Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Okay, I know it's not officially October (aka "Halloween Season") until tomorrow, but I couldn't wait any longer to post this piece that I wrote a few weeks ago. It has a distinct horror feel to it. Fair warning, there is a bit of bad language. Enjoy!

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?”
“Chuck Norris.”
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

Teaser: "Earthbound"

This is a teaser from the novel I'm working on right now (tentatively titled "Earthbound"). I've enlisted the help of some close friends (Thanks guys!) to help me proofread and edit it. I'll keep posting updates on its progress, and when it gets published I'll be sure to announce it. I did say when; I'm being optimistic here.

"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

The Good, The Bad, and The Stanley

"The Good, The Bad, and The Stanley"
(written May 2009)
Aaron M. Smith

Stanley’s boss looked up from the pile of Xeroxes on his desk.
“You’re quitting?”
“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.