Image Flash #33

Image Flash #33

5 minYou may notice that this particular Image Flash is a couple days late. Well, that’s on purpose! This one is being released on Valentine’s Day and is about as close to romance as my writing gets these days.


Sister (patient) Valerie was in love.

It wasn’t (was) common for members of the Holy Tabernacle (Warren Asylum) to seek out romantic relationships. They were supposed to be focused on their spiritual selves (mental problems) and not the physical world. It was something Sister (patient) Valerie tried to do, but found herself constantly struggling with. Ever since the visits (shifts) from Hector, acolyte to Elder Antolo (server for lunch meal), had started, she found it impossible to focus. Her mind was filled with nothing but thoughts of them being together, his hands on her body, their flesh intertwined.

She managed to sneak from her prayers (room) one day, intent on declaring her love for him. There was no make-up at the Holy Tabernacle (Warren Asylum), but she did the best she could by letting her hair down, pinching her cheeks, and rubbing a ripe strawberry (bloody cut) on her lips. Her heart fluttered as she approached him that first time.

“I’ve been watching (stalking) you and have something to tell you. I think I love you. I would leave (escape) this place for a chance to share your life (suffering).” She said.

He smiled (frowned). He moved closer (away). He spoke (shouted). “Forever! (Security!)”

While this behavior was scandalous (common) for a Sister (patient), there was precedent (were consequences). The other sisters (asylum doctors) doubled her duties (meds). Despite this, Valerie discovered that it was possible to abandon (escape) the Holy Tabernacle (Warren Asylum). Once a year, on Saint Embers (spring cleaning) Day, any Sister (patient) wishing to leave had only to perform (execute) the right rituals (plan) and she could be free to choose her own path.

Sister (patient) Valerie made her choice. She knew that, though she would be leaving, she was following the will of her Sacred God (demented heart).

As the departure ritual (escape plan) dictated, she put on her best dress and covered her head in a crown of flowers (cage of iron). With the help (corpse) of one of the others (orderlies), she washed her arms in rose water (fresh blood). She took the wine decanter (stolen keys) and went down the hallway to the High Mother’s quarters (Head Directors office). She was sad (surprised) to see her go (there). They drank (fought) and Valerie hugged (choked) her. She took her time, keeping her arms wrapped around her, prolonging the goodbye (murder).

The rest of the day went easier. She went to the chapel (kitchen) and prayed for peace (turned the burners). She lit a candle. She took a blessing amulet (fire axe) from the church altar (emergency stairwell) and showed (used) it to (on) everyone as she made (carved) her way to the exit.

Outside, the wind smelled like summer sap (burning bodies) and freedom (death).

She felt happy and confident.

She set out to find her love.


 

Image Flash #31

Image Flash #31

5 minI’ve always enjoyed a good cemetery. Doesn’t matter if it’s well groomed or overrun with weeds. I’ve never found them frightening in the slightest. Even on those rare midnight trips to the supposedly haunted variety.

Of course, my personal lack of fear aside, that doesn’t stop me from writing creepy little scenes set in a graveyard!


Terrell Collins unzipped his jacket and let the mid-afternoon breeze flow across him. It flapped, like a tiny cape, at his back. He knew that the unseasonable warmth the wind carried was probably a bad thing, so far into October, but for now he relished the balmy air in his face. It felt good.

“That there, that’s the worst part.” Said Mr.Gregors, pointing to a small, steep divot in the hillside. “I’ve almost tipped the mower there more than once. Not something you’d want to do; roll ass over ears down a hill with the mower blades, now is it?”

Terrell agreed. “No, sir.”

“We’d need five graves for you after that.” He held up his hands, about a foot apart. “Tiny ones. If you get my meaning.” He chuckled.

“I do, sir. Messy.”

“That’s one thing we don’t do around here; messy. You’ve been to other cemeteries?”

“Sure, of course.”

“Then you see the difference?”

Terrell looked around, scanning the landscape. He could see it. The grounds looked a lot more like a botanical garden than an actual graveyard. The lawn was lush and uniform, the bushes were sculpted and groomed, and the trees were the picture of perfect health. There were no old flowers on the graves, or new ones for that matter. The stones themselves were clean, moss-free, and lacking the usual signs of age. It was beautiful and immaculate.

“Sure, I see it. You keep things up really nice here.”

Mr.Gregors looked at Terrell quizzically. “Did they tell you why?”

“I assume they can charge more.”

The old man snorted and continued walking down the paved trail, leading the tour. “Wrong. Cemetery’s closed to new residents. No more room.”

Terrell knew that was the case for a lot of cemeteries. Eventually, they filled up and, unless they expanded, they just got older and older. The kin folk passed on, less family came to visit, and eventually, it was only strangers who came to see the graves. Maybe an odd descendant here and there, but mostly not. Those above were no longer visiting those below out of love, or loss, or longing, but out of a morbid connection to death, or perhaps the past.

Personally, he was relieved. It meant the job wouldn’t have him digging holes, working a back-hoe, and dealing with burials. Funeral arrangements, scheduling, and all that seemed like a pain in the ass to him. Mowing lawns and trimming trees was going to be a hell of a lot easier.

“So, why is it so neat?”

Mr. Gregors turned off the trail and cut across the grass, headed for a row of tall, trimmed, bushes toward the back of the lot. “They vetted you pretty thorough for this job, didn’t they? I bet you assumed that was because you’d be working with dead bodies. Extra careful on account of the valuables they’re buried with. Jewelry and stuff. That it was normal?”

“I figured, yeah.”

“But nobody’s been put into the ground here for forty years. Still make sense to you?”

Terrell had a sinking suspicion that he knew where the old guy was going with this.

“Didn’t you think it was weird, considering what they’d be looking at, that your background check didn’t give you any shit?”

He knew. He had to know or he wouldn’t be talking like this. “I’m just looking to start a future, Mr.Gregors. I guess I was feeling hopeful that whoever let me get this close to the job understood that.”

The man stopped and turned to look at Terrell. “Huh. You’re looking for your future in a graveyard. Interesting.”

Terrell felt his opportunity slipping. “I can do this. I really think I’m the right man for this job. I’m good at keeping up a lawn. This is the same, just bigger.”

“Oh, it’s not exactly the same.”

“Close enough.”

Mr.Gregors looked at him for a while, then turned and kept going in the direction of the hedge. They passed it and hung a left. There was a row of trees, symmetrically placed, graves between them. They followed the hedge and took another left, and another. Terrell expected to be coming back around to where they’d started, but was surprised to find that they were, in fact, in a small, secluded field, ringed in by the decorative trellises and vines. The wind blew through these gently and the sound of the sticks rubbing together made a quiet, grating sound. Without the right sequence of turns, he would have walked past this area and never known it existed. Like a secret room in a house, the landscape had been tailored to obscure this section of the plots.

“That’s a neat trick.” Said Terrell.

“You understand the scenery now?” Asked Mr.Gregors.

Terrell nodded. “Oh yeah. It’s cover and distraction. Nobody’d ever stumble on this by accident.”

He walked over to the gravestones, so white and stark against the vibrant fall colors. They were all blank; no names or dates. Nothing.

“I buried every single person in this cemetery. Did you know that?”

Terrell ran his fingertips along one of the stones. “No. That’s quite an accomplishment. Being the gatekeeper to all that death.”

“Death?” Asked Mr.Gregors.

The wind, so warm and comforting, dropped, and the October chill returned. Terrell realized that the scratching sound, the noise he’d thought was coming from the breeze and branches in the trellis, hadn’t stopped.

“Who said anything about them being dead?”


 

Image Flash #27

Image Flash #27

It’s summertime and I was really wishing I lived somewhere near where I could do some snorkeling.
5 min

 


 

“What time did he go out?” Asked Brian.

“He was due back for lunch.”

It was nearly two. The look of concern on Shauna’s face was justified.

“Do you know where he was headed?” She nodded, crossed the cabin, and pulled out a map of the shoals.

“He’d been moving in a grid pattern, like you suggested. Today he was supposed to search this area.” She poked the map with her finger. Brian looked.

“Yeah, that’s too shallow for us. He took the zodiac?”

She nodded. Brian didn’t really have a choice. If Burns was missing, they had to find him. Quickly. “We’ll move as close as we can, suit up, and then Marcos and I will paddle in on one of the smaller rafts. From there we’ll look around.”

It was all they could do and Shauna knew it. Brian went up top and gave the directions to move the ship. By the time they’d dressed in their wetsuits, inflated the bright yellow raft, and found paddles they’d arrived. They took a flare gun, box of flares, and an emergency tool kit.

“I’m sure it’s just a mechanical issue with the outboard. We’ll have him back in no time.” Brian told Shauna.

But he also brought the trauma kit.

The entire bay was massive and shallow. They could see the coast in the distance, much further than they’d normally have to weigh anchor. The lagoon looked like normal water but the bottom was a series of sand bar ridges held in place by sea-grass. It was a maze that varied from being knee deep to over forty feet deep in some places. It had claimed many ships in the past. It was exactly why they were out there, hunting wrecks. They wouldn’t make the same mistake.

The wind was at their back and helped move them quickly. Marcos spotted the zodiac first. It bobbed, unmanned, on it’s short anchor rope. Brian strapped a bungee between the two and Marcos boarded the empty vessel. He gave a quick look at the engine and shrugged.

“Looks fine.”

Brian pulled on his mask and adjusted it. “You stay here, in case he comes back. He probably lost track of time. Maybe found something. I’ll go down and have a look about.”

Marcos nodded and Brian rolled overboard into the water.

The first moments were always stunning. What looked like rolling hills of grass spread out beneath him, blowing in the current. He felt a little like he was flying. Everything pulsed with the rhythm of the waves. He felt the hairs on the back of his hands moving with the same languid motions as the grass below. He was instantly a part of it. Something else.

He didn’t let it distract him. He kicked out with his flippers, looking for Burns. The man was an excellent diver; athletic, Jamaican born, and he’d been raised on the water. Brian really wasn’t ready to entertain the possibility he was in trouble. Not without any clear sign of it. The lagoon was calm, the sky was clear, and the local black tip sharks weren’t known to be a problem.

He decided to follow the path of least resistance. Burns hadn’t been to this area before. That meant he’d likely keep to the deepest channels first, looking for water with enough depth to conceal a wreck. After that he’d expand out. So Brian did the same.

He kept his breathing paced and paired it with his kicking. Slow and steady, he moved along with his arms at his sides. He kept tipping his head up to look for other snorkelers on the surface, but it was unnatural feeling. It was better to lead with the top of his head and scan the bottom with his eyes. It was morbid, but if there was a problem, that’s where he should be looking.

He rounded a curve in the bank and saw a flicker of light beneath him. At first he thought it might be a reflection, but he realized it was a small part of something larger. A long, flat, concrete structure was built into the ground. It was covered with algae, green, and there was a single spot where it had been wiped away. Light came from out of it and he realized he was looking down at a window. He took a deep breath and dove down to get a closer look.

It had been wiped away by a hand, recently. He peered in. It was a leaky room, with puddles on the cement floor. Light bulbs were strung along the ceiling and most of them were blown. There were enough windows that, even with the algae turning the entire room green, that the interior could be seen.

There were banks of old cabinet sized computer machines with over-sized spools. What looked like a trio of operating tables, trays, and instruments. There was various other crap littered around.

He could also make out, faintly, a pair of wet footprints crossing the room.

So Burns had discovered something after all! And he’d found his way inside it. He was immediately relieved that his friend wasn’t dead. As intriguing as the strange room was, his lungs were beginning to spasm. He needed to go up for another breath of air.

He was about to push off to the surface when he saw the second trail; long and black streaked, like someone dragging an oil soaked mop.

Whatever had made them were fresher than Burns’ tracks; following him.

Image Flash #25

Image Flash #25

This was an image I’ve had for a long time and really wanted to use for an Image Flash but, no matter how long I looked at it, I couldn’t decide what to do. After a while I came to feel that the line of the cut was the most solid thing in the image. It was there, like a solid, tangible, impossible thing. The rest was just picking a genre and rolling with that idea.
5 min


“Did you know that the sun is four hundred times the size of the moon? But, because the sun is four hundred times as far away, they appear the same size. Do you know what the odds of that are? Being so exactly proportioned and distanced so that two things that are massively different appear to be relatively the same?”

She swirled the straw in her soda and shrugged. “Nope.”

If he noticed she was uninterested it didn’t deter him. Michael continued. “It’s virtually zero. Just like the odds of life even happening at all. There’s just too much coincidence. Too much improbability. There’s got to be something to it. This all can’t be just chance.”

Oh shit, she thought. He’s religious. “You mean God.”

He shook his head vehemently. “No, no. Absolutely not. Religion is simple misapplications of pattern recognition without the full picture. I’m talking about seeing it all, the whole pattern, and then understanding what’s behind it. Understanding it enough to utilize it.”

“Utilize the size of the moon?”

“Kinda. No, not exactly. It’s hard to explain. It’s like this…” He grabbed her silverware and spread it out; knife fork and spoon into a triangle. Then he did the same to his own.

“Okay, these two triangles are the universe. They’re in balance. The odds of that happening if I’d just tossed that silverware onto the table is impossible. Couldn’t happen. But here it is, in balance, and we know it because we see it. There is something at play here. Now, what happens when I do this?” He plucked out  coffee creamer from the dish and put it inside the left triangle.

“Imbalance?”

“Kind of. It either means that somehow, another creamer is going to show up in that triangle, or else somewhere, there’s another set of triangles, one with a creamer, that we don’t see . A bigger pattern.”

“But there’s no other creamer. I don’t get it.”

“Right, not now.  But if there’s some sort of larger symmetry at play then what goes where isn’t accidental. There’s something intentional behind it. Understanding that, would allow you to move something, in such a way, that you could control the outcome, because you knew how things were going to balance out.”

Sara liked weird guys. Weird ideas were fun. A lot less dull than normal guys. But this was pushing it. “So, if not God, what? Aliens?”

He scoffed. “No, that’s absurd. If aliens exist they’d be bound by the same rules. It’s just something else. Like God, but not. It’s what’s behind all this; the universe, our world, us.”

“But you don’t know what?”

“No.” He leaned back in the booth and smiled. “But I know where.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”

“You up for a little road trip? Out to the woods?” He certainly was more interesting than the last date she’d been on. If it was a pick up line, it certainly was creative.

“You’re not going to rape me and leave me in a ditch somewhere are you?” She asked.

He put his hand up. “Scouts honor. I’ve just got an idea and wouldn’t mind some company. It’s not too far off the beaten path.”

“Fine. I’m game.”

He paid the bill. She noticed that he arranged the coins for the tip into a snowflake pattern before they left.

_____________________

Michael took his shirt off as soon as they were out of sight of the car and headed down the trail. It surprised her some, but it was warm enough out (despite being early fall) that it didn’t seem too strange. He tucked it into his jeans muttering something about not wanting to get all sweaty.

He was attractive and she realized that she wouldn’t be tolerating such behavior from a less handsome man. The thought made her a little nervous, but she had her cell phone and had just texted a friend where she was headed on the ride over. She let Michael know it too. He didn’t seem like he was up to no good, and she was far too free spirited to say no to adventure, but she was taking at least a couple precautions.

He walked ahead of her, leading the way through the woods. The wind in the trees, with the hum of insects and infrequent bird, was relaxing. It was all very pretty. Tall straight trunks of dark wood rising up to the sky. Their leaves hadn’t started turning yet, but some of the ground plants had. It was like walking in a color scale picture going from orange to green to blue; ground to trees to sky.

Michael stopped dead.

“It’s here.”

The spot didn’t look any different than anywhere else. “What’s here?”

“Like I said, I don’t know. But it does things to people.”

He didn’t turn to face her has he spoke and his voice had taken on a reverential tone.

“What sort of things?” She asked.

“Amazing things.”

A gash appeared across Michael’s back and along into the tree next to him. It was flat, geometric, and appeared without warning. It trickled blood.

“What the…”

She felt a searing pain across her chest and a red line appeared in her flesh. It extended into the tree to her right, some half dozen feet away.

“Ah! Fuck!”

There was another pain, cutting across the back of her knees, hobbling her. She fell to the ground. At her side, a long horizontal line appeared in a log. She was bleeding badly and when she tried to get up, it stung like crazy and she fell over.

“Michael! Help me!”

He turned and she saw his front for the first time. It was covered with a lattice of perfectly layered scars on his chest. He smiled.

“I don’t know why, but whatever it is, it seems to like women more.”

A Burial For Zeus

A Burial For Zeus

This is a story I wrote ages ago and read in front of an audience at the 2007 World Horror Convention in Toronto. Little did I know my future wife was in the room. Thankfully, she liked both it and me and we’ve been together ever since!

 

It has a lot of flaws and could stand a major edit but, instead, it’s going to remain here, as it is (errors and all) for sentimental reasons.

 

After all, it wasn’t a perfectly edited story about a dead dog that won her heart;

 

It was this one.

15 min


Emmet Webber knew Zeus was dead the moment he woke up. For fifteen years the great brown eyed beast had always been the first thing he saw in the morning. No matter what time he rose the dog somehow knew and was there before him. But not today. The old man didn’t move for a long time. He just kept in bed, eyes focused on the closet, peering through an empty space where his only companion should have been. When the moist beginnings of tears threatened he threw off the blanket and swung his feet to the hardwood. He didn’t call out; he knew for sure that it would do no good.

The body was lying on the kitchen floor, facing last night’s unwashed dishes, and looking more asleep than dead. Emmet stopped in the doorframe and leaned on it tiredly, boney shoulders slumped. “Aw hell, Zeusy. Why’d you have to go and do that?” He couldn’t see the dog’s face from where he was standing, and for that he was glad. Turning away he left the great hairy lump exactly where it was without going over to touch or pet it.

To say that Emmet was the only man to care about Zeus was an understatement. Most towns have a house with a known mean dog and Zeus had worn that badge proudly, to near legendary status. There wasn’t a person who lived on Carlson Way that didn’t know about the “rottweiler up the street”. For nearly a dozen years the dog had menaced passers with thunderous bellows and bared fangs. There was no fence in Emmet’s yard and no chain on Zeus, but the dog never so much as leaned out into the sidewalk. As if bound by an invisible leash held only by old man Emmet, the hulking dog would pace the edge of the property hungrily, kept at bay only by love for a master who had almost as much malice as he did. Zeus would sit at Emmet’s feet on the porch, quietly waiting, until someone came walking along the sidewalk and then Emmet would mutter.

“Spook em’ boy. Spook em good.” The dog would launch from his prone position, slathering fangs and terrifying barking, headed straight for the unlucky passer-by, only to stop inches from the sidewalk, growling and snarling. In the ten years they’d done this trick Emmet couldn’t recall a time when the victim hadn’t fled in terror. His favorite was mothers with strollers. He would stand on his porch laughing to himself and shout at their fleeing backsides.

“Aww, don’t mind him! He’s just a big puppy inside, wouldn’t hurt a fly!” It never consoled anyone because it was more than clear that he would hurt much more than a fly given the opportunity.

He showered, shaved, and dressed before he reentered the kitchen. Carefully stepping around Zeus he made a pot of coffee. Sitting at the table, sipping the hot beverage, he finally had a view of the dog’s face, glassy eyes open, tongue lolling onto linoleum. The drink steamed slowly.

“So what are we gonna do with you now?” His voice perked no ears as it once had. Emmet didn’t really expect an answer. He knew what had to be done; Zeus needed to be buried. He just wasn’t sure how to go about doing it. The rottweiler weighed almost two hundred pounds and needed to be put into a hole no less than three feet deep and almost five long. He looked at the liver spots on his hand as he raised his cup and, as he’d done a million times, cursed his age and the flesh it had trapped him in. He’d been strong, once, before the years had whittled him into a taught and bony skeleton, burdened with aches, arthritis, and anger. In his mind he wanted to simply go lift the dog and carry it to the back yard, dig a hole, and fill it in. Maybe even lug a big old rock over to mark the spot. Not today. Those robust days were long gone. Today he’d need the wheelbarrow and a hell of a lot of aspirin.

The only thing that everyone knew Zeus killed for sure was Mr.Pinkle, the schnauzer. Owned by Barb Fossey the peppery little purebred had pulled free of his leash and decided that Zeus looked like a fun playmate. It goes without saying that Mr.Pinkle wasn’t very smart. Barb screamed and screamed as Zeus messily decapitated the smaller dog and actually ate most of him in front of her. It didn’t help that Emmet was right there on the sidewalk the whole time, yelling and shouting at the hysterical woman for letting her mutt onto his property, doing nothing to stop the horrible feast, and blaming her for the whole incident even as the blood trickled in rivulets down his driveway to the rain gutter. Well, after that the police came back and no amount of good behavior on Zeus’ part could dissuade them. Mrs.Fossey sued and won and the judge passed that Zeus had to be put to sleep. When the day came Emmet was surprisingly complicit, handing over the dog without any struggle. That afternoon they injected the dog and it died. Not so coincidentally, across town Lupe Santos was hanging signs on telephone poles for his lost rottweiler, Mucha, and was offering a one hundred dollar reward to anyone who could return her to him. Two weeks later and Emmet had another full grown dog. When asked he claimed it wasn’t Zeus, he said that it was a new dog he’d picked it up from a pet rescue already house broken and trained. But the dog sat in the same spot Zeus always had and there was little doubt in everyone’s mind that the man had managed to keep his pet alive through some form of trickery. Lupe Santos eventually got a pit bull puppy.

It was almost noon by the time Emmet finally got Zeus to the spot in the back yard where he wanted to put him to rest. There was a crabapple tree in the back that he used to sit under, lazing with the strong smell of the fallen apples and the bee’s they attracted. Zeusy had loved snapping at the insects as they droned along two inches from the ground hunting out the rotten little fruits. If they ever stung his mouth he had never seemed to mind. It was too early in the year yet for bees and green apples though and Emmet was glad. Spring ground was mercifully wet and soft. Getting the wheelbarrow up the steps into the house, working the dog into it, and the trip down and across the damp lawn had left Emmet sweating and shaking. But the ordeal had just begun, now it was time for digging.

Stories abounded about the dog. Over poker night at Mike Palmisano’s house they wondered what Emmet Webber was hiding in his basement, and how much he was worth. They figured there had to be something mighty valuable considering he had such a ferocious guard dog. Terrel Jones thought the same thing, but he didn’t talk about it anymore. A half decade back, in high school he’d had a friend named Jake Gallow who devised a plan to feed the dog a drugged up steak and rob the place. Terrel had been too chicken-shit to go along and never really knew if Jake had seen it through or not. All he knew is that his friend disappeared the summer before senior year leaving Terrel with a great deal of doubt and years of speculative nightmares.

Jake wasn’t the only person the dog was rumored to have eaten. Katie Garrifo was an eleven year old tomboy who vanished from Carlson Way in the early nineties. The rumor in Clearmont Elementary School was that Katie was hanging out with the big kids; Jr.Highers. They’d dared her to run to the house, touch it, and come back, but the dog had caught her and dragged her inside to his deranged master. Of course, there were never any Jr.Highers who came foreword to confirm this, and by the time the police heard the kids’ rumor and came knocking on Mr.Webber’s door, weeks had passed. They searched the house and found nothing unusual. Zeus was well mannered and obedient letting the cops scratch behind his ears and giving them all a tongue filled dog smile. A couple of the boys in blue complimented Emmet on his new shed. Said it was excellent work for a guy his age to do himself, what with the concrete foundation and all. The police left, but the rumor hung around.

The ground gave easily and the first shovel strokes lifted the grass off the dark earth. Emmet set them aside because he knew he’d want to lay them back on the mound to keep the lawn green. Nobody liked a patchy lawn. Four shovel strokes in and he hit something tough. Figuring it to be a root he shifted his digging a little to the side. The scoops were small, all he could really manage. Again, there was some sort of obstacle. He got down on all fours and took a hand trowel to it, looking to loosen up the dirt and see where the root was. He’d counted on it, because of the tree, and had brought hedge trimmers for just this thing. The trowel scraped it clear and he jerked his hand back in surprise. It was no root, but grimy grey bone. He glanced at the shed and nervously wiped sweat from his brow. It couldn’t be. Looking intently into the fresh hole he saw grey fur mixed in with the dirt. Relieved, he scraped a little more with the trowel to reveal the twisted outline of an animal corpse. It was just a dead rabbit. He looked over to Zeus’ body.

“You burying stuff out here boy?” he smiled wide. “I guess that’s what dogs do.” He stood and moved over a couple feet, starting a new hole. Couldn’t very well bury ol’ Zeus in the same spot he’d put his prize now could he? It wouldn’t do to bury the hunter with the quarry. Zeus deserved his own resting place.

The next thing he found was the body of a cat. Some long haired once white cat, possibly Persian, smeared with mud and rot, looking out of the second fresh hole from an eyeless face that still had whiskers. He pushed the dirt back in and looked to his dog. “You sure been busy…” He frowned now, upset at not only having to start a third grave, but at the strange surprise that he hadn’t known about this. He knew Zeus killed thing when he could, hell, he encouraged it. But in all the years he’d had him he’d never seen him do any digging. He wasn’t sure what bothered him more, the animals or the idea that his dog had somehow been doing something behind his back. It was getting into the afternoon and, while he’d expected this would take all day he hadn’t counted on having to dig hole after hole because his lawn was already too full of dead critters to lay his own to rest. Sighing, he started again.

The third hole turned over a wing and feathers. The fourth might have been another cat or maybe a fox, he didn’t bother digging far enough to see. The very first scoop of the fifth try contained a squirrel’s head. Emmet winced as the small decapitated thing rolled out of the dirt clod onto the new spring grass. “What the hell!?” he shouted, throwing the shovel to the ground. It didn’t take much to get Emmet’s temper going, and this did the trick. He put his hands on his hips and glared at the dog. He stood there, fuming in annoyance surrounded by nearly a half dozen tears in his lawn. The unavoidable sensation that he was standing on a field of the dead crept up his legs and settled in the base of his neck. No part of him wanted to pick up the shovel and continue for fear of what he might find. On the surface it looked normal enough, but he’d scratched through that and knew better. There wasn’t any doubt in his mind; wherever he dug, something would be waiting for him. He couldn’t bury Zeus here. He’d have to find another way, another place. His friend deserved that. His hands absently twitched at the memory that assaulted his fingertips as he scratched the dog’s head in his mind. A sad gaze went to his departed pet.

Zeus’ body twitched.

Emmet was looking straight into his milky eyes, and knew there was no way Zeusy should be able to move. But he had. He’d shifted a little, despite the impossibility of it. In fact, he did it again. His flank lifted and fell. It looked very much like someone has prodded him with an invisible stick. Emmet furrowed his brow and gently stepped over to pick up the shovel again. Approaching cautiously he did his own poking. As the metal lip of the shovel touched the dog a shudder went through the fur and followed through into the grass around him, trembling. Bugs! he thought. The dog had been laying on the ground for near two hours now, of course dirty bugs would be getting to it. He probably should have left him in the wheelbarrow until the hole was dug. Well, he could fix that. He wheeled it over and angled the cart onto its side next to the dog. Leaning over the metal contraption he took two legs and pulled as hard as his skinny frame could trying to roll the beefy dog across its back and in. Zeus moved and Emmet strained. After a struggle the canine flipped and Emmet gasped at what he saw.

The body had dozens of scratches, cuts, and bite marks on the side that had been lying on the lawn. Dead thick blood trickled from these into chocolate fur. Horrified he looked to the earth and saw shapes in the grass. Tiny bits of bone and small hollow skulls, rising up like foul mushrooms. The grass rustled beneath the wheelbarrow and he felt strange vibrations beneath his feet.

“Leave my dog alone you bastards!” he shouted, picking up the shovel and whomping the earth with the flat of it. Tiny yellow claws blossomed up and scratched the rubber wheels, the sides of his shoes. Shaking with fury he dropped his weapon and grabbed the two wooden handles, rolling his pet back to the house. “You can’t have him! You can’t!” Emmet didn’t know what was going on, but he’d be damned if anyone, or anything, was going to desecrate Zeus. The rustle and scraping of tiny bones followed him toward the house.

Terror lent new strength to Emmet’s tired muscles as he crashed the wheelbarrow into the back steps. Gripping the studded collar with both hands he pulled ferociously against the dogs head and it begrudgingly slid up a step. He pulled again and again, watching the grass of the lawn shake and roil like a pond in a thunderstorm. He didn’t look at the things that nibbled and clawed at the bottom half of his dog, he just tugged and tried his best to get him up the steps, into the house. They would be safe in the house. Eventually the great carcass was entirely on the stairs and out of reach from the vengeful dead. By the time he managed to get him fully inside and back onto the kitchen floor, where he’d found him in the morning, shadows were beginning to stretch long across the lawn reaching horizontal across his kitchen painting the room in warm orange bands. Panting he sat leaning against the refrigerator gazing wide eyed at the screen door. Trembling he got to his feet and moved to the sink. Water, water and pills were what he needed. His body was on fire from the effort, spasming uncontrollably. Grabbing a glass and holding it under the faucet he turned on the tap. Thick red liquid sprayed forth in a fluid hiss. With a startled yell he dropped the glass to shatter in the sink, splashed by tap-water blood. Cursing loudly he hit the lever and turned it off.

“God damn it! Damn it!” he shouted. A louder scratching sound had begun. Sticks on the windows, the door, the roof. It was too much. He needed help. Staggering across the kitchen, almost tripping on Zeus, he picked up the phone. He didn’t get two numbers in before realizing it was dead. Slamming the phone back into the cradle he turned, peering around the room like a trapped animal.

“You’re not gonna get him you bastards! I won’t let you!” The scraping noises surrounded him as he moved as quickly as possible to his bedroom. Turning on the light switch did nothing and the only illumination in the house came from the windows, small shapes outlined against the dying amber light. He opened up his nightstand drawer and removed his gun, checked it, rolling the chambers, and turned back to the kitchen. There was a pounding on the front door and a crash from the back. Coming around the corner he raised the weapon and halted.

The screen door had given away and Zeus was buried in a mass of squirming and feeding bodies. Skin stretched pelts over thin bone frames, a pile of tight rigid muscles and yellowing teeth covered in slick grime and mud. They’d half devoured their quarry and they pushed and shoved one another, jockeying for position to get in on it, sliding in the ever extending puddle of dark dog blood. Emmet raised his gun and prepared to fire into the mass of un-living coons and cats, mice and squirrels, and then he saw her.

Framed by the last rays of golden daylight was the petite eviscerated body of Katie Garrifo, her throat torn out and her flesh smeared with dirt. Her features were mummified tight, but there was no mistaking the child’s dirty blonde hair, the black Converse shoes, and the shredded remains of a green windbreaker. He’d found bits of that windbreaker in the dog shit he cleaned up for days, tiny green flecks to remind him over and over. It had seemed endless. With shame his eyes were drawn to her spindle legs, lacking muscle where it had been eaten away, and the gaping hollow of her stomach. He remembered her well, etched forever in his memory as he’d shoveled the dirt over her, poured the concrete, built a lie above her tiny bones. They’d never thought to look there. Screaming he raised the weapon and pulled the trigger, backing out of the kitchen. Round after round thumped uselessly into her corpse, she fell, knocked back, but did not cease to move.

Emmet was firing his empty gun into the rising girl when his backing away connected him with something. Strong arms reached around him as collided with body of Jake Gallow, the would-be thief. He thrashed and shouted desperately, trying to pull free of the bony hands as the girl and the horde of rotting critters approached.

They worked their way from the feet up. The screaming didn’t last long.

Full weeks passed before anyone knew that Emmet Webber was gone. When the police finally entered his house they found no remains, but enough blood soaked into the living room carpet to confirm that the man could not possibly have survived. Nobody but Emmet had known that Zeus died and there was no trace of the dog to be found. Being a nearly legendary canine, almost akin to his divine namesake, nobody really believed the thing was dead. Most assumed that he’d finally turned on his master, killing him, and then somehow escaped the house. Many of the windows had been smashed in. No great fortune was ever found in the basement and the bodies of Jack and Katie went undiscovered, if they even remained where they lie to be found. Barb Fossey was glad for it but refused to walk her new poodle past the house, afraid of memories or perhaps even the ghost of Zeus.

In the soil of the back yard what remained of Emmet clung to his loyal pet. Claws and fangs of the justified dead pulled on them, dragging and sinking further and further into the earth in a nightmare descent that would carry them forever into a well deserved hell.

end

Image Flash #22

Image Flash #22

This year Clive Barker had a contest over at Deviant Art to have writers put story to his painting; The Men in the City. It wasn’t a formal contest with prizes or anything, but Clive would read them all and pick out his favorites. There were a lot of submissions and I seriously doubt he had the time to read them all. Mine wasn’t selected, but the one he picked was pretty damn cool and it was a fun exercise. Here’s my contribution.

10 min


Amon Rajan did not face the room as he regarded the cityscape through the massive glass window. He appeared as a trim silhouette against the sunset and kept his hands tucked in the small of his back. It was melodramatic, aloof, and, with any luck, frustrated his host.

“Will you come sit down already?” Marion asked.

“I can hear you from here.” He replied.

The old woman exhaled her frustration, got up from where she’d been sitting, and walked to the bar. She splashed a pair of glasses half full and joined him. He took it, sniffed the carmel aroma, and raised an eyebrow.

“So, Marion, what is it you’d like to discuss that’s worth a thousand dollar drink?”

“You, Amon. Always you.”

He smiled. This was good. It confirmed that the ball was still in his court. “Don’t tell me I’m going to get a lecture about rocking the boat from you too?”

Marion took a sip. “A lecture? No. But there are things you should know. Things you’re not aware of.”

“I doubt that.” In the time since announcing his intentions he’d heard every opposition argument there was. There was nothing she could say he hadn’t already considered.

“There are things in this world that are meant to die.” She said.

“Is that a threat?”

“No. A reality. This path of reclamation you’re on. No good will come of it.”

“Oh, the perils of sustainability. Besides, since when do people like you give a damn about good when there’s money to be made?”

“Only when it has consequences.”

He scoffed. “Another threat?”

She leveled a serious gaze at him. She was three times his age and a part of him always felt like a child when she looked at him. He hated it.

“I’m not threatening you. I’m warning you.”

Amon downed his drink, crossed the room, and poured another without asking. “And why, after years of trying to destroy my business, would you warn me of anything?”

She ignored his presumption. “I’d rather push you down than watch you trip on something you don’t see. So I’m showing you. That way, when you ignore me and cock it up, I get to own it.”

Amon swirled his drink. She was full of shit. She had to be. There was nothing he hadn’t considered.

“So, go ahead, spill it. What dire iceberg lurks just below my horizon?”

She left the spot at the window and sat down on the sofa. She’d flipped the power balance on him and was enjoying the experience. Amon was not.

“This city is old. Far older than history books claim. There is a soul to this place; ghosts in the streets, spirits in the stones. There are things, actual entities, beyond your sight. What you’re about to do will anger them.”

“You’re kidding me. The spirit of the city? What are you playing at?”

“I am not speaking figuratively. I mean it quite literally.”

She’d brought him here to tell him a ghost story in hopes that he’d change his plans? Amon relaxed. The old bird had lost her faculties. Sure, she seemed articulate, but senility had obviously taken hold of the woman. He decided to let her ramble.

“Long before this city existed we humans bartered to be taken out of the wilderness. Civilization is a gift. But more than that; it is a weapon given to us for the destruction of nature. It is meant to scourge as it proliferates. The beings who bestowed us this miracle grow as it does. They want the world to be stone and steel, fumes and foulness. Humanity is supposed to wield their blessings to this end. But you, Amon, have crafted solar buildings that don’t produce waste. You’ve made a fortune in recycling. And now you are planning to tear down a perfectly good neighborhood and replace it with… trees.” She spit the word out with contempt.

“I am certain they will not approve.” She declared.

Amon let out a small laugh. “Well, it’s a damn good thing I don’t give a shit about getting anyone’s approval, let alone the imaginary soul of civilization.”

She got up from the couch and joined him. “You’ve corrupted the tool they granted us to purge nature and you’re going use it to reverse their progress. By all means, go right ahead, ignore me. I expect no less of you.”

She raised her glass and smiled brightly. “Cheers?”

He clinked it and returned the smile, mildly sad that his rival had become unhinged. He’d miss her machinations.

“Cheers.”


The ribbon cutting went perfectly. In fact, everything was going exactly as he’d hoped. It had taken over a decade of civil planning and major projects and bribes big enough to dizzy a mathematician, but he’d done it. Not only was the entire city neighborhood of Collingsfoll green, it was energy independent. But, most importantly, it made money. Serious money.

Despite the time, cost, and effort, now that it was finished, Collingsfoll was deep into the black. It would recoup itself and more. His idea worked. It would be duplicated everywhere; towns, suburbs, entire cities.

And he held key to it all.

As his private helicopter set down on his penthouse rooftop, he entertained himself by trying to say the word ‘trillionaire’ without smiling. He couldn’t.

Lucinda met him on the pad. He raised his voice over the rotors. “I’m looking to celebrate tonight, Lucy. Tell me you’ve got some party bags for me.”

She tipped her head. “Yes, sir. I didn’t know what you’d be in the mood for so I set up seven.”

“Seven! Really?”

“Like you said, it’s a night worth celebrating.”

He patted her on the shoulder as they entered the loft. “What would I do without you Lucy?”

“I hesitate to guess.” She replied.

She helped him out of his suit coat and he loosened his tie. “Breakdown?”

“Four female, three male, two African American, one Latino, one Korean, the rest white. None of them are pro’s. All first timers.”

“Oh honey, you have outdone yourself!”

She released a rare smile. “I aim to please.”

“Do they know what they’re in for?”

“Unlikely, but they’ve been more than adequately compensated. Did you need anything else tonight? I was going to catch the heli before it left.”

“No, Lucinda, this is perfect. I’ll see you in the morning.”

She headed back to the balcony. “Congratulations again, sir. Have a nice night. You deserve it.”

Amon agreed. He did deserve it. He headed for his studio.

It was spacious, had a high ceiling, and was empty of furnishings. There were concrete pillars that rose up into the dark. The floor was black. Seven pale blue spotlights illuminated his ‘party bags’.

Nude figures, vacu-sealed in clear plastic, were stood upright in large metal frames. Each had a small ring near their mouths to allow breathing. Their bodies were smashed, flattened, and distorted by the process. They were floating in various near embryonic positions. None of them were capable of moving on their own. There was a tiny table in the center of the room with a silver tray on it. Stainless steel sex toys were set alongside several knives, syringes, and a pair of shears. There were plugs for shutting off their air holes.

Amon strolled among them, inspecting his playthings. He ran his right hand above their encased flesh, outlining without touching. His left slid down to his crotch in anticipation. It was going to be a long night.

A voice spoke from the shadows.

“So, this is Nature’s champion then?”

Amon spun at the sound. His studio was sacred and his security state of the art. There shouldn’t be anyone here. He stepped to the tray and picked up the scissors.

“Whoever the fuck you are you just made a serious mistake!”

A figure emerged from the gloom. His face was pale and he wore a pair of circular black disk sunglasses common to the blind. His suit was blue and matched the ridiculous hat he wore; a large affair made to look like a skyscraper. He stood on the edge of the light.

Amon pulled his phone from his pocket and slid his thumb across the screen to unlock it. Nothing happened. The stranger continued.

“That won’t be any help. You are now beyond aid, Mr.Rajan.”

Amon dropped the useless device. “Who the hell are you?”

The man stepped closer. “You were warned. A gift most men who meet us never get. You deemed us imaginary. Erroneous. Logical, but erroneous.”

As it closed in on one of the suspended bodies, and into the light, he could see it more clearly. He realized that it wasn’t wearing a hat. The man’s head, in fact, grew into a small building. Smoke trailed from the top of it.

“Your depravity surprises me, but then, it shouldn’t. It is foolish to think that just because you oppose us you are in any way virtuous. The error is mine.” He touched the nearest body and the bag bubbled red. Blood pooled in the tight plastic from wounds that sprouted due to the proximity of his hand. The taught casing trembled and a gurgling sound emerged from the air hole.

Amon backed away. “What the fuck?”

“You’ve made some enemies Mr.Rajan. I’ve been instructed to bring you home. There are those who’d like to meet you.”

“I’m not going anywhere with you!”

The man nodded, his building tipped precariously as he did. “No, not like that you’re not. I could never see your world with my spirit eyes. They had to go. And you, you can’t see my world with yours. What do you think needs to happen?”

Amon brandished the scissors, realizing he was almost out of room to back up. “You’re insane!”

Heedless of Amon’s weapon, the man approached. When he was close enough, Amon lunged. The metal tool struck the stranger in the chest, leaving a hole in his suit, but beneath, there was no damage. He tried again, stabbing as hard as he could. He might as well have been striking the sidewalk for all the good it did. His foe was akin to stone.

The man grabbed him by the neck. His fingers were cold and rough like fine sandpaper. Amon kicked, fought, and screamed as the man in sunglasses scooped his right eye out with statuesque fingers. He dropped it on the floor, stepped on it, and ground it flat.

Amon could see the building on the thing’s head with his remaining eye. He thought he could see tiny people inside, moving back and forth, going about their business. But before he could be sure, the fingers were back, digging mercilessly into his skull. Blindness descended in a wet agony and his mind followed into the dark. Amon lost consciousness.


When Amon woke he saw with things that were not eyes.

There was a swath of dark city stretched out before him, belching smoke and smeared with soot. It moved, undulating like the sea. It wasn’t really buildings though; they were men. Men with disfigured heads, crowding and circling all around. There was an incessant chattering of deep voices. They called him a betrayer to destruction. A servant of the women. Dirt fucker. Scum. He would receive their punishment. Thousands of faces leered beneath the structures, grimacing at him in anger.

But not all.

One of them, with tiny, circular, sunglasses, was smiling.