Posts Tagged ‘Short Fiction’

It started with insomnia.  Just me, lying awake at night, listening to the radiator tick, listening to something in the basement hissing away (it might have been the hot water heater, I’m not sure), listening to my roommate shuffle around upstairs with his insomnia, to the cars on the street that sometimes pass by at one in the morning and leave en masse at two in the morning when all the bars close, and everyone drunkenly tools along home.  I have never heard an accident while lying awake at night,  and sometimes I wonder what I would do if I did hear an accident.  Would I go out and help?  I like to think that I would help, but, in the first place, I’m not sure what I could do that would be helpful, and in the second place, sometimes it’s very cold outside.


Wanna know how sausage is made? Well, look elsewhere, because I am not the man to break anyone of their enjoyment of sausage. Or scrapple, for that matter. Maybe Spam. But that would first take some research about how Spam is made. (Note for future column: Find out how Spam is made.)

But I’ll do the next best thing, and ruin your idea of what fiction writing is like.


[The finale of the story that began here, and which you have been reading for the past week. Haven’t you? –ed]

[Art by David Frankel, DDS]


With the building above me gone, the army of placid-seeming synthetic men could point their double-barreled rifles directly at me. I leapt back from the stairway as a wave of bullets rained down, chipping stone, ricocheting around the chamber. They bounced harmlessly off the black fullerene rappresses, which continued to manufacture more deadly un-men, even as the motile ones were after me.


[The story begins here. It is a product of a powerful Science.]

[Art by David Frankel, MFA]


The countermeasures appeared as a stroke of lightning and a sound like the world had cracked in half. By the time the coloured pinwheels of the afterimages had cleared from my eyes, the synthetic woman had been charred to a crisp, and lay canted at a strange angle on the ground. All that was left were blackened acrylic-polymer bones.

“What the hell was that?” I asked my gun.


[For your enjoyment, “We Are Shepherds” part THREE! Its power cannot be contained. –ed]

[Art, as always, by David Frankel, MTS.]


I threw my forearms over my face, just fast enough that my own knife struck sparks against them. There was armor, grafted to my skin, but I was far from invulnerable. If I stayed still, I’d surely take the weapon in a soft spot, like my throat or my empty eye socket.


[Here is the second part of “We Are Shepherds” the Rough Cut. –ed]

[Art by David Frankel, OSA.]


Hide. Run. Shoot. Nothing. My body wasn’t responding. I looked desperately around for cover, but could do nothing more than slowly crumble into the rusty dirt as the black spot grew larger on the face of the sun.


[Here is another short story that will be offered up in sections. It’s a little less polished than some of our pieces in the past. Think of it as a dirty sketch of a thing, a great piece of epic sci-fi that’s still nascent and looking for its feet. –ed]

Art by Dave Frankel, PhD.

We Are Shepherds


There was no question: I was going to have to kill the horse.

A nasty tangle of red and blue wire had erupted from her stomach, and was now clutching, twisting, heaving in a grotesque parody of her own labored, blood-flecked breathing. She lay on her side, screaming piteously, her eye rolling so I could see the white. She must have picked up a Morgellon’s parasite somewhere; probably before I bought her in that little half-assed shanty town that was now a hundred miles south.


(Conclusion: “Something About Their Smiles.” “Some Velvet Morning” begins here.)

“Jesus Christ in heaven,” Bill gasped, his eyes gone wide. “That’s it. That was her name. Phedra.”

But something in me knew that before Bill even said it aloud.

“Goddamn it Davey!” I barked across the room, angry for reasons I didn’t quite know. “What’s that shit you’re singing?”

Davey looked down at the guitar like he was surprised to find it there. “…What? I don’t…shit, I dunno, Joe, I just started playin’…it just came out.”

That was enough. I looked to Bill. He was white as a ghost. “Bill, listen good: What you need is some rest. You go up to one of the rooms with Margie there, she’ll get you set with whatever you need. Come morning, we’ll sort this out together.”

Bill just stared at his reflection again. Like it scared him. And I wondered just what he was really seeing in that mirror.

“You hear me, Bill?”

He turned to me, understood my tone. Not his friend, right then. I was the owner of this place, laying down the law. “Yeah. Yeah, that’ll do,” he answered. He waved a hand at Margie. “C’mon then, girl. I need some rest, I think.”

They trudged up the stairs. All eyes were on them. Margie looked nothin’ but uneasy. Bill just looked like he didn’t know where he was. Or maybe where he was supposed to be.

The room cleared out after that with nary a word.

Bill was gone the next morning. Real gone.

There was no trace of him, save for his watch, sitting on the nightstand. Margie swore up and down she never heard him leave.

She told me she had a dream of a strangely-colored field. Davey’s song was playing. When she woke from it she said it was like Bill had never been in that room with her. But she confided that when she drifted off to sleep, she heard him mumbling, “Phedra” as he tossed and turned in bed.
I asked around after that. Hell, everybody did. But no one’s laid eyes on Bill Larkin since that night.

We all took to my explanation – some asshole with a grudge. And like it or not, we moved on.

But every now and again, Davey will play that song without meaning to.

And sometimes I’ll see some folks in my bar. Strangers. They seem pleasant enough, but something about their smiles haunts me. Too many teeth, feels like. Their eyes are just too dark. And they always leave before I get to talk to them. But nobody ever remembers ‘em walkin’ out the door.

It’s been a couple years now since Bill Larkin started raving like a lunatic in my bar. And I shook it off as long as I could, but all I can think of anymore is what he told me she said.

“We’re coming soon, Bill.”

God help me, I believe it now. I just got plenty of questions. “Who’s coming?” “From where?”

But the only one that matters to me is, “What happens then?”

The End.

(Part 4: “We’ll Be Coming Soon.” “Some Velvet Morning” begins here.)

“This thing, whatever she was…She smiled at me. And I knew then, weren’t the Devil come after me, it was maybe some kinda angel. But angels are supposed to be a comfort. Whatever this was…well, my horse was dead and I didn’t know where or when I was supposed to be, so how is that a comfort?

“And then she stared at me, with these big black eyes, pitch black, but shining somehow. And she asked, ‘What’s your name?’ And I felt like I shouldn’t tell her. Don’t know why. Just make something up, I thought. But I told her anyway, I couldn’t stop myself. And her smile grew. I asked, ‘Well, what’s your name?’ And she told me. But I can’t recall it no matter how I try. All I know is hearing made me wanna eat my gun.”

I found myself glancing down at his hip. Wherever his gun was, it weren’t on him, and I took that as a relief.

He kept on, not telling the story to me no more, nor anyone in the place. He was looking at himself in the mirror again. Telling himself the story, trying to get it right in his own mind.

“She put her hand on my face, stroked my cheek, and said, “We’ll be coming soon, Bill.’

And I asked her, ‘Comin’ from where?’ She waved a hand behind her, at the fields, and I could see more eyes like hers, big and black like birds, peaking from the green. And she said, ‘From here, Bill. From right here. Don’t you want to be here with us?’ And the way she asked it, I knew it weren’t really a question, I knew whatever I said, she already knew what was coming.

“And part of me wanted to say, ‘Yeah, I’ll stay.’ It was so beautiful I could barely breathe, and I wanted to…shit, just have her in that field. But that feeling. I don’t know, it just sent me back to my senses, and I yelled ‘Put me back!’ Like I was a kid who wanted his mama. I started crying, I wanted back to the range so bad.

“And she just gave me this look, like I answered wrong. Like I’d pissed her off. And then it was like the world just sucked into itself. I looked up, and the blackest clouds I ever seen covered the sky. Opened up and rained down. Soaked me good, and then…it just stopped. And I turned around. And I was back where I was. The sky was normal. Clear.

“So I just started walkin’. Till I got here.”

And then he looked around the room like he’d never seen it before. And he looked at me like he ain’t seen me in forever. “Shit, how long I been here, Joe?”

The question pointed at me shook me out of a stupor. It took me a lot longer than it should’ve to tell him, “Couple hours.”

“Shit,” he said quietly. “That don’t feel right at all. Nothin’ feels right no more, truth to tell. Like I’m in the wrong place or somethin’.”

He looked at me, grabbed me by the arms, hard. There were tears in his eyes. “I think I gave her the wrong answer, Joe. An’ I don’t know how to make that right.”

All I could think to do was pull him close, hug him like he was my own son. I told him, “Hey, come on, now. Wherever you went, you’re back home now, among friends. You didn’t call nothin’ wrong.”

His muscles tightened, and I knew the hug had been the wrong move. He pulled out of it quickly. “Come on now, Joe,” he muttered. There was a little humor in his tone.

I don’t believe in no Devil. But at that moment, I believed in God, and I thanked him for that bit of lightness in Bill.

“There you are,” I grinned, giving him a punch on the arm. “Shit, son. Had me worried there.”

He looked down at the floor, shook his head. Even smiled a bit. My friend had come back to himself.

And then a flick of guitar strings ruined it all.

“Some velvet morning when I’m straight…I’m gonna open up your gate…and maybe tell you ‘bout Phedra…” Davey Keen sang in a deep lilt to himself in the corner, idly strumming a dark tune.

“And how she gave me life…and how she made it in…”

Singing in a voice that didn’t quite sound like his.

(To Be Concluded.)

(Part 3: “The Metal Scrape Gentle Across the Wood.” “Some Velvet Morning” begins here.)

I gave it some thought, then answered him honestly. “No. I don’t. Do you?”

“Let me put it like this: You believe there’s something out there that means to eat you alive, body and soul?”

I sat silent for a while, trying to figure out just what the hell he was getting at. Before I could answer, he leaned in close, and said, too calm for my liking, “I think I saw Hell out there. But…I’m not sure it was Hell. Don’t know what it was, or where, but…”

He didn’t add anything to that thought for a while.

So finally I asked him, “Bill…what the fuck are you going on about?”

He must not have caught my tone, because he just started his story. “I was riding for days, Joe. Felt like days, anyway. Somewhere along the way, I started losing time,” he told me.

I looked in his eyes. Sure enough, he looked like he hadn’t slept in a dog’s age.

“Shit, Bill, that’s not crazy,” I let him know, since he seemed to need hearing it. “You ran yourself too hard, that’s all. Ain’t so young as you used to be. None of us are. Maybe you just need to learn to set up camp a little more often when you’re out on the range.”

“That ain’t…shit. I weren’t riding more’n a few hours. I checked my watch. I knew for truth, it was only a few hours. But this feeling just crept in on me like I couldn’t remember when I left or where I was goin’.”

He reached into his pocket, took his watch out. Then, in a quick, angry pull, he ripped it off the chain and slammed it down on the bar. “The time was just…gone!” he barked.

I won’t lie, I jumped when he said it. Can’t blame me. I’d never heard the man yell, long as I’ve known him. I think he knew that, too. I think that’s why he did it, so I’d understand he was serious.

But I didn’t. Not even when, silent as a church, he slid that watch over. And as I heard the metal scrape gentle against the wood, I cottoned to the fact that everyone in the bar was quiet, too. Bill had gotten the whole room’s attention. And I didn’t like that one bit.

If this was a private confab between the two of us, that was fine. But something was wrong with my friend, and I didn’t need other folks listening in.

Bill didn’t seem to notice. Or at least, he didn’t seem to care. He just tapped the counter next to the watch. I opened the face. It was stopped at 12:00 sharp. I looked up from the watch and met Bill’s glance. He tipped his head at it. His eyes signaling at me like I was supposed to twig onto a bigger meaning. But damned if I could see it.

“Looks like you need to wind it, Bill,” I said lightly. He nodded at it again. I caught the meaning that time – I thought, at least. I started winding it. But the hands stood dead still, no matter how much I twisted.

“So maybe you need a new watch. Richie Noonan, he can help you out, order you somethin’ from his store….”

“The sun was settin’ when it stopped,” he whispered. “Stopped at midnight. And this weren’t no sane sunset, Joe. There was green in it. Green as fresh grass. The sun set green, and brown and black and red. I never seen anything so…hell, Joe, only word for it’s ‘unnatural..’” His hand shook as he poured a shot.

This was getting outta hand. Whatever he’d been through, I had to bring him back to the real world. “Bill, listen to me. I understand you’re spooked. But there’s plenty a’ reasons for what you saw, and it’s like you ain’t thought of any of ‘em. ‘Fore you left town, anyone get ahold of your canteen? Someone with a grudge, and maybe some peyote?”

Without taking his eyes off the drink, he coolly answered, “Anyone with a grudge against me would wanna face me head-on. And I’ve taken peyote. This…heh. This weren’t that.”

He took a shot, then a deep breath. After a long moment, his shoulders untensed. I felt mine loosen up, too.

Staring at himself in the mirror behind the bar, he spoke with a calm that, after all the yelling and slamming of things, put me back on edge.

“Joe, just listen. I’m gonna tell you what I saw, best as I can. And I just want you to do me the kindness of keeping quiet till I’m done. Can you do that?”

I nodded and didn’t bother making another noise. If I had, it would’ve been the only other sound in the room. All attention was on Bill. So he went on ahead:

“The watch stopped at midnight. And then the sky went wrong. And my guts were just screaming at me, ‘Run. Get on your horse and ride fast as you can, because the Devil himself’s come for you. Mount and ride.’ So I turned to go. But my horse was dead. Real dead. Flies nippin’ at him. Buzzards circling. Like he’d been dead at least a day.

“And I turned away – couldn’t bare to look at him. But what I turned to, it weren’t…

“It was, I was looking at this field of…it was beautiful, really. I weren’t on the range no more, I was…somewhere green, verdant. Flowers everywhere. Red, purple…green. That same green again. But there were some, I never seen colors like ‘em. I don’t mean a different kinda red. Or like leaves in autumn. I mean I never. Seen. Anything. Like ‘em. There ain’t names for these colors.”

I never heard a man sound so terrified talking about flowers before.

“And standing among ‘em was…well, she was more beautiful than her surroundings, even. That kinda dead gorgeous that…like, it hurt, to look at her too long. It was overwhelming. I couldn’t take it all in at once and every time I tried, it was tearing me up. But looking back, I ain’t sure it was a woman I was lookin’ at. I ain’t sure it was a person I was lookin’ at. There was something…not wrong, about her, just…like those colors.

“She was something this world’s never seen.”

(To Be Continued.)