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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Story Excerpt: The Wanderer -Chapter 2: The Death Of Super Soldiers

The Wanderer’s life had been saved by the competitive nature of the Child Prostitution Industry. That is, his ability to take in air was saved by their relentless chase for money. The Wanderer was found, along with three others, in hibernation pods, deep under that the Mountains of what once was The Lost River Ranges. Scavengers had broken a thousand year seal and looted what once was cutting edge testing equipment for scrap metal. The biggest find, however, were the four live babies, four live, blonde babies. Blondes were worth so much more than regulars. Those babies were found a midst of dead ones. At least two thousand by final count.
What those scavengers stumbled upon was, the last great Nazi Eugenics Project. The Annexed Nazi scientists from after WWII had grouped together and shared notes. They revived their beloved super soldier research. When the world turned, the successors of the original scientists sealed the laboratories and instructed the computers to only reopen when the seal when men of proper genetic heritage and of proper mental faculties came calling. Those scientists hadn’t anticipated how much corrosion a thousand years would breed and how much explosives an average mutant scavenger carried at any given moment.
The computers tried their best to keep all two thousand specimens alive, feeding them their own protein injected waste and filtering in liquid air for them to breath. But the specimens began to fail four centuries after the doors were sealed. As children died, never breathing real air, or using the eyes, the computer redirected power to preserving the surviving children. This continued until there was but the sole four who were stole away to the Flower-Men.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

For The Writers #1: Writing Prompts

Writing Prompt # 1: Write a love story based on your favorite love song. Have it end horrificly.

Writing Prompt # 2 : Take a walk through your neighborhood. Listen and look for the three most attention getting things you notice and make up a story in which those things are threatening the world.

Writing Prompt # 3: Do a character sketch, place that character on a train heading toward a cliff. Have the character save him or herself without saving anyone else on the train and imagine the ramafications that would follow.

Writing Prompt # 4: Have the character you created in the sketch above, save everyone except themselves and explore the ramifications that come with that.

Writing Prompt # 5: A Bell ringing wildly in a strong breeze, A Discarded dress on a river bank, An Empty classroom, A Man in a black hat and overcoat. Write a story where these elements are present amd where you're first assumption about how these element fit together is wrong.

Writing Prompt # 6: There's a ticking bomb hidden under a table in a lonely restaurant. There are Five people present: The Host, A waiter, a husband and wife, and a escaped convict. All of the people escape unharmed, but the bomb goes off with everyone still inside. Write a story explaining why?

Writing Prompt # 7: Meet Ned. Ned is over a thousand years old, has met every American President and several kings. He has been married to a hand full of the great beauties of the world, fought in some of the greatest battles, in fact, he has even saved the world from space aliens and now, Ned just wants to fish. He's a great man, but his story has never been told. Tell his tale. (Very free form- Make Ned into whatever you want.)

Short Three: Don't Stop Believing

The icy rain fell like glowing embers before the low sun and I cupped my hand around my cigarette to stop its death. I started the boom-box. Journey’s Don’t stop believing echoed through the rain. My target opened her front door. She moved forth with nervous steps, closer and closer to me. I readied my pistol, taking care not to let her see it. She called over to me, “I love this song!”
“Who doesn’t!” I called back, raising my pistol and firing twice. Once into heart Journey loving heart and once in her head.
“I hate god damn Journey.”

She Two: Two Strangers

We were two strangers walking across a bridge
Her wig, matted an lopsided
Her face, wrinkled and made for expression
And I, my coat buttoned in defiance to the cold rising off the water
She nodded to me. Smiled, revealing yellowed teeth and purple gums
I raise the ends of my lips for her
“Hello,” She said, her voice creaking like old wood
“Hello,” I sighed tiredly
She was alone and lonely
And a smile was an invitation
And Hello was friendship
She followed me and told me everything big or small
The small being her legion of cats littering her home
The Big being her daughter being beaten close to death
She looked up to me with pleading eyes, milky and wet
And She whispered, “He beats her,” in her creaky voice
She stared at me for a long moment as if I would save the girl
As if I were some sort of superman
As if I could cleave the ties that bond
As if I would know how to save her
We parted, her with sad eyes and a tilted wig
And Me with no more guilt than I had prior.

Short One: Inner Monologue Of A Struck Man

Being punched in the face hurts. This statement seems terribly obvious, but it seemed, as I looked around me at the curling lips and applauding hands, that that fact wasn’t apparent. Plastered across the faces of the five or six men that surrounded me, was glee and excitement and the unmistakable sight of disapproval at how easily I fell. Part of me wanted to explain actually what it means to be punched in the face. It’s not the same as holding against a breeze; it’s not the same as anything really. I wanted to explain that when a man put good weight behind five knuckles, he doesn’t just push you, it’s more than just a physical act. It’s more than just the nose being pushed in and capillaries bursting. It’s more than the brain rattling like an infant’s toy and it more than just confirmation that “yes, this fight is really going to happen.”
I wanted to explain that all of things were just things that correspond with being hit. It’s a thing near impossible to describe, its reality forcing its way pass you, through you. A punch to the face is a reminder that you are exactly what are, no more or less. The shock of warm tears poised and ready on the edges of your eyes, the jolt of humbling reality making its path down your spine by way of some unknown passage through your lungs. It’s a sick thing to say, it sounds masochistic, but a punch to the face seems to be the closest thing in secular life to a religious experience. There is a profound rush of clarity before the jolt of reality, it’s, in a sad way, a blessing and if you can receive it, get back up far strong than ever before. I wanted to explain this to them, but my words would fall on deaf ears. A punch to the face isn’t sometime one can explain, it’s something one most experience. You need see the five knuckles and the burst of sudden black the quickly follows. A punch is a punch, it’s like nothing else.

Story Five: It's All Me

The call sounded in the early hours of the morning, which was, for me, the late hours of last night. I would be in violation of Time Infraction TL: 16, Theft from an established timeline and Time Infraction TL: 7, assault on a Time Officer. I say I would be and not that I was because I hadn’t done it yet. The problem with policing time is that you’re always apologizing for things you won’t do for years. Apparently, a few years down the line, I’m supposed to have roughed up a rookie by the name of Simons for his Time Dilation Pod. The Bureau wasn’t looking to arrest me. Legally they couldn’t; both by Time Law and by the Laws of Physics. If I’m not there on that day to steal that T.D.P., the fabric of time would break or something like that. I’m not one of the eggheads that figure this stuff out, I just tag and bag when they tell me to.
They wanted meat the Bureau to set up a pysch-profile, so they’d be prepared when the day came that I was brought to justice and they want to fit me for a monitoring bracelet. It was a little prissy thing that most of the Bureau suspected was designed to humiliate more than to monitor. It flashed blue and green and red in rapid succession every time your offending self was in the same time stream as you. The guy that fitted it around my wrist tried to tell me that it was for my own safety, that if my offending self and I got confused for one another, I could get popped in the head or thrown in jail, but I got to believe that there was a better way of going about it.
“If I have this on, won’t he?” I asked the guy and spits out some spiel about how the bracelet is in a constant state of temporal flex and therefore wouldn’t be the same bracelet by then. And furthermore, he tells me, they’ve locked on to his bracelet in the future and are figuring out my capture date. He sounded so impressed with himself and all I wanted to do was smash his face in.
“You’re talking about my capture, you’re talking about the day I go to jail, or the day some over-eager rookie slits my head in two.” I think that, but I know not to say it. You start acting squirrelly; start taking it personally and the Bureau will call you a flight risk and take your Time Travel privileges away.
They don’t want two offenders running around, screwing with the timeline. So they let me go after that. I went on missions, wrangled violators, but always with that bracelet. It’d go off at random points and my body would stiffen. Another me was here and invisible eyes were on the both of us. I assumed they were watching me, though no one said they would be. My colleagues would clap me on the back and talk to me like I was already dead, saying things like, “Mack, I’ve met Simons. Would have punched him out too,” and “Mack, this kind of thing, it only happens to the best of us.” The fact of the matter is that I wanted to push in each and every one of their noses, drive a fist into, through their heads. I was tired of the apologetic looks and the words of comfort and the fact that it’s damn near impossible to be respected when your bracelet starts up with a rainbow dance across your wrist. I wasn’t taking it so I decided to sit out a couple weeks. That’s when it happened.
Everyday I was out, my wrist would light up. Day and night, just continuously going off. I had the boys at the Bureau check it to see if it was broken. They said it was fine, that the thing lighting up like it did just meant that my other self was showing an interest in this time stream. It’d go off, once, twice, as much as eight times a day. I got sick of it, so I took the thing off with some pliers and a knife. It wasn’t broken, I made sure of that. As much as I hated it, I knew it’d stop me from catching a bullet.
I left the bracelet on my coffee table and went to bed. In the middle of the night, I heard rustling and I got out my service pistol and crept out to meet my intruder. I was a joke at the Bureau, but that didn’t make me a joke with a heater in my hands. I burst out into my living room and I was drawing a gun on myself, my bracelet in my slightly older hands. The other me froze in his tracks, staring down the barrel of my gun. The thought occurred that I should shoot him, but then I thought about dying on the run, making a desperate play and I knew I didn’t want to go out like that.
“Drop it.” I told him, he didn’t. I cocked my gun and still he started walking toward the door. I kept my aim and he didn’t flinch.
“Drop it.” I growled. I thought I’d shake him up with a warning shot. I blasted the door frame as he reached for the door handle, it exploded in a shower of wood splinters. He stopped, but still didn’t seem afraid.
“Listen,” He said, sounding like he was talking to a kid, “I got to take this. Time says I get it back, by taking it from you.” I finally thought to look at his wrist, he didn’t have a monitoring bracelet on either.
“You took yours off, too. Told them those things were stupid.”
“No, you took mine off when you took yours off.” He said, brandishing his wrist.
“You’re me.” I asked, realizing the stupidity of the statement. He was me, the offender in the future was me. It was all me.
“I’m not him, I don’t know where he is. I’ve been on the run for months, because I can’t prove I’m me.”
“So the idiots at the Bureau assume you’re him. But if you don’t take that I won’t have to be on the run for months. That’s stupid, don’t you think?”
“Time Law TL: 1, Events must play out as they happen. I take this because it’s supposed to be taken.” He said, putting his hand on the door handle.
“Good luck.” He offered to me and then he was gone.

Story Four: Time Stop Suicide

Blood red razor marks ran up and down and round and round my quivering wrists and flowed into crimson pools inside my cupped hands and stopped. It’d been that way for what seemed like hours. I stayed hunched over myself, in the position I wanted to be found in, waiting for the blood to spill over onto the stained porcelain. I kept thinking about how little I cleaned that tub, the last time must have been when I first moved in. I remember thinking I didn’t want to bathe in someone else’s filth and for four and a half years, I’ve been bathing in my own.
If it would’ve happened, it would have been rather simple, it would have been easy. It was always supposed to be simple. I would’ve been found, bled out in the tub, the razor lain between my legs and an apartment filled with reasons for such an action. A desk filled with unpaid bills, a medicine cabinet filled with pain pills, a phone empty of friends and family, a detective or policeman need only take his pick. But one reason they might not think of, would be that fucking dog, his fucking barking and his evil claws raking against the bath room door. He had been scratching at the door since I went into the bath room, making a continuous stream of whines and yelps and making it impossible to concentrate during my final hours. Working off some sixth sense that dog’s might only possess.
I had gotten the dog in the hopes of some companionship, some reason to see things better, but I never was able to connect with him, and so I tried to avoid him as best I could, as best as anyone could in such a small place. He was a beady eyed, black terrier mixed with a number of other small dogs. I found at the pound. They apparently had found him living off of garbage in old raided crack den, they said it was incredible that the thing didn’t have mange or worms or any number of conditions or diseases that might afflict a stray.
My neck started to strain and my arms felt like fifty pound weights against my thighs. The whole of my back and under side ached and cried for some sort of adjustment. I hadn’t been keeping track of time, I didn’t expect I needed to, but it seemed as if something had gone horribly right. My blood hadn’t dried or coagulated on my wrists and hands. It still rested there wet as ever, but none more found its way to the surface. I had cut dam deep, severing whatever inner works worked my hands. I wouldn’t be able to make another go at it.
I tried to will my veins to pump out morel life into my hands and eventually into the tub and then remembered how little will I had anymore, it looked like my body had stopped trying at the same time I did and wouldn’t even be coaxed into dying.
I stretched my legs and sunk deeper into the tub, closing my eyes and praying the dog would get bored of his attack on the door. After this new positioning grew as uncomfortable as the last one had been, I relented and clumsily lifted myself from the tub and asked myself
‘why?’ I wouldn’t be able to open the door, I wouldn’t be able to grasp the door knob. My fingers were too wet, too weak. I was stuck in the bathroom and the dog kept barking. Maybe I had already died and this was hell.

Story Three : Hostage Situation

I awoke late in the morning. Blue gray light weakly spilled into my bedroom window, heralding the first of the April showers. The light splashed against the walls and ultimately against my face. Generally speaking, it’s better than an alarm. You can ignore noise, shut it up even, but it’s hard to shut up the world. The light bleeds through and in between your eyelids and wont relent. True, you could always turn over to the other side, but light will always find something to bounce off of. When the world get hold of you, it becomes a losing battle.

Once my daily battle was official lost, I started up my daily routine. I turned on my desk lamp and fired up the old Prolinia. She was sluggish with old age and wouldn’t awake and be useful for at least twenty minutes. As it started up, making her familiar crackling whine, I shuffled off into the kitchen to make myself my first coffee of the day. I was also not instantly useful right after waking.

I never had a discriminating tongue and therefore never cared how good or bad my coffee was, instant taster’s choice did just fine. I finished mixing the sugar into the fake coffee and was already planning to work on the Ryder piece. I was investigating a possible claim that a certain junior congressman from Maine was addicted to cocaine and had a nasty habit at that. I still had two weeks before it needed to be completely finished and approved by my editor, but I had everything I needed and it’d be good to get it out of the way. I never was one for deadlines, I either take care of it right away or not at all. I plopped a slice of bread into the toaster and waited for it to burn. I had an odd liking for burnt food, not smoking and almost on fire, but chard food. It’s good because it’s bad. It’s an odd thing, something I never could explain exactly. The toast popped up, black with dark brown lines running down it and I wolfed it down as I turned the corner, going back into my tiny home office. That’s when I saw it, a large bumble bee hovering and buzzing away, its wings fluttering like a wild chainsaws. It was the size of a bear, looked far less welcoming, its multipliable black eyes swirling like hellish black holes.

It was a fear I concealed from my co workers and most of my friends and I had right to be afraid of them. I was deathly allergic to bee stings. I had learned so at a young age. I had nearly died, my airway swelled shut, trying to fuse together. My best friend, Arthur Wright, stood there uselessly. His fingers grasping his hair, nearly pulling it out, apparently not knowing what to do. A stranger had stumbled upon us, Arthur had apparently been scream without either of us knowing it. The stranger raced my dying body to an emergency room. I awoke ten hours later cradled in my mother’s arms. I had ample right to be afraid and there it was the sum of my fears hovering round and around in erratic circles bouncing its body against the brim of the desk lamp and the screen of the old Prolinia, which was awake and active. I slowly backed away as if the bee were a growling pitbull and it might as well could have been. I then went about the house opening windows, hoping to entice the damn thing to leave, which seemed more and more unlikely as the morning rain raged. It wouldn’t leave of its own volition. I would have to kill or capture it, neither sounded enticing for me because both meant directly interacting with it. Killing it seemed the better choice because killing could be done from a distance. I might not even have to be in the room if my aim was good enough. But no, the bee hovered in front of my Prolinia as if it’d read my mind and stated, ‘Try it and she dies.’

The Prolinia was very old and near impossible to fix. The necessary parts were out there, but every time it broke down, I got harassed and brow beat about how I shouldn’t waste my time with it. I get pamphlets thrown in my face about lightening fast refresh rates and processing speeds I have not once in my life needed to do anything lightening fast and I honestly doubt I ever will. I’ve actually encountered people who’d refuse to fix it, some who’d refuse to touch it as if old computers had contagious diseases. I was, plainly put, very attached to that machine and I’d sooner injure myself then injure it and somehow the bee bastard knew it.

If I hit the computer, it might break and I could have it repair, but every time it breaks is a risk of losing something far more important, the information inside. Years and years of stories; the first story for my college paper about the fire in the arts lab, the hundred or so dog show stories I had to do at the beginning of my professional career, my profile of a corrupt Vermont senator that won me the right to do whatever the hell I felt like at the magazine. Me and that computer had done a lot together. She had been my first computer and we had grown accustomed to each other. Only I knew its idiosyncrasies, like how you had to hit the G button just right or you’ll get a GH on the screen or how the restart option had become a second off button.

I weighted the options and it seemed like there were few. If I attacked the bee, I’d run the risk of damaging the computer, if I didn’t take care of it, I ran the risk of the computer over heating. She’d be damned if I did and damned if I didn’t. The third option and least desirable, but ultimately the safest in regard to the computer, was to go in for more close quarters combat. If I did, I wouldn’t go in without protection. My mind raced through an inventory of all my possessions, trying to think what I could use to separate my flesh from the bees stinger and what I could use to crash it before it has a chance to sting. I settled on a leather jacket I owned but never wore because it made me look like a jackass, a spatula from the kitchen and a small bottle of cheap cologne to douse the wings and make it easier to strike it. Once I suited up and wielded my weapons, I took a deep breath and charged in halfway and lost my nerve. As fast as I charged the thing, I rushed back out. I may have imagined it, but I could swear I heard laughter in the flutter of the bee’s wings.

Imagined or not, the sound of it gave me a second breath. I gritted my teeth and rushed the room again. I sprayed the bee with the cologne and expected it to fall back, but it didn’t. It fiercely buzzed forward towards me and I realized how feeble an attack strategy I had. I swung the spatula wildly and managed to hit absolutely nothing. When I calmed myself, I realized I didn’t know where the little bastard was. I couldn’t see it, I couldn’t hear it, it was lurking somewhere, waiting to take out its rage on me and when it did, dread rushed through my veins as did the bee’s toxin.

I knew I was stung long before I felt the sting on the base of my neck. My Eppie Pen, why the hell didn’t I have that handy. I tried my best to keep my head level, which was predictably hard in the face of death. With every step I took I could feel the bee's’ poison rush through my veins, inflaming everything it passed. I could feel my blood thicken to a molasses consistency or maybe my veins were the ones thickening. I couldn’t tell and didn’t care, I could feel the air thicken too. My lungs screaming for more air than I could give them. Soon I was forgetting the layout of my own apartment, I was so panicked. I rushed about the kitchen, thinking I might have put the damn pen there. Apparently I was wrong. I started pulling drawers out and dumping their contents on the floor, hoping the pen would slide into view. I remember asking myself, “Where the hell would someone put something like that.” That would have been a funny statement in a less dire situation. I collapsed to my knees and started sucking in air and feeling my lungs protest that it still wasn’t enough. As my eyes watered and bulged, I finally remembered I kept my Eppie pen in my medicine cabinet. As I fought for consciousness, I crawled on my hands and knees, every inch felt like a mile and I let out what might have been a scream, had my throat been clear and collapsed to the floor.

I awoke hours later, with my Eppie pen hanging limply from my thigh, the plunger dropped and the life saving medicine dispensed. I looked about the apartment, but it appeared empty. “Hello!” I called out. In the next room, I could hear the Prolinia sound off a chime. “Crap, she’s been on all this time.” I said to the empty apartment. I rushed into my tiny home office and found that the Prolinia’s cooling fan purred placidly as the windows logo bounced slowly across a black backdrop. Resting at the base of her keyboard was the cap to my Eppie pen.

Story Excerpt: The Wanderer

The Wanderer
By Matthew Jones
Swirling sands shifted underneath the heel of the Wanderer as he made his way down the one road leading into town. Eyes loomed down on him from the shadows, coveting his unblemished flesh, taut with the apparent vestiges of youth. The looming eyes yearned and wished, but minded their manners. The Wanderer’s sword, displayed plain on his back, and the wanderer’s gun, stranded securely on his hips saw to that. They’d hate their twisted selves in the darkness and think their twisted thoughts, and the wanderer would care, long as they stayed where they were.
The Wanderer turned off the road, moving into the porch of a shadowy tavern offering little solace better than it protected one from the oppressive sun overhead. A slumbering old man with four horns peering out from his forehead kept guard in a creaking rocking chair. Beyond the batwing doors, was a dim, lonesome place smelling of soured beer and human stink. A pile of broken furniture was placed in a corner and the Wanderer mused about it’d make good kindling and he’d do the occupants a favor by burning the bar to the ground. He took a seat at the bar and noted a drunken flesh pile slowly swaying to his far left. The bar maid made odd clatters in a backroom behind the bar and when she emerged, her hands dotted with bits of red. She eyed the Wanderer and hastily wiped the red away on the seat of her loose hanging black dress. The woman had a dog face under a curly mound of dyed black hair.
“Water,” The Wanderer said in a hollow voice, his head hung low. The bar maid just stared, her fingers unconsciously rising to his face. He shifted his fiery blue eyes to the woman and she repented the hand, placing it between her breasts. The Wanderer knew it was more the big blade glaring off his back like some terrible vulture that stayed her hand, but it all amounted to the same thing. The world was wrong, no better way to put it. Sometime in the long way back when, Man’s started to rot off the bone, minds started to sour in their owner’s skulls, and any signs of health might a life on the run, a life by the gun, by the blade.
“Water,” The Wanderer repeated with more authority woven in his words. She turned away from him to a manual water pump set low at the far side of the bar. She put her hand on the lever to pump and paused.
“How you want it?” She asked in a quivering voice that was more old age then nerve.
“Out a picture, if it’d do you.”The Wanderer said, keeping his eye on the bar top.
“You got coppers for that?” She asked, taking her hand for the pump lever. The Wanderer clicked a gold coin on the bar top and with that she fetched a picture from beneath the counter top. The water splashed a brownish hue into the picture, but the Wanderer took it happily. The bar maid dropped her hand over the coin and slid it over to her.
“That a shined up copper? Shined up Bronze, maybe?”She said with a conspiratory flick of her eye to the swaying flesh mound. She wanted to play friendly. She wanted to play motherly. She was saying, ‘Keep your coins close, lest someone snatch them, dear boy,’ with that motion of the eyes. She wanted to believe that he was an innocent, despite the guns, the sword and the hard stare. The Wanderer was fine with letting her think as long as she kept her manners. The Wanderer gripped the picture and the bar maid turned toward the backroom.
“Ay, Water ain’t worth gold. Not when you’re sitting on a well. I got something coming back to me.”She paused and issued a nervous laugh.
“Must have slipped my mind. “ She said fishing metals from a drawstring purse of her hip. She dropped a couple coppers on the countertop and hurried to dote on her other customer. The Wanderer took his picture out on the porch and took a seat in a counter furthest from the slumbering old man. He sucked down as much of the water as his stomach could hold and poured the rest down on his head, praising its cold. He sat steady in the shade for a moment, staring at the sand roll along the path of the road.
He picked himself up and stepped off the porch, leaving the picture behind. In the corner of his eye, he saw the bar maid exit through the batwings and scoop up the picture.
“Come back,” She cried. The Wanderer didn’t turn and the bar maid added a slight diminished, “If you have a mind to.” The last the Wanderer saw of the Bar maid was her kissing the picture he’d left. He’d seen that as well, as if health were a disease one could catch.

Story Two: Are You Sicily?

The rain fell in sheets the day they almost met. It was a chance mis-encounter, her entering a perfumed taxi cab as he exited. An awkward smile was exchanged and that was all. She was off on her way and he was off to his apartment to commit suicide. The gun blast shocked each and every occupant on his floor. They described it as a bomb going off. A war veteran in 5b locked himself in a bathroom with a service revolver because of the blast. An elderly woman suffered a mild heart attack in 5c and lastly an infant was woken from his noontime nap in 5d. The bullet hadn’t flown into the man’s brain as he had hoped. The recoil had forced the barrel away from his brainstem and toward the back of his jawbone. The bullet pushed through the bone, avoiding any vital areas and ripping into a gas line hidden in the wall. The gas escaped into the spaces between the walls and between the apartments.
The man bled out on the floor for about fifteen minutes before the police and paramedics broke their way in and started to operate on the man. The old woman in 5c however, stayed helplessly on the floor for almost fifteen hours. When she finally was found, she was severely dehydrated and she had irreversible damage done to her heart. That one event shortened her life by 2 years, meaning she’d die two months from the man and the woman meeting officially.
The man was unconscious for two days, being fed by IV and pissing into a catheter. The morning the man and the woman met, the war veteran finally put away his service pistol and called his therapist. The woman walked in, gasping silently at the bandaged man being fed by an IV. She didn’t know why she was in the hospital room or why she was holding a rose wrapped in a paper napkin. She placed the rose on the side table and wiped a tear from the man’s eye with the napkin. He awoke, breathing in sharply.
“Are you Sicily” He asked with a clumsy tongue, a stiff, motionless jaw, and a trembling set of vocal chords.
“Who’s Sicily?” She asked, wiping more tears from his eyes. They were spilling freely and she feared that it wasn’t because of damage from the bullet.
“My daughter, she was beautiful.” He said, his words hardly comprehensible and saturated in heavy breaths.
“Yes.” She lied, tending to his weeping eyes.
“I thought you had died.” He told her. “I didn’t know what to do.”
“I didn’t.” She corrected. “Are you Okay?”
“No.” He had said simply.
She visited the man every day for the two weeks that the man stayed in the hospital, suffering from some odd, severe eye infection that the doctor’s couldn’t trace. She even drove him home the same day that the old woman collapsed in the shower. The elderly woman had trouble breathing, but luckily her granddaughter had insisted on checking in on the elderly woman twice a day since they had found her on the floor, dehydrated.
“How’s college?” The man asked the woman over breakfast one morning. She stabbed at her scrambled eggs and he sipped at orange juice.
“Good. It was shaky in the beginning, but I’m doing better.”
“That’s good.” He praised. Since his discharge from the hospital his eyes had been terribly inflamed and weepy. His jaw hadn’t properly set and he had developed a shuttering lisp that the woman found endearing. She couldn’t help but smile shyly as he stumbled across his words.
“What about that boy?” He asked.
“What boy?”
“I don’t know his name.” He said.
“I don’t see him anymore.”
“You’re not my daughter, are you?” He asked, a tear rolling slowly down his cheek. She stood and walked the circumference of the breakfast table. She laid a gentle kiss upon his cheek and lied to him again.
“Of course I am.” She said softly.
“Of course you are.” He repeated, placing his hand on hers, wiping tears away with his other. He asked her to stay with him for a while, not forever, but for a little while. She agreed, figuring that he needed someone, but she wouldn’t leave her cat alone. He hadn’t known his daughter had a cat, but was happy to have it as well. The woman moved in and panicked her first night because her cat had disappeared. It had turned up outside of the elderly woman’s apartment, sleeping by the door. They had to be careful about keeping the door closed, because the cat would escape. It never ran too far, just to the elderly woman’s apartment, but the man’s apartment building didn’t allow for pets. The cat finally stopped sleeping outside the elderly woman’s apartment after a few weeks and the elderly woman stopped breathing in her hospital bed. The cat then traded one doorway for another, the infant in 5d. The woman would collect the cat again and again and again, the cat escaped.
The infant developed a wet, rasping cough that gave his mother terrible nightmares. The child held on for a full week before he died. His mother discovered the body, limp in his cradle in the early hours of daylight. When her hand met his icy cold flesh, she screeched out wildly. The war veteran was sleeping soundly, but his dreams turned to nightmares as the mother’s screams brought back memories of Afghani women ducking in terror as a man barks in Arabic and explodes into steaming, red meat and jagged bone. The war veteran awoke and let out a scream of his own. The veteran felt like he was under water and still sinking. The screams died away but the veteran still held his weapon close to his chest, rocking back and forth. A short while later the mournful paramedics left, a knock sounded on his door. The sound sent shivers down the veteran’s spine.
The veteran didn’t answer his apartment door, but slipped into a closet, as the knocking continued. There was a jiggle of keys and the rustling pop of the sticking front door. The veteran didn’t peer out of the closet at his intruder, but allowed the barrel of his gun to watch for him. Heavy footsteps creaked the carpeted floorboards like the floor boards had under the punishing sun. The wood was old and untrustworthy, and it looked down upon a bustling marketplace. When the bomb blew, the veteran panicked and the wood gave way. He fell and hit hard on the floor below, but was still conscious. He could hear the woman scream, the children scream, men scream. He could understand some of the screams. Some screamed in English.
A gruff voice called for the veteran and the veteran pulled the trigger. A heavy thud punched at the floorboards, but the wood didn’t give way this time.
The landlord lay dead on the floor; his intrusion was only out of a concern. Screams had ringed out, shortly after a death and a suicide attempt.
The gunshot from the veteran’s gun sent a wildly shock through the occupants of his floor. The mother of the dead infant dropping the phone she had, losing some comforting words from her caring mother. The suicidal father of Sicily jerked his bound jaw and caused new bleeding to occur and the girl who wasn’t Sicily smiled.
“You’re not Sicily, are you?” The man asked, spitting blood out into the kitchen sink. She smiled more, pressed her lip against his.
“Of course I am.” She lied.
“Of course you are.” He repeated, rubbing her shoulder and moving out into the hall in time to hear more screaming and a second gunshot. His fingers tingled with confusion and he stood helpless until the mother emerged from her apartment, her face soaked in tears and reddened by the pain of loss.
“What happened?” She asked shakily.
“I don’t know.” He answered, looking through blurry eyes to the opened door of 5b. The woman hung her head out from the door of the man’s apartment.
“I’ve called the police. I think there was gunfire.” She said, her fingers wrapped around a cordless phone.
In the following weeks, the woman spent time with the mother of the dead infant, providing comfort like she had for the father of the dead Sicily. Outside the mother’s apartment door, the cat slumbered happily. She had followed her mistress along to the mother’s apartment, but never took the invitation to go inside. The father on the other hand, enjoyed terrible silence in his apartment, thinking of horrible things. He thought of the smile of a young girl named Sicily, of her riding her first bike, of her stumbling through her dance recital and later confessing that she never wanted to dance again, of himself encouraging her to dance stupidly in the parking lot. These thoughts brought tears to his eyes and brought vision to his heart.
“She isn’t Sicily.” He whispered into the lonely void.
Gas had escaped silently into the walls, waiting for the right moments. It polluted the shaky mind of a warrior tormented by his past, it stole the breath from a cooing babe in his cradle, the meager reminder of structural stability in an old woman’s heart and lastly, it belched hellfire into the quiet apartment of a mourning parent.
The mother of the dead infant wasn’t able to think of a truly beautiful thing before the flames bled into her kitchen. A simple distraction moved through her mind.
What’s that knocking sound? She thought. The woman who wasn’t Sicily had thought of a rose wrapped in a paper napkin, she thought of how she hadn’t so much as breathed human air until she’d breathed the air of a perfumed taxi, she hadn’t used lips until she smiled at a miserable man. The two women caught fire, one burned like meat, spitting with fat and the other burned like kindling. The strong magic that held body together broke readily in the flames, releasing the souls it’d stolen in the later days: old woman, the wheezing babe, the tortured veteran, the heavyset landlord. The man exited his apartment into a fiery hallway, the cat hissing in terror at the crackling flames. The man scooped his cat up and walked calmly away. As the flames devoured the apartment complex, his mind turned to the moment of Sicily’s death, she had burned in an apartment fire, herself.
All his considerable magicks couldn’t bring her back, he realized. The more he fooled himself that it was her, the less of his will he’d impose upon it.
He was a good father, he thought. He wanted his daughter, but he wanted his daughter to be free.

Story One: Two Men, Alone And Beset By Zombies

1. The small cottage had been barricaded well. The previous occupants had done their due, though the legions of undead had made their way in anyway. Arthur Wells had happened upon the stone cottage, boarded up tighter than a Sunday school virgin, and decided that zombies wouldn’t comb over the same place twice. He had also figured that the cottage was far enough out of the way that he’d be the only one to enjoy its safety. He was wrong on both accounts. It was the third day in the cottage. He’d eaten half of the almost exhausted pantry. The previous occupants were at least seven in number and had held up for at least a month and a half before the zombies came. The pantry was probably better stocked than. He was working over a can of creamed corn when the report of a shotgun sounded through the cool air. Arthur mouthed the word, ‘No’ while corn dripped down his chin.
2. Another report sounded, and another. The sounds echoed from the Far West, but were edging closer and closer. Arthur prayed silently that the dead men would crack the shooter’s head open and turn away. Maybe they’d choke on his peace-murdering hide and die all over again. Unfortunately, the shooter didn’t get his head cracked open and therefore the dead men couldn’t have choked on his peace-murdering hide. The reports stopped and the rustling started. Whoever was shooting, was now trying to force his way in. Arthur picked up a small knife meant for mincing, out of the kitchen and prepared to drive the bastard off. The blade was undersized and Arthur grimaced at the thought of letting someone profane his shelter long enough to get enough hand in to stab. The hand slid in with a burst of grim daylight and Arthur drove the blade into the man’s meaty hand. A roar of pain erupted from the outside, but Arthur lost his knife when the hand recoiled.
3. “Fucker! Motherfuck…fuck! Motherfucking motherfucker…I’m not one of them! They don’t fucking shoot guns! Motherfuck! Fuck. FUCKER!”
Arthur peered out from the hole the shooter had made to see a big, hulking man dancing wildly about in the hazy sunlight. The man’s hair was gray and well trimmed. The fact that his hair wasn’t shaggy like Arthur’s suggested how right Arthur was to stab him. He was part of the dwindling few who trusted that humanity was going to come out on the other side of the zombie apocalypse. They tried to live life like the one they had before. They wanted to like right on the other side. Arthur knew there was no other side. There was always the possibility that a meager, insignificant few might tuck themselves always long enough for all the undead to starve to death, but whatever came out on the other side wouldn’t be human. They’d be more than dead, but not quite alive. They’d be animals on two legs and they’d never trust the smell of a fresh haircut.
4. The shooter tore a piece of his shirt to make a bandage before he started toward the cottage again. They never learned their lessons. Back when scientists were trying to understand the infection, rather than outrun it or be devoured by it, they tested the undead’s learning capacity. He had watched drooling ghoul after ghoul electrocute themselves, Cajun style, on an electric field trying to get at the yummy brains on the other side. These people were just like them. He had to know I had something else. He had to know I knew he was regular and therefore, he had to know I didn’t want company. Arthur scurried to the kitchen and palmed a potato peeler. He was more careful with this knife. If he had lost it, he’d be reduced to stabbing the man with wood splinters.
5. The man peered in through the hole he had made and Arthur ducked away into the shadows. He wouldn’t reach out with the peeler, lest the shooter outside had good reflexes, which wasn’t ridiculous considering that he was alive in this world. If the man outside grabbed Arthur, Arthur would be defenseless. He’d lose his weapon, his shelter, and possibly his life. The man seemed to know where his power was, because he kept his limbs outside and was wary of any movement inside.
6. “I’m not looking to hurt you. I’m not even looking to stay for long. I just need to rest for a little while. I’ve been travelling.” The shooter called into the still darkness. A light clack sounded and Arthur’s mind turned immediately to tear gas. He held a cloth to his mouth and waited for the gas. However, as his eyes searched for the rising cloud, he realized the ploy wasn’t so blunt. He’d thrown the knife back in. He was trying to draw him out, figure his position.
“You can have it. I don’t need it. I just need to rest. I’m trying to find someone and he’s moving all the time, from what I’ve been told. I won’t be round long at all. I swear.” The man pleaded. Arthur could hear the fatigue bleeding from the man’s voice, but he knew how easy it’d be to fake that fatigue.
7. The shooter got much livelier, for instance, when the wet slapping of bare feet echoed in the distance. Arthur closed his eyes, imagining the cracked country road that led to the long dirt drive. He had a little time and he wasn’t going to waste it waiting for the man to make his move. He upturned the heavy kitchen table he’d been sitting at, spilling his cream corn, and shoved it against the wall, blocking away the piercing daylight.
8. The shooter saw the sudden motion and started shouting in a panic, slamming the butt of his gun against the now sealed opening. The sound was getting closer; the groans were reverberating through the open space. The trees, the soil, the air was excited with their approach. “They’re coming, god damn!” The shooter cried to Arthur, but he just knelt down low, with his weight against the table.
9. The first of the reports came and Arthur gritted his teeth. “Damn guns.” He whispered. Post mortem and Post-post mortem examinations showed that the undead weren’t completely brain-dead. Though zombies suffered from impaired higher cognitive functions and diminished sight, they enjoyed a compounded sense of smell and hearing. Arthur had lived amongst the rotted stink of the dead just to conceal his stink of the living. The shooter, out there, had shattered the other end of his cover. Arthur gathered that the gunfire, that slue the first group, would attract the second and likely a third.
10. Flecks of wood exploded from the wall. The shooter outside had turned his weapon on the cottage window in final desperation. Soon the shooter would be in and with him a long line of rotting horror. Arthur abandoned the table barricade and scrambled, moving low along the floor. He came to a cord that would drop a ladder leading into the attic. He pulled it down. The ladder slid down with a dangerous clatter and Arthur rushed up into the attic’s darkness.
11. The shooter spilt into the cottage and didn’t waste time wondering where the cottage’s occupant was. He harried about the darkened home, sealing the hole he came in through and the other damage he might have done. Once the shooter was sure he could do no more, he slid to his ass and wiped his brow. He closed his eyes and made a silent prayer as the zombies reached the cottage and began their scratching and clawing.
12. “We’re on the same side.” The shooter called into the empty cottage. “My name’s Frank Pine. I’m from Rockport.” He continued, but he stopped once he realized that only scratchy silence would comfort him.
13. Arthur spied down on Frank, listening in on the scratching. They would be in soon enough, he believed. Once they did, they would kill the shooter and then amble about the cottage and then they would leave. Arthur estimated that he would be hungry in the darkness for maybe three days. He assured himself that he could bring himself to such lengths.
14. The first day with the shooter came and went without the zombies breaking the barricades. Arthur assured himself that only one day was added to his three-day estimate.
15. Another day came without Frank’s brutal murder and Arthur became less sure of himself. He reminded himself of the 3-3-3 rule: three minutes without air, three days without water, and three weeks without food. He always kept a canteen on his person, so water was not an issue. However, the big question was, could he possibly last three weeks for this man to die? He did not think so. He had to rethink his strategy.
16. On the third day, while Frank worked over a can of beets, Arthur dropped the ladder down. In a shock, Frank skirted back and away from the only weapon, he had brought. With foolish confidence, he had left his gun leaning in a corner, and out of his reach. Arthur cut for the gun the moment that he descended. Frank launched forward the moment he realized that Arthur was not one of the dead, but he was too late. Arthur had the gun.
17. Frank bounced back against the wall as the barrel rose to a path between his eyes.
“I’m not one of them,” He croaked. “Why can’t you see that?” He showed his forearms and bared his neck, displaying his unbroken flesh.
“You may not be one of them, but you’re making noise like you want to be.” Arthur whispered. He unfolded his unarmed hand and revealed a pre-looped length of shoelace.
“I’m not going to ask you to leave, but I am going to restrain you.” Arthur said, inching closer with the shotgun leading. Arthur pressed the barrel into Frank’s belly and gestured for the man’s wrists. Frank gave them and Arthur synched the lace tight and then secured each to a sturdy looking planter’s hook that hung higher than Frank’s comfort.
18. “You’re from Rockport, too.” It was not a question, so Arthur did not give it an answer. “I know your face.” Frank whispered with definite surety. “You killed my son.” Arthur froze for a moment, but he finished securing Frank and started toward the diminished pantry.
19. Arthur’s options were split between something called Pink Salmon and Pickled Peppers, which he was surprised was real outside of the tongue twister. He chose the food he had the most experience with and worked the pickled peppers under the mechanical can opener. He plucked the wrinkled red and green peppers out and ate them jealously. 20. Frank glared from the wall. His lips rolled up along his teeth, to his gums and itching anger burned away in his veins. The man, who had murdered his son, was there, plain as day and smelling like shit.
21. “You going to say anything?” Frank asked. He strained on the shoelace and ignoring the chords bite. Arthur did not speak; he just sat on the opposite side of the room, rubbing his stomach. Apparently, the peppers had not agreed with him.
“Huh!” Frank barked and startled the sitting man.
“Quiet.” Arthur hissed, craning his head side to side, trying to determine if the scratching outside had grown more excited. He could not tell, but he had noted Frank’s agitation at being told to be quiet.
“You fucking killed my son.” Frank barked, making no effort to calm his voice.
“Okay.” Arthur said through his teeth. “Have you spoken your mind?”
“You killed the fucking world. It would be just if I just threw you out there. Let them paint the lawn with your insides, you shit soaked rat-fink”
“You want to know something…” Arthur started, but cooled himself. He knew adding to his hysteria would only encourage him, but Arthur had heard these accusations repeatedly and they grew difficult to abide.
22. What Arthur almost said was, ‘You want to know something, and my work didn’t cause this. The U.S. government employed me to create a viral strain to curve the growth of poppies in Mexico. I did that. Mexican chemists mutated the strain trying to undo my work. Your son, whoever he is, was probably some goddamn addict who would have died of an overdose if he hadn’t snorted the fucking virus up his nose or shot it in his arm.”
23. One desperate moment had brandished Arthur with what the 21st century offered as the Mark of Cain. A reporter had tracked the plant virus back to America and the State Department had redirected the national press to the conveniently independent laboratory headed by the unfortunate Arthur Wells. Though the clinical name for the virus was Serum VV5, the press regularly referred to it as Wells’ Disease. He would have been arrested if the authorities weren’t preoccupied with the undead threat, back while they still attempted to contain it.
24. Frank breathed in heavily, watching the sunlight drain from the cracks in the cottage’s barricading. The scratching had hit its peek and he had held hope that the things on the other side had lost interest in the cottage. He had hoped, but some sense inside him knew that the danger was not gone and it had nothing to do with the filthy man sitting across from him with Frank’s gun resting in his lap.
25. A wet thwacking shook the wooden boarding late in the night, and the two men shocked into waking. Frank roused first and Arthur rose his head afterward. Though the thudding led to no breach, it did lead to a revelation for both men. Arthur had feared that he had some ailment, something rotting in his belly and now Frank had seen. It was small, it was slight, but Arthur feared that it was seen. One thing Arthur had learned to trust was that nothing held forever. The shoelaces would break. The hook the shoelaces were bound to would break. The barricades would fall. The smart man trusted these truths and left before it happened. Whatever was wrong with him was going to make that harder. He had to start thinking, unless he wanted to start dying.
26. Frank did not feel the biting in his wrists. They had bled red runners going down his forearm, but still he pulled. Had Frank known what Arthur had dragged his shoelaces through, he might have reconsidered such effort. However, the torn flesh was exposed to filth, and muck, and the slightest remnant of the viral strain that viciously ripped through the world. Frank had lost his life and would never understand why.
27. It was a sudden snap followed by a terrible grunt of nerves waking after being numbed. Arthur had vomited across the floor in the middle of the night. The discomfort of the hot sick pressed against his face had kept him in an odd realm between waking and sleep, and therefore he was not slow to react to Frank’s attack. It was not anything as poetic as a knife in the heart. It was just Frank’s heel being driven downward toward Arthur's head.
28. Before the apocalypse, Frank was not a violent man. Before the apocalypse, he had learned to shoot by duck hunting with his father as a boy. He had cried the first time a rifle recoiled in his hands. He had felt ashamed of it, crying in front of his father, rather than fearing the gun. He owned the gun he brought to the cottage in the same way someone might own a house in a city one has never been to. It was there and he knew about it. But the virus had a way of finding the worst in people.
29. Arthur scrambled to his feet, but felt the room spin around him. His throat began to burn. He spewed what was left of the pickled peppers across the floor and across Frank’s shoes. Frank recoiled in disgust, but fought through it. Something that Arthur could not hear was whispering “kill Frankie, kill” in Frank’s ear. Soon, Frank would not be able to hear it. It would just be the fire in his eyes and the hunger in his belly. Frank curled his fingers around Arthur’s shirt and slammed him into the wall. Frank was strong. He was a big man, and the wood behind Arthur and Arthur, himself, could attest to that.
30. Arthur crumpled into a heap on the floor and he was vaguely aware of the shotgun rising away from him. Arthur slid his hand into his pocket, closing his fingers around the small bladed knife he had stolen in the darkness of night. The shotgun leveled on Arthur and a feeble click sounded. Arthur pulled the knife out from its hiding place and planted it in Frank’s leg. He screeched aloud, which did not do well for the migraine that was brewing in Arthur after the blow against the wall.
31. The gun clattered to the ground and Arthur rolled away, not worrying about collecting his knife. Frank crashed against the wall and cried out more. Arthur rushed toward the attic and Frank collected himself enough to chase after him. As Arthur rushed up the ladder, Frank gripped Arthur by the pants and tore them. Shotgun shells sprinkled out from the tear and Frank relented. He loved the idea of crushing the man’s throat with his bare hands, but shooting him was as good an idea as any available.
32. Arthur rested on his back, gasping in between dry heaves. An ache was pumping poison into his side. He was regretting the sudden burst of motion, and soon he was regretting the cease of that motion. The floor very close to his right calf exploded in a shower of wood splinters. The sudden disruption released a shocked scream from Arthur’s throat and that was the next of his regrets. A white-hot pain sliced through the meat of his shoulder. Arthur bit down on his tongue to avoid repeating the second regret, and instead tested his wounded arm. He could move it, so the damage was not anything he would waste time thinking about. He hobbled along on his knees, wincing across the attic.
33. An explosion ripped a jagged hole in the floor and Arthur rolled away in panic. He hit his wounded shoulder and bit his tongue again, drawing blood this time. He kept rolling until he hit the wall, then he scanned his surroundings. Thin wisps of moonlight stole from behind a stack of dust-caked boxes.
34. Arthur took a moment to consider the situation he was in. He was beset by a horde of undead cannibals on one side and a man with a gun and a grudge on the other. Things did not look good. He then considered his options. Submitting to either side meant death. The more Frank shot at him, the more zombies showed up for the dinner bell. However, the more Frank shot at him, the fewer bullets he would logically have. Arthur had taken six shells from the gun and therefore Frank could only fire six times, he had popped three off already. Frank also had the knife. There was the outside chance that he had just pulled it out and thrown it aside, but Arthur did not want to assume something like that. He would have to go down again, and did not want to be surprised.
35. Frank limped about the cottage, grunting with a raw throat. The holes he had blasted in the ceiling were not telling him anything. They were just three black voids echoing with shaky breaths. It was getting harder to focus and harder to breathe. He wanted to sit down, but a firm fist was gripping him by the mind, wrenching him to his feet.
36. There was a clatter by the far wall and Frank fired first into the wall and adjusted to fire toward the noise. There was a secondary clatter and Frank fired again. This was immediately followed by a hoarse scream. Frank fired into the scream and was met by a metallic click.
37. Arthur made noises that he did not know that he was capable of making. It was bad, he could not take care of it, but he was not sure if he could get up to take care of Frank. His mind was on fire. It made spastic leaps from whether the thudding sounds approaching him were imaginary to bacterial infections to the zombie infection. He had not anticipated ricochets and that oversight gave him a metal sliver in his leg and it was bleeding badly.
38. Frank was wincing and gasping psychotically as he rose up into the attic, the small bladed knife choked in his hand. He spotted the pool of blood where the murderer of his son once rested. The red had turned white in the moonlit glow.
39. Dazed from his short fall, Arthur heard the soft shuffle of confused feet. They were still ambling about, but the ambling was in his direction. They could smell the living stink of his blood. He forced himself to his feet, fell to his knees, and decided to crawl away.
40. Behind him, Frank screeched wildly, bashing the wooden barricades down with the butt of his gun. He spilled out into the night and more than one zombie turned its head to witness the noisy, thing that smelt like fresh meat.
41. Frank moved forward, but between him and Arthur, was a small horde of interested zombies. They grabbed at him and he slashed at them, roaring as he did so. That noise caught the attention of the last of the zombies inching toward Arthur. Frank fought hard, harder than he thought possible. Nevertheless, the undead overtook him, biting and tearing, scratching and roaring.
42. Arthur moved with all the vigor of a stuck pig fleeing a second strike. No one and nothing was chasing him, not that he would look back long enough to know. He only ever stopped to purge foul emptiness from his stomach. Arthur was an unapologetic survivor and felt nothing for the wild, wounfed shouts that echoed into the night.