include_once("common_lab_header.php");
Excerpt for Flash Attack: Thrilling Stories of Terror, Adventure, and Intrigue by , available in its entirety at Smashwords





* * * *



Flash Attack


Thrilling Stories of Terror, Adventure, and Intrigue



by


A.P. Fuchs



Published by Coscom Entertainment at Smashwords.com

This book is also available as a paperback at your favorite online retailer or through your local bookstore.



* * * *



The fiction in this book is just that: fiction. Names, characters, places and events either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons living or dead or known thrilling events is purely coincidental.


ISBN 978-1-927339-69-5


Flash Attack: Thrilling Stories of Terror, Adventure, and Intrigue is Copyright © 2018 by Adam P. Fuchs. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce in whole or in part in any form or medium.


Published by Coscom Entertainment


Text set in Garamond

eBook Edition



* * * *



This is for Dad.



* * * *



Flash Attack


Thrilling Stories of Terror, Adventure, and Intrigue



* * * *



Attacked: An Introduction



The following stories started as a challenge to myself as I began Year Three of my weekly newsletter, The Canister X Transmission. The plan? Send out one flash fiction story a week, which I did, and which were an assortment of adventures stories, horror stories, superhero stories, and more. I also knew they would eventually be collected in book form in two ways: one, in the collected edition of The Canister X Transmission: Year Three and, two, as a separate collection of short-short stories. I also knew I wanted more stories than that which had gone out during Year Three, so I wrote some bonus tales while Year Four got underway. These extra stories are contained here. As well, the stories that had gone out during Year Three will not be exactly the same as their original digital weekly counterparts due to some light editing. So, in a way, the stories contained herein are all new. Sort of.

As an exercise, writing a flash fiction story week-to-week was a good way to keep the writing machine going. After all, each newsletter needed a story as part of its contents. There was no dropping the ball on that one lest I let myself down and my readers down. It was also a chance for me to explore ideas and concepts that might remain as they are presented here, or might serve as premises for future work.

Flash fiction is a tricky beast. Though short and sweet, it’s important each story contains a beginning, middle, and an end. Each tale is not simply an excerpt of a greater whole. They are stories. Full stories. Just short. The aim is to pack each one with as much entertainment and information as possible, and leave the reader satisfied in the end.

For this collection, no genre was off-limits. Sure, from a marketing perspective, it might have been best—even smarter—to stick to a single genre, but my brain isn’t wired that way, and each week my mood fluctuated and a craving to write in one genre would outweigh another. What we have here is a mix, and they are published in the order they were written thus giving you, the reader, a surprise every time you dive into a new tale.

It’s my sincerest hope that not only are you entertained by what’s to follow, but also your reading habits are expanded by exploring a writing medium that isn’t very common. I believe it’s important for any reader, myself included, to try new things, so this book is an effort to help with that.

Thank you for taking part, and I welcome you to Flash Attack: Thrilling Stories of Terror, Adventure, and Intrigue.


- A.P. Fuchs

Winnipeg, MB

May 20, 2017



* * * *



The Key



Reluctantly, he handed over the key.

If only she knew what it was for. But she had no idea. She couldn’t have. Not even after all this time. Oh, but when she found out . . .

The thought gave him pause. Could she be trusted? Would she come through? If she was anything, she was honorable. This he knew. But the key, the one he’d been guarding his whole life. Once she had it . . .

It was only a matter of time, he supposed, before he told her. She knew about the key, that was for sure. Knew about it all along, actually, but not what it was for. The plan had been to never tell her its power, but things didn’t always go accordingly to plan.

It was after a few nights in the bar that he let the details about the key’s power slip. The third night, actually, the one filled with heavy beer and tequila shots. Keeping a filter when under the influence was never his strong suit. Sure, he could do it. Even force it—after many beers he had to force it—but eventually the walls came down and he told her about what the key could do.

It opened the door to that other place.

That place he hadn’t been to since he was a child.

She was immediately intrigued and, like all good women taking care of drunken men, laughed it off as if he’d simply had drank too much and that was it. But after, when he was sober and made a foolish attempt at covering his tracks, she totally called him on it—had she really known all along?—and learned that the door—that portal—wasn’t a thing of fables.

Magic realms were real.

But you needed a key to get to them . . . and he had one.

It was the one he gave her.

And, he knew, he’d only give it to her.



* * * *



The Trapeze Artist



She knew she wasn’t supposed to, but how else would she star in the greatest show on Earth?

As her feet left the mattress, she reached out and grabbed the invisible trapeze bar in front of her. As her body fell back onto the bed, she imagined gripping it with all her might. Now prone, she pictured herself swinging through the air, heading straight toward another bar coming her way.

Back on her feet, she grabbed the new bar and released the other. Again, a backwards jump and she was sailing.

Quick! Turn around. That other bar is swinging back to you! she thought.

She flipped over onto her stomach, the mattress bouncing beneath her. No, not a mattress, just a cushion of air as she took hold of the new bar again.

The rush of wind breezed past her as she swung across the great divide. Quickly, she turned around on the bar, tucked her legs under herself, and rolled through the air, flipping, spinning, arms back out in front of her.

But there was nothing there to grab on to.

She immediately prepped herself for the sensation of freefall as she fell backward toward the safety net below. It absorbed her fall, took her in, nearly wrapped itself around her from her weight, then shot her back up into the air like a slingshot as she was sent to meet the bar. She firmly took hold, then rocked her body back and forth to build up the momentum to swing out again. Her legs folded up in front of her and she let go, did a backflip, and grabbed the other bar and rode it to the safety of the terrifically high trapeze stand.

The surrounding crowd applauded.

She took her bow.

The roar of clapping broke apart until only a lone person slowly clapped for her.

It was her mother, and she didn’t look impressed.



* * * *



Comics Power



Steve stood there staring at the comic’s opening page. It was that giant green robot again, the one that had terrorized Manhattan two months ago, the same one the Cosmic Kid had put an end to. Now it was back and was slamming holes into the bottom of the Empire State Building. It wouldn’t be long until the whole structure came toppling down.

He turned the page.

Citizens ran away from the robot in all directions, getting to safety. A military chopper flew overhead, firing bullets into the robot’s armored hull.

Useless.

The robot kept punching into the building’s walls and supports, working its way around the sides. What its agenda was, Steve didn’t know.

On page three, a tank rolled up and fired. The round simply exploded against the robot’s back, not fazing it. The military never stood a chance never mind any do-gooder cops that’d come along and try to take the thing down.

“There really is only one option,” Steve said.

He turned the page again and blue and red light swirled out and engulfed him in a tornado of power, pulling him directly into the comic book. Now clad in red tights and a blue cape, Steve boldly stood before the robot as the Cosmic Kid. The machine turned its attention on him and made its way toward him.

He had work to do.



* * * *



The Choice



If being a starship captain was any one thing, it was about making decisions. Captain Redd Trevor knew as much after serving on the S.S. Fang for over twenty years.

And now it had come to this.

The majority of his main crew had been lost when the Starlus boarded. What human could possibly stand a chance against creatures twice their height with insectoid-like shells covering their bodies?

The ship’s hallways were painted with blood and torn uniforms. Few of Captain Trevor’s extended crew were still alive, most held up in the engineering department and sickbay. From what he could tell, the families on board were mostly dead except for some who had managed to jam the doors to their quarters.

Twenty-four years on the Fang.

So many people come and gone.

So many missions.

So many victories and so many close calls.

Now the final call had come and Captain Trevor had to make his choice. A dance of fingers along the console and the self-destruct sequence would be initiated. Destroying the ship wouldn’t annihilate the entire Starlus race, but it would remove at least a large portion of them from being a further threat to the cosmos.

But the people on board. No one knew what he was about to do. No one knew their lives were in his hands and were moments away from ending. Yet how many more people or those of other races would die at the hands of the Starlus taking over his ship? If he could at least remove some of their army, it might weaken them for a time. Perhaps, even, weaken them enough so other ships could come in and wage war.

The distress signal had been sent out a long time ago. No other ship was in immediate range.

Those innocent lives . . .

The ship.

The people.

The unknown death in the future.

The choice was clear so why was he afraid?

Perhaps this would be an unforgiveable act, but he would take lives to save them, and it was the saving that was important. It was about the big picture. If destroying the Fang would start a war to remove evil from the galaxy, then it was a sacrifice worth making.

Captain Trevor eyed the console . . . and started punching in his code. Once entered, the screen lit up, asking him to confirm.

He thought of those on board. He thought of his crew and even imagined some nodding in approval.

He thought of the families huddled in the corners of their quarters, eyes on the entrances as the Starlus tried to beat down the doors.

The fear.

The faces.

The rapid heartbeats.

His own rapid heartbeat.

Captain Trevor closed his eyes, pressed his finger to the console, then looked at what he’d done.

The countdown began.



* * * *



The Bus



Ted paid the fare on the old transit bus and found a seat about halfway in and next to the window. There were maybe a dozen people on it besides himself.

As the bus got underway and headed to the next stop, a sudden sense of detachment filled Ted’s heart and it no longer seemed like he was just another human riding the bus. Sure, he was there, and so were the others . . . but he wasn’t one of them.

Could’ve been all the mistakes he’d made over his life.

Could’ve been the extra beer he had with breakfast. It was his breakfast.

Still, he looked around.

That old guy over there: worn, leathery skin, a scar on his cheek. The man’s jaw was a near perfect square and his plaid shirt did little to hide the now-aged and sagging muscle beneath it. It wouldn’t have surprised Ted if the old timer was a war vet. Most likely. A lot of old men were.

That woman over there, dark skin, a flowery dress. She smelled of berry-scented perfume and it drifted all the way over. He knew it was a stereotype but he got a quick mental flash of her in the kitchen and guessed when she served you a meal, she served you the equivalent of two under the guise of one.

Or that teenager with the long, scraggly hair hanging out of a baseball hat without a curved peak. He hated it when kids didn’t curve their hats. Didn’t they know it kept the sun off their face better? The teenager had his eyes glued to his phone. Texting or gaming, Ted didn’t know, but he felt bad the younger generation seemed to live their lives through a screen instead of through their own two eyes.

Another teenager, this one a girl, fairly homely, but who was he to judge? He was in his late forties; she was probably around sixteen. He remembered the girls back when he was that age. Had they all looked like that with crooked teeth and a hooked nose? Didn’t matter. She seemed sad. He almost wanted to talk to her to ask her what was wrong, but that would’ve marked him a creep so he stayed in his seat.

Everyone here had a story.

Even the stories he assigned the ones he just looked at, he probably wasn’t accurate, but that’s what people did: looked and judged. Come up with a nice tale and you could make yourself feel better about someone else without even knowing the truth.

The bus started and stopped, picking people up, letting people off.

The cars passed outside his window.

Humanity on wheels.

And he was here, seated above them on the old transit.

Detached.



* * * *



Cotton Candy Pink



When Trevor asked his mom to buy him the latest in neon fashion, he didn’t count on her getting him an outfit that made him look like a gumball.

“Pink,” he had said. “All pink.”

It was a new thing, the guys at school wearing pink. Normally a girl’s color, it suddenly became cool for the boys in grade six to have splashes of neon pink somewhere on their clothes. You became instantly awesome if you had that, he observed, and it raised you a peg with the girls as well.

Never one to do only the bare minimum, Trevor wanted to go all out but, also never the one with any money, he had to rely on his mom’s wallet to make it happen.

And she came through.

She brought the pink.

Just the wrong kind.

“I’m not wearing that,” Trevor said the morning he was expected to wear the new outfit she’d bought him. It was a cotton-candy-pink T-shirt, black track pants with a cotton-candy-pink stripe down the sides, a cotton-candy-pink baseball hat, and a pair of shades, with black frames but cotton-candy-pink arms.

“You darn well are going to wear it,” his mother said. “You told me pink, I got you pink. Final sale. This is not going to waste.”

“Everyone will laugh at me! I wanted neon pink.”

“You said ‘pink.’ I got you pink. Now get dressed or you can forget rides to baseball this week.”

That did it. Trevor’s team was clobbering all the others in the league and he was the star pitcher, always getting accolades after each game for throwing them in hard and fast.

Trevor got dressed and didn’t bother seeing himself in the mirror before leaving. He also avoided what he knew to be a satisfied—even smug—grin on his mother’s face because she got her way.

When he got to school, it suddenly felt like all eyes were on him. It was almost as if he wasn’t wearing any clothes at all and was parading around buck naked.

He headed toward the doors to wait for the bell to ring.

“What’s up there, little piggy?” Stew called from the four-square painted in yellow on the asphalt.

“You tell me, chunky!” Trevor shot back.

“What did you say?” Stew threw down the basketball, seemingly not caring it bounced several times then rolled off to the side into a crowd of girls. He marched over to Trevor.

Between actually wearing the cotton candy pink and the sudden insult, Trevor couldn’t believe what he’d done. Messing with Stew would likely get your face mangled.

“Um . . . hunky?” Trevor said. Stupid recovery.

“So, what, you have a thing for me now?” Stew laughed and glanced around. Those within earshot started laughing, too, and soon a crowd started to form around them.

“No. No way.”

“You said ‘hunky.’” Stew drew out the word and Trevor immediately felt his cheeks flush.

“I said ‘chunky’!” He didn’t mean to shout it or defend himself so quickly, but there it was, right there out in the open.

“You saying I’m fat now?” Stew didn’t waste any time and gave Trevor a shove. The jolt of the impact was harder than Trevor expected.

“No . . . I said . . . um . . .” His legs turned to rubber.

“I’ll show you fat,” Stew said and moved in with both arms wide as if he was going to give Trevor a bear hug.

Whether it was instinct or not, Trevor knew that “hug” was meant as a takedown. He jumped back a step and Stew missed his grab. Without thinking, Trevor popped him in the mouth. Unfazed, Stew’s eyes went wild and he dove in again, this time tackling Trevor around the waist.

The two hit the ground, Stew on top, his weight putting pressure on Trevor’s chest, making it difficult to breathe.

“Get off!” Trevor said and smacked Stew again in the mouth. It only made things worse.

Stew grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him partway off the ground then slammed him back down. The back of Trevor’s head hit the asphalt and he fought the sudden burst of black stars that danced across his vision.

He cut loose and punched and punched Stew anywhere he could land his fists. Some hit him in the face, others in the shoulders and chest.

A pair of big hands wrapped around Stew from behind and he was hauled off.

It was the gym teacher, Mr. Matthews.

“Enough!” Mr. Matthews shouted. He tossed Stew to the side as if the heavier kid weighed all of five pounds. He reached down and helped Trevor to his feet. “You okay?”

“Um . . . yeah . . . I guess,” Trevor said.

It was then he noticed Mr. Matthews wore a cotton-candy-pink T-shirt, too.



* * * *



The Party



“Hold it closer, I can’t read it,” One said. Though his eyes were adapted to the dark, trying to read the text on the card Two held out for him was still difficult.

“Here, is this better?” Two said.

“Yeah.”

There wasn’t much light coming into the six-by-eight-foot space, only the little that came through the two-inch-tall space beneath the door. There wasn’t anything in here. Just four walls, one of which had the door. A locked door. It had been home to One and Two since as far back as they could remember.

“‘Soon you will be free. It will be the party of a lifetime,’” One said, reading the card.

“What do you think it means?”

“I don’t know. What is a ‘party’? Never heard that word before.”

“I think it means seeing a group of people or something.”

One studied Two’s face: brown hair, brown eyes, blank expression. Apparently One also had brown hair and brown eyes.

“Do you think he’ll let us out?” Two asked.

“Mr. Numbers?”

Doctor Numbers,” Two said. “You know he hates being called ‘Mister.’”

“Right. Not sure what the difference is.”

One and Two were the same height—so Two discovered when they stood back-to-back that one time. They also were the same build—thin, but sturdy. They also wore the same clothes—a black jumpsuit which sometimes made Two look like a floating head in the dark.

There was a knock at the door and a voice came from the other side.

“You boys ready?” It was Dr. Numbers.

“For the party?” One asked.

“Yes. A lot of important guests are here.”

“Guests?” Two whispered. “What are ‘guests’?”

“I guess we’ll find out,” One said. To the door: “Yes, we are ready.”

“Then stand back. I’m opening the door,” Dr. Numbers said.

There was a ka-chunk and the door opened. Light flooded into the tiny room and One immediately shut his eyes. A moment later, a firm hand pulled on his arm. He guessed it was Dr. Numbers touching him because there was no way Two would grip him so hard. He was slowly guided forward.

He blinked open his eyes.

The room was bright, light seeming to cover everything. People much taller than him stood around in a semi-circle. Some were like him and Two and Dr. Numbers. Others—they looked thinner, smoother, with rounder hips and two balls sticking out of their chests beneath their clothes. They wore really long shirts, ones that ran down to their knees, and their shoes had spikes sticking out of their heels. One didn’t know how they could balance on those.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Dr. Numbers said, “I give you One and Two. Identical in every way and holding the inner properties you are all looking for.”

The people slapped their hands together in quick succession. One didn’t understand why they did that. He didn’t like the noise.

He looked over at Dr. Numbers and took the man in for the first time. He was taller than him, with gray hair, wrinkled skin—skin that wasn’t the same color as his own.

Dr. Numbers’s skin was lighter, like a very light brown, kind of white.

Two. He glanced over at Two.

Two looked different as well, out here in the light. His hair appeared a lighter brown and his dark skin was a different color, one that reminded him of the plum Dr. Numbers had given them that one time.

“Now, now, don’t be shy,” Dr. Numbers said.

One wasn’t sure if the man was talking to the people or to him and Two.

The people closed in, and the next thing One knew, him and Two had hands running all over them, feeling their faces and their bodies through their clothes.

One overheard someone say to Dr. Numbers, “You sure you bred them properly?”

“Yes,” Dr. Numbers replied quietly. “Isolated in the dark as instructed. They’re ready for sampling.”

“Excellent,” the other person said.

Two leaned in and whispered to One, “Do you know what ‘sampling’ means?”

One was surprised Two heard the exchange, but then again, each of their hearing seemed to be the same: nice and sharp. “I think that’s the first game of the party.”

“Good. I’m excited.”

Dr. Numbers stepped between One and Two and put his arms around each of their shoulders. “Boys, are you ready?”

“Yes,” One said.

“Uh huh,” Two said.

“Good.” To everyone else: “Are you ready?”

Smiles lit the room and each person produced a couple of small, shiny objects.

One recognized them as knives and forks from a picture book he once looked at in that small room.

The people stepped closer.

Knives drawn.



* * * *



The Split



It was her picture that always got to him, and tonight was no different.

Gabriel stood before the picture of Valerie on the nightstand beside his bed. He picked it up, held it—almost as if he was holding her. She was everything. Brown hair, brown eyes, forceful yet tender, and that little smile that said, “I know something you don’t.”

He wondered if that little something was that she loved him as much as he loved her.

He looked down at himself: he wore his Axiom-man uniform—dark blue tights with a light blue cape, light blue gloves, and a light blue stretch of tough fabric that ran diagonally across his chest.

Like the tough fabric over his heart.

He hadn’t put the mask on yet, one of the many he wore. One of them, his glasses, were on the nightstand, too.

Should he let her in? Completely let her in?

Valerie wasn’t just some girl he knew. She represented what life could be—a home, a family, someone to love each and every day.

The costume he wore was something else.

The costume wasn’t a warm home filled with Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, a mowed lawn, and a small pool in the backyard.

It was a symbol of truth and hope for a city that was barely hanging on. It was light in a dark place yet also a light slowly being consumed by the shadows and filth that coated Winnipeg’s streets.

Deep down, Gabriel knew he couldn’t have it both ways.

While it was true both paths led to a better place, one certainly outweighed the other.

Valerie was about her, himself, and those they’d influence through family and friends.

Being Axiom-man . . . that was about impacting the city, even the world, and pointing the way to a life where crime and war and evil weren’t common.

But there was a cost. He’d have to leave Valerie alone. He’d have to leave himself alone, that part of him deep down that yearned for normalcy and love and care and a person to live for.

Split.

Despite all he could do, despite all the good he’d done thus far, he just didn’t know if he had the strength to keep it up.

Every time he set himself aside to help others, a little piece of him went missing. Now . . . now he was able to feel it—the hollowness inside, as if his heart no longer beat with blood and passion but with cold duty and obligation.

He didn’t want that.

Becoming Axiom-man had been a choice he made because he couldn’t look the other way while others suffered.

But now . . .

Would the battle ever end?

Would he ever be in a position to choose between Valerie and the rest of the world and no matter what choice he made it would end up being the right one?

His heart ached for her.

But it also ached for those outside, right now, on the street.

Those that needed his help.

He set the picture down.

Gabriel fixed his mask in place and activated his powers.

Valerie would have to wait.



* * * *



Sniper



Those dumb bastards, I thought. They can barely walk, and never mind about them talking. One leg dragging behind the other. Must’ve been a hell of a bar night. I sniffed. As if that’s the case here.

I paused and was dismayed to find myself laughing at my own lame jokes. Was that what I had come to? Some horrible, self-entertaining comedian?

I lined up the rifle at the guy shuffling down the street. Well, “shuffling” wasn’t the right way to describe his walk. He used his right leg to pull the rest of his body forward as he made his way down the sidewalk, just like the guy some dozen feet behind him.

Brain dead, is what they are. All of them. Yet . . . there’s got to be something rattling around upstairs. How else could you walk? I leaned against the window sill. The glass that once covered it had been knocked out a long time ago. I was on the second floor of a warehouse, an old blue jean factory by the looks of it, what with some denim laying in the dust here and there on the floor. Yet judging by the stacks of boxes and crates all over the place, it seemed it went from jean factory to storage at some point. Storage for what, who knew? And I don’t have time to look through everything, not with Captain Rotten down there almost within shooting distance.

I lined up my shot but would have to wait roughly another minute for the walking dead man below to get close enough for me to peg him between the eyes.

I could shoot a rifle just like any idiot who knew how to pull a trigger, but my aim wasn’t that good at far distances. Then, really, whose was? That stuff you saw on TV, it ain’t real. Once heard someone refer to them as “improbably headshots.” Totally true. Though I hate guns, they do take skill if you want to consistently hit your mark.

Captain Rotten got closer. Now I could see a chunk of his face was missing . . . or maybe it was just the way his baseball hat cast a shadow on his face. Hard to say. His jaw just kind of hung there slack, as if he tasted something but couldn’t quite get that invisible burger into his mouth.

He pulled himself forward, one step, two.

Slow.

I waited, staring down the barrel, finger on the trigger.

I kept him in my sights the whole time and thought what had this world come to? Where was everybody? Were those two walking dead guys out there representatives of the entire human race? If so, then maybe I was the only one left.

But you’ve always been the only one, I thought. Or so it always felt like it. Just me in a sea of zombies. It started with those blasted cellphones. Sorry, “smart” phones. Everyone pretty much zoned out after that.

One step, two. Captain Rotten got closer.

I made sure the end of the barrel kept in line with that sweet spot between his eyes.

Another few seconds and I’d nail him, then I’d get the guy coming up behind him not long after.

Closer.

Captain Rotten had something in his hand. Looked like a mittful of meat.

I took my shot.



* * * *



Process



It really wasn’t all that difficult—writing.

Peter couldn’t figure out why other writers turned making a book into a highly-stressful and unnecessary process of software, hardware, semantics, research, half-glasses, indoor scarves, cardigans with elbow patches, and turtlenecks. Heck, walking into his local bookstore and checking out all the author photos on the wall was like looking at a mosaic of the same person. Different faces, sure, but each man or woman wore the aforementioned writer’s outfit and had their head resting on their hand as if in deep thought. So many writer blogs detailed the angst of process and how various programs and tools were required to get a story on paper.

Men and women writers alike—all the same.

Whatever happened to just sitting down at a damn typewriter, plugging in a page, and putting one word in front of the other until the scene was over? Whatever happened to letting the story tell itself?

Peter looked at his own typewriter. The finger outlets were ready as was the head plug.

He took the head plug and inserted its forked end into the metal receptacle in the middle of his forehead. He then put his fingers into the holes along the bottom rim of the key rows and let the small, fine needles within bury themselves into his fingertips. He double-checked the stack of paper behind the typewriter to ensure he had enough for the work to come. Once a page was complete, a new one would automatically feed into the roll while the other tumbled out the top and piled itself just beyond the stack of blank paper.

Clearing his mind, he chased away the events of the day then brought up a mental image of the next scene: Sir Roland on his mighty steed, sword drawn, ready to ride off to save Princess Valia from the evil duke holding her captive.

He knew the image transferred from his mind into his hands when a warm current of electricity ran from his brain down his spine and through his shoulders and arms into his fingertips. The keys began to move one at a time on their own.

Clak clak. Clakkity clak clak.

Just one word in front of the other until the scene was over.

It really wasn’t all that difficult—writing.



* * * *



Andy



Let me tell you about Andy.

Andy has a secret, and I’m not talking about a he’s-got-a-few-thousand-bucks-hidden-under-his-mattress one.

He’s fairly unassuming, to be sure. Black hair, blue eyes. He’s around five-foot-ten-or-eleven, average build (so far as I can see, anyway, though I’ve never seen the guy with his shirt off). He says he works the assembly line at a kitchen cabinet place. Goes to work, comes home, feeds the dog, falls asleep most nights watching TV.

Again, so he says.

But two weeks ago he and I were downtown grabbing a late-night beer. Andy doesn’t drink. I had my Fort Garry Dark; he had a Coke. I had two Darks, in fact. He just stuck with the one Coke.

It was when the UFC match on the big screen behind us suddenly switched over to a hotel fire not far from the pub we were at that let on Andy wasn’t what he seemed. He immediately turned around in his chair, eyes glued to the set, and he and I both watched as it was reported the top three floors were ablaze and people were trapped. Below, at the foot of the hotel, firetrucks and emergency workers were already on the scene. You couldn’t quite see what they were doing from the camera angle but it was clear they were working out a plan.

I looked at Andy. His eyes were glazed with tears and I knew he couldn’t stand to see helpless innocents in a place where at any moment they’d be burned alive.

Andy looked over to me, glanced down at my beer and told me to finish up while he went to the restroom. I wasn’t sure what to say other than, “Okay,” and watched as he headed to the back of the pub and turned the corner to where the bathrooms were. I’ve been to those bathrooms and knew at the end of the hall there was a back door.

I looked to the TV set and about ten seconds later, a green human-shaped blur flew in and crashed through the hotel’s fiery windows. One by one a man in a mask wearing a green and gray bodysuit flew the trapped people down to ground level.

The flying man had black hair.

No one knew his name and no one had coined one for him.

I looked at Andy’s Coke.

I looked at my beer.

I looked back up at the screen and saw numerous people had been rescued and the flying man was gone.

Less than half a minute later, Andy made his way back to our table. He said he was tired and we should probably call it a night because he had to get up early for work.

We paid our bill; Andy picked up the tip.

He and I parted ways just outside the pub’s door, and as he turned to head to his car, I noticed a smudge of ash on the back of his neck.

Andy had a secret.



* * * *



Old Man Henry



Look at him. Old and useless, Ray thought as he watched old man Henry sift through the toolbox. The old geezer must’ve sorted those tape measures ten times today.

Ray and Dan were helping the old guy frame a house. It was slow-going; only four sections of wall had been put up and they should’ve been up to at least seven. Another lay on the floor, ready to go. Just had to lift it into position before locking it down.

“These things are a bastard to lift,” Dan said.

“No kidding,” Ray replied. He and Dan were both twenty-two, gym rats, with V-torsos, tight pecs, and well-muscled arms to show for it.

Yet these walls were killing them.

Ray didn’t understand it. He could bench two and a quarter, deadlift three hundred, and shoulder press one-seventy-five. But even then, he still saw stars on one of the lifts as they hoisted the thing up. He didn’t tell Dan, though. Dan would never let him live it down.

He caught old man Henry eyeing him.

What does he want? All he does is sort tools and hand us what we need when we need it.

Henry had been at the framing game for most of his life. The old guy was in his seventies now and probably would never retire. He did look pretty solid, though.

“You boys better get that wall up before quittin’ time,” Henry said. His voice was soft, tired, yet had a subtle edge.

“Whatever you say, old man,” Ray muttered. Let’s see you lift this.

He sighed. The sun was brutal and the heat was getting to him. Just one more lift, some nails, a couple braces, and they’d be done for the day.

“Better get this done,” Dan said. “I’m sick of these ten-hour days.” He shook his head. “This job sucks.”

“Yup,” Ray said.

They each got into position on either end of what would be the top of the wall when it stood upright.

Ray got his fingers under the top plate.

“Be careful, boys,” Henry said.

“Yeah, yeah,” Ray said.

He gripped the top plate and squatted down, getting ready. “On three.”

Dan got into position and nodded.

“One. Two. Three.”

The boys lifted and took the wall to waist height. Ray had to adjust his grip so he could get his hands under it to press it up and start walking it forward.

The moment Ray adjusted his hands, the true weight of the wall sank in and he grunted as he started pressing against it. Green stars burst before his eyes and blackness rimmed his vision while his muscles screamed.

He started to push the wall up and . . .

A loud voice filled his ears but he couldn’t make out the words. Something hard was beneath him. Strips of beige ran across his vision.

He knew what those strips were but couldn’t think of their name.

The voice took on coherency: “Ray! Get out!”

What? Who?

Ray’s head spun and this guy who he knew but didn’t know told him, “You’re under it. I can’t hold it!”

The beige strips suddenly grew bigger as they came crashing toward him.

The quick thought of all going black filled Ray’s mind before the beige strips suddenly stopped.

“Pull him out,” he heard a gruff voice say.

Something gripped his legs and as he was pulled along the floorboards, he realized it was Dan who yanked on his ankles.

Ray rolled over onto his stomach then watched as old man Henry held the wall by himself with little effort.

He gently set the wall down; it barely made a sound as it touched the floorboards. It was like laying a quilt on a mattress.

“Dude, what happened?” Dan said.

“He blacked out,” Henry said, turning around. “It’s this damn heat.” To Ray: “You all right, son?”

Ray couldn’t form the words.

Henry gave him a hard pat on the chest, nearly winding him.

The power.

“You’ll be all right,” Henry said, and with that, he was back at the toolbox, sorting tape measures for the tenth time that day. “Welcome to my gym.”



* * * *



Chicken Back of Alley



Gazing into puddle, dirt on outside edge, me see me not me. On knees. Me gray. Skin peeling off skin, rubbing off on chubby fingers. Me can’t help it. Don’t know what happened. Thoughts broken in pieces. Don’t remember.

Me stand and walk around corner to behind building. Me walk slow, foot dragging ground along with me, ankle turned in like broken. Drool and goo drip off chin but arm raise to slowly wipe away. It’s dark here.

Back alley.

Stomach growls like mad dog. Me want chicken. But chicken no here. Markets closed at night. Down alley me go. Takes long time to move few feet. Ten minutes for ten paces. Head sore like headache. Don’t know what headache is. Hungry.

Turn corner to go behind other building. Street damp like puddle that showed dead man earlier. Hear sound. Sound like girl, with mouth muffled by hand or scarf.

Me see girl now. Man has hand over girl’s mouth. Me was right. Hear me not. Me breathe quiet. Me steps too slow to hear on ground. Man wears tall hat and dark cape. Girl wears red dress. Bonnet on cobbles.

Girl’s eyes see me. Hand of me reaches up. Takes time. Girls can taste like chicken. Me not sure. Me don’t remember.

Man still has back to me. Has knife in hand. He has ring on finger in shape of star. Five points on star. Shiny.

His hand rises like lightning, tearing throat off girl. Feet dragging, me moving slow, me see blood gush from throat over man’s hand. Falls down fast, does girl, hard, hits head on floor. Man jumps on her. Me run but really me dragging feet. Me clothes is ripped. Me sleeve also ripped. Teeth marks in arm. Ow, me think.

Me fine.

Man stops what he’s doing. Looks up. Sees me. Packs up things and runs past me. Still has knife in hand covered in glove. Knife slides along me neck. Man gone.

Back on knees, me face new puddle. Me eyes droop and left one seems to leak from head. More skin falls. Girl lies on dirty street not far away. Me neck running warm water. Crawling along ground to girl, wanting chicken, licking lips. She stares at me, mouth open.

Crawl on ground takes all night before me reach her. Me smell her drying blood and lick some off her neck. Girl’s body is spilled open and entrails decorate red dress like tinsel. They taste like chicken. Taste good.

Neck drips thick blood from me. Hits ground in globs. Me lick it.

Out on street, people walk. Hear them. A whistle blows. Footfalls on cobbles.

Police.

Me dead. Me try to crawl away. They too fast. Me pretend to be like her. Dead.

Me like chicken.



* * * *



Woodchips Stirring



Daniel had bought Shelly the gerbil for two reasons. One, it was their six-month anniversary. Two, he felt sorry for it. No one wanted it because of how ugly it was.

Shelly had named the gerbil Befriend because that’s what she and Daniel had been before they started dating: best friends.

Befriend was small, fitting into the palm of your hand perfectly, with light tufts of beige fur around its neck, nearly hiding her tiny face. Her body, however, looked as if it had been doused in oil, its golden fur matted in clumps, a deep tan color.

Daniel had also bought Befriend a cage but, when assembling it, he accidentally broke the door. He told Shelly not to worry as he would replace it when he came by tomorrow.

It was night and Shelly was in bed. Eyes closed, the last thing she heard before falling asleep was Befriend squeaking in her cage and moving amongst the woodchips.

Shelly dreamed she was in Befriend’s cage with her, wandering along the woodchips like a child in an amusement park. Befriend was nowhere to be seen.

Hiding in the woodchips, Shelly assumed.

Just then, her mouth filled with the sensation of fur; her tongue rubbed against the roof of her mouth, trying to work the hair off. She gagged, then spat, and thought it was nothing. She knew she was dreaming and strange things happened in dreams.

A sharp pang hit her throat, a lump somewhere in her esophagus, soft and spongy. It worked its way down. Shelly swallowed, forcing the lump down.

She cleared her throat. “Befriend? Where are you, girl?”

There was a stirring in the woodchips. Then there was a stirring in her stomach.

A prick, like a needle puncturing the inside of her stomach, suddenly caused her to stop moving.

“Ooie,” she said. “Ooie” was her word for “ouch.”

The prick came again and so did a sharp scraping, something tearing at the interior lining of her stomach. And it wasn’t just one sharp scrape—it was two, like two tiny nail heads scratching her internally.

Shelly fell to her knees, the pain red in her imagination, her eyes blurring over with tears. “Ooie.”

She put her hands to her stomach and felt something moving within. The coppery taste of blood filled her mouth. The scratching increased. She heard her stomach tearing inside her head.

Then it stopped.

She breathed a sigh of relief and fell to her side.

The scratching resumed and soon the movement in her stomach spread, the lump moving deeper into her, in between the muscles and organs, poking and pricking, ripping her insides to lace. Blood bubbled from her mouth.

The woodchips stirred and her mind quickly focused on Befriend. The woodchips ruffled and Befriend poked her tiny head out of the woodchips. In the real world, the gerbil tore through Shelly’s stomach and crawled down her belly, descending lower.



* * * *



Shedding the Skin



It had been living inside him for so long that it didn’t know if it could break free. His body was its home. But, it had come to this place before, the time to shed the old skin and find a new, younger host. It was a lion; its name, as dubbed by the press, Beast of Night. Beast lived in the body of Herman Gordes. But it wasn’t much of a body anymore. Herman was a paraplegic, his neck having been broken when Beast tangled with the swamp monster of Spirits Swamp a long time ago.


Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-34 show above.)