Wednesday, March 23, 2011

50 Followers? Wow.

Still in the middle of a sort of "radio silence" while I try to marshall my ADD into creating something longer than 1,000 words, and force that same impulse to edit those longer pieces that I have written, into something people might actually be interested in.

However - just wanted to take a second to mark this milestone. 50 people who at least at one point, wanted to hear something I had to say. 

Cool.

Thanks everybody.

I'm probably not going to be posting again for a little while. I've said this before, but procrastination is a tough habit to quit... I'll start tomorrow.

I'll finish this ramble with a recent quote that meant a lot to me, from none other than Ray Bradbury:



"If we listened to our intellect we'd never have a love affair. We'd never have a friendship. We'd never go in business because we'd be cynical: "It's gonna go wrong." Or "She's going to hurt me." Or,"I've had a couple of bad love affairs, so therefore . . ." Well, that's nonsense. You're going to miss life. You've got to jump off the cliff all the time and build your wings on the way down."

May you keep your white spaces at bay, my friends.

Chris 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Madness has Passed.

I had a blast last week, and I'm glad to see a few people stopped by to join in the fun.

Now, the time has come for me to get a little quiet, a little less "bloggy" and get a little work done, so updates will be a little less frequent for a bit.

In the meantime - I mentioned "dancing" yesterday. Here's the last word from me on "Madness" for awhile. Enjoy!

Madness in March - The End, The Winner, and a ...Bonus story?

This has been an amazing week. 


First off: Thanks go to all the amazing writers who contributed tales, 


  • Laurita Miller,
  • Richard Godwin
  • Angel Zapata
  • Benjamin Sobieck
  • Sean Patrick Reardon
  • Erin Cole
  • Lily Childs
Each of these stunning writers brought their best work to the theme of "Madness" and, as the comments have shown this week, each of them has a growing (and much deserved) fan base. Well done to all of you.


Secondly: When I announced this event, I mentioned that the winner would receive the promotion of the book of their choice on this blog. I admit that this is a meager prize, but it's what I'm able to do this time around, and in addition to the "space", this writer can count on me to provide a space, a plug, and/or an interview in support of their upcoming work in the weeks to come. 


This was an incredibly difficult decision, as all the stories this week have been absolutely amazing. We saw seven completely different angles on the theme of "Madness", each captivating in their own way. But- there was one story with images that kept haunting me long after I'd finished reading.


The slow decline of the mind of a woman, waking up in an unknown location, with no idea what has happened to her, to the point that she eats and enjoys her own liver was like nothing I'd read before. 


Congratulations, Erin Cole. The top corner of "The Leaky Pencil" belongs to you and your book until the end of April.


I had intended to list runners-up, but choosing one story among seven was tough enough.


Thank you, so much, to all the contributing writers. I am in awe of your talents.


And finally: What if you threw a party, and nobody came? That was my fear as I organized "Madness in March". I've been at this blogging thing for just a little over a year now, and I give my thanks to everyone who submitted, and all of you who showed up to read and comment. Because I was somewhat uncertain of the response, I crafted my own entry for this week, which I didn't end up needing. However, it turned out to be one of my better ones of late, so - if you'll bear this moment of shameless self-indulgence, I'll end the way I began - with a story and humbly invite you to visit with "The Dollmaker and the Rat."





The Dollmaker and the Rat
Chris Allinotte

Gavin chuckled when he heard his cell door open.

"Back again, huh doc?"

When there was no reply, he added, "Think this time'll cure me? Get me outta here?"

The doctor inclined his head, paused, and then said, "You seem to be in a good mood, today. That’s positive."

Gavin squinted against the sunlight flooding in from the window. He studied the doctor carefully. In turn, the doctor remained silent, waiting for his reply.

Gavin burst out laughing.

“You’re not a real doctor, are you?”

The doctor nodded, cleared his throat and continued, “We felt," he said, "that you weren't responding to traditional therapies."

“We?” shouted Gavin, “Who’s we?

“My,” said the sleek-bellied rat, “You are clear today.” It sat back on its haunches and stroked its whiskers.

“It seems a shame to squander this opportunity,” continued the rat doctor. “I’d still like to talk. If you’re willing, that is.”

Sunlight fell through the window onto Gavin’s face. He closed his eyes, and enjoyed the sensation, resting his head against the wall. After a moment more of simple warmth, he said, “Whatever you want, doc.”

"Fine," said the doctor. "How about some word association?”

“You know all the games, don’t you?” replied Gavin, then sighed. “Fine. Whatever you’d like.”

“Excellent,” said the rat, his tone brighter, “Just say whatever comes into your mind first."

They began:

Hot.
Cold.

Tall.
Short.

Fat.
Disgusting.

Man.
Woman.

Woman.
Girl.

Girl.
Doll.

Doll.
Kill.

Doll.
Evil.

Doll.


Gavin was starting to breathe hard. The world was starting to swim again. He wanted his special dolly. The one that couldn’t look at him. He’d hold it so tight. He’d stroke its hair. It would be good again.

"Now," the rat continued, "What do you think it is about dolls that unsettles you so?"

"Their eyes. They have those cold blue eyes that won't stop looking at me."

"I see," said the doctor, twitching his tail back and forth. "And what colour were your mother's eyes, Gavin?"

Gavin didn't reply. He picked at the crust of bread and scrap of cheese stuck to his tin plate. There were some potato chips crumbs left, too. That was good.

"Would you please answer me, Gavin?" said the doctor, his tone sharp. Immediate. "What colour were your mother's eyes?"

Gavin knew the answer would just cause trouble, but what could he do? They would keep asking until he told. Merciless bastards. This rat was no different. He was another part of their “Wellness” machine.

"Blue," he mumbled.

"I see," said the doctor, scratching his nose, "We're making some real progress here today, Gavin. I'm very proud of you."

"Sure," said Gavin. “Great. He ran his finger around the edge of the plate, gathering up potato chip crumbs. Closing his eyes, he sucked the salt off of his fingers.

“Tell me about the buttons, Gavin," said the doctor.

"What?" said Gavin. He'd thought they were going to talk about the Bitch.

He'd spilled mother's cup on the living room floor.

Mother asked him to please meet her in the guest bedroom, that sterile, not-for-you chamber where her china doll collection resided. Row upon row of baby-doll eyes watched. His screams fell upon dozens of uncaring ears, and one that was inhuman.

Gavin stood up and looked out the window. At least the view here was all right. Warm yellow sunshine painted the expansive lawn a violent, vibrant green. The sight cheered him, and brought him back to now, where the “doctor” was growing impatient.

“It seems we lost you for a minute there,” said the doctor.  While Gavin had been lost in thought, the rat had climbed the vinyl padding on the wall and now sat perched on the windowsill. Seeing the rat mere inches from his face made Gavin retreat.

Unfazed, the rat continued, “What were you thinking about just now, Gavin? Was it your mother?”

“Yeah.”

Gavin, turned away.

“Would you like to talk about it?”

“No.”

“Alright then.  Let’s continue talking about the buttons.”

"The doctor last week knew all this stuff," said Gavin. He hated the sulky tone he heard in his own voice.

"Enlighten me," said the doctor. Cold and condescending, he added "Tell... me ... about...the...buttons...Please."

The words were dull spikes being pounded in Gavin’s ears. It was enough. Enough questions, enough tests. Gavin screamed and lunged at the doctor. He meant to rip the doctor’s tiny throat out with his teeth if he could.

The rat doctor squealed, jumped off the windowsill, then darted to the door.

Gavin's momentum carried him face first into the wall. He cried and sat down hard.

Cowering by the door, the doctor stared at Gavin with his queer black eyes and said, "That was unnecessary.”

Rubbing his throbbing and bleeding nose, Gavin said, “You were bullying me. I hate bullies.”

His voice still high and panicked, the doctor tried to regain composure, saying, "You might have simply told me that."

Gavin shook his head and smiled. “That was more fun.”

The doctor crept along the wall. "What do you suggest we do?" It stopped. "Sooner or later, you have to think about what you did."

Images spun in Gavin's mind: matted hair, wet, choked screams, and his blade pushing past resisting skin and flicking those eyes. Blue. Hard press of the needle. Nice, quiet button eyes. His dollies. His dollies were the perfect playmates. No more blue. No more nasty eyes. Quiet, pliable, lovely dollies. He made sure to hug them all goodnight before he left them propped up against the pillows.
No dollies now. No more. Only this cell. This window. This rat.

"I don’t know, Doc. Maybe I should just off myself?”

The Doctor nodded, "That is an interesting suggestion."

Gavin snorted. “That’s not very doctor-like of you, is it? Aren’t you supposed to be trying to save me?”

The Doctor made a small clicking sound in his throat, then cleared it with a tiny but perfectly human “ahem”. Coming to the middle of the floor, it looked up and said, "I’m saying, Gavin, that if you refuse to discuss your crimes, you aren’t going to get any better, and you’ll stay here until you die.”

Gavin didn’t answer. He couldn’t. Bizarre as this whole thing was, the rodent was right.

“And if that’s the case,” continued the rat doctor “Today is as good a day to die as ten years from now, isn’t it?”

Scratching his right bicep, where the white jackets always jabbed their damned “calm-down” needles, Gavin considered, then said, “So, what, you’ve got a better idea?"

"I do," said the rat. “Go with it. Talk to me.” It walked closer, and nosed by his foot a little before continuing, “We were already making progress, weren’t we?”

Gavin remained silent.

He looked down at the doctor rat. “Progress?”  he asked.

“Oh, yes. Lots of progress, really,” the rat said.

The rat paused to clean a forepaw. It made an unpleasant, moist licking sound. "Anyway," it continued, "What have you got to lose? This can only help," it finished, sounding almost cheerful.

"It'll help. Maybe. Except now, I'm talking to rats."

"We've all got problems,” said the rat with a shrug, “I've got delusions that I’m a psychiatrist in an insane asylum."

A long minute passed between them. The rat’s final words hung between them like a gossamer brick.

Fuck it, he thought, just go with it.

“Alright,” he said, with a laugh, “Let’s talk.”

"Excellent," said the rat, scuttling over to the remains of Gavin's lunch. “My first question is the most important.”

“And that is?”

“Are you going to eat this?”

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Patient #110319: Lily Childs

Lily Childs is a busy, busy woman.  Between crafting her dark and delicate poetry, and stories that seem flayed from the very flesh of the nightmare realm (which she would probably then turn into a delightful pair of wings), Lily finds the time to support her fellow writers in many, many ways.


She's the host of the rapidly growing "Friday Prediction", a three-word challenge presented every Friday (including yesterday... no rest for the wicked). In addition, Lily just pulled off a tour-de-force fiction event with her remarkable "February Femmes Fatales", in which she showcased the talents of stunning group of women.


With a style that is absolutely and uniquely her own, it is a pleasure to share "Living in a Box".






Living in a Box
Lily Childs

Quivering, vaporous forms. They are indistinct as my eyes open to the familiar pale green of the box. Walking, talking photographs, paintings even - that morph back and forth.

My mouth is dry – it’s always that way. Someone sticks a tube between my teeth and I suck in the salty, pale-orange liquid. It tastes of electricity and saccharine.

The figures are clearer now. I recognise them from yesterday and the day before that. One’s a man – an old man. The other is young; his daughter perhaps. She is so thin I call her the Spindle Queen. Inquisitive, her tight face bears more lines than the father, but she has scarlet lips; lips that pout, lips that squeeze when she is angry. I’d like to eat them but she draws back as I lunge, a fruitless effort.

“God, she’s fast.”

They nod heads and play out a psst, psst, psst tittle-tattle game of whispers before turning back to face me. My head dips to one side and I carefully emulate the woman’s fake smile. Mine reaches my eyes where hers does not. With a little flare of the nostrils she backs away, fading though the door until it is an empty picture frame.

I would love to stand up. When did I last use my feet? There are straps at my wrists, at my ankles; around my calves, my thighs and up, up, up to my chest where, without warning my heart swells hot then cold – freezing cold; pulsing fast, fast, faster. I can’t bear the panic. I need to run away. The chair is bolted to the floor but still I try to rock my way out of it, going nowhere. Quickly, my body gathers momentum until with every spasm the leather cuts into my skin, spraying blood over the thin gown. It spreads.

The old man calls into the wall.

“Assistance!”

I’ve heard that word before. It makes everything go black.

From somewhere within my belly I feel the squeal. It mounts and grows, taking my soul with it to the ceiling as its pitch rises. From a great height I circle the seated echo of me and join in with the scream pouring from my other throat. We labour as twins to fill the room with unique harmony.

Assistance arrives through another door. It’s the Spindle Queen. She winces at my song. She calls me Banshee.

I can do that. I’ll visit her in her dreams later, steal her children.

My ethereal being flails at Assistance as the needle is rammed into my corporeal arm. Although she cannot see my wraith she swipes at it anyway, but no matter - I am already sliding back inside. I have just enough time to spit in her face. There is red in it. I have bitten off the end my tongue.

  ***
Black.
  ***
“She’s not who she says she is,” the old man tells a gaggle of bespectacled onlookers. He smiles benignly at me so I guess it’s time to show him my claws. Midnight blue. I stretch them out as far as I am able.

“Can you tell our guests your name?” He is bent towards me, not too close but near enough that I can smell pipe tobacco.

“Lompster. Snap, snap.”

The visitors scribble onto notepads and clipboards, muttering and frowning. Old Man Pipe speaks again without averting his gaze from my lovely claws.

“Miss Pearce believes she is a lobster, for today at least.”

One of the group stares at me longer than the others. I wiggle my antenna and hope he will fall into my trap. I’m hungry.

Sniggers and half-concealed smirks ripple through the rabble, and then I spot her; Pipey’s daughter. She’s telling them I claimed I was a doctor last week. That’s ridiculous. I’m only twelve years old. Look at them – they’re the deluded ones in their white coats, writing and gossiping as though they can see inside my head. It’s the reverse. It’s me that knows they’re all after Thermidor for dinner; wondering whether to cook me gently, turning the heat up until I fall asleep – or plunge me into a boiling vat.

I don’t like it. I start to rock. Here it comes...

***
Black.
 ***

Get it out! Get it out! It’s stuck in my throat. What are you do...?

 ***
Black.
 ***

Apparently I’ve been so well-behaved I can go home to Daddy tomorrow.

I don’t know what they’re talking about.

I only arrived here yesterday. Didn’t I?

I’d rather eat razor blades.

***
 Black.
***
 London. Gerard’s come to collect me. His tone is laden with pity as he rolls out the questions they’ve prompted him with. He must ask them every day.

“What’s your name?” he says as we sidle through traffic in his battered heap.

I clutch my plastic handbag and reply. “Grace Pearce.”

“How old are you Grace?”

“I’m fifteen.” I don’t know if this is true – I’ve just learned to repeat what they told me.

“Where do you live?”

Nothing, silence. I have no idea.

“C’mon Gracey,” he nags. “Hammersmith. You live in Hammersmith, by the weir.”

Something’s wrong. I may not know who I am but I know there’s no weir in Hammersmith. I turn to examine Gerard’s profile. It is bloated, his face scarred and pocked. There’s a scent of turned vinegar about him.

“You’re not my brother,” I say.

Gerard’s plump hands grasp the wheel for a moment. I watch the set of his expression change to one he must have been practising.

“Sure I am, Grace.” He pats my leg. “The doctors said you might have trouble remembering some of the family as you’ve been... away for so long.

I turn the tables. “Tell me about the family, Gerard. Who’s waiting for me at home?”

He won’t look at me. Won’t. Look. At. Me. He’s not my brother. He’s...

“Dad. Dad’ll be there. With Uncle Barry. And, erm, Uncle Roger.”

Men. All men. I’ve never heard of them.

Sunlight hits the wing-mirror so hard the flash is blinding. I squeeze my eyes shut - once, twice. And there, unmistakable – is the shift. With absolute clarity I recall the day I entered Marston Hospital – Marston Asylum for the Clinically Insane, as it is no longer called. Mama. Mama killing Daddy for loving someone else in their bed. Blood all over her hands and the quilt and the scissors she’s used to stab Daddy and the girl – and she is just a girl; she’s my best friend from school. She’s twelve like me. And now she’s dead. And Daddy’s dead. And by the time the police arrive – because I am clever and phoned them – Mama is dead too. She has cut her own throat. I scream and don’t stop until they give me the needle and...

 Black. But there’s no black now. Gerard’s calmly driving, his hand still on my knee, rubbing it too hard. He isn’t my brother. I never had a brother. I think back to the green box, Dr Pipe and his daughter and... Gerard. Gerard was in that group of visitors – how long ago was that? He was the one that paid me extra attention then went off to talk to the Spindle Queen while they shot me full of dope.

I hang my head. It’s obvious.

“How much?”

Gerard slams the breaks on to avoid hitting the back of a bus. “What? What are you talking about?”

“I know what you did. You bought me. She sold you to me.”

He doesn’t even attempt to deny it; simply shrugs his shoulders.

“You were cheap; getting a bit long in the tooth. If you didn’t look so young I wouldn’t have bothered.”

I grab at the door-handle but of course he has put the child-locks on. There’s nothing for it.
The bus pulls into a stop and we draw alongside it; the lights ahead are red. I turn to the window and hammer, hammer, hammer with my fists. A few passengers turn to see what the fuss is about. Beside me Gerard unbuckles his seatbelt and draws a knife; he pokes it into my side. The pain is nothing. I don’t care if he kills me or not. I bite – hard. Red spittle sprays over the window and I bite again. On the bus, children are crying and pointing. A woman has her phone out. “Help!” I mouth; my teeth coated with shards of tongue. In front of us the lights turn green. Gerard, already in gear rams his foot down but the bus-driver is faster, twisting the vehicle into our lane. The car hits it at speed. I fly forward, then back; whiplash tearing through my neck. The last thing I see is Gerard’s broken face the other side of the windscreen. Between his legs the knife he was holding has punctured his groin. I am glad.

Sirens wail.
  ***
Black.
  ***
The bus driver was cleared of attempted murder; hailed a hero. Gerard – not his real name – did know me after all. He was a mate of my Dad’s, part of the same filthy gang. He didn’t die; he’s paralysed for life. That’s better than any punishment a court could hand out, though he’s in jail now too. The judge refused to give him a shorter sentence for squealing like a cowardly pig on Uncle Barry, Uncle Roger and the man who was to play the part of my father.

 I stand here at the final hurdle. When they sentence the Spindle Queen to life imprisonment I cry my first tears for four years. Now she’ll know how it feels to live in a box. I hope it’s painted a sickly, pale green.

The woman from the bus who called the police is waiting for me in the hallway of the court. We’ve been talking. She stands and smiles, takes a tentative step towards me. I raise my eyes in hope, and she nods.

“It’s all agreed. Come on Grace, let’s go home.”

 My bedroom window looks out over the prettiest garden I have ever seen. I can smell the roses from up here. And I have space; space to sleep, space to dance. Space to be me. I turn, slowly at first then twirl, spinning – my arms outspread. I am a ballerina, pink like the walls.

In here, there’s not a spot of green.

In here, there is no black. At least, not today.


Lily Childs likes to dally on the dark side where demons wear corsets and nothing is ever as it seems. Her fiction and poetry has been published in print and online. Find out more on her blog The Feardom at http://lilychildsfeardom.blogspot.com


Editor's note: Join me one more time tomorrow for the wrap-up of Madness in March, announcement of the winner (whose work will "own" the top corner of this blog for the next thirty days) and other mad ramblings by your humble host.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Patient #110318: Erin Cole

I first encountered Erin Cole during the first year of her exquisite Halloween festival of fear, "13 Days of Horror" at her blog, "Erin Cole Writes".  I've become a huge fan of her writing since then, and during this past Halloween, was luckily chosen to take part in the 2nd annual "13 Days" contest.

(As you can probably tell, I've mercilessly borrowed the format of this week's event from her - so due thanks are owed.)

Erin has a knack of getting the reader right where she wants them, with meticulously chosen words and imagery. She then delights in pulling the rug out with wicked, malicious glee.

Here, with pleasure, is Erin's story, "Still Alive."


Still Alive
Erin Cole
[United States of America Presidential News Conference; May 10th, 2022]
Our nation is under attack.  But do not doubt, for a second, that we will prevail.  America is one of the greatest countries and we will persevere through this difficult time—today, tomorrow, and in our children’s future.

* * *

The sun faded into a black and green curtain of light from a debris-filled cloud.  Her memory flashed—an explosion—the punch of thunder—shards of glass and metal lacerating her chest and limbs.
Smoke burned air from her lungs (though others could still scream) and something else in the dust stung, like the sharp acidity of chemicals.

Leona gasped.  Awake.  Her eyes blinked open to a dim space.  The smell reminded her of a hospital, astringent with medicine and cleaning solutions, but the room stretched long and narrow, with grooved aluminum walls suggestive of some type of disaster relief shelter.  A circle of spotlights shined above her, blinding, but warm.
 Whatever had happened, she was still alive.

Without access to memories, Leona didn’t know who she was or much of anything else, just an awareness of the present filled with uncertainty—the fear of what doctors would tell her about the extent of her injuries.  From what she could remember, it couldn’t be good.

[Two men were talking]

What are the commonalities among them?

Most share your typical impact injuries: severed subclavian arteries, radial fractures, and chemical burns over most…

What?  Leona thought, panic-stricken.  She’d been burned?  She tried to imagine how she must look, the hideousness of her face and body, but it was too much for her to take in, and she focused on her immediate surroundings.

[A news station broadcasted]

Are you saying these are terrorist cells were dealing with, Nancy?

Yes, Jim.  That’s what the FBI is telling us.  So far, they believe that this was a biological attack—a new strain of anthrax laced with a synthetic spore.

A synthetic spore?

That’s right.  But the physicians at Emanuel Institute won’t say anything else until more tests are concluded.

Dread sunk into Leona’s gut, thick as oil.  Charged with fear, she needed to get up, walk around, eat something—pretend that things were normal again.  Her stomach growled with an appetite ferocious enough to be its own separate entity that wanted to climb from her jaws.  She tried moving her limbs, suddenly fearing that she might not have all of them.  Her legs jerked and her arms flinched under a crisp sheet.

She, at least, still had those.

“What the hell?”  One of the doctors said.  Pitch shook in his voice—something was wrong.

Leona sat up, but with difficulty.  The sensation that her head was larger than usual pained her neck.  The room swayed.  She fell back onto a bed, colder than a mountain river.

One of the doctors leaned over the foot of her bed, starring Leona into stillness.  His eyes resembled those on fish, all round and big like.  His mouth fell agape.  He was trying to scream.  When he finally found his voice, it came out shrill and pain-ridden, and he tripped over a tray dangling with bags of yellow and clear liquids.

He crashed to the floor, whimpering like a kicked dog.

Leona rolled her head sideways.  The other doctor, staring at her in the same way, grabbed the fallen doctor’s arm, and pulled him to the wall where they both shouted into a speaker next to the door.  Dear Lord, Leona thought.  I look worse than I can possibly imagine.

She slid her eyes downward and lifted the sheet.  Terror stormed through her.  The kind of terror when your child runs into the house with blood spilling from somewhere on his face; terror like the laws of nature have fractured and the gates of hell have opened.  Her body had been severely cut up.  No.  Not cut up.  Sliced apart, into two gory sections of flesh and muscle.  One long line that started below her naval ripped up the charred flesh of her torso to where she could see the curvature of rib bone beneath.

How can this be?  She questioned.  How could she still be alive?  Or even conscious?

[A lab technician beeped through the intercom] 

Dr. Gerald, it looks like we’re dealing with a more serious strain of anthrax than we originally hypothesized, one that sustains metabolic processes and prevents organic decomposition through bacteria eating sporophytes.  What this means is that the injured might not die, no matter the extent of their injuries.  I advise everyone to evacuate, this strain is highly contag…

The doctors, with mannerisms of wild chimpanzees, neglected to hear the voice from the intercom speaker over their yelling and banging on the door.

Leona sat up again.  Blood-covered organs glistened and slopped from her gut.  She pushed her hand (good Lord, she had only two fingers!) against her gut to hold them in place, but at the touch of warm, squishy tissue, the sweet, coppery smell of blood, her hunger overrode reason.  Leona took a bite of her own liver.  Madness—hot, black tar—spilled into her thoughts.

What is wrong with me?  She pleaded, before taking another bite.  She couldn’t help it.  It was one the best things she could ever remember eating.  And she couldn’t stop.  Didn’t want to.  Leona yelled for the doctors.  “Doctors?  Please, help me! Please!”

She couldn’t tell if she was actually talking, but the doctors wouldn’t hear her anyway.  They had already opened the door and were scrambling from the facility, moving their arms and legs faster than they could effectively function.  Leona wanted to do the same.  How could they leave her?  Like this?—Eating her own body parts.  “Please, somebody, help me.”

Emotions, as feral as primitive reptiles, stirred her with strength and determination.  She crawled off the cold bed.  One foot gave way under her weight and twisted sideways.  Oddly, it didn’t hurt.  She tried to look up, grappling to lift her head.  It fell to the side, but she could lift it enough to look in the mirror, as much as she didn’t want to.  She had to look at herself, like gawking at a car accident or descending into a blackened basement.  You don’t want to do it, but you do anyway—darkness has a place in every mind and it must be replenished.

Leona hobbled over to the mirror.  Though pain should have immobilized her, it was tolerable—actually, it felt good.  When she steered her eyes up and saw the grotesqueness of her own body, she froze, unable to recognize herself.  But…but…No.  Don’t say it!  She screamed at her thoughts.  Because her ruined body looked gorgeous, with all the cuts, burns, and broken bones.  The severity of her wounds gladdened her.

She wasn’t afraid.  Or maybe, just too hungry to care.

In the mirror, behind her, she realized that she wasn’t the only one like that.  There were others and they were waking up too.  Leona turned for the door.  She wanted to talk to those doctors.  Before she ate them.

Shuffling down rickety platform steps, confusion haunted her.  She looked around, struggling to fathom just what it was she had wanted to do.  She walked ahead, following the scent of people.

More hot, black tar erased her thoughts.  Time lapsed with it.  She was standing at a door, not knowing why, or how she was to get through it, but one thing was clear—she could smell people behind it.  They smelled like a barbeque and she moaned to devour meat from bone.

Shouts echoed across the street.  Leona turned to find two uniformed men in army-green, crouched behind cars.  The expressions on the men’s faces resembled those of the doctors’—fish out of water.
Their arms extended with long black objects.  She knew what they were, that they were dangerous, but she couldn’t think of the name for them.

“Shoot it!”  The first one hollered.

—memories suddenly crammed into Leona’s conscience.  She was a mother.  A wife.

“Shoot Higgins!”

—she went to the market for vegetables to make soup.

“Now!”

—she had just run into a friend she hadn’t seen in months when a blast exploded everything around them.

“God dammit, shoot it!”

—and now, she was an it.

A loud pop ricocheted through the streets.  Then again and again, a violent crackle of fireworks.  Leona felt an invisible punch throw her backward into asphalt.  She pushed herself back up.  More fireworks boomed, but it didn’t stop her from reaching the door to the building.

 How to open?  She grabbed the handle and pulled.  The hinges snapped and the door fell off the frame.  The people inside looked like fish too.  Leona grabbed one by the head, went for the neck.

Yes, she was still alive.

Erin Cole has been published in various online magazines and print anthologies, including 'The Best of Lame Goat Press,' 'Back to the Middle of Nowhere: More Horror in Rural America,' and 'Howl: Dark Tales of the Feral and Infernal.'  Her stories have been shortlisted in the 2009 Tom Howard / John H. Reid Short Story Contest and won honorable mention in the 2009 Kay Snow Contest.  She is the author of Grave Echoes: A Kate Waters Mystery and is currently working on the sequel.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Patient #110317: Sean Patrick Reardon

It occurs to me that the selected stories this week showcase a balance of "horror" and "noir" writers. It's part of the reason, I think, that there are so many different takes on the central theme.

Sean Patrick Reardon is the third writer who, though I was familiar with his work, and have quite enjoyed it on Thrillers, Killers n' Chillers, found the story below to be one of the best I've read by him, and am honoured that he chose to share it here. I will be watching Sean's future stories with great interest.

(Incidentally - Happy St. Patrick's Day. The choice of a "Patrick" for today was unintentional, but definitely serendipitous.)

Here then, is "Heart Shaped Hammer"


Heart Shaped Hammer
Sean Patrick Reardon 

I push the Sgt. Peppers CD into the disk player of the Lincoln, select track six, and the tears start coming before “She’s Leaving Home” begins.  I have listened to this Beatles song every day for six months, waiting. This will be the last time, forever. 

The day she was born.

I was always what doctors and educators now call ‘hypersensitive’.  Even at six-years old, “Eleanor Rigby” would have me crying my eyes out. Nobody came.  I was not sensitive earlier this evening though and I will not be telling my version of Father McKenzie what I have done. No one except my wife will ever know.

The pink Barbie nightgown.

Julie was fifteen, would have been sixteen last month, if he hadn’t given her the poison that night. I know in my broken, yet guilt free heart, the right thing has been done tonight.

The first day of kindergarten.

We didn’t like him from the start, ended up forbidding it to go any further. Parents know such things, if they have lived fun, adventurous lives growing up like my wife and I had. He was bad news and we knew it.

First Holy Communion.

Sure, Julie protested, sulked, got dramatic, maybe even hated us in the way only a teenage girl can. We honestly thought it was over. The cell phone, computer, and schoolbag were secretly checked out of love, not distrust, of her at least.

The adolescent female secrets I was not supposed to know about.

A Saturday night at the mall with her friends was not something to be concerned about. Trust earns rewards and she hung around with a good bunch of girls. I dropped them off myself, leaving the pickup to another parent.

The junior high prom

We got the call that Julie was not there when it was time to leave the mall. The parent told us the other girls said she left with someone, but had not returned like she was supposed to. Him!

Christmas mornings, vacations, and Confirmation.

Calls to her cell phone went straight to voicemail, text messages weren’t answered. A half hour later, the police called, telling us they knew where she was. We were scared and concerned, but relieved.

The hospital.

We rushed to the emergency room. The officer we met at the entrance mentioned heroin and overdose. She was in very bad condition. He told us the suspect, him, had fled the scene, but was apprehended and in custody at the police station. A house party was where they found her, details were still scarce. Julie died before we got to see her, say goodbye, or tell her how much we loved her.

The body identification.

He gave her alcohol and she sniffed some powder that he offered her, telling her it would make her feel alive and relaxed. Everyone does it. Julie lost consciousness. He left her to die on the bedroom floor of the house where the party took place.

The funeral

My wife and I attended every court appearance. He cleaned up well, even wore glasses. Turns out he was a popular kid, promising athlete, even had decent grades and was accepted to a college. This meant nothing to my wife and I. He was a killer and a coward.  Many people spoke on his behalf, but none on Julie’s.

The plea bargain and probation.

We were destroyed. Life as we knew it was decimated. There was no other child to transfer our love to. Julie’s room and belongings were left just the way they were when she left for the mall that night.  It was not fair, justice had not been served, and we were helpless. Or were we?

The six-months spent waiting, watching, and suffering.

He hadn’t changed his ways, never went to college, and was selling drugs again. We were sure of this, had the proof. I watched him leave his dealer’s house and as he walked down the dark street toward his car, I pulled up next to him pretending to ask directions. I had sixty seconds and absolutely nothing to lose. If I got caught, I did not care.

The abduction

The bucket hat, long haired wig, and fake beard ensured he wouldn’t recognize me and run.  I sprayed Mace in his eyes and jumped out of the Lincoln, clutching an aluminum bat. I cracked him across the side of the head. He fell to the ground, unconscious, and I took his cell phone from his pants pocket.  He fit nicely in the trunk of the car, his mouth taped shut, hands and feet zip tied.

All the things we never got to do with Julie.

I pulled into the two car garage at our house and the automatic door closed once I was inside. The other bay was empty. I dragged him out of the trunk, letting his body crash face down onto the plastic that covered the concrete floor. I rolled him over and wrapped more tape around his mouth, before kicking him in the groin and stomping on his face, crushing and flattening his nose.  I hit him in the ribs with powerful swings of the bat.  He was now ready.

The sledgehammer

I broke him in every possible way. His clothes and skin became nothing more than a facade for shattered, splintered, and grossly disjointed bones. I thought about the disassembly of Steven “Willy” Williams as he looked up at me and I brought the hammer down on his head with all my rage and hatred. He was finally gone.

The hacksaw

My wife did a fine job covering the floor and walls with plastic. There will be no blood evidence, or any other trace of what has been done.  I wished she could be there with me, but she decided to stay in the house and keep the bed warm for my return.  I started by removing his head, then cut off his legs at the knees, and arms at the elbows. The remaining stumps were severed at the torso.

The disposal.

His body parts easily fit into an industrial strength, black trash bag. The tools, bloody plastic sheeting, overalls, and gloves went in a separate one. As I lifted the bag filled with Julie’s killer and swung it into the trunk, I was happy, smiling…vindicated.

The Our Father and Hail Mary.

Nothing will ever be found. I am sure of this. There is no longer anything left to find. It is after midnight when I pull the Lincoln into the garage bay where justice was served. The door rolls down behind me and I let out a long exhale as the final notes of “She’s Leaving Home” play. I eject the CD, snap it in half, and put the pieces in my coat pocket.

The alibi.

When I get to the bedroom, my wife is sitting up, looking concerned. I crack a smile, nod, and she smiles back as I climb in beside her. We now have peace, closure, and a secret that we alone will share. We cry, holding each other, knowing we will be able to sleep tonight. I have been home with her all night and she will never crack or deviate from that story. I am sure of this.

Sean Patrick Reardon is an aspiring writer from Massachusetts and author of the crime thriller "Mindjacker". His stories have appeared in Thrillers Killers 'n' Chillers, A Twist of Noir, and Do Some Damage.