Search Results for "The large Trade"

Jul 23 2017

The Large Trade Collider By Matthew Harrison

Published by under The WiFiles

Securities investigator Joe Kormak knew that he had to crack the case, the Attorney General was waiting. But how? He couldn’t understand the thing, let alone solve it. And having such young assistants didn’t help either

He went through it again with the two young people. “You say that guy Sheridan entered a ten billion dollar hedging trade – and forgot he did it?”

“That’s right,” said Annie brightly.

“And his machine’s forgotten too,” said Luke. “No record of the order, firm-wide.”

The two youngsters – bespectacled, pale from long hours at computer screens, and uncannily keyed in to each other’s thoughts – seemed like aliens to Joe. Was it just a generational thing?

“Look again,” he growled. “There must be a deletion log. The order couldn’t have come from nowhere.”

Joe trudged back to his office. This wasn’t just another flash crash. There was public outcry, and with an election coming the AG wanted blood. But who to prosecute? It was a perpetrator-less crime.

#

“I can’t keep up with today’s markets,” Joe confessed to his wife Mabel when he returned home. “Everything’s so fast now.”

“That’s what you’ve got those young people for,” Mabel said. “Your Annie has sharp eyes.”

“It’s way beyond eyes,” Joe insisted. “In fact it’s beyond physics. Do you know that electrons…? Anyway, trading’s so fast nowadays that it’s all down to cable length.”

“A longer cable is further to go,” Mabel retorted. “Electrons have to work, just like everyone else.”

She had one last word before bed. “If it’s physics you’re worried about, I thought that Luke was a physicist. Why don’t you ask him?”

#

Joe set out for the office meaning to ask Luke. But when he saw the pale expressionless face, he baulked at learning from his own assistant. So he browbeat Annie instead. Had she found the deletion log?

Anne hadn’t. And she had feelings about the case as well. She couldn’t believe Sheridan had done the trade because he was so upset.

Joe snorted.

“Something that size is completely outside his limits,” Annie insisted. “It would never have got through the risk gateway.”

“So where did the trade come from?” Joe demanded.

“I don’t think it was a human trade.”

“We know that!” Joe said, exasperatedly. “Nothing’s human in the markets nowadays, it’s all algo.” Didn’t his assistant know that!?

“Algos begin with human design,” Annie said. “It’s like gaming – you know it’s a machine you’re playing against, but it still feels human. This doesn’t feel like that.”

“For God’s sake, what does it feel like?” Joe was beginning to crack. “Aliens, or what?”

#

After a fruitless morning, Joe recalled Mabel’s advice. Reluctantly, he went to find Luke.

The young man was chewing gum, and on seeing Joe hastily scooped it into his cheek. Joe started to speak – but how could he ask advice from someone chewing gum? So he kept back the question he had been intending to ask.

Instead, he got Luke to take him through his charts of the day’s trading. The market was normal until 15:59, just before the close. Then at 15:59:21 there was a spike in order flow.

“That’s some spike!” Joe whistled. “Can you blow it up?”

Luke had a second chart showing the individual orders as vertical lines. The middle of the chart was a forest of black.

“The biggie?” Joe asked.

“Yep.” Luke shifted the gum to the other side of his mouth. “This just shows when the orders hit the exchange server. Actually, with so many orders, the message bus would have backed them up. So we don’t know when they were sent.”

“There’s no time stamp?”

Luke shook his head. The server’s clock recorded only to the millisecond. You couldn’t establish absolute time.

He pointed at the chart again. “Look at this.”

Joe peered. Some of the lines looked strange. Luke resolved the bunched area. When the enlarged image flashed up, Joe saw what he meant. At the centre of the burst, not all the lines were vertical. One curved to the right; another spiralled away off screen.

But what help was that? They were no nearer finding the culprit. Joe told Luke to put the charts away.

#

It was after midnight when Joe got home. No, he said to Mabel as they went to bed, they still hadn’t found who initiated the gigantic trade.

“It’s embarrassing,” he said. “Ten billion doesn’t just come out of nowhere. What can I tell the AG? He wants to string up Sheridan, but there’s no evidence.”

“Maybe the computers did it themselves,” Mabel said sleepily. “They’re clever enough.”

Joe lay awake for a while. And thought.

Finally, he rang Luke, who would still be up. “You’re a physicist, right?” A grunt came down the line. “Particles?” Another grunt.

Joe swallowed his pride. “Do you think that somehow we’re in a kind of laboratory here – atom-smashers at Cern, that sort of thing?”

His assistant’s voice came back excitedly, “Like, I’ve been trying to tell you, man! – I mean, Joe, sir…”

#

Joe and Luke were in the AG’s office to present the findings of the investigation. The great man sat at his desk. He did not invite them to sit down.

Feeling as if he had already been fired, Joe began.

“You have to understand, sir, that in our markets today, we have created conditions under which vast numbers of transactions collide in tiny fractions of a second, literally at the speed of light. And these conditions form a laboratory, in which entirely new phenomena can be seen.”

The AG looked grim. “This had better be good, Kormak.”

“Let me draw an analogy, sir,” Joe continued. “You may recall that in another kind of laboratory, deep underground, scientists smashed particles together at extremely high energies and were able to observe–”

“The God particle,” Luke broke in.

The AG looked confused. “This trade was an Act of God?”

“No, sir,” said Joe.

“What was it, then?”

Joe recalled Luke’s words, and repeated them carefully. “‘An emergent phenomenon generated by the extreme forces of modern markets.’”

The AG thought this over. Finally, he said, “You mean, no one is responsible?”

“No one.”

“Christ! That’s what I tell the public?”

Joe raised his hand. “Your honour–”

“Well?”

“History has been made, sir – the advance of science. A public announcement should be made, world media invited…”

The AG smiled. “Now you’re talking!”

 

–End–

 

Bio

Matthew Harrison lives in Hong Kong, and whether because of that or some other reason entirely his writing has veered from non-fiction to literary and he is currently reliving a boyhood passion for science fiction. He has published numerous SF short stories and is building up to longer pieces as he learns more about the universe. Matthew is married with two children but no pets as there is no space for these in Hong Kong.
www.matthewharrison.hk

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Oct 29 2017

Waters of the Abysm by S. Alessandro Martinez

Published by under The WiFiles

Behind our house was a large, deep lake, stretching out about three miles shore-to-shore at any given point. It was ringed by beautiful, multi-storied, wood houses built close to its quiet shores. And I hated it. I had hated it ever since we first moved into a house next to it. My parents had never seemed to notice anything strange about Mishipeshu Lake, but I felt a chill in my bones the very first time I laid my eyes upon it. I had never seen a real corpse before, but I imagined it would evoke the same feelings of revulsion and icy dread.

My parents, older brother, and I moved into the lakeside house when I was thirteen. I was distressed and anxiety-ridden the whole drive up there from our old home two states away. I would be in a new neighborhood, an unfamiliar house, a new school, and I would have to make new friends. It was all very daunting. I hadn’t been very popular at my old school, so how was I supposed to make friends here? Maybe I could reinvent myself, be someone new? But all nervous thoughts about my social life vanished when my dad pulled up the long dirt driveway and parked the car, and I got out to look at our new home. Instead of the gorgeous, two-story log house, with its multiple gables, large windows that would let in plenty of light, and charming stone chimney, my eyes were immediately drawn to the lake that the house overlooked, its green water softly lapping onto the sandy shore about fifty feet from the back porch. That was the first time I felt the dread.

I had an unobstructed view of the water from my bedroom window up on the second story. I would watch it at night as the pale moon reflected off its pristine surface, a surface frequently so smooth you would think it was made of glass. But then, every so often, something would briefly breach the water and then return beneath its darkness, sending small ripples outward, becoming smaller and smaller, until everything was still once more. Fish? Perhaps it was. But the dark shapes I could make out rising and falling in that water some nights were far bigger than any fish I ever saw caught there.

All things considered, the first year of my new life by Mishipeshu Lake was relatively uneventful. I was in school, in eighth grade, preparing to transfer to high school. My brother, Sam, was two years older than I, and already a sophomore. We didn’t hang out much during that year. He was also trying to make friends in this new place and said he didn’t have time for his little sister. Unlike Sam, who slowly became friendly with most everyone, I hadn’t really made any friends. I was the perpetual outsider, the “weird girl.”

A few months into the school year, my brother introduced me to one of his new friends, a tall, brown-haired boy named Ben. He seemed nice enough. He had lived in this community his whole life, was in the same grade as Sam, and was, I came to learn, obsessed with the paranormal, conspiracies, local legends, and the like. I had never been into that stuff, but I had been interested in learning more about the area my family now called home.

One cloudy Friday evening, Sam had brought Ben over to have dinner with us. After we had eaten, and while our mom and dad did the dishes, Sam put in some old 70’s horror movie.

“Could I ask you something, Ben?” I asked him, kneeling down beside the couch as he and Sam watched the flick.

“Sure thing, Blaire,” he said, his eyes still glued to the television. “What’s up?”

“You know a lot about this town. Are there any…stories surrounding Mishipeshu Lake? Like…weird stories?”

“Haven’t learned anything about it in school, huh?” Ben chuckled, turning to look at me with a grin.

“Well, sure we have,” I replied. “But just things about the first settlers here, how they raised livestock and grew crops, braved harsh winters, blah, blah, blah. Then they up and left, and the land wasn’t resettled until about a hundred years later. You know, standard, boring history stuff.”

Ben chuckled again, stretching out his legs and putting his arms behind his head. I could tell he was excited to share some of his weird knowledge with me. “Of course the teachers wouldn’t get into the neat stuff.” He glanced over at Sam who seemed uninterested in our conversation.

“Like what?” I asked eagerly, my heart beginning to race a little.

“About all the mysterious deaths and stuff,” Ben whispered. He paused dramatically, then raised his hands and wiggled his fingers at me. “Ooooo!”

Both he and Sam laughed at the disappointment that must have been written all over my face.

“Fine, whatever,” I replied grumpily, turning away and waving my hand dismissively at Ben.

“Okay, okay,” he said, settling down and placing his hand on my shoulder. “Sorry. But there really were creepy things that went on back when the town was first settled around the lake.”

I turned back around with an eyebrow raised. “Are you going to tell me? Or are you going to be dumb?”

“Feisty one, your sister is.” He elbowed Sam in the ribs and chuckled, but then continued on in a more serious tone. “Anyway, when the town was first being settled, in 1856, one of the local tribes came down from the hills and told the townsfolk to move on. They said that this was a cursed place belonging to the Mishipeshu and nobody should be near those waters, let alone live next to them.”

“And what exactly is a Mishipeshu?” I asked.

“An ancient spirit that lived in the water, I think,” Ben answered, scratching his chin in thought. “It was supposed to resemble a panther or something.” He shrugged. “But who really knows?”

“So, this spirit was dangerous, I assume?”

“Well, this is where it gets interesting,” Ben said, rubbing his palms together eagerly. “The settlers chose to ignore these warnings, of course, and make a home here anyway. They believed that either the natives were spewing some local superstition, or that the land here was valuable and the natives wanted to scare them away from it.”

“Seems logical, I guess,” I said slowly.

“Yes, seems so, doesn’t it?” Ben continued, leaning closer to me as Sam went back to watching the movie. “The settlers lived well and built a thriving town. That is, until fifteen years later.” His eyes glittered with excitement.

“What do you mean?” I could feel goosebumps rising on my arms and legs.

“Everyone simply vanished. One day, traveling traders and merchants discovered the town empty. In some of the houses there were signs of a struggle, some blood here and there, but the weirdest thing was that all around the lakeshore were clothes-as if people stripped down naked and swam into the water. No bodies were ever found though. Not on land, anyway, and no one’s ever searched the lake itself properly. They didn’t really have the proper gear back then. And there’s not much interest these days for the town to hire all the equipment to go down to the very bottom of the lake. It’s quite deep in the center.”

“Weird,” was all I could say, trying to keep my voice nonchalant. The story had creeped me out, though. Was there any truth to any of this? Could it explain why I disliked the lake so much? I couldn’t be sure. Who knew where Ben had gotten this information? Books? The internet? I didn’t know, but I liked the lake even less after hearing it. I wished I hadn’t asked at all. Being near the water made me feel even more uneasy now.

I didn’t bring up the subject again with Ben or Sam after that night. I tried to stop letting my mind dwell on the lake; the dark unexplored depths, the softly lapping waves upon the shore, the occasional mysteriously loud splash at night, or the way the moon reflected off the sleek water, making it appear as if the twin orbs were two monstrous silver eyes staring at me.

The lake frightened me, but somehow also enthralled me. In a way I couldn’t even explain myself, it called to me and enticed me, even though I had never once stood closer than twenty feet from it. I would sometimes catch myself staring out the window at the dark waters as I sat in my room trying to complete my homework, imagining a strange lizard-panther hybrid prowling about. I was doing exactly that as darkness started to descend one evening, when I noticed my brother standing outside by the lakeshore. How long he had been standing out there, I had no idea, but the sun had slipped about halfway below the horizon.

Dropping my homework, I went downstairs and hurried out the back door. Sam was just standing there, a foot from the water’s edge, arms crossed, staring out across the lake. The sun had sunk even lower now, turning the sky and water the color of dying embers. I hesitated, seeing as he was so close to the water, but eventually mustered up the courage to walk over to where he stood, my feet dragging reluctantly as I moved closer toward the water. I had never been so close to the lake’s edge before.

“What’s up, Sam?” I asked, looking around to see what had caught his attention. Turning away from the water to look at his face in the gloaming light, I noticed that his eyes appeared red and puffy. “Everything okay?”

He remained silent for a moment before answering. “It’s Ben,” he said, his voice barely a whisper.

“What about Ben?” The flat expression on my brother’s face and the tone of his voice began to worry me. “Did something happen?” My eyes searched his face, trying to glean the cause of his obvious distress.

“Ben’s gone,” he said in the monotone voice he always acquired when he was upset.

“Gone?” I repeated. “Gone where?” Dread began to creep down my spine, sending shivers throughout my body.

“I don’t know,” Sam replied in the same dead tone, shaking his head slowly. “I hadn’t seen him at school for a few days. He hadn’t been answering my texts. I thought maybe he was really sick, so I went to his house. His parents told me that he’s been missing since Sunday evening.” He turned to look at me. “They’re frantic.”

Sunday? Today was Wednesday! That did sound strange and very worrying. Of course I didn’t know Ben as well as Sam did, but he didn’t seem like the kind of guy to cut class or just run away.

“His parents told me,” Sam started up again, fear now pervading his voice, “that before he went missing, Ben said something about going for a swim in the lake. That he wanted to ‘check something out’. His exact words. People go swimming in the lake all the time. His parents thought nothing of it.”

“That’s…weird,” I whispered, a cold feeling permeating my stomach. The story Ben had told of the Mishipeshu gripped my mind and I instinctively took a step back from the water. “Have they searched the lake yet? For his—for him?” I couldn’t look away from the incoming waves.

“Not yet,” Sam said, as he cleared his throat loudly. “There is only one qualified police diver in the county and he is on vacation.”

“How convenient,” I said sarcastically, kicking at some sand on the ground, trying in vain to think of something to reassure my brother. “I’m sorry, Sam. I know you two were becoming good friends.”

“Don’t say that,” Sam said softly, a tinge of anger in his voice. “Don’t talk about him as if he’s dead!” He glared at me briefly before his expression softened and he turned back to the lake. “We don’t know what’s happened. He could be perfectly…fine.” His voice trailed off with uncertainty.

“Yeah, of course,” I said, meekly. I looked upward at the shadowy sky. The sun was gone by now, and I could see the moon trying to peek out from behind the dark clouds that had been slowly rolling in since this morning. I thought I heard a faint rumble far off.

Where could Ben be? Had he really gone swimming in the lake? Or was he somewhere else?

I had trouble getting to sleep that night, so I ended up sitting up in bed, propped up on pillows; the unnatural glow of my laptop the only source of light in my room. I had been looking up anything I could find about Mishipeshu Lake; it was a search I had avoided undertaking until now. According to Native American lore, a Mishipeshu was a lynx or a panther covered in scales. Some stories said it had spines covering its back, while others said it had large horns on its head. It supposedly lived deep underwater and could either be malevolent or benign, and had the ability to conjure storms. The information I found wasn’t clear if there was supposed to be just one or more than one Mishipeshu, but either way, it sounded about as plausible as Bigfoot or Nessie. I couldn’t find anything specifically relating to the story Ben had recounted. Where had he gotten his information? I tried to convince myself that he had just made everything up to spook me.

It was then that I heard a soft tapping on my bedroom window, and looked up. It had finally begun to rain. I closed my laptop and rubbed my eyes, sending stars and colors swimming through my vision. With a sleepy groan, I got out of bed, stretched, and walked over to the window. Pulling aside the half-closed curtain, I looked out into the darkness, barely able to see anything, since the moon was again covered in clouds. I stood there listening to the taps on the glass. I loved the rain, it made me feel at peace, even the sound of the rain on the lake was soothing.

But then I noticed the soft orange glow of the back porch light below my window flicker on. I thought it must have been the wind messing with the motion detector. But as I looked down, I saw a figure standing by the water’s edge. By the faint light of the full moon that had just made an appearance through the clouds and the illumination from the porch, I could see that Sam was out there, staring across the water. He had come inside for dinner earlier; what was he doing standing back out there in the rain? He must have been really worried about Ben. Poor guy.

I slipped on my coat and rain boots, then quietly made my way out of my room, down the stairs, and out the back door as I had earlier. Sam was standing there, arms crossed, staring at the lake, the same as before.

“Sam,” I said, just loudly enough so he could hear me over the rain and rising wind. “Come back inside, you’re getting soaked out here.” I pulled my coat tighter around me, trying to keep Sam between the water and me.

He said nothing, and didn’t even seem to have heard me, so I stepped closer and tugged on the wet sleeve of his shirt.

“Sam, come on,” I begged, feeling cold, wet, and more than a little uneasy at our proximity to the choppy water. The little whitecaps the wind formed on each waved seemed to be reaching for me.

“He’s out there,” he suddenly said, not turning to look at me.

“I’m sure he is, Sam, but not in the lake. And I’m sure he’s fine. Now let’s go inside.” I pulled his arm, trying to ignore the dread building up inside of me.

But Sam wouldn’t budge. “He’s out there, Blaire. He wants me to join him. I heard him calling.” His expression was blank, and he almost looked hypnotized.

“He…he called you?” I asked, perplexed. The rain was coming down even harder now and the wind was blowing my wet hair into my face. I turned to glance quickly, yet longingly, at the house. I desperately wanted to go back inside, snuggle under my blankets, and forget all this weirdness. But what was Sam going on about? Had he actually heard from Ben?

When I turned back to look at Sam, he had his eyes closed, the heavy rain spraying his face. His arms were stretched out, as if he were going to catch a giant beach ball.

“Can’t you hear him, Blaire?” he said loudly above the sound of the rain, startling me.

I strained my ears, desperate to hear whatever he was talking about. But all I could hear was the rain splattering down and the wind. The wind. Was that a voice? No, it was just the wind messing with me. Sam was mistaken.

“Sam, let’s go inside now!” I demanded.

But he either didn’t hear me or didn’t care, because at that moment he tore off his clothes and launched himself into the black, choppy water. I was momentarily stunned as I saw him splash determinedly through the water, being knocked around by the churning waves, and finally begin to swim furiously out into the depths of the lake.

“Sam! What are you doing?” I screamed after him upon overcoming my initial shock. But I quickly lost sight of him as the wind and rain tossed the lake waters violently about. A deep, rumbling boom sounded somewhere behind me. That thunder didn’t sound too far away. “Oh god, oh god!” I shouted. “Mom! Dad!”

Before I could turn and run into the house to get my parents, a beam of moonlight penetrated a small opening in the blanket of black clouds and shone down upon the churning water like a spotlight. Out in the distance, about halfway to the center of the lake, I could see something…someone. Someone was floating there; a body being thrown about by the waves. The figure looked as if it was floating face down!

“Sam!” I screeched, terrified as I had never been before. I hesitated for only a moment. If Sam was unconscious in the water, I couldn’t let my stupid, irrational fear of the lake keep me from helping him. He was my brother!

I frantically ripped off my coat and kicked off my boots, and ran into the raging water, slipping and stumbling on the smooth stones that littered the bottom. I was instantly chilled to the bone as the icy lake sucked every bit of warmth out of me. Feeling the lake floor drop off into the depths, I launched myself farther out into the water, moving my arms and legs as best I could, trying to focus on reaching Sam, and silently thanking my dad for all those swimming lessons he made me take.

I paused after what I thought was several minutes to tread water and catch my breath, the wind howling in my ears. I could see the dark shape floating there, rising falling in the waves just ahead of me. I put all of my energy into reaching him. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get back with Sam if he was unconscious, but I couldn’t give up. I coughed and spluttered as I swallowed icy water in my struggle. My arms and legs were turning to jelly, and it was a struggle to keep my head above water, but I finally reached my brother.

I made to grab him, but it didn’t feel like Sam. Something was wrong. And in that moment there was a blinding flash overhead and a deafening boom, and I could clearly see what I had swum out to rescue.

“No,” I panted. “No!” It wasn’t Sam, it was a log! A damn log! Is this what I had seen? It couldn’t be. “Sam!” I yelled into the air as I frantically treaded water, my limbs almost completely numb. He was in the water somewhere! But I couldn’t see any other object floating nearby. In fact, I now couldn’t even see the shore. The heavy rain and darkness obscured everything around me. I couldn’t have swum that far out, could I?

I told myself that it didn’t matter. I knew I would reach shore no matter what direction I decided to swim in. I just hoped whichever way I chose was the shortest distance. I surveyed the area as best I could for Sam, but still couldn’t see anyone. What else could I do? Without further delay, but with a sinking heart and sick feeling in my stomach, I randomly chose a direction and began kicking.

But I wasn’t moving. By the time I realized that something had hooked my frozen and numb left ankle, I had been violently pulled completely underwater. I hadn’t had time to get a proper breath. That, along with my instinctive scream, and I had no air in my lungs as I was dragged deeper into the lake’s black depths. It was utterly dark and I couldn’t see what was gripping my ankle. I thrashed and flailed, trying to free myself, my lungs burning for fresh air, but I couldn’t escape. I suddenly understood that I was probably going to die here.

As I was pulled farther down into the crushing abyss, I saw a light beneath me, a growing red luminescence. I realized with fresh horror that I had been dragged all the way down to the bottom of the lake, and my bare feet were now touching the cold, slimy sludge of the lakebed.

By the light of the steadily increasing glow around me, I could just make out a hole in the mud at the bottom of the lake. But it was much more than just a hole. A tunnel? A passageway? A portal? It was big enough for several people to fit inside at once. And there was that light. That was where the reddish illumination was coming from. But it wasn’t a bright light, it was a dark light. It looked dark, felt dark. I couldn’t quite understand it.

It was then that it occurred to me that my lungs were no longer burning, and that my leg was free from whatever had gripped it. But my mind didn’t care. I was transfixed by this light. It was if I could sense it, hear it, taste it even. I could feel myself sinking toward the hole. Or was I being sucked into it? I was terrified, yet at the same time a part of my brain wanted, no, needed to know more. I floated right over the aperture, looking down into it.

That’s when…it…appeared from out of the darkness within that mystifying tunnel. At first it was no more than a dark shape, but the strange dark light soon made every detail as clear to me as if I were standing under a bright streetlight. I saw the thing and it was large, menacing, and horrendous. It had the general form of a beastly man with ferociously clawed limbs. The gray flesh covering its enormous body, tinted red by the surrounding illumination, looked scaly and armored like a crocodile’s. In places the skin was torn and ripped, hanging off in chunks, rotten and decayed. What I thought was another limb at first turned out to be a long and powerful-looking tail, similar to that of a lizard. And its head, if it could be called a head, was grotesque. Elongated and unnaturally stretched out, the head looked like the body of a grub with a ragged gash near the neck where a long, black tongue slid hungrily across brown, jagged teeth. All over its body, seemingly at random, were what I could only describe as rusted pieces of metal. They looked like they had been grafted and embedded in the thing’s flesh. Metal plates and blades adorned its torso, while what looked like steel wire was wrapped around its limbs. And on the top of its squirming head were two metal rods that were securely lodged where eyes could have been.

I wanted to scream. I wanted to yell. But I was held there like a deer watching two bright lamps flying ever closer. The thing reached out of the hole and grabbed me by my throat, its claws digging painfully into the sides of my neck. It was then that the spell broke. I suddenly felt the crushing, icy water all around me, the desperate burning of my lungs for air, and heart-stopping dread at what I saw before me.

The creature pulled me closer and licked its hideous teeth with its black tongue. From the thing’s clawed hand, I felt a surge that made my skin burn as if it were being torn away from muscle.  There was an excruciating pounding in my ears and chest along with the sickening feeling that my stomach had been filled with poison. My mind began to rupture as if it was trying to destroy itself to escape this terror.

A single bubble escaped my mouth and I was pulled into the endless darkness of that watery pit to witness and experience horrors beyond comprehension.

 

Bio: S. Alessandro Martinez has had several stories published in various horror magazines such as Sanitarium and Deadman’s Tome, and three of his stories have been selected to appear in anthologies. He has self-published a book of twisted poems, and is working on several short stories and a fantasy novel. Some of his inspirations include H.P. Lovecraft, Clive Barker, Joseph Delaney, and Brian Lumley. Alessandro lives in Southern California. Find out more at: salessandromartinez.com

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Aug 06 2017

Unlife by Raven McAllister

Published by under The WiFiles

My work was done in secret, in autumn, on a chill-bitten landscape of leaves. It was done alone. It was only me, the man with the pocked scars along his cheek, clockwork bits scattered across his altar, and wife and child in the ground.

But I was still known in what I did. The people who have been funding my toils for almost six years, up until this day of lord November 30, 1907, have handled the raw materials of my labors since the inception of my efforts. They provided the bodies, after which I did my work of that clandestine nature I’ve spoken of. Then it was finished for another year, until the summer days receded, and the air was again cool and dry, ideal for my task.

And my work was painstaking, yet dreadfully simple in summation: circle, star, diamond.

I am a horologist by trade, a craftsman of all things fine and precise in operation. I had apprenticed in and was eventually contracted by the same shop over the course of my adult life. A simple ‘watchmaker’ I am not, though. My tinkering went far beyond time pieces. It went where it was never supposed to go. But the challenge, and the personal stakes, compelled me to immerse myself in proceedings most arcane.

It was the man who represented the group (out of Eastern Europe is all they’ve ever revealed to me, which as much I could surmise by his accent anyhow) who introduced me to a fundamental working knowledge of the human heart. The organ’s functioning is not terribly removed from clockwork itself; I took to manipulating cadaver hearts rather quickly. There was nothing particularly extraordinary about this.

Rather, the extraordinary element was the material from which he had requested of me to forge the brass hearts. I knew immediately that this was not ‘brass’ in the truest sense, as he had informed me. It was slightly less malleable, and its properties allowed for the impossible. With the proper alignment, the metal allows for the existence of perpetual motion, a bastardization of natural laws that opens the door for…well, my work of that secretive nature. But my time for harboring secrets of any kind is over.

Each brass heart was two and half inches wide by two inches long (‘top’ to ‘bottom’), and took me two months each to forge. The movement (inner workings) demanded the longest attention to properly create, set, and calibrate. The case itself, honestly, was little more than an aesthetic touch. This is my profession, after all, and I do take pride in creating a pleasing, symmetrical shape; in this instance, it was the popular St. Valentine’s Day representation of the heart. This was the work that was done leading up to the three consecutive autumn days on which I backpacked from town, and headed north into the woods between civilization and the Atlantic coast.

Here was the place I was taken once and only once by another, by the man with the accent representing his esoteric group, and shown the altar in the clearing. The altar itself looked very old and worn, chiseled from stone, yet it did not seem to have sat in the clearing for all of its days. I guessed that his group had had it moved here, and he never answered my question about from where it originated (my accented friend mostly ignored inquiries not directly related to the performance of my work). The altar is sized just wide and long enough to accommodate a human being on their back, which may well have been key to denoting a past purpose equally macabre to its present. It stood at waist level to me. Well enough to allow me to do what I came to do.

Most certainly I never expected anyone to happen upon me during the process. The spot was well tucked away between a rocky coastline a little over a mile out, and several miles of forest on all other sides. And if anyone had ever seen me in this place, I would have simply called them mad. Who would believe the horologist, the ‘watchmaker’, was squirreling about the woods performing seemingly occult acts? That poor man, that watchmaker, who’d lost his family ten years ago when they were on that balcony at the Barberry Club in Nolhaft, posing for a photograph, when the whole damn thing collapsed. The whole, shoddy, aged, damned excuse for craftsmanship of a balcony.

I digress. That tends to happen when I ruminate on imperfection. There is little room for that in what I do. But it saturates everything else. Life itself is one imperfect decision after another. That truth I have attempted to embrace, and I feel with commendable commitment.

On the first day, left for me on the altar downwind from where I camped some few hundred yards away, was the first body. Usually I could just smell it.

I did not go to it immediately. Rather, I would wait until the sun had begun to lower behind the skeletal treetops. The coloring of the leaves that crinkled beneath my footsteps was still present, but muted; silhouettes would start to dominate on the western side of the clearing. This was the time I had been instructed to perform the work, and I did not deviate even at the very end.

The growing shadows always made the meticulous operation rushed. There were a few times I had to work by lantern light, with the cold numbing my fingers to the point of their feeling like useless icicles dangling from my palms. This made things challenging to say the least, with an already non-existent margin for error.

When I arrived to the bodies, they were already on the table, on their backs, bare. Beside them were two small satchels. One was a coin purse with my compensation inside. The other contained the final piece to the brass heart. Three days, three bodies, one body per day. It was a solitary, grim half-week to be certain.

Each corpse was not too far removed from their deaths. The bodies were typically in a very preserved fashion, the cause of mortality not ostensibly traumatic to the flesh. Branded upon each chest, at what would become my incision site, was a mark: a circle, a star, or a diamond. There was always just one of each, but their order was always randomly presented to me. I opened up the chest cavity, inserted the brass heart, and carefully clamped the valves into their proper places in the device. The last piece, the gear which was of a particular shape and material different from the pseudo-brass, inserted atop the heart once it was set. I wound this with two clicks, and my movement began to tick imperceptibly away (I could tell only by the slight vibration of the case against the back of my hand).

Then the body was sutured shut (as best as I could manage), and I let it lie in repose. With my tools in tow, I departed back for my makeshift camp. The group then would come in the dead of that night. They would take the corpse away as they left the next subject upon the altar, along with another coin purse and another winding piece. I supposed I was never meant to see the final results of my work, but a true craftsman always finds a way to check in on what he’s done.

I’ve had the most luck (or misfortune) in locating the whereabouts of the circles. Once they had wandered mysteriously, inexplicably, back into the lives of their loved ones, there seemed to be a modest window of normalcy. They returned to work, to grammar school. Then the repetitive behaviors came; they were reported to have paced around their own homes, to have disassembled and reassembled objects around their estates repeatedly, to have said the same phrases over and over for a set number of refrains. These behaviors started as mere eccentricities.

What made them easiest to locate were the newspapers. The headline was typically something to the effect of “GIRL THOUGHT DEAD MURDERS FAMILY IN SLEEP,” or “DRIFTER WITH CADAVER SCARS STABS SEVEN.” The ones brought back by the circle gears spiraled towards homicide. I’ve come across five of them. They’ve all snapped at some point, and began killing indiscriminately. They carried no rhyme or reason. Their repetitive acts simply escalate into the compulsion to kill repetitively. They’ve all been caught and either executed, or stashed into an asylum somewhere.

The stars are very difficult to locate—I’ve only found one. This was the first young man of about twenty I had operated on in my work. His head had been shaved to the scalp, and he looked to have been thin and sickly in life. The following spring, a man came in to my shop with the boy accompanying him. He was dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and beige vest, all tucked and neat. However, he had a simple way about him. The boy’s hair was growing out some, but in matted, unkempt curls. He seemed half-present, half-preoccupied with something happening within himself. Naïve to the world would be the best way to put it. He smiled at me briefly, though I’m sure he did not recognize me.

When I asked him what his name was, his father spoke up for him. “He doesn’t talk much. Not anymore. He…had a horrible accident. It left him touched. The most he ever talks about are his dreams. But his mother and I are just happy to have him with us.” He hugged the boy tightly with one arm as he regarded him with appreciation. The boy smiled again shortly, but still seemed distracted. Not once did he speak. The father’s gratitude warmed me, but…I had never been confronted by my own work at that point. I did not sleep well that night. I mostly wondered who the boy was truly before he had died.

The diamonds sometimes found me. I knew them first by their knowing looks and slim, sinister grins. There is a dark novelty to them, one I can’t put a specific label to. I can only speculate that something inhuman has been introduced into them through their resurrection process.

It was an encounter with one that led me to the precipice of what I am about to do.

It was a snowy January night this year when she came. I was the last out of the shop, locking up the cabinets inside and quelling the hearth before I left out and locked the main entrance. When I reached the door to leave, two sharp knocks before me stilled my motion. I opened the shop door, and on the street in the snow stood the woman cloaked in a navy blue scarf and furs head to toe. She had been probably thirty when I last saw her. I recognized the nature of her expression immediately. It stung me as harshly as the winter breeze I’d let through the entrance.

“I know what you’ve been thinking, watchmaker,” the woman with the disdainful smile said without introducing herself.

She was familiar in a way I could not place, and the expression, as I’ve said, gave it away. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but we’re just closing up,” I played off.

“You’re right. You know you are,” she went on, just standing there without a step forward. “Go on. How long are you going to make them wait?”

At that point, with a swallow, I decided to skip the charade and ask her what I’d been wondering for some time about the diamond gear recipients. “What are you now?”

She offered neither a verbal response nor a change in expression. I stepped out of the shop, locked the door quickly behind me, and pulled my coat tighter as I faced her in provocation.

“Come on now, out with it! You live and breathe because of me. You owe me an explanation at the very least.”

The woman folded her hands, looked to contemplate, then offered the only insight I’ve ever gotten into the existence of a person who should no longer be alive. “The others like me understand it, even if not completely. They feel it. They know that we are outside of the dead now. Outside of ghosts, and gods. We feel the strings of fate fastening to something else entirely. We feel their every pluck and wane, and we move with them despite you all who are numb to it.”

Her fingers waggled in illustration.

“I am here to urge you to feel it as well, watchmaker.”

Her smile broadened before she turned and walked away abruptly into the snowfall. Yes, she had known what I was thinking, in her black, unknowable way. It was her argument that seduced me to this final decision, to come to this moment where I sit now and chronicle the series of events that led here. I did feel the strings move me in this direction, and I stopped resisting. I let them move me toward what felt like was a natural, terribly imperfect choice.

Bradley was thirteen when he passed. Between his head hitting the cobblestone path below, and the larger timbers impacting atop him from the splintering balcony ledge, his death most likely came from the multiple fractures of his young skull. Had I been conscious directly after the fall myself, I would have most likely cradled him, regardless of the gore and blood I had been told of, and plead for him to wake up despite how obvious his state may have been. I’ve imagined that scene unendingly, at day, at night, no matter where I was or at what I toiled. I was not awake at that time. I was not there for him, or her. I wanted one last chance to apologize for that, to show him how much I loved him. He needed me, and fate didn’t allow that. I was going to be there now.

I spent half of my savings toward my family’s unearthing. You might be surprised how easy it is to hire a graverobber; the expense, really, is the only issue.

Upon their secret delivery to me at a predetermined spot in the woods, I braced for the worse as I examined both the bodies of my wife and my son. Athelia, I feared, was too far gone. Decomposition had left little semblance of proper humanity. But, for whatever imperfect reason, the same embalmer who had prepared my wife had executed his craft well enough with my son as to leave only hints of decay after a decade. His cheeks were shallow, much of his muscle mass was gone, but his skeleton was still covered with skin and some hair. I decided I would take him with me. Bradley would be the last of my secret work.

The operation would have to happen on the first day, when I had access to all three final winding gears. My strongest intuition told me that the altar played a more important part in the process than it would seem, which meant I had to perform the heart insertion where I always had. There would be no residual blood in the body, or perhaps even intact veins and arteries to carry it were it there to begin with. I had many doubts about my objective, but one sentiment was certain: this would be my last trip to the clearing.

I made the journey as I had been doing, year after year, come the autumn cold. I carried my son on my shoulder the entire way, swaddled in off-white linens with burlap tied around him. I did not bother setting up camp when I arrived, late, to my usual nesting ground. Instead, I sat alone with him, on an olive blanket spread out on the ground, holding and rocking him in the dark. I spent hours picturing that horrific day again, hoping this would be the last time that it gnawed at my being.

When the proper hour finally broke the next day, I picked Bradley up, and carried him the rest of the way to the altar. There sat what I had expected: two bags, one body.

This subject was an older man with a horseshoe of grey hair running around his scalp. He had a pointed nose and narrow visage; he looked to have been a rather dire man during his normal life. Atop his chest was branded a diamond. That seemed fitting. I could easily picture being accosted by this stranger unexpectedly one day, with a grim message to bear and a near-malicious smile on his thin, pallid face. I removed his body from the altar. I replaced it with Bradley.

Here it was, then. My light was dying by the minute. I wanted to finish my work, and leave with Bradley back toward town all on that same eve. Once the brass heart was in place, clamped by faith alone into my son’s desiccated chest, I was left with that one last, simple, imperfect choice.

The truth, of course, is that I had made the choice at least a year prior to that moment.

It’s been a few months since my final trip to the clearing. I assume I am done with my secret work. I have neither heard nor seen anything in the way of repercussion from the group which had employed my talents in that time. I spend fewer hours at the shop now, especially now that I am not forging brass hearts behind the scenes. Instead, I spend that time at home, with my son. It is well-known in this town that he is deceased, hence this bars me from allowing him out of the home. This is much to ask of a thirteen year-old boy who, every day, becomes more and more like the Bradley I knew over a decade ago.

I watch him carefully, both out of adoration and appreciation, and for other reasons. I’ve asked how much he remembers of the accident, and what he recounts of the ten years after. Nothing, he says. He seems to forget the accident often, asking now and then when his mother is coming home.

But time has grown short. That is the reason we moved into this cabin, in these very same woods where I played god as if tinkering on a timepiece.

I attempt to train him a little in my craft every day. In particular, I have explained the mechanism of the brass heart which keeps him alive. I explained this to him very clearly, very carefully, and have shown him the place within our home where the very last brass heart is kept. It sits in the satchel with the two unused winding gears.

The old clocks I have him work on for practice he disassembles several times a day, and puts all three back together the exact same way every time. When I tell him to stop practicing, he seems to only ignore the idea. He seems obsessed. He’s breaking one of them down once again, with machine-like precision, even as I write this by candlelight.

This correspondence will soon be left nailed to the exterior of our front door. The door is locked (very well), and windows are about to be nailed shut. I ask much of you, stranger. But I want you to come find my son within, but I do not want you to hurt him. Understand that he, too, will have an imperfect decision to make. Whatever choice he settles with may appear stiflingly unfair. But that is the nature of this mechanism that moves against the natural laws of life. We move with its coarse grooves, or we suffer under the weight of its unforgiving cycle.

You may turn away now, scoffing. But my hypothesis is that you are far too intrigued to do so at this point. Get Bradley in front of my body then, and he will know what to do. He is compelled to do it, after all. The stars have already dreamt it, and of you. The diamonds have already sent you, most likely without your knowing, towards my door. And if I understand the movement of this damnable clockwork properly, the circle will do the rest. I have helped forge this machine, this cycle of unlife, and in so starting it, it may well run forever.

Perfect.

 

X

 

 

Bio: Raven McAllister is a psychotherapist hailing from southwest Louisiana. His stories have been featured on a number of eZine sites such as Dark Energy Speculative Fiction, Macabre Cadaver, and Flashes in the Dark, and in the print anthology Hindered Souls. His latest story, “The Language of the World,” is part of the Frith Books ghost anthology Restless, and his story “4 Turns” will be featured in the upcoming Between the Tracks collection put out by Oz Horror Con.

 

 

 

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May 28 2017

A Crime of Fiction by D. A. D’Amico

Published by under The WiFiles

“What’s this, grandpa?” The flat triangular object in Mike Picardo’s hand seemed to smother the dim hospital lighting against its dark surface, charging small golden symbols beneath. It appeared out of place among the worn clothing and faded trinkets the old man had begun to pack.

His grandfather glanced up from the edge of the bed, watery blue eyes moist and rimmed with red. He looked lifeless and ancient, a shell of the retired spacer who’d spun tales of the early days of galactic exploration, thrilling his grandchildren with adventures around other stars.

“What do you have there?”

“I’ve never seen anything like it.” Picardo held the obsidian shard closer to the jaundiced overhead lights. “It looks almost alien.”

An unsteady hand grasped for the object. “It is alien. It’s Unuai.”

“The Unuai vanished about the time humans entered the galaxy, Gramps. There are no Unuai artifacts. Nothing exists of them except ruins.”

“Give it here.”

Reluctantly, Mike complied. His grandfather’s wrinkled hands caressed the shard’s dark center. A holographic image appeared, leathery masses of bruise-colored flesh slithering around a cone-like base. Three large eye sacs bulged from the top, and a gaping beak ground soundlessly back and forth.

That’s a Unuai.”

Mike gasped. “Where’d you get this?”

“It’s mine!” The old man jerked the artifact, and the holograph vanished like a magician’s prop. “But I’d give it back if I could.”

His words trailed off, a sullen grumble Mike couldn’t quite understand. Surely his grandfather couldn’t have gotten the object legally. It’d be priceless. “How’d you find this?”

“I traded a Unuai for it.”

“That can’t be true.” Mike sat beside him, placing a hand on the old man’s shoulder. His grandfather’s skin felt like cardboard, bones jutting like the struts of an umbrella beneath.

“Are you calling me a liar, boy?” The old man’s voice rose.

“I’m not saying that, Gramps.” Mike rushed to calm him, hoping the noise wouldn’t alarm the nurse. “But you must be mistaken. There are no Unuai.”

“Not anymore.” The old man slumped, his thin shoulders sagging, head lowered. He looked as though he’d been folded for storage. “Not anymore… because of me.”

“I don’t understand?”

“I commanded a mapping vessel in the early days. It had no name, just a number, and a three man crew of scientists. We were looking for life, intelligence, someone to tell us we weren’t alone in the universe.”

He stood and busied himself with a flat felt-covered tray holding a collection of military medals. Mike recognized one or two, but was embarrassed he didn’t know more of his grandfather’s rich personal history.

He thought the old man had forgotten about him, but after a while his grandfather turned and continued speaking as if he’d never paused. “And we found them. On an expedition to investigate a promising and newly discovered moon orbiting Iota Horologii.”

“Found who?” Mike didn’t like where this was going.

“Found the Unuai, of course. They didn’t live there either. They were exploring.” The old man sighed, confusion playing briefly over his wrinkled features as if he’d just remembered something he’d forgotten for a very long time. “They don’t dream, you know.”

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“They don’t have notions of “what if”, only of what is or isn’t. Civilization, society, technology, spaceflight–it all came as part of a natural progression to them, the next logical step in their search for resources. They never glanced at the stars in awe and wonder the way we do.”

“Wait. Back up. You really met a live Unuai?”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you.” His grandfather picked up the artifact and moved it back into its box. “Our ship met one of theirs around that star. It was a one in a million chance, and the worst thing that could’ve happened.”

Mike sat heavily on the edge of the bed, his thoughts spinning. None of this could be true.

“We taught each other, learning to communicate. They were friendly, but naive. They didn’t understand lying. They had no concept for fiction. We didn’t realize what we’d done until it was too late. They were just too different.”

“What did you do?” Mike’s skin grew cold. He had visions of murder, his grandfather involved in some secret galactic war. But it couldn’t be true. The old man was just spinning a tale, the way he used to when Mike was a boy.

“We didn’t know they’d treat it the way they did.” The red around the old man’s eyes had darkened. His lips trembled. “I thought they’d study it, use it to understand the differences between us and them.”

“What did you do, grandpa?”

“I don’t think it was the things themselves, but our ability to conceive them.”

“Grandpa…”

“Remember the time I took you to the circus? You were seven or eight.”

Mike nodded. “I remember. Where’s this going?”

“They had a smartiebot there, one of those games where you’d challenge the robot and see if you could stump it. You’d just learned Algebra, and you were feeling smug, like you knew everything.” He put his hand over Mike’s. His skin felt cool and dry, like an old glove. “But the smartie displayed things you’d never seen before, equations that made stellar navigation look easy.”

“I’d cried.” Picardo whispered, reliving the old shame.

“You tried to tell me the smartie was making it up, but you knew. An insurmountable chasm had opened between what you understood, and what was understandable. You were crushed. It was worse for the Unuai. At least you could grasp what you were missing. Imagine suddenly realizing there’s an infinite universe of experiences forever beyond your reach. How would you feel?”

“And you did this to the Unuai? How?” Picardo could hardly breathe. He clenched his hands into tight balls, knuckles white with tension.

“I thought they’d understand us better if they could see how we illustrated our experiences through fiction. So I gave them my reader and my science fiction collection.”

“You gave them books? So what?” Picardo felt he’d missed something.

“Time travel, galactic war, death stars… We don’t really believe this stuff, but we’re able to suspend our disbelief in order to enjoy the tale.” The old man’s voice faded. “The Unuai had no choice. They couldn’t disbelieve. Like that day at the circus, a gulf opened they could never cross.”

“Geez, grandpa.” Mike glanced out the small window, squinting as if he could see armadas of Unuai ships fleeing from the galaxy, their people terrified by the inconceivable imaginations of man.

He was starting to believe in spite of himself. “This is huge. Is anyone working on it? Are they even looking for the Unuai?”

“Oh, we’ve got people out there all right. If the Unuai are still in the galaxy, we’ll find them eventually.” The old man fingered a colorfully painted model. The spherical toy was a miniature of the very ship he’d crewed so many years ago.

“What do we do when we find them?” Mike asked breathlessly.

The old man sighed.

“We try to convince them it was all some bizarre misunderstanding, a translation error. We do what we’re good at, what we’ve always done. We lie.” He stared at me, his eyes suddenly bright. “We tell them a story they’ll believe this time.”

Bio
My writing credits include:

Daily Science Fiction
L. Ron Hubbard presents Writers of the Future, Volume 27
Crossed Genres
Shock Totem

Member: SFWA, HWA

http://www.dadamico.com/

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Jul 24 2016

DICE by Brian J. Smith

Published by under The WiFiles

1

THE chains hung down from giant rings embedded into the ceiling and held the hooks into her back, pulling the skin taut. Feet dangling, the overhead light threw shadows onto the wall, rivers of blood trickled down her back, buttocks and legs only to drip off onto the floor. She sobbed, strands of long blonde hair clinging to her sweaty forehead. She tried not to move for fear the hooks would pull away and tear her apart. She was like a baby in an infant carrier minus the safety harness.
“Whitney.” Anthony Fraser replied in an eerie whisper. “Don’t be afraid. It only hurts when you move around like that.”
Whitney peered at the broad shouldered man leaning in the corner, his arms laced across his chest. He pushed himself away from the wall and stepped up to her, his plastic butcher’s apron winking under the overhead light. The straps from the goggles on his face looked tight against the sides of his egg-shaped head. He slid the back of his hand across her cheeks and flicked her lips with his finger.
“Do you know what these are?”
She stared up at him through the curtain of blonde hair shading her face. Her gaze fell back to the floor as the chains and hooks gleamed in the light. Something in his hand rattled like broken teeth.
“That’s okay. I understand if you don’t want to talk. I’d do the same thing if I were in your shoes. They’re plain, ordinary dice.”
“Why…are…you—.” Whitney said between sobs.
“Shhh!”
He rolled the dice in her hand, pacing back and forth like a teacher waiting for an answer. She watched the dice roll around in his hand, her head spinning from the recently administered drug.
“These are the keys to your fate. Since their invention, dice have always played a part in our lives. In board games, we either go forward or backward. In crap games, we roll an odd number and win or end up with snake eyes and go belly up. Which is where you come in,” He handed her the dice. “If you roll an odd number, you live. Roll snake eyes and your die. Don’t worry, the dice aren’t loaded so you’re guaranteed not to lose.”
Whitney rolled the dice inside of her trembling hand and threw across the floor. They rattled together like cracked knuckles, struck the wall and tumbled into place. One dice showed a one but the other teetered on the edge, switching between six and one. He walked over to the corner of the room and watched the dice away. Her heart beat echoed in her throat, her nerves twitched and her breath became difficult; fear wrapped a cold noose around her throat, rending her speechless.
When the dice settled, Whitney raised her hands in the air, screaming, “Seven. I rolled a seven.”
Anthony stood beside the switch on the wall. He looked at her with sad, basset-hound eyes.
“You have to let me go,” Whitney pleaded. “That was your rule, I could live if I rolled—.”
Without a word, Anthony flipped the switch and jerked the hooks from Whitney’s back, spraying blood across the room, leaving hunks of meat and strips of skin hanging from the tip of the hooks as her body plopped onto the floor like a wet, bloody dishcloth.

2

“OKAY, Anthony.” Dr. Robin Hammond said, “What do you see?”
Lying on the plush orange couch, his hands overlapped on chest, his eyes closed, Anthony said, “I’m walking down the hallway heading to third period class. Everyone’s smiling at me. Some of them are laughing inside their little circle of friends beside their lockers. I see my girlfriend for the senior prom pulling her books out of her locker so that I can carry them for her.”
“Who is your girlfriend?”
“Amber Dunn. She’s as beautiful as ever especially when she’s wearing her cheerleading uniform.” He gasped audibly. “Something wraps around my hips. When Amber turns to hand me her books, she looks down at me and starts laughing and pointing at my crotch.”
“What happens then?”
“Everyone starts laughing and pointing, even the teachers. I look down and see my pants down around my ankles. My dick’s hanging down like a wind sock on a hot day. Amber’s pointing and laughing even harder then Scott Richards walks up and puts his arm around her waist and when I got up to say something he pushes me back down onto the floor and as they’re walking away they’re kissing but I’m crying too much, pleading for everyone to stop laughing but they’re still laughing and pointing and laughing and pointing and laughing and—.”
Anthony’s left leg twitched, his foot shot out and kicked the glass of water off the coffee table. It struck the wall, spraying glass and water across the room. He sat up to see what happened when the door flew open; Dr. Hammond’s red-haired secretary walked into the room. Hammond was knelt down on the floor, picking up shards of glass with his bare hands.
“Be careful, Doctor.” The secretary cautioned, “You’ll cut yourself.”
“It’s okay, Sydney.”
“I’m sorry, Doctor.” Anthony pleaded. “I didn’t—.”
“Maybe you need to—.”
“It’s not his fault, Sydney. Mister Fraser’s anger got the better of him and he kicked the glass. It happens.”
Sydney sighed and stormed out of the room, shutting the door behind her. After assisting the doctor with the clean up, Anthony slumped back onto the couch, sweating profusely. Dr. Hammond returned to his chair and placed his spaghetti-thin arms together on top of his desk. The dull gray sunlight outlined the gold curtains.
“It seems that we’re making progress.”
Sighing as if he heard a bad joke, Anthony said, “You call that making process? I could’ve hurt someone.”
“From what you’ve told me on the chart I asked you to make, the dreams are not as persistent as usual.”
“Persistent?”
“Constant.” said Dr. Hammond. “You’re not having the dream as much as you did when you first came to see me.”
“The pills are doing great.”
“I thought so.” Hammond smiled at first, then took it away. “Which is why I’m going to up your dosage.”
Hammond scribbled on a nearby prescription pad, tore off the sheet and handed it to Anthony. He wished Anthony a nice day and asked him to make his next appointment with Sydney. Slipping the prescription into his jacket pocket, he left the room and walked up to Sydney’s desk. She was talking to someone on a headset telephone; she rolled her eyes, put the person on hold and dropped the headset onto the desk.
“What?”
“I need to make my next appointment.”
She searched the computer, moving the mouse with the celerity of an person hurrying to get out.
“I have the tenth of next month.”
“I can’t I have—.”
“Okay, the tenth it is.”
She clicked the mouse a few more times, printed a sticker displaying his next appointment time and handed it to him. Anthony stood, looking at her as if trying to figure out a math problem.
“What’s your problem?”
“Here’s your—.”
“What did I ever do to you? You sit at a desk all day long. We’re both human, Sydney and we need to—.”
“We don’t need to do shit. The way I see it, there are some people who can be saved and there are some who can’t. No one can save you, Mister Fraser.”
Anthony slipped the appointment card into his front pocket and took the elevator to the lobby. Since he’d been going to Dr. Hammond about his nightmares, he never understood what Sydney had against him. During his visits, he tried his best to avoid her at any costs so as not to give her a reason to berate him but it was too hard since the doctor stopped making his own appointments. He imagined her inside of a giant dome where no one could invade her space. No matter how hard he tried not to, he always took up too much room.
Before the day that would stain him forever, he attracted the opposite sex like a paper clip to a magnet. Nowadays, he was as compatible with them as the left shoe going on the right foot. Internet dating was out of the question; speed-dating—non-negotiable. He was no stranger to the nightlife and usually came home alone, his breath reeking of beer except for last night when he met Whitney and she was as easy as drunk girl got.
Of course, later on last night, he was worried about the booze making a strange combination with the sleeping aid and kill her before he had the chance to kill her himself. The events that took place at Logan Middle School fifteen years ago had, and would, stain him forever. He could never love a woman enough not to kill her, let alone marry her. He was more than willing but the desire for an honest relationship was impeded by the gut feeling that she would betray him just as the entire school had done and ruin him forever.
Crossing the lobby and out the door to his car, Anthony overheard an old couple chatting to a middle-aged woman in a dark blue business suit who was rubbing her hand over the back of the old woman’s shoulder.
“These things happen, Eleanor.” said her husband.
“Our baby boy has gone out on several dates and he’s always been home the next day, John.” She cried into her fist, the one holding the balled-up tissue. “The only thing I regret is letting him get that tattoo of his mother’s name on his chest. For all I know, he’s probably joined her in heaven.” Walking between two parked cars, Anthony dug the little ball of dried blood out of his opposite finger and flicked it toward the parking lot when a young husky woman stopped dead in her tracks, her high heels clicking. She looked down at her strapless pink shirt, then up at Anthony, her face twisted by disgust.
“What the hell was that?”
“Nothing.”
“You call that nothing?”
She pointed to the little black dot on her dress. His face flushed and grew hot; he almost gasped but he kept his composure.
“I’m sorry. I was doing some gardening before my appointment.”
“What are you?.”
“I’ll pay for the dry cleaning.”
“No shit.” She sighed disgustedly.
Anthony took a napkin from his coat pocket—he always kept a supply on hand in case the nightmare made him cry which was very often—and wiped the speck of dried blood from the dress. Looking up at her, he fell back onto the pavement in a failed crab walk. The heavily built woman had been replaced by the beautiful Amber Dunn ala cheerleading uniform, pointing and laughing, pointing and laughing. The blue sky morphed into the middle school’s plaster ceiling; the parking lot was now a rank of gun-gray lockers and Formica flooring. The vehicles in the lot became the students of Logan Middle School, looking superior as they laughed at his pain.
The past had successfully twined with the present, playing with his mind. He looked down to see if his pants were in place but the laughing seem to pierce his pride and gnaw at his soul. He looked around, crawled to his feet, rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand and took long deep breaths like the good doctor suggested. The laughter began to fade away, replaced by the noise of afternoon traffic and tree-cloaked birds. At the moment he was supposed to have been pushed down, something struck his left cheek, and woke him up.
“What the hell?”
The nightmare faded; the world was back. Traffic whizzed by as the wind bent the treetops. Shadows bled everywhere like motor oil on a white cloth.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Anthony said. “I usually don’t do this kind of thing in front of a beautiful woman such as yourself.”
“You think I’m beautiful?” The woman asked, her eyes dazzled by the sun. “My boyfriend tells me I look like a roast with a pink ribbon around it.”
“Forget him. Can I make it up to you? Take you out to dinner tonight, my treat.”
Blushing like a schoolgirl, she said, “Okay. But I don’t know your name.”
“Anthony.”
“Trisha. You know like Trisha Yearwood. I’m a tax—.”
“I like country music, too.”
They exchanged phone numbers and set a date for tonight at seven-thirty.

3

IT didn’t take him long to get Trisha back to the house, via sleep aid. Getting her into the house was a different story altogether. Instead of escorting her through the threshold like a newlywed couple, he dragged her into the house by her arms and shut the door before anyone else saw him. He stripped off her dress, a floral affair this time, and hooked her up to his latest contraption; she was so heavy she would’ve pulled the hooks out of the ceiling before he had a chance to give her the dice. He opened the skinny contraption, set her inside and locked everything into place.
The date had gone off without a hitch. They chose a fancy Italian restaurant. He ordered the chicken parmesan and she ordered the fettuccine Alfredo with stuffed crabs. Although he’d ate until he was comfortably full, there was nothing stopping her. He waited until she got up to use the bathroom before dropping the pill into her Diet Coke.
He’d chose a booth in the back as not to attract any witnesses. He slipped the ruptured pill packet into his pocket as she came back to the table. She asked him what it was; he told her it was his heartburn medicine. She insisted, if he felt that bad, they could get everything to go and go back to his place. He said he was fine and insisted that she finish her meal.
After the stuffed crabs, she became groggy. She blinked her eyes, as if she were fighting sleep. He paid the check, got their food to go and carried her out to the car. He drove around until the pills took full effect, giving them plenty of time to get ready.
When she opened her eyes, Trisha looked aimlessly around the room. Anthony was standing in front of her, wearing his trademark butcher’s apron. Tears slid down her cheeks as the leather straps of his latest contraption pressed into her pasty white flesh like bread dough wrapped in a thong.
“Wake up, sleepyhead. This won’t take long, I’m sure. No wonder your boyfriend doesn’t find you attractive. I damn near pulled a muscle gettin’ your fat ass in here.”
She closed her eyes and cried, her sobs muffled by the rag in her mouth. Her arms hung down from the straps like two dead weights. She fought against the straps, whipping her hair this way and that. He grabbed her shoulders and held her in place.
“It’ll only hurt if you fight it. This is something of my own design I like to call, The Peeler. You see, you’re being held by the straps in an upright position. The blades on all sides of you are going to peel your skin off like an onion. Don’t be afraid, though. I’m giving you a chance to save your life, Trisha. It’s okay if you don’t want to talk. I know I wouldn’t. If you roll an odd number, you live. If you roll snake eyes, you die. Your fate is in your hands.”
He put the dice in her hands and smiled. She took the dice and rolled them across the floor. They struck the wall and rolled into place; their heartbeats drowning out the sound of the dice tapping together. She bit her lower lip, muffling her cries. Looking at the two dots staring back at her, she squeezed her eyes shut as if suppressing the image of the dice. A sound of applause echoed in Anthony’s ears like the sound of a television audience.
They were praising him for a job well done. The dragging, the lifting and the set up had finally paid off.
“Fate’s a bitch.” Anthony said, reaching over for the switch on the wall. “It was nice knowing—.”
A white light whipped across his vision; his head swiveled on his flaccid neck. The room spun on carousel legs and his legs buckled. His hand slid away from the switch and down the wall. On his hands and knees, his breath was hard. He tried to stick his fingers into the back of his throat to puke out the drug but his hand was too heavy to lift. He rolled over onto his back to see Trisha unlocking herself from the contraption and
stepping onto the floor.
“Sleep aids are for amateurs. I like the kind where you spray it on your clothes and all it takes is one whiff to put them down. My mamma didn’t raise no fool.” She said and kicked Anthony against the side of the head.

4
WHEN Anthony woke up, his arms had been pulled up over his head and his wrist had been tied to a hook embedded into the ceiling of a large wooden shack. Sunlight slipped through the cracks in the wall, laying gold neon across the dirt floor; the heat made his head greasy slick with sweat. The rope that bound his wrists rubbed harshly against his skin as if he were being dragged across carpet. He tried to wiggle free, but his efforts
were fruitless. Feeling the drug wear off, his head felt less painful and his vision cleared.
“It’ll only hurt if you fight it.” A familiar voice spoke from across the room.
Something clicked and a harsh fluorescent light lit up the shack. Trisha walked across the room, wearing nothing but a plastic apron and a pair of goggles. She came to the left side of the room, pulled back an old army blanket and revealed an array of tools sitting on a dirty Formica folding table. There were several knives, saws—both handheld and electric—a comb, a can of oil, two scalpels, a pair of shears, wire cutters, a small pair of scissors, tweezers, three different kinds of needles and a claw hammer. She picked up one of the needles and examined it, letting the metal wink in the sunlight.
“I’ve got to admit,” She said, kneeling down in front of him. “you were easier than the others.”
“What others?”
Trisha walked past him and flipped a button. Brass-colored light filled the shack, winking off the tools sitting on the table. Anthony looked around and stopped.
Neatly arranged against the left-side wall, nestled inside tall glass containers, were six motionless young men. Some were cute; some wouldn’t have bagged a girl to save their life. She’d had them in neat order and frozen in different poses. The first one, a dark-haired fitness freak, was dressed in a dark-red football uniform minus the helmet. The one after that was in a golf uniform but the last one was what caught his attention.
A medium-built bald man with pale skin—with the name MELODY tattooed on his chest.
The only thing I regret is letting him get that tattoo of his mother’s name on his chest.
“Look, Trisha. I was just playing a little*.”
“Shhh!” She put her finger to her lips and asked. “Do you know how long it takes to learn a hobby? A lot of practice. A beginner like myself has to endure a lot of time and patience to make you look more life-like. Sometime you have to—.”
“I thought you said you were a tax attorney? You said something about tax—.”
“You never let me finish. I went to say taxidermist but you interrupted me.” Trisha replied. “Something you have to freeze the specimen and then remove the skin, which can be tanned and preserved for a later time, of course, that’s after all the important pieces are taken out like the liver, kidneys and other body parts.”
She stuffed a rag into his mouth and picked up the scalpels. His eyes swelled in surprise.
“I’m going to start with your legs and then go up from there.” She said, kneeling down in front of him. “It’s okay. I understand if you don’t want to talk. I’d do the same if I were in your shoes.”
She pushed the blade into his left leg, spraying blood across her apron and slid the scalpel down, peeling the skin clean away from the bone.

Bio: Brian J. Smith has been featured in E-Mails of the Dead, Book Of Cannibals 2: The Hunger, Pill Hill Press’ 365 Days of Flesh Fiction, Metahuman Press’ The Dead Walk Again and And The Nightmare Begins…Vol.1: The Horror Zine and such magazines as Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine and New Voices In Fiction and such e-zines as The Horror Zine, Postcard Shorts, Thrillers Killers and Chillers, The Carnage Conservatory, The New Flesh and The Flash Fiction Offensive. He currently resides in Chauncey, Ohio with his mother, his brother the writer J.R. Smith and six dogs.

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Dec 07 2014

Reload By J.M. Scott

Published by under The WiFiles

Reload wasn’t a typical superhero, but then again, what really defines typical in a world of satin capes and masks of infinite ruse. All he knew, or cared about, was that he was born Guthrie Goodheart and was raised by his parents in the great city of San Francisco. He and his two older sisters were foster children who lived in the Pacific Heights district. The Goodhearts were kind enough to adopt all three of them at a very young age, which meant his sisters were the only blood relatives he’d ever known.

He still thought about the foggy afternoon in Golden Gate Park when the three of them went for a stroll as they had done many times before. A disgusting man, whose morality was shaped by the stench of crystal meth, was known to terrorize the locals in the area. He caught Guthrie and his sisters off guard and held them in the shadows at gunpoint. Guthrie never knew what the man’s intentions were. He may have wanted money. He may have wanted unsolicited passion, but in the end, two bodies fell; their faces frozen with fear. Guthrie wanted to help them. He wanted to save them, but he was as powerless as a statue standing in an abandoned courtyard; its lifeless eyes seeing everything, the death, the gray, but its arms refusing to move.

Then, it was as if fate had favored the impossible. Guthrie saw the bullet that was meant for him turn inside the barrel of the gun before it launched within a shower of yellow sparks. The hot lead pierced his chest and rode alongside the apex of his beating heart. He should have been dead, but he wasn’t. As it turned out, the gun was a stolen artifact from a local collection. Its components were forged from a piece of raw metal that was struck by a thunderbolt wielded by the king of Mount Olympus, Zeus. The bullet lodged in Guthrie’s chest gave him agility, strength, and above all, the power to transform any available material into ammunition. Water, concrete, air; they all had different properties to serve his needs. Later, when Guthrie was an adult, he tracked down the firearm that had fired the life changing round. The gun did his bidding, reshaping itself into whatever Guthrie desired. If he needed a shotgun, the metal would transform upon command. If he needed a rifle, it would do the same. He had become someone different. He’d become the superhero Reload.

In short, he was a bad ass, and his powers were what led him to his fortune as a three gun tough guy on the professional circuit. There was only one problem. He lived in San Francisco. The city where he was raised would forever make him an outcast, never taking him into her loving arms. The concrete and steel gave birth to a liberal town that feared and hated firearms like a heard of sheep that couldn’t rest because the wolf just outside the gate salivated with ravenous intent. It didn’t matter how much good Reload did. It didn’t matter how many lives he saved. He was just a savage with a gun, and even though it was unlikely he would ever press palms with the mayor, he knew what he was doing was right.

Reload stood within his usual perch atop Coit Tower and watched the tourists funnel into Pier 39 with a pair of binoculars. The small windows didn’t give him the best view of the city, but he’d learned how to work around what he couldn’t see. He wasn’t wearing his trademark glasses and made sure to pay the five dollar fee to visit to the observation area as usual. He’d always felt there was no need reveal his alter ego if it wasn’t absolutely necessary. Yes…it was best if he didn’t ruffle too many feathers especially since he was about to pull out a half smoked cigar and enjoy the rest of its flavor. He looked around carefully as if to minimize the guilt he felt over possibly disturbing any other city watchers. There was no one about, so he lit the damn thing and puffed away. If he had his druthers, he’d also be enjoying a fine red wine, possibly something local, or from the Napa Valley. He thought about how silly he’d look as a superhero if he sat cross legged at a quiet table sampling cheese while swirling a glass of the fine purple liquid. One of the reasons he’d taken up cigar smoking was to assert his masculinity to the general public. To give Reload the look of being a real man. In truth, Guthrie was far milder than he led on, but he didn’t mind playing up the part on occasion. It gave him a thrill.

Small wisps of smoke from the lit cigar glided past the eyes of curved glass. The apparition temporarily blocked his vigil, but he didn’t mind. He needed a break from the monotony anyway. Spying on the balletic menagerie of city new comers on a slow night was almost as interesting as watching the Weather Channel during a report of mild to low tepidity. Their activity was mostly sedate; it was the actual denizens of the city that caused most of the trouble.

He sighed and then looked down. A loose section of newspaper shifted around the base of his foot like a child tugging at a parent’s leg in a supermarket. Reload hadn’t read a printed copy of The San Francisco Chronicle in some time. If he wanted news, he generally got it online, but tonight he entertained himself by scanning the tender pages of offset colors and skillful text.

On the front page, there was a picture of The Golden Gate Bridge. The article seemed to be about a retrofit project, or at least, that’s what he gleaned from perusing the first line of each paragraph. As he read on, this time with more intent, it seemed that back in the mid 2000’s some of the rivets had been replaced with a new metal that was an experimental hybrid made from two other solids. Apparently, the local physicist who designed the element hid the samples in the bridge touting that the metal would lead to the downfall of mankind. The material was strong, light weight and easy to manufacture. It also had an unknown biological element.

Biological, Reload thought. That’s all we need is smart metal. This doesn’t bode well for the next country we plan to invade.

But as for the downfall of mankind, “We’re already there,” Reload murmured. “We’re already there.”

He finished the article noting the way in which physicist’s hard drive had been decrypted by a family member eager to capitalize on the fortune that might come from the excavation of the new material.

It wasn’t long before Reload grew bored and sent the folds of sheen soaring into the night like a misguided bird seeking an undecided respite of hardened stone. He raised his binoculars and gave the bridge a quick scan. The fog was rolling in which always gave him a slight sense of anxiety. He had to be able to see his target if his skills were to be effective.

“San Francisco just loves me,” he jibed sardonically as he scanned the street below.

He noticed a passing police car. The block numbers on the top read B-37. It was officer Jillian Granger. She was a formidable shooter, winning multiple competitions within the USPSA circuit. He’d watched her technique from afar during Nationals. She was impressive, but what he liked most was the way her blonde ponytail bounced like a schoolgirl jumping rope. He liked the pink lenses of her eye protection; hell, when he really thought about it, he just liked her. She walked by him a few times during a competition and he remembered the soft caress of her perfume. It was a distant sensation, not something he usually took note of amongst the usual scent of gun powder and sweat.

Then, Jillian’s radio sparked with intermittent bursts of static. Reload tried to make sense of the conversation, but the wind kept the conversation distant. He thought he heard the words Emergency and Golden Gate Bridge. Jillian jumped in her cruiser and sped away. It was all the incentive he needed to make an inquiry. If Jillian was going to be there then so would he.

Reload bounded down several sets of stairs and spit out of the building’s exit like a man running from a fire. He straddled his black motorcycle and sped down Lombard street to Mason and then onto Chestnut. Soon, he’d reach Highway 1 before he was on to the bridge. He’d have to don his shooting glasses before he reached his destination. They were large with a shiny black face which kept his identity obscured as well as helping him to see in the dark. The glasses had been designed for him, when he masqueraded the competitive shooter Guthrie Goodheart, by Titan Technologies. Reload could make the shadows visible and be fed ballistic information through a micro-computer screen embedded within the thin layers of the optical device. A sensor tracked the movement of his retina, and when he gave the voice command “distance” an amber box adjusted to the object of of which he was focused. Then, a series of red numbers scrolled down the side of the display helping him to consider the overall effectiveness of the shot he was going to take. Calculations including gyroscopic drift, ambient air density and even the Coriolis effect helped him decide if he was able to make an effective hit.

The technology was great, but he was more concerned with utilizing its magnification properties to keep an eye on Jillian. He’d find her once he was closer to the bridge and make sure she stayed safe.

“Normal,” Reload snapped. The led technology within his view faded just in time for him to see the semi-truck in front of him begin to swerve. In a heartbeat, the 75,000 pound behemoth veered right and clipped the rear of a Prius one lane over. The battery operated piece of junk spun out of control. The driver’s screams, dulled by his confinement, were visible but mute.

Reload listed to his right and gently touched the asphalt with his fingertips. There was a golden shower of sparks and a vibrant light that took the shape of bullets. He reoriented the motorcycle, drew his gun from a leather shoulder holster and slapped the glowing projectiles onto the shimmering metal of the slide. The bullets disappeared indicating that Reload could take his shot. He aimed at the truck’s left rear tire and fired one round. The energy beam landed spang on target. Torn sections of rubber cascaded into the air like they had been ripped from the wheel by a grizzly bear. The truck limped to a stop; the cars behind it reduced speed until the vein of asphalt and its life giving platelets of metal and rubber came to a halt. A man in a minivan jumped from the driver side and ran to aid the truck driver. Reload noticed a series of white stick figures adorning the rear window of the man’s vehicle representing the number and unity of his family.

“People are so stupid,” he muttered. “I don’t need to know how many mistakes you’ve made.”

He reactivated his glasses. He’d lost precious time stopping the truck, and hoped he hadn’t missed any action on the bridge.

The man from the minivan opened the door to the truck’s cab and after a few moments of close examination he yelled his findings to the crowd.

“Does anybody have medical training? I thing the driver had a heart attack.”

A bystander raised his hand and made his way through the multitude.

“Good,” Reload said. “Now that that’s taken care of…”

His thoughts were interrupted by a man standing near the rear of the pack. He was wearing an expensive suit, obviously a denizen of the city who most likely worked in the financial district.

He pointed at Reload.

“It’s that gun guy. It’s that gun guy,” he yelled. “This is your fault. Guns kill people. It’s idiots like you…”

Before he could finish, Reload returned the favor of interruption. He clutched a handful of air, and just like before, glowing bullets appeared. He loaded his gun with the soft elemental rounds, aimed at the man and fired. The sudden burst knocked the loudmouth off his feet. It wasn’t the push as much as it was the report from Reload’s gun that caused him to pee his pants.

“Screw you,” Reload said and with a two finger salute, he started his motorcycle and headed toward the bridge.

Before long, he was upon his destination, notwithstanding his little detour. It was then that he heard the first shots fired. He saw a giant barge under the bridge with several flexible ropes and ladders connecting the two. Armed men were ascending into the thick fog that had rolled onto the bridge like rush hour traffic.

“Damn,” Reload said. He put his glasses in magnification mode and searched for Jillian, but the folds of billowy grey and white had consumed her. “This will help me get in, but I might only have about 25 yards of effective target indexing.”

He rode his motorcycle as close to the bridge as he could without being detected and then slipped past the police blockade using the fog as cover. He heard a few more shots fired but noticed there was no indication of an impact.

SWAT is using blanks as a warning again, he thought. They must be trying to keep the assailants on the bridge.

Reload drew his gun and searched from side to side. He ran his hand along the hard steel of the bridge and drew several steel bullets from the structure.

“Reload,” he whispered.

Then, he heard voices ahead of him. Someone was whimpering. Reload drew closer, actively hunting for a target. Two men with assault rifles breached the fog and closed the distance. Reload’s head led the way and as it snapped from side to side he pulled the trigger. One… Two…, he counted. Each man’s head jerked back as if their foreheads had met a wall of stone. They folded. They were dead.

Reload scanned the area for the next bad guy. He moved closer to the distant whimper. Then, as if a wave of water receded over her body, the fog revealed someone familiar. It was Jillian and she was being held at gunpoint, the hardened steel tip of a handgun was pressed against her temple.

“Jillian?” Reload asked as if he had to verify the nightmare.

Her cheeks were blush. She’d been crying and from the looks of her right eye, someone had struck her.

How the hell did she get out here without backup?

In his distraction, Reload didn’t notice a man in a swanky business suit enter the scene on his right.

“Guthrie,” the man called out, his greeting out of place given the circumstances. “Nice to finally meet you.”

Reload was slightly taken aback. He’d never been addressed by his real name while he was in masquerade.

The man could tell Reload was understandably vexed. He offered his understanding.

“Come on Guthrie or Reload…” He said rolling his eyes. “With today’s technology and information acquisition, do you really think a superhero can hide their identity from a man like me with the means to get what he wants?” He rubbed his thumb and forefinger together as an indication of his stature.

“Marcus Tibbs. Now I recognize you. You’re all over the city’s park benches…”

“And billboards,” Marcus inserted. He smiled the same way he did in his advertisements. “We’re a company that’s here for the environment. We’re a company that’s here for you.” He pointed to Reload. “Sound familiar?”
“It must be an interesting existence having your face so close to that many asses.”

“Nice,” Tibbs countered. “But your observation is not invasive enough to save your friend here.” He waved his hand and the man holding a gun to Jillian’s head backed away.

Reload thought his chance had come. He considered putting one round right through forehead of Marcus Tibbs. But then he said something. Something extremely disenchanting.

“Your glasses can do a lot of things, but they can’t go thermal… not yet anyway.”

Reload thought about the advantage of having thermal imaging, especially when he was shooting into the fog. The benefit would be without measure in San Francisco.

“I contacted Titan Technologies during the inception of this little event, and they were able to quell some of my concerns with a new product.”

Reload followed the cables of the Golden Gate Bridge into the recesses of the fog.

“That’s right. I have shooters up there that can take out you and officer Granger here quite easily. They can see your thermal signatures.”

“Screw him Reload. Shoot him. Shoot him,” Jillian demanded. She started to cry.

Reload hesitated. He knew there was a deal to be made. If not, he and Jillian wouldn’t still be alive.

“What do you want, Tibbs?” Reload asked.

“What do I want? What do I want?” Tibbs said pacing. “Why you of course.”

Reload didn’t understand what part he could possibly play in a terrorist attack on the bridge.

“I’ll elaborate,” Tibbs added. “I’m into oil.”

“No kidding,” Reload said.

“Do you want me to finish, or have your girlfriend shot?”

Reload bowed his head and bit his lower lip. He could take a shot at Tibbs and kill him without much effort, but he had to think about Jillian. If she got hurt, he didn’t know how he’d survive the pain.

“There is a new metal stored within the rivets of this bridge. Specifically, it’s a hybrid of sorts. At an elemental level, we still don’t know the entirety of its properties.”

“You’re an oil guy,” Reload said. “What the hell does this have to do with you?”

Tibbs pointed his index finger at his own temple. “You’re thinking. I like that.” He paced for a moment and stared up at the canopy of fog.

“Each of my rigs weighs about 40,000 tons. They are modern marvels but are bulky and damn near impossible to move. If they can be made lighter and stronger, I can put more into production faster. We’re talking about billions of dollars a year, and it’s all at my fingertips.” Tibbs ran his hand across one of the off color metal rivets.

“And that’s why I need you.”

Reload crossed his arms.

“Hands away from your gun,” Tibbs ordered.

Frustrated, Reload huffed and then raised his hands over his head.

Tibbs grinned with half his face. “You are going to extract the metal for me.”

“What? You’ve got to be kidding me.”

A shot rang out from above, the bullet’s trajectory placed it just over Jillian’s head. She winced, but didn’t run.

Tibbs waved his hand, and two of his henchmen pushed a large storage container from behind the wall of fog. The box had four clear sides.

“You have a gift, Reload. I’ve seen what you can do. We’d extract the element without you, but our initial results have been less that successful. I’ll need you to pull the metal from the bridge and put it in the container.”

“You’re stealing metal,” Reload said as if he didn’t believe he was involved in such a ludicrous activity.

“Yes, I’m stealing metal, so let’s begin.”

Reload looked at Jillian. She appeared to be defeated. Her countenance said that she didn’t want to die.

“And, I’ll need you to remove your firearm and place it on the ground,” Tibbs said.

Reload complied. It wasn’t as if he didn’t expect the demand. He removed his weapon and placed it on the ground in front of him. Begrudgingly, he made his way to the first rivet. He placed his palm over the metal. There was a bright glow, and then Reload had his first handful of the new element. He kept it soft, the temperature allowed it to be poured from his palm into the container.

Tibbs kept watch until Reload had extracted all the metal. The container was almost full, the yellow liquid swayed from side to side as the bridge flexed and bowed.

“What the hell is that smell?” Tibbs asked under his breath.

Reload remembered what he’d read in the newspaper about a biological element being a part of the new metal. It was probably producing waste of some kind.

“Tibbs has no idea what this stuff is or what can do,” Reload mumbled as he continued to work.

Before long the job was done. There wasn’t enough metal extracted from the superstructure to cause much damage, so Reload was confident the landmark would remain intact. He watched as Tibbs and his men prepared to seal the container when he noticed something odd about Jillian. She was being held against her will, yet her demeanor had ceased to take on any concern. She leaned against the frame of dark orange steel and stared out at the bay. Her hair danced with the rhythm of the breeze and when she cradled her torso due to the cold, Tibbs offered her his jacket.
“Son of a…,” reload said under his breath. “She got me. She’s in on it.”

He couldn’t believe how naive he’d been. He realized it was the reason she was the only cop on the bridge. The reason she’d been captured and the reason a SWAT team hadn’t tried to rescue her from the terrorist attack. She must be splitting whatever she’s getting with other members of the department, he thought. Even if Tibbs wasn’t going to shoot Jillian he could still put a bullet through my brain.

Reload stared at the holes where he’d extracted the rivets. There was one left. He made his way to the fastener and laid his palm on top of the metal. He knew the newly formed bullets wouldn’t penetrate the container, but that wasn’t his plan. The rounds formed, glowing vibrantly. Reload pressed both palms together forming one large projectile.

“What are you doing?” Tibbs yelled. He looked into the fog. “Shoot him.”

Reload leapt for his gun. He rolled as hot lead bounced off the ground next to him. Finally, he reached his weapon. He pressed the giant bullet onto the frame.

“Reload,” he said.

Tibbs was standing next to the container full of molten metal. Reload fired his weapon. The large projectile hit the side of the container, the force from the round toppled the clear box and spilled its contents. The glowing element opened like a parachute after the cord had been pulled. Jillian reached for Tibbs, but he was covered in liquid metal before she could do anything to help. He screamed and ran to the edge of bridge.

“No,” Jillian called out. She was careful not to touch his burning body.

Tibbs turned, and whether he meant to or not, grabbed the side of Jillian’s shirt. He tried to let go but couldn’t. The weight from the hot element pulled him over the side of the bridge with Jillian in tow. They hit the safety net but burned through the nylon barrier with ease.

Reload was able to make it to the side of the bridge before their bodies hit the water. He saw a huge splash and a lot of steam rising from the myriad of white caps.
Whether it was from the lack of leadership or they had been caught by honest cops, the men with Tibbs seemed to digress. There were no more shots fired.

“I’d better get the hell out of here while I have the chance,” Reload said. He slipped into the fog and away from the scene. While on his ride home, he thought about Jillian. It was too bad that she’d turned out to be a bad guy. Maybe his next crush would be a little more balanced. Reload lost himself within the streets of the city, too far away to see something stirring on the dark sand of the peninsula. It was in the shape of a man but resembled monster, melted to the point of freakish measure. There was also a smell. Tibbs couldn’t believe he was alive. He couldn’t believe the metal was moving. As he ambled across the sand, his thoughts turned to Reload. He would find the masked shooter and make him suffer for what he’d done to him and Jillian. The pungent smell of the cold metal permeated his olfactory system. He took it in.

“I’ll see you again Reload, but next time, you won’t be facing Tibbs. You’ll be facing Brimstone.” And with that, he took to the city and planned his revenge.

J.M. Scott a full time high school English teacher from Fremont, California and has recently published short stories with Horrified Press, Penumbra Magazine, Miskatonic Press, Third Flatiron Publishing LLC, and Grinning Skull Press. His short story The Spirit is featured on Tangent Online as a recommended read for 2013. He Has a bachelor’s degree in film from San Francisco State University and a master’s in Education.

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Sep 14 2014

WOOD CHIPPER y Luke Asa Guidici

Published by under The WiFiles

You know there’s nothing like the sound of a wood chipper in the morning.  Never thought I’d grow so accustomed to it.  Of course, never thought I’d be sitting outside, next to a runway, working as a “Bird Suppression Expert” either.  Yup, I didn’t expect my life to end up like this.  I was a normal man with a good career, great friends, a modest apartment, and a fast, yet practical car, but then one day everything changed.

Who could have cursed me?  Was it the gypsy I cut off while driving on the 405?  Was my mixologist miffed about an insufficient tip?  Or did my last OkCupid date really go that bad?  I still don’t know.

#

It started simply and innocently, as things often do.  One day after returning home from work, I noticed a procession of ants marching across my kitchen floor.  This in itself was not unusual.  A bachelor with an aversion to washing dishes was likely to see ant hordes on a fairly regular basis.  But this procession of insects was different.  Instead of going for the remnants of Thai food in the sink, or the last bits of cream & sugar in a mug, these creatures were climbing my fridge.

My first thought, in horror, was that they’d found my carefully collected collection of condiments… but the trail lead further up, to my freezer, where the weather stripping had parted just enough to allow the army of ants access inside.

Had my freezer malfunctioned?  Where there once existed organic, free-trade, single source vanilla ice cream would I now find a creamy lake upon which the ants would be feasting?  Had they burrowed into my free range bison?  Pillaged my truffle pilaf?

These fears vanished in an instant as I opened the door and discovered a fully functioning freezer.  But, if there was no melted food, what were the ants doing in the freezer?

Were they on some sort quest, searching for gold in their Yukon?  Perhaps a charismatic leader was taking them to the promised land?  Or maybe, like the Rebels on Hoth, this was the only place that their enemies wouldn’t be able to find them?

Whatever the case, they had died in droves.  So I took out my vacuum and removed the pile of black carcasses.  What a crazy fluke I thought.  But, when I returned home from work the next day, I was surprised to find a new collection of the faithful.

#

This continued for a week.  Every day, more dead ants.

#

Then as abruptly as it started, the onslaught ended.  Had the ants realized only doom awaited them inside?  Had a coup de tat disposed their leader?  Or had they simply all killed themselves?  I laughed at these stupid creatives with their insatiable death wish.  How foolish they were!

In hindsight, I should have seen this a sign of things to come, but I was too wrapped up in myself to head what must have been a gypsy’s warning!

#

For several months I had a reprieve, but this break from death wasn’t to last.  The next unlucky victims headed not into the frozen wasteland of my freezer but into the barren desert of my automobile.

#

It was a warm October day when I first noticed the smell of death in my car.

You know, they say you can tell a lot about a person by the state of their automobile, and mine was always pristine.  Not only did I keep it clean, but I wouldn’t even let certain things inside it, like McDonald’s food, or gypsies.  Not to brag or anything, just to say that if the car smelled like anything, it would’ve been manliness.

So, right away I knew something was wrong.  Had a passenger left food inside?  Had I forgotten one of my triple shot soy mochas?  My nose wrinkled as I searched for the offending odor, but nothing.  My car was clean, as always.  Perhaps the smell was coming from outsider?  My neighbor had probably left something rotting in the carport.

The next day, after a coffee meeting with a potential client, I entered my sun-baked car and was distressed that not only was the smell still there, but it was considerably worse.  The hope of a “carport solution” evaporated.  As I drove home, with the windows down, I considered the situation.  The most logical explanation was that a poor varmint had crawled into the engine bay, been crunched to death, then slowly baked by the heat of the motor.  That would explain why the smell got worse after driving, right?

Arriving home, I popped the hood, then used my nose like an olfactorial dowsing rod.  I carefully sniffed around the engine, but the smell neither grew stronger or weaker.  Perplexed I stood back, had I imagined it?  I opened the driver’s door and the waft of death assured me that there was most certainly something dead nearby.

I grimaced and prepared to undertake a similar dowsing on the interior.  Unpleasant odors are an interesting thing.  First off, as the name suggests, they are unpleasant, but something about them has a kind of “traffic accident” quality.  Just like we can’t help and look at collisions, we can’t help but enjoy the experience of a horrible odor.  We might not like the smell, but the experience is interesting.

#

Or is it just me?  It’s just me?  Ok, well forget it then.  Anyhooooo.

#

As best I could tell the odor was coming from behind the driver’s seat.  I remembered hearing something on “Car Talk” about mice crawling into heater vents.  So, fashioning a hanger into a crude hook, I went mouse fishing.  In the heat vent below the seat, I cast back and forth hoping to land a mouse corpse.  But no luck.

Having exhausted my technical abilities I realized it was time to seek professional help.

A short time later my car was at the repair shop.  The next day, after they’d taken the entire interior out of the car, they’d discovered the source of the smell… and it wasn’t a lone mouse.  No, it was an entire mouse colony!  Droves of the small, fury, and formerly cute creatures had found their way into my car, burrowed under the carpet, and died.

#

It had happened, again.  Death was following me.

#

But this was just a coincidence.  What else could it be?  I couldn’t be making these creatures commit suicide, right?  That would be preposterous…

As the smell of death left my car, so did this persecution mania.  In time, I forgot about the death march of ants and the mass starvation of mice.  Once again, the animal deaths in my life were relegated to local, sustainably grown, organic meats. And of course, sushi.  Which although I never inquired, was certainly the product of hardworking, sixth generation, small business owner fishermen and their lifetime fishmonger friends.

#

Life was good.

#

But then, just like before, everything would change, again.

#

The end began one pleasant spring evening.  I was returning home from a hard day of video editing where we hoped to convince viewers that they needed, deserved, and in fact, could not live without a better toaster oven.  Important, work that would no doubt directly improve the lives of people the world over.  Who doesn’t like tuna melts, right?

As I unlocked the door, thoughts of dinner were over taken by a deep rooted sense of dread.  You know how you feel when your best friend asks you to appear on Ricki Lake and you’re pretty certain it’s really going to end up involving an ex-lover and someone’s new “Baby Momma?”  Well, that’s pretty much exactly how I felt.

The door swung open and there in front of me… hanging from my chin-up bar… was a monkey.  And when I say hanging, I mean “hanging”… like from the gallows.

I dropped my vintage leather attaché and ran over to it.  The poor creature had a belt wrapped tightly around its neck and it didn’t appear to be breathing.  I loosened the noose and lifted the limp little monkey out.  Quickly I placed it on the ground and listened for a heart beat.  There was none.

 

My first aid training kicked in.  One-two-three-four, I gently compressed its small chest.  Then, with a large breath I filled its lungs.  More compressions.  Another breath.

#

And nothing.

#

Defeated, I leaned back against the wall and lit a cigarette.  As I pulled the sweet smoke into my lungs I contemplated my own mortality.  If this monkey could die in my apartment, what did that mean for me?  I took another drag.  Was life so short?  Was every moment of our time here on Earth a gift?  I raised the cigarette to my lips and pulled deeply.  Or did anything mean anything at all?  Wasn’t this a symbol of the futility of existence?  As the nicotine filled my blood, I pondered these greater questions of life.

#

Or at least I would have if I smoked.  Since I don’t, I just stared into space.

#

I had practical concerns; namely disposing of a dead monkey and deciding on dinner.  Since the monkey wasn’t going anywhere, I covered it with a pillow case.  Since I was hungry, I ordered Thai food.  Overall, the situation called for whiskey, so I got some.

The next morning, after a night of fitful dreams, a sudden sound awoke me with a start.  As my eyes came into focus I saw something swinging from the chin-up bar.  It was another monkey!!!  I leapt out of bed.  Fell.  Got up.  And rushed over to it – but alas, I was too late!

#

Why had another monkey committed suicide in my apartment?

#

The question gave me a splitting headache.  Or maybe it was the previous night’s whiskey.  Either way, I needed two Tylenols and some strong coffee.  Shortly after, coffee in hand, I considered the situation.  I had two dead monkeys and no alibi.

Would I need an alibi?  I took another sip of coffee.  Dark Roast.  So smooth.  Single Origin.  So supportive of small indigenous farmers.  I took another sip.  I couldn’t have a gypsy curse, I was a good person!  Surely the coffee I drank earned me some good anti-gypsy karma!

There’s a saying I had learned in ‘Nam.  Or rather, that I learned reading about ‘Nam.  “Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, three times is enemy action.”  I still might be able to plead that I was a victim of coincidence if I could end this now.  And if there was anything my liberal arts education had taught me to do, it was how to “end things now.”  Or even “before they started” if you asked my last OkCupid date.

First thing was first, I needed to build a “Scare-Monkey.”  But what would frighten them?  Naturally, I turned to Google.  It didn’t take long to find that the dearly departed were in fact Capuchins and their main predator was the Harpy Eagle.  I printed out a rather fierce looking Harpy face and taped it to the chin-up bar.

#

By this time I was late for work.  Further measures would have to wait.

#

Taking a trash bag, I gently placed the two creatures inside.  As I began to leave, inspiration struck.  My remaining belts!  Just in case the Scare-Monkey didn’t work, it was probably safer to have them.

At the dumpster, I said a quick word and tossed the bag in.  Those cute little monkeys deserved better, but my main concern had already shifted to my client lunch.  Thai food was out of the question.  Perhaps I could talk the client into ribs?  No, probably not.  Salads would be the best bet.  I could get the organic, pork belly frizze salad.  Yes, that would be a good compromise.

With the Capuchin corpses out of my mind,  I joined my fellow Angelenos as we slowly made our way across the city, alone in our metal boxes.

That evening, after a long day making movie magic, and a happy hour, that may have been too happy had the LAPD inquired how happy it was, I returned home.  As I walked up from the carport, my scotch filled mind decided the best course of action at this juncture was to text message a “friend” to see if she wanted to come over and “watch some Netflix.”  Luckily, before I hit send, I opened the door… and once again was greeted by a pair of monkey eyes.  Dead monkey eyes.

#

Hanging from my chin-up bar, a vintage tie around its neck, was another Capuchin!!!

#

Those damn dirty apes had gone too far!  It was one thing to Harry Houdini their way into my apartment.  It was another thing to Mrs. Harry Houdini their way through my carefully collected tie collection!  This meant war.  Or at least, it meant taking down the chin-up bar.  My biceps, lats, and abs would have to make the temporary sacrifice.

Because this was only a temporary situation, right?  I mean, how many free-range suicidal monkeys could there be in Los Angeles?  The fact that there were at least three was enough to drive a man to drink.

Several whiskeys later, with the chin-up bar on the floor, belts around my waist, and ties tied to my arms, I crawled into bed with hopes of a better tomorrow.

#

But the next day things would get worse, again.

#

I awoke to find a monkey with its head in the oven.  I rushed over and grabbed it roughly.  “Bad Monkey!” I scolded as I tossed it out the door.  Turning back, I saw another monkey about to drop my toaster over into a sink full of water!  Shockingly, the irony was not lost to me.

Charging over I unplugged the cord before the monkey could flip its switch.  But, before I could catch my breath, there was a noise in the bathroom.  I ran to it and found a Capuchin slicing itself with a razor!  I slapped it across the face and grabbed the blade.

Oh no, the other monkey!  I ran back just in time to see the monkey in front of my vintage, American made, electric fan.  It gave me a big, toothy grin and snickered.  Then it jammed both arms into the spinning metal blades!

As the monkey’s blood sprayed over me, my Apple products, and the walls covered in the artwork of my many talented and passionate artist friends I sank to the floor.  What had I done to deserve this curse??

Helplessly I watched as the door opened and more monkeys entered to do their dirty deeds.  I didn’t care.  The fight had gone out of me.  It was at that moment the “Game of Thrones” theme began to play from my iPhone.  I answered and was greeted by a breathy female voice.  It was Kristi from the Phi Tappa Sigma Sorority.  Apparently I’d won a Facebook contest and they were here to clean my apartment.

“Good god no!” I screamed into the phone.  Hanging up, I hurriedly packed a bag.  Ants, mice, monkeys, now co-eds?  I had to find that gypsy and make amends!

The phone rang again and if by reflex, I answered.  Pouting, Kristi upped the ante to include a car wash.  In the background her sorority sisters giggled.  Tempted by the offer, I paused to consider, then noticed my reflection in the mirror.

#

Is it just me, or is there something sobering about seeing yourself covered in blood and monkey fur?

#

The image of sudsy nubiles vanished.  Grabbing my bag, I made a beeline for my car.  It was actually a little dirty… Maybe just a quick wash.  No!  I must not give in, I must make my escape.  The key turned and my car roared to life.  Jamming it into gear I fishtailed into the street.

Kristi and her sisters desperately gave chase.  But the Priuses that their daddies’ had bought them weren’t going to cut this mustard.  Those battery assisted go-carts definitely weren’t going to catch 2.5L of turbo powered combustion!

#

I was free.  Or at least, I was on the road.  I thought If I could just keep moving, I’d be safe.  Speeding onto the 101 freeway I left Los Angeles.

#

Four years, thousands of voles, mice, possum, armadillos, squirrels, and the occasional hobo later, I finally found the gypsy woman I’d cut off on the 405.  But no amount of begging or bribes would make her lift the curse.  Turns out it wasn’t her’s to begin with.  Maybe it was that OkCupid date after all?  At any rate, she gave me some words of advice, simply “A blessin’ an’ a curse be two sides o’ tha same coin.  So flip it, yo.”

#

Hang on, need to clean out the wood chipper.

#

Okay, I’m back.  Every once in a while it gets gunked up from all the birds flying into it.  A good cleaning keeps it running smooth and “cruelty free.” You know, when I started, I didn’t have to clean it myself.  I used to call the facilities people, but after Raul ran in front of that 747, they’ve all steered clear of me.  So now I handle all my own maintenance.  It’s not the most glamorous gig, but the skies around the airport have never been more bird free, and hey, it’s a dying.

#

Get it, cause it’s my “living,” but things keep–

 

 

——Bio—-

 

My journey to become a filmmaker had a unique beginning – I grew up in a home without a TV. My father, an English major, and my Mother, a working musician, believed there were better ways for a child to be entertained. So I read, explored the woods, and played with LEGOs. Exercising my imagination, I learned to tell my own stories.

 

In school, I excelled in math and science, entering college 2 years early. But it was a TV production class that inspired me the most and led me to pursue a career in filmmaking.

 

With this goal in mind, I moved to San Francisco where I studied Cinema and Digital Art. In 3 years I made over 20 short films and graduated Magna Cum Laude. Then it was on to my current home, Los Angeles. Since arriving I’ve worked a variety of film industry jobs, primarily as an editor. Editing has made me a stronger filmmaker while allowing me the freedom and funds to pursue my own creative projects. Currently I’m transitioning to working full time as a writer and director.

 

 

 

 

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Jul 27 2014

The Creeping Complacency by Jamie Lackey

Published by under The WiFiles

Gwen froze in the kitchen doorway. Jeff was singing. And cooking bacon. “Who are you, and what have you done with my husband?” she asked.

Jeff laughed. Gwen hadn’t realized how much she’d missed that sound. He pressed a plate of French toast into her hands. “Here, sleepyhead. Eat up while it’s still warm.”

“Thanks.” Gwen was glad that he’d broken out of the funk that he’d been in since the move. “How did your trip into the mine go?”

Jeff beamed at her. “It was great. They broke through into this huge subterranean cave formation, and think I got some really good shots of both the cave and the mine’s working conditions. I emailed them to Harry, and he got me an interview with a gallery in the city.”

Gwen buried a wave of unease. Jeff usually showed her his photos before he let anyone else see them. “That’s fantastic! I’m so proud of you!”

At least the news explained his mood.
#

“Good morning, Doctor!” Gwen’s first patient of the day practically skipped into her office. His skin stretched parchment-thin over his emaciated frame. He had terminal throat cancer, and he’d been despondent the first time Gwen saw him.

“Hello, Jonah. You seem to be in good spirits this morning,” Gwen said.

“Yes, ma’am. I just woke up feeling more cheerful than I have in years. I even made the wife breakfast.”

Gwen nearly dropped his chart. “Oh?”

“She’s always said that I make the best scrambled eggs in the county.” He scratched his head. “She cried when I took her breakfast in. Can’t quite figure out why.”

“Well, your condition affects her life, too.”

“What, the cancer?” Jonah shrugged. “Everybody dies, Doc. I’m just thankful for today.”
#

Sheriff Dawson scowled as he rolled up his sleeve. “Let’s get this over with.”

His gruff mood steadied Gwen. Whatever was going on, it hadn’t affected everyone. She prepped the sheriff’s rabies vaccine. He stared at the wall while she administered the shot. “I’m going to need to see you again next week.”

“I know the drill,” he growled.
#

Two of Gwen’s next five patients were oddly cheerful. They’d all been in the mine yesterday–three of them working, Jeff taking pictures.

Maybe there was something in that cave they’d discovered.

Whatever it was, it worked better than any antidepressant on the market. Gwen tried to tell herself it might be a good thing. That maybe if she could figure out what it was, she could sell it to a pharmaceutical company for millions.

She told herself it was silly to be so afraid.
#

“Honey, could I get a blood sample?” Gwen asked.

Jeff nodded and rolled up his sleeve. “Of course.”

He’d always hated needles–Gwen usually had to bribe him with a lobster dinner to get any blood out of him. He gazed up at her and smiled like an angel while she prepped him for a quick blood draw.
“So, what’s going on with you?” Gwen asked. “Are you just happy about the gallery interview, or is it something else?”

Jeff brushed the backs of his fingers against her cheek. “I really was being terrible, wasn’t I? I agreed to move here, but I didn’t try to fit in or make friends. I decided I was going to be lonely and miserable, and I wouldn’t let you do anything to help. Well, I’ve changed my mind.”

Gwen stared at his blood as it filled her sample tube. She wished that it really was that simple. Maybe it was. “Did you see anything odd in the cave?” she asked.

“Just rocks.” He tilted his head to one side. “The air did smell a little funny.”

Gwen’s stomach twisted. If it was in the air, that was a very bad thing. She kissed his cheek. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”
#

Gwen spent days in her lab, alone. Tom, her physician’s assistant, went down into the mine to set a broken leg, and the next day he was one of them.

Gwen tried to keep herself from thinking of them that way. Her husband was one of them, for heaven’s sake.

It took her days to figure out what was going on. She found elevated levels of an endorphin-like chemical in Jeff’s blood, and his antibodies reacted to HIV and rabies.

It was a virus.

Her fingers shook as she filled a tube with her own blood. She didn’t think she had it. She wasn’t happy.

She examined her blood for an hour before she was satisfied. She was clean. No extra chemicals, no strange antibody reactions.

It wasn’t contagious.

She started keeping a list, of who had it and who didn’t.
#

“Honey, you assistant called me this afternoon,” Jeff said. He almost looked concerned behind his perpetual good cheer.

Gwen grunted. She just wanted to eat something and to go bed.

“He thinks you’re working too hard. And I’m worried about you, too. You don’t seem happy.”

“I’m fine. Just busy.”

“Busy with what? Tom doesn’t know what you’re working on.”

“It’s none of Tom’s business,” Gwen snapped.

“Is it any of my business?” Jeff asked.

“No,” Gwen said.

“Oh. Well, okay.” Jeff reached over and patted her hand. “Then I won’t ask you about it again. Let’s go to bed. You look tired.”
#

Gwen stared up at the ceiling and listened to Jeff breathe. She couldn’t sleep. She missed her husband.

“I think it’s like mono,” she whispered. “I can’t find a cure. Once you have it, there’s no getting rid of it.”
#

“Would you like to see my latest photos?” Jeff asked over apple cinnamon oatmeal.

Gwen forced a smile. “Sure.”

She paged through the prints he handed her. Landscapes, flowers, and a few shots of a puppy. Technically proficient, but this was the kind of stuff he used to make fun of. “They’re pretty,” she offered.

Jeff beamed at her. “I’m glad you think so. I like them too. It’s too bad that the gallery didn’t feel the same way.”

“You sent them these?” Gwen asked.

“Of course,” Jeff said. “Why wouldn’t I?” He shrugged. “They asked for more pictures after they saw the shots from the mine, so I took these. The phone call was a bit unpleasant. Harry said some unkind things.” Jeff shook his head. “But I suppose some people are just like that.”
#

“Gwen, I think you should come down to the mine,” Jeff said. He squeezed her hand. “A bunch of us have been talking, and we figured out that everyone who’s unhappy hasn’t been down there. I–I want you to be happy, Gwen. I hate seeing you like this.”

“No you don’t,” Gwen said. “You’re too complacent for anything to bother you.”

“Gwen, I love you.”

“Then love me for who I am. Don’t ask me to change.”
#

Strong hands grabbed Gwen’s wrists and ankles and lifted her off the bed. She screamed and struggled, but more hands clutched at her. “It’s okay, Gwen!” Jeff shouted. “We’re doing this for your own good! You’ll see!”

Jeff, Tom, and Jonah shoved her into the backseat of a car. Jeff climbed in beside her and wrapped his arms around her. “Shhh, shhh. It’ll be better soon.”

She trembled and fought not to cry. There had to be something she could do. Some way she could escape. She didn’t want to trade her dreams away for cow-like happiness. “Please don’t do this. Misery is part of the human condition,” she said. “I can’t be a doctor if I can’t understand it.”

Jeff kissed her forehead. “That’s just a lie you tell yourself because you’ve had to deal with unhappiness your whole life.”

Maybe she was crazy to not want what they had.

But she’d rather die than go down into that mine. The car pulled to a stop. “We’re here,” Jeff whispered.

She kicked him as hard as she could, jerked the car door open, and jumped out.

She was barefoot, and wearing just an old t-shirt and a ratty pair of sweatpants. Rocks bit into the bottoms of her feet as she ran. “Honey, come back!” Jeff shouted.

She spotted a truck and sprinted to it. The door was unlocked, and the keys were dangling from the ignition. She drove as fast as she could.

She couldn’t let them force anyone else down that hole, either.

She was going to blow the damn thing up, bury the virus’s source beneath tons of earth.

She had no idea how she was going to do that.
#

Sheriff Dawson hadn’t had any reason to go into the mine, but two of his deputies had, so Gwen avoided the police station. She ditched the truck and hid in the bushes outside the sheriff’s house.

She grabbed his sleeve as he walked out to his car.

“Doc? What the hell?” He took in her bleeding feet, tangled hair, and torn clothes. “Are you okay?”

Gwen shook her head. “There’s a virus down in the mine. It–it changes people. Jeff, Tom, and Jonah tried to drag me down there last night.”

The sheriff scratched his head. “Two of my boys were trying to talk me into coming down into the mine. Said it would cheer me up.”

He believed her. Gwen sagged with relief. “We have to destroy it,” she said. “Blow up the mine, bury it.”

“You sure that blowing up the mine is the only way to keep it from spreading?” he asked. “That’s a whole lot of private property. And the town’s livelihood.”

“They outnumber us. Do you want to get dragged down there?” Gwen asked.

The sheriff shook his head. “Being happy all the time shouldn’t sound all that bad. But no. I don’t.”
#

The sheriff drove her to her house, where she grabbed a pair of shoes and a jacket. Then the drove back to the mine. It looked deserted.

He handed her his handgun. “I’m going into the storage office, where they keep the explosives. You stay out here, keep watch.”

Gwen had never held a gun before. It was heavier than she thought it would be. She took a deep breath.

“Gwen!” Jeff came out of one of the buildings and beamed at her. “You came back!”

Gwen brought the pistol up, just like they did in the movies. “Stay away from me!” she shouted.

Jeff held his hands up, palms out. “Hey, hey. Calm down.”

“Don’t you dare tell me to calm down! You kidnapped me!”

“I’m sorry about that. I see now that it was too pushy. I shouldn’t have tried to force you. I promise I won’t do it again.”

“I don’t trust you,” Gwen said.

“I was hoping you came back to go down into the mine willingly,” Jeff said. “I–I would be very happy if you would.”

“I’d rather die,” Gwen snarled.

“Then what are you doing here?” Jeff asked.

The sheriff came out with a dolly of boxes. They were carefully labeled DYNAMITE in large red letters. Gwen stepped between him and Jeff, and waved the sheriff toward the mine’s service elevator.

Jeff looked at the boxes, then up at Gwen. A tiny frown creased his face. “I don’t understand.”

“We’re going to blow up the mine,” Gwen said.

Jeff blinked. “Oh.” He scratched his head. “I suppose it’s a good thing that there’s nobody down there right now.”

“You’re not going to try to stop us?” Gwen asked.

“You’ve got a gun. And I love you. If you really want to do this, of course I’ll support you. I just want you to be happy.”

“It’s ready,” the sheriff called.

Jeff smiled at her.

“Do it,” Gwen said.

The elevator groaned as it lowered into the earth. After about sixty seconds, there was a muffled boom, and the ground shuddered beneath her feet.

“There. Now, will you put that gun down? Let’s go home,” Jeff said.

The sheriff took his gun back gravely. “Is it really over?” he asked. “Just like that?”

“I hope so,” Gwen said.

“Do you want to go home with–him?” the sheriff asked.

Gwen nodded. “It’s okay, now, I think. It’s not like he wanted to hurt me. And he can’t drag me down there now.”

The sheriff grunted. “Well, keep the gun.”
#

The next morning, Gwen woke up in the best mood. She hummed as she got out of bed. Maybe she’d make breakfast.

END

Jamie Lackey lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and their cat. Her fiction has been published by over a dozen different venues, including The Living Dead 2, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Daily Science Fiction, and she has appeared on the Best Horror of the Year Honorable Mention and Tangent Online Recommended Reading Lists. She reads slush for Clarkesworld Magazine, works as an assistant editor at Electric Velocipede, and helped edit the Triangulation Annual Anthology from 2008 to 2011. Her Kickstarter-funded short story collection, One Revolution, is available on Amazon.com. Find her online at www.jamielackey.com.

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Nov 10 2013

FLESH SINS By Celso P. Santos

Published by under The WiFiles

“Each day teaches something to the next day”

An old saying from the people of Planet Lymann

Tell me frankly dear reader: have you ever had the unpleasant feeling of being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Because that’s how I felt when, completely horrified, I witnessed that disgusting human waiter stick a metal spike in a tender vermok calf (steel deliciously bleeding) and without any ceremony or special prayer, put the animal inside a wide open oven, flanked by red flames as hot as the mouth of a dragon, and begin roasting it mercilessly, invoking the name of the Homo Sap Gastronomic School. I immediately pressed the hairy arm of my female and said quietly:

– They are definitely savages. Let’s get out of here!

– Are you crazy, Gon-Son-of-Haak? We cannot do this! It’s a great offense to refuse food from the host. And don’t forget that YOU are the Ambassador of our species! – It was her dry grunt that I received in response, followed by a quick warning bite.

I pulled my aching hand, howling some unprintable curse. I emptied a glass of sangria, and kept there snorting, resigned, upset…

Eating roasted meat. What a blasphemy!

According to the sacred commandments of the carnivores in the world of Van Dörf, that I received from my father, and my father received from his father, and his father received from his father, the flesh integrity was an absolute and sacred dogma, and like any dogma, absolute inviolable.

– Baking meat on fire is a barbarian thing! – We have always been taught by the Temple’s Oracle, since we were nothing more than furless larvae inside a marsupial pouch.

The new pack leaders are completely wrong if they think that because the Gods are not fashionable, then everything is allowed. Quite the contrary! In this increasingly pagan world, we have to stick to our little piece of absolute in order not to lose our sanity. I used to believe in the carnivorous orthodoxy: a vermok calf was to be tasted whole and raw, far from any fire, and at most seasoned with a few drops of beylafrè, a concession to modernity. And that was it.

– Eating fruits and vegetables also corrupts the purity of our race and is something for degenerates! Those doing that should be whipped publicly, and if recidivist, should be punished by the extraction of canines and expulsion from the Pack! – Told us the Temple’s Oracle.

These and another two or three were simple precepts, which, if not granting our entrance into heaven next to Betrok, the Great Hunter, at least a little reduced a bit the anguish of knowing we were finite and insignificant, in a complex, endless and expanding Universe, regardless of our fears, dreams and opinions on mundane and unimportant things, as the latest results of the Sun Tournament games or the preparations for the upcoming Hunting Festival.

– Our world needs to open up its trade with foreign countries. We need to know other races and other costumes – argued the younger Pack members, with willful and reckless enthusiasm so typical of this phase.

OK, OK, living is an adventure, I thought. But was it necessary to watch that sacrilege – a real torture – seeing a delicious vermok calf being roasted on the flames of a furnace?

– My will was to jump straight on the heretic’s jugular and suck it up to the last drop of blood! – I growled threateningly, showing my pointed fangs toward the human waiter.

– Control yourself Gon-Son-of-Haak! It’s OK that a servant is worth less than a good set of fur rugs, but what will they think of our people should you devour their slave? – Argued my female, strongly striking my snout, visibly irritated with my lack of manners at the table.

My ears bent down and I moaned sadly because I knew that deep inside she was right. The voice of a female was always considerate and wise. During these protocol meetings, any gaffe could be fatal to the business as well as to a diplomatic career (furthermore, the human meat seemed quite spongy, not tasty, and could cause a tremendous indigestion). I drank another glass of Sangria … I gazed vaguely across the crowd toward the entrance hall; sighed nervously… Deep, deep, deep inside, I wanted run out of there, away from that degenerate group of hairless aliens.

Eating roasted meat! This thought tormented me endlessly.

I had never eaten that impure food in my life, and the civilized reader, who certainly never tasted such poison, can easily imagine the state of despair that took over all my being. The smell coming out of the infernal oven bothered my nostrils and turned my stomach upside down. I honestly wasn’t sure if I would be prepared to endure such a terrifying experience…

Roasted meat!

What would happen to me? The tales and stories spoke of terrible transformations to those who tasted such forbidden food! The smoke in the room irritated my eyes. My throat was dry and my hands were covered by cold sweat. I walked down an unknown path, where the road never ended…

Roasted meat!

The table in front of us was filled with fruits and vegetables of all shapes and colors, which were totally unknown to me. The humans ate them in large quantities and amazing ease, while my people didn’t touch any of it. I wondered what kind of stomach the humans had to be able to eat such toxic things as vegetables and baked meat without falling dead. I concluded that the only possible scientific explanation was that they would have two stomachs, each suitable to a different kind of food digestion. Looking at their anatomy I speculated that such organs would be located near their buttocks: one side to digest vegetables, and the other for meat.

Living beings with two stomachs housed in their rear. That was awesome! Certainly this evolution occurred because their world must have had very little wildlife, hunting areas were scarce, which forced these poor beings to eat all types of leaves and grass to survive.

Roasted meat!

To be true, I barely paid attention to the conversations around me, and answered only with vague monosyllables to those who questioned me. My claws danced on the table producing an audible toc, toc, toc… That was a really uncomfortable environment! Why did my Pack chose specifically me for a diplomatic career? There were so many other worthy, honorable and safer occupations in life, such as being a warrior, a tax collector or wild beast hunter in the Dark Forest.

Roasted meat!

What would be my fate? My stomach would swell and burst releasing toxic fumes from the hot food? Would I die intoxicated by the indigestion? Would I fall drooling on the table? Would I have seizures or hallucinations? Would my brain melt and flow thru my ears? Would I go mad and start howling nonsenses? Would my teeth get soft and fall useless? Would I become sterile and impotent? Would the females then avoid me? Would my offspring be born degenerated? Could I survive in order to share these events with others? These and other atrocious questions hammered endlessly my little shiny ivory horn at the top of my fuzzy head.

A bell rang and the dishes started to be served to the crowd in a macabre parade of big steaming skewers. I looked around the tables and saw, astonished, that humans attacked the meat without the slightest respect or etiquette: each one took the portion they wanted and mixed all in one dish, without any logical or hierarchical order…

How utterly shocking!

That was an obvious absurdity, because when one sits at a table, a certain natural order must be followed. First, according to the customs, one must not mix meat from land animals, with meat from flying animals, or sea animals, just to mention a good example. Nor can one ever mix meat from herbivorous animals with meat from carnivorous animals: this is a total nonsense. And third, and most important, you need to make an equitable and balanced division according to the guests’ hierarchy. Tradition suggests that the banquet host should offer the noble parts – like the heart, eyes, tongue and brain – initially to the most important guest among those present or else, to whom gave the “coup de grace” and killed the prey. The intermediate parts – such as the thighs, ribs and back – go to the other guests. The lower parts – such as the liver, intestines and paws – go to the old, the females and cubs.

But there, in that ambient full of mad people, I realized in terror, the lack of minimum standards of education or formalities to follow. It was a total anarchy and everyone was by himself. They ate many kinds of animals and their cuts all at the same time. Human females ate noble pieces, while males ate inferior parts! For my nose, it was as if the world had suddenly been turned upside down, and everything was happening backwards.

Shake your head, lift your tail, raise your ears, and howl loudly, dear reader; do all the amazement gestures coming to your mind! Should you want, get rid of the horror words, if you can’t stand so much torture anymore, all will be forgiven to you. However, if you haven’t done this before and want to do it now, thinking I’m inventing things, I assure you the veracity of all that I’m telling you, in the name of my own offsprings. Everything went as described. It was in this terrifying way that they acted with their behaviors and manners.

– Bon appétit Monsieur – hissed like a snake the hateful human waiter as he served me, once again without any etiquette or special prayer.

I swear I had to hold the table not to attack him. I longed to have at hand a sword, spear, arrow or dagger. The look that I darted at him – if it could fire bullets – would have killed the human instantly. One of the Gods mistakes had been not to leave us equipped with attack weapons, but only with claws, fangs and horns, and as a defense or escape, our legs. During the first part, our eyes would have been far more efficient. A quick blink, and voila! The enemies would fall; they would intimidate a rival male during the mating season, or repair some injustice made, and also being able to cast an innocent look at the end, as a disguise. I looked at the table. That’s when my world collapsed altogether.

II

I gulped. My problems multiplied. Indeed, the mental torture I was subjected to, exceeded all possible imagination. I think that no one will ever endure moments so difficult in their lives. Fear, uncertainty, doubt, engulfed me like a huge wave rising from the sea.

Slices of a roasted vermok leg were placed in front of me, complemented by various colorful vegetables. The invisible spirit of the forest descended there, and showed me in a whispered voice, another terrible conclusion: “for God sake! They served meat and vegetables together: that is most obscene.”

– They are used to do this – said the female at my side.

I turned to her and asked amazed: – Did you hear it also?

– Hear what?

– A voice saying that they mixed meat and vegetables?

– How’s that! It was you who said that…

Even now I can swear that it was the voice of the Spirit of the Forest. Many things often happen, these beings expelled from legends and myths, influence our souls and speak through our own mouth, as I had finished to hear clearly… Trying to put myself together again for a time I not able to know, I kept watching the forbidden dish with my eyes wide open, and no reaction. I leaned myself over and quickly sniffed it, and immediately leaned back again, suspicious and wary.

I mumbled a prayer for the vermok: rest in peace, oh great and venerable animal, go with your powerful animals, to relive the memories you keep. Of all the travelers, you went farther. This shredded body of yours, here on the table, was vigorous and powerful, and walked to the end of the world. Where names and ancient people are lost, and countless memories and hopes fade, where in your death field, this great hunting ground, the world revives every day over the bones of the millions of devoured, there, in that awful country of impenetrable forests there lies your usual home. You have been where not even the sound of guns or hunters ever arrived; you slept beside the grave of many brave unknown, where their sleepless female companions would give their lives to rest. You saw embraced couples jump from the burning airship; united by their hearts, being engulfed by the waves of the triumphant jungle, faithful to each other, when the sky refused to help them. You saw the murdered companion when thieves threw him from the steep and rocky cliff, his body rolling down to the bottom of the deepest abyss, and his assassins continued their way. O mighty animal! You saw enough to bend the world and turn the Gods mad, and we will honor your memories!

Just in case, I lowered my ears, closed my eyes, and also prayed a brief forgiveness prayer to the Gods, when I explained them that if we were close to perpetrate that big heresy, was seeking a larger strategic objective of signing an important preferential trade with the humans, which would benefit our Pack. I mentally relayed to them the projections and statistics of the interplanetary trade flow that would be obtained with the agreement. In an attempt to attenuate the predictable (and fair) wrath, I promised them to double the daily prayers for one year, and the triple of prisoners to be sacrificed in the next war. After this was done, and with a calmer spirit, I went to render my patriotic duty: handling the metal cutlery, I placed the hated vegetables aside (ugh!), and then I tasted a small piece of that disgusting thing.

It was pure fire, and I almost burnt my tongue… As hot as the mouth of a dragon.

I chewed slowly…

Hum…

Interesting … The texture was firmer and the taste, more … subtle, in the absence of a better expression. Intrigued, I noticed that the inside portion was not roasted as the outside, showing a lighter brownish-color… The flavor was unlike anything I had tasted and difficult to explain.

I tried another piece.

Hum… It’s not bad at all!

Fascinating … To my surprise, although being hot as an ember and its exotic taste, it was soft and even… good? I’m Gon-Son-of-Haak! I’m Gon-Son-of-Haak! I’m Gon-Son-of-Haak! – I was mentally repeating my name like a mantra, to avoid forgetting who I was. The generous smoking slices were laying on a white plate. Cautiously, I tried a few more pieces.

Hum… Good!

Well… Apparently all was running well, my brain wasn’t melting and I wasn’t having seizures… Just in case, I tasted the whole dish, handling with some difficulty, the cumbersome metal cutlery, another strange custom of these humans, the dear reader must agree.

Hum… Tasty!

I was getting astonished… Maybe their Gods were more powerful than ours, or had a more tasteful and refined gourmet. After all, there were so many mysteries and unexplainable things in this infinite Universe… But one doubt struck me: would I be endangered of becoming sterile if I continued to eat? For a moment I hesitated, but, then I realized that I had never been a model progenitor. It was also necessary to consider that times were changing and in the absence of our own progeny, we could always solve the problem by adopting some unfortunate orphans instead eating them, I reasoned. I decided to ask a slice of spike-gnu to the human waiter.

Hum… Delicious!

Intriguing … It was a moment of crisis, I confess, but I have not lost my mind, I kept my posture and tasted other (generous) portions of marine mesossaurius’ fin and a pilgrim’s mastodon tongue (w/ garlic)… Just to be sure of what I was feeling, the understanding reader must understand my reasons: for different things, no comparison is possible.

Hum… Appetizing!

Unbelievable … It was better than the raw meat that my Pack had been eating since the dawn of time! To my relief, I found that my fangs were steady and my sexual organ was still in place … I tried portions of saber tooth bear loin (well done).

Hum… Juicy!

Incredible … Maybe we had been wrong, I finally thought, with a humility that filled me of pride. I was still lucid, remembered who I was, and to which Pack I belonged. My female by my side, was having a ball, digging her beautiful fangs into a large hillside camel thigh (undercooked). Her face was happy, frightened and fierce, all strangely mixed, but seemed visibly pleased … I kept tasting different roasts and grills of various animals of our fauna.

Hum… Divine!

After the endless feasting, I took a deep breath and touched my belly looking for any symptoms, however, everything was normal: I felt no pain, no twinges and wasn’t drooling or howling incoherently at the table… I drank another glass of sangria and devoured a last generous bit of a stuffed jumper moose head that I was served by the helpful and nice waiter. The head – the animal’s noble part – was reserved for the one who had killed the hunt, or to some notable guest. Needless to say I felt much honored with this small gesture of respect and courtesy from the humans, with my person.

Hum… Marvelous!

Finally, considering myself conquered, I left the table quietly and went to the kitchen, to talk to the chef.

I left there astonished, with my bewildered long tail curled between my legs, my belly full, and the book Handbook for a Good Barbecue under my hairy arm.

III

I secretly studied the Handbook for a few days, with the voluptuousness of someone browsing a subversive material. I thought and pondered long enough. The doubts haunted me, and I don’t quote them here to avoid extending this narrative too much. The dear reader should imagine how difficult it is to change much incorporated habits that we believed as true as the day and night. I had restless dreams and night sweats, but after the reading and having experienced various kinds of baked meat, secretly made on an illegal broiler of my hut (which I assembled with smuggled parts), with the company of only my female harem, I had to admit that:

The human cooking was wonderful.

Roasted meat … Hum!

I still had no courage to tell my Pack, but next month I’ll visit my native village. A perfect occasion. When everyone is gathered, I will assemble my grill and prepare a surprise crenissáurus barbecue, a giant herbivore whose meat is highly appreciated in our region.

I’ll implement everything I learned from the human Chef and the Handbook: first, in order to choose the best piece at Central Market, I’ll stick my finger in to the meat to feel its firmness / softness (this is the best way to check if the meat is “grillable”). It’s color should be pinkish red and I have to avoid the dark red meat (spoiled by too much refrigeration); There are lighter and darker cuts, depending on animal region that is more or less irrigated with blood ( the rump and the ??? are the most irrigated, tender and juicy) In the specific case of the prime rib, I should pay special attention to the bone transversal section: large and flat bones are certainly from an old animal, while small and rounded bones are from a calf; also, the fat must not be dark yellow – synonymous of an old animal – it should be of a light sand color; after this step, the thick and generous steaks shall be sealed on both sides with plenty of coarse salt, (gaucho style), and then placed on the fire; And finally, the ideal is that the meat be grilled at about 30 cm to 40 cm from the coal, a distance enough to receive the heat without roasting, in order to cook inside and softer.

I don’t even want to imagine what will be their reaction.

Well .. If the gods don’t make the sky fall or rain fire and sulfur on my head, I’ll be relieved. If the Oracle priests do not condemn me for heresy thru whipping, hanging or stoning in a public square, I’ll be in the winning side. Should I also escape from being lynched, dismembered, impaled, scalped, banned or having my canines extracted by my own Pack brothers, there’s no doubt that this will be an interesting gastronomic test.

By the way, the human waiter is always after me, proposing a business society. He showed me some amazing figures and said that a network of steakhouses in this world would be ten times more profitable than when McDonalds arrived in China… I didn’t get it right, but I asked some time to think about it.

Should I survive to all this, then maybe I will start mating with only one female at a time, start painting my long and sharp claws, or start bathing regularly.

After all, if raw meat is no longer sacred, then everything is permitted … (Just don’t ask me to eat a cabbage salad, for God’s sake!).

***

About the author: Celso P. Santos, 44, is a Brazilian writer of f & sf. He was elected in 2009 by ‘Scarium magazine’, one of the ten masters of modern Brazilian sf. Stories published: ‘The Flowers Antarctic’, ‘Russian Roulette on Mars’, ‘The Immortal’, among others.

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Oct 21 2012

Human/Nature By Mireille Wells

Published by under The WiFiles

I need to get inside the building.

The formerly white structure is now veined with greenish brown mold. The windows are all black squares, decorated with shards of broken glass. I stand and watch, but nothing moves inside the building. This is all that remains of the laboratory where I labored to end the world.

I did not know that would be the result, of course. Scientific research can have many applications. I was simply investigating chemical compounds that fuel cell growth. My research could have led to cancer therapies or increased food yields. I can’t be held responsible for the government’s choice to apply my findings in another manner.

Evidence of their choice surrounds me. The building is in shadow, for the sun is blocked out by the gargantuan trees looming above. These are not normal trees. Some are twisted and vine-like, other are merely a collection of cancerous bulges. Then there is the field of chest-high weeds, dandelions like misshapen sunflowers. So much for the beautifully manicured lawn.

My hands feel cold and stiff. I look down and realize that I have been gripping the metal bars of the iron fence surrounding the building. There was no fence when I worked here. Back then, we counted on a nondescript appearance and locked doors for our security. This fence must have been added later, after I was transferred to another facility.

Enough reminiscing; I came here for a reason. I climb the fence, quickly pulling myself up. Halfway down the other side, I set my foot down and miss. I dangle in space for a moment before I fall. As I lay in the dirt, stunned from the impact, a pair of shoes appears in my line of vision. I struggle to sit up but it is too late, the person is already in front of me. I think I recognize him.

“John?” I ask.

He doesn’t respond, not even by looking down at me. His clothes are tattered and his hair is matted.

“Hey, John? Do you remember me?”

He is still not responding. His empty gaze is proof, as if I need any, that the compounds I developed have unexpected consequences.

“So, John, things are looking pretty bad now, huh?”

I don’t have time for this, but it might be dangerous to turn my back on him.

“What if I told you I can fix it? There are chemicals that I’ve synthesized, in that lab. I think…” I hesitate before saying, “I think I can make a cure.”

He is still silent. I find myself raising my voice.

“John, I know I screwed everything up.”

He finally responds.

“I’m hungry,” he says. There is no inflection in his voice. The old John is gone, perhaps, but there is somebody in there. I do feel sorry for him.

“You know, I think there may be food inside the building. Do you think you could take me to a door? Maybe we could find something for you to eat.”

John stares into space for a moment, then nods.

I follow him along a path, that, if I remember correctly, will lead us around the building to the front door. The plant life around us almost obscures what was once a broad sidewalk. It is impossible to avoid all the brambles as we walk past, but I try, shuffling to one side or the other to evade the thorns.

We round a corner and pass what I think must have been a raspberry bush. The branches are all bent and cracking from the weight of its many overripe berries. Flies buzz around the fetid red flesh. In the past, those berries would have fallen off the bush long before this point.

John looks back, sees me gagging and asks, “Why are you making that noise?”

I answer, “The smell. I can’t help it,” before another spasm overtakes me.

We walk on, but the memory of this place back when those berries were first fruiting haunts me. This space was intended to be another kind of laboratory, a source of specimens, but I always thought of it as a retreat from work. It was my refuge from the sterile white lab and the punishing hours I spent working there. When my hands were shaking from exhaustion or my brain was too tired and muddled to analyze anymore results, I would step outside and draw deep breaths of fresh air. I would stroll down these paths and relish the feeling of moving my body and resting my mind. I certainly wasn’t ever thinking of the connection between my research and the plants that I passed.

I don’t think John was ever so short-sighted. He never seemed to stop examining the world around him. If I ever spotted him in this garden, he was always leaning over to look at things growing close to the ground. I can only guess what must have happened to him. I know my former bosses decided to test the fruits of my research. John must have still been working here when it happened.

I bump into John’s back. He has abruptly stopped. His eyes are focused on a log bearing mushrooms ahead of us.

They are thriving in this new, foul environment. Judging from their fan-like shape it looks like they may have been oyster mushrooms, a common culinary species, before contamination. Now each mushroom is the same size as, or larger than, my head.

John reaches out and breaks off one of the caps. The loud snap makes me flinch. He examines it, turning it over and over in his hand. John was a mycologist before, so it makes sense that he wants to look at some fungi. The fact that he is examining anything gives me hope. If he is capable of expressing curiosity, it may be possible to cure him.

So it is with reluctance that I say, “Look, I’m not sure we really have time for this…”

There is a sudden rustling in the bushes, and I instinctively grab John’s arm and duck down. John drops the mushroom carelessly and turns his languid gaze to my face.

I am unsure what is causing that noise, but knowing the effect that my research had upon the plants, I fear an animal is following us. Or something that was once an animal.

Still holding John’s forearm, I back away from the bushes, walking slowly to avoid making any sound. I bump into the wall, and I put my hand back to brace myself. My palm meets smooth metal, rather than the building’s rough stucco, and I turn in astonishment. I have found the building’s front door.

I forget everything for a moment, and turn to tug on the doorway with both hands. The door remains locked. I try slamming into the door to break it open and nearly break my shoulder. I wish I knew how to pick locks. I wish I had dynamite to blow the door open. I need to get inside, and I do not have much time.

I am still tugging on the door handle, cursing, when John bumps into me and knocks me down.

I look up at him as he continues to back away, and I ask, “Where are you -”

A giant paw lands on the door, creating a huge boom as the animal’s weight slams into the metal. I scramble to my feet and stare in horror at the silvery claws scraping away right where my head was a few seconds ago. The beast turns and snarls at us.

We run.

It feels like John is tugging on my hand. I turn back, and realize his weight is pulling me back because he has stopped running. Out of breath now, I slow to a walk and let him go.

We are still on the path. We must have stuck to the beaten ground instinctively as we ran away. At this point the path is several meters away from the walls, and from this vantage point I can see that some of the building is missing. A large piece of ceiling and sidewall has rotted away, leaving open space in place of the building’s corner.

I leave the path and jump into the brush, running again. I have to stop and wrestle with vines blocking my way, and kick the bushes blocking me until I create a hole I can get through. John follows me, but he does not move to help. Finally, I reach the back of the building and discover an open air cathedral.

The gaps in the walls and high ceiling let in many spotlights of light. This hallway was ugly under flickering florescent lights, but now the sunlight makes this institutional corridor almost pleasant. My shoes make noise against the tile floor, and then fall silent again as I reach sections where the tile has given way to dirt and wild grasses. I reach a point where the building is more hole than wall. Here, almost the entire exterior is gone, but some interior walls still extend out, dividing the ruins of what were once individual labs. I step over a knee-high coiled mass of vines in order to enter one of these labs.

I turn to John, asking, “Did you know this was here?”

He doesn’t respond, as usual, but I’m too happy to care. I walk over to the cracked counter, still cluttered with a microscope, a bunsen burner and various beakers. I pull open the attached drawers and cabinets. This station seems to contain everything that I will need, neatly bottled and labeled. Is that handwriting mine? Or does it belong to someone else, someone like John who can no longer write?

A branch snaps, somewhere in the forest. I drop the bottle and move quickly to drag John closer to me. The beast steps over the vines and looks right at us. The fur around its mouth is dark with blood and drool.

I glance around and notice a large fire extinguisher lying on the ground to my right. I edge sideways, dragging John with me. The beast does not move its head to follow us. Instead, it keeps staring straight ahead. It seems confused.

I pick up the metal container. I’m tired of being chased.

“Aaaah!” I scream as I swing the metal. I’m surprised at how easy it is; the beast never even turns before sinking to its knees. Then it falls over and I notice how much blood there is.

“You killed it,” John says.

I am stunned. I’ve always hated violence.

“Well,” I snap, “why did it have to attack us? The chemicals they released didn’t cause aggressive behavior.”

“It was hungry,” John says simply as he sinks to the ground and starts clawing at the beast’s side. He pulls up a bloody piece of meat.

“Oh, god!” I cry. “Stop that! John, look you may not remember this but that’s dangerous, and, and well, wrong and you should stop it…” I trail off and stare sadly at the back of John’s bobbing head.

I march back to the counter and stuff bottles into my coat pockets, trying to ignore the sounds coming from that corner of the room. I’m leaving. I’m not going to stand around here any longer, I need to get back and I don’t have much time…

I stumble back towards the path, and this time nothing follows me. I break into a run when I see the gate and the sunshine behind it.

On the other side of the gate, a man waits, leaning on his truck. He has greasy hair, a few days worth of stubble on his face and a gold chain. His leather jacket does not quite conceal his gut. I am annoyed at the necessity of dealing with someone who looks like such a criminal.

His eyes widen when he notices me on the other side of the gate.

“I didn’t expect you to come from that direction.” He shoots the lock off the gate so I don’t have to clamber over the top again.

“You’re late,” he drawls.

“I tried to hurry.”

We are interrupted by a harsh bird-like caw. The man turns to stare off in the distance, resting his hand on his gun. The sound is faint and faraway, but it makes me shudder to imagine its source.

The man turns back to me with a smile on his face. “Things sure are a lot more exciting these days, aren’t they?” he says.

Crazy and a criminal. “Can we wrap this up and get the hell out of here?”

“Oh, don’t be so grumpy. All this green stuff is kind of pretty, its got me in a sunny mood.” He notices my unbelieving stare and shrugs. “Alright, let’s see what you got.”

I pull bottles out of my jacket and lay them out in piles.

I point at the first pile and say, “These three together will make a powerful explosive.” I point at the next group. “These two, when mixed, will make a gas that is dense enough to conceal your movements. But you should be careful; the gas will produce small amounts of neurotoxins and become dangerous after a few minutes.”

“Well, thanks for the warning,” he says as he leans over to collect the bottles.

“Where’s my payment?” I ask.

He reaches in his pocket and hands me my money. I count it, feeling the whisper of paper. I’m amazed that we can still use these bills, considering all the other trappings of civilization that we have lost. I can still trade them in places, though, once I get far away from this cursed spot.

Money in hand, I look at back at the crumbling building behind the gate. John is back there somewhere, in the building where I used to avoid asking questions.

The criminal has collected his bottles and is climbing into his truck to leave.

“Wait,” I say. “What are you going to do with those? Why do you need weapons?”

He turns on the engine. “Ah b’lieve,” he says, “that is none of your business.”

He doesn’t offer me a ride. I’m not sure where I’m headed, anyway, but I guess I should start walking. I should at least get out of this forest. The bird-thing’s noise has started to get a little louder.

 

 

Author Biography:

Mireille Wells is a young author enjoying the bohemian life in Portland, OR.  Her short story “Red Shoes” was published in the April 2011 issue of The Pedestal Magazine. Another of her stories, “Perception” will appear in an upcoming issue of The Waterhouse Review. She has traveled to four continents, and now she uses her  travels as inspiration. She currently at work on a novel set in modern Egypt and several short stories.

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