel in how smooth, shiny, and clean his car was, but his eyes were drawn to a dark spot on the left end of the bumper.

"Fuck!" Jordan knelt down and stared at it. There was no way he'd missed a spot. It was also still wet. As he watched it started to run down the front of the bumper. He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped it away, looking at it closer against the white fabric.

It was red. Blood.

He peered up at the sky, to the eves of the house, and into the branches of some of the neighborhood trees. Some stupid hurt bird decided to fly over his car, letting its filthy blood drip onto his prized Mustang.

He couldn't waste anymore time washing the car again though, so he just wiped it off with the handkerchief, tossed the bloody rag into the garbage can, and headed to work.

Jordan knew the route like the back of his hand, having driven it almost every day for the last five years. He glanced over at the Darchester House as he sped past, at the monkey puzzle tree that stood thirty-feet high in the Carter's front yard. The only thing that wasn't normal for his Monday morning drive to the office was a bunch of caution tape at the corner of Tremont and Bond. He wondered what had happened and made a mental note to check the internet when he got to work.

He backed into his parking space right on time, in spite of having left his house easily ten minutes later than usual. Jordan smirked to himself as he got out and walked around to get his suitcase.

Spots. There were four spots on the left corner of the front bumper. Three of them were already running down and one was about to drip onto the ground.

"Fuck. It just isn't my day, is it?"

He checked the trunk, and managed find some paper towels. They weren't the softest or most absorbent, but it was enough to wipe away the spots and smears on his bumper. Satisfied enough, he threw them away and went inside.

Jordan's day at his desk was average for a Monday. Emails to reply to, calls to make. It was just an ordinary day. At least until he noticed a few of the girls in the office whispering and pointing in his direction. He wished that had been a normal part of his day, but he brushed it off and tried to focus on his work, waiting until nobody was looking at him again before reaching into the back of a drawer and pulling out a single-shot bottle of whiskey.

He poured it into his empty coffee cup and threw it back before anyone could notice, tossing the empty bottle back into the drawer.

Time passed and it was almost lunchtime. Jordan's buzz was in full swing with almost half a dozen shot-bottles now sitting empty in his drawer. It took him a minute to recognize the look of concern on his friend Kevin's face when he walked up.

"Hey Jordan, everything okay?"

"Yeah, why wouldn't it be? Just another Monday morning."

"You sure? I saw your car in the garage when I went for lunch."

Jordan immediately sat up, his mood souring in a moment. "What about my car?"

"Did you hit someone's dog or something on the way in? There's blood all over the bumper on the passenger side."

"What? No. No, nothing like that..."

Jordan shot out of his chair and down the hallway, bursting into the garage. A few people were standing in front of his car, looking down at the bumper. Kevin was right. The whole front corner of the passenger side looked like someone had taken dark red paint and splashed it across the car. It dripped down off the bumper into a pool of red which was slowly spreading across the pavement.

One of the women from earlier was standing there and saw Jordan.

"What did you hit?"

"Nothing. I didn't hit anything! This is some fuckwad's idea of a stupid joke!"

Jordan jumped into the driver's seat and peeled out of the parking garage, speeding through the town to a small car wash. He spent his lunch break and then some rinsing and scrubbing down his car, getting the thick, sticky substance off. Clean once again, he got in and slumped into his seat for a moment. His whiskey buzz was wearing off. Jordan reached up and adjusted the rear-view mirror, just in time to see some young girl run behind his car calling for her mom.

"What a fucking day this is turning into."

He pulled out of the car wash, stopped at a gas station to refill on shot-bottles, and headed back to the office. He chose not to back in this time, in case the joker decided to hit his car again before the end of the night.

Work ran late, and there was only two other people in the office by the time Jordan snuck his last shot bottle in the bathroom and shut the clamps on his briefcase. Walking into the parking lot made him nervous, but at a distance, he could see there were no new splashes on the back of his Mustang. A sigh of relief escaped him and he gave in to the fresh whiskey buzz putting a little spring in his step.

As he got closer, he noticed a puddle underneath his car, rolling slowly out into the parking garage. He stopped and looked at the thick, reddish fluid that seemed to be flowing toward him. Then continued on, holding his head up as he got into his car.

"Nope. Nothing there. I'm just drunk and imagining things after this shitty day."

He backed out of the parking space, ignoring the large pool that his tires left marks in and trailed behind him as he drove away. Jordan flipped on the headlights, finding the one on the passenger side weak and obscured.

He slammed on the brakes as a little girl ran across in front of him in the parking garage. He could hear her calling "Why?" to her mom somewhere on his right, but ignored it and sped on as quickly as she passed.

Jordan sped through the streets, wanting nothing more than to get home after such a long, fucked-up day.

Specks started to hit the windshield, flying up from the passenger side of the hood. Jordan tried to ignore them, and when he couldn't anymore, he flipped on the wipers, which did nothing but make red smears across the glass.

"Why?"

The little girl's voice echoed in his ear, giving him goosebumps. Something touched his right arm, making him jump and forcing him to turn and look.

A small girl was sitting there in the passenger seat, blonde hair stained red with blood which ran down her face and stained her shirt.

"Why didn't you stop?"

Jordan jerked away from the girl, pulling on the wheel. The green Mustang jumped the sidewalk, yellow caution tape flapping by before the car plowed straight on into the large Oak tree which stood just beyond the corner of the intersection of Tremont and Bond.

Jordan's chest bounced off the steering wheel, cracking ribs and knocking the wind out of him, making him unable to scream as part of the engine was shoved back into the car, underneath the dashboard, crushing his legs and pinning him in place.

As shock set in, all he could hear was the little girl's voice.

"Why? Why didn't you stop for me? Why didn't you stop? why didn't you stop? why didn't you stop? why didn't you stop....








Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Shaun's "How-To-Write" Suggestions

Last week I talked about "How-To-Write" books and how many of them are fairly bunk. I thought that this week, I would go over the main points that I would discuss if I were to write a How-To book on writing. These are based on the things I've learned since I started my little writing career back in 2013 (wow that seems like forever ago now.) So read, learn, and enjoy, completely free of charge!

1. Write what you want, but make sure that it's right.


One thing you'll probably hear a lot is "Write what you know." Throw that out the window. Write what you want. My novel Class 5 is based in Arizona. I've driven through there a few times, but I live in Washington state. My personal experience with Arizona is peripheral at best. Why did I pick Arizona to write about? Dunno, to be honest. That's where the story told me it needed to be. I picked Arizona before I wrote about scorpions, or knowing the alien creature was susceptible to dehydration.

Once the location was chosen though, I read up on it. Arizona is hot and arid, but it's not a desert wasteland. There's a huge variety of plants and animals that live there. Temperatures can have a difference of more than 35 degrees from the height of the day to the depths of night. I also made sure, since this story had a strong military presence, that I looked up everything that would pertain to the story that I wasn't familiar with, like ranks, unit formations, and specific firearms.

So, forget writing what you know, just start with writing, and if you have to, learn about it along the way. Just make sure you get as much right as you can.

2. The more eyes you can have on your work, the better.


Seriously. Get eyes on your work that aren't yours. Beta Readers, editors, proofreaders. It doesn't matter how good you think you are, you're going to screw up, and having other people read the work before it's actually published will ALWAYS help.

Beta readers will help you make sure your story is going in the right direction and point out where you go off the rails a bit. Most importantly though, they'll tell you if your story is entertaining! If your work isn't holding a reader's attention enough to get through the whole thing, that's a major problem, and without beta readers it's one that you likely won't find out until it's been published.

Likewise, find a good editor. This probably won't be cheap, but it's an indispensable part of writing, especially if you plan to self-publish. Languages can be complicated, and even if it's your birth language, you're going to get some of it wrong in writing. Punctuation, grammar, syntax, regional dialects, slang, all are going to make your life harder. Not to mention that after spending hours upon hours of staring at the words, you're not going to see them clearly. You're going to see what you meant more than what you put down. It doesn't even matter if you're an expert with a PhD in English Composition, you're going to need someone else to look it over. Don't be cheap. Pay up, and get a good editor to go through your story.

3. Luck plays a part.


Deny it all you want, but luck does play a part in your success as a writer. Luck isn't random though; luck is all those factors that you have zero control over. Things like how many other new books are released that day, how saturated the genre for your story is, how close your book's release is to people's paychecks, whether your book gets suggested among "if you liked THIS book, you may also like...". If you're trying to get an agent or in with a publisher, you may have the luck of being the seventh story of that type the agent has already been handed that day. Your script may happen to land in their inbox just as they accept their limit for the reading period.

But while luck will play a part in your writing career, you can work around it. Keep writing. Don't let a setback or rejection slip deter you. As the saying goes, "The harder I work, the luckier I get." The more you put your work out there, the more likely you are to drop it on someone's desk right when it's what they're looking for. It's the same for selling to an agent, to a publisher, or to a reader. That's the thing about luck, the more you play, the more the odds even out, and once that breaks even, it's all about you and how much work you've put in.

So, there you go, the three biggest points I would put into a "How-to-write" book. As all advice goes though, it's up to you to take it, or not. These are just the things I've learned in my time being a writer. Your mileage may vary.

~ Shaun

Thursday, September 12, 2019

How-To-Write books?

Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach. Is how the saying goes. But is it really accurate? Maybe in some cases. In writing, I don't believe it is. It seems like every self-published writer also tends to put out a book touting their success and instructing other authors how to reach that brass ring of success. Whether they're actually as successful as they claim is entirely up for debate, as just about anyone can slap a gold star on their book and there's a hundred ways of gaming the system to claim your work is a best-seller.

I'll be honest though, I've considered a few little booklets myself, collections of posts from this very blog where I've touched on how to write. I'm not actually conceited enough to think any of my advice is really worth paying for. I'm not really sure anyone else's is either.


Now, being an author isn't an easy thing. Lots more struggle through and never see any real measure of success than the ones that are making their house payments from their writing. So I can see the allure of trying to find ways to step up, and advice from the people who claim to have made it seems as good a source as any. Here's one of the things though, we can't see their finances. We don't know what bar they have set to claim success.

But I digress. I'm not here to tear down everyone who's ever written a how-to-write book. One of the reasons for this blog is to share the things I've learned on my own journey through the perils, highs, and lows of authorship.

I've read several books on how to write. I even have ones that I like and that I would gladly recommend. Stephen King's 'On Writing' is an awesome one.

But I've learned a few things about how-to-write books by reading them, and that's really what I want to share here. Completely free, you don't even have to download a separate PDF file or anything.

1. There are no hard and fast rules for writing a book.

Really. Half these how-to books contradict themselves, if not each other. Use Adverbs. Don't use Adverbs. Write out your whole plot, let the story write itself. etc. etc. If any one of these rules really held true, all these how-to books would say exactly the same thing, but they don't. All these books like to tell you if you follow everything they put forth, you'll find success, but how can that be true when not a one of these books agree on any single rule?

2. None of these how-to books are explicitly wrong or right.

Like I said, different people have different values to determine what success is. Likewise, every one of these books have different expectations for the ideas and suggestions they offer. As well, there isn't one single path to publication and different situations mean different outcomes. All this means that what works for one person might only work partially for someone else, or it might not work at all. Some of them have ideas that are worth exploring, but don't think you're going to get rich and famous following a single person's blueprint. Read them, think about what they say, but take everything with a grain (or shaker) of salt.


3. Very few of these books will talk about one of the most important aspects of finding success as an author. Luck.

I'm not trying to say that success might or might not happen no matter what you do. As the quote goes, "The harder I work, the luckier I get.", but to say that luck plays no part, or to not talk about it at all feels a little disingenuous to me. Some people get their manuscript in front of just the right eyes at just the right moment to get accepted. Some people might get their manuscript dropped on the desk of the agent who's already read several versions of that story that week. Their work might pop up in front of a very vocal critic or fan right when that person has time to read it and tell everyone about it. Why does one person's book find acclaim and success while another's languishes, even if they do everything the same?

There really is no magic formula to success as a writer. No how-to book is going to teach you everything and lead you to riches and fame, no matter what they might say or how successful the author claims to be. Read them, sure, but take everything with a grain of salt, and consider how much their advice reflects your own position and goals. In the end, everyone's journey is their own, and nobody else's, and no two journeys will be the same.

~ Shaun




Saturday, September 7, 2019

Kids in Horror: Heroes

Kids pop up in Horror as victims, and as monsters, but they also can be the heroes of the story. It may seem a little far-fetched at times considering the stakes and the opponents they face, but is there anything really as cheer inducing as watching a kid or kids take down a villain that's been running around killing everyone else around them? Or maybe they don't stop the villain, maybe it's all they do to find a way to survive the horror that nobody else is escaping.


Danny Torrence from The Shining, for example. Even with his special gift, it's all he can do to escape from the evil of the Overlook Hotel, and the madness of his father. It's not that he survives just because he's a kid though. He survives because he recognizes the danger he's in, and thinks of ways to escape. Running into the hedge maze, retracing his steps in the snow; the kid is smart and is thinking of what to do. He isn't stopped by the fact that the crazed man chasing him is his father, which is what would paralyze and be the doom of most kids. He recognizes the danger and does what he has to do.

One of the things that sets children heroes apart from their adult counterparts is the fact that most people completely disregard them. Kids and their crazy imaginations, am I right? How many times could scenes of murder and mayhem just be avoided if people had listened?


How many times did little Andy Barclay in the classic Child's Play movie try to warn his mom and other adults that Chucky was evil and hurting people? In the end, Andy had to overcome his own desire to trust his only friend, and light the evil little bastard on fire.

Usually though, it takes a group of kids to face the evil, to make up for their smaller size and lack of physical ability and experience. Most recently we have the kids from the Netflix series Stranger Things, and the remake of Stephen King's IT. There's also no leaving out the older, cult classic The Monster Squad.


Why do kids make great heroes in the end though? I think it's because they win in one of two ways. They either grow up while we watch and lament the loss of innocence and the leaving behind of a simpler, easier life; or they win through the qualities that make them children, that same sense of innocence, imagination, and the stubbornness that the world should be a certain way just because we want it to be.

As I've said recently, it's all too common for their innocence and naivety to lead a child to be the victim of horror, so I think when it's that same quality that leads them to victory we cheer that much harder. We're proud of them, and we wish we could go back to that easier life, while carrying that much strength. I think there really are no better heroes than kids.

~ Shaun