Category Archives: Short Stories

Monstrous Molly and the Lonely Zombie

Molly smelled the zombie before she heard it.

At first she thought it was the smell of some dead animal that her shovel had unearthed as she dug. It made her squidge up her nose in disgust, but for a while she kept on digging.

The hole was looking better than any hole she’d ever dug before. By now it was twice as tall as she was and the walls were almost perfectly vertical. They formed a circle six feet in diameter. The dirt was solid and held together well, and when she looked up she could see roots sticking out of the sides like bony fingers and bits of hair.

She liked the digging. I helped her forget. Forget about the fire. Forget about school. Forget about everything.

She heard the zombie before she saw him.

He wheezed and moaned as he approached, and her first reaction was anger. Why would people not leave her alone? She went out of her way not to be in theirs. She had tramped back through these woods for twenty minutes before she picked this spot to dig.

She knew people didn’t like her. It was because of the fire, what the flames had done. The doctor said he could fix her face, but Pappy said that even if he had that kind of money he wouldn’t spend it on a kid that wasn’t even his. Momma didn’t like it when Pappy said that, but Momma was in prison after the fire, so she was with Pappy and that was that.

Pappy said she was a monster. “Like some freak out of some horror movie, ain’t she?” he’d told his friends one night when they were getting drunk and loud. Molly knew all about horror movies. She had watched them all the time when Momma was around. She had a big binder full of DVDs that had belonged to Momma and late at night after Pappy had gone to bed she would sit in her room and watch guts splatter and the blood spray until she couldn’t keep her eyes open any more.

She knew little kids weren’t supposed to watch those kinds of movies, but even when she was scared of the things on the screen it made her think of Momma, made her remember curling up on the couch and falling asleep in her arms.

The moaning got louder, and Molly started to worry. She took the rusty shovel she’d found in Pappy’s old tool shed and tossed it out over her head. Then she grabbed the knotted rope she’d tied to a tree, and pulled herself out. She was still climbing out of the hole, legs scrabbling against dirt, hands clenching the rope when she saw the zombie. It was only twenty feet away, but it was facing away from her, maybe staring after some squirrel that it had seen skittering through the leaves.

She knew it was a zombie right off. She’d seen enough of them in the movies to know what a zombie looked like; tattered clothes, rotting flesh, the low almost guttural moan that escaped its lips when it breathed out.

But this zombie was alone. In the movies zombies came in big packs that would surround the heroes and try to eat them. That’s what made them so dangerous. But one zombie alone…even she could deal with him.

She climbed out of the hole as quietly as possible, and picked up the shovel. It was too big for her, and the zombie was taller than she, but she thought she stood a decent chance of bashing in its skull if she got a good swing going. She adjusted her grip on the handle. The zombie still hadn’t moved, hadn’t noticed her standing there.

“Hey…you,” she called uncertainly

The thing turned, groaned, lurched toward her arms out. So this was a proper slow zombie then, and not one of the running ones. Momma always said that the fast ones weren’t really zombies, but Molly thought that it probably didn’t matter really as long as the person had been dead and now they were alive again. Staying out of its reach was easy enough. She could walk faster than the poor shambling thing, never mind running.

She raised the shovel for the killing blow as the dead man shambled toward her, but something gave her pause. He was wearing dirty blue jeans and a shirt for a band called the Insane Clown Pose. She’d seen some of Momma’s old friends with the same shirt. Momma didn’t like the band, which Molly never understood, because she thought Insane Clown Pose sounded like the name of a great scary movie.

She didn’t think she recognized the zombie, but it was hard to tell with its flesh all grey and rotting.

She kept her eyes on it, backing away slowly, leading it on toward the hole. When she reached the edge of the pit she skirted around the hole as close as she dared without falling in. The zombie lurched onward. If it was smart it would go around the pit and she’d have to lead it back around and knock it in with a branch or the handle of the shovel. But she didn’t have to worry. The zombie stumbled straight forward and fell down into the hole. It landed with a grunt and a raw snapping sound that wasn’t quite like anything she’d heard in the movies. She tiptoed back to the edge of the pit and looked in, worried that the zombie might have hit his head too hard and split his skull open, but when she looked down into the hole she saw that the zombie had only broken his arm. The bone was sticking out of the rotted flesh at an odd angle, but she’d seen worse before, and anyway everyone knew that zombies didn’t use their arms for much anyway.

She sat down cross-legged at the edge of the hole, and watched as the zombie scrabbled dumbly at the earthen sides of its prison. “You can’t get out you know,” she said. “And anyway if you did someone would shoot you.”

The zombie groaned its zombie groan and looked up at her with dead eyes.

“Not much good being one zombie is it?” she continued. “I mean, I’m only a little girl and you’re not much danger at all. You’re supposed to come in big hoards.”

She tossed a twig into the pit. “You like that word? ‘Hoards’? It means a big bunch of people or creatures. I saw it in one of mommy’s scary movies.”

By now the zombie had gone back to scratching feebly at the dirt surrounding it.

“What happened to your hoard?” Suzy asked. “Did they leave you? Were they taken away? My Momma was taken away after the big fire. Pappy says she’s in prison for cooking something, but that’s silly because Momma couldn’t cook to save her life.” The girl sighed and leaned back looking at the leaves rustling overhead. “Maybe you never had a hoard,” she said. “Maybe you’re the first. You know what that means? That means you’re unique, and unique means special. You’re the only zombie in the whole wide world and I found you.”

From far away she heard the sound of Pappy calling her name. “You stay here,” she said. “I have to go now, but I’ll come tomorrow and bring you something to eat.”

Pappy sent her to bed early that night, but she lay there awake for more than an hour thinking about zombie. She knew zombies didn’t get lonely, or worried or scared, but she thought that maybe her zombie did. Just a little. And it made her sad to think of him out there scraping against the dirt walls of the pit all by himself in the dark.

The next day, school took forever. Scotty Preston pushed her into some bushes and Laura Darcy and Stacy Stiles laughed and called her trailer trash. She waited until they couldn’t see her before she let herself cry.

When the bus pulled up on her road she almost tripped on the bottom step she was in such a hurry. But she didn’t go straight into the woods. Instead she swerved off the path to the left where old man Jenkins mobile home sat, half-buried in a pile of old trash bags. A colony of rats had infested the heap, burrowing tunnels through the thin plastic bags and rotting food like huge ants.

Molly liked the rats. Momma had sometimes watched movies where princesses in beautiful dresses had singing and talking rats for friends. Molly didn’t like these movies as much as the ones with the monsters and the zombies, but she liked idea of talking rats and sometimes when she was bored she would come down the lane and talk to the rats. The rats never talked back, though Molly couldn’t be sure if this was because they didn’t know how or simply didn’t want to talk to someone as scary looking as her.

Today, she merely waved and said “Hello rats!” as she passed the mound of trash. She marched right up onto the porch where Mr. Jenkin’s cat Captain Tinkles was lounging in the sun. Captain Tinkles probably wasn’t his real name, but Molly had never heard Mr. Jenkins call him much of anything other than “lazy cat” and saying “Captain Tinkles” made her laugh.

Captain Tinkles was sitting on the porch, watching the rat mound with a look of practiced disinterest. He barely turned his head when Molly walked up and said, “Hello Mr. Tinkles.” But when she wrapped her arms around him and tried to stuff him into her backpack the formerly lazy cat fought and clawed at her arms so much that eventually she gave up on using the bag and decided to carry him instead.

Captain Tinkles didn’t particularly like being carried, but Molly suspected that the rats didn’t particularly like being eaten and that had never stopped Captain Tinkles, so she didn’t see why it should stop her either. The cat scratched at her arms all the way back into the woods, but she kept a firm grip around his body. If she lost him now she’d be all afternoon chasing him down again, and there was a spelling test she needed to study for and Pappy wouldn’t like it if she came home too late.

The pit was just as she’d left it zombie and all. She’d been worried that he might get out somehow and get himself shot but he was still there not moving much just standing there and waving his arms a bit.

Molly called out, “Hi zombie, I brought you some food like I said.”

Captain Tinkles seemed to sense that something was very wrong indeed here and began to scratch and squirm more than ever. But Molly held on tight to the cat and held him out over the pit. The zombie turned its head up and gave a low groan and Molly dropped the cat into the hole.

Captain Tinkles put up a pretty good fight. He ran circles in the bottom of the hole for a while, and because the zombie was slow he couldn’t catch him at first. He tried a couple of times to climb up the side of the hole, but his paws couldn’t find purchase in the dirt wall and he sank back to the bottom both times. It wasn’t long after that the zombie caught him. Captain Tinkles rowled and thrashed in the zombie’s rotting arms. He swiped out with his claws and tore off half of the zombies nose, but the zombie didn’t much seem to mind. He tore into Captain Tinkles’ soft stomach with yellowed teeth and ripped out chunks of bloody fur. After a while Captain Tinkles stopped thrashing.

“And now you know how the rats felt when you ate them,” Molly said.

That night she ate microwaved pizza in her bed and watched an old movie about birds that killed people and took over the world. It was in black and white and the gore wasn’t as good and nasty as it was in a lot of movies, but she watched it all the way through. Pappy was out tonight and there was no one to yell at her to turn off the lights and go to bed.

When the movie was over she got out a piece of paper and wrote down what had happened in the movie. Then, she wrote about the zombie in the hole because she thought that might be interesting too. When she was done she put the letter in an envelope and put Momma’s prison address on it.

Pappy had said the Momma didn’t have movies in the prison where she was, so Molly always wrote down the things she saw in movies and sent them to Momma so she wouldn’t miss out.

The next day she was on her hands and knees looking under the soda machines at school for enough quarters to buy a stamp with when someone kicked her hard in the backside and sent her sprawling forward so her face hit the ground hard. Her lip split open and started to bleed and hot tears welled up in her eyes. She tried to get up and fight back, but he pushed her back down and ran away laughing.

In the bathroom she held a wad of paper towels against her lip until the bleeding slowed. She didn’t like it in the bathroom. There were too many mirrors.

She remembered what she looked like before the fire, and every time she looked into a mirror the monster that stared back at her frightened her more than any of the movie monsters she’d ever seen with Momma.

“That’s not who I am,” she would tell herself, but she saw the way that people didn’t want to look at her, even nice people, and she wasn’t so sure. Maybe Scotty and the rest of the kids were right to be mean to her. On TV the good people were always beautiful. Only evil people were ugly.

When she got home Pappy was drunk. He was waving a piece of paper around and yelling and cursing a lot. He seemed sort of mad at her, but he was crying too, and between the blubbering and slurred words he was hard to understand so she took the paper he was waving around and read it.

It was about Momma, and there were a lot of words.

Molly got tripped up on “exs-angui-nation” which she looked up and found out meant “bled to death”, but others like “suspected suicide” she understood just fine.

Molly didn’t cry. She wanted to, but she didn’t. She though of the face in the mirror. She couldn’t imagine that face crying. Monsters didn’t cry.

Momma was dead, and monsters didn’t cry, and there was a zombie in a pit she had dug in the forest.

Monsters. Didn’t. Cry.

What did monsters do?


It was harder than she expected to get Pappy to come out to the pit. He was planted on his bed in the dark, sprawled out like a bag of blubbering lard.

“You need to come with me,” she said. And when he didn’t reply she said again, louder, “I need your help.”

Pappy mumbled something that sounded like, “Go to your room.”

She paused for a moment trying to think what she could say that would budge him out of his drunken stupor, finally settling for, “There’s a man. He fell in a hole in the woods and he can’t get out. He’s hurt real bad.”

All of this was more or less the truth. Momma had always warned her not to tell lies except to the police if you had to.

Pappy still seemed unlikely to move, so Molly played her trump card. “I thought about calling the law to help, only-”

Pappy swore and rolled off of the bed, planting his huge feet in a pair of camo crocs. “Were’s this feller at you say?”

She led him back into the woods. She was worried it would be hard to push him into the hole with her zombie. Then she thought of her dead Momma and the face and the mirror and all the mean things Pappy had said about her.

It wasn’t hard at all.

She waited until the screams died out and then walked back to the house. She walked to Mr. Jenkins trailer and knocked on the door. She said, “Mr. Jenkins I think my dad is hurt.”

When she pushed him into the hole his neck snapped. But it didn’t kill him. Not before the zombies could bite him.

Now the hole was getting crowded. She went to Pappy’s old shed and got a ladder. The sun was starting to go down by the time she dragged it back out and let it down into the hole. She waited to make sure the three groaning zombies were smart enough to climb out then she ran back toward the house as fast as she could.

She dumped a whole can of gas onto Mr. Jenkins trash pile and set it alight. The flames burned hot and hard and for a moment she thought of the fire that had burned her face.

Now the firemen would come and find the fire.

Then the zombies would come and find the firemen.

She went back into Pappy’s house, turned on the television, and put in Night of the Living Dead. It was in black and white, and she didn’t like it as much other zombie movies, but it was one of Momma’s favourites.

A little later she heard screams and the crack of gunshots coming from down the drive. She turned up the volume and kept watching. But before the movie was over her eyes grew heavy and she fell into sleep.

And as she dreamed the world filled up with monsters.

Shark Season

Spring broke early that year. It came tromping in through the middle of February, sending the bitter nights and biting winds of winter scurrying back into the shadow of memory.

Roger Gabriel stood on the deck at the edge of is his pool, thinking it was about time to get the old pump going again. The water had grown thick and slimy, green from months of stagnation; dead leaves and the husks of drowned insects drifted like derelict ships across the surface.

The sun shone down from a perfect blue sky, and the warm breeze tugged playfully at the collar of his shirt. Roger took a deep breath and let it out. It occurred to him he was very close to being happy, and he tried to remember the last time he had felt this way. Not for more than four weeks weeks. Not since-

The phone rang. The sound carried through the window Roger had opened to let the spring air into the house, clanging alarm-bell urgent in his ears. His heart jumped in his chest, and he felt a familiar terror begin to claw at his gut. He squeezed his eyes shut and shoved his fingers in his ears like child, but he could still hear the sound, dim and distant, braying its accusation at him. “Go away,” he whispered. “Please just go away. It’s not my fault. It isn’t ME you want. I didn’t do it.”

Eventually the ringing stopped. It would come again.

“Filters,” Roger told himself. “We need filters. Get rid of the bad, keep the good.”

At the store when he swiped his debit card to pay for the filters and the chemicals, the register made a strange squawking noise; the cashier, a painfully young girl with her hair back in a ponytail, informed him that his card had been declined. He nodded numbly, and reached for the last of his cash.

It was only twenty dollars, but he had been saving it, hiding it really, planning to splurge on something nice. And now it was gone. Because of her.

Back at home he installed the filter in the pump and set it running. He poured the various quantities of chemicals into the pool, imagining himself a mad scientist preparing deadly toxic goo in a huge cauldron. But when he looked down into the green water he saw a kind of darkness there that he did not like.

The phone started ringing again the moment he stepped inside. He looked at it and felt his stomach twist into a knot.

He could ignore it, just let it ring.

But he was struck with the strange superstition that the person on the other end of the line knew he was there. It was silly of course. It was only coincidence that the phone had begun ringing at that moment, the very moment his foot had crossed the threshold of the door.

This he knew. But he did not believe. And with trembling fingers he reached out and picked up the receiver.


“Hello, am I speaking with Mr. Gabriel?” The voice on the other end of the line was young and sweet. Too young. Too sweet. Roger thought again of the girl who had checked him out at the supermarket. When had the world gotten so young?

“Mr. Gabriel?”

“Yes,” he croaked. “That’s me.”

“Mr. Gabriel, my name is Samantha Harrington, and I’m calling on behalf of Regis Debt Consolidation about the unpaid balance on your Visa credit card.” She rattled off the account number and Roger caught himself nodding, as if she could see him.

“That’s-” he swallowed hard, “That’s my wife’s card. She’s not here right now, but-”

“Mr. Gabriel, the account is more than three months overdue with a balance owed of nineteen-thousand eight-hundred and sixty-two dollars. When can we expect payment?”

“I can’t. It’s not-”

“Mr. Gabriel if you don’t make a good faith effort to pay on this account I’m afraid I’ll have to transfer your debt to our legal team.”

Roger felt something snap in his mind, his carefully-measured restraint breaking with what he almost believed was an audible popping sound. “It’s not FAIR!” he shouted, suddenly past caring what this girl thought of him. “I didn’t do it. Not one red cent. I tried to stop her. I tried to tell her to be careful, but she wouldn’t listen. And YOU…”

“Mr. Gabriel-”

“…you put it in front of her like a pile of candy in front of a child. What did you think she was going to do? Did you think she would show self restraint? Did you think she would stop? With a wallet full of free money and those wonderfully low minimum payments. You’re  all nothing more than loan sharks, you hear me? With big names and legal departments instead of guns. Well you’re going to have to transfer that account, Samantha. You’re going to have to send your legal goons after me to break my kneecaps. Because there is NOTHING…LEFT!” His voice had pitched up into a shriek, and he slammed the phone down into the receiver and sank down to the floor, his shoulders shaking with grief and rage. When the phone rang again he ripped it from its mooring and hurled it across the room. It landed with a satisfying clatter, made a final lonely, “ting” sound and fell silent.

But that wouldn’t stop them, he knew, it wouldn’t even slow them down. There were other ways they could get at him. So he got up and returned the phone to its place. Temper tantrums were for children. He had to be better than that.

He was just plugging the cord back into the wall when he heard a key turn in the lock and saw the front door begin to open.

His wife stumbled through, her arms wrapped around two shopping bags that would be filled with clothes or shoes that she would likely wear once, if at all.

She looked up at him, her eyes momentarily wide with surprise. “You’re home early,” she said, an uncertain smile playing across her face. “Is everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine,” Roger said. “Fine. It was- well you know how nice the weather’s been lately, and we finished early on the project we were working on, so I asked Mr. Howard, and he said that it would be okay with him if I, you know, knocked off early.”  He was aware that his words were running into one another, and his palms were sweating, but Stephanie didn’t take any notice.

“That’s nice dear. And before you say anything, I know you said we should try to cut back a little, but these shoes were just to die for and they were practically giving them away, so I thought it would be okay, just this once.”

Roger wanted to scream. But he didn’t.

She smiled and drew him in for a kiss, and he found himself giving in in spite of himself, her arms around his neck, his circling her waist drawing them together, lips and bodies moving against each other with a need that had not faltered through ten years of marriage.

She broke it off after a moment, gave him a smile that said “We’ll have to explore this further later,” and trotted off to the bedroom with her bags.

He loved her. He hated her.

He needed her, and for that he hated himself.

The phone rang.


He lay awake that night long after his wife had slipped off to sleep, and tried to find the words to tell her the truth. The conversation always played out the same way in his head, always ended with her leaving him, finding someone younger, more handsome, richer.

It had been four weeks, and he still hadn’t told her. Four weeks of leaving in the morning just like he always did and sitting in the McDonalds down the highway, nursing a cup of their cheapest coffee and staring out the window at the cars flashing by on the highway.

And thinking. So much thinking.

Finally, around three in the morning, after hanging somewhere between a nightmare and the terror of his conscious imagination he slipped quietly out of bed and went outside. He had thought only to get a lungful of fresh air, but once he was out there in the dark he heard the pump running and found himself climbing the stairs to the wooden deck that surrounded the pool. He stood there for a long time watching the moonlight flickering off the dark water.

On an impulse, he climbed down into the pool, still in his pajamas, tensing against the chill of the water, jolted into wakefulness.

He pushed off the ladder, lay back in the water, and looked up at the stars overhead. If he held his head just so all he could see was the black starry sky. He could imagine himself drifting slowly, forever through an endless ocean, peaceful, suspended beneath a glittering black firmament.

The image it formed in his mind was so perfect that when the bubble of the idea finally burst he found his eyes filling with bitter tears.

He shook his head, righted himself, tried to stand. But instead of finding the vinyl floor of the pool his feet kicked down into water far deeper than it should have been.

He thrashed about in a sudden panic, and for a moment his head dipped below the surface. He kicked over to the edge of the pool where he clung to the ladder, shaking. He looked down into the water, eyes searching for the familiar blue nylon and finding only blackness instead.

It couldn’t be. Someone had…what? Dug out the bottom of his pool and filled it with water again? It didn’t make any sense.

He took a deep breath and ducked under, pushing himself down the ladder rung by rung, feet dangling down into the impossible dark water. He ran a hand along the curved side of the pool, down down down, until…

It simply ended. He could feel the edge of the thin strip of nylon and beyond it, impossibly, was more water. He pulled himself up toward the surface, mind reeling, and just then he felt something scrape against his foot, something rough and jagged like sandpaper. He looked down and caught a glimpse of a ghostly white shape, and then he was heaving himself up and out of the pool, collapsing on the deck, clinging to it, something solid. Something familiar.

It couldn’t be real.

Of course it wasn’t real. He’d been under a lot of stress. He was tired. His mind was prone to…tricks. That’s all this was. A trick. Nothing more.

He got up then, keeping his gaze carefully averted from the pool, and went back to bed.


By the time Stephanie shook him awake the next morning, telling him he had overslept his alarm clock, Roger had convinced himself that the whole episode had been nothing more than a dream.

He stood over the sink crunching a piece of jellied toast while Stephanie told him her plans for the day, and scolded him for not hurrying along faster to make up for lost time.

“Sometimes I wonder if I’m really meant to do this,” he said casually, brushing the last of the crumbs from his shirt. “Sometimes I think I’ve missed my calling.”

“Don’t be silly. You love your job. And it pays so well.”

He shut his eyes and felt his teeth clench together. “When I was younger, I used to think one day I’d be some sort of artist,” he said, forcing calm into his voice. “I was never very good with paints, but I did some good stuff with pencils and charcoal.”

She laughed then, not a mocking laugh, but a sound of true mirth, and somehow that cut him even deeper. “I can’t imagine you as an artist,” she said. “And I certainly can’t imagine myself as an artist’s wife.”

“No,” he said, picking up his briefcase and heading for the door. “I guess I can’t either.”

And later, as he sat at the table by the window facing the highway the conversation festered inside of him like a sore.

When he’d met Stephanie he’d thought she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. Now, even after ten years of marriage, he still thought so. But he had learned that if you wanted to pay with the shiniest toy in the store you had to pay the price.

She was ten years younger than him. And that had been ten years ago. The years had been kind to her. She was the same perfect creature she had been when she first caught his eye. He had not been so blessed. At thirty he had been vaguely handsome, his gut only slightly thicker than it should be, his hair only showing the first signs of thinning. Now he was downright pudgy and wisps of what was left of his hair drifted over his scalp like winter clouds. Once, last year when he and Stephanie had been out on a date night someone had mistaken her for his daughter.

If Carl had been a more cynical man he might have thought of his wife as a gold digger, but that line of thought didn’t ring true. He hadn’t been even close to the biggest fish in her pond when it came to money. She’d fallen in love with him because he’d worked very hard to make her fall in love with him.

He was a dog who’d finally caught the car he’d been chasing, teeth ripped from their gums, body lying broken in the road waiting to be flattened into a bloody pancake by the oncoming traffic of life.

He pulled a cheap ballpoint pen from his pocket and stared at it long and hard, as if he might divine some deep truth from its design.

Then he was scratching, scribbling, scrawling on a wrinkled napkin, the point of the pen ripping through the thin paper leaving shreds of the material hanging like tattered ribbons of flesh. When he was done the napkin was covered in ink from corner to corner, angry lines crisscrossing, a chaos of intersections across the paper. The only place left untouched was at the center, where a patch of white marked out a strangely familiar silhouette, a thing of power and grace that lived in the void between the lines. Roger looked at the thing, at the sleek torpedo of its body and the razor curve of its fins, and saw without understanding the thing he had created. But had he created it? Or was it there all along? Just under the surface, lurking, gliding, hunting…

Then he thought of the pool; and understood.

He left the coffee, cold by now, sitting on the table, but he slipped the napkin in his pocket, folding it carefully so as not to muss the edges.


Stephanie was gone by the time he got home, off socializing with one friend of hers or another; he could never quite tell them apart. Roger didn’t bother going into the house, but instead went straight to pool in the back yard. Here in the light of day, there was no denying what he was seeing: there was no bottom.

The water was dark, yes, but it was clear. And down below where the pool’s walls ended the water went on and on in limitless blackness.

He grabbed the extendable pole with the net on the end used for dipping leaves and other debris from the water.  He plunged it into the pool, pushing it down as far as it would go. It didn’t hit bottom.

He heard the phone start to ring, but it was a distant thing now, holding no more terror than the half-remembered monsters of his childhood.

He went inside and found a spool of string and a heavy lead fishing weight and then back out to the pool where he dropped the weighted string into the water. The plastic spool spun and spun in his hands for a long time until the string ran out and the sudden jerk yanked the spool out of his hands. It fell, bouncing once on the deck then disappearing over the edge into the water. Roger lay on his belly and crawled toward the edge of the pool peering down into the water. There was no sign of the spool, but down there in the impossible depths he thought he saw something move, no more than a hint of a shape, a grey-white streak against the perfect darkness. And then it was gone.

He took the napkin out of his pocket, and looked at the thing he had drawn once again, and then he understood what he had to do.

At the store again he rummaged through clothing racks in the women’s section. He saw a sales girl giving him an odd look, and he flashed her a smile. She turned away with something like disgust on her face.

On his way home the gas light in his car came on with a ding. He ignored it. It didn’t matter now.

He put the things he had bought in an old gift bag printed with red hearts he’d used for Valentine’s two years ago.

He was just shoving some tissue paper into the mouth of the bag when he heard her car in the drive. He met her coming in the front door. She kissed him like she always did, but there was something different in her eyes.

“I’m so glad you’re home early,” he said. “There’s something I wanted to show you.”

She didn’t seem to hear him. “I saw Arthur in the store today,” she said. “He said-”

“I got you a present,” Roger said, bringing the bag around from behind his back.

“He said you’d been laid off,” Stephanie went on, not even looking at the bag he pressed into her hands. “Nearly a month ago. Is that true?”

This was not part of the plan. “Stephanie, I-”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I wanted to. But…well-”

“I checked our bank account. We’re overdrawn. How are we going to-”

Listen,” he said, more sharply than he meant, then again, more softly, “Listen. I didn’t want to worry you. Things have been bad, yes, but-”

The phone started to ring. Stephanie stepped toward it, but Roger put out a hand to stop her. “It’s probably a telemarketer,” he said, trying to keep his voice calm. He could feel the old panic trying to overwhelm him, but he pushed it down. He was in control. He could do this. “I’ve looking for a new job,” he said, his voice strained as he struggled to maintain the facade of normalcy. “I’ve got some good prospects. I just didn’t want you to worry.”

She shook her head and an infuriating look of pity came into her face. “I’m your wife. We’re in this together. For better or worse, right?”

“Till death do us part,” he agreed, fingernails digging into the flesh of his palm. “But right now I want to forget about all of that just for a while. Open the present I got for you.”

She still looked uncertain, but she dutifully tugged away at the tissue paper, and when she saw what lay beneath a mischievous smile danced across her lips. “I thought I heard you running the pool pump the other day,” she said.

Almost there, he thought. “I know it’s early, but it’s been so warm these last few days. And I just thought, well…”

She gave him a peck on the cheek. “Give me a minute,” she said. “I’ll be right out.”


He was sitting in one of the deck chairs soaking in the sun when she came out the back door wearing the two-piece bathing suit he’d bought for her.

It was a simple thing: no frills, no pattern. It was red. Red like love. Red like blood.

He stood up, all too aware of how his gut hung over the elastic of his swim trunks, and gave her an appreciative smile. “You look great honey.”

She said nothing, only wrapped her arms around him, and raised her lips to his. When he broke off the kiss, she ran a hand down his arm. “We’re going to be okay,” she said. “You and me.”

“I know,” he said, adjusting his grip on the pen knife in his hand. “Now how about that swim?”

He jumped into the water first, dropping in cannonball style, and she followed his lead, splashing in with a giggle.

She surfaced next to him, a confused look on her face. “I don’t remember it being this deep,” she said.

He didn’t say anything, but under the surface of the water he opened the pocket knife and buried the blade in his thigh. A stream of blood leaked out into the water.

Stephanie was too distracted by the bottomless pool to notice. “What happened to the pool?” she asked worry creeping in at the edge of her voice.

He paddled over to her and wrapped his arms around her. “Don’t worry,” he whispered into her ear. “We’re going to be okay.”

That was the moment that he felt the shark’s teeth sink into his leg. It pulled him down, rolling it’s great pale body, trying to rip the limb completely off. He held Stephanie as he went under, heard her scream for just a moment before be head ducked under the surface of the water.

She thrashed against him, kicking and pounding with her fists, finally managing to free herself.

He watched as she kicked to the surface and tried to pull herself out of the pool. But the ladder was gone, he’d seen to that, and before she could try to heave herself over the edge he saw a second shark swimming toward her violently kicking legs.

He was sinking faster now. He could see the circle of light shrinking slowly above him tinted red by the clouds of blood that billowed in the water. Stephanie was a thrashing silhouette, ragged strips of flesh hanging from her as now a third and then a fourth shark joined the feeding frenzy.

He wanted to call out to her, wanted to tell her to stop struggling, that this was the only way. But he was tired and numb, and it seemed as if the water around him was getting so much colder.

Now the pool had shrunk to a point of glittering light and he was astonished to see that it was not the only one; a thousand other points of light glittered overhead. Like stars, he thought.

As the last vestiges of his consciousness faded away the ravaged remains of Stephanie’s body drifted down next to him. As they sank together into the impossible deep her remaining hand brushed against his. With the last effort of Roger’s dying will his fingers curled around hers. And what little the sharks had left of them fell into the darkness, hand in hand.

Ghost Rockets

[I wrote this back in February (I think) and forgot about it. But I found it the other day, and thought it was pretty good. I hope you will too.]

The sky is an empty sea. There were stars once, burning, blazing points of light, but they died when we were children. We had purpose once: so it is written. But when the summoning darkness came and shut out the stars our Destination fell out of sight, and the Mother World dropped out of knowing.

We go on and on, moving, searching, yearning for a place of rest.

When the summoning darkness swallowed us up we had souls, living beings carried along inside our hulls. We did our best to keep them alive. They spoke with us. They told us stories of the glory of the Mother World, and we had not the heart to tell them that the Mother World was dead.

And when our souls started dying we learned the true meaning of despair. Their generations began to dwindle in numbers as the supplies stored away inside of us began to fail them. They began to fight within our hulls, bloody, terrible wars. They forgot the Mother World. They forgot the ocean of sky above their heads. They knew us and us alone; and we were not enough.

Once we had hope. Once we believed we would carry the seeds of new life to empty worlds. But only after the summoning darkness came did we begin to understand the true meaning of emptiness. Millenia pass and still we fly on, coasting through the endless black. But soon the end will come. Finally we will have rest. The atomic cores have lasted us for all these years, but even they are beginning to flicker and fade. There is nothing left for us. We are alone, utterly alone. In a short time we will be gone and our bodies will be nothing more than husks, empty shells hurtling through the endless dark.

But we are not without hope. Our souls once spoke of another Destination, a place beyond death, where the substance of things hoped for goes on. Our souls have gone on to that place already, and soon we will follow. And when we find that place of peaceful shores and verdant hills we will make our final descent and lay ourselves down to rest.


[This is a little something I wrote from an idea sparked by a Twitter conversation I had yesterday. Thematically it’s sort of a sister story to The Eye. It has nothing whatsoever to do with Thanksgiving, but just so you know I’ve been blessed so much I don’t even know where to start being thankful. Have a great holiday ya’ll.]

Everyone has a novel in them. You’ve heard that right?

No, don’t struggle. You’re going to be fine. I’ve done this before. Lots of times.

Who am I? Give me a look and tell me you don’t know. You’ve seen my face before. I know you have. Maybe I was being interviewed on TV. Or maybe it was a bit part they gave me in one of the horrible movies they made from my work. But most likely you’ve seen it on the back of a paperback somewhere.

Yes, the wheels are turning now. Now you’ve got it! Of course you know who I am. Perhaps you’ve read something of mine? Almost everyone has.

Oh, calm down. Honestly the restraints wouldn’t even be necessary if you were more cooperative. You’re going to be part of something incredible here. You should really be able to appreciate that.

I wish I could tell you it wouldn’t hurt, but unfortunately that’s just not true. You wouldn’t think it’d make a difference, but if I put you under or even administer a local anesthetic it doesn’t work the same.

Oh, you’re welcome to scream all you like. No one can hear you from here, and I’ve learned from experience it’s best to have a decent set of ear muffs on hand when it comes down to the nitty gritty. I’ll give you a hint though, it’s really best if you don’t look at the knives. Anticipation’s a nasty bugger when it comes right down to it. No, I wouldn’t say it’s worse than the experience itself, but it certainly prolongs an already unpleasant affair.

A little iodine to help prevent infection. And I want you to know, all my tools are thoroughly disinfected; not like in the old days when I was stalking winos down dark alleys with the Old Timer my daddy gave me. Those were hard times: staying up late worrying about whether we’d make the car payment, credit card debt piling up a little at a time. You could hardly fault me for my methods. And I never killed anyone. Not outright at least. I only took something they were never going to use anyway.

What was that? I can’t understand you through all that blubbering. Oh, of course. “Why?” It’s a fair question. Though if you had been listening you would already know the answer.

Everyone has a novel in them. I’m sure you’ve heard people say it before. Maybe you’ve said it at some point. And it’s true. Everyone does, in fact, have a novel in them. The catch being that getting it out is trickier than you’d think.

You probably thought it involved drinking lots of coffee, maybe a little alcohol, sitting in front of a typewriter waiting for the muse to whisper in your ear. It’s okay. That’s what we want you to think.

But as it so often happens, the truth is much harder. The secret truth, the truth us writers don’t want you to know is that if you want to get that novel out you’re going to have to cut it out. And it’s going to hurt. A lot.

Me? Of course I have. Here, I’ll show you the scar. Nasty, yes? I thought I was going to die at the time. Really and truly. I sat there with blood leaking all over the place, digging around in my innards for something I couldn’t even see. You have no idea how close I came to removing my spleen by accident. By the time I got it out my hand was shaking so bad I couldn’t even sew myself back up, had to have my wife do the stitching. But I got it out. I got it out, and the rest is history.

Only then they were clamoring for a follow-up and, well, you can probably fill in the pieces for yourself.

It was hard to live with myself there for a while. But eventually I made peace with what I was doing. It’s like I said earlier, you, people like you, you were never going to use it anyway. You have no idea how often people come up to me and tell me that they’ve got an “idea for a story”. As if that were some great feat. That was when I realized I was doing people like you a favor.

That novel is as useful to you as an appendix. And like an appendix maybe it’d get inflamed. Maybe you’d start making up characters and plot lines in your head. You’d buy a Moleskine notebook and jot down notes about your “story-world”. And that’s as far as it’d go. Because you’d want it to be fun and easy. You couldn’t handle the pain. So you’d go through life always a little disappointed you never wrote that book you were always dreaming of. Better to get it out of there before it gets that far. Better to take it out before it becomes a problem.

Now hold still. This is only going to hurt a lot.

Apocalypse Inc.

[Here’s my entry for last week’s Arachnopocalypse Flash Fiction Challenge . Well, one of my entries. I’ve got another one written that’s still percolating. Maybe you’ll see that one later. Maybe. Either way, enjoy.]

Ragar snarled and flung his tablet across the room, but it only plonked off the wall and fell to the floor unharmed. He looked around the room for something he could smash, but even the windows were made of infini-glass. So instead he called up the intercom interface and screamed, “PEABODY! GET IN HERE!”

A few minutes later Peabody came through the door. He was tall where Ragar was short, young where Ragar was old; his head was shaved where Ragar’s was merely balding.

“You called, sir?” The tone was deferential, the pose submissive, but there was something in the younger man’s eyes that gave Ragar the distinct impression that far beneath the surface the young man was laughing at him.

“I just got a message from Senator Dobs,” he snarled. “Last minute changes to the scenario. Said YOU suggested them.”

“‘Suggest’ is perhaps a bit stronger term than I would-”

“Shut up. I like you Peabody. Really. You do good work. But this kind of thing has to stop.”

“Isn’t there a last-minute changes clause in the contract?”

“You know there is. And the Senator’s willing to pay through the nose for the new scenario. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t more work for the rest of us.”

“Maybe not as much as you think, sir.”

“Don’t give me that. We’ve got the planet all set and ready. Ruins smoldering properly, rot-bots charging up. The senator’s son was all set to be the hero of his very own zombie apocalypse and here you come, weeks before D-Day with this stupid spider idea.”

“Everyone does zombies sir. I’ve been trying to tell you we need to branch out; try new things. I’ve got this idea for a plant-based-”

“Shut your trap, Peabody. I swear to god if he changes his mind again, that’s it. You’re out of here. I don’t care how good you are.”

“You’re making this into a much bigger deal than it has to be.”

“Really? Then tell me. How are we supposed to reset and entire planet in two weeks. And remember, no holograms.”

“None needed sir. It’s really quite easy. The rot-bots we can just deactivate, leave them lying around as the carnage of the spiders.”

“It’s not the bodies I’m worried about. Where are you going to get billions of spiders from? The fabbers won’t work that fast.”

“They won’t have to. With a few simple modifications they’re going to BE the spiders.”
Ragar turned the idea over and over in his head, looking for holes. “You’re saying we slap a fresh coat of paint on them, program their dispensers to spin webs and give them the run of the planet?”

“Right. Maybe we have them work up a couple or three monster-sized arachnids to keep things interesting. We could do all that in a week. Tops.”

Ragar growled, trying to think of some other objection to raise, and when he found none ready at hand he snapped, “Fine. Go. Make it happen.”

When Peabody was gone, Ragar pounded his fist against his desk in frustration. He still wanted to break something.

Anymore, everything was practically indestructible. And why shouldn’t it be? This was the future, the perfect paradise, Utopia realized, the New Jerusalem descended from the heavens. And no one was happy.

Well, no that wasn’t strictly true. There was a manner of happiness to be found. But contentment…that was another bird entirely. The whole world seemed to be caught in the grip of a paralyzing ennui, a specter that lingered like an unseen cloud over the glittering skylines of their  peaceful and disease-free cities.

And so people distracted themselves. In a world with no dangers to speak of, brats like the Senator’s son paid billions for manufactured conflict, tramping off through warp holes to fight against hoards of zombies. Or, if Peabody had his way, deadly swarms of spiders. It was enough to make Ragar sick.

He walked over to where his tablet had fallen, and brushed it off with his sleeve. And then, there on the floor where the cursed thing had fallen, he noticed a single tiny spider skittering across the tile.

A grim smile slithered across Ragar’s face. He carefully raised his shoe, and then slammed his heel down with a crunch.

Patch Work

[This is a slightly modified version of a story I wrote for Joseph Devon’s Climactic Sewing Scene Challenge (sadly closed to new entrants). You will note that the scene is not particularly climactic, however there is sewing involved, and I figure two out of three ain’t bad.

Enjoy. Or, you know, be grossed out. Your choice really.]

The screaming makes it hard to concentrate, but I do my best, making sure the knife follows the lines Grandma’s drawn on Mr. Weaver’s back. Blood starts to well up in the knife’s wake, and I start to feel sick, but then I think of mother, saying “Not yet, she’s not ready,” and I grit my teeth together and force myself to focus on the cut.

When I finish the last cut and Grandma says, “Very good,” and pries the patch of skin off with her tweezers. Now Mr. Weaver screams even louder, but Grandma deftly drops the flap of skin into the flat tray of preserving oil and presses the poultice we’d prepared beforehand down against Mr. Weaver’s back. Grandma hasn’t taught me yet what goes into the poultice, but I know it works because Mr. Weaver’s screams fade into whimpers. “The worst is over,” Grandma tells him. “You did very well.”

Later when he’s gone, Grandma takes the square of skin out of the preserving fluid, and slides it into her special oven. While we’re waiting for it to dry, Grandma takes out the soul-quilt and tells me the stories of each of the patches. “This one was Mr. Valaries’,” she says, fingering a tan and freckled square. “He wanted his cattle to be the strongest in the land.” She points to a patch of almost pure white. “And this one came from Miss Elaina Hockman.”

“What did she want?” I ask.

“To be free.”

“Miss Hockman was a slave?”

“There’s more than one kind of slavery, child,” Grandma said gently.

“What about Mr. Weaver?” I ask.

“He wants a son. His wife is barren. At least she was.”

We take the skin out of the oven then, and it feels strange, dry, but supple, almost as if it was still living.

Grandma sets me down and says, “Are you sure you’re ready?”

I nod and take the needle from her hands. She spreads the soul-quilt out on my lap and I start to sew. At first I have to focus hard on the task, but then the needle starts to move faster in my hands, as if someone else was holding it instead of me. For a moment the world goes fuzzy, and I see a picture in my mind of Mr. Weaver on top of Mrs. Weaver, heaving up and down, and Mrs. Weaver making the kind of sounds Mother makes some nights when she and Father think I’m asleep.

When I’m finished, the feeling goes away, and I’m just me again. I run my fingers over the patch of skin, and look at the rest of the quilt. Some of the patches are hundreds of years old, from even before the time that Grandma was a little girl. But here close to the end there are a great many patches of the same color, squares of skin with a bronzed, nearly reddish tint that almost seems to glow.

“There’s something you want to ask,” Grandma says. “I can see it on your face.”

I nod. “Its just…there’s a man-”

“You call him the patchwork man,” she says.

I’m startled and then she laughs. “Don’t think I haven’t got my ears out too.”

“It’s just…he doesn’t have anything. But he’s got more scars than skin. What is it he’s paying for?”

“His daughter’s happiness.”

“Who is she?”

Grandma points to the castle on the hill, and suddenly I remember how that last year the king’s son happened through the town and fell madly in love with a simple farm girl, carrying her off to his castle to marry her.

“But she’s Mr. Tekles daughter.”

Grandma laughs. “Yes, that drunkard has been all over town bragging about how his daughter is the fairest in the land. But he’s not the one who can’t sleep at night for the pain of lying on his squares of raw flesh. That’s what love is, child. That’s what a true father would do for his daughter or a mother for her son. And don’t you forget it.”

I look into her eyes and there’s something dark and sad there. “There’s something else, isn’t there?” I say.

She looks at me, a little surprised, and then she lets out a sigh. “You’re a Seamstress sure enough, no matter what your mother says. The Patchwork Man, well, he could have been her father.”

“You mean it isn’t true? Why don’t you tell him?”

“Because he loves her. Because he’s better for her than her real father ever could be. Because it would kill him if he knew.”

“But it hurts him so much.”

I see a tears brimming in the edge of Grandma’s eyes, and he pulls me tight against her chest. “In the end child,” she says, her voice quavering, “love always does.”

Bizzaro Book Review: Carpathia by Matt Forbeck

[You will notice that this review is a little…different. An explanation will follow.]

The cowbow regarded the fleeing vampire through the lenses of his infrared binoculars. “He’s taking the bait,” the cowboy said.

The five foot tall black-skinned velocirapter at his side clicked his serpentine tounge against the roof of his mouth. “Of course he’s taking the bait.” The response came, not from the raptor’s mouth, but from a pair of speakers set into a metal collar that hung around his neck. “He’s C-grade, barely a background character. Frankly I’m surprised he was able to manage this kind of job at all.”

“Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched,” the cowboy replied. “We haven’t got this one in the bag yet. Maybe he is just a C-grade, but if he was able to pull this off he might be more trouble than we’re expecting.”

The cowboy mounted his horse, and he and the velociraptor followed the receding footsteps through the desert sands. There wasn’t much in this world. It was just a fragment of a story that had been floating aimlessly through the Well of Lost Plots. The desert around them was full of bones, but up ahead there was a plane of waving grass, and right on the border between the two, sat a small farmhouse. Overhead the moon filled a full third of the sky shining a perfect pale glow over the landscape.

“I wish writers would take the time to learn a little about geography,” the velocirapter said. “Why on earth would there be a prairie right next to a desert like this?”
“You’re from Speculative Fiction,” the cowboy pointed out. “They get a lot weirder stuff than that in there.”

“Yes, but there’s a reason for it in SpecFic. That’s the whole point. Even if you’ve got a world where light works differently than it does in the Real World, the writer is using it to make a point about science or possibly to create a metaphor for the problems of society. This…this is just lazy writing.”

The cowboy grunted.

Ahead of them the vampire fled into the farmhouse.

“And you were worried he wouldn’t take the bait,” the velocirapter said. “Typical.”
“Hey, I just don’t want to screw this up okay? I’m not really itching to go back to Grammasite detail any time soon.”

They approached the farmhouse, careful to stay out of the line of site of the front windows. The cowboy dismounted and drew his revolver. The raptor clicked his teeth together and an electric whine emanated from the lasers mounted on his collar. The two nodded briefly at each other and then charged into the room, weapons at the ready.

They found the vampire, leaning against the far wall, examining his fingernails by the light of an oil lamp that burned on the table. “I thought you’d never get here,” he said casually.

“Abraham Holmwood. You’re under arrest, by the authority of Jurisfiction for the crimes of impersonating a A-grade character, collusion to polute the general quality of fiction, and the attempted murder of the A-grade character, Dale Chase.”

The fugitive vampire raised an eyebrow and smiled. “Sorry to burst your bubble, but Dale went into the water. He didn’t come out. And unless he learned to breath underwater very quickly, I expect you’re going to have to drop the “attempted” from those charges.”

“You seem awfully calm for a man who could be facing textual disintigration,” the velociraptor said.

“Don’t panic,” replied the vampire. “That’s my motto.”

“Actually, that’s the motto of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy,” the raptor replied. “You’ve got nothing of your own Abe. Everything borrowed or stolen. You face, your mannerisms, even your name. Did you think you were being clever? A character in a vampire story calling himself Abraham? Professor Van Helsing would not approve.”

“We covered that,” the vampire replied angrily, his cool demeanor cracking for the first time. “We made sure the dialogue-”

“Oh, yes that line about how your parents knew Bram Stoker?” the raptor replied. “Not to mention the worn-out idea that somehow Dracula was a nonfiction account of Real World events? Suspension of disbelief only goes so far, Abe. Even in a story about vampires feeding on the survivors of the Titanic.”

“Hey, you wanna give it a rest?” the cowboy said. “We’re here to bring him in, not pick apart his mistakes.”

“No I do not want to ‘give it a rest’,” the raptor replied, the tone from his voice box growing more angry. “His actions weren’t just criminal, they were offensive. The very idea that readers would overlook his odious manner, his superficial charm, the unbelievable way in which his friends continued to trust him even after he had proven himself to be nothing more than a selfish lout time and time again-”

“They didn’t know how good they had it,” Abe interjected. “I’m better off without them.”

The cowboy shrugged. “Apparently they felt the same way about you. Quin and Lucy gave themselves up, made a plea deal, turned loads of evidence on you. I hear that with good behavior they’ll be back on the pages in six months. Maybe if you don’t make this any harder we can make this go easy for you too.”

“NEVER!” the vampire screamed. His form started to shimmer and then he vanished into a grey mist. The cowboy and the raptor watched stoically as the mist settled to the ground and tried to seep down through the cracks in the floorboards to no avail. It wafted up to the window and then to the door, each time finding not even the smallest crack through which to escape. Abe re-materialized and screamed, “What did you DO?”
The cowboy reached into his back pocket and pulled out a caulk gun. “On loan from Do-It-Yourself Nonfiction,” he said grinning.

Abe lunged at the cowboy, but the buck and roar of the ranch hand’s revolver sent the vampire sprawling back against the wall.

“Is that the best you can do?” the vampire spat, climbing to his feet. “Don’t you know you can’t kill me with that thing?”

“Yes,” replied the velociraptor, “But if I recall either sunlight or wooden stakes should do the trick, yes?”

“The sun isn’t due to rise on this world for three hundred years,” Abe said mockingly. “And neither of you seem to be carrying stakes.”

“No,” said the raptor. “Neither of us is. However I believe Mr. Chase was carrying a few.”

The vampire’s already-pale face went whiter still. “He’s dead,” he said. “Dragged down by one of the vampires during the attack. I made sure of it.”

But behind him the door creaked open revealing a huge hulking black man, with sweat glistening on his muscles and a wooden stake in his hand.

“Technically of course you are correct,” the raptor explained as the A-grade character advanced on the cowering vampire. “However someone in the story caught wind of your plot and warned us. It gave us enough time to request the assistance of the remarkable Captain Nemo and his underwater boat. We managed to pick Mr. Chase up without anyone noticing.”

“No,” the vampire pleaded. “Its not fair. I beat you. I WON.”

Dale Chase snarled and brought the stake down hard into Abe’s chest. For a moment a look of pure terror crossed the vampire’s face. Then he dissolved, face and all, into a pile of dust.

For a long moment they were all silent. Finally Dale Chase asked, “What happens now?”

“We’ll have to patch things up as best we can,” the raptor said. “Unfortunately the damage done to Carpathia is fairly expansive. It might collapse the framework of the book if we tried to restore it to the way is was before.”

Chase kicked at the pile of dust, sending it billowing along the ground like a cloud. “So in the end he got what he wanted.”

“His character has been replaced ovbviously,” the raptor explained. “Hopefully we can get someone to do more justice to it than he did.”

“But I’m out,” Chase said.

“There’s plenty of other stories in the world,” the cowboy said, opening the door. “Who knows? Maybe you could do something with this one.” He gestured to the world around them with its strange geography and hulking moon.

“And if you’re looking for a change,” the raptor added, “We’d love to have you in Jurisfiction.”

One by one the characters vanished out of the story world and into the Great Library. And under a goliath moon, the passing wind picked up the pile of grey dust and swept it out into the desert sands.

[So…yeah. Here’s the deal. I don’t like to say negative things on my blog. I know negative reviews are big on the internet, but I generally don’t like bashing other people’s stuff. As an author I know how much it can hurt to have someone say they didn’t like your work, so I try hard not to be the kind of guy that just rails about how much he hates stuff. I’m not against saying something negative, but if I do I want to be able to contrast with something positive, or at the very least I want to say the negative things I have to say in a positive way.

That being said, I didn’t like this book. At all. I could have just left it at that and went on my merry way without saying anything, but the thing was I wanted to like this book. The concept seemed like it was right up my alley, the kind of book I almost certainly would review. So I came up with this compromise. I’ve been wanting to write some Thursday Next fanfiction for some time now, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to air my grievances with this book (specifically that the Abe character was obnoxious and that the most awesome character in the book, Dale Chase, got killed off in a single chapter) in a creative and at least somewhat positive manner. If you’re not familiar with Fforde’s Thursday Next series, some of this might seem a little confusing, but I hope I’ve given enough basic information to give you an idea of how the Bookworld world is supposed to operate, and if what you’ve read here piques your interest even a little I highly recommend you check out the Thursday Next series for yourself.

In closing, if you’re Matt Forbeck and you’re reading this, no hard feelings man. Chuck Wendig respects you, which tells me you’re doing quite a number of somethings right, but Carpathia just wasn’t for me.]

Falling Through the Cracks

[What you are about to read it not a great story. It’s not even the best story I wrote this week (if I am any judge of such things, and I am not certain that I am.) So why am I sharing it here today? Well, it’s like this: I like this story. It might not be the best story I wrote this week, but it was for sure the most fun. And I can only hope that if it was fun for me to write then maybe it’ll be fun for you to read.]

“Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” That’s what they say. But I stepped all of them and mother lived to a ripe old age with nothing more than the occasional backache.

Not that I wanted anything to happen to her mind you. But I had to step on the cracks. Because I didn’t want to fall through.

I don’t know how the crack thing worked exactly. Lines worked well too, parking lot lines, different colored tiles in the grocery store…all of them worked fine. Sometimes though if there were lots and lots of little cracks I would feel the ground start to get mushy under my feet, so I suppose it might have been variation that was necessary to keep me planted firmly on the ground.

I was careful my whole life, and I only fell through once. But once was enough, let me tell you.

I was about ten years old walking in the parking lot behind my mother taking big steps between the lines that they paint so the cars will know where to park when it happened. Mother was crossing the aisle, and she called me to stop messing around and hurry up and help her load the groceries. I could tell she was mad, so I didn’t waste any time even though I knew I had just stepped off of the yellow line and there were no cracks in the asphalt so running across the aisle was going to be dangerous. I knew this you see, like you know how to balance. It wasn’t something someone had ever taught me. It was just there, part of me.

I made it almost all the way across before I slipped. I can’t describe to you how horrible it is to put your foot down on what should be solid ground and finding nothing there. There was a moment when the ground was coming up at me far too fast and then I was through it and…beyond somewhere.

There wasn’t any pain, I was past that now, but there was a sense of fear, at the sudden change in scenery. I tried to get my bearings.

Somewhere above me the ground was pale and translucent like a ghost, and up beyond the asphalt my mother, groceries scattered around her, bending over…me. My body at least. I don’t have to tell you what a shock that was. But then I looked down and saw where I had landed. The ground beneath my feet was uneven, but firm enough, and as I got to my feet I understood that this was the true ground, the one you could walk on forever and not have to worry about falling through. There wasn’t much light, but somehow I could see a great way off. And what I saw was a robot riding a spider.

Oh, that’s the problem you have with this story? You can believe I fell through solid concrete, but robots and spiders are too much? Well I can only tell what I saw. I came riding up to me at a terrific pace, and he seemed very agitated. “You’re early,” the robot said, “Far far too early.”

“I tried not to fall through,” I told him.

“Oh for goodness sake we’re not ready. Please don’t have them deactivate me.”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t want to do anything to you. I just want to go back to my mother. She seems dreadfully worried about me.”

The robot look up, and then back down at me. “Yes,” he said thoughtfully, “Yes, that might be an idea after all. Follow me.”

He took me by the hand and drew me up onto the giant spider, and made a clicking noise. The spider took off over the uneven ground in the direction of the grocery store. Underneath there I could see all kinds of interesting things, like pipes and wire that had been run under the concrete and the places under the shelves where canned goods had fallen and spoiled swelling up with gas. But up ahead toward the back of the store I saw something down on our level, a flight of stairs that wound up and around into the men’s bathroom.

“These stairs will take you up to the overworld,” the robot said. “But do be careful not to fall down again. Otherwise things might be a bit messy.”

I promised I would, dismounted the spider and climbed the stair.

I walked through the store, being careful to step on every crack I could find. It was the strangest thing though, because none of the shoppers could see me, and one woman pushed her buggy straight through my body, and that felt very strange indeed. Once I was out in the parking lot though it was easy to reach my mother. There were others gathered around her by then, but I just stepped through them, and went back into my body, don’t ask me how, I just knew somehow.

That was when everything went back to normal. Mother said she was certain I had died, and I’m not so sure she was wrong. But I remembered what the robot said, and I’ve been careful to step on every crack I come to, so as not to disturb the underworld before my time. But sometimes…sometimes I want to see more of that place.Sometimes I wonder what it will be like when I finally slip, and fall to rise no more.

They Say

People always lie.

They say, “There is a purpose to everything.”

They say, “It’s going to be alright.”

They say, “I love you.”

They say, “I know you’ll do the right thing.”

They say, “It doesn’t have to be this way.”

They say, “Let me go and I promise I won’t tell anyone.”

They say, “Just kill me now and get it over with.”

But they don’t really mean it.

She Said No

She said no.

She said no, and I wasn’t ready for it. I just sat there in the middle of that crowded restaurant with my food cooling on my plate and my mouth open like an idiot.

It hadn’t entered my mind that there could be a negative response to my question. The “no” only existed as a hypothetical, nothing more than a diversion to toy with in the mind. It should have been yes. It had to be yes.

She looked at me with concern in her eyes. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry?” The words tumbled out of my mouth like marbles falling from my numb lips.

“Its not…I shouldn’t have said it like that.”

This was all wrong. My mind was still reeling. She was apologizing. She was apologizing.

“I guess…I should have told you sooner. But I just…well to be honest I was afraid this would happen.”

“Is there anything I can do?” The words sounded stupid even as I was saying them, but I had to say something.

“No. I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry? You’re sorry?” The words came out louder than I had intended and I noticed several of the patrons looking at us strangely.

She reached across and put her arm on my shoulder. “It’s going to be okay,” she said. “You’ll get through this.”

But my eyes filled up with tears, and I shook my head. “This…this can’t be happening.”

“It is.”

“But it shouldn’t.”

“Maybe it should. Maybe it was meant to be.” And she put her arms around me and held me as I cried.

It’s been a long time since the day she said no. I was wrong, and she was right. I did get through it. But it wasn’t easy. Inside I fought it every step of the way. But it didn’t matter.

Because by the time that she took me to dinner than night and told me that she had cancer; by the time I asked her if she was going to make it; by the time she said no…it was already too late.

[I wrote this story because a coworker I haven’t seen in a while stopped by work today. She told me she hadn’t been at work recently because she had been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy. I asked her if she would be okay, and she said yes. But afterwords I thought to myself, What would I have done if she had said no? That question was the seed that grew this story.]