Monday, December 28, 2009
Saturday, December 19, 2009
I watched Neil Gaimen's "Stardust" for the first time the other day (I want to pick up the book, so impressed I was with the movie) and it inspired me for a modern fantasy style tale. Also, more proof that I can write something other than thrillers. I can't promise I'll have another post for next week since its Christmas, but if I find time to during my time off I'll do my best. :D
Title: “The Gray Hat”
Written Dec. 2009- Aaron Matthew Smith
“Swear on my mother’s grave!” Humphrey spat when he talked, especially when he was bargaining. Rom wiped the spittle from his face and rubbed his chin.
“Humphrey, this is the same old grey hat you tried to peddle off on me last night!”
“Salt and stones it is not! This belonged to the fourth emperor of Thane, and was plucked from his very head by his son who murdered him for the throne!”
Rom rolled his eyes. “Last week it belonged to a treasure hunter who recovered it from the sunken chest of Balrog the pirate.”
Humphrey’s four-toothed grin fell, just a hair. He tossed the object over his shoulder, where it landed amid a waist-high pile of hats, belts, pants, jugs, figurines, canvases, and practically anything else that one could imagine.
Except, it seemed, anything of value.
Rom had been searching the Bell Crest Market all night without success. The market, which was known for the oddities and rarities that commonly and sometimes innocuously found their way there, appeared on the crest of Bell Hill only under the light of the full moon. This was the last night the moon would be full, and it would be more than forty nights before it would arrive again. He would have no other opportunity to find a proper birthday present. He’d spent hours scouring the most obscure bins he could find- after all, where else should one look for a rare and special birthday present but among the oddest oddities?
Hours of searching had turned up nothing. His coat was grimy all the way up to the elbows from digging through chests, trunks, crates and boxes, and all he had to show for his efforts was a small bite on the tip of his finger that he’d received from some creature that was living in a coat with particularly deep pockets. Frustrated, he slapped his hands on the top of Humphrey’s counter.
“Well, don’t you have anything suitable?”
“Just who are you trying to buy for anyway?” Humphrey’s huge, tangled eyebrows rose, and Rom felt his face flush. “Ahh, I know that look!” Humphrey said sagely. “It’s for a lady! And I have just the thing for that special lady in your life!” Humphrey turned to his left and, with a great groan, flipped back the lid on a wooden chest the size of a small bed. Rom rolled his eyes and turned to walk to the next booth with something caught his eye.
He lost it- it was a twinkled of silver, the tiniest flicker of reflected light from the white paper lanterns that lit all the booths on Bell Crest Hill. He shifted this way and that, and finally caught it again, coming from within the old, dusty grey bowler hat that Humphrey had just shown him. The ratty headpiece had landed on its top, and Rom could see something shining behind its band.
“Humphrey,” he said, trying to hide his excitement. ‘I’ve changed my mind about that hat. I think I’ll take it.”
Humphrey was standing from where he’d been bent over the trunk, holding what appeared to be a circus tent made out of lace and satin. His bushy eyebrows crawled up into his thinning hairline. “Oh?” He said, suspicion coloring his words. “Why the sudden change of heart.”
“I think it’ll match her jacket, is all.”
“That’s a man’s hat, boy. Stop joking with me.” His tone grew a bit darker. “But why do you want it so badly now.”
“Does it matter? What does it cost?”
Rom stuttered. “Forty pecks!?! You can’t be serious. I could get a new hat from the finest hat maker in Greystone for forty! You couldn’t have given that piece of junk away last night.”
“And yet you want it so badly now? Forty pecks.” Humphrey’s tone was hard.
Rom sighed and began to dig through his pockets. After emptying his wallet and removing his emergency money from the sole of his shoe, he still only came up with six pecks. Last night, Humphrey would have been happy to have sold the tattered old thing for half a peck.
As he fished through the inside pocket of his coat, his fingers fell upon the spare button that the tailor had sewn there. Well, if the old man wanted to deal…
With a deft yank, he removed the button and held it out in front of Humphrey’s face, along with the six pecks. “This is what I have.” The old man’s eyes wrinkled as he smiled.
“Come on boy, don’t waste my time.
“Do you know what this is?” Rom held the button up to the old man’s pale blue eyes. He squinted at it.
“It’s a button.”
“I’ll take that as a no,” Rom replied. “This is what I spent all the rest of my money on.”
“Haha, sounds as if you got taken for a ride young man!” Humphrey shrieked a laugh, but stopped when he saw the grim look hitched onto Rom’s face.
“This button goes on a coat.”
“Well, most buttons do, y’know.”
“Not just any coat, you old goof. This button is a piece of a very special coat. Please tell me you’ve heard of Salamar?”
Rom noticed the old man’s eyebrows perk up ever so slightly, though he said nothing. Rom continued, “This button goes on a coat made by the alchemist Salamar. When he made the coat, he made it so it would only work if it was complete.”
“Work? What are you babbling about?”
“This coat lets its wearer walk amongst the dead while they’re still alive.”
“Oh, please. Now I know you’re wasting my time.” But Humphrey’s eyes stayed locked on Rom. Humphrey liked a good story, and Rom was on a roll.
“Don’t believe me? Have a look at this button. See how the two holes in it are off center?” He held the button up to the light- sure enough, the two holes for the thread were too high. “Isn’t that strange? Doesn’t it make the button look a little like a skull?”
Humphrey’s eyes were wide as he studied the button, bur Rom snatched it away before the old man could get too close a look at it.
“I made a hard bargain for this button earlier, and if I had any other pieces of the coat I would never part with it,” Rom said quietly. “But I stumbled upon it and thought it was a great item to have. Good bargaining chip, y’know…,” he sighed. “But I do want that hat.”
“Well,” Humphrey glanced this way and that, as crowds of people wearing various garb from all across the world shoved past, “I think we could work something out.” Rom smiled broadly.
Ten minutes later, Rom walked away from Humphrey’s booth, turning over the dusty grey hat in his hands. The eastern sky was beginning to lighten as he ducked into a shallow alley created by two particularly high stalls. He reached into the hat and felt around beneath the band, which tore free with a small tug.
A circlet of shining silver, hidden away within the band of the hat, tumbled out into his open hand. It was etched with deep filigree and adorned with a tiny green stone set into the front of it. He chuckled, an exasperated sound as the wind rushed out of his lungs in surprise.
“I earned this,” he said to nobody, turning the delicate circle over in his hands. He laughed again, slid the item carefully into his coat pocket, and made for home.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Title: "The Walk Home"
Aaron M. Smith- written Dec. 2009
“I could not believe that guy today, could you?” Lisa asked.
“I know, what was his problem? Every time I brought him the drink, he was like, ‘I said NO foam!’ and I was like, ‘Dude, that’s the milk on top- it’s supposed to look like that.’” I said. She laughed, a beautiful sound, like the first bird chirping after a long winter.
The street was glassy, a sheet of black ice that reflected the orange streetlights in blurry patterns. There wasn’t a lot of traffic- this part of the city was quiet, peaceful, and this time of night most folks were already in bed.
“It’s really nice of you to walk me home like this,” she said quietly. I turned to reply and had to force myself to not stare into her eyes, so dark brown they were almost totally black.
“Naw, no problem. It’s not like it’s very far.” And it wasn’t as if I hadn’t wanted to walk her home since the day we first met, that year and a half ago at the coffee shop. It wasn’t as if I’d taken that crappy job just so I could get to know her better. “I mean, it’s too dark and cold to walk home by yourself.”
“No, I appreciate it,” she said, and glanced briefly up at me before looking back down at her boots. I waited for her to elaborate, but she didn’t.
Tonight is the night, I swore to myself. I’m going to tell her how I feel tonight, after I drop her off at the door. I looked over at her, hoping she’d look back at me, but she didn’t.
“So what do you want for Christmas?” She asked abruptly. I nearly blurted “you”, but caught myself at the last moment. After a second, I said, “Oh, I don’t know. A better paying job?”
There was that laugh again, and I listened carefully to it, taking in every tone.
“Come on, you could get a better job, couldn’t you? Didn’t you go to college?”
“Yeah, for Theater Performance. Not exactly in demand.”
She smiled, and this time she actually did look at me. I took advantage of the situation.
“So what do you want for Christmas?” She sighed and looked away, up into the clear, dark sky. I watched her breath cloud in front of her perfect lips as she exhaled.
“I don’t want to say. I shouldn’t say.”
“Why not?” I asked, genuinely curious.
“Because I shouldn’t want it. I should be happy without it.”
“What?” I asked quietly.
She exhaled again, and after a moment, said, “A ring.”
My chilled fingers suddenly felt warm compared to my heart. I bowed my head into the collar of my jacket to hide my humiliated blush. “Oh?” I managed to say.
“Yeah. And I’m sorry I keep coming to you about my problems with Todd, I mean, you don’t want to hear about them,” she sighed. More quietly, she added, “But it’s been three years. I mean, is it asking too much? To expect something?”
“No, it’s not,” I said, just a little too quickly, but she didn’t notice my eagerness.
“That’s what I think, and that’s what my sister and my mom thinks,” she said, and I could hear the defeat in her voice. Her pain was so evident that my frozen heart shattered for her.
“I don’t want to interfere,” I lied, “but you’ve got to do what’s best for you, in the long run. If you’re happy, then maybe it is enough. But if you’re not,” and I could tell that she wasn’t, “Maybe you ought to look at it again.”
She was quiet for a moment, then said, “I guess I’m scared.”
“Scared of what?”
“Of what it’ll be like if things change.”
“Sometimes change is good.”
“Shut up, you order the same nonfat-decaf-latte every single morning.” She slapped my on the arm with one gloved hand. I thrilled at the touch. She smiled at me, the dimples her cheeks standing out, her eyes shining behind her black framed glasses. She brushed one copper-brown lock of hair out of her eyes.
I smiled back, and said, “I’m serious, come on. Ten years from now, how are you going to feel when you look back on all this?” She smiled, and she said something, but it was lost on me as a realization hit me like a sack of coffee beans. I wasn’t talking to her. I was talking to myself.
I looked up, and suddenly we were at the steps of her apartment building. I’d been so caught up talking to her that I’d completely lost track of where we were. Now we were at her stoop, and I was out of time to prepare myself. It was no problem, I could just wait until tomorrow night, then we could—
No, a voice inside me swore. Conner, it’s been more than a year. Time to nut up or shut up.
She stepped up on her stoop. She was on the first step when she turned around.
“Thanks again for walking me back, Conner,” she said, and that enchanting smile lingered on her lips again. I opened my mouth to speak.
And, as if on cue, there he was. I knew the tall blonde guy stepping out of the apartment- she’d brought Todd to the coffee shop before. He must have been waiting inside the door for Lisa.
My heart sunk, settling somewhere near my pelvis. My first instinct was to say something, anything, to indicate that I didn’t want any trouble.
“Hey babe, where ya been?” He said in a monotone voice. His lips barely parted as he spoke. Lisa turned over her shoulder and looked at him, her face unreadable. Then she turned back to me, gave me the faintest of smiles, then began to turn back to Todd and the door.
And suddenly I realized that I did want trouble.
“Lisa, I love you.” I said in the most calm and even voice I could muster. She turned back around, her eyes serious, calculating. Todd looked like I’d just said something in Mandarin. When neither said anything for a second, I continued. It couldn’t possibly get any worse. “I think you’re beautiful. Your voice is like music, your laugh is like a song. You’re the only good thing about that god-awful coffee shop. I’ve never been able to say it before, but I love you.”
Todd finally seemed to understand the words that were coming out of my mouth, because his brow began to knit. I plowed on before he could interrupt.
“I can’t keep you off my mind. Even if you don’t feel the same way, and even if you never talk to me again, I can’t keep hiding it anymore.”
Todd stepped in front of her and attempted to corral her into the building. She dodged his arm, her eyes locked onto mine. Her face was unreadable, but something shined in her eyes, something rich that I’d never seen before. After another moment the smile that I’d just seen flickered on her face, just for a second, as Todd finally managed to wrangle her into the apartment door. He said something to me, but I didn’t hear it.
It was a full minute before I convinced myself to move off of her stoop. Finally, I turned and headed back down the street toward my own apartment, sure I would sleep better that night than I had in a year and a half.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
I'm reading Twilight. But not because I think it's a beautiful, riveting literary masterpiece. It's junk food, plain and simple. In an effort to maintain my masculinity, I'm going to blog a play-by-play review of the book.
What qualifies me, a writer with only one published (picture) book to review a New York Times bestselling novel? The Internet, that's what.
I'm on page 110, chapter 6 so far.
My first critique is that the characters don't seem to act like real people would act. Bella takes everything that Edward does way more personally than a real person would. After he saves her life from the speeding van, she doesn't seem at all shaken up or frightened after the life-threatening incident. She only seems pissed off at Edward for not answering her questions and pointlessly self conscious when "I almost died of humiliation when they put on the neck brace". Not a trace or residual fear. Come on.
Edward is sullen, then suave, then amused, then angry, then violent, then amused again. He tells her to go away, then asks her to go out of town with him, then tells her to go away again. For a hundred year old vampire (OMG SPOILER!) he sure acts like a professional teenager. I fail to see any chemistry whatsoever between him and Bella, besides the fact that she puts up with his misogynistic bullcrap.
I really am trying to keep an open mind about the writing style, but it's very difficult when, in chapter 1, Meyer writes:
Friday, November 27, 2009
Aaron M. Smith- written March 2009
I was running late for work that day, like most days. In law school, I’d gotten used to staying up all hours of the night cramming for tests, burying my nose in books until the sun cracked the blinds in my apartment. “Regular waking hours” were an unknown concept to me. Which is why I’d been dragging into work every day since I passed the bar. I’d been working at the public defender’s office since before I graduated, so I knew the quickest way into work and where I was likely to find a parking spot.
Today, though, I was going downtown.
As I squealed around a corner and narrowly missed turning the wrong way down a one way street, I glanced at the clock on my car’s dash. Eleven-oh-six. I was already late, and parking was going to be hell on a Monday morning.
It was fifteen after when I nearly blew the doors of public lockup from their hinges as I rushed in off the street.
“Lookin’ for Tony?” Said the woman behind the bulletproof glass-walled registration desk. I nodded- Tony Snow was the lead public defender in the city, and was in with all the right people, including the district attorney. I’d been shadowing him for weeks. I nodded at her as I straightened my tie.
“He said he’s running behind, said for you to go on in and interview the perp,” she gestured to a door adjacent to the secure goldfish bowl she worked in. There was a loud beep and click as she unlocked the door, and the armed officer next to it stepped aside to let me through.
I didn’t waste any time- my shoes slapped the vinyl tile as I strode down the halls.
I’d never interviewed a suspect on my own before.
An officer I recognized (Hibbard, I think) was on the other side of the door. He gestured for me to follow him, and I prayed that he couldn’t hear my heartbeat thudding in the empty vinyl-tiled hallway.
“First time on your own, huh?” Hibbard glanced over his shoulder and smiled. He was a young officer, only a few years older than me.
“Heh, yeah,” was all I could think of.
“Well, here’s his file,” he said, and passed me a manila folder. “You ought to go over it before—”
“No time, we were supposed to begin this interview twenty minutes ago,” I said. I could imagine Tony’s bald spot turning beet red if he found out how late I got started. That was the last thing I needed- to make a poor impression on my first solo assignment. Hibbard stopped in front of a plain door, and I stepped inside without preamble.
The room was plain, like all such interview rooms. Concrete floors, metal table, metal chairs, plain fluorescent lighting. A man, remarkable only in just how plain looking he was, sat on the far side of the table, dressed in standard faded orange prison attire. He looked sort of bored.
“Good morning, mister…” I opened the file and took a quick peek. “…Waters. My name is Robin Marshall, I’m going to be your defender in court this week.”
“Huhm.” Waters said. He ran a hand through his plain, thin brown hair.
It’s going to be fine, I coached myself. You’ve seen this done a dozen times before. How hard can it be to keep the ship afloat until Tony gets here?
I popped open my briefcase and took out a legal pad and an ink pen, then laid the folder next to them on the table. I wondered if Waters could see me sweating through my shirt.
“Well, I haven’t had time to go through your files, yet, so why don’t you—”
“Can I have your pad?” He asked.
“Your pad. I like to draw. Don’t get to in prison. Can I have it?”
“Uh,” I said. This had never happened before. “Yeah, uh, sure. Knock yourself out.” I slid the yellow legal pad and ink pen across the table to him as I leaned back in the chair and flipped through the folder.
I caught motion out of the corner of my eye, and turned as the door to the interview room burst open. Hibbard rushed in.
The next moment, something heavy and hard hit me in the side of the face.
The table was upended, and I was on the ground with an orange blur on top of me. Something sharp raked against my cheek, and I heard myself screaming as I flailed my arms, trying to get the man off of me. Something hard hit my face; hard enough to snap my neck back and cause me to hit my head on the concrete floor. White flashes of pain glittered before my eyes.
There was a grunting noise, and a cry out, and then the weight was off of me. As my vision began to return, I heard a man screaming.
The table was on top of me, and I was on the floor. I sat up and saw Hibbard and two other officers on top of Waters, one with an open can of mace, Hibbard with his nightstick against Waters throat. The third officer was busily cuffing Waters hands together.
I laid back against the cold floor and listened to my heart beat out a basso rhythm against my temples for a moment or two. I dully became aware of something wet on my face. When I touched it, my cheek was sore, and my fingers came back….
“Should have read the file,” Hibbard said, as the two other officers hauled Water out of the room, who had gone back to looking jut as plain and docile as he had when I’d entered. “Do you even know why Waters was arrested?”
The contents of the file I’d been reading was scattered across the floor. I rifled through a couple pages until I came up with his rap sheet. I felt my eyes widen.
“With a ball-point pen,” Hibbard filled in. “Right through the esophagus of some poor bastard. Good thing you turned your head when you did, and you use those cheap-ass pens.”
The ink from my shattered pen trickled down my neck and stained the collar of my shirt. I wearily looked down at it. “Have the receptionist call Tony,” I said to Hibbard from my place on the hard concrete floor. “Have him bring me a clean shirt, will ya?”
Thursday, November 12, 2009
The lofty goal? FIFTY THOUSAND WORDS by NOVEMBER 30th.
I'm hopelessly behind to meet my goal, but I'm going to keep on writing anyway. And, as motivation: YOU, dear reader! Here's a short teaser of my current project.
"Monster Season" (working title)- excerpt
November 2009- Aaron M. Smith
Danny nearly collided with the zombie he’d followed to class as the two of them bounded into the classroom.
“You two are extraordinarily lucky.” Said a massive basso voice. Danny looked up and nearly screamed aloud.
The classroom was a perfectly normal-looking one by human standards. Wooden floors, metal student desks with the wire baskets underneath them, bookshelves, chalk boards, and a larger desk at the front of the classroom for the teacher.
Only the desk at the front of the room was the size of a countertop at a fast food restaurant. And the teacher was similarly sized.
Behind the desk crouched a massive monster, nearly seven feet high (while on its haunches, Danny noticed). It looked remarkably like the statues at the door of the school. Its head was the size of a trash can, with huge curling horns raking forward from its scalp. Tiny, beady black eyes peered out from under a massive stone brow, wicked looking fangs protruding up from a long jaw. As it moved from behind the desk, its joints made a sound like gravel being trodden underfoot. Its jaw moved, and for a moment Danny worried the creature was going to dive on him and devour him whole. Instead, it held a piece of paper up to its tiny eyes and growled,
“Mister… McNair? Please take your seat, or I’ll count you as tardy.”
Stay tuned for more updates as the month progresses!
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
It's officially November- why another thriller? Shouldn't I be posting something warm and uplifting in the season of Thanksgiving?
Actually, I want to work on a romantic comedy short soon, but in the mean time, I hope you enjoy this thrilling number.
Aaron M. Smith- September 2009
The hood was yanked off of Richie’s head with a hard yank, twisting his neck painfully and tugging at his ears. His world flooded with blinding light, and he squinted into the harsh glare. As his vision began to return to him, he noticed several hulking figures positioned around him, silhouetted in the harsh yellow light of the streetlamp above. None of them said anything; the only noise he could hear was the sloshing of water somewhere close by. Off in the distance, lights twinkled, reflected off of the inky surface of the river. He must be at the docks.
He strained his mind to remember what was happening… one minute, he was in the deli enjoying a roast beef on rye. He’d walked out into the alley, and then… nothing.
Suddenly, someone stepped into the circle of light in which he stood, and he wish that whomever had taken the hood off of him would put it back on.
“Heya Rich,” said a deep, gruff voice. The man who entered the spotlight was middle-aged, probably in his mid-fifties. He was in athlete shape, though, and dressed to the nines in the most expensive, immaculate suit Richie had ever seen. His tie was a silvery shade of green, the color of a faded dollar bill, his salt and pepper hair and close cropped beard perfectly styled and trimmed. The cold grey eyes staring back at him might as well have been carved from marble for all the emotion they showed.
Richie’s mouth went entirely dry. He tried to speak, but croaked silently for a moment before he was able to form any words. “Gino! H-How ya doing?”
“Me? I’m doing just fine, Rich. Yourself?” Gino hadn’t moved a muscle since walking into the glow of the streetlamp.
“Uh, yeah, me too. Fine, I mean.”
“That’s good. Good to see you fine. And living comfortably.”
Richie tried to speak, but felt like something was caught in his throat. He said nothing.
“I, ah, was hoping you had something else for me tonight.” Gino said conversationally. Gino Marcelli never said anything conversationally. There was always more than met the eye.
“Uh, well,” Richie gagged, his mouth a desert. “Well, I haven’t heard anything else from my contacts recently, but I’ll be sure to keep you in the loop.” He shifted his weight as if to step out of the circle of light, and immediately felt a huge hand on his shoulder.
“You’ll leave when Mister Marcelli says you may,” said the man standing behind him. There was the unmistakable click that a gun makes as a bullet enters the chamber. Rich froze.
“Thank you Lawrence.” Gino said. “Like I said, I was hoping for a little more information. Specifically, more information about the whereabouts and accommodations of one Anthony Lorenzo. You remember, the man we spoke of last week.”
Richie began to relax, for just a moment. “We did talk about Lorenzo, last week. I gave you all the information I had on him.”
“Yes, and that’s what I’d like to talk about.”
Richie’s heart sped.
“You see, we deployed a welcoming committee for Mister Lorenzo at the location you provided, at the time you provided, just as you suggested. Room two-forty-two at the Crown, if I’m not mistaken.”
Richie didn’t say anything. Cold fear had frozen his tongue to the roof of his mouth.
“There was nobody in that room, Rich.”
“Well, there’s an e-easy explanation for—”
“Nobody registered for that room at all. Not in weeks, Rich.”
“Well, Lorenzo’s people obviously decided to move him…”
“The thing is, Rich,” Gino removed a gold cigarette case from the pocket of his jacket and extracted a cigarette from it. He offered one to Richie; Richie shook his head. One of the men standing next to Gino whipped out a silver lighter the instant the cigarette touched the man’s lips. After a puff, Gino continued. “I recently acquired a very useful acquaintance. One in the employ of Mister Lorenzo himself. And this acquaintance informs me that Mister Lorenzo has been at his vacation home in the Virgin Islands all month.”
A sweat broke out on Richie’s brow. He dared not move to wipe it away.
“Lorenzo was never going to be in Chicago, Rich. Which of course, caused me to think, as I am apt to do,” Gino took another long draw on his cigarette. “I thought, who was it that informed me of Mister Lorenzo’s trip to the windy city in the first place?” He pointed with his cigarette. “You, Rich.”
“No! It-it-it was my informants! They got it wrong!”
“You see Rich, that’s the thing. I have many acquaintances, you see. Some are even your acquaintances, unbeknownst to you. I know that you have no informants. I know that most of the information that you’ve supplied to me over the last month has been… what’s the word?”
“Falsified, mister Marcelli?” said the man with the lighter.
“Thank you, Dominic. Falsified.” Richie felt strong hands take both his arms and his legs. He began to squirm and cry out, but the man called Dominic pulled a gun from within his coat. Richie felt someone wrapping something about his ankles; two men were wrapping his legs with ropes with the sure fingers of men who’d done this a thousand times.
“You see, Rich, I am a businessman. I run a very tight ship. Productivity is very, very good for the bottom line. And, I’m afraid, waste is very bad for the bottom line.” Richie watched with horror as a series of concrete blocks were dragged into the light and fastened to the ropes which were wrapped securely around his legs. “You wouldn’t have me lose productivity, now would you? I can’t afford to pay workforce that’s slacking off on the job.” He looked around at the men gathered around him. “That just isn’t fair to the other workers, now is it?”
Two of the largest silhouettes gathered up the stacks of concrete blocks. Out of Richie’s view, there was a grunting sound. With a snap, the ropes around Richie’s ankles pulled tight and hauled him off of his feet, dragging his across the wooden planks beneath his feet. The harsh wood tore at his clothes and hands as he scrabbled furiously to stop himself. He screamed, watching the circle of light and Gino Marcelli shrink until the edge of the pier met his chin, and he was tumbling through the air for a split second before colliding with the frigid surface of the river below. He screamed as the twinkling stars of the Chicago night vanished above him, devoured by chilling blackness that clung to him tighter than the finest suit ever made.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
"Deeper"- written October 2009
Aaron M. Smith
“Careful with that,” Ronnie said. I nodded as I twisted the wheel exactly four times counter-clockwise.
“I know, I know. Just like at home, right?” I said.
“No, NOT just like at home.” Ronnie said. “Come on man, we’ve been doing this for four months. Yeah, it’s similar, but you’ve got to pay more attention. The Ruskies do this differently.”
Had it really been four months? It was hard for me to believe. I’d been out of work for weeks after the oil rig I worked on laid me and Nick off. His wife Lydia had family in Russia who were apparently well off, or well enough off that they managed their own oil rig. Now I was spending my days freezing my ass off north of Saint Petersburg and trying to learn the most messed up language on the planet.
On the plus side, I was making twice what I was making Texas.
On the down side… well, I was Russia.
At least I had Ronnie to talk to, and he spoke a little Russian.
The Russian rigs had their own intricacies that I had to learn- most of the technology was older than what I worked with in Houston, so I had some back learning to do. Most of the guys were nice, and some of them spoke some English. The foreman was fluent, which was all I needed really. It was a pretty decent life.
“God I’m bored,” Ronnie said, leaning against the railing of the catwalk. We were both bundled up to the eyeballs against the cold. From high above the dense pine barrens, the wind howled as if it was a living thing. Snow whipped about us from time to time, blown off of the nearby mountainside and from where it had piled on the machinery. “All we’ve had to do all day is turn this wheel to regulate the pressure once an hour.”
“Where is everyone else?” I asked. Usually there were more than dozen men at a time on the rig, twenty-four hours a day. It had been me and Nick alone for the last two days.
“This weekend’s the Ruskie 4th of July,” he replied. “They figured they’d leave us cowboys alone up here while they go into town for the weekend and live it up.” He laughed and scratched his thick beard.
“Shit, they drove six hours into town just so they could get wasted?”
“How many times did we drive to Tijuana?” We both laughed.
“How deep you think this thing goes?” I said after a time, looking at the huge rig on which we stood. The churning of the machine was a constant noise, along with the hum of the regulating equipment that kept the machine from shutting down.
“Four miles, five maybe? This is one of the deepest in Russia.”
“Geez,” I mumbled. I leaned against the railing and looked out across the grey, white and dark green forest that spread out below us. The view from the top of the rig really was incredible. It was only early evening, but the sky was so dark and cloudy the sun showed up only as a hazy disk in the sky, providing little light and zero warmth.
“It’s strange to think about, y’know?” I continued. “This oil is millions of years old. Decomposed plants and animals that haven’t seen the light of day since this whole place was covered in ice.”
“Yeah,” was all Ronnie said.
“And we use it to run…everything. Think about it. If that stuff didn’t die all those years ago, we couldn’t do anything. Couldn’t drive, couldn’t heat our homes. Nothing. But it’s been down there for, like, millions of years! I mean, think about it. God knows what’s down there. Didn’t they just blow the shit out of the moon looking for crap living below the surface, like bacteria and stuff?”
“Mmm,” Ronnie said. He seemed to be listening to the machine.
“Well, why’re they spending all that money on the damn moon when we’re digging deeper right here?”
“Who cares?” Ronnie said with genuine disinterest. “You don’t even live in that country anymore, man.”
I was struck by that realization. I hadn’t thought about it like that. Ronnie must’ve noticed, because he laughed heartily, then reached inside his coat and removed a bottle filled with clear liquid.
“You ever had some of this?” I looked at the bottle. “The best Russian vodka money can buy. Christmas gift from Lydia’s parents last year.”
I smiled and took the bottle. It was good; REAL good. In the frigid Russian twilight, it felt like liquid gold sliding down my throat. I took another long drag.
“Don’t bogart it!” Ronnie said, reaching to take it back. I managed to get off another good swig before he got the bottle away from me.
We talked for a long time, but I don’t remember now what we talked about. I don’t remember anything about it, really, except that when I woke up there was an empty bottle of vodka next to me and my skull felt too sizes too small for my brain.
“Ronnie?” I mumbled, squinting my eyes against the orange safety lights on the rig. That must have been really good vodka to give me a hangover so bad. I had no idea what time it was, or how long I’d been out, but it had to have been almost sundown. Ronnie was nowhere to be seen.
Suddenly, the rig beneath me gave a huge shudder, and the machinery roared like an angry beast.
We’d passed out. Nobody had been around to turn the valve.
I ran as quickly as my nauseated head would let me to the valve and began to twist it. It was four twists an hour, right? So if we’d been out for two hours, did that mean eight? What if it had been longer than that? I had no idea.
I began to rotate the wheel and didn’t stop. After ten or so (I forgot to count I was so freaked out) the wracking of the pipes began to subside, and the fighting spasms of the rig slowed and stopped. Something must have been damaged when the rig shook like that. They’re going to find it, and I’m going to lose my job. I’m going to be homeless and jobless in Russia.
“Ronnie!” I called, panic beginning to rise in my voice. Where the hell was he? He must have woken up before I did. Maybe he went to go check the rig. I headed for the stairs and clambered down flight after flight. If Ronnie thought the rig was damaged, there was one place he’d check first.
I finally made my way to the rotary hose and the turntable, the closest someone on the surface of a rig can actually get to the bore hole. The monstrous cylinder spun lazily in place as I stepped off of the stairs, just as I had seen it do countless times before.
The surface of the rig all around it was drenched with shiny, new crude oil.
“Oh shit oh shit oh shit,” I swore. If we’d damaged the bit or the conductor pipe, not only would we be fired, but we’d probably be arrested. I couldn’t imagine what a Russian prison would be like. “Ronnie!” I called again.
Something in the oil moved. I screamed and jumped back.
Only then did I notice that there was something on the ground, near the spinning turntable, covered in oil.
“Ronnie!” I called, and carefully made my way across the drenched concrete to the prone, oil-covered figure. “Ronnie, how the hell’d you get down here!? We’ve got to get that stuff off you,” I touched the figured, and stopped. Something was wrong.
I felt Ronnie’s jacket under my gloved hands. I lifted it up, examined it. It was his jacket, all right. And those were his pants, and his boots. And that ridiculous fur hat of his. All of Ronnie’s clothes were here, covered in oil. But they were empty. Where the hell Ronnie? And why would he leave his clothes?
Something strong grasped my ankle where I crouched, and I screamed. My balance was lost, and I fell on my butt on the oil-soaked concrete. I yanked at my leg, trying to get away, but an iron-strong weight was latched around it. I reached to try to free my leg and touched the black thing- and pulled my hand back. It was warm.
And it had fingers, like a fist.
Another weight was pulling at my coat. Something else grasped at my arms. Warm, wet oil began to seep through my pants and my socks. All around me, grasping, dark hands were reaching out of the oil and clutching at me with superhuman strength. I began to scream. I tried to twist and roll away, but there were just so many of them. My other leg was entangled now. A dark, shining arm, the arm of a full grown man reached around my stomach and pulled with the force of a truck, yanking my back to the soaked concrete. The hands were reaching farther now, extending to arms and shoulders. Some didn’t seem to be coming out right- one arm struggled, its elbow bending the wrong way. The hand grasping at my coat had a thumb on each side. Some were disjointed, flailing madly, and others were wholly rigid with no joints at all.
The sheer horror of it made my blood run cold, and I screamed involuntarily. A primal fear welled up in me, an animal fear that millions of years of evolution couldn’t suppress, as if something deep inside me knew that nothing in heaven or on earth was supposed to look like that. I fought and struggled, ignoring the pain in my shoulders and hips. A muscle in my forearm tore- I ignored it, my fear overriding the lancing pain shooting through my body. I struggled and thrashed, but there were too many hands on me now. I screamed until my throat went raw.
Warm oil was seeping down the neck of my coat, penetrating the zipper on the front as if it wasn’t there. I could feel it inside my gloves, under my nails, good god, in my hair. A warm wave of oil, slick fingers, slid across my scalp, into my beard. I could taste the oil now.
The oil around me began to shake, and the primeval roar I had heard earlier blotted out all other sound as oil began to slide into my ears. As my vision dimmed, I saw the rotary hose wrenching violently, as if someone was grasping it and shaking it with both hands from far underground.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Written October 2009
Aaron M. Smith
“Okay, I think this is it. Rodney, get that camera over here.” Dave said, his eyes locked on the blinking piece of equipment in his hands. He checked the microphone clipped on his jacket then looked directly into the camera as the red light on its side came on.
“We’re back, and this time I think we’ve really found the center of this haunting.” He raised the hand-held device up to the camera to show the viewers at home the series of blinking green lights across its surface. “The endoplasmic reticulator is going haywire; there’s a huge temporal disturbance in this room.”
Dave gestured to the almost boringly normal kitchen in which they stood. Yellow linoleum, white countertops, an old white refrigerator, light blue curtains. “Don’t let the cute chicken towels fool you, ladies and gentlemen. This regular suburban kitchen is a hotbed of paranormal activity.”
“Can we, uh, turn some lights on?” A woman from off camera said. Rodney swung the camera around to her, shining the light mounted on its side directly in her face. She shielded herself from the glare with one hand, knocking her horn-rimmed glasses askew.
“Afraid not, Mrs. McGillicuddy.” Dave whispered, stepping into the frame with the middle-aged homeowner. She backpeddled, slightly startled. “Ghosts are often sensitive to electrical disturbances.”
“Then how come your equipment don’t bother them?” She said.
“Shh! Listen!” Dave’s ghost-hunting assistant Kim hissed. Rodney swung the camera around to the tattooed twenty-something in the black jeans and pink Hello Kitty sweatshirt. She was crouched at the base of a series of cabinets, her head-mounted flashlight pointed in the direction she was looking. The yellow pool of light fell on a cabinet in the corner of the room, beneath the countertop.
The four of them held their breath. Nothing moved for a long moment.
Then, the smallest of clanging noises shuddered from the closed cabinet.
Mrs. McGillicuddy shrieked. Rodney lost track of the others as he ran to the safety of the adjacent room, the camera swinging and bobbing, its light creating dancing shadows from all the appliances in the room.
When the chaos had calmed, Dave and Kim had found the front of the camera again.
“Did you hear that!? Did you hear that!?!” Kim hissed at Dave, her mascara-heavy eyes wide with horror.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve just had a major development. We’ve definitely found the focus of this apparition.” Dave panted into the camera.
“That’s where I keep my pots and pans!” Mrs. McGillicuddy interrupted.
Dave gave one more brave glance into the camera and began to creep slowly back into the kitchen, taking slow, long strides like a cat sneaking up on a mouse. He reached the island when another rattle of metal, louder this time, sounded from the cabinet. After a series of muted screams and curses from the others, he continued on.
When he was within arms reach of the cabinet, Dave reached up and removed an oversized decorative wooden spoon from the wall. He carefully lowered his night-vision goggles and turned to the camera. He mouthed the words ‘here we go’, then threw open the cabinet with the wooden spoon.
Behind him, Kim screamed preemptively.
The cabinet was completely empty except for a single stainless steel kettle, complete with lid.
“Oh!” Mrs. McGillicuddy said. The three ghost hunters turned to look at the middle-aged woman. “That’s the kettle I bought from that old gypsy lady who lived down the street!”
“You bought a kettle from a gypsy?” Kim asked, incredulous.
“Well, bought, not exactly.” Mrs. McGillicuddy clarified. “Well, she kept letting her dog poop on my lawn, so when she was moving out, she was having a garage sale, and well… I sort of just took it.”
Dave and Kim stared at the woman open-mouthed.
In the cabinet, the kettle hopped in place, its lid clanking up and down.
“This kettle is possessed by a foul spirit!” Dave announced, backing carefully away from the cabinet. His breath was coming in heavy pants.
The kettle began to hop and dance, finally bouncing itself out of the cabinet and onto the linoleum floor. This time, everyone screamed.
Dave threw himself onto the demonic cookware, holding the lid down with his body. The pot was angry- Dave’s body bounced with the force of the fighting object.
“Kim!” He shouted unnecessarily. “Get to the van! Get the exorcism kit! We’re going to need the holy water, the prayer beads, the whole shibbang!”
The kettle gave a powerful shudder, throwing Dave from it. Its lid clattered in place, beating out a staccato rhythm like a hellish pressure cooker. Kim and Dave both jumped onto the pot, the two of them holding the lid down with both hands.
“I’ll go get the supplies!” Rodney offered.
“Don’t you dare! Keep rolling!” Dave instructed, as he and Kim kept wrestling with the stainless steel terror. “We’ll have to find another way to drive out the demonic spirit!”
“Demonic spirit?” Mrs. McGillicuddy said quietly. Then, louder, “I know! I know what to do!” She rushed to her cabinets and began to pull things out- flour, sugar, oil. Rodney was torn between filming the strange behavior of the woman (and providing her light by which to search the cabinets) and watching the unearthly fight between his two comrades and the malevolent dish.
Moments later, Mrs. McGillicuddy had a pile of ingredients on the countertop and had begun adding them to a bowl. She was beating the concoction with a wisk when Kim was thrown to the floor by the thrashings of the evil kettle.
“Hurry!” Dave cried, sitting on top of the kettle to keep the lid in place. Kim scrambled across the floor, her converse sliding on the linoleum, and wrapped her arms around the body of the pot to hold it still. “We can’t hold it forever!”
“Quiet!” Mrs. McGillicuddy said. “You do your job, I’ll do mine!” Dave’s eyes were wide with shock, unused to being told what to do on his own TV show. “There! Put the pot on the countertop, hurry! You, cameraman! Pre-heat the oven!”
They did as they were told, Kim and Dave fighting against the unnatural strength of the animated object. No sooner had they placed it onto the counter than Mrs. McGillicuddy snatched off the lid of the kettle. A series of eerie, warbling cries rolled out of the open pot, like the sound of winter wind whistling through a leaky window. She quickly dumped the contents of the bowl she’d been beating into the kettle. The sound from the pot instantly changed, shrieking in a demonic how that made Rodney want to cover his ears and hide.
Mrs. McGillicuddy slammed the lid onto the pot and threw open the oven. Dave and Kim, with a tremendous effort of combined strength and will, thrust the corrupted cookware into the hot oven. Dave slammed the door closed with his foot as he stood up, leaning his full weight on the door to keep it closed. The entire cooktop rattled with the force of the monster within, odd warbling cries shrieking from within the oven.
An eternity seemed to pass for the group of four huddled in the kitchen. For nearly half an hour, nobody said anything. Gradually, the rattling of the stove slowed and the horrifying cries become quieter and quieter, until the entire room was still. They all cried out in alarm when the egg timer on the stove went off with a loud ding!
Rodney panned the camera around the room at the ragged group. Dave’s face was red, though whether it was from, fear, exertion or sitting too close to the hot oven, he didn’t know. Kim’s mascara had run in deep tracks down her face, making her look rather ghoulish. Mrs. McGillicuddy was pulling on a pair of oven mitts. She reached for the oven.
“Don’t open it!” Dave insisted. “Did you see what it did to us?!”
“It’s okay now,” she said. “It’s done.”
“How can you be sure?” Kim asked quietly.
“Because, we made the one thing no demonic force can stand against.” Mrs. McGillicuddy answered. She pulled open the door and instead of howls of fury, the group was treated to the delicious smell of vanilla. Mrs. McGillicuddy reached inside and carefully removed the kettle, which was steaming.
“Angel food cake, anyone?”
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Aaron M. Smith - written October 2009
The carcasses were everywhere. There were soldiers milling all about in the aftermath of the attack, most looking for survivors. I knew somewhere deep inside that they wouldn’t find any.
“Lieutenant,” someone behind me said, and I turned to see the sandy-haired man in black combat gear jogging up to meet me, rifle slung over one shoulder. I saluted as he approached, and he returned the gesture.
“Captain Briggs, sir,” I said. It wasn’t often the captain came down to the front lines.
“Do you have a status report, Sawyer?” he gestured to the massacre around us; about a dozen or so of the soldiers under my command were coming into and out of the treeline here and there.
“It was nothing short of an ambush, sir.” I wanted to add more, but I couldn’t. My voice choked in my throat as one of my troops reached into the edge of the undergrowth to pull free a body trapped there- only to have the arm he was pulling slide free of the brush, severed cleanly just above the elbow. He turned and vomited into the weeds.
Captain Briggs walked to the nearest carcass and bent down to examine it, turning it over with the toe of his boot. I could hardly look at the nightmarish creature.
The body was chitinous and segmented, like a beetle the size of a great dane. It had mandibles that looked something like those of a spider (though it had been a while since I’d looked that closely at a spider) with tiny tusk-like pincers near its mouth. The mouth was little more than a maw filled with teeth in no apparent order. Its six legs stuck straight out at odd angles, a black ooze that looked disturbingly like motor oil oozing from its demolished thorax (I was pretty sure that part was called the thorax).
“What the hell did we get ourselves into?” I murmured. Captain Briggs turned to look at me.
“What were you expecting?” He said darkly. “A magic world of cupcakes and fairy tales?”
“Not this,” I muttered, turning away from the carcass. It did no good- there were half a dozen such scattered around the clearing where my troop had been marching when we’d been attacked. The captain stood and walked closer so that we wouldn’t be overheard.
“You knew we had no intelligence on this zone when you signed on, Marine.” The captain said. “You were offered this chance because you were one of the best minds we had in Afghanistan.”
“An opportunity to explore an alien world? Going headlong into a different dimension?” I parroted the e-mail that I’d received six months ago. “Who the hell turns down an opportunity like that?”
“Somebody had to be the first.” Captain Briggs said, his piercing blue eyes meeting my own. “You, and all the rest of these men, knew the risks.”
I hung my head, and knew that he was right. Of course, word of the discovery hadn’t been exposed to the general population yet. Civilians couldn’t know that inter-dimensional travel was no longer science fiction, not until further exploration and study had been done. Naturally, the grunt work went to the military. And naturally, the military made it sound like the opportunity of a lifetime, a chance you’d have to be a fool to pass up.
We were the first troop to explore beyond the base camp. We’d been gone about nine days (it’s so hard to tell time when the sun never sets) when we’d been attacked.
“Lieutenant!” A voice cried from somewhere within the trees to my right, instantly followed by the sound of automatic rifle fire. Six rounds had gone off before I’d brought my own gun to bear and charged in the direction of the voice.
Thirty feet from the edge of the clearing, a man named McNeil lay on his side on the ground, a vicious-looking wound on his left thigh oozing scarlet. He was propped up on one shoulder, his rifle in his hands.
“Look out! It’s invisible!” He cried, and then something moved to our right, shaking the leaves on a thick green tree.
I turned and opened fire into the brush, shredding the leaves and most of the tree trunk almost instantly. There was a horrible growl and hiss, like the sound of a tire blowing out, and before my eyes a torrent of motor oil-like fluid filled the air. A creature like the ones that lay dead in the clearing appeared for a moment, perched on the tree like a grasshopper on a screen door. Faster than I could blink, it leapt at me, hitting me in the chest with the speed and force of an NFL linebacker.
I cried out as it knocked me from my feet and slammed me to the ground, knocking the wind from my lungs as one of its clawed legs tore at my unarmored left shoulder. It hissed and spat at me, the horrible mandibles snapping hungrily at my face like a starving dog after a bone. I screamed and punched at it impotently with my right hand- it had a shell, like an insect. It didn’t seem to notice I was putting up a struggle at all.
There was an explosion of sound and heat from somewhere above me, and a tide of the thick viscous blood poured across my body. An instant later, Captain Briggs was kicking the monster’s mutilated body from off of me, the tip of his rifle still red hot. I tried to roll over and cried out- the wound in my shoulder was deep.
Briggs slipped my good arm around his shoulder and helped me to my feet, then did his best to get McNair into a standing position. I could hear the rest of the troop calling out their own names- they must have heard the gunfire and were calling out to see who was unaccounted for. They would no doubt be looking for us.
“Sawyer! Briggs! McNair!” I shouted, tearing a strip of cloth from the t-shirt I wore under my body armor. “Targets may still be in the area- they possess some kind of stealth! Multiple injuries!”
“Shit,” Briggs said as he slid under McNair’s arm, taking the weight off of his bad leg. “We’re going to have to use thermal imaging to find them.”
“We have bigger problems, sir.” McNair said, his voice tiny. Briggs and I both looked at the young man, whose freckled face was ashen. “Look at what I found. Over there.” He pointed, and the three of us took a few careful steps through the brush. I held my rifle as best I could with one hand.
Just out of sight was what appeared to be a narrow dirt path cut out of the underbrush. The path was beaten down with deep, jagged ruts.
“What is this? A marching path?” Briggs said. “Those look like claw marks, like their feet.”
A second later, it dawned on me. “Oh, God.” Briggs looked at me, his blue eyes wide. “They have a marching path. Which means, they march.” The blood drained out of Briggs face.
“They’re intelligent.” He said. “And not only intelligent, but organized. If they march, then there’s a marching order, and a chain of command.”
“Sir!” Someone shouted, and I turned to see two or three of the survivors of the attack walking through the brush to where the three of us stood.
“Turn back, soldier!” Captain Briggs shouted, his voice ringing with authority. “Get everyone to the clearing, now! Regroup, prepare to march out.” He turned to me as the other soldiers followed their commands. “Not a word of this to the others. There may be more of them headed here right now. We’ve got to get back to base camp.”
We trudged back the way we had come to meet the others in the clearing. I shuddered as I passed the carcass of the creature that had attacked me. How could we fight an enemy that we couldn’t see, couldn’t predict, and that knew the terrain better?
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Title: "Preparations" (written September 2009)
Aaron M. Smith
“Oh man, I am SO getting this.”
I looked over to where Donny was standing, bent over the glass display case. Gingerly, as if it were a newborn child, he lifted a sheathed katana from the case and held it reverently in front of me.
“Will you get real, Donny?” Sam said, dumping the golf clubs out of an oversized golf bag. He hesitated for a moment, and then picked up a five-iron, gave it a test swing, and dropped it back into the bag. “That’s a fucking sword. You don’t know how to use one of them.”
“I know which end is sharp!” he protested. He unsheathed the weapon, laying the scabbard on the countertop. He gripped it just under the hilt with both hands.
“Look at ya, you're holding it like a fuckin’ baseball bat.” Sam rolled his eyes. “You’re gonna cut your fuckin’ leg off with that thing.”
“Screw you, you’ve never played golf!”
“Good thing we’re not goin’ ta be playing golf, then, iddin’it?”
“Will both of you shut the hell up!” I barked. In the back of the pawn shop, I’d found what I was looking for. The owner hadn’t lasted long; his throat was torn out, a mess of stringy gore that stretched from the shattered window to where he lay at the office door. Poor bastard tried to get away, maybe get to the phone.
On his belt was huge a huge ring of about forty keys. The key to the ammo locker had to be on there somewhere.
Like most pawn shops, this one had all the best sellers- handguns- out and visible for everyone to see. Also, like most pawn shops, they kept the ammo under lock and key so some psycho couldn’t start world war three if they broke into the shop.
“And it’s not like they have vital spots for you to hit,” Sam continued to argue. “They’re already dead, fer chrissake. A slashed artery ain’t gonna stop them.”
“Well neither is a concussion!” Donny defended.
“This ain’t fer concussin’! It’s for limb breaking. They can’t chase us if they legs don’t work, can they?”
“That’s what this is for. Limb slicing.”
“That old thing ain’t gonna cut through bone, you dip shit!”
I ignored them this time as I squatted in front of the huge steel cabinet concealed behind the front counter, trying key after key in the lock. It took nearly ten minutes of trying, but finally the lock clicked, and the cabinet drawer slid out.
“Got ammo here,” I said conversationally. Sam and Donny put aside their bickering long enough to walk around the ruined countertop to where I crouched. The three of us began to rifle through the ammunition in silence, setting it out in piles by the type of gun it went with. We allowed ourselves to get enveloped in the task, and for ten minutes everything seemed okay.
Until Donny said, “So why do you think we’re immune?”
Sam didn’t respond. He just continued to sort through the ammunition.
I said, “I don’t know. Maybe it’s like the flu. Some people just don’t ever seem to get it.”
“Don’t the flu mutate, though?” Sam whispered. “So it can get more people?”
“I didn’t say it was the flu,” I replied. “Just maybe like the flu.”
‘Well where’d it come from?” Donny asked. He’d made a pile of shotgun shells and had begun to sort them by gauge.
“Well, the flu’s always been around, I guess. Maybe this has too.”
“You really think it’s always been around?” Sam sounded skeptical. “Like, just waiting for when it could come around and get us? Come on.”
“Well, how do I know?” I was getting frustrated. “Maybe it has to incubate for a couple million years or something. Maybe someone found it in a jungle somewhere. Or maybe it’s a thing made by the government that went wrong.”
“That’s what it always is in the movies.” Donny mumbled.
“The government making zombies?” Sam’s voice was wry. “Yeah, that’s it. Those fuckers can’t close the borders or figure out health care, but damn, they sure can make some zombies.”
We all shared a small laugh at the image. It was like a glimmer of sunlight in a thunderstorm, hopeful for a moment, and then snuffed out as quickly as it came.
A few minutes later, I was fooling with the transistor radio that I’d brought from home, the only useful item in my entire household. The rest of my family had been out for the weekend when the shit hit the fan. I still hadn’t talked to them. Donny was staying the weekend with me (we were going to watch horror movies all day Saturday. The irony was not lost on us). Sam lived a few houses down. None of us could find any of our families. Living in rural Pennsylvania, we didn’t have many neighbors. We’d hiked all night, staying off the roads, to make it into town.
There was nobody left.
We’d camped out that night in the public library. We found this place early this morning. We’d only run into a few of them so far, and had mostly managed to avoid them. The one time we had been spotted, we managed to give it the slip. But there was only one of them.
I’d heard a broadcast on the radio this morning. They were setting up a rescue center for survivors in Pittsburg. That’s where we had to go.
“Did you ever take the online quiz?” Donny asked after a time. He was loading a 12-gauge and tossing extra ammo into a nylon fanny pack.
“Which one?” Sam said.
“Come on, you know. ‘Things you’d want to have around in case of a zombie apocalypse’?”
Sam laughed. “Heh, yeah, I did that one.”
“Well, what did you pick?”
That elicited another quick chuckle.
“Come on guys, we need to keep moving. I got the dude’s keys. His car’s got to be outside somewhere. We’ve got a five hour’s drive to Pittsburg, and the sooner we get there the better.”
“Is it really safe to be on the roads?” Donny asked.
“What if it ain’t?” Sam asked. “What’re we gonna do, hike to Pittsburg?”
The three of us loaded up all the gear we’d found and walked into the parking lot of the strip mall. It was mostly full of cars. I guess when it happened this place was still pretty busy.
“How the hell’re we gonna find his car?” Sam asked.
I fiddled with the keys I’d picked off the shop owner. There was an automatic door unlock button- I pressed it, looking for blinking headlights.
Instead, I received a wailing car alarm from a Volvo three rows down.
“Mike, you ass!” Sam shrieked. “You hit the panic button! Turn it off, turn it off!”
I fumbled with the keys and dropped them to the concrete. My fingers trembled as I scrambled to snatch them back up, finally finding the door unlock button. The alarm stopped.
But the wailing didn’t.
An inhuman cry split the afternoon air, a sound like a cross between a hyena and the shriek of metal being torn apart. It seemed to be coming from everywhere at once, slicing through my brain and eliciting a primal terror in me that I never knew existed. Everything about the sound was just fundamentally…wrong.
“Go, go! Get to the car!” I cried, and the three of us ran for the Volvo, and for our lives.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
"Earthbound" (excerpt, first draft: November 2008)
Aaron M. Smith
“She’s over here.”
There were a few examination tables in the long, narrow room, but only one of them was occupied. Sam always does an impeccable job of cleaning up after an autopsy (with the exception of his apron), but this time was different.
The sheet over the body was spattered with spots of dark brown-red, not the fire-engine red that you see on the sheets in horror movies, but the dark burgundy of freshly dried blood, only just set. I’d never seen a set up as messy under Sam’s care.
I opened my mouth to speak, but then we were at the bed and Sam’s hand was on the sheet, at the head. Before I could say anything, he met my eyes in a “ready or not” sort of way, and folded down the sheet to her waist.
It was horrible. I’d seen my share of dead folks, and while you never really get used to looking at them (if I ever did, I’d begin to worry about myself), it was totally different from anything I’d seen before. I slapped my hand to my mouth and held my breath, instantly glad that I hadn’t stopped for that cheeseburger.
“Geez Sam,” I said, turning my back from the scene. “What is this, some kind of joke? Why didn’t you stitch her up?”
There was a silent pause, and I felt Sam walk up behind me. “That’s the thing, Toby.” He said, his voice as sober as his face had been an instant before. “I didn’t do this to her. She came in like this.”
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
(written May 2009)
Aaron M. Smith
Stanley’s boss looked up from the pile of Xeroxes on his desk.
“That’s right, Mister McMahon. I’m quitting.”
Mr. McMahon’s dark, heavy-lidded eyes rolled up to look Stanley right in the face. Somehow he managed to convey irritation and pity in the same glance.
“Just like that?” His monotone voice drawled.
“That’s right. I’m moving away from town, too.”
“You know, Stanley,” Mr. McMahon squeezed his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose. “You’re really going to be leaving me in a spot.”
“There are plenty of people who can make shoelaces, Mister McMahon. I won’t be hard to replace.” Stanley smirked, for the first time in the eight years he’d worked for Mr. McMahon. “Didn’t you tell me that, once?”
“You know we’ve got a shipment of eleven eyelets that’s got to go out in three weeks,” Mr. McMahon continued unabated. “Eleven eyelets, Stanley.”
“You’re just going to have to find someone else to add those extra twenty-four millimeters, Mister McMahon.”
For the first time in Stanley’s memory, Mr. McMahon made eye contact with him.
“And jut what are you going to do, Stanley?” His sunken eyes tracked across Stanley’s plaid western shirt, his wide belt with huge silver Texas-shaped belt buckle, his too-tight jeans, and his leather boots without a stain on them.
“I’m moving to Texas.” Stanley pushed his glasses up onto his nose proudly.
“To be a cowboy?” The monotone drawl seated behind the metal desk said.
“I’m going to get a job on a cattle ranch.”
“And be a cowboy.”
“I have a cousin that lives outside of Austin. He knows someplace where I can stay when I get there.”
“Have you ever seen a cow, Stanley? They’re big.”
“A lot of people are moving out there, learn to live off the land. They all want to go to ranches. There’s a place that’s hiring.”
“Hiring middle aged office workers who want to be cowboys?”
“I’m going to learn to ride a horse. Maybe shoot a gun.”
“Stanley,” Mr. McMahon’s voice rose, just a little bit. “Are you serious?”
“More serious than I’ve ever been about shoelaces, Mister McMahon.”
They locked eyes for a second more. Finally, Mr. McMahon looked away and yanked on a drawer on his desk. It took two pulls before it screeched open. He rifled through the mess of papers inside and finally drew out a slip of paper.
“Here’s your final paycheck, then.” He passed Stanley the slip of paper. “Do you need anything else? Letter of recommendation?”
Stanley took the slip of paper and turned without a word. He strode out of the office into the open work space, his boots clip-clopping loudly across the bare concrete floor. He’d already cleaned out his desk; all that lay on it now was his ten-gallon hat, where he’d placed it that morning. Just as he reached the desk, the lady from Human Resources and a young man in a white shirt and red tie reached it as well.
“And this will be your workspace,” she was saying, but stopped when she noticed Stanley. She and the young man in the tie looked at him for a moment.
“Who are you?” said the man in the tie.
Stanley plopped the hat onto his head and tugged it down until it obscured his eyes from the young man. “I’m you in eight years, kid.”
Then, every eye of every worker in the entire space enviously on him, Stanley strode away to freedom.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
(written November 2008)
Aaron M. Smith
“Yes, I’d like a bottle of the merlot, please,” I told the waiter, folding the drink menu and handing it back to him. He smiled simply, took the menu and trotted off. I folded my hands in my lap, then unfolded them, then placed them on the tabletop, then at my sides.
I could not figure out how to not look anxious. But I didn’t want it to look like I was trying too hard, or trying too hard to not try too hard.
Aw crap, I was starting to sweat. She was going to see sweat on my shirt, and it was going to be all over. I had to wear the blue shirt. Blue shows sweat. Of course, she had mentioned the other day that it brought out my eyes. How could I not wear it?
I glanced for the hundredth or so time at the door, past the other candlelit tables perched on tiny individual red carpets on the deep, hardwood floor. Not there yet.
I couldn’t help but feel conspicuous, sitting alone at my table. Nobody goes to a French restaurant and sips merlot and listens to the live piano all by himself, staring across the table past the candle flame to… an empty chair. Geez, I must’ve looked like a leper. All the other couples in the restaurant looked so casual, like they were all good at this. I was not good at this. Dating, that is.
I hadn’t really dated anyone since college. I dated the same girl for almost three years in undergrad, and after we split up I just didn’t have any motivation to look for another. After I graduated, my exposure to women my age became limited to the girl working at the desk at the bank (she’d been giving me eyes lately) and other teachers my age. And you know what they say about relationships with co-workers.
Someone sat something down on the table, and I said, “Thank you, but I won’t need the wine until my date arrives,”
“Well, Mister Harper, if this is indeed a date, I hope you ordered a nice merlot,” said a rich, deep feminine voice, and I turned to see the woman at my table. She was wearing a long, black dress, stylish yet conservative, with a tight necklace of small pearls around her neck. She smiled, and her dimples shone in the candlelight; I couldn’t keep from smiling. She pulled one auburn curl back from her face.
“Nice to see you, Ms. Faraday,” I said through my grin (carefully pronouncing “Mizz”). I stood and gave her a light hug before pulling out her chair for her. She smiled at me and sat down.
“Please, call me Carol,” she said.
“If you’ll call me Mark,” I said. “Only my students call me Mister Harper.”
The waiter arrived with the wine, and poured two glasses, and we drank.
“I have to say, Mark,” Carol said to me over her wine glass, “I expected a heartless gargoyle like yourself to be a little more… offsetting.”
I stammered for a split second, then chuckled. “I take it Haylee’s been talking about me at home?”
“And you’re the teacher she likes,” She smiled.
“Well, I went through something like that when I was fifteen,” I defended over my merlot.
“Which was, what, last week?” She was teasing me, and I grinned.
“Hey, I’m old enough. I have a masters degree, thank you very much.”
She smiled, showing white teeth. The corners of her eyes crinkled attractively, and candlelight flickered in her warm hazel eyes.
“At some point, shouldn’t we get on with the parent-teacher-conference portion of the evening?” Her glass was nearly empty. I took the bottle and tipped a little more into it. I then sat up as straight as I could in my chair and smoothed the wrinkles out of my shirt.
“Well Miss Faraday, it seems I caught your daughter with cigarettes on school grounds. That’s a mandatory one-day suspension,” I held my voice with mock authority.
“Well, since you previously stated that you too had a rebellious streak, Mister Harper, don’t you think she ought to be given some leeway?”
I flashed a grin at her. “Had a rebellious streak, Ms. Faraday?”
She grinned, her natural, throaty voice returning. “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked out during an after-school meeting before.”
I flashed back to the previous week; I actually had caught Haylee Faraday with cigarettes and, school regulations, had to call her parent. Haylee's mother had arrived that afternoon wearing grey suit pants and a tight green sweater and no ring on her left hand, and I was knocked off of my feet. I was wearing a white polo shirt with a coffee stain on it. I asked her out before it had occured to my brain that she probably would say no. She hadn't.
“That coffee stain looked good on you.”
I laughed again, and then realizing she was being half-serious, I blushed furiously. Thank goodness for the concealing power of candlelight.
Carol took the wine bottle in her hands and turned it around, reading the label. “1990, good year.” She grinned, as if remembering something fondly. “I hadn’t even dreamt about Kaylee in 1990.” She turned her gaze to me, mischief in her eyes now. “What were you, in the 3rd grade?”
“Fourth,” I corrected, smiling back. “And you know what they say about wine. It gets better with age.”
“That’s not the only thing,” she replied, winking. My blush deepened by shades, but I laughed.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Y'know, now that you mention it, he DOES sort of look like Quintin Tarantino....
Thursday, August 27, 2009
(written August 2009)
Aaron M. Smith
It was cold this evening. I wished the waiter I’d bribed had worn a wool coat, or been allowed to. But no, it was always the same getup- black silk waistcoat, bow tie, linen shirt, black pants, and those ungodly black shoes with the heel. How I hated those damn shoes.
As I walked into the kitchen from the allyway, the heat from the stoves and the gaslights overwhelmed me, and I had to cough to clear my throat. Sloppy. Keep your head down, Yardley. You’ll live longer.
The kitchen was crowded, as it always was; busboys running here and there, demanding plates and trays and wine, always more wine. Those members of Parliament really could hold their wine, I’d give them that. The whole place stunk, of sweat and heat and gas and the myriad odors emanating from the pots and broilers and kettles.
I heard the crowd in the banquet hall outside cheering and clapping. The musicians must have just finished up. That meant it would soon be my cue.
I held my head up, nose in the air, shoulders squared. Nobody asked where you were going as long as you walked with confidence. I strode through the banquet hall door; the darkness in the room was blinding at first, and I had to allow my eyes to adjust to the dimness. The only lights in the behemoth hall were the tiny gaslights on each table, a field of pinpoint flames that left the ceiling of the massive hall bathed in complete darkness.
Entering the stage was a man wearing the most gaudy tophat and tails I’d ever seen. He bellowed on and on about the mystical places he’d been to, the monks and sages and oracles from whom he had acquired his mystical arcane powers. I grinned inwardly; Bolly was always the most amazing liar, even when we were kids. His magic act was about to begin; the rest of his cast and crew would already be in place.
A quick scan of the room showed me exactly what I was looking for; at the center table, the one with the most people, sat a short, balding man with a pushbroom mustache. At his left and right (and at every table adjacent) sat six huge men in identical black suits. Of course, it only made sense. Owen Montgomery wouldn’t go anywhere without his bodyguards.
Not that they’d do him much good tonight.
“Ladies and Gentlemen!” Bolly boomed from the stage. “The Great Mondello welcomes you to a night that you will never forget. For tonight, your imagination will be assaulted, your senses will be put to the test, and you will wonder if even your own eyes are to be believed!”
The room suddenly plunged into utter darkness.
I darted through the gloom like a shark after a wounded man.
The last week I’d spent memorizing the placement of the tables and chairs in the room had all been worth it. It had taken a lot of money and a lot of manipulation to get the Parliament to move their meeting to this banquet hall- the only hall in central London that had stationary benches instead of movable chairs. Couldn’t have people sliding out their chairs in the darkness, after all. Had to have an environment I could memorize and be able to move through completely blind. It was the only way I could assure I’d remain unseen.
I heard the cough; Montgomery’s cough was unmistakable. I’d attended every damn public address he’d made for the last month, paid so careful attention to what he said and how he said it that the words lost meaning and became chains of sounds. I was right behind his chair.
This restaurant always placed their wine glasses on the right. But Montgomery was left-handed, and judging by the way he’d been putting back the wine that evening, his glass would be in his hand right now.
My hand slipped into my pocket, took the folded piece of paper there. I probed with my fingers, carefully; there was the edge of the glass. He flinched with it, slightly, when my fingers touched it. Instantly, I deftly opened the paper and allowed the powder inside to slip into the glass. Nobody else would have been able to hear it land on the liquid surface of the wine; I’d done this so many times that it was like a familiar tune I could sing from memory.
Like a ghost, I slithered out of the banquet hall the way I had come. Back into the kitchen, where the gaslights still burned; Bolly’s men had, of course, only cut off the gas to the dining room. All part of the show, folks, he would say, all part of the show. No one stopped me as I slipped out of the staff entrance and into the ally. I tossed the waiter’s clothing into the garbage; in moments I was back in my street clothes, concealed behind the dumpster. I crammed my cap onto my head and walked the three blocks to the boarding house where I was staying the night, and where I’d meet Bolly later.
In the tiny, shabby room, I treated myself to gin. Not everyday you make six hundred thousand pounds for ten minutes worth of work. Even the Prime Minister himself couldn’t argue that; of course, in ten minutes time, he wouldn’t be able to argue anything at all. We wouldn’t meet the informant until next week, to allow the trail to grow cold. I’d have to wait until then to cash in.
For a moment, I entertained the idea that the informant would never show, that I’d just been duped into doing his dirty work for free. I put the thought away; he’d known my reputation well enough to seek me out. Surely he knew what would happen to those who excercise poor business practices.